Category Archives: Life in Uganda

Remembering Beginnings Part II

The Man has been beavering away on a last blogpost about the university on The Equator.He was telling you about all the good things. I was remembering the rather nasty and unexpected start which went as follows.

August 1993 Rain Dance and Murphy’s Law
Good news! They say that the containers with all our stuff in them will arrive next week. I was beginning to panic because all my books and lecture notes are packed in wine boxes in those containers and I don’t think I could face Philosophy 101 in a strange land without my notes. Have been in Kampala three times recently trying to get the Freight Company to tell us when they will deliver the goodies.
Nonchalant Official: “We have lost track of the containers, Sir, we are trying to locate their whereabouts”. The Man: “Lost track of them? Ssebo (Sir), I need to know now where my goods are. I have expensive equipment in those containers and I need information. Call Mombassa and find out what has happened to them”.
Less NO: “Sir, we have already done that. It seems the containers are lost somewhere between Nairobi and Kampala”.
Lost? I thought, lost? How can two huge containers get lost? It’s not like they are titchy or anything, there’s a car in one of them for God’s sake. I needed a cigarette but I had stopped so I had to take deep breaths until I calmed down.
Today, NO was nonchalant no more and was, in fact, quite perky when he delivered the news about the containers being ‘found’. So was I. The Man wasn’t ecstatic about it but he had calmed down a bit. I was excited. I was missing my CDs and my computer and my books and my guitar and my clothes, all my stuff really. I wasn’t necessarily missing my lecture notes but I would feel a lot more comfortable once I had them in my possession again.
Back at The Equator I was just happily settling down in the shade to do a bit of reading for one of my courses when a bit of a warm wind came up. I relished the experience since my skin hadn’t been caressed by any class of wind since I had left the shores of North Donegal where they are generally of the fresh variety. And it continued to come up until it was almost a storm force gale. The sky in the north east was turning darker and darker and this darkness ate up more and more of the sky until it had blotted out the sun. Rain, I thought. I hadn’t seen a bit of rain since I had arrived in June and our water tanks were almost dry. Great!
Then it began. Tropical rain is not like your ordinary common or garden variety of Irish rain. You can see it coming – you can actually smell it coming. You can hear it coming. The pitter pattering on the roofs and on the banana leaves gets louder and louder as it comes closer until it is finally upon you. When it rains in Africa huge droplets of water the size of golf balls splat heavily and rather lazily on the ground, slowly at first and then faster and faster until all the golf balls have been joined up and eventually become satellite dish-sized puddles and then minor rivers. It was loud, it was dramatic, and it was wonderful. So wonderful that I took off all my clothes, grabbed a bar of soap, and dashed out into the back garden for a shower au natur. I felt like a child again and enjoyed my first real shower in two months. If I’d had the foresight to hang my clothes on the line, the force of the rain would have cleaned them just as well as any washing machine and I could have saved myself some tiring foot stomping in the bath of a Saturday morning.
And so to the news: the containers arrived on Tuesday and I had been so excited: my stuff! I was remembering last March when I cunningly concealed bottles of Irish whiskey and other intoxicating beverages in boxes marked BOOKS! FRAGILE! I haven’t had a Bush since June. Neither have I had a Guinness and I was remembering the six Draft Guinness tins tucked into a box marked SHOES! FRAGILE! They would go straight into the recently borrowed fridge for consumption later that night. Only they weren’t consumed because bloody Murphy had to go and spoil it all. When we opened the seals there was a large hole in one container that shouldn’t have been there. They had been so well packed in Antwerp that you couldn’t have squeezed a match box into either of them. Now someone had left a great big hole in one of them.
I sat down on the veranda and waited as the containers were unloaded, watching carefully and hoping that my five large green suitcases would soon emerge from their dusty depths, when I suddenly realised that Murphy’s Law was about to happen and I started to cry. One of the guys helping out with the offloading fished a cigarette out of his pocket and suddenly I needed one myself even though I had stopped. He graciously poked about for another one and I lit up with the relish of the addict that I am. I knew I shouldn’t have and I knew that “just the one” could easily turn into “well just another one”, but the impending disaster was altogether too much for me to cope with.
It transpired that when the containers were “lost” in Kenya, they were actually being looted by bad men whom I have spent the last few days thinking up horrible names for. Six of us had all our worldly possessions in those containers and those greedy bandits just helped themselves. CID in Kenya has since refused to co- operate in the investigation and that means they probably know who did it. The thieves were after the university computers and probably couldn’t believe their luck when they found all our stuff in there as well. I still find my BP rising when I think of some thief’s wife wearing my new summer frocks!
In the past few days I have calmed down a bit about the loss of my fridge and freezer, my new electronic water filter, my bed linen and crockery, my television and video, and my guitar and other stuff like that because the insurance will replace them, but I can’t calm down about the loss of a good number of boxes of books and my precious lecture notes that the insurance company has refused to compensate. What about Philosophy 101? Not only can I not calm down, I get positively angry when I think about the five large suitcases of clothes (65 kilos worth) lovingly chosen and packed for a new life on a sunny continent. My dairies (please God, let the thieves be illiterate!), my new Marks and Spencer knickers (white cotton), the ruler I have had since Form 1, photographs of my family and friends, the watercolour of Glendalough the brother painted for my birthday last year, none of these will be covered by the insurance. What price can you put on a family photo? How do you calculate the cost of one battered, standard issue, wooden school ruler?
All the art books I have collected over the years in the sales, my poetry collection (mostly second-hand but invaluable to me), the only copies of my MA and PhD theses (not that I ever want to read them again but it would have be nice to have had them) … all these have been taken away from me.
Some small bit of good news. Yesterday The Man and I went to poke around in the garage where the remaining boxes are stored and, lo and behold, I found my computer! I was so happy, I cried, you know how it is. I have now worked out that the thieves probably didn’t know that a box labelled MACINTOSH! FRAGILE! was likely to be a computer. They also weren’t able to know that a box labelled SHOES! FRAGILE! didn’t only contain foot ware but also some of the Black Stuff. And I was so pleased that they were fooled by the boxes labelled BOOKS! FRAGILE! that actually contained Bushmills and other similar kinds of beverages. I was like a kid but only for a while because kids aren’t allowed to drink that kind of stuff, so I sobered up and later got down to the serious business of sampling the contents of the bottle with a black and orange label. It was delicious but it unleashed my anger again, and then it made me homesick, so I had to screw the cap back on and save some for another, happier day.
I have decided to go back to Ireland next week and buy enough books so that I can prepare my lectures and enough clothes so the I look decent when giving them. I am already looking forward to some retail therapy and hoping for an Indian summer in Donegal.

