My work is frustratingly boring and I am constantly looking for any excuse to be away from my computer and not writing. So there is a thing, called a bluebell forest, that I was completely unaware of last week. But a friend told me the bluebells were out (flowers for those who are not familiar with the English flora, and pretty ones) and that we needed to go visit a wood she knew about near by. Why of course, had been response, after all, and excuse to be awol for an hour or so is always welcome. I found myself trudging through farmlands into a pretty wood on a sunny day (yes, they do happen). It was worth it, a carpet of blue blossoms among the trees with the birds chirping the soundtrack. A moment of peace and loveliness. Nature is the best doctor.
I was walking home when I realised. It had been an interesting ride home on the late night train. I had just spent the last half an hour failing to suppress giggles, as two ladies across from me cycled through laughing fits, the quiet ones mostly where it gets harder and harder to breathe, and every time they started, it was impossible to stop myself. I love to laugh. The reason for our mirth? The inebriated young lady beside us in the carriage, hiccuping her way through three pastries, blissfully unaware of her surroundings and automatically following her nose home, as I doubt she could see much else through her glazed eyes. Each opening of her mouth as she took a bite, brought with it a louder hiccup. They say you should enjoy the little moments in life.
It had been an interesting evening at the circus. Not the old circus with elephants, and the smell of warm straw and popcorn. New circus, the way it is reinventing itself, with all the same daring and breathtaking moments, and laughter and joy. It was a beautiful reminder why I need to get myself up from behind my computer and move about. Our bodies are amazing things. Capable of so much graze and strength and power and yet, with a simple gesture, a slight change of posture, cause a crowd to burst into laughter. Kin by the Barely Methodical Troupe, they truly are some of my all time favourite circus performers. The circus is far from dead, it has been revived in a wondrous form.
It had been an interesting afternoon. Three foreign ladies including a Saffa shared my class. Usually no-one talks to each other. It was refreshing to go have coffee with perfect strangers in the sunshine. In a city where at least half the people I meet on any given day are not British, never mind even Londoners, it was great to meet a few new faces. Open friendly people who just start a conversation that lasts 3 hours. It was wonderful to be reminded of the joy that easy conversations can bring, even with people who I never knew existed yesterday. Thank you ladies.
And walking home I realised why I love London. Having landed this week back in a cold, rainy, windy city, with too many people in too small a space, returning from a holiday of warmth and friendliness, and the ocean and the sun! How I missed the sun. It was difficult to not succumb to the closing feeling of dreary dullness that is the UK on a grey day, within grey walls, staring at words that won’t write themselves. I forgot in that time why I liked here but now I have remembered. The reason I love London, is that if you walk out your door, take your headphones out of your ears and stop scrolling through your phone, something interesting is bound to happen to you.
I never thought I would want to join the circus, but after just one bite, I am hooked. My friends dragged me kicking and screaming, ok, actually it was shaking and whining, to a flying trapeze lesson. I was a terrified mess, mostly because I hate heights. How is it a good idea to swing through the air so far above the ground with only a flimsy net and a thin line keeping you from your doom? Well it surprisingly is the most fun I have has in ages. Gorilla circus is a company that sets up a full rigging every summer in Reagents park, and on good weather days it is a fantastic afternoon out.
The thing about facing your fear, is that even if I don’t get the trick right, it still seems like I’ve made this huge accomplishment worthy of a medal, just for getting up there and jumping off the platform. I recommend everyone try the thing that scares them the most. You may surprise yourself and go back for more.
With some relief and some regret, I have packed up my Uganda life and returned to the madness that is London. Noisy, crazy London. After you have been here for a while, you don’t notice the sirens, and street noise, and light pollution, but on first arrival it hits you full force. Culture shock, compounded with the knowledge that there are no peaceful holidays in the near future, bring you to your knees while being jostled under someone’s smelly armpit in the tube. Ah, glorious London. After a few days though, when you remember the fastest routes out of the subway systems, and know where to stand on the platforms to avoid said armpits, it slowly comes back to you why you love this city so much. People from every walk of life just going about their business, late night shops, shows, beautiful river banks, majestic museums, strange tourists doing full dress changes in public spaces (yes I really saw that), old friends, new friends and the happy thought that you belong here as easily as all the other foreigners. It’s easy to fit back in and no longer be the Mzungu centre of attention. Back home. Although the wildlife is a little different.
Zanzibar is by far the best beach holiday I have ever had. Blue blue water just like the magazines, sunshine, cheap rates and fantastic food. What more could you possibly need? Snorkelling, sunset cruises, paddling or just a bit of curio shopping, this truly is a great place to go and relax. Not quite so easy to reach, especially if you are travelling from Uganda, but well worth it. I suckered my friend into coming with me, but unfortunately her Austrian training did not prepare her for the heat and humidity of tropical African coastline. I occasionally managed to coax her out of the air conditioning and reposition herself within the waters of the placid, rippling sea.
The snorkelling was amazing with excellent visibility offering up starfish and schools or Dori’s, and although I saw many anemones, I didn’t get to see any Nemo’s. I wondering if we will ever call those fish by their real names again. After 40 minutes in the water though, I had to get out because I was freezing, something my overheated friend just couldn’t grasp. At our hotel, we ordered freshly caught fish one night, and I have never seen that much food prepared for two people in my life. Half a tuna for each of us, with veggies and potatoes, and all of it so tasty, we ate till bursting, and didn’t need any more food for two days.
The people were also amazingly friendly, although many were friendly merely to get you to buy their boat cruise/snorkelling trip/hand crafted key ring etc, but still everyone has the no-worries attitude of life on an island. It isn’t a bad attitude to have and I might one day consider exchanging the madness that is modern city life for a boat and a beach.
