Friday, April 25, 2008

A Moment's Peace

So, after another hectic week in Kampala, where we're getting quicker at tackling the daily tasks of running this place, but therefore more confident at taking on longer term projects (and it's only week three!) I finally get a moment to post on here....

Apologies for the drought of blogging of late, but as we settle into a routine here it is hard to find that necessary downtime. It's not that we don't get time to relax - we do. It's just my only internet connection is in the office and when sat there I get permanently interrupted.

Change for the bar, requests for stock from the food store, handymen needing payment, cleaners wanting room keys, even guests have the temerity to say hello occasionally - the stream of people popping their head round the door is non stop. I welcome the bustle, honestly - we are both loving the job - but it makes it hard to find a moment to write up some of the stories I'm longing to tell.

Random stuff that hits you day to day:

Like staring out the window of the minibus on the way to Makarere to see a sign on a lamp-post that said 'Hips Gain' with a local mobile number under it. I mused for a second thinking, what could that mean? HIPs? Home Improvement Packs? What?

The reverse of the lamppost had a similar sign with the same mobile number. This time it became clear and the chasm between perceptions of beauty in affluent European cultures versus perceptions of beauty in East Africa suddenly opened up.

The signs were similar to ones you say dotted around English towns on lamp-posts and traffic light poles. Except back there they say "Lose weight fast" and "Drop a Dress Size". Here, they urge the opposite. Big is beautiful, big is bootylicious.

And here I am, hoping the new 'run around' job will help me drop pounds. I aim to be the ugliest girl in town...

To end, another road side sign. This time a stark reminder of the divide between rich and poor. From what I've seen of other parts of Africa, and because we are on the outskirts of a big old city here, Kampala seems to support a comparatively large middle class. But you can still turn down one street to find massive mansions behind security gates and high, barbed fencing, only to turn another corner and find altogether a different type of ghetto.

So this then, a sign which says something about a country, when there is such a market for companies that make security fencing that they promote themselves with lines you'd actually expect to find in some washing powder commercial.

Uganda's most trusted fencing? Mmmmmmm.

Talking of washing powder, I saw a massive global branding faux pax earlier this week. Driving through a hardware district of town, sadly without the camera, each building is painted with the colours and logos and slogans of some of the bigger brands out here. Omo, the washing powder we know better back in Blighty as Persil, is the subject of one of these hand-painted ad hoardings. Only they have made the strange decision to pursue an ad line they recently launched in the UK.

In the UK, everyone washes clothes, and if you have a major market share already, what's your best strategy? Persuade people to wash more frequently of course, by adopting a campaign celebrating getting dirty. The Persil "Dirt is Good" campaign featured happy, but filthy children, making mud pies and rolling around in the garden.

It might work in the UK, but plastering "Omo - Dirt is Good" all over a shack in Africa, where diseases spread by unhygienic conditions are still a problem in some areas, surely is a bit of an oversight by some dim media type in London, Brussels, or New York?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Playing Postie

A year ago, when we were due to go out and work at Red Chilli Rest Camp, up in Murchison Falls, a bit of judicious googling led me to discovering that a fellow blogger had lived right behind the camp for a few months back in 2005.

Marie Javins had lived there whilst writing up her first travel book on crossing Africa and used to head over to the Red Chilli bar for a cold soda at the end of the day. She befriended a man called Celsius, appropriately named for being the chief electrician for the park. He told her folk tales, amongst other stories, one of which ended up in her book "Stalking the wild Dik-Dik".

When she and I started to exchange emails about living in Uganda, she asked me if I wouldn't mind delivering a copy of her book to Celsius when I got to Murchison.

Well, here he is, proud as punch to discover he is actually in a book.

It may be a year later than planned but Celsius finally got his delivery, just like I finally got to Uganda.

More on our week in Murchison soon, and other aspects of Ugandan life. It's just finding the time right now!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Here's What You Could Have Had

Our initiation into how the Kampala operation works is almost complete. So now we are off, bright and early tomorrow, accompanying three minibuses of tours, all the way to Murchison Fall National Park in the North of the country.

Up there, Red Chilli has a sister operation - Red Chilli Rest Camp - a site typified by safari tents and several small brick built bandas (detached little two or three room bungalows).

