Saturday, November 26, 2016

unstated.palace.flexed

We have had ongoing power problems here at home.  Beginning last Saturday morning we have had a week with only 1 1/2 days of power.  Initially we assumed it was affecting everyone in our area but by Thursday we decided it was mostly us.  So Friday we contacted UMEME (the state owned power company).

The biggest hurdle we had was explaining to UMEME where we lived.  There are no street names here away from the roads connecting major towns.  There are no house numbers.  Everything is surveyed of course for legal purposes so we have a village name and a plot number - we just don't know what they are.

In my conversations with the UMEME folk over Twitter I sent them a lat/long (0.326788N, 32.444584E in case you were wondering).  Then I sent them a screen capture of the location in Google Earth.  Twice after this we had technicians asking on the phone where we lived.  Finally I gave them our landlord's phone number and he must have been able to direct them because at 9 pm last night the power flickered then came back on - it is still on as of Saturday afternoon.  Our fridge has beer and meat again!

Some clever folk have come up with a system for situations like this: what3words gives every location on earth (each 3m x 3m square) a unique 3 word address.  The middle of our compound is unstated.palace.flexed (or maoni.kufuga.miwani in Kiswahili).  The what3words app could be on every UMEME computer and technicians smartphone.  This problem would be solved.  Yes they could do the same thing with their phone GPS apps but giving a lat/long over the phone and expecting it to be accurately recorded and plugged into the app is asking a lot.  An incorrect digit could put you in another country.  Three clear words is a neat, less error-prone system.

So when you come to visit just remember to knock on the gate at unstated.palace.flexed.  With luck the lights will be on when you arrive.



The courtyard garden at unstated.palace.flexed.  Note the two trees and the birdbath (so far unsullied by birds).


Jenny shopping at height.speech.acted - Mama Goreti's shop, our corner store..

Friday, November 18, 2016

Driving licenses and shopping

Uganda (like Australia I hasten to add) prefers visitors who stay for a while to get national drivers licenses.  We were told by colleagues soon after we arrived that this was a requirement within 3 months of arrival.  We arrived less than 2 months ago so hadn’t got around to this yet.  

Last Wednesday we were stopped at the police checkpoint on the highway near our house turnoff.  The traffic policeman asked to see my license so I handed him my Victorian one.  “How long have you been in Uganda?” he asked.  “ A few weeks” I replied.  Other questions followed regarding the ownership of our car and where we lived.  I don’t think he believed us when we told hem we lived a few blocks away in semi-rural Buloba.  He let us go with a warning that to be a safe driver I must get a local license as soon as possible.  I asked him how to do this as I’d heard it was complicated.  He admitted he didn’t know!

So today (Friday) I risked another year off my life and ventured into Kampala in search of a license.  One of the most important people working for School for Life here is Bosco.  Bosco knows pretty much how everything works here and he has been so helpful to us.  He found our house, sorted out our temporary accommodation and supervised our purchase of the car (which is going well - touch wood).  Bosco wasn’t sure how to get licenses for us either but off we went with him to the issuing office.

The first chap we spoke to told us we couldn’t get a license because we didn’t have work permits.  He said we could only drive on our Australian licenses for three months (this would take us to the end of December only).  We have 6 month business visas so don’t qualify for a license.  At this stage I was thinking we can’t manage without driving so we’d have to abandon our stay here.  We persuaded him to bump it up to a more senior staffer.  She contradicted everything we’d been led to believe by saying that we could keep using our Australian licences while our visas were current and to tell any police that challenged us that this was the case.

So, we will continue to operate as we have been to date.  We keep laminated copies of our licenses, passports and visas in the car at all times.  Hopefully any future encounters with the police will be smooth.

On the whole it was a highly successful trip into the city today.  Apart from saving 120,000 shillings ($44) on the license thing we had a long shopping list and managed to get nearly everything on it.  Food items for westerners can be a bit hard to find out here in the regions so we stocked up on crunchy peanut butter, chicken breast fillets, beef mince and nice bread.  Our local supermarket has the basics but does not yet cater fully for the only wazungu in the village.

<<< UPDATE:  Our electricity went off in the wee hours of Saturday morning and didn't come back on until 0630 Monday morning.  Our meat has been thrown out.  >>>

Our local supermarket (occupies less than half of this building).


