Thursday, November 30, 2006


i've been sick for a month. mostly a diffuse, general, non-specific sort of sick in my head and sinuses and throat. on a couple occasions, however, it (the sickness) has found its way in to my ear canal and caused a severe headache and sore throat on the left side of my head. so yesterday i visited a pharmacy and bought a bottle of cough syrup with codeine. four bucks. i have a pretty good relationship with opiates from my various surgeries, and pain relief was very appealing to me at the time.
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the cough syrup knocked me on my ass. it was great. hopefully healthy days are ahead.


more on murchison

The Plan was to leave the rhinos and make it all the way to murchison by the evening. there was four+ hours of daylight left and it was under 150km to our destination, but depending on the rain and the condition of dirt roads, maximum speed can vary dramatically. i have an excellent sense of direction and quick command of any map i see, so of course we got lost. but we knew we were lost, which is much better than not knowing you are lost. at least in our case. had we continued for another hour to not know that we were lost, we would have ended up in gulu, which is the staging ground for uganda's little war on the LRA. no, moms, we aren't planning on going up there. this detour made arrival at murchison by nightfall out of the question, so we set about looking for a place to stay in masindi and found a fantastic hotel with camping, outdoor flush toilet, hot water shower, sinks with mirrors and a great restaurant. see, we knew what we were doing the whole time.
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next day on the way to murchison we stopped at the kanyiyo pabidi forest preserve and hired a guide to take us bird watching. he was quiet and informative and we often had a hard time distinguishing between the actual birds' calls and his responses. we had a number of good finds and with every opportunity we are getting more and more into bird watching and more and more appreciative of my dad and val's wedding gift of his and hers binoculars.

the nile runs east to west through murchison. the north side of the river has most of the large animals and you get there by taking a ferry across. The Plan was to hire a guide in murchison and spend thursday afternoon on a safari with our own car. guides are cheap. land rover rental is not. so it was with no small amount of disappointment that we learned the ferry was broken down for months and it would be months until it was fixed. we could hire a car for $100 though. it would have been nice if the person at the uganda wildlife authority had mentioned that when i told her Our Plans and made what she told me were all the necessary reservations.

so no game drive. plan b? we were scheduled* to take a boat trip upriver to the falls the next morning, but with nothing else on the docket for today, we called the nile safari lodge, one of many swank $150-200 per night lodges around the country, to do a short boat trip downriver among the islands near their lodge. the pipedream goal was to see a shoebill stork, a bird that needs its own blog entry, which nests in the area but would probably not be seen in the following day's boat trip towards the falls. just getting to nile safari lodge was an adventure in itself as we followed a sign which lead us to a 4x4 track with mud holes big enough to make me seriously consider turning around. but when trees are simultaneously scraping both sides of your car, turning around isn't a simple matter and that probably contributed to our forging ahead. we passed local villagers and i just knew they were thinking "look at the silly mzungu. every week at least one car follows that sign. we'll see them coming back in a few minutes." so we got to a t with a bad road to the right and a worse road to the left. we take the worse and paige finally convinces me to stop so she can ask a boy for directions. his excellent english informs us that nile safari lodge is just back where we came from. about 100 yards the other direction at the t we pull up to the gate. this was definitely the least-developed road that i have been on in uganda so far, and it is the only way in to a lodge that charges $150-200 a night for rooms.

our boat cruise was very cool, and though we didn't see any shoebills, we did see our first hippos and crocs as well as some great birds. a cameo by an elephant just as we were turning around was a highlight as well. hippos are big. many tons. but this elephant dwarfed them all and how.

