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Rudolph in Red-Earthed Africa

Monday, December 21, 2009

“I can see the wind is disturbing your hair,” the driver says. “It’s no problem,” I reply. My hair, now a knotted mess tied loosely behind my head, is indeed being disturbed. The blowtorch hot wind slaps against my face as it rips and torments my hair. The African sun pierces my exposed skin through the open window. The radio blares techno versions of Christmas songs as we fly down the red-earthed road. The pickup jostles over bumps and swerves in violent bursts to avoid the crater-like potholes. “Do you know this song?” I ask, “Rudolph, he’s a red-nosed reindeer.” “A reindeer with a red nose?” he asks curiously. He turns up the volume. We careen past bicycles that seem to be moving in slow motion, weighed down by oversized loads and small children. Somewhere in the world children are fast asleep tucked under heavy warm blankets. It is snowing in the dark of night. The moon reflects off the crisp white snow, illuminating pine trees littered with decorations. But here, there are no pine trees. The blue sky is vast and unending. It’s as though we could drive for days and the landscape would never change. We are almost airborne now as we chase towards the sun faster and faster in hopes of an endless day. I lay my head against the back of the seat. “Then one foggy Christmas eve...” rolls around in my sun scorched head. It all feels neither normal nor abnormal. It just is.

Anywhere but Bubbles

Friday, December 11, 2009
"Anywhere but Bubbles" my friend requests. I ask around and get a few recommendations. They all seemed very Bubbles-ish. I had heard that the Kabalagala district could be really fun. I had also heard that it could be dangerous late at night. I was told not to go alone, be careful, etc., etc. It's a popular area for picking up sex workers. People occasionally get shot. That's OK, I think, as long as it's not me getting into trouble.

We meet at Capital Pub. (www.capitalpub.com) It's a huge bar, with three different levels. It is a little after 7pm. The bar is totally dead. There are maybe ten people scattered about. We have a beer, play an embarrassing game of pool (well, embarrassing for me) and then decide to go eat.

I want to try a Belgian place across from the US Embassy, so we decide to check it out. My friend seems to know where we are going, so I just follow along as we walk farther and farther up a relatively small, busy and very dark street. Finally, "OK, here's the Embassy." We're at the back. We need to be at the front. Why would it be on a desolate side street behind the embassy? The only way to the other side is back the way we came. "I am not supposed to take boda bodas," I say as we stand at the side of the road starring, but not moving, in the direction from which we came. "I know you're not." A boda boda pulls up. We look at each other.

Dinner was good, although I'm not sure what makes it Belgian. The Italian wine? The African king prawns? The fat drips over the top of my uncomfortably tight jeans. I know I shouldn't eat so much, but it isn't rice and beans and all things starchy and white and I just can't help myself. I know I shouldn't drink so much, but I'm having fun pairing celebrities with the wine - it's fresh, fruity and crisp like Zooey Deschanel - and I loose track of how much I've had.

A few beers and a bottle of wine later, we're back at the Capital Pub via an undisclosed mode of transportation. It is now who knows what time and the bar is packed. We are the only muzungus. We look around unable to tell who the prostitutes are and who's just out for a night on the town. We finish our beers and decide every woman must be a prostitute. "I like generalizations" my friend says, "and pop music." "You must be able to at least appreciate the Back Street Boys, right?" No, I think, but now the confessions are flowing as easily as the alcohol. I start to discuss phallic doughnuts. We've already plotted a money-making mass suicide cult.

The clock reads 4:44, but that surely can't be right.

At 9:30am a large white SUV pulls up to my gate. The back door opens. I get out. The guard is chatting with my co-worker out front. No one is ever out front. They look at me curiously. I think about trying to explain myself. Then I remember the more you protest, the guiltier you appear. I smile and walk inside. It's possible I had an early meeting. ...wearing the clothes I wore yesterday. ...alcohol and smoke emanating from my every pore.

I walk out of my bedroom and sit down at my desk. Same shirt. Fresh skirt. It's now 9:45. I am an hour and 45 minutes late. "Good Morning!" she says as she flips off her shoes and glides over to my desk. "Are you busy working?" She is smiling. Is it a sly smile, I wonder. "It's not as bad as it looks," I want to say. But, instead, "You look pretty today". And, she does look pretty. "Thank you." Another smile. Fingers tap my desktop. I look up and smile innocently.

Yes, I think to myself, Kabalagala is very dangerous...all kinds of people getting into all kinds of trouble.