22 September 2013

This one is a bit histrionic

It was little more than a month ago that I was kvetching about not having a Person and how nobody understand my Africa woes and they just want to talk about real life, etcetera, etcetera. And then Colorado started drowning and some crazy shot up DC and my normalcy, my rocks slipped away. I am, in retrospect, an idiot. A self-absorbed ninny (yes, I still know that I’m writing a personal blog, which is probably the high-water mark of self-absorption). I have a Person. I have many Persons. And I love talking to them about real life. That’s what I want. I want to call home and talk about shoes and pumpkin spice lattes and the absurd profiles on on-line dating sites and GoT and the Broncos and dog antics. I want to hear about apple picking or mountain climbing or happy hour shenanigans. I don’t want to call home and hear death tolls or numbers of displaced and missing or evacuation orders. Because that’s what makes being here bearable. It is how I can keep a safe distance from the suffering and not be consumed by it – knowing that there is somewhere that, in my memory, tastes like cinnamon and joy and that the only sorrows that invade it are the standard ones. There is no horror there.

When there is, and I’m worried about my Persons beyond whether they’ve managed to find a job or love or perfect that red wine cupcake recipe (not that these are any less real than other worries, they’re just ones I can relate to and allow in my cinnamon-scented world) it feels like my tether is fraying. When there is such profound suffering in both of my realities, I lose track of my anchor (this raises a whole other question, of course, about those who don’t have an anchor to begin with and who have no horizon beyond their suffering. For whom ‘real life’, as I so flippantly refer to it, does not exist. And it’s a question that I look forward to exploring someday, when I feel grounded enough to approach it. Today, however, is not that day. On an unrelated note, I’m really into ship metaphors today). So forget it – talk to me about Pepco and your horrible boss and your cold, please., and I will never bemoan it again.

I had thought it had reached a low point during the summer, what with the enormous wildfire that tore through the same part of the state where I grew up. And that was bad, certainly, the knowledge that some of my childhood was burning away. The fire was tragic and weirdly located, to be sure, but wildfires are a fact of life in Colorado and you learn to accept them. Floods, though? We don’t have floods. This is not a Colorado concern, except in the most vague way, like how you might absently worry about a blizzard in Texas or the Second Coming . So this has gone beyond your standard natural disaster horror and passed into some kind of surreality. This would be how I felt if someone told me that Germany just declared war on France. Or, better, Canada on the US. It’s so far outside the realm of what I had accepted as possible that it’s still a little difficult to believe. The photos I’m seeing look more like the flooding in Dungu (a territory northwest of Bunia where flooding last November displaced more than 8,000. It’s started early this year, already destroying the homes of several hundred) that we’re actively working to halt. The bridges that are being washed away are more basic hwew, sure, and the water has crocodiles, but a flood-ravaged house is still a flood-ravaged house. And we have fewer deaths. I can’t deal with cataloguing photos of IDPs, knowing that there are some in Colorado. I’ve begun having a recurring nightmare about my family having to evacuate and leaving my dog behind. And I’m not even on Larium anymore!

As for DC…nothing about that is surreal, I’m deeply saddened to say. Another mass shooting, another day in America. I’m almost numb to it. Would it not have taken place in my second home, I’m not convinced that I would have noticed beyond a prayer for the departed and a faintly shaken fist in the general direction of the NRA. At this point, is it even worth ranting about gun violence or the need for gun control? I think I’ll let the gun-deaths tracker at Slate speak for me. Right now, a battle is raging less than 20km from where I sit. It’s displaced 100,000 people. It has killed about 50. The international community has responded with medical supplies, food, trained counselors, human rights activists….I could go on. Meanwhile, the CDC estimates that more than 20,000 people have been killed by small arms in the US in some eight months, and all we can both to respond with is some failed legislation (and in the odd chance that it is successful, a recall. Damnit again, Colorado) and suggestions to put more guns in schools. This last shooting happened in DC! Do you have any idea how many cops there are in DC? More guns are not the answer. That’s like suggesting what Lyons needs right now is more water.

Upon reflection, this is a stunningly selfish post - just as selfish as the Person post, in fact. I have a lot of growing to do. I mean – just look at the news this week, and you’ll find terrorist attacks in Kenya, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, state-sponsored violence in Egypt and Syria, mudslides in Mexico, typhoons menacing Hong Kong… There have been a plethora of crises, man-made and natural. I doubt many people emerged with their tethers unscathed, if indeed they remained intact at all. Right now, though, it’s hard to muster anything but a sense of exhaustion. I’m exhausted by the violence and the suffering suffusing every corner of this blasted world, no matter how safe it seems. My memory might hold some things sacred, but the real world doesn’t smell like cinnamon and never has. It smells like scorched earth and tears.