*confirming the time of our morning launch to the falls, we are informed that no one else is signed up for the morning. sweet! we have the boat to ourselves. no, minimum price for the boat is $150. there need to be at least 10 people or else you have to pay more. another bit of information that would have been nice to have from the person at uwa when i reserved our spot and paid our $15 each for the trip. so again The Plan has changed and we will go on the afternoon launch instead.

back to the campground for very good and very cheap spaghetti and meat sauce and spending the night among the warthogs. we'll figure out plan b 2.0 tomorrow.
don't forget to check out the photo blog page. images of murchison a plenty.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

we live in a zoo

my 2-year old niece maggie goes to the como zoo with marmee (grandma) to see all the animals that live with aunt paige in africa. i'm sure she's got this picture in her head of aunt paige and uncle phil living in a house full of animals running around - lions and tigers and bears, oh my! but, it's true - we live in a zoo. in murchison alone we saw elephants, hippos, crocodiles, rhinos (en route), water buffalo, waterbuck, african duiker, warthogs, colobus monkeys, and baboons. oh my!

we sleep in a zoo, too. on phil's trip back from the states he brought our trusty 2-person marmot tent, sleeping pads, and sleeping bag so we can camp here. our first campsite in murchison we slept with the warthogs. who knew that they eat from their knees. they seem to be pretty fearless and unbothered by anything that's not grass or a tree that'll give 'em a good scratch. the second night we camped at the top of the falls. if you ever make it to murchison, i highly recommend doing this - it was one of my favorite things we did all weekend. there's no one else there, the campsite is right next to the nile, and you have the falls to yourself. except for the hippos, of course. we didn't sleep more than 10 yards from the river where there was a pool of 4 hippos. they popped up and down to check us out when we first arrived and gave their recognizable territorial call, but we didn't bother them so they didn't bother us. the night before our campsite had been visited by hungry hippos as evidenced by their footprints in the morning mud, but this night they stayed in the water. or, at least we didn't see any tracks in the morning...
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the hippos were by far the most abundant wildlife we saw in murchison. not surprising considering there's an estimated 4,000 hippos in the park. at the end of a morning hike along the falls, we found a small bay protected from the churning water that gathered foam and attracted hippos. we all hung out for a while - phil taking pictures, me watching phil and the hippos, the hippos watching us. despite their outwardly placid personalities, hippos can be aggressive. as close as we were, we planned a simple escape route (a scurry up a steep grade seemingly too technical to be climbed by an angry hippo). no aggression from our hippo friends, though, just watchful eyes.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

paige's reappearance

you may have wondered where i've gone. first, shortly after my last post (november 4th) phil came home. that's enough explanation in and of itself, but immediately following his homecoming i landed myself in a 2-week long workshop (10 hours 6 days a week). then, not wanting to create excuses i swear, the fact of the matter is life here is becoming...everyday. i hate to admit it, but i'm starting to forget (overlook?) what's new and interesting and unusual because it's starting to be the day-to-day. i want to keep blogging on a regular basis, i really do. both as a record for myself and as a way to stay connected with friends and family back home. it's going to take work, though. my goal is to post 1x per week. hold me to it. if i slack, i'm sorry. 101paige 101africa


thanksgiving wknd - rhinos

where to start? over the thanksgiving wknd, paige and i drove to murchison falls national park in northwest uganda. we're trying to get out of the city for a sightseeing adventure at least once a month. other than the mountain gorilla tracking, which has a year+ waiting list, uganda is largely undiscovered as a tourist destination for getting into nature and viewing african animals. the national park system is well-established, though, and there are a ton of opportunities to get in to the wild with just you and your guide, surrounded by wildlife. kenya is arguably more spectacular, but you will always be sharing the experience with six other landcruisers filled with tourists.

first stop on the way to murchison was the ziwa rhino preserve. rhinos were poached to local extinction during amin, and it is only in the last year that this 80km square fenced reserve has opened for visiting. the only six rhinos in uganda are here, 4 brought from elsewhere in africa, two donated by disney. an armed guard is with the rhinos in the wild 24/7. christopher, the current monitor on watch said that for the first year, they had to climb trees. now the rhinos are used to people so they won't charge. they still hoot at them though when the rhinos start to walk towards us with curious looks in their eyes. anyway, we picked up a guide at the gate and he radioed to the guard to find out where the rhinos were and off we were in to the bush. we have named our toyota elsie (Land Cruiser, LC, elsie) and this was her first true off-roading and she was a champ driving through swamps and across fields. we walk the last km to the rhinos and spend the next hour some 20 yards away from moja, bella and cory. it's pretty awesome.
go here for photos, and check back shortly for further write ups about our adventures to, from, and in murchison.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

