Saturday, July 31, 2010

Random reflections and observations I forgot to include:
  • In Southern Uganda I passed several monuments commemorating the deaths of PLO fighters there in the late 1970s. That's right, Palestinian Liberation Organization--in the heart of Africa. Apparently, when Ugandan dictator Idi Amin realized his 1978 invasion of Tanzania had gone awry, he called on his friend Muammar Gaddafi, dictator of Libya, for help in defending Uganda against the Tanzanian counterattack. Gaddafi, then a proud sponsor of all sorts of terrorist groups, was happy to send down a few thousand Palestinian irregulars and Libyan soldiers to help keep Amin in power. The Tanzanians swiftly crushed them (and many of the nicer town centers of southern Uganda and Kampala) as they ended Amin's reign of terror.
  • The cheap cell phone I bought in Kenya for local calls included a feature that pointed the way to Mecca and sounded a "prayer alarm" 5 times a day.
  • I stepped on a sea urchin in the Indian Ocean and had to remove 7 spines from my foot with a sewing needle. Ouch.
  • One night in Mombasa, Wossen (my Yale friend) and I returned to our homestay family's apartment for our regular home-made dinner. When we arrived, we found to our astonishment that the family was sitting silently in front of the TV with blank, distant expressions frozen on their faces. There was no dinner on the table and no appetizing smells wafting from the kitchen. Arfan, the head of the household, got up slowly and took us aside, saying, "I'm sorry boys, but my wife is just not up to cooking dinner tonight-- you'll have to fix yourselves your own meals." Wossen and I looked at each other and began frying some eggs and heating up some leftovers; we ended up cooking for the whole family, who continued to act curiously mute and inert. Later, Arfan explained to us that the whole family had been driving through downtown Mombasa when someone had strolled up to the car in front of them and murdered the driver and passengers in broad daylight with an AK-47 assault rifle, then got into another car and sped away. Though we had become used to Arfan's rather tall tales by this point, the ashen faces of the rest of the family confirmed his story. The next day the newspapers reported the assassination of an intelligence official on a Mombasa street.
  • A taxi driver of mine in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, drove really erratically for the first minute or so of the trip while he prepared his khat for the ride. He patiently stripped leaves off the stems and, once he had accumulated a sizable pile in his lap, he unceremoniously stuffed them in his mouth. Instantly, he became soothed and focused, and a much better driver. (Khat is a leafy plant that is virtually a way of life for many in the Horn of Africa and especially, I'm told, across the Straits in Yemen and Arabia.)
  • My flight from Addis Ababa to Amsterdam was filled with Americans adopting babies from Ethiopia. Touching in a way, but kind of a weird vibe. Also, a lot of crying on the plane.

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