ethiopian food vs. the bad place

(...too much is happening. hence oldish news. old = 2 weeks.)

This is a culture of apology. Or perhaps one of concern lost in translation. I trip on the bricks infront of my house, my guard says he is sorry. I drop a pot of water preparing tea for some students of mine, they are both sorry too. I sneeze, sorry. I forget my keys, sorry.

Or the other night, when Kathryn and I ventured to an Ethiopian restaurant in Remera. Mistaking an entire hot pepper for a green one, she begins involuntarily crying, and the old men two tables over are…sorry. I wasn’t sorry, I just laughed. I am a bad friend. That is why I swallowed a hot pepper accidently a few minutes later too. Serves me right.

The incessant burning resulted in a trek across town to find ice cream, our moto drivers thinking us completely insane.

Fitting for the week. Try explaining why white water rafting is fun to Rwandans who don’t like the rain. Chalk that up there with explaining the purpose of Halloween. Pure insanity. And while we might not have celebrated Halloween this weekend (that was two weeks ago), we did go rafting.

So, last Thursday we left for Uganda. After an eight hour bus ride, we arrived in Kampala. A large grimy city, which oddly reminded me of Toronto. Perhaps the sheer size of if, rather than the cows eating from garbage piles. But, I awoke the next morning to rain on the roof of our banda and monkies in the trees, so I was happy enough.

(said monkey in tree)
We spent the morning visiting the Kasumi Tombs for the Bugandan Kings. Where we had to wear makeshift skirts, and discuss Idi Amin with a primary class, along with our favourite foods, and whether or not boys actually wet the bed. However, in afternoon, we headed to chill and raft in Jinja for a few days. A town on the shores of Lake Victoria, and home to the source of the White Nile River.

Four days after the fact and I was still incredibly stiff and sore. It is like a morning after snowboarding, when you wake up and all your muscles seem to cry out at once. All I wanted was a hot bath, and yet I was greeted only by a bucket of cold water. Yet, despite this, the sunburns and sore muscles, it was entirely worth it.

Two rafts. Our raft was eight in total; three serbians in teeny scarring bathing suits, three canadians (including Kathryn and i), one brit with two black eyes face planting the water when bungee jumping, and one kiwi, our guide Ruben. A funny fowl mouthed burly blonde boy who clearly thought the world of himself, but seemed to think the world of you too. So it was more endearing then anything else. Add five Ugandan safety kayakers, one more in a safety raft.and set us adrift on grade 5 rapids. A motley crew to say the least.

The entire experience was unbelievable. I think that is the most accurate way to describe it. You would descend these giant walls of water, to be greeted by another rising ominously in the other side. But first you would hover above, as if in slow motion. Everything quiet, deafened by the roar of the rapids. And for this split second you could watch these fields of churning water. Waves braiding themselves down the river. Tying themselves in knots then slowly unravelling and unfurling into massive pools. This moment amidst beauty with your heart in your throat. And then the moment would pass, time would resume itself, and you would begin sliding swiftly forward, as the walls came crashing down on all sides.

Sometimes we would tip. Sometimes we would not, raising our paddles in the air, an act of triumph. However, the times we tipped were more frequent then the times we did not.

One instant it was blue skies, the next churning white, and then black. Two invisible hands grasping at your ankles, pulling you further and further into the depths. A twisting tunnel, forcing you forward through the muffled roar and out the other side. Alice in her rabbit hole. I would resurface choking & grinning.

This process quickly became par for the course.

One time only the boys fell out. Another instance (over a sixteen foot waterfall), it was only Ruben who went shooting over our heads. Grimacing, he swam his way back to our laughing raft. But most often, we all went tumbling over the red sides into the frothing mass below. After one such instance, I made it onto the safety raft with nearly all of our paddles. Hauled up by the operator, an entertaining Ugandan boy named Peter (who told me that he had been a mzungu from Vancouver in a past life). We were too close to the next rapid to return me or our gear. So peter and I laughed and laughed as we watched my raft attempt to navigate the next rapid with only two paddles. Miraculously they made it out in one piece.

But, the last rapid was the most intimidating. Itanda Falls, otherwise known as “the bad place.” And as we soon learned, aptly named. Although, as of the other night, we have concluded that Ethiopian food is more painful then the bad place.

The river was lined with locals, watering long horned cows, washing clothes, or simply observing the spectacles that are the Jinja rafting companies. We had to portage around the first part; a grade six rapid. But it was enormous so setting ourselves adrift part way through was terrifying enough. We flipped in the middle of the river, and were promptly pulled under. A downwards spiral of liquid fists and actual limbs. I cannot tell you how long I was under the first time. But my lungs were screaming by the time I surfaced, only to be pulled immediately under again. This pattern repeated itself another two or three times before I finally found myself disoriented and downstream.

So…rafting in Ottawa next summer? Or the rockies? Anyone? Because I am so in. Seriously.

The ride back to camp from Itanda Falls was close to fourty minutes along dirt roads in rural Uganda. Red dust, mud huts and naked babies in the late day sun. I spent the trip perched atop the back of a converted cattle truck, clutching the metal bars. A wooden bust on a sailing vessel, perhaps with messier hair. A moment I wish I could repeat over and over.

The night occurred sprawled on red lit couches in an open building. A thatched roof, a sand floor, and a spectacular view of Bujagali falls (the first grade 5 of the day!). Two rafts clinking glasses to a job well done. I even got the Ugandan bartenders to play my ipod over the speaker system for a good few hours. Eventually we retired, not to bed, but rather to the field to rehash the day and star gaze. Or more accurately, befriend three friendly camp dogs and play our infamous scenario-digital-camera-game. Something long ago perfected in Kathryn’s Etobicoke basement with the likes of one lovely Katie Hamilton.

