October 5, 2008
“My heart would feel too guilty in not speaking to you, and telling you that I could see it in your eyes that we were meant to be together—not just physically, but spiritually too.” Apparently Martin could detect my love for him through my sunglasses and from across the road! Wow, what cosmic super powers. I told him I had a big, beefy husband and he skulked away, heartbroken, still adamant in convincing me that we were destined. He loved me the instant he saw me, and he wanted to share our lives together, even after only one minute of conversation.
If you ever feel lonely, or want to make an average 50 new friends a day, visit Africa. Solitude is a rare thing for me—even when I retire to bed and pull the mosquito netting closed, I have one or both cats eager to join me, pushing their way blindly through the netting, or a sleeping dog at my feet (and another with his head on my pillow more frequently). When I walk the dogs, I am followed by a pack of children trying to provoke the dogs into barking. Men ask me to simply give them one. Others stare, like I am a six-eyed alien walking unicorns on leashes. Dogs are feared here, and the women tell me quite sternly, “I fear it,” and cross the road with a frown. Levi, the Rhodesian Ridgeback generates the most attention with his height and white fur. The two of us together are quite an attraction.
I am asked for my email address, even without any prior conversation—the locals will say, “What country?”I say Canada, they grin, and demand either, “give me a thousand (which is less than a dollar), “give me something” (usually the kids make this kind of general request)—and it could be for the bottle of water that I’m drinking, or whatever I happen to be eating. “Give it to me, I am hungry.” Others try an approach that begins with friendly conversation and ends in a request for whatever they may need or want: a lollipop, a pair of running shoes, my dog. I am famous for the colour of my skin and what that represents. The expense of my flight to Uganda alone is more money than most Ugandans will ever see in a lifetime. But, I can’t draw comparisons or parallels. Just as I can’t imagine living in the trenches of WW2 (or Afghanistan for that matter), I don’t think my life in Canada is understandable or fathomable. Simple things like drinking water out of a tap, every kid having a bike (if not five by the time they are 12), having school textbooks that are yours (to draw big penises and boobs in) and not shared with nine of your classmates, two gas-sucking SUVs per family, school buses and stores that sell only cupcakes. In Entebbe your family might be lucky enough to have one bike with flat tires that you share (and ride on the rims), you might actually get paper to write on in class and a pencil of your own, and, the water is available from a well just a five kilometer walk down the road. The last time I heard of any North American fetching their own water was when Jack and Jill went up the hill.
There is extreme beauty and cause for celebration here though, and this past week was the end of Ramadan and the Muslim 30 day fast. Ede, a national holiday for Uganda, is a frenzy of drumming, dancing and singing. And what are they singing? Madonna, Celine Dion and Rhianna tunes (‘’Umbrella-ella-ella’’) as they blast from the sound systems at the beach. The Ede festival is declared when the new moon is first seen (and the following day is the holiday—which makes it similar to an unpredictable snow day from school). There is even a website with contact numbers to call if you spot the moon, and they ask moon-spotters to alert their friends. I decided to follow the hordes to Imperial Beach and watched as Muslim women swam in their traditional dress, and about 60 Kenyans played football in their tighty-whitey underwear.
The Kenyans were eager to talk to me about the US economic crisis, and to discuss politics. This is certainly not my Jeopardy category. ‘’Alex, I’ll take politics for 15 dollars, please.” The Kenyans are students from Kampala University, and they are so Kenyan-proud. “Obama, his father is from Kenya, our homeland! Obama, he went to Harvard, like I will.” Mohammed, Mohammed and Fasel convinced me that they were the future leaders of their country. I was meeting the future Minister of the Environment, Minister of Finance, and well, Fasel was to be president in 2020. They rhymed off every medal Kenya won at the Olympics and their world ranking. I could only think of Simon Whitfield. Fasel asked me to take their photos, as proof that I had met the future leaders. I did, happily, because taking pictures here is like persuading someone into sitting in a dentist’s chair for a root canal. At the market I asked a woman who was working at an antique Singer sewing machine stitching a hem if I could take her photo. She said only if I gave her the negative. I tried to explain the mechanics of the digital camera and she turned away and said, ‘’I don’t think you will take it.” Meaning= no, and an unspoken, F-off Canadian paparazzi. I went and looked around her store and asked her about the honey (dark as Coca-Cola) which she had poured into old Smirnoff bottles. There was no known expiry date, ‘’unless the honey was adulterated.”