October 1993 The Students Arrive
They were supposed to start the academic year in the first week of October but that was impossible because of logistical problems such as the lack of water and electricity. When we had more or less sorted out a basic (if intermittent) supply of both, we sent out the call that we were as ready as we were going to be. Eighty-four of them came on the 18th full of smiles and expectancy. For the whole day, boda boda (bicycles for hire) with one or more students on the back and piled high with bags and boxes came up the hill to the gate and deposited their cargo in exchange for a really-small-when-converted-into-Irish-Punts sum of money. All ten of us staff hung around all day introducing ourselves, saying “Good afternoon. Welcome to Nkozi! How are you?” eighty-four times each. That’s one of the really nice things about Uganda (well maybe not in Kampala streets): just like in Donegal, you greet everyone you meet. Now I’m not talking a quick “hiya” or “howaya” while still on the hoof. Generally, you stop, or at the very least put yourself into first gear:
“Good morning. How are you?”
“I’m fine, thank you, how are you?”
“Fine, thank you. Mmmmmm.”
The Man tells me that Mmmmmm means yes or ok. It makes a wonderful conversation filler and I now find myself doing it like a natural, although when I can do it in Luganda, it’ll sound even better. I’ve bought myself a primary-school level English-Luganda translator and I’m making some, if slow, progress. Back to the students.
Since we had spent the whole of last month preparing two halls of residence so that they would be in a basic state of habitation, we were feeling pretty good about the set up. The toilets were working and smelled heavenly (well, like a pine forest really). The kitchen gleamed and its former residents were nowhere to be seen. We had also cleared most of the bush around the living, eating, and studying areas so that mosquitos would have fewer breeding places. We were proud of our work but we still had a very, very long way to go before we would feel comfortable in the place. The students were happy though and for a good number, the results of our efforts were a million times better than anything they had experienced in boarding school. They too were in heaven of a sort.
But I have to tell you that the first week of teaching was a nightmare. The German-built lectures halls have a rotten acoustic and that, coupled with the fact that my usually fast ear was finding it difficult to adjust to Ugandan English, made it hard for me to understand all that the students were saying. Of course, they also had to adjust their own ears to the mixed Irish accent that I have developed over the years, so we all had an interesting time saying “excuse me”, “could you repeat that please?”, or “pardon?” We didn’t say “what” because that word has been banned from my classroom. Why? I hear you say. What’s wrong with what? I’ll tell you what’s wrong with what. Many people have picked up what I assume was originally a teaching ploy and constantly pepper their conversation with phrases like: “thewhat? [pause] the dining hall” or “awhat? [pause] a vehicle”. I can imagine a teacher in a primary-school class:
“Now, children, we are going to learn about numbers. Repeat after me: one, two, three. Again: one, what? … what? …”.
“Excellent”, teacher says as the class fills in the appropriate answer after each ‘what?’
So now my students are doing the same. Last week one student informed me: “Aristotle was awhat? [pause] a realist, but he was also awhat? [pause] a sexist”. I couldn’t take it anymore, so all non-legitimate “whats” are now forbidden.

My own Northern vowels have now been sent to elocution lessons after I spent a good minute in class last week trying to explain “earth”.
“You know, earth.”
“Could you repeat that?”
Yes, earth!”
“Oh God! You know, the stuff you plant vegetables in?”
“Oh, earth. Yes.”
“That’s what I said.”
Except it wasn’t. I said something like errth. I have been practising speaking posh ever since. I don’t feel such a wally now but childhood memories of us kids in the street making fun of people who said things like: “we have our tea at sex”, haunt me every time I open my mouth.

Remembering Beginnings

Himself is writing a blog at the moment. A blog about the start of the university on the Equator. He’s a bit matter-of-fact. Here’s the ‘behind the scenes’ account.

July 1993 On Campus

Yesterday, we went on a guided tour of the university campus, or what will become the university campus. At the moment, I would describe it as a cross between a building site and a derelict site. It really is in a bad way. The Uganda Government has been running a National Teacher Training College here for the past number of years and maintenance was obviously not a top priority. I don’t want to tell you about the state of the kitchen attached to the students’ dining hall. Just think bad, very bad, and, oh yes, you could also think smallish mammal that was responsible for a major plague in Europe in the fourteenth century. It was that bad. The Man wasn’t as shocked as I was and assures everyone that it will be fine in no time at all. I’m not so sure I believe him.

The student halls of residence were also in a bad state (think derelict squat – no, think demolition site). Some students had obviously been cooking with small charcoal stoves in their rooms – I wouldn’t have blamed them given the state of the kitchen, but it didn’t do anything for the decor of the rooms. The toilets hadn’t been working for a long time because there is no water, and they were simply unspeakable.

The bush had encroached a fair bit into what I have been told was once a beautiful campus and it was now hard to tell where the paths were. Some colleagues in the tour group started muttering about snakes, mosquitoes, chiggers, and fleas, but I wasn’t really listening at that stage. I was thinking about the impossibility of getting the place into the state of even being able to pretend it was a university by the first week of October. No way. Impossible. Nada. Nothing doing. A real Sysiphusian task here.

It was really depressed and went home for lunch with a very heavy heart. All the build-up and excitement of the previous months vanished in just two short, hot hours! I got one of those blue airmail letters and tried to fill it with happy thoughts for the people in Donegal but I knew my father would be able to read between the lines. As I sat in the garden (big word) looking down at the Lake, my thoughts went back to the terrible things that had happened in Uganda since Independence in 1962. A year previously, I only knew two things about Uganda: Idi Amin and Raid on Entebbe. If Churchill had been right about Uganda being The Pearl of Africa, and I suspect he probably was, then the magnitude of Uganda’s downfall was greater than I had ever expected.

I had read about the Obote years of 1962 -1971, the awful Amin years from 1971-1979, and the even more awful Obote 2 years of 1982-1985. I had read about the expulsion of the Asians in 1972, the Tanzanian invasion in 1979, the Bush War of Museveni that culminated in his seizing power in 1986. I had boned up on the country statistics and found out that the level of HIV/AIDS is shockingly high, and that malaria and diarrhoea kill far more children than is believable each year. So I knew that Uganda’s internal conflicts had exacted a high price, but I hadn’t given a thought to the practicalities of everyday life now that the country was stable. It was a very sober me who ate supper that evening while mulling over the events of the past few days. I was still up for the challenge, but I knew now that it was going to be a hell of a lot more work than I had expected when I blithely packed up my lecture notes and Factor 20 and told all my friends that I was off to Africa (said as Meryl Streep) to start a new life in the sun.

