Saturday, April 05, 2008

Back on the map

I started to get a combination of emails wondering when I got home and emails saying "where the f* are you and what are you doing?" I'm still in Uganda, and I'm working and living. I think I'm now in week 4 or so (maybe week 5? I lost count), and that's the point where being over here starts to feel normal. Normal = I forget what it's like to be in an office, to wear anything beside wife beaters/t-shirt skirts/flipflops, and I've stopped brushing my hair. Wait, I'm portraying this all wrong...I promise you I don't look like a crazed vagrant hippie!

In the past week or so since my last email/post, lots of things have been going on over here. In addition to working on AIR stuff and getting started on my consulting assignment (lots of reading and some logistics so far), here's the run down of some of the highlights of what the f* I've been up to for those who asked - and the rest of you.

Local news:

Kony's delayed signing the peace accord (due to illness or something) - now scheduled to take place mid-April.


It definitely bears mentioning that it's back to hot and sunny in these parts, lots of blue sky and occasional passing clouds. Where'd rainy season go? ( cares?)


I'm still staying at La Fontaine, moving back and forth between my own room and Steve's room (he's traveling again, so I'm back to camping out amidst his stuff). I cleared a spot on a table in the corner for my books and the newest addition to my home - a two-foot tall blue-bodied, yellow-mohawked, wire-legged carved wooden crested crane who seems to say "hey ladies...." (a la Demetri Martin) with his sideways glance.

The balcony at La Fontaine is admittedly one of my favorite places in the world, especially after spending a late afternoon swimming at Kabira, showering and reading, my skin all shiny and stretched from the chlorine and sunshine. Everything looks golden and breezy and eventually the sun goes down and leaves wide brushstrokes of pink across the darkening blue sky.


Colin welcomed me to the "inner circle" on Thursday, over dinner at Mama Ashanti's - a West African restaurant on Bombo Road, just down from the ginormous Kampala Pentecostal Church (KPC). Having read some Nigerian authors on this trip (Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun), I was thrilled to try the spiced tea, jollof rice, a plate of plantains, chicken stew, and beef stew. All of it was delicious, and I went home with quite a fat Nigerian food baby in my belly. I'm still not clear on Colin's insistence that the dinner was my induction into the "inner circle," and his quick scribbling an illustration on a napkin didn't help (a circle with a dot in the middle of it). It looked like a boob. But I guess I'm "in."

Additional food item worth mentioning - yellow curry and mango sticky rice at Krua Thai - you MUST try it if you're ever hungry in Kampala.

Cultural Activity:

The Bookend - On Wednesday afternoon, following a suburban moment at Garden City (where I broke the scanner at the internet cafe and purchased the aforementioned creepy crane at Banana Boat), Steve and decided to walk back to La Fontaine, stopping off at The Surgery, which is my go-to medical clinic (I've only ever taken students there, knock-on-wood I've never had to go myself). The reason for stopping had nothing to do with health, but with a blog post I'd read back in the states before I left - about a little used book store that opened up on The Surgery compound.

The Bookend - a mini wooden house on stilts, with a large porch and a tanned, tiny woman sitting in a hand-tooled leather chair – blue apron, several masai beaded bracelets and glasses perched in her short blondish hair. She held a cigarette, said hello, and continued reading her book How to Quit Smoking. We walked inside and set down our bags, marveling at the simplicity of it all. The salvaged hardwood floors begged me to take off my shoes. Breezes blew in through the side windows and wind chimes tinkled on the porch where Karen (the owner) sat reading and smoking. Two armchairs angled into the room, facing the hand-carved bookshelves. All books are only 6,000 shillings, and if you bring them back, Karen gives you 3,000 and puts them back on the shelves. She'll also buy your used books for 3,000 shillings each. I immediately wanted to live there in the tiny book house on stilts, where the porch is bigger than the house, all wood and windows - and spend the rest of my days reading, retiring at almost-27. I chose a Pico Iyer book about Cuba, Out of Africa, and a verse translation of The Bhagavad Gita (free from Karen). It was one of those moments that puts a smile on your face for the rest of the day.

Nagenda International Academy of Art and Design (NIAAD)- On Thursday afternoon, I hitched a ride with Ed and Katy - two people I spent some time with this week that are starting a social investment fund that will link wealthy donors directly with innovative local organizations - out to visit Kizito's school on the way to Entebbe. This was my fourth visit to NIAAD, yet every time the setting leaves me speechless. The buildings are nearly complete (Kizito and his very-pregnant-wife Ruth have moved onto a small compound on Makerere's main campus) and white-washed. The grounds (photo, left) overflow with bougainvillea, ficus, pawpaw, a row of huge and cartoonish cacti, and scattered bits of Kizirto's sculpture. From the main studios you can see the long blue fingers of Lake Victoria stretching into the marshy coast, reaching up to the reflective pale green plasticity of Expressions Flowers' greenhouses.

I paid another visit to Kizito yesterday morning - this time to his studio at Makerere, where we drank cup after cup of the loose tea that always reminds me of Kizito. We talked about his visions for NIAAD, his process in accrediting the school through the Ugandan Ministry of Education, and the 80 million shillings he needs to finish it up. I'm still floored by the fact that the entire project has been funded through the sale of his paintings (many of you have seen the painting I bought - it's in my bedroom at home - which paid for a large pile of bricks that are now somewhere in the studio walls out at NIAAD). In between visits from Kizito's 2 year-old daughter (she kept bringing me her teddy bear, which is larger than she is), Kizito and I discussed possibilities for a partnership through One Mango Tree. On the table for the next year is an exhibit and auction in DC, to correspond with having a set of his paintings made into prints so that they can be mass-produced and screen-printed on American Apparel shirts and sold via One Mango Tree - to pay for scholarships and supplies for NIAAD. I'm also talking to his wife (a textile designer) about a line of baby/kids t-shirts with her unique print designs.

On the agenda:

I'm heading up to Gulu on Monday morning (at 6 am), and with a driver this time (woohooooooooooo!). I'll be there all week, staying at Bomah, eating salty spaghetti bolognaise and banana muffins... and working my butt off. I'll try not to be so distant (and then my emails won't be so damn long. Sorry.)

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