Coming to America

So, I’m back!  I’m still getting used to everything here.  With the help of a steadier internet connection, I’ve put pictures up about Murchison Falls, Prom and Kampala for your enjoyment. I’ve also started the cultural detox of trying to use regular English a bit more (still saying a Ugandan rendition of “sorry” and I “ah-ah”-d our dog as if she were Ugandan).  I’ve been home for a good week now, and things are finally settling.

Saturday I launched full speed into life.  I met our dog Cindy, who is completely adorable and kind but can be very timid – sometimes I think she’s scared of me.  I’ve enjoyed walking her, though, and it’ll be nice to get to know her better.  Saturday night Kim and I took her to a dog park in Scottsdale and met up with Kenny.  I also cleaned out the rat cage, and Vlad and Jasper have gotten really skinny, so I’ll be checking on their health and making sure they’re okay.  Sunday I went over to my parents’ house and enjoyed a nice welcome back party.  Almost all of my family showed up and I got to see everyone and have some delicious food.  I ended up doing a (somewhat) impromptu slideshow and talking about random points of interest before we watched a movie.

Mariah, my car, is completely broken.  She worked okay on Saturday but has been out of commission ever since.  I got a new battery and I fiddled with the terminals a bit, but it’s looking like it might be the starter or alternator, which sucks a lot.  Hopefully I’ll get everything patched up before school starts.  Speaking of which, I’ve spent the past couple of days buying books here and there getting ready for a rompin’ course load.  School starts on Thursday, so I’ll be getting into the groove soon enough.  I’ve enjoyed my first and last full week of work – back to the grind of splitting my time between building ScanGauges, boxing them, and answering e-mails.  Things haven’t changed too much while I’ve been gone, so that’s good.  Next week I’ll be dealing more with car problems and school starting so we’ll see how I fair then.


Murchison Weekend

Typed on the afternoon of the 26th of June at the house.  Sorry this post is out of chronological order and still lacks pictures – should be rectified in a few days.

I got back from a two-day, one-night trip to Murchison Falls National Park last night.  This post will be half-positive and half-negative, so bear with me.

Saturday morning I went into town and met Moses, the guy from whom I was going to hire a Rav4 for the weekend. He had just had some fine-tuning work done to it and it was ready to go, but getting paperwork filled out took a bit longer than I had anticipated, so I was behind schedule and didn’t get out of town until around 10.  That said, I enjoyed the drive a lot.  I hadn’t been in the driver’s seat of a car in two months, and a right-hand drive car in ever.  The road from Lira to Kamdini is pretty ugly, and I had to ensure a few heavily speed bumped roads, and there were chunks where there just wasn’t any pavement at all.  It was still nice to drive, though, and I brought along a burned CD to keep me busy.  Just passed Kamdini, I took the turnoff before Karuma and found myself on a really nice, wide and paved road soaring westward.  I finally made it to a village called Purongo and turned down a dirt path through some villages on my way into the park.  Finally made it to the gate around 1.30, a bit behind schedule but in high spirits.

Spirits were a bit dampened by the cost of entry.  Not sure how, but I mixed up the numbers in my head and was thoroughly surprised at the gate.  But I was soon driving through the park and spotting tons of gazelles and some giraffes and warthogs too.  I got some basic directions from the guard and I slowly made my way towards Paraa (where most of the accommodations are).  After a lot of sightseeing and no Paraa, though, I started to convince myself that I had missed the junction and was on my way back out to the gate at Pakwach.  This was exacerbated when I asked for directions from a lost couple who were coming from said gate.  Turned around and headed back whence I came, with the other car following.  After a while, we were informed we were headed in the wrong direction (which means I had originally been heading in the right direction) so we turned around again!

