Monday, October 27, 2008

In Need of Redemption, I Turn To You Again...

You have watched me take some knocks. For a while there, I know you knew I was wondering. You never doubted or questioned. I have never appreciated your far-sightedness as I do now.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

For a boy named Joe...(with a day or two to go..:-)

Dear Joe,

Some famous Joes… (I try to imagine where your name might have come from….)

Jonathan—son of a King, best friend to a man who would be king

Joseph—reputed adopted father of Jesus the Nazarene

I like to think but the name could have come anywhere else, from another source….

I don’t think I will be able to write to you again after this. More than most, I’m possessed to an acute degree with a sense of the brevity of our mortality and the appalling awareness that much as I wish to defy time, all this is futile. That I know this is impossible and that won’t stop me from trying. Naturally I wish this would speak for me all that I think I will ever think of telling you.

What do I know?

I know the sound of your voice though you may never know mine. In my stranger solitary moments which are often enough, I’m convinced this is a good thing. It is easier to be a hero when you are never tested by the realities and in a life with too few of those that is nothing to turn your nose up at. Every boy needs a hero as much as later he needs to tear him down to stop being a boy.

I have worried about you when I knew you were ill, in all my travels and the travels I’m yet to make had you commingled in my home coming thoughts though I have never been able to tell anyone how. I have never been able to tell the one person I should have told.

I have these songs that remind me of you, that remind me of various stages, when it shouldn’t be this way but it is; I have been in towns in countries few people I know will ever go to or wish to, silent evenings on the verandah, watching the sky, after hours of internet chatting, thinking of you, then I hear a song that becomes your song and in some hard to explain way it feels like your tiny sure groping fingers reaching out.

Here is something I have learned since I have come to know you. There is nothing grown up about love. There is nothing like world weary maturity when it comes to love. I learned that from you. Love is eternal youth, love is fierce, love is demanding, love is consuming, love hurts, love heals, loves makes you anew. I have learned this from you.

So what do I wish for you?

I wish you lots of happiness. It took me a long time to learn that happiness is not from status, it’s not from how much money I have saved up, happiness does not come from the kind of job I’m doing but you have to first be happy before you know happiness.

I wish that one day you do not just love your mother but understand the love you have for your mother because it will be all the more precious for your understanding of it, and it will teach you a kindness for her when you think your patience is about to fail you.

I wish that when the time is right, no matter how it turns out, you will love a girl enough to stand outside her house in the rain, drunk or sober, meaning everything you say, slurring her a song in whatever key of voice you have and the girl you love appreciates it and you.

I wish you adventure, I wish you a love of danger, I wish you a love of thrills because no man will ever appreciate the settled sedateness of home without having known the extreme perils we pretend do not exist when our front doors are locked for the night. I wish you a judiciousness and luck to come through the wiser.

Love your mother, love your wife, cherish your daughters, teach your sons to be men, be kind to your father. That is all the world is in the end. Happy birthday! For this one and the ones to come.

PS: For all the people who have never enjoyed the magesterial hypnosis of The Godfather I & II, I feel sorry for you! Baz, really, it is inexcusable! Next you will be claiming that you have never watched The Sound of Music and before we know where we are, you're dennying everything!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Credit Crunch Bites

With the international credit crunch chomping up on the world financial market,

1. Does it mean that the Communists and Socialists are winning, never mind that for all intents and purposes their movements are dead and buried, in their original forms?

2. Why has no one yet used the title Karl Marx’s Last Laugh in one of the credit crunch stories awash in the media?

3. Now that we know that those very respected Wall Street financial wizards speculations were based on non existent money or money they hoped would be earned in future somehow, does this mean the game Monopoly is crucial training if you ever want to be a Wall Street whiz someday?

4. Why have the International Monetary Fund think tank guys and heads not been bundled up and carted off to jail since they insisted that liberalization of the economy was the way to go and it looks like now we are going to have to renationalize some of the very institutions we were forced to privatize?

5. With privatization, will some kind soul please take down the bathroom tiles that adorn the former Uganda Commercial Bank Building that house Stanbic Bank nowadays and can we have back all those bodies like Coffee Marketing Board and the rest?

6. Did you hear that reporter on BBC who said that he had never heard people in London complain about the rising price of bread before? In all his decade of living in London? That people used to only gripe about the weather?

