Sunday, March 28, 2010

That Terrible African Sun

While reading one of my new favorite books, Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, for the first time, I came across this passage which I think accurately describes the transition between the only two seasons: the dry and the rainy. This takes place in Nigeria, I believe, but you get the picture: 

“At last the rain came. It was sudden and tremendous. For two or three moons the sun had been gathering strength till it seemed to breathe a breath of fire on the earth. All the grass had been scorched brown, and the sands felt like live coals to the feet. Evergreen trees wore a dusty coat of brown. The birds were silenced in the forest, and the world lay panting under the live, vibrating heat. And then came the clap of thunder. It was an angry, metallic and thirsty clap, unlike the deep and liquid rumbling of the rainy season. A mighty wind arose and filled the air with dust. Palm trees swayed as the wind combed their leaves into flying crests like strange and fantastic coiffure. 

“When the rains finally came, it was in large, solid drops of frozen water which the people called ‘the nuts of the water of heaven’. They were hard and painful on the body as they fell, yet young people ran about happily picking up the cold nuts and throwing them into their mouths to melt. 

“The earth quickly came to life and the birds in the forests fluttered around and chirped merrily. A vague scent of life and green vegetation was diffused in the air. As the rain began to fall more soberly and in smaller liquid drops, children sought for shelter, and all were happy, refreshed and thankful.”

Friday, March 12, 2010

Cute African children

I hope this isn't too creepy...


African building
 Rachel and Esther. Esther is the owner of Cosy Pot, our favorite African restaurant

  Fully loaded matooke truck returning from the market

 One of our two Sunday groups

 School kids playing with Rachel from a distance. Apparently mothers scare their children with white people, "Don't stay out too late or the mzungu will eat you!"

Eddie at his old primary school

Take me home country roads

It all started with Brilliant Decision by Joel Hedges #436: Let me personally drive the entire field team to the village on Sunday in our friend’s Toyota pick up truck over rough African roads in the middle of the worst rainy season in years.

Fifty of the 57 kilometer commute was on tarmac, and pretty good tarmac by African standards. I think I only had to yell “Watch out!” four or five times as I noticed tire-shredding potholes too late to do anything. (My colleagues did not find this very amusing, nor did they join me in my nervous chuckles about how I didn’t think there was a spare tire in the back.) The remaining seven kilometers is your conventional African dirt road, maddeningly crenated, rocky, dusty, and without a single flat stretch, snaking its way from the highway junction to Kamu trading center at the top of a tall mesa. There had been no rains the day before, so this morning our only problem was the  thick dust kicked up by other vehicles. We made it up with relative ease, and parked the car in the market area and went to our first meeting. Normally Eddie and I can walk from our first group to the Pentecostal church where we hold our second meeting of the day, a trip that takes about ten minutes depending on how many acquaintances  Eddie sees along the way. This day, however, we were running a little late and so I drove us up the road a ways and parked in the flat area in front of the church , locked up the car and headed inside to do the training session. Eddie and I sat at a table in front while the adults gathered on the first couple rows of pews. My vantage, I noticed almost immediately, would allow me to keep an admiring eye on the truck while we conducted the lesson. I smiled at the thought of the truck’s performance and my driving abilities, but my pleasure was short lived. At the precise moment when Eddie began the lesson, essentially locking us in the church for the next hour, did twenty kids attack the car like a swarm of ants on a dead cockroach: swinging on the roll bars, kicking the tires, drawing on the doors with charcoal, disassembling the side mirrors, jumping up and down in the bed, sliding down the front windshield, and trying to reach in through the cracked window so they could play on the inside. One kid suddenly yelled something and ran off, the troop leader judging by the way the other kids halted their blitzkrieg, and I thought the truck would finally be left alone. Commander Matooke returned no more than five minutes later with thirty-seven more African children armed with plastic bottles, dirt clods, metal wires, sugar cane, long sticks and other implements of destruction. The second attack was much more coordinated, and they had just about breached the passenger door when the rains came. As quickly as they had come, the kids scattered. I breathed a sigh of relief, and was laughing at Commander Matooke’s defeat when I remembered I had left all four windows cracked for ventilation. Drat. I ran out into the rain.