The next day I was feeling a bit better and went exploring and have found out that I might very well be crossing the actual Equator a good number of times every day. After you pass The Equator on the Kampala-Masaka road, you come to a small village called Kayabwe. That’s where you turn right, off the tarmac road and onto a murram (Americans would say dirt) road that snakes its way up the hill to Nkozi. This road (in Donegal we would probably call it a schuck) crosses The Equator a few times on the way up but it doesn’t make you dizzy or anything because you don’t know you are doing it.

To mark this geographical speciality, there is a small, really weird-shaped building on campus called The Equator monument and they say that’s where the line is. Whatever about it being home to The Equator, it is also home to millions (well, probably a couple of hundred) bats and the bicycles of the builders and kitchen staff. I don’t know why they don’t park them somewhere else because they have to clean a mountain of bat shit off the saddles and handlebars before they can go home at five-o-clock. But maybe that’s a small price to pay for a cool seat.

Anyway back to the imaginary line. Just think: I could be teaching in the Northern Hemisphere, having my lunch in the Southern Hemisphere, and having my Nile Special right on it. That’s probably why I don’t know whether I’m coming or going when I’m trying to get home at night.

Yesterday, I went for a walk down the hill trying to see if I felt different at any point of the journey. The moment I got closer to Nkozi Trading Centre just down the road from the university gate, about a million kids appeared from nowhere, pointed at me, and starting shouting: “Mzungu, Mzungu!” I thought I had put my frock on inside out, but I hadn’t. So I smiled back at them and returned their excited waves while continuing my investigative perambulation. The kids and their excited incomprehensible (to me) chitter chatter followed me through the village and down the hill like a cloud of colourful mosquitoes. Some of them were brave enough to reach out and touch me and I began to imagine how Jesus felt when he was working a crowd.

“Mzungu, Mzungu! How (pause) are (pause) you?” “What exactly is Mzungu?” I thought. Some kind of logical deduction convinced me that it was probably the local hello, so I thought I give it a try myself and kept on walking while muttering “moozungu” incessantly and smiling like an ad for Colgate. It all got a bit much for me after a while so, having taken a few photos of Lake Victoria about three kilometres away as the crow flies, I turned tail and headed for home at a brisk trot with my colourful cloud still trailing after me. I managed to lose them just before the main gate to the cries of “Bye, Mzungu. Bye, Mzungu”, at which point I realised that the strange word couldn’t have been hello after all. Where on earth is logic when you most need it?

“Mzungu”, The Man explained in a kindly voice to soothe my nerves, “means white person. It’s a kind of greeting and they always shout it at white people. The kids around here probably haven’t seen very many before and certainly not many like you”.
“Why? What’s wrong with me? My frock isn’t on inside out! What?”
“It’s nothing to do with your frock. It’s more to do with the fact that you’re dressed to the nines and they were probably hoping for a few bob to be tossed their way from the rich white (well quite red) lady who was mad enough to be wandering around in the midday sun.”
I’ve since tried it a few times in leggins, a straw hat, and sunglasses in the cooler evening hours, but my cloud appears to be getting thicker. I may well have to take my walks in the car for a bit until all the fuss dies down.

Covid-19 Take 2

On March 22 at noon all Uganda’s borders were closed, including Entebbe International Airport.
Prior to 31 March, many public places and shops had instigated sanitation practices for customers, while many people were voluntarily staying at home.
On 31 March Lockdown and Curfew became obligatory.
All public transport was banned fully.
Private vehicles were prohibited, and security services check all routes constantly.
Cargo and emergency services, including key workers, are allowed to travel with a special permit.
All non-food stores, bars, nightclubs, and other shops are closed; supermarkets and pharmacies remain open, as do hospitals and smaller clinics.
People can still walk (or take a bicycle) to local shops and food markets. All shops and markets sanitise customers prior to entry.

As of yesterday, 19 April 2020:
“Today 1,126 samples tested NEGATIVE For COVID-19
837 samples were from truck drivers at border points
289 samples were from individuals under institutional quarantine and contacts to confirmed cases
Confirmed Cases of COVID-19 stand at 55 in Uganda
Total COVID-19 recoveries: 22
Deaths: none.”
Source Ministry of Health

I have read some reports, generally from outside Uganda, that these figures must be fake. The overall take on Uganda’s status seems to be: how is this possible in such an under-developed country when the “developed” world is seeing thousands of cases and deaths each day? While I remain cautiously optimistic in terms of Uganda’s prognosis, there could be a number of reasons why Uganda’s figures are low. As a land-locked, generally rural-based country, travel is an expense many can ill afford. I don’t know the stats, but the numbers of Ugandans who have travelled abroad is low. While some countries are still allowing flights into their airports, our President closed Entebbe on 22 March, almost one month ago. Everyone who travelled into the country between 7 – 22 March is being traced and tested; many have already been quarantined and subsequently released if negative for the virus. This is our third week on lockdown and nightly curfew, with more than two weeks remaining. All this constitutes much faster action than in the US or UK (flights still operating in both countries to date). And we should not forget that Uganda has a good track record with disease control.

However, I am not an idiot. All governments and politicians lie to their people – everywhere. This thing could still turn sour and become a massive tragedy. Physical distancing and social isolation are well nigh impossible in many of our communities, especially in the slums of Kampala. If it does, there will be many thousands of deaths. But a further worrying issue is that the lockdown has made many hand-to-mouth workers redundant. Government food distribution is already subject to corrupt practices, and when people are hungry, disease seizes the opportunity to strike. Malaria cases will likely rise (it is the rainy season with higher than usual rainfall in many places); and people living near swamps and wetlands will certainly see more cases of dysentery and childhood diarrhoeal deaths. Money for simple medical treatment, scarce at the best of times, has dried up. In countries where people can easily get their five-a-day, many, many Ugandans will sleep hungry having had (if lucky) a simple meal of beans and maize flour during the day – enough to keep the stomach from rumbling too loudly, but hardly sufficient to maintain good health.

And so, whatever happens, our people will suffer, perhaps more from financial poverty and economic hardship than Covid-19. Only time will tell. I for one am praying for a positive outcome. Join me if you are the praying type.

Slán agus beannacht!  Stay home; stay safe; stay well.

