Monday, October 20, 2008

Tupperware parties, debates, and salsa

As estimated, as soon as my boss returned from overseas things really picked up. So much so that I haven’t posted for over two weeks! I’ll do my best to remember the insanity but I am tired and now on vacation so I reserve the right to forget everything ☺

The Monday that my boss got back we popped right back into work. The hardest part about working in Kampala is that there are always people who need to meet and they will always be late, want to talk about the country, their family, and the weather, and then will take a long time to repeat themselves on business matters. Days were taken up by meetings at the Parliament building with caucus staff, members and leadership, civil servants, and party leaders. This left the evenings to write reports due at the fiscal year close and develop proposals for programs that will be funded in 2009. We would leave the office around 6:30 or 7, grab some dinner, play with my boss’s 2 year old, and then hunker down to write, usually getting to bed around 1 or 2am.

Regardless of the pace, for some reason you don’t seem to mind so much because the work feels so immediate. Writing proposals entails conversations with those it will effect to inform the design. Writing reports means discussing and analyzing the impact of existing programming. In the thick of it, it all seems exciting and meaningful. It also helps that I get along well with my boss, and even at 2am, we managed to laugh through the process. We developed a truly great proposal to improve members of parliament’s constituency outreach and were able to garner some interest from new donors over the original idea.

On the personal front, there wasn’t as much time to hang out with friends and friends of friends but I did still manage to enjoy myself and get some social time in on the weekend.
A few Fridays ago, I headed to the equivalent of a Ugandan Tupperware party. We showed up at one of my friend of a friend of a friend’s houses for dinner where he had assembled a women’s group that makes Ugandan paper beads and fabric bags. Peter’s house was a typical middle class Ugandan house, with open windows and brightly painted cement walls. Our cab driver got lost so we didn’t get there until dinner was over but I still bought a bunch of necklaces and chilled with a very random grouping of people. After about an hour and a half we headed over to a bar called Iguana to meet up with a different group of people. Iguana felt like a giant treehouse with wooden bars and stand tables, couches, and a dance floor. It was open aired with only a roof overhead and was packed with muzungus (white people) and a fare share of Ugandans. We met up with a few embassy people, USAID workers, Clinton Foundation health folks, and environmentalists. Strangely I was the only overtly political worker there. After some time the decision was made to move on and my friends and I piled into one of the embassy guy’s trucks.

Upon realizing that we hadn’t eaten dinner, embassy guy demanded that we go in search of food and we wound up driving through downtown Kampala and stopping at my favorite South African Chicken chain, Nandos (which consequently is just not as good in Kampala). After a ridiculously long wait and what I’m sure was someone spitefully spitting in my sandwich we headed to the Latin bar, owned by a Cuban, located directly above the Irish bar that is called Bubbles O’learly (I really can’t make this stuff up). The Latin bar is mainly a huge outdoor area that pipes salsa, meringue, and regetone for a packed crowd of expats from every imaginable place and a few local Ugandans on the perimeter. It is bizarre.

When talking with folks at the first bar, I had mentioned that I was bummed that our cable was out because I had planned on waking up at 4am to watch the first of the Presidential debates. Embassy guy had excitedly responded…”I’m watching the debates at my place and I have a ton of peanut m&ms!!! (side note: In Uganda it is next to impossible to get good chocolate and even more difficult to get m&ms. You probably could find them but they’d cost something like $10…cheerios do. For this reason, expats crave American or European chocolate like a drug) So come 2am at the latin bar, my friend is ready to go home and I am only considering going to Embassy guy’s if she does. My friend puts up a good fight but embassy guy counters with the following combination, and it’s just too much for her:

- the embassy provides each worker with a ridiculously high perishable goods shipping quota
- He takes advantage of it by buying half of Costco every time he goes back the states and having it shipped to the embassy
- He therefore has trail mix, all sorts of m&m’s, Velveeta cheese (why?), Doritos, Pringles, peanut butter, and every other American “comfort/junk” food you could want at 2am after a night out.

So 2:15am we’re heading to his house to pass or wait out the time til 4. Now I knew Embassy folks were set up in nice places but wow is really all I have to say. His was the smallest of the Embassy pool, but it was more than large and nice enough for a young single guy. He had a yard, a porch with a grill, a big living room and dining room, a kitchen the size of most NY apartments, two bedrooms, and an even bigger back yard. He had decorated the place quite nicely and we all sunk into his oversized couches and passed out for a bit. At around 3:30 we woke back up to get hyped for the debate and were joined by a few other friends. We yelled at the television, rolled our eyes at boring answers, and groaned at missed opportunities until it was over and then around 6am headed home.

I walked into my boss’s house around 6:15am, greeted by her husband and 2 year old son just up and getting ready for the day. I felt a little like a high school kid coming home after curfew. I promptly went to my room and passed out for about 3.5 hours then woke up and decided I needed to be productive…why I’m not sure. My boss took particular delight in poking fun at my slow reaction time and half closed eyes throughout the day. Later that night they hosted a bbq for some of their friends and I attempted to muddle my way through conversations with young parents and wayyy too many small children to be in one place at one time. Great food and good beer though.

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