Thursday, August 18, 2011

Introducing U'gi

As you may have heard, we are welcoming a new little guy into our family.  

His name is U'gi, he is 4 weeks old and weighed 2 pound, 4 ounces when we got him last week.  He was abandoned and needed a good home.  He is brown and furry with four legs and a tail.  He's our new dog!  

Although this is not the addition our parents and grandparents were hoping for (a-hem), we are excited to have this new pup in our lives. 

U'gi was valiantly rescued by Stu last Tuesday.  Here's how the story goes:  
Stu was coming home from work on a normally not-too-busy street, but this night there was a traffic jam.  Stu was less than impressed.  But when he got further through the jam he saw the cause of all the commotion - a tiny puppy, stranded in the middle of the street.  Clearly the dog was lost, scared, and about to become roadkill.  So Stu drove away.  

But 20 seconds later, Stu realized that this little dog needed some help.  So he turned around and went back to valiantly scope up the little guy and bring him home.

Then Deb gets a text message from Stu reading, 'I got you a present'.  'Oh yay' thinks Deb.  'What could it be?  Something to help me relax, surely.  Flowers.  A bottle of gin (real gin - the expensive stuff that is imported...).  Chocolate (real chocolate - the expensive stuff that is imported...).  A chick flick.'

Deb gets home, opens the door, eager to see what this present could be.  No flowers on the table.  No G&T with condensation gently beading down the outside of the glass waiting to be consumed.  No chocolate.  No chick flick.  Nope.  Just Stu holding out a flea covered dog grinning from ear to ear saying, 'I got you a puppy!'  No sooner the dog wriggles around, hops to the floor, and pees.  Then cries, scratches himself and leaves the evidence of a dozen flea carcasses in his wake as he runs to the corner of the kitchen.

'Now this is going to be relaxing', thinks Deb.

And then on cue, we both look at each other and say, 'Can we keep him?'  Yes.

His puppy dog eyes, wagging tail, insane need to dig his nose as deep into the crook of your arm as possible, and ability to fall asleep while sitting up (due to eating a large meal very fast - think this guy had to fight for his food out in the open?), have made a spot in our heart.  He looks to be an exclusive breed of dog known as the 'Kampala Mutt', aka 'we do not have any idea about his breed because he's a street dog', but there appears to be some German Shepard / Rottweiler heritage.  Right now he is tiny, but we think he is going to be big.  Deb's only hope is that he doesn't grow to be as big as Clifford, the Big Red Dog.  We'll have to keep you updated...

First day.  Scruffy, scared, sick.  But also adorable.

Tiny dog.
U'gi sleeping in his makeshift bed.  He now has a proper home - also made out of a local basket and metal crate welded at our version of Petsmart, i.e. the local market.  Dog ownership in Uganda is cheap if you are not looking for name brands.

U'gi enjoying one of his favourite spots on Stu's stomach.  Must be because it's so soft...

The definition of 'puppy dog eyes'

PS: The name U'gi, pronounced you-gee, is a popular term for the local gin called 'Uganda Waragi'.  We figured this was a good name for the new guy since we must be drunk to be thinking we can take care of a dog!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Once again we have to apologize for the severe time lapse in posting to the blog.  I wish we could say it’s because our jet set lives leave no time for blog posts, but truthfully, we’ve just been working a ton (Deb in the village & Stu in parliament) that we’ve neglected the rest of our lives.