This is where things got bad. As I was driving here, things went awry.  My front right tire stopped steering completely.  I swerved hard to the right, and then skidded to the left across the road and ended up against a bank of dirt.  Somehow, I kept my cool and tried to steer it forwards, but realized something was definitely wrong.  I called every number in the park that I had while I climbed under the car and realized that the drive shaft was clear off the wheel.  I finally reached a mechanic who said he’d call me back while I managed to affix the shaft back onto the wheel, but there was a nut missing and I knew it wouldn’t last.  I continued forwards, and after a few meters it popped right off again.  For the next two hours I would be under the car at least a dozen times, and this is including a good 45-minute ceasefire during which the car worked and I played spot-the-junction-or-you’ll-end-up-in-Pakwach.  I informed Moses of the problem and told him I’d keep him updated, and in the meantime I never heard from the mechanic ever.  Eventually, I found the junction and realized that, had I not stopped to ask for directions, I would have found it in another ten minutes or so.  Slowly rolled into Paraa and sat at the Nile for a bit while waiting for the ferry.

A good chunk of the day had been wasted with a broken car, but I was glad I wasn’t 100% stranded. But I was angry about the circumstances and slowly realizing I had no idea if I would get back to Lira.  But, I made it over the river and to Red Chili Rest Camp, the only inexpensive and probably the coolest hangout/accommodation place in the park.  I knew it was booked, but was hoping I could fenagle a tent or something.  I ended up secretly sleeping in the car in the parking lot for free, which is comparable to a $5 camping fee and a whole lot better than all of the $140 rooms at the other lodges.  Before going to bed I hung around the campfire and met some pretty cool people.  There was a guitar and a group of Brits sang a lot of great songs and it was really fun.  A few of them even improvised blues songs!  Oh, and on our way back to our respective camp sites we saw three hippos in the camp site. It was totally freaky being that close to those things since, you know, they could kill me.  It was a nice way to end the evening.

The next morning I went out on an early drive to the Falls. It took about an hour and 7 quick-fixes to make it there, but it was a really cool sight, so I’m glad I made it out there. I’m also glad that on the way back to Red Chili a bus stopped to help me with my car troubles and I got some international support. A bunch of Ugandans and expats tried to help and eventually we got some rope and tied the drive shaft in place. From then on I was able to drive, albeit with some hesitancy. From there I grabbed a small lunch and made my way north to the Pakwach gate while keeping an eye out for animals. Got to see some more giraffes and antelope, and one faraway elephant! Then I made my way home with my roped up car and called it a trip.

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The Lake

Typed on the 4th of July at Nando’s in Kampala.

Friday night I rolled into Kabale later than anticipated.  Because of the lateness, things got a little expensive: I took a boda across and out of town and then up and around some mountains (cold, cold wind!) before getting to Rutinda, the lakeside area.  I got to the Byoona Amagara dock and called the hotel at which I had reserved a room.  Due to the late hour I had to pay for a speedboat to come get me, which sucked and ended up almost doubling my bill :(

But!  The ride to the island was so, so neat.  It was a cold night (most nights are cold since it’s so high up) but I could see so, so many stars in the sky and I could make out the shapes of different islands as we skipped by on the water. It was really a neat sight.  That night I just settled into my room (a big dormitory of 12 beds, but I was the only visitor in the room) and tried to use my computer for a bit (no electricity) before going to bed.  But I woke up to quite the view: This lake (and specifically this hotel) had been recommended by too many people for me to resist it.  Heidi said it was the one place I had to go. Alison said it was her favorite spot in the country.  Erik just came back and said it was really nice.  So, I made it.  After failing to communicate with the outside world (computer died, phone was out of airtime, and the hotel’s internet sucked), I hired a canoe and threw caution to the wind.  I knew that A. I had not canoed since like five or six years ago in Durango, 2. I had not brought sunscreen and the sun might kill me on the lake, and III. The winds had caused some movement in the water that I might not handle.  That said, I spent a little bit of time rowing in circles and corkscrews before trying to paddle my way around.  Here are some pictures of one of the prettiest places I’ve seen in a long time:

I finally set my sights on a particular goal: Akampene Island.  Looking at the map, it was about 1.5km for a straight and narrow pilot, and I definitely was not one.  Plus, once I started really getting the hang of things and making some headway, I emerged from the cover of Bwama Island (the biggest island on the lake) and got stalled by winds and waves.  I struggled for a good two hours to get as close to the island as possible and got this picture before letting the current take me eastward.  This is Akampene Island.