Kwarantini in Kampala

Currently as of 4.4.20, 48 people in Uganda have tested positive for Covid-19. All these were already in quarantine or self-isolation having arrived at Entebbe airport from various parts of the globe in mid March. No Covid-19 related deaths have been registered. To the best of my knowledge, no tests have been done in the general public arena. While these low numbers may be a good sign, the fear of quarantine has led many recently-returned travellers to avoid it, even escape (as five people did last week – now jailed for their recklessness). This double-digit figure will probably rise as more people are tracked, tested, and quarantined. Although less than 2000 tests have been carried out country-wide, Uganda has an excellent track record in dealing with viral outbreaks and illnesses. However, Covid-19 is not Ebola; it is much more sinister because of the existence of asymptomatic cases. We have yet to see the virus in the community. And fingers crossed it will not reach that point, but we don’t really know. In a country where malaria is prevalent, doctors’ consultation fees are high, and pharmacies sell most drugs without prescription, at the first sign of a high temperature, most people will simply self-medicate for malaria and continue life as normal. I think that’s how Covid-19 could spread in Uganda, possibly because of those irresponsible persons who avoided quarantine.

At the beginning of all this dreadfulness in other places, even before Uganda’s President Museveni gave the lockdown and curfew orders six days ago, The Man and I were already staying home, only venturing out when necessary, and wearing masks and gloves. I thought of it as a kind of adventure: hunting and gathering in difficult circumstances. That feeling soon gave way to a mild frisson of terror, and I had a bit of a wobble when we were first locked down. The goal has now become staying alive in frightening circumstances.

Yesterday I was thinking about the words people I hear on the wireless use for this time of lockdown: quarantine, cocooning, sheltering, isolation, hibernating, staying safe … . When I think of an older person cocooning, I immediately think of them wrapped up in soft fluffy blankets on a comfy sofa with a fire lit. And sheltering? For me that conjures up holing up under a tarpaulin until the rain has stopped. But right now, whatever we call it, I am happy enough to be locked down for my own good, provided I have food for the canines (and ourselves, of course). As members of the privileged lot in this country who have phone banking and can order food online, we can survive well for the foreseeable future. Many are already suffering from lack of food and essential medicines.

But a kind of lethargy has overcome me; I get through each day fairly OK but doing a lot of nothing much. I’ve seen some people’s lockdown goals that are bulleted beyond ten items, all of them lofty pursuits like losing an unrealistic number of kilos, writing that novel, learning a new language or a musical instrument, even giving up alcohol! Pardon me, giving up alcohol? It’s one of the things getting me through to 6pm each day without losing it entirely. And so I haven’t done any of those things I thought I would a few weeks ago. I really wanted to master Clair de Lune but just haven’t got the mental oomph to get down to it. I wanted to continue reading Robert MacFarlane’s wonderful Underland, but it sits on the table accusingly, dust gathering on its cover, bookmark static. I’ve stopped looking at the news before bedtime and thankfully the bad dreams have stopped. But keeping up with the progress of this strange life form that blasts everything in its way is in some way compulsive.

And in Kampala, despite the lockdown, strange things are afoot. Three days ago I wrapped myself up and set out for the 1km walk to the nearest group of shops for amoxycillin and hand sanitizer as well as bananas and beef for the pooches. The light nearly left my eyes: it was business as usual in the trading centre market. All public transport, private transport, and motorbike “taxis” have been banned by presidential directive, but most of the motorbike taxis (bodas) I passed called me to jump on. Were they crazy? I hesitate to get on a boda at the best of times because they scare me; I grab the guy around the waist and hang on for dear life – they love it, of course. Everyone else just jumps on and starts checking their phones; some women even sit sideways like gentlewomen on horses in days of yore. On the main road into town, private cars with passengers (also forbidden) were also motoring along, and trucks were aplenty, all in all not terribly different from every other day – although I must admit it was easier to cross the road because the traffic wasn’t just so crazy!

In the food market, sellers jostled with each other for business. I bought my bananas and beef in jik time, all the while trying to back away from people who crowded around each stall. It was a nightmare. At the pharmacy, the staff were trying to enforce social distancing, but the peeps weren’t having it. I put on my best teacher voice and did a prima dona-type repetition of the presidential directive, but just got eye rolls and shoulder shrugs. Let me tell you, I legged it home like the clappers, abandoned my gutties at the door, stripped, and jumped into the shower. Even after a goodly amount of water had swirled down the plughole I didn’t really feel clean so I showered again with Dettol soap. A bit excessive maybe, but I’ve been keeping up with what is happening in Italy, Spain, and the US – the peeps in the local market probably haven’t been that scared yet!

Kampala is a very social place, and its inhabitants love to party. Weekends can start on Thursdays, and Monday-morning start times vary greatly, so it’s hard to get your head around physical distancing, not going to the pub or nightclub, and staying home with the family. And spare a thought for the people living in the slums, those who live from hand to mouth and have lost their livelihoods as cleaners, shopping mall staff (all closed), hairdressers and barbers, casual labourers, non-food shop workers, boda riders, bus and taxi drivers … . While government has set up food distribution points for those in need, this will may well be abused by the distributors. Even MPs have been asking for cash to “help fight Covid-19”. How, I can’t imagine! When the slum dwellers in Kampala have no clean water and no money to buy soap, if this virus gets into the community Uganda is snookered. Some of Kampala’s slums are built in swamps where disease is already rampant (dysentery, malaria, and more). And the most prevalent non-communicable diseases among the over-fifties appear to be “sugar” and “pressure” (diabetes and high blood pressure), often going untreated for lack of finances. Poorer people with these conditions will likely become even more vulnerable.

And for all this Uganda has not lost its innate sense of humour: while Twitter can be a scary place these days, it can also be a source of fun and entertainment. Watch these lads having a bit of fun with their donated food.

There was a Brussels Airlines flight yesterday from Entebbe evacuating Germans and some Belgians who simply wanted to go home. For me and The Man, Uganda is home and we’ve nowhere else to go. So we’re here for the duration. What will be will be. I’m hoping for a good ending despite what I’ve said in this post.

Slán agus beannacht!  Stay home; stay safe; stay well.


Lizards, Toads, and Snakes

A few weeks before Christmas, just as we were packing for a quick vacation, a triad of reptilian – canine encounters had me almost cancelling the flights. First off, the young lady of the house “found” one of those beautiful fat blue lizards. Feisty wee things and fast on their feet when need be. Madam chased it but missed! Horray! But then the big White Shepherd thought he would demonstrate his machismo and pounded after it with a dangerous glint in his eye. Oh boy, didn’t he just catch it and was proudly showing off his still struggling prey when ordered to drop it. Being well enough trained, he did just that, with bright-red blood streaming out of his mouth. My piercing scream started the dog who froze; well, didn’t the wee thing take a running jump at him and bit him on the nose. Quite brave, I thought afterwards, but not at the time. At the time, my screams would have brought Lazarus back from the dead. They certainly roused The Man who, being of a rather sanguine nature, calmly found the creature, pushed a long stick towards it, and in no time at all had the thing grabbing onto the stick for all it was worth. Then it was over the garden fence with it. I’m sure it died rather quickly given the blood loss and the fright of ending up in a dog’s mouth.