We're looking forward to it. We've heard so much about this place. And not just because it's our 'sister' site.

It was the place we were going to be working, this time last year.

It was the job we had to turn down a month before we were due to be flying out there, because of my sudden and unexpected diagnosis with breast cancer in late March 2009.

So it will be strange to go up there tomorrow, when a year ago we'd imagined ourselves living there, managing that camp, when we're actually now living in Kampala, managing the main operation here.

It's not envy, or bitterness. Far from it.

In fact, getting the job in Kampala suits us down to the ground. For a start it's not leaning towards 50 degrees every lunchtime, we have electricity 24 hours (most of the time) and I just bought some mouthwash and some soy sauce down the shops. I couldn't do that in Murchison.

And this won't be our only trip there. We'll pop up from time to time to cover J&T's time off (the Murchison Managers).

The feeling I have is more a strange sensation of false familiarity, a little like deja vu.

Murchison is the place we spent two months fantasising about, and then nine months trying to forget.

And who could forget it, when it looks like this?

It's just great to be here at all, in so many ways.

And to be living in a little oasis of greenery and calm within spitting distance of the city, but with the ability to go 'up country' occasionally, is just perfect.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Home Sweet Home

This is our new abode. The Management Cottage. Down the bottom of the "new" compound, this is the last of ten two bed cottages that sit either side of a long drive, surrounded by tropical plants and lush grass borders.

The monkey troop seems to hang out down here on cool afternoons. But they didn't appear for me when I went walkabout with the camera so no photos today.

But the goat posed nicely for me. This is the nanny goat. The billy goat is quite agressive and headbuts people if they antagonise him. The billy goat was won by Hennie, another Manager here, in a sort of derby day goat-racing event. Apparently it's due to take place again in August and as he has full intentions of winning another goat, we'll have to find a pot big enough to fit the current goat in.

And we have some interesting trees in the gardens of the place. This is a tree in the main compound, bursting with massive avocadoes. Further down the garden is a jack fruit tree - the big smelly fruit well known in these parts. We've yet to try it but have earmarked a slice next time one ripens...

And here's work. The office is just behind all the frantically typing guests, trying to use the free internet before the electricity dies!

Africa From The Air III

Into Uganda now, and there are signs the land is getting more fertile. A river snakes below us again but this time, the banks are covered in greenery.

Further South again, and the land is changing colour completely with great swathes of forest visible between the open savannah.

Once the plane starts it's descent over Jinja before banking West towards Entebbe, the fields are laid out below me. This is a fertile country. For a moment I glimpse the Victoria Nile and the Bujagali Falls. But I was not quick enough with the camera for that one!

Finally, we come into land at Entebbe and the plane banks right over the shores of Lake Victoria. It stretches out in front of me into the hazy distance, towards Tanzania in the South and Kenya in the East.

Finally, I am here. Welcome to Uganda.

Africa From The Air II

After leaving the parchedness of central Ethiopia, the brown earth remains but rivers start to appear. Or riverbeds. They don't appear to be that full of water at the moment...

This large river snaked under us as we were served a light snack by the Emirates airline crew. A Chicken Tikka and Lettuce roll with a cheesecake and cheese and biscuits to follow, accompanied by any free drink of your choice (except champagne... they actually charge you for that). The calm and comfortable plane environment felt at odds with the lives that might be played out below us.

The river then found an outlet - one of the large lakes on the Northern Kenya / Southern Ethiopia borders. A look on the map suggest it may be Lake Turkana.

And here's an island seen in the middle of Lake Turkana. If my Lonely Planet East Africa serves me correctly, it's Central Island National Park. Rising from the depths of Lake Turkana, it features a volcano in it's centre which has thankfully been inactive for three decades. It's a Unesco World Heritage Site and it's lakes are full of Nile Crocodiles...

Africa From The Air I

I took some pictures from the plane. This is leaving Addis Ababa.

The Africa of Ethiopia was very brown.

This scared me. A shot of carefully tended patches of land, a patchwork of fields. In varying shades of brown and grey.

This is the Africa of little rain.

