Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Slowly, Slowly

The places: Home, the office, the youth center, the soccer pitch. Kawempe stage, “downtown,” Sitebale, the hilltop.

The people: Bruhan, Big, Violet, Moses, Rashida, Kayanja John, Patience, Roy, Stevie, Franka, Max. Of course there’s also Sarah, the “kazungu.”

Slowly the list of names and places grow as the number of days here lengthen. First a small number of names for a large number of faces. “Slowly, slowly,” as my assistant coach Kayanja John says, I learn to familiarize the faces and identify the places. Slowly, slowly, I put together the rhythm of my life here. Nothing is on time, especially me. Yes, there is an internet cafĂ© a ten minute’s walk from my house. No, most of the time I’m not able to do much besides check my mail before the power goes out (or even if it doesn’t, before I’ve spent two hours watching my time run down and the page fail to load yet again). Yes, I feel exhausted at the end of each day. No, actually I can’t exactly say that I accomplished much in that day. Maybe I did do something, in between all the walking and waiting and explaining and trying to understand. I’m sure of it, actually, but what exactly is sometimes hard to say.

To the Sesse Islands this week. Lake Victoria is amazing; this weekend while I was there all I could do was day dream about owning a small home on its shores. I wonder what the real estate laws are here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Many Things At Once, The News Hardly At All

Out of the maze of topics I could write about I'm choosing a few quick ones based mostly on whim.

David Weinberger's recent article on Facebook advertisement defaults. It's an insidious plan to be sure, but what would you expect from a profit-driven business? Also, Facebook on the users' side? I guess so, although not by default but rather by necessity. If it hadn't been for a major outcry from users a few years back the Facebook wall would have still told all.

Howard French's New York Times letter from China was interesting in its attempt to discuss what modernity means to the Chinese. It's actually funny how China is attempting a cookie-cutter approach to traditional Western modernization, complete with a World's Fair (so turn of the last century, no?) and an Olympics.

Protests in Tehran, and a rebuke of Ahmadinejad by a prominent conservative Iranian newspaper trickled down to me, but I've yet to read up on them.

News here comes mainly in the form of the BBC Radio station I listen to at home. Internet is slow and unpredictable, and international papers are available only in Kampala (at a little oasis of bourgeois luxury called "Thousand Cups Coffee House"). Life here is sinking into some form of regularity, which is welcome after a month and a half of seeming un-ending transition. A college friend will visit this weekend, and another may come next month, which will be sure to spice up my life a little.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Teaching and Learning

As of last week I live in Kawempe, Uganda. I work as a soccer coach and youth coordinator. That means lots of things. I teach kids soccer. I teach kids English. I teach my assistant coach English. I try to learn Luganda: Oliyotya Sebo! Nzay Christian. Ellinyalyo qwani? Webale nyo! Welaba!

There's no set learning time, and there is no designated teaching time. Most often someone will tell me when I should start teaching or learning. Many times I'm learning just by being here. Some of the most important things I've learned I had never thought about learning before: How to live without electricity (some of the time) or running water (all of the time). How to find my home. How to communicate non-verbally. How to speak English with a Ugandan accent (I want wha-tuh). How to stay (relatively) clean.

I'm even relearning old things, like soccer. More specifically, I'm learning to coach. I'm learning tactics, practice drills. I'm learning how to manage a bunch of teenagers with a whistle. Being a mzungu (white man) helps, because they are already interested in everything I do, every gesture, every word.

Of course most of what I do is bluff. Bluffing is necessary when experience is lacking. Do I know what I'm doing half the time? (No.) Does it matter, as long as people have confidence in me? (Again, no.) I teach and I coach as best I can, without much experience at either. So far it seems to be working. Gradually, I plan to replace some of that bluffing with experience, both as a teacher- of soccer/English/life- and as a student- of Uganda/Luganda/life.

I think this is how life works. Please, correct me if I'm wrong.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


I'll start by saying that the 50 or so hours in transit from Ari's in Chennai to Kampala Uganda were some of the most harrowing of the trip. For instance, accidentally throwing away my passport in Ari's garbage and not realizing it until I had arrived at the airport to depart was a classic "Bohn" moment. Luckily, thanks to the regularity of flight delays in that country, my hour-long taxi ride to Ari's and back did not make me miss my flight. No thanks, however, to the Indian taxi driver who did everything in his capacity to extend my stay in Chennai (and then ask for a tip). Little did I know that I would be spending that night in the Mumbai airport (arriving at midnight, taking off at nine), rated one of the worst airports to sleep in by sleepinginairports.com (earlier Bankok entry now posted there). Let me say that I completely agree with this evaluation: Never, NEVER stay overnight in the Mumbai airport if you can help it.

Oddly, thankfully, it was a (literal) breath of fresh air landing in Nairobi. "Nairobbery" has a terrible reputation, but we found it temperate, sunny, and relaxed compared to the craziness of India. The 12 hour bus ride to Kampala however clearly demonstrated the lack of infrastructure (exampled here in the "off-road" roads) in Africa, even when compared to India. I spent the first 20 minutes of this ride thinking of apt anologies (examples: world's worst roller-coaster ride, a U.S. "shock and awe" military campaign, riding the end of a buzz saw, driving up my Santa Fe washboard driveway one million times in a row), and the other 11 1/2 hours hating myself for not flying.

We are now safely in Kawempe, a suburb of Kampala, working for an organization called TASAAGA (more on this later). Apologies for the brevity and vagueness of this post.