Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Advice For Life

We bought some paint thinner the other day.

On the instructions / how to use label on the back of the 1 litre jerrican it said:

Keep Out Of Children

Good advice for life, not just for thinning paint, I'd say....

They Giveth, And Then They Taketh Away

We watched 30 Rock. And enjoyed it.

And then we woke up the next morning to find out that the two new channels were off limits again.

It was just a fleeting gift.

But, we have a cunning plan. We've heard from one of the satellite engineers that free subscriptions are given to journalists and radio presenters.

R has been published in Uganda and we're probably going live on the radio in a few weeks time.

Can you see where this is going?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

30 Rock My World

We made an exciting discovery the other day.

We've gained two new satellite channels!!!

Back when we had it installed we weighed up the packages. For $95 a month we could get pretty much everything there was - wall to wall sport channels (which neither of ever watch anyway), all the news channels, all the entertainment and movie channels - more dodgy programmes than you could ever fit into your viewing hours.

For $25 a month we could get BBC Prime and BBC World, CNN, MNet Series, NatGeo and Natgeo world. We would lose a couple we liked - Discovery, History etc - but for saving $70 a month of our salary, it did not seem worth it.

And anyhow, our main criteria was whether we would still get 30 Rock. We had fast become big fans of this new show, and were tuning in to every episode we got. It seemed to be on about 3 channels at once, but was repeated on Mnet Series, which we would still get with the smaller package. So that didn't seem to be a problem.

So we downgraded our subscription.

And they promptly cut 30 Rock from the Mnet Series schedule.

Damn them and their cunning.

But now we have channels which have mysteriously become available again, including Go!, which has 30 Rock on every Tuesday.

We'll have skipped half of the second series so there are bound to be a few moments of confusion, but it's like having a new love come back into town.

We have an extra skip in our step thanks to a fantastic show.

And it starts in 5 mins so I'd best get going...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Truck Slogans

Uganda has the greatest mottos and slogans painted on every mudguard - whether it belongs to a tiny boda motorbike, or a massive truck.

Here's one we prepared earlier...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tropical Medicine Eat Your Thigh Out

Barely a day goes by when we don't get someone asking how they go about seeing a decent doctor.

We usually send them to an English doctor who runs a local clinic. He knows his tropical medicine and doesn't scare the tourists too much with his GP-trained British bedside manner.

Earlier this week I had a guy ask me the predictable question. He'd been in the mountains for a while, and whilst there, had been bitten by something unidentified that had run up his trouser leg in a local shop. The bite had now gone bad, swelling up to a massive boil like lump that was oozing something nasty from behind the small dressing he'd put on it. Apparently he had got a friend to squeeze it for him, and as they did so, some little creature had popped out.


Despite feeling quite squeamish by this point, I wanted to follow through and find out what desperate sort of tropical disease or nasty he had picked up, so I sent him off to see the doc with strict instuctions to come straight back and tell us all about it.

Turns out he had been bitten by a brown widow spider.

The brown widow spider has (according to our friends at wikipedia) a venom which is twice as strong as the more famous black widow spider. According to the doctor, the spider had bitten this guy on his upper thigh and deposited some sort of sac just under the skin. Whether this is a stomach sac or an egg sac I do not know - but it may explain the little creature that popped out....

The sac then leaks a neurotoxic substance which eats the surrounding body tissue. Basically necrosis spreads from the site of the bite. The spider sac had hollowed out a little cave like hole underneath the skin and had it been left there, would have continued to do so. Some wounds can get to be inches wide if left unattended.

The doctor excised the wound and stuffed it full of gauze. He was due for another appointment that evening to check on it.

I was concerned about the possibility of infection - really hard to prevent with open wounds in tropical, dusty climates. Especially when you are travelling all the time. But apparently that's very unlikely. Because the tissue is dead, there are no live cells to get infected. Every cloud, etc, etc.

The poor bloke. Two weeks in the mountains and what does he get? A massive necrotic cavity in his upper thigh. He seemed remarkably upbeat about it.

A Tale Of Two Cities

Kampala. It conjures up visions of a typical African city. Doesn't it?

All of us have preconceptions.

You may have heard that Kampala was built on hills, originally seven of them, like Rome.

Or Sheffield.

You may have heard that Kampala is greener than expected. Which is also true.

But you may also have expectations based on other African capitals.

