Sunday, January 24, 2010

Leave Running Whitey alone!

This might come as a shock to those of you who know me well: I like to run.

A lot.

In fact, it's become evident over the past years that running is one of the few things that keeps me (mostly) sane [those of you who had the misfortune of being around me for the couple months I spent unable to run due to tearing a ligament in my hip from clotheslining my dumb self off my bike and landing on my U-lock, and had to deal with me being a moody ass for two months time can attest to this assertion].

As I'm sure I've mentioned to many of you, this city leaves a little (lot) to be desired in terms of runability:

Firstly: altitude. Kampala's at about 3900 feet, so the air is definitely a bit thinner than what I'm used to. Not a bad thing, though (my lungs felt great when I ran at home), except for the addition of:

Second: shitty shitty air quality. Dust + smog (emissions controls? Why would we want those? Then my boogers wouldn't be black!) + burning-trash-smoke = might as well wrap my lips around a tail-pipe while I run. Bad enough as it is, but let's not neglect the:

Third: traffic. I swear I have almost been de-elbowed by a matatu-mirror or flat-tired by a boda-boda more times than I want to count. As if my heart isn't already pounding enough while I run, why not tack on a couple near-maiming experiences to REALLY get my adrenaline going? But I can't focus all of my attention on dodging traffic because of:

Fourth: "CHOGM-holes". CHOGM is the biannual (?) Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting, held in a different British Commonwealth country each time. In 2007, Uganda had the misfortune of hosting CHOGM. By all means it certainly COULD have been an excellent opportunity for Uganda to bank on some serious international attention and make some serious infrastructural progress (read: fill potholes), but instead corruption (and its close friend, idiocy) reared its ugly head and excellent methods were invented for pissing away phenomenal sums of money. One of these involved the decision to erect street lights - only, of course, on those streets which the CHOGM-folks would be traversing. Buuuuut they just never made it as far as installing the streetlight. Instead, they just managed to dig a huge number of hugely deep hugely un-marked holes. Now lovingly known as "CHOGM-holes" (physical representations of the holes that money was uselessly thrown into over the whole CHOGM fiasco?). Lest the CHOGM-holes be lonely, there are of course the countless and continuously-multiplying:

Fifth: pot-holes. I've covered these aberrations of street-making in a previous post, so I'll just continue on to:

Sixth: Ugandans who apparently think the acme of humor to be harassing the poor damn running mzungu.
If you live in Kampala, mzungu's, though not necessarily "common", are certainly not a great rarity. And I definitely see Ugandans out for runs. But apparently the combination of mzungu + runner is just... too much NOT to comment on.

I'm out for a damn run. No I do NOT want to:
a) fist-bump you as you sit on your boda-boda.
b) respond to "MZUNGU HOW ARE YOU"
c) confirm my American citizenship
d) have an extended discussion about what you/I think of Obama
e) debate whether Obama is, in truth, a "son of Uganda"
f) watch you run next to me mockingly as you look back at your homeys for approval
g) ride in your taxi (okay... I suppose I can understand this one a little bit: clearly I'm trying to get somewhere quickly, and I suppose a taxi would be a bit easier than running like a doofus)
h) be fodder for whatever jokes you are making to your friends in Luganda (I'm certain at my expense)

Just let me RUN. I promise I'll be much more enjoyable to deal with if you do.

That is all. Until next time,

-Running Whitey.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

You are welcome!

*Note, in Ugandanglish, the above title translates to "please come in", not "i appreciate your appreciation for the thing I did for you"

FIRSTLY: Guess what I did today? Field tested SaveMoRe! And it WORKED! (mostly)
Holy crap! I'm not a total failure!
Noooow to get all the million little details ironed out before implementation begins (and, uh, train like 25 people...)

Aaaaanyway, I'm not at work right now, so I'm going to stop thinking about work. I am at home, so I'm going to think about home.

Many many moons ago I walked around my apartment with my camera set on "video" and made a royal dork out of myself by annotating a tour of my apartment (complete with Kate making fun of me for having 2 takes).

Fortunately the East African internet wouldn't allow me to make an internationally known dork of myself. Instead I finally got my lazy butt to walk around my apartment with my camera on "picture" mode. Please, have a look around:

From Home Tour

Welcome inside. That's my helmet. And some jackets. And some shoes. And the side of the refrigerator waaaaay in the distance.

From Home Tour

You've now walked inside and turned around to admire our tasteful security gate and MASSIVE lock. And my helmet again.

From Home Tour

Rotating to the right faces you toward the living room. Pretty cool locally handmade furniture, Obama's face gazing on approvingly, a cool lampshade thingy, kitty-sighting #1 (Koopama I think... under the couch), the clothes-drying porch at the far end, and a suitcase inexplicably on top of some baskets.

