The art of being alone

July 16, 2016

I don’t do this well, being alone and still, not making plans for the next day, the next week. I am a planner, always have been. I spent 2 and half weeks in Ottawa just recently and packed in a year’s worth of social life into that time-frame. I left my kids with Richard as I needed to get back to work so I am in Delhi a few weeks solo,  just me and my cat, Mango. The difference in experience has been stark. I was rather depressed the first week back as both realities were at opposite ends of the spectrum. The time back home made me realize the richness of my life, the tight woven tapestry of my family and community life. A tapestry that has been woven over time, strand by strand. Having been in Delhi just a year, the experience has been one of new professional opportunity, adventures and friendships. As much as this experience has been enriching on so many levels, by being away from home, home takes on deeper meaning. They often say the grass is greener on the other side. You are put, you yearn to go elsewhere, you go elsewhere, you yearn to go home. I guess this is life’s dilemma, finding your inner peace and contentment no matter where you find yourself. Happiness really does emanate from within. The challenge is how to tap into that contentment, finding it among the stillness.

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October’s hightlights

November 1, 2015

Earlier this month, I traveled with a group of friends from work to Deradun in Uttarakhand and from there drove to Rishikesh, the yoga town made famous by the Beatles who traveled here in 1968 to meet the Guru Maharishi and to expand their “spirituality.” The plan was to enjoy the outdoors, breath in fresh Himalayan air, white water raft, and hike. We set out on the Friday morning in a bus that carried us up the mountain side on twisty and windy roads to a location where we would paddle downstream on the Ganges River, sacred for many locals and peaceniks the world over. We separated the group into 2 rafts. My group was not on the raft for five minutes when we hit a series of turbulent rapids and we were projected outward, then downward into the river. I ended up pinned under the raft and scaled the bottom of it like Spider Man scales a building wall, internally freaking out telling myself “this isn’t good, this isn’t good, this isn’t good to be NOT breathing under water, under a boat.” Luckily, the adrenaline propulsed me to the surface quickly enough, although when I recollect the incident now, I was under the water for what seemed like a very long time. The five of us made our way out of the water one by one, and were pulled assertively back into the raft by the expert hands of the guide. Near the end of the white water route, the kids, including mine, were able to get out of the raft and jump off small (yes small!) clifts into the Ganges. Nicolas jumped in without hesitation, the way kids often do, raw and unhindered. Annabelle, on the other hand, hesitated and observed from afar, not too sure of herself. Looking at them I thought they are experiencing life-time adventures that will be registered into their consciousness for ever. As kids get ready for bed on that first night, Annabelle asks me if the birds and crickets will stop making noise. We are staying in tents above the Ganges on the grounds of the Himalayan Hideaway. I tell her we can’t stop this kind of noise in the wild. She soon fell asleep to the lullaby of the wildlife.

Two weeks after this initial trip, Annabelle returned to Rishikesh with her classmates from the British School as part of a field trip.This time, with the experience behind her, she jumped from cliffs into the river without hesitation. I was so proud of her setting off on her first overnight trip in India. For days, she said she didn’t want to go, that she wanted a parent there, but by the time the trip came around, and the train was leaving the station, I could see the look of glee and her radiant confidence as we waved emotional “good-byes” from the train window, her inside, and me outside.

We received our boat shipment from Canada a few weeks ago. It was like Christmas morning opening our belongings. Even though these are our things, we’ve been waiting for them for over 2 months. The kids were ecstatic to receive their book collections (especially their comic books) and Annabelle her beanie boo collection. We were most happy to see some of our bulk items, peanut butter, jam, maple syrup and granola that we ordered before leaving Ottawa. Staples that will remind us of home. Interestingly many of the things I unpacked made me think of the insignificance of these very things, which I had gone without for weeks now. It’s not to say it’s not important to surround yourself with items of personal relevance, it’s just that I’ve realized after a certain time has elapsed, that there is very little I need in life to sustain and thrive. I have a loving family, supportive friends, my health, plentiful food and a comfortable roof over my head. I’ve hit the jackpot of life.

