Tuesday, 30 September 2008

moving uphill

In the weeks before I went to Uganda, I was really feeling like my life was an uphill struggle. I had lots of deadlines, lots to do and lots on my mind.

And yes, I know that no deadlines = no work = not enough money = not much else. Maybe I was just tired.

The trip to Uganda really opened my eyes to so many things:

I was reminded how much I love teaching.

I was reminded how fortunate I am.

I was reminded how much joy there is in Africa, in spite of all the issues.

This guy certainly looked like life was a bit of an uphill struggle, but he saw me photographing him as we passed him on the bus, and he flashed the biggest grin!

I was interested to see the different forms of transport, from home made wooden wheelbarrows to bikes to the Buda Buda (scooters with lots of passengers) to minibus taxis to cars. And somehow in the disorder of a city with no urban planning and mostly sand roads, everything seems to work.

But there is a caveat.

Michael Totten's latest post was a timely reminder that no matter how cheerful people may seem, unless the real problems - especially in terms of poverty, urbanisation and health - are solved, the violence and despair that lurks just below the surface could be unleashed at any time.

As he said:

"Senator Barack Obama said something at the presidential debate last week that almost perfectly encapsulates the difference between his foreign policy and his opponent’s: “Secretary of Defense Robert Gates himself acknowledges the war on terrorism started in Afghanistan and it needs to end there.” I don’t know if Obama paraphrased Gates correctly, but if so, they’re both wrong.

If Afghanistan were miraculously transformed into the Switzerland of Central Asia, every last one of the Middle East’s rogues gallery of terrorist groups would still exist. The ideology that spawned them would endure. Their grievances, such as they are, would not be salved. The political culture that produced them, and continues to produce more just like them, would hardly be scathed. Al Qaedism is the most radical wing of an extreme movement which was born in the Middle East and exists now in many parts of the world. Afghanistan is not the root or the source."

There's a link to Michael Totten on the right of my blog page, or go here

Monday, 29 September 2008

strange desires

I saw this sign on a lamp post in Uganda and it really got me wondering. Why, oh why would anyone want to gain a bum?
And what does it mean? A bigger bum? An extra bum?
There were similar signs (with different phone numbers) advertising "Gain hips quickly". Is that to accommodate the extra bum?

I never saw any signs of mutant Ugandans though, so I'm not sure if the business is doing very well.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Soundbites and sacrifice

The Honourable Joseph Mugambe, head of the science and technology committee in the Ugandan Parliament is one of the first politicians I have met that I really enjoy listening to. In the past three days I have heard him speak four times and I'm quite disappointed that he won't be coming to speak again during the workshop. I'd never have believed that I could be sorry when an MP had to stop speaking!

He's a tall man, with a wry sense of humour and he makes speeches that are peppered with a host of wonderful idioms.

Every now and then as he speaks, he drops his voice to almost a whisper and leans forward across the podium so that each member of the audience feels that they - and only they - are privy to a very special secret.

"People say you can take a horse to a well but you can't make him drink," he said. "But why do you want to take him to the well? You need to make the horse thirsty and then he will go to the well for himself."

The early Christians in Uganda were certainly thirsty for the religion the missionaries had brought them, and they were prepared to pay the ultimate price for their faith. Their legacy is an overwhelmingly Christian country where even the most unlikely of shops have names that reflect the faith of their owners: God's Gift Beauty Salon, Praise God Meat Market, Holy Mother laundry...

We had a little time for sightseeing today, so we were taken to visit the Ugandan parliament and the Shrine of the Martyrs, built to commemorate the sacrifice of 22 Ugandan Christians who died horrible deaths in 1887 at the order of the Buganda king. The 22 commemorated at the shrine were the last to die in a concerted campaign which had begun three years earlier.

One of the problems was that Christianity changes people. The converts began to view many of their traditions as heathen and satanic, and their rebellious abandonment of their tribal customs was not met with much approval from the young king Mwanga who saw his power base disintegrating as his subjects transferred their allegiance to a different King.

We were shown round the basillica by a sweet faced Kenyan-born nun who told the stories of each death as if she had witnessed them herself. It was a litany of horrors as the converts were killed in disturbingly imaginative ways.

I took the coward's way out after a while and stopped listening. But I certainly won't forget the 22 men who died at Namugongo and I am intensely grateful for the religious freedom that we enjoy in many countries today.

If you want to know more about the Namugongo martyrs, the official website is here

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Of fear and laughter

I have this theory about South Africa.

I think it has actually slipped into a parallel universe which hovers above the place where South Africa should be on the map.
I'm in Uganda sharing writing skills with parliamentary researchers from 12 African countries and I feel like I have slipped into that warm-hearted, inspirational place that Africa should be.

Those of you who are South African, can you remember when any complete stranger in smiled and greeted you in the street? Have you been made to feel totally welcome and appreciated by any South African recently?

It's such a relief to be treated as an equal and welcome partner, rather than with the hostility and suspicion which has become the norm at home. It's just a pleasure to see people of all races, ages and sexes smile with genuine pleasure when they see each other.

We've had a busy two days and this afternoon we managed to grab an hour to go shopping at the curio market. And it was there that I discovered that there is actually someone miserable in the heart of Kampala. Quite a community in fact!

Marabou storks are almost as tall as me and they stride along the roads of central Kampala like a flock of undertakers in black tail coats, their huge pink wattles swinging obscenely under their arm-length beaks. They speak to each other with dry clacks of their beaks and make nests the size of king size beds in the trees.

