Grey Paper Lockdown Drawings

Words and Drawings by Matt Cotten

Stuck in Entebbe, running out of drawing paper, I searched through my remaining supplies and found a notebook full of grey German paper. In desperation, I located a white pencil and went to work. 

This grey paper project started in July 2021. It is now January 2022 and the notebook is almost full. We are still in Entebbe, the virus is still evolving and we are trying to keep track of the changes. The bamboo continues to grow, there is another generation of marigolds blooming. 

Most of these drawings are street scenes from the Entebbe neighborhood where we currently live. I try to walk each morning, partially for the exercise but mainly for mental health. I don’t think we will stay here very long, the politics are very complicated and it gets harder and harder to do the work we were funded to do. So the drawings serve as a document of the village and my state of mind. 

First, my bamboo marigold project. It is slowly taking shape, the bamboo is tall and green, the marigold’s thrive. Both plants are a pleasure to watch and simple to draw.

Our neighborhood on grey paper. I am also running out of green.

Downtown Entebbe, never disappoints. Strong shadows on orange streets.

We took a break that day and drove down to the lake for lunch. The wind was pushing the lake north, the water was high and waves were crashing below the cafe.

The corner shops near our little house. Mangos, melons, telephone credit. If they don’t have it, you don’t need it (that’s a Garrison Keiler quote, the slogan from Bob’s Pretty Good Grocery). 

Another outing, early August 2021. The COVID-19 lockdown was relaxed this week, curfew shifted to 7 pm, so we could drive more freely. The little auto is great on the hills and can slip between the potholes and ruts in the roads.

Saturday morning, sunny. I walked down to the lake. They were loading a truck with flagstones from a boat. There must be a quarry on the other side. The lake was high, there were many birds, an open-billed stork, some pied kingfishers, egrets, a Maribou stork. The truck was a battered Isuzu Elf, gaily painted, sturdy and practical. When it was full of stones they drove off up the hill and then I walked home.

Every day now I harvest a handful of dried marigold blossoms, pull out the seeds and spread them in the garden, along the fence, back by the bamboo, everywhere. I throw a few seeds on the neighbours dogs with the hope that the flowers will be spread wider as the dogs run around the compound. I think we are on marigold generation three or four since I arrived. We have an original French marigold that I brought from Europe, a taller robust variety that My Phan brought and we just found a giant marigold, 1 meter tall, growing in a cafe garden so we planted some of their seeds as well. The red/orange/yellow blossoms look fine here and the plants don’t suffer from mildew like zinnias.

Nakiwogo. Small houses on left, large pompous houses with balconies and walled gardens on the right. A view of the lake and the ferry crossing.

Shops made from shipping containers, this seems to be a trend. I suppose it is a practical solution to provide sturdy, secure structures. Usually with added roof and awning against the sun.


No color. I’ve run out of proper green anyway.

Nakiwogo Landing. Ferries land there, boats carrying firewood, pineapples, matooke, charcoal, people, bodas land there. People stand around, waiting for something. Little makeshift shops selling vegetables, packets of spices, charcoal, phone credit. The police came as I was standing on the jetty, asked me to leave. I looked like I was plotting something.

I walked down to the lake. It started to rain. I walked home. The road was muddy. The end.

Valerie. Zutons. Amy Winehouse. Nakiwogo Landing. 

Entebbe is on a hilly peninsula, we live near the top of one of the hills. Almost every day I walk down to the lake by a different route. This was Nile Road. It starts out green and full of banana groves near the top then opens up on construction sites and eventually ends where someone is building a monstrosity that spans and cuts off what used to be the road. A small path bypasses the construction and you come out just above the road full of small shops along the swamp/lake. There are many side roads and paths and I have walked them all. 

Alternate route to the lake through Nakiwogo: impressive washed out rutted paths, big trees, tiny houses. Glimpses of the lake.

Gimme Shelter. Jinja Road just before the storm broke.

We travelled south to Kyamulibwa. It was pleasant to see some new landscape.

More rain.

Few streetlights here so there are often surprises in the headlights.

Not grey paper but in the same mood. I finally walked the entire length of Jinja Road and ended in a curious path along the marsh edge. Quiet, kind of sad, tattered shacks, several churches, some brick-making camps, children playing with a homemade boat. 

Jinja Road again. Two years walking these roads and I’m running out of ways to make it interesting. I like the exercise, I can say that. The walking allows me to think through experiments and coding problems, that’s something I guess. My boots are wearing out, they come back each day with more dust, less sole and new weaknesses. I hope they can survive until we get out of here.

I am a virologist and biochemist with a long interest in painting and how ink and pigments  interact with paper and water. I have been lucky to have lived and worked in a variety of locations and I have kept a drawing diary of what I have seen through the years. See more at Ebolatent.

Categories: art, featured, memoir, Travel

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