Sunday, May 30, 2010

Reflection: Burundi

The last time I was in Kampala I met a woman from Burundi. She was an evangelist and "spreading the word of God", but what stuck with me was simply her nationality. How few people think of Burundi, Rwanda's southern neighbor, despite being beset by an off-again/ on-again civil war that ended only last year with a shaky peace agreement. Burundi, which in 1972 saw the massacre of between 100,000 and 200,000 Hutu students, priests, and army officers, among others (deemed genocide by a report given to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), leading to thousands of refugees fleeing to Rwanda and Tanzania. Burundi, which experienced wave after wave of riots and reprisal killings, mainly against the Hutu population, throughout the 1980s. Burundi, whose first Hutu president was assassinated in 1993 by the Tutsi-dominated army, sending angry and vengeful Burundians to Rwanda, where they were easily absorbed into the anti-Tutsi genocidal movement.

It's shameful that because a country's international significance is so slight (even less than that of Rwanda in the early 1990s) such obvious crimes against humanity are largely ignored. At the present time Burundi is preparing for national elections, but corruption and possible voter fraud in local elections are already threatening to derail the process. Uganda's Daily Monitor reports that both the ruling party and opposition are raising youth militias for use as "activist thugs". If the elections fail, Burundi could once again collapse into violence, with devastating consequences for the civilian population.

It's time for the international community wake up and realize that all potential conflicts deserve attention, despite the host country's lack of international glamour and appeal.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Crazy Cat Lady

Seth's roommate, Ryan, adopted to stray kittens (more like saved them from the street) and I got to help take care of them during my recent visit. Ryan wanted to but cat litter, but I decided that since we live in a sandbox, I'll just fill the litter box with sand from outside. One time, while scooping up sand from the parking lost, three boys approached me and asked if I was okay.

"Yes, just sand for cats."

One looked doubtful. "Help?" he said.

"No, cats."

I realized I must look like quite a crazy cat lady, considering that the litter pan I was scooping dirt into was an aluminum roasting pan. And the fact that I was wearing slippers. Or maybe just the fact that my slippers have mouse faces.



They're hugging :)

She's playing with his armpit hair.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Traveling Makes Me Crazy, Part 1 - Buses

The smile is all show.

And matatus, for good measure. See, this is part one because my journey inevitably begins with a bus trip, but also ends with one. Funny thing, up until yesterday I thought I would simply be ranting about the lack of timeliness with the bus system. Hahahahaha! Just you wait.

Let me start with this observation: I hate buses. There is nothing that tries your patience as much as the endless, endless waiting you have to endure on a bus trip; it's Africa time exponentially worsened. However, I normally take the Post Bus from Kabale-Kampala or vice versa because, though it is much slower (averaging 9 hours) it leaves the Post Office on time - and that, to me, makes all the difference. From then on, I just open a window slightly, let the wind lull me to sleep, jump off at the larger stops to pee, and so on. I can deal.

Except when the Post Bus randomly acts like a regular coach bus, which was the case when I recently traveled from Kabale-Kampala. I arrived at the Post Office at 6:30, as I always do: the bus leaves at 7 and I am early enough to not have to fight my way on and find a good seat. Yet in front of me was an ever-growing crowd of people and no bus. So we waited, for over an hour, until the bus showed up already half-full, prompting a swarming of the door and much elbowing to get inside. Seems the bus had driven around to various villages picking up people, exactly what its not supposed to do. We then stopped at every roadside stand between Kabale and Mbarara so the conductor and driver could buy matooke, tomatoes, pumpkins, pineapples, etc, etc. To make matters worse, I wasn't near window opening and, since Ugandans hate wind in their face, no one would open a window, which meant I woke from fretful naps profusely pouring sweat. In order to get some respite I would stick my face against a crack in the window to feel the barest bit of breeze

"Are you tired?" the man next to me asked?
"I'm just fucking hot!"

Not so bad, though, until I tried to return to Kabale a couple of weeks later. The Post Bus was again late (bastards!) so I decided, "Screw it, I'll just take my chances with a regular coach." Fateful words! I arrived at the Horizon bus station at 8:30 for the "9:30" bus, but it was raining. As we all know Ugandans are made of sugar, the rain meant that few people were willing to risk leaving their homes, so the bus took a fabulous four hours to fill. Trying! But to be fair, once we got underway we were making excellent time, reaching Mbarara before 5:30. "Not so bad, after all," I thought, and began to alternately read and doze, until suddenly:

CRASH! (The sound of the bus rear-ending a truck.)

