Saturday, May 31, 2008

I'll Tell You No Lies

So we're sunning ourselves on the banks of the Nile in Jinja on a couple of much deserved days off.

In the meantime, our personal statements of truth, a la my previous post, have been published online. So here we are:

Richard, and myself, both being very un-profound.

Top marks to Steve for getting there before I'd even posted the link...

Monday, May 26, 2008

You Can't Handle The Truth

We have a really interesting guest staying at the moment. She is a writer, who has been travelling around Africa for the last couple of months, interviewing people from all walks of life for a project she has created called uTruth.

The idea is to find personal statements of universal truth from all sorts of different people, be they profound, inane, funny, or sad.

Her website can be found here, and she plans to compile the best contributions into a book.

Most people have worked really hard to contribute a statement that has great meaning, and many are very spiritual or religious in nature.

She has asked Rich and I to contribute, which sadly means we will bring down the tone with a couple of silly statements from our particular worldview... But I think she genuinely doesn't mind, and is looking for all sorts of comments.

Which is just as well.

(I shall link to our posts on her site once we have made them...)

Wobbly Moggy

We're getting a cat.

What's more, we're getting a cat with only three legs.

The local Muzungu supermarket of choice, the monolithic Shoprite down at the Lugogo Mall, has a noticeboard where ex-pats advertise house sales, cars etc and so on. When people leave the country they shed belongings. We're new and don't seem to have enough belongings.

So every time we go we study the board.

And we weren't planning to get a cat. But when we saw an ad for a three-legged cat that needed a new home ("and was a very good hunter, despite having only three legs") we just knew we had to have him.

Panda, as he is currently known, comes to us in early July, just before his current family leave the country.

We want to rechristen him with a name more uniquely him and have come up with two possible names.

Bent or Wobbly.

There is something quite hard-nosed and streetwise about Bent, but Wobbly is quite cute.

Votes or post your own suggestions on a comment please!

(Please note, the picture is not actually of Panda/Bent/Wobbly, but is of a similarly afflicted but hopefully far more savage moggy).

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A typical day?

Running a backpacker's lodge in Kampala is quite different to most things I've done before but less strange than some.

Less strange than sourcing whole cod with heads on in the Uk for a photo shoot. Could you get fish with the heads still on them in the over-sanitised world of the modern day supermarket? Not back in 1998 before Jamie Oliver et al made whole fish cool again.

Less strange than having to interrupt a well-known chef from his frequent sojourns to the lavatory in between takes on an ad shoot. Weak bladder? I don't think so. Not with all the frantic sniffing going on...

Less strange than interviewing bingo players around the country on why they enjoy the game.

I could go on.

But this job does have it's moments.

We've split up fights between staff. We've fired someone for spreading malicious gossip about someone else being a prostitute (when they weren't...). We've barbecued a goat. We've been woken up by hippos. We've chased off monkeys. We've shared an office with a goat, and a pregnant one at that. We've travelled on boda bodas, in matatus and driven our selves around in the landrover. We've had to warn people against stealing. We've made a badminton court. We've mended safari tents. And I've learnt a few new moves in excel...

A typical day does have it's routine. But it also has plenty of the above thrown in when you least expect it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Famous For Fifteen Minutes

Ten days or so ago, Rich and I represented Red Chilli at an off-road driving event that was held in aid of the Chimp Sanctuary on Ngamba Island in Lake Victoria.

The event was held at a specially designed off-road driving training area, and we had a whale of a time. We slid through mud-holes, bumped through potholes, screeched round corners, drove up near-vertical hills, and balanced a fully-grown Landrover on a giant see-saw. And all through this we miraculously never got stuck once.

It was great.

What was even more great was our then winning a prize at the end of the day.

Not for being any good, you understand.

But for being enthusiastic and well brought up (we thanked all the marshals politely at the end of each event and played by the rules at every turn).

We get to go back and have a free one-day off road training course by the professionals. Which given our natural interest in mucking about in cars was very welcome, even if it was for being class swots of the day.

And what was even greater was getting a call from a colleague three days later.

"You're famous."


We were the car pictured in The New Vision's coverage of the off-road event. Check out the white landy on the left. That's us.

If you squint really, really hard.... you still can't see us through the windscreen.

But it is us, I swear.

Look, here we are again, in colour!

Lost In Translation

A friend asked the other day, are you having any language difficulties?