new photos

if you frequent the blogosphere, you'll have no doubt noticed that unlike many/most blogs out there, we don't have photos with the text of our blog entries. the reasons are that 1) we like the look of just having text 2) there are plenty of photos elsewhere on our site and 3) even if we wanted photos with the text, the system is buggy and i haven't figured out how to make it happen. so the times that we have had an image to go along with what we are talking about, we've just linked to the individual image on its own page. it's clunky and not so visually appealing.

but now i have found a great new plugin that keeps the blog page clean and texty and gives a stylish way to view images without visually seperating from the blog. i think it's dope. to see individual images, scroll down to the "food" and "white ants" links in paige's mugole eats enswa post.
it also does slide shows. here are a number of images from my first few days back on the continent. most are from monday's there-and-back-again (which reminds me, i think i will start reading the hobbit next) trip to mihv's ssembabule field site. i have my long lens now so i can start taking proper bird photos. at least if they come close. *mouse over the image and click to advance to the next photo*

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

...and i'm hitting the ground running

more hitting the ground than running.

today was my first weekend morning run with peter since my last day here in august. you may recall what happened that time. i'm still sick enough that i'm not too interested in going running, but i felt so bad saying no yesterday that i couldn't turn peter down two days in a row. he showed up this morning asking if i was feeling better and i lied that yes i was feeling better and i told the truth that i still had pressure in my head and that my nose was stuffed. he said ok here is what will do. get a glass of drinking water - we will keep a little in the mouth and run. it's not 20km, only 10. i looked at him in a way that said i know i didn't just hear you say that we are going to do our entire run with water in our mouths and he repeated that yes, indeed, it is good to breathe through the nose. in my head i'm thinking didn't i just tell you that my nose is stuffed? i can't say no. so off we go using hand signals and such because we can't open our mouths or the water will fall out. it's amazing how heavy an ounce of water feels in your mouth after ten minutes of running. and so you don't have to find out on your own, i'll let you know that when it's warm out and you find yourself going on a little jog, 98.6 degree water does not feel clean or refreshing. i made it to the top of the hill at kololo airfield before peter noticed that more snot was coming out of my nose than was air entering it, and we both spit out our water. ah, beautiful air! stunning elixir!
peter says the boxers run with water in their mouths because you can't breathe through your mouth during a fight. mouthguard and keeping your jaw closed and all.

otherwise, everything is normal and i'm finding my african pace of life again. now that i'm here for potentially a couple years without interruption i'm realizing that i'm going to need some occupation. idle hands are the devil's workshop. so a job hunt may begin soon. right to play being a possible first stop.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

...and i'm back

in some ways it feels like i never left, though paige assures me that in fact i did. new things include having our cat running around the house, a softer, greener feel to the city (i left just as the wet season was getting underway), and the sun going to the south now that it's winter in the northern hemisphere (earlier post about that here). otherwise it just feels like i'm back at home.

the trip here was no picnic because i've been dealing with a head cold/sinus thing for the past 10 days or so. the headache part of the equation decided to get going just as i got on the plane and lasted all 20 hours of travel. ick. the odd part of the sinus thing that's never happened to me before is that i've lost all sense of smell and taste. i first noticed it in MSP when i got a coke and it didn't taste right. it wasn't until i got a meal on the plane that i realized that i had no idea what i was eating (nothing new for plane food, i know). i had a bag of skittles, my normal routine being to eat the red and purple ones first because i like to save the orange, yellow and green citrus ones for last because they're my favorite. they all tasted exactly the same so that was pointless. it's starting to get really annoying now that i'm in africa and actually want to be able to taste all the good food and fruit we have. i cut up a pineapple yesterday morning and as i told paige, "it might as well be styrofoam packing peanuts." the pineapple here has this amazing sweet fresh smell. nothing. last night i had intentionally too-spicy indian from the restaurant across the street hoping that it might clear my sinuses some. i put it and the garlic naan down as though it had all the intensity of a bowl of special k with skim milk. paige finished up what i didn't eat (she's in a two-week all-day workshop, so she gets all her meals there) and her first reaction was "wow, this naan is garlic-y" and her second reaction was to nearly explode at the spiciness of the food. we have pretty much the same heat index for our spicy food, too. this is all totally new for me, never having had sinus troubles. so i'm hoping it goes away.

