Monday, February 28, 2011

Randy

Randy

Who is Randy Newman sleeping with that enables him to continue to get Academy Award nominations for his grating songs? His music repels me; it is one of the main factors that contributes to my avoidance of the Toy Story franchise. I was super exited about seeing The Princess and the Frog until I found out he wrote the songs and score. I did go see it. Seeing Disney’s first princess of African heritage won out over my dislike of Mr Newman’s musical style.

The super-sappy songs of friendship and/or love for pets and/or love for a toy do not sit well with me. The lyrics to his songs are too sentimental and basic, and melodies for each one are too similar. Yet, the man has been nominated for an Oscar 20 times!!! Is hollywood truly this deprived of people who can write excellent songs for films? Well, he’s also won six Grammys and three Emmys. Maybe I’m the one with the horrible taste in music. But if you ever want to drive me crazy on a road trip, make a Randy Newman playlist!

Well, two of my picks were correct.

Natalie!

And Colin.

I guess I just went with the obvious considering all the accolades both of these actors have received over the past few months for their roles in 2010. I’ve not seen The King’s Speech, but I guess I should. I really enjoyed Black Swan and want to watch in again, savour the brilliance of Natalie’s performance.

Last night’s Academy Awards sparked my interested in short films. The Oscar winner in this category, Luke Matheny, plugged the nominated films’ availability on iTunes, so this morning I downloaded each of the five nominees. I feel another movie and curry night coming on… The evening’s watchword will be brevity. Discussing and analysing these concise pieces of art, we’ll be such intellectuals!

The community theatre in Quincy is currently performing a production of Hello Dolly. Not my absolute favourite musical, but I’m all for community theatre and an afternoon of escape. It was a respectable endeavour. After the show, I swung by the worst-stocked Wal-Mart I’ve ever visited near I-10.

During a visit to the men’s room, this was my only hand-washing option:

The sophistication of Wal-Mart’s customers has been well documented. You can tell a lot about the customer base of this particular Wal-Mart from this hand-washing option. I don’t prefer smelling like a citrus fruit, and I prefer the choice of to pumice or not to pumice, but I tried to look on the bright side and see it as exfoliating experience at the Wal-Mart spa. You know, kind of like a singo scrub in Zanzibar...

Yeah, I suck at finding those bright sides.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Portman

Portman

Headaches are not my friend. It’s approaching 48 hours with this one. I think I let myself get dehydrated. That’s not an unusual thing for me to do. The heat in Uganda makes the process of dehydration faster; however, the heat is also a reminder to drink water. Right now the cool weather is deceptive. I guess I’m not getting enough fluids in my body, and because of the cool weather, dehydration has crept right up on me.

Hopefully I’ll be in prime form for the Academy Awards tonight.

My picks for tonight are...

Best picture: The Kids Are All Right

Actor in a leading role: Colin Firth, The King's Speech

Actor in a supporting role: Mark Ruffalo, The Kids are All Right

Actress in a leading role: Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Actress in a supporting role: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

I'm rarely any good at predicting these things. I'm just Natalie Portman all the way. Love her!


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Reunited

Reunited

While I was waiting for my sister and her husband to take care of some tax business with H&R Block, I wandered down to The Country Creamery on the main street of Blountstown. I immediately spotted the delectable delight I would select to be my companion as I got into my book while I waited: red velvet cake topped with cheese cake. I’ve been watching a lot cookery shows this week, especially enjoying the cake shows, and it looks like red velvet is a current favourite flavour across the US. My Grandmother Hatcher, who passed away on Valentine's Day, used to make the most amazing red velvet cakes. Topped with a cream cheese icing, dessert at her house was a delicious heaven.

'Red velvet cake' was recently introduced to the Uganda market by New York Kitchen. Even the local Piggly Wiggly sometimes gets it wrong. It takes more than adding red food colouring to cake batter to make a red velvet cake. What flavour is red velvet? For those who are unfamiliar with a red velvet cake, it’s actually a rich chocolate cake. The original recipe called for an unprocessed cocoa that acquired a red colouring through a chemical reaction with the acid of buttermilk. You can still find the unprocessed cocoa at specialty stores, but the recipe has evolved to include the more common cocoa, vinegar and red food colouring. Cocoa is an essential ingredient for a cake to be a red velvet cake. Without it, it’s just a regular cake coloured red. On DC Cupcakes yesterday, someone set the mixer too high, and when Katherine began mixing the red velvet batter, it sent up a cloud of cocoa that rained back down on her white baker’s coat.

