Kampala 4/18 to 4/21

I heard Joanne leaving at 5am for her flight Monday and went back to sleep. We’ll miss her friendliness, appreciation for everyone, and her willingness to give up her excessive worry and try to go with the flow, which helps here. Things often don’t go according to plan, but they always seem to work out ok.

I was working on sound and video I’d recorded, and found some of it seemed amateurishly shot (the video at least), but some is good. I heard sounds I don’t usually make – grunting at the jolts of the truck, and laughing in a huhuhu way that sounds new. It’s a very full and relaxed laugh. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much before as in these last few days. Part of it is that the unexpectedness of everything keeps me engaged, and partly Larry, Jim and the others have such easy-going attitudes that the time is  enjoyable.

Jennifer cooks for us just outside the kitchen, on a charcoal fire every morning and evening. She comes at 7am and at 8am we usually have scrambled eggs, bread with strawberry jam, and sometimes porridge made of corn or millet and coffee or tea and mango juice. The eggs with a little vegetables and mild seasoning and porridge are great. The mango juice is very strong so we add water. One morning we had samosas with peas inside, with the eggs. For dinner we most often have African food, either out or in, which consists of chicken, beans and matoke (mashed non-sweet bananas that is a staple here), rice, pusho (like white polenta). Other times we’ve had yams (purple, not sweet), sweet potatoes (white, sweet), fish stew or fried or roasted meat, or vegetables. For some reason I have a beer every night — I like Nile special. I’ve heard complaints about Ugandan food but I like it. It does tend to be high in carbs so you have to watch how much you eat.

Jennifer also washes our clothes and cleans the guesthouse. She is a young woman with a gorgeous smile and cheerful almost all the time. Her husband had malaria and is sick. There are many women and men who work here, some coming in to use the computers upstairs or the one in the shared living area down here. Anita is the person I communicated with before coming here, but she is getting married and not here as much now.

My room is one of two off of the living/kitchen area downstairs. It has a polished granite floor like the rest of the house, a dresser, plastic desk and closet which is larger than I need. The windows have no screens so I keep them closed most of the time, unless I am out. I have a mosquito net which every night I pull down and tuck in around the edge of the bed, and every morning I tie up and away so the mosquitos don’t hide inside it. It is comfortable inside most days. I’ve not experienced air-conditioning in Kampala yet, and it is usually in the 80’s during the day. I’ve only missed AC a few times, particularly when driving in traffic jams which clog the city from 10am to 9pm.

The guesthouse has a name: “Giraffe Park Hotel.” It has a high wall around it with barbed wire on top, which is a remnant of the wartimes. Now it is safe here, but barbed wire remains on some buildings. There is a big metal gate which one of the employees often opens for us when we arrive. There is lots of washing of cars in the front and incessant sweeping goes on everywhere in Uganda it seems, keeping the dirt surfaces outside neat.

I have had internet problems so I am sometimes using the TATS computer to get online, or I borrow Larry’s USB wireless modem, which brings up the Internet Everywhere app on my Mac, which installed the first time automatically. The only problem with the modem is you cannot do large uploads or downloads with it. I think my wireless card has died, which I may get fixed here.

Monday I taught a class at the Tropicoso Primary school. I’ve not taught primary school before, and it seems in a way odd thing to do in my life as a professor of a somewhat esoteric area of computer music. I was agreeable to it because in all these meetings I engage with people in Uganda in a way I could never do as a tourist or visitor. You learn a lot about a different life. The children are touchingly sweet sometimes, too. In the afternoon I met with Annet of the Ndere Dance Troupe, a professional  group that travels internationally. We briefly discussed a collaboration which can get going next week and she thought they would be interested in working with me on a piece. Larry and I had lunch at an African restaurant outside and worked there on computers afterwards. I contributed a music component to the Stawa University evening class at the guesthouse that Jim has been teaching.

I went to the African clothing store Tuesday morning and ordered two custom tailored dresses to be made with African print fabrics.I dropped by Jim’s class at the Policeman’s Children Academy, and later met with Mikael from Uganda Theatre Heritage at Makarere University about a possible theater collaboration in May. It was hard to choose the print as so many were beautiful. The evening class happened again, and I processed Joseph’s voice with flanging. After that Larry and I went to hear Qwela, a fusion band that is popular, in a nice outside restaurant called “Catch the Sun.” I met with the leader, and we may talk more again soon.

