Friday, June 26, 2009

School sign, Masindi

Not sure if I have already posted this before. Apologies if I'm repeating on you. But amidst all the poor taste Wacko Jacko jokes here's a little light relief from Uganda. Schools, mininbuses, grocery stores, tailors, hardware shops - if you operate a physical 'space' in Uganda, you need to get with the mode and have your very own slogan.

Here's my favourite from the road to Murchison.

Closely followed (literally - it's about 40km down the murram track into the park, as you are about to descend the Bunyoro escarpment into the Albertine Rift Valley) by my favourite example of road traffic signs in this country. How's this for a graphic description of what could happen...

Friday, June 05, 2009

More Shopping Tales From The Dark Continent

A tale in the same vein as the one where I tried to return three rakes, and only got my money back for the ones that weren't broken...

A colleague of ours was telling me a story last week. She wanted to get some skirts made out of the loud, funky Congolese cotton prints that are so beautiful. She'd bought her fabric and found a local seamstress.

The seamstress gave her a quote which included a charge for making a lining for the skirts. Our colleague didn't want a lining - she just wanted a simple cotton one piece skirt run up. She agreed with the seamstress that she would sew her the skirts without a lining.

When she went to collect the skirts she was presented with a bill that was the same price as if she had included the lining. She queried it, reminding the seamstress that the skirts had been made without the lining, so there was no real justification for charging her for the extra material a lining would have used.

Ah but Madam the seamstress replied, You are thin, but some of my clients, they are fat. And they will use extra material for their skirts and linings, so I need to charge you extra to pay for that material.

This is a logical conclusion for most shopkeepers in Kampala. And yet it is a scenario where most muzungus come unstuck, ranting and railing at the ridiculousness of it all.

Don't get me wrong. I have my days when I rant and rail. But it rarely gets you anywhere. Sometimes you just have to accept that you will be paying for fat women's skirt linings, and you'll probably be happier for it.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Let Sleeping Hippos Lie

So, I'd seen Lake Albert and, more recently in our last trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park, Lake Edward too. But up until last week I'd never seen Lake George.

It seems all the lakes in Uganda are named after old British monarchs and their family. They were re-named after independence, under Amin, but after his own family members, so that was hardly any better and their old colonial names were swiftly restored after his downfall.

Maybe, a little cynical bit of me thinks, they thought it would be better for their tourist industry. And they'd probably be right.

With me going on about all these places named after British queens and their husbands or sons you'd think the whole place was Little Britain. Rest assured, African and black sporting and political heroes abound in street names and civic building titles (we have an Akii Bua Road, a Nelson Mandela stadium, a Malcolm X drive, Nkrumah Street, and so on and so forth). But the areas of interest to foreign visitors, the parks and mountains, the rivers and lakes, they all seem to have stuck with foreign names. Ah well.

Anyway, I digress. This last trip to QENP, as Queen Elizabeth National Park shall henceforth be known, saw us go to the end of the road (quite literally, there is a sign) and visit Lake George as part of a game drive.

We'd seen the kob, waterbuck, lions and birds, and we drove on past a momentarily quiet salt lake (with the rainy season upon us, the water does not produce the crystals needed to produce salt, being all too frequently diluted by more pure water falling from the skies) onto to a fishing village on the shores of the very shallow Lake George.

We got out and watched the fishermen paddle past in their dugouts or mending their nets. And saw children as young as three or so busy in the everyday task of collecting water. They lifted heavy 20l jerry cans from the sandy shallows to the bank, and some of them used an oft-seen example of Ugandan ingenuity.

Lost your jerrycan cap? Don't worry, simply use a matoke banana to seal the jerry instead. They seem to fit perfectly and are readily available, where plastic screw tops would be hard to find.

When we'd finished watching the fisherman, our sharp-eyed driver Hassan pointed us in the direction of a sleeping pod of hippos a little further up the bank. Hippos are one of Africa's most dangerours animals, easily startled with 12 inch incisors, but we decided, accompanied by our UWA ranger, to sneak a little closer anyway.

Hippos sleep by supporting eachother's chins on their backs. So you are faced with a rather endearing weaving of grey humps and wide-mouthed lumps as the hippos make up their sleeping jigsaw jumble.

We stayed watching long enough for a hippo or two to notice our presence and they started a round of Har Har Har honking which built into a crescendo that echoed across the flat expanse of rift valley all around us.

We retraced our steps to the minibus and left the hippos in peace. It had been a pretty magical moment, but we didn't want to push our luck...