Friday, September 19, 2008


I'd like to draw your attention to my friend Callum's documentary on Northern Uganda. It reflects so much that I saw there! And in terms of reconciliation, it's a great lesson in love.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Letters from Uganda

It's been wonderful keeping in touch with the friends I made this summer. While I readjust to business suits and heels, it's nice to know that not too far away is this lovely world where kids still go play in the yard and women lay down fresh cow dung flooring to welcome their guests. I feel balanced, knowing that both worlds exist and I have recourse to either, and I love hearing that my friends are for the most part doing well. Some of the messages I've gotten since my return have been disturbing, though. A lot of Ugandans seem to think that we in the United States have that we have an unlimited supply of money. Actually, the perception isn't limited to Uganda, it seems to be a global phenomenon. This e-mail is one of those examples ...

hullo maisha i hope your fine this is (OMITTED) trying to communicating to you but my sisster i want to inform you thart I was stoped from work since (OMITTED) so ssister Iam just rguesting you to send for me some money because iam too brock my ssister as you know being amareid person so ssister maisha put my reguest into your considaretion and reply to here is my telephone number (OMITTED) and ssister what ever small it my be I will be glad to recieve it IF you send it by western union PLEASE SSISTER MAISHA HELP ME BECAUSE YOUR THE ONLY PERSON TO HELP IT IS LIKE YOUR MY GOD LET ME END THERE BY WISHING YOU ANICE DAY AND AREPLY TO IAM YOURS (OMITTED)

What can I do with this? I am more offended than sympathetic -- not that this individual is asking for money, but that the individual is intentionally debasing her/himself in order to appeal to me. This is a nasty power dynamic: the supplicant would control my responses, and I have a choice of two evils. I can be the heartless pseudo-friend, or I can be the condescending rich foreigner. I never asked anyone to grovel. I'll help anyone with an honest need. But how do I ascertain whether the need is honest?

I'm going to ignore the e-mail, and any others like it. It's one thing to look out for an IDP kid showing signs of ringworm and unable to pay school fees, it's a different story when an able-bodied person asks for cash for no specific reason. But aside from my personal discomfort, I am reminded of one truth:

If you want to be a respectable person, you have to earn that respect, yoruself. No one else can do this for you.

I love my Dad because he made a life for himself out of nothing. Well, that's one of the reasons. All of the people I love most have overcome enormous odds, or work hard in one way or another, to make the world a more positive place. That is the kind of person I want to be, and that is the kind of person I wish we all were. I'll have to remember that, and keep working always.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

More on the way!

I got home a week ago, today. I spent the next two days asleep in my bedroom, emerging only occasionally to eat MEAT and VEGETABLES. (It seemed extremely important at the time.) Then I flew to California where I am now, snuggled with Ozzie the beagle. I missed him so much! And he did remember me! I was worried he wouldn't, or that he would be offended I'd left him with Mom and Dad for so long, but when I walked into the room he woke up to the sound of my voice and bounded into my arms. What a cute little munchkin! So it seems as though I am forgiven.

Meanwhile, I have to apologize for not finishing this blog sooner. I thought this would be top priority, but I have to prepare for job interviews, draft my evaluation (which is already 20 pages and threatens to become a mini novella), and put together a short advocacy film. Plus, I'm still finishing up little pieces of business for folks in Uganda. Time hasn't been quite as available as I'd expected.

Tomorrow Dad is inviting a bunch of his friends over to look at my pictures and welcome me home. Talk about the proud papa! I asked if I could invite some of my friends, too, and he gave me permission. It's like being seated at the adult's Thanksgiving table for the first time. So I'm really happy;

Enough small chat, though. I still have blogs to post; I just wanted to let you know that they were coming!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Retrospective post #2

This is a second retrospective entry from Gulu. I have at least one more to publish, possibly two.


Well, Gulu is over. I know I haven’t written much about it – the Institute didn’t really give me time. Also, I think it was one of those experiences that I couldn’t write and feel at the same time. There was just too much going on.

I realized how much I had changed this morning when I got on the bus and leaned back to take a nap. Leaning back aimed my eyes right at the ceiling of the bus, where the first thing I saw was grasshoppers crawling out of the bus lights and around the storage compartments. For a second, I felt my body start to tense up, and then I just decided, nah, isn’t worth the effort and went to sleep. I didn’t wake up again until Karuma Falls. Figured if the bugs really bothered me that much, I’d just eat them.

You know, it really has been a journey for me. Yesterday I didn’t even know for sure how I’d get back to Kampala. I was completely reliant on Maisha’s Number One Rule of Travel: As long as you have your passport and a working credit card, you’ll be okay. I’d heard rumors that you could take the Post Bus back to Kampala, that it was new and comfortable and driven safely. The best part is it only costs 20.000/= as opposed to 450.000/=, like I’ve mentioned before. The only problem I could see was transport from the hotel to the bus at 5:30 in the morning. Gulu wakes up at 6 a.m. sharp. Not before, not after. Even the roosters wait until the church bells ring to start crowing. (Okay, maybe one deviant little clucker will let out an early cock-a-doodle-doo, but it’s pretty rare.) So how on earth was I going to get someone from town to bring a car around and pick me up with the delinquent roosters?

I went to the bus park the night before and made an appointment. Of course, I made the one cultural faux pas: I asked how much it would cost. Have I learned nothing in my travels here?

“Fifteen thousand!” one eager driver shouted. Great. It costs fifteen thousand to get from downtown Kampala to Ntinda, and this wasn’t even half of the distance. I mock-scowled at the driver.

“Ten.” I insisted. This was probably still about five times the regular pay, because the guy beamed immediately. Oh well. I swallowed my pride and told myself I had really only spent about $8.

The guy came to pick me up in the pouring rain at 5:25 a.m. He was actually early. I, silly munu, had turned off my alarm clock and gone right back to sleep, figuring he would be at least 30 minutes late and I had time. Uh, oops. It was the horn that woke me up. Forget the fact that the entire ritzy hotel population was sound asleep, this driver just put his hand in the middle of that steering wheel and leaned. I hadn’t even finished packing. I slumped out of bed, threw my things into the bag, deliberately abandoned what I felt I couldn’t carry (i.e., two pairs of shoes that have literally skinned my feet since I got here, medical supplies that I won’t need in Kampala, and Jacqueline’s tub of groundnut paste), and oozed down the stairs to the car. It was raining like mad, one of those blinding Ugandan lightning storms again.

The driver took me to the post office. No one was there. I got out of the car and asked the post office guard when the bus was leaving, and he said it only traveled Mondays through Fridays. My driver snickered. The little cretin! I’m pretty sure he knew this would happen.

“Well,” he had the audacity to say, “you can always hire me.” I thought about all that money going down the fuel pump.

“Do you know the way to Kampala?” I asked. My driver didn’t answer. He just looked sideways and grinned. No way was I going to hire him.

“How about you just take me to the new bus park, just to see if any nice buses are going? I’ll hire you if no one is there.”

He took me around, and sure enough there was a bus with its engine running. Looked pretty full from the outside, too. “But you have resolved to move with me!” my driver said. Yeah, sort of. I had resolved to move with him if my luck gave out.

I smiled a tight little smile and said, “Let me just check with these guys; if I go with them I will pay you for the trip back to the bus park, too.” You could see the little shilling signs lining up in this guy’s eyes. Munu was going to give him even more cash than before, and he wouldn’t have to waste the day trying to find Kampala. Great.

I stepped up to the bus. Three young Ugandan men were lounging on the stairs, trying to look tough and American. It’s cute when Ugandan men do this, because they usually miss the cultural nuances completely. Exempla gratia, one of these fellows was wearing an oversized Winnie-the-Pooh t-shirt. I burst out laughing.

“What?” my driver said behind me.

“That guy is wearing a Pooh Bear shirt!” I laughed, trying to keep the giggles to a minimum. Even if Ugandan men might not look tough doesn’t mean they weren’t child soldiers five years ago. I’m not sure if the driver understood or not, but he heard the word “poo” and started chuckling uncertainly. I just let that one go. Way too early in the morning to offer cultural explanations.

I climbed up to the bus and asked the guys, “Hey, what time is this bus leaving?”

The boys didn’t miss a beat. “Why don’t you climb on board and find out?”

I shrugged. I looked into the bus. There were a lot of people wearing professional clothes, and some kids. It looked safe enough. “Okay, I’m going with them,” I told the driver. He looked at me funny.

“You call me when you get to Kampala,” he said. Great, that raises my confidence tons.

The ride itself wasn’t bad, though. The only bit that got a little scary was where road repairs forced us to detour across a really pitted, narrow road. The bus kept sloping off the side and driving tilted for 100 meters or so before righting itself again. I told myself two things:

1. Mom would kill me if she saw me doing this. I’d better never take this bus again.

2. I’m a fat American. If I lean opposite the way the bus is tilting, I can keep the cabin balanced all by myself.

Number two was a lie, but it made me feel better, and we got through safely after all.

Actually, the ride was pretty exciting. I sat by two silent, strong-looking men and one small talkative fellow who had the most adorable little girl cradled in his arms. He played with her the way I remember Dad playing with me when I was a kid, and it brought all sorts of memories rushing back. Turns out this guy, Peter, works with Invisible Children, and I did a little interview with him along the way. He didn’t really say anything I didn’t know about child soldiers trying to get through school, but it was engrossing all the same.

The two strong silent types to my right sounded like they were offended to be crammed onto a bench with a large tourist. They spoke in rapid Luganda and sounded a little annoyed. That changed, though, when we hit our first pit stop. I wanted goat muchomo so badly (hadn’t eaten dinner the night before, or breakfast that morning), but I only had 10.000/= notes. Muchomo costs 500/= … it’s meat on a stick, a salty roadside bbq kebab that I have learned to love over my road trips. One stick is enough to satiate hunger, two is enough to make your tummy bulge. I got ten. No way would somebody on the side of the road have change for a 10.000/= note; they just don’t carry that much or make so much in sales. Buying ten sticks meant they only had to find a 5.000/= note, possibly an easier feat. But there was no way I could eat that much muchomo – it would probably make me sick. So I gave two to Strong Silent #1, two to Strong Silent #2, and four to Peter and his daughter. It made the Quiet Ones explosively happy.

