Tuesday, July 29, 2008

White (Wo)Men Can't Jump

One of the volunteer groups staying with us at Red Chilli invited us to participate with them in a local sports tournament with their local partner organisations.

We extended the invitation to our housekeepers and shambas - most of whom have a general knockabout with a ball at the end of each day anyway.

It felt like a perfect plan - the boys and girls deserved an afternoon out - they have been working extra hard during this busy season - and it was a chance for R and I to integrate into some real local life.

As for the sporting element we thought it would friendly, amateurish fun. Jumpers for goalposts, that kind of thing...

Oh how wrong we were.

We turned up at the grounds near St Paul's Church in Banda, a small local town off the Jinja Road. Drums were beating down by the football ground. A PA system was blaring out Lugandan match commentary over a musical beat. Team buses sat parked up a vertical bank of grass. Groups of strapping young men in different colours of shiny nylon were tying the laces of their football boots. Towering young women with netball skirts flapping around their long, glowing limbs were stop-start-turn-leap-running across the length of the netball pitch. Shouts rang out and children cheered.

This was no sunday league. These people took their playing very seriously indeed.

With a certain amount of intrepidation, I squeezed myself into a tiny netball bib that squished my tits flat and tried to remember the rules. Suddenly I realised,

I have not played this sport since 1989.

Who was I trying to kid?

Ten minutes after the first whistle blew and it was clear. I had forgotten the rules. I could not keep up with the fit local women always one step ahead of me, nor could I match the stamina and speed of my team-mates - a bunch of mainly 17 year olds from near Manchester and the odd cleaner from Red Chilli.

By the end of the first quarter, I'd swapped with Annet, one of our housekeepers, who went on to play a far, far better game than I ever could have.

By the start of the second quarter, the white faces had turned pink and one ankle had been turned on the rough ground. The opposition, a team from the local HIV Outreach Clinic in Mbuya, were trouncing us. Two goals to Nil.

We were getting plenty of shots at the hoop but none of them were getting in.

Demoralised but determined the team soldiered on. Another fifteen minutes in the blistering heat, sun beating down on the hard red baked earth. The crowd were sat silently in the shade, lulled into a stupor by the heat that was punishing the players so hard. But the Outreach team were leaping past us every time, passing the ball down the line with impeccable timing, getting their ball through the hoop one shot in every three.

Finally, in one of the last minutes of the second quarter, K scored a goal for our side.

Everyone erupted with noise. The crowd lining the top of the bank, sat beneath the maize stalks, the captain of the opposition, the children with the big goatskin drum - all whooped and hollered and cheered and roared at our success. It may only be one goal against the four scored by the opposition, but they were every bit as jubilant as we were.

Half time was spent visiting the boys - a team of black and white shirted players flailing, in a dignified way, against the polish athleticism of another local team. They scored a goal from a penalty kick whilst we were watching and made the score Three-One.

A few of our shambas swapped in and I looked on as Ronnie, Pascal and Godfrey all took their turn on the ball. Aisha, the tiniest of our cleaners but a keen footie player, was sitting frustrated on the sidelines watching the boys. I encouraged her to join us girls as we headed head back to the netball ground, to our own battle.

The third and fourth quarter, now we had our eye in, saw a lot more goal scoring. Suddenly the gap had narrowed and it was Five-Four to them. I stood at the sideline and roared support, along with a small boy who had two lengths of wood he was clapping together to show he wanted our team to win too.

But the other side were simply better. Better athletes, better practised as a team, and better shooters. The game ended on a respectable Seven-Five and the teams, pink-faced and dripping with sweat, lined up for photos.

The people driving home in the Landrover were better friends than before. Suddenly we had history together that spanned more than just the workplace.

Annet was so fired up, our netball queen, that she's asked for permission to try and set up a regular Red Chilli netball team. I'm all for it, if we can recruit enough players.

Since the match I've given our boys and girls some print outs of the better shots of them. I caught them pouring over them in their lunch break yesterday.

Barbara pointed to a shot of Pascal driving the ball up from mid-field and said admiringly,

You look like you are playing in North London!

Other than the banana trees lining the pitch, of course.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

You Know You're A Local When...

...you know intimately the shape of the holes that pepper the local roads and recognise when a pothole is getting larger, or has recently appeared.

We know our local potholes so well we've considered naming them. Clearly, we've settled in.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Welcome To The World, Baby Goatlets

We were practising on the mixing desk at the radio studio when I got the text.

