When The S**** Hits The Fan That's Not Amore!
When that unambiguous missile hits, no one is left unscathed. It’s uncanny how annoying minor inconveniences are, yet we refuse to recognise that first little glitch in our perfectly manicured life. It only takes one insignificant, imperfectly placed tile to shudder unbalanced to hit the next, and then it’s a free-for-all, and nothing can stop the avalanche. Anyway, that’s how I see it. The title of this blog is a little gauche, but honestly, I’m past the point of social decorum.
The first sign was an anomaly on my computer. As usual, I closed the lid, went off to do something, returned a little later, and opened the lid. The only friendly face I saw was my own. That’s it. The madam she refused to budge. Shrugging my shoulders, I put it down to the typical inconvenience of a Windows update. They know how to push my buttons, especially when we struggle with WiFi connectivity. But, I thought, there’s no way I want to upset this apple cart and let the update be.
The “update” had not been completed by the following day—red flag. I wouldn’t be popular using all our data on an update. I closed the lid gently, tiptoed past the machine, crawled back into bed, and broke into a cold sweat.
Sunshine always buoys my mood, and in the golden light of morning, I sneaked up to Wily Windows and lightly eased her out of her sleep. She woke up bright and cheerful. We were back on track. Thank goodness. My fingers flew across my keyboard in a frenzy as I eagerly completed and saved a blog.
I was on a roll, but a few days later, the same thing happened. The screen saver was as far as I could go. Something was amiss.
In Uganda, rural areas have very little access to an electricity supply. There are regular blackouts that can last for hours and even days. One guide told us, “Before the last election, the government promised to lay the infrastructure for electricity. Which you can see.” He said, pointing up at the sky. We looked up, and lo’ and behold, there they were. “Unfortunately”, he continued, “they forgot to flip the switch. Who knows, they might promise electricity when they campaign for the next election.” Shrugging his shoulders.
Self-supplied solar power is the only way to ensure a limited amount of electricity for lodges, businesses, homes, schools, and clinics. Most home owners have installed small solar panels to power cell phones on their roofs.
During the rainy season, sunny days are few and far between. Fortunately, the high UV is sufficient to charge our batteries. We soon realised our two solar panels were solely charging our batteries. When we could hook up to electricity at a campsite, the voltage would be very low and insufficient to restore our batteries. We need 220v. When the current is as high as 119v, we don’t charge.
While we were merrily using our Airfryer, the Nutri Bullet, and invection plate and charging all our batteries and geyser, our lithium batteries were precariously low, and the current was insufficient to charge my computer. That was an eye-opener. I had to put my blogging on hold.
We have adapted and now use gas, sparingly, and I've even perfected our Portuguese bread made in the black skillet.
Our only recourse was to keep moving.
My Precious was not hearing me. In long relationships, there is the matter of selective hearing, which is fine when it comes to “Lovie, will you do the dishes?” and a blank face stares back at you. But we were long past that stage.
His ears were blocked up, and no dripping drops alleviated the problem. We listened to our Audible books with the volume turned up to Maximum, and pedestrians could hear us long before we passed them. “Eish, the Mzungus are loud.” I could see them shaking their heads in astonishment. The only recourse? Silence and peace in the home. I’m convinced we lip-read. I was hoarse, and Butch was frustrated with the Cicadas ringing in his head.
We were driving through some of the most spectacular scenery, which couldn’t be ignored. Rain forests, mountain passes, sheer cliffs, and endless rolling horizons. This was Mountain gorilla country, and we were on the lookout. Butch, who rarely stops to admire the view, was so overcome by the splendour that he’d stop, grab his camera and lope off to do some landscape shots. I decided to wait in the truck. I was, after all, doing my fair share of photography.
With my head back and my eyes closed, I almost missed, or ignored, the soft but insistent tapping on my window. I opened my eyes, annoyed, and looked into the face of a tall young man telling me impatiently while gesticulating that our tyre was flat. Impossible, I thought, a little miffed. We have state-of-the-art tyre pressure monitors.
