Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tales from the office

Poor Ezra! He’s the administrator for the internet café where the Life in Africa Foundation has its offices in Kampala. All week he’s had to deal with the man I’ve titled Annoying Peace Corps guy and it’s amazing Ezra continues to show up at all.

The first day he shows up, I’m sitting in the café, working on my laptop and entertaining the infant son of one of the other Life in Africa members when this white haired white guy wearing shorts and a gray T-shirt comes in and sees me, the only mazungu in the room, and asks, “Are you in charge here?” No, indeed, and I direct him to Ezra. Ezra spends much of the afternoon helping him as he gripes about everything.

I peek over his shoulder one time, which is bad, but I’m curious. He is working on a resume, proclaiming at the top that he is a Peace Corps volunteer who has been in Uganda for the past two years. His goal is to be hired to a high level position for a non-profit (or NGO) working in sub-Sarahan Africa. He states often and loudly how this is due soon, in two days, tomorrow.

The computers never work for Annoying Peace Corps guy. Files never save. He can never find the file he wants. Linux is too complicated and confusing for him to use and he wants to know why the café doesn’t have Word. He has to move from computer to computer to computer. He has to come back another time. Ezra needs to refund his money because he lost his files or the computer quit on him. And yet he comes back day after day to work in this internet café though there are two others in the neighborhood.

One night as I’m leaving, I ask Ezra what time he gets in in the morning since he is always there before me. He arrives at about 7:30. And what time does he leave, since he’s always there when I go. He leaves around 10 at night.

The next morning, it’s pouring rain and Kevin (the young woman who cleans the offices) and I arrive before 10. Ezra is not there. He comes at about 10:15, saying “I thought I would be the first one in.” He boots up the computers. Then boots them again because they don’t connect to the internet. They are taking their time.

Annoying Peace Corps guy arrives and Ezra tells him the computers aren’t up yet. Annoying Peace Corps guy’s documents are due today, so he’s going to go to another café. Fine by all of us.

At about noon, the computers go down. Ezra gets out his tool kit and loses some of his amazing composure. “I’m about ready to put up a sign saying, ‘Internet Café not yet open,’” he says as he crawls under the desks and begins fiddling with wires.

Annoying Peace Corps guy stalks in and says to Ezra who is under a desk, “All of my files have been erased because your computers have a virus!” I cannot hear Ezra’s response. Annoying Peace Corps guy says, “I’m coming back here later and I need to use THAT computer,” pointing at the computer with Word as its operating system, “and pull all my documents out, and I’d better be able to,” and leaves.

All I can think to myself is, Sir, are you sure you want to be working in Africa?

mosquito netting

I take my anti-malarial pill every morning and so it doesn’t matter that much, but I still pull the mosquito netting down around my bed every night. Amazing stuff, mosquito netting, as I finally realized the other night that the buzz-buzz was coming from outside of the netting and not in my ear. Mosquito netting! Small enough to keep out mosquitoes! What a beautiful thing!

As a donor to “Nothing but Nets,” a charity that provides mosquito netting to Africa, I was enlightened by this mixed review of mosquito netting—at least as a single solution to the malaria situation here in Uganda. I read the following article by Dr. Dick Stockley (whoever he may be) in “The Eye” magazine, a bimonthly publication for tourists. (You can find it online at .)

“And now some philosophy. If something works most of the time, but isn’t 100%, is it a good option? The Pakwatch school boy gets bitten every night by 3 or 4 infected mosquitoes, so he always has malaria. This makes him immune, so he may be a bit tired most of the time, and he gets a clinical attack of malaria every now and again when he gets a cold or bad diarrhea due to lowering his immune threshold. Preventing malaria will probably make him healthier, cleverer, and bigger, and has been shown that he is less likely to die from pneumonia and diarrhea as getting rid of his malaria strengthens his immune system. BUT…Now he sleeps under a net. So for a year or 2, or 3, he doesn’t get malaria and he is fitter, bigger and cleverer. Then the system fails. He gets up for a pee in the middle of the night and gets bitten for the first time in 3 years. His immunity has now waned. So he gets a really awful attack of malaria, and without treatment he is going to be like the non-immune mzungu, multi-organ failure and dead in 2 weeks. And as he doesn’t have immunity, or at least a lot less immunity than before, he needs full total treatment, not partial…Just a thought for the health planners—If we are serious about prevention, we had better do it properly or not at all.”