One goatlet out, one to go

It was happening!
And it was twins!
And I wasn't there!

I left R practising his fader technique and leapt in the car to drive back to Red Chilli. Whilst racing back through rush hour traffic I got another text.

The second one is breached. We're trying hard to get it out but it's a struggle.

Oh God - Poor Dave.

(R had nicknamed our heavily pregnant goat Dave for a joke - his sense of humour still has the staff wondering what he's on about sometimes...)

I got back to Red Chilli and raced down to where she was. In between two cottages in a dark earthy patch of garden, there she was. With two babies and a crowd of admiring midwifes - three shambas, one housekeeper, a manager and a guest.

It turns out the other manager had tried to aid the breached baby by slipping a hand in to help it out. But his hands were too big. So he raced up to the bar area to find a non-squeamish guest with slender hands. The poor thing had been stuck with it's little head poking out for nearly half an hour.

After a while of watching them, the firstborn boy goatlet had cottoned on to the idea that there was food inside nipples, but the other, baby girl goatlet, was still shivering and shaking from the exhausting business of being stuck for so long.

Until a Dutch lady called Karin stepped into the breach. Literally.

Light was failing and we decided it would be best to move them to our backyard overnight. They could leave meeting the compound dogs, cats, monkeys etc until tomorrow and just spend a peaceful night in an enclosed space.

The shambas (our gardeners) gingerly picked up a kid each and carried them, bleating away, waiting for Mum to follow. Dave looked momentarily confused, and circled the area where she had just given birth, sniffing the ground for her babies. Then Pascal, one of the shambas, set one of the kids down on the ground for a moment and she recognised his shape and ran after him. In twenty yard bursts of setting a goatlet down, and waiting for Mum to catch up, and then picking them up again to go through the process another twenty yards away, this strange procession eventually made it to our backyard.

There the housekeepers had lain an old curtain or two, and I had added water and some foliage to keep Mum going through the night.

The shambas and everyone else left and I watched the new family of goats for a minute. The second-born was still having trouble feeding. She had worked out, just about, how to stand in a wobbly sort of way, and was jabbing her muzzle in the high recesses of her mother's hocks, too high for the teat which was dangling below. Her brother was a whole stomachful of milk ahead of her at this point and I was concerned she would weaken if she did not learn how to feed soon.

Never having grabbed a goat's teat before, this was a new experience for me, but kinda special. I held Dave's teat and directed it a little higher, level with the little goatlet's hungry mouth. Then I lured her little damp curly haired muzzle closer to the teat by getting her to attach to a finger on my other hand.

It was like what mid-air refueling for airplanes must be like. Three botched attempts and then success - she latched on and started suckling for her life.

I watched over them a few more minutes and then left them to it.

As you can see from the pictures, the goatlets look a lot more acceptable the morning after birth, so we have let them out on their unsuspecting public today. Now tourist are snapping pictures of baby goatlets as well as monkeys.

Hurrah for the Red Chilli Petting Zoo.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On Our Walks

Around and about Red Chilli, there are winding tracks and clod-ridden pathways of red earth that take us on our daily walks through the Ugandan property food chain.

At one end you have the smart shiny compounds with rust-free gates, ornamental flower beds and uniformed guards. In between you have new build plots with stalacmites of metal rods stretching up beyond rough plaster columns and crooked twisted scaffolds made straight from the tree, and local bungalows that may have mildew eating the concrete and broken panes in the windows, but nevertheless have running water and several rooms.

At the bottom end of the food chain, but where you find most signs of life, are the shanty town slum quarters filled with people living out their lives on the side of the path.

Here, life does not go on behind closed doors or high walls. It's there, right in your face, as you wander past.

On our walks with the dogs we sometimes wander through the local slum quarter and are always amazed at the vitality of the place. There's a woman washing her children at the end of the day; there's a guy roasting meat on a stick; there's a child playing with a bicycle tyre and a stick; there's a litter of puppies gambolling in the dust; there's a grandmother sitting on the stoop; there's ten children running amock, some with clothes on, some without; there's a chicken squawking in the rubbish heap; there's a lady walking with her bundle balanced high on her head.

Everywhere in the slums the children shout Muzungu and make woofing sounds as we pass with the two dogs.

(Which sound more like Ra Ra than Woof Woof if you're Bugandan and under six years old.)