Bloody nose cleaned up and antiseptic administered (didn’t like that one bit), Google was asked to provide answers to a few questions. “Can be toxic” was the overall consensus. But it was a small enough bite, and with the fur ball weighing in at around 50k, I thought it would take a bit of time for the poison, if any, to kick in. An anxious wait ensued. But it certainly wasn’t a calm wait. Less than thirty minutes later, barks and grunts had me streaking down the garden again to find the two young lads playing with what I think was a Bufo toad – these are poisonous to pets. Once again, “drop it” worked, and all were hustled inside to await any dramatic outcomes. Phew, I thought, that was quite a reptilian-filled hour.


After a longish while, all seemed calm, and none of the lads was showing any signs of poisoning. Time for a swim before heading to cooler climes announced The Man. While not really cold, the water was a bit wetter than usual due to all the rain, but the relaxation was curtailed when the old Madam sequestered on the back terrace, started up a queer sort of barking. I climbed out of the pool rather wearily, given that Madam is quite deaf and wont to bark like crazy for nothing. But investigate I always do. Not again! A long thin black snake was calmly coiled up by the back wall watching the old dog bark for all she was worth. The snake must have been deaf too: it didn’t budge – well not until I poked Madam who leapt into the air with fright. It budged then alright: it went into attack mode. Jeepers, what did I do to deserve this? The Man was summoned noisily, and padded up to us in flip flops with a wee towel around his waist – not really dressed for fighting snakes. “Quick, get a spade, get a spade!”. He did, but took a fair bit of time about it, all the while I’m holding onto the old doggo with fright. The snake was quite disturbed by now, and the first attempt to “get” it landed up around its middle. A very worried moment passed before The Man managed to pin it down just below the head. Thank all that’s good and holy that we watch progammes about that snake catcher in South Africa ’cause The Man got it right in the nick of time, just as the snake opened its mouth to display its black fangs. Another one bit the dust and was also dispatched over the fence. The bloody scene was cleaned up, and the old lady given heaps of doggie treats for being a good girl.

It was then that the hysteria got me: imagine dispensing with a possible black mamba in flip flops and a meagre waist towel. And then there was the lizard and the toad: a trio of poisonous creatures in one day? And here I was leaving my pooches in a reptile-infested compound while I went off to sip glühwein ’round a blazing fire. So I spent a good hour poking a long stick into all possible snake / toad / lizard hiding places so that they would be safe when I was away. A number of phone calls back to The Pearl assured me that all five were safe and reptile free while I was in Christmas tree mode. I am still fairly uneasy passing the snake spot, but I’m sure time will put that small fear to rest. All in all, I have to say that sometimes life here can be a tad more colourful than back in the old Sod!

When your fingertips are worn out

A few weeks back I went to renew my driving licence. What started off as a rather good day gradually degenerated into a blood pressure-raising fiasco. The Man kindly agreed to escort me ’cause it’s a fair bit away from home, and I was glad he did. I had made all the preparations and paid the fee in the bank – not any old bank mind you, a designated bank. Fair enough, that makes for better monitoring. Satisfied that I was ready, off we went. Security was a breeze and soon we found a good shady place to park; “but it won’t be for long”, I told The Man gaily, “they say you can have your licence within the hour”. Like heck, you can – well you can but you can’t. Let me explain.

First up, they wouldn’t let The Man come in with me: “applicants only”, they intoned on a regular basis. OK says he, I’ll just listen to the news in the meantime. Another security check later and I was in the bleak hanger-like building where the one-hour magic takes place. I always tend to look lost in these situations because generally I am. A very nice young woman noticed and took me to one side. She gave me a rickety seat to perch my derrière on and told me to wait a bit. She finished calling out a heap of names and then, instead of explaining the process,  led me to an empty seat near a service booth, ignoring the stares of all the  people in the queues or the people waiting to get into the queues. I was asked to wait a bit more. It was only then that I realised I had jumped the queue with my “I’m lost” face. If I had the sort of body that turned red, I would have been burning with embarrassment and shame. But it was a fait accompli and what could I do really? But don’t worry folks, my karmic pay back was just about to happen.

Once inside the booth I happily chatted with the computer person processing my papers and thought all was going swimmingly. But when it came to the fingerprint recognition bit, a slight frisson of anxiety began to worry a distant part of the hard drive. That frisson was justified: four fingers of the left hand “didn’t take” and I had to do it again – and a third time. Trying for the right hand fingers looked like a good strategy but nope, nothing doing all three times. The thumbs drew blanks as well. The computer logged her out after three tries, so she started again. Since I have had a few minor barneys with this sort of machine at Passport Controls in a number of East African countries, I thought second time around would be grand. Lady Karma had other ideas. The computer person did the triple tries again on the fingers – and the thumbs – before her machine got fed up. Time to call the supervisor. At this stage, I was getting a bit antsy. Said supervisor went through the same process, with me all the while asking who they thought my fingertips belonged to. No smiles! I was sombrely informed that my fingertip ridges had worn away and maybe I might not be who I claimed to be! Tingly moisture began forming behind my eyes!

And then it was time for the supervisor’s supervisor to come and sort things out. A new fingerprint machine thingy was brought and a new computer request for recognition was made. Nothing doing. In between wiping my fingers on swabs and using oodles of hand sanitizer while suppressing the urge to wail manically, furtive calls to The Man revealed he had listened to the news, cooled himself nicely with the AC, and killed the car battery in the process. Real tears began building up and my innards started giving me gyp. Finally, after six more tries, with an assistant holding my fingers down on the machine, the supervisor’s supervisor proclaimed himself satisfied with a 60% recognition factor. Who the heck owns the other 40% of my fingerprints? A very not Zen-like me was escorted to a counter in the bowels of the building where I joined another queue. My sweaty “bank” receipt was duly handed over, scrutinized, and then rejected. Turns out I hadn’t paid the fee for the licence at all. What had been extorted at the designated bank were simply Uganda Revenue Authority taxes. Wretches! And of course I didn’t have enough of the hefty fee to actually pay for the licence on the spot. The Man was summoned back from the garage and his wallet raided. We gathered just enough to make it. Another counter issued a receipt, and my shaky legs took me back to the lady who had rejected my papers some fifteen minutes earlier. “Look on the bright side” she said; “you’ll have your licence in under an hour”. I had already spent two hours trying to confirm that my fingers belonged to me. Jesus wept. And so did I.

