Monday, September 5, 2011

Vacation and other Diatribes

I have a fool’s hope that someday time will be proven not to be continuous, but a random series of moments joined together by the slimmest of probabilities. Perhaps then my frequent lapses in blogging will be forgiven.

This adventure is the story of my African vacation before my American one. The grand unified plan of leisure was to go to the Ssese Islands with many of my training group for a weekend of beach fun and then jet off to America to object to Nathan and Micaela’s wedding.
Everything was planned out, in typical Michael fashion; where to stay, when to leave, what to take, how much to spend, a logistics master thesis. However, I erred in that I had not been to Kampala in 8 months and consequently forgot that there is such a thing in life called “traffic jams”. This several hour public transport fiasco ate all my buffer time to get down to the ferry to the islands in Entebbe, and then some. Arriving at the ferry I found that it left an hour ago. After having a lovely chat with the ferry manager (Charles, a Teso man no less) he informed me that several others had also missed the ferry. They were in the process of making arrangements to stay at some local lodges to ensure their timely arrival to the ferry the following day. However, I had my heart set on getting to the islands that day, so Charles and I made a deal. He would call a couple of his friends who owned a banana boat (the giant African canoe you are picturing in your mind); I would go find and organize those passengers who missed the boat.
In total, there were 5 people who wanted to get there that day. We collected the money for fuel, life jackets, and fare (a paltry 45,000 each); all told, we set off only about 3 hours after the ferry left. The journey itself was much better than I had anticipated it would be in this rickety boat that required continuous bailing due to the unsealed keel being pressed upon by 2 foot waves. The real shame was that my Ugandan comrades had never heard of Gilligan’s Island and thus could not savor the potential irony as the trip was supposed to be a 3 hour tour.
We conversed about this and that and before we knew it, night was upon us; more than an hour from shore. Just as I was beginning to think that my earlier jovial thoughts about Gilligan were more prescient than I believed, a beautiful coincidence occurred. The reason we had booked this weekend for our trip to the islands was because the mosquitoes would be suppressed by the full moon; which rises over the eastern horizon just after dark. The last hour and a half of our fateful trip was spent watching the moon rise in to the sky and consequently guide our way in to port. This trip allowed me to see the most beautiful and striking full moon I have ever witnessed.

Arriving at the islands was equally fun. The gang there knew I had missed the ferry (yet no one had bothered to send me a message; does this mean they didn’t care enough, or that they knew I would figure it out?). So upon arriving and checking in to the hotel, I parked myself in the bar for a beer. I watched as one by one everyone came up from the beach to fetch another drink only to find their wayward companion smiling and waiting. Reactions spanned the gambit from “WHO? WAIT, WHEN? NO, HOW? MICHAEL!” to “Aw, I knew you’d make it”. Eventually people began to ask how I managed to get to the island without using the ferry, as there is only one, and they were on it. I presented 3 possible options as the method of my arrival, of which one was the truth: I swam to the island, I had myself flown to it, or I used my Gypsy magic. I would say that chartering an unimproved vessel to travel more than 50Km partially at night and finding 4 other people to agree to it counts as Gypsy magic.
The rest of the evening was spent in energetic merriment. At a certain point it was decided we should go night swimming in the moonlight, which proved to be awesome. Fresh from that I noticed that the hotel had a banana boat of their own, but sans engine. The engine was quickly replaced by Danny (and a paddle carelessly left in the boat), who readily agreed to my scheme of shanghai-ing the boat and becoming island pirates. The plan fell apart like so many others that are lured in to the high seas by the siren song of “A pirates life for me…” when it became apparent that Danny makes a terrible galley slave.

The following morning I had intended to revive a favorite childhood pastime: making sandcastles. The pace was productive until a drunken man wandered down the beach and became fascinated with my half finished construction. That was the end of the productive phase of building. I remembered that “Hey, I'm a Peace Corps volunteer”, so I goal 2ed it up and taught this very inebriated fisherman the process of making a sand castle. His attempts at soil compression and use of dry beach sand led to several structurally superfluous piles around the castle which had to be removed before additional battlements could be built. I still tried to teach him proper sand castle mechanics, and for my effort, he rewarded me with the title of “his best friend in the world”. This title was promptly removed and replaced with “mortal enemy” when I tried to bury him in the sand, alive. Around this time we got to the conversation topic of what he was doing on the island. He told me he was a fisherman supporting his family back on the mainland. This made me ask why he was drunk at 10 in the morning as the beers all cost 3000Ugx. This went back and forth for a while, until I told him that he couldn’t work on my sand castle until he went home and gave the money he had earned to his wife; only then could he come back and be my friend again. He ran off in to the forest shortly after.

And some people think getting rid of drunks is hard.

Later in the day I found a super-keen stick that Bodie and I used as a golf club. Due to its size, the only acceptable object to play golf with was a volleyball. I made par, but before Bodie could sink his Mary came and momed at us that we were going to break it. So we played old-fashioned stick ball with a tennis ball we found. During my 3rd at bat I managed to hit a grand slam out in to the lake. This marked my retirement from stick ball. I prefer to go out on a high note, never having to go before congress and defend my “natural” talent.
The rest of the holiday was lovely; gambling, drinking, eating, sightseeing, a bit of hiking, lots of swimming and the like.

On the ferry back (which I somehow managed to make) I started talking with the ship’s engineer (also an iteso). He showed me around below decks and I got to inspect the ships two deafening diesel engines. He now plans to visit my school in reciprocation.
Back on the mainland, there was a bit of business to do before leaving for the America’s. Namely, visit the National Water and Sewage Corporation of Uganda and pitch them on Miox water purification technology. I showed their head office quality manager all the spec sheets for the variously sized products, perspective costs and savings, and was generally a salesman. He told me about a big industrial trade show happening in Oct that Miox now wants to attend next year. The really interesting thing he told me was that there is already a pilot project working in Lugazi using the same purification technology as Miox; the only difference is that the firm doing it is North Korean. o_0

That evening I was finally America bound. Arriving in Amsterdam was quite a sight; paved roads as far as the eye could see. Another thing I saw was Americans in their semi-natural environment: Europe. It is very easy to identify Americans in an airport; they don’t walk, they waddle, and failing that, they ride in the airport carts.
I had intended that my first western meal would be Rudy’s barbeque, but I lost the battle of wills in Amsterdam when I found there was a McDonalds. I should be tried in The Hague for what I did to those innocent McNuggets.
On the trans-Atlantic flight, I found it is possible to be supplied with beer for the entire trip. All one needs to do is casually inform the flight staff that you are a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa teaching business skills and entrepreneurship to disenfranchised rural vocational students in a post-conflict zone. Free Heineken never tasted so good.
And then came the Atlanta airport. This is still preliminary, but I believe the Atlanta airport is larger than the Soroti Town limits. Also in Atlanta, I had the privilege of seeing monorails for transporting passengers. Otherwise they would have to walk the extra 1/4-3/4 of a mile to their gate. It was here that I got the first quizzical looks from security regarding some items I had brought with me: Ugandan waragi (gin) sachets. Being 100mls each, fully sealed in their plastic bag, they violate no airport liquid handling restrictions. All 24 100ml sachets made it through security, save for the 2 I sold to the airport screeners at $1 apiece. God I love America.

The trip was not all fairy tales and rainbows however. My inability to throw away semi-useful things finally bit me in the ass; in this case it was the packets of coffee from my MRE’s. During transit, they broke open inside my backpack. It now smells like a rich mocha. I hate it.

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