Lake Bunyonyi

Last weekend I took the 9-hour bus journey down to Lake Bunyoni in the southwest, near Rwanda. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been: it’s stunning. I stayed at a small very relaxed campsite and found that the place was, thankfully, not overrun by tourists.

I spent a good while meditating and taking in the views, and enjoyed some of the most calm and aware moments of my life. I was able to take a canoe out into the lake and paddle around the islands, which are inhabited, and generally spent a lot of time swimming and floating around in the canoe, enjoying the sunshine and the distant sound of the locals singing — I guess there was a church nearby or something.

If I go back, though, I’ll stay for more than two nights: the bus journey is a bit painful and the place deserves to be explored more than I did.

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Is fearr Gaeilge briste ná Béarla cliste…

So, for anyone who didn’t understand the last post, what happened was that I was offered to do an interview in Irish with Raidió na Life for Front Line, but declined originally cause I didn’t feel prepared, didn’t know much about the subject of the interview and wasn’t in the office at the time and so on.

Since then, though, they offered me to do it again, with time for preparation, so I figured…why not. The subject of the interview was actually the book of testimonies from the 2010 Front Line Dublin Platform (I can’t actually find a link to it right now) and we spoke a little about Uganda and what I’m doing out here. It was recorded and aired last Wednesday evening.

In fairness my Irish is far from perfect but I think I got away with it with dignity. If I find a link to the audio, I’ll post it. 🙂

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Beatha teanga í a labhairt, ach…

sin níos éasca a rá ná a dheanamh.

Tá seans ann nach bhfuil duine ar bith a dtagann go dtí an blag seo in ann í a dtuiscint as Gaeilge. Gan dabht, tá sé níos deacair freisin mar gheall ar mo ghrammadach uafásach agus a leithead. Well…bainfaimíd trial as.

Cúpla lá ó shin, cuir mo chomhghleacaí i mBaile Átha Cliath glaoch orm nuair a bhí mé sa bhialann le mo chuid chomhghlacaithe as an oifig anseo, tar éis obair. Bhí iontas orm, agus d’iarrr mé air cén fáth a raibh sé ag glaoch orm.

Well, bhí an eagraíocht abhaile tar éis leabhair a fhoilsiú agus, mar is gnáth le himeachtaí den sórt sin, d’eisítear preasráiteas faoin leabhair, agus a leithead. Mar is nadúrtha, bhí neart suim i measc na na mheán chumarsáide sna leabhar agus bhí fonn ag stáisúin raidió Gaeilge bunaithe i mBÁC agallamh a dhéanamh faoin t-ábhar, as Gaeilge, le duine éigin as an t-eagraíocht. Ach, sin a bhí an fadhb: ní raibh duine ar bith san oifig i mBaile Átha Cliath in ann an t-agallamh a dhéanamh trí mheán na Ghaeilge.

…agus ba é sin an fáth a chuir sé glaoch ormse fhéin, anseo i Uganda. D’iarr sé orm má bheadh mé in ann an t-agallamh a dheanamh ar son an t-eagraíocht! Bhuel, sin an-plámásach ar fad, nach bhfuil? Bhí áthas an domhain agus neart iontas orm go raibh an méid sin muinín acu ionam fhéin agus i mo chuid Gaeilge.

Ach, ag an am chéanna, sin an fadhb — b’fhéidir go bhfuil níos mó Gaeilge agam ná ag na daoine eile san eagraiocht, ach bheadh sé soléir do gach aon duine a bhfuil ar Ghaeilge líofa ag léamh an blag seo go bhfuil mise féin fós ar an-bheagán ar fad. Tá’n mé ag scríobh an blag seo le cabhair fhóclóir google agus, chomh mhaith leis sin, táim ag scríobh…nílim ag caint. Bheadh sé sin scéal eile ar fad, a lán níos deacair.

Bhuel, dúirt me dó nach bheadh mé in ann an t-agalamh a dhéanamh: ní raibh a lán fhios agam faoin leabhar a bhí i gciest agus — an fáth is tábhachtaí — ní raibh leor Gaeilge ar cur ar bith agam chun comhrá a dhéanamh faoi ábhar ar nós na chearta an duine! Bheadh sé ina dtubaiste ar fad! Thuig sé, agus deir sé do’n stáisúin nach raibh sé in ann baint liom ar an teileafón.

Bhí faoiseamh orm ar dtús, ach tar éis tamaillín, thánaig brón orm. Mhothaigh mé go raibh mé beagán mí-ionrach. Cé go bhfuil mé ar bheagán, táim bhródúil faoi mo chuid Gaeilge agus tá a lán grá agam do’n dteanga. Is breá liom í a labhairt nuair a bhfuil an seans agam, úsáideann mé firefox agus facebook as Gaeilge, agus tá sé curtha ar mo CV, mar shampla, mar teanga ina bhfuil mé in ann a labhairt. Foghlaimínn, chomh mhaith le mo glúin ar fad, an Ghaeilge ar feadh 14 bliana sa scoil, is léir go bhfuil mé in ann í a dtuiscint agus caint, cé go bhfuil beagán i gceist; nílim ag insint na mbréag nuair a deirim go bhfuil mé in ann í a dtuiscint agus labhairt.