The South African prejudice in me kicked in, always looking for a scam or murder, mouthed NO! while shaking my head emphatically. The knocking became more insistent. I rolled my window down a few inches (as one does, not to be rude but also not to be reckless) and explained that it was impossible.
He was courteous, greeted me, asked after my health, and then asked me to please have a look. “Ha!” I thought. “Not on your Nelly!”.
I made a mental note: "Maricha, In the future, please read all the emails and posts on social media and WhatsApp, supposedly from the police, warning motorists like me of all the perils and dangers that can befall one." I usually delete them unopened. There, I was in a situation and I didn’t know what to do.
The village had gathered around the truck by now, and everyone was discussing the Umzungu and “the dilemma” excitedly. In a split second, I decided to man up, get over myself, and alight the truck. If we were going to be robbed, murdered, or worse, then so be it. With the mob surrounding me, I stood no chance in any event.
With much bravado, I opened the door assertively and slithered gingerly into a muddy puddle up to my ankles. My flip-flops were suctioned to the clay. I extricated myself inelegantly. The crowd of excited toddlers and teens parted like the Red Sea; silence descended upon us, and the bearer of bad news stood quietly, arms folded, waiting for my reaction. “Oh shit!”. The expletive was out before I could shut my mouth. "You're welcome!" He said chuffed. The back left-hand tyre (our Achilles’ heel) was deflated but not irreparably damaged.
A while later, I heard the grinding squeak of Butch’s door opening and the shudder when he heaved himself into the driver’s seat. He had turned the key before I could open my door, and the engine was rumbling. “Butch, we have a flat wheel,” I said with utmost caution.
“Tyre" he said, peeved. “Get in.” I knew this was not going to go down well. How does one explain a technical or mechanical failure to a man? You stand your ground; be firm and insistent. Placating me was his only recourse; I could see it written on his face. Reluctantly, with a sigh of displeasure, he hurled himself out of the cab with an air of great sacrifice and annoyance.
I almost lost my nerve for a moment, but that wheel was flat, I reminded myself. Of course, it was.
He contemplated The Situation, arms folded, chewing on the ear of his spectacles, probably not believing his eyes. Plugging the hole was the option he took, to the utter astonishment of our audience, who had never seen something so miraculous.
We have since plugged that wheel several times until it was decided to replace it with a spare. Unfortunately, the tyre is irreparable and will have to be replaced. I’m holding my thumbs as we make it to Nairobi to source a new one.
An hour later, back in the truck, we were both relatively quiet, but I must confess, embarrassed and ashamed, I quipped facetiously, “So much for the new state-of-the-art tyre pressure monitors!”
But as they say, “Karma is a bitch.” Two days later, it was my turn. My heart broke when I discovered, again, that my beloved Canon 100mm-400mm lens was malfunctioning and not connecting to my camera. For some unfathomable reason, the tiny screws keeping the glass in place were unscrewing in their casings.
Eighteen months earlier, before our trip, the lens was repaired by Canon in Johannesburg. Spare parts had to be imported to repair the lens and realign the glass at great expense, only for the problem to reoccur.
On further investigation online, I read threads by other photographers with similar problems. I’ll never know whether it’s a manufacturing problem with this specific model and lens.
Butch has kindly relinquished his lens while he used another lens. I’m incredibly grateful but feel guilty whenever I see him not quite getting the shot he desires.
As a creature of habit, I do not do well with change. and I love “my things.” For days, I endured sleepless nights agonising about my lens, wracking my brain as to the cause of the malfunction. It can only be the constant shaking.
No matter how positive the road reports are, we have found them unreliable. A good tar road can turn into a potholed, muddy mess after a heavy rainstorm. Road resurfacing can start, stop, or resume after months or years of inactivity.
