Tuesday, May 27, 2014

10 things we miss about home...

I began this blog a couple of weeks ago (trying to keep my promise of posting at least once each week, usually on Saturdays, and I'm doing it now, in part, because of the welcomed and needed kick in the butt from Jonathan Kealing). However, events had gobbled up both time and energy. So, below, is what I'd planned. But, first, an update (and reason for the delay):

We've been busy, and not because of this government ministry or that summoning me to complain about something we'd published. And the internet at our place has been spotty, then out of service for the past few days.

Ah, but the update:

Beginning Sunday week ago through Tuesday, we made an upcountry trip to check in with four of our bureaus to the west: Masaka, Mbarara, Fort Portal and Hoima (when our correspondent came to Fort Portal). Great trip, beautiful scenery, and wonderfully illuminating about what we can do (better) and to better tap the potential, both of the talent in those bureaus and the potential audience as well. Here are some highlights (beyond the journalism and the pleasant exchanges with all those we met, as well as our travelling companions -- Justus Katungi, who is our circulation director; Aidah Nalubega, officially the newsroom's (and my) administrative assistance whom I call "the boss" because nothing would get done without her expert help and advice; Henry Mukasa, a brilliant young editor in Kampala who oversees and inspires all our upcountry coverage, and, of course, my driver and our good and valued friend Swamadu Kabagambe ("Kabs," prounounced "Kuhbs], who drove much of the way (though I did some driving, too), and provided one special highlight that involves a rooster, so keep reading. In Musaka, I got to hold a newborn, so, beyond just meeting the good journalists there, I was happy. In Mbarara (prounounced mmm-bah-RAH-rah), we had spirited discussions. And in Fort Portal, more spirited discussion about journalism, and, that night, we stayed at one of the nicest motels ever.

Oh, and elephants. On the way to Fort Portal. which carried us through mountains into the valley below, we slipped by (not in) Queen Elizabeth National Park where, thanks to the sharp eye of Kabs, we saw a big tusked bull elephant and his harem moving slowly through the grasslands. We literally hopped atop our Rav4 for a better look and better photos. Exciting!

The biggest highlight was to come the Tuesday after meeting the news staff at Fort Portal. Kabs took us to his family's village not too far from Fort Portal. We were greeted by his grandmother and a small gathering of 40 or so relatives that soon grew to 80, mostly children. They danced, we danced, we chatted, we hugged, we danced some more, we hugged, and danced even more. We were thrilled, and Kabs told us they were thrilled, too (and the first muzungus [white people] she ever encountered in her 70-plus years). And, then, we were presented with a royal parting gift: a live rooster. It would have been terribly impolite to refuse!

So, Kabs, Joyce, Malcolm and the rooster settled into our four-seater Rav4 for the six-hour trip back to Kampala.

The rooster was a great traveler. I was not. I, city boy that I am, kept asking about my back-of-the-Rav4 companion: "When are we going dump the rooster."

Again, that would have been impolite. So Rudy the Rooster (we had to name him) and Malcolm, both in the back, and Kabs and Joyce, both in the front, made the trip all the way home.

I texted Alykhan Alibhai, whose family owns The Seventeen where we live, if we could keep the rooster. His reply: "You have a second bedroom."

Deeming that impractical, we left Rudy with Kabs, who took it home to his mother who raises chickens.

As for work, I had my first board meeting, and all went well. I got a ringing endorsement for what we're doing here. But, as with many media operations, times are tough here, and we're facing budget cuts. But the journalism is on the upswing, and because I'm sharing all we do with our readers, it's spurred discussion among all of Uganda interested in journalism.

Given the quality and enthusiasm of most of the folks here at the Monitor, I am now firmly convinced that I will accomplish the two things I've set out to accomplish: become the most respected media operation in Africa, and leave an Ugandan in my spot when I leave.

And, now, for what I'd intended to write about before Rudy entered the picture. P.S.: Photos to come!

Here are 10 things (and there are more) that we miss about home and will look forward to enjoying when back in Lawrence soon (arriving on June 1; heading back on June 9). In no particular order, except the last is first:

#1: Cheerios

OK, I've eaten Cheerios literally my entire life (and I'm thankful they were invented shortly before I was born). I eat 'em for breakfast, and I eat 'em for snacks. We did find some here. They appeared on the shelves shortly after we got here, but they seem to have disappeared from the shelves, and haven't been restocked. (C'mon, Uganda!). But, sadly, they were Multi-grain Cheerios and Honey-flavored Cheerios (also multi-grain), neither of which really count, and they're made by Nestle (with an agreement with General Mills) in England. England? Well, I guess, given the name, that shouldn't be surprising. But I NEED my good ol', regular, American-made, all-whole-grain-oats Cheerios. We're bringing back a suit-case filled with boxes of 'em. ("Excuse me, sir," the Ugandan customs official says. "Uh, why do you have 20 boxes of Cheerios. There will be an import fee, of course, of $500!" "Cheap enough," I reply, which tells you how important this is.