The drive in was ridiculously easy for some unknown reason.  I think I only cursed a couple of times.  We left to come home in pouring rain which meant the motorbikes and pedestrians were mostly off the roads and it was also fairly easy - and with minimal profanity.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Lake Mburo National Park

Jenny checked my stress levels and decided I needed a couple of days of relaxation in the bush.  The closest national park to us is Lake Mburo to the south-west.  It’s about 220 km on the best highway in the country but for various reasons it still took over 4 hours to get there on Saturday morning.  Lots of slow trucks and small towns every few km.  Still we were in our luxury safari lodge - http://mihingo-lodge.com - in time for a great lunch with home-made bread and real coffee.  We had stayed here in October 2010 while living in nearby Bukoba, Tanzania and it was as lovely as we had remembered.  We were welcomed to our tent by a beautiful Spotted Green Bush Snake, were entertained by the calls of owls, nightjars and raucus Rock Hyrax each night and a scorpion visited the loo for a while.

We drove the various tracks on Saturday afternoon, all day Sunday and for a few hours on Monday.  Entry to the park in $40 US per head per day plus extra for the car.  Quite expensive for expats.  Why don’t we charge foreign tourists to enter our parks in Australia?  It is hard to see that much of the money gets spent in the park as the roads would not have seen a grader since we were last here and other infrastructure is in poor repair.  The park itself is in great condition however with recent rain greening everything up.  They have introduced giraffes to try to keep on top of the thickening acacia woodland but we didn’t see them.  A few elephants might be a better idea.  

Of course I was after a big bird list and wasn’t disappointed with the 115 species we saw (another 2 were heard (Black-shouldered Nightjar and African Wood Owl).  We didn’t go on the lake boat tour so missed out on 20 or so wetland birds.

I saw 4 new species: Rüppell’s Vulture, Jacobin Cuckoo, Tree Pipit and Striped Pipit.  This latter species was most unexpected as all the field guides I had access to said it was not found in Uganda.  However the species was recorded in Lake Mburo NP in 2011 and 2013.  ‘My’ two birds were first noticed on the thatched roof of the dining room of the lodge on the Sunday morning.  They flew down to the natural rocky area adjacent to the swimming pool.  I had never seen a heavily streaked Pipit with yellowish wing edging before so knew I had something new.  On Sunday evening I hadn’t seen them but played a call on the Birds of East Africa app and one turned up on the rocks immediately and allowed me to get some decent photographs.

My stress levels are now reduced and I’m sure I will be fine until we can get away again for an extended trip in the second half of December when the holidays start.  The only issue is choosing where to go.  In the meantime we have plenty of work to do and things to buy for our house.  I fear more trips into Kampala!








Wednesday, November 2, 2016

We have moved!

We have finally moved into our house (Wednesday 2nd November).  Our landlord Mr Stanley told us he would be at the house on Sat afternoon or Sunday and would be in touch to let us know.  He had previously told us the house would be ready for us to move in on the Friday.  We didn’t hear from him so popped in for a while on Saturday.  The promised clean-up had not occurred and the kitchen bench had a chicken on it.  Building materials were scattered in several rooms.  We decided the only way we were ever moving in was for us to do the cleaning.  So Sunday we spent most of the day clearing stuff out, sweeping, washing, scrubbing etc.  It’s not done yet but we made a great improvement.  We finally heard from him on Tuesday afternoon and he gave us the go-ahead to move in.


Jenny sorting out where things go in the kitchen.

Kitchen cupboard and one of our two chairs. 
Lounge-room looking towards kitchen and hall. 

Hall with two bedrooms and bathroom.

The chook was not staying.


This morning we checked out of the hotel after 25 nights and moved into the house.  Assembling the bed was a challenge that required a visit to a hardware store for hammer and nails.  It is now sturdy but not sure how we will get the nails out to ever move it.  Our new cooker inexplicably came with a plug not compatible with Ugandan sockets so we will need to source an adapter before we can use it.  We'll buy a fridge on the weekend and look for a table, some comfy chairs and a couple of floor mats.

On Friday we had a day in Kampala.  Jenny had an appointment with some educators at a posh school for rich folk in the afternoon.  Earlier we hit a department store and bought some essential household items - from a small stove to toilet paper and lots in between.

Our friend from Bukoba - David Jackson - works at the posh school and we had lunch with him then a tour of the school.  It was great to catch up with David again and meet his 6 week old baby daughter!  After Jenny’s meeting we checked into the Red Chilli Hideaway and met up with a work colleague Martin and his wife Chaz.  They are on a 3 month holiday in Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia.  We chatted for hours with pizza for dinner.