7. Does the credit crunch really have anything to do with me? Or they just want to me think it does?

John Nagenda has not managed to make me chuckle in quite a while but his last description of a certain anatomical part of U.S.A Presidential candidate John McCain had me catching myself from laughing out loud at the rude unfairness of it all, but naye Nagenda….mbu Mccain’s “fantastically wrinkled neck.”

Which brings me to another wonderment, which Presidential candidate do you support? Do the USA elections mean anything to you? I’m so full of questions today! It comes from having nothing better to do!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

My Six

“The first thing critics tell you about our ministers’ official residences is that each has seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms, one for each day of the week. All I can say is that on the first night there was no room in my mind for great criticism. I was simply hypnotized by the luxury of the great suite assigned to me. When I lay down in the double bed that seemed to ride on a cushion of air, and switched on that reading lamp and saw all the beautiful furniture anew from the lying down position and looked beyond the door to the gleaming bathroom and the towels as large as a lappa I had to confess that if I were at that moment made a minister I would be the most anxious to remain one for ever. And maybe I should have thanked God I wasn’t. We ignore a man’s basic nature if we say, as some critics do, that because a man like Nanga had arisen overnight from poverty and insignificance to his present opulence he could be persuaded without much trouble to give up again and return to his original state.

A man who has just come in from the rain and dried his body and put on dry clothes is more reluctant to go out again than another who has been indoors all the time. The trouble with our new nation—as I saw it then lying on that bed—was that none of us had been indoors long enough to be able to say “To hell with it.” We had all been in the rain together yesterday. Then a handful of us—the smart and the lucky and hardly ever the best—had scrambled for the one shelter our former rulers left, and had taken it over and barricaded themselves in.”

A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe

It was a shock of recognition, reading that passage from Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People. It was like I was back to the year before, breathlessly flipping through African Woman Magazine, amazed at a home like former Health minister Mike Mukula’s existed in Kampala, behind walls on a road I had walked on searching for a boda ride ostentation I would hardly believe was behind those walls that warned I do not approach KK Security guarded this home. Eye popping! In breathless astonishment listening to the wonders of those who had managed to sneak into Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa’s mansion, a home with its own private chapel just like those Italian Renaissance rulers’ villas. All in Uganda wow!

Running on that extracted passage…. “And from within they sought to persuade the rest through numerous loud speakers, that the first phase of the struggle had been won and that the next phase-- the extension of our house-- was even more important and called for new and original tactics….”
Now where have we heard that before?!

Reading that I discovered I now have six favourite novels, writing that better than any other (of course you might disagree and have your own favourites, do tell me!) pins down the little lies our leaders get us to swallow. Well, not so little, when you look back on your life and realise you lived a counterfeit life, cheated, you never lived the life that you could have if someone had not been awarded that scholarship because they had better connections, secured the job that you were naturally talented to do because they were the right tribe, were born deformed because your mother was too poor to go for proper medical care carrying you in her womb and the local herbalists need money too. Yeah, you existed but never lived because you were convinced you did not deserve any inherited birthright. Corruption does that.

They knew, by candlelight, Tilley lamp, gaslight, in library quiet, motor car countryside roaming, backstreets in the evening hurrying; the snares of corruption; in their lives, in the lives of their friends, countries, in the work they were writing. My six books of corruption:

1. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (After reading Dead Souls, you will understand why Gogol had to run mad. Die raving mad, burning up the sequel. Russia seems to not have changed much since he wrote this, the Tsars replaced by the Oil oligarchs, and the scrambling, denied resentful hungry beneath, hatred filled or devious minded, plot their downfall or how to chip away some.)

2. The People’s Bachelor by Austin Bukenya (The continuing baffling mystery that Uganda’s best novel is out of print, most booksellers in first hand and second hand bookshops have never heard of it nor the author continues, hurts. One of the best novels you have never read, the stunning last pages that predict the Uganda we live in today do not lose their power to shock.)

3. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah (The honest man in spite of himself, I have known those strange, home foot-dragging dawns, bizarre skies, watching those eating unable to eat yourself. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born in the Heinemann African Writers Series imprint also possibly has one of the most perfect front book covers ever designed, as moving as the writing inside.)

