Wednesday 16 December 2009

Off we go again

Hello everyone and apologies for the long absence. We've had rather a lot on, as you are about to find out.

We are leaving Uganda on 21st Dec, as in 'leaving leaving' not 'Christmas holidays leaving'. We took the decision about, i dunno, six weeks ago. Why? Well, the long version is a bit complicated and more nuanced than what follows, but here is the short version.

1) My job. It was fun and most of the time I enjoyed it, but it became pretty obvious that I wasn't really making the business any money. Product development mainly involves telling suppliers "do it like this, not like that...and please can I have the perfect, finished article by next week?" Then you wait for them to deliver. Then you start the nagging phone-calls. Three weeks go past: nothing. Someone gets malaria, has to go to the village, or it's raining. Then you get the pillows/bunting/macrame dolls and it's still wrong and you have to send it back. Repeat ten times. Now, this is Africa, and things do happen a lot slower round here. Given how difficult it has been to get crafts into the shops quick enough, it was hard for my bosses to justify my full-time position.

I was offered part-time, but as the main breadwinner, we couldn't really live on the money. And in my heart of hearts, I was missing my girls a lot. I think Emma and Gloria didn't mind that much that I wasn't around, but I've really missed baby K and I like to think she has a soft spot for me too. I've also gained a new appreciation of how productive mothering is. Boiling up carrots and smearing them on my toddler's face feels like a better use of my time than waiting idly for craft paper from Kenya and feeling guilty for being paid for it.

R liked his job in the cocoa business, but realised he much preferred emergency response. But it wasn't just about the jobs. I think we found living in Uganda much tougher going second-time round. The electricity saga, a gruelling school-run over terrible roads, the riots when we just arrived back. Our friends witnessing a man being beaten and then burnt to death in a horrific case of mob justice, not one mile from where we live. A lot of frustration and sadness over a great country badly managed.

We also had something of a nagging conviction that we had moved back for the wrong reasons: the nice climate, the great school, the interesting work opportunities. All very convenient, but even three months ago we felt torn and lacking in passion and purpose for being back.

So where too now? Well, we have been exploring various options. R applied for and got a job in a country which does tick our passion and purpose boxes. (Its government is rather touchy, so that's why I'm being coy about saying exactly where.) But we all wanted to be sure it was the right thing, so he flew half way round the world intending to visit it only to have his visa for said country denied. At least he got to explore the airport for 8 hours, and he brought me back a tasty seaweed snack. Yesterday he had an interview for another job in....Teddington! I can't deny that a large part of me would LOVE to be home. We could buy a big house and stay there for forty years and never go on an aeroplane ever, ever again. But stop me before I count my many chickens before they are hatched.

Operation Pack Up N Leave is going well so far. (Another reason why I haven't posted for ages.) We have sold our car, lots of paintings, got new jobs for our staff, had parties. According to BBC Weather it will be snowing in Portsmouth on Saturday! Can I get woolly coats in Owino market?
So there we have it. Leaving on a jet plane with no job and nowhere to live. But we are happy and are sure it's the right decision. Here's a picture of our darling Emma, going out with a bang in her Christmas play, Hosanna Rock!

Monday 9 November 2009

Problems with our utilities - fascinating!

Thanks for all the comments, guys! There are lots I want to come back to (nothing like the warm glow of controversy to get me to my computer screen) but I am a little distracted at the moment..

We had a visit from the electricity people on Friday. No, sorry, the electricity people and the lawyers. Dudes in suits and dudes with wire cutters, anyway. They told us we were among their "most stubborn customers" - I love Ugandan English, even when it's threatening - and they had come to cut us off.

To cut a long story short (and boy it's long and very boring), there are about $600 worth of electricity arrears on this house, from before our tenancy began. No-one is taking responsibility for it: not the landlady, nor the previous tenants, who both blame each other for the arrears. There is no meter at the house - despite repeated requests for one - so it's not like we've got any hard evidence against either party. We have got by so far on many, many, many...journeys to the elec people's office, paying what we think we use, giving our best smiles and begging a stay of execution.