On a related but lighter note, a number of friends and family have contacted me to ensure I was okay, in light of the attack in Nairobi. Not to underplay the severity of the situation still unfolding in Kenya, which is horrific, nor the concern of my friends, which is both well-meant and deeply touching. But, man, are Americans bad at geography.

16 September 2013

Hoping to beat the APC rush hour…

The walk to work this morning was a bit surreal. There were police everywhere. Potentially they were soldiers. Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to tell. If I’m not mistaken, there were also additional peacekeepers outside of Monusco House. There was some unrest over the weekend betwixt the police and taxi men, so I suppose they didn’t want to take any chances. ‘Taxi men’ is how we broadly refer to the young toughs who seem to always be itching for a riot, as the majority of their number drive motorbikes. They are the football hooligans of Bunia. Late Saturday night, an apparently drunk taxi man ran into a car and was killed. The driver of the car was savvy enough to hightail it out of there (variously, he either sought shelter with the police or at his home), but the damage was done. The car was torched and the taxi men engaged in a mini-riot, clashing with the police all over town. Gun play continued for the better part of the night, and on Sunday the funeral procession for the lost taxi man snaked its way through most of Bunia, ending at the football stadium (I told you they are hooligans). We were warned to stay in our compound as a precautionary measure (I tried to go to mass before that word came down from our security focal point and my guards very gently suggested that might not be the best idea. Our guards are the sweetest).

I would like to say that this amped-up security was totally out of the norm, but I would be lying. On any given day lately, my walk to or from home is held up by some sort of military footprint. Yes, this morning it was three pickup trucks full of FARDC soldiers toting AKs and rocket launchers (this was a bit shocking in and of itself, since the Bunia police are normally outfitted in riot gear that looks like they simply stuck a flip visor on a batting helmet. Some only have a single clip of rounds and I suspect their back-up weapon is a rape whistle). Friday, though, it was a UN APC flanked by tanks (which did some really fabulous things to Bunia’s ravaged roads).

Instead of the taxi man riot, I suspect that all of this troop movement is related to the most recent outburst of fighting in Irumu (technically, Bunia is in Irumu, but the conflict is southeast of me). The closest skirmishes are about 12 km away (we could actually hear some combat-related detonations Sunday) and there are IDPs everywhere.

Just to offer a bit of context, late last month the FARDC launched a surprise offensive against Cobra Matata’s (remember him?) FPRI militia. There is all manner of speculation about why (it is interesting that no one seems willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are performing their sovereign duty by tackling sub-state armed actors, but whatever). The pet theory of most of the expat community is that Congo has finally decided that it wants to get its paws on the oil in Lac Albert (given that the bulk of the Lac and its oil belong to Congo, this doesn’t seem unreasonable) and the FPRI is standing in their way. As you might have guessed, I find this to be a positive development. Don’t’ get me wrong – I have no love lost for the FARDC. That said, you can’t pretend to be a functioning country when there are some dozen rebel groups in the span of 400km that are hijacking your natural resources willy-nilly and terrorizing your citizens with impunity. Development and security are two sides of the same coin, two of the heads of Cerberus (I suspect that the third head is a functioning civil society. As to why I selected a hellhound for that analogy, I have no idea). So cheers, FARCD, for finally finding some stones. But let’s try not to rape too many people or pillage too many villages once you ‘liberate’ them, mkay?

What is less great, assuming the assaults and ransacking are kept to a minimum, is that it was truly a surprise offensive – they didn’t even give the NGOs a heads-up, so a ton of people got stuck behind the front lines during routine field trips. One friend ended up sheltering in a MONUSCO APC for five days. Two of our supervisors had to flee to Uganda and make their way back to Bunia through North Kivu (you know things are bad when your escape route takes you through a Kivu). Another had to hide out in the clinic at which she had been conducting a training for midwives for nearly a week until we could organize a rescue mission. Of course, in the process of springing her, we managed to deliver a whole host of medications and hygiene kits, giving us bragging rights at the first NGOs on-site. Silver lining, I guess?

