Saturday, 18 February 2012

So long, farewell...

My last stretch in (Ru)ganda was full to the brim with fabulousness. Two weeks ago, a group of interns and I took a bumpy 8 hour bus ride to the western edge of Uganda to stay on the shores of Lake Bunyoni, which true to its reputation as the ‘honeymoon hot-spot of Uganda’, was spectacular.  A Canadian, Brazilian, 2 Dutch, 2 Japanese, and 3 Chinese kids canoed, swam and dived from a tree-top (enema-inducing) diving board into the deepest, and arguably the most beautiful lake in Uganda. 

Hello paradise!
note: canoeing is NOT as easy as it looks in the movies.
The last week at the office was bittersweet. Some difficult goodbyes to be said, but I finally got to do some of the fun things that I’ve been putting off over my five months here: I taught the teens how to tie-dye, they in return taught me how to make traditional Ugandan paper beads, and since TEENS Uganda operates an AIDS clinic, I thought it appropriate to get myself tested for HIV*. 
TEENS Uganda: home of Uganda's wildest.
The next weekend I decided to up the adrenaline factor, and went white water rafting on the Nile in Jinja, which boasts some of the best WWRafting in the world. I’ve never been so terrified and at the same time so exhilarated in my life.  Being thrown out of the raft five times on class five rapids in croc-infested waters was just the thrill I needed to honour my last weekend in Uganda.
You will be sincerely missed, my matooke-ridden nation.

*Negative. Thought I’d leave you hanging there.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Sippin' on Paradise

exceptionally sweaty
Ventured to Sipi Falls last weekend, the set of three spectacular waterfalls at the foot of Mount Elgon. It took about five hours (and a delightful slue of near-death slip n’ slides) to hike to all three falls, but the effort was well worth it (the pictures tell it all). 

 In addition to the falls, we also took a tour of a local coffee plantation and learnt just how much work goes into the production of a quality cup of joe. We picked, husked, roasted, and ground the beans, all by hand, and in the end were able to drink the fruits of our labour. Considering I only ever drink the stuff when I'm hungover or in the thick of exam season, I can genuinely say that I've never tasted a better brew. Look out Starbucks, I now know all your secrets. 
A coffee bean; freshly picked and peeled. Yum.

Beans are dried, then ground to remove the husks.

Beans are roasted over a charcoal pit stove, cooled and ground again, boiled with water, then voila: liquid gold!
On this trip I was also introduced to the game Mafia, and discovered that under the scrutiny of a mob of townspeople, I am a horrible horrible liar.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Not to be read on a full stomach

This weekend I was invited to accompany a friend on a boda-boda tour of Kampala and I jumped at the opportunity since in my four months here, I had yet to visit all of the touristy hot-spots (the Gaddafi Mosque, Baha'i Temple, Kings Palace, etc). The highlight of the five hour adventure however, was (rather morbidly) Idi Amin's torture chamber, originally built to be an armory in the courtyard of the King's Palace. For those of you who haven't heard of Amin (or haven't seen Forest Whittaker shine in The Last King of Scotland), he was the notorious President/tyrant of Uganda whom in the 70's persecuted between 100,000-500,000 Ugandans in an attempt to purge the country of anyone whom he considered to be a threat to his power. According to our tour guide, this list consisted of anyone who was too intelligent, not intelligent enough, ugly, influential, rich, Asian, sick, old...there wasn't much of a method to his madness. 
The prison chambers didn't look too menacing upon first glance; it wasn't until the finer details were disclosed that my stomach began to churn. Hoards of people were crammed into the pitch dark rooms that were suspended above a pool of electrically charged water, which meant that whoever attemped to escape, was instantly electrocuted to death. Apparently, to create some extra breathing space in the suffocating chambers, the oldest and/or weakest were sometimes pushed into the watery trenches by the other prisoners. The markings visible on the walls are messages and pleas for help written by the prisoners using their own feces, which covered the floors of each prison. Corpses from the prisons were fed to the (over sized) crocodiles in the King's Lake which accounts for the inability of the international community to produce an accurate number of those who were killed by Amin and his forces. 

A face only a mother could love
 Continuing with the eerie turn that the tour had suddenly taken, Walter then took us to visit a real Ugandan witch doctor. If I had any previous faith in witchcraft, this guy can be accredited to turning me into a non-believer. We were ushered into a small grass hut where Doc sat shuffling around some shells, burping loudly, and stroking what looked to be a stuffed leopard. He passed around some banana beer and a pipe. With every puff we took from the pipe, we were instructed to repeat our 'problem' for which we were seeking help. I said I needed to find a job. Walter said he wanted to sleep with a French girl. After more throaty burping, Witchdoc tells us that the ancestors would like 10,000 shillings (about $5) to solve our problems. We politely told him that the ancestors were being far too greedy, and promptly got up and left. There is a distinct possibility that I might now be cursed.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Good Morning Colombo!

Sun set at the Ocean's Edge Villa
Sri Lanka has over the past couple of decades, endured its fair share of hardship -a debilitating Tsunami that killed close to 500,000 and a 26 year long civil war that only just came to a close in 2009- and yet there is abundant beauty absolutely everywhere: in the people, the incredibly lush landscapes, and the hundreds of immaculately detailed temples dotting every hill. I’m in love.
Dhambulla Cave Temple
My cousin moved out here a couple years ago, so for Christmas my Mum, cousins and I decided to all fly out to check out her new digs. After a couple days in Colombo, we all drove to the coast and rang in 2012 in a fantastic villa on the beach. My Mom and I are now exploring the country a bit on our own, covering the central and eastern provinces. 
Among many things, I’d say that Sri Lanka is best known for its tea, elephants, and the KING COCONUT. Thus far, we’ve done a pretty good job of covering all the bases; at the Glenloch Tea Factory we learnt how tea is grown and produced, I rode an elephant at the Millennium Foundation Elephant Sanctuary, and over the past ten days I’ve eaten enough coconut to make a lifetime supply of macaroons. 
Big, beautiful, (hairy) Bandara
Mum, being taught the basics of tea production
by a leading industry professional!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Gorillas in the Mist

After a gruelingly bumpy 8 hour bus ride, our first thought upon arriving in Kigali was "this is definitely not Africa". Pristine streets with not a pothole in sight nor a blade of grass out of place. The air smelt distinctly of flowers rather than car exhaust, and the chaos that I've become so accustomed to in Kampala, was nowhere to be seen in Rwanda. 
First on our 'tourist to-do list' was the Genocide Memorial Museum, which amazingly managed to strike a delicate balance between beautiful and harrowing. The museum itself was extremely well set-up; the first half was primarily informative, then the rest of the exhibits were far more emotional, containing personal belongings/pictures/skulls(!) of some of the 800,000 who lost their lives in this mass slaughter. My stomach was left in knots. 
*Hanging on one of the walls was a tattered Superman bed sheet, slashed and blood-stained, which was unmistakably that of a child who found himself on the wrong end of the machete.
The museum is surrounded by beautiful fountains and gardens that you pass though to get to the mass graves which are filled with close to 250,000 bodies. To this day, corpses from the genocide are still being recovered. 
"Genocide Never Again"
 From the museum we headed into town to check out Hotel des Mille Collines, now better known as Hotel Rwanda. Though we felt quite swanky sipping Rwandan beers in the immaculate five-star hotel grounds, you couldn't help but feel a little unsettled knowing that just a decade ago, thousands of people took refuge within its walls. I was hoping to see Don Cheadle sipping scotch at the such luck. 
Rwandan brewskis to take the edge off a fairly depressing day.
With the heavy stuff out of the way, we headed out of Kigali to Lake Kivu, the largest freshwater lake in Rwanda, and one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. We camped right on the shores, with the foggy mountains of the Dem. Rep of Congo just visible across the water.
Close to our hotel was Bikini Tam Tam, a fantastic little beach bar where we partied (arguably longer than we should have) patriotically with Ugandan waragi. 
the Waragi was Martin's (horrible horrible) idea
We fed ourselves very well in Rwanda. This is a plate of typical local food (doesn't differ too much from the grub here in Uganda).  A deliciously hearty plate of avocado, beans, carrots, bell peppers, rice, and sweet potato 50cents a plate, it was a real steal. 
If you're not drooling yet, try adjusting your glasses.
To compensate for the fact that our trip was a little low on the wildlife factor, we found the next closest thing to a photo-op with the highly sought-after Rwandan silverback gorilla. I'd like to say that this was taken after the beers or Waragi...but that would be a lie.

Take note that I gave the best gorilla impression. Dian Fossey would be so proud.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Deckin' the halls

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is only a week away; Uganda has offered a rather disappointing preview to the big day. No continuous loops of ‘Santa Baby’ on the radio. No tacky strings of lights to adorn the palm trees. And the Ugandan Saint Nick is alarmingly thin. Feeling a little low on the festive scale, I therefore jumped at the opportunity when my friend Els invited me along to host a Christmas party for Angie’s Baby Home, an orphanage about an hour outside of Kampala. Els and her colleague Jean-Mark had spent the past couple of weeks collecting donations from family and friends, and had managed to raise 493.50 euros (!!!), allowing them to purchase the following items for Angie and her babes:
 - 50 kgs of sugar
- 50 kgs of rice
- 10 kgs of beans
- 18 tins of baby's milk powder
- a 3L jerrycan of cooking oil
- 2 dozens of bathing soap
- 1,5 dozens of baby's vasaline
- 20 rolls of toilet tissue
- 1 box of biscuits
- 3 bags of babies clothes
- X-mas decorations
- X-mas cake
- 1 box of washing soap
- 16 towels

* This is enough food to feed the home for about a month
A pretty fantastic playground!

Whatever you do, DO NOT steal a cookie from William
The orphanage is nestled in a beautiful village at the top of a hill,and like the rest of Kampala, the view was lush and breathtaking. I was so impressed and touched to see how much care and dedication goes into the running and organization of this home; each room was immaculately clean and there was almost a 1-1 ratio of nurses/sisters to children. The babies were absolutely beautiful, and the party was a raving success. I needless to say, came away with a whole lot more ‘merry’ to add to my Christmas.

Have a peek at Els' blog to check out pictures from the day.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Pork Chops

I am elated to announce that yesterday, on a rainy December morning, my close friend and colleague gave birth to the six most beautiful piglets I have ever laid my eyes upon. 


Congrats Notorious P.I.G, and may your squealers live long, abundant lives, never ending up on a dinner plate nor garnished with pineapple.