One day, a motorbike with yellow, plastic, 50l water (or hooch) canisters attached like baubles passed us, which was not unusual. We slowed down as he roared past us with his open throttle, negotiating the potholes, swerving this way and that his direction at any given time unpredictable when suddenly he swerved and stopped dead to chat to a mate parked on the side of the road. Butch, whose reactions are swift, swerved and braked for a pothole, but accidents happen, and we knocked the bike off kilter. We came to a shuddering halt, fearing the consequences.
Fortunately, the damage to the truck was worse, and after some smooth talking and a few Bob for the bother caused, we were on our way. The suggestion to indicate one’s intentions, e.g., using the indicator or parking off the road, fell on deaf ears and a shrug.
Indicators are for indicating a clear road and serve as a green light for a safe over-take for vehicles eager to overtake. One never indicates one’s intention to turn, stop, or overtake.
Last Friday, while negotiating our way up a narrow one-way alley, a power company vehicle with “emergency” emblazoned on the roof and bonnet came hurtling down the cobbled road in the wrong direction, indicating we should move over. Moving a 3-meter-wide truck over is difficult, but we tried. We overlooked the informal market stall on the street and almost crushed a motorbike, canisters and the Somali ladies’ vegetables.
Butch stopped immediately.
Six beautiful but bewildered hazel eyes looked up at me. Wretchedness and consternation etched on their faces. I was finished. Once again, Butch went to check up on the situation, mollify the ladies, and offer to reimburse them for damages caused.
The scene at the four-way stop was almost carnival-like. Colourful, vocal onlookers, motorbikes, hand-drawn carts, cattle, goats and a traffic jam caused by the emergency vehicle making a U-turn added to the confusion. All the informal traders had picked up sticks. They were clutching their bundles on the veranda steps (where they should’ve been in the first place.)
We eased around the corner and found a parking spot a hundred meters down the road. I was about to open my door when a chap knocked on my window. My heart dropped into my stomach. With hands held prayerfully, he said he just wanted to apologise for the accident and the aggrevation caused and hoped we were ok. That knocked the wind out of my battered sails.
The tiles began falling, and the sound was like an Indian runaway train on a single gauge track. Yet we were still blissfully unaware.
Before entering a new country, we like to do some investigative work; we peruse travel guides, surf the internet and delve into the notes we’ve been making over the years. Bradt is one of our trusted sources of reference.
On one of the shelves at one of the lodges, we spotted the Bradt Uganda book, but it was a pre-Covid edition. I know the landscape hasn’t changed, but so much else has. After a quick swish through the book, Butch found the details for a website to download the revised edition.
Unfortunately, it’s not a secure website. A dropdown entry form appeared, which Butch completed, but, at some stage, too late, he realised it had nothing to do with the Bradt website.
The next day, his bank notified him of suspicious activity on his credit card. Upon further investigation, he found that his card had been used for a R380 payment to “Fluffies Fabulous Fantasies.”
In a panic, we had to acquire local airtime to enable him to call his bank before Maricha’s Moer Stripped. (before I did my “nut”.)
On a miserably rainy day we made it to a big town with an ABSA bank.
After numerous, lengthy dropped calls, he managed to report the fraud, the bank followed protocol and cancelled his card. They assured him the replacement would be delivered to an associated bank in Kampala. He realised repeating our destination, Uganda, would be useless. They could figure it out.
Now Butch only had one credit card. No backup.
The card has never been delivered. The logistics, security and accessing/accepting an OTP is mission impossible.
The bank’s approved delivery service tried calling but failed, and when Butch returned the call, he was notified that he was not on their approved client list for return calls and that, for security reasons, his call won’t be accepted.
The Rolex (rolled eggs), a national dish in Uganda, is a popular street food and is always featured on a menu. A Rolex is an omelette, filled with tomato, onion and chilli and rolled together with two Chapati. We decided to treat ourselves to a Rolex. Even that was dissappointing.
The mood in the truck was saturnine. But we decided our attitude was all in the mind. We would soldier on. Upwards and onwards, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and so on.
