Thursday, May 29, 2008

grasshoppers aren't bugs!

We were walking through Kabalagalla, towards the Chinese restaurant. Ahh, even in Kampala you can get Chinese food! We were close when my girlfriend said “Hey, look, nsenene!” Pronounced “en-sen-en-ay”, it is Luganda for “fried grasshopper.” So we stopped and bought a small paper sack, about two large handfuls worth. We munched on our crunchy grasshoppers as we walked towards the restaurant.

I’ve eaten the nsenenay before. Someone once told me they taste similar to shrimp, but I’m sad to say that has not been my experience. I would say they taste like…oily, fried bugs. But almost anything tastes good fried, so I do eat them when they are available.

My date had never eaten Chinese food before. Like most Ugandans, she was a bit fearful of trying totally different food:

“I hear the Chinese eat snakes and frogs.” She said, as a grasshopper leg dangled lazily from the corner of her luscious lips. I looked at her with mild shock for just a moment, then responded with my western logic:

“We are eating fried bugs.”
“no, we’re eating nsenene!” she replied indignantly.
“come on, they’re bugs! They’re grasshoppers!”

She did not believe me. Our Chinese waitress walked past, and I asked her, “excuse me, but do you eat these bugs?”, pointing to our dwindling supply of nsenene.

“oh, no, I no eat those.” She replied in a thick accent.

I had hoped to make the point that different cultures do different things. That point seems obvious to me, with me being from the states and her being Ugandan. She didn’t care about any of that, she was just happy that the menu didn’t list frogs or snakes. She did enjoy the hot and sour soup, sweet and sour pork, and all the other delicacies that the Chinese manage to make here in Uganda.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Blogs for Captain Hans Svellengra...Sveleng...ahh, blogs for Hans the flying dutchman!

For Hans, the flying dutchman: Hey man, these are some blogs that i thought you might enjoy. I originally posted them long ago on a friend's blog site, so the character in my mind while writing these was my friend- a young hippie chick. I thought it would be funny to post them on her site so her friends would think she did it. Anyway, there's two here, enjoy! (ps yes, these are obviously fiction, i hope that's okay for a blog post...)


I was walking up the path when I felt a strange feeling, light on my feet like when an elevator starts down. What the toast? Then I felt it again, just a little bit more, just for a second. It was just enough to know it was for real, it wasn't my imagination. I knew what this strange sensation was, I had felt it before. In a panic, I dropped my basket of mangos and ran as fast as I could back down the path. I ran through the cannibal's village, beyond the caves where my monkey friends live, past the cage that I lock Amber in when I'm feeling mean, and finally slowed when I reached a collection of small mud huts. I kept jogging until I reached the far end of the huts, where the older, dilapidated huts were- crumbling down walls, caving in thatched roofs, neglected and abandoned. Well, not quite abandoned, at the far end there was one hut that was still inhabited. I jogged up to it, panting, legs, burning, breathing too hard to talk, but trying to anyway…

"Cooper!" I yelled, trying to catch my breath. "Cooper, it's happening again! Help!"

Cooper came out, smoking a cigarette, drinking a warm busch beer, and wearing his ever-present camouflage hat. "Christ, Nandi Bull, what the hell got into you? Find another spider in your hammock?" he asked, while holding out a beer for me.

"No, no, it's the gravity again!" I said, ignoring the beer. He shrugged, finished his own beer, and popped open the one that was to be mine. "They're stealing the fucking gravity again!"

He took long swig of beer, a drag on his cigarette, looked at me for a moment then looked away. "Stealing our gravity? Who?"

"Who?!? The fucking tujeema tribe! Who else?"

Cooper acted confused. "the tu-who? stealing gravity?"

This really pissed me off. He knew damn well who I was talking about! I took on a tone of extreme sarcasm and mock patience: "Yes, cooper, the tujeema tribe. You may recall they started stealing our gravity before. I wouldn't have known about it if I hadn't seen them in the forest one day. They had a home-made g-meter, and were all very excited about the readings. They panicked and ran when they saw me, and they dropped a bar- napkin map labeled "places to mine gravity in mzungu territory." I showed this to everyone, including YOU, and no one believed me and no one would help. So I single-handedly stopped them, when I made a deal myself with the tujeema, that I would teach their kids to play didgeridoo if they quit stealing our gravity." By now I was right in his face. "Do you remember any of this? Do you remember taking me to pick up the didgeridoos?" Now I had his back against the wall of the hut, and was between him and his beer.

"I remember! You're right, they are doing it!" He admitted. I backed off, giving him space and a moment to collect his thoughts. At this point he said,

"So what? We've got tons of gravity. They can have some of ours."

"No, you don't understand, they won't stop! They'll take it all and then we're stuffed! They started taking it once before, probably just to see if they could, now they're gonna take it all."

"I don't know. It's not so bad, since they took some before. It's nice with everything being just a tiny bit lighter. When I fly into that short strip to pick up ammo, I used to just barely clear the trees at the far end of the runway."