Ach i mo thuraim, cé go bhfuil a lán daoine de mo glúin in ann an Gaeilge a tuiscint freisin, deireann siad nach bhfuil (mar ag deireadh an lae, níl sé ina dteanga tábhachtach agus ni minic a bhfuil siad ag caint í). Mar gheall ar sin, ceapann a lán daoine, nuair a deirim mé go bhfuil Gaeilge agam, go bhfuil mé líofa, ach níl sé sin an cás!

An bhfuil sé mí-ionrach a rá go bhfuil Gaeilge agam muna bhfuil mé ar mórán? Ba chóir dom a rá, ar nós chuille duine eile as mo ghlúin (cé go bhfuil Gaelge acu freisin!) nach bhfuil mé in ann í a labhairt?? Ah, níl feckin fhios agam. Ar thuig tú an blag ar fad? Cad a ceapann tú?

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There is a new post coming….

…a substantive enough rant, but i just burned my finger pretty badly making pasta so i can’t finish it.

Otherwise all is going very well, I’m planning to have lots of adventures in the next six weeks so there should be lots to write about.

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Safety, Ugandan style.

If there is one difference between the Ugandan and Irish cultures that’s really jumped out at me so far, it’s the absolute polarity of our attitudes towards safety, particularly in relation to the system of safety practices known to my generation in Ireland as “a bit of common fucking sense, like.”

In fairness, I do remember a time, when I was very very young, when for example people didn’t really bother with seatbelts in cars. Except for the driver and the person in the front passenger seat (in my family at least, although I remember some of my friends’ parents didn’t even do that). I don’t think either of the first two cars we had when I was a child even had seatbelts in the back. But, at some point, something changed, seatbelts started appearing on all seats in the car; relentless gory TV advertisements in which a grave-sounding voice appealed to us to “stop the bloody slaughter”, together with the image of flying through the front windshield weighing sixty times the weight of an elephant (or something) being regularly drilled into us by the voices from the front seats meant that wearing a seatbelt became something automatic, something you wouldn’t question doing. And it made sense, too. It didn’t really feel uncomfortable, didn’t look uncool, and would save your family having to scrape parts of you off the road in the event of an accident, so it only had advantages really.

Nobody wears seatbelts in Uganda. And I have absolutely no idea why not.

You think that’s bad? Oh, wait til you hear about motorbikes. I mentioned in an earlier post that boda-bodas are a very common way to get around here. Basically they’re motorbike taxis, you just jump on the back and whizz around the place, avoiding the traffic jam, and you pay next to nothing. Now, bear in mind that this is rather a poor country and the people who do this job are not quite, — for the most part at least, I’d imagine — middle class or anything. They don’t earn much money. Their bikes are not exactly in top-class conditions; perhaps they can’t afford to have them serviced quite as much as we do in Europe; perhaps they may attempt to fix things themselves, or be unaware of potentially lethal accidents waiting to happen. Add to this the fact that the quality of roads here leaves, let’s say, something to be desired, if you desire roads without potholes which span, on occasion, the entire width of the road (when indeed you are lucky enough to be on a section which is tarmacked).

“Of course,” you’d imagine, “with that kind of a system being so widespread, and considering the socio-economic and infrastructural circumstances and so forth, everyone at least wears helmets, right?” That’s common sense…right?

Nope, more or less nobody wears helmets. It’s not that they don’t have helmets. My boda driver who takes me to and from work every morning has a helmet. Where? On the front of the bike. Not on his head. Why? No idea.

So, if it comes to a crash, it’s your skull at 60km/h versus the road. That should be avoided — do they just drive really safely instead or something? No no no no. They don’t drive safely. They drive crazy. More or less anything goes, and that is not an exaggeration: even the side of the road you drive on is, apparently, more of a suggestion, and if you’re willing to risk driving on the other side — which they often are — that’s your call. Otherwise generally feel free to weave in and out of traffic, drive on pavements, run the lights if you think you have a chance, cut corners at junctions. Oh, and drink drive. Yes, the mother of all road safety taboos in Ireland. Subject of one harrowing television gorefest after another. It’s commonplace here — if you’re getting a boda at night it’s important to ensure the driver is sober first. Perhaps there’s a logic to it, I suppose: it’ll numb the pain you feel if and when the brakes fail — and they do — but I can’t get over it.

I have been told that 5 to 6 people die every day in Kampala in boda-boda accidents, yet the vast majority seem more or less unwilling to take pretty damn rudimentary steps to avoid a pretty horrific death.

The same nonchalance can be found regarding even more basic things, believe it or not. Your parents told you not to play with fire, didn’t they? Well, not here. As I walked down to my local shop the other evening, I saw a group of kids — some as young as four or five — actually playing with a fire. Like, there was a fire lit on the side of the road, they were gathering around it, taking stuff out of it and running around with it, leaning over it, and so on. Unsupervised, you’d assume? Nope. There were about three adults looking on, alarmingly disinterested.

