Bathing by Bucket: My Glamorous Life


Hey everyone, greetings from Kampala.  It’s 69 degrees here, a bit cloudy, and very humid.  I’m at work, trying to nail some sources for my huge story queue.  Apparently, I haven’t been taking care of my queue (this is making me think of Netflix, but I mean the laundry list of reporting tasks that are accumulating at warp speed), so I am trying desperately to get my sources to get back to me, meet me asap, and write the stories that I finished most of my reporting for.  Eeek.

Getting home to Kitintale yesterday was a bit tricky, it was impossible to get a taxi (in Uganda, the minivan-style buses are called taxis, and taxis are called special hires or specials), all of them were full, and I ended up having to walk part of the way.  Luckily, my friend Igor was with me, since he also has moved to Kitintale, but the lack of street lights, sidewalks, and the strong whiffs of sewage that kept hitting our noses made it a less than desirable experience! Next time, I need to go to the Nakawa bus park, rather than walking to the roadside, hoping to get a seat.

I went to the Nakawa market yesterday to buy a small closet, since my new apartment doesn’t have any closet or shelves, unlike the last one.  I basically live in a hostel-type situation, renting a bedroom and sitting room in a large boarding house, and sharing a bathroom/shower with one other person.  The shower, like 99% of all Ugandan showers has no hot water, so I’ve been taking bucket baths since I’ve never been able to adjust to the idea of taking an icy shower in the morning or after work.  I heat the water in a percolator and bathe out of a bucket.  Being a foreign journalist is glamorous, right??

In my old apartment, I tried getting hot water installed, dragging different plumbers to my house, but the situation just seemed to get worse.  Half the time, to save money the water company would just shut off our water in the evenings and weekends, assuming that we had water tanks that would collect water during the day M–>F.  Water tanks are relatively uncommon, so it was just a crude way for them to cut costs.  One plumber got rid of cold water all together in the shower, so the water that came out of my shower was boiling hot.  Another plumber got the water lukewarm, but you would get electrocuted trying to use the shower.  You would turn on the boiler, and if you bumped into the cold or hot water faucet, you would get small electrical shocks.  Freaked out, that’s when I hired the first plumber I mentioned, who kept me from getting electrocuted but made my water dangerously hot.  After about a week, the water went back to being lukewarm for a few minutes, then would start getting really chilly.  If at any time one of my neighbors decided to use their water (the odds were high), I would be left standing shivering in the shower, my hair covered in suds of mango shampoo.

Moral of the story: Just bathe out of a basin, and when you go back home to the States, take 2-3 hot showers a day until you feel a bit more sane.

foreign correspondent

Other glamorous aspects of being a foreign journalist in Kampala:
-Scent of burning garbage mixed with sewage, a fragrance not uncommon in my favorite African city
-Constantly being mistaken for an NGO worker, then a look of gross disappointment when they find out that I ‘just’ write for a Ugandan organization
-Peeing on my feet whenever I use stand-up toilets or pit latrines, especially in the dark
-Realizing that 20+ years of bright streetlight, primarily in New York, never allowed my night vision to develop.  Now imagine moving in Kampala after 7 pm, where street lights are limited at best.

Of course, there are rewarding aspects of being a foreign journalist:

-Experience a different work culture abroad
-Learn new languages
-Cover exciting and important stories
-The sense of satisfaction that comes from seeing “Kampala, Uganda” in your dateline



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