After the meeting we got into the car to head back to the market area. As I put the car into reverse and looked over my shoulder to begin backing out, seventy-two people piled into the back of the truck for the free ride. I didn’t think of this being problematic until the extra weight of the car immediately sunk the back tires into the drainage ditch that lined the road. “Everybody out,” I yelled from the window, wanting to get out of the fix before the rains returned from their respite. With a face tomato red and sweat beginning to soak through my shirt I finally got the truck onto the road, and my audience returned to their positions in the back. We dropped the passengers off in town and began down the dirt road that would take us home and me closer to a cold beer.

A good way, I discovered, to get the passengers in your car to keep quiet on a car ride is to scare the living daylights out of them early on. I began down the hill at a pace I felt comfortable in, a pace not terribly fast, but, then again, there are six policemen in Oregon, California, and Washington who would argue that a pace I feel is comfortable might not be welcomed by the other motorists sharing the road.  The truck began to turn sideways while continuing to move in the same direction. I tried tapping the brakes lightly but that only locked the back wheels, already caked with slick clay, speeding up their slide towards the port inside embankment. I could hear Rachel in the passenger’s seat inhale a very deep breath and hold it, challenging me to get us out of this predicament or she would asphyxiate herself. I slipped the truck back down to first gear, which did the trick, and I was allowed to bring the back wheels to their rightful position behind the front ones. Slowly I brought the truck to a halt, in the middle of the road, got out of the car to turn the hub locks on, secretly hoping my passengers would then see the previous 100 meters as motorized failure instead of human error and that all would be fine from then on. Pacification didn’t seem to have worked though; Rachel, I believe, averaged about one breath every two minutes for the next hour, choosing to go blue in the face rather than let me forget I had some very valuable cargo at my fingertips. After  the first little slide I slowed considerably, and even began to regain the confidence of my passengers. Vocal praise began to stream in about my off-road driving capabilities, granted I was only driving the car at about three miles an hour. A barefooted man in the later stages of  polio and an elderly women carrying a  child on her back and three hundred sticks balanced on her head, visible in my side mirrors, were not growing any smaller. The man with polio might have even been gaining on us. But  we were moving forward. After some time I began to get cocky again, enough, even, to try out third gear. Hey, maybe this won’t be so bad, I thought. We’ll get back much earlier than I predicted. Arsenal vs. Chelsea? Hah, I think so! Nope, just kidding, third gear was a bad idea. Downshift. Yep, lets go all the way back to first gear. Crap, that usually works. Tap the brakes, well, it was worth a shot. Pray? Phew, it worked.

The last stretch of the seven  kilometer Hell Road is quite unassuming. The steep downhill that had challenged me so much gradually mellows into a much more gentle grade. The road is anything but flat,, mind you, this is still Africa. The road was very rounded, peaking in the center while each side fell away progressively steeper towards the muddy canals lining either side. Every time I tried to speed up along this four kilometer stretch, the back tires of the truck would start to fishtail, skating towards a mucky doom, and I was forced to limit our pace to second gear. Thoughts of speeding up and seeing if I could keep the truck on the road and out of the embankment crossed my mind a number off times in that last hour, strengthened by the image of a sun dress-wearing Rachel, with her shoulder against the tailgate and fancy shoes in her hand, pushing hard to free a stuck vehicle while wet clay from the spinning tires sprays her front. I thought better of it -- Rachel, after all, knows where I sleep at night.

We reached the tarmac of the main highway over an hour after we had set off from Kamu Trading Center. Rachel began breathing normally again, and conversation resumed in a rusty sort of way. I got out of the truck, soaked to the bone with sweat, and unlocked the hubs, first the right wheel and then the left. Before I stepped back into the car I turned to look at the dirt road winding up the steep cliff side behind us,almost like a successful emperor might look at a freshly conquered land. But I was distracted by something rounding a bend in the road in the distance. There, about a kilometer back, was a man with polio was hobbling up the road. I could just make out his bare feet.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Wine Movements

NWPR article written about my cousin and his ScoREVOLUTION!

Spread the gospel!

Alas, the wine situation here in Uganda is not so great. I have the option of a $30 jug of Carlo Rossi or a $9 bottle of mediocre South African wine that has been sitting in the sun in the supermarket so long that the coating of dust has been bleached.