Monday, October 24, 2011

Easy. Breezy. Beautiful.

Easy.  Breezy.  Beautiful.

I've always had a thing for cover girls, and Cover Girl cover girls have really done it for me in the past.  My two favourites being

Drew Barrymore

and Niki Taylor,

in that order.

Ok, so Drew's stint as Cover Girl is still in the present, but isn't she lip perfection personified?

This month, October 2011, I add one more cover girl to my list of favourites:  Becca Schwartz.

Oh, WorkZine, you just became exponentially more welcomed in my inbox each month.  Thanks to this exposure, I'm sure Becca will attract quite a bit of attention, and she might have difficulty selecting only one guy among the many who will want to be her suitor.  Well, lucky for us, Becca has put thought into polyandry.

Imagine the law made it mandatory for you to marry four husbands and each had to be from a different country, which countries would you choose from and why? 
US - being American, I’ve found that it’s usually Americans who share the values and beliefs of mine that matter. Plus my mother has informed me that if I have her grandchildren and keep them somewhere in Africa, I will be dead to her - this way, my American husband could keep the grandchildren in the US, close to Jaja. 
Senegal - It’ll give me a chance to work on my French and Wolof skills and (assuming I also get citizenship in Senegal with the marriage) free travel within ECOWAS - important for business. When I lived in Senegal, I was proposed to at least 3 times per week so it may be good to actually take one of these guys up on it someday. To be clear, it wasn’t really that I’m all that, it was that I may hold the key to a magic visa/green card for them. Also, Senegalese men tend to be quite tall and handsome. 
Sweden - I’ve got the dark and handsome with the Senegalese fellow so I’ll even it out with light and handsome from Sweden, you know the model type. Plus the EU passport will come in handy. 
Uganda - I’ve lived here too long not to include one of you guys. I guess maybe you’ve grown on me :)

Isn't it so cute, the way she is able to speak using emoticons?  Not only is she cute, guys, but she can probably out sing all of us in a Rent sing-a-long, and she's an expert in solar power marketing.  She can light up your life.




Cover girl!

That's enough about Becca ( I gush, I gush).  I want to give a bit more credit to WorkZine.  I began receiving it around edition 28 (Becca's issue is 37).  I really like the concept and the platform they give to writers (seasoned and those learning the ropes, yet have something to say).  Check out their website:  You can also listen to a podcast of an interview with the managing editor of WorkZine, Abid Were.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

...the best dressed rebel in history.

...the best dressed rebel in history.

(Insert nominee's name here)

I'm just kidding.

The Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon is one week away!  Stacy and I have put in the training (she perhaps better than I), and it's hard to believe those four (plus) months of literally pounding the pavement have passed by so quickly.  Back are the days when 21 kilometers constitutes a "short run".  I wish I could say that gone are the days of extra flab on my stomach.  It seems I've become leaner in almost every other region of my body except the stomach area.  Lipo might be the only solution for that pesky area.

I declare this week a week of rest and healthy eating... Let's see how long that lasts.  I hope I'm more successful at this than living off of 300k for one month.  I only have seven days to try and live right.

I'm already sort of failing.  My goal is a 9:30pm bedtime, and it's almost 9:45.  To be fair, I am writing this blog post in my bed.  Wearing only a pair of thin boxer shorts.  (How's that for an image in you head?)  So technically, I've achieved my goal for the day.

This post will be short and sweet.

There's just one more book quote I'd like to share, then it's lights out.  Or maybe I'll squeeze in another few pages of The Satanic Verses.

"You're going to be the best-dressed rebel in history," says Gale with a smile.  (pg 43, Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins)

I read all the Hunger Games books earlier this year.  Please, believe the hype; it's a fantastic ride.  Gale gives my favourite quote of the entire series in the third book, Mockingjay.  I love the satire of our obsession with celebrity and style.

Seriously, though, a great book club discussion could be guided by the question:  Who is the best dressed rebel in history?

Friday, October 21, 2011

But no one ever asked mammy how she felt about it.

But no one ever asked mammy 
how she felt about it.

I recently finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  The verdict:  I liked it.  However, I wasn't sure I would.  It came highly recommended by Sybil.  However, I read one person's opinion that referred to one of the main characters, Skeeter, as "weak... when she finally started dating" and I didn't think I could handle a southern-belle version of Bella Swan.  Well, Sybil's recommendation and the hype surrounding the film version won out, and I downloaded the book.

I finished reading The Help more than a week ago, and I planned to blog about it, but I never got around to it.  This morning, I was lying in bed finishing up the second season of Glee, watching the prom episode, and the result of Kurt Hummel winning prom queen provided the catalyst for me to finally write this post.

So Kurt was declared prom queen, and he fled the auditorium/gymnasium/wherever the prom was held in tears, pursued by his boyfriend, Blaine.  And this is what Kurt had to say:   "We thought that because no one was teasing us or beating us up that no one cared. Like some kind of progress had been made. But it's still the same ... All that hate, they were just afraid to say it out loud, so they did it by secret ballot."  It's a very touching scene of the show, and I recommend you head over to right now and watch it.

This scene with Kurt and his resulting sobs to Blaine made me think a statement that Mae Mobley makes to Aibileen on page 392 of The Help:  "Miss Taylor says kids that are colored can't go to  my school cause they're not smart enough."  This remark from a fictional child in 1964 to the woman who cared for her struck me like that proverbial ton of bricks.  1964.  In Mississippi.  I grew up in Florida, graduated from high school in 1994 (30 years after The Help is set), and remember being told very similar statements, in Sunday school of all places, as late as the early 1990s (a harsh reality to face, such bullshit was still institutionally passed on in America... how many years after the Civil Rights movement?).  Reading Mae Mobley's words in 2011 brought back a wave of memories I had repressed of the racist indoctrination I received growing up.  (By the way, the Sunday school teacher who pompously expounded on my intellectual superiority base on the lack of melanin in my skin, had a black dog named Ni**er and sons who trick-or-treated dressed as Klansmen in white robes.  Such fond memories of my home town!)  And being a fairly sensitive person, I really needed to discuss the feelings that were triggered by this.  I was surprised by my current naivete and a little shocked that the the same lies that were used to teach racism to children in the 1960s was still being used to teach racism to children in the 1990s.  My assumption is that the lies are still being propagated to children today.  (How's that for optimism?)  Since Sybil is the one who recommended to book to me in the first place, I went to her with my thoughts and emotions (I hate using that word).  And she said to me,  "It just goes to show you that despite all the progress we claim to have made, shit ain't changed."