The red velvet cake at The Country Creamery was phenomenal! While I was devouring (trying to read as well, but the cake ended up being a distraction), a woman came in inquiring about the antique shop next door. Somehow the names Minnie and Rachael came up in their conversation. Now this is a pretty rural area with a small population, and I quickly came to the conclusion that the Minnie and Rachael that were being referred to were two cousins of mine that I’d not seen in years… if not decades.

Melissa and Mario finished their business at H&R Block, and they joined me on my visit to the next-door antique shop. Minnie was packing plates that had just been purchased into a box and Rachael was assisting a customer. I introduced myself, and thus began a catching-up cram session. Sadly, much of the conversation focused on people who had recently died or were currently not well—a side effect of aging. The woman who bought the plates left, and in walked another customer. While the guy perused the wares, we continued talking about such delightful topics as Crohn’s disease. Rachael broke away from the conversation, and offered assistance to the ignored customer, explaining that a small family reunion was going on. Well, the family reunion took a new direction when we realised that the customer was Wesley and was family too. I would not have known who he was if Melissa had not been there to recognise him. Can you see how close my family is? But we do enjoy seeing each other when we do it by chance... At the gas station... In the shopping mall... At Wal-Mart (I saw Steven there two nights ago)... At the dollar store... In antique shops...

There are dangers of mixing family with business, but our little reunion resulted in the sale of a set of antique dishes, depression glass tumblers, and a canvas of one of Minnie’s fractal art designs.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Therapy

Therapy

Retail therapy for me is usually counterproductive. More times than not, I end up more high-strung than I was before I began. Even when I have a budget, and I’m well within that budget, spending money stresses me out. But when it’s all over, and I’ve had a chance to breathe and unwind, I sure do like the things I bought.

As Drew said in Ever After: Just breath.

Or there’re always margaritas.

I’ve been very conservative with my purchases since my arrival to the US last week, but today was my big shopping day for this trip. I was supposed to go on Tuesday, but plans changed. While I was unable to get everything on my shopping list, it was a very productive day. My favourite purchases of today were Travel Scrabble (yes, Sibyl, once again I’m copying you—so Single White Female), Nike running socks and season 2 of Popular (Ryan Murphy’s late-90s masterpiece—long before Glee!).

The biggest surprise of today (a positive one!) was Gnomeo and Juliet. Like some of you, I’ve been questioning my choice of movies recently. To be honest, I never would have selected to see this film, but my 8-year-old friend was set on seeing it, so see it we did.

  • Pleasant surprise #1: The soundtrack of the film being Elton John classics and not-so-well-known gems.
  • Pleasant surprise #2: Dolly Parton providing the voice for a bootylicious Daisy Duke-esque gnome delivering the rules for a Rebel Without a Cause-like lawnmower race.
  • Pleasant surprise #3: One of the gnomes expressing his enjoyment of going commando.

Sadly, this is a horrible time to go to the cinema; nothing fantastic is showing. However, with the right company, Gnomeo and Juliet provided 87 minutes of good fun. We practically had the theatre to ourselves and fully enjoyed the songs and thought nothing about how loudly we laughed out loud. Seeing this film with friends was the most effective therapy of the day.

The most disappointing part of the evening was not being able to buy Adele’s 21 from Target. I want the Target version because there are four bonus tracks. I tried. I really tried. I went to the two Targets in the Panama City area, and neither one of them had it. Both of them had display signs up for it in the music department. Both of them did not have a single copy of the CD to purchase. I hope that is a good sign for Adele, and her CD is selling well.

…There’s always Tallahassee.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Raw

Raw

That’s right: raw.

I’d not eaten a raw oyster in at least 30 years. My dad used to swear that I used to suck ‘em down faster than he could shuck ‘em out. But I don’t remember that. Eating oysters was always a social event with several people on lawn chairs, sitting around a red Igloo ice chest with a thick rubber glove on one hand and an oyster knife in the other, Tabasco sauce and saltine crackers. Folks would sit, shuck and talk about everything from politics, to past memories, to current college football teams’ rankings until the last oyster was shucked from it’s shell, topped on a cracker and inhaled. My memories include eating lots of Tabasco-covered saltine crackers, my attempt to integrate with the local community.

I’ve always known the best oysters to come from the Apalachicola Bay area. Growing up, I remember getting money for Christmas gifts by going out, picking up oysters and selling them. Back in 1985 I could get between twenty and thirty dollars a five-gallon bucket (unshelled). I cannot imagine what they go for now.