Saturday in Kololo

I am currently at Bubbles O'Leary's Irish Pub in the Kololo neighborhood of Kampala, where there's cricket on the telly, fish and chips and beer on the menu, and wireless in the air. Rather sporadic wireless, to be sure, at least I can't figure it out. But wireless nonetheless.

As you can see, the fish and chips come with American ketchup (tomato sauce) rather than British vinegar. My quiz question for you is, guess in what country the ketchup is made. Hint: not the U.S. or Uganda.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Easter Sunday

“How was church? Was it boring?” Joseline asked me when we met in Wandegeya to go to Sally’s place for lunch. Truth be told, it was. I had gone to the early service—normally an 8:00 affair, but held at 7:30 for Easter Sunday—and it had indeed been dull. The best part was the Bishop’s announcement in response to Gadaffi that I mentioned in the prior post. The sermon was stodgy, the music bland (“Crown him with many crowns” to start), communion an assembly line for the 300 or so people who attended.

I was disappointed, and also in a way relieved. There’s not a miraculous place where worship is always full of life and joy. Or maybe the Anglican Church can simply wring the fun out of everyone. I’m sure it can if it tries.

Lunch, though, was a truly raucous affair. The weather did not cooperate, with the rain starting at 11:00 and lasting all day long. But the food was delicious: matoke (it's a cooked plantain dish, you see it here wrapped in the banana leaves, served with a meat sauce, surprisingly—and very good), rice, chapati, Irish (potatoes, that is), chicken AND pork, sweet plantains, beans with meat (a.k.a. chili, but not known by that here), cooked greens, and vegetables in a soy sauce, all piled on a heap on the plate (as you will see). Then, after digesting for a bit, we had bananas from a banana bouquet (in the picture at bottom). Later in the afternoon, Sally asked if I wanted tea, and so I had some of the amazingly rich milk tea they serve here: half a mug of tea, topped by half a mug of hot whole milk. And then, a cake, shaped like a heart, decorated with the words “Happy Easter,” a small slice for everyone accompanied by fresh pineapple chunks.

There must have been 30 or more people at this party. It was not only me and the residents of the boarding house, but friends, family, visitors, and guests. It was, as I said, a raucous affair. Outside, the chickens sulked out in the rain, occasionally coming on the porch and glaring in the front door. In the back I could hear kids playing at something or other. I stayed in the living room, taking lots of pictures, or letting my camera wander off to take pictures elsewhere, as people laughed and talked and I mostly let the accents and words wash over me.

At one point, though, I said I had a serious question, and everyone immediately settled down and focused to hear it. I said, “For those of you wearing trousers, how is it that you have no mud? I have mud up to my knees!” which was barely an exaggeration. I had felt very self-conscious amongst these beautifully attired people, looking like a grubby nubbin on Easter Sunday. I’m sure they just chalked it up to me being a mazungu and not knowing better, but I at least felt better, having let them know I had noticed.

I thought I should venture back at about 5 so that I could catch a matatu home before it got dark. Before that happened, though, there was singing and there was prayer. The singing came in the call and response form I had anticipated hearing here as opposed to the English hymns of the morning service, accompanied by drums played by one of the girls who lived there. The prayer was informal and probably followed some rules for construction and participation that I didn’t understand, so I just listened and prayed silently.

Overall, I’d have to say Easter was not boring. I was glad of that. But perhaps gladder still to get a ride home through the rain and the gathering dark.

Update on Gadaffi

I love this headline from the Sunday paper! The Monitor and the New Vision are the two big newspapers here in town, and these papers were everywhere on Easter Sunday.

At the Cathedral, the Assisting Bishop of Kampala, the Rt. Rev. Zac Niringiye, actually addressed this issue as part of the announcements—the issue being that General Gadaffi insists that the Bible must be a forgery because it doesn’t include any mention of Mohammed. Bishop Zac (as he is known) spoke of the dating of Scripture, from its earliest writings to its latest, and to the acceptance of the complete canon of Scripture in the late fourth century, noting that Mohammed lived after all of these events, thereby making it chronologically impossible for Mohammed to be mentioned in Scripture. “So how should a Christian respond?” he asked. “We should love everybody.” End of story. Go, Bishop!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Basics: What I'm actually doing

I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything in a while. My computer’s powercord died over the weekend, and it was the work of well over a day and two trips downtown to innumerable stores to get a new one. Shops were closed on Easter Monday, don’t you know, it and Good Friday being a national holiday, and so though many places such as restaurants continued to offer services, computer stores did not.