The beauty of the moment can not be adequately described, when you stare peacefully into a wild creature’s eyes, knowing full well that he is capable of ending your existence in a heartbeat. You develop a profound respect for the power that the animal chooses not to wield against you and you wonder how anybody can willing hunt down a creature with such understanding on his face; he knows you mean no harm. The experience of trekking gorillas on foot is unparalleled. And as they watch you just as closely as you are watching them, I wonder what thoughts cross their minds.
One hour with gorillas is truely an experience that will last a lifetime. And what an experience we had. We happily saw babies, moms, teenagers and big daddy silverback, so close that we could reach out and touch them. Lazing around, climbing trees, eating, digging in their ears and farting so loudly the bushes shook. They definitely know how to provide entertainment.
The irony of facing nature in this extreme, is that it also shows you the nature of man. One particular man on our trek stood out and amused me no end. I am not a particularly big girl that didn’t stop a middle aged gentleman, and I use that term loosely, forcibly push himself behind me, so as not to be the one facing a second-in-command young male as he started ambling towards us. Chivalry is apparently dead. In fact, I think the gorilla was more polite.
I’ve never been one for bird watching. Little brown jobs are a dime a dozen and my less than perfect eyesight doesn’t really add any real charm to miniscule blobs hiding behind branches. I do make exception for birds of prey – because they are usually large enough to recognise and are often seen flying or standing proudly on tall trees or posts. I also have a bird to thank for spotting lion on one occasion while out on my Sunday game cruise in my former life. I knew Hluhluwe game reserve fairly well and had taken to look at birds and flowers. On one particular afternoon, I spotted a kite floating through the thermals, when my eyes drifted back to earth, I spotted two lionesses looking at the same bird. Quite a sight.
All the same, my best friend is quite a lover of birds and so organising a swamp visit in search of the famed shoebill was definitely on the cards. We all piled into a little boat with a motor that kept on cutting out and scanned the reed filled horizon for a big bird. I just didn’t expect the bird to be quite so big. The size being noticeable as it flew over our little boat – we were spoilt. Brian, that was his name apparently, made a good impression on us. He literally stood still for almost half an hour, only occasionally turning his head to look a different direction. This is how they fish, according to the guide, waiting patiently until some unsuspecting meal swims by. It did give us more than enough time to take a few pictures, even though they all have the same pose. He must think it is his good side.
Every night when I get home, the ladies who work in the guest house where I stay are watching soapies on TV. In Uganda, the “excellent” quality of soap operas include Spanish and Indian versions, I believe the Spanish ones are notorious in many circles and they truly do live up to the rumours. Both are dubbed into English, and the Spanish has the added bonus of simultaneously being dubbed in English and a local language. The local voice is usually one male voice who does all the speaking roles, and tends to describe what is happening on screen, even when no words are being spoken. (“She is starting the car” “She is crying” etc) Understandably, the local guy drowns out the English voice, with the effect that you have no idea what is being said whether English or Luganda – not that it matters anyway in soapies.
Indian soapies are particularly interesting for anyone who has done rudimentary film study at school. They tend to have dramatic moments of close ups and slow motion and required music when nothing is being said, for example, when people are walking upstairs, or everyone is just looking at each other. It is very odd, as I’m not sure what the drama is. Except of course, the bad acting.
Nigerian movies are another personal favourite of entertainment – generally involving witch doctors and curses and people getting married. These ceremonies take up half the film. The length of these is assumed as I never have the patience to actually finish watching, but it does take up my entire dinner time.
Let us not ignore Uganda’s foray into the movie industry. I leave you then with a trailer from their first action movie. The visual effects are fantastic and generally it speaks for itself.
In light of the fact that I will have visitors soon from other countries, I thought I would prepare them with some language adaptations they may need to get around these parts.
Footing (v) – to walk. They footed to the park because they had no money for a taxi.
Balance (n) – your change from a payment. ‘How much balance should I give you’ – if you forgot to negotiate a price upfront.
Mzungu (n) – foreigner or white person. ‘Mzungu, how are you’ – sung by children everwhere
Chapati (n) – flat bread. Snack or breakfast food. ‘Four chapati’s for my Mzungu friends, please’
Rolex (n) – Chipati and an omelet rolled together. Breakfast food.
Private hire (n) – a personal taxi. ‘Do you want me to get you a private hire for the trip home?’
Matatu (n) – public taxi mini-buses. No I don’t want to ride in your matatu, I prefer to foot.
Time (abstract n.) – let’s meet at 9, means let’s meet maybe 10:30
No problem (response to question) – we have no idea if it’s a problem or not but we can see and make a plan, or we can just hope it goes away.
Mmmmmm (mumbled response) – I wasn’t really listening, but I am making agreeable noises.
Caveera (n) – plastic packet. Can I get a caveera to put my stuff in?
You give me 100 (concerning prices) – could mean 100 USD, 100 UGX, 100 000 UGX. Context is everything.
Stage (n) – taxi rank/stop. The matatu you need is at the Kamwokya stage.
Saloon (n) – place where you get your hair and nails done. I must get to the saloon, look how awful my nails look!
I am on the way (expression) – means I am not even dressed yet, don’t expect me for another hour at least. ‘So should I leave home now?’ ‘Yes, I am on the way to meet you now’
Can’t wait till you guys get here!
Our dogs are not with us for long enough. They provide more joy than most people I know and their loyalty is unquestioned. Why do they have to spend such a short time with us? Perhaps even our lifetimes would be too short.
Joss will be missed after a brief period of illness that didn’t give a chance to get used to the fact that she would no longer be licking us, bounding up to us, barking for attention, and generally being the angel she was. It is heartbreaking to let her go. Her energy will be missed in the busy moments and the quiet moments will be that much quieter. Goodbye girl.