From Home Tour

A full 180 and you're in the eating-nook. The washing machine just peeks around the corner because it knows it's out of place (currently pulled out of its normal spot for repair... Daniel's getting stinky)

From Home Tour

Through the eating nook to the left and we're in the kitchen. Gas stove (woo!), refrigerator, grass outside, some whiskey (weird, Bob Dylan just said "whiskey" write as I typed it), several-day-old popcorn (Kaaaaate?) and a power-strip at a probably unsafe angle.

From Home Tour

Another 180. Lotsawater, well-used coffee-making accoutrement, a photograph of mushrooms I've been meaning to ask Kate to explain and kitty-sighting #2 (Kasuku aka Little One aka devil-cat aka DAMMIT CAT WHY DID YOU EAT MY BREAD/COOKIE/WATER aka bowling-ball)

From Home Tour

Uh... just teleported back to the living-room. Hi Barack! Sorry your approval ratings are dropping, but we still like you, k?. Pretty baskets - the one on the left is mine.

From Home Tour

I like these baskets. What do you think, $60 at Pier 1 or Cost Plus World Market? Mmmm?
Try $8 on the street in Uganda! BOOM! As for getting it home... hm.

From Home Tour

KITTY-SIGHTING #3. Mbeezy. This cat is strange, but adorably so.

From Home Tour

The drying-room, unused, and the charming view out the window (same as out my window).

From Home Tour

Down the hallway toward the bedrooms. I see clean sheets in the distance.

From Home Tour

My room! I'm sitting at that desk right now. Photo of my family superawesomejumping on the beach gracing my desk. And look rrreeeeeeally close at the little table to the left of my bed and you'll see a pop of pretty-colored fabric from Honduras. Thanks Dave! (Rebecca- the bubblegum cigars are long-since consumed, and the rainbow-caribiner graces my backpack).
Chris's little asteroid print above my window and Rebecca's "Mira las luces!" print above-right of my desk.

From Home Tour

Walk in and turn right - my bookcase-o-crap. Brother-time, a pretty painted wooden Ugandan bird, some Ugandan pottery, Kirkland Signature-quantity almonds (picking almond-bits out of my teeth as I type), barely-touched GRE books and well-used deodorant (how to deal with a broken washing machine).

From Home Tour

Photos of friends, a krama scarf I got in Cambodia (brought for those cchhiiiiilllyyy Ugandan nights...) and another basket I like even more than the other one.

From Home Tour

See? It's a basket.

From Home Tour

Devil-kitty. Pretending she is not devil-kitty

From Home Tour

Kasuku makes a a unique and remarkable effort to appear as unlike Satan's four-legged spawn as possible to my American audience (which is probably consisting of... Mom).
I swear to all that is holy, though... if she so much as makes extended eye-contact with those almonds, I'm going to kitty-bowl her across the continent.

From Home Tour

and family.
and the bathroom down yon hallway.

From Home Tour

It's a toilet. I do not poop in a hole in the ground.

From Home Tour

I usually shower squatting. As if frequent bucket-showers weren't annoying enough.

From Home Tour

Look! It's bathroom stuff! In Africa!
And photo-cards courtesy of Awava ( - Kate's fair trade craft company), taken by Glenna Gordon I believe.

From Home Tour

Teleporting back to the living room (and time-traveling to daytime): the view from the couch. Television. African stuff. Baskets by Awava. Pirated movies.

From Home Tour

Aaaaaand how Yours Truly spends a good chunk of the time he's not at work panicking and shaking his hands at nipple level.

Say goodbye to Barack!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Home and back again

Hmm... a solid 7.5 weeks between posts. WHOOPS.

Soooo a general overview:

The last couple weeks in Kampala before going home were nuts. One of my projects ("SaveMoRe") is set to roll out on Feb 1 (well... it's looking like it will be Feb 8 now), so I had to get a whooooole buncha logistical business ironed out before going home for 3 weeks. Then again it's not like I was going home for 3 weeks of "vacation" - I spent a good deal of the first week and last week home working. Buuuut at least I was at home! Letting my Mom make me more steak than I've consumed in the last few months total. And pancakes. Wait a second... 3 weeks at home and I only had pancakes ONCE?? What the hell? Those of you who have had the honor of consuming my mother's pancakes will understand.

So other than the sorrowful lack of pancakeage, home was awesome. I spent the first week at my parents' house in Southern California, then a couple days in LA with DT and Dave, then a few more days in the Bay Area, and finally another week at home. It was fantastic to see the people and places I've been missing (oh Bay Area cafe culture... how you have spoiled me), though maybe not as "relaxing" as I'd hoped. Just being around the family had enough of a calming effect to make it allll worthwhile.