But all work makes Deb & Stu dull peoples, so we have managed to throw in a bit of fun here and there including attending a traditional Ugandan wedding introduction ceremony, aka a ‘kwanjula’.  Deb’s coworker James is getting married and invited us to his kwanjula.  During the kwanjula, the groom is presented to the bride’s family and village elders and they decide if the groom is acceptable.  So, as you can imagine, it’s a very important event with a lot of fanfare.   About 250-500 people attend and it’s a full day affair.  Each family has a spokesman who guides the family and guests though the specific parts of the ceremony.  Here’s a good example of the different parts of the ceremony which really illustrates the drama and tradition of the event
Deb getting dressed in her kikoy and sash

Since we were attending on the groom’s side, it was imperative that we wore traditional Ugandan formal attire; otherwise the groom could get ‘fined’.  So Deb wore a ‘kikoy and sash’ which is a traditional woven cloth about 4 meters in length wrapped round and round the body and secured with a large bright sash at the waist, see photos above (Deb also used some safety pins to secure the kikoy…sometimes you have to modernize tradition).  Stu wore a ‘kanzu’ or a floor length white linen robe under his suit jacket.  Without the suit jacket, he really did look like ‘white Jesus’.  

It was such a great event and we were so excited to be a part of it – and boy did we get involved, especially in presenting the ‘gifts’ from the groom to the bride’s family, like a dowry.  James’ gifts included:
The cow, fridge, chicken, sodas...and side of cow
  • 3 cows + 2 sides of cow
  • 2 goats
  • 4 chickens
  • 25 cases of soda
  • 400 kilos of rice
  • 100 kilos of sugar
  • 100 kilos of beans
  • Many many fruits and veggies
  • Linens and fabrics
  • Luggage sets
  • Kanzus for all the men in the bride’s family
  • 1 refrigerator
Deb carried many of the food products in baskets on her head and Stu carried in the ½ of a slaughtered cow.  At one point we were told that the two ‘muzungus’ (white people) were also gifts, but luckily that was just a joke….we think.
Groom's sisters presenting gifts to the bride under the tent

Groom & Bride

In the end, James was deemed a suitable groom, so now he is preparing for his wedding on 16 July which takes the form of a western wedding (white dress, bridesmaids, bouquets, dinner and dancing).  We are looking forward to attending that event too.  We are told there could be as many as 20 cakes!

Deb's coworkers and fashion consultants: Susan, Miriam & Christine

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


So, as I’m sure many of you have heard by now, I (Deb) was bitten by a spider on my leg and have been undergoing some pretty painful visits to the Dr’s office to have the bite lanced, cleaned of dying/dead tissue, and packed with gauze.  I won’t go into all of the details – they are just too gory for a blog post, but I will let you know that I am doing fine and that I am well on the road to recovery.  I have been going to the Dr’s office daily to have ‘the hole in my leg’ (as I now woefully call the site of the bite) cleaned and re-packed with gauze, but I was told today that I can scale back my visits to every 3 days!  Yippee!!

I think the fact that Ashton now calls me ‘Spiderwoman’ makes this whole ordeal just a little bit cool.  At least to a three year old.  To the rest of us, this ordeal is a reminder of one of Dad’s favourite Shakey quotes, “Security is mortals’ chiefest enemy”.  Yes, we live in Africa and we can never forget that things are just a bit different here no matter how ‘at home’ we feel.   
Me and the wound before packing it with gauze.  It looks so benign in the picture – and I appear to be smiling, but it’s a disguise. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Kampala Symphony Orchestra

The Kampala Symphony Orchestra (aka the KSO) has recruited a new member – Me!  Deb!  DD!  I went last night for my first rehearsal with the KSO and it was...noteworthy!     

The KSO is made up of mostly amateur and a few semi-pro players from a range of backgrounds.  I have taken my usual orchestral place in the 2nd violin section which I am very grateful for; I haven’t played my instrument in years, so I am more than rusty.  

I am renting a violin from the Kampala Music School.  The case is broken so you can’t actually carry it by the handle or else the instrument will fall out, I don’t think the bow is full size (then again, it has been years) and the pegs are all different colours.  But it’s a great instrument, and I am so happy to be able to play again.