So on Friday, when they turned up with m'learned friends, we thought our number was up. After some more chit chat - I am getting quite good polite, slightly desperate pleading -they disappeared again. But for how long is anyone's guess. If they cut us off again (like I said, long, boring story) we will move out immediately and look for somewhere a bit less complicated.

If that weren't enough, something is up with the water tank. The girls' evening bath now has a layer of sandy sludge at the bottom, with tiny, creepy red flukes wriggling in it. That can't be good for you. I think the moral of this story is 'Don't judge a house by its pretty view.'

Saturday 31 October 2009

Unhappy Halloween

Well, here we are, October 31st again, and I think this is the last year I can get away with avoiding the whole subject of Halloween with the girls.

I don't 'do' Halloween. I don't do it a) on principle and b) on preference. On principle because it's a pagan festival, specifically a celebration of spirits, witchcraft etc etc and as a Christian it's against my religion, man. On preference because a) I find the sight of little kids dressed up as vampires and skeletons weird and creepy b) I've had bad experiences with South London hoodies trick-or-treating c) why mess up a lovely harvest autumn vibe with skeletons and occulty stuff? And pumpkin pie? It's a crime against cuisine! D) (yes, I'm on a roll, but ranting can be good for you) it's also a peculiarly American festival and I resent the Americans taking over my cultural anniversaries. What was wrong with bonfire night?

Have your say, because I am feeling comment-starved. Am I
a) a miserable old fart. Put on your witches' hat and party!
b) spot on! Those trick-or-treaters should be locked up and force-fed pumpkin pie til they repent.
c) right and wrong, because I'm a nice person (not like you) and I like to sit on the fence

Saturday 24 October 2009

Forget cereal..

I have been on my own the whole morning. R has taken the girls, plus good friend Zia, to the shops, leaving me to potter and fiddle around the house in perfect peace. So far I have managed to write a long email; swap the girls bookshelves and tidy them, arranging the books in order of height; pick lots of things off the floor; read The Week from cover to cover and eat some of last night's beans and sweet potato. Now I'm bored.

This afternoon Zia has promised to give me a curry masterclass. I *heart* curry, but like so many things -sigh- I can't cook a good one. Last week I tried a lamb rogan josh, and despite following the recipe to the letter, I got comments along the lines of "bit stringy and fatty", "more of a casserole than a curry isn't it?" and "are you sure this is lamb, not mutton?"

Now what do you think of our weekend breakfast? Fried with onion and a little oil, termites are a very tasty snack as well as being full of iron. And as Her Majesty The Queen Termite lays on average 30,000 eggs a day, more sustainable than beef or lamb or mutton.

Yum yum!

Thursday 15 October 2009

Should dentists be camp?

I went to the dentist yesterday. Visits to the dentist are something I am very skilled at putting off, especially in Uganda where finding a good dentist involves committed research.

I have serious dentist fear. When I was a kid, I spent every three or four months in the chair (my mother was and still is, very conscientious about oral health.) It involved lots of fillings and nasty flouride treatment with mouth guards filled with vile-tasting bright blue gel. When I was old enough to decide whether or not to visit the dentist, I chose not. I have had long spells of truancy, the longest of which has been four years. But I am trying to turn over a new leaf: set an example to the children, something like that. Add to that the sneaking suspicion that all is not well dans ma bouche, and, having a terrible sweet tooth, the realisation that my chocolate chickens might be finally coming home to roost.

"Why don't you try Doctor T," said my boss. "He's great! It's so relaxing I often fall asleep in the chair!" I liked the idea of falling asleep in the chair, even if I didn't believe it for a second.

Fast-forward to a smart area of Kampala, a nice courtyard and shaded parking. "WELCOME!" said Dr T, a Ugandan man in his early forties. By this time I was already in the chair, sweating, both through nerves and the fact it was covered in plastic. He took digital photos of my teeth (very cool), some X rays, poked around...and said I needed a filling.