Finally it was all over and my name flashed up on a state-of-the-art TV monitor. I am now legally licensed to drive for a further three years. I think that will be my driving career over: my fingertips won’t make it through another licensing process. But to cap it all: when driving through the gates I saw more than one young fella brandishing fist fulls of Uganda Driving Permits, furiously gesturing for us to stop and buy. Fast exchange, no fingerprints. What? And right beside the security guards on the gate! I could have saved myself a heap of existential anguish.

Snakes on The Line

Last night there was a medium-sized snake up the Palm Nut tree. The dogs went ballistic. The bird were in a frenzy. Quite so when a slithery thing is in the vicinity of your abode. I was simply curious, albeit with a mild frisson of anxiety when I though of the critter falling out of the palm onto a barking pooch. And it reminded me of the first time I met a snake as a young idealistic expat with no snake experience. The following incident happened in October 1993.


About four weeks ago, just the day after I returned from a shopping trip to Ireland (which was lovely I must say), I met a snake for the very first time but was too stupid to make a big deal of it at the time. I have since learned that you treat snakes with a great deal of respect, and you certainly don’t do what I did. You do, in fact, make a very big deal out of it. In this corner of the world most people treat snakes according to the succinct Buddhist advice: “If you meet the Buddha kill him”. So if you happen to meet a snake on the Uganda Equator I have put together the following plan for immediate implementation.

1. Upon seeing this scary marvel of the wild back away – slowly or fast doesn’t matter but back away, even without reverse lights.
2. Open your mouth and yell loudly. This will ensure that people from both and near and far (after all everyone loves a break from work, especially if it involves an element of danger and fear – and perhaps machismo) will immediately run to your assistance.
3. Keep your eyes open and watch carefully while the brave men you have summoned examine the snake and then rush around madly to find sticks and stones.
4. Take the credit for finding the snake by telling everyone who has arrived to watch how scared you were when you first saw the unfortunate creature.
5. Close your eyes once more as the assembled men fling sticks and stones at the writhing creature making sure you are not targeted in the process.
6. Open your eyes when the victorious cry has gone up and press forward with the rest of the crowd to make sure the snake really is dead.
7. Hang around a bit longer recounting the story of the discovery and kill for all those arriving for the postmortem.
8 For the next few days tell everyone you meet how you made the grisly discovery, show them how big it was the way fishermen always do, and recount in embellished detail how it was killed.
This next point on The Plan is optional and only holds for really big snakes:
9. Organise mini guided tours to the spot where the snake was found and killed while recounting the story again to anyone willing to listen.

This is a good plan – not good for the snake, of course, and it will not be recommended by any wildlife organization – but it is a good plan. I did not do any of the above. What I did was stupid – I did get a lot of conversational mileage out of it since, but it was still stupid. This is how it went.

On a certain Tuesday I went home to make myself a light lunch and was humming happily as I thought of the wonderful lectures I would be able to write with the newly-acquired books (Philosophy 101 was on course after all despite the container heist when all my books were looted in Kenya), periodically relived various moments of the retail therapy, and wondered when I would use the smoked salmon sitting proudly on a prominent shelf in the fridge. The frothy eggs sizzled as they hit the oil in the first stage of being transformed into a tasty omelette, and they continued sizzling long past the stage when said sizzling should have fizzled out. The happy humming stopped while I wondered what kind of marvellous Ugandan eggs made so much noise.

As I looked under the table holding the small two-ring gas cooker looking for the source of a possible gas leak, I came face-to-fang with a huge (not fisherman huge but really huge) brown snake angrily hissing at me for daring to disturb its cool peaceful sleep with egg noises and humming. I calmly turned off the gas and crouched down to get a closer look at it. There it was, coiled in the corner: a quite beautiful snake but it was one annoyed snake and was letting me know it.

“What to do? Yes, of course Dee, dance for it. For what, the snake? Yeah, why not?” Why not indeed? Ten years earlier while walking in a forest in Southern Germany a friend had told me that snakes don’t like noise, or rather don’t like vibrations, and will slither away if they don’t like the approaching ambience. So there was nothing for it but to prance around the kitchen making incredibly loud stomping noises with my feet.
This manoeuvre is not in The Plan for the simple reason that it doesn’t work. What it does is make the snake even more angry and frightened, so frightened that it will start attack proceedings. For a snake this entails aggressive head raising and even louder sizzling while advancing slowly and menacingly towards the dancer. At this point I realised that danger was approaching and made a hastily ungracious escape from the kitchen. When the snake had finally stopped sizzling I crept back into the kitchen just in time to see my new acquaintance slither calmly through a frighteningly large gap, previously unnoticed, between the bottom of the back door and the floor, and into the safety of the jungle of my exotic back garden. I later revised this opinion of tropical landscaping and had the grass cutters in so that similar sizzlers couldn’t find cool refuge so close to my cooking table. I also rolled up some newspapers and taped them to the bottom of the door in case my friend wanted another performance of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Then I ate my lunch with even more appetite because of the unexpected exercise.

As I said, I didn’t know then what I know now, and a week later during a lull in a conversation I mentioned my pre-lunch dance routine to some colleagues. The following conversation should be read aloud quickly and with raised decibels.
“You did what?”
“What size was it?”
“What colour was it?”
“Did it have a flat head?”
“What were its markings like?”
“You really did that? God!”
“You’re mad! You danced at a Puff Adder! Dee, that thing is really dangerous. It could have bitten you because you cornered it.”
“But St Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland,” I protested.
“He what? Who?”
“St Patrick. He drove them all away so we Irish people have no training in snake-related behaviour.”
That excuse just didn’t justify my actions. They all looked at me with strange expressions: this mzungu (white person) is nuts their faces said. She is stupid their raised eyebrows said. But she may well be just a little bit brave their wide eyes said, because we would have followed The Plan.

In the time since then I have surprisingly made the acquaintance of a few more snakes, and while I haven’t quite followed The Plan, I haven’t done any ballet for them either. I now have a few theories about snakes.

1. You only see them if you want to see them. Some colleagues who have been in Africa for a lot longer have seen fewer snakes than I have.
2. Someone up there is making sure that the snake-deprived Irish abroad complete their educational experiences by allowing them to encounter more than their fair share of Eden’s bad guys.
3. Snakes only appear to those who believe in them — this theory works much in the same way as Douglas Adams’s theory about extra-terrestrials in strange flying crafts manifesting themselves to the gullible.

I am, however, quite proud of my actions on that long-ago Tuesday because the snake didn’t die. “I saved a snake life”, I often think to myself smugly. It didn’t get its head bashed in and die in agony all because of some wise advice given freely while stomping through the knee-deep leaves of a damp Bavarian forest floor.