This is the universal white experienc in Africa - crowds of kids appearing wherever you pause, all to come look at the sight of a passing stranger with pale skin.

It's weird, I took a few pictures the other day and felt slightly unsettled - that other universal tourist experience in Africa. If you take pictures of poor people does that make it poverty tourism? There is a sense of voyeurism in the whole exchange.

But one fact remains as the chants of Muzungu follow us everywhere we go: we are as much, if not more, of a novelty for them, as they are for us.

Two white people walking two big scary dogs? Quick - tell everyone you know to come look!

True Blue Baby

I promised you we had started to feed a stray cat, which was actually blue, and I wasn't lying.

Here he is in all his blueness.

Latest theory, courtesy of the USPCA vet (who was told about him, not shown him - picking him up would be ambitious - he can be vicious!) is that he may have been trapped in a store room or something somewhere when the owners fumigated the place, and the insecticide, or whatever may have been used, turned his coat blue.

Poor thing.

Not sure our adoption plan with him is working very well either. Panda tried to jump him the other night when he poked his head through the door for a look, and most importantly, when R had been gently stroking him, perfectly happily for a few minutes, he suddenly took a swipe at him and hooked a chunk of finger.

But we can at least try and feed him up, even if he doesn't want to be adopted full time...

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Business Of Uganda

When we arrived here and started our jobs we could not work out why most of the week was taken up shopping, and only at supermarkets.

Granted there are some decent supermarkets in town but you still have to sit in traffic for almost an hour there and an hour back, and spend ages waiting for store staff members to go to the stock room and fetch you whatever gargantuan quantities of the things tourists eat and drink.

It just seemed silly that we didn't get more stuff delivered. At wholesale prices. To our doorstep.

So of late, our quest for moving things wholesale has led to some hilarious moments listening to R's side of the conversation as he tries to tell local distributors and manufacturers that he has some easy business for them.

Hello, is that Company X?
Is that Company X?
Do you sell Product X?
Excellent. Can I speak to your sales department please?
The sales department!
No, I mean sales. Please can I speak to the manager responsible for selling Product X?
Hello. This is R from Red Chilli in Mbuya. I'd like to enquire about buying Product X from you wholesale. How much do you charge per carton?
No, don't come now. Just tell me how much you charge and then we will make an order.
The price. I want to know the price. How many shillings is it?
Okay. If we buy some from you, can you deliver them free of charge?
No, don't come now. I do not need any yet. Just tell me if you deliver, when I need some...

And so on.

On the one hand, you could argue this country is crying out from some whipsmart entrepreneur to launch a customer sales training centre - where local sales staff and telephone staff can be skilled in how to turn a quick sale.

Sales techniques can seem to be alien to those in business here. Most of R's time on the phone is explaining to someone that he actually wants to give them some money, if all they could do is just tell him how much their goods cost and how he can get hold of them.

It has been said that the Indians "ran" this place back in the day, and now that many have returned after the Amin-forced exodus, it seems many of the more 'customer-focused' businesses are, indeed, Indian-run.

However that would be doing a dis-service to what we ultimately came here for. A different pace to life, a different attitude...

Ugandans like to do business in person. They seem to resist this remote, developed-world work ethic where everything is conducted by phone or email.

They come by to the office, face to face, bringing samples or visiting our emises, just to suss us out. People trek halfway across town just for a chance meeting to do business from, or to make an application. A price list always has to be brought, never emailed or simply given out over the phone. Sometimes it's typed, but some of our best and most reliable wholesalers come with scraps of handwritten paper. And sometimes it take three members of staff to bring it.

It's not the most efficient way to do business, but there is a warmth and humanity to it that you don't get elsewhere. When you find a good supplier, he's still a good supplier, whatever the telephone manner of his staff was in your initial conversations with the company.

And just as many of them are Ugandan Ugandans as well as Asian Ugandans.

And as for us, R's daily struggles to make himself understood make for an amusing interlude to the day.

Big Pink Caravan Of Love

Guess what just turned up?

Two massive big pink buses called 'The Pink Caravan'. Originally from Sweden, these buses (and more like them around the world) offer Scandanavians the chance to tour exotic lands in style.

In big pink style.

Given my former status as a Pink Lady, driving a much smaller but equally pink van all the way from London to The Gambia, I enjoyed the sight of these truck pitching up.

