Tuesday, August 29, 2006

In Awe, Again

Ayi Kwei Armah


"The reproach of the loved ones comes kindly when it comes in silence. Even when this silence is filled with the consciousness of resentment there is always the hope that they understand whatever vague little wishes there are to understand, as if one could forever keep up the pretense that is the difference between the failures and the hard heroes of the dream is only a matter of time. Time in which to leap across yards made up of the mud of days of rain; to jump over wide gutters with only a trickle of drying urine at the bottom and so many clusters of cigarette pieces wet and pinched in where they have left the still unsatisfied lips of the sucker. Time to sail with a beautiful smoothness in the direction of the gleam, carrying with easy strength every one of the loved ones; time to change the silent curses of the resentful loved ones and the deeper silent questions of those in whom pain and disappointment have killed every other emotion, time to change all this into the long unforced laughter of tired travelers home at last. But when the reproach of the loved ones grow into sound and the pain is thrown outward against the one who causes it, then it is no longer possible to look with any hope at all at time.

The man moved from the table and lay down on the bed pushed into the far corner of the hall and closed his eyes, but failure would not let him rest in peace. Arguments and counter accusations that had run many times round and round just underneath the surface of his mind now rose teasingly and vanished again beneath his confusion after they had multiplied it and deepened it beyond the point where it could be endured. A man, even a man who stumbled once, ought to be able to pick himself up and hurry after those who have gone before, a man ought to be able to do that, if only for the sake of the loved ones. And the man also who in his stumbling is pressed down with the burdens other than his own, he also must hurry. The judgment of the loved ones is no different from the judgment of the others, though in the lonely mind the loved ones may themselves look like a strong excuse for the failure and the fall. What would be the point, especially since these days outside the area of the gleam which made the loved ones suffer in their impatience, there was nothing worth pursing, nothing at all worth spending life’s minutes on?

There was nothing the man could say to his wife, and the woman herself did not look as if she thought there could be anything said to her about what she knew was so true. But inside the man the confusion and the impotence had swollen into something asking for a way out of the confinement, and in his restlessness he rose and went out very quietly through the door, and his wife sat there not even staring after him, not even asking where he was going or when he would come back in the night, or even whether he wanted to return at all to this home."

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Things I have Seen in Kampala Part 2, Night Scenes

Part 1/6

On the Street of No Hope

Well, I never thought the day would ever come but it did. Maybe it was my assumed arrogance, my belief I totally owned her. My total confidence then not yet challenged, certainly not shattered, that whosoever was granted audience into my company became mine. I had never thought her separate from me until that day. Until that day I had had such feelings, I had such thoughts. Until that day, I had thought I was imperious. I had thought I was the Don in my world. I was until that day. I would never be again from that day. Returning from another defeat that would never leave my lips in words. Walking home. In the evening. Later, I couldn’t remember what made me choose to divert from my usual route along Kampala road, instead of walking the whole length of that road like I always did, coming from another futile attempt to erect a world in which everything would spin at my whim.

That evening instead, influenced maybe by the endless series of defeats I had had that week, nostalgic to pass through one site of a former triumph, I had turned when I reached NEMA house and crossed the road, seeing Spear House with the big lettering of a place safe and secure to work in, Gordon Wavamuno’s WBS, and leisurely squeezing myself through the angry hooting bumper to bumper cars and taxis in evening traffic made my way through the National Theatre car yard and to my destiny.

It was evening, 6:45pm, changing my mind in the foyer, because I knew without going there that in that small office where I had once suffered and hungered and waited for my shs2000 transport home with some cookies with the barely there sugar tea, they were having tea in the Sunrise office, my old place of work, once were I was King. Or as close to a King as an employee can be when you are working for someone else, with that false sense of power. I would have been welcome there but then I didn’t want anything to lift me out of my funk with the superficial optimism anyone who worked here had to have to not go home and swallow an overdose of Panadol tablets hungry with only with only a dry doughnut to eat for supper and water to drink in your bare, rented one room in a slum around Makerere University.