Richard left for Ottawa a few weeks ago, after our trip to Rishikesh. I missed him soon after he left. Not only is it easier to have the other parent to parent, he is my human GPS for navigating the chaotic streets of Delhi. He has studied the map of the city and has managed to travel large sections of it by bicyle already. He is brave setting out on his adventures by pedal power. He often comes back home with interesting stories of locals he meets along the way, the bike is a leveler, a equalizer with the masses, you can see them, and they can see you. Yes it is dangerous to cycle in Delhi, as are all modes of transport, but the traffic is relatively slow compared to Canadian standards where traffic can zip by at 80km per hour. The key to success is to look ahead, not behind, and just keep with the flow of the traffic. I have been taking my bicycle for local trips, but have not ventured very far. Nicolas has been taking his bike to the American school for his soccer practices, about a km away from where we live. Soon I will allow him to cycle back home when I get lights installed on his bike. Baby steps for mommy!

I am learning on a day to day basis that doing business in India is a tricky business. People say yes when they mean to say “no” or “don’t know.” There is a live for today mentality, which impedes any real problem solving for the future. Fix it now, and fix it again tomorrow when it breaks down because it wasn’t fixed properly the first time. First there was a problem with the foosball table I ordered for my son. When we received the package, it was visually damaged and looked like it has been bounced around on the back of a truck from the Punjab, which it probably was. When we opened the contents of the product, we noticed parts missing and tattered surface board. When we sent pictures to the company, they replied that they couldn’t see the problem and that we should try to mount it ourselves and ask for replacement parts. The problem was that to mount it ourselves would imply building a partially  home-made foosball table. Why order one then? In the end, I insisted on a refund and sent it back. It took three sets of emails back to the company to get the full refund, including delivery costs, which the latter was sent in the form of a cheque from a local bank in local currency. The problem is I don’t yet have a local bank account, but those are details. I am learning to go with the flow, and not take things too seriously. By the time I leave this place, I will be a master of zen and inner tranquility. At least that is the hope!

Every year the High Commission puts on a ball as a means to raise funds for the various local charities it supports. This year the charity ball took place on October 10th, day of Canadian Thanksgiving. For the occasion I sported my elegant sari that I bought back in September. The beautiful burgundy and turquoise sari was among the most exquisite pieces of clothing I had ever worn. It felt regal. Walking in it for several hours is another matter altogether. In fact, it felt like I was walking inside a curtain, much like when a child wraps him or herself up in a curtain in a moment of childhood glee.

The month of October ended on Halloween of course. There are over 20 children who reside on the compound, so the kids experienced a fairly typical Canadian halloween with their disguise and parading door to door in search for sugary treats. To finish the evening off, they celebrated in our Canada Club singing to karaoke and further indulging in popcorn and cotton candy. It was a successful night!

We’ve been here now over 3 months, and we are fairly settled into a routine now. We are still missing our family and friends back home, but I see the benefits already of our little time here. The kids’ English has improved tremendously and their horizons are expanding by the day. They are able to compare their lives in Canada, with their lives here, and to conclude they are really lucky to live in Canada and to have this chance to live in India.

 

 

 

Delhi in August

September 5, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I went sari shopping in Babu market, Sarojini Nagar, with some colleagues. The market was teeming with stalls, people, and products. The point of our visit was to pick out a fancy sari for the ball in October hosted by the High Commission to raise funds for CANASSIST, an organization that funds a number of local charities. I went thinking I would purchase a sari of greens or blues, my default comfort colours, but left having picked one turquoise and burgundy. I don’t usually wear bling, but this bling I liked! I am looking forward to wearing it and feeling elegant and grown-up.

The kids love the life on the compound. “Can we just stay here and not go anywhere today?” they say with frequency. It’s a miniature Canada-land-Club-Med-bubble-wrap-smurfland. It’s where I work, workout, socialize and go to sleep. The kids, when not in school, play with their friends, strut around in their scooters or enjoy a dip in the pool. It’s a comfortable existence here, so when I need a little personal challenge or reminder of India beyond these walls, I leave and venture out by tuk tuk, taxi or metro to broaden my horizons.

Last week, we visited the Maitreya Home, an orphanange for Tibetan children and one of the organization supported by CANASSIST and sponsored by the Canadian-based Child Haven International. Richard volunteered with Child Haven in Nepal back in 1997. We decided as a family before embarking on this India adventure that we would volunteer at the Maitreya Home a couple of times per month. We’ll bring books, soccer balls, and board games to share and play with the kids. I see this as a deal of reciprocity with both my kids and the home kids sharing in a bit of common humanity. Hopefully my kids get to realize that we aren’t all that different after all, we just stem from different circumstances, and varying luck.