I was in Apalachicola yesterday; I went there with two friends for lunch. Apalach is another small, Florida town that was once a thriving boom town. In fact one of its inhabitants, John Gorrie, was awarded in 1850 the first US patent for mechanical refrigeration, so if you have a refrigerator in your home, you have a distant connection to this lovely, little northwest Florida town. It’s seen better days; it’s seen far worse days. Now it’s a really quaint place to visit, with numerous antique shops, cute little hotels and bed and breakfasts, a liquor store called The Honey Hole that sells underwear with The Honey Hole screen printed across the rear, funky little coffee shops (the folks at Cafe Con Leche were super-kind, good ol' southern hospitality--even though I don't think either of them are originally from the South; they've learned well!) and a local art scene that is springing up. I always appreciate a local art scene, and I’m pretty opinionated about the art and it’s appeal to me. (I once told an artist at his exhibition that art always speaks to people, but sometimes we are not interested in or like what it’s trying to say. Yeah, I’m not always the nicest person. Honest, yes. Nice, no.) Sadly, a lot of the art I saw yesterday was speaking a language I did not understand.

Highly recommended in Apalachicola: chocolate. Even now, while typing, I'm think about how strange that sounds, but Apalachicola Chocloate Company makes damn good chocolate. I was more than satisfied with the dark chocolate covered pecans I had after lunch yesterday.

Raw oysters (aphrodisiac) for lunch. Fabulous dark chocolate (aphrodisiac) for dessert. Just another example how I complicate my own life.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blossoms

Blossoms

The weatherman on the news this morning said that the current temperatures are about 15 degrees higher than average for this time of year. I am very thankful for that, especially considering what the temperatures were only two weeks ago. I was not looking forward to the cold during my visit home… and I’ve not had to face it so far. I guess I was able to smuggle some Uganda sunshine past customs in Atlanta.

It’s still February and marketers are taking advantage of the fact that it has been a harsh winter for most of the country. I saw ‘Spring’ Oreos on my friend’s countertop this afternoon. ‘Same great taste’ just a bright yellow filling… for spring.

I travelled to White City today. Going to the town I grew up in is probably the most stressful, but necessary, part of my trips home. Family is still there. Friends that are like family are still there. The town I grew up in is not. You cannot run away from the past (or present), and cutting ties would make me unhappier than just facing reality.

Knowing that today was the day I’d make my journey to Gulf County negatively affected my mood this morning. We all change with age. Some changes are for the better. Some are not. I could get judgemental and talk about all that’s not what I’d hope, but I’m trying to avoid negativity on this trip, plus I want to still be welcome in the future.

I walked by my brother’s home, the house I grew up in, but he wasn’t there. For the first time in my life, I found the door locked (yeah, it used to be that kind of town). Stuck outside, I wandered around the yard, keeping a distance from the dogs on chains that don’t know me. In the side yard, I noticed the apple tree was full of blossoms. My dad planted that tree. Knowing that we did not live in a good climate for apple trees and knowing that the soil sucked and would not nourish the tree well, he planted that tree. And it’s still alive. A dwarf of a tree it may be, but after all these years, it’s still there… and in blossom.

Probably the best part of forcing myself to make the trip to White City is the fabulous food I know I’ll be fed: southern cooking at its best… and most fattening. Do you see why I worry about those five kilos?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Excessive

Excessive

It is not unusual for me to set conflicting goals for myself. Since my Peace Corps Days, one of the items on my list of ‘must dos’ for my visits home has always included: eat a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in one sitting. My ‘must do’ list is indelibly written, so this trip is no exception. Besides the necessary family business I needed to take care of, my main goal on this trip is to not gain 5 kilos (11 pounds)—like I did during last summer’s visit. Trying to get back in shape after my last stint in the US was so hard, and I do not want to go through the pain of shedding that many kilos again… at least not so soon. See the dilemma I’ve been facing since last Wednesday? Eat Ben and Jerry’s. Not gain 5 kilos. I’ve got to achieve both objectives. Failure is not an option. See how difficult I make my life.

In order to achieve my healthier goal, I’ve been hitting the road every day. I’ve put in some decent mileage since I arrived last Wednesday, including a good, long 20km run yesterday morning. Today I added the gym to my list of activities. I almost talked myself out of the gym visit. In fact, I did; I parked outside of the gym, but started the car again and left—briefly changing my mind. However, after intense negotiations (with myself), I prevailed and convinced myself to go back to the gym. (Complicated, I know, but that’s a usual decision-making process for me.) The compromise: if I had a good workout, I would go to the Piggly Wiggly and buy that pint of Ben and Jerry’s, go home and eat the whole thing while watching episodes of He-Man and She-Ra I downloaded (for free!!!) from iTunes today.

That’s exactly what I did. Ben and Jerry’s Mud Pie coupled with 1983 animation make a fantastic evening. Now that I can tick that item off of my ‘must do’ list, I’ll go down to the next item: pecan waffles from Waffle House. (See how difficult I make my life.) I’ll give myself a couple of days and a few more runs to burn off the 1080 calories from today’s success.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Self-deprecating

Self-deprecating

Kate Monster: Whose life sucks more, Brian’s or mine?