Currently, OCHA is estimating that there are some 100,000 new IDPs in Irumu. While the numbers might be inflated a touch (there are only 140,000 people who lived in that area originally), that’s still an awful lot of people hiding out in schools and churches and trees and wherever else they can find a ghost of shelter. For fun, I checked the major humanitarian news outlets for word on the fighting in Irumu. The only Congo news I could find was about the renewed peace talks in Goma. And I’m not talking about BBC. This was IRIN and Alertnet. 100,000 displaced in the last two weeks, and no one cared. I know that it’s nothing next to Syria, but come on y’all. Over the weekend, I was asked by visitor from HQ if we were having trouble finding funding because we lack an in-country communications officer. Sweetie, if even the UN news outlets aren’t paying attention to that many IDPs, we’re effed.*

In fairness, there might simply be a lot of Congo-fatigue among humanitarian journalists. After all, when you start actually chatting with the IDPs, it becomes quickly apparent that these people have been displaced multiple times. So many, in fact, that they’re pretty good at it. The nurses who staff the clinics, for example, made sure to stop by the abandoned health centers and grab what vaccines and medical records they could carry (I know this because they were able to present them to our teams when they arrived for an assessment, pointing out the most at-risk IDPs). There are mothers who mark their children’s ages by the times they’ve had to flee. Pastors who know which potential host villages have the best trees under which to set up impromptu worship services. It would be inspiring were it not so astoundingly depressing.

To add insult to injury, while all this is going on (in fact, perhaps because all of this is going on) the Ugandan army is still chilling inside Congo. They’re not doing anything in particular, mind you – our staff is joking that they’re here on holiday. Again, motives are a bit sketchy (the official line is something transparently absurd about where Congo is building their customs house), but the prevailing theory is that if the FARDC is actually able to clear a path to Lac Albert for oil, Uganda will suffer (given that they are merrily pilfering said oil and have been for years). So, apparently, the UPDF is there as a rouse to distract from the FPRI offensive. It’s not working, and they don’t seem interested in doing anything else. It’s just…uncomfortable.

Likewise, it is actually more the politics than the actual violence that has made the situation tricky, work-wise. The FARDC claims that the INGOs, with their medicines and shelter and food distributions, are actually aiding and abetting the rebels. This is a classic humanitarian catc-22. If insurgents integrate with a population of IDPs, do you feed everyone or no one? This is why the UN would not allow registered IDPs to leave the camps in Sierra Leone and was perhaps best exemplified by the cross-border strikes of the Interahamwe following the Rwandan genocide. The bungling of that particular aid mission is a large part of why North Kivu is such a hot mess today. But I digress. Back to the present moment, when the army is using this as an excuse to fairly arbitrarily deny access to various NGOs to reach the most vulnerable communities. On the other side of the front line, the FPRI feels that MONUSCO is assisting the army, rather than remaining neutral (the specter of the Intervention Brigade is everywhere, despite their not yet having engaged any rebel group. Nowhere is its presence more a cause for both optimism and trepidation than Goma, of course, where the M23 – hilariously – has suggested that the Brigade needs to work in areas distinct from normal peacekeepers so as to avoid confusion, observing that “It’s a very complicated situation for us”). The rebels will actually reference SCR 2098 before claiming that the aggressive stance of the peacekeepers means that the entire international community is arrayed against them. Then they won’t let the aid workers pass, either, and may in fact threaten them or even open fire (the rebels are a bit less predictable than the FARDC, and that is saying something). So the movement of our teams has been bit restricted of late.

Limited, that is, for the Congolese staff. Most of the area is still strictly off-limits to expats. This, honestly, is problematic for me. Is it a statement that my life is more valuable than those of my Congolese colleagues? Or that I’m so obnoxiously white that I would actually put the rest of the team in danger? The latter I can deal with. The former I find unconscionable. It’s a question that I haven’t been able to answer for myself and no one seems interested in discussing it.

With all of the shenanigans taking place at Bunia’s doorstep, coupled with the general antics of the taxi men, the shadow of the Incident looms large. I know I’ve mentioned it in passing, but the Incident last November occurred in part because Goma was getting sacked and the UN was perceived as doing nothing. It encompassed several days of massive riots and the sacking of NGO houses and offices and culminated in the evacuation of the bulk of the expat community. There exists some (reasonable) concern that it will happen again because of the war in Irumu. Yes, we are legitimately worried that the town will begin pugnaciously rioting against an increase in violence. Let that sink in for a moment.