I am told that one reader commented, “I’m enjoying the blog, but what is Laura actually doing there?” I’ve added some more information on my role in the “about me” section to the right, but basically I’m helping a local non-profit (NGO, or non-governmental organization in local parlance) improve their microlending processes and practices, and especially how they utilize Kiva loans. And I cannot believe how well church work prepared me for this. There were all these people at the Kiva Fellows training from corporate and high finance worlds and I felt very intimidated, but we’re not talking about corporate high finance, here. We’re talking about basic do your best, seat of your pants tracking of relatively small amounts of money, managed by well-meaning people whose first love is people not money management. Just what I’m used to.

I probably won't be writing about work much as I want to preserve confidentiality both for Kiva and for the folks at Life in Africa, but I'm sure stories from the office will pop up from time to time.

In general, the mode of work seems to be of the “hurry up and wait” variety. Small bursts of activity interspersed with lingering stalls as I try not to be in the way and try not to feel bad about Not Getting Anything Done. It’s a very different pace from what I am used to in the U.S. where anything less than continuous activity or productivity is seen as wasteful. I really don’t know how much I will accomplish here. There are times when it feels like what I have been sent here to do should be cleared up in a couple of weeks; there are times when it feels like I will never accomplish anything. It is what it is, and I’ll do what I can. Resignation is an excellent discipline.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A day of rest

Having come to the startling conclusion that I am in Uganda and won’t be commuting home for the weekends, I am taking today to rest. I was very glad that the readings and prayers today support me in this—so much so that it is almost funny. “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (Heb. 4:9-11) OK, OK, I’ll rest! Happy to oblige.

Yesterday, when I realized I am in Uganda, I also realized that everything takes a bit of effort: making tea, washing dishes, getting places, paying for things, connecting to the internet, talking to people. Even going outside requires sunscreen and sometimes mosquito repellent. And I have it easy! I’m living in the lap of luxury, here, with running water and the oft-cited washing machine and someone who mops my floors. And so today my goal is to expend very little effort.

To that end, I bought milk and breakfast cereal. Milk here comes in boxes that can be stored unrefrigerated on the shelf. After it is opened, it needs to be refrigerated, obviously, but refrigeration is an iffy prospect around here, even when there’s a refrigerator, and so the packages (at least at the grocery where I bought mine) are quite small. The large box I bought holds 500 ml. I could get whole milk, whole milk, or whole milk. A low-fat diet is not really a problem here.

For cereal, I bought Honey Flakes, imported from South Africa. They taste a little like stale Honey Smacks (I think that’s what they’re called—the one with the frog). And they were good, too. I had them and some tea and I sat on my porch reading a Fanny Flagg novel, and it was good.

(In the picture below you can see the infamous gas tank, mentioned in the previous post.)

Good Friday in Kampala

It finally occurred to me yesterday that I am in Uganda. I know that sounds a little stupid, but it’s true. All of a sudden, I looked around and realized that I am in Uganda and that it is very far away from California and that it will be a while before I come home. I think it finally hit me yesterday because it was the first day this year that I didn’t have a huge to-do list hanging over my head. I wasn’t finishing up a job, or packing up at apartment, or getting ready to leave, or moving to my new apartment here, or settling in to the job and getting into new patterns. In fact, what has already become my new pattern (putting water on the cooker to boil for tea while I read Morning Prayer) got disrupted because of the new tank of gas.

My cooking space consists of a stovetop with three burners attached by a rubber hose and a connector to a large tank of propane. I turn on the propane at the connector and turn on the burners I want to light, then take matches and light the burners that burst on with a whoosh! I have finally gotten to the point where I don’t throw the match at the burner to light it.

But I needed to buy a full tank for 60,000 shillings (about $35). On Thursday, I went to the Forex (foreign exchange) Bureau to change a $100 bill (they don’t take smaller, and they don’t take bills printed before 2000, and so I have $500 that is worthless here). When I got back on Thursday night, I gave Alex, the caretaker, the 60,000 and he brought me a new tank and tried to set it up. The connector refused to connect. He struggled with it for 20 minutes until I finally said, “Why don’t you try again in the morning.” He said OK.