I wanted to walk. I wanted to walk and remember how I came to work with Sunrise newspaper at one time in my life. I wanted to remember the afternoons I walked all the way from Makerere University, down Nile Avenue, sweaty and thirsty, with a reworked handwritten draft of an article going to be rejected for the third time, lost in wonder at the only Kampala street I knew that had a continuous row of straight standing working electric street light poles that stretched out into the distance like the poles that seemed to go on for miles I used to stare out of the window at in the backseat of my mother’s blue Datsun as a boy as she drove to the airport in Entebbe to pick up my father from another trip. I wanted to remember the mornings when I left home with a rucksack on my back wearing my oldest pair of shoes with the new ones for the office shiny and well polished in my rucksack, to change in a store in Speke Hotel because I had a primary school friend who worked as a security guard there and he could sneak me in.

I wanted to walk by the wood statue commemorating a bogus independence and look at the well trimmed Sheraton Hotel gardens with their very high white fences and remember Mirabella, Mirabella with whom I used to sit in those gardens sometimes, in companionable silences in the long mornings before the lunchless lunch hour after we had finished with our round of handing in our sweat stained brown envelopes of job applications at the chilly reception areas of big companies.

I wanted to reminiscence in solitude because there would be the world and time enough to worry about my future in my bed tonight unable to sleep in the dark because there was no electricity. I wanted remember my many times of survival, to remember to love myself, remember I was lucky to have the love of a certain special girl. And there I saw her.

I was never to be sure if they had been coming out of Speke Hotel’s Mamma Mia’s where they had got an ice cream or something else to eat. I know she looked well fed, looked like she had just finished eating. And I will never be able to forget how so full of joy she looked. How happy, contentedly, deliriously happy, with him. Playing. Laughing. He hanging back, pleasure on his face at her happiness coming from him, watching her. She a girl, careless as women can be, when confident in the protection of a man. Running laughing circles around him until she came too close to the road.

And he reaching out to grab her arm, his other arm going around her to her waist and tipping her back from the road to against himself, briefly. And I knew they were lovers. I knew she was in love with him. From across the divide on Nile Avenue, I learning my girl was in love with another man.

In the booth: Hazard by Richard Marx

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Year Ago Who Woulda Thought it????

Strictly speaking, it's tomorrow, but hey, yeah, you heard right: We are 1 year old!

Friday, August 11, 2006


I thought I saw you again today, on the Kampala-Jinja road stage, oblivious to all around you; the impatient beckoning taxi conductor and his angry, frowning driver, the friend I did not know standing next to you waiting for you to get off your cell and talk to you, the Policewoman looking at you and not the traffic she was directing, the Marabou stocks up in the white splattered trees looking down, the driver in the Toyota saloon car with his foot down hard on his brakes looking up at you. Everyone was looking up at you.

And you were on your phone, your shoulders rising and falling in your deep-throated laughter, your mouth wide open in mirth, your stiff Robocop shoulders shaking. In a blue Kaunda suit, your favorite. You were laughing. And I remembered your daily farewell that was never a farewell, “Will our bald heads be shinning in the sun one day?”

I don’t ever remember you walking but today I saw on Kampala-Jinja road speaking into your cell phone about to cross the road to Social Security House. You have been dead three years now but today sitting in an evening traffic jam in a taxi, I saw you. Looking up from the Tuesday New Vision newspaper I could find nothing in to read, I saw you again.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

free spirit

i know this girl who takes such amazing pictures i'm convinced this is what she really should be doing instead of her other job that has her stressed half the time but she does not think so. i know i spend hours of pure joy scouring through her photo scrap book. she says this is the worst photograph she has ever taken.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Things I have Seen in Kampala, Part 1 Maybe

What are your more enduring memories of Kampala? What have you seen in Kampala, what experience have you had that you think will always stay with you and marks for you what kampala is in your mind? I have had a few such experiences I wish to share with you.

Seeing a thief being beaten to death
How old was I? Ten, twelve? I don’t remember. I remember I was old enough to be scared and old enough to look in wonder at the faces of the adults around me who one minute had been going about their business like, well, adults, and the next when the thief came running out of an alley with a woman's black purse tightly grasped in one fist with no longer jubliant glee at his own pickpocketing dexterity on his face but terror, into the road near the then Nakivuubo Bus Park I witnessed a frightening transformation in their faces and actions. To this day I still cannot find the words to describe the transformation I saw.

