Sunday, 25 January 2009

Ugandan dude -ess

Last Saturday we all went to a party to celebrate 10 years of Red Chilli Hideaway. It's a chain of backpacker hostels run by my friend Debbie. I met Debbie about 9 months ago, queuing to get Emma a new passport in the British High Commission. We hit it off straight away - same height, Brit, likes talking, and as it happened, her kid was due to be in the same class as Emma at school.
Unlike us swan-in, swan-out NGO types, Debbie arrived in Uganda twelve years ago on some post-university travel and never left. (She did go back to the UK for a year, but we'll get to that bit.) She got together with Steve, who was working for the British High Commission at the time. But he was fed up of diplomatic life, and together they decided to start Red Chilli.

They bought some land, with some "derelict buildings" on it, a few kilometres from Kampala city centre and started rennovating. "Derelict buildings" is Debbie's expression, but that's generous: the photos reveal only two out of four brick walls with some grass in the middle.

The tourism business anywhere requires tenacity and nerves of steel, but especially in Uganda where political instability, fraud, unreliable infrastructure, and a tonne of red tape are par for the course. "It was one step forward, two steps back," said Debbie ruefully in her speech. Then in 1999, eight tourists were massacred by Rwandan Hutu rebels in Bwindi forest, home of the mountain gorillas and probably Uganda's biggest tourist attraction. Debbie had met some of them, having passed through Red Chilli en route. (Following their rescue, the survivors turned down a night at the Sheraton and asked to go back to Red Chilli instead.) Tourism to Uganda dried up overnight, but they persevered, and opened a second Red Chilli opened in Murchison Falls National Park.

In November 2005 Steve was in Murchison when he received a distress call from some rafters. On his way to help them, Steve was ambushed by the Lord's Resistance Army. He was shot in the heart, and died instantly. Debbie was in Kampala at the time with their two-year-old son. Two hours after learning of Steve's death, she found out she was pregnant. Grieving, she went back to the UK for a year, to give birth to her daughter. But she didn't stay. "I couldn't allow the dream to die with Steve," she said. So she came back.

Things are far from easy, but on the whole Red Chili does a roaring trade. I bump into Debbie most days at school. When I ask if she's tired, she replies "yeah well I was doing the accounts all night and then Zoe woke up three times..". Running a successful business and mothering toddlers are stressful enough - then I remind myself she is also a widow. Sharp, funny, self-deprecating, down-to-earth too. Impressive woman indeed.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Exit interview

This is Auntie Caroline. Glory and I took her to Entebbe airport early this morning to wave her off after a month in Uganda. It was pouring with rain and quite chilly - perfect transition weather. I was meant to 'interview' her for the blog, but we got distracted with last-minute present buying. But I did manage to squeeze out a couple of her highs and lows. For the record then, here is Auntie C's holiday synopsis:

Best moment: Giving Nanny a piggy-back in the forest on Ngamba Island and grooming her. (Nanny is a juvenile chimp.)
Worst moment: Being wedged in the front of a pick-up with two men, one woman, one baby and one buttock suspended mid-air between seat and door handle. For eight hours. (That's a long worst 'moment.')
Most useful item of luggage: mobile phone.
Least useful item of luggage: flowery gardening gloves. Apparently useful in the forest for grasping prickly vines and such, but they stayed in Kampala with us.
I would have probed more, but like I say, we ran out of time.

So from our side:
Best moments with Auntie C: Too many to mention. All her lovely interactions with our juvenile chimps, probably. Watching her jump off the scarily-high middle diving board at a pool in Entebbe, after I dared her to. (I climbed the ladder but was too chicken - even after three attempts.)
Worst moments with Auntie C: C's consistent victories at Snatch.
Did Auntie C have anything good in her luggage? Yes! Fabulous Christmas presents from all the Schos, Green and Blacks chocolate and Mr Kiplings mini- Battenburgs (all eaten.)

We miss her already.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Not much happened today*

I did clean out the car, however. This is what I found:

Plastic bottle - one
Cornflakes - a few hundred, crushed and rubbed into upholstery
Bits of tissue paper
Some shoes, presumed lost
Bits of foil
Lord Lucan - hiding in ashtray
Crew of Marie Celeste
Trillions of dollars - saving world from global economic disaster etc
(that's enough -ed)

*when I promised to post more frequently, I offered no quality guarentees

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A glorious party

You couldn't do this back home in January..
Look how it turned out! I'm even a bit disappointed that I've got nothing to send to cake wrecks , though the mottled cross-eyes are an unexpected feature. Handy tip, bakers: don't put smarties in the fridge.

M: Gloria, you're the birthday girl - why don't you open it?

G: No, you won it fair and square old thing -I insist!

M: You're too kind, but it is I that must insist. You open it!

Baby K: Give me that parcel!

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Granny's last day

Here she is, the intrepid explorer, a few feet away from the raging Nile! This photo was taken at Bujugali Falls in Jinja, where you can watch the whitewater rafters. It's exciting to watch the boats as they go over the falls, but I'm not sure I'd want to do it myself. At least not when I could stick my head in the washing machine in the comfort of my own home for a fraction of the cost.
Granny R is heading back to (freezing cold) Britain tomorrow. The girls will miss Granny bath and story time, though I'm not sure she will miss another rendition of Blue Kangaroo's Christmas which she can recite by heart. It's been fun.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

A milestone looms

Gloria will be 3 this Sunday. Hooray!

I am impressively ahead of the curve (for once) with the party planning, mainly because Auntie C and Granny R have been acting as willing slaves under my creative directorship. We have made invitations out of Cornflakes and yellow wool, drawn a monkey for Pin the Tail on the Monkey (I know it's a break with convention but there is a monkey theme going here.) We* have looked up 'Monkey Cake' on the internet, but that is as far as we've got with the catering...maybe we're not as ahead as I thought.

*Gandaman, reading this over my shoulder, prickled at the use of the royal 'we' in this sentence. The cake is his turf, no trespassers.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Ring Out, Wild Bells

I found this in my inbox, sent by the lovely C - thank you.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Alfred Lord Tennyson