Punishment Island, with its one tree.

It blends in with the background a little, but it’s just a patch of grass with one tree on it.  It was where the locals sent the unmarried pregnant girls.  It’s got one tree and looks to be a pretty lonely punishment. Just halfway out, I was getting pretty sunburned.  I ended up wrapping my washcloth around whichever arm was more in the sun as I rowed, and as I moved into my fifth hour on the water I booked it to the hotel.  As I arrived a group of four were getting lunch while I checked out.  After resting a bit, I grabbed all of my bags and headed right back out on the water where one of the hotel staff and I rowed back to Rutinda.

At the dock I met a TON of people arriving for the weekend, I guess I missed a very packed hotel!  Headed back to Kabale and walked around town a bit.  I tried to find a bus, but the soonest one to Kampala originating in Kabale wasn’t for until 11pm (5 hours away) so I decided to flag down a bus from Rwanda.  Grabbed a quick bite to eat before standing by the junction and I found a guy who called a Kampala-bound bus driver and made sure there was a seat.  In the end, I left 4 hours earlier and saved 5000 shillings so it was a victory.  Ill-planned, though, I arrived in Kampala at 5 in the morning and snuck into George’s place and, back in the city, took a nap until sunrise.

The Land of a Thousand Hills

So, after sitting on a still bus for about 2 hours and then riding from Gulu to Kampala in 5 and then sitting at the Jaguar bus station for 4, I made my way to Kigali!  I signed up for the 1am bus and there was also a 3am bus, and I ended up leaving at 2 so I don’t know if mine was late or if it didn’t exist and I took the 3 early?  Whatever.

The bus rolled out of Kampala and I fell asleep soon after.  I woke up around 4.30 in the morning to a really cold wind.  Apparently my window had a chunk missing from it, and wind was whipping in at me.  After freezing for a while, I grabbed both of my bags and my second shirt and tried to keep myself as warm as possible.  Starting then I had a very on-and-off sleep schedule until we got to the border.

The border crossing went like this: everyone got off and went to check out of Uganda. Then everyone walked a ways to the Rwandan immigration office to get stamped. The bus arrived after getting checked, then unloaded everything to get inspected. Then we all got back on, bus reloaded, and we were on our way.  I continued to sleep on-and-off, until I realized that the bus had broken down. We were at some obscure intersection in northern Rwanda for at least an hour I think, and then suddenly we started moving without any announcement so I don’t know.  When we finally arrived at the bus park one of the staff apologized to me for it being late.

From there I embarked on a trip oddly reminiscent of that Monday in Kampala.  Apparently, even the main branch of the Banque de Kigali doesn’t take traveler’s checks.  I was hoping to finish mine off on this trip, so I didn’t bring as much cash as I had planned on having.  In the end I withdrew some from my debit card which was kinda lame, but now I have some Rwandan franks to run around with for a couple of days.  Rounded out the evening getting a bite to eat and some internet from Bourbon’s Coffee Shop at the Union Trade Center.  From there I booked a room at the Auberge le Caverne, a hotel tucked away on a major road.  The room’s okay – has good points (two beds and a table, with a 3-channel TV, and breakfast is included!) and some bad (smelly bathroom and some more bugs than I’d like).

Tomorrow I’m going to do as much as I can and then I’m trying to decide if I’ll hurry back to Uganda then or spend another night in town here.  The to-do list isn’t that long, but I really want to see the genocide memorial in Kigali and maybe try to see the ones in Nyamata or Natarama.  Other than that there are some little things to do but I’m not sure if it’s enough to warrant another day or not, plus I don’t know when the buses leave for Kabale or Kisoro.  Things to look into, for sure!

Touchdown in Lira

Typed on the 6th of June in the afternoon.

So, after a six-hour ride on a cramped bus, I am now in Lira. There was quite the hubbub at the bus park before getting on, but Morris and I boarded and found our way onto some seats. I found it odd that in a bustling park with buses lined up and people shouting trying to either board buses or sell goods, there was a man with a metal detector scanning people as they boarded the bus. Odd, but secure I guess. As we sat and prepared to leave, another bus employee walked up to me and told me to try not to fall asleep lest someone steal my laptop. As secure as that made me feel, we were soon on our way out of Kampala.

