Monday, September 15, 2008
First comes the rain, then comes the ants
A lot of people have been asking me about where I’m staying and for other descriptions of Kampala. I expected it to be much hotter and more humid than it has been. When I was here last in February it was the height of the hot season and the air was heavier than DC summer. Expecting the same I dress for work in my lightest dresses only to catch a few chills as the sky turns gray, the wind starts blowing and the monsoon like rains fall. Usually I’m told the rain pours for 30 minutes then clears up to a beautiful sky but I have been through two large storms, each dumping for the majority of the day and then leaving a gray and overcast sky. Most days though it is bright and sunny.
A side effect of the rain are the ants. They are everywhere. At a certain point you just have to pretend they don’t exist. They crawl all over your bags, the kitchen counter tops, and floors. If you brush them to the side they scurry on their way, returning a few moments later. I’ve stopped flicking them away. Because of the usual humidity, the vast difference between day time and night time temperatures, and ants, most houses have cement like walls and tile floors. They are easier to wash and care for and keep the house cool in the heat. Windows are always open to allow for cross breezes. Almost no where has air conditioning, though with this weather I’m grateful for it.
Showering is a bit of an art. Even with my country director’s nice house you are dependent on small hot water heaters attached individually to each shower. At night before you go to bed, you flick a switch to heat up the water so you have some in the morning. There’s not much time to wake up though, because the hot water lasts 3 minutes tops then starts tapering into sharply cold. The rest of the house has all the amenities you could want: washer, dryer, refrigerator, TV, DSTV, couches, and a yard. No matter how nice the house or neighborhood, you are always subject to the random power outages. On Sunday the power was out from when I woke up in the morning until 5:45 that night. Most of the time it works pretty well though.
Right now, because of the rain, things are pretty green. Somehow though, no matter how wet it gets, the dust doesn’t disappear. It is a red dust that gets onto everything but is pretty easy to brush off bags and clothing. The western part of the country is even greener and populated with rolling hills and bits of forest. Kampala itself is also pretty hilly as it is affectionately known to be the city of seven hills. Our office sits on Nakasero lending itself to a beautiful view of two adjacent hills and the small valley.
Driving in the city is insane. There few lane markers and no street lights. Every major intersection is broken up by a round about, which makes traffic back up for 15 minute waits. Once you approach the roundabout you put your life in god’s hands and pray that the 20 cars jamming within 3 inches of your door have good enough breaks to avoid smashing you. If you navigate the circle you’re home free. During the morning and evening, the circles are all manned by traffic policemen and women. A few months ago, when the Queen of England visited, the government updated their usual khaki uniforms to a crisp full white outfit with white gloves. With the dust and number of cars it is an odd choice but certainly a unique look for the city.
Food wise, Uganda has a few main staples. Matoke, which is mashed green banana, is used almost as a rice replacement. People often eat it with lamb, beef, fish, or chicken curry, or ground nut sauce (peanut sauce…they call them gnuts, but still refer to the spreadable stuff as peanut butter). They also eat a ton of cassava, and usually top it all off with the Indian bread called Roti (flat, dense, greasy). Many American foods are available but you have to pay. Right now, Rice Crispies in a supermarket costs about $8-10 a box. There are a few fabulous fresh foods though that I can’t get enough of. Avocados are everywhere in every size you could imagine. They also have tons of Pineapples and they are so juicy and sweet. Their mango’s aren’t bad but tend to be pretty small. Apples are very expensive, and their non-imported oranges are green and tart. Lemons are also green.
I think that about covers my impressions of the city. Let me know if there is anything you’re curious about and I can add it on in.