(The driver told me the traffic in Kampala had been really good to him on the way through this afternoon. I reckoned it might have been the colour. Even the most bloody-minded of Kampala's matatu drivers might hesitate in shock and awe long enough to let an overland bus driver pull out at a junction.)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Super Star DJ

One of the weird things about Africa is that it really is the new land of opportunity.

It shows in some of the ex-patriate types you get in Kampala, who run mini-empires in whatever industry they decided they fancied a pop at. Some of them have a genuine skill and talent for their chosen field, whereas a scarily sizeable proportion of them wouldn't last a minute 'back home'.

At it's most dangerous, Africa is a tempting playground for expats to indulge their whims.

And we are no different.

For while we do have, mostly, suitable CVs and good experience for doing the jobs we do, there is no way on earth we could claim to be well-qualified for jobs as Radio DJs.

Thanks to no more than us showing an interest and willing to give up some of our free time every week, we will be starting a new sideline career here as radio DJs. On a local station called Touch FM. With a slot every Saturday from 4-6pm.

Well, to be more exact R will be the main DJ. I am taking on a role as his Producer, Posse, Sidekick, whatever you want to call it.

Mainly because he is the biggest music fascist and would not let me near the music choice.

And because I'm good at ordering him around. When he lets me.

So, super-star DJ status awaits. Just as soon as manning the faders becomes second nature.

Given that the last time I was in front of a mixing desk was at University studying radio journalism when they still used reel to reel technology, it may be some time before we're allowed to go live. But we can dish out autographs early if you want to be first in the queue.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lost and Found

Three weeks ago tomorrow we took ownership of our three legged cat, Bent nee Panda.

We spent ten days habituating him and getting him used to where his new home was. This we did by keeping him cooped up in our cottage most of the time, letting him out only for brief, accompanied 'walks', where we'd pick him up and park him back next to our cottage if he tried to stray too far.

After a week he seemed to grown in confidence, wanting not to come back in after ten minutes and miaowing all night to be let out. Nevertheless we kept up the walks, wanting to make sure he really did know where his new home was.

After ten days of this routine, several times a day, we decided he must know where he lived by now, and hearts in mouths, we let him out one Wednesday morning, watched him hobble/slope off in the undergrowth, and wandered up to the top compound to our day jobs.

Come lunchtime, we popped back down to let him back in, expecting him to be miaowing at our heels by the time we arrived at the last cottage.

Ominously there was no sign of him.

Half an hour later he hadn't appeared. After another hour or two in the office R abandoned his desk to search for Panda around the compound. No joy.

At 5.30pm we tooks the dogs for their walk around the lanes and alleys behind Red Chilli, asking at every neighbours' gate if they had seen our cat.

Have you see our cat? He's easy to spot, he's black and white and has only three legs.

We quickly learnt that noone in Uganda knows what you mean if you say 'cat' - they don't use this term. They call the animal a 'pusscat' - and this phrase makes all the difference. Heads nodding, they then start to take in the other information. And the three leg thing has everyone exclaiming in disbelief or simply laughing out loud.

Three legs? No!

Sadly, their hilarity does not detract from the blanks we draw everywhere and the miserable fact remains - we have lost our cat.

The next day we make some signs with the one photo we had time to take of him. We put them up around the compound, outside the perimeter fencing. and even three miles away around his old neighbourhood, wondering if maybe he had tried to walk back to his old house, in some weird cat homing device type way.

One man told me he had seen our cat - but he thought at the time it was a leopard.

Sadly, Panda looks about as much like a leopard as I do.

Lots of people promised to search for him, the incentive of a reward tempting their interest. Our staff thought it was hilarious that we could get this concerned about a pusscat - a three legged one at that - but nevertheless I saw their eyes light up at the thought of finding him and collecting a reward.

From Wednesday to Saturday we searched, only to find ourselves losing hope. People don't look at cats too kindly in Africa - they are chased away with stones and shouts, or worse. And as for other animals - we were sure Panda was one of the less streetwise of them. There were plenty of very hungry stray dogs around, and busy roads with drivers who would not so much as look twice if their tyres were heading for a cat's head.

By Saturday morning we were despondent and feared the worst. He'd been hurt, run over, attacked or eaten. Or simply lost his way and become, inadvertently, yet another stray.

