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.