i brought back a couple new toys, the main one being a good set of computer speakers so now we can watch movies without having to use headphones. this is a big step up in terms of our entertainment center experience. i also made a productive dvd run to best buy. so our video library now includes the following:
101phil 101africa
sopranos season 1 :: sopranos season 2 :: sopranos season 3 :: sopranos season 4 :: sopranos season 5 :: entourage season 1 :: entourage season 2 :: gilmore girls season 1 :: gilmore girls season 2 :: gilmore girls season 6 :: west wing season 1 :: west wing season 2 :: west wing season 3 :: west wing season 4 :: west wing season 5 :: west wing season 6 :: 24 season 1 :: 24 season 3 :: 24 season 4 :: alias season 1 :: sports night complete series :: northern exposure season 1 :: cstv upa college ultimate championships 2004 & 2005 :: upa club championships 2005 :: upa ultimate 101: laying out the game :: generation x-ski :: american skier :: high fidelity :: bourne identity :: bourne supremacy :: she's the one :: hero :: spider man :: spiderman 2 :: casino :: fargo :: motorcycle diaries :: x2 x-men united :: american beauty :: lost in translation :: enron: the smartest guys in the room :: pixies 2004 reunion tour :: coming to america :: leaving las vegas :: go :: oceans eleven :: 8 mile :: trainspotting :: collateral :: unforgiven :: swingers :: man on fire :: the contender :: star wars episode II :: napoleon dynamite :: grease :: finding nemo :: monsters inc :: the incredibles :: pirates of the carribean :: garden state :: syriana ::

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

mugole eats enswa

5 days straight in ssembabule and all i ate was a rotating menu of matooke, posho, beans and cabbage. sometimes there was meat and once there were potatoes. matooke is boiled green plantains, posho is the same as ugali and is a hardened maize flour mixture. matooke and posho are so common in the standard ugandan diet that together they're known as "food." i like matooke, i like posho, i like potatoes, but by week's end my stomach was begging for something not so starchy, not so carbohydrate-y.
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lucky for me the menu was broken up with something fresh. ants. yep, ants. big old fatties at that. in luganda they're enswa; in english they're white ants. the "white" comes from the color of their wings, which get pulled off before they're fried. they're abundant during the rainy season coming out after it rains and being attracted to light. the CHW trainees wanted me to shine my car's headlights on the anthill to entice more to come out, but they were able to catch aplenty without my help. hundreds and hundreds of them that they ate plain as a snack and used as a garnish atop their matooke and posho.

i've never been a shy eater, so to the delight of my new friends i gave the ants a go. i scooped up a handful and tossed 'em back. laughter, cheers, and shouts of "mugole is eating enswa!" ensued. (mugole, pronounced moo-go-lay, is my luganda name. it means bride.) my simple act of ant-eating helped me fit in more than i expected and the next night the women invited me to join them on their trip to the market.

if you're wondering, the goodness of fried food doesn't exlude ants. enswa is actually pretty tasty, if you can get over the crunchy sensation of eating ants that is.