Facebook facilitated the reunion with 2 classmates who I had not seen since the end of my master’s program in 2002. That’s 13 years ago. Time flies and soars. Kate was here visiting her in-laws in Delhi and Ruzina who works for the British government was here on training. To celebrate this, as Kate poignantly described “global coincidence,” we meet up at Raas in Hauz Khaus for a meal. Kate’s husband Nilesh joined us, as did mine. We caught up efficiently as these spontaneous gatherings often do, and covered the basis of our lives, a summary of the last decade. The conversations zipped from where we worked, work, live, our kids’ personalities, travel we had done, projects we’d undertaken past and present, and dreams of the future. It was lovely to see them again, and hope it won’t be another decade before I see them next. It’s the good side of Facebook, keeping the global village close and accessible.

I’ve been walking up at 6AM most weekday mornings to venture out to Nehru Park with a friend and colleague before the workday begins for a walk, to oxygenize and to appreciate the greenery and beautiful sites. The park is a mere 5 minutes from where we live and teems with runners, walkers, yoga enthusiasts and chipmunks! It’s the early morning but you would think it was mid-day in another cooler city. People beat the heat, which explains the busyness of the park at this early hour.

It’s been over one full month into our new lives in Delhi. We are getting into a groove and establishing a routine, and while the kids still express their sadness of not being home in Ottawa from time to time, everyday I sense their increasing acceptance of their new reality, making new friends and keeping an open mind. Namaste!

First we take London, then we take Delhi

August 9, 2015

We arrived in Delhi on July 29 via London where we spent a fabulous 5 days. The kids had never been to Europe, so for a few months now I had been selling the trip to London as the reward for months of preparing for this life changing event, which is living in India for 2 years. We visited the usual touristy landmarks: Trafalgar Square (the lions were a hit!), the National Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London Eye, and of course we took in a play in the West End, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Nico had read the book so we thought it would be fun to see the play. We weren’t disappointed, the play was terrific. Both Nico and Annabelle were giddy taking the tube and would constantly repeat the stop announcements: “mind the gap” and “watch the step between the train and the platform.” They find the British accent “funny” as they don’t consider their accent, well, an accent. I felt like my kids had stepped off a farm with no exposure to the outside world! But they were just being uninhibited kids with no care whatsoever as to how their behaviour was perceived by others on the tube. Now that I think of it, no one seem to care one way or the other, too buried in their newspaper or zoned out in smart phone land to notice.

We stayed with Charlotte in Kentish Town, our wonderful and gracious host. Charlotte offered housing to me back in 2001 when I embarked on my master’s degree. She offered to put us up for our days in London. Back then her boys were boys, and now they are both men attending university, and we are debating politics and current affairs at the table! Debating with babes, at least in my mind, but then again the mind sometimes gels in time. Charlotte is part of my London scapes, and I stay with her whenever I am in London.

The kids love taking the plane because this means unlimited screen time. We are fairly strict with the screens back home, so it’s Christmas for them when we take planes. I think Annabelle watched Big Hero 6 twice.

The flight to Delhi was smooth. At arrival, we were graciously greeted by Gauri who is the community liaison for the High Commission. She was a sight for sore eyes after the 8 and half hour flight from London. A driver from the High Commission accompanied her and once we retrieved our 7 suitcases, we set off. Our first views of Delhi were those of the chaotic traffic, but the trip to the High Commission compound went without a hiccup. The kids were amused by the direction of the traffic, the traffic circles, the countless people, and tuk tuks. We’ve now taken a few tuk tuks since arriving, and while we ride these auto rickshaws, we are approached by children selling trinkets or begging.  Annabelle has concluded that she doesn’t like the fact that there are poor people. It makes her sad.

The first weekend, we hit the ground running, jet lagged and all. We had to sort out lots of administrative things, for the house, work, and British School where kids will enter Year 5 and 8 respectively. We visited the Train Museum, ate a local restaurant in Malcha Marg where Annabelle was referred to as “baby” by the server, and Nico as “my friend.” We walked around the High Commission to orient ourselves, and visited the Khan Market, an upscale, ex-pat oriented market, with everything you could find: electronics, books, food, toys, stray dogs, rich tourists and locals, and begging children and widows.  I don’t like looking at people, nodding my head in the negative, or staring through people when I can’t deal with the humanity it represents, but it is a coping mechanism, an easy way out.