Like Kurt said, "We thought that because no one was teasing us or beating us up that no one cared.  Like some kind of progress had been made.  But it's still the same."

The same.  Yeah, the hatred still abounds.

Below is a quote from one of today's online discussions about the recent death of Gaddafi and the reactions/comments of people from around the globe.

"Well, at least now i know that arab africans are called 'sand niggers'...oh, how developed is the west!"

Was that a vocabulary lesson she really needed to have?

It gets depressing.

Nobody likes to see a crazy lady with an axe in her hand.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pink Cupcakes and Black Bosco

Pink Cupcakes and Black Bosco

Last weekend was better than I could have planned.  The 32 kilometer run that turned into 28 km instead still left me buzzing with endorphins for the rest of the day.  Becca was, as usual, a pleasure to meet for dinner.  Sunday's pink cupcakes bake and delivery left me with a smile and reaffirmed that I have amazing women in my life.  (Keep squeezing your boobies, girls!  Not just in October.)  Sunday evening I reconnected with an old friend, and that truly brought me happiness.  As Angela stated it earlier that day, "It's hard to find amazing people, but somehow we do.  And it's like a miracle every time!"

Another small joy that contributed to the culmination of a fabulous weekend was reclining back in my comfy-chair under a throw blanket and reading The Ballad of Black Bosco by Ernest Bazanye.  I mentioned Ernest on my blog once in a post back in 2007.  Keeping up with his blog address can become your new pastime.  But his writing and brilliant social commentary are the treasures at the end of the wild goose chase.

The Ballad of Black Bosco is a pretty impressive novella; it even has it's own facebook page!  According to which, it is about "two Kampala boys.  One becomes famous, the other becomes rich."  Bazanye describes the process of not finding a publisher in true Bazanye wit on his blog:

What does a novelist do when he or she (he in this case) finds himself in a country  where neither Penguin, Random House, Barnes nor Noble ever set foot? Does he fly to America? But he wasn’t given a visa. So does he then not write the novel. That’s what I did. 
Or that’s what I thought. Until the idle typing I had been doing in between bits of actual work at office began to take the shape of a real story and not a blog post, so I just went ahead and wrote it. I had a novel there. 
So, what does a novelist do when he has a novel and Random House, Penguin, Barnes and Noble still haven’t called? He lets the novel gather dust on a C-Drive somewhere.
Actually, I wrote this so long ago, the computer I typed it on is actually junk now. It was in 2007 those prehistoric ends. 
So what does a novelist do when he finds it on a backup CD and thinks, hey, someone might enjoy reading this? 
He puts it up online and says, well, if you want to read it, please take a look. It’s funny. You might like it.

Like it, I did.  

I even highlighted some quotes that left me LOLing and ROFLMAO using my new, nifty Kindle:

  • "I knew that voice.  I had to turn the radio up really really loud for that woman I recall.  I remember I had to switch from the BBC to Capital FM to drown her out, and ended up having to listen to Celine Dion for an hour."
  • "Al fresco means it is outdoors but there are no flies."
  • "Doc asked the hooker on his lap to move her hairweave out of his face for a minute so that he could make his point that it was wicked and vile."

And my personal favouite highlight:
  • "Why do we need Ugandans to sound like Americans?  The market for American accents has alredy been cornered.  By Americans."

Bazanye's masterful skill at writing in that horrible Ugandan-style-fake-American accent led me to wonder if he were guilty of penning the finger-nails-down-a-chalk-board irritating script for that ad from our-logo-is-the-colour-piss-after-several-days-of-not-drinking-water-and-you're-super-dehydrated-after-a-night-of-binge-drinking telecom company.

My favourite quotes may not make much sense right now, and that is because they are out of context.  I know.  So take advantage of the free download of The Ballad of Black Bosco and have a laughter-filled read over the weekend.  And as our friends over at The WorkZine say, "After you download and read, please go [to] the Facebook page of Black Bosco here and tell the writer to not make you laugh like that again."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Musing Over Moon Over Manifest

Musing Over Moon Over Manifest
(Or if you like acronyms:  MOMOM.)

I took advantage of the two days I've had to take off from work thanks to my viral friend, influenza (kind of a pretty name, don't you think?) and finished reading Moon Over Manifest. When I started the book, I wasn't sure I'd like it. Depression era and the Midwest do not make my favourite setting for a story. The Wizard of Oz was bearable because Dorothy Gale wasn't in Kansas anymore.

Well, I'm glad I read it. There's a reason it won the Newberry Medal and was a New York Times Bestseller. Some of the best writing is on page 144:

...I thought I knew a thing or two about people. Even had my list of universals. But I wondered. Maybe the world wasn't made of universals that could be summed up in neat little packages. Maybe there were just people. People who were tired and hurt and lonely and kind in their own way and their own time...
...I admired how Ruthanne knew what I did not. That Lettie hadn't had her fill of gingersnaps. With six kids in their family, she had more than likely given up her own cookie and traded something for an extra one to share with us... 
...If there is such a think as universal--and I wasn't ready to throw all of mine out the window--it's that there is power in a story. And if someone pays you such a kindness as to make up a tale so you'll enjoy a gingersnap, you go along with that story and enjoy every last bite. 

Moon Over Manifest was a story within a story that detailed the making of a story. Yes, that's right. You'll need to read the book to get what I'm lousily trying to explain.

The makings of a good story, as described in MOM 

  • To write a good story, one must watch and listen 
  • When she tells a story, she's sort of removed from them.   She's the storyteller. 
  • Telling a story ain't hard... All you need is a beginning, middle and end. 
  • As much as I had a need to hear her story, she had a need to tell it. It was as if the story was the only ablm that provided any comfort. 