#2: Pizza

Our first meal in Lawrence will be a full-packed, everything-on-it pizza from Tad's, which is not far from our house. The pizza here ain't bad, especially at Mediterraneo (just down the hill from us), but they just don't have any good -- GOOD -- pepperoni. And, even though I often have pizzas at home without pepperoni, when you can't get it...

#3 Shrimp (prawns, here)

The stores don't have any (that are good) -- all pre-cooked, and they taste like sawdust. We are told you can get fresh shrimp (prawns) here, but we haven't found 'em. We had some good ones at the Chinese restaurant, so guess I'll have to steal some! At home in Kansas (which, Ugandans should note, is farther away from salt water than Uganda is), we get uncooked shrimp that don't taste like sawdust all the time. And we usually have it as a meal at least three times a week -- a little olive oil, a healthy (which means a lot) dose of garlic, a little lemon juice and some parsley (along with some grits or rice) and, voila!, the perfect meal. Yes, we will be cooking that for the 2nd night at home (and the third and, perhaps, the fourth, and....)

#4: Good beer

Oh, please, my kingdom for an IPA. As I've noted in earlier blogs, just Pilsners and lagers (and some stout) here, but I want a beer with a bite. The Brits invented IPA, and the first things Brits do whenever they invade, colonize and settle anywhere, they find a river and build a danged brewery. So, why no IPA? So, straight to Ray's Liquors for a sampling of IPAs. Then, the next day: Free State Brewery for some Ad Astra (and any the food folks there might have on "special"). Joyce and I had breakfast on Sunday with Scott DiLisi and his wife, Leija -- just the four of us. (He's the U.S. ambassador; they live two "doors" down the hill from us.) He's offered -- and I hope no one from the State Department is reading this -- to bring back any dearly missed "food stuff" (like Cheerios) in the diplomatic pouch. (I suspect he was kidding.) But when I suggested IPA, he said, "Can't...no liquids." So much for diplomatic relations!)

#5: English muffins

That brings us back to Scott and Leija. We told her of our yen for English muffins, and you can't find 'em here. (No English muffins. C'mon, England! What kind of colonizers are you. And, if you can bring in ersatz Cheerios, why no IPA and English muffins?) We want 'em for our usual Saturday morning breakfast of egg, cheese and bacon on an English muffin. Leija said that their cook makes them. Next thing we know, we get a text saying she'd leave some with the guard at her gate. We jogged down (not back up) to fetch 'em. They're great! (Thanks Scott and Leija; diplomatic relations restored!)

#6: Roads without potholes

Kampala is the pothole capital of the world. At least of the parts of the world I've seen. Now, it does make driving exciting -- sort of like the slalom in the Olympics -- but with all the skiers on the course at the same time -- bunches of skiers zig-zagging all over the place. Here, cars, trucks, boda-boda (motorcycle taxis) and mini-buses, all avoiding the same potholes and often competing for space. Like I said, exciting! And the reason Joyce is so reluctant to drive.

#7: CBS Sunday Morning.

The best TV magazine show invented. Plus, the host wears a bow-tie! Need I say more?

#8: The Sunday edition of The New York Times.

Serendipity each week, stumbling on articles you'd have otherwise not read. And, of course, the Sunday crossword.

#9: My Miata.

Thanks to Bill and Rita, who housesat and Miata-sat. Thankful, but also jealous that they got to drive her and I couldn't. They even sent a photo of 'em in it. Now that was cruel!

#10: Friends and family.

What's to say except: We miss you all.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

10 things we'll miss...

Here are some things we'll definitely miss about Uganda when we ultimately leave (and, yes, I said I was "blue" in my last blog, but we truly do love it here, aren't really looking to leave, and expect to be here for quite a while longer).

In no particular order, except the last should be first:

Things we'll miss #1: Cobbler (shoe-repair) shops.

They've virtually disappeared in most places in the States. We had my loafers, that I love, re-heeled -- and for a lot less than what it would cost to replace. And my L.L. Bean oxfords are there now to be resoled and re-heeled. Why get rid of a great pair of shoes just in need of a little repair? There's one place in Lawrence, KS, where you can do that, but it's getting more difficult, it seems.

Things we'll miss #2: Cricket.

