Christmas Eve, Mbarara, Uganda

We drove all day through Uganda, admiring the beautiful countryside. I got a photo of four dormant volcanoes in a row – beautiful. Everyone was getting a bit delirious from riding in the truck, plus it was Christmas Eve, so when we pulled into the hotel at Mbarara where we were to camp that night, everyone but Jim and Tom screamed out that they’d pay a supplement and get a room. It was Christmas and we were going to splurge. Rich and I had to cook Christmas Eve dinner, so when we’d stopped at Kabale earlier that afternoon we were in charge of doing the shopping.

At the market we got all the veggies and I found a corral at the back where they were taking live cows and slitting their throats for butchering. The locals were all taking turns holding the bucket that the blood was flowing into. I showed Rich this place and he got up really close to the dying animals while I stood a good thirty feet away. It was only after one of the locals asked him if he wanted to hold the bucket that he’d decided he’s had enough. He came back and got me and we headed back into the market to try and find a main course for dinner. We already had all the veggies and after watching the cows we didn’t want any meat – that was about the time we passed the chicken section of the market.

You can’t get a dead chicken in Africa – there’s no refrigeration, and you’ve got to pay someone to kill it for you. We figured it couldn’t be that hard to find someone to do it so we wandered over to the chicken peddlers, and the second we mentioned we wanted two live chickens there were about four locals surrounding us, each with a live chicken in each hand. The locals didn’t treat the chickens like an animal – they were more a physical item. When we were bargaining over the price the locals would wave the chickens around over their heads of our price was too low, thereby upsetting our possible main course causing them to cluck loudly. After much negotiating and explaining that when we returned to pick up the birds we expected them plucked, no head, no feet, no guts – all for the exorbitant rate of Sh5,000 (US$2.25 each). With the negotiating done they asked me which ones we wanted. I guessed the only way to test a live chicken was to reach over and feel their chests to see how fat they were. I wasn’t that practiced in squeezing live chickens but I choose a couple that seemed pretty well fed. We headed back to the truck to wait the forty five minutes for the cleaning to be done.

After everyone had gotten checked into their rooms at Mbarara Rich and I began cooking Christmas dinner. We had fresh chicken, two hours old, peas, carrots, fresh mashed potatoes and banana custard. After two hours of work (sans shower and shave, for everyone else was already cleaned up) we served our Christmas masterpiece dinner. Rich and I served ourselves and sat down, ready to eat this magnificent dinner we’d worked so hard to prepare. I took my knife and tried to cut into my chicken but . . . the knife just slipped off the meat. I held the bird down and tried to get the knife to take hold but my cutting device just bounced off the meat and landed in the mashed potatoes. No one had told us that you’re supposed to let a freshly killed chicken drain for two to three days before cooking it. The peas were crunchy, the chicken rubbery, the custard on a borderline O.K. basis, the gravy ended up being dumped in the grass, but the mashed potatoes were all right. Rich and I made our exit to go get cleaned up as the rest of our group fought with the rubber chicken and crunchy peas. After showers it was time to shave – two weeks not shaving does give you that mountain man look. Rich hadn’t shaven in something like nine weeks (since we left Egypt) and he had a full beard. After wrestling over my electric razor with the beard trimming attachment I shaved then passed it on over to Rich. When we started our safari Rich had his beard, so all the people we’d met since had never seen him without one. Rich shaved, but it was hurting him too much so he left the moustache, which made him look Italian. The change was remarkable – he looked so different with only a moustache.

I was following him to through the hotel bar, just to see the expressions on our friends’ faces when they saw him. Everyone was pretty shocked at the change and started to give Rich a bit of a hard time. We ordered drinks and started chatting to Jim for a while when Jim called Rich “Guiseppe” because of his moustache. Shortly thereafter Rich excused himself to go to the bathroom while Jim and I moved into our next gin and tonic. During Rich’s absence the rest of the people from the truck arrived in the bar, but no Rich.

About ten minutes later Rich appeared – sans moustache – and boy did he shock a few people – even me. Every time I looked at him I would start giggling – it was such a change. I’ve known him for five and a half years and even I had a really hard time controlling my laughter; actually I didn’t try to control it at all. Everyone was totally tripping off the fact that Rich had made two separate appearances and looked entirely different at each visit. It was strange, but people began to get used to Rich’s new look and the atmosphere just became more festive as the evening wore on.

