Saturday, November 27, 2010

2 peace journalism seminars left in 2010; Mediocre photos posted

Just finished fine 3-day seminar in Masindi. Very active group. Click here for photos. Also, click here for new scenic photos of Rukungiri in far Western Uganda. Very beautiful.

Thus far, we've traveled 7485 km/4641 miles. We're exhausted.

Trapped in hotel purgatory

From the Parkville Luminary

ANYWHERE IN RURAL UGANDA—As I lather up, I reflexively reach for my razor, and look up to the bathroom mirror to begin shaving. Except, there is no mirror.

Welcome to hotel purgatory, Ugandan style.

Now, before you stop planning that dream safari to Uganda, let me note for the record that there are a number of outstanding, four and five star properties throughout the country—hotels that meet every Western standard. For example, I’ve stayed at the excellent Sheraton in Kampala and the Jacana Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park, and both offer modern, comfortable accommodations, and in the case of the Jacana, some of the best gourmet food I’ve ever tasted. So, book that vacation today.

However, on the 20 trips we’ve taken around the country to teach peace journalism seminars, we’re not staying in the Jacana or Sheraton. We’re not even staying in the Motel 6 or Super 8. With only a few nice exceptions (Cepha’s Inn/Kabale; Acacia Hotel/Mbarara), if you were to give stars to our hotels, they might earn one star. The reason they earn any stars at all is because at least they are uniformly clean, which is obviously important. We’re staying in these half-star properties because they’re cheap. At a typical seminar, we have 20 participants, plus three staff. Multiply that by five nights lodging, plus all meals, and before long, you have an enormous bill. We can afford $25-30 per room per night that we are paying for these dives; sadly, we can’t afford $120 at the Sheraton or $180 at the Serena (a luxury hotel chain). Not that there’s a Sheraton or Serena in Rukungiri or Masindi.

So, this budget crunch leaves us stuck in hotel purgatory at these mediocre hotels. What makes them mediocre? Take the bathrooms, please. Okay, most do have mirrors, but some don’t, making shaving a dangerous mission that I skip all too often. I’m usually bleeding when I shave with a mirror; without one, I fear the need for a transfusion.

Then there’s the “shower”. The “shower” is seldom mounted—it’s a spray dealie hooked to the faucet, meaning that you have to spray with one hand and soap with the other. Then there’s the water pressure, or lack thereof. In a “good” hotel (for us), there is enough pressure to wet ones’ hair in, say, one minute. However, often there isn’t enough water pressure to douse a match, meaning that showers become long endurance contests, testing ones’ ability to wet-soap-rinse using just a trickle.

Of course, about half the time, this “shower” is being taken with cold water. The same way the Eskimos supposedly have dozens of words for snow, I have developed a sophisticated scale to evaluate the relative coldness of water. The chilly water in Mbale, for example, is “Spring Shower Cold”, while the icy water in Kasese is “Glacier Cold”. The coldness disparity can be scientifically measured based on the physical reaction of various body parts to the chilly water. I’ll spare you the details. I will say this for the cold “showers”—they certainly wake you up.

Moving out of the bathroom, the typical bedroom is rather large, a function I believe of the fact that hoteliers here don’t have to heat or cool them. The average room has one bare, dim light bulb dangling from the ceiling—usually insufficient for reading. In contrast, the lights in the hallway are usually so bright that I suspect that they were pilfered from airport runways. Many hotel rooms have a small glass window atop the door, and this searchlight luminosity glares through this window at night, lighting up the room and rendering sleep difficult. (I snuck out into the hallway once to turn out the light, but some blind sadist turned it right back on.) This doesn’t really matter anyway since the noise makes sleep nearly impossible. In Fort Portal, I stayed in a room that overlooked a music shop across the street. Rap, hip hop, and reggae blasted from this shop 20 hours a day. There was a glass bottle recycler next door to another hotel, and the bottlers started their deafening work at a brisk 5:30 a.m. Also, in rural areas, I’ve discovered that roosters are pretty damn loud, and equally persistent.

Given these travails, I practically kiss the ground when I return from up-country to my lovely, modern apartment in Kampala, where the hot shower is so powerful it could be used to disperse rioters. Problem is, I’m on the road 70-percent of the time.

1 comment:

  1. Steve - you are reminding me of 93-94, my first year in Uganda. A Peace Corps director mentioned that several of the new volunteers had complained that there was no way to bath/shower in the village in which they were training. He suggested that they ask their Ugandan counterparts what they did. The answer at that time was taking a basin behind the house adding some boiled water, and taking a sort of sponge bath. When I travelled in those days, no hotel outside of Kampala/Entebbe and the Lake View in Mbarara had hot water. Instead, they brought you a bucket of boiling hot water in the morning.