Endings and New Beginnings

28 February 2019

On this day four months ago, Luna had her first – and last – litter of puppies with Finley. On this day one year ago, I officially retired from academic administration and paid employment. And on this very day, my younger cousin is being buried. Mother of three, cancer survivor twice, and living with MS, an aortic aneurism finally robbed her of older age on the 23rd of this month. We “know” that death is the end of our mortal strivings, but a sudden death never ceases to remind that we are not guaranteed a tomorrow. Death often stops you in your tracks and gives you an unexpected punch to the gut. But in the midst of heaving with sorrow and pain it also acts as a reminder to live life to the very fullest and to be grateful for it, at least for a while until familiarity with old routines rubs the raw edges of grief and realization back to comfortable levels.


This is my resolve for now: drinking deeply of life’s red wine. And as I raise my glass to you I say: “rest in peace Ali, rest in eternal peace!”

On a less sombre note, as I come to the first anniversary of retirement from paid employment, I have to say that the ride has not always been a smooth one. It took some very long months before I was finally able to stop turning the period into a comma, to stop thinking about my work. And for those months of mental – if not physical – engagement with my previous employment, it was ever so hard to disengage the cruising button, to shift from 5th to 4th, from 4th to 3rd, and finally down to neutral. The gears were always moving, my worries constant, and my disengagement ever so slow. But finally, just before Christmas past, when the last connections were, rather painfully, cut with what I consider to have been a wonderful achievement in my final working years, I made a decision to let the period remain a period. Both of us did. The Man and I lit some candles, burned some incense, and watched the past rise wisp-like into the evening sky above the lake, its power over us broken, a beginning of sorts in the making.

I will be celebrating my sixty-third birthday later this year. And because 60 is supposed to be the new 40, I have decided to start enjoying myself – read enjoying ‘my unpaid academic work’! After thirty-odd years of hard slog, I am now a woman of otium liberale, living a life of unashamed academic leisure, reading what I want, and taking a great deal more pleasure in my world of books and other things too: landscaping the garden where the big tree came down, making jam and chutney, traveling a bit more, experimenting with Irish soda bread recipes, getting back to calligraphy and playing the piano, and cleaning up after the canines.

New beginnings can be exciting, especially if the path isn’t charted. Not knowing what’s around the corner can be liberating (as well as a little scary if the truth be told) and I am up for what’s coming. The long shadow of my past has finally slipped back from my heels, and I do believe I have gained a little bit of wisdom. I am officially a crone and am embracing cronehood whole-heartedly. Maybe I’ll throw a party and invite the other crones to come and skinny dip at midnight. Or maybe I’ll just chose an inviting book and have an early night.

Grammar, Google, and getting away from it all

Dee Nkozi

I retired officially from university teaching and administration last week on 28 February 2018. This seems an appropriate enough moment to have a quick glance back at a thirty+-year career together with its ups and downs. It all started innocuously enough: the lecturer for the course was on a sabbatical and thought I should have more than just conducting tutorials under my belt. And so I ended up teaching my first full philosophy course in the 1986-87 session when I was nearing the end of my doctoral studies. It was a small class composed mostly of seminary students who had to fulfil their obligations to take a requisite number of philosophy courses, and my course: medieval philosophy, was mandatory. They were mildly interested (at least I thought so at the time), but I was totally hooked! Nights were spent reading until the wee small hours, then writing out each lecture in large readable joined up worried that I be caught out by an innocent but unprepared-for question from a class not much younger than me. I was a nervous wreck at the start of each teaching hour, but they were quite forgiving of any gaps in my knowledge, and, happily, all of them passed the exam!

That was then. Thirty-odd years later a lot more lectures have been written up, slept through, enjoyed, given off the cuff, not-quite-booed-at but nearly, and a lot of dissertations have been supervised. By my reckoning, somewhere in the region of fifty master’s dissertations and a handful of PhDs have kept me up nights and had me out of bed when the moon was still making her rounds. I have lost count of the BA dissertations that, for the most part, had me tearing my hair out.

There were, of course, hard years, dry years, but also – thankfully – more fertile, enjoyable years. One in particular stands out in my memory. Being short of staff at the university on the equator, one colleague in my department and I each ended up teaching three courses in one semester and two in the next. That was to be the first graduation year at our new university, and 18 undergraduate dissertations were also thrown into the mix. I think we both had seven to supervise and somehow managed to farm out the remainder. That was a rough schedule that was made tougher by the fact that I had never taught any of my five courses before. A lot of books came back in the luggage before that year began and a lot of candles were used to read them night after night, getting each lecture ready just before it was due to be given. But apart from all the hard work that was a good year, and it stands out in my memory as the year I finally regarded myself as a university teacher. I learned a lot from teaching (probably more than my students!), especially in the environment and gender courses I taught, so much so that a half-written book has been on my desk gathering dust for the past ten years. It’s called Putting on Trousers that are Empty. Empowerment in a Patriarchal World. Rather a naughty title, but I think you get the central argument! Other more esoteric stuff is also on the back burner and I’m now looking forward to getting back to my academic roots with a follow-up volume to my first book on negative theology – if, as my granny would have said “God spares me”.

Previously in this blog I have highlighted my difficulties with understanding what has come to be known as Uglish (the Ugandan version of English) but over the years my ear has adapted rather well and my brain has finally caught up, so much so that I am almost a fluent speaker at this stage. But given the fact that in Uganda all my students were learning in a second language (for some a third language), English has almost always been a problem. My newly-allocated, end-of-second-year dissertation students were invariably scared sh**less by the third years: “eeeeh she’s too tough”, “she writes ALL over your pages in a green pen and you have to tick off the corrections as you make them”, “she tells you stuff about split infinitives, Oxford commas, colons and semi-colons, and attributive adjectives … she’s nuts” … things like that. No wonder they came for the first consultation in deferential mode. But they thawed as we began to work together, and I’m proud to say not a single BA student failed a dissertation. There were mishaps with two or three MAs but I’d rather not get into that. I did, therefore, spend an inordinate amount of time correcting bad English, but to my dismay only a handful of students over the years learned from the corrections – three of whom are now PhDs, (and I am happy to have been their doktormütter). But after so long, I have now lightened up a bit and am a little more tolerant; I “cope up with it” and let some Uglish slide – after all, everyone else will know what they mean!