Low-slung buildings, never more than one storey high (apart from the obligatory Sheraton hotel which towers over every African capital like some Colossus, sucking in the NGOs and pampered diplomats), seperated by narrow streets of dirt, or tarmac if you're lucky, flanked either side by wide open sewage ditches blocked with a thousand plastic bags.

You may think of Paul Theroux's description of a typical African city, calling them the last place on earth you can experience the sensation of a medieval city. The market streets in Bamako; the Djemma El Fna in Marrakesh; the fish market in Nouakchott; densely packed squares and souqs and alleys; where the whores hustle, and the hustlers whore.

Wandering through the melee of money-changers, water-sellers, food vendors, street performers, pick-pockets, pimps and street urchins, you get a feel for what wandering through medieval London may have been like.

But then you arrive in Kampala.

And you see tall, shining, mirrored office buildings. Kampala, unlike some other one-storey African cities, has a skyline. A Skyline which, while not quite NY or London, definitely means business.

And while the traffic can be punishing on other routes, there are wide open three laned highways leading out of the city to the West.

Ugandans line up next to you at the lights. Albeit they may be cutting you up and crossing lanes, but a good deal of them are driving very shiny brand new Pajeros and Land Cruisers.

So you are surprised, pleasantly, at this city you did not expect.

This is a guilty thought. You didn't expect an African capital to be so, well, civilized. How patronising do you feel now?

But it's true. Kampala is incredibly sohisticated as a city.

Then you settle in and get to know the other side to this city.

A wrong turn takes you towards the old Taxi Park. Battered old minibuses line the street.

Hawkers hug the pavements, piling up their wares. A man pushes a bicycle past you. On it are tied around fifty live chickens, looked rather dazed as they dangle by their ankles. Great dark red legs of meat hang from open hatches where butchers stand in dirty white aprons.

A man is eating fried grasshoppers from a newsprint cone, wiping stray green legs off his greying stubble. A large lady waddles past, swathed in colourful cottons and balancing a woven basket of bananas on her head. Ugandan women are bent double at the waist, bottoms raised, sweep the front of their stalls out to keep their wares free from dust and debris.

A hundred different beats blare from cheap tinny speakers in shop fronts and minibus cabs. Horns honk, babies cry, people shout, and every now and then, a marabou stork shrieks from a rooftop.

This is the Kampalan symphony orchestra.

This is the Kampala I see behind the skyscrapers.

Kampala truly is a Tale of Two Cities.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Bad Day In Bongoland

On the way back from badminton on Thursday night we got pranged by an errant truck cutting across us at the most hellish roundabout in Kampala. He clipped the edge of the bull bar on the work landrover and pulled it up and forward and off its mounts. He did this all at about 20mph and sped off into the darkness. Nice.

The landrover now looks like it's raising its eyebrows at us.

But that was just the start of a series of unfortunate events.

The next morning, yesterday, I noticed one of our Shambas pick up the baby girl goat. Something was wrong. She normally runs away from anyone trying to approach her, let alone allows anyone to pick her up.

Her breathing was fast and shallow, her eyes were glazed, and her normally pink tongue looked pallid and grey.

All the staff reckoned she had malaria. They 'have' malaria about once a month. It's like their version of the common cold. Good for a duvet day.

Handily, we had vets on site. A Spanish couple who normally worked in Soroti were staying and one of them came and looked at her straight away. But just in the time we were with her, the baby goat lost the ability to stand and collapsed on the ground. She was limp in our arms when we tried to pick her up. She was deteriorating so rapidly we agreed to take her straight to the local USPCA.

The Spanish vet had donated a jumper from her baby daughter which we dressed the baby goat in to try and keep her warm (I will add a photo when we get them downloaded from the phone), and we bundled her into a cardboard box and took her straight up to the USPCA.

We got a strange look at reception when we checked in our patient. When we announced it was a goat, the receptionist tried to write 'dog' on the patient details form.

It's a GOAT, not a dog, I repeated.

The receptionist's eyebrows raised like the bullbar on our landrover.

I think we may have been the only people in Uganda ever to have brought a ruminant to the vet's.

Once inside, the nurse started to check the basics as we waited for the vet. We wrapped the baby goatlet in a blanket and gave her a hot water bottle. Her ears and legs had started to feel cold and her breathing was getting worse. Every three or four breaths she seemed to convulse slightly and I was getting a very bad feeling.

Sure enough, her breathing slowly stopped and eyes went dead. I tried to feel for a pulse as the nurse was out of the room. Where do you check for a goat pulse? The neck?

