Mr. Besigye’s Jinja Rally

When I posted last week, I wished I had photos at the culmination of Mr. Besgiye’s rally. A local friend, Noah, attended the rally and took several photos of the action (thank you Noah).

These photos, combined with what I felt when this same rally took over both lanes of Main Street, make it hard to believe Besigye won’t get elected as president. Of course, that is the intention. Unlike the polite and restricted political photo ops and news conferences in Canada, even my brief and at-a-distance encounter with this very public rally screamed and pulsed with the unfettered joy of lovers who had not touched in months.

I can only imagine what it was like to be at the rally’s climax.

 

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Political Shenanigans

Uganda votes for their president on February 18th: It is election crunch time. Posters advertising candidates are everywhere, and the men (sadly only men) themselves are making their rounds. Dr. Kizza Besigye, opposition leader and strongest candidate next to incumbent Yoweri Museveni, visited Jinja and area today.

The rally blocked both lanes of Jinja’s two-lane and two-direction main street for half an hour or more, its seething mass moving toward the center of town. It began elsewhere in the city in the morning and then toured through the area surrounding Jinja.

Music blared from boulder-sized speakers mounted on trucks. Men and women clung to the sides, tops, and rears of vehicles using anything they could hold on to, dancing and shrieking with envious joy. Boda boda (motorcycle taxi) riders and passengers were so dust-coated their skin had turned the orange-red of Ugandan soil.

I felt nervous watching, but smiled in spite of myself. Such enthusiasm and excitement were infectious, though there was no need to be close (I really have no part to play in the election), so I observed from a safe distance.

I did not see Dr. Besigye in the procession.

A Doxy Lesson

Doxycycline is a daily antimalarial prophylaxis. In fewer syllables: it helps prevent malaria. It is my third line of defense after killing every mosquito I meet and mosquito nets.

It has a multitude of other uses. For example, my skin will be clear of acne, and there is almost no chance I will be harmed by anthrax nor the bubonic plague. Regardless of its other uses, I use it to prevent malaria, so I’m glad it exists and I am happy take a daily dose.

Worth noting, however, is that it must be taken after eating a reasonable meal. “A good bed of food” was the description given by my local coordinator.

…which I learned after I found out what ‘doxy’ looks like on the inside of a toilet bowl.

Netting

Mosquito nets are common in Uganda. The fine mesh draped over bed posts in the above photo is one such net. For those unfamiliar with mosquito nets, their purpose is singular:

They keep mosquitoes out.

…which takes on a greater purpose in the global South. Malaria-bearing mosquitoes are a known quantity here. Fatal if not treated quickly and correctly, malaria is as scary as any other tropical disease and more insidious because of its unassuming transmission medium. As awful as the disease itself is, antimalarial treatment alone is worth avoiding. Many people familiar with “quinine” will attest to psychotic side effects.

Let’s go back to netting, but stop momentarily to talk about doors. It is an accepted fact that doors must be closed to be effective.

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You could drive a bus of mosquitoes through that door.

A mosquito net must be tucked under the mattress to be effective. In this case, the bed’s posts are too far apart to tuck netting under the mattress (thus my original problem). Few, if any, nets of that size would be available.

My first thought was to hang it from the ceiling. That would require purchasing an eyelet to screw into the ceiling. My Scottish blood went pale and clutched its metaphorical wallet. Screws in the bedposts were also out of the question, since my collection of saved and leftover screws, a testament to frugal advice from my Dutch opa, was back in Canada.

I knew my heritage would eventually cave to self-preservation. However, after a long night spent trying (unsuccessfully) to kill a single mosquito inside the net, staring at the bedposts like a lazy lion might watch for prey to walk within claw’s reach, I reached a conclusion.

String.

Impressions

I was asked by a friend to award one thing in Uganda as the “most surreal thing I had experienced so far”.

“Most surreal” in the category of Uganda is a hard award to give singly. Everything is surreal right now. But I have to start somewhere, so let’s trace back to just after I left Entebbe airport:

The drive to Kampala was overwhelming. I stared out the window wide-eyed like a baby handed to a person they don’t recognize. We were on a highway, but it was like no highway I knew.

Road rules were incomprehensible. Right-of-way seemed to be decided by arcane rules and communication that I couldn’t see or imagine.

Buildings occupied almost every linear metre of roadside. Short, squat microbusiness centres, each with at least a half dozen kiosk-sized stores. Three-storey concrete slabs in varying states of completion and repair, some windowless and others palatial. Roughshod sheet metal and wood shacks that sold everything from cellular airtime to “hotel”.

There were no concrete dividers anywhere on this highway. Micro-busses the size of a 1960’s Volkswagen van crammed in more than a dozen people, and motorcycles loaded with impossible cargo darted between and around other vehicles. Both were ever-present, frequently pulling over and crossing lanes to deposit or take on passengers.

Vinyl-wrapped steel sentinels loomed above the wheeled chaos. These billboards seemed a hundred metres tall, brandishing posters advertising the incumbent president Yoweri Museveni, brand name carbonated brown sugar water, and cell phone networks.

Nothing was clarified or comprehensible in Kampala. Intersections seemed to mean, “slow down and force your way in”. There were no crosswalks. We stayed long enough to buy cell phones, eat a late lunch, and deliver a pair of other interns to a hostel.

Darkness coated the highway to Jinja. There were no streetlights. Some of the arcane communication between vehicles became clear. High beam headlights and turn signals spoke a language, but still not one I could understand.

