Monday, December 6, 2010

Rafting the Nile

Too, too damn early a couple Saturdays ago, I got on a shuttle from Kampala to do something I've had people telling me I NEED to do for the entire year+ I've been here...


I've seriously been trying to do this for the entire time I've been here, and finally found a weekend I could steal away from work and other obligations to actually get it done. A couple friends/acquaintances were interested too, so we got a little group together for the adventure.

The source of the Nile in Lake Victoria is at Jinja town, about a two hour drive East from Kampala. Included in the price of a full day of rafting (pretty steep at $125) is transport to and from Kampala, dinner, a couple beers and a night's accommodation in a dorm-room. For some inexplicable (to me) reason, the people I went with elected for a half day of rafting and to travel back to Kampala that evening. I jump at any opportunity to NOT be in Kampala!

Getting kitted out

and getting my game face on. I dare the Nile to take on THAT face.

Let's do this thing. I'm in the faded-pink helmet at the front-left of the boat.


Okay that's one's a little bit intimidating

In we go

Hoo boy.

Aaaaand over we go. Right into the washing machine.

That flip wasn't too bad, and the guide all but admitted he'd done it intentionally. I managed to cling to the boat AND my oar, and held pretty hot for doing so.

A few minutes later, however, we hit Silverback - a serious class five rapid with four waves to traverse. We made it through the first three with some degree of grace, then we hit the fourth. I distinctly remember rapidly approaching a solid wall of water directly across our path and wondering how the hell we'd get up and over it...

We didn't.

Right now I was thinking about how suddenly gravity seemed weaker

And by now I was thinking "oops. I forgot to hold onto the boat"

Everyone else managed to wind up near the boat...

It was actually a pretty gnarly experience, that one. Despite the gigantic life-vest and my furious upward strokes, I stayed down for long enough to start getting... nervous. I kept looking up and wondering at how the surface of the water continued to stay so far above me. When I finally surfaced, having drank about a half-gallon of delicious Nile Riverwater, I was far enough downriver to not even be able to see the rapid, or any of my fellow raftmates. One of the rescue-kayakers appeared in front of me moments later and yelled for me to grab on. He dragged me towards the shore, smacking my tailbone solidly against a rock on the way, and instructed me to stay put on a stone on the bank while he went looking for other floaters. Eventually he came back, towed me to another raft, which delivered me to my original raft. I was a wee bit shaken up, but not enough to not keep going!

Fortunately there were also plentiful opportunities for less strenuous activities


At mid-day I ditched my lame half-day-er friends and joined another boat, full of Canucks

You can easily see who the serious power-house of the team was

Fortunately this boat turned out to be much less flip-prone. However, we did decide we needed a little more water-time. So as we dropped in to one class-four rapid, at the moment when the guide would normally have shouted "GET DOWN" he instead instructed "JUMP", and out we went. Unfortunately it turned out I was on the non-photographed side of the boat this time.

By the final rapid of the day, we were all pretty exhausted. We hit a pretty strong wave and all felt the boat catch air and start to tip

Shockingly, and much to our glee, the boat stayed beneath us. We were pretty impressed with ourselves

Finding myself alive and back on dry land made me feel like this

Except that this guy made me feel like a major weakling.

Dude carried that (not light) raft on his head the entire way up a very steep path (see the previous photo for the altitude dude traversed on his way from the riverbank) to the waiting truck. We first-world-ers are majorly weak.

Post-rafting, a beer overlooking the Nile was extra-necessary.

Not a bad spot

Next morning, we decided to have a little wander.

Learned some useful information:

See I would think morning sex would be safer than night-sex, since night-sex is more likely to be judgment-impaired sex. My buddy, however, contested that maybe you only have one condom and you use it with the night-sex (the first-sex) and thus wind up having unprotected morning-sex. Oh the puzzles of this life.

Child labor anybody?

We stumbled across this damn-impressive NGO-school. Nicest (non-private-rich-school) campus I've seen here.

Glad the mosquitoes aren't actually that big...

The school garden



Onions! In a hanging paint can...?

And a viewing tower?

Picked up a rolex (bastardization of "rolled eggs" - basically a chapatti wrapped around an omlette)

I love the sign. Good thing I had cash...

Found a lady selling colonial-era coins. Pretty cool, but I ain't gonna pay you 5,000 Shillings for a 1 Shilling coin!

Oooo... what about using some of these as buttons on an overshirt or coat?

Some local folks doing laundry in the Nile

Popped down to the "beach" for a few

Not a bad weekend. I could certainly use more of these!

Friday, November 5, 2010

A day in the life

3rd November, 2010

2:00am: two hours after getting in bed, brain finally quiets down enough for me to fall asleep.