And so on Friday morning, Alex continued to fight with the tank for a while, trying to attach it. Then he got a different tank. Then he got the tank I had had before I bought the new tank. Then he brought in the bodaboda driver to help. Then there was a procession of men trooping in and out—I don’t know who they were--, all trying to help and none succeeding. Then a man with a shirt that said “K-Gas” came and looked at the tank with Alex, who finally turned to me and said, “There’s a spring missing from the attachment and we’ll have to get another one.” Eventually I left, tealess, and went to the office a little after 9. I returned a little before 1 for lunch and found the gas in order, at long last making my tea and reading the daily office.

The word that leapt out at me from the gospel was “rooster,” as in “before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” The roosters impress me the way they throw themselves into it, as if they were rabid fans yelling “Go, let’s go, let’s GOOO!” I have never heard a rooster crow moderately. I start hearing them a little after 6 in the morning, and they keep it up all day long. I still notice it, though I imagine after a while it will fade into the background, the way I no longer notice the airplanes flying overhead in Alameda, as noisy as they are.

I’m sure Peter didn’t notice them usually either until what had happened and what he had done had hit him—really hit him, not just as a theory, but as reality. I think, too, about the disciples who had heard Jesus say many, many times that he would be killed, saying, “Yeah, yeah,” until it finally happens and they finally get it. Dead, as in dead.

Headline News

So the big news here this week is that Muammar Gaddafi was in town, as well as a number of presidents from African nations, to dedicate the new mosque, largely funded by Libya.

The headline the day after the dedication was "Gaddafi says Bible was rewritten."

The headline the day after that was "Bishops say: 'Ignore Gaddafi.'"

Posters of Gaddafi were plastered all over town. Also President Museveni announced that Makarere Road, the major thoroughfare in front of Makarere University, is to be renamed Gaddafi Road.

Did any of this make the U.S. papers? Just curious. In "The East African," the only U.S. news I saw, besides an Assistant Secretary of State giving a major speech on Ethiopia, was the resignation of Eliot Spitzer.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Basics: money and bargaining

I am beginning to sort of kind of get the hang of this bargaining thing that is a part of the culture here. Price tags are largely negotiable here, if there is a price tag as all. I feel safest at a grocery store or restaurant where the prices are fixed and reasonable. But most of the time, "price" is a relative term.

I got to watch a master at work last night as Joseline helped me to negotiate the fare for a special hire taxi (as opposed to a cheaper matatu, a special hire allows a person to travel in individual comfort and door to door). I asked her as we walked up to the taxi stand in Wandegeya how much it should cost. "No more than 5,000," she told me, around $3.

We approached the taxi and Joseline asked how much for a taxi to Bukoto (which is about 5 miles away, at a guess). Where in Bukoto? Near Kabira (the local country club). Ten thousand said the driver. Ohhh nooo, said Joseline, shaking her head sadly, no more than four thousand. Ten thousand, the driver insisted again. “I take this route all the time and it is no more than four thousand,” insists Joseline, happily lying. So five thousand it was. And how peaced off (as they say it here) was the driver when it was I, the mazungu, who got into the cab. But he was true to his word, though he had to change a 10,000 =/ bill for me.

The lesson I'm trying to learn is a) have the price firmly in mind that you want to pay and b) offer to pay less! This last part is important, and I haven't gotten there yet. But I'm learning quickly!

Maundy Thursday in Kampala

I didn't go to church yesterday. What's more I am not going to church today, nor do I plan to go to church tomorrow. I am planning to attend the early service on Easter Sunday, and that is it. It feels a little like luxury, but on the other hand, I feel that what I am living is illuminating the days of the Triduum in different ways and lights for me.

Yesterday, I went to the home of Joseline, the young woman who guided me through the service last Sunday. She lives in a boarding house owned by a woman named Sally in the Namirembe neighborhood of Kampala. Just Sally and anywhere from 14 to 21 children and young people. The rooms sleep 4 or 6 people; I have never seen a triple bunk bed before.