“Oh, where are you from?” they asked me. “You act like an African!” And they bought extra cassava and water and shared it all around. Peter got extra plantains, so we had a little feast in our bus row. It was kind of nice.

Turns out the two guys on my right are from Kampala, but doing construction work in Juba. They are very disenchanted with Sudan.

“How is Juba?” I asked them.

“Ah, it is a little bit behind,” #1 said.

“Nobody wants to work!” #2 exclaimed. “You see guys our age, and they just want to exchange money.”

“You see people sleeping under the trees.”

“No villages?” I asked. “Used to be, people built huts.”

“No,” the answered, “not anymore.”

I wonder exactly what is happening over there. Are the people really in such bad shape? Has the war exhausted people? Or maybe there are a nomadic group of people living in the Juba region? I don’t know. I will have to ask Dad. I really hope folks are better than that, though.

I mostly hung on for dear life, after that conversation, because road repairs had turned the tarmac into dust, and the bus wobbled the rest of the way to Kampala. I’ve been sneezing black goo since we got into town, and I really hope this doesn’t make me sick. At least on the bus, I was further away from the dirt than I would have been in a car.

Anyway, we made it back into town in one piece, and Vincent from Avarts took me to the cottage I’ve rented. Have I mentioned that I was bloody tired of managing my discomfort? I decided to splurge, this week. Happy birthday to me. I am paying a whole $50 per night for luxury lodgings in Kampala. I was supposed to have DSTV (I don’t) and an internet connection (it doesn’t work), but even without that, I’m in heaven. There’s a miniature market next door. The resort itself is fenced and guarded, secluded in a beautiful residential area on Naguru Hill. Wander outside, and there are goats all over the place wagging their little tails, and kids (the human kind) playing football. Inside, the landscaping is beautiful. Flowers drip off the trees, the neat stone walkways look like someone has polished them, and the lawns are well manicured. Every room is actually a separate porched cottage with a little glass table and African-print chairs in front. Inside, the floors are freshly tiled, the plaster is in perfect condition, the shower has an electronic temperature regulator, the kitchen is complete with a toaster oven and tiny refrigerator, the furniture is made out of wicker, the windows and doors are covered with glass that seals (read, no insect invasions unless they come out of the walls), and all of the cabinets and closets are new. The rooms are bright, the windows are enormous and let in a lot of sunlight; it’s all just perfect. Oh, and the bed! The bed is twin-sized, the comforter is a light blue embroidered with flowers, and the mosquito net is actually tented and framed with pink lace. I feel like a princess in here. I kept oohing over the place until the hotel owner actually got embarrassed, but I couldn’t help it. I’ve lived for nine weeks with dirty concrete floors or gaping holes in the windows and doors to let the insects in. For a month now I’ve been living with cold showers in Gulu, and barely any room to turn over in my sleep, let alone a lacy mosquito canopy. Who cares about television and internet? I feel clean for the first time in months. I even took a shower and then cleaned the bathroom, because there was Tilex available and it made me feel good.

Anyway, Jane Bagonza, the hotelier, says she is going to name this place Maisha. She likes the name and the meaning behind it. I am super happy that such a nice place is going to be named after me. I hope I get to see it someday, after Jane is done. Right now it’s just four little cottages, but she is installing a restaurant upstairs, and she plans to add a mini-mart and a business center. I probably won’t be able to afford this place, by that point, but I sure would like to see it.

Anyway, I’m going to take a nap now. I can feel the muscles behind my eyeballs twisting. There’s something about traveling that is just exhausting. Or maybe it’s just relief to be back in Kampala. G’night!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Make-up post #1

I have a few things to say about Gulu that I will have to post retrospectively, because of the trouble with my computer and the lack of consistent power. Here is one of those entries.


I’m leaving Gulu on Saturday morning with the Post Bus. It’s about 430,000/= ($275) cheaper than hiring a car, and the money that I save … well, I might give some of it to Gladys at the front desk. She works 18 hours a day like everyone else here, and makes 80,000/= per month. That’s about $60, and not enough to eat with even in Uganda. Anyway, Atimango Gladys is special because she just got into the public administration program at Gulu University, and will be taking weekend classes so she can continue to work. For anyone counting, that’s 18 hours of work per day, 6 days per week, plus school. And she can’t afford tuition. So I was thinking maybe I would help her a little bit.

Life has gotten a lot better, with a little adjustment. The lack of water and power don’t bother me so much anymore, and the crazy rain just washes away my bad feelings. I don’t mind so much that people charge me twice the price for everything, or that the kids make a game out of who can catch the munu’s attention. “Munu” is the Acholi version of “mzungu” – white person, essentially. My friend Simone calls this “innocent racism.” The kids especially have no idea they’re being offensive. They just want to rub your arms to see whether the paleness will come off revealing darker skin underneath. It’s fascination, not hatred.

There are just so many little things to appreciate. The frogs here sound like wind chimes. The lightning is like electric diamonds. I found a supermarket yesterday, a real supermarket with boxed juice and bread. It’s run by an Indian who wanted the luxuries of home, and there are as many electronic gizmos as there are kitchen supplies. So you can pick up your television and your Cadbury bar in the same place. It’s got that thrown-together look that everything seems to have here in Uganda, but it’s the best thing I’ve found in town so far.

I also ran into a very interesting person, in my more recent explorations. Any foreigner you meet up here, anyone who isn’t associated with a major group, anyway, is bound to be really interesting. This particular gentleman runs a restaurant across the street from the Institute. It’s called Bambu, and walking in is like stepping into the idealized version of Uganda. Instead of the normal plastic chairs and plastic tablecloths advertising beer, there are real benches with foam cushions and polished wood tables. The landscaping is beautiful, and the bar is very complete. The first thing you will encounter is a stately looking older man sitting at his counter with a beer, watching the sun roll across the sky and chatting softly with his employees. Ask him how his day is going, and he responds with something pithy – “oh, a lot like yesterday.” This is what James Bond looks like when he retires. I’ve wanted to speak with this man since the first time I met him, and finally yesterday worked up the courage to say, “You know, I’m trying to think up better questions for you.”

“What?” he asked.

“Like how did you get here, what was it like setting up shop, what made you come to Uganda – that sort of thing. Slightly more stimulating than ‘how ya doin’.’”

I think this tickled him, somewhat. The mellow look on his face never changed, he just said, “Well, there’s the short answer, the medium answer, and the long answer to all of those questions.” And I knew I had him, at least for a minute. I sat him down and asked him to give me the long version. I got the medium version, until he decided he was tired of company and wandered away. Turns out he used to help the United Nations with security issues, had a café in Spain, and left it in 2005 to try his luck in Gulu. Today he’s snuggled in here with a young lady lover and the occasional Skyy Vodka. He says it raises a few of the local eyebrows, but he doesn’t really care. Now just think about this man’s timing. 2005 was when the ICC indictments came out against Kony and the LRA leaders. The first brick of this restaurant was laid down in 2006, while peace talks were ongoing. That means that the land purchase and licensing went on before that time. How did Mr. Mystery know that the talks would more or less succeed, and Kony would never return? He calls it a “calculated business risk.” I call it double-0 status.

You get fascinating people like that, up here. Like Opiyo, who is doing research on child soldiers and sex slaves for his PhD dissertation. He told me some stories that I am not allowed to reprint, stories that could make a big difference in Kony’s trial if only they are published. And if this dissertation ever makes book form, you must read it. Opiyo Oloya: Remember that name! I also met a gentleman named Callum who freelances for the BBC and Al Jazeera. He told some wild stories too, stories which I can actually retype. Callum has been coming to Uganda on and off for the past five years. He was working on a documentary for the BBC when he got a call from a buddy of his who works with the UPDF.

“We have just won a great victory against the LRA,” his friend exclaimed. “You must come see!”

And so they jumped into the friend’s car and drove from Kampala to northern Uganda, out to the village where the battle had been fought. Apparently, this particular village had only two rifles to guard itself, and the LRA took it very early on in the conflict. Winning the place back involved decimating the troops on the ground. Callum said there were about forty bodies, all told. These villages are tiny, just a small collection of shops, so that number is a lot of people.

The first thing Callum saw when he got out of the car was the body of a four-year-old boy.

“Of course, you realize that when you’re talking about a victory against the LRA, what you mean is that you’ve killed a bunch of children,” Callum explains. “I hadn’t really realized it until that point. It isn’t much of a victory.”

I could see this in my mind’s eye, dozens of corpses, all child soldiers with guns their own size. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine the hurt that their mothers feel? Can you even begin to conceive of what a nightmare this has been for Uganda?

Opiyo and Callum talked a lot about what it takes to turn a child into a killer like that, stories they discovered during interviews. The LRA abducts these kids, maybe three of them, and they make the two youngest kill the oldest child on the pain of death (their death, the deaths of their families, whatever it takes). The entire village sees this, and so the boys are ostracized. They are disowned by their remaining families and their friends. No home will take them in. Schools won’t accept them. They are considered too dangerous to interact with normal society. And so the LRA presses them into service, preying on the children’s cultural prerogative to take orders. Other soldiers beat them constantly and march the boys around in circles for days on end. The children say that they will march three days straight without sleeping, time and time again. Then, when they are finally physically broken, the senior soldiers begin to grant them respect and make these boys feel included. They are given a new identity within their community, and the need to belong somewhere is enough to make many of these children commit to a life of war. Those individuals who still retain enough of themselves to attempt escape are amazing – and there are many.