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (The failed love affair with his dreams, the appalled and temporarily paralyzing sudden second sight at the unworthiness of our dreams; the poverty of spirit, the curse of answered prayers, Fitzgerald’s prose stretches on you on the rack and compels suspension of disbelief briefly and then lingers like a popular song from one’s departed youth.)

5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (The prose musician, the shameless seducer, that Russian! Imagine reading The Red Pepper –3 AM or Mr. Hyena-- and not feeling guilty or disgusted. Thrilled in fact. The novel that achieves what Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray set out to achieve and failed, corrupt the reader or at least sense the silent tread and sometimes wonder if you are not a part of it. A verbal magician!)

6. A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe (The closet admission that given a chance perhaps we would not be so high and mighty if we too had the chance and choices to be corrupt or not. The first African nugu novel I have read. The one novel that convinces me that while Achebe is not a great writer, he is an important one.)

Okay, now really, I know you have your favourite corruption novels, films, songs, paintings, photographs, anecdotes, share! Me I want to know! I have this upcoming cocktail thing where I want to be witty-witty!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Alfred Kinsey and How He Changed Your World.

I’m just beginning to read about Alfred Kinsey in detail. You could say that along with heavyweights like English botanist Charles Darwin, and Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (of course there are lots of people whose names I skip) are responsible in large part to the world we live in. our everyday world. The way we relate to each other and some of the morality we try to live up-to and force others to follow. The way we think about sex, the way we love, our religious beliefs, the way we regard nature, relate to each other.

How I wish now I could get my hands again on that Liam Neeson movie Kinsey again! It was the first movie that made me slowly realise that the 1960s in Western Europe and the USA would not quite have been what they were without this former bisexual American Methodist who wrote Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948, reprinted 1998) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953, reprinted 1998) .

It was Kinsey that made a howling America admit that many men had actually experienced a homosexual encounter in their youth. He proved, with life stories to argue, that many American women who were supposed to be married virgins, often had had sex before they were married. He proved, again with life-stories, that children did think about sex, had sexual experiences and yes there were orgasms and they were a big deal for both sexes. Scientifically.

Anti-Kinsey groups allege, “Kinsey's work has been instrumental in advancing acceptance of pornography, homosexuality, abortion, and condom-based sex education, and his disciples even today are promoting a view of children as "sexual beings." Their ultimate goal: to normalize pedophilia, or "adult-child sex." That’s from the folks at www. (Concerned Women for America) say.

As far as I know, no book on Alfred Kinsey or by Alfred Kinsey exists in Kampala and perhaps Uganda. I know. I have been frantically searching for any. Kinsey’s life story reinforces for me a suspicion that the people who fundamentally change the world are not the headline makers but the academia, the teachers, and I’m beginning to wonder with real worry what our academia and our teachers have been quietly imparting. Perhaps this being Uganda, someone needs to ask what our religious leaders are imparting. It is time, I fully realise, I stopped saying someone, it is time I started actively asking. The world is changed one person at a time. It is no small achievement to convince your child that eating carrots is good for them, their eye sight will be the better for it. We change the world everyday and never appreciate our influence or are ashamed of it.

Thinking of posting this blog post, I realised that I do not know who the Google founders are, the supposed parent company that supports blogger. Yeah, I do not know who began blogger and until this moment, I did not care. I’m a Facebook regular. It was my lifeline for many months when I could not see my friends and when I chat with them on facebook I do not feel a need to call them or to see them physically. I think they are well. They have got to be well. Their status message read ebullient. They took a while to answer my phone text messages but I mean we all know that the phone networks here are far from reliable and can you believe it that Mango or MTN can suspend its services for a whole afternoon and there are no street demonstrations. The National Bureau of Standards does not say anything the next day, no newspaper announcement, radio or what.

The mind is an inquiring, thirsty sponge, open to soak up influences. Your mind determines who you are. This means that your mind influences greatly determine who you think you are. Your teachers, academic and non academic. In early youth I read the stories of violent revolution, Biblical and French Revolution like they were great adventure stories.