Two more quotes I have to throw in for good measure:

"Sometimes, when folks move on, it's hard to look back.  It's not their fault."

"The Baptist church, normally home to only the purest of Manifest citizens--meaning the ones who had parents and grandparents and even great-grandparents born in this country--was suddenly filled with strangers.  Each held his or her own jar or jug of either Velma T.'s elixir or Shady's whiskey."

Reading Moon over Manifest was a real treat. Abilene Tucker is part Tom Sawer, part Jean Louise "Scout" Finch and altogether a very memorable character.  Part of the ending was perhaps sweeter than I would have liked, but there was a twist I did not expect.  And yes, I did have tears in my eyes as I approached page 342.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Spewing Words Like Spray Paint from a Can

Spewing Words Like Spray Paint from a Can

"Blogging's not writing.  It's graffiti with punctuation."

I saw Soderbergh's latest film, Contagion, yesterday afternoon.  It's been described as a 'cold' film, and that's probably why I enjoyed it so much.

Now, going to a public toilet to urinate after watching Contagion, I did not enjoy that experience quite as much.  The friend I went to see the film with would not use his bare hand to open the door to the restroom; he used a handkerchief shield.  Über cautious?  Or just plain smart?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I quit.

I quit.

After only nine days of my intended-to-be-month-long experiment. I quit.  I don't know how they do it.  I do now know how Ugandan school teachers live on their salary in the current economic atmosphere where inflation is 21.4 percent.  Even being generous, not including rent or house cleaning services in my budget, I found out I cannot make it on only 300,000 Uganda shillings per month, not in Kampala.  Sure people do it, but life should be more than just survival, and as I mentioned before, there is a BIG difference between filling one's belly and being properly nourished.

And properly nourished I've not been.  That was a hard reality for me to face on Thursday evening when I was on my evening run (of only 6.4km), and I found it almost too difficult to complete.  Skipping meals does not facilitate marathon training.  As I realised how spent I was and unhealthy I was becoming, I considered pressing on, like the guy in Supersize Me when he discovered the severity of the health risks that sprung up during his McDonald's experiment.  Then I came to my senses.  It's just not worth it.  Yes, it's easy to assume that I live high on the hog and that's why I failed.  Assume what you like, but even James Mwase, the chairperson of UNATU, Jinja branch says that a teacher's salary cannot buy them maize flour for 15 days.   

There's a lot more the salary cannot buy.  At the point of quitting, my flat was without:
  • fresh vegetables;
  • eggs;
  • laundry soap.  (A friend recently questioned the frequency in which the drivers employed by her agency washed their clothes, pointing out their odoriferous state.  I asked how much the drivers were paid.  She wasn't sure but speculated around 400,000 UGX per month.  I replied, "Exactly."  If she wanted better smelling drivers, their earnings would either have to be altered or the soap could be provided to them.  When you can barely feed your family, fragrant laundry soap is not a priority.) 
Basically, I was out of the basics.  Nothing fancy.

Other things that really cannot be afforded on the current salary are newspapers and books.  I strongly believe that keeping up with what's going on in the world and sharing it with my students is a very important role I have as a teacher; therefore, access to this information is crucial.  Reading culture, reading culture, reading culture.  I've heard this term thrown around in Uganda since I arrived in 2002.  How are teachers going to recommend or get children excited to read books they've never read, seen, heard of?  How are people going to find time to read if they are too busy battling starvation and just trying to survive?

It has been said that an increase to the teachers' salary would be 'subversive to national development'.  It's also said that an increase of less than 50 percent can heavily impact the economy.  We're talking about an increase or salary of less than 300,000 UGX (just under $100 US) each month.  Is it really the teachers' salaries that are subversive to national development and heavily impacting the economy?  Come on.

Quality education comes with several price tags, and one of the greatest investments a school, district, nation has to make to deliver a quality education is in its teachers.  

Wednesday, September 07, 2011



Under the headling:  Teachers Divided Over Strike was this photo

with the caption, "An American volunteer helping to teach pupils... on Monday."

I still hope this is a stock photo with an incorrect caption.  In case you're unaware, teachers have been on strike, demanding a salary increase.  To sensationalise it, the media are reporting that teachers are demanding a 100 percent pay raise, emphasising the 100 percent.  The reality is, considering what they currently earn (273,000 UGX per month before taxes), even after doubling their salary, it will still be very low; they're actually not asking for much, especially when you consider that some people working in public office earn 15,000,000 UGX or more each month.  100 percent of very little is still very little.

It would really make my blood boil to know that this volunteer whose 'intentions were so pure', instead of relieving poverty, is actually tightening its grip by undermining teachers' efforts to earn a livable salary in Uganda.

Call it what you like.  I call it a scab.

Whose needs are being met?  The children's to learn?  The woman's to feel she's doing good?  The teachers' to be able to eat and support their families?

Where are Jack "Cowboy" Kelly and David Jacobs when you need 'em?

...that we got a ton of rotten fruit and perfect aim.

A summary of today's expenses:

3,000 UGX for lunch

Total: 3,000 UGX

Remaining with 199,700 UGX

Tip for those low on cash flow:  keep busy at work.  The more you work, the better you can ignore hunger and the less time you'll have to go somewhere you'll be tempted to spend money.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Pre-8pm Crash

Pre-8pm Crash

So, I'm reading this fantastic book,  Moon Over Manifest.  Problem is, I'm suffering from exhaustion.  8:00pm, and I'm out like a light.  The plus side:  I spend no money.

A summary of today's expenses:

3,000 UGX for lunch

Total:  3,000 UGX

Remaining with 202,700 UGX

Tip for those low on cash flow:  go to bed early.  Boring?  Yes.  Inexpensive?  You bet your ass.

Back on Track

Back on Track

Well, sort of.