For instance, what would you do if…

…suddenly everyone on the raft is wearing scandelously small serbian speedos…
…suddenly you come out of a rapid and all of your clothes have been ripped off in the process (apparently Kathryn would be happy. haha)…
…if you involuntarily swallow way too much water, (which later became known as ‘sips of the nile’)…
… if you could ride on the top of a cattle truck all day every day…
...etc etc...

So yeah. In conclusion, Uganda = Amazing.

...Depite our last taxi driver at 5 am taking us to the bus station. He had to shake the car back in forth to keep it from running out of gas. Kathryn and I flailing around the back seat in the dark. But I got to watch the sun rise on our bus back to kampala.

I feel as though significant moments in my life (if only internally) are always tied to either sitting in cars, rainstorms, the early mroning or some combination of the three.

Either way, I routinely forget how pretty it is.



snake on the road.

First of all, I need to say, I am astounded by both the amount and content of responses I have received in regards to my last post. Whether public or private they were all honest, open and insightful. I feel privileged to have such supportive family and friends, who are so willing to discuss with me, regardless of differing opinions or beliefs. So thank you.

I was (obviously) feeling a little spent last week, so I decided to take off with five other canadian ex-pats to Gisenyi. A border town on Lac Kivu, brimming with tropical languor, poverty, abandoned architectural remnants of colonialism, and great swimming. We stayed in an old mansion turned hotel, with enormous windows that opened wide, (I definitely spent a good chunk of the weekend curled up reading on our two foot deep wooden window sill). If you looked one way you had a fantastic view of the water, if you looked the other you saw Goma. A tiny town in the DR of Congo, half buried under volcanic rock after an eruption in 2005. I walked to border on our second day. A metal bar swung open and shut. Shocked that there is more security around a house in Kigali, then the border to a country with a foreign affairs warning.

The six of us were looking for adventure, and made it our mission to find the Ginsenyi hot springs. Volcanic hot springs; sounds great right? WRONG. After taking an unnecessary and expensive boat ride across a channel (it was easily walkable) in loud fluorescent mandatory over-sized life jackets, we arrived at the hot springs…or should I say hot puddles. Hot puddles full of naked children and men in see-through underpants bathing.


But, we were not deterred, promptly stripped down to our bathing suits, and joined the group. This was clearly quite a spectacle and immediately attracted an audience. Overall it was rather hilarious. The “springs” were also “run” by an old man sporting an enormous moth eaten fur hat, and multiple strands of wooden beads. He shuffled about shaking a large stick, and muttering in Kinyarwanda the entire time. Although, I’m not sure he would have been comprehensible, even if I spoke the language.

I think it was good to get away, and clear my head a bit. Also, Sometimes it is just nice to hang out with other canadians. People who understand your humour, references, & perspectives. People you don’t have to explain yourself to. There is something undeniably refreshing about that. I am happy enough to be outside my culture and comfort zone, I just start to go a little crazy when I get home at night and often realize I haven’t had a legitimate conversation all day. I have begun helping prepare a large meal for street kids in the gikondo district every Friday. Five or so hours of peeling potatoes and shredding cabbage with big rwandan mamas. The last time I went they gave me a kiyarwandan name. Uwitonze, meaning quiet one.

Gisenyi was beautiful, but oddly enough, I think my favourite part was the drive home.

Sandwiched in the back corner of the bus, we left at dusk, snaking through the mountains. I have now seen my first live volcanoes. Towering black pyramids billowing a thick grey smoke that hangs in the air. A chain of seven in congo, and three visible in one of rwanda’s nearby national parks. Ten in total looming through the trees. It was unbelievable.

Then darkness fell and the drive continued. The interior the bus enveloped in slate overtones, silhouetted heads leaning against one another, or looking out fogged up windows. Every now and then I would run my palm against the glass. It reminded me of long ago family vacations. Road trips to the east coast, fair havens, the cottage. The back of our big brown oldsmobile. Writing names and drawing pictures with delicate fingertips. Gliding swift and steady across the cool wet glass. Temporary masterpieces in the moisture of a humid interior. It was these same nights that sarah, christine and I would loosen our seatbelts, sit on our pillows, and rest our heads on the back dash staring upwards. We would watch the night through the reflection on the windshield, and pretend to be astronauts with only a window full of stars. Barrelling vertical in stead of horizontal.

But this night, I only cleared my view in one quick gesture to see the stars, still sitting static. It made me miss my sisters.

Under stark headlights, eucalyptus trees look suspiciously like birch and maple. And despite the deep valleys we skimmed the tops of, with no light to distinguish their depth, they merely appeared as expansive black fields beyond the tree-line. It was only in approaching Kigali that our height became tangible. A series of flashlights gripped at the base of a large dark funnel.

And then our bus hit a snake, and backed-up the road for a good two minutes to avoid supposed bad luck. Only then did I fully remember I was not in canada.

I feel I revert back to my childhood a lot here. Specifically fair havens, probably because it’s always warm and always raining. I watch the rain from my couch, and yet I am seven and sitting on our picnic table. Scraped and freckled knees tucked under my chin. Watching the water flood the gravel roads and pool in the edges of our green and white striped canopy.

Mom and Dad gave away the trailer a few summers back. A retro staple of my childhood. Its orange circle patterned curtains and vinyl seats that would stick to the back of your thighs in the heat. The bees caught in the screening, petrified after summers in the sun. The green canvas wings with tiny holes covered in duct tape that glowed in the mid afternoon; the summer my sister decided to use a sharp pencil to create her own personal universe.

Perhaps it is because, in many ways, this feels like one giant camping trip. A never ending summer of sorts. Not unlike my entire childhood.

Slightly dirty with lots of improvisation.