November 8, 2008
The week started off with a near bang. From a rifle. There are guns everywhere in Entebbe, slung sloppily over shoulders like knapsacks. It’s a bit shocking that it doesn’t bother me, but then, living here I have to desensitize myself to most of what I see on a daily basis.
On Monday, Debby (the Jane Goodall Institute executive director) and I had taken the dogs down to a quiet stretch of beach where Tinker could fetch sticks until he was in a coma. He’s a lab retriever, this is his life’s work. Debby had just returned from the Congo, and her animated stories of life in Birundi and a decade in the turbulent Congo are quite engaging (plus, everything sounds better with an Australian accent). She has been held at gunpoint three times, carjacked and pissed on by agitated chimps several times, so, this woman could eat nails for breakfast. Really, an arm wrestle between her and Dian Fossey would have been at a deadlock.
As we walked up from the beach along the golf course and zoo property, the dogs ran ahead, past two alert ostriches. Vervet monkeys scrambled to the trees at first sight of the dogs approaching and demonstrated their ferociousness once they felt brave, high in the canopies. A few fireflies illuminated the tall grasses as we picked our way along the path, past termite hills that appear at first glance like giant sandcastles.
And then, the scream that made my veins knot up. Again, another shriek that stabbed the dusky sky and the idyllic surroundings. A mother was walking with a young girl, maybe 3 or 4, who was beside herself with fear over the dogs. She was trembling and screaming like I thought only my sister could when I stole Emmanuel Lewis, her beloved Cabbage Patch Kid. Debby reassured the mother that the dogs were friendly, and until that point the dogs were more interested in the monkeys. With all the crying though, Scrappy turned back and playfully jumped towards the girl. A Uganda Wildlife Authority guard lifted the muzzle of her gun. “I shoot it,” she yelled angrily in our direction. Debby called for Scrappy, and I grabbed Tinker and Levi by their collars, which is like trying to reign in Clydesdale horses. The gun slipped from the guards shoulder, and though she was now pointing it at Scrappy, it was also directly pointing at Debby. My heart pounded in my head like a thousand jackhammers. Debby yelled at the guard to drop her gun, she wouldn’t grab the dog with a gun pointed at her. Everyone was yelling, the girl was still screeching. There was that painful suspension of time where anything could happen and the world is moving too quickly and too slowly at the exact same time. Finally, the guard pointed her rifle to the ground and we had Scrappy. We hurried along the once idyllic road, the guard yelling that “next time, I fire gun. I shoot it.” The mother yelled, “you are in our country. You do as we say.” Then, some bystander emerged from a path and was on our heels telling us how disgusted he was with mizungos. He kept muttering in Lugandan and English, over the screaming guard about how we were in Uganda now. Mizungos blahblahblah Mizungo blahblahblah. I turned to him and said the matter was resolved, the girl was fine, we were leaving, but still… he kept on us, trying to intimidate us with his closeness. Debby turned to the guard and hollered back about how stupid it would be for the guard to shoot a dog in front of a child. Scrappy had already moved on to new sniffs, oblivious to his near death experience. The escalating emotions of the girl, the mother and the guard could have so quickly turned, and we could have had a dead dog. I could have bit my tongue in half with the anger that sat in my throat. There is a delicate line that we had to accept and swallow. We were wrong to have the dogs off-leash, but, to shoot Scrappy because the girl was afraid? The consequences could have been devastating, in one awful second. My mind reeled with thoughts of Scrappy with a bullet in his side, bleeding. I know I would have shot the guard myself, there’s no question. Would I be willing to spend life in an African jail over a dead dog? Absolutely. Debby would have been sharing the cell with me.
So, I might have to do some cut and paste censorship when I forward this email to my parents. Some things are best discussed when I return to Canada, over the safety of a glass of wine by the fire. When Africa becomes a place on the map again, a place I once lived.
When I was 21 and in the depths of the Costa Rican rainforest, I waited until I was back home to mention the drug runners I saw with AK-47’s and flour sacs full of marijuana. Oh, and how I was helicoptered out of the jungle on a double-blade Chinook because of the flash floods by the Panama army. Yeah, that kind of stuff doesn’t exactly fit in the space of a postcard. Besides, didn’t my parents want to hear about the toucans and blue morpho butterflies?
My second scare of the week came after a botched attempt at making soya flour porridge. The directions seemed immediately questionable: 3 teaspoons of soya flour to one litre of water. I trusted the box and turned on the gas stove. I began mixing, patiently waiting for the porridge to thicken. It was to boil for 20 minutes, but at 11 minutes I still had a puce-coloured soup. I added three more heaping teaspoons and stirred. Nothing. Then I resorted to dumping ¾ of the bag into the pot (always the solution when all else fails). Well, that was a mistake. I had shifted from making porridge into creating giant soya flour dumplings! The newly added flour refused to blend, and the balls of flour rose to the top of the murky mixture. With a wooden spoon I tried to break up a few of the larger lumps, but there were so many! And still, I had a soupy consistency, with dumplings now! I figured the mess would be fine with some honey and raisins. I poured the slop into a bowl and took it upstairs to enjoy on the balcony with the sun on my shoulders. Sat down, crossed my leg and Levi immediately curled up at my feet, not even remotely interested in the poison I had made for myself. I spooned up a mouthful and was pleasantly surprised—until the dumpling disintegrated in my mouth like a ball of sand. The grit was taking the enamel off my teeth. I kept trying mouthful after mouthful, each sand ball worse than the previous. I went back downstairs to put the remaining 20 servings in Tupperware. Then, a voice reminded me that life didn’t have to be like this. My dad always made us eat burnt toast, with the charcoal surface scraped off, but surely, I could afford to throw out the shit I had just made. Being in Africa has heightened my awareness of being wasteful, but, would an African kid eat this? No way. Levi even rolled his eyes at me and said (with his eyes),
“give me the good stuff, bitch. I know you have Monterey jack cheese in the fridge and peanut butter.”