Rod and Nicky: Ours!

All: Is there anybody here it doesn’t suck to be?

When reflecting on one’s life for assessment purposes, it would be helpful to NOT do it while listening to the Avenue Q soundtrack.

All: Sucks to be me.

All: Sucks to be you.

All: Sucks to be us!

From the mouths of puppets spring demoralizing truths(?). However, there is a bright spot.

All: …But not when we’re together.

Yes, friends are rays of light. And it could be worse. You could be a young deer in the middle of hunting season.

(Shadenfreude, also a song from Avenue Q)

Luckily, I’m not doing any serious reflecting today. Therefore, today, I find the soundtrack quite entertaining. I think Avenue Q came to mind today because I was watching Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (I don’t know why, so don’t ask), and there was a Gary Coleman reference. Sadly Avenue Q closed on the West End last year, and I did not get a chance to see it on Broadway either. I think it’s back Off Broadway…

With all of this free time I have on my hands, you would think (truthfully, I had hoped) that I would use it to catch up on some reading that I’ve been meaning to do. But, no. I’ve found myself plopped on my sister’s sofa, glued to the television screen. Oh, I’ve seen such gems as the afore-mentioned Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Couples Retreat (really questioning my taste in films right now) and episodes of Wizards of Waverly Place and iCarly (did you know the Jane Lynch had/has a role as Sam’s mother?)—only the highest quality of distractions for me! I did find on the dvd shelf (sadly, these have replaced bookshelves in people’s homes) season 1 of Little House on the Prairie that I sent as a gift to my nieces and nephew. I don’t know what I was thinking at the time—perhaps a desire to instil wholesome, Western, Christian values… Ok, I could not even type that a straight face, but I can guarantee that it was done with love. I found the dvds still wrapped in plastic, so you could tell how talented I am at selecting popular gifts. I also sent them a hardback copy of the book Little House on the Prairie. When I asked about it, my sister told me it was on the top shelf of her closet (a result of bookshelves being replaced with dvd shelves) because it was an anniversary edition and needed to be protected. Well, I did what any loving uncle who found a series of dvds he sent still wrapped in plastic on a dvd shelf that took the place of a bookshelf would do. I opened the package, put the first dvd in the player and forced one of my nieces to watch it with me. Yes, someone is going to learn to love little Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls… and learn those wholesome values.

Is it me or did the little Kerry Ingalls resemble a young Wookie with her wild hair? Every time she had a line, she sounded like a baby Chewbacca: Mwaaaaaaaaggggggrrrrrrhhhhhhhh!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Minus Legs and Tutus

Minus Legs and Tutus

I succeeded in coaxing my sister and her family out of bed and out of the house by ten-till seven this morning; that’s even earlier than they wake up on school mornings. There was a 12km run I wanted to do this morning in the St. Marks area.

The run was fantastic. I finished with a personal best. The 7.45-mile run was much easier than I expected thanks to my Kampala-based training—where it’s hotter, hillier and higher altitude. If I’d done a run or two here before today, I really believe I would have finished in under an hour because I would have pushed myself a bit harder, but I took it easy for the first half of the run, maintaining my usual Kampala (hotter, hillier and higher altitude) pace. After the mid-way point, I turned it up a notch.

It was really nice having family there cheering for me when I finished. That was a first for me. It was also nice having someone to be the photographer (no need for self-photos today!!!). I’ve become a bit photo obsessed over the last few months.

On the way home, we took a detour to Wakulla Springs State Park. I’d not been there in years, and my nephew, Phoenix, had never been there. Today was a blue-skied, amazing-weather kind of day, so it was a perfect day to take the boat ride on the Wakulla River. The birds, turtles and alligators were out in abundance, parading about and terrifically posing for our photographs (obsessed, I am). One could not have asked for better colours.

A big surprise (or should I say two big surprises) was (were) waiting for us at the end of the boat ride, in the bowl of the spring: two enormous manatees were swimming about, also enjoying the beautiful weather of the day. I’d never seen a manatee in the wild, only at Epcot Center at Disney World way back when. The manatees gracefully glided through the water (think hippos in Disney’s Fantasia minus legs and tutus; oh, and also take away the ferociousness of hippos) on the side of the boat, and then under the observation platform. It was truly a magical moment.

It’s moments like unexpectedly encountering manatees where I didn’t even know they migrated that make me smile and inspire in me anticipation for what will happen next... Let's keep it positive!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Election

Election

The 18th February 2011 is/was election day in Uganda. A lot of change (in pretty peaceful ways) have been taking place across the African continent over the past several weeks. I don’t know (but I can make a pretty educated guess) what will happen in Uganda or what change will take place, but I do know that it is getting ripe for a change. One of my friends’ facebook status this morning read: I voted for change and I am damn proud of it.