And so on Maundy Thursday, when we commemorate Jesus' meal with his disciples, I sat at a table for 14, being served bread and plantains and milk tea. I asked if I could wash my hands, and Joseline brought me a basin of water. Joseline said a prayer before we had our tea, and Sally offered a prayer before I left for the evening, ending with a benediction. I would say that Maundy Thursday was celebrated fully and well.

And I also have a place to go for Easter dinner!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Basics: Mazungu!

I think I might have used the term “mazungu” in an earlier posting, so I thought I should explain what that means since I imagine I will use the term a lot. It refers to white persons and somewhere in one of my guidebooks, I have an explanation of what exactly it means. But I can’t find it now. At any rate, I hear it every day: “Hello, mazungu! How are you?” Most often from children, who are being children, and from bodaboda drivers (motorcycle taxis), who are trying to get a fare.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The neighborhood

Finally, here's a picture of the road right outside my apartment buiding.

There's an amazing number of shops on this street: little markets, food vendors, a beauty salon (or beauty saloon as they are often called), a public telephone, a pharmacy, and others I haven't discovered yet.


As you will see below, I’ve moved into my new apartment and the housekeeping isn’t going to be what I feared (namely, that I would be left to my own devices). This morning, Alex, the caretaker, came while I was reading Morning Prayer on the front porch and asked, “May I clean for you?” Of course I said yes.

He took a basin of soapy water and towel in to my apartment and started mopping the floor. By “mopping,” I mean putting the basin on the floor, wringing out the towel, and swiping the towel over it, bent over at the waist.

He mopped the kitchen and the dining room, cleaned the bathroom, dusted the TV screen (yes, I have a television; I found myself listening to (Kiswahili?) rap videos last night while ironing), then came out and mopped the porch. Eventually, I switched sides so he could mop where I was sitting. And I’ve got to say, it was very difficult for me to pray when someone is bending over double cleaning my dirt. He also washed my shoes. It made me see leisure as a product of someone else’s toil, though I think that is too simple. I will have to think about this some more, especially as Maundy Thursday approaches.

Hello to my new apartment!

And here's my new place.

I'll have you know, it's not all mine. There are four apartments in the building. Mine is on the lower right, the door with the laundry hanging in front.

This is the sitting room/dining room, and on further into the kitchen as you enter the apartment. One very nice feature is tinted glass that keeps the apartment cool all the time.

And here's the view looking out the door. You can see some of the hills of Kampala over the walls around the apartment.

Here's my bedroom, just off from the sitting room, and on through to the bathroom. I think the mosquito netting gives a kind of canopy feeling.

This is the all-important washing machine! A huge feature for this place. There's a fridge, too, about the same size as the washing machine. And a shower, too, with a switch to heat the water. So I feel I'm in like Flynn.

When the special-hire driver, James, helped me move my stuff here yesterday, he walked in and said, "Cool place!" I think I'm going to be comfortable here.

Goodbye to my old digs

I came home from my first day of work and my last night at Kolping House with new additions to the entrance. There was also a bull with VERY long horns next to the drive.

Thank you, Kolping House! You were a wonderful and hospitable introduction to Kampala.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Palm Sunday at All Saints Cathedral

Here's what happened on Palm Sunday.

I caught a matatu in front of Kolping House and headed up Kampala Road. Paid my 500 Ush and headed up Kyagwe Road to All Saints Cathedral.

On the way up the road, I paid 200 Ush for a branch of palms, and got a picture of the vendor (with his bemused permission). The cathedral is at the top of the hill, slightly back from the road. As I approached, I learned that the next service was not at 10:00, as I had been told by the reception desk at the guest house, but at 9:30, so I was glad I was very early (I arrived at a little after 9). There was a group standing about, and I found a bulletin on a chair. I learned that the officiant for the 9:30 Morning Worship Service (not communion) was the Vicar, the Reverend…Diana Nkesiga. How cool is that? Guess I don’t have to stay totally under cover.
I saw that the 8:00 Holy Communion service was meeting in a tent outside the building. Until I realized that the people in the tent were the overflow from the crowd inside the building. Took me a while to figure that out.