It took me a few days to adjust to the time change, and tell myself, I don’t have to see all of Delhi the first weekend! I need to remind myself that we are here for 2 years, and that there will be plenty of time to visit and explore. Besides, it feels like 40 degrees most days, and it is monsoon season, so best to leave some of the more adventurous outings for the fall.

The kids started school this week. It was hard getting them out of bed at 6:50! Annabelle cried the first day of school, and was quite anxious the night before. Happy to say that after 3 days at school, she is already more confident in her new setting and has made some new friends, including a young girl from Paris named Aurora. We met her teacher on Friday who confirmed Annabelle will have some additional language support starting tomorrow. The school follows the British curriculum so there are some minor adjustments for both kids, but the school staff has been reassuring and we appreciate its emphasis on an international education with an Indian soul. Good immersion!

We settled more into our diplomatic community this weekend. There are many families on the compound and slowly families are coming back from their summer breaks in Canada as school starts here earlier. The kids have easily made new friends and the gender and age ratio looks good for both of them! There is an open door policy around here so kids go from house to house for good times, it feels very neighbourly and welcoming. I am happy to be here.

A mantra for living

October 13, 2012

“A mantra for living: look at people in the eyes and smile,” I think to myself walking home on a cool and breezy Friday afternoon. This is what people need, fundamentally, more smiles from random strangers, their community. What better therapy for a cynical, fearful world? Instant connection that is free and plentiful, from every day people in the here, and now. When you flash a smile at a passer-by, they usually reciprocate, it’s infectious, hard to resist, and it makes people feel good about themselves. A smile humanizes people, making them known quantities, not zombies moving through public space. It’s very simple technology and would go a long way to create and nurture a sense of community. Thinking of Amanda Todd, a 15-year old BC teenager who recently took her own young life after years of enduring bullying. 15 is too young an age to endure anything. She turned to technology, social media, for help. Her cries for help using flash cards on You Tube helped her not one wit. They fell on deaf ears and did not save her. She was no doubt in want of more smiles, acknowledgement and acceptance from her peers. Social media influences the way we interact, creating virtual communities and stunting distance between loved-ones. But it also leaves us vulnerable and isolated. A virtual smile is a poor cousin to one directed in real time. Yes, Amanda, needed more smiles. We are all responsible. We can contribute to the kind of world we want to foster. Smiles can trump heads, shoulders, and above all spirits, hung low. This is for Amanda, may she rest in peace, and may we all smile more!

An hour to myself, unexpected.

June 3, 2012

The Kids are at neighbourhood friends. Just now, a phone call to say that they’ve been invited for dinner and will be back in an hour. Bonus. I have an hour to myself, unexpected. What to do? More laundry or chores? Perhaps a recipe I’ve been wanting to do for sometime? A few phone calls or emails? No, I will write and exert my suppressed creative juices and see what’s squeezed out. Time, that elusive yet structured construct that propels lives, I have 60 minutes of it to do what I want, unhindered, roaming.

My thoughts roam to last night. Capital Velo Festival, an annual showcase for bike lovers and environmental types, was holding it’s “tour de nuit”- a night ride on city streets closed to motor traffic. There was a good crowd gathered to take part in this collective display of civic pride. My husband Richard is a master at display, having created more creative pedal power contraptions than I can now count. He, with the help of a friend, managed to get our hammond organ out of the house and place it on a large trailer that would be pulled by our tandem trike http://tricolour.net/photos/2001/2001-10-26/19.html, this way the friend could play the organ during the night ride. I used to be overwhelmed by these “theatrics,” but now I take a deep breath and have fun with it. And it was so much fun, with people around enjoying the music and the festive spirit. Annabelle, my five year old, traveled home on the trailer pulling that organ, sitting atop the leslie speaker, which sat next to the organ. I took a mental snap shot of that…memories for the future. 