I really wanted to witness the presidential election in Uganda this year. I missed the 2006 election by a few months because I was working in American Samoa at the time. This year, I am once again missing the election because of a family emergency that required me to return to Florida. I’ve been kept pretty busy since I arrived on Wednesday night. The visit has been fruitful thus far, and I’m feeling a bit more optimistic about the situation at hand. Even with all of the distractions, my mind keeps going back to Uganda and all my friends and people I care about there.

I am registered to vote in Liberty County, Florida. My voter’s registration card indicates my polling station (if I’m ever in Liberty County during an election ever again) is next to Lake Mystic Grocery. Well, Lake Mystic Grocery is now defunct, and I’ve heard that the polling station recently changed venue, but the building that used to house the polling station is still there next to the building that used to house the local grocery store.

A pretty simple building, but it’s where I had one of my first lessons in democracy as a small child. I remember going there with my father sometime in the early 80s for him to cast his vote. Voting was a responsibility that my father greatly valued, and he tried to instil it’s importance in his children. On more than one occasion he took me into the voting booth with him to witness his choices. The first time I was able to vote after my 18th birthday had to be done by absentee ballot because I was at university at the time. He delivered my ballot to me, and while he insisted that I vote according to my conscience and values, he could not resist giving me some kind, “fatherly” guidance regarding the candidates.

Conversation was never livelier with my father than it was when it involved politics. The man was exceptionally opinionated when it came to politics, and he was always glad to share with you what he thought—even in a den of rattlesnakes. He definitely planted the seed for interest in politics. I do find my opinions to be quite strong, but I’d rather not argue about them. My tolerance for others’ points of view is improving; however, hardcore conservative ideas drive me up the wall (thanks, Dad) about as much a political apathy. I’m not quite as vocal with my opinions as he was… but I do often find myself in rattlesnake dens.

While anyone familiar with Ugandan “democracy” and politics can predict that outcome of the election, I want to express my admiration for those who went out and voted, actively working towards that change they dream to see.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Spanish Moss

Spanish Moss

This is the first time I’ve been back in Florida during the winter since 2002. While it’s not as cold as I remember February to be (feels similar to a cool Kisoro Christmas), it is browner. The trees are brown; the grass is brown (think Uganda in the dry season, sans the layer of red dust); nothing’s in bloom. It’s a beautiful time of year, just not the type of beauty that usually comes to mind when one thinks of Florida.

One of the beautiful features, the simple pleasures of the South that I enjoy seeing when I’m home is the Spanish moss hanging from the branches of the trees. It’s neither Spanish (indigenous to the southeastern US), nor is it a moss (it’s an epiphyte—remember that word—and absorbs nutrients and moisture from the air and it is from the Bromeliaceae family—the same family as the pineapple!). Take sometime to ponder/discuss that one. The Spanish moss dangling from the leafless pecan and oak trees is both winsome and haunting.

Winsome and haunting is a combination of words I could use to describe many aspects and/or situations related to home. I never find beauty to be more evocative than when I am back in Northwest Florida.

For the next 12 days, I will be in the Panhandle area. My goal is to chronicle this visit in both photo and word. My challenge is to only use one photo per post to summarise and capture the essence of the day.

There are pieces to be picked up. Maybe some will be put back together. It’s also likely that a bit will fall apart as well.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Downtown

Downtown

I need to improve my ability to count. Granted, this trip has been a bit last minute, and I only got my travel itinerary four days before my departure. But four days is plenty enough time to figure out that the difference between 8 and 14 is 6… not 4. Perhaps with all of unpleasant surprises that have been sprung on me over the past few weeks, it was my sub-conscious working up to a pretty damn nice one.

When I checked the departures board at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam just before 8.00am on Wednesday, I could not find my connecting flight to Atlanta. Why? The board displayed departing flights up to 1.30pm. I was certain that my layover was only four hours; however, my flight was not listed among those around midday. I took out my boarding pass to confirm the actual time of the flight, and it was not until 14.35. SURPISE! Really? Did I really have six and a half hours to kill before my next flight. SURPISE! “No,” I told myself. “This cannot be right.” I’d calculated my layover as soon as I got my travel details because I’d wanted to do something I’d never done before: leave the airport and explore Amsterdam. But from all accounts, four hours was not enough time—especially if I’d never been to Amsterdam before and was not used to going through immigration, going downtown, getting back to the airport and through security and immigration. But six and a half hours is a horse of a different colour, indeed. SURPRISE!