So, disappointed in my wasteful self I hurried the Tupperware out to the compost before I had a witness to my western ways of everything being disposable. The tall grass tickled my ankles and I thought briefly of snakes, all of them being poisonous, as Tom (our guard) told me there was a mamba around a few weeks ago—in his guard shack even! Tip-toeing now, imagining imaginary snakes taking a jab at my ankles I made my way to the compost and just as I was about to dump my slop—JESUS CHRIST! The squawk almost sent me headfirst into the compost heap of banana peels and egg shells. A huge ibis flew up and out of the compost, clearly irritated with my sudden intrusion. This was my reminder not to be so wasteful (or, more specifically, not to buy stupid soya flour porridge again). I walked away from the composter hoping the ibis wouldn’t eat the porridge, otherwise I’d find a dead, bloated ibis in the heap the next day, a sand dumpling stuck in his feathered throat…
Later that day I went to Anderita Beach for a beer, figuring I couldn’t get anymore bloated. I found a spot that seemed safe from being approached for conversation, requests for money, marriage, and the running shoes I was wearing. I ordered a Nile and pulled a copy of Jane out of my bag. Desperate for reading material, I had found a March 1996 Jane magazine at the office (Jane has since been replaced by Glamour). While drinking my beer I could learn how to apply fake eyelashes, turn Him on in bed with 96 new tricks, and read about the merits of the grapefruit vs. the popcorn diet. When the server returned she excitedly pointed to the model in the Revlon ad for lipstick that you could eat tacos with, and still have the same glossy shine. “It is you!” she shouted, loud enough for everyone on the beach to hear.
She set my beer down. “It is you in the picture.” I looked at the Revlon girl with her coffee-coloured, shoulder-length hair, Nicole Kidman white complexion, avocado green eyes, dainty nose and bee-stung lips. “It is you, right? Tell me it is.”
I was laughing at how unlike I was to this Revlon girl, but I don’t think the server was convinced. She was so attentive with her service that afternoon, I think she was hoping for a swag bag of Revlon lipsticks from me. But, the next day it happened again. I was walking to the post office and a woman approached me asking me for jobs for her two daughters, they could cook for me (I wondered if she had witnessed my botched soya porridge-making somehow). She insisted on giving me her phone number and repeating her name, “Prossi.” Even though I told her I had no jobs to offer, she wouldn’t be satisfied. Later, after work when I was walking up Berkeley to get some bananas and simsims, I saw Prossi again. She waved wildly but then approached me cautiously. “Is it you? I met you today?” I assured her that yes, it was me. “No, I don’t know…” Prossi examined my face and clothes (I was wearing the same t-shirt and cargos as earlier). “I don’t know if it is you.” I even told Prossi that I knew her name, where we met, and that she had two daughters. “I have four daughters,” she corrected me, figuring she now knew I was lying.
“But two are looking for jobs, right?”
Prossi slapped me on the shoulder, ‘it is you!”
I told Debby of my Prossi encounter, and being mistaken for a Revlon girl. She said that Ugandans are notorious for poor face recognition—even when whites are obviously different looking, Ugandans just don’t see it (they are only looking to see if you are fatting or not!). So, I guess when we sometimes think (but never admit out loud for fear of a finger pointed at as for possibly being racist), that Asians look the same, or all blacks look the same—indeed, black people think all white people look the same too! Even though there are probably only 12 of us in Entebbe at any given time, and six of them drive around in UN trucks!
In other news, I feel like I should touch on the topic of goat sex as it created such a fever pitch with readers. I’m thinking of approaching Hollywood with a few proposals, like: Dancing With Goats, A Goat to Remember, To Goat, With Love and Crouching Goat, Hidden Dragon. Of course, for the B-movie market there is always Debbie Does Goat and I’ve already penned the opening lines–
Goat: “You wanna piece of me?”
Debby: “Here’s lookin’ at you, Kid.”
But, enough about the goats, I’ll share a dirty secret I learned about the crab-eating macaques monkeys in Indonesia: for tension-reducing conciliation between the monkeys, the dominant one approaches the opponent with raised eyebrows. The opponent stares into the dominant individual’s eyes, they lip smack and touch each others genitals and are friends again. Nice, this is how things should always be.
Also of interest: male bush babies have baculums, slender bones that reinforce the penis, which I guess all men aspire to when they talk about having “boners,” just like the bush babies of Africa.
Enough of that, my parents will soon block me from their email list if I carry on with all this baculum and goat sex business.