"wait, cooper, I was with you last time, we still almost hit those trees."

"of course, because now I pack a hell of a lot more in the ol' girl, bein's that there's a little less gravity. See, it's a good thing!"

"no, no it's not! Come on, what could they be doing with that gravity?"

"well, they're mostly using it for two things. One, they like to put a little in their coffee. They like their coffee a little heavier, a little thicker, just slightly more dense. A shot of gravity does that. It also stays hot longer."

"So they're stealing our gravity just to make better coffee?" I asked in amazement. It made sense, but it hardly seemed like a serious motive. This was a poor tribe, that should have more pressing matters than developing high-tech ways to make better coffee. "You said two reasons. What's the second?"

"oh yeah, they're also building a black hole."

"A BLACK HOLE?!? Are you fucking kidding me? Why the hell are they building a black hole?"

"why? Why the hell not? Why do they do any of the things that they do- for fun, for the hell of it, to see if they can do it, to see what happens. What better reasons do they need?"

"yes, I understand all those reasons, but come on, this is a black hole we're talking about! They can't be trusted with that kind of technology! Think about it- building a black hole just to see what happens? Holy shit. This is bad. This is very, very bad. They fuck around with things just for fun and don't ever consider the consequences. Remember when they built that hurricane generator, and there were all those floods? Or when they discovered anti-light and it was dark for two weeks? No, we can't let them finish this. Cooper, we have to stop them."

"We? Hey, slow down, why we? Why stop them? I don't care if their little black hole swallows everything up. I'm perfectly capable of enjoying life until then."

"okay, do it for me. Or better yet, do it because you know damn well I will make your life a miserable, living hell until you help me. I mean, even more miserable than it already is." I thought about what I had said and wondered if this was really possible. No, actually I was bluffing, there was nothing that I could do that would bother this man. Still, it was the only bluff I had.

Cooper considered this threat, and I believe he knew I was bluffing too. "allright, I'll help. Not 'cuz I'm afraid of you, but because I've got nothing else to do, and I enjoy your company."

So we went down to the river and jumped in the canoe. As we paddled along Cooper talked about the tujeema and their strange ways. I was so intrigued by his stories that I didn't even think to ask how he knew so much about them. But then he knew a lot about a lot of things, so I didn't question it. He also explained the mechanics of gravity and how they had developed technology to harness it, but this wasn't nearly as interesting as the tujeema.

For example: A bunch of televisions had been donated to them after some aid agency noticed that they had none. The tujeema used them for target practice with their coconut cannons. A newspaper article reported that they were amongst the poorest people in the land, so the tujeema printed a new currency, the 1 billion pound note. They gave one of these to everyone and promptly declared that all tujeemas were billionaires. Then they gave these notes to other countries as "foreign aid." Descriptions of their mating rituals were fascinating and made me quite excited, but I won't get into that here.

Soon we were deep into the tujeema territory. I was uneasy, but cooper seemed very relaxed and that was reassuring. We parked the canoe and walked up a footpath to a small village, and took a seat on the patio of a café. Cooper ordered us coffees. Damn, that was good coffee, and I commented on this to cooper.

Cooper gave me a huge smile. "yes, it is very good, isn't it? Rich, thick, full-bodied? Isn't that the best cup of coffee you've ever had?"

Holy shit! I was drinking the coffee with the extra gravity! I took another sip. Yes, this was by far the best coffee ever. It was orgasmic coffee. Still, I had to ask:

"so, uh, are there like any bad side effects to this?" Not that it mattered, nothing he could tell me would stop me from finishing my cup. I was just curious.

"how the hell should I know? Maybe your shit will be more dense." he answered, ordering another round. I shrugged and thought he had a good point. After we finished our second cup he led me around back to the room where they kept the gravity device. It was a very home-made looking device, with wires and coils and belts and electrical tape and cooling fins and hoses running everywhere. Fluids and gasses were leaking and dripping from several locations. There was a lot of duct tape. It was a noisy device that emitted a steady, vibrating hum and also frequent, random, louder mechanical/metallic rumblings. Looking at the machine gave no indication whatsoever as to what it was for, or even what each individual part might be. Except for the end, where someone was sitting on a stool using a rubber hose to fill cylinders labeled "gravity." There was a whole row of these cylinders at the back of the room.

Cooper led me back outside. Next to the café there was a small shack with the unlikely title painted on the wooden door: "Centre for Theoretical Physics Research." Cooper opened the door, pulling hard, and we went inside.

Inside was semi-dark. There were lights on, but the rays were being strangely bent towards the center of the shack. And there it was, hovering in the middle of the shack, a tiny, baby black hole, sucking in the rays of light. Some small boys were entertaining themselves by tossing rocks and sticks up in the air and watching them float towards the hole, speeding up in tightening orbits until they disappeared into the hole itself. At this point they would let out screams of laughter and delight and pick up another stone off the dirt floor and do it again. I felt my hair going forward, as though I was standing in a tailwind. The hole wasn't completely formed yet, I could still see bits of light coming back out here and there, and I could catch glimpses of things beyond the event horizon.