Thoughts now roam to the fragility of life. This week I’ve digested the news of two losses. One of a colleague not well known and the other of a longtime and dear friend whose husband passed away. I have a difficult time accepting death as our ultimate fate. Seems so extreme and unfair to the carnival of life with all it’s vivid colours. A dear friend of mine died last year of cancer. He was 56. He was so zen about dying, and accepted it without fear or panic. I’ve learned from talking to friends and family, that it’s not the end, but a continuation of life, a routine cycle of living things. I’ve learned that I have to take the ego out of the death. It has nothing to do with you, just like being born, it’s the result of chance circumstance. Doesn’t make it easier, but I remind myself to live in the moment, and embrace all life has to offer to me today.

So, my hour is almost up, and now my mind roams to when my little people will return and the needs they may have. Let’s hope for more of these unexpected hours again soon! They are good therapy.

 

8 and a half

November 26, 2011

“8 and half,” that’s what I tell Richard, my husband of 13 years, where I rank him on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is totally unsatisfied, and 10 totally satisfied. I ask him to respond in kind, and say he has just one chance of an answer, and it has to be a quick response. He retorts quickly back: “8 and half, right?” Bravo, I say, that’s excellent because, honestly there is always room for improvement, and perfection is not only impossible but utterly boring. I’m 41 now and wonder if I’ll have a midlife crisis. Isn’t it supposed to happen around now? A point in life where my life is fairly routine, with a steady government job, a  mortgage to pay and two kids to raise? Now that I think of it. Who has time for the drama? It’s tiring just getting through the regular work day with the commitments it entails. Who has time to engage in extra-curricular debauchery, be it at the bar, casino or someone else’s bed? I’m actually enjoying life. Of course, I think nostalgically about my youth, when I was younger and  freer, and all the time in the world to dream of Duran Duran, but I feel more confident now, know what I want (healthy work-life balance, sorry, I know that’s boring). I feel lucky to healthy, happy and surrounded by loved-ones. The midlife crises endemic in our societies are responses to consumer culture. Always in need of the next chapter purchase of our fast-paced lives, which feeds our crises.

Divine Love Roaring Down the Highway

June 28, 2011

Dear friends and family,

“Divine Love” is roaring down the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway. It’s the name
printed above the dashboard of one of the many trucks coming from the port
town to Kenya’s capital city. Many of the trucks down this road are
tattooed with such names. It’s Friday afternoon and I am on my way to
Lion’s Bluff eco-lodge nestled in Tsavo West National Park to enjoy a
safari adventure. Windows are rolled down and the wind and dust are
blowing in my face and hair. I love the open spaces, but here the eyes
itch because of the dust peeling off the unfinished shoulders of the road.
I am happy until we hit a town called Emali, about two hours into our
trip. There some vendor transporting his ration of onions decides to bolt
in front of our vehicle, unexpectedly, to cross the highway. William, our
driver, acting quickly, hits the breaks and spares the vendor, but the car
behind us (an aid agency vehicle at that) was travelling to close, so in a
blink of an eye, our vehicle is struck and our rear window is no more.
Luckily no one is hurt, but we are all a bit shaken. We end up waiting for
William for close to 2 hours on this stretch of highway while he sets off
to the previous town to find a police officer who will come and sort out
this mess. During this time, a woman with a young child approaches us and
introduces herself as William’s cousin. What are the odds of this
happening in this exact space? Her little boy is called Elvis so we
delight ourselves feeding him banana and playing some games as we wait for
the police. Kenya is not known for efficient bureaucracy and I get to
witness this first hand when the police officer decides to show up. Kenyan
police are corrupt, and this one is no different. He can sniff cash so
bribes William and the driver of the other vehicle roughly $25 each to
avoid having the vehicles impounded. This doesn’t make any sense at all,
and soon I realize this isn’t the point. After that drama, we set out
again, but our vehicle has taken a beating. We have taped a plastic sheet
on the back of the car and now we are ready to finally hit the road again.
At this point, I am feeling impatient and just want to get to our
destination. Well, the remainder of the journey takes another 4 and half
hours, with the last two hours on very rough gravel road. By the time we
get to the lodge at 10PM, we’ve been on the road for 10 hours. This for a
400 km trek. Anyhow, all of this is forgotten once I get a look at the
panoramic view from Lion’s Bluff. It is expansive African savannah until
the eye can see. It is quiet and the air is fresh. I find my inner zen
again.