Since I did not want to spend the little time I had to experience Amsterdam for the first time lost and aimlessly wondering streets on a cold morning in Holland, I opted to go with the more convenient option of booking a tour at the tourism booth (named Lovers) that was just down the corridor from the Swatch stand with the purple Swatch that immediately caught my eye and cried out, “Buy me!” Schiphol is probably the most convenient and user-friendly airport I’ve passed through. Within a space of only a few squared meters, you can buy a purple Swatch, visit a free museum with works by master artists, get breakfast and book a boat tour of Amsterdam.

The train ticket to Central Station was included with the price of the boat tour, and finding my way to the embarking point was easy enough. Luckily, many Dutch speak English. When I stepped out of the train station, I beheld an amazing sight!

I have never in my life seen so many bicycles. Bicycles everywhere. Zooming past me. Being pushed on the path behind me. Chained anywhere there was free space… and even where there wasn’t. To borrow a word from Zanzibar Bill: AMAZING.

The boat tour of the canals that traverse the city was just the right choice for me. For one thing, the boat was warm. Definitely a plus when arriving from an equatorial climate without truly appropriate clothing for cold weather. For another, I did not have to think. All I needed to do was sit back, relax and enjoy. It was a pretty cloudy and damp morning, so not the most picturesque, but I think I still managed to get a few good photos. Overall, I had a great time, and it was so stress free. I was even able to stop at a coffee shop for a scrumpdiddilyumptious mocha and cranberry scone before heading back to the airport in plenty of time for my flight.

Deciding on gifts to buy for my nieces and nephew at duty free was the most stressful aspect of my Amsterdam/Schiphol experience.

Surprise! Surprise!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Facilitation

Facilitation

Unfortunately, I'm not known to be the most patience or tolerant person (remember, I recently posted about working on my patience)--just ask the produce guy at Uchumi who recently had lemons hurled in his direction when he tried to get me to use an additional plastic bag. How environmentally unfriendly is that? I'm still working on my patience. No miracles yet. Baby steps.

I have my ideas of what is right and wrong, a pretty strong sense of justice. Well, "someone I know" found himself in a situation today where he needed to travel for emergency purposes. Here's the catch. His work permit expired about 12 days ago, and his passport had been in immigration since the 4th February. He had to get his passport out to catch his flight today. His special pass had been processed, yet one person's signature was still needed for it to be valid. To get that done can take up to three days. He was told that with a little "facilitation" it could be done pretty much immediately. Here's where he found himself in a moral dilemma. To pay or not to pay? However, because of the nature of the trip he needed to take, the "facilitation" fee was a non-issue.

But was he not feeding the filthy beast of corruption?

Despite my intolerance of actions I do not consider just, I choose not to judge "my friend" too harshly on this occasion because, frankly, he's got enough on his plate to deal with at the moment.

See, baby steps.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Trust and Devotion

Trust and Devotion

No matter how shitty your day was, Patti Labelle taking the ABC song to church with the Sesame Street Muppets will always make it better.



Thanks, Sibyl, for sharing. Thanks, Leo, for coming by. When you live so far away from your family, your friends become your family. I know you've got my back, and you know I've got yours.



Friendship is thicker than blood.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Endorphins, Patience and Optimism

Endorphins, Patience and Optimism

I am becoming a real social dud. It's very bitter-sweet for me. I'm getting back into running mode, and that means adios to the late nights on the weekend because there is an early run waiting for me in the morning. I kind of like it, though. As much as I hate getting up to run in the mornings, there is something very satisfying about a good, long run in the morning... Endorphins. However, I really miss people.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. And like it or not, celebrate it or not, you cannot help but reflect on that special person that is (or is not in many cases) in your life. It can make you smile, or it can make you feel really sad. As Grace Adler put it, "...this whole day, it's like an evil conspiracy created by the greeting card people and the flower people and the candy people. Well, not the candy people, they do God's work. :-)"

I was chatting with a friend in DC earlier today, and he asked me about my Valentine's Day plans. My response was I did not have any. I asked him about his plans. His response was he did not have any, but there was still time yet. Love the optimism. Well, my optimism today left me with a bland meat loaf. (I'd rather not elaborate on that one. I'm sensitive about food fiascos.)

But there is still time. I've been learning to be patient. Let me work on my optimism as well.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Camp

Camp

On Friday night, I went out with my crew to the Cineplex to see Burlesque. It finally arrived in Kampala, and as any true-blooded admirer of camp, I was over the moon to see the Cher/Christina Aguilera driven flick. It did not let down.



