those petty thieves, they can be vicious

Last week someone broke into one of the organizations I work for and stole some random things. I don’t know what the total damage was, but the office doesn’t look any worse for the wear, and the attack doesn’t seem to have been specifically targeted at us.

This morning, one of the staff knocked on my door and handed me an empty jar of peanut butter.

“Someone broke in last week,” he informed me. I thanked him for the news, wondering why I was holding an empty jar of peanut butter.

I only wondered a little bit, though, as this man spends nine hours every weekday doing things like cutting the tops off of coffee filters, endlessly rearranging the two newspapers we keep on the front table (Daily Monitor on top. No, New Vision. No, Daily Monitor.) and painstakingly washing and drying all of the clean dishes in the kitchen.

“I thought they may have poisoned the food, so I threw it all out,” he explained. Oh. Right.

“But I saved your jar for you.”

And then I knew why they hired him: his overwhelmingly thoughtful concern for our safety (I could have died after eating that peanut butter!) plus his immense respect for our personal property (who knows what I would have done without that jar?) make him a truly invaluable employee.

P.S. To the ten people who visited Jackfruity yesterday searching for information about Aga Khan, welcome! Come in and make yourself at home.

National Novel Writing Month

I’ve been out of commission this past week, enjoying the outlying edges of Uganda. Sipi Falls. I highly recommend it.

I’m back and looking forward to honing my writing skills by participating in National Novel Writing Month. Fifty thousand words in thirty days, mostly composed by candlelight during my long, lonely nights in the bush. I’m still not sure what I’ll write about, but I have a hunch it will involve Aga Khan. Jay-Z should also feature heavily.

Want to join me? Go to and sign up. Then go to my page and be my buddy so we can poke and prod each other to the finish line.

romance in k’la city

After six weeks in Kampala, I’ve come to the conclusion that those involved in public transportation – namely boda drivers and matatu conductors – learn basic English questions in the following order:

1. You, where are you going?
2. Muzungu, how are you?
3. Do you have a boyfriend?
4. What’s your phone number?

This phenomenon often extends beyond drivers and conductors to other passengers, who frequently inquire about your marital status before even learning your name. These men have no shame – even if your hair is a mess and your eyes are bloodshot and you’re stumbling through the taxi park at six in the morning, they still see something desirable in you and give it their best shot. It both appeals to your vanity and disgusts you. If you happen to be a single white woman in Kampala, it also leads to the creation of a wide variety of excuses to avoid sharing any actual personal information with them, which can range from “I’m sorry, I seem to have forgotten my own number,” to “Yes, my husband is a professional Norwegian lumberjack, and we raise pit bulls together with our three lovely children” — both of which have come in handy.

Living in Kampala as a white female requires a certain amount of humor and resilience to deal with the constant barrage of redundant pick-up lines. And then there are the times you fail, your mind falters and all excuses desert you, and you’re left having given your phone number to a blue-helmeted boda driver named Edward who will call you every thirty minutes between 6:30 AM and 8:00 PM for the next three weeks.

Edward and I spent a miserable 90 minutes on a boda one drizzly Tuesday morning in a sorely misguided attempt to return to my village from southeastern Kampala. Despite my frantic arm-waving and my emphatic commands to “Stop. This is Bad. We turn around. We go back,” Edward sojourned on to Kawempe, a good 10 km from where I live. When we finally reached my home, he was so apologetic that he knocked 2000 shillings off the price and offered to give me a ride whenever I needed it. Finding a boda willing to take you cross-town and then some for a reasonable price at 6:00 AM can be a challenge, so I accepted and we exchanged numbers. Mistake number one.

Though I’d done my best to explain to him when I needed rides, he began calling me just a few short hours after dropping me off to ask if I could use his services. I answered the first time he called out of curiousity (perhaps I’d left something on his bike?), and the second out of pity and mild frustration (“Thank you, I’m sorry you don’t have any other riders, but I’m not going anywhere at the moment.”). Mistakes numbers two and three.