Nothing. Or if it was there, it was very faint. The vet confirmed this when she arrived a second later by checking with her stethoscope. The poor thing had just died.

From the symptoms, the vet reckoned she'd suffered a toxic reaction to something. It hadn't been an infection - there was no temperature.

But what could have infected her? Snakebite? Scorpion? A poisonous plant? Eating lead paint peelings off the walls? A guest feeding her chocolate, or worse, beer?

(Not that this last possibility has necessarily happened - but guests do funny things with animals - a few years ago two guests killed a duck by drunkenly playing catch with it and then wondered why everyone else, especially the duck, was so upset by their behaviour...)

So I pulled the blanket over the baby goat's head and left the surgery with one less goat than when we'd come in, suddenly really depressed.

And then once we got back to the office, we discovered one of our most trusted barmen might have been stealing from the company. But I'm only saying might for legal reasons - on questioning he admitted all. He's too honest and couldn't lie, but had casually pocketed dollars intended for the till as commissions from business partners we take bookings for. To him, this wasn't really stealing. To us, it was.

When the good guys turn bad, it turns the world on its head.

So what to do? A car crash, a baby goat death, and a good barman turned bad. Africa so rarely deals such negative blows - life here is normally up and positive. And if it isn't up it's at least different.

So fix the car, mourn the goatlet and dismiss the barman.

But it's still sad to see the goat wandering round with only one kid. And it's weird having to say goodbye to a previously trusted member of the team.

It's been a bad day in Bongoland.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Family Wedding

My brother is engaged. To the Canadian I have not yet met.*

Best bit about this news?

When they get to doing the ceremony, civil or not, whoever is officiating will have to read out his and her names.

Her name?

Courtney Love.

I'm not kidding.

Apparently she hates sharing her name with a now-she's-sober-now's-she's-not widow of one of the most iconic names in indie music.

But I think it's hilarious and cannot wait for the invetibale tittering in the audience at the wedding-to-be.

Does that make me a bad sister?

*This is not a photo of my brother's wife-to-be. This is a photo of the other Courtney and comes courtesy of gofugyourself.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Kids Say The Darnedest Things....

Breezing through the Red Chilli inbox in a quieter moment, I am busy reading what the Ugandan Tourist Board has to say for itself in one of their email newsletters and stumble across their version of an 'And Finally...' style anecdotal news item.

And I quote:

In a rare case of mistaken identity, recently a family of American tourists visited Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Mum, Dad, and five children, in search of the prized "Silverback" gorilla.

As luck would have it, or so they thought, the children were stunned by what they thought were Mountain Gorillas and rushed to break the news of their find to their equally excited parents.

To their disappointment, the 'gentle giants' turned out to be bare-chested locals who were clearing the bush around the Gorilla resort...

The parents must have been mortified at their children's mistake.

Mistake some Africans for gorillas? How politically incorrect can you get? But to a Ugandan, this is just a humourous tale about some stupid tourist gaffe.

But we Muzungus are so sensitive to this stuff.

Most of us have grown up knowing what constitutes acceptable terminology when referring to the colour of someone's skin. We've all winced at a grandparent's use of phrases like "Nig-Nog" or "The Blacks".

In and out of fashion swam politically correct terms like "Coloured", "Ethnic Minority", "Black" and so on, but whatever the currently accepted term of reference was, there is no way anyone would ever want to be found guilty of mistaking a local Ugandan for a Mountain Gorilla.

But Ugandans have a different perspective. They say what they see, with little self-consciousness about the implied meaning we would overlay on similar statements.

I have inwardly winced at things members of staff have said about eachother:

You two look like a pair of monkeys, you look just the same!
He is so tall, just like a gorilla!

It may be similar to the phenomenon of it being fashionable among certain members of the American black community to call eachother Nigger. It's okay for a black person to say it about another black person, but not for a white person to say it - that sort of thing.

Or, perhaps we need to regain some perspective.

It's obviously not okay to call people derogatory names, whatever the reason or current fashion.

But maybe it's okay to tell an anecdote freely, wihtout fear of being perceived as racist, about some silly mistake your child made on holiday. Imagine if the rustle in the bushes had turned out to be a white tourist - the story would have been repeated and regaled far into the future as "The time we mistook so-and-so for a gorilla".

But I bet you all the Gorillas in Uganda they're not telling this story back home on the ranch. The implied racism innate in the tale would be too much for the audience of the 'folks back home' to cope with.

Unless, of course, the family were from Alabama.