We rehearse in the basement of the YMCA in a tiny room about 8 feet x 12 feet.  Imagine an orchestra: violins, violas, cellos, bass, flute, clarinet, oboe, trumpet, French horn, etc...  then think of cramming all these people and their instruments into a little room in the heat of Uganda’s dry season.  Fresh.  Our music stands are falling apart; you have to balance your stand against your neighbours’ for leverage and we do not have enough sheet music or parts for every instrument.  So there I was in my debut rehearsal with the KSO with three other violins crowding around one piece of music on a wobbly stand and the trumpet player with his back half turned out the window balancing his music on the window ledge.  I wondered why the conductor had a shiny bow on his baton but when the power went out and we were playing by the light of our mobile phones, we could all still follow the beat from the glint off the bow on the baton.  And, well, we played on with smiles on our faces – a must says our conductor.

There is something about the people, culture, dancing, movements, and life here in Uganda that has really been waking up my inner musician, so I am really happy to be part of this group that is just about making music regardless of the circumstances.  

I’ll be sure to let you know how we progress – anyone want to come to our concert in April?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

New Year's in Zanzibar

So after a whirlwind December, we headed to Zanzibar for a week of relaxing.  Zanzibar is interesting because even if you have no idea where it is or why it's famous, you've surely heard of it (I just hope the first time you heard of it was not in a Jack Black/Tenacious D song...)  Everybody's heard of it.  Everybody wants to see it.   We were excited to find out what all of the hullabaloo was about.

We were lucky enough to be meeting Kason and Leslie in Stone Town, Zanzibar, to share our New Years with some friends from Canada.  Having them around made our time walking through the twisting streets and lapping up all of the sun we could all the more enjoyable.

We left Kampala bright and early to catch our flight to Zanzibar.  We hadn’t done any research into Zanzibar and all we knew was that the island of the cost of mainland Tanzania was renowned for its spices and that there were great beaches in the north.  We hoped to enjoy both.

We landed at the tiny little airport and were instantly in for a shock.  Even though Zanzibar was a very short flight away, it has a distinctively different feel from Kampala.  It clearly lives on island time and has an island vibe, but Zanzibar is also 95% Muslim, 4% Christian and 1% Hindu, a drastic difference from the predominantly Christian Uganda.  Most women are covered in burqas and Hijabs, and there is a clear division between men and women.  However, the women were clearly very empowered and proudly walked around at night with some of the most beautiful garments and jewelry.  It was a far cry from the stereotypical oppressive Islamic society. 

The first day in Stone Town, we walked aimlessly through the winding narrow streets.  The city is a beautiful relic of its former self with beautiful terraced buildings and immaculate Arabian architecture.  The city shows of its history as a hub for the slave trade and a former Portuguese and British colony.  Although the city offers much of the same tourist kitch as most other African destinations, it is also very easy to see how every day residents live. 

On the second day, we decided to take a short trip to Prison Island to check out some giant tortoises and to snorkel.  Prison Island was formerly used to hold bad behaving slaves and then to quarantine sick patients.  It has since been renovated into an overpriced and empty hotel.  The main attraction on Prison Island is the 120 Giant Tortoises which have been there for over 100 years.  They were brought as a gift from the Seychelles and are now trapped on the Island (ironic isn’t it!).  Some of them are over 150 years old and stand over 1 metre tall. They wander around and love to be pet and fed by the tourists.  It is quite a sight. The snorkeling in the area wasn't fantastic but we get to see numerous types of tropical fish on the reef.

One of the most interesting features of Stone Town was Forodhani Gardens, a night market area serving up fresh seafood grilled in front of you.  We ate here every night!!!  The street food should really be used as an example for other cities to emulate.  The area is clean and obviously very organized and regulated.  Even though there are many tourists here, we are clearly outnumbered by the locals.  The men are parading around in new jeans and western t-shirts advertising Prada, Echo and Sean Jean, while the women gather with the children in elaborate and beautiful garb.  It was such an interesting sight to watch.