A summary of today's expenses:

3,000 UGX for lunch
5,900 UGX for dishwashing soap

Total:  8,900 UGX

Remaining with 205,700 UGX

Tip for those low on cash flow:  birthday parties are manageable with loans from friends.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Expensive Diversions

Expensive Diversions

I never really realised how expensive my running pastime was until I restricted myself to a very limited budget.  I run.  I'm training for a marathon.  I assumed that after covering the biggest training expense, the shoes, running would be pretty cheap.  

One word:  hydration.

I blew 9,700 shillings today on rehydration/refueling alone.  Then there was the expense of getting from the ending point of my 21km run back home.  I did public transport, took a taxi, and that cost me an additional 1,000.  So just over 10,000 shillings, my maximum daily budget, was spent before midday today.

This really got me thinking.  If I'm spending this much money on simply keeping myself healthily hydrated, how is the average teacher in Uganda able to keep a healthy diet?  There is a BIG difference between filling one's belly and being properly nourished.

In only the four days I've been conducting this experiment, I've caught myself cutting back on or skipping meals entirely in order to keep my daily expenses low.  I'm discovering that it is exceptionally difficult, if not next to impossible, to eat adequately on the salary that the teachers are currently earning.

So, it's been reported in the paper that "the government, beginning tomorrow, will use its head teachers to roll-call all its teacher" and that absent teacher are to be punished.  But who's going to roll-call the head teachers?  From my own experience, I'd expect it to be more likely to not encounter a head teacher at school than there be absent teachers.  I worked at a school where the deputy head teacher pretty much only showed up on the first day of school and never appeared again, yet he still drew his salary every month.  There was another school I worked with where the head mistress missed 13 out of 20 school days, repeatedly.  I won't deny absenteeism of teachers also being a problem.  However, many times when I'd discover the whereabouts of teachers who was not at school, I'd find them digging in a garden.  Hmmm...  I wonder why?

I must be honest and confess that I splurged tonight.  My friend, Barbarah, is in town from Malawi.  I've not seen her in over a year.  Another friend from Uganda who lives in the US is also in town, so we all got together at Katja's Kitchen in Bugolobi.  How could we not, right?  Yeah, my budget for the next week is ruined.  I spent 25,000 on my meal and drinks.  Yikes!

A summary of today's expenses:

9,700 UGX for hydration
1,000 UGX towards transportation
25,000 UGX for dinner splurge
6,300 UGX for milk and tomatoes

Total:  42,000 UGX

Remaining with 214,600 UGX

Tip for those low on cash flow:  stay away from restaurants of any form.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Day Three, with Failure in Sight

Day Three, with Failure in Sight

Day three of my little experiment has left me less-than optimistic about it's outcome.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to fail to get through this month on the 300,000 shilling budget I gave myself, and that might be a good thing.  I'm thinking that might be what I intended to prove in the first place.

While staying on a tight budget is proving to be very difficult to me, my determination has led me to be a bit more creative with my Saturday activities.  Staying at home would be too simple, and, let's face it, dull.  So free activities I found myself doing today:

  • visiting Afriart Gallery and drooling over new works of art by Ronex;
  • visiting Ivuka Arts and narrowing down my search for an Anwar painting to three;
  • and a book orgy at Isha's.

Babs has arrived in KLA and is as gorgeous and fabulous as ever.

A summary of today's expenses:

5,000 UGX for beverages with a friend
20,000 UGX towards tranportation

Total:  25,000

Remaining with 256,600 UGX

I'm going to end this post with a clip from Maurice's show last night.

I'm afraid I'm gonna need an angel to carry me through the rest of this month.

Tip for those low on cash flow:  adopt the mantra, Free is for me!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Maurice's Night

Maurice's Night

Completely spent and exhausted after only two full days with the kids back at school, I went home to catch a quick disco nap before the Maurice Kirya concert at the Serena Hotel tonight.  (No, I've not fallen off the 300k wagon; I've had my ticket to the show for weeks now.)  Over the years, I've seen Maurice perform several times and in various venues.  Maurice is a gifted live performer; his talent and the energy from his shows has not yet been captured in his recorded music.  His has always been a fantastic show to catch, and tonight was no exception.

madandcrazy did a live blog of the build up to the show and then the show itself.

If you were not one of the fortunate ones who attended the show last night, head on over to madandcrazy for a periodic breakdown of the evening.

At one point in the show, Maurice channelled Chris Kattan's SNL Antonio Banderas.

Yes, when the performance hall was boiling, Maurice threatened to unbutton his jacked... and. then. he. did.  Too sexy!  Too sexy!

I've also got to mention that when the bodas came on stage during the performance of, you guessed it, Boda Boda, I was taken to the arrival of Maureen Johnson to the 11th street lot during a live performance of Rent (at 5:30 in this clip).

The only thing to do is jump over the moon.

In order to continue with my experiment, I skipped any and all after-partying and came home.

A summary of today's expenses:

3,000 UGX for lunch
6,000 UGX for beverage at venue

Total:  9,000

Remaining with 281,600 UGX

Tip for those low on cash flow:  make friends who know people.  

Thursday, September 01, 2011

1st September

1st September

3,000 UGX for lunch
4,000 UGX for transportation
2,400 UGX for water and milk

Total:  9,400 for the day.

Remaining with 290,600 UGX

Tip for those low on cash flow:  learn where the free stuff is.  I spent the evening at an art exhibition where there was an open bar and finger foods came around quite regularly.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

300K Challenge

300K Challenge

I can blame this wild hair on expressive and modern dance revolutionary, Isadora Duncan. She's the one who said, "What one has not experienced, one will never understand in print." Perhaps some of the blame goes to Break Away. If they would have left that damn Benjamin Franklin beer quote on the ABCs' t-shirts back in 2001, Isadora's quote might never have come to my mind.

Ok, so the plight of Ugandan school teachers has been getting a lot of press lately. With the soaring cost of living, they are finding it hard to live on the meagre monthly pittance they receive, some as low as 273,000 Uganda shillings (approximately $98 US). Being an educator myself, and having worked closely with primary schools in Uganda as a Peace Corps Volunteer (2002-2005), the cause of Uganda's school teachers is near and dear to my heart. Sadly, even as a Peace Corps Volunteer working in rural Hoima more than 9 years ago, I received about 100,000 shillings more per month than what teachers are earning today. Even more sadly, inflation in Uganda is a bit OOC these days and is currently around 21.4 percent. Ouch.