Meanwhile, I was looking at the all-African crowd. I saw one young woman standing near me with a T-shirt that had ‘San Francisco’ on it. “San Francisco!” I exclaimed. “That’s where I’m from!” Her name was Joseline Katusabe and after we talked for a little bit, she offered to help me through the service. At about 9:20, the group that had been standing outside the tent started to move forward towards the door of the church. Joseline said, “Come with me” and held my hand in hers behind her back. We waited as the celebrant at the 8:00 service said the Eucharistic Prayer (he broke the bread with a crack when he said, “This is my body, broken for you”) and the congregation received communion. At the end, the ushers cleared a VERY small path out through those of us waiting and the choir and altar party threaded their way out.

Then the crowd surged forward into the church building and I grabbed on to Joseline for dear life. She led me down a side aisle and we sat in a pew on the gospel side of the church (I think it’s the gospel side; the left side as you face the front), that was perpendicular to the front (i.e. facing the side) and next to a pillar. The place filled up almost instantaneously and soon the praise band started. I had to laugh at myself, knowing that I had always said the one kind of church service I wouldn’t tolerate was a praise service.

The 9:30 service started at about 9:40 with a praise song of “Hosanna” and everyone shaking their palm fronts—a good bunch of them, not just a single frond. And it had a kind of pompom appearance around the church. Palm-palms, as it were. I wish I could have taken a picture, but I didn’t have the nerve. The Vicar, the Rev. Diana, led us in a confession, a form of the 10 Commandments that I liked very much (from the ASB 1980—Anglican Service Book, perhaps?). It added kind of a commentary on some of the commandments that fleshed them out a bit. She also introduced the preacher for the day, the retired archbishop of Uganda, wonderfully named Livingstone Nkoyoyo. She said, “I’m not sure we should call him retired since we are always asking him to work.” He stood up and made a little jest about being back from Switzerland and about how he was from the Switzerland of Africa, which made everyone laugh.

Then more praise music. Then the intercessions, led by a man who prayed very well indeed. The prayers sounded planned but in no way canned, quite a feat. They went on for a while.
Then two readings: Philippians 3:7-11 (read by a woman named Jolly Kamwesigwe), and the gospel, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, followed by the Apostles Creed, and two collects: for Ash Wednesday and for the day.

Then came the announcements: the Notices, as they are known here. OK, first of all, Rick Warren is coming to the cathedral the week after Easter—not to preach, but for two talks: one a dinner on Friday, March 28 at 40,000 Ush, another a breakfast for everybody at 5,000. I’m not sure I’ll get there, but I’m mighty impressed. Next, the Rev. Diana announced that it had been a hard week at the cathedral: they had had a funeral every day! The week before Holy Week! My heart went out to them all right there. She also asked visitors to stand, “first you in the tent out there,” and there was some clapping from the tent that spread to the nave; “and anyone here,” so I stood along with a couple of other people, including three other mazungu, two men and a woman.

I had noticed these three earlier because the two men were brazenly taking pictures and video with huge cameras. I had only just a little bit ago noticed the woman. And it’s rotten of me to say, but I thought they spoiled the effect; it was the cameras that did it for me—and jealousy that I couldn’t take pictures, or at least thought I shouldn’t and so I refrained.

Then the vicar said, “We have some guests from Compassion International,” and the three palefaces I just described stood up, so that’s who they were.

All visitors were invited to go to the provost’s office after the service. So I knew what I would be doing.

Then she read the Banns of Marriage. I had never heard this done before, but couples who are planning to marry have their names and hometowns announced (and there were about 15 couples preparing for marriage), ending with, "If anyone knows why any of these persons should not be married, please see the clergy." The list of names and hometowns, along with parents' names, is also listed in the bulletin. And those who had been announced the week before, with a note that "additional banns are posted on the notice board."

After some more music and the offering (collected in those little bags on posts), we got to the sermon from the retired Archbishop. I believe he preached in Luganda, with a translator standing next to him speaking in English, and even though it wasn’t the deepest sermon I ever heard, I enjoyed it very much. The archbishop is a very entertaining speaker, full of humor, and said some things I still remember: regarding Christ’s triumphant entry, “When you are put in a new position, you face new opposition.” Speaking of the Greeks going to Phillip, “He had a Greek-sounding name and they probably felt more comfortable going to him than someone with a more Hebrew-sounding name, just as someone from Switzerland felt more comfortable calling me, ‘Livingstone’ than ‘Bishop Nkoyoyo,’” which got a laugh. The Greeks asking, “We would like to see Jesus,” had him remark, “Many people have seen Jesus, but fewer people have actually allowed Jesus to change them.” He gave a number of examples of this, mostly from family life, that had everyone laughing. The one I liked best was that when there’s one car in a family, the wife will say it’s our car, but when there is a second one, the wife will say, “That’s MY car.” Which I thought was pretty astute. He was an equal-opportunity critic, and the men came in for a lot of grief as well.
His basic point being, don’t just see Jesus, be changed by Jesus.