I knew all of this already. It bears repeating.

Circumstances are better today, though. Victims are going home; the IDP camps are emptying out. Some of these former child soldiers are in school, and you can watch them laughing. There are a lot of people hopping around on crutches, covered in burns or missing limbs. But that doesn’t stop them from living. They keep right on at it. I was right; when I got out here I was too overloaded to see the situation’s reality. But now I can see the exhaustion, despair, mistrust, devastation, and fortitude despite it all. These people maintain a strength that is truly inspiring.

What concerns me, though, is the way the post-conflict situation is being addressed. A lot of NGOs are reducing aid and pulling out, not really thinking about how to re-stabilize society. I talked to one guy working with the Norwegian Refugee Council. He was furious. “Everyone says return to the villages should be voluntary. But if you stop distributing food, what’s voluntary about it? You have nothing to eat, you have to start farming so maybe you can eat something next year. Meanwhile, people are starving!”

A lot of promises have not been kept. The government said it would give farmers basic tools. No such luck. Medicines donated to Uganda are spoiling at Entebbe Airport because there isn’t sufficient transportation to get them to villages up north. Civil society organizations are trying to help, but a lot of them are based in municipalities and never reach the people who need help most. And the schools are so understaffed that they ask parents to pay for extra teachers. This isn’t exactly a request to some suburban PTA; this is demanding money from war victims so that their children can be in a class of 60 or so students. That is, if the camp even has a local primary school. Many of the transition camps do not.

I’m going to stop thinking about this for a minute. I’m getting angry, when what I should really do is work on the problem constructively.

The other day I took a cue from Emily and tried to get a dress made somewhere. It was a mess, and eventually I just gave up. I guess out here, you have to have a dress so the tailors can copy the pattern. Material stores don’t even sell bolts of cloth big enough to make a dress for me, so even if I had a dress to copy, I probably would have had to make it a skirt and blouse, instead. And trying to communicate with the tailors was nasty; they didn’t really want me to hire them. Eventually I gave up and bought a book of East African poetry, instead. It’s surprisingly good; I wasn’t expecting educated literature, and this stuff is on par with the anthologies I’ve got at home.

The next day I went with Fabius and Simone to the main campus to listen in on a discussion about developing an HIV policy for Gulu University. Attitudes towards HIV patients are pretty atrocious out here. The general sentiment seems to be, “well, you asked for it!” This policy is really necessary, and I wish there were some NGOs in the area to inform the committee’s research on the matter. The university and the community both need to confirm that people with HIV/AIDS have legal rights, including the right to work in public places. And if you’re sick, that doesn’t mean God has disowned you. I heard that attitude, too.

Anyway, after the meeting the dean of students gave me a traditional dancing stick made from a cow’s tail and a cork-like staff wrapped in beads the color of Uganda’s flag. You use it to dance for the king, balancing it on your bicep while you flap your arms up and down. I was very flattered to receive a traditional gift like this. Maybe I’ll take it out clubbing, sometime.

Oh, there goes the power again …

Sunday, July 27, 2008

All gone

The power was out for three or four days. Then it came back, but the water stopped running for the next two days. It came back this afternoon, right as the power went out again and my computer crashed. The power has returned (again), but my computer is down for the count. I might have lost all of my pictures and video, which would really be a pity, because I was putting together an advocacy video for the UCICC.

Anyway, I have two major events left to blog about (the Ndere Troupe, from weeks ago in Kampala, and my trip to Pabbo last week). But this probably won't happen until the power is stable and I can slow down, take a shower, and use a computer for the afternoon without bleeding shillings. So my friends, this may be goodbye for a time.

I hold out hope that if I can hard start my computer by exhausting the battery first, maybe I can get into diagnostics at reboot and get the OS running again. Wish me luck, and e-mail me advice!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mzungu day

Today was frustrating. Things just don't work up here, it's hard to get work done, and increasingly the institute relies on me for more. It's good to be useful, but it's even more frustrating to be incapacitated.

Anyway, I'm tired. I've hit that point in my stay where I'm ready to come home -- I've been saying this all week, and the feeling will probably keep gnawing away at me until I'm safely on a British plane crossing the Atlantic. I'm still trying to keep active. Tomorrow I'm going to visit the IDP camps with my buddy, Opiyo. Thursday I'm taking pictures of Fabius in his advocate's robes for the new web site I'm developing. Yesterday I typed identification numbers onto 1,000 membership cards for the resource center. This afternoon I chased kids around the tea gardens. So, you know. Life is okay. But I'm still homesick.

I went to an internet cafe to do some research on the institute's bill, and when power went out I decided to walk back to the hotel on my own. I actually managed to find it despite my rotten direction sense by tracing all of the landmarks I remembered on the boda ride over. This involved turning in circles and amusing the residents, but hey, it worked. And on my way back, I wound up at Kope Cafe again.

Kope Cafe was the mzungu restaurant I wrote about back when I first got here. I remember not liking the tourists who were wandering around that afternoon. But at that particular moment, I wanted to be a mzungu again, surrounded by mzungus who would ignore me just like any good American would. So I walked in.

It was perfect.

People ignored me, I could eat lunch in peace, and the lunch itself was so fantastic! After weeks without vegetables -- unless you count malakwang, which I don't -- I had a beautiful steak sandwich which was mostly avocados and tomatoes. It was DELICIOUS. I don't think I've ever liked food quite so much. I can still taste it in my mouth four hours later, and I almost don't want to brush my teeth so it will be there in the morning.

(Hello kids, our phrase for the day is "obvious vitamin deficiency!")

I also had a brownie, which I should have skipped, but I haven't had sugar since I got here, either. That was good too, but not as good as the avocado and tomato sandwich. Mmm, I have to go back, like, tomorrow! It's nice to be a mzungu.

Room service

The night after the invasion, I asked Jacqueline and Devotah at work what the heck those bugs were. They started giggling. So did Father William, who had overheard my description.

“Did they have four wings?” Devotah asked.

“And did they come off on the floor?” Jacqueline added.

“Those were white ants,” Father William chortled. “Do you know what we do with those? We eat them!”

Okay, it’s going to take me a while to work up to that particular dish. I talked to a few people about it, like my friend Opiyo, the Canadian school principal who grew up in Gulu.

“Oh yeah,” he said over tea that evening. “I just pick them up off the floor and eat them raw. They taste really good.”

Because I have to live here for a little while longer, I’m trying very hard to just accept this. In order to do that, I’ve had to completely rethink the way I conceptualize bugs. I mean, ants are clean creatures, and extremely hard-working. You only have to look at the size of their hills out here to understand that, or watch them carry the whole body of a grasshopper away, like a band of frat boys celebrating over a 500-foot keg.

Okay, I can live with this.

I turn it over in my head again and again, rewriting the grotesqueries into something absurd or poetic. These things are like cheeseburgers. Flying cheeseburgers, just like in a McDonald’s Hamburgler commercial. Should I be afraid of that? Well, okay, maybe if flying cheeseburgers invaded my room at one o’clock in the morning I would be scared out of my wits, but once I knew there was a logical reason for it, I would have hopped out of bed and grabbed myself a nice double-double cheese-cheese burger-burger please. Not going to happen if the ants come again, but at least I’ll be able to think about that if they decide to fly again.

The people here know when the ants are coming. Opiyo says that when the rains come down heavily after a long, hot, dry spell, the worker ant comes and opens up a little eyelet in the mound that others temporarily seal back over. That’s how you know they’re going to fly, when those eyelets appear. Then at night, the workers and the soldiers go, and they look for a new place to make their home. The queen has stayed behind, so they must create their civilization from scratch. They find a good spot with light and moisture, and then they shrug out of their wings, mate, and die. I suppose if the ladies from the hotel didn’t clean the corpses, I’d eventually see the eggs hatch. But so far that hasn’t happened.

So now when I remember the event, sometimes I envision it as an African love ritual. Like the Ndere Troupe dancing with ankle bells, trying to find a partner – only this dance is performed by insects. Imagine them ecstatic to find a new home, calling one another to the light, and like some sweetly unburdened soul casting off every last weight and care – the work at the hill, the unnecessary wings – casting them off and making love with their last, passionate, dying breath.

Anyway, I’m doing my best to accept the situation for what it is, and move on with living. That goes for a lot of things that make me a little bit uncomfortable with Gulu. I can do this for just a week and a half more; I can! And then I will go back to Kampala and meet with Francis again, and we’ll talk about Bashir and life will be easier. But for now, I can handle this. I don’t have to face my fear, I have to embrace it.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t come up with a new way of bug-proofing my room, though. I’m not sure that it would actually work, but I am very thorough now, every night, with how I go to bed. Lights go off when the sun goes down. If I need to work, I do it by the light of my LCD display – which is set to turn itself off after three minutes of no use. That means even if I do fall asleep working, my room will be dark within five minutes. Before I go to bed, I spray the room with insecticide, especially the window and door, and any cracks in the wall. Then I stuff the big crack under the door with the mosquito net I bought for the four-poster bed in Kampala and set up the mosquito net over my bed so it’s nice and taut. I don’t want the net touching me with the ants flying against it, entrée or no. And now I know not to go outside, when they fly. It will only make matters worse. But hopefully if I keep the lights out and my room warded, this won’t happen again to such a degree. Then again, bags of white ants? If what Simone says is true, I’ve hardly seen ants at all. I should be ready for … how should I think about it, this time? I should be ready for a denser wave of guests.

My friend from home

I’ve met some really cool people since I’ve gotten here. There’s Opiyo, the New Vision opinion columnist who writes from Canada, and Justin Moro, another New Vision reporter. The folks here on staff are pretty incredible. One guy has a scar on his forehead that must either be tribal cutting or remnants of the war. I’m not sure which. Jackie down in reception tells me that people here work 18 hours a day, so when I hear them say they’re doing okay, I really admire them. I would not be okay with that sort of working schedule. I need at least six hours of sleep per night.