While I readily admit that this is a very real possibility, what strikes me as a bit absurd is the paranoia of those who were here last November. They are, by and large, still so afraid, and were even before things got tense. The sound of a rock being thrown at the gate sent one to shaking. They are fearful and they are angry. I can’t help but wonder how can you serve, or even just work with, people you distrust to the point of almost hating them? They also absolutely despise the UN; that APC trundling down the main street serves as reminder of what they perceived as the UN’s failure to protect them (never mind that they fed and housed almost the entire NGO community for three days and then made sure they got to the airport for the evacuation. How is it the UN’s fault that FARDC or rioters or someone apparently shot at you? Whether or not they were actually shot at is a point of great consternation, even today). They refuse to even drive past the UN base camp, which in my mind is pure silliness – it’s the best place in Bunia to go for a run.

Again, I don’t totally mean to downplay where they’re coming from or suggest that security isn’t a worry. Going over our incident report template is frankly terrifying. It is astoundingly comprehensive, including options for security, corruption, protection and abuse. For each type of incident, there is a sub-range of colourful options including abduction, detention, looting, armed conflict, sexual assault, landmines and UXO, militia attack, collusion, kickbacks, and my personal favourite – near miss. We have contingency plans for all of these eventualities (one could argue that they went haywire during the actual emergency, but still, they exist).

Moreover, even outside of Ituri, the array of armed group is dizzying. The names change and alliances shift so often it feels like looking through a kaleidoscope at an AK (this is an old list, but it’s still fun reading). We’ve even had word that Al-Shabbaab is in the Grand Nord (that’s the area that encompasses South Irumu and the north of North Kivu). Given that only about 10 per cent of the population here is Muslim, I’m betting it’s just rumors of the one ADF-Nalu guy who converted.

*IRIN did have something they posted right after the offensive, but nothing since.

02 September 2013

Muzungu in the Mist, cont.

After Queen Elizabeth, I took a break from the animals and headed to the Rwenzori Mountains, or Mountains of the Moon (when – not if – you come to Uganda, you should go a bit slower than I did. The trip was amazing, but also a bit more breakneck that was probably good for me). I stayed in the valley village of Ruboni at what turned out to be my favourite venue. The food was, without question, the best (instead of tasteless omelets and coleslaw sandwiches, I had cinnamon pancakes smeared with local honey and vegetable curry. Not together. Some people adjust to the vegetarian thing better than others). The ‘community camp’ offered hot water and a great mattress; at this point, I could care less about the pit toilet and even the mosquito infestation. When the power went out, I was equipped with candles. The whole effect was quite romantic, in the aesthetic sense. Of course, the absolutely stunning location helped.
The camp was run by a coöperative that owns the land abutting the national forest, having turned it into a conservation area. A row of flowering red trees demarcated the border, acting as a buffer to reduce negative farmer/animal interactions. It was also working with farmers to stop erosion of the steep crop plots and introduce more efficient agriculture techniques. It did all this, of course, through tourist dollars. All of which allowed me to give myself an utterly unearned pat on the back.

I mostly passed the day traipsing over the hills and through the jungles. Elloy, my guide, was less chatty than Michael of the Salt Lake, but also gruffly efficient. This area was probably the most impoverished I visited in Uganda. I kept remarking on how beautiful it was and he threw me some serious shade. He couldn’t really see it what I meant, but allowed that, since you people keep telling us it is, so it must be. He then opined that maybe he would go to the States and find it beautiful. Poof! went my unmerited sense tourist pride. Ruboni is where I came to the conclusion that this type of trip is probably better is not experienced alone. It is less a question of outright solitude that the lack of having someone with whom to share your joy and awe, because the locals really aren’t feeling it. Some appreciate it, though, while others are vaguely hostile to it. Vacationing in truly poverty-stricken areas is often an uncomfortable experience, knowing, for example, that the staff is ensuring that you are staying at a level of comfort they will never experience themselves. This is true of many posh hotels in the West as well, of course, and also true of Bunia (which is something I will almost certainly discuss in a future post). But the sense of guilt seemed more acute here, where I was often the only tourist in sight.
As we toiled (well, I toiled. He bounded like a pro. Which I suppose he is) up the steep hill, he shared a wealth of information with regard to the habits of locals and plant life. He pointed out the best trees for making carvings or building houses, a flower that can be used as a substitute for cotton, a tree whose bark can be used for cloth. It only got more colourful from there. There were the trees that are planted in a circle to mark graves. There was tree whose long, bulbous fruit is used in beer, and also by young girls and boys to measure their breasts and penises against – tradition holds that they’ll grow as large as the selected fruit. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be on either end of that deal. Then there was the touch-me-not, so-called because its fruit springs off the vine when so much as grazed, but really known as a plant that encourages sociability in children. The small green fruit is quite sweet, and local kids will spend hours at a patch, popping them at one another and chasing them down the hills. There was also the tree out of which they make traditional xylophones, which are played for days after a death so that the spirit doesn’t curse the living. Also during circumcision rituals. When I asked boys or girls, he was quick to answer boys. He paused. Traditionally, it was for the ladies, also. Which might be the nicest description of FGM I’ve ever heard.