Spend the morning hours cracking out some wok from home. Around 10am a lovely representative from Umeme - the national electricity company, which charges some of the highest rates in the world - knocks on the door to deliver the bill. He seems to see nothing wrong with the fact that today is 3 November, and the bill clearly states the due-date for payment is 1 November. Yes, it has happened before that Umeme has come to disconnect our electricity for non-payment before we actually received the bill. Pretty clear on which department Umeme chooses to focus more efficiency-promoting resources.

Phone call with an apoplectic member of a partner organization (which shall remain nameless), spewing about how members of another partner organization (which shall remain nameless) stood the party of the first party up for a meeting. And apparently it's my job to manage all communication (why couldn't he just call them directly?), hold hands, wipe butts, put out fires and apologize for everything constantly, particularly when it's not my fault and has almost nothing to do with me.

Wash the kitenge shirts I recently had made by a local tailor and discover that one of the sleeves on one of the shirts is a solid inch shorter than the other sleeve. Naturally.

I'd carried stuff back to Uganda from the States for seven other people. Five of them, I share an office with - easy enough. One of them came over to my flat at my convenience on Sunday to pick up her stuff - very considerate. The seventh called me this morning asking me when I could drop her things off to her. I contained my annoyance and asked where she was.
"I'm at a meeting at the Serena [a hotel], but my driver just called and I'm leaving right now, so...."
heavy sigh "where's your office?"
"My office is [doesn't matter - it's hard to figure out where anything is in Kampala, though] - just call me when you're close and I'll come out and find you. Thank you sooooo muuuuch!"
"Nooo problem."

Off to get a couple new tires on the whip (Mom: that's hip-talk for "vehicle"). Drop it off at City Tires - one of the shining beacons of effective and efficient business in Uganda - and walk down to the Crane Bank branch nearby to get cash to be able to pay for the work. Spend 45 minutes, in cooperation with the branch manager and a friendly phone-support gentleman from Schwab, discovering that the ATM's broken.

On the walk back, have a phenomenally frustrating phone call in which I discover that a partner organization (which shall remain unnamed) had not actually hired all the project staff they'd agreed to three weeks ago, and which are supposed to be present at a meeting tomorrow.

The lovely Industrial Area of Kampala

Wind up driving one of the City Tires staff guys with me to another bank - in my neighborhood - to get cash. On the way, get flipped off for honking at someone for cutting me off. Get the cash, send City Tires dude on his way, thanking him for not sucking. In line at the bank to pay the Umeme bill, an irate customer comes in and starts yelling about how he withdrew 5 million Shillings (~$2,400) and discovered an hour later that he'd actually been given 2.5 million. Proceeds to yell at the "young girl" on the other side of the counter about how "you people cannot steal during the daytime" (so why should he have bothered counting?) and other such tidbits of timeless wisdom. She yells back bits along the lines of "you should have counted! Why did it take you an hour to come back?". I couldn't decide if I was more irritated by him yelling his head off in the middle of the bank, by her for having the complete lack of customer service sense to at least whisk him somewhere they could have a proper conversation (not through bullet proof glass) or say something along the lines of "let's try to resolve this calmly", or by the teller who was processing my payment moving at the speed of molasses in January (in the Atlantic Northeast, not Uganda - they don't have molasses here). It probably also didn't help that I'd discovered earlier that I had coffee but no food at home.

It starts pouring rain while I'm in the bank. I've now come to the empirical conclusion that 50% of drivers completely lose all capacity for any sort of rational, efficient or safe driving as soon as water starts falling from the sky.

Took a short-cut to a supermarket which involved driving my petite 4-wheel-driver through some gigantic puddles, bumps and holes in a big dirt-patch in the rain. Giggle like a maniacal school-girl the whole way through.

Grab a few things at the grocery store. Order a sandwich from the butchery-department.
"I'll have a ham sandwich please."
"We're out of bread."
"You're what? How? How do you run out of bread?"
blank stare
I walk six feet to bakery-department, pick up a loaf of bread, walk back to the butchery-department and put it on the counter.
"I'll have a ham sandwich."
"You have to go pay for this first."
"I'm not going to walk all the way over there, stand in line, pay for the bread, bring it back over here, hand it to you, wait [while you move at the speed of molasses in the North's January], then walk back all the way over there again, stand in line again, and pay again. I'll have a ham sandwich." Aaand I walk away.

Another empirical fact that I've unfortunately learned in this country: if you say something authoritatively enough and then walk away, it will happen. I would have come flying over the counter with a stapler in my right hand and some cow-tongue in my left, aiming straight for jugular, if someone had talked to me like that while I was working at Saul's Delicatessen. Then again, I also would have walked the six feet to pick up a loaf of damn bread my damn self to make the damn sandwich.