Shopping for groceries is always a unique challenge and a fine example of Lost in Translation. I bought Gnut (ground nut) sauce (which is peanut and sesame/simsim seed butter). It is a product of Happy Mothers and contains no addictives. Thank god! However, the wheat bran cereal I bought from the Indian grocer with nails almost long and twirly enough to enter in the Guinness Book of World Records, contains 3% ash. Ash of what? I am nervous to ask. If my cereal tastes like goat, I will be nervous. Wheat bran now with no addictives, just goat ash!
The saga continues… I ask Alex, a local who works at the Botanical Gardens to tell me what kind of coffee I should buy. He hesitates. I ask again, “like, which coffee is the best?” He says, “Nescafe, madam.” Nescafe!! He walks with me around the gardens, pointing out jackfruit, mangosteen trees and a cannonball tree (imagine just that—a tree with suspended cannonballs). We walk through the virgin forest that Tarzan was supposedly filmed in back in the 50s. He plucks a pink flower from the cannonball tree, “Madam, can you hear the smell?”This is my new favourite line. I can hear the smell of everything in Africa.
The week comes to a close with the most dreadful massage I’ve ever had. After a sun-dappled day on Anderita beach watching women gut tilapia fish enjoying a warm Tusker beer, I decide to ask at the Anderita hotel about massage services. I am told to sit, and soon Eva appears, ‘’I am ready to massage you.’’ I was just going to ask about prices, but it is only 20,000 (18 bucks), so I splurge. I feel dread immediately as she opens the door to a hotel room with a Queen bed (with a red checkered tablecloth thrown on top of it). “You get naked, lay down, I come back.” I do, already regretting what I might have volunteered myself for. She begins the first of her five most awful techniques. She tries cracking my back by pushing me into the foam mattress, more successfully suffocating me. Then, she focuses her attention on trying (in vain) to make each of my toes crack at least three times. She moves on with no grace, and attacks me with lobster-like pinches. Then, she pounds me six times as I wince, her Rocky Balboa punches landing on my nerves and spine. I keep hoping for the best. As I turn over she rubs my breasts (which I expected), but I didn’t expect her end move: a full neck strangulation. She does this three times and I gag, and she laughs, “too hard on throat?’’
She cracks all my fingers, and tries to break both my wrists before squirting a generous handful of baby oil into her hand. And, horrors of horrors, she puts it in my hair! Suddenly she is trying to create a bird’s nest with my hair, rubbing it in big knots like a shitty older brother would do to a younger sister. She does this for 10 minutes while leaning on my shoulder so hard that I think it might dislocate. Eva is now sitting in the middle of the bed, breathing like Darth Vader, her toes touching mine, and her weight is causing me to roll into the middle of the bed. “Finished,’’ she announces, and I have never been happier in my life. I slide into the shower, so oily I could fry eggs on my body in the hot sun, and shower. The miniature bar of hotel soap doesn’t even cut the oil. And I start itching. I am reacting to the oil and want to sheer my skin off with a machete!! As I have my allergic reaction and too-much-oil gross-out, Eva is cackling away, sitting on the bed with her shoes kicked off. She is watching Big Brother 3 while I shower. I can’t believe it. When I exit the shower, with hair looking like I combed it with a pork chop, she says, ‘’was it 5 star?’’ I had told her in the beginning that I had had a massage at the Imperial Hotel (5 star), so she was nervous, she confided. I did ask before she started where she did her training, and she said Kampala (where my other massage therapist had gone). This time I asked Eva specifically, “what school did you go to?” She beams, “Tina’s Beauty Salon.’’ I hand her the $20,000 and leave her to watch Big Brother on the tablecloth-covered bed. She asks me to tell my friends all about her and the massage, and I tell her not to worry, I will.
Just another boring week in Africa. Ho-hum.