Cooper addressed this point. "it's obviously not done yet, it needs more gravity. Or more mass. But it would take these kids a very long time of throwing crap into it to make it a real black hole just by mass. So we'll keep putting more gravity into it, until the event horizon closes up, then it will be a for-real, self-sustaining, tiny little black hole."

That was enough for me to take my eyes off the black hole and look at cooper. "you just said 'we'".

"I mean, the tujeema people."

"bullshit. You're working with them. Your helping them build this!"

"no, no, I'm not helping." He said, clearly backpeddling. " I'm more like a consultant, an instructor. I just give them advice, talk about theories, help perform calculations…and…uh…" he trailed off, realizing that instead of talking his way out of it he was just incriminating himself further.

"so you fucking taught them how to build a black hole! And to steal gravity!"

"yeah, well I was afraid if they didn't have anything constructive to do they might get bored and cause some real problems."

"Great, a black hole built with stolen gravity is such good clean fun. So what will they do with it when they're done? How are they gonna feed it? Keep stealing gravity?"

"no, not at all. When they're done, it will have plenty of gravity. It will be self-sustaining. They they can tap it, use it to make more coffee. Of course, by that point the rest of the planet will be down to about a half G, so they might export some back out to us, to make a little money. They could also make a little money as a tourist attraction. It's a poor place, every little bit helps. Of course, there is one more use for the black hole project."

Now I was scared. Stealing our gravity to build a black hole just to sell the gravity back to us, and making great coffee, those weren't the only motives? I shuddered…what could be another use of this?

"It's the ultimate recycler. Shit goes in, doesn't come out, and we get to make great coffee. So far, we've thrown in three busloads of government employees. Two busloads were from the Ministry of Oppression, one was a team of investigators from the Book Banning Authority. Next week we have a group from the Paperwork Enforcement Agency that we're going to throw in."

I thought about this for a minute. Surely there were side effects that hadn't been considered, or, more likely knowing the tujeema, had been ignored. The side effects must be on a very large scale. But weighing the incomprehensible unknowns that would result from fucking with the physics of the universe against the utility, the satisfaction, the joy of the government recycling black hole…and oh my god, that coffee…yes, count me in.

So that's the story of how I joined the tujeema and became a guerilla soldier in the great gravity war. And you thought I was in Korea!


So today i went for a walk. Some dude came up and asked me if i'd watch his dog for just a minute, he had to go into the liquor store. So the dog and i are waiting and soon i hear gunshots coming from the store. Then silence. Then sirens. The dog didn't seem concerned. after a long while they pulled some bodies out, covered by sheets. I can't be sure if it was the guy with the dog, but if it wasn't him, well i don't know why he didn't come back for his dog.

luckily, the guy was a responsible pet owner, bein's that his dog had a tag with his address. So i walked the dog home. No one answered, but the door was open. we went inside and couldn't find anyone. I figured he wouldn't be coming home, so i made myself a bean burrito. i had just taken a big bite when there was a knock at the door. I opened the door and saw a young teen standing there. We stood in silence, staring at each other while i chewed my burrito. He then held out some cash. I looked around behind me, saw a bag of weed on the coffee table, and handed it to the kid. He smiled and left, and i finished my burrito.

I sat down on the couch with the dog and watched a little tv. nothing was on, so i got bored and started going through a stack of mail on the coffee table. junk mail, bills...a reminder from the vet, the dog's vaccinations are due...ooh, a ticket to the musical tonight! Oklahoma, my favorite! Well, i got a couple of hours to kill until the musical...i guess i should take the dog to the vet.

The drug money more than covered the cost of the dog's shots, so i offered to pay for the shots of the dog next to me. The dog's owner at first said no, but i told her "it's okay, it's drug money, it's not mine." She looked puzzled, but graciously accepted. We chatted for a few minutes, during which time she mentioned she had a musical that night. So we went and had a few drinks before the musical. then a few more. by the time the musical started we were pretty drunk.

The people at the musical were lame. For starters, they said we couldn't bring in the bottle we had picked up. then they said the dogs couldn't go in. So i said i'd wait outside, she could go in and let us all in throught the back door. So there i was in the alley, with the dogs and the bottle, singing oklahoma songs.

My friend let me in, but we were causing quite a scene and they called the cops. Damn, i just wanna see Oklahoma! When the cops came in we ran out the same exit we had come in through. With the heat chasing us we split up. The dogs followed me. I got away, but now had two dogs. The new one didn't have a name tag, and i didn't know where that chick lived.

So now i have two dogs. This is getting out of control. I gotta find a place for these guys. So i went to my friend Tamryn's house (I knew she'd be at the musical also) and left the dogs at her place. Now i just gotta act all stupid the next time I see her, and she'll never know it was me.