Everyone was hanging out in the bar, so Erin (our Canadian hitch hiker) started getting us to sing different Christmas carols with her. It was when they started singing the Twelve Days of Christmas that I really got into the Christmas singing. I’d planned to sing the “Twelve Days AFTER Christmas” with Brenda the next morning (incorporating the new verses I’d written while on transit in Zambia) but I couldn’t resist so I stopped everyone from singing the twelve days and said, “We’ve all heard the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’, but do you know what happened on the twelve days after Christmas?” I then started singing the song solo since Brenda didn’t know the words yet, to a bar full of our friends we’d made over the course of the past five weeks. Here’s a full draft of the song which I’d learned at least twelve years before. Verses one through seven are the original song while verses eight through twelve are the new and improved verses written as a result of boredom while in transit on a safari truck.

The Twelve Days After Christmas

On the first day after Christmas, my true love and I had a fight.
I chopped that blasted pear tree down and burned it just for spite.
And with a single car-ar-artidge I shot that blasted par-ar-tridge,
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

The second day after Christmas I slipped on me old rubber gloves,
And very gently wrung the necks of both those turtle doves.
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

The third day after Christmas, my mother she caught the croup (cough-cough)
And so I used the three French hens to make some Chicken soup.
The four calling birds were a big mistake for their language was obscene.
And the five golden rings were completely fake and they turned my fingers green. (Ech!)

The sixth day after Christmas the six laying geese wouldn’t lay.
So I sent the whole darn gaggle to the A.S.P.C.A.
On the seventh day what a mess I found, all seven of the swimming swans had drown,
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

The eighth day after Christmas I went to the milkmaid’s chalet.
I’d planned to video them dressing for their work that day.
But to my despair I let out a cry, as each of the girls munched another’s hair pie,
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

The ninth day after Christmas I went to a Shriner’s soirĂ©e.
The whores were late, the men irate, so I gave the dancing ladies away.
On the tenth day past but to my chagrin, for the ten leaping lords had been getting stuck in,
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

Eleven days after Christmas the pipers had all gone astray.
I rang the local drunk tank to find that they had been at play.
The twelve drummer boys were completely gay;
they’d joined a ballet troupe and were on their way,

My true love, we are through love, and said in so many words,
Frankly dear your Christmas gifts are for the birds —-
(four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree).

Everyone was in rally good moods, so we all sang nor Christmas carols and had a few more drinks before closing down the bar. We were ready to keep partying so Rich and I took everyone to our chalet to let the festivities begin. It was so perfect – we’d been given a free-standing chalet, large enough for you to set up three tents in the bedroom/sitting room alone, plus it had a huge bathroom and all the floors were concrete so they were spill, burn and boot proof. The perfect stomping ground for a bunch of Christmas revelers from our safari truck.

Thanks to Rick and Jenny doing their stuff at the Zairian border – no wonder Jenni looked so worried – the jay fay arrived and we had a smoke. Everyone from the truck was there (except for Jim and Mike who’d passed out earlier) and everyone partook in the passing making the evening just flow along. Tom had brought his air mattress (which doubles as a swimming pool raft) to our room and was vegged out on it on the floor. I went and sat next to him and Brenda sat across from the two of us on the bed. We were all wasted – everyone in the room was wasted – and we were all really relaxed around each other so anything could happen. Brenda, Tom and I were talking about Christmas carols and singing when all of a sudden Brenda, who’d been a little reserved up until now, broke out into song singing some popular song from Australia. The thing is that her voice was amazing – it was a really good singing voice, and she’d been hiding it from us the whole time. It turns out that her grandmother was an opera singer.

After Brenda’s performance Tom, who’s also got a really good singing voice, sang a bit while lying on his mat. Everyone had the spotlight for a while and it was really positive. Stefanie, who’s wild when she’s sober was jumping around and even put on our own personal rave environment with flashing and spinning lights and bee bop music (provided by herself) for thirty seconds. Of course she had to improvise for the lighting by flicking the lights on and off and waving an illuminated flashlight over her head. Tina, the New Zealand police woman, was doing summersaults across the room, head stands, and giving Stefanie and Jenny drink driving tests – by the book. Too bad everyone was too wasted to know who was “winning”. At about 2;30 a.m. everyone filed out, or more we poured everyone out the door onto the grass, with Jenni being the last one behind. After a few minutes of chatting she announced she was gong to be sick and promptly opened the door and went and got sick on the grass. She came back and said “Merry Christmas” to us and went to her room to bed.

And a merry Christmas it was – a group of people who didn’t know each other that well four weeks earlier had managed to become really good friends and celebrate the holidays in Africa together in the merriest way possible. Everyone said that they’d had a very merry Christmas Eve.

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