The script was rubbish (as any great campy film's script is). But the stars really shined and never more than in the musical stage numbers. This means a lot coming from me, one of the harshest critics of singer-turned-actors I know: Ms. Xtina's acting was not bad. I'd probably classify it as pretty good. Maybe I was expecting horrible, so my surprise at her decent performance was quite great. I mean, you really would not believe it was her big screen debut.

Mentioning the script, I cannot miss pointing out the best line of the show. In fact, it is probably one of my favourite lines ever delivered in campy cinematic history (yes, that means a lot). It is definitely the best line Cher has ever delivered, even better than, "Snap out of it!"

I have more important things to worry about than you pouring tequila on your cheerios.

I could have died. Died. H. I. Larious.

This line was directed to Kristen Bell's Nikki. Kristen Bell is an amazing actress who I think was under utilised in this film. I would loved to have seen her get more stage time, with actual singing.

I jumped out of my seat more while watching Burlesque than I did while watching Black Swan. It was not the amazing stage musical numbers that triggered such an enthusiastic response. It was the rat the climbed up my leg and entered my bag of popcorn that caused me to look like a mad man in the cinema and leap up and run to the far end of the aisle. If anyone has pull with the management of Cineplex, please convince them to fumigate. Otherwise, bring rat traps with you to the cinema at Garden City.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Ms. Headley

Ms. Headley

Ms. Heather Headley has been on my mind today. I Wish I Wasn't from her This Is Who I Am album is on repeat on itunes. The woman's voice is smooth. Love, love, love her. However, if you only know Heather as an R&B singer, then you only know a small component of this extraordinarily talented woman.


I was fortunate enough to have the privilege to see her perform the title role (which she originated on Broadway and for which she also won a Tony) of Aida in 2001 with Katrina (where are you, girl?). Amazing. I can't recall a stage actress's performance that touched me more--so much passion, so much emotion, and that voice.



Aida, if you are not familiar with it, is the story of a Nubian princess who is kidnapped and taken up the Nile to be a slave in Egypt. The music from the show is fantastic, even if it was written by Elton John. Enchantment Passing Through possesses some of my favourite lines in a song ever: If you don't like you fate, change it. You are your own master. There are no shackles on you. So don't expect any pity or understanding... Great for those days when you're feeling sorry for yourself.

Oh, Egypt! Today was a landmark day for you. You did change your fate. To borrow someone else's words: Vox pupuli, vox dei.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Controversy

Controversy


So Madonna taught me about controversy back in 1989 with her Like a Prayer video. I'm pretty sure I've blogged before about how I misunderstood the word, controversial. Not knowing what it meant, I bragged to my mother that Madonna's most controversial video ever was about to have its world premier on MTV. I thought she'd be impressed, but Susie was not impressed--not amused at all. (Not being Catholic and only 13 at the time, I didn't get the iconography. And coming from the rural South where I've had two friends who have had burning crosses lit in their yards on two occasions, I did not see anything extreme about that scene either.)

Well it seems almost everyone is pushing for controversy these days: it sells. Rihanna's video for S&M (sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me) just came out this morning. I never really paid attention to the song, even though it is the first song on the Loud album. After reading that the video had been banned in 11 countries, I immediately went to youtube (who make you confirm that you're at least 18 years old before viewing the video) to watch it. It's very colourful and bright... it's a lot of bondage scene and blow-up dolls.



Speaking of controversy, 13 civil society activists in Uganda were arrested recently for distributing a statement condemning the 20 million shillings that were put into the bank accounts of 325 Members of Parliament. Through their campaign (called "Return Our Money"), they wanted others to take a stand against what they see as corruption and demand that the Members of Parliament return the 20 million shillings--which many people in the country and elsewhere view as a bribe.




Unfortunately, others (including some others who have power) saw their campaign as disruptive to the political campaigning and, therefore, illegal. However, Human Rights Watch don't see it that way: Ugandan police and Resident District Commissioners are intimidating civil society activists seeking to expose and condemn allegations of government corruption.


Over to Britneyland

Over to Britneyland

In case you've been away to Mars or something, let me inform you that Britney's video for her number 1 single, Hold It Against Me, will be released in 7 days. How exciting!

And if just knowing that the video is coming isn't exciting enough, team Britney has organised to give the world 14 daily teasers featuring snippets of the video shoot.

Behold number 6:




In case you missed the previous 5, you can find them all on Billboard.com.


There, my good deed for the day is done.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Midnight Run

Midnight Run

Thanks to the arrival of Nakumatt in Kampala, 24-hour shopping was introduced. Nakumatt is spreading across the city, and we now have our very own Nakumatt in Bugolobi, open 24 hours a day. While I respect a person's need to rest, and 'mom and pop' shops (a foundation of the economy that I truly believe play a vital role, yet every economy must evolve) must have a closing time, I sometimes need to make a few purchases 'after hours'.

