First Weekend in Kampala

Not only did I survive my first week; I also survived my first weekend in Kampala.  Thanks to the hospitality of my colleagues and their partners, I had three very nice home cooked dinners, followed by a nice home cooked meal from my room mate.  Thursday and Friday evenings were basically the extended team eating together, cooked by Seth and Annie.

Saturday evening the overall UNICEF representative for Uganda and his wife hosted a party with some UNICEF folks as well as others in their circle.  He has an amazing garden, including lots of vegetables and herbs.  I knew of different kinds of basil, but I hadn’t heard of black basil before.  It is apparently the main base for pesto, at least was at one time, and it is incredibly fragrant.  I wonder if it grows in Seattle.

From a purely cultural perspective, there were two highlights to that evening.  The first highlight was clearly Sharad’s art collection.  In his career with UNICEF, he’s working in places like Iran and Afghanistan and he has some stunning pieces of local art from these areas.  I like his philosophy about the pieces he collects;  he wants them to have a history (which he wants to know about) and ideally he would like to actually know the artist.  The second highlight was the Eritrean coffee ceremony, which is apparently quite similar to the Ethiopian coffee ceremony.  This ceremony involves roasting the beans over a small fire (in the living room no less), and then grinding the beans.  The coffee is made in a specially shaped jug that allows the grounds to remain in the jug while the coffee is poured in small, espresso-sized cups.  Multiple rounds of coffee are made, with obviously each of the successive rounds being less strong.  I went for rounds one and three.  There were five rounds total, which was a bit more caffeine after dinner than I was prepared for, but it was delicious coffee.  The incense got to me after a time; it actually reminded me a great deal of the incense used in high masses in the Episcopal and Anglican churches I’ve attended over the years.  I am happy to report that there were no embarrassing moments of illness or fainting involved, but I will admit to being very glad to get out into the fresh air at the end of the evening.

Apparently, Eritrea and Ethiopia have a very troubled past and current relationship.  There is much I still need to learn about African geography, African politics, the various alliances in Africa, etc.  In some (if not many) ways, I am rather embarrassed about how little I know now.

Other highlights from the weekend were the brunches Saturday and Sunday mornings (for some definition of morning that is).  On Saturday we had a delightful brunch at “the Belgian Place” (I must find the proper name).  It’s a shopping complex consisting of a restaurant, a patisserie, a wine shop, a meat and cheese shop, and a pharmacy/chemist style shop.  Pastries, coffee and soda water were a fantastic addition to the good company and the fascinating views of the rainstorm moving over and around the surrounding hills.  Kampala, as I may have mentioned, is identified in many ways by the different hills that make up the city.  There are certainly prominent landmarks associated with many of the hills.

Exercise was not to be denied, and we did a couple of walks up Kololo hill, the hill in Terra’s neighborhood, going past EU, Danish, African and US diplomatic residences along the way.   The Danish residence is highest up the hill, apparently because of the level of their aid to Uganda.  Of course, I made no attempt to independently verify that statement. Sunday’s walk was to end first at the used bookstore and coffee shop, which were both unfortunately closed for summer break.  So, we headed instead to Eman Pasha, a very nice hotel, spa and restaurant where we had a lunch of sandwiches for our brunch.

There was certainly a lot of activity over the weekend evenings (and even during the day).  One of the taxi drivers told me that weekends used to be one long party.  All that changed with the bombings, but people are starting to go out again.  Some of my colleagues even did a dry run for a new pub crawl.  The results were a bit mixed, I was told.

I am beginning to learn my way around, although I am still sometimes startled when we arrive at our destination.  I am also learning more about the city and how to get along.  The roads in the city are pretty well marked, but the potholes are unbelievable.  Traffic often slows and gets disrupted simply because cars have to slow for the potholes or swerve around them. Lanes seem to be more of a guideline than a rule here in Kampala. Uganda is almost exclusively a cash culture, and in Kampala there is only one bank that accepts debit/ATM cards that are with MasterCard.  Visa is much more broadly accepted.  The only other place I’ve seen this is in Paris, where only EuroMasterCard is accepted at places like a train station, for example.  I didn’t even know there was such a thing as EuroMasterCard that was distinct from MasterCard.

Security is still very visible, with guards at the entrances to shopping centers, etc., checking for bombs under the cars and sometimes in the trunk.  Entry into many restaurants and shops requires a check for metals with a wand, although some of these seem pretty perfunctory.  It also appears that men are checked much more closely than women, even if the person with the wand is a woman.

So, week one is finished.  So far no stomach or digestive trouble, although I’ve not hit one of the pork stands yet, apparently a local must see/eat.  My consumption of diet coke is way down, for which I am sure my system is grateful, although there must be consternation at Coca Cola corporate headquarters.  I doubt I will become a long term coffee drinker, but coffee is my main source of caffeine here, and I am drinking lots of (bottled) water.  South African wines are prevalent here, not surprisingly, and I’ve had some very nice meals here so far.  The people are friendly, the traffic frenetic, the climate temperate, and the scenery lovely.  The adventure continues!

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