Two herds of elephants grace us with their presence the next afternoon. We
are on a game drive, and we witness one herd of 40 elephants vying for
water from this pond in the middle of the bush. Once they have their fill
of water, they gradually move their way out to make way for a second and
smaller herd. We spend about an hour watching these creatures spoon the
liquid into their trunks. At one point, a couple catch a glimpse of the
tourists with their cameras, and stare at us straight on. No one moves or
utters a word, and soon the elephants have lost interest in our presence
and return to their watering hole. As the elephants move away in search of
their new pasture, I admire their sense of order in their movements and
cohesion, all lined up in a logical line. Once the elephants disappear
from view, the game drivers open up the cooler and we relish in our own
liquid. Beer and wine.

My accommodation is a thatch roof tent hut elevated above an escarpment
overlooking the savannah with the Taita Hills and Mount Kilimanjaro way
out in the distance. It is overcast so the view of the iconic mountain
range is faint, but nonetheless there is something magical in the air.
There are lizards all over this place, and I am afraid to step on them as
I walk down the steps to my hut. The frame of the hut is wood, and the
canvass supports the walls. They are built to blend into the natural
environment. We set out on a bush walk yesterday morning at 6AM to explore
the land of the lions, gazelle and water buffalo. We see gazelle from afar
and luckily we don’t come across any lions. About an hour into our walk,
some of the lodge staff have set up a breakfast table. It is coffee, eggs
and toast in the middle of the African bush! Surreal and I think to myself
the lions don’t have it this easy.

Back to Nairobi last night and I am now into my last week here. On
Thursday, I have a farewell diner with High Commission colleagues, then on
Saturday morning (very early!) I set out for a climb up Mount Longonot, a
dormant volcano that reaches closes to 3,000 metres, before enduring a 24
hour journey back home late on Saturday night. Le temps passe. And soon, I
will be back in my Ottawa cocoon. Until then, take it easy and I look
forward to reconnecting with you all very soon!!

Carole

Week 4: the week that was

June 28, 2011
Dear friends and family,

I slept in a treehouse last night. A house built on stilts above the
ground in Malu forest reserve about one hour and half from Nairobi, near
Lake Navaisha. I woke up this morning to the sights of colobus and syke
monkeys dangling from the trees surrounding the treehouse. Their dance was
amusing to watch. At the same time, there was a chorus of birds, which
produced an orchestra of sounds I'd never heard before. I swear one of
them was playing a pan flute. Yesterday afternoon,  I had endeavoured a
hike in the reserve with my friends, an hour's walk from the treehouse to
a natural hot spring in the forest. The walk to the spring was sublime.
The sun was shining and hot, the sky blue, cattle and horses grazing on
the lush green grass. On the return, however, the heavens turned on us and
down came the heaviest of downpours. Needless to say we got wet, and I'd
say I've never been so soaked in my life. We made it to the reserve's
restaurant, a quaint thatch roofed hut with tables and chairs with
fireplace in the middle, before too long and warmed ourselves with hot
tea. As we waited there for a driver to take us the 5 km to the treehouse,
it was clear after about a half hour there was no driver coming, so we
decided to keep warm and keep moving. The rain had more or less stopped,
and the more we sat the more we got cold in our wet wardrobe. Away we went
and a about 10 minutes later the guy with the safari jeep showed up to
take us home. Dry we were soon enough and laughing out loud at this
adventure.

On our way home, we stopped by Hell's Gate National Park, an overtly
volcanic landscape with tall cliffs and beautiful rocky outcrops. There we
visited the Obsidian Cave, which is named after a black indigenous type of
rock. This glassy rock was used by early man to create cutting tools. I
took a few so I could show my kids.  Although one can walk and ride bikes
in this park, we drove through and witnessed a number of wildlife: zebra,
gazelle, buffalo, warthogs, giraffe. As we picnicked on one of the hill
tops overlooking the grazing zebra on the ground, I was caught by surprise
by the sight of two giraffe above us on close by cliffs hovering among the
trees. Africa knows how to do wildlife!