I left volunteer life over six years ago, got me a bit more education and experience and now have a pretty good position at an amazing international school in Kampala. I'm not going to specifically reveal my current income status, but I will indicate that it is well over 20 times that of a teacher in a government funded UPE school in Uganda.

So here's the challenge: live on 300,000 Uganda shillings in Kampala during the month of September. Why? I want to better understand what I read about in the Monitor, what the teachers are going through.

I'm not so naive that I believe it will be the same thing. There's no way. My rent (already paid through November) is more than triple the school teacher's monthly salary. I refuse to un-employ my housekeeper just because Isadora Duncan inspires an experiential learning experiment, and there is no way I could pay her on 300,000k if that's what I really earned, so her salary is not included in that. However, all utility bills, food, transportation and entertainment will be.

My goal is to blog each day about my experience and give a breakdown of my expenses.

Are you ready?

I'm not sure if I am.

First a month a fasting, now a month on 300k. October better be decadent.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The President of Ramadan?

The President of Ramadan?

So Ramadan has ended, and many people in Kampala (and the world) celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr today. One of my favourite activities to observe on this day are the Muslim families dressed in their flowing clothes walking together to prayers in the morning. The colour scheme includes a lot of black and white, but it is mingled with rainbows of colour with sparkly sequins thrown in for good measure.

Apparently, there are some significant health benefits to fasting, so I decided to get in on the fasting action during Ramadan this year. Plus, I was curious and just wanted to share the experience with some of my Muslim friends and colleagues, to know what they physically go through during the 29-30 days of this month. I was raised Mormon, and my family fasted the first weekend of every month, so fasting was nothing unfamiliar to me. What was unfamiliar to me was fasting for multiple, consecutive days.

Oh, and have I mentioned that I'm training for the Nairobi Marathon in October? Fasting. Long-distance running. Not a great combination. And I'm not the wisest person, so I put them together anyway. When a friend of a friend heard about what I was doing, he insisted that I could not (not should not, but could not) fast and keep training. On that particular day, I was feeling very Will & Grace-ish and I asked, "Who made Ali the President of Ramadan?"

My level of maturity astounds me sometimes.

Over the past month, I became obsessed with two activities: fasting and running. What was originally intended to be a one-day experiment turned into 20 days of the 29. I know, crazy, right?

Luckily, for most of Ramadan, I was on holiday from work, so I could spend many hours lying on a bed, watching dvds. But all convenient things come to an end, and returning to work was a true test of my stubbornness, or will power; call it what you like. I honestly do not know where the energy came from. Obviously not from glucose.

Well, today marked the end of Ramadan and the beginning of a new month. Families went together and prayed. I went to a coffee shop and had a hamburger. Ok, later I was invited to a Muslim friend's home for 'pilawo'. I truly felt honoured as this was the first time I'd ever been invited to share in Eid-ul-Fitr festivities. One of my favourite parts of sharing food on the rooftop deck of his house: seeing the neighbour's cows eating out of an old bathtub.

I think my heart's more likely to benefit from my regular running than from my sporadic fasting, but my time fasting (and being tired and a bit weak) did give me time to reflect on many areas of my life (some I'd intentional avoided reflecting upon in the past) and to also appreciate how fortunate I am to be able to make the choice to not eat a meal or two. I was hoping to be humbled and shed a bit of pride. Maybe I did, but I still find myself too easily provoked and ready to quarrel with security guards that want to scan me with a metal detector wand even when I'm in my skimpy running clothes. Where the hell am I gonna hide anything?

Thursday, August 25, 2011



I recently finished reading The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson.

I'll make my review in four words.

Best. Coffee. Advert. Ever.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

...but not as sweet as

...but not as sweet as

Long before the Orlando set of The All New Mickey Mouse Club was graced by the divine presence of Ms. Britney Spears, there were DeeDee, Tiffini, Chase, Damon and Albert, who later evolved into The Party--Hollywood Records' premiere recording act. One of the singles (I think the third) from their debut album, The Party, was Sugar Is Sweet, as ballad as sugary sweet as its title suggests.

The song compares the sweetness of sugar to the sweetness of honey, but we all know that pound for pound, honey is sweeter, literally and figuratively. Consider, when sugar cane is processed to produce sugar,

"the organic acids, protein, nitrogen elements, fats, enzymes and vitamins are extracted or destroyed; on the other hand, hydrochloric, phosphoric and sulphuric acids, lime and other foreign substances are added. While honey is Nature's own sweet, untouched by human art, sugar is a concentrated, denatured and polluted substitute, a produce, as a rule, of sugar-cane, robbed by superheating of most of its natural and valuable constituents. Honey and other simple or natural sugars, like that in dates, figs, raisins, etc., are live physiological sugars which contain the germs of life, while industrial sugars are anti-physiological, dead or, as a matter of fact, murdered sweets."

It's a mistake to lump sugar into the category of "food" because it has no nutritive value. In fact, the current misuse (shall I say abuse?) of sugar can be referred to as a modern nutritional disaster. While one might feel disappointed to not be able to plunk 4 spoons of sugar in his/her cup of tea, or a parent may whine and complain that his/her child will not drink milk or whatever without added sugar (I worked with a woman whose child refused to drink water!!! unless it was laced with juice or some sweetener), it is absolutely not necessary for one's survival. The reality is that too much sugar can make one's life a bit less pleasant. Diabetes, anyone?

I mention honey because it is a realistic substitute for sugar. Bee keeping has been practised in Uganda for over 200 years, and some pretty fantastic honey is produced; my favourite is from Kisoro. Not only does it have a higher nutritive value and anti-microbial qualities than sugar, frankly, it tastes better in a cup of tea. In addition to honey, Uganda is blessed with so many natural sugar alternatives, that lowering the cost of table sugar should not be enough motive to destroy old-growth forest.

As B put it yesterday:

"Cheaper sugar or save Mabira Forest? Let's save Mabira Forest!"