I had to raise this issue with a couple of colleagues one day as we drove, un-seatbelted, to collect our lunch. As we laughed about it, my colleague who was driving offered a rationale: “Yeah, but as soon as you get burned you learn that you shouldn’t play with fire and never do it again, right?”. Sure.

I just can’t get away from the idea that Al-Shabbab may have somehow benefited from that reasoning, and I sure hope I’m wrong.

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Tinteán eile…

Caveat: This took me a while to write, and because it’s kind of a catch-up, it may well be severely boring. Read at your own risk.

It’s jarring that I’ve now been here for three weeks. It feels as if someone’s really hit the accelerator on time recently — but I do remember saying that on various occasions in the last year or so, especially when I was teaching in Barcelona, and since I moved to Dublin. It’s a good sign, I suppose, but in the last few months that famous line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off keeps coming back to me: “Life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you’re gonna miss it”. One of the reasons I’m making myself write this blog is to achieve that very goal…when I know objectively that I’m having the kind of experience that I’m always going to look back on, there’s more than a little fear that I’ll let it slip without quite “getting the most out of it”.

Anyway, I’ve been in verrry regular contact with some of you, and more or less no contact with others, so some of you may just want a bit of a general lowdown on my situation rather than specifics. If so, then this post is for YOU!

To begin with, first impressions of Kampala. I guess that once you leave the first world, there’s just something structurally or spatially different about cities. Kampala is in certain respects just fundamentally different to the other cities I’ve lived in, and I started to get this sense as early as the taxi ride from Entebbe when I arrived. At first I got the impression that this city was huge, because there was such activity and life along so much of the roadside coming from Entebbe. There were strips and clusters of bars, shops, food vendors, all cluttered together and occasionally flanked by a kilometre or two of empty space; but even then, there were lots of people walking along the roads or waiting for a boda-boda (like a motorbike taxi), it just generally seemed that there was a lot of activity. Of course, important context was given to the whole thing by the ramshackle and dilapidated constructions which constituted those bars, shops, and homes. This was something I hadn’t seen since the time I spent travelling through Ukraine and the Balkans a couple of years ago, and I hadn’t missed it. Anyway, as it happens the city isn’t actually that big, but as I said, spatially it’s just constructed differently. I think the population is in and around 1.5 million — so, broadly comparable to Dublin or Prague — but it’s just constructed quite differently: of course, as you’d probably find in any city in the developing world, on the one hand there are large areas of cluttered shanties where everything’s kind-of thrown together; on the other hand, there are areas in the city — and topography no doubt has a lot to do with this — where you could forget you were only a few kilometres from the city centre. There’s lots of space, lots of trees, the roads in parts become narrow dirt tracks, dotted with large gates and razor wire fences hiding pretty substantial houses; it’s calm, chilled out, quiet. Then, 200 metres further down the road, the “urban” switch is flicked again and you’re back among the bustle.

I’m lucky enough to live in one such calm, quiet, spacious and green part of the city. I’ve got a room, which I inherited from my colleague Tara, in a nice big house with a lovely garden, complete with a gang of unruly chickens and friendly dog. I share with an English lady and her son, and another family (the son’s minder, her husband and their kids) live in a smaller building on the premises.

I work relatively close by — I’m told it would be about a 40 minute walk — so if this were like a ‘western’ city, I’d walk it, but I don’t. Instead I go for the much faster and more dangerous option of getting a boda-boda. Now, boda rides could get a blog post of their own because there’s a lot to talk about there. Suffice to say that enough safety taboos and rules of the road as we know them in Ireland are broken by me and my regular boda driver, Paul (and by the standard, this guy is very safe) every morning that it’s enough to bring out my inner Catholic: I pray to the angels, like.

Without getting too specific, I’m getting settled into work. It’s rather different to the way things were in Dublin in some respects, which has its ups and its downs, but I’m enjoying the novelty of it and, now that I’m comfortable with things, going to try to get the most out of it. The folks at the office are very friendly, which is a big help, because I have to say I was fairly attached to the crew back in Dublin.

So far I’ve remained largely innocent of the social side of the city. There’s quite a few reasons for that: I guess in the first place, the tiredness of just moving to a new country and starting a new job and so on kind-of sapped my energy, and not drinking alcohol certainly alters the dynamic of your relationship with night-life at first, it’s taken me a little while to get used to. Then, of course, there was Al-Shabbab bringing a bit of cold hearted indiscriminate killing into the night-life situation which, frankly speaking, chilled me to the bone. But that’ll be another post for another time. The long and short of it is that I’ve been staying in chilling out a lot, doing some reading, meditating, finally trying to get good on the guitar, and watching hours and hours of 30 Rock.

So, that’s more or less the basics of what’s going on. I am absolutely certain that I’ve forgot something, but it’ll have to wait. One more episode of 30 Rock and then hitting the sack. Slán go foill.

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Well, this is progress.

It seems that at least at work, I can upload images.

This is a view of the Victoria Nile not far from its source. I took it when camping in Jinja on my first weekend here.

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