One of the best surprises here, though, was meeting Charlton. Charles is from Philly, too. He’s one of these tall, healthy people whose age you couldn’t begin to guess, and he teaches phys ed at Microsoft’s School of the Future.

I met him while I was downstairs sucking on a soda. Charles wandered into the room wearing a Penn Relays t-shirt, and he was too light-skinned to be Ugandan.

“Are you from Pennsylvania?” I asked.

The man blinked, and turned around. “Yeah, how did you know that?”

Oh my goodness. English! English without an accent and without any arrogance behind it! I was in heaven.

We wound up talking for a couple of hours. Charles, it turns out, is teaching kids at the IDP camps around here to play basketball. He says they pick it up really fast. When he talks, you can see the amazement in his face – kids who actually want to be in school, kids who have been child soldiers and sex slaves, picking up a ball and messing around and laughing. They still act just like kids, he says, despite everything.

The human spirit is really amazing. You know, we might be even more tenacious than mosquitoes.

Anyway, comparing experiences with someone else from home was illuminating. There were things I looked at but never really saw, and Charles brought that home. Likewise, it sounds like there were some things I learned that he hadn’t. So we really helped each other out. It’s good to have a travel buddy. Makes me feel all glowy inside.

Anyway, Charles left this morning three weeks ahead of schedule. He says he’s worried about a flare in violence because of the Bashir indictment, but honestly I think it he’s leaving because he misses his fiancée. He’s so smitten, always talking about her. It makes me very happy to see healthy relationships like his. (Also, the judges probably won’t issue an arrest warrant for another week, and Khartoum is pretty far away to worry about violent spillover.)

But while he was here, it felt like being in college again, hanging out with Suzanne and John and Taylor in the cafeteria. Those were great days, when I knew a friend would always be around for dinners, laughs, and good stories. This was the same. I got to look at all of Charles’ wonderful photographs. He is very talented; no automatic camera adjustments for him. He has an eye and the expertise to compose really great images.

And speaking of a small world, it turns out he knew Carolyn and Jennifer. Have I written about them yet? I’m not sure, so I’d better jot down a recap, just in case I haven’t.

Carolyn Davis used to be an editorial writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. She has a great eye for social causes and wound up in Uganda, oh, probably back in 2005 or so, just to see what effects war had on the country. We all worried about this woman traveling out to Uganda where malaria was prolific and the LRA was still very active, but she went with human rights activist John Prendergast, and when she came back she had amazing stories about Kitgum and Gulu and Pader. One of the stories that trip inspired focused on Jennifer Anyayo, a young Acholi woman and burn victim. LRA soldiers invaded her home, shot her father, forced her into her hut, and set it on fire. They told her not to come out, and she says that they laughed while she screamed. Anyway, the fire took most of her face and part of one hand before the soldiers left and neighbors came to pull her out of the fire. It’s amazing that she lived.

Actually, Jennifer is one of the reasons I decided to go to law school. After seeing what happened to her, and what was happening to so many people in Uganda, I couldn't just keep ignoring the basic, fundamental suffering that children were going through on a daily basis. If it weren't for Carolyn's story about her, I probably would never have come to Uganda.

We did what we could for the girl. We brought Jennifer to the United States for a year’s worth of reconstructive surgery. It didn’t really do anything to improve her physical appearance, but there were certain functional benefits – she has eyelids, now, and a bit of flap where her nose used to be. Also, she learned a lot of English and took some intensive tutoring, which hopefully caught her up a little bit in school.

Charles had read all about this story and contacted Carolyn to learn more about Uganda. He was especially struck by a photograph of four girls playing netball at sunset. He said that he just knew he would have to go and be with these people. So he hooked up with an organization that brings sports to war-affected youth, and he did what he could to make the kids happy.

I like that. Charles was really polite around people too, not brash and bossy like a lot of the tourists I’ve seen. I trusted him almost immediately – in fact, on the night of the white ant invasion I even sent him an SOS by cell phone (“help bugs please call reception I cant leave my mosquito net”), but he had traveled that day and was sound asleep.

Being around him just made me feel better about everything. He kept saying that I was a good traveler, that he would learn a thing or two from me. That made me laugh, especially after the insect invasion. Me? A good traveler? What do I know? The only advice I really gave him was that trick about net tucking.

Hotels should post instructions for those things. Oh well.

Later we went to Binen, a local restaurant, where I introduced him to goat stew and bo’o. We talked a lot about his kids and our travels, and he kept going on about people’s living conditions. I’m so busy psyching myself up to handle things, I sometimes miss the conditions that other people are living in. Here are kids playing soccer next to a sewage drain, jumping right into the effluent to fetch the ball. There people are living right next to a garbage dump, in tiny little concrete homes that Charles compares to a catacombs. I hadn’t really thought about it like that. When I look, I see the kids playing outside, the cat and the ducks and the laundry hanging on a line, and my mind stops there as if it refuses to see the negative. It’s nice in some ways, but I need to accept the whole picture.

Anyway, I’m going to miss my hometown friend. Charles, if you ever see this, I’m wishing you safe travel back to Kampala and the United States. It was great meeting you. Hope to see you and Deirdre back in Philly.

I'm a Godmommy! (Or I will be, soon ...)

Today I got this from my friend Joan, who is just awesome:

Hullo Maisha,

Joan here. How are you girl...........i hope you are having a blast in Gulu. Hurinet is not bad, just that we miss you. Maisha, you left at atime when some of us needed to associate more with are just a gift sent by God! But i trust we will meet again,keep in touch.

I have a request, that you be my little Girl's God Mother. She is 6months old, and yet to be christened. We have looked around for a credible person with a humerouis personality, and Honestly stand out.

If you deem this possible, please get back to me (I already discussed with the Dad) so i send you her images and we proceed.

Thanks Maisha, and please keep the smile on your face are such a blessing.

With many more regards

Joan Asiimwe

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Your Worst Nightmare & Etc.

From a few nights ago

Your first night in Gulu, you wake up with buzzing in your ears. Two mosquitoes are hovering no more than an inch above your head inside the mosquito net. There are another half dozen still trapped outside. You don’t like bugs. You spray the room. The next night? It is another mosquito in your net and a whole bunch outside the room. You spray again, decide you’ll have to get used to it, try not to choke on insecticide. The night after that there are two or three of these dragonfly-like pests sort of like June bugs that have beaten their wings off against your floor. You think maybe they’ve come in through a crack in the wall or something, so you spray the windows and set up your mosquito net extra tight. Tonight?

Whizz. Whizz. Patter patter patter patter. Whizz! I wake up. I have fallen asleep with my lights on, so there is no darkness to obscure the view. When I look up, there are about a dozen of the dragonfly things batting themselves against my mosquito net. I instantly scrunch into the tiniest ball I can manage, but they’re hurling themselves full throttle into the mesh. I can’t take my eyes off the sheets without flinching because it looks like they’re going to stick right in my eye. So much for being the mighty adaptable tourist.

This is an entomophobe’s nightmare. I look down at the ground, and there are at least another dozen of these things, not counting the stray bug parts. Some of the insects are crawling around like cockroaches, having torn their own wings off. Others are still fluttering about, in the process of beating themselves to death. Some are fighting with each other for God knows what. Survival instinct, I guess. They know they’re history.

You squeal. You are really not comfortable with this. You think, God, I have to call reception. But you don’t know the number. You don’t know if anyone is actually awake. What you really want to do is cross this room full of bugs and get outside to safety.

It takes you thirty minutes to work up the stamina to put on your clothes (checking them for bugs first), pack your two most important bags, and rush outside. And as any rational-thinking person would have guessed, things outside are even worse. The ground is littered with these bugs; carpeted. You dance onto the empty spots on the floor as fast as you can and run downstairs. You try not to think about how many insects have been compacted under your feet, or whether any have flown up your pants. The stairwell is more cluttered still. Nobody is in the reception area. Maybe the bugs ate them. The things are here, too, although in smaller number.

You decide, in your delirium, that this feels exactly like a Stephen King novel come true.

Eventually, you make your way into an alley that has been only minimally invaded. You find a dark tiled room with a door that almost seals itself shut. Not really, but it’s closer than the gaping window shutters they have everywhere else. It’s where you are typing now – your dark sanctuary behind closed glass doors. Every time a mosquito gets close to you, you don’t just flinch, you thrash. And that’s when you realize: No. Oh no, oh no, oh no. Your suitcase is still in your hotel room, and the door is wide open.

In your fantasy world, you ran down a stairwell free of bugs, found someone at reception, begged for a new room, and demanded that they relocate all of your personal belongings. Cost didn’t matter; you could pay for the transfer. You curl up in a nice, cushy bed and watch TV (this room actually has one) until the nightmare goes away. But in reality, not only do dreams not come true, but you need to go back upstairs. Your feet are already covered in insect bites, and you’re sweating profusely – and it stinks.

I want to go back to Kampala tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

As many photos as I can upload before my connection dies

Joyce tries hard not to be angry.

Karuma Falls
We're not allowed to stop, so Joyce's husband slowed down to let me snap a furtive picture at this point on the Nile.

Bugging me

… And I just swallowed another mosquito. Oh joy, it’s stuck in my throat.

People here ask me, “Are you afraid of mosquitoes?” Answer: Yes. Although I’m more afraid of swallowing foreign blood.

Gulu has been … ah, how shall I put it? Interesting. Certainly more challenging to adapt to than Kampala. It’s better than Moroto, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I have a feeling this is going to be an endurance challenge, and I’m glad I began my stay in a bigger city.