Oh, and by the way, not only did The Party's DeeDee make an amazing Nessa in Wicked,

she clock quite a few performances (to put it modestly) as Kim in Miss Saigon.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Oh, What's Love [of Sugar] Got To Do With It?

Oh, What's Love [of Sugar] Got To Do With It?

Perhaps it is a little bit tacky to attempt to link the tune and question posed by Ms. Tina Turner in 1984 to the sugar/Mabira Forest controversy of 2011, but that's what's stuck in my head. It's like a far inferior remix. But the other day when I was on one of my marathon-training runs, my training partner kept asking the question: What's sugar got to do with it? Tacky is what tacky does, so there it is; I did it.

From yesterday's headlines: Mabira must go, Museveni tells district officials. (I acknowledge that the Press Secretary has claimed the President was misquoted, but as a commenter on the article put it, "We all know what the president said...") Misquoted or not, Mabira Forest is once again in danger. I knew this was coming. As soon as Museveni rushed to the sugar plantations after the price of sugar went up, I knew that Mabira Forest would soon be on the chopping block again.

(Insert flashback to 2007 here: receiving SMSes advising a boycott of Lugazi sugar; school children writing letters to the editors, local and national leaders, pleading with them to save the forest and giving them reasons to do so; a peaceful protest-turned violent in Kampala which lead to the death of three.)

Museveni's rapid and, in my opinion, extreme response to the sugar price increase leads me to ask, why? Sugar is not necessary for people's survival, and 4 spoons of sugar in a cup of tea should be considered a luxury. In contrast, the response to the rising costs of necessary commodities (staple foods and fuel) was lackadaisical at best. According to past logic regarding food prices ("When the food prices go up, the farmers are very happy. If prices have gone up, this is good."), this increase in sugar prices is a "good" thing and should be making people happy. Right? Why, then, the need for the destruction/giveaway of Mabira Forest?

And to say that the riots of 2007 were "led by Beatrice Anywar" is slanderous.
The case against Beatrice Anywar for her involvement in the terribly, sad and unfortunate 2007 incident was withdrawn by the Director of Public Prosecution late last year, and according to a BBC news report, the riots were sparked off a little differently: "People were demonstrating peacefully when there was a misunderstanding with police. All of a sudden they opened fire." "They" being the police, as they are the ones with the guns. Disagreeing with political actions and campaigning to save a forest do not equate to inciting violence. But there is a movement to equate political opposition to terrorism.

The timing of and the events surrounding the Mabira Forest giveaway lead me to believe that someone (or multiple someones) is (are) manipulating the current economic frustrations for personal financial gain. If I were an investigative reporter worth my weight in salt, or sugar, I'd be sniffing out a whistle-blowing story.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

...nothing personal

...nothing personal

I write what's on my mind, usually it's bullshit and doesn't mean anything. When life gets real and the bullshit disappears, I don't have a lot to share. When things get too personal the façade goes up; when things get too personal, I don't want to share anymore. Call me selfish, selfish in a way, but respectful of privacy in another. 100% moody.

Happenings. My greatest commitment as of late is to marathon training. 30th October is the Standard Charter Nairobi Marathon, and I will be running in it. Beginning marathon training is always difficult because I know what's in store and how much time it will require, but once I get into the groove, I love it. Primarily, I love what it does to my body and mind.

Last weekend, I was able to integrate the Buganda Road Race into my marathon training schedule. Last Sunday was a beautiful, not-too-hot-not-too-cold day. It was a wonderful morning for a good 10km run.

As my holiday is coming to an end, I'm hoping that I may be able to focus my mind beyond the personal and, let me honest, emotional. Hopefully that will equate with more frequent blog posts.

Have a fabulous day!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Poolside with Anderson Cooper

Poolside with Anderson Cooper

I know it's a little late, but I finally got my hands on Anderson Cooper's Dispatches from the Edge. I couldn't put it down; it was worth the wait. Most of the reading was done poolside at Royal Suites, which appears to have turned into my new reading nook. But what better place to have a date with Andy? Ugandan weather is hard to beat, and the blue skies and sunshine of the past two days have been perfect for sunbathing and getting lost in the pages of a good book.

As if it were an example written to make a point in The Glamour of Grammar, Anderson's use of short, powerful sentences is masterful. I also appreciate his honesty in story telling and the way he weaves his life experiences into the fabric of catastrophic world events that have taken place over the past two decades. He does this without getting preachy or sounding self-righteous, which I find many writers fail to do.

There were so many parts I wanted to highlight and refer to in this post, but reading poolside left me no marking tools, so I'll refer to my favourite section towards the end of the book since it's still fresh in my memory. In the hardback edition, it begins halfway down pager 189. Anderson describes a night out at the Deja Vu strip club that opens back up in New Orleans less than four weeks after Katrina's destruction. Dead bodies are still left rotting in the streets and elsewhere.
...Beneath some colored lights, a handful of girls bump and grind on the bar, rubbing their breasts in patrons' faces. The place is filled with the storm's flotsam and jetsam: cops and soldiers, National Guard, Border Patrol, Customs--you name it; they're all here, their badges and guns badly concealed. They're clutching dollar bills, horny as hell and twice as bored.
Another favourite moment: Anderson referring to Kelis and her song Milkshake, not just mentioning it, but including some of its lyrics.

I'm a product of the Channel One era. I remember having the news programme beamed into my high school classroom each morning. I cannot say I remember Anderson Cooper from those days, but I do remember Michelle Ruiz and the turtle necks she always wore (we'd jokingly say she was hiding hickeys; we were only 15) and Lisa Ling. In case you're like me and do not remember Andy from way back when, Oprah, in her own magical way, dug some footage out of storage for us.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Bridesmaids (aka Grace Adler: The Milwaukee Years)

Bridesmaids (aka Grace Adler: The Milwaukee Years)

I had a great time with Angela, Wendy and Jonan on Saturday night. The four of us went to watch the Amy Wiig comedy, Bridesmaids, at the new Cineplex at Oaisis Mall. After being flipped off by one of Kampala's worst drivers (saying a lot; she was stopped in the oncoming traffic lane on her cell phone) and entering the cinema hall fifteen minutes late, I was stressed because I hate missing the first few minutes of a film. Alas, I was a little early; the projector operators finally got the focus correct for a half-hour late start of the film.