After a nice stay in Stone Town, it was time to head up north to the beaches.   On the way, we stopped by a spice farm to learn about all of the different spices grown.  It was very interesting seeing the spices in the wild.  It was hard to associate most of the wild spices with the end product on the table.  Peppercorn grows on a vine, cardamom is a root, nutmeg is a beautiful pit, cloves are red, green and juicy.  Deborah loved this part and made sure we left with some locally grown spices.

As soon as we reached the beach, we understood Zanzibar’s reputation.  The beach was lined with palm trees, while the turquoise ocean was dotted with dhow boats.  Everywhere you looked was a postcard.  And then the sun began to set.  It was absolutely spectacular!  We knew the next five days here were going to be perfect.  Our relaxing was only interrupted by several SCUBA diving trips, indulging in amazing fresh seafood and sunset cruises in a dhow boat.  It was all we could have asked for. 

We also did some great SCUBA dives.  The water was crystal clear and an amazing 28 degrees!!!  It was actually hot in our shorties.  We decided to dive at Mnemba Atoll which is a protected marine park and it was so worth it.  There was lots of fish life and beautiful coral.  After two long dives we were exhausted and ready for our nice cruise back in our motorized dhow.  The dhows are truly amazing boats.  They have been sailing in the Indian Ocean for hundreds of years.  It is believed that the boats traveled to Polynesia more than 400 years ago and returned with spice and fruits currently found on the island.  Today the boats have hardly changed from the centuries old design.  Everyday, the fisherman leave around 3 or 4pm as the tide is going out and travel hundreds of kilometers before returning around 6am to sell their daily catch.  All travel is using the tides and odd shaped sail.  After a sunset boat trip on board one, I can only imagine how difficult it must be.  Every tack and jibe requires the manual moving of the boom, adjusting the sail, and retying of all knots.  It is an amazing skill that has been passed on.

The best part was being able to celebrate a new year (decade!) on the Zanzibar beach as the warm Indian Ocean lapped up to tickle our toes.  The beach parties were great and we made full use of the night by walking up and down the beach to various bars & parties.  The best part was watching New Years Eve turn into New Years Day with the optimistic feeling of another wonderful year ahead of us.

To view more of our pictures from Zanzibar, follow this link:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Kristmas in Kampala

Lots has happened but we have suddenly become even busier than normal with work and parties.  More updates to come.  We just thought we would share some pics from our Christmas so far.

Christmas cookies and our Disco Christmas tree
Deb posing with the tree.  Note the My Little Ponies, a gift from our cleaner.  Not sure what it is suppose to symbolize, but is a nice addition as our nativity scene.

Christmas Eve lunch with our friend Rachel.  No snow here, just lush trees.

We are off to Zanzibar.  See you in 2011!!!

Lots of love from Kampala and we will chat soon! 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Deb's first publication....sort of....

Okay - so it's a bit of a stretch, but I can now claim that my name has been published in the academic domain!!  Here's the link to an article I helped work on (I did some editing, made the figures, and did all of the online submitting (which takes a lot of time)).  You can see me if you scroll all the way down to the bottom to the 'Acknowledgments' section.  I told you it was a bit of a stretch...haha  The paper itself might be interesting for you clinical and public health folks... ;)

Otherwise, all is well here.  In my new 'less work' lifestyle, I don't work on Saturdays, so yesterday Stu and I went to a music festival in town and then to the finals for the Uganda Basketball Association aka UBA (like the NBA - but a lot less flash).  The game is played at the outdoor concrete court at the YMCA and people crowd in everywhere to get a slice of the action.  Luckily, the team we were cheering for, D-Mark Power, won the championship!  We cheer for 'Power' because my colleague used to play on the team, but had to leave this season to come and work for us.  Playing in the UBA is not nearly as lucrative as the NBA, so many players have to leave when a good job comes up.  I'm sure Stu will have more to write about the game itself and the style of playing, I just enjoyed being in the action.

Well, I have to get back to work now...yes it's Sunday...but this time next week we'll be off to Zanzibar, so I can't really complain!