As you know dear reader, I like to record my journey with my photography. With technology, my photographs are geo-tagged. I have a timeline, and every nuance of our trip is recorded for prosperity. I do not miss a beat. Much to Butch’s annoyance, I have subscribed to a 2T Cloud memory, and whenever I have WiFi or data, my photographs are uploaded. Rest assured that my photos, notes, lists, and contact details are safely stored on Cloud 9. What will become of them when I pop my clogs is anyone’s guess.
The red clay roads we were travelling on was sketchy, sometimes good. At times, there were remnants of tar scrapings, but they were mainly potholed.
When the going became tough, I’d oblige Butch with short videos of the road and keep up with my photographs.
It was the 27th of November, 2023. Suddenly, we hit a bottomless pit. The Honey Badger’s front left-hand wheel fell into a crater like a ton of bricks.
My hand hit the side mirror, my fingers flew open, and my telephone dropped like a rock. All my attention was on the Apple of my eye as the wheels crushed her. Butch, concentrating on keeping us on track, didn’t hear me. Only after my blood-curdling bellow to “STOP!” did he manage to bring us to a grinding halt.
Behind us, Mercedes heavy-duty trucks and yellow CAT graders, bulldozers, and surface rollers were descending upon us like the Wehrmacht occupying France, relentlessly moving forward.
I did a record 100m dash. Digging my nails into the dirt, I retrieved my shattered phone, firmly cemented in the clay. Her lights shone for a few minutes, and I managed to click on the photography APP to see 497 photographs being uploaded onto the Cloud at a snail’s pace.
All her vitals shut down a few minutes later. The death of AI is as heartwrenching as any living creature, believe you me. (Read Clara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro)
That set in motion the tumbling of the rest of the dominoes who were in free fall.
I could not access my banking Apps. In desperation, I activated an ancient phone, but all the apps were outdated, and the phone so out of mode it too couldn’t update. The banks suspended my accounts the minute I tried to access them.
N****ian hackers, cloners, drug dealers and crooks were having a field day we were informed. It was the silly season, and every banking institution was on high alert. Someone activating an account on an old smartphone in Uganda must have set off all the security alarms. BOOM, there I was, an ancient innocent, accused by my bank of commiting fraudulent activity on my account because they couldn’t send me a once-off OTP or Approve its message.
Telephone lines were busy. No matter the time of day or night, call centres were not answering their phones, no matter how long I hung on.
Speaking to an “agent” on a helpline is questionable. Are they human? The agents on a call centre line could be situated in Turkey, India, or Uzbekistan. The one-liner “If you have very little money, you’ve got problems with the bank, but if you owe them a fortune, they have a problem." I am an unnecessary incovenience.
I had to install my SA SIM card to receive SMSs. This opened another can of rotting worms. I’d not seen my SIM for almost 15 months. I found it. I inserted it into my phone and thought that would be the end of my problems.
My banking woes continued until yesterday (6 weeks later). Fortunately, I’m now able to access my online account.
They, who supposedly couldn’t send me an Approve it message, did send me an SMS informing me that my new, useless Amex card was in a locker awaiting my collection. After an hour on the phone with a very patient operator, she ended our call with this question, “Mrs Van Heerden, did you manage to collect your new card today?” my snotty reply prompted her to offer me a new Platinum card and an overdraft facility. I hung up.
On Christmas Eve, I received my new cell phone from a Boda-Boda, delivered to our campsite—a COD online transaction. In Uganda, cash is king.
Once I’d set up my phone downloaded and updated all my Apps, my Cloud kicked in, and I was happily back on track. I believe I have retrieved my photographs, bar a few hundred. My secondary bank, modern, innovative, and highly technical, is a dream. I downloaded their App, updated, logged on, and within seconds I was back in business.
I readily admit I’m hooked and addicted to technology, the internet, and everything that’s associated with it, not out of choice but necessity, and it’s not going to change. Travelling without technology or the means of accessing it is frightening.
A few weeks ago, Butch woke up with aching muscles, a headache, in a cold sweat with a temperature. He was feeling poorly.
