Friday, March 28, 2008

The Fountain [again] and Lucy comes to Kla

It’s gray again, like Easter. I went to sleep last night to the sound of Ugandan-lilted accents arguing over a game of Scrabble – late night customers at La Fontaine. Sometime in the middle of the night, the curtains that one of the staff had closed over the front window billowed out into the room, and I awoke to claps of thunder and a constant, gushing sound of rain. The world outside was being churned into a thick slop of red mud. On Easter, when we went to La Fontaine for brunch, Richard arrived in his Bob Marley t-shirt again, shivering, squealing and hopping about, avoiding the drops and behaving as though a massive cold front had blown through – winter in Uganda. He eventually opened La Fontaine to the public at 2 pm, but no matter, because according to Richard, his fellow countrymen stay in bed when the weather is so terribly cold. Remembering this, I felt a little more Ugandan today, seeing the white-gray sky out the window and snuggling up a little longer under the mosquito net and comforter.

I temporarily moved off of Kate’s couch in Kasubi on Tuesday, bringing a small bag of things over to La Fontaine to crash in Steve’s room while he’s climbing Kili. It smelled like boy when I got here, and I’m either used to it now (and I probably smell like boy) or open windows and my coconut lotion have done the job of airing out the boy smell. My days since returning from Gulu have been a mishmash of busy-ness and same-ness. Daily life in Kampala. This was the week I was supposed to be in Zanzibar, relaxing on the beaches and reading. Instead, I’m hopping bodas from hotspot to hotspot (Café Pap, Crocodile Café, Kabira Country Club), attempting to complete enough AIR work to prove my worth. I get up and work for a few hours in the morning, try and get to the pool to swim and read and relax during the hot hours of the afternoon, and then work again late into the evening. In lieu of a social life, it’s not bad way to live.

Lucy rode the bus down to Kampala on Monday, arriving in Bombo to stay with her sister for the night. After a couple hours of confusion Tuesday morning – getting lost at Mukwano Arcade, and sweating bullets in the punishing mid-day sun – Kate and I trudged up from Mukwano, through the taxi park, and arrived at Kiwempe, where Lucy and her foster son, Cyprian, were waiting for us. Lucy is an active and fervent member of the picturesque Catholic Church in Gulu (recall: her participation in a “Crusade” during Easter Week). A few years ago, Cyprian left Kampala to study at seminary in Gulu. The Church tasked Lucy with being his “mom” while he was in Gulu – he lived with her for three years while completing his courses. In return, Lucy called on him to meet her in Old Kampala to help her purchase the materials she needed to complete our order. Since the post-election violence in Kenya, Gulu’s markets have been sparse, and the cost of transport greatly increased. Things are cheaper and readily available in Kampala. Cyprian also speaks Luganda – the major Bantu language spoken by Ugandans in the south. Lucy speaks Luo – a Nilotic language from northern Uganda. Even though she speaks quite a bit of English, most market transactions are completed in Luganda, leaving her to feel like a foreigner in her own country. After an exchange of a big stack of shillings in a shadowy corner in the market, Kate and I helped Lucy and Cyprian to lug 3 foot long cylinders of sponge, stiff fabric, and rolls of Velcro through the winding, hot and crowded market streets, into the chaos of the bus park.

The bus park is essentially a medium-sized parking lot, flanked on both sides by balconied buildings and one-man vending shows – selling chapattis, matooke, roasted corn, roasted bananas to travelers, who line up on small benches to have lunch as they wait for the buses to fill up. As you enter through the gates, throngs of informal bus guides descend upon you shouting “Arua? Kitgum? Gulu?” and then grabbing whatever luggage you’re carrying (this is totally scary until you realize that 9.99 times out of 10, they are actually putting your things into the proper bus, and not robbing you blind), millions of palms and elbows pushing you through the crowd to board the bus – a human funnel to Gulu. No one seemed to understand that we were merely accompanying Lucy and her things, not actually riding to Gulu with her. I’m surprised the mass of people didn’t lift us up and crowd surf us right through the bus windows. After a few well-wishes and quick hugs, Kate and I darted back out of the gates and spent the next half an hour elbowing our way uphill and out of Old Kampala, onto bodas, and out of the madness.

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