Perhaps its because I was also absorbed in seeing what they were doing to that thief. A species of human being I had never been in the presence of before. A thief, I had been taught, was something bad, something to be destroyed and on that day at midday returning home from school with my schoolbag on my back, I saw my first mob justice incident. It is one of the events that still make up wake up screaming in the night because I can still hear that man’s screams as bricks landed on his head. I can still hear his shrieks in my head to this day when I try to sleep too early, I can still hear them. And I saw this in Kampala.

"The streets are a dangerous place to be."

Undressing a woman in the taxi park
I was much older when I saw this. A hormonally crazy teenager, 14 years old in a taxi on the way back to his boarding secondary school in the early 1990s. Say around 1995 when I was desperately unhappy that I was going to be hemmed in for another 3 months with other pimply , squeaky-voiced 14 year old hormonally challenged teenagers. No more access to my 'blue' movies.

There would never be a better or worse one than the one that was unveiled (swiftly) before my eyes. It would cure me of my lust for porno films, it would erase from me my habit of lip-smackingly mentally undressing every woman who came into my view.

With the loud smack on her backside which as she tried to turn to parry extended into a full fist groping of her breast until she cried out in agony, I was disgusted at myself. Appalled that a tutored hypocritical part of me approved, revolted that I couldn't turn my gaze from this rivetting scenario. You may have forgotten and find this hard to believe now but it happened and I saw it with my own eyes. I read in newspapers and I was told worse happened. But with my own eyes in the old taxi park, I saw, we used to call them bayaye, try to undress a woman.

Yes, you read right. I saw bayaye try to undress a woman though some of the people who participated in this attempted undressing were in suits and nor high on some things their jaws were crunching on or even taxi drivers. She had made the mistake, nearly fatal then, of daring to walk in the taxi park in a very short mini skirt. I bet you have forgotten that at one time women couldn’t wear mini skirts in Kampala and walk the streets unaccompanied! I saw this.

"I'm the rose that never bloomed."

Police shoot real bullets
Before I joined campus at Makerere University and learned that strikes and running battles with the Police are nothing to be awed about. Long before all this, if you are a Museveni regime baby like I was, hearing bullets fly to save a criminal from lynching was something you had never heard. I did hear Police fire bullets in the air, real killer bullets to save a thief and risking injuring innocent passers-by in the process. After more than three years since I last had such an experience, it happened to me again not more than two weeks ago when I was visiting a friend in Bweyogerere.

"The red badge of courage."

It’s not that I don’t love Kampala, I do. I just wanted to tell you a few of the thing I have seen in Kampala in my younger years. There’s so much more I have seen than I have told you.

Maybe if the wine is right and the mood is right, next week I might be able to tell you so much more. Wonderful Kampala night sights I have seen.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Great Man is Gravely Ill, Pray For Him


Today I did my share
In building the nation.
I drove a Permanent Secretary
To an important urgent function
In fact to a lunch at the Vic.

The menu reflected its importance
Cold bell beer with small talk,
Then fried chicken with niceties
Wine to fill the hollowness of the laughs
Ice-cream to cover the stereotype jokes
Coffee to keep the PS awake on return journey.

I drove the Permanent Secretary back.
He yawned many times in back of the car
Then to keep awake, he suddenly asked,
Did you have any lunch friend?
I replied looking straight ahead
And secretly smiling at his belated concern
That I had not, but was slimming!

Upon which he said with a seriousness
That amused more than annoyed me,
Mwanainchi, I too had none!
I attended to matters of state.
Highly delicate diplomatic duties you know,
And friend, it goes against my grain,
Causes me stomach ulcers and wind.
Ah, he continued, yawning again,
The pains we suffer in building the nation!

So the PS had ulcers too!
My ulcers I think are equally painful
Only they are caused by hunger,
Not sumptous lunches!

So two nation builders
Arrived home this evening
With terrible stomach pains
The result of building the nation -
- Different ways.

Henry Barlow.