We packed up and went to the local clinic, where we met Dr. Fred, who did a strip test and diagnosed him with malaria.
The three drips administered slowly at 12-hour intervals have to be meticulously administered. Dr. Fred did an excellent job, and once Butch had regained his strength, he was fit as a fiddle—a model patient.
Three nights in a Ugandan National Park is bankrupting and we didn't want to push our luck with the banks. We decided to head for the waterfalls of Sipi.
We were back on the road again when I started feeling poorly, unsurprisingly. My first strip test was negative. Knowing that boosted me and pushed my other symptoms to the back of my mind.
But, they persisted, and a few days later, after a night of cold sweats, headaches and painful arthritic joints, Butch organised a taxi, and off we went to the nearest village to the only clinic open at 7h30 in the morning.
Dr Timothy did a test kit blood test. Positive. He informed me that my blood pressure was perfect while unceremoniously scooting me to the nurse’s “station”, where I’d receive my first of three twelve hourly shots.
It was grimly fascinating to witness procedures. Medical gloves and silicone pipes are used as tourniquets. Medical personnel do not mask or glove up, nor was there any evidence of antiseptic hand washing soap. The room was pretty basic.
Malaria is so common amongst locals that not much attention is given to the illness, and while I was being injected with muti, inquisitive babies, toddlers, and curious passers-by came to check in on the Umzungu.
The lovely, kindly nurse couldn’t hide her delight in jabbing the needle into my arm. She admitted she “liked my blue veins on this white skin!” she said, patting my wrist. “it’s much easier to see and to put in the port.”
We could chat while she mixed the medication, filled her syringes, and cut the plasters. She worked three days on and three days off. When she was on duty, she stayed at the clinic as she was on duty around the clock. On her off days, she could go home to the village where her husband was a teacher. Her children lived with her.
After my three visits to the clinic, we moved on, hoping to find a warmer climate and a formal campsite to recuperate.
Butch, although he didn’t voice an opinion, was not happy with the treatment I received. Believing the medication should’ve been administered slowly and not in a spurt as I’d received.
Like a wind-up doll, Butch’s banking woes were not over. While I was being Dr’d, he went to the local Stannic Bank ATM to draw cash. The machine did everything necessary, but when it came to spewing out the money, it gave him a “Sorry for the inconvenience, this machine can’t complete the transaction”.
Thinking nothing of it, he dismissed the hassle, but his attempt to withdraw was rejected at the next ATM. Red flags shot up. He didn’t want to repeat the transaction elsewhere should his card get gobbled up. At this stage, we only had one VISA card between us.
On further investigation, he realised the first transaction had been approved, the money had been debited from his account, and he’d used his daily ATM cash withdrawal limit. But he’d not got the cash. He logged a dispute immediately.
Back at the bank, the Manageress inspected the case and admitted the bank had “technical issues and a glitch like that happened due to various unforeseen circumstances, e.g. electrical or Network problems." She vowed the transaction would be reversed by the end of the business day. She would also lodge a dispute with her bank.
Under pressure to answer for the bank, she eventually admitted it was out of her hands and suggested Butch contact his bank to sort the problem. This morning, weeks later, his credit card provider sent a message, “The funds will provisionally be credited while an investigation takes place.” Bizarre.
We moved and found the perfect 5* campsite on the banks and source of the Nile near the vibrant city of Jinja. While there we explored the source of the Nile, went shopping, cycled, hiked, and met interesting ex-pats from all over the world.
The owner, who gets a bad rap on iOverlander, couldn’t have been kinder, more helpful, or friendlier in assisting us in every way possible. He made his driver available to us, organised the MPesa cash payment for my new phone and gave us a prime spot to camp for our extended stay during his busiest season.
My health fluctuated; during the good times, we cycled and went on excursions and adventures (more about all that later). We celebrated Christmas with a Turkey dinner and live music. Our Christmas tree was a hit, and we felt good again.
On New Year’s Day, I told Butch he must get me to the hospital. Pronto. I was not at all well.
