Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I can't read Arabic, but...

I know what's in this can. :) Packaged in Egypt, probably, and purchased in Kenya.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Dan, Francis and Leonie's Excellent Adventure

This is a sequel of sorts to Dan and Francis's Bogus Journey, which you may want to read first.

I finally got out of bed at about 5:30 AM. I'd managed a whole 3.5 hours of sleep by then. Francis, Leonie and I were down at the front desk by around 6, but Leonie needed caffeine, and checking out isn't exactly a very efficient process, so it was after 6:30 when we finally hit the road out of Munyonyo.

Traffic was, of course, awful until we were about 10 km out Jinja Road from Kampala. Then things went better. We stopped at the Nile crossing near Jinja, and I took a few photos of the dam, then went back to the car, changed lenses, headed back toward the dam and was told by an exceptionally social "redtop" soldier (wearing a red beret) that photos of the dam were forbidden, so I put my camera away.

We stopped for fuel (seventy-something-thousand Ugandan shillings), then decided to check out Bujagali Falls, which are just downstream from Jinja. It was a nice little detour, and I took some photos. After that, we headed onward, through the construction areas and past all the things we'd missed in the dark on the way over. The trip was much nicer by day.

We got to the border around 11:30 - not too bad - and other than Francis having to pay a bit for keeping the car in Uganda longer than 5 days, everything went smoothly. A very nice contrast to our experience the weekend before last.

We stopped in Eldoret and topped off the tank (using Kenyan shillings, this time, after I changed some dollars) for the run into Nairobi. I took a photo of a traditional farm in the highlands along the way. Although we did come across one freshly-patched stretch of former potholes, route A104 showed little improvement overall through the highlands, and none at all between Nakuru and Navaisha, which we had to do after sunset.

We finally got into Nairobi around 9:30, after a mere 15 hours of travel - much better than the 18 it took us last time, but still far longer than people should really spend traveling in one day.

Monday, November 14, 2005

It's just a coincidence that there are riots wherever I go.

I'm in Kampala at the moment. Yesterday, there were demonstrations and rioting. Tear gas, water cannons, and so on. Next week, I'll be in Nairobi, and I'm expecting more demonstrations and rioting there. And then it's off to Montreal for 2 more weeks of... demonstrations and rioting.

But none of it's my fault, really.

Uganda arrested a popular opposition political leader. Thus, demonstrations and riots.
Kenya has a constitutional referendum coming up. Thus, demonstrations and riots.
Montreal is hosting a huge climate change/Kyoto conference. Thus... you guessed it.

I hope the family trip to visit relatives over the holidays doesn't involve any demonstrations or riots. :)

It's easier to be 'on the list' if you wrote the list.

Woke up early. Showered, dressed, grabbed my gear, and headed over toward the buffet by the conference room for breakfast. Breezed through the first gate and was almost immediately stopped by a soldier (camouflage, sub-machine gun, the works) who was letting people know that they had to leave their laptops, mobile phones and cameras in their rooms.

Mmhmm, I see that President Museveni's long-awaited visit to the conference is happening today!

I explained to the soldier that I am supposed to have my laptop and camera, and he let me pass. I got up to the security checkpoint with the metal detectors, and they weren't so easy. After a couple failed attempts, I saw one of the Secretariat folks, and asked him what was going on. He was trying to get hold of people to find out how to get the reporting team's equipment cleared, but wasn't having much luck.

I waited around for quite a while in the hot morning sun, and then the Secretariat guy finally got hold of someone who told him that the team wouldn't get our gear in unless our names, and an indication of the type of gear, were on a list provided to the security checkpoints by the Minister of State who's serving as President of the conference today.

That made things a lot simpler. In relatively short order, the security checkpoints had gotten a list of all the team members, noting laptops for all and a camera for me, from the Minister. He, in turn, had gotten it from the Secretariat. And the Secretariat had, of course, gotten it from me.

Then it was just a matter of having all our gear scanned with a handheld geiger counter or something like that, going back through the security checkpoint again, having our names checked against The List, going through another security checkpoint where our names were checked again, and then having our names checked a third time on the way into the conference room.

This is a good example of the social concept of a "web of trust." The people at the gate do not know me, so they do not accept my explanation of why they should let me pass, even though I have a staff badge on. But the Secretariat trusts me - after all, they asked for the team to be here! And the Minister trusts the Secretariat, since, well, it is their meeting. And the security people trust the Minister, since he is a former General and it would be a very, very bad idea to not do what he says. So in essence, I authorized myself to pass through security - but in a roundabout way. :)

Saturday, November 12, 2005

It's job-applying time again!

