Sitting in my room in the Guest House, listening to music. I set my iPod on my Favorites playlist and put it on shuffle and we’ve had a very interesting ride! Everything from "In the Sweet By and By" by Anonymous 4 and "The Koln Concert" by Keith Jarrett (both just sublime) to "Vertigo" by U2 and "Cold as Ice" by Foreigner (good tunes to rock out to). It has been days since I have listened to any music and now I’m feeling so incredibly happy that I wonder why I went so long.
Did three interviews today and four yesterday. Very interesting. One thing I am learning is that being gay or lesbian here in Uganda is not all that different than being gay or lesbian in the US. The same stories of tragedy and struggle to stay true to self, the same variety of experiences and expressions. The political climate is definitely much more hostile here and, though some have received perplexed acceptance from parents, for most it has been much worse. But the way this orientation manifests in people’s lives seems very similar to all the ways it manifests that I am already familiar with.
Two exciting upcoming events. I have an interview lined up with Victor, probably the most out and best known lesbian in town, and an interview with Dr. Sylvia Tamale, who is the Dean of the Law School at Makerere University here in Kampala. Dr. Tamale has been an outspoken advocate for equal rights for gays and lesbians and has actually gone to court on behalf of some of the boys that have been arrested for "indecent acts" (which, believe it or not, has actually been dancing in drag — they equate men dressing as women with strip dancing here, even when they don’t remove a shred of clothing). I’m really looking forward to both of those conversations.
I have stayed here at Namirembe Guest House on many occasions previously and spent 3 weeks here in 1998 before I travelled to Rwanda to do research for my Master’s thesis. And I never knew about or used the back entrance. I discovered it this time because I said I needed to go to a shop. Well, out the back entrance, you walk through the grounds of Mengo Hospital for about a block or a block and a half, go through their gate and there is an entire strip of shops there. I have always thought this place was totally isolated, but not so. Also, if you want to catch or get off of a taxi, that is the best place. So now a whole new world has opened up for me. The best part is that I have discovered a pleasant little bar there — the 1st Option Pub and Take Away — where I can buy a beer or lunch or chips (french fries). Today I ate lunch there for 1,000 Ush (77 cents) and got the same food I would have gotten at the Guest House for 4,000 Ush. And, even better, they serve beer! The Guest House, being a proper Victorian-esque Christian establishment, neither serves nor allows alchohol. When I am trying to sleep, I appreciate the lack of drunken revelry that is a result of this policy. However, when I am hot and sweaty at the end of the day, I appreciate the fact that a cold beer is only a short walk away.
The 1st Option has a veranda right on the street from which you can do some major people watching. It is at a T-intersection on the main road out of town towards Masaka and all points west, so there are buses large, small and in-between, cars and SUVs, people walking, bicycles and boda boda guys. If you sit there sipping your beer for half an hour or so, you wonder how anyone is still alive in this city because the traffic scene is just unbelievable. The worst are the boda boda guys — crazy young men (I’ve never seen a woman driver) on mopeds and small motorcycles that serve as individual taxis (well usually, I’ve seen some holding a parent and two children plus the driver. . . eegads) and obey no traffic rule or regulation. Second worst are the taxis — white minivans of various Asian manufacture that are the staple transport throughout the city. When I run in the morning, more than once I have been nearly clipped by a taxi or a boda boda. I thought that they were good enough drivers and smart enough to just be judging it very closely, but today a friend told me he was actually knocked down by a boda boda once. Yikes. I think I will always run facing traffic now.
I have actually taken a boda boda a few times and it is pretty scary. It’s fun when the traffic is clear and they’re zooming along, but when they are winding through a throng of cars and buses with no regard for your appendages or when they charge through an intersection without looking, I think, "why did I do this? I’m never taking one of these crazy things again!"
There is a really big problem (my assessment) with dependency-syndrome here in Uganda. It didn’t used to be here, in my recollection, 5 years ago. But maybe it was the people I was dealing with. I do find much less of this syndrome in the West (and I’ve had Ugandans share the same experience), so I hope that is still true when I go to Fort Portal. It gets very tiring to have every person you meet, regardless their station in life, expect that you are there to give them money. Normally, I would just avoid all those people and just stay close to the few who treated me like a human being, but because I want to get a sense of the breadth of gay and lesbian experience here, I am having these in-depth conversations with everyone in Integrity (and some others) and the vast majority of them end with "and I need money" with this plaintive, victim look on their face. I was actually feeling quite hopeless about the situation, but now I’ve had several conversations with people who have ideas about how they can help themselves and others — people with whom I can feel a sense of partnership rather than some attempt at guilt-induced obligation.
The Bishop had a full program planned for me from day one, so I didn’t have as much time as I have had in the past to be with my transition experience. But now that it has passed, I can see that I am always very on edge when I first get here — irritation that is borne of anxiety, feeling unsure if I’m doing things "right," worried what other people think of me. It is interesting to notice that I seem to go through this same pattern every time. Now, I feel comfortable and at ease, like I know what to say and how to act and how to get around, etc. And I’m happy to report that I’ve gained some wisdom as I’ve aged and have a greatly increased capacity nowadays to simply notice and be with my experience without having to somehow manifest or project it externally to justify my feelings. That makes life more pleasant for everyone.
Not sure if I mentioned that I got the money that Mark Henderson raised from St. Cyprian’s and the School for Deacons to Alice at the Masese Orphans School via Dr. Stephen. I talked to Alice and I’m going to go visit there on Monday the 25th. It will probably be an all-day affair with speeches and some dignitaries. That would be so cool for the school. Aside from the fact that the kids will have uniforms and supplies and books and all that, it is really quite an incredible thing for "who’s who" in Jinja to not only know about this little two-room school in the slum area of the housing projects, but to know that people in the US cared about it and these children enough to raise this money for them. This definitely has the potential to make other opportunities available to them. I think I’ll wear my collar, even though I may faint in the heat in my black shirt. It’ll be worth it. I promise to take lots of pictures. I didn’t think they would have the uniforms ready, but when I spoke with Alice to change the date from Friday the 22nd, when we had tentatively set it, to the 25th, she was happy because she thought she could have the uniforms by then. I can’t wait to see the kids in them!
Okay, that’s all for now. Off to Fort Portal tomorrow so there won’t be news — just a boring bus ride!
Fade out to "Rock and Roll" by Led Zeppelin. Yee ha!