Back to the week that was. The streets on the way to work are littered
with newspaper vendors. They stand in between the lanes holding out the
local dailies, the Standard and Daily Nation. Every morning, I ask
Kennedy, my driver from the High Commission, to stop and pick up the Daily
Nation for me. These guys are skilled at giving you your paper and taking
your 40 shillings (about 10 cents). It's dangerous as there are cars
whizzing by in both directions, but these guys seem to know what they are
doing. I try to read the paper before getting to work so that I can then
give it to Kennedy, but the ride is bumpy so I end up only reading the
headlines. On the way home, it's the same deal, but now the vendors are
selling other goods, clothes, cards, electronics, puppies (you read
right). It's a hard life for many in this town. On Thursday, I went to
Carnivore, a famous Nairobi restaurant and concert hall to hear a
legendary South African artist Hugh Mesekela. He is a trumpet player, and
plays a fusion of jazz and traditional African beat. I'd never heard of
him before, but I am now a convert and plan to buy some of his music.

Now you may be thinking it's been all fun and play this week. It has not.
I worked every day at the Canadian High Commission and continued with my
refugee interviews. I am getting more and more the hang of it, feeling
more confidant and efficient by the day. I was invited to meet the High
Commissioner this week. He likes likes to meet all staff at the office,
whether they are there for a short or longer stay. He is a very nice
fellow and appreciated meeting him.

Enough said for now. Please write me and let me know what's up with you.
It must be preety these days in Ottawa as summer takes hold. Thinking of
all of you!

Carole

Bye bye Kampala, hello again Nairobi

June 28, 2011
Dear friends and family,

I am now back in Nairobi after two wonderful weeks in Kampala. What a
quaint little African city. They call Kampala the pearl of Africa and one
can see why. It is tucked into a valley surrounded by seven hill tops, so
the views are breathtaking from all the vistas. The city is lush with
green vegetation and beautiful flowers, and is quite walkable, once you
work out your sense of direction. Going out in Kampala traffic by foot,
you must have your wits firmly in place. There is traffic, and by traffic,
I mean boda bodas (motorbike taxis), matatus (mini public buses), private
automobiles, trucks, and pedestrians, all vying for the same scarce public
space. The absence of traffic lights and presence of roundabouts make it
challenging to cross the street. The fact that they drive on the left here
furthered my disorientation. Just to be safe, I would look in all the
directions. Motorists will do anything to get ahead of the pack, including
driving on sidewalks! A pedestrian in Kampala has as many rights as those
hideous birds I told you about last week, the marabout storks. It's
survival of the fittest, forget about justice and right of way. Ok, enough
gripe.

Let tell you about the Owino Market. It's Kampala's largest and liveliest.
You've never seen so many wall to wall stalls in your life selling
everything you can think of: clothing, electronics, shoes, belts, jewlery,
food. All these goods are stacked on high to the ceiling. The stench of
the place is a mix of urine, rotten food and body odour, not the best
elements for putting you in a buying mood. However, I felt I had to
experience it if I really wanted to experience the real Kampala. As many
vendors were vying for my attention at once, I didn't know where to look.
It was overwhelming. It didn't help either that the path to the stalls
were muddy and full of holes. Luckily I enlisted the help of Frank, my
driver in Kampala, who helped me enormously with the bargaining. In the
end, I made out with some good deals and didn't feel too ripped off.

There was massive PR campaign going in Kampala while I was there meant to
educate Kampalans of the dangers of the "sexual network." It's code
basically for groups sharing sexual partners. In Uganda, the sexual
network is loosely referred to as "sides dishes" or "spare tires"! Last
time I was in Kampala in 2008, the campaign was against "generational
sex," a trend of much older men being sugar daddies to much younger women.
Seems like Ugandans have trouble staying home.

Leaving Kampala yesterday, en route to the airport, I had to get out of my
vehicle to go through a security check about five minutes away from the
airport. It was pure security theatre as some cars just rolled on by
missing the check, while others were forced to get out of their cars to
pass through. While I had to go through the check, my driver did not. Go
figure.

Back in Nairobi and spent the afternoon at a music festival called
"Blankets and Wine" with my friend Carol and some of her local Kenyan
friends. It was a place where people could bring their picnics and wine
and listen to great live music. Felt like the folk festival back home. The
crowd was a mix of young and old, but most were young looking hipsters
garbed in traditional African dress with a dash of Californian hippiness
of 70s. Lots of flip flops and tank tops. I discovered a great local band
who was playing, called Sauti Sol. Check them out on the web if you have
the chance and interest. Their music is amazing!

Enough for now. I hope you are well and enjoying the Canadian heat.
Starting week four...time is flying!

Take care all,
Carole