I just noticed a job posting for a telescope operator. I'm already a telescope operator, but at a rather modest observatory, with rather modest hours and pay. I also do non-operations support work, through a temp agency, at a distinctly immodest observatory (the "not only do we have the largest optical/infrared telescope on Earth... we have two of them" place) where the telescope operators are salaried. (Insert oohs and ahhs here.) And that, of course, would be the place that posted the job.

I'm about a half-year shy of the amount of operations experience they're looking for. On the flip side, my observatory experience covers more than just operations, I have a bunch of other useful experience, and I work there already, know everyone and know all about the place.

So, yes. I'm going to apply. I really hope I get the job, because salaries are nice. (Especially when significantly more pay is involved, and when there's the distinct possibility that less work is!)

Monday, November 7, 2005

Dan and Francis's Bogus Journey

The flight from Heathrow to Nairobi was on time - actually, a little bit early. Everything went smoothly at passport control and customs, and I had a nice long relaxing wait for my checked bag, which contained all my clothing. I went out the door to where people were holding up signs for arriving passengers, looked from one side to the other, didn't see my name, then looked back to the first side and there was my name, being held aloft by Francis!

He introduced his friend John, and we made it to the car in no time at all - Nairobi's airport is a bit larger than Hilo's, but not too much so. We were on our way out to the airport exit when a policeman waved us over... and the next thing I knew, both the car and Francis were detained for reasons that I didn't understand. John and a couple other friends of his stayed with me for a bit, then John dropped me off at an internet cafe where a very nice young lady let me check my mail and such without keeping count of the time I was spending. (I did give her some dollars when I left, though, for her kindness.)

It took a couple hours for things to be straightened out, and ultimately it came down to the national police at the airport (who it turned out were just trying to get a bribe from Francis) being outranked by a senior provincial officer... whose sister is married to Francis. Bad move, guys - but a good illustration of how "who you know" matters! We made it into town, then Francis had to look around for his wife to get his hand baggage from her for our journey. We collected his friend Moses, who would help with driving, and left around noon - about three hours later than we had hoped to leave, since we were to pick up colleagues at Entebbe airport outside Kampala around 10 or 11 PM.

Initially, the drive up the highway along the rift valley was very nice. The scenery and people were interesting. As we headed west, though, the condition of the road began to vary wildly. I'm quite experienced in driving on bumpy, winding, narrow mountainous roads, but I was jostled around enough times that I didn't even ask to stop for a photo of the sign at the equator, and somewhere west of Nakuru we had to pull over so that I could throw up. Fortunately, that only happened the one time. We hit enough bumps that the brakes started making scraping noises.

It was after 6 by the time we reached the Malaba border crossing into Uganda. The police in control of the gate didn't seem at all interested in opening it for us (at least not without a little "overtime pay"), but the customs and immigration people were very professional and cleared Francis and me and the car (Moses had forgotten his papers!) quickly, then proceeded to go yell at the police for keeping a car in Kenya that was supposed to be in Uganda according to the paperwork. It was amusing, if time-consuming.

On the Ugandan side, we had to stop for road insurance, got through customs and immigration (again, very professional) just before they locked up for the night, and then... well, we did have to pay a couple people for "assistance," but we insisted on official receipts for our bribes. (Since my closest friend in Uganda works for an anti-corruption organization, this was terribly amusing to me.) We were on our way again by about 9:30 PM.

The highway in Uganda was generally better than in Kenya, but it was dark, and rained heavily at times, and there were numerous stretches of construction where the highway was dirt, or had many potholes. One large, sharp-edged pothole got our left front wheel hard enough to bend the rim and flatten the tire, but fortunately it wasn't raining at the time, and with my mobile phone as an emergency "flashlight," and a bit of help from me, Francis got the "donut" spare on quickly.

We made it to the outskirts of Kampala, and spent 88,000 Uganda Shillings (which is a lot less than it sounds!) on a tank of gas, then finally managed to get to our hotel on Lake Victoria about 3 in the morning. As we were signing in, one of our colleagues arrived - his flight from Nairobi had been 3 hours late, and he had just taken a shuttle from the airport. The other colleague we were supposed to pick up hadn't even made her flight.

Francis showered and went to bed at 4; I showered (after 55 hours and about 13,000 miles without one) and went to bed at 5. It had been a long, eventful and interesting (in the "May you live in interesting times" sense) day.

Next time, I think I will either fly or take the train!

Why I'm leaving Twitter.

I've stuck it out and continued participating on Twitter while Elon Musk has run it into the ground, made it progressively more inhospit...