Bridesmaids is laugh-out-loud hilarious and has been compared to The Hangover, which I've never seen, so I cannot confirm or deny that. It starts off very raunchy, in fact the couple seated beside me got up and left after the first five minutes. I, on the other had, love a little raunch. As I mentioned, I found the film to be funny; however, original it wasn't. It had Will & Grace written all over it.

These three events had me leaning over Jonan (who unfortunately got the seat between Angela and I) multiples times during the screening to whisper to Angela: This is so Will & Grace.

There is a scene near the beginning of the film where Annie and Lillian are stealing exercise in the park. In season 6, Grace Adler does this in Me and Mr. Jones (episode 3) when she does not want to pay for exercise classes that will help her tone up for her sex life.

Annie's mother attends AA meeting, but she's not an alcoholic. She likes the people she meets there; it's like a group therapy session. In One Gay at a Time (season 7, episode 3), Grace Alder attends AA for the free food and free therapy, which she says for Jews is "like winning the lottery."

Then there's the tennis match scene. An annoyed Annie takes out her frustration on rival, Helen, by blasting her with a tennis ball every chance that she gets in the match. That's exactly what Karen Walker does to Grace's (at the time) husband, Leo, when Grace brings him along (uninvited) to the tennis club in episode three of season 6, Home Court Disadvantage.

Grace Alder is the comedic prototype of the approaching/just past 40 neurotic single woman looking for love, longing to be married. It seems like she inspired writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo in more than one way as they scripted Bridesmaids. I propose credit be given to Grace Alder and the various Will & Grace writers by giving Bridesmaids an alternate title, Grace Adler: The Milwaukee Years.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"What Kind of F*ckery is This?"

"What Kind of F*ckery is This?"

As flawed and imperfect as I am, and as many mistakes as I make on a daily basis, I cannot help but to notice and be immediately attracted to the errors of others.

Monday was a day of big-time editing mistakes, and I'm loving it!

My favourite comes from Nation Media's The East African. This is an accompanying photo to the article entitled "Will Tenager South Sudan Rebel Against Daddy Museveni?" in it's print publication:

Take notice of the caption below the photo.

Now, I have a hard time accepting that this 'gaffe' was not intentional. I have a feeling that someone was willing to make the apology that will indubitably be forthcoming and just did it.

Then there's the Today Show. When reporting on the death of Amy Winehouse, someone, "...sleepless peon or tasteless commedian?...", made this bungle.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dancing On My Own

Dancing On My Own

Not everyone can pull it off.

By 'it', I mean carry a music video while dancing solo.

Janet did it in 1987.

Britney did it in 2000.

Robyn is doing now.

Phenomenal women doing it phenomenally.

They remind me of the amazingly choreographed solo dance performances that take place almost daily in my living room.


Friday, July 08, 2011

Michael Kiwanuka

Michael Kiwanuka

Michael Kiwanuka opened for Adele last night at the iTunes Festival London 2011. I wasn't able to watch the show because the speed of the internet provided by my Orange stick in Kampala was not fast enough to accomplish the stream. I did manage to download his EP, Tell Me a Tale (The Isle of Wright Sessions), from iTunes and watch a couple of his videos on youtube.

If you are interested in more of his music, his myspace page is pretty good, a bit of free music.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

I Will Sing=California King Bed. Credit Given?

I Will Sing=California King Bed.
Credit Given?

In case you missed the interview/conversation with Maurice Kirya on Sanyu FM yesterday, I've got to share with you this interesting tidbit.

First listen to the acoustic guitar intro to Maruice's song, I Will Sing, from his album Misubbaawa, released 14th December 2009.

Now have a listen to the acoustic guitar intro to Rihanna's California King Bed, from her album Loud, released 12th November 2010, almost a year later.

Coincidence? Hmmm...

But where would The Runners, Priscilla Renae and Alex Delicata, the 'writers' of California King Bed, have had the opportunity to hear Maurice's music before penning the song for Rihanna? Have you heard of iTunes, where his album Misubbaawa is available for purchase? Or the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas, where Maurice performed in March of 2010?

Someone is getting paid for that music. California King Bed is not just the sixth single from Loud, but it is also being featured in Nivea's '100 Years of Skin Care' add campaign.

Like I said, someone is getting paid for that music; let's hope our friend, Maurice, is getting a cut.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Power

The Power

Today's Monitor headline: Firms Cut Power Over Government Debts

Today's New Vision headline: Power Plants Switch Off in Protest

Text message from UMEME (the main electric company in Uganda): "Dear Customer, we regret to inform you that UETCL has informed us of a generation shortfall of 50MW day and 120MW peak resulting into both day and night emergency load-shedding."

Gee! That sounds like fun!

The source of the problem for all of us who work hard to pay our power bills on time? No, it's not being blamed on drought and a low water level of Lake Victoria this time. Oh... the government only owes around 300 billions shillings to the supplemental electricity suppliers.

It is predicted that the load-shedding will cost about $400 million in business and services. So it looks like the February elections just got a bit more expensive to the Ugandan people. Factoring this in, how much will the MPs allowance increases and those fancy new cars actually cost the Ugandan workers and tax payers?

These days in Uganda, if it's not one power crisis, it's another. This time the power happens to be electricity. And you remember what President Museveni had to say about electricity during an interview in April: "When a country has no electricity that's a sign of bad governance."

Ok then.

There, he said it.

I don't need to add any more.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

No Hope

No Hope

Last Saturday was the Kampala Hash House Harriers' annual Kampala-Jinja Relay. I once again ran with the No Hope team. This was my fourth relay with the hashers and as a No Hoper. It was great fun to be reunited with my teammates and get to know some new faces during our cross-country trek.