The mosquitoes are only one aggravator. The dust storms are another. We’ve had them almost every day since I arrived, big clouds of dust that sweep around town for an hour or so, making people squint and cover their ears. If you open your mouth to speak, dust rushes in and coats your teeth, until you wind up chewing it. I’m not sure whether I can tolerate this for full three weeks, with my sinuses. (I had surgery in 2005 to open them up, and I still react badly to colds and allergies.) I have no idea how the locals tolerate this dust for years – and it’s not even the dry season! But lack of power I’ve gotten used to. And the water has run consistently, which is great.

The other thing driving me nuts is the tourists. You know, when I arrived here in Gulu, the staff at the Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies, as the Centre for Conflict Management and Peace Studies is now called, introduced me to an American from Louisiana named Jeffrey. Jeff wasn’t so happy to see me, and now I think I understand why. A lot of the foreign aid workers here are self righteous and annoying, not to mention ignorant. Yesterday I watched this tall American man yell at the two girls in the reception office about the lack of power like it was their fault. They didn’t respond to his complaints, only listened looking concerned, until I finally snapped. “You know, it’s out all over town,” I said.

The man looked at me oddly. “Well, I was just across town ten minutes ago, and the power was working just fine.”

“Yeah,” I retorted. “It was. Then about five minutes ago up the block at the Internet café the lights went out, and people had to start their generators. The problem with a hotel this big is that one little generator doesn’t power the whole place, so they wait until the kitchen needs electricity for cooking and then turn the motor on. This happens a lot in Gulu, and even in Kampala. It’s not their fault.”

The guy looked at me, looked at the girls, and then wandered over to the stairwell.

“How will I see the way to my room?” he asked. My internal response: Little boy, it’s plenty light still. Just walk up the stairs and quit whining! The folks at Pearl Afrique must be used to this kind of abuse, though, because they summoned a staff member with a flashlight to show the king to his royal chambers. By the time someone got there, a small crowd of these people had congregated at the base of the stairwell, looking up worriedly.

“Why are the lights off?” one twenty-something woman mewled. “Why don’t they put them back on?”

You know, when I was in undergrad a group of friends and I wrote this short story about a blackout in a grocery store in Los Angeles. We decided people wouldn’t be able to handle it, would start acting panicked and fatalistic, like death had come to their precious civilization. Meanwhile, the story went, a small group of bongo players laughed and started dancing in the produce section.

Talk about foreshadowing! I shook my head and marched upstairs, not wanting to admit that these people were actually compatriots.

Then there are the slow talkers. These guys make me want to hit my head against the wall.

“DO … YOU … HAVE … A PHONE … CHAR … GER!!!” a young man from Utah asked the internet café attendant. The Ugandan, who happens to also be named Jeff, stared at the tourist for a long time, not because he didn’t understand the man’s English, but because he was trying to figure out whether the American’s impediment was mental or physical.

“You want me to get you a plug for your phone?” Jeff clarified, perplexed that the man would be asking for phone charging service at an internet café.

“YES. THAT … WOULD … BE … VER-Y … NICE,” Utah brayed, pleased that he had succeeded in communicating. I tried really hard not to laugh out loud.

These Americans, you can spot them from a mile away. They move in groups, carry large backpacks for no reason, and do their best to dress like Jane Goodall. Their only incursions into Uganda involve posh safaris led by other Westerners in the richest areas of the land. This is why the government has been ousting people from their homes to establish wildlife parks – because tourists like these will pay anything to see an elephant.

Please tell me that I don’t act like this.

Anyway, I’ve started calling these travelers “tourists” because clearly they don’t do anything to interact with the resident population. And if you don’t know the people, how are you ever supposed to foster development suited to the community? I wonder if any of these tourists have even tasted malakwon or sim sim. And I’ve never heard one of these people say “kopango” or “afoyo.” It’s like they just want to come see this sad, war-torn land, so they can help the poor people and be enlightened.

Ego tourists. That’s all they are.

Anyway, I should curtail the bile because clearly NGOs and CSOs out here have done a great deal of good. Even a provincial, self-righteous American can be useful, under knowledgeable guidance. But I don’t think I’ll be going to a lot of fancy restaurants, even if I do want good food. Being in a room full of these people is just too grating.

And now I’ve been at least as self righteous. But it feels good to get that off my chest. I'll go be cranky in silence, now.


The trip up

After surviving minor flooding in Karamoja, I decided to hire Aron to drive me to Gulu. He’s a friendly man, I talked with his wife on the phone once, and I like the couple. The rate was reasonable – 150.000 /= to hire the car for the day, plus fuel. The total price would have been about $300, the same as Onyango would pay.

A few days after I made the arrangements, Joyce from the Human Rights Network of Uganda comes by and tells me to cancel my driver. I’m not sure why, but after a while I discover that her mother lives in a village near Gulu and Joyce wants to visit. She has her own car and can locate a driver, but she doesn’t have money for fuel. That’s where I would come in. I pay the fuel, I save the 150.000 /= hiring fee, and life is beautiful all the time.

Only I don’t know Joyce’s car, and I don’t know Joyce’s driver, and I already have these arrangements. So in an act of extreme caution, I explain to Joyce that I won’t change my plans. I invite Joyce to ride with me in the car that I’ve hired, and we’ll detour to her village. This infuriates her. She spends the entire day making increasing efforts to pressure me into ditching my driver. First she offers to call and cancel the arrangements herself. Then she slips me a note that says “please think of my son as your own. Do not disappoint me,” as if her boy might die if we arrive in a different car. Finally she walked into the room and just stared. This had the opposite effect than she intended. Instead of acquiescing to hire her driver, I got very, very angry. I mean, I am a human being entitled to my own volition. I am not an ATM. I do not dispense cash on command. And I don’t bend my plans to travel with a strange driver who, it turns out, has not even been formally hired yet. Certainly not two days before the trip with a woman who previously got me lost in Kampala. I rarely put my foot down, but I did this time. No. I will not be manipulated into changing carefully laid plans.

Ha ha.

Joyce pouts because she really wants to spend the night at her mother’s house, and I can only hire the car for one day. But when she discovers I won’t flex, she apologizes for being pushy and agrees to ride with me. Aron has told me he would pick me up at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, so I tell her to meet me at K.K. Health Club at that time.

Saturday morning rolls around. 6:30, 6:45, 7 a.m. I get a call from Joyce saying she’s coming right over. 7:15 a.m. and she shows up. But no Aron. I apologize, tell her to hold on for a second, and I ring Aron. No answer. So we keep waiting. 7:30 a.m. 7:45. By now I’m getting embarrassed. Something in the back of my head whispers, he’s not coming. He found another job that’s paying him more, and if you’re lucky he’ll find you another driver, but it’s going to be late and he’s not coming. About two minutes later I get the call.

“Hello, madam!” It’s Aron. “Why have you not been picking up your phone?” Because it hasn’t been ringing. “I cannot drive you. I forgot that there is a presidential convoy and I have been hired.” What did I tell you? “I have told my friend to come and get you, he is on his way.”

Great. So all that planning, all that quarreling, and I still have to ride with a stranger. I go back to Joyce.

“Hey Joyce, still want to go in your car?” Joyce looks at me like she’d like to do some oil drilling in the general region of my frontal lobes.

“Yes,” Joyce says. “But what about your driver?”

“Yeah,” I say sheepishly. “Turns out Museveni wanted him more.”

So I wound up going with Joyce, after all. I paid the driver 50.000 /= to apologize for the short notice. Joyce told me later that the driver was her husband, which ticked me off, but by then the money was gone. But I guess in the end I saved money, even if the car we rode in was smaller.

The ride itself was surprisingly uneventful. I didn’t much want to talk to Joyce, so I wound up just sleeping in the passenger seat. Occasionally I would wake up and talk to Joyce’s husband (she refused to tell me his name) about the Rift Valley or the tobacco plantations, and I took a quick film of a baboon sitting by the roadside. We saw some falls on the ride over, passed two small IDP camps, and suddenly we were there.

Despite taking half the time we took to reach Moroto, this ride was both hot and humid, so I pretty much curled up in my miniscule hotel room and went to sleep as soon as I checked in. And that was it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sister Rain, Life is Great!

I’d really like to sleep, but for the moment I’m hopped up on African tea, so I might as well write.

It’s been too long since I could write anything substantive. I was right, though, that coming to Gulu would leave me with enough personal time to let me start writing again. I knew too many people to enjoy that sort of leisure anymore in Kampala. Not that I’ll be able to take advantage of this for long … already on my first day here, a New Vision reporter invited me for tea, I chatted with the representative for the office of the president, and I met an entire jazz band. I’ve been here less than twelve hours. Something tells me that Gulu will keep me busy.

I think I’m getting into the swing of life in Uganda. Of course, if I say that with any certainty, life will come tickle me in the ribs – introduce something I wasn’t expecting, make me a little bit lost again. But I have begun to learn that Ugandans adapt to the lack of technology and infrastructure by helping one another. The lack of maps / water / electricity / medical care / traffic lights / internet connection / phone service / postal security / etc. is largely made up for by one entity: community. You ask the person sitting next to you whether you can read their newspaper when they’re through. You take tea with your neighbor instead of watching television. If you’re sick in the hospital, your friends stay the entire time to keep you company and administer your prescriptions. If you’re too frail to carry your own water, the kid next door will take your jerry can to the bore hole. I won’t say life is as easy here as it is in the States, but I will say there is a sensitivity to the people here that outstrips any community I see among most Americans. Now I know where my own family gets it.