There were myriad other medicinal and practical plants (like those preferred in treatment of syphilis or used as makeshift candles) that I’m forgetting. Elloy reminded me that the first line of medical defense here is always homeopathic. Then reflected that it was not good. Not always having a keen understanding of what ails them, villagers can easily ingest a plant to treat a cough, only to die of malaria. I was actually familiar with these challenges, as we face the same proclivities in our medical programming.

In additional to marveling at the scenery, I expressed amazement at the people who have to make this trek daily to work the fields and cart their harvests of yams and passion fruit and coffee and Irish potatoes back down on their heads, barefoot through the fire ants and saw grass, often as not carrying a baby. As I might have expected, Elloy was bemused at my amazement. Do women in Congo not do the same with their children? Sure they do, and they impress the hell out of me, too. I fell at least five times on the way down, but he mostly just slid gracefully in his galoshes and suit pants.
I had hoped that the hike would afford me a, in the parlance of the many brochures and every single local I met, view the snow-capped peaks of Ruwenzori, but it was too cloudy. Next time, perhaps. Instead, as we made our way down from the hills, night descended in time with us, the sun setting and mist creeping down from the higher mountain. It had the same tangible opacity as in Bwindi, seemeing to swallow the hills and forest and town like a benevolent version of The Nothing.

As we made our way back to the camp, Elloy described the historic flooding earlier this year that knocked out the hydroelectric dam that powers the nearby cobalt mine in addition to the town and has been in operation since the Canadian government built it in the 1950s. It also wiped away foot bridges, farms, and over a dozen people. The town was still in the process of recovering. Elloy complained bitterly that the government had been little to no help; they apparently felt that any rebuilding efforts they undertook would be gone within years if not months. He asked several times if I was certain that we only work in Congo. I so much wanted to help, and felt so guilty that I could not, that I just ended up over-tipping.
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, Gordon and I had a number of…interesting conversations, including discussions of baboon assassination for defecating in one’s car, and why it is preferable to marry a woman with small breasts. But when he shared the story about the night dancers that evening, I decided it might all have been worth it. Night dancers are apparently shamans who dance about your house at night (thus the name). Naturally, they do so naked, cloathed only in human remains. Their nefarious purpose is to steal your good will, leaving their bad luck at your door by literally slamming their nude bum against the front door. Their magic paralyses you in your sleep so that you are helpless to stop them. Then there was something about cash dowries and water magic and complicit wives. At any rate, his family, realizing that they had long been the target of one of these black conjurors, played a trick on the night dancer by leaving their doors unlatched and remaining standing throughout the night to that the paralytic magic had no chance to take effect (side note – for such powerful magi, they seem remarkably easy to thwart). The night dancer fell through their door wearing only bones and a woman’s breast, which he kept that way (what way? Firm? Round? Rose-tipped? It was never specified) with his magics. Gordon’s mother declared that now that God had let her see the night dancer’s face, her family would be protected from him. He then had to pay her two cows. Afterward, his wife died and he lost his fortune and now he doesn’t even have enough money to buy his own soda. WTF.