He was joking. At least, I think he was.

Ugandans, growing up in an ex-British Protectorate, speak very good English. They also speak among them a multitude of different tribal languages, including the most popular, Lugandan. But that's only spoken by about 17% of the population so English has become a pretty universal tongue round here.

But having said that, the little differences are the ones we notice most. As I wince inwardly at the American pronounciations of Aluminium, or get easily riled by an over-zealous software spell checker underling words like favourite and odorous just because I've kept the 'u' in them, so I strain against a few idiosyncratic Ugandanisms under the pretext of the English language.

People don't pick up their kids from school here. They pick them from school. Weirdly, the verb 'pick' also seems to be used when talking about someone dying unexpectedly. As if some heavenly force had 'picked' one from life.

And a couple of times I've had to ask the staff to describe what they mean when asking me for something from the shops. Our head of housekeeping came up to me this morning and asked me if I could buy them a "forcing cap". I laughed and asked her to explain what she meant. She demonstrated visually as she described unblocking a loo or a sink.

Aaah, you mean a plunger I thought.

Except I didn't quite think that because at that precise point in time, thrown off by the abstract description of the object, I could not rightly remember what we English actually called those long handled rubber vacuum seal thingummies.

Give me a few more weeks and I'll be speaking pidgin.

Finally, one language barrier which got a Ugandan quite angry was when I was in the Post Office to get a new stock of postage stamps for the bar to sell punters for their postcards. The denominations I wanted were 1200 shilling stamps - enough for a postcard to Europe.

Hello, can I have one hundred twelve hundred shilling stamps please said I.

The lady behind the counter stared at me in disbelief.

Madame, please say again what stamps you want

(I am forever shocked at being called Madame but find myself addressing other women of all ages here in the same way, as is the custom.)

Back in the Post Office, I thought my request for so many stamps was vexing her. I slowed down a little and repeated myself, trying not to over-articulate like some Brit in a Spanish beach bar.

One hundred of your twelve hundred shilling stamps please. Or fifty. Or whatever quantity you sell them in. We need them for our business.

The lady rose up behind the counter glass and puffed up her chest.

You mean one hundred One Thousand Two Hundred stamps she said sternly.
You must NOT say twelve hundred, Madame. When you say twelve we think you mean twelve thousand. You must say One Thousand Two Hundred.

Oops. I'd crossed the line in spoken number etiquette.

Despite twelve hundred being marginally less hassle in getting the syllables out, this is a country which counts in thousands.

Not hundreds like some low-denomination Western state.

So the burning issue is, how do Zimbabweans count? Here's a picture of someone holding a Fifty Million Zimbabwean note, back when that was unusual. Last week, I saw a picture of someone holding a Two Hundred And Fifty Million note.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Open Wide

This amused me. It was sent to me by my friend Marie, she of Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik fame (see post from a few days ago about playing postie).

A friend of hers sent it to her as she shares my obsession with hippos. In fact, I believe her next book will be titled something like 'Curse of the Hippo'.

Anyhow, the image comes from a blog where people were invited to submit the most inappropriate or incongruous film remakes of classic games or stories. So this is what the children's game Hungry Hippos would be, should it ever get the Blockbuster treatment...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Roar Nature

I have to confess, this title is stolen from a couple of people we met recently who have set up a safari company with the same name, except spelt 'Raw Nature'. I prefer to spell my puns out and have gone for the more obvious option.

And I also have to confess, this post also feels a little showy-offy. But honest, it's only because my flickr uploader fails to work with our intermittent internet connection that I am forced to showcase the photos here in such a smug fashion.

So, here are some more safari shots from a great game drive. I'm hoping this blog will settle into some more insightful stuff about everyday life here once we get on top of the hours (at the moment they are still on top of us...). Until then, I'm making like a tourist...

I went on a game drive and I saw...

Actually, I didn't even have to leave the camp and I saw...

One large snouty warthog, bedding down in the afternoon sunshine...

Two curious buffalo, who stared us down as we drank our coffee one morning overlooking the escarpment...

A scraggy old maribou stork. They really are ugly looking buggers...

And here is what I think is an Abyssinian Stork. Or something like that. My bird brain fails to remember bird species and the book is down at the house...

A baboon, seen, along with the stork, on the way into the park.

A Ugandan Kob and her young, in long grass on the northern banks of the Nile.