Yesterday, on my last day at HURINET-U, the folks at the office threw me a party. I’ve seen other interns come and go, but for some reason they singled me out for this honor. I guess they really liked the web sites I built? Anyway, it was touching. Moses proposed. Joann said she was going to make me her daughter’s godmother. Betty drew me a card (“beautiful …” it says. “I am so sorry you are living [sic].”) Zam and Onyango gave me presents. And me? I cried a lot. I guess these past two years have been hard – watching my friends get laid off, living with my colleagues’ resentment because I was so young yet still working, deciding to go to law school, leaving without a peep from most folks in the office (how can you worry about one person quitting when management is firing dozens?), then going to law school where I struggle immensely to maintain the lie that I’m keeping up with these sharp young minds. Some days I hate myself so much, I wish I never existed. Yet here I have some value. Here, my body shape is attractive, my need for starch to avoid heartburn is satisfied, my tendency to be friendly is returned, and I have skills that people need. I know how the swan felt when he discovered he wasn’t a duck. I feel like I’m home. It’s difficult to accept this, but wonderful, too. I am so glad I came.

A few days ago, Nanda and I had a good laugh over instant messenger. Traveling for both of us has been much easier and infinitely more life-affirming than school. Give us crimes against humanity over civil procedure any day. At least we can begin to deal with the former.

But enough moping. Maisha iko sawa – life is good here. And I have a lot of events to describe! Moroto, Ndere Troupe, Gulu … I don’t know where to start! Simple things first. Words I have learned:

Kopange? How are you?
Kopa. I am fine.
Afoyo! Thank you!
Beh. It’s good.
Ni na? What’s your name?

People tried to teach me “I’m going out” and “good morning,” but I have already forgotten those. There’s a lot to absorb, in new places. For example, yesterday I met Gladys and Jackie in the reception, and Justin Moro from New Vision, and Milton from the Office of the President, and Godfrey and Christopher and another Christopher from a jazz band, and Geoffrey and Sarah from the restaurant, and Devota and Job and Jeffry and Fabius from the Centre, and Ali the motorcycle mechanic. There are a few others I can’t remember. I also learned, roughly, how to get from Gulu University to my tiny hotel room in Pearl Afrique. Also, that the Acholi kneel when they greet people. I haven’t had the guts to do that one, yet. I feel a little foolish, because I’ve only seen it done in an outlying village that I visited on the way to town. If people were kneeling all over the place here, I’d feel more confident about trying.

Mosquitoes are worse here than in Kampala. I’ve finally started wearing the recommended deet. I tried to go without, and woke up tonight to the sound of … well, to be honest, the buzzing sounded a little like Trent Reznor in hell. I spent almost an hour with my eyes squeezed shut, wondering whether it would be better to turn on the light and face the skeeters or try to sleep through the night. Finally the buzzing in my ears got the better of me, and I turned on the lights. And then sprayed EVERYTHING in this room with DOOM until the place reeked of insecticide, and covered myself in repellent. Even though I used the mosquito net just like Uncle John taught me (keep it up during the day and pull it all the way down at night, then tuck it under the mattress) two of the little cretins found their way in through holes in the mesh and had a small BBQ on my flesh. My elbow is so covered in bites that it’s swollen. I think I’m doubling my malaria meds when I have breakfast tomorrow morning. (Note: This morning a mosquito came after me, and I backhanded it. It landed on the mattress, and I sprayed it with DOOM directly. After being partially squished and sprayed, it still got up and started flying again. I had to repeat the process before it died. AMAZING. I’ll give the little bugs one thing – they’ve got tenacity!)

But the town is surprisingly okay. I expected kilometer on kilometer of refugee camps. We passed two. They weren’t so big. And the IDP residences were huts like the ones Dad lived in as a kid. I asked about this; I’ve seen pictures of Ugandan refugee camps that look a lot worse. My co-worker Joyce said that so many NGOs are in the area, even the IDP camps are becoming more like permanent settlements. It’s made land use issues troublesome, but at least people have a baseline quality of life. You do see some effects of the war, though. Every once in a while you see someone who is missing a limb, or has an odd limp or something. But it’s not as bad as I thought. I guess after working with burn victim Jennifer Anyayo (LRA soldiers set her house on fire with her in it), I figured many people would show the same evidence of violence as she does. Not so. What a relief.

Maybe I’m missing something. When I arrived in Kampala, the reality of the place took time to sink in. I was so overloaded with new information there were things that I didn’t see. Maybe it will be the same here. On the other hand, maybe civil society organizations are that effective. This place certainly feels more technologically advanced than, say, Moroto. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. I have to describe the road trips. They were both exhausting, but some of the most exciting times I’ve had in Uganda.

… That darn mosquito is still kicking. (I haven’t had the guts to get toilet paper and squish it, yet. Bugs disturb me, if you couldn’t tell. I have to work myself up to a good squashing.)

So, trip #1: Karamoja is in eastern Uganda. The people there are mainly cattle herders, with an emphasis on cows. Traditionally they’ve raised their own breed of short-horned cow, but the long-horned cows are being introduced into the region because they are hardy and produce a lot of milk. Ask the Karamijong, though, and they still prefer their traditional cattle. Supposedly the beef tastes better. Like I’ve mentioned before, this region is also rife with cattle rustlers. I told you the story about my American friend living in Karamoja who bought herself a donkey to help with household chores. Bad idea! The cattle rustlers came through firing their guns and took the donkey almost immediately. Martha swears she’ll never buy any kind of cattle again.

In the world of Uganda, the Karamijong are a minority group. People in central, western and northern Uganda tend to react badly to them, because of their country habit of walking around naked. Now that I’ve been to Karamoja, I understand why. It’s hot there. Really, really hot. The land is “arid,” by which I mean little water, more dust than I’d ever imagined possible, enormous cactus trees, anthills taller than people and short, shrubby coniferous shoots. Vegetation with wide canopies dangled pods the length of my forearm, and other trees hosted circular birds’ nests straight out of National Geographic. With the darting quail and the occasional dik dik, it was like stumbling onto another planet. The temperature is so high, you drink water and it immediately leaks back out of your skin. And because the people are somewhat secluded, the Karamoja region receives less by way of government services than any other area of Uganda. I’m not sure that the town we stayed in actually had public power. People turned on generators in the evening, and now that I think about it, I don’t think we had non-generator electricity even once. Water comes directly from wells and frequently isn’t available, gas is cranked by hand from the pumps, and utilities are just offline. Phones work sometimes, and there are no public internet cafés. People have begun to rely on solar power to run their machines, but the power goes off whenever the smallest sprinkling of clouds is overhead. So if you need to use a photocopier to make 100 duplicates of a document, you’ll probably have to hit the start button 300 times to get the desired effect. I know this from experience.

The good news is that the many of the folks who aren’t stealing cows are wonderful. We only spent one full day and two half days in town, and by the time we left I could recognize and chat with many people I met on the street. Large portions of the local community turned out each afternoon to watch the kids play football, and the guys shooting pool at the local pub boasted so loudly about their skill that I was constantly in stitches. I met one lady from a radio station in Arua; she turned out to be one of those wonderful women who hugs you all of the time and takes you places and talks with you for hours. (It’s hard to be lonely, here.) And folks in the villages were very kind. Kids would jump and wave for attention, everyone was stares and smiles. The Karamijong don’t get many visitors, actually. Just the UN and a handful of daring NGOs.

Our regional focal person, a man named Jean Marc, was the epitome of effusiveness. He talked more than my Uncle Darius, which is saying a lot. Uncle Darius is a linguist who will keep anyone on the phone for hours; longer, if you don’t tell him you’re busy. But Jean Marc, he probably couldn’t keep quiet if Okot Odhiambo held a gun to his head. It was charming to hear all of his stories, but I’m really glad he only rode with us from Mbale onward. Jean Marc insisted that we drive without the planned military escort, which made me nervous. Then he started explaining why he didn’t want a military escort, and that made me more nervous still. Apparently, rebels and cattle thieves don’t like the military, so they openly fire on vehicles traveling with soldiers. You’re possibly in more danger with an armed guard than you are without. As we moved onward, Jean Marc started pointing out these crosses along the roadside – places where members of the clergy had been murdered. “But this place is safe, now,” he insisted. “I don’t know why people are afraid.” Mmm.

Before we passed into Karamoja, though, we stopped to visit Onyango’s mother. She lived about halfway to Moroto, our destination town, at the place where the tarmac ends. What a wonderful woman! We drove off the road into this tiny village – think clay brick houses with aluminum siding for roofs, and a block or so of shops to support the entire community. Onyango directed us to a pair of gates that were clearly a sign of riches. Anything made out of sturdy metal would have signified wealth, here. A beautiful, large woman swathed in pink cloth threw open the doors, and you could see a kid (perhaps one of Onyango’s brothers) running into the compound with a live chicken in one hand. Mama insisted we come inside and sit down. Her home was made out of simple concrete, but you could tell she was doing well because she had sofas covered in doilies and a small television on the cabinet. The walls were covered in religious pictures and posters from the ruling political party. There was the mandatory photo of Museveni, too. Everything was very clean, not a speck of dust. I am amazed at how she did this, because keeping my hotel rooms free of the street clay has been a nightmare, and I’m the only person occupying the room. Onyango has several brothers and, I think, one sister. Many of them still live with the parents, so how Mama keeps the house tidy is beyond me. She must have help, and they must work all day.

Anyway, Onyango had brought a new television set as a present. It’s African custom to give gifts every time you visit your parents, and men are under a greater obligation than women. I wasn’t sure whether I should offer a gift or not, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution, so I gave Mrs. Onyango an Indian scarf I had purchased the day before to hide my hair. She clutched it to her breast and absolutely beamed. (At least I wasn’t accidentally implying that I was her daughter in law or something. That would have been awkward, considering Onyango already has a permanent girlfriend.) We only wanted to stay a short time, but Mama insisted everyone sit down and be welcome. Before we knew it, a kid was coming around with a pitcher of water and a bucket, and we were all washing our hands for supper. We had sim sim, matoke, and ground nut chicken. It was amazing. I’m not sure how Mrs. Onyango made that meal from a squawking bird so quickly, but she did a fantastic job. It was a feast. I felt pretty guilty eating, because none of the rest of the family took food, but you do not say “no” to a mother. I know that much about being African.