Yep, cricket. (We're watching the Indian Premier League on TV as I write this). It's actually exciting, and in many ways more exciting than baseball -- which we love, but which does have long moments of relative inaction. Not with cricket. Using a baseball analogy, there's really only one inning, with one team at bat, and the other pitching (bowling). When that team finishes it's turn, they switch. Then the game is over. Scores of 170 and more (for each team) are common. In the 20-over version, which is the most popular, that means 120 balls (six "pitches" per over) for each team. You get runs by running between the two wickets (three upright sticks topped by another horizontal stick). You get four runs automatically if you hit the ball to any part of the boundary -- what appears to be about a foot-high vinyl-covered foam barrier encircling the field (though just a rope in the club games we've watched). It rings the perimeter of the 60-meter by 80-meter oval. And you can bat the ball in any direction (the full 360 degrees), so you need fielders in front and behind -- on all sides of -- the batsman. And the bowler (pitcher) takes a running start and usually bounces the ball, with spins to affect the flight after the bounce, for the batsman to hit with his bat. It's flat, by the way, which allows him to direct the ball in just about any direction, including behind. You get six runs if you hit one over the boundary. (We call 'em "home runs," even here, but not sure what they're called here except "sixes.") We are even surprised ourselves that we like it so much. And I've been promised that there's an amateur club in Kampala that's going to let me play! Stay tuned. P.S.: U.S. baseballers are wussies. Most cricket fielders don't wear gloves. Bare hands, baby!

Things we'll miss #3: Samosas.

The veggie- or meat-filled fried triangles are sold everywhere. They cost from about 1,500 to 2,000 Ugandan shillings (about 60 to 75 cents each) in the stores, but at our canteen at the Daily Monitor, I can get two for about 1,500 shillings. I usually have two for lunch. Tasty!

Things we'll miss #4: Our '97 Toyota two-door, short-chassis, right-hand-drive Rav4. We love it so much we're thinking of shipping it back to the U.S. when we go home for good. And, once this gig does end, we're thinking seriously of driving it, likely over two months or so, from Kampala to Cape Town, South Africa -- Kampala to Nairobi, Kenya, to Moshi, Tanzania (Mt. Kilimanjaro), to Dar es Salaam (and a boat trip to Zanzibar), then up to Mbeya on the Zambian border (Andy Moor and I hitch-hiked there in '69 for a story), then on to Lusaka, Zambia, then to Harare, Zimbabwe (and Victoria Falls along the way), then to Johannesburg, South Africa, then (by way of Durban, then along the coast to Port Elizabeth and Plettenberg Bay, a beautiful spot where I spent a delightful night getting drunk on cognac) Cape Town. The Rav4, if still healthy and hearty, will take a ship to a port in the U.S. for us to drive it to Lawrence, Kansas; for us, it's the Blue Train back to Johannesburg, where we'll catch our flight home. Well, that's the plan. Stay tuned.

Things we'll miss #5: The view.

The view from our apartment -- a fourth-floor (luxury) walk-up (81 steps) -- is, well, spectacular. I really do get up every morning and say: "Another beautiful day in Uganda." Drives Joyce batty (not the view, but my saying "Another beautiful day in Uganda").

Things we'll miss #6: The weather.

It truly is beautiful here every day. About 85 each afternoon, and we wake up to about 65 each morning. We do not have air conditioning, and we don't need it. And, right now, it's the rainy season (we love rain), though about ready to end. The storms here are spectacular (and we have a great view). We do have to get up, at times, at 3 a.m. to close windows and the sliding glass doors that are left wide open. And we've had to mop up a bunch of water that has been blown in when we were a bit tardy in waking up to the thunder-and-lightning shows. But, who cares. It's wonderful!!!

Things we'll miss #7: Watermelon juice.

We have it ALL THE TIME. It's refreshing. And, last night, we even had a watermelon martini! We've already decided that watermelon martinis -- not our usual regular ones -- will be our new Sunday night ritual (on many Sunday nights) when we return.

Things we'll miss #8: Roundabouts.

Main intersections here are usually wide, multi-laned roundabouts. And, once you learn how to use 'em, it's a much more sane (and safe) way to move traffic. In the U.S., they make 'em too small (listen up, Lawrence, Kansas) and people don't know how to use 'em correctly.

Things we'll miss #9: The adventure, challenge and opportunity of living in another country and culture.

Yea, we miss things (like hot dogs, beer other than Pilsner and lagers, really good pizza, and our favorite TV shows and, of course, family and friends -- oh, and my Miata). But the challenge of adapting to a new culture and country is exciting, the job is rewarding (and challenging), the anticipation of adventure -- exploring all the great national parks here -- and the opportunity to grow because of it, is priceless. We will definitely be better for it, as well as appreciating even more than we did how great it is to be who we are.

Things we'll miss #10: The people.

Seriously, we've already forged lasting -- lifelong -- friendships with at least a dozen good folks in just our 10 weeks here. We've always said this about our travels: It's not the places you see, but the people you meet. And that has been delightfully confirmed by the friends we've made -- at all stations in life -- here in Uganda. The people are wonderful, and we feel blessed because of them.

That, dear friends, is what keeps us going and makes this adventure so rewarding.