Fly Me To The Moon

I landed in Uganda on Monday, after a smooth and uneventful journey. Rich landed in Uganda on Tuesday, delayed by 24 hours and held up by blizzards and bureaucracy. His first connecting flight to Frankfurt landed half an hour after his scheduled flight to South Africa took off. So Lufthansa put him up in an airport motel.

The next day he attempted to board a flight to South Africa. He was originally scheduled to fly with a Lufthansa flight leaving at 10.30pm. The Star Alliance people wanted him on a South African Airways flight instead. He didn't mind which he was on as long as his luggage accompanied him, but each airline claimed the other had his bags.

Then, once he'd finally confirmed that South African had his bags, the check in clerks insisted they could not let him leave for Uganda on a one way ticket without proof of a work permit, enough funds to demonstrate a certain lack of vagrancy, or, at worst, buying an onward ticket!

Despite the paperwork from Red Chilli confirming the job offer and a pending work permit application, they were insistent that things were not in order. Indeed, when I arrived in Uganda I was told that they had called Hennie, our colleague here at Red Chilli, to ask him if he could provide a letter by fax from the Department of Immigration. He just laughed loudly and said "This is Africa. Things don't work like that here."

At that, Frankfurt airport bureaucracy conceded defeat and let him on the plane.

At Jo'burg, with only enough rand in his pocket to buy a cup of tea, he was dismayed to find the baggage collection was beyond immigration and he would have to get a visa. He could see his rucksack going round on the carousel and feared he'd be held up by the same questions about one way tickets.

Thankfully, South Africa gives their visas away for free, and R and his bags were reunited for a free brief hours before finally flying on to Entebbe.

I met him there, feeling only slightly smug about the difference between our journeys...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Leaving On A Jet Plane (Or Not)

So here we are at Heathrow. The last two weeks of frantic final preparations and last minute jobs behind us. We felt relatively organised and in control an hour ago, when we first arrived.

Except R is on a different flight from me, and in a different terminal. This was always the plan. He had a chunk of air miles to use within the Star Alliance network and could save a bundle by therefore flying with South African. And my best available deal without air miles was to fly Emirates.

So while I'm now safely through check in (4 kilos over on a 35 kilo allowance - my parents' bathroom scales are obviously on the 'flattery' setting), have trudged through security and am safely ensconced in T3 departures, R is still in T2, in a long and very stationary queue for his first Star Alliance flight - a connection to Frankfurt with Lufthansa.

He was always worried he'd be pushing it with an hour between planes in Frankfurt. Now he's worried that he may not even make it on to the Frankfurt flight. His queue has moved 100 yards in the last hour, and they've just cancelled the flight before his. Fights are breaking out and nobody is giving anybody any information.

After calling Lufthansa who confirm that the 1905 is 'as normal' for the moment, I am now online trying to find out any more I can. But everything suggested all is on time and scheduled, and noone has any advice for someone stuck in a queue with no way of abandoning a trolley full of bags.

Somehow, I think it will need a miracle if he manages to join me in Kampala tomorrow night. I suspect he'll limp in the following day, suitably grumpy after 48 hours of travelling hell.

Poor Rich.

Lucky Me.

Torn between pity and a smug relief I remind myself there is still plenty of time for Mr Cock Up to wreak havoc with my own itinerary. Here's to hoping at least one of us gets there on schedule.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Nomad, no problem

I have recently become homeless, bikeless, carless. Now, finally, I am jobless too.

This shedding of possessions and responsibility brings with it a certain feeling of lightness. I am back to living out of bags and off my wits.

A nomadic existence can be very freeing. It's not that it has its downsides, but the opposite can be far more stifling. Living in the lap of London luxury, racking up the new 'things' on a weekly, monthly basis. I was never a fan of waste and over the last few years, the rise of sites like freecycle have helped me get quite 'responsible' by London standards. But I still have several mountains of clothes that are pretty excessive and will lie, unused, in boxes for the indefinite future. Unless, like the time I was living in Turkey, a mouse decides to make a nest by chewing right through my expensive winter coats.

So here's to paring down, and paring down again. I'm not some new age hippy, but I do recognise that a girl only needs so many pairs of black shoes.

Even if some of them are works of art.