A policewoman walked into the house and joined us. I think her name was Faith or Hope, or something like that. I don’t remember exactly. Anyway, she threw open the curtain, strode into the house, and said pointedly, “you’re all under arrest!” My eyes must have gotten big, because she started cackling. Apparently, she’s Mama’s best friend and confidant. Onyango knows her well; she is the police advocate for children – more like a social worker than an actual cop. And she turned out to be one of those precious souls, too, making us all laugh constantly. I told her I would only be confined in an American prison, so she would have to come back to the United States with me if she really wanted me in jail. This only made the woman giggle.

On our way out, Mrs. Onyango gave us three gigantic bunches of bananas, two mangoes, and a million hugs. We were stuffed, but we tried to eat as many bananas on the road, anyway. We only got through so many before the sun started baking the fruit to death, splitting the peels and turning the insides brown. I knew they would go bad before we reached Moroto, so after everyone declared that they couldn’t eat another bite, I rolled down the window and started handing out bananas to kids. They swarmed the car in a heartbeat, yelling and grabbing for food. I was glad someone could eat it. Aron, our driver, started laughing.

“Do you know what they’re calling you?” he asked.

“Uh, no,” I said, blinking in mystification. Everyone in the car started laughing.

“They are calling you ‘sister,’” Aron said.

“Like, a religious sister,” UCICC intern Stephen Tumwesigye added.

“Maisha, you are a nun!” Onyango laughed.

Eh, I guess there are worse fates. I mean, I’m always bent in meditation over my computer and my books, and I don’t have a boyfriend, so it’s about the secular equivalent of piety, right? I just don’t have a habit.

Somehow, this concept of me being a nun caught on and went with us all the way to Moroto. At one point, a prison warden who was participating in the training session said, “I want a picture with the sister!” I laughed.

“Someone told you I was a nun, huh?” Only I forgot that sarcasm doesn’t translate well. The officer took my statement to mean that I really was a nun, and soon everybody was calling me “sister, sister.” Uh, oops. Sorry, God.

The training session went smoothly enough. I led people in a meet and greet, helped to moderate group activities, took minutes, and hosted a segment on victims’ rights and roles in the ICC. The crowd was very diverse. We had police officers, the prison warden, traditional leaders, a village elder, representatives from CSOs, a newspaper reporter, and the woman from the radio station. There were about forty people in all.

It was difficult to explain the ICC to them. The International Criminal Court, for my non-legal readers, was created to try four and only four types of crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression. The first three crimes have a very strict definition laid out in the ICC’s founding document, the Rome Statute. The fourth crime, the crime of aggression, is undefined and subsequently not litigated. In fact, no one can be tried for this crime until the states party come to a consensus about the definition. The Rome Statute went into force in 2002, so the ICC can’t try any crimes before that date. So you see, there are limitations.

The people at this workshop, they had trouble with that. Some of the worst occurrences in Uganda happened before the ICC was formed, who will try those crimes? What about the 130+ Aboke girls who were abducted and forced into sexual slavery? The questions ran like that. And crimes against humanity? Well, that must mean cattle rustling. It is, after all, the most hideous crime the Karamijong could imagine. And if a government official steals money intended for the care of tuberculosis victims, then that must be genocide.

We tried to describe the concept of “intention” to the participants. In order to be convicted of genocide, you must intend to actually kill a specific group of people. The politician just seeking to acquire money isn’t committing genocide, because he could care less whether or not the TB patients die. Likewise, cattle stealing isn’t a crime against humanity, just simple theft. There is no intention to destroy a certain people, just desire to acquire wealth. But you try explaining that to a village elder, and he just shakes his head. Clearly, you are a young mzungu who just doesn’t understand that as village elder, he can correct your definitions in his wisdom to make them better. We did our best to keep the conversation in line, and most people, I think, still took information away. They had very specific ideas, though, about how the ICC was weak and what it needed to do to improve.

Some of their points were very relevant. “How is the ICC going to communicate with victims who are all the way out in the villages?” they wanted to know. There are no telephones, and village people can’t afford to travel to the “field offices” in Kampala. And what about victim protection? The Rome Statute declares that victims have a right to their own well-being, but the Trust Fund for Victims does nothing to ensure a witness’ safety. And how would witnesses even get to the trial? Will court be held in Kampala? That’s too far away. The Hague might as well be another universe. And what good will compensation do for victims if it doesn’t come until the end of a trial? By then, the victims will have died for lack of medical care.

We struggled with a lot of discussions, not the least of which was comparing traditional justice mechanisms such as mato oput to westsern justice and the ICC. Everyone here knows that no punishment will ever make up for the violence experienced in Uganda. The only thing to be done is to forgive and to move on. Many participants felt that denying the Acholi their traditional ceremony in favor of a western trial would only keep the peace process at an impasse. I asked whether they believed Kony would truly make peace if the ICC gave up. They thought for about 10 seconds, and collectively decided that no, Kony had gone mad. He will never stop, no matter what type of justice is pursued.

The village elder was furious that the ICC wouldn’t just hold a trial in absentia and convict Kony to death, then order in some superpower to find, detain, and kill the man. Again, fundamental principles of the rights of the accused were difficult to explain, and harder still to defend. And why not endorse the death penalty? After all, ICC convicts would be the most dangerous criminals in the world.

There is a certain paradox to the ICC’s behavior on many levels. Example: Uganda can’t capture Joseph Kony, so it asks the ICC to help. The ICC investigates Joseph Kony, produces arrest warrants, and tells Uganda to capture Joseph Kony so it can prosecute. Right.

It’s not hard to understand the Karimajong frustration. This weekend word spread that Moreno-Ocampo is gunning after Omar al-Bashir, now. I was excited to hear it at first, but now I wonder – is it really a good idea? I mean, we can’t prosecute Lubanga, we can’t capture Kony, are we really going to try for a sitting president? And what havoc would this create? Would it help or aggravate the situation in Darfur? Granted, Sudan’s war crimes court is doing absolutely nothing … Well, they convicted someone of stealing a chicken, I think. But that isn’t exactly solving the problem.

I don’t know. The ICC is useful, but not so much for its intended purposes. I believe that the five arrest warrants issued for the LRA leaders initiated peace talks in Juba. But then it stalled those same talks. In DRC, the ICC led to the creation of war crimes courts that are actually effective. But then it messed up Lubanga’s trial. Will it do any better with Jean Pierre Bemba? Good question.

Moreno-Ocampo, for all the good he has done, needs to recognize that while dictators and rebels can’t act with impunity, he can’t act with impunity either. What the ICC does can affect hundreds of thousands of people. A good prosecutor has to weigh the effects of his case. Is the ICC doing so? Is it worth establishing a limited system of international justice at the expense of the African people? Or would the harm continue, anyway?

You can see that I get as diverted by these questions as the Karimajong. Anyway, there wasn’t much to the trip beyond the educational workshop, the drive, and watching Aron shoot pool with the local folks. My only diversion was running down to the market to pick up some traditional wraps. I bought three with the intention of giving one to Dad, one to Akim, and keeping one for myself. But Onyango, Stephen and Aron all wanted wraps and they never got a chance to stop for them, so I gave the cloths to them, instead. It’s okay. It’s not like Dad and Akim were going to wear these wraps out to the disco. Meanwhile, Stephen and Aron and I all had fun wrapping ourselves up like the Karimajong and taking pictures. Stephen kept yelling, “serious!” As in, stop laughing. Of course this only made me laugh harder. We managed one photo together where we both looked semi-sincere before I broke out into a big ol’ grin again. On the way out, I filmed a domesticated ostrich and an anthill that must have been at least eight feet high.

The skies had broken open on our first evening in town. It was remarkable, because supposedly the region had gone twenty four months without any rain at all. But every day we were in Moroto, water fell from the sky. Some people said it was because government officials had killed a cow and prayed. Other people blamed it on me. In fact, by the end of the workshop I had a new name – Sister Maisha Bora Nakiru (Sister Rain, Life is Great). And the rain did follow us all the way home. In fact, we sort of drove back through a flash flood. The water might only have been a foot or so high, but with all the potholes in the road and the rivulets through the clay that much water was scary as all bejeezles. We would drop into a hidden pothole and crack our heads on the ceiling of the land rover. Muddy orange water would splash up as high as the windows, and for a second you wouldn’t be able to see if you were going off the road or not. And then you’d come up for half a second and KER-SPLASH! Back down you’d go again. The rain became so thick Aron started talking about parking at a homestead. But we persisted, and by 12:30 a.m. had made it back to Kampala safely.

I have never felt so glad to have running water and electricity. Satellite television seemed like a gift from the angels. And boy, did I sleep!

So that, my friends, is the story of trip #1. You can see why it’s taken me a while to update this blog. On Microsoft Word, this entry is seven pages, single-spaced. (I write on Word when my access to the Internet is limited, then copy and paste the file into this blog. It gives me time to think about what I want to say.) I am a slow writer.

… Actually, I have just arrived at an internet café, so I’m going to post this now and write more later …

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Laughable linguistics

I've been here long enough, now, to be really aware of my surroundings. The first few weeks I was taking in so much, I couldn't really see the city around me -- I had no way of understanding it. Now I can recognize a shop from a distance; I know what a supermarket looks like; I can tell the difference between a player and a gentleman; I can pick cultivated land and uncultivated land, or rich from poor.

There are still a few things I have to keep in the foreground of my consciousness. English, for example, is much easier to understand when I focus on the differences. It could be as much as word selection: I say waste basket, they say dust bin. I say zee, they say zed. I say batteries, they say cells. If someone doesn't understand me the first time, I slow down when I'm talking and start using synonyms, hoping that eventually I'll hit on a word similar to what the Brits use. It usually works in four or five tries.