I took advantage of the free, no-sleeping time to get some reading done for my class (and never have I read so much about how sixteenth century ships were built and, somehow, I wasn’t that bored). The most interesting and fun thing about the buses was the random stops. We stopped once for fuel and people got out to strech, but all of the other stops were pretty much 2 or 3 minutes where the bus pulled over and a ton of people on the street would run over with fruit, vegetables, drinks, and meat and hold them up to the windows and try to sell them. It was kinda surreal to see such a…. drive-thru. But, anyways, we made it to Lira a little after sunset and got picked up by some German folk who took us out to dinner.

I’m currently staying with a girl named Monica and a guy named Erik, along with a Swiss girl named Nadia whom I have yet to meet (she’s in Kampala). Erik is moving out next week to his organization’s guest house. They occasionally have some other German friends staying over from other towns or districts like Lukas – who works at a school (I think) in a different district but was here last night.

The house is really big and has several bedrooms along with a common area and a big yard in the compound. There are two guards provided by a local orphanage that Nadia is working at and a small group of animals on the premise. In the passed couple of years I’ve gone from no pets to a fish to two rats and now two cats. And in this compound are four or five chickens, a goat, and a dog. All I have to say is that the rooster is loud.

Tomorrow I’ll be headed to the NACWOLA office, but I only kinda figured out how to get there so it’ll be an interesting trip in the morning. In the mean time, I’ve seen a few parts of this relatively small town and apparently there’s one good internet cafe (thank goodness). I’m also looking into the sensibility of getting a portable modem, because that’s what a lot of people have since there isn’t much in the ways of internet around here. We’ll see!

The Buses of Kampala

Typed on the 20th of May, late-night as well.

So, there are two general modes of transportation here in Kampala. You can ride a boda-boda, which is a little motorcycle with room on the back – faster, maybe a little more dangerous, but more expensive. The alternative, which is what I’ve been using, is a mini-bus or matatu. Think of a regular van with the two seats in the front and three rows behind. It’s stripped down to the metal, and the seats are modified so that there are still regular seats in the middle and on the right, but the seats on the left are fold-able so people can step over them and the front passenger seat goes across the middle where the console would be. Now, take that van and fill it to capacity. There’s a driver and a toll-man (who spends the whole ride telling the people he passes where he’s going to try to pick them up) and 11-14 other people crammed into it. Usually a full van is 4 people across in each row and 2 by the driver, and the toll-man usually just sits on the very edge of his seat since he’s hanging on the sliding door anyways. That’s my primary mode of transportation! It’s pretty inexpensive, but being a muzungu, or white guy, they’ve tried to get more out of me. Going into town with Morris has cost me 500UGX, and coming back today cost me 800, but he said it was because I got them at the stop-off station, but I think it’s because I’m a foreigner. Word’s still out on the real reason.

The Big Move

Recent weeks have been consumed by the big move.  The last days of November consisted of disorganized packing (throwing whatever was left into boxes and bags) and the first days of December have consisted of organized unpacking (the kitchen has been the easiest).  We have functioning rooms and are well on our way to sprucing up, but there are still some boxes.

The brightest star of unpacking was probably my day two auto faux pas.  We had finally cleared the garage of the excess entertainment center and desk.  I excitably pulled Mariah in and parked all nice and pretty.  Made the last minute decision to move slightly to the right to make room for laundry.  A few seconds later my passenger side mirror was flying across the garage.  Since then a hefty amount of tape has patched it up rather nicely, and its held against freeway driving and a couple windy days.

Other than my mishap, the move has been relatively pleasant.  It’s an uncomfortable but very exciting thought when we find a minor problem but cannot call it in since we own the place.  Far more good than bad, definitely.  Hopefully the boxes will unpack themselves while we go through finals and come mid-December we will be ready to have visitors and I can put up a few pictures.

In the mean time, enjoy the taped mirror: