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.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Baby, this ain't no zoo.

Murchison Falls National Park is the largest conservation area in Uganda, nestled in the north-western region of the country, and bisected by the Nile. This was my first time camping, ever. Having your first camping experience in Africa is definitely recommended. Now I can not only confidently assemble a tent, but can also accurately differentiate between the snort of a warthog and a hippo (both frequent night visitors to our campsite).
Photo op with Pumba

Hint: you can tell the grunt is that of a hippo when your tent vibrates with the sound...and you suddenly lose all willingness to make a midnight run to the latrines.

Our trip to the park took place over three days and consisted of two early morning game drives, and two boat safaris along the Nile(this made for some up-close and personal encounters with Nile crocodiles and hippos), all of which were spectacular. Eye-to-eye with some of East Africa's finest.
It was 'spa day' for the Buffalos
Oh hey there Beautiful!
Another one of East Africa's Finest. Too many of these were consumed over the course of this weekend, but it was justified in my opinion- a Nile on the rude not to!

Now that's a lotta wata'!
My favourite part of the weekend was the trip to the Falls; these make Niagara look like a leaky faucet. It took us two hours with our boat, the aptly named 'African Queen', to reach the mouth of the falls  where only the first half is visible. You then have to hike for about an hour the rest of the way up to get the full view of where where the falls divide into two breathtaking plunges of mist (Murchison Falls and Freedom Falls). The sheer volume of water that flows through these narrow gorges is mesmerizing, to say the least.

Our safari 'Dream Team' consisted of two Americans, a Canadian, a Dutchie, a German, an Australian and a Ugandan; was a bit of a cultural safari if you may. I especially enjoyed having an Australian with us as I feel like it brought relevance to my Steve Irwin-inspired comments of "CRIKEY THAT'S A BIG CROC", which I shouted perhaps a few too many times while on the African Queen

The Murchison lands were ravaged under Idi Amin's rule in the 70s. He closed the doors to the park, and majority of the animal inhabitants were poached by his troops for skins, meat, and ivory. The park is now starting to regain its former numbers in terms of wildlife, though rhinos are still being re-bred in a small sanctuary in the south of the park and won't be released for another 30 years.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A while on the Nile

Finally returned to Jinja, this time atop Tuskin (whom I affectionately nicknamed Seabiscuit), the oldest horse at Nile Horseback Safaris. Also the slowest. And the hungriest. I didn't think we'd ever make it to Bujagali Falls between my steed stopping every couple of seconds to gnaw the bark off a passing tree or uproot a bunch of appetizing weeds (in hindsight, perhaps Seabiscuit wasn't the most fitting of nicknames. Should have gone for something less 'racy' Old Yeller). In true Ugandan fashion, it rained cats and dogs and horses for the first hour of the ride, but the views were still spectacular, and if anything, the rain helped me out massively with my allergies. I am severely allergic to horses, which has proven to be a bit of a hindrance to my cowgirl aspirations. Usually even after doubling up on the daily recommended dose of meds, I still come off the horse looking a little more a like a blowfish than a human. But magically, the rain seemed to suppress the horse dander, so I was able to nuzzle into Tuskin/Seabiscuit's mane relatively carefree!
Bujagali Falls behind me, a very wet and grumpy horse under me
Don't let the name fool you; Bujagali Falls are not falls at all, but rather a 1km chain of raging rapids in the Nile. They nonetheless still make for a pretty picture, and the Falls are said to be one the best whitewater rafting destinations in the world. The second hour of our trail meandered though the villages along the river; I kept an eye out for the Bujagali Doctor but he was probably off smoking his pipe.
Carolin and I post-ride, keepin' it classy

Monday, 14 November 2011

Pioneer Games

From the 26th to the 30th of October, I had the immense pleasure of attending the East African Pioneers Conference, bringing together 250 of the wildest, party-hardy AIESECers across Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania. Five days of leadership, AIESEC training, dancing, waragi...then some waragi-induced-dancing. 
"one region, one vision"
The conference opened with 'Global Village', where each attending country had a table to showcase any cool cultural artifacts/food/clothes, etc. Since I neglected to bring maple syrup or poutine with me to Africa, I decided to show off my new Ugandan persona, and so I donned an authentic Ugandan shanana.  Much to my disappointment, everyone just assumed it was a sari. After some time I grew tired of correcting everyone and just let them take their pictures with the girl from India.  

Another failed attempt at fitting in.
Had the honour of being nominated for East African Queen at the banquet on the last night. The winning Queen had to perform a bendover-esque lapdance on stage for the winning King (have never been so relieved to be on the losing side).
Wrong arm Ru. Obviously lacking the Prom Queen essentials of poise and grace.