WHAM! (The sound of my head violently hitting the seat in front of me.)

What happens when a bus hits a semi.

On a positive note, the accident did allow me to go off and pee, though it did leave everyone stranded on the side of the road while every penis within twenty kilometers had his say in the ensuing argument. I'm pretty sure they're equipped with some sort of radar that alerts them whenever three or more men are grouped together.

Half of these people weren't on the bus.

Seeing that nothing would be resolved any time soon, I hopped on a matatu or, considering it was jammed with about 25 people, a "coffin on wheels." So many people, in fact, that I was amazed (and irritated) each time the conductor stopped to add more. Three hours in this claustrophobic hell and again, because of the whole wind thing, no open windows. At one point in Ntungamo, when we stopped in order to properly fill up all available space, passengers began violently arguing with the conductor about the inflated price of passage. My head pounding from the accident, ears ringing form the yelling and almost in tears with frustration and no air, I lost it. "For the love of god, can't we just fucking move!?" Poor little mzungu losing her head; it did nothing.

I finally rolled into Kabale around 9pm, tired, thirsty, dirty and desperately in need of a poo. God damn it, I hate buses.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Traveling Make Me Crazy, Part 2

Both crazy.

Which on one hand is odd, considering how much I travel, yet because of how much I travel, also quite understandable. This current trip to Kuwait, though, was big even for me.

To start, I was in alternating moods of absolute panic and apathetic reserve over the fact that my Ugandan Align Centervisa was almost three weeks expired. Considering how many travelers I meet by living in a hostel I was sure I would find someone who had overstayed their visit, yet passed through immigration with no problems, but it seems the travelers available at the time were much more cautious than I had hoped. Laurie, who works with Edirisa Multimedia, had once overextended by two days and after rough questioning by immigration she burst into tears and that let her off. Hmm, not the best advice, but it was something to work with. However, my panic increased a thousandfold when I discovered the penalty fee was $30/ day, totaling about $600 for me.

Oh, Jesus, I may faint.

The U.S. Embassy, which I realize probably can't give advice on illegally exiting the country, told me to head to the Immigration Office as soon as possible. Useless advice, as the office would only make me pay. I'll just risk it at the airport.

While heading to the airport I steeled myself with the knowledge that no expiration date was written on my visa, a thought heavily supported by half a bottle of wine and a Xanax. No one can stop me! Yet who knew the most trouble I would have would be at the check-in counter? Seth made my reservation using my bankcard, which means I didn't have it with me. Not ever having been asked to show the card used before, I thought it unnecessary. Apparently Emirates Airlines does not agree. The attendant explained that if he let me through, the airlines might not accept my ticket.

"But if you let me through, it means the airline has accepted my ticket."
"You know, logic: if you let me through, it means I get through. No one else will ask questions."

Ah. I tried to explain that the card has my name on it, which matches the name on my passport, but no. I called Seth to provide some sort of confirmation for the card and was even prepared to pull out my marriage certificate, but no: I would have to buy another ticket at the airport or my husband would have to go to a travel agency and another one. That option was easily ruled out.

"My husband is working, he can't just run off to a travel agency."
"Your husband is working today?"
"Yes, like you, my husband works on Saturday."

Not that I wanted to cancel my flight and be stuck with price of the ticket plus a cancellation fee. When I explained the fact that airlines don't refund tickets because of customer error, the attendant kindly informed me that I was speaking of "airlines", but this was Emirates. Ah.

"Well, until Emirates begins teleporting people, it's still an airline."*
"What?" Considering the attendant, while working for an airline, had likely never flown in his life, I let the matter drop.

And they better provide the glitter effect free of charge.

The other irritating fact is that Entebbe doesn't have the technology to handle plastic transactions, which meant I would have to withdraw over $700 in cash to pay for a new ticket. Yet, frantic as I was about my visa, and the time it might take to convince immigration to let me through, I was almost tempted to go ahead and go through the trouble of getting another ticket.

I don't have Picard's willpower.

Then the attendant got a hold of someone in Dubai and asked the pivotal question:

"Can you confirm your billing address?"

And with that done I was clear. Off to the bathroom to apply a bit of blush and mascara, then skillfully chose the immigration line with a male attendant. With barely a glance at my passport or my face, he asked:

"How long have you been in Uganda?"
"About three months."
"Have a safe flight." Stamp. Stamp. Stamp.

What a total waste of a Xanax.

*It turns out Emirates only charges a $75 cancellation fee and will fully refund your ticket if you reschedule your flight. Federation of Planets, here we come.