But then a shout went up. It was early Saturday morning, R was still in his pants, I was about to jump in the shower. But outside the house, on our normal peaceful compound, there was commotion. Barbara and Annet, two housekeepers, had spotted the cat and were making chase. Panda saw two screaming women running towards him waving their arms, shouting Miaow Miaow loudly and laughing hysterically, and legged it. Well, legged it best as he could given he only has three of them.

Straight over the wall to the neighbouring compound - with three guard dogs and plenty of strays and many many places to hide (it's a disused factory). How were we ever going to find him there? We cursed ourselves for not having thought to give the staff a training course in how to lure cats towards you (instead of scaring them away) before we offered anything so exciting as a reward.

R climbed over the 8 ft wall (I have the bruises on my shoulders to prove it) and went cat hunting. I stayed, calling Panda's name, sporting a T-shirt on inside out, flung on in the hurry to get out to rescue the cat from the scary cleaners.

Half an hour later and Panda arrived back home, in a taped up cardboard box. After a pee and a poo in the litter tray, three bowls of milk drunk in quick succession, and a whole heap of biscuits, he sat down, licked his three paws and looked like nothing had ever happened.

Except he's not even tried to go out since. He's had his fill, for now, of the big bar world out there. He's had enough adventures for now and is a confirmed house-cat.

Which is just as well as we're trying to adopt another strange cat. This one is a stray who started coming round for food whilst Panda was missing. He has all his legs but he has a peculiar disability of his own.

He's blue.

Not Persian blue - the kind of blue dog and cat owners say when they really mean grey, but proper blue. Not kidding.

Photographic proof will be provided just as soon as I can work out why blogger is not letting me upload photos...

Monday, July 07, 2008

Something Old, Something Bling...

My friend who got married is now safely trekking the Indian Himalayas (or should that be Himalaya?) and so probably won't see this for a while so I get away with publishing it.

Ladies, if you want to get a little Footballer's Wife-like on your honeymoon, here's the perfect thing. And if you happen to have been a Pink Lady in a former life, there's nothing better to make you feel at home

A "Hollywood Pink" bikini with diamante lettering on the back of your bum spelling out "Just Married".

As seen on Mrs Rooney and my friend C.

She secretly loves me for it. Honestly.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Feels Like Home Again

In the last week, I have made two international journeys in excess of 24 hours travel time, driven halfway across England and back, gained a three legged cat in Uganda whilst I was gone, made a speech in front of 80 people, watched a best friend get very happily married, and got back to find my boyfriend may become a local radio DJ in his spare time.

Now I'm three days back into the swing of Red Chilli life and it feels (in a good way) like I never left.

Before leaving for the UK, I suddenly got pangs of concern.

What about the craft stall we are trying to set up with some Acholi women who are making paper beaded necklaces but have nowhere to sell their wares?

What about the new chef and barperson we need to recruit?

What about sourcing some outsize tupperware for the kitchen to use when they freeze the big batches of sauces, lasagnes, curries, carrot burgers and other staple dishes now that they have a big new freezer to fill up?

What about our ongoing quest to find new, safari-style tents so we can add to our bed count and stop having to turn people away? (We've been full pretty much every night since late May and our trips to Murchison are now booking almost a month ahead).

What about our training the dog's to accept their collars and come for a walk every day? Would R be able to persuade them out the gate without having an extra pair of hands to push/pull them to their well-meaning fate?

And what about the goat? Our lovely pregnant she-goat called Dave? Would she give birth to little goatlets without me? The thought was terrible.

About a month ago, her udders started to swell. "She's ready to drop" we all said.

About two weeks ago, we would find her scratching around in the dirt, trying to make little hollows to nest in. "Any time soon" we all said.

So here I am back from the UK and three days into working here again. After some interviews today we now have a really promising new bar person starting Monday, and a good candidate coming in for a chef's interview.

Two new massive tents have been bought, albeit nylon not canvas, but they were on a deal and are already fully booked for the next few nights and filling up fast thereafter.

The dogs now come running when we pick up their leads and I find one of them, the more needy, insecure hound of the two, waiting outside our front door for us to emerge in the mornings.

The three-legged cat is settling in, and we still can't work out whether to stick with his old name, Panda, or to switch to the new one, Bent. So he's sort of "Panda-Bent" at the moment, in limbo between names.

As for the goat, she's still waddling around, looking uncomfortably fat.

No goatlets yet it seems, but otherwise, I definitely feel right back at home.