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geography lessons

i was in the field all week for community health worker training. the mihv field site in ssembabule has a dormitory, so the 30+ villagers that we trained got to spend a whole week as residents with us. for most, that's a really big deal - food, tea, water, mosquito nets, and time to ask the muzungu anything. each night after training, we stayed up late by the paraffin lantern talking. them asking the questions, me answering. a sample of some of their questions...
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what is a credit card? how does it work?
no one had seen a credit card before, so we started with the basics. i got out my amex and started with my name, the signature, the number. then moved on to what happens when i give my credit card to a store clerk.

do americans farm? where do americans get food?
all they know about america is new york city - skyscrapers, pavement, crowded population. no land for farming there. when i told them about the bread basket in the midwest, the fruits/vegetable industry in california, and the cattle in texas, they were impressed.

how much is bride price in america?
phil didn't get any goats or cattle for you as a wife? blasphemy!

where do you bury people?
again, new york city and its lack of space.

do you drink coke in america?

why do americans talk on such big phones?
they've never seen landline phones (no telecommunications in rural africa until the mobile technology revolution), which are huge compared to cell phones. they see landline phones being used in movies and think that americans must be really rich to have such big phones.

sylvester "stallion" gets shot and falls off cliffs, but he never dies. why not?
easy explanation - movies aren't real, which was news to them. sad to think that hollywood is perceived as reality.

where do you get firewood in america?
new york city really throws these guys for a loop. in their minds, the u.s. has no space, no forests, no wild animals. i explained that we don't need firewood because we cook on gas/electric stoves. bukenya replied, "how smart!" clearly impressed that we'd figured out a way to use electricity to cook food and that we even had electricity in the first place.

do you have load shedding?
in uganda, electricity is rationed around the country through what's known as "load shedding." basically that means while one part of the country has power another part doesn't...everyone gets electricity some of the time, no one gets it all of the time (unless you live in bugolobi close to the president's daughter, like us). the power outage in new york city in 2003 was a disaster making headline news for weeks and and costing nyc over 1/2 billion dollars in lost revenue. power outages in kampala and all of uganda are everyday happenings. i cannot begin to calculate (but i'm sure some expert has) the amount of potential revenue lost by uganda because of its power crisis.

if americans do not dig and do not own cows, how are they so rich?

how do fly-over highways work?
it took me a while to figure out they were asking about overpasses found in big cities. my physics is somewhat rusty, so i just stuck with the basics again.

hanging in our field office are 3 maps – the world, uganda, and the united states. each night's q&a centered around the maps and in-depth geography lessons. some of their geography-related questions included...
- where does bill gates live?
- if england is so small, how come they are so powerful?
- why are some countries pink while others are green, yellow, orange?
- what continent is madagascar part of?
- where else in the world are there black people?
- why do black people and white people look different?
- what color are asians?
- (they saw north america and south america on the map and asked...) president bush is president of all of this?

only a handful of the villagers had ever been to kampala, and most have never been outside ssembabule district. imagine your whole world being 2,000 square km with no electricity, no running water, no mass communication except the radio.

each night we all gathered around the one radio to listen to the evening news. i didn't understand any of it of course, but they did their best to keep me up to speed. i was impressed with their english (average education level was 4th grade), and they got a kick out of my accent and really enjoyed practicing their english with me. in turn they taught me more luganda.

the biggest treat of the whole week was firing up the generator wednesday and thursday nights to show videos on the old tv/vcr. we only had random videos to show - a malaria video, a family planning animated video, a uganda MTV recording. but, no one cared. people were just excited to have something, anything to watch. it wasn't what they watched, it was the fact they were watching.

it's hard to grasp what life is like without electricity until you live without. i'm not talking about going on a camping trip and sleeping when the sun sets, waking when it rises, getting by with your coleman lantern and petzl headlamp. that's idyllic, romantic even...but when the trip's over you go home to your lights, stove, hot water, television - your electricity. think about life without electricity. james, one of the trainees, came into the office while we were hooking up the generator for the movies. he didn't say a word, just sat down in front of the tv and waited. it took us a long time to get everything working, but he didn't complain. he just patiently waited. watching him watch a blank tv was when i realized how novel and special and lucky it is to have electricity. the movie eventually started and james watched all the movies all night without saying a word except thank you when it was over.

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