By then I could hardly stay awake. Nightfall, jet lag, and thousands of inexplicable sights consumed every memory of loading into what would be my home for the next six months. Bed was a mother’s embrace, cradling a child burst out crying in a stranger’s arms.

Home Tour

This is my home for the next six months as shown through the eye of a digital camera. I’ve been moved in here for just under two weeks at time of publication.

Amenities include attractively barred windows, fully equipped kitchen, beds, furniture, deadbolt locks (imported from Italy, apparently) on every door that require a key on both sides, television (no cable/satellite/etc), shower water heater (!), and mosquito netting. Walls, floor and ceiling are all concrete, the only wood being interior doors, shelving units, closets, and table legs.

The unit is in a compound with six other units. Compound amenities include a security guard, attractively barred front gate, neighbours with children, roughly 3.7 metre (12 foot) concrete walls with a half metre (~1.6 foot) of electric fencing or razor wire, one dog, and a very nice manager named Medi (probably spelled incorrectly…).

Check each image caption for more detail about each.

What the Hell Am I Doing…

Living in Uganda for six months seems pretty simple until the middle of a 13-hour flight from Toronto to Addis Ababa. Shortly after “The Martian” ended (neat movie, by the way), reality came screaming in as fast the aluminum cigar tube carrying me and three of my fellow IYIP interns.

Six months away from the home I’ve known for twenty-four years. Friends, family, and every creature comfort are now across an ocean on a continent thousands of kilometres away.

My heart lurched at the thought, pounding hard like the engine of an overloaded cargo freighter. An entire life is behind me in a trail of jet exhaust. I thought for a moment about how easy life at home would be.

But then, I would not have an opportunity to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Or see the sun rise over the eastern edge of Africa (sorry, no pictures). Or live and work for six months in a city on the edge of Lake Victoria, mere kilometres from the source of the Nile river. Life would be “business as usual”, and there is nothing wrong with a big helping of the unusual.

Off the Grid

Spending nearly every summer of my life in a cabin less than 10 meters from a lake in the middle of British Columbia has a profound effect. Toilets and sinks fed by pumped lake water, electricity derived from solar panels, propane-powered refrigerators, and an hour’s drive to the nearest approximation of civilization (and at least two to the nearest hospital) all become a reminder that city life is pretty easy.

Sound and noise are different when you’re close to the middle of nowhere. I live close to a highway, so absolute silence is rare. Wind blowing through trees; calls of kingfishers, eagles, loons and ospreys; and occasional boat and ATV motors are as noisy as it gets at the cabin.

There are so many stars at night that I cannot pick out the constellations I could easily point out from any city sidewalk. I am truly sorry that I do not own a time-lapse-capable camera – I cannot show you that night sky.

However I can show you some of the vistas around my family’s cabin by the lake. The following are (very large) panoramic photos that impart a slice of my summers past.

Sunday Roundup – June 8, 2014

Intention. It is the reason why we act – we intend to get a result.

Exactly what the result is, however, is the important part of intention. Intending only to be kind will get the result you want, even if you don’t know you want it.

Treating People with Kindness

Kindness begins with one of two intentions: 1) to receive something in return or 2) for the sake of doing it. Reason 2 is best, as it focuses on one’s own intent.

There is no expectation of return, so there is no chance to be disappointed. Expecting nothing in return makes it more pleasant when one receives something in return anyway.

Pillars of Trust

Business owners will consider Reason 1 first. That is how a business functions: it is intended to generate a profit .

Reason 2 to be kind does not expect return, but that does not mean there will be no return. Being kind with no intention of instant return is more noticeable than one would imagine, and doing so creates stories of trust that are worth sharing.

Clients sharing their own stories about an amazing business works far better than a business telling the same stories. There is no better endorsement than “on top of delivering the goods at the right price, they were exceptionally kind”.

Career Boosters: The Value of Volunteering

“I did it for the sake of itself” is not the best interview content, so the article linked above focuses on direct benefits of volunteering. Though one may volunteer for the sake of doing it, the interviewees make it clear that there are tangible benefits.

Just like being kind, volunteering has more benefits than “more business” or “another sale”. Volunteering is kindness given action – doing good deeds for the sake of doing it. Picking up skills, knowledge, and relationships are side-effects that need no warning label.

Over to You…

Do you give away your time? What about your kindness? Tell a story about the unexpected benefits of your intention to be a good person.

Sunday Round Up – June 1, 2014

Respect usually refers to equal treatment. Treating others as one wishes to be treated, as the Golden Rule states. It seems that some individuals, like Elliot Rodger, create stories driven by a warped sense of respect.

Luckily those stories can create positive change. In this case, Twitter and the Internet at large exploded with stories of violence against women, almost all using the #YesAllWomen hashtag. Two articles caught my eye.

14 #YesAllWomen Tweets Everyone Needs To See

140 characters are enough to explain hell. 14 different hells, in fact.

Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds

My parents did an excellent job of instilling the fact that movies, television, and video games do not depict reality. Though many of them come close to it, the scripts we see in modern media are meant to entertain, not explain how one is to live.

This article grabbed my attention because it calls out some of the scripts that are fed nerds and geeks like me. It reinforces what my parents taught me so many years ago: consider everything I choose to consume and every action that I wish to take. After all, I do not exist in a vacuum devoid of other human beings.

Tomorrow and Beyond

Gender or sex or religion or any other “dividing line” are fine to make note of, but are no excuse for abuse, violence, and rape. Human beings deserve to be treated as human beings – respected as equal partners in the success of our species.