Also in the analogs of crazy Gordon stories, he was suffering from back pains throughout the trip, which is no small thing given how much time we spent driving. When I suggested that he go to the doctor, he said that he already had and that the doctor said what he needed was a girlfriend. I…have suspicions about the legitimacy of this diagnosis.
After Rwenzori, I set out for my last full day of safari – this time to Kibale to see the chimps. Theoretically, you travel in groups of no more than seven. While this was strictly enforced for gorilla trekking, only one of the 13 chimp communities in the forest is habituated for tourists (the communities each contain more than 100 chimps and can take up to seven years to habituate) and so it was that I found myself in a group of nearly 20 German tours. The babble of the tourists did little to diminish brilliance of the experience, if it did lead to more competition for good photo angles. Each of the chimps had names and the guides knew them by sight, sharing their stories (this one was the second alpha, or vice president. That one had broken his arm some 12 years ago, but was among the most popular with the ladies. She got her name because the rangers felt she had the nicest eyes in the community). We moved with the chimps for just over an hour. My two favourites shared a log companionably, passing palm fronds back and forth without ever taking their eyes off of the female perched 50 feet above them and with whom they both wanted to mate. It was hard not to giggle at how much this reminded me of high schools, with the girls watching the boys watching the girls go by. That was, until they decided they were done waiting and several males chased the female they’d been ogling through the canopy, screaming at one another. The noises were a bit…unsettling.
Were he human, I would have accused him of being a creeper
As we trekked back to the visitor center, I chatted with the rangers, especially the younger guide who was toting the AK. When I asked if it was also for forest elephants, she laughed. All rangers in Uganda have to undergo six months of military training, as the national parks have long been a favourite hiding place of rebel groups throughout the Great Lakes region. It’s now considered good form to ensure that rangers, animals, and tourists all have some measure of protection. She had just completed her training and was newly installed at Kibale. Her parents in western Uganda were despairing of her ever finding a man while in the forest service. She was only 26, but already her mother was convinced she would end up a spinster. I wanted us to be friends.
After the chimps came baboons and colobuses (colobui?) in a wetland conservation that was established by a Peace Corps volunteers over 20 years ago. The proceeds went to support locals – reimbursing them for food stolen by the monkeys, improve school system, etc. The colobuses, despite completely captivating me, are apparently quite the local menaces. The black and white are skittish. The locals used to skin them for ceremonial garb, and now tend to stone them for stealing crops (a feat at which they excel. My guide found their skillful thievery perplexing, given that they lack an opposable thumb. Indeed, the word colobus even means ‘something missing). Meanwhile, the reds are aggressive and not uncommonly challenge chimps, even without provocation. However, even in sizable groups they are no match for the larger animal and are frequently eaten for their troubles (I had no idea that chimps were so carnivorous). The wetlands were home to about five types of plants that render animals drunk – one for elephants, another for chimps, red colobuses (getting smashed makes them even more belligerent. They really are just like us!), even humans (the local gin is made out of sugar cane). My guide also encouraged me to keep an eye out for snakes, particularly cobras and green mambas. The mambas like to climb trees, making them a real treat to find. I was more worried about them falling on my head (it was a day to fear the sky. The chimps would release their waste while perched high in the canopy and seemed to take special delight in making the tourists scatter).
During the long drive back to Entebbe, Gordon and I didn’t have all that much more to say. Mostly he was just planning my next trip out (with my parents. He especially wants to meet my father. We could come visit his mother in Bwindi! Joy). We did stop briefly to take one more walk through the foot hills outside of Fort Portal and wander through a lovely waterfall with a violently colourful history. The story goes that a beautiful young maiden refused to marry the wealthy man chosen by her father, having given her heart to a poor local boy. As a punishment, her father cut off her breast and threw it in the woods. She vanished, but the water in the falls is still tinted white by her milk, while all the rocks grow in the shape of breasts (not all human. Some resembled the teats of cows, dogs, and in two very special cases, muzungus.  I didn't feel the need to comment on the fact that muzungus were included in the 'non-human' category). My guide helpfully pointed out that they were not in fact breasts, but were actually stalactites. Gee, thanks.

My last weekend in Uganda was blessedly quiet. I just puttered around Entebbe, enjoyed the lake view, and slept in. On the last night, I returned to that pizza joint. The waiter remembered my name and order. While I did not mind eating in the company my book, but the restaurant’s owner (rather her nephew, at her urging) invited me join her family for dinner. She often takes pity on the lonely expats, explaining that she understands how it is to be far from home. She is a Rwandan who came to Uganda in 1995. One guess as to why. Her nephew, who she raised as her own after his parents were killed in the genocide, is now working on a book about a modern history of Africa. We discussed strong men and fluid definitions of democracy in Africa. It was fascinating. The next day, I headed out to the airport reasonably early, as I did not actually know what time my flight was and got no answer when I called the (tiny, missionary) airline (the airport didn’t know, either, nor did the information desk even have the number for the airline. I was just told to stand in the main terminal until a uniformed employee of the airline wandered through and ask them. Magically, this worked). On my way there, I was briefly detained at a police and made to pass through a separate screening station for no apparent purpose whatsoever. Though it took close to 30 minutes, I was not patted down, my checked luggage was not inspected, and the officer’s examination of my hand luggage was so cursory that she missed the pocket knife. Sigh. Bye, Uganda.