Crawling over my tent! Jumping above me from treetop to treetop! Please don’t throw your feces at me!
I spent the weekend at a place called the Hairy Lemon, which is a small island in the Nile about an hour north of Jinja, which has somehow become my go-to weekend destination. The island attracts kayakers, mostly, but I don’t do that, so mostly I sat around drinking, avoiding monkeys, and overhearing people talking about kayaks.
But in the morning, while all of those fit young types were sleeping it off, I had the island entirely to myself, and I spent it trying to capture the sunset. Here are the best of my pictures. Continue reading “Another Nile sunrise”
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” -The Great Gatsby
Many years ago, I and a few other expats were hanging out in someone’s apartment in Erdenet, Mongolia, playing a game of “Why it sucks” with an inflatable globe our hostess had lying around. The gist of the game was that we’d toss the globe up and catch it, and wherever the catcher’s finger landed (I think we went with the right-hand index finger) we all had to say why that place sucks. It was usually pretty easy—I remember landing on Somalia, for example—but sometimes we had to be creative, especially when our fingers landed on some of our favorite places. It wasn’t fair to say, “Hey, I like it there!” We had to provide a convincing reason for why that particular place was, basically, a shithole.
It wasn’t lost on us that Erdenet, the city we were in, could be described by some people as a shithole. Small, poor, and isolated, it basically is a shithole, at least by most measures. If Erdenet was a shithole, though, it was our shithole, and we loved it.
A Soviet-built cement smudge on an otherwise barren stretch of hills, Erdenet exists entirely because of its copper mine, one of the largest in the world, and the mine’s slag heap looms over the southern side of the city. It’s prettier than it sounds, though. Continue reading “My favorite shitholes”
I was waiting for a coffee in the cafeteria and the TV was tuned to a news channel of the sort that I only ever only watch under duress or while waiting for an exceptionally slow barista to remember what exactly goes into a black americano. My thoughts drifted all around as they so often do—should I order pizza for dinner? is this room getting darker or is it just me? if I had three wishes, should I wish to be able to get away with murder, or should I wish to never think about murder to begin with?—when a long infomercial for Mauritius came on and I was transfixed.
I have never been to Mauritius, or even considered going there, and until a few minutes after that commercial ended I don’t think I even knew where Mauritius was (somewhere in the Indian Ocean, sure, but close to what?). However, I stayed on and watched even though my coffee had finally come and I did, officially at least, have things I needed to do. The commercial was all soft-focus and wide-angle and featured beautiful people doing all sorts of things that I would never do under even the best of circumstances, like attending a folk dance (because remember, folk dancing is stupid—or so I learned at 13 and it has, unfortunately, prejudiced my views for life), or hanging out in a bar late at night with potential sex partners (okay, the commercial didn’t exactly say that would happen, but it was implied; however, I don’t like staying up late and I don’t like crowds, so bars aren’t really for me).
But Mauritius looked beautiful, and I rushed back to my desk and starting researching trips there. Because, apparently, all I want to do is travel.
I know I complained about booking a trip to Jinja just a few days after returning from Amsterdam, but it turns out that the only pause I need between trips is a few days. I’ve already booked a trip to Murchison Falls next month, and rented a beach house on Cape Cod for the summer, and found a place to stay in Amsterdam on my way there (having seen it in winter, I now want to see it in summer). I have tentative plans to go to Ethiopia in April, London in October, and I feel like I’ve put off going to Zanzibar for long enough.
Can I afford all this? Strictly speaking, yes. Is it a responsible way to use my money? Probably not. That couple from Up spent their whole lives saving up for one trip and never took it, and yet here I am complaining that I’ve been cooped in my home (which is, by the way, in some exotic locale that I have no business living in) for almost two entire weeks now.
But I can’t help myself. I like my home life, and my job, and I have plenty of hobbies. It’s not like I have a lot of time to fill. I barely sleep, and my stack of books to read is almost overwhelming (though I have made some progress this week, in keeping with my non-new-year’s resolution). I came dangerously close to getting a puppy last week—while I was trying and failing to have an honest conversation with myself about whether or not I could be a responsible dog owner, I noticed that all the plants I bought at the Flower Expo last month are dead now, even the succulents and the bamboo, which really isn’t supposed to happen (so no puppy for me).
And I have long-term goals, too, that I need to save up for. And yet, here I am, figuring out yet another trip. It doesn’t have to be Mauritius. I would love to take a road trip across Europe, from Lisbon maybe to somewhere obscure in the east. I’ve never been to Japan. I am convinced that it is my destiny to start a Puerto Rican restaurant in Australia (or perhaps New Zealand; my friends here from both countries make a strong case, and if it’s possible to get a decent mofongo in either place my friends haven’t found it yet), but I’ve never been to either place so I figure I should go and decide for myself. And of course there are the wonders of Africa that I am well-positioned to explore. It’s just…I have to see it all.
Do I? Is it something wrong with me? And why the urge to go to such remote places? Why not Vegas? I wonder if all the doomsday predictions on the news have convinced me on some reptilian level that I need to go far, far away and ride out the storm.
Or maybe that coffee just took way too long.
I woke up in time to catch the sun rise. All was silent except for the quiet chatter of unseen birds and the steady murmur of the river rapids. A handful of fishermen glided back and forth on the calmer stretches of water. Eventually I sat in the restaurant with a coffee and a book, until the sun woke everyone else up and they joined me. Not a bad start to the day.
I returned from the relative cold of Amsterdam to find Kampala gripped by an unpleasant heat wave. I guess it didn’t rain while I was gone, and without me to water them my poor plants have suffered. To think I was only gone four days!
The warm weather, especially after that little taste of cold, has switched my mind into a summer’s-almost-here mode, as if I were twelve years old and it was the last week of May and I couldn’t wait to get out of school. I was driving around town yesterday with my iPod on shuffle, and it seems my iPod agreed, because the playlist was all summer music, offering up reggae, some salsa, classic R&B, and a bunch of uptempo pop hits (a little Leonard Cohen snuck in, too, but it worked.) If Lake Victoria wasn’t infested with hippos and parasites, I would have made a beeline for the beach.
At a cafe I am reminded that there are many Amsterdams. Beside me are a couple of young men with bright red eyes. I am having breakfast but they are having a meal at the end of a long night, and even though neither of them are saying much they cannot stop giggling. Theirs is not the Amsterdam I am here for, but I remember my younger days when it might have been.
At a park I am momentarily mesmerized by a young girl spinning around on playground equipment. She is sitting on a chin-up bar and after taking a deep breath she drops, quickly and dramatically, and spins completely around three or four times before stopping at the top for another breath. Beside her a group of boys take turns jumping off of swings, and in a weird little playground cage a postcard-perfect group of multicultural mixed gender preteens play something that looks like dodgeball soccer. It is not clear if they are being watched by any adults; in any event, the children definitely don’t see any of the grown-ups walking past them. The spinning girl doesn’t even seem to notice that every time she whips around her ponytail drags through the dirt. Theirs is an altogether different Amsterdam, too.
A girl with pink hair and a ring in her nose; a jowly man in a very expensive coat; a baker who apologizes to his Dutch customer that he only speaks English. I love cities. I can appreciate the charms of the rural life for a weekend at most. I don’t look down on it, and respect that others can’t stand all the sounds and smells of urban spaces. But I love it. I love letting myself through these overlapping worlds. Funny then how in all my pictures there are no people present. I guess I feel the need to respect their worlds, and I only take pictures of mine.