Doing business here for me is like going back in time. It’s not always adorable because I’m not here for vacation to just soak it all in, I have to accomplish some important adoption business. When I enter an office I register on a big notebook that is worn and weary. No one texts, everyone makes calls. It’s difficult for me to understand the accent when I cannot watch their facial expression. Thankfully, Olive is with me and I can hand the phone to her for interpretation. All records are kept in large notebooks. Hardly anything is kept digitally. The baby home pulls up Kira’s file by lifting a five pound book off a shelf. The doctor’s office is crammed with files and similar notebooks. There are presidential elections in February so a large truck with many people on it drives around town blasting through a loud speaker the agenda of the two candidates. It’s like the 50’s except no poodle skirts and leather jackets.
I am having the most difficult time existing on a cash currency. The only time I have been able to whip out my card is when I had to be driven across town to the safari office and pay for our trip in advance. She had to use two machines to find one that worked with my card. All the other business we do uses cash only. They use shillings here. The exchange rate is about 2000 shilling to a dollar. So I use a lot of 50,000 sh bills, and this is 25 dollars (roughly). The problem is no one here likes to cash “that much money” so I carry around a four inch stack of 1000, 2000, and 5000 bills to pay for market shopping, gasoline, and crafts that everyone is selling. When I go out for a full day of “business” I have to guess how much money I will need and hope it is enough while I understand that I have no idea how much things or services will cost. If I don’t have enough it is a laborious hour long drive through traffic jams and over craters in roads, and then if it was very important we must return through the same mess.
There’s a problem with carrying so much money around because I am a red headed mzungu, which means a sure thing, easy to recognize, and an obvious attraction. When I went into town yesterday to get the passport pictures and a new internet connection stick ( I broke the other one) George insisted on walking in the front of me, and Olive was behind me, and they were watching my bags like I watch Kira. Thank goodness too because I’m so distracted by the sights and sounds of this bustling, fascinating place that I have been known to leave my bag unzipped. Olive is quick to close it up for me. They both refuse to let me pay one shilling more than I should. This is fifty cents. They will make me go away without something like a laminated map from a street seller because he is asking for a 1000 shillings too much. This is definitely not how I think about spending at home.
The money situation has been a great math experiment for Kevin and Jack (and Nana and Emily). Each time we pay we ask them to convert Ugandan shillings to American dollars. You basically drop the three zeros and divid by two. That’s quite an equation for a nine year old. It’s entertaining to see their minds churning. It’s also great fun for them to inspect the money and memorize it. Everyone is fanatical about souvenir shopping. The wares are so enticing and the bargaining is fun. I tell the venders, “Please do not give me Mzungu prices, I am here in Uganda to adopt one of your babies and we are raising money to help your children have education. Do not over charge me . This information reduces prices quickly. Of course, a little American charm doesn’t hurt either.
I have felt my hunger here more than ever before. I believe we are all shrinking. Hey! I should campaign America, “go to Uganda for three weeks and lose weight while you serve in orphanages, and churches, it is guaranteed!” We don’t trust the street food. There isn’t one McDonalds here. When we are hungry there’s no convenience store to pop into and get a snack. Maybe there is, but popping in means risking your life in traffic. We must hope we can last until we make it across town and back to the house, and then hope that we bought enough groceries to feed everyone’s hunger. If I am out with the car we stop at the market. But we have to walk fifteen minutes to get our food and carry it all back. This is labor. That is so un-American, and really, truthfully, I love the simplicity of it. Don’t worry, we are eating well. There are a few bones sticking out on me, but my energy is high and I am taking fistfuls of supplements to keep me healthy. I am saving all food adventures for another post. Olive is giving us Ugandan cooking lessons! Emily is in heaven as she claims she is most at home in the kitchen. That helps me more than anyone knows because I have so many things to manage and organize it is difficult for me to spend too much time in the kitchen. Dinners at the house are festive and enjoyable. We always invite everyone who serves us here to join us at the table and they eagerly accept. We laugh as we compare cultural differences and enjoy the sense of making an international family.
The women here don’t know what to make of seeing my boys in the kitchen cooking, and washing up dishes. They were really shocked to see my husband in there thoughtlessly sharing the work. Fiona said that the women are always taught by the older women to cook. It would be a disgrace to go get food cooked somewhere else and bring it home to eat. Eating out at a restaurant is a special occasion and a time for celebration. Home is a place for home cooking. I explained that I know many mothers in America who don’t cook at all. They buy prepared food and serve it at home to save time. In America we think we have more money than time, and here they definitely have more time than money.
“What’s with you Americans and your hot showers, eh? Us Africans, we love a cold shower, it is so refreshing when it is always so hot.” To take a bath or shower or using running water in the house the source is rain. There’s a large black cylindrical container perched up high on a stand that collects water. We have to flip a switch to turn on the small heater that will heat enough water for a shower two hours before we want a shower. Everything else is done with cold water. I asked Olive, what happens if it doesn’t rain and it empties out? She told me, “yes that happens, and then you must move to get the water, it is hard when that happens.” She said that like it was a simple shift in activity like going from crayons to pencils to draw. “One time the water was gone for a week and everyone had to go far to find water.” Matter-of-fact. I recall the weeks after hurricane Ike hit Houston. We were only two days without electricity, and it was as if the switch on life had been flipped. I told her, “you take it in stride when these hardships come, I admire that about your culture. When we have such hardships in America we get stomping mad, we don’t adjust well at all.” This surprised her. My culture has high expectation to entitlement and we’ve lost our ability to cope with the ebb and flow of life. Here in Africa they have many hardships and no worries. They have a saying when hardships come and go like death, sickness, power outages, theft, loss, “T.I.A.” or “This Is Africa”. Jack was cute in wanting to come up with an American shoulder shrugging excuse (for our excessive ways) but I reminded him in an international setting we cannot discredit South America as being America also so he said, “ Tina”. “This. Is. North. America.” Smart.
I’ll spare you the business of body function relief. No one will allow any of us to use the pit latrines. They usher us far away to find a toilet. I am most thankful for that kindness, as last year I endured my share of pit latrines. Our house has several flush toilets. A luxury. I always invite the drivers to use it. I imagine it is as luxurious as inviting someone over to swim in our pool at home. My, my, my how different our worlds are.
That is our view from our balcony. They are doing landscape design. I enjoyed talking gardening with the designer.
THanks again for all the comments! I just love hearing from you. It feels like a technical caravan. I realized just now I can upload four pictures and complete my stretch/strength routine at the same time! Cheers! I must wake everyone now to leave for our long drive to Murchison Falls for our safari.