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.