What passes for my normal life in Kampala

What’s normal here in Kampala for my sabbatical?  I thought about doing “a day in my life” but that seemed to be rather limiting, and likely to be rather boring as well.  Instead, I’ll summarize what seems to be normal here in terms of sights, sounds, and activities.  I’ll close with a bit about what “having fun” in the normal course of life means as well.

I think the sound that will stick with me the longest from my time here is simply the sound of sweeping.  It seems like people are almost constantly sweeping the drives and the parking lots in my apartment complex, and you’ll also see people on the roads in the city doing the same thing.  The women lean down from the waist with straight legs; this isn’t the natural position for we muzumgus (white people) but apparently the center of gravity for Ugandans (and I believe more generally for native Africans) is different and this position puts the least strain on the body.  Intellectually knowing that it is better that way (I heard it from one of the medical doctors here in the UNICEF offices) doesn’t make it easier to watch.

Other sounds are the wildlife.  While I don’t hear the same symphony of wildlife at my new place as I did at Terra’s, the bird calls are still quite common.  Then of course there are also the roosters, who seem to have a very poor grasp on the concept of dawn, or perhaps it is only Midwestern US roosters that only crow at dawn.

Finally, I am getting used to hearing “muzumgu” as a greeting, as a name, possibly as a curse, or to see if I need a ride.  I’ve actually seen some people wearing t-shirts saying “My Name is NOT Muzumgu”.  It doesn’t bother me that much, now that I am aware enough of the various possible meanings.

Unlike at Terra’s, I don’t here the calls from the mosques as much, although I still here them from time to time throughout the city.  I have seen estimates that Muslims represent between 12 and 30 percent of the population of Uganda, with at least 6,700 mosques.  Since much of the country’s population is in the Kampala area, it isn’t surprising that there are a significant number of mosques.

Then, of course, there are the city sounds.  Everywhere I walk, I am constantly hearing “taxi taxi” or “boda boda” and I am constantly saying no to these offers of transport.  Then, of course, there is the traffic noise. Bodas, matatus, and taxis use their horns to get your attention, and of course there are the people who seem to need to be reminded not to walk out in front of the motorcycles and cars.  There is also just the sheer volume of cars and trucks, and truck mufflers seem to be rather ineffective in my experience to date.

As for the sights, first it is just the sheer number of people on the move.  In the mornings, I see lots of kids walking in the area in their school uniforms, women walking carrying things on their head, and lots of police and security guards pretty much everywhere, mostly armed with what looks to me to be older rifles.  The police uniforms were changed shortly after the bombings to camouflage uniforms, making some folks concerned about military deployments.  Using a bike as a cart, walking beside it with goods piled high, seems to be quite common as well.  Some of the things I’ve seen people carrying on bikes and motorcycles include two brooms and a mop, a lamp standard, twin mattress (fortunately the mattresses here aren’t all that thick), huge rolls of firewood, and over a dozen jerry cans.  These trump my former winner of the weird things people carry on bicycles award, from Houston Texas, which was the now rather pedestrian entrant of an upright vacuum cleaner (although that image still makes me chuckle).

Even with all the people walking, the traffic gets horrible.  The ever-present potholes, that don’t seem to get fixed in a timely manner, don’t help traffic flow at all, although it does make crossing certain streets easier. My sense of fair play was at least pleased to see that even in the ambassadorial and other rich people’s area, the roads still have very real problems.

Then of course, there are the storks, or more precisely the Marabou storks.  I saw these creatures close up near Lake Victoria in the Munyonyo area of Kampala.  I had unfortunately forgotten my camera that day, but I am hoping to get some of Sean’s pictures.  These birds look prehistoric.  They are huge, quite ugly, and they are toxic to eat, presumably because of their poor diet.  I will try to get a picture posted, hopefully of one wandering around in the outdoor restaurant hoping to get people to throw him their fish bones.  With me sitting down, he was about as tall as I am.

So, what’s day-to-day life like?  In some ways, it reminds me of London, with the smaller fridges, and having to walk home with the groceries, meaning shopping about every couple of days, walking a lot, getting bags searched, going through metal detectors and/or getting wanded on the way into many complexes, being hailed by bodas and riding in swerving cars, usually to avoid the pot-holes, but sometimes because the driver is just impatient.  Although I do walk a lot here, I also use official taxis a fair amount, always calling the driver.  I inherited many of Terra’s number, and our tastes for driving adventure seem compatible.  I rode with a driver Seth uses a lot and let’s just say I spent most of the time with my eyes closed.  Many men say all bad drivers are women, but I have at least an existence proof of the falsehood of that assertion.  In addition, there’s the extreme street crossing, which perhaps should be added to the X-games.  It is even possible I will be able to cross Airport Road in Bangalore the next time I go there (without cheating and latching on to someone else who is crossing).

Some items are packaged quite differently and “grocery stores” don’t seem to have the same variety of things you’d expect.  Milk comes in plastic bags and/or in boxes; yogurt also comes in similar plastic bags.  I even saw a “gin bag” on the ground on a walk I did on Sunday morning.  The stores themselves seem more like superstores, but then are missing things like coffee pots (thanks to Sabine, I have a French press pot for coffee in the morning).  One store had dish towels, while the other only had bath towels.  I must admit I’m just happy I brought most of the things with me I needed. Apparently, ziploc bags are a treasure. I’m bringing some more back when I return from my trip back to the US (I leave this weekend for a week).

Very few people are out on the roads running for exercise, although I’m seeing a few more since the Kampala Marathon is coming up soon.  I also rarely see street beggars, although the spot between the Oasis shopping center (which contains the grocery store I usually use) and Garden City shopping center (which contains an ATM that actually accepts MasterCard, a rare thing) usually has one or two.

Given the prevalence of mosquitoes, inset repellant is popular.  I’ve not had to use much sunscreen (and no, I don’t currently look lobster-esque).  Malaria is apparently relatively rare in central Kampala, but I am spending enough time out in the field that I am taking the anti-malaria pills and using bug spray, as well as sleeping under a mosquito net.

So, what kinds of things do we do on weekends?  There’s actually a fair number of team dinners (Annie is a fantastic cook) and TGIF parties (caipirinhas are a new favorite cocktail).  There are trips to “The Belgian Place”, also known as “La Petite Village”, or at least that’s what the sign says, which contains a patisserie, a deli and a wine shop.  There’s dining or drinks at Emin Pasha, one of the nice hotels here in town.  There are trips to Kabira, a hotel and country club, to use their pool and gym.  We had a volleyball party this past Sunday at Terra’s.  My volleyball skills haven’t deserted me completely apparently and a good time was had by all.

Let’s also not forget the Royal Ascot Goat Races, but that’s the subject of a post all its own.

So, that’s what passes for normal here for me in Kampala.  (And yes, I will try to get some pictures up).

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