Thursday, May 15, 2008

Life in Entebbe

A fellow expatriate told me when I first arrived in Entebbe that living here was 'not really [the] Africa' that fills western imagination. There are paved roads, ATM's, small grocery stores, and even washing machines in particular households. As I've considered her statement, I've realized that Entebbe is more comfortable than many parts of Uganda, but it still takes a while to adjust to. Every day I'm confronted with sights and experiences that are unique to this part of the world.

On Monday, I cleaned mold off of several pairs of shoes that had sat in our closet for just a couple of weeks. I don't mind this chore, but it is certainly something I never had to do in Florida.

On Tuesday I went grocery shopping at an open-air market with my Ugandan momma (Jennifer). I was buying in bulk that day to stock up for our trip to Kaabong. I purchased 7 pounds of popcorn from a vendor who was selling an assortment of dry goods from large burlap sacks. After buying my popcorn and waiting for my change, I looked down at the sack and realized the popcorn had weevils in it. Not only that, but half the popcorn kernels had holes in them. I showed Jennifer, who promptly complained and tried to advocate for me getting my money back. The vendor would not budge, but stood firmly beside the quality of his popcorn. I had to swallow my pride and walk away, but Jennifer has recently informed me that we're still taking that popcorn back and asking for an exchange of something else. She says I don't have to stand for this kind of treatment. Nobody else here would.

Something interesting I've thought about...although we live on African time here and things tend to go slower...when you're driving, this principle does not apply. People are always in a hurry and will pass on either side of you. Pedestrians and bike riders pull out into traffic and walk/move along at their leisure. It seems that we cater to them. I won't even start on the driving habits of people here, but let me assure you that it's different than how Floridians drive.

On Wednesday we headed to Kampala to do errands and get down to business. A routine oil change turned into a six-hour ordeal and more money than we were willing to part with. The dealership had taken it upon themselves to do a routine servicing without our permission. They did not give us a quote or ask for our consent on anything they did....they just did it and charged us. I don't remember the last time I was this frustrated with someone. Thank God for a patient husband who helps me to cool down and extend grace. My life will get a whole lot less stressful when I familiarize myself with the way they do things here and...just accept it. This is part of the transition from western thinking to African thinking that I'm approaching at a slower pace.

Today, I swept ants and lake flies off the floor, toilet, bath tub, outlets, couch and any other surface they may have landed. I soaked and cleaned potatoes, green onions, and green beans before cooking them. I peeled a pineapple. I cooked a green leafy vegetable that I don't even know the name for (not an English name). I handwashed a towel and hung it out to dry. I filled our Katadyn water filter with tap water, so we would have a nice return of clean water. I rode a 'boda' (motorcycle) to a friend's house for a baby shower and paid the guy 50 cents. Along the way, I spotted people on bikes carrying loads three times their size. Tonight we will go to bed and pull down a mosquito net, hoping for a breeze to cool us off. Yes, Entebbe is a comfy life...but it still has its challenges.

As I finish this post, I hear multiple gunshots a mile or so away. I wonder to myself, 'Am I still in Entebbe'?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Just another day in Kampala...

We enjoy our errand-trips to Kampala, Uganda's bustling capital. Usually they involve a heavy dose of frustrations with numerous graces sprinkled throughout. As long as one can maintain a degree of patience, lack of expectation, and a non-temporal perspective, the ups and downs can be easily managed.

One of our errands this time was to finish the process of getting our Ugandan driver's permits which was begun over three months ago. Now, in what was presumably the final stage of the process, we still had to spend four hours visiting a total of seven different counters in two different offices. Oh, and we have to go back next week to actually get the permits. Nonetheless, we received grace upon grace. Like the woman who kindly looked for and processed our applications which had somehow gotten lost in the system. Like the woman who remembered us from earler that morning and helped us bypass another long line. Like the guy who loaned his pen to this presumptuous mzungu (whitey). Like the three ladies at three counters who processed Amber's application, even though Amber hadn't known to bring her original Florida license.

Lucky us, we even got to show grace a few times. Another of our errands was to purchase a modem for our laptop so we can get internet when we're upcountry. The sales guy at Celtel had told me to come back this week, so that's what we did. The sales lady yesterday told us that she couldn't sell us a modem because we didn't bring our laptop. They insist on testing each modem on its host laptop to avoid the headache of returns or refunds. Later a friend told us that we should just buy the modem; the setup would be easy. Taking his advice, we went back to Celtel and pressed the matter a little more. "We just want to buy the modem, and we can set it up ourselves." That's when she told us that the modems were out of stock. Hmmm. What's the REAL reason we couldn't get our modem? We may never know, but we did experience firsthand what we've been told to expect: relationships are more important than information.

Another errand was to pick up a self-inking stamp I had ordered three weeks ago. Here in Africa, whenever you draft a contract or write an official document or letter, it's very advisable to stamp it with an official-looking stamp. So I designed one that basically had our names, SIL's name and address, SIL's logo, and the date on it. After originally ordering it, I waited a week to pick it up (like they told me to). That's when I found out they were awaiting my response of approval by email. Too bad I never got an email. A day later I got the email, but the design they'd sent me was so blurry I couldn't even make it out. So I came back in and approved it in person. That was last week. Yesterday day we moseyed in to pick it up. Of course, it wasn't there; that would be too easy. The lady at the desk had to call the factory and have the stamp hand-delivered to the shop. Another wait. Finally, about the time my blood pressure started to really rise, the courrier arrived. With great glee we opened the box containing the stamp. He-he! In large boxy letters across the top: TERRILL & AMBER. That's it! No last name. I confess I wanted something official to stamp on all my documents, but I wasn't expecting the stunning officiality of our first names! I can just see the officials of Kaabong District saying 'who's Terrill & Amber'? Ironically, the stamp probably really is official enough for Kaabong.

All a day's work in Kampala.