The anthem of the conference, listen and fall in love:
Play this upon my return to Canada and you'll be treated to 4 minutes of intricately choreographed pure gold.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Buffalo Soldier

Contrary to popular belief, in Africa lions&giraffes&elephants are not as free-roaming as the polar bears that crowd the streets of Toronto. Those who wish to hang with Simba and his furry friends have to go on safari…or to the zoo. Since I was desperate to get out of the city and only had a day to spare, the zoo won. 
The Uganda Wildlife Centre is located in Entebbe, a pretty little town on Lake Victoria, about 45 mins outside of Kampala. Not too many differences between this zoo and the ones back home, other than perhaps the fact that the Ugandan version is noticeably more lax on security. The camels and some particularly unfriendly monkeys were just hanging around, cage-free, and the only thing separating the buffalos from the public was a knee-high hedge (note: my knees aren’t too far from the ground). The North American in me kept wanting to scream "LIABILITY" wherever I looked...and the African in me was all "Hakuna Matata dude". 
Taunting the tortoises

Buffalo Soldiers...and Pumba, their trusty sidekick

Pretty Lake Vicky
Bonding over oats

Pam, trying to coax out another egg?
Highlight of the day was hearing Pamela, upon approaching each fence, exclaiming how delicious the meat is of the animal inside. After the third cage I had to ask her to keep her voice down in case there was a PETA activist lurking in the bushes. Game meat is a delicacy here, and Pam is lucky enough to have tried hippopotamus (!!!), gazelle, crocodile, ostrich egg (one of these bad boys can apparently feed a family of ten), and warthog (her favorite). 

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Practically a local.

I was cleaning out my 'quarantine unit' the other day and stumbled upon a letter my friend Nia wrote to me before I left. She had very sweetly researched 20 important facts about Uganda, and reading it now, I really wish I had studied it more thoroughly the first time around...would have saved me a great deal of confusion and embarrassment during my first couple of weeks here. Have taken some of Nia's list, and added some commentary of my own, to produce what I believe is a fairly comprehensive list of the best quirks of Ugandan culture:

Ugandans apparently like to know what business you will be dealing with the toilet. When you ask where the toilet is they ask you if it is for a long-call or short-call, basically do you need to go #1 or #2.
Imagine me repeating "No sir, I'm looking for the toilet, not the telephone!"...embarrassing.

Pick-pockets in Kampala are beat to the ground, then stripped naked in public as punishment.
I've witnessed this mob-justice mentality twice now. In Uganda, petty theft 'aint so petty.

Boda Boda's (motorcycle's for hire) are the scariest thing ever.
Bodas are essentially motorcycle taxis. During rush-hour (which never really seems to end in Kampala) they're far faster than the mini-buses since they can weave through even the tightest congestion. However, literally every second spent on the back of one feels like it might be your last. Speeds of 120km/h + pot holes that would be better described as craters + thick black exhaust fumes impairing your vision and oxygen supply= final destination. Even scarier is the manner in which some chose to ride the bodas. ie. One woman was sitting side-saddle with a baby in one hand, and a chicken in the other.

Ridin' Dirty

Chameleon, one of the most famous Ugandan rappers, is NOT the same as Chamillionaire.
Took me a month to figure out why nobody knew Chameleon's hit song "Ridin' Dirty".

Uganda has many banana plantations and you can make many products from bananas including banana wine. Matooke is a staple in Uganda.. and its basically cooked Banana.
I've been told that there are about five varieties of banana you can buy here varying in size, color and taste. I've yet to try Banana wine, but if it's anything like the Sugar Cane liquor I tried the other day, it's guaranteed to burn a hole straight though my liver.

Peanuts are known as "Ground Nuts"
G-nut sauce is served on everything; rice, beef, chicken, fish, matooke, ect.

Winston Churchill once called Uganda "the pearl of Africa".
And Kampala is called the City of 7 Hills (though has over time grown to cover about 10 hills)...the Hollywood of Africa. In town if you ask for directions, you'll often get instructions of 'up' or 'down' rather than right or left.
Hill after hill after hill = some spectacular views, and tight glutes

1 $US = 2850 Ugandan Shillings.
Easy to feel like a baller when your wallet is lined with 10,000 dolla bills.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Work Dayz

After a bit of a rocky, anxiety-ridden start, my internship situation has finally been sorted out and I’m now working a steady 9-5. I’m proudly interning at TEENS Uganda, a pretty sweet organization that deals primarily with youth advocacy and health. They run a Teen Health centre in Kawaala (a tiny suburb of Kampala) on top of spearheading conferences and ‘Think-Tanks’ to encourage youth participation in politics and social change. My internship deals mostly with planning and policy, so I develop proposals and concept notes for whatever initiatives the organization requires funding or partnership with other NGOs.
Working hard...hardly working?
My colleague, Notorious P.I.G.
 My first office job. This is not exactly how I imagined my first office though. The wall is spotted with what look scarily like bullet holes, and adjacent to our room is a pig pen housing a very chatty, very pregnant pig. I am however, thoroughly enjoying myself and learning a lot about how African NGOs function. 

This sure beats our Grade 2  Butterfly Unit
Occasionally I accompany the team at the Youth Center on their community outreach  programs to local schools where they give talks about safe sex, HIV/AIDS, hygiene, etc. I'll probably stop doing this, since instead of listening how to use a condom/bathe daily, the kids just end up staring at me and laughing...probably wondering what the Muzungu is doing here, and why she's taking pictures of the cockroach poster.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Winner winner, chicken dinner.