No active birding of late but I did manage to add a couple of new species Grey Parrot and Black Bishop.  The first bird seen inside the house compound was a Sooty Chat.

Our bedroom (now has a 4-poster bed with mozzy net).

L-shaped bathroom.

Shower (note hot water heater!!).

Wardrobes (or woodrops as some house adverts would have it).  Note the height of the rails - beyond our reach).





Saturday, October 22, 2016

Three weeks in - school, birds and a day in Kampala

We are still at Forest Park.  Our house is sooooo close to being ready.  Surely in a few more days we will be in and can finally unpack our suitcases.

Jenny has had 2 weeks at the primary school now and I go with her each day.  It's a 20km, 45 minute each way trip - half on bitumen and half on reasonable gravel.  The house will be about 10 minutes closer.  I've become used to the driving (Jenny is still to tackle it) but can never relax for a second as many drivers are totally reckless and unpredictable.  The worst are the large intercity coaches.

I spend my time at school learning to code iPhone/iPad apps in Swift and helping sort out the occasional IT issue for the staff.  My aim is to develop an app based on the Kagera Reading Program (erftz.blogspot.ug/p/kagera-reading-program.html).  We'll sell it to the rich private schools in East Africa and use the profits to print and laminate copies for the poorer schools.

I quite enjoy being at the school and it's nice that the kids mostly don't seem to pay me any particular attention as they are fairly used to foreigners visiting.  Once we are in the house I expect the routine will vary however.

Katuuso Primay school.  Three wings visible here with another one out of sight.  

I'm slowly adding new birds without any real birding effort - 113 species so far with 7 lifers - Northern Black Flycatcher, Cassin's Honeybird, African Pied Hornbill and Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike.  Last weekend we went to Mpanga Forest where for UGX10,000 ($4) each we can walk along a variety of trails through remnant primary forest.  This is about 30 mins relatively easy driving from home and will become my new regular patch.  We heard more than we saw but were hampered by the presence of 6-7 motorbikes on the trails.  Hopefully this isn't a regular occurrence.


Hamerkop

African Dusky Flycatcher

African Pied Hornbill

Vieillot's Black Weaver

African Golden-breasted Bunting

Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike (male)

Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike (female)

Broad-billed Roller
Yesterday we psyched ourselves up and drove into Kampala (22 km) to the School for Life office.  Our objectives were for Jenny to sort out some admin tasks, to get cash (UGX4,000,000 - $1500) for rent, furniture purchases etc and to get the car serviced.  We missed the turnoff to the northern bypass and had to drive through central Kampala.  This was an experience we could have done without but we survived.  We had the first decent coffee and bread in 3 weeks and got the cash.

The car took forever as they kept finding things that needed to be fixed.  Nothing too serious but it meant we didn't get it back until nearly 6 pm.  The drive home on the bypass and then the highway was therefore mostly in the dark and only someone who has driven in Kampala or similar at night can imagine what this was like.  We both had several stiff drinks (red wine followed by vodka or whisky) to recover.  The good news is that the car is now running beautifully.

I think we will keep a bag with a few clothes etc in the car so if this happens again we will stay the night in Kampala.  Driving at night is simply too great a risk to ourselves and others.

Today we slept in and are relaxing in the bar while watching several noisy and colourful groups celebrate school graduations etc.  No weddings this weekend.  Tomorrow we are thinking of a trip to Mabamba Swamp (0.092011°, 32.372589°) and a boat trip in search of Shoebills and Papyrus Gonoleks (google them!).


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Chameleon

I've always wanted to see a Chameleon and yesterday I ticked my first. Can anyone tell me what species it is though?


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A few birds

We moved out to Forest Park Resort on Saturday.  Rather a cheesy place but it has a large lake and some nice semi-bush and papyrus swampland adjacent.  I'm getting quite a decent bird list and a few good photos.  We checked on our house on Sunday and were very pleased with the progress they have made.  We could well take possession this weekend but will have to buy furniture etc. before we can move in.  Otherwise we are staying here: 0.32088, 32.47485.



A few bird photos:

White-throated Bee-eater

Common Buzzard

Reed Cormorant

Lizard Buzzard

Pin-tailed Whydah
Early this morning I heard the duet of a pair of African Wood owls.  A lifer for me if I can get to see them.

We were fascinated (and a bit alarmed) to watch the dismantling of the immense marquee for the wedding here on the weekend.



Don't forget to check Jenny's blog for more school related updates: wantingafrica.blogspot.ug