And what I realized is that I have, I have allowed myself to be changed—by Jesus, I suppose. Certainly I would be more likely to say by God, but Jesus is right in there. I had all sorts of church ambitions which have been thwarted and now I am here and I feel I have allowed myself to be changed, and I’m very glad of it. So when they had the prayer afterwards, inviting people to raise their hands if they wanted Jesus to change them, I didn’t raise mine. It’s already done, almost without my knowledge.

The service ended with the benediction and then “All Glory Laud and Honor” as we left, shaking our palm-palms.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Basics: the weather

Aida asked “What’s the weather like?” and I’d have to say that I think it’s terrific, at least so far. Not nearly so hot as I had expected, given that we are on the equator, though I’m glad for a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and glad to walk in the shade. I’d guess usually in the 80’s during the day. But I sleep under a blanket at night and haven’t turned on the fan in my room since my first night here, and one of the things I’m most glad I brought is the hooded sweatshirt that I wear every evening and in fact am wearing right now as I write this in my room at 8:30 in the morning. I had almost left it behind.

It’s the rainy season here and there have been some terrific storms, but only at night so far, thank goodness. Lightning and thunder that I haven’t experienced for a while, and I’m glad to be in a comfortable room. Last night the thunder was so loud that the room itself rumbled.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Also the quiet view from the room

I'm afraid I left a false impression with my post about my lodgings. This picture was supposed to be in there, but wasn't for some reason:

This is the view from my room, and the building beyond it is the reception area and dining hall. Beyond that is a driveway, and beyond that is Bombo Road. So it's quieter and more private than you might have thought. There's still the sound of a rooster crowing in the morning, and the Muslim call to prayer, and workers and car horms, but it's quieter than the busy street outside would suggest.

They're also meticulous. Yesterday I watched a man picking up fallen leaves one by one from the lawn, and my room is always spotless. It reminds me of a retreat center more than anything else. Certainly I feel comfortable there. But I will be moving to an apartment next week, which will have its own charms, though the maid service will be terrible!

My current lodgings

While I have a chance to upload photos (at a great internet cafe in the Garden City Mall), I wanted you to see pictures of my current lodgings, the Kampala Kolping House.

The room:

And the road in front of the guest house:

This was a light traffic moment.

More matatu adventures!

I wanted to tell you about my other matatu adventure on Friday—actually, one before the Q-tip experience. I needed to take two matatus to get to the U.S. embassy. I asked at the front desk for how to get there and the reception clerk helpfully told me that I needed to go to the old taxi park, and from there take a matatu that went on the Kasanga-Gaba road. He even told me how much I should expect to pay, which was exceedingly helpful.
So. I took the first matatu and we ventured out past the part of Kampala I had already seen, into an even busier and a more commercial part. Also a little more upscale, with actual cement sidewalks, though it was still a bit muddy from the rain the night before. The conductor told me that this was where I get out, so I got out, along with everyone else. Now what. I started to get out a map to orient myself when a soft lilting English African voice said, “Do you know where you are going?” Well, I knew where I was going, I just had no idea how to get there.
I said I needed to get to the old taxi park and take a matatu to the embassy. And so this lovely young woman led me, taking my hand from time to time, to the old taxi park.
We got to the steps above and I looked down and this is what I saw.

Somewhere in this sea of minivans was the matatu that I needed to take. Again, my guide led me through a maze of vehicles, negotiated with the driver, and put me on the matatu. As she said, “I will show you which matatu to get on, and then I will go back and do what I came here to do.”

There is no way I would have found this matatu without her. What a blessing, and what kindness.

May I also say that, despite all appearances, these matatus do navigate through all of this. Incredible.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Far too much has happened in the past day for me to detail all of it, so I will tell you about one major step for me: traveling by matatu. Matatus are kind of a cross between a bus and a taxi: minivans that seat 14 passengers (2 in the front seat next to the driver, plus four rows of three), plus a driver and a conductor. The matatus drive up and down specific major routes, and people get on and off all along the route, though the matatu doesn't start out until it is full.