Andy, proud father of Muzungu the Chicken.
The chemistry between these two is undeniable.
You may have been Andy's chicken, but I loved you like you were my own (and since I named you, I like to believe that you loved me more than you loved him). You were a strong chicken, a beautiful chicken, and though you bore us no eggs to eat, we appreciated that you were a modest chicken, needing not to noisily announce your presence each morning like the rooster a couple houses down. May you seek greener pastures in chicken heaven. You will not be forgotten.
Muzungu: the Swahili word for white folk
Translated literally means "confused person wandering about". This suited Muzungu to a T. The pictures documenting the killing/cooking/eating of Muzungu have been tastefully kept out of this blog.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A well in Jinja

A couple weekends ago I tagged along with the AIESEC Kyambogo team on a trip to Jinja (surprisingly no red-heads here), a town about 75 mins outside of Kampala. The drive up was absolutely beautiful; rolling green hills, tea plantations, and Mariba Forest (one of Uganda's largest rainforests which you pass right through on the way to Jinja). The AIESEC team was conducting some community outreach work for a village that has recently had a massive well built for them by the organization SOS Malta. The organization was annoyed to find that the well has yet to be used since its construction, and thus asked AIESEC to meet with the villagers and rectify the problem. We learnt that the villagers were weary of the cleanliness of the water in the well, and fearful of their children falling down the hole. Here is the AIESEC team hard at work trying to engineer a practical solution.

My beautiful new BFFs, Ema and Daniel. Jealous?
 Although on this trip we stuck to the villages, Jinja is also home to the source of the Nile which is apparently beautiful. Ghandi even had some of his ashes scattered here! Must visit again to see if it's a request worth adding to my will.

Monday, 3 October 2011

East Africa's latest dance craze.

 Last Thursday was my first night 'out on the town' in Kampala, and true to their reputation, the bars were absolutely wild. The next morning Meshack, a fellow intern, was complaining about being tired. I asked "Why? Because of your hangover?"
He replied, "No, because of bendover."  See link below.

Be warned, content is....animalistic.

I'm expected to learn this before leaving Uganda. The robot just doesn't cut it over here.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Food Chain

Oh the places this phone has been. Sweden, France, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Croatia, Russia...and yet never has it brought me as much shame and ridicule as it has here in Africa. Peter, who picked me up from the airport, took one look at it and exclaimed in utter disgust, "THAT'S your phone!?"
Tom, my roommate (and President of AIESEC Kyambogo) reminds me often that here in Uganda, your phone is a direct refection of how cool/smart/suave you are, which pretty much puts me at the bottom of the food chain. For the sake of using a safari metaphor, I am the impala. And the lion has a Blackberry.

Note: This is the phone I used while on exchange in Europe. The logical thing would be to just get my Canadian phone unlocked over here since I've discovered it can be done just as easily as it is to have a fake birth certificate or uni diploma forged. However, on my plane ride over, it mysteriously started ringing inside my bag and I was petrified of being thrown out of the aircraft for breaking the cardinal rule of turning it off upon boarding. SO, I scrambled inside my bag, pulled out the battery, and threw it somewhere. Somewhere not in my bag. Now my battery is traveling the world upon the floor of a Boeing 747.

Monday, 26 September 2011

A humble abode.

This is Collins standing in front of our house. He requested that I add (for all you single ladies out there) that he is not as dwarf-like as this picture may make him appear. 
Our house is fairly new (construction finished only a couple months ago) and is located in Banda, a slum just outside of Kyambogo University. We're on the top of a big hill so when it rains, the little paths that trickle down to the main road become somewhat of a muddy slip-n-slide.

In Canada, you only have a driveway this long if you're a 'big deal'. To the right of me is a mango tree, which according to one of my housemates, grew simply from someone tossing a mango pit on the ground. The country is blessed with a rich red airborne dust that makes the ground and soil incredibly fertile.
This is my bunk, please excuse the mess. Since there are no other interns in need of a bed at the moment, I've greedily claimed both top and bottom bunks for myself. When hung properly, the mosquito nets look quite pretty. I however, had to be creative due to the bunk situation, and now it looks like some kind of quarantine unit. Cozy nonetheless. 
I live with one girl and five guys, which means that no matter how diligent we are, the kitchen always looks like a sty. We cook on the little gas stove in the corner and typical to Ugandan culture, whatever you're cooking should be enough to feed everyone in the house. This works out quite well because since we have no fridge, leftovers aren't a possibility.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The White House

I knew I'd be bad at blog posts, so at the very least I promised everyone a photo blog. Now three days into my trip, this is the only picture I've taken, and alas it tells you very little about Uganda and just showcases my horrible sense of humour. This is my new friend Barbara, standing in front of this little treasure we found on the walk home. I thought it was hilarious that she was now the second Barb in the White House.
Note: I thought I was so witty coming up with the name of this blog, but turns out the idea was not an original one. A google search advised me that "Af-ru-ca" is actually the name of a pretty cool charity (Afruca: Africans Unite Against Child Abuse) that advocates  for the welfare of African Children. Who knew.