Category Archives: Uganda

It’s been some time…

I booked an onward out of Thailand, to Vietnam, as of course Ethiopian Airlines was gonna check. I knew it. After asking my Chiang Mai friends, “do you ever book on onward flight when you fly into TH?” and receiving a unanimous chorus of, “No!” I knew that, since I was flying from Africa, it would likely be different. And it was.

Ethiopian Airlines employee, Ugandan, female: “Where is your return ticket from Vietnam to Canada?”

Me: “I don’t have one. I don’t need one. I am required to have an onward/return out of Thailand. Once I’m in another country, my whereabouts is no longer the responsibility of your airline.”

“That’s not true.”

“I’m fairly confident that it is.”

“Let me check the rule book.”

Knowing full well I don’t have the money to afford a return flight from VN to CA, I somehow keep completely calm. It’s probably just that I lack the energy to feel stressed at this point. 4.5 months in Uganda has been enough, even though I’ll miss it fucking fiercely. Damn.

Airline Employee: “See! Look, it says right here. You need a return ticket from VN to your home country.”

I read the fine-print of her rule book that has every visa regulation for every country regarding entering/exiting procedures. The book clearly states exactly what I told her: that anyone flying into Thailand technically can be prevented from boarding a flight if they don’t show proof of an onward/return air ticket.

I realize that I’m dealing with what I suspect is a white person rule. Maybe I’m wrong. But judging by her incredibly rude and aggressive tone toward me, it seemed like she was exercising her all-mighty airline employee power wherever she could.

Thankful I’d randomly given away an expensive extension cord to another male (Ugandan) Ethiopian Airlines employee about 30 minutes prior (based on solely the whim of a voice inside me saying, “you don’t need this, give it away”), I now sought him out as a potential much-needed ally to get me aboard the plane.

Still carrying the extension cord, he said, “ahhhh” when I explained the situation. Apparently this is just how things go. I’m escorted to speak with the head of EA, where I’m grilled for 15 minutes about my plans. I pass all the tests, and he nods. My extension corded escort gives me the signal to stand.

“So….?”

“You’re fine, it’s not a problem.” Huh. I wander back downstairs, where I find out that of course news of this newly granted permission  has not been given to anyone who actually has the power to let me through to check-in.

Another hour goes by. I’m grateful that I always make a point of being at the airport early. Eventually the information is transmitted and the lady who was adamant that I produce a return ticket begrudgingly lets me through, with a glare. I smile politely, even with my eyes, trying to connect with her, trying to have empathy for the fact that I’m sure it’s a tough job, and I have no idea what her personal situation is. And maybe she really did think that the rule was what she said, and maybe she doesn’t read English very well, and maybe she had a bad day. And maybe.

The flight turns out to have open seating. This is a first for me: of all the times I’ve flown, never before have I witnessed a free-for-all in seating inside the airplane. The cause, as far as I can gather is that a group of smartly dressed men from Kigali made an unannounced late arrival at the airport, and no one was organized enough to properly process them all. I could be wrong.

This leads, unsurprisingly, to a miscount of persons on the plane — we supposedly have one extra body. Triggering concerns of security issues, the flight is delayed for over an hour while the airline stewardesses make numerous failed attempts to determine who the extra person is. We try helping them, making suggestions including actually checking everyone’s seat number, instead of asking people to raise their hands when we can’t even hear what the question is.

Many people seated (by choice!) near me grumble as they realize they’ll be missing their connecting flights due to this delay. I shake my head and make enjoyable conversation with my seatmate. I feel absolutely fantastic about the fact that I’m even on the plane. Whatever happens from here on out, no problem.

Eventually, it’s discovered that the miscount is because one lady took it upon herself to use the ‘free seating’ policy as her big chance to seat herself in first class. Somehow this led them to miscalculate, likely because they didn’t actually count those of us in economy.

And that was the end to my Ugandan adventure. Entirely appropriate. Grateful for the experience, the incredible friends I met, and utterly relieved to be back in Chiang Mai, where I can ride my bicycle everywhere, eat fruit smoothies from street stalls, and drink yummy hot lattes at any corner. Oh, and run into awesome people every few minutes when out and about. And…

So much to LOVE!

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Boda boda Synergy

boda boda

Whilst still in Kampala, I take boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) most places since the matatus (public van taxis) are challenging for sensitive-eared individuals like myself.

Boda boda drivers range in skill. Some are horrendous, some are pretty okay, some are damn feisty (= good). Kampala city streets are dog-eat-dog, so you better be on the back of someone’s bike who knows what they’re doing. (Note – there are almost no female boda drivers.)

Understandably, finding a trustworthy driver is imperative. Log his number in your phone, call whenever you need to get out and about. I’ve found two I actually feel sort of safe with so far – Jimmy and Godfrey. I’ll never forget their names for the rest of my life… I depend on these boys to navigate me through the treacherous traffic, potholes, the riff-raff, the mishmash.

Boda boda synergy

I sit on the back with my headphones in ears – auditory distraction is necessary to keep my mind off the reality of the road insanity. Sunglasses on. Helmet, check. Foot on rests, one hand on the cool rear metal bar, the other varying between my thigh and the driver’s stomach depending on the terrain. Tap tap, my fingers drum lightly to the song.

We go. It’s sort of intimate, in a removed kind of way.