My appreciation for 24-hour shopping really began in May of 2003 when an incompetent travel agent booked me to Panama City, Panama instead of Panama City, Florida from Uganda, and I almost missed my father's funeral. After hours of quasi-agony I arrived at the correct destination at 2:00am with no baggage, yet I had an important funeral to attend in a matter of hours.

Super Wal-Mart. Need I say more?

More recently, a busy day accompanied by a beautiful distraction occupied me before a trip upcountry on a one-week trip to Kidepo Valley National Park. Without Nakumatt and 24-hour shopping, I would not have gone hungry, but my snacks (including double-stuffed Oreos) would not have been as interesting.

I'm probably the world's worst procrastinator. In my mind there is always plenty of time remaining. Putting things off until the last minute is the way I roll. A request was made for dried pineapple tomorrow. 9:00pm: Yes, I said I'd go to the supermarket... but there's always more time. Midnight: I'm driving down to the Nakumatt. Still no need to rush.

Yes, I found the dried pineapple.

The soundtrack of this evening: Kanye West, Dark Fantasy


Cindy? Really?

Disgusting.



Monday, February 07, 2011

Elephant in the Room

Elephant in the Room

I'm just gonna come out and state the obvious: brain tumors suck. (Thanks Ms. McDermott for your lesson in bluntness and unabashedly pointing out the elephant in the room.)

Just as there are things that suck in the world (e.g. brain tumors), there are things that most definitely not.

For instance, the fair at Magic Moments in Mbuya last Saturday did not suck. (Thanks Ms. McDermott for being my hot date.) I mean, there was too much good stuff to keep stuffing my face with for it to even remotely suck. In fact, they even had large, soft pretzels--like the one's you buy off the streets of New York.


Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday most definitely does not suck. Because of the mixed reviews, I was tempted to not get it. However, Nicki's amazing contribution to Kanye's Monster sold me. Whoever gave this album a bad review was most definitely not a runner. Pink Friday is the best recent set of music to have on one's iPod on a long, hilly run, i.e. Kampala. Roman's Revenge can really get you up those hills!


I can't think of anything that sucks less than spending a sunny weekend afternoon poolside with amazing people. Join that with some magazines and French fries, and you really can forget about and escape from things that truly suck.


Julie Brown as Medusa once said: "No matter how hard you try, you can't make lemonade from a dead dog." Truer words never spoken. Equally true: "No matter how hard you try, you can't make lemonade from a brain tumor." They suck.


You can't treat your way out of this problem.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Unleash the Dragon (well sort of)

Unleash the Dragon (well sort of)

When I stood up from the bench after the Friday morning assembly at school, I felt something run up my leg under my jeans. My first instinct was to yell out at bit, but I repressed that urge and walked (more like limped) into the school, heading to the toilets, to release whatever beast was seeking the warmth of my body under my trouser leg.

When I reached the corridor for the staff toilets, the head of school hijacked me; she (a vegetarian) had her arms loaded with a tray of pre-formed hamburger patties--carrying them to a helper who would take them to her home in preparation for a staff social this evening. She urgently needed me to cover her class while she took care of the meat situation (remember: vegetarian). How could I say, no?

So I hobbled into the year 6 classroom with the little creature inching its way higher up my leg. By the time I got there, it was at the top of my knee cap. In my mind, I kept picturing a variety of fanged members of the animal kingdom that I did not want to inject venom or take a chunk out of my leg. In the year 6 classroom, I stood at the back of the room, only a few paces from the door and conducted our welcome and discussion from there. The less moving around the better. A few more steps around my knee cap.

It was a poetry lesson, so I had one of the students retrieve a book with Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" in it and proceeded to read it and try to have a discussion with the class about nonsense words. My concentration was not there, and I can pretty much guarantee you that the students' focus was not with me or on the words I was saying. The creature in my pants was loving the knee cap region, and kept whiffling through the tulgey woods of my leg hairs.

After what I considered way too much time, the head of school came to relieve me and resume her class. I hobbled towards the toilets, and this time I made it. I quickly stripped off my jeans and there on my leg was... nothing. For a moment I thought maybe I had imagined it all and was losing my mind. I picked up my jeans from the floor, shook them and out fell a pinky-finger-sized gecko. Quickly it scurried across the floor, seeking refuge in the shadows. The sight of the little creature was a relief; I even had a quick chuckle (bathroom humour: drain the lizard; unleash the dragon, lot lizard...). The sight of the little creature was also a little anti-climatic. That's it? That's all it was? Imagine such a small, harmless animal accelerating one's heart rate such as it did mine.

It was just an animal seeking warmth from another's warm body on a cool morning. Nature.