Our driver and the lodge’s “accountant” suggested a private clinic in Jinja. Once admitted, a blood sample was taken, and a microscopic malaria test was done to confirm the malaria strain.
The tests were positive. It is believed I had been misdiagnosed with the strain of malaria. The other symptoms I had were insomnia, loss of appetite and stomach ulcers, which confirmed that specific strain.
I was hospitalised and treated for malaria and stomach ulcers. A nurse specialising in nutrition plied me with Chai teas, broths, and vegetables to combat the ulcers and further complications.
Listlessness and hypersomnia set in, and a visit from the Superintendent motivated me to buck up. I reluctantly did some stretches, walked, and, at sunset, went outside for “fresh diesel fumes” while I watched the passing parade of commuters, buses, motorbikes (boda-bodas) and pedestrians on the busy Main Road.
The takeaway dinner ordered by the nurse, who insisted I eat, was the cherry on the cake. I couldn’t wait to get home. Dinner was a smorgasbord of boiled potatoes, pumpkin, ochre, chopped greens, rice and stewed speckled beans—a meal for a family of four. I managed the chicken broth and a few strips of chicken sipped straight from the take-away container. "that's how we do it" the nurse said. Who was I to complain?
Her cries of “We are Africans. This is what we eat, you must eat!” fell on deaf ears.
The following day, after my medication, I was discharged.
Believe it or not. The Tropics are not as hot, humid or horrendous as I’ve been led to believe. We craved sunshine, clear skies and a little less lushness.
We picked up sticks, crossed the border into Kenya, and are on a magnificent farm in the Eldoret district.
Somewhere along the line, I picked up a nagging cough, not severe but annoying, which led to a tight chest and painful wheezing. My insomnia returned, and I’d sit up in bed too anxious to sleep for fear of coughing or not breathing.
Covid was my first thought. A friend recently returned to Germany; we’d camped together for a while, had, upon landing in Germany for Christmas, been diagnosed with Covid and celebrated the festive season in quarantine.
Concerned for my health and well-being, Butch insisted we see a “proper” Dr in Eldoret, where I was diagnosed with Pneumonia.
I have one day to go before I complete the new course of medication. I’ll be medication-free by Friday.
My health is returning. Butch insists I take things easy. I’ve done a little light cycling and a short walk and feel better for it.
Two weeks ago, I insisted I would be 18 till I die. Last week, en route to Eldoret, I sent my daughter a selfie while driving, and she responded, “What the hell’s happened to you, Mom?” I felt my age, 66 going on 96 and looked it. My other fear is that I might get to the Pearly gates and St. Peter, after clicking on his iPad could say "Sorry, incorrect username and password!"
Today, I feel the old energy seeping back into my veins. Tomorrow we’ll start the day with stretching and cycling if Butch is up to it. He’s feeling the cold tonight.
To distract myself, I do housekeeping. Fresh linen on the bed, clean floors and sanitised countertops are the final full stop.
It was as I was replacing my crates and bits and bobs that I heard his strangled shout. “Maricha!” I thought a wild animal had attacked him. I rushed down our steps when he said, “Stop the truck!”
The truck was rolling down a slight incline straight into our flaming fire pit!
My poor Precious was knocked out of his chair. His laptop and iPad went flying, and the awning was hanging precariously.
Latest Update: On Friday morning, Butch was admitted to the Eldoret General Hospital with Malaria, high fevers, cold and hot sweats, a serious blood infection, high blood pressure, and elevated sugar (diabetes) levels affecting his eyesight. The Malaria parasites had spread to his liver and kidneys.
All relevant screenings were done, and he was put on drips and antibiotics; he’s been probed, jabbed and monitored constantly by an excellent team of physicians and nurses.
Today, he sounds like his old safe again. The medications have kicked in, and all his vitals are normal. Malaria has been reduced from a level 3 to 1. He is currently on a second 12-hourly regime of drips to eradicate the Malaria parasites.