Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Farmers Tan of Doom

The epic saga of my farmers tan, a Hemmingway-esque struggle between my white skin, armed with SPF 60, and the punishing African sun, has reached mythic proportions. In the end, one of us shall fall, and either I will be reduced to blackened cinders, or the sun shall give up in defeat, and, having expended itself, will retire in frustration, casting this continent into darkness. This farmers tan, which I now refer to as the 'Farmers Tan of Doom', is of such staggering contrast that when you see me next you might wonder 'Is that a man or a very macho Zebra?'

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Kids are Alright

I didn't just come to Uganda to be a tourist, I came to hang out with the kids at an orphanage called the Ugandan Jesus Village. I've been asked why I haven't posted anything about them. Well, I've been hanging out with the kids for over a week now, getting to know them and getting them used to me and the camera. I've heard some of their stories, any of which is horrific, and I've spent some time hanging out with them. I wanted to wait a little before I started slapping photos of the kids up on the internet, respect their privacy. So until now I've kept them out of my posts, but I think it's time for some introductions.

Some of the children of the UJV;

The kids are all Acholi's from northern Uganda who were orphaned by the war with the Lords Resistance Army. Many of them were either soldiers or slaves with the LRA, whom they refer to just as "those rebels" as in "Those rebels might just cut your arm off for no reason" or "those rebels killed both of my brothers but I escaped before they got me", both of which are quotes. They mostly range from about 6-15 years old, but there is a 2 year old and an 18 year old as well. They are wonderful kids and all of them seem to be sharp and talented. I suspect that being captured and escaping from the LRA and surviving as an orphan tends to be a rather effective natural selector which is why they are all so exceptional.

As I mentioned, the children are Acholi's, a group who are known as being physically strong and aggressive. The kids are capable of jaw dropping physicality. Watching them while they are dancing, playing football, climbing on things, throwing a ball around, or even just playing marbles is very impressive.

Wherever I Go, There I Am

That amazing, glowing, "oh my goodness, I am in Africa!" feeling has worn off. The incredible sense of newness, that I am in an exotic, foreign place, is no longer there. I am not afraid of the bugs anymore. Nor the dark corners or strange customs of this place. My nose doesn't recoil at the smells. Don't get me wrong, I deeply love it here, I very much love the people, and every day is still exciting. But I now feel acclimated to it, and this is just where my daily life is happening. I'm used to the mud, the hard rains, the dark skin, the accents, the currency. My sense of direction is established and I can tell people how to get somewhere. The Ugandans that I have made friends with have remarked at how quickly I have adapted, fit in. I guess I've made the switch.

The rolling of the ocean, orderly traffic, the taste of Vancouver water, dimly lit restaurants, pampered dogs without fleas, and the smell of the coastal rainforest; those things sound exotic to me, far away. The reminder is that that exciting feeling of newness that one gets in a foreign place is by its nature temporary, transitory. Depending upon how adaptable you might be, and this trip seems to have indicated that I am very, the newness goes away rather quickly and you find yourself just being there, wherever you are.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Africa is Still Alive - Part One

The most striking difference between Uganda and home is just how alive this place is. I know it’s an overused stereotype, but in this place humans are just one species living amongst a constantly roiling tumult of ever moving biological processes, and not really controlling them at all. I think of Vancouver as a very ‘living’ place, with eagles and seals easily visible from my balcony in the AM, huge flocks of geese and crows spread across the city by day, and skunks and coyotes prowling the alleys at night. But this place just brims with life on a much larger scale and it makes our temperate environment, with its clear-cut mountain sides and opportunistic racoons scavenging in the garbage seem frail and cold. One hears stories of how much more life was in North America when Europeans first came; the skies were black with flocks of carrier pigeons and geese and the rivers so thick with fish that they would brush by your hand if you put it in. It feels like it’s still to some degree like that here. Natural life hasn’t lost here, isn’t being managed yet.

The most basic life here is the red earth. I’m not sure if the photos convey it, but the soil everywhere is a deep red/brown colour that stains everything that touches it, kinda like walking on a giant pile of compressed red/brown chalk powder. The soil is so fertile, and because we are at the equator and get 12hrs of sun all year round, stuff just grows. Even though we are technically still in the city, it feels very much like a jungle. Any patch of land that is not in use goes back to forest very quickly. There are patches of jungle, and I mean JUNGLE, sitting between two large buildings on what would just a be a vacant lot elsewhere. Next to my compound is a construction site on which a house is being built. On the day I arrived a truck dumped a load of topsoil for use in landscaping (I noticed this because it was annoyingly loud). 3 Days later the dirt pile, still untouched by the workers has an array of foot-tall ferns and weeds growing from it. Nothing sits useless around here, not even for a second.

My Mom says that you can judge the health of an eco system by the number of birds in the sky. The sky in Vancouver, and even more so in the Okanagan, is filled with birds. Seagulls, crows, pigeons, and occasional ospreys, hawks and eagles. While it seems healthy, it pales before Kampala. This sky here is thick with BIG birds in what I can only describe as a prehistoric throng all across the city. At any point one can look up and see 20-40 forty large birds of prey swooping, swinging, and gliding around overhead. Most common is a hawk called a Kite that is about the size of the bald eagles one sees over Vancouver, but with the commonness of the seagulls. They are huge birds, and strong acrobatic flyers, and are ubiquitously soaring and sailing on the thermals rising off the streets and rooftops.

Even more striking is the Marabou Stork, a pterodactyl like crane that stands about 4ft high and easily has a wingspan of 6 ft. These massive birds are constantly overhead, sometimes swooping as low as 20ft, causing their prehistoric shadow to cross over you. In the downtown, they slowly glide between the buildings and perch upon their edges, gazing down upon the city like skeksies ruling their roost. In the early mornings when they rise, they swoop across the houses and you can hear the whooshing of their wings, and then they let out deep guttural caws like slow, oversized ravens. It’s kind of shocking to see so many large birds living quite comfortably above, and in such a dangerous and chaotic urban environment. I’m quite fascinated by them.

Closer to the ground there are a number of singing birds that seem to be jackdaws or corvids of some kind. They are rather witty and spunky seeming birds and love to sing up a storm. They are at least as sing-ee as any parrot and have at least as many different song elements as my dear pal Amaretto (who I miss terribly, Hi Buddy!). Of course I love bird songs and I think their constant trilling is a lovely soundtrack to this place.

Finally it wouldn’t be the third world without chickens. They are everywhere. Scruffy, mangy, and I believe mostly ‘wild’, by wild I mean without a current owner or keeper, wandering through the streets, gutters, roads, pecking away at the garbage. Walking by an overgrown vacant lot, one can stop and see a dozen chickens, parents and babies, scrounging around through the foliage and trash, almost like feathered rats.