It helps, too, to remember the differences in pronunciation. Just like the Wikipedia entry will tell you, in one prevalent dialect, the "l" and "r" sound are the same. And maybe it's the English influence, but a lot of vowel phonemes shift. For example, "sir" can sound like "sah." Emphasis falls on different syllables -- in English stressors typically fall on the first or third syllable; here, it's the second. So Makerere university sounds like ma-CARE-reh-ray. And you can bet when folks speak they will put the right emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble. And then there are what I think of as bouncing vowels. Terminal consonants are no good here; words are supposed to end in vowels. So you get these gratuitous "eh" and "ah" sounds at the ends of words. To my ears, it sounds like someone has thrown down the word and it bounced off the floor a little -- that's why I call them bouncing vowels. Exempla gratia, bouncing becomes "bouncingeh." Cat might become "catah." And it seems common to give words that end in "s" a second syllable. Clothes really are cloth-es, just like the entry below says. Words might be "word-es."

Then there are the little things I have learned in Swahili and Luganda. Masao means "stop," as in stop the taxi, please, this is my exit. Webale means "thank you." I learned that one last night, and it makes me feel a lot better to be able to properly thank my guests. Sevo is "sir," and nyambo is "madam." Habari gani means "how are you" in Swahili, and the answer is something that sounds like "musuri." And then, of course, there are my three words from Karamoja: Ajoka (how's it going?), ajok (it goes), and alakara (thanks).

Of course, I'm not the only person around here who has trouble with language. The evidence: Across the street from my hotel in Ntinda is a shop called "Shandard Signs." You will also find "Kololo Close" for a clothes shop in Kololo. Today I saw a matatu with the words "Prays Jesus" written in the window. Malapropisms like this are very common. And then, there are the communications that are just culturally awkward. For example, the sign "GAIN BUMS QUICKLY - no side effects." Well gee, I'm glad I can gain my bums without catching a cold or something ...

Animal house

Last week, after I talked about some goofy animal antic for the 5,802,934th time, Stephen suggested that we go to the zoo at Entebbe. I almost told him I didn't want to -- I mean, the whole novelty of being here is that I've never seen these animals integrated with the public before. That's what makes them special, even if they are just domesticated cattle. But Stephen is such a wonderful person, I didn't want to say "no." Besides, Entebbe is breezy and green; Lake Victoria is right there, and hanging out with Stephen any time is fun. So what the heck. We went.

I am so glad Stephen suggested it! The zoo at Entebbe is nothing at all like the Philly zoo. For one thing, the keepers aren't quite so concerned about keeping animals in their habitats. There were caged birds that looked like large bald eagles but sounded like sea gulls -- apparently they fish the waters of Lake Victoria. An hour or so after I saw the animals in their enclosure, I looked up and saw one flying overhead. And halfway through the afternoon a bunch of monkeys jumped the fence of their enclosure and started romping on the playground. Crested cranes would glide within five feet of the visitors, clearly feeling like they had more right to the sidewalk than park visitors. (I can see why Uganda chose the bird for its flag. They are graceful as they are beautiful.) But we got our biggest surprise first thing in the afternoon, while Stephen and I were trying to teach an enclosure of African Grey Parrots to say our names. All of a sudden we heard a cough directly behind us.

"Do you think we are safe?" Stephen asked uncertainly.

"I don't know," I answerwed, still laughing at the birds behind the wire. The cough came again, loud and deep. "What is that, anyway?"

We turned around. No more than ten feet away from us, behind a flimsy wire fence, a lion stood in full glory clearing its throat. "Bloch! Bloch!" it belched, turning its head in our direction. My eyes slid to the side -- I didn't want to make direct eye contact with the cat, just in case. My gaze rested on a sign.

"Caution. This animal is DANGEROUS."

"Um, Stephen?"


"Let's go ..."

It didn't take much urging. Stephen took off down the path, me not far behind. The lion kept on chuffing, like it was about to hack up a mean hairball. Frankly, I didn't want to know. Hairball, cough, love song, warning -- I just wanted more than a thin fence between me and the king of the jungle. Mulago hospital might not be equipped to deal with lion maulings and all that.

"Are you scared?" Stephen asked, laughing.

"Yes!" I said, skipping quickly ahead of him.

The animals at Entebbe Zoo are much more active than our captives in the U.S. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that Entebbe only keeps native species in spacious surroundings, and mixes them with other animals from their natural environment. You could tell most of the beasts are happy. The antelopes weren't jumpy, the parrots were curious, the otters were mating, the warthog had recently given birth, and the chimpanzees literally danced for snacks. It was kind of neat, watching an alpha male stand up and clap his hands, or the little female sulk in a corner, hugging her toes. They just looked comfortable being themselves.

What bothered me, though, was the zoo-goers. People just didn't seem to understand the sign "don't feed the animals." One woman, amused by the proximity of a monkey, tried to see if it would play with her cell phone. Now, I have a beagle. I KNOW how dumb captive animals can be about small, destructible objects. Apparently this woman does not have a beagle, however, because she teased that monkey with her cell phone until he took it from her.
And ate it.

"Ah!" She shouted. "It took my phone!" (My reaction: No, really?) People rushed over and watched as the monkey peeled the battery cover off the back and started to gobble down. All I could think, horrified, was that a monkey that small would probably have trouble passing plastic. I hope the little guy makes it. Anyway, he ate a big chunk of plastic, then dropped the phone in disgust.

"Do you think I could get it back?" the girl asked.

"Oh sure," her friend said. "There are plenty of zookeepers; they will get the phone." And then he proceeded to hand HIS phone to the monkey, as we all hauled him backward. The little monkey looked peeved that he didn't get to sample phone #2.

Can a monkey get free night and weekend minutes? Because apparently dumber primates can ...

Anyway, it was an amazing day, from the swarms of dragonflies, to the kissing sitatunga, to teaching the ape statue to read the newspaper. (Stephen has a delightfully twisted sense of humor.) This was really the first time I went anywhere purely for fun. It was great seeing the lake and walking with the crested cranes. I only have two more real vacation days here; I hope they're as wonderful.


I've been having too much fun. Too much fun means no time for writing, unfortunately. So I have a lot to catch you up on -- I haven't even covered Karamoja yet, have I? And that was incredible.

I promise to work on this soon, and I'll post a few of the shorter entries I've written in the meantime. Hopefully I'll have more time to write the longer posts in Gulu. I leave Saturday.

Wishing you all well!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

From my comrades in arms (and hysterics)

I found this on the Facebook group "You know you've been in Uganda a long time when." Anyone who has been here will roll on the floor laughing, because it is all so true:

  • Your phone rings and it is a wrong number and you can keep the Hello? Hello? Hello? Hello's going back and forth like a tennis match until eventually the caller realises you are the wrong number and abruptly hangs up, after spending at least 2 minutes worth of airtime. (Natalie McComb)

  • You get arrested and start bargaining over the bribe whilst you drive yourself to jail. (Jason McKelvie)

  • When malaria number 10 is cause for a party. (Ailsa Woolard)

  • When the power goes off in Chicago during a storm and it makes you homesick...(Sarah Larson)

  • When you enter into a room of people and say 'Well done!' (Tamar Stockley)

  • Your standard response to someone's greetings becomes "I AM FINE, HOW ARE YOU?!". (Maanan Madhvani)

  • [Maisha's personal favorite:] You start saying "the what?" in every what? In every sentence. (Christopher Laughlin)

  • Al's bar becomes a form of speed dating! (Tom Slater)

  • You start referring to people as “this one” or “that one”. (Heather Lawrence)

  • Clothes becomes a two-syllable word. Clo - thes. (Ruth Townley)

  • When the sight of a boda-boda with a passenger carrying yet another boda-boda [effectively a boda-boda breakdown service] does not cause you to raise an eyebrow. (Kaz Kasozi)

  • When you stand in a queue and feel something is very wrong because it is orderly and the person behind you respects your personal space. (Nick Astles)

  • When you're no longer surprised that a boda boda guy will try to convince you to become his customer by running you over. (Andrea Bohnstedt)

  • When you have named the potholes. (Nanna Schneidermann)

  • Your knees ache from squating over a long drop 4 times a day because you ran out of ciproflaxcin a month ago...(Jeremy Schmitz)

  • Its 32 degrees C outside and you can still see one or two people fully dressed Sweater and all. (Kaliika Annat)

  • When you know that a Swiss Loll at the Belgian bakery is a Swiss Roll. And that the man asking for Lose actually refers to Rose. (Sanne Andersen)

  • When you don't get confused even though the person you're talking to keeps mixing up 'he' and 'she' in the same sentence. (Kirstine Corneliussen Magoola)

  • When you point with your lips and say yes with your eyebrows. (Marcia Baugh)

  • When are reluctant to let go of a new, CLEAN 1000 shilling note. (Daisy Asiimwe)

  • You start thinking drinking beer with a straw is cool. (Joel Wandurwa)

  • When your home does not have an address. (Alice Kimbowa)

  • When you exhibit NRE bar behaviour in a Michelin star restaurant in a ball gown in London... (Naomi Swain)

  • When people use please in everything they say when talking to you and it does not sound weird at all ... 'bye please' ... "thank you please" (Mimmy Khamis )

  • When you still have to look left,right and left again before crossing a one way street. (Francis Musinguzi)

  • When that article in Wikipedia on Ugandan English totally makes sense (Martin Ucanda / Anne Mugisha)

  • When you consider going to Garden City a "trip to the Mall", made even more special if the escalator is switched on (Stuart Cook)

  • The idea of using someone's establishment as a waiting or meeting room without giving them any business does not appall you at all (Lydia Namubiru)

  • You yell "muzungu" at other muzungus you see walking down the road as you pass them in your car (Virginia Earwicker)

... Wow, I just went to the article in Wikipedia on Ugandan English, and it totally does make sense!