"Because it's only a superficial cavity, I will drill without anaesthetic ok? Any pain, just raise your hand." A split-second later, after I almost leapt off the chair in sudden agony, I got my injection. So much for falling asleep in the chair. "My, we have a jumpy one here!" quipped Dr T. For the record: I have had three children, none of which involved anaesthetic. Again it's the dentist thing: someone poking around in my mouth just gives me the screaming heebie jeebies. I really think I would rather give birth.

After I was filled, her reviewed my x rays, oo-ing and ah-ing like a pantomime dame. (I don't want a camp dentist: sorry. I want an earnest dentist, an academic type with glasses, who pauses before he gives a considered answer from the well of his experience and long medical training.) "You have another cavity right there!" he said, pointing at what I thought looked like a perfectly decent looking tooth. I have to go back in a month.

Then I went home, nursed my fat cheek and ate some mashed potato for dinner. I'm not sure I will make my follow-up appointment.

Thursday 8 October 2009

A posh function

There is nothing like the words "official " and "work dinner" that make me reach for the excuses or feign sudden illness. So I still have no idea why I did actually end up going to this:

Okay, so I'm not exactly a huge fan of his, but my head was turned by the likelihood of el presidente turning up. And he did! He was two hours late, which I think is moderate lateness for a president, by which time I'd had ample opportunity to catch up on my texting, and by which time the nice waiters had filled up my wine glass many times...not good when the food, like the president, is also late, and I am supposed to be a poised and dutiful wife.

So when el P arrived with his security detail and we'd sung the national anthem (no-one sang along actually, but there were at least some chest-clutching patriots in the room), I was a little pink around the eyes and minded less that my posh frock was a little 'gappy'.

Then came the awards - the whole thing was like the export equivalent of the Oscars - and Gandaman's company got the gold award for cocoa. Hooray! Other categories included 'hides and skins' and 'stationery'. Yes, Uganda exports stationery! And fish, fyi, lots of it - wouldn't have guessed that one.

El P gave some handshakes, there were some speeches from ministers. The banana lady had the line of the night: "he who touches the banana, touches everyone!" El p came across well in a grand-fatherly sort of way, though I didn't really take it in as I was very hungry and it was past my bedtime (10:15). Gman kicked me twice for nodding off, but I woke up just in time for the buffet.

In other news: the whole of Kampala and probably the whole of Australia is overjoyed at the safe arrival of the baby warthog. Would pay good money to hop over the Brisbane and tickle his little tusks!

Friday 2 October 2009

Ugandan dudes

Week three of being a working girl again, and I am slowly getting into my job. There are things that make me want to bang my head on the table in boredom - measuring bag handles - and tasks that are such good fun I can't believe I'm getting paid to do them.
One of the fun things is visiting lots of Ugandan artists and taking pictures of their work for potential buyers overseas. That's how I met Eria Sane (above), at his parents' house in Entebbe. He does big, exuberant, acrylic paintings and treats his subject matter with a lot of humour and playful irreverance. Eria himself is bright, ambitious and articulate. At 30, he has ten years of painting already behind him, and is still energetically churning them out.
"Ugandan artists don't make money because they're not very productive! They just wait for an exhibition or something. I am very productive," he tells me proudly. I ask him if he thinks the lack of productivity is a cultural thing. "You see, colonisation brought suits and ties and office jobs and made black people despise working with their hands! Now we have all these people in offices, but what are they actually doing? We are not producing food anymore!" As he continues his productivity rant, I tell him he reminds me of Margaret Thatcher which makes him laugh.
What is Eria's favourite subject matter? "I'm a humanist. I like things like justice, fairness...I like being a social critic. I like being fluid. I am painting a lot of forests right now, because it's so important that in Uganda we keep our forests, our swamps." (De-forestation is a big problem here.) I ask him his plans for the future. "I want my art to go worldwide. I want to make a name for myself. I want to market our culture, who we are."