There is no doubt some rule or understanding about the fares involved, but I have no idea what it is. I have paid 500 shillings one way on the route, and been asked to pay 1,000 in the opposite direction. When I traveled with Peter, my contact from Life in Africa, our journey cost 300 Ugandan shillings (henceforth Ush) for the two of us, but for me alone, it was 500. So go figure. (For those who do figure, I exchanged $100 for 160,000 Ush. So, what is that? $1=1600 Ush, I guess.)

But I ventured forth this morning to register with the embassy, which required taking two matatus to districts I hadn't visited before. While waiting for matatu #2 to start, vendors approached the windows with all sorts of things: pens, and "air time" for cell phones, and toiletries. The woman behind me beckoned a woman who had a basket full of combs and other items. "Toospick" she said, and the vendor handed in a vial of toothpicks. 500 Ush. The woman then gestured to her ears, and the vendor handed in...a container of Q-tips. 500 Ush.

Man, am I embarrassed.

Time's almost up here at the internet cafe. I have pictures to share, but they'll have to wait.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Hello, there!

I have about 5 minutes left of my half-hour at the New Global Internet Cafe, but I just wanted to tell you that I have arrived safely in Kampala, though the car ride in from Entebbe Airport was a bit hair-raising. Kolping Guest House is lovely and quiet--amazingly so, given the busy street outside.

I'm here mainly to pick up the phone number for my contact at Life in Africa so we can connect today. And now I will walk the 2 or so km back to the guest house to call him.

More when I can.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Greetings from Amsterdam, the first leg of my travel to Uganda. I'm sitting in the lobby of the hotel where there is wireless access, looking out at the cold and rainy street.

I did get out earlier today, walking through jet lag and checking out the Flower Market--Bloemenmarkt--thanks to a tip from Paula D. The photo is of a selection of bulbs available for purchase, some of them pretty scary-looking.

I'm pleased to say that I did get everything packed and I have not yet said, "Oh no! I forgot to bring X!" My suitcase weighed in at 36 pounds, and I have to admit I'm pleased about that. Especially as a surreptitious look at the travelers around me showed that their suitcases weighed in the 33-35 pound range.

Off to get some dinner before jet lag claims me for good.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Get set


This is what I'm supposed to be packing, and that's not all there is either. Given that I'm the kind of person who throws everything into a suitcase when I'm going to Seattle for the weekend, you can imagine what I'm like when I really am going to be in a place where some things are hard to come by. "Q-tips! I need Q-tips!" even though I never use them when I'm here. But you never know. Likewise safety pins. You never know when you might need safety pins.

Aside from the clothes you see here, important items include a lightweight and breathable raincoat (I'll be in Uganda during the rainy season), Tilly hat, new sunglasses made in a bit over an hour from Lenscrafters (where you can get a AAA discount--who knew?), memory sticks (as mentioned in blog #1), malaria pills, bug spray (30 percent Deet), and a couple months worth of feminine hygiene products.

For all that, I AM going to be in Kampala, a major city, and it's no doubt silly of me to bring as many toiletries as I am. A former Kiva fellow reported that he brought enough deoderant for a year and I am sure that I'm going to discover I have enough supplies to last me into the next decade. But if anyone needs a safety pin, I'm willing to share.
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Friday, March 7, 2008

Get ready

I'm leaving for Uganda on Monday. Actually, I'm leaving for Amsterdam on Monday and Uganda on Tuesday, if you want to be technical about it. All I can say for sure is that right now I am surrounded by lists of things I need to do. I'm happy to say that the major tasks have been crossed off (ticket, passport, visa, shots, paying my taxes). Now it's the little niggly things that need to get done (buying pens and memory sticks, packing nail clippers and neosporin, paying the last PG&E bill) and they are driving me crazy. Not because they are important to remember, but because they aren't. And yet they are on my list.

One of the things on my list was "set up blog," and I can now cross it off. It's a very satisfying thing, crossing one more thing off my list. There's lots I want to write, but there's lots still on my list (such as "pack"), so if I add more to this blog before I arrive, I will be pleased. But I make no promises.