They do bring some light relief though ... I had one of my best laughs in ages when one swooped low over the head of the delegate from Ghana. She ran, screaming with a mixture of laughter and terror, "It's going to shit on my head! Help, it's going to shit on my head!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

financial planning

I wanted to share this, emailed by a Safrea (South African Freelancers Association) member.

Financial advice from Michael Millar from The Spectator

If you had purchased £1000 of Northern Rock shares one year ago it
would now be worth £4.95. With HBOS, earlier this week your £1000 would have been worth £16.50, £1000 invested in XL Leisure would now be worth less than £5, but if you bought £1000 worth of Tennents Lager one year ago, drank it all, then took the empty cans to an aluminium re-cycling plant, you would get £214. So based on the above statistics the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and recycle.

PS... If you get this on Sunday, it's because I discovered I can post things in advance. Not because I discovered how to blog from 20 000 feet above Africa.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

heading north

So, tomorrow I fly to Uganda and already I'm awash with useless information. Like, did you know that the word Kampala comes from the fact that there were so many impalas on the plains where it was built?

One of the bits of information that I didn't know was that I'd need a yellow fever certificate, or else they'd inject me at the airport. I'm really scared of needles and I'm really scared of flying and now they're offering me a combination of the two??? Are they totally insane?

(Actually, I'm not scared of flying, I'm scared of dying when I'm not ready. And I'm not ready yet, even if I do end up in a better place than here. And I don't like leaving Greg)

The yellow fever thing was dropped casually into an email from one of the workshop organisers. That I got yesterday at about 8.30pm. And there's nowhere in the Swartland to get a yellow fever injection. And anyway after last year's debacle with Greg's accident I'd rather take my chances with the baggage loader at Entebbe.

(Greg's accident? Long story... he fell through the roof, local doctor said it was a miracle nothing was broken, real doctor found 14 broken bones...)

It's a really pretty virus though...

... but I think I'd rather have the flu. Isn't it beautiful?

It's probably more likely. I remembered I have a yellow fever certificate. I had the injection before I went to Kenya for the Genome conference in 2004. Was it that long ago? It's scary how time vanishes.

Maybe I should be worrying about that instead.

Friday, 19 September 2008

talk like a pirate

Who knew? Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
There's an advert on TV at the moment for a BBC Knowledge programme where the pirate says he is prone to "unnecessary violence". For some reason I find that really comical. Logically it makes no sense, but it makes me chuckle every time.
I'm not nice. I admit it.
The pirate also wears some really strangely fitting pants... he has the widest crotch I've ever seen. Maybe there's a link between feelings of violence and strange pants?
Sometimes the most respected of men are pirates: The picture is of Francis Drake, son of a preacher, first Englishman to circumnavigate the world and long-time enemy of the Spanish. He was one of Elizabeth I's blue-eyed boys. He was also a well known slave trader and pirate. His fortune was made when he raided a Spanish fleet in Panama and made off with all their gold. He left behind the silver, because it was too heavy to carry.
He was also complicit in the massacre of 600 men, women and children in Ulster, Northern Ireland. They'd resisted the English plantation plans in their country and Drake massacred them after they surrended.
He also wore strange pants. But then, they all did in the 14th Century.
(By the way, some of you are getting this on email because I set my blog up to let you know whenever I posted anything. Feel free to opt out. Just email me and I'll take you off the list. And if you go to http://wheatlands.blogspot.com/, you can leave me a comment. Even a rude one.)

Wise words

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.

Franklin D Roosevelt, 1933

Thanks Carol, at wheresmydamnanswer!

Thursday, 18 September 2008


One of the things I do is to lay out the quarterly magazine for St Georges Cathedral. The Anglican Church (maybe just in South Africa, not sure) is celebrating a season of creation, and these facts that were included in the newsletter caught my eye:

"Although South Africa covers less than 2% of the earth’s surface, it has the 3rd highest level of biodiversity in the world.
We share our homeland with almost 300 species of mammals [more than there are in Europe and Asia combined], 1000 kinds of trees [Europe has fewer than 70], 23,200 flowering plants [10% of the total in the world], 800 identified birds [8% of the total in the world], 50,000 insect species, 288 species of reptiles [almost 5% of the total in the world] and 11,000 marine species of which 25% are found nowhere else on earth.
Our beloved homeland – along with all the rest of the planet – is severely under threat. Only 25% of our water systems are intact, 54% are critically endangered and 50% of our wetlands have already been destroyed. 34% of our land eco-systems are threatened – including grasslands, fynbos, forests and succulent Karoo. Officially declared endangered are 37% of mammals, 24% of reptiles, 18% of amphibians, 15% of plants, 14% of birds."

Amazing facts!

Re: that pic

and again...

See! It was worth the wait!

that pic

Here I am, trying another way to upload a picture:
I thought uploading via email would be useful for when I'm in Uganda next week too.

Panic mode!

It's another of those unseasonably wintery days in the Swartland, and I'm in panic mode. Panic mode is when I have way more work than I can cope with. The spin-off of panic mode is that I put my head down and plough my way through all the work until it's done!

You'd think that now would not be a good time to start a new project, like finally getting this blog going. But somehow it feels like now is the time, so here I am, over a year since I set the site up, finally writing the first post.

What was the catylist? A gorgeous birds nest that I saw on vintageprintable.com, thanks to a tip off from Ms Tee, on her blog the delightful home. It reminded me how much I enjoy my daily dose of blog-reading and how much I've discovered since I started. I've tried to upload it, but I seem to be having a technodummy day.

So, let's hope I'm disciplined and keep this going. I have so much to share!