If my go-to boys are busy, I’m left to my own devices, meaning I do a split-second assessment on every passing boda driver who whizzes by. The routine becomes disheartening pretty quickly, and eventually I tire of standing on the side of the road with dust flying everywhere, battling the “muzungu!” chatter in my ear. Resigning to pick the next one that slows down and doesn’t have cracked mirrors, I cross my dirty fingers.

All this does is make me want to ride on my own again. Too chicken to do it without insurance for the time being.

Photographically, I’m in process of figuring out how to show this feeling of flying through the air on two wheels with an engine in between and you on top with wind shooting past and trees zipping by in your peripheral vision and feeling the control and the power and the risk and the autonomy and the vulnerability all at once. The freedom, the stillness in movement.

Boda boda synergy

Inside the chaos, be still…

I love motorcycles.

Opposite Ends

Super excited to share two recently published articles – on opposite ends of the content spectrum no less!

I had a lot of fun writing for Yeity because their style is sarcastic and cheeky. Site tagline? Travel that will put hair on your snatch. Ha! It felt good to vent about my experience jogging in Kampala and share some pics. Here’s a peek at what running through town looks like:

A little bit hectic, a little bit rock n' roll...

A little bit hectic, a little bit rock n’ roll…

And now for something completely different…

My favourite Kampala-based publication, Start Journal, is an arts and culture magazine a bit outside the box in terms of content. It publishes many local Ugandan writers’ work on happenings in the art scene here, The criticism in it is meant to question the social-political context in which art (all types) are created.

 And yet, like so many other dictators, not only was Amin a frightening, deeply disturbed man, but he was also effortlessly capable of ineffable charisma and charm. The president clearly enjoyed putting on a show.

The Bad and the Beautiful is my review of the filmic portrayal of former president and mass-murderer Idi Amin Dada in The Last King of Scotland and General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait. The piece is the result of a discussion on this topic with some of my fellow cinephiles here at 32 East. My essay ended up also being influenced by David Foster Wallace’s brilliant write-up of his experience on the set of David Lynch’s Lost Highway. That is – literally – a topic for another post.

“Art film is essentially teleological; it tries in various ways to “wake the audience up” or render us more “conscious.” (…) An art film’s point is usually more intellectual or aesthetic, and you usually have to do some interpretive work to get it, so that when you pay to see an art film you’re actually paying to work (whereas the only work you have to do w/r/t most commercial films is whatever work you did to afford the price of the ticket).” -D.F. Wallace

Writing inspiration

General intro: I stay at an arts trust when I come back from trips to the village. Internet, charge camera, upload images, work, read, watch, cold shower, sleep. In the library (they have a library!) live books, stacks of texts, dvds, art crits, pop culture commentary, Criterion Collection films; inspiration in general. I pay a modest amount (even for me) to inhabit one of the charming rooms on site for the next few months ’til the next artist from somewhere across the continent swoops in to create/make/play/achieve. I feel charmed and grateful as usual these days. (Yay!)

Digression: A mish-mash of adults and kids who sing, dance, paint all day, sometimes all night. It is noisy. Yet, incredibly, the sound doesn’t bother me like it normally might. As my ongoing hearing issues become more and more a part of my daily life, I’m proud to say that I am slowly (slooowwwwly) learning to cope with it in more peace than before. The past lingers literally in my eardrums, an invisible scar that aggravates. It’s like I’ve taken up permanent residency as a character in The Conversation, a film which, with its brilliant use of heightened sound, somewhat mimics my everyday experience. Digression point: Psychologically, the sound doesn’t disturb me here. This is, to me, astounding. Hyperbole: And, well, amazing. Wonderful, too.

Initial main point intro: I ask my new friend here, how did you learn to write? I read a lot, he says casually. No system, no schooling, no formula. Read, write, read, write, rinse, repeat. Lather. Obligatory eye-roll inducing sexual innuendo: (Are you wet?)

Initial main point: At my prompting, he sweetly recommends a few articles plus a Sontag short-story, which I leave here with you today. Cheesy pun: No drum roll needed, these works have (loud) noise of their own. If you have a slice of time in your possession and brain in need of nourishment, consider ingesting one of these, free of charge.

Catchy-plus-enticing hook: Satiate those synapses…

A Rumi of One’s Own by Rachel Aviv  – Gush: Cutting, witty, subtle, hilarious. Manages to skewer America’s sheep while remaining fairly objective and fact-based. Rumi-lovers, beware!!! You’ve been warned.

On Quitting by Keguro Macharia – Drool: Brave, heartfelt, intimate, challenging. Strikes numerous emotional chords, sans cliche, through unapologetic honesty, shakes brains with vocabulary and heady concepts. Complementary visual art by another talent here too.

The Way we Live Now by Susan Sontag – Fawn: in 1986, on the lives of people living with the affects of the AIDS epidemic. Run-on sentences, conversant, familiar circular self-indulgent chit-chat between friends who’ve know each other longer than they’ve known themselves. Can be found in full pdf version online.

Fotojournalismus

Three boys carry water jugs from the local well to their home along the dusty dirt road in the sunny village of Buikwe, Uganda.

Three boys carry water jugs from the local well to their home along the dusty dirt road in the sunny village of Buikwe, Uganda.

Stellar Tumblr photojournalism/photography blog Fotojournalismus posted one of my photos from the village I’ve been working in! Proud to be shown there.