Wednesday I met with the House of Talent performing group. They perform traditional Ugandan music and dance, and were interested in working with me using techology, which they’ve not done before. They were also fascinated with the idea of using bird and water sounds, and wanted my music and a bird recording. One of players makes the adungu (bow stringed) instrument, and possibly will make me one. In the evening class I again showed some signal processing and played “Water Birds.” The students seemed to really like it.

We headed off to the Ndere Dance show and dinner. There is an outside theater at their Centre with dinner tables with white table cloths, and a good buffet with spinach soup, various bananas, potatos and vegetables, and fruit for dessert. The show was wonderful, with enthusiastic and authentic-seeming traditional Uganda dance and music. The emcee kept everyone laughing, pointing out the Ugandan qualities of relaxation compared to the overly stressed Westerner and filling us in on what music came from what tribe. We were invited to dance with the dancers afterward and I found that  imitating their hip-shaking dance is aerobic and fun.

Thursday I had no meetings, as the schools are going on break and spent the morning struggling with wordpress.com image updates to my blog, and other stuff on the guesthouse computer. Jim, Larry and I went to a Chinese restaurant, quite a nice one, downtown, and I had “sumptuous vegetables” served in a wooden boat and green tea. Ugandan Chinese. Good.
On the way back we went to a set of craft shops behind the National Theatre building, and I got Omweso, an Ugandan board game, a rosewood dish, elephant earrings ($2) and a beautiful shirt. One woman told me I was her first customer at 3:30pm, and if she had no sales one day she would be in trouble with the boss. The people don’t have their own shops; they are hired as attendants. I found some Congo drums but Larry was early getting back so I didn’t have time to decide about them as he was parked in a bad place. I worked on sound and Lillian came in around 6:30pm to ask if I’d do 30 minutes of music for the Stawa class, and so I did. They got excited about the No.7 for Gyil piece and I showed them recording and processing their voices in Audacity software.

Driving down the roads of Kampala is good entertainment for the visitor: views of the hills with trees and homes on them, tangled spurts of traffic, roundabouts, boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) everywhere, often carrying businessmen or women in  beautiful print dresses riding side-saddle, bicycles carrying crates of soda pop stacked 6 high on the back, 15′ long pieces of wood, big bags of food, and other impossibilities, vendors coming by stopped traffic to sell triangularly stacked oranges, sugar cane, vegetables, steering wheel covers, toys, or floor mats. You pass all kinds of people, women in gorgeous traditional dress with butterfly sleeves on their way somewhere, vendors, shops with bed frames, chairs, fabrics, air-time (phone minutes), clothing and downtown even bigger supermarkets. We passed a Peace Embassy today; I wonder what that was. People in shops are usually friendly – a Spanish-sounding guy in a fancy furniture store with million-shilling couches could not sell Jim any tape measures, but said he would get them for us because he had to go downtown anyway the next day. I thought this was unlikely, but he called with the price, and today we picked them up and Jim paid the price the guy had paid for them.

Tonight Jim and I played with the cheap toy electronic instruments he’d been collecting for around $5US each, an “organ” and a “guitar”. The Chinglish on the boxes is hilarious, and the organ actually had, for the controls you think you will get, a piece of printed paper with shapes of knobs and display. It does make weird glissing out of tune sounds, and if you play a b-b diatonic scale you get something close to a major scale. The black keys are fake. The guitar is a little better, with its built-in pinball machine and many buttons that start melodies like Fur Elise and Old MacDonald Had a Farm. And lights! Things light up when you hit the buttons. We had a ridiculous rock concert-like jam session and Larry photographed.

Tomorrow we go to Lake Victoria and the islands, and Saturday leave for Mt. Elgon, a 2-day trip including Jinja, source of the Nile.


About marahelmuth

Composer / researcher specializing in computer music, professor at CCM, at the University of Cincinnati. Embarking on a trip to Uganda April 13, 2011. I will be working with Teach and Tour Sojourners, who arrange tours in the parks and reserves and lectures at universities. On the tours I'll be recording wildlife sound and video, to be used in future compositions.
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2 Responses to Kampala 4/18 to 4/21

  1. Dottie Lewis says:

    Have been following your African adventures– they are fascinating!! Pictures are great. Looking forward to reading about and seeing pictures of Victoria Falls. Dottie

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