But what I can’t let slide is the plagiarism. I know it’s not a local problem but it has become endemic in Uganda’s institutions. And the awful thing is very few academic staff complain about it; even fewer academics do anything to detect or prevent it. There is a number of reasons for this, not least is bottom-line laziness stemming from having two or three jobs to make ends meet. But stubbornly I routinely ran work submitted through plagiarism detection software. Students who violated the rules of academic honesty were almost always genuinely surprised to be the subjects of demerits. It was not unusual to receive an essay comprised of a series of plagiarised paragraphs (quite often disjointed) with a general reference tagged to the end of each. “But I gave the references”, they wailed. “But you copied each paragraph word for word”. “But I told you where they came from”. “Why didn’t you use quotation marks?” It was hopeless. I personally blame Google. As soon as this search engine became available on campus, library use was noticeably less while the computer lab became crowded. I myself love Google for all the great services it provides from how to get rid of jiggers under your toenails to the secrets of hing in Indian cookery, but its use by students leads to serious plagiarism. Despite my giving zero for plagiarised work, very few understand academic theft and, therefore, it continues unabated. Unfortunately, my little battles didn’t contribute much to winning the war on that front.

Another issue I am really glad to be leaving behind is basic student laziness regarding academic effort. As I have said here before, Uganda has a rather poor reading culture stemming from the fact that books were / are simply not available so teachers wrote / write notes on the blackboard which students copy and subsequently cram for examinations. That practice is, unfortunately still with us. Students will always want your notes to keep them in their comfort zone. To take notes in class and read about the subject in books is outside that comfort zone. “Just how much of this required reading textbook do I have to read?” “Well, er, all of it. Plus the other five recommended texts if you want a first-class mark”. “But I can’t read all that. Can’t you give us summaries?” Jeepers!

Over the years it has been a lot of hard work with some wonderful successes, but a lot of it was simply hard work with little thanks at the end of the day and much, much less pay than an average plumber (sometimes none at all). Although I must say I have received a fair few out-of-the-blue phone calls from former students thanking me when they got a job / promotion / higher degree / professional award …. . Those calls remain dear to my heart. And I do meet students on the streets of Kampala who always say thanks; “you were tough with us, but fair” seems to be the general consensus of those I taught. My former students are professors, vice chancellors and deputy vice chancellors, registrars, politicians, doctors, policemen and women, teachers, nurses and midwives, administrators, public health practitioners, bankers, development workers, IT specialists, farmers, shopkeepers, and fisherfolk, so my words have travelled far and wide. I hope some of those words have been remembered.

But now I think I have done my bit for tertiary education in Uganda. Twenty-five years and three universities later I am not sorry to retire from it all. It has been a steep learning curve for the most part, but an experience I would not trade for all the fish in Lake Victoria. I am going back to the academic work I started with after a hiatus of a quarter of a century, but I am going back with a wealth of experience that twenty-five years in Ireland could never have afforded me. A huge thanks to all the students who have taught me so much since I arrived in The Pearl of Africa as a naive philosopher hoping to teach for a year, get a tan, travel a bit, and then return to Europe for a tenured appointment. I for one am happy that life doesn’t always give us what we plan for!

And so this is me, back to my roots, sans robes, and loving every minute of it!

Dee Feb18

Goodbye Lady

February 2002

Last Wednesday evening I took the pooch for the usual evening walk and this time she was really slow on her feet. She hasn’t been well for a few months and the vet told me to feed her well and keep an eye on her. Even though she enjoyed the amble up the hill and managed a few quite satisfying barks at any birdies that dared to land in our vicinity, when we came home, she just sort of slumped in the corner with an absolutely fatigued air. I took a few photos with the new digital camera and when I uploaded the pics to the computer, I got a huge shock: Lady was, quite literally, on her last legs. Her face was gaunt and terribly grey and all the bones in her body were showing. As I sat gazing on these horrifying images of my wonderful canine companion, I realised that I had to do something. A call to the vet on Friday afternoon established that he would be in the Animal Clinic on Saturday morning and so in a very small voice, I booked an appointment.

Pete and Albert, her friends and lookers-after, firmly told me that they were coming with me and The Man assured me that he would be waiting when we came back, no matter what the outcome. But as soon as I opened the back of the car, Madam hopped in like a teenager and settled herself face towards the middle of the road to frighten away any stray cars that might be passing on the other side of the road which she did to my great satisfaction. She really enjoyed the journey and half way there I told Albert that we should go home because the dog was fine.
“But look! She’s enjoying herself. She can’t be that sick”.
“No, Dee. We’re going. She is sick. We have to see what the vet says”.
“Ok, ok. But I think we should go back home. She’s fine now”.
“No, she’s not. She’s sick and we are going to Kampala to see the vet”.
Well, the vet took one look at the dog and shook his head.
“Do you want me to put her to sleep?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know. Maybe. Can I think about it? Do you think she might get better?”
No response from the veterinarian.
“It might be for the best, Dee”, said Pete in a quiet voice.
“No, but she’s fine. Look how she was when we got out of the car. She sniffed everywhere and did a pee and barked and everything and really enjoyed herself.”
“But Dee …”

I have to say that tears streamed down my face while the vet prepared his stuff. I asked him to give her a small sedative in preparation and, as usual, it made her sick. She couldn’t wait to get back to the car and we lifted her in, all with tears in our eyes. I had asked the vet to give us five minutes but it seemed like only seconds when he and his assistant arrived at the car with the needle already prepared. When he finally found a vein and started giving the injection, my phone rang. The Man asked if it was all over and as I told him that it was still going on, it was suddenly all over and I had missed it.

Needless to say, the journey back home was an awful one and I don’t think I spoke a single word for the whole, dreadfully-long eighty-four kilometres. Back at the ranch, The Man had arranged a grave under the vine (her favourite place for chasing the birds away from the grapes) and it was with a very heavy heart that we carried our pooch to her final resting place. It was an overcast morning and it seemed to me that there was a real chill in the air, but there probably wasn’t. I felt that I should say something, but I didn’t know what to say. I was afraid to sound stupid in front of Pete and Albert, but I was so choked up that I probably couldn’t have said anything anyway.

With the hole finally covered, everyone went their own way, and I too went my own way and tried to swallow some lunch. But that evening when darkness had descended and no-one could see us, The Man and I went to say goodbye and goodnight to our friend. I said a small prayer and told my beloved pooch to sleep well forever. I thanked her for all the wonderful years of companionship and for all the joy she had brought us, for being there with a big, sloppy, wet tongue when our feet needed massage, and for woofing madly with joy when the gate opened at the end of the working day, for being brave when confronted with a herd of cows even though she was phobic about them, for barking like a mad thing to tell us that a small black snake was hiding behind the living room flower pot, for … for … for just everything, but most of all for having been our friend. She lived a good life and was really cosseted towards the end, and I hope that she enjoyed being with us as much as we enjoyed being with her. As The Man said, if she comes back in another life, let’s hope she comes back belonging to someone as nice as me!

The one piece of good news here is that we have ordered a pup from her daughter Missy in Kampala. The little one arrives next week.