Acquaintance who was waiting for her package-delivery calls.
"Just wondering when you'll be by to drop off my package?"
"I'm in the middle of some errands. Probably be by in 45 minutes."
"Well... I'm about to go out to lunch, so... can I just give you detailed directions and you can leave it with reception?"
in my head "I muled your crap back from the States for you, you can delay wait to eat your damn lunch to make me driving my ass over to drop it off to you a bit easier"
out loud: heavy sigh "Fine. Text them to me."

Drive to the offices of The Uganda Safari Company ("TUSC" - cute), another shining, shocking beacon of effectiveness. When we had been safariing in Kidepo, I had had a stroke of creative brilliance (iiiif I may say so) and left my camera strap with one of the guides, to bring back to a lady in his village to bead up and beautify, Karamjong-style. It had always bothered me how nerdy-techy the strap looked. I told him I didn't care what colors or patterns, I trusted their judgment). It had taken a while, but the strap was finally done being beaded, had hitched a flight South and was waiting for me with the wonderfully efficient Onzi at reception.

Was (except with white where the red is):



Hopped across the road and picked up a couple books at the dirt-cheap book-exchange place. Exchanged a book I'd bought there + 3,000 Shillings for another book, and bought a second for 6,000 Shillings. Love it.

Send some strongly-worded text messages to partner organizations.

Crawling in traffic through Kisemente when I feel a resounding thump. I look in the rear view mirror and notice that the little white car I'd previously been able to easily see in my mirror now seemed to have disappeared. I believe the exact words I exclaimed, aloud, to myself were "You've got to be f#%*&#@%ing kidding me" (except replace "#%*&#@%" with "uck"). Sure enough, the dude behind me had mistaken his left for his right and planted the nose of his car firmly and tightly into the rear of mine. Fortunately, my car is significantly higher than his. Also fortunately, I have a spare tire on the back of my car. He smudged my tire-cover, though. Jerk. I took his insurance info anyway, just in case, and apologized for his broken headlight, accordianed hood, fractured bumper and probably radiator damage. Oddly, the interaction with this guy was probably the most pleasant of the day - there was no question about who was at fault, and a clear path of protocol to be followed.

Spend 115,000 Shillings ($55ish) on a tank of gas.

Make a couple phone calls in order to do a partner organization's (which shall remain unnamed) job for them. Send a strongly worded email.

On the road, Westwards, towards a meeting I'll be having on the 4th. Jury's out on whether the comfort, music and speed of driving myself trumps the nerve-wracking nature of driving in Uganda. Why not put speed-bumps on highways? Why mark them? Why mark grievous changes in road-material (beautifully-newly-paved tarmac followed by a curb-sharp drop onto loose gravel)? Why fix those potholes? Why make the one road that serves an entire region of the country more than one lane each direction? Why not allow tractor-trailers to crawl along that road at 10kmh? Why enforce any traffic laws? Why not cut off the muzungu in his Rav 4 with your bus on a loose-gravel road and crack his windshield with a rock your tires fling up?

(I decided not to include the photograph I took of the speedometer at this point... reading 10kmh)

Another highlight: I've been seeing these wonderfully colorful local stools from bus-windows along this road for a year now, and never had the opportunity to hop out and snag a couple. Like a riot of flowers displayed on wood racks.
"10,000 each"
"If you give me a good price, I'll buy four. If you give me a bad price, I'll buy two."

Four stools for 20,000 ($9ish).

Another highlight: Eddie Van Halen telling me and the whizzing-by world around me, at ear-splitting volume, to "Hang 'em High".

Arrive at my destination. While waiting at an intersection for a break in traffic when I feel a resounding thump. I didn't even bother with the "#%*&#@%" this time, I just started laughing. Hard. The driver of the taxi, with eight people jammed in his sedan, the nose of which wasplanted firmly and tightly into the rear of mine, probably thought I was out of my mind as I walked towards him with a gigantic grin.
"Second time today!"
He totally smudged the smudges on my tire-cover. And nicely dislodged his bumper and headlight.

The first rear-ender-car fared worse.

Finally reached where I'd be spending the night. 6:26, decided a run would calm me down and help me shake off the day. I quickly lost count of the number of people - children, adolescents and adults who have no excuse for their total lack of any sense of propriety - yelled at me, ran after me or laughed at me. I finally gave up and went home.

A final highlight: the call to evening prayer over the loud-speaker from a nearby mosque. This has never gotten old to me, and will be one thing I genuinely miss once I've moved away from somewhere with a significant Muslim population.

And at least the day ended with some delicious pork!

I wonder what special moments tomorrow holds for me.