The trip back to Uganda was interesting. I had a 12-hour layover in Dubai between 15- and 8-hour legs of my journey. I arrived at 8pm, so I figured I'd venture out into the town for a few hours for some dinner and quasi-sight-seeing, then find somewhere to crash out in the airport. On the way out of the airport, I asked about 5 different Emirates Airlines staff if there was a lounge or somewhere that I could pass out for a few hours when I returned. Nada. Oh well, I'd just have to find myself a square of carpet somewhere.

It took me about an hour to actually make it out of the airport, not because of long lines or anything, but just because sometimes things that should take a normal person a short amount of time take me much longer. I finally found the metro station (fyi: best to follow the signs that say "metro" rather than trust your "instincts"), and made 2 instantsuperbestfriends. Well, one was, I think, some sort of employee of the metro system 'cause he (saw me looking confused and) asked where I was going, then told me where I should go and how I should get there. The other was the lady on the other side of the ticket counter. But I'm sure we're superbestfriends because she gave me an M&M. I metroed into town and discovered two things about Dubai:

1. The ENTIRE damn place is under construction. Seriously... it's absurd. It looks like they're trying to build Manhattan overnight!

2. Dubai brings new meaning to "not a pedestrian-friendly city". I mean, it brings a new type of meaning to it. Kampala is quite pedestrian-unfriendly, but just because drivers seem to get a kick out of mirror-grazing pedestrians and the "sidewalk" (read: dirt next to the road) is chalk full of gigantic holes for streetlights that were never installed. In Dubai, however, there just isn't anywhere to BE a pedestrian. It's bizarre! The city (what little of it I saw) seems to be designed with the assumption that everyone will use a car to get everywhere... there was not even a way to walk from one building to the building next to it.

Also I'm pretty sure I saw more dollar-value in cars in the 4 hours I was in Dubai city than in the 3 months I've been in Uganda.

I found the tallest building in the world! It was actually bizarrely hard to find. I kept just looking up figuring I'd see it from anywhere, but there are so many damn skyscrapers in Dubai that I couldn't find it (Mom- I thought of you asking a couple of cops where the Twin Towers were when we were in New York (rest of world: this was pre-2001.... the cops just looked at her and said "uh... look up"; we've given her shit about this ever since)).
It's really really really tall.

Then I walked around a mall for the last 30 minutes it was open. Learned what "Starbucks" looks like in Arabic. Saw an indoor ice-skating rink in the middle of the Arabian desert (didn't get to the mall with the indoor ski slope - next time!). Theeeen I wandered off in search of food and found an awesome little cafe nestled between 2 skyscrapers, in which I ate some chicken shishsomething and futzed around on the internet/read for a few hours, enjoying the Arabic being spoken around me. Did I mention I'm a sucker for cafe culture?

Finally I decided I should head back to the airport before I was too tired to be rational.
I found a hotel and asked how to get back (figuring I'd just take a taxi since the metro was closed, but hoping there would be a bus). They told me they actually had a free shuttle that would arrive in about 30 minutes. Sweet! I settled into a couch and proceeded to people-watch the rrrrrrridiculous crowd of young Dubaians (or probably not... apparently 80% of Dubai's population are non-native) filter into the hotel's hopping club. Apparently the shuttle was running late, so they wound up calling a hotel car to take me. Rad!

Back to the airport around 2am (flight at 8:30). TIRED. Airport was CROWDED. Asked several more Emirates employees about a lounge to sleep in. Nothing nothing. Found an Emirates cafeteria thingy in which passengers with 6+ hour layovers eat free. Rad. Ate lots of mac&cheese and mousse-on-bananas. Why didn't they tell me about this place? Good thing I stumbled upon it! REEEEEALLY TIRED. Found a fairly loungey chair. Not very comfortable but managed to pass out for about an hour and a half. Woke up fidgety and REALLY REALLY TIRED. After several minutes of shifting around and annoying everyone else on the row of connected chairs, I moved to the nice tile floor. Ugh. Passed out for another 1.5ish hours. Finally gave up and went to find my gate. Time passed somehow. MISERABLY TIRED. At the gate ran into an acquaintance from Kampala, looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. She'd arrived around the same time as me on Emirates. Why did she seem so rested?

Because apparently if you have a layover of over 8 hours in Dubai, Emirates will put you up in a hotel FOR FREE including 3 meals FOR FREE and a city tour FOR FREE.


Why the CRAP do they offer this if they're not going to TELL anybody? ARGH.

Aaaaanyway, it's back to the Kampala-grind. A few photos from Dubai: