Friday, July 10

Purchase direct from a Ugandan Artist

Hello all,

I wanted to offer you an opportunity to help an artist friend of mine who lives here. He makes really nice stuff, and I will personally bring any order back with me to cut non-US shipping to $0. ALL PROCEEDS GO TO THE ARTIST.

You can see his work at facebook (if you are a member) at the link

If interested, tell me which piece you would like, and I will bring it back. We can arrange payment by check or paypal. Modest US shipping can be negotiated.

I'd say there are a number of gifts that are especially good for women, particularly the purses which are made from resonated paper beads.

Also, if you want a custom wood carving, that can be arranged for $60-$100 depending on the price of wood, plus shipping. I don't know if he can do Tek punching A-Rod in the face, but I am getting a lion eating a gorilla.

Some information:

Peter Sserugo is a second generation Ugandan artist, who specializes in craftwork made from natural fibers and local materials and mixed media paintings.

Peter’s work captures scenes from life in his rural village through art that combines traditional Ugandan techniques and media with sharp lines and defiant arcs that hint at the impact of modern life on tradition.

Peter lives in Nkokonjeru, Uganda, about three hours from Kampala with his friend Tony two cows, one calf, five goats, three kids, two sheep and two lambs. He is the youngest of ten children.

Thursday, July 9

Somewhere South of Reality

“One day people who work in international aid will be seen like the guards at Auschwitz,” the Kenyan sneered, his weathered white face grimacing in disgust. “Sure, they thought they were only taking people to the showers.” He was definitely high, probably drunk and possibly mad. And why wouldn’t he be? It was his bloody island, his private Eden.

Thirty-five kilometers south of Entebbe, 10 kilometers south of the equator and 10 million kilometers south of reality lay his smidge of an island, a little slice of Xanadu in the heart of Lake Victoria. Technically, it was part of an archipelago, a boisterous family of islands inhabited by shanty dwelling Ugandan fisherman. But every family has its… white sheep… and as close as the islands were, this island was impossibly isolated, cut off from its sisters by race, by circumstance and by reality.

To call it a resort, would be an act of violence against the term. It was a resort in the sense that one could rent rooms there, sit in the sun and slurp frosty beers. It was not a resort, however, in the sense that it looked like Cancun after the bomb. While no actual bomb had detonated, there had been an explosion. A kerosene tank had blow a few months back, leaving an aching stone skeleton where the bar had once been. The explosion was a disturbing if reasonable explanation for the sorry state of the bar. A kerosene leak was, however, a decidedly less coherent explanation for the pirate ship. While my cabin had a number of quirks, bat infestation with the resultants turds, painting supplies stored in the foyer and mosquito nets holier than the Vatican, all of these eccentricities fell well within the bounds of normal African weird. But the ship? That’s just strange.

Just outside of the cabin, a great wooden hull, 30 feet long and 12 feet high was moored, perhaps permanently, in field of shaggy grass, a gnarled tree holding it in dry dock. Even on a lake where a canoe with a mainsail fashioned from a garbage bag can pass for a yacht, the ship was not a seaworthy vessel. While the hull was painted black below the water line and brown above, both the top and bottom shared a skin of splintering boards, connected by shoddy ligatures of popping nails.

And yet it cast a shadow of grandeur. Elegant wooden railings haughtily enclosed the aft deck, and the lines of the hull, when not broken by bulging boards, betrayed a sleek and cocky style. Yet neither the ship’s past elegance, nor current decrepitude could explain its presence. It was far too large to serve as a ferry for an island that peaked at ten guests, and even if that were to be its purpose, the gap between ghost ship and something able to float was unbridgeably vast.

Elsewhere the ship would be a bewildering anomaly. Here, it was the norm. The dining area, called “the castle” was a pseudo-Mediterranean abode, with white plaster crumbling from the walls and a set of solar panels on the roof where the archers should be. The kitchen was a quartet of neoclassical arches holding up a roof but supporting no walls. And then there was the strangest sight of all. Then there was the Kenyan. Then there was Dom.

“There’s nothing about Malawi that couldn’t be fixed by white colonial government,” Dom declared, after I asked how he had enjoyed working there. It made sense that he would make that offensive statement. Born to British parents in Kenya in 1960 as the country lurched through the Mao Mao rebellion and towards independence in 1964, his comments, if not understandable, were at least explicable. As their contemporaries fled Kenya for the more certain white supremacy of Rhodesia or South Africa, Dom’s parents stayed put, taking Kenyan citizenship to accompany their UK passports.

“I’ll tell you what the problem is in Africa,” Dom opined in response to nothing. “People here are learning to be as greedy as Europeans. Before the Europeans came here, this place was the bloody Garden of Eden. Perfect weather, everything grows. You live in a place until there’s no game left, then you burn the village and move on. Oh, and don’t go down that mountain or the Masai will kill you. You live, you fuck, you drink, you die. It was perfect.”

This comment, this lecture, was less explicable. How a colonial, who had already heralded the restorative powers of white colonial government, could at the same time lash out at the very historical processes that brought his people to power was nearly incomprehensible.

The simplest explanation would be that Dom was mad. That just as the African sun had beaten his face until it was ruddy, it had pounded his mind until it was soft. That behind the dark glasses and mangy beard lay nothing but chaos. It is an appealing formula. Social alienation, plus excessive consumption of homebrewed banana spirit, plus dope, plus weird island with pirate ship, times 17 years equals absolutely bat shit crazy. Or should the bat shit go on the left side of the equation? But as elegant a solution as this equation offers, I think it is wrong

I think it is wrong because I have seen it before. Far from being some lone eccentric, Dom is one of legions. Throughout Africa, throughout the world, there remain, though there are fewer every year, colonial characters who are vocal and unapologetic in their belief that the past was better, yet have a disdain for their own race even more pronounced than their contempt for the locals. While it is simple enough to imagine that these fellows long for the day when the white man ruled Africa, the truth is, I suspect, more complicated; they long for a return to the even more distant past. If white rule was preferable to the nationalist disorder of today, then tribal rule is better still. For many of these lost souls, it is not only that they love their position of power and privilege in the old order, but that they truly love Africa… though perhaps not Africans… and genuinely lament the passing of an order that they never knew and could never possibly understand.

They are explorers at heart, wanting desperately to set off on the Congo with Stanley or to join Speke in his search for the source of the Nile. They are white men desperate to discover the secrets of Africa in an age when the secrets blare from televisions. And so they look inward. Unable to find the secrets of Africa, the improbable paradise lost in the breadth of the continent, they seek instead to find it in tiny corners of Africa, and in themselves.

I suspect that Dom imagines himself living a truly African life. He has his plot of land, he grows endless fruits and spices, feasts on fish, and draws power from the sun. Until the police confiscated his crop, he was even self-sufficient in pot. He spends his days, drinking, smoking, playing backgammon and entertaining his guests with anecdotes about the joys of life as an explosives expert in mines across the continent. To him, this is the African life, and to him it is paradise.

There is a case to be made that he is partly right. Not about minority rule, the evil of aid or even that pre-colonial Africa was Eden, but perhaps he is right about just how wonderful Africa is. For all of the misery there is on this continent, AIDS, starvation, war, poverty, there is extraordinary joy too. In so many cases, to be an African is to be surrounded by family, to enjoy deep faith, to truly appreciate good music and good friends. Of course, in many other cases to be an African means to be ill, to be exploited to be poor, but still it is not the poverty that defines the people. To be poor, even in this age of luxury, does not necessarily mean to be unhappy.

Not long after returning from Dom’s island, I asked a 22-year-old cell phone repairman what he would most like Americans to know about Uganda.

“It is very hard if you have no money,” he explained.

“So life here is very difficult?” I responded.

“No. Life is very easy if you have even a little money. Only if you have no money it is difficult.”

This young man with just a few shillings in his pocket had what no American, even the poor, would call an easy life, and yet to him, his life is easy.

But not as easy as Dom’s.