A male Kob. About to run.

Continuing the hoofed variety, here is a Jackson's Haartebeest. With eyes on stalks. But don't think this one is merely a little surprised to see us - they all look like that, permanently.

And now to my favourites. The lovely elegant giraffes. They are so serene looking. I love 'em.

A baby giraffe once chewed my fringe, when I was a production assistant on an TV ad shoot for Marwell Zoo in Hampshire. That was a pretty special experience. So was this, just with less chewing.

And here we re-visit the mighty buffalo, an animal I cannot take seriously since a friend once told me they remind him of Dutch Milkmaids. But they can see off lions, when in number (and humans when old, solo and cranky), so they should be given a little respect.

(But even when wiping the milkmaid reference from my mind, I then only see the similarity between them and a rather bovine pony my sister used to ride...)

Here's a dutch milkmaid taking a mud-bath!

And on to even bigger game. The might Oliphant. Here's an old bull who's not really that pissed off with us. We were some way away and I was on a 300mm zoom, taking a million shots to try and get one of him with his ears out akimbo. However, shortly after this was taken we did move on. There is only so much patience you'll willing to test when facing a beast twice the weight of your vehicle.

(As an aside I was told a horrifying story about a recent game drive gone horribly wrong. An Indian family were visiting relatives in Uganda and went on a game drive. Not realising that African Elephants are somewhat less docile than Indian Elephants, the small child with them rushed out of the car to run up to the first big elephant they saw. The father followed. I'm not sure whether the father was running to warn the child, or to greet the Elephant with the same naive enthusiasm. Either way, the Elephant ignored the small child and focused on the adult. He reportedly picked him up with his trunk, tossed him in the air like a matchstick, and caught him on his tusks. So relaxed as we thought this elephant was, it was probably best we moved on when we did...)

Here's another elephant. As another aside, I also have heard (from more than one source) that there is an elephant at Murchison who does not have a trunk. I didn't see him. But I did see a hippo without an ear.

And finally, the big cat sighting of the trip. We actually saw three lions, this old geezer and two younger cubs. But the latter were so far off they were lost as far as camera opportunities are concerned. As for the leopard, he proved evasive. The game drive two days before ours saw one and didn't realise how lucky they were. They usually come out at night, and although numbers are growing, they are rare to sight in Murchison. Our boss has lived in Uganda for ten years and has never seen one here. She said she'd fire us if we came back having seen one on our first game drive.

So just for the record Debbie, no we did not see a leopard. Honest.

Here's our only big cat moment of the day... Look, no leopards!

But if you really closely, you can see the Blue Mountains of the Congo in the background.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Hippo-Hippo Hooray

On the theme of the last post, here are some more hippo action shots taken whilst up in Murchison the other week.

Along with a classic hippo yawning shot, though annoyingly the sun had disappeared by then so the whole thing came out a little subdued on camera... Ooh, listen to me and how spoilt I sound...

A Goat In The Office (And Other Perks Of The Job)

(As I type, there is a goat poking her head into the office).

Two weeks ago, whilst in Murchison, fast asleep in a little banda (a round hut) I woke to Rich nudging me through my twin bed's mosquito net. It was pitch black.

Do you want to see a hippo? he whispered.

See a hippo? I could already hear it. A loud munching emanated from just the other side of the wall.

What time is it? I asked, still whispering, whilst fighting to get out of the mosquito net.

It was 4am, and when I eventually extricated myself from the netting, I stood by the window and looked out in the moonlight to see a hippo and her calf grazing just two yards in front of me.

I didn't want to breathe in case I disturbed her.

Would they charge a building? I found myself thinking, as I stared at her great grey bulk.

I don't know why I thought our whispering would disturb her. She wouldn't be able to hear me over the megaphone-like molar action going on. A hippo can chomp with the best of them...

The next night I saw three more, along with a tourist who was casually stalking them around the bandas to have a closer look. I was desperately whispering "Be Careful!" warnings at him through my banda window.

Sadly, because a flash may well have caused her to charge the banda, I have no photos of the hippo sightings. But here is a photo of what happens when you disturb a hippo, taken on the other side of the river from the Red Chilli Rest Camp, and published last year in the Daily Monitor. The guy in the picture managed to dive out the way and somehow escape, but you can see why I was trying to warn the over-enthusiastic tourist...