Ten Things We Learned in Uganda February 08 2012


1. Perry needs a tracking device. Or a leash. The most frequently asked question on the trip was "Hey, where's Perry?"

2. When crowding into a shared taxi to catch a ride to a nearby town over miles of uneven dirt road, try not to sit next to the lady with the three chickens in her lap.

3. Ugandans are universally friendly. Everyone went out of their way to answer our questions, help us figure things out, and just generally make sure we were enjoying ourselves.

4. Winning a barefoot race in a small village with everyone shouting "Go, mizungu, go" makes all of those early morning workouts seem more worthwhile. Forty years from now when my grandchildren ask me for my best story, that will probably be it.

5. Riding on the back of a motorbike with all of your luggage through rush hour traffic in Kampala is not a good idea. It doesn't even sound like a good idea.

6. If you cry at Disney movies, sappy love scenes, and/or inspirational speeches, be sure to wear dark glasses when listening to WMI borrowers tell their stories about how a loan has helped them turn their lives around. Frankly, my inability to turn off the waterworks is getting embarrassing.

7. The Lonely Planet East Africa guide's top picks for hotels in Kampala leaves a little bit to be desired. I've slept comfortably in some pretty shady hotels, but that one was pretty bad. Some hotels seem to be under the impression that if they put a tv in the room, travelers will happily overlook other deficiencies. Trust us, we'll take clean sheets over a semi-functioning tv any day of the week.

8. Ants in Uganda bite really, really hard. I'm not even kidding, you guys. They draw blood. I still have a bite mark. Apparently these ants can devour entire chickens and goats. I didn't believe it until one bit me. Now I believe it.

9. Chickens here run wherever they want, however they want, whenever they want. Well, at least until it's time for dinner. It's not uncommon to see a chicken happily perched in a classroom or a cow wandering nonchalantly across the soccer field in the middle of a game.

10. Cancelled flights are not fun, but free upgrades to business class are. Another glass of champagne? Why, thank you, don't mind if I do.


Next Stop, Uganda Please January 13 2012


Next week, Perry and I will board a plane where we'll probably arm wrestle for the window seat before buckling in for a flight that will take us to Entebbe, Uganda.

Uganda. I keep rolling it around on my tongue, trying to imagine what it will feel like to be there.

I've read so much about it that I can close my eyes and feel the colors of it. The red Earth, the fluorescent green, the heat hovering gently over the treetops, the deep blue of the sky, the rising mountains. It's all just a picture painted in my head spun from the words of too many books. When I was younger, I'd perch myself on a rooftop, a fence, or a tree branch. With a book in hand and anything I could scavenge from the kitchen, I'd read so much that I'd convince myself I'd been to thousands of places around the world throughout varying points in human history. That's how I feel about Uganda. I'm craving to know the country beyond the superficial painting I've created in my head.

I'm eager for the noise and smell of the country and the palpable manifestation of its soul hitting you from every angle as you sit, sticky and sweaty, crammed in the back of a bus while the country rushes in at an overwhelming pace. It's a sensory overload that leaves you reeling before you clamber out of the vehicle and into a small village where the reeling stops and the country settles into you. You grasp the hands of those around you as introductions are made. Palm against palm is a far more intimate gesture than we give it credit for. Eyes are laughing, gazes dancing back and forth, and your soul will rush forward in a moment of pure joy. It's good to be alive. It's good to be in this place, with these people. It's good to hear their stories, to collect them, and secret them away for another time.

A collector of stories. That is essentially what I am. I carry the gazes of people within my heart and when it becomes too much, they spill from me and onto paper. I tell their stories. I close my eyes and nestle myself within the sound of their voice, the lilt of their accent, the low of their sorrows, and the high of their joys. I read them from cover to cover and then I translate it.

Uganda. I am aching to have its stories poured into me. I am excited to go somewhere new, to travel, to explore the meandering roads cut through a nature so wild, it roars forward and will not be subdued. But mostly I am excited to meet people. To sit, rocking back on my heels, my mouth half open in a moment of self-forgetfulness, listening to the tangle of life experiences pour from the mouths of those around me.

And Perry? Well, in the unlikely event that I am able to peel his camera out of his hand for two seconds, he just wants to tumble over the treetops of the Impenetrable Forest in a bush plane manned by a ruffian pilot with a heavy Russian accent, a penchant for Vodka, and a disdain for safety. I used to think that it was me who instigates these ridiculous situations while traveling. Now I realize that it's not me. It's these lunatics I keep traveling with and my inability to say "You know, actually, that doesn't sound like a good idea." So if anything insane happens on this trip, blame Perry. I just wanted to sit and talk to people.

Race Day Ritual. Shattered. November 23 2011

It’s France’s fault really.

Typically, I have a pretty standard race weekend ritual.

Friday night: Eat pasta. Drink insane amount of water. Sleep 8 hours. Get up at least five times throughout the night. Promise not to drink so much water next time.

Saturday morning: Eat bowl of cereal. Arrive at race start one hour ahead of time. Eat banana. Stand in line for 30 minutes to use the restroom. Make my way to start line. Run race. Reward self with something unhealthy.

I know, I know. I’m not a dog and I’m not supposed to reward myself with food. The problem is I haven’t found anything that works as well as a reward. Maybe Apple products. I would totally take an iPad over a donut, but only if someone else is buying. Otherwise we’re keeping the rewards in the under $1 range.

All-in-all, my race day ritual is pretty standard. I’ve been racing for 15 years now and I don’t think much about it anymore. I operate on race day autopilot.

Enter the Lyon half-marathon.

The problem with Lyon is that it’s the gastronomic capital of France. The problem with me is that I love food. The night before the race we settle into a cozy corner table in a typically Lyonnaise restaurant. My race day ritual goes out the window as soon as I see the menu. A bottle of red wine, a slab of meat, and two crème caramels later, I’m half-heartedly wondering if I’ll be regretting this meal 10 kilometers into the race. I can’t decide and after the first bite of my crème caramel I don’t really give a damn.

Heading back to the hotel, I fall into bed determined to get a good night’s sleep and a more appropriate breakfast. Enter very loud drunken people in the hotel courtyard and French pastries. Both undermine my very best intentions. I toss and turn before stumbling out of bed the next morning and directly to a nearby bakery.

With my full concentration dedicated to my pain au chocolat, I lose track of the time. As do my rather nonchalant racing buddies. With five minutes to the start, we drop off our bags, and--being the overly optimistic person that I am--I get in line to use the restroom before my friends decide there isn’t enough time and drag me away to the starting line.

I have to pee so badly. In France, men can just stand discreetly to the side of the road and relieve themselves. I hate them. I run five kilometers absolutely certain that my bladder is seconds away from bursting before we turn a corner and I nearly run smack into a lone porta potty. I praise the heavens and enjoy the race a lot more after that.

I also start talking a lot more after that. My running companion is giving me that weak smile people give when they’re trying to be polite, but really they want you to shut-up. I stop talking and start composing the most amazing story ever in my head. Then I forget it all. Then I grab a bottle of water at the aid station. Then it’s kilometer 19 and I want to stop running, but I can’t because there are still 3 kilometers to go so I start imagining what I’m going to eat after my race.

When I finally reach the finish line, I’ve got my meals planned for the next 24 hours. I’m naturally skeptical of technology so I jump up and down on the finish line to make sure it reads my chip. I grab a Powerade. I don’t like Powerade, but it’s free so I grab it. I love free stuff. I’m allergic to dates (The fruit. I don’t have a problem with the other kind), but I’d probably grab them too if they were free.

After everyone crosses the finish line and we cheer in the first of the marathoners, we duck into a nearby pizzeria. I eat an entire pizza, a salad, and a crêpe. Then I convince everyone that what we really need is gelato. And maybe another crêpe.

When I get back to my apartment in Grenoble, I call my mom.

“How was the race? Did you run a good time?” she asks.

I forgot to check the results.

But I don’t even care because I’m still remembering my pre-race dinner and I decide I’m going to run all of my races in France from now on. Maybe I will only run in Lyon and I will subsist entirely on crème caramels.