The Jinja Relay is by far my favourite hash event of the year; it's been one of the highlights of the year since 2007. (Unfortunately, I missed last year's run because it was held later in July, and I'd already flown to the US.) One day, someone had the brilliant idea of finding a route through village, sugar cane plantation, forest and eventually over the Nile river from Kampala to Jinja and dividing the almost-90km distance into 17 segments. Then it was decided that teams of 9 would take turns and relay run the course, with the non-runners going by caravan to the next check point.

It was a beautiful day. It was a HOT day. The latter made the run quite a challenge, but like Elle Woods, I like a good challenge. And my masochistic tendencies drive to taking pleasure from the pain of going that extra mile and making it up that last hill.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Potential Toll of a Bell

Potential Toll of a Bell

I can only write this post in a light-hearted manner today because the potential disaster was fortunately averted.

One of today's headlines in the Monitor was:

When I read that, I thought some over-zealous chemistry teacher of some mischievous science geeks decided to play a practical joke on some school goers. Well, that wasn't the case. Turns out, as the headline says, a school was using a bomb as a school bell.

If you've ever visited schools in Uganda, you may have noticed that many reuse old iron wheel rims as their school bells. They beat them with iron rods to indicate the beginning and end the school day, class sessions, lunch, etc... They are hung at the schools like the one in this photo.

Well, I guess someone found a piece of iron in the ground that looked like it could serve the same purpose, and hey, it was free. In a place where cash is a very limited resource, it would make sense to try and reuse what must have been viewed as a rather useless hunk of junk.

Little did they know it was an unexploded bomb. Imagine teachers and students, day in and day out during the school year, beating on this metal bomb hung in the school yard to call school to order?

I wonder how long they used it before it was recognised for it's actual purpose. Fortunately, no one dealt it a strong enough blow to detonate it, and a happy ending can be written: it's been removed from the school and will soon be disposed of.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Myth of the Night Dancers, Abasezi

The Myth of the Night Dancers, Abasezi

Seeing this amazing show one time just was not enough, so I was back at the National Theatre again tonight for a second dose.

The dance company, Tabu Flo, put together the best dance performance I think I've ever seen, and I'd argue that it was probably the best show I've seen put on at the National Theatre. The choreography was incredible. Tabu Flo have been praised for their seamless blend of hip-hop and African dance. The dancers put their heart and soul into the show and wove an enchanting story without having to speak a word. Along side the dancers, I think the lighting technician was one of the stars of the show. I have never seen lighting done so well in Kampala. I was entertained from start to finish and was left wanting more.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Watchword: Polygamy

Watchword: Polygamy

Lynne and I watch The 19th Wife today and loved it. It disturbed and inspired a good bit of conversation. The 19th Wife in many ways was your typical Lifetime film: woman in conflict finds strength and comes out a survivor in the end. This film was recommended to me by a friend last month, but the copy I was loaned would not play in my laptop or in Lynne's dvd player. Unfortunately, I lost the copy of the dvd, so I ordered a new one from along with the book, The 19th Wife, on which the film is based. Now I've been able to view the film, and the book is on my summer reading list. David Ebershoff, the author of The 19th Wife, should be pleased that the film did send me to the book, and I will have a chance to get to know his Jordan along with is boyfriend, Tom, and their dogs, Elektra and Joey.

After viewing the film, we began season 1 of Big Love. (My life has become quite thematic lately.) What a contrasting portrayal of polygamy in modern America! In contrast with the sympathy we felt for the wives in The 19th Wife, episode one of Big Love sparked our sympathy for Bill Paxton's Bill Henrickson. We did not make it past episode today. I also bought season 2 of the HBO series. Along with Glee season 2 and Gossip Girl season 4, Big Love is on my summer viewing list.

Friday, June 24, 2011

You Blink and You Miss

You Blink and You Miss

Lower you eye lids to moisten you eyeballs for only and moment, and the world changes. Hmmm... or is it pretty much on repeat? Same characters. Similar stories. A few surprises sprinkled in. Ever so entertaining. Maybe I got that wrong. Is the world changing or are we stuck in a primetime sitcom?

  • Britney releases an incredible new video for one of the best dance tracks she's ever produced.

Spiked boots, skull donning Mousketeer ears, fuck-you attitude and all: Britney's on top and in top form in this clip, inspiring the taking on of one's freak tonight like no one else can.

"Together with his peers, they arrived at the mobile clinic as early as 8am in the morning to halfheartedly give it a try."

Going for male medical circumcision is one of those Master Yoda "Do or do not. There is no try." moments. Once that little calamari ring is cut off the peen, it's done. There's no, "Well, I tried it and don't like it. I would like to exchange it for my original."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Books and Circumcision

On Books and Circumcision

If you check my book list on the sidebar of this blog, you will see that I just finished reading Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Oh shit! That's what I have to say about that.

I really hope that Mockingjay is in the library tomorrow.

Tonight I started One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. So far so good; I've already laughed out loud, and I've not reached 50 pages. Linda Sue Park calls this book "a rarity: a book that is both important in its contents and utterly engaging in its characters... with the tremendous bonus of being beautifully written." Beautifully written indeed:

They call it littering when you carelessly drop things. They call the careless folks who drop things by a cute name: litterbug.

There's nothing cute about dropping things carelessly. Dropping garbage and having puppies shouldn't be called the same thing. "Litter." I had a mind to write Miss Webster about that. Puppies don't deserve to be called a litter like they had been dropped carelessly like garbage. And people who litter shouldn't be given a cute name for what they do. And at least the mother of the litter sticks around and nurses her pups no matter how sharp their teeth are. Merriam Webster was falling down on the job. How could she have gotten this wrong?

Not so beautifully written: this blog. What else? Well most newspaper articles I read. Unfortunately, most of the good writers save their stuff for wall posts on facebook. (Go figure.) Regardless of the quality of the writing, the stories can be quite interesting, or at least amusing, and often still informative. Medical male circumcision is hot news these days,

and I guess it should be considering the affect it has on reducing the risk of HIV infection (60%). However there are other risks involved with this reduction of risk:
And that my friends is one of the negative consequences of miseducation or lack of education in general.