Until a few days ago I thought Guy Fawkes was a bad guy, never did think about his cause. In read a pleading letter in a newspaper that asked how it is that there is only one street named after first Democratic Party President Benedicto Kiwanuka and incredible as it seems, he is yet to be named a Ugandan national hero. A man who in the official records is reputed to have died refusing to compromise the independence of the judiciary and played a more than significant part in the eventual independence of Uganda ( never mind its format). I have begun to wonder how many kids born after 1986 know the name of Benedicto Kiwanuka or care that such a man lived. What about Basil Bataringaya? Musaazi? Why am I bringing up their names? They were gentlemen, at least by Ugandan standards and I’m wondering if there’s still a place for such people in our Uganda.

I should have written for you something else but I could not think of anyone else but Alfred Kinsey and how he changed my world. Changed your world.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

And For Today's Class....Discuss


I wrote the main body of this post three years ago. In an email discussion I was having with a couple of people I had just met. It was a heady time for me, very exciting, meeting these people, slowly making up my mind that yes, I wanted the life they were living and learning from them how to live that life. In the process of deciding what in their lives though I did not wish to ever be a part of my life. Some of them lived a life that I heard a line in a movie called Shortbus captures perfectly, “It’s like the 60s, with less hope.”

In the months immediately before and after this email discussion, I wrote some very good work. Many Ugandan newspaper and magazine readers remember My Favourite Part of Kampala. fans remember Why I Hate Shakespeare and I still receive emotional emails from college students who identify with the anger with which I wrote that article. I wrote in that time also Uganda’s Literary Scene Today, Late Sunrise Nights and began to write an article titled Night Kampala Showers I have never let anyone read because it became something so much more than I had planned it to be that it frightened me.

2006 was a significant year for me. I may have said this before. I had so much less than I do now and I wanted so much. It is from this place that email comes, those states of mind I was in, about to implement some hard decisions, let go of some people, try for a dream.


July 2006

Of course you have been here before. I suspect you know all this but it does not lessen the freshness and shock of its discovery by myself. Edith Wharton or some other American writer said that the world is made of two or three stories but that each writer keeps on writing them in their own way generation after generation because it is incredible anyone else could have felt the way they found those stories in their own lives. Very true!

I cannot believe anyone knows what I want to tell you both yet the thinking reasoning part of me knows very well it is all old news. But it is incredible. I know now, I think, what is the greatest killer of Ugandan writers.

It is not the lack of a reading culture which renders serious writing a clown’s job. It is not the poverty which many writers all over the world anyway live in and always managed to produce great literature.

It is not the lack of government or public recognition that a class of artistes called authors separate from journalists exist in this city thus making us invisible like beggars are invisible to the complete munakampala.

Neither is it the lack of a literary background, a history against which to measure our efforts, look for inspiration and guidance, feel we are continuing and a part a tradition that enfolds us like the protection of a family circle.

It is not the rooted capitalist mentality that has merged into our culture and thinking that prides material possessions over spiritual and mental growth.

The greatest killer of Ugandan writers is the solitude of the task of being a writer. I don’t mean this in the act of writing which is really not lonely when the writing is coming well.

I mean the total wasteland the writer has to confront when immersion in his/her writing ceases for a time and he looks up and all around is aridity. The million thronging people round him/her who might as well be dumb or even inanimate objects because when they try to speak to each other, it is as if they are speaking foreign languages to each other. Henry Morton Stanley meets Kamurasi.

This lack of similar minded souls and minds to commune with, to think and argue and test and, yes, love each other is what kills the Ugandan writer. A lonely profession is made unbearable by living in solitary confinement in an overcrowded prison. It is the aloneness that kills.

As for love, fuck it!, there is no love for one trying to be an artist. In the two or three hours when a room is borrowed and there is supposed to be love, love is the furthest thought on either mind.

He is wondering whether the guy he has borrowed the room from might come earlier than usual and if he will have enough time to clean the bed and clear away the lunch or breakfast or snacks they, she ate from.

She is wondering whether any of the neigbours saw her enter the room with him. Whether there is anyone who lives here who knows her or her brothers or her parents. She is wondering whether he will think her cheap and dump her after this. She is wondering whether he will give her money for transport for the taxi to go back home.

How can there be love when a part of me remains aside, the devil in the corner, notebook open , pen scribbling, amused smile on lips noting not only precariously perched on top he is and how his knees hurt, what is under this damn bed sheet?, but also the moans or they acting?

How can this be love when all is imagined so intensly before anything happens and when it is happening, the writing is taking place? There is no love for the artist. No experience even.