Though I stopped picking up, Edward kept calling, and the situation grew so dire that I began keeping my phone constantly on silent. Rather than daunting his persistence, my refusal to acknowledge his attentions seemed to increase his determination to reach me. He began sending text messages of the sort that only romance-stricken boda drivers can send: “U wher r u I havnt seen u in so long plz call Edward” and “Hopping u r not sick want 2 see u call me plz.”

The messages eventually slowed and then, one blissful day, stopped entirely, and Edward faded from my consciousness until a couple of days ago, when I made the mistake of picking up another boda from the same stage. Immediately after hopping on the bike, I noticed Edward hunched sulkily over his handlebars, staring at the two of us. As we pulled away, he straightened up and yelled, as only boda drivers can, “MUZUNGU WHY YOU NOT LOVE ME?”

I’m sorry, Edward. My heart already belongs to a Norwegian lumberjack.

aga khan owes me one

After exhausting the locally available restaurant options and gorging ourselves on free wireless at the Speke Resort in Munyonyo, a friend and I decided to spend one afternoon of our three-day weekend (Happy Ugandan Independence Day!) at Didi’s World, an amusement park in Kansanga.

From the outside, Didi’s looks quite inviting, festooned with dual portraits of Mickey Mouse-as-Sherlock Holmes and Alvin and the Chipmunks. It’s not until you pass through the metal gates that it begins to resemble less a great place to take the kids and more Funland, home of sleezy mobs and bloodthirsty carnies.

The entrance hall is decorated with the requisite photo of Museveni (no surprises there) and a picture of a white man swathed in regally sparkling robes (what?). Upon inquiry, my friend and I learned the man was none other than British citizen/Imam of the Shi’a Imami Ismaili Muslims/enthusiastic horsebreeder/philanthropic developer Aga Khan IV. Ah.

The man in the center almost vomited on us.

Question answered, we purchased our admission bracelets for 5000 shillings (approximately $2.75) and forged ahead. The inside of the park was where the Funland-ness started to truly shine through: the six or seven rides were all eerily silent, and the only other visitors were a group of south Asian men, one of whom sported a mesh shirt and alternated between leering at and coming dangerously close to vomiting on us.

Slightly daunted but still wanting to make the best of our afternoon excursion, we hurried onto a pirate ship before we lost our courage. The first couple of back-and-forth sways were manageable, but then the operator stopped the ship to let on Mesh Shirt Man and his companions. We did the awkward, “Hello, how are you, we’re the only people here, isn’t that somewhat odd, haha” nod and then tried our best to ignore each other for the rest of the ride.

This was unfortunately not to be, as Mesh Shirt Man began making uncomfortable faces each time his end of the ship swung into the air. By the fifteenth pass, he was clutching his stomach and grimacing fiercely, leaning over the metal restraining bar and arranging himself so that his vomit, should he vomit, would land right in our laps.

My increasingly nervous friend and I clutched our own restraining bar, scooting to opposite edges of the ship to give Mesh Shirt Man’s vomit as wide a berth as possible. When the ride finally began to slow, we breathed a silent prayer of thanks and ran down the escape ramp to safety.

At this point, my traveling companion was ready to go. I was determined, however, to make full use of our entrance fee, and foolishly insisted that we go on one more ride: the relatively innocuous-looking MonoRail, a three-car train on a small round track in the middle of the park. He gallantly agreed to accompany me, and we ascended a flight of rickety stairs to enter our car. I deserve full blame for what happened next.

The second the rather lethargic operator closed the hatch, we realized that what I had hoped would be a pleasant, relaxing trip around the park was actually more akin to, say, a daytrip through the stage of hell reserved for Bored Idiot Expats Who Should Have Known Better Than to Spend an Afternoon at Didi’s World. The hot, stuffy car circled around and around as we grew more and more claustrophobic. The tinted windows offered nothing more than a hazy view of the top of the restrooms, and the operator was oblivious to our polite requests to, after our first trip around, “Stop, please, we’re finished,” and then, after our third beastly revolution, “For god’s sake, STOP! WE WANT OUT!”

We stumbled out of Didi’s World an unpleasant shade of pale green under our sunburned skin, desperately in need of water and vowing never again to visit an amusement park. Next weekend I’m staying in the village.