What’s with all the heat?!

So, this photo of the deputy Attorney General of Uganda carrying an AK47 in the vicinity of his cows … Reminds me of an incident a few weeks ago. I was at a fuel station car wash bay to have my car washed.

Sitting there people and car watching, I was very idly checking out the washed Nissan SUV parked next to my car when a newer model of the very same car drove into the station forecourt, towards the car I’d just been looking at. Both vehicles, by the way, bore tinted glass.

A policeman in the black uniform of the counter terrorism unit (or is it the VIP protection unit?) hopped out of the front passenger seat of the second Nissan, toting a shiny new AK47. And carrying on his person a bit of military hardware; extra gun magazines, a retractable baton, what looked like mace, etc. He adjusted the gun’s strap over his shoulder then reached into the car and retrieved a black pistol, which he then awkwardly stuffed into his waistband. Meanwhile, out of the back passenger seat alighted a chap in shirtsleeves, wearing open leather sandals and carrying his suit jacket and shiny, polished shoes in his hands.

I immediately recognised him as one of my neighbours and a recent entrant to the Cabinet of Uganda. Let me state my bias against this dude, even though he is a distant relative by marriage. He irked me when, at Mzee’s funeral a few months ago, he made a thoroughly political speech – the sort that Mzee detested – and capped it all by saying that because of M7, people like him who went to Iganga S.S. could now speak at gatherings of old boys of Busoga College Mwiri. Mzee, my bako and myself attended Mwiri. As did many of Mzee’s distinguished friends.

This was the first time I was seeing him since the funeral and it brought back a bit of the irritation I felt then.

Anyway, the driver then reversed the second Nissan into the washing bay next to the first one, hopped out, ran round to the first one and drove it out onto the forecourt. The policeman opened the back door, the minister from Iganga S.S. climbed in, the door was closed and the policeman climbed into his own seat with all his paraphernalia.

A short pause … then the driver hopped out, run back around to the Nissan they’d arrived in, reached into the back seat and re-emerged holding a grey pistol which he handed to the policeman, before resuming his seat and driving off.

The chap I was sharing a bench with (the kind we called a ‘form’ back in the day) and I looked at each other, then at the retreating SUV and quietly resumed our business. My neighbour went back to sipping from his mug of porridge and I quietly wondered to myself why a junior minister from a minor ministry needed 3 firearms in his vehicle. Presumably the grey pistol was for his person, seeing as it was retrieved from the back seat. And I’m not counting the armed policeman at his home.

I think these days, when you get appointed to the Cabinet, after reciting the oath of office and posing for the group photograph with No. 1, you are led to a side room where you are given the mandatory lobotomy, a yellow necktie/shirt/dress, keys to a shiny new SUV and, your choice of firearm(s).

We should all be so lucky.

What’s with all the heat?!


Bright and early this morning, I went to open the window of my bathroom so that my trio of cactus plants could get them some sun. I bought these last Saturday at a farmers’ market.


Then a bee buzzed into my bathroom through the half open window. First off, I thought it funny that the bee was going after my cacti, seeing as they are not flowering, then as the bee buzzed against the closed half of the window, I watched it go to and fro and started to think about some random facts that suddenly came together in my mind like a marriage of lemon tea and roasted groundnuts.

The bees, they are a-dying!

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Last year I watched a documentary on telly about this 3rd generation family-owned trucking company in Australia who had the unenviable job of trucking hundreds of bee hives from their winter abode to their summer home. I don’t rightly know if Australia has the sort of white winters the rest of the winter having world has, or not, but I do remember that the bees spent winter and summer in different places.

So, the documentary is playing and I am wondering why the bees didn’t just, y’know, fly up, then the voice-over guy explained that where in generations past they’d have flown  to their destination along a vegetative highway of plants, trees, shrubs, flowers and whatnot, now, they had to contend with wide expanses of storeyed buildings, residential suburbs, miles of blacktop highway chock-a-block with fuel exhaust spewing vehicles, electricity pylons… y’know, the physical infrastructure of modern day first world countries.

Now these particular bees were some special kinda bees, that only fed on the nectar from this particular flower that grew in a secluded mountaintop protected habitat or some such. As if the life of an ordinary bee isn’t precarious enough already.

The truckers’ job was to deliver the bees, period. Over hundreds of kilometres, with the last couple of kilometres requiring the use of a dedicated train – a train I tell you – up a perilous mountain-side track because of course there was no road for the trailer truck. Or any roads for that matter. Dude, it was spell binding watching this father and son trucking team working overtime to keep the bees sedated, calm and un-stressed, and the grief on their faces when they got to one of the staging areas halfway up the mountain and discovered that a previous shipment of bee hives had been knocked over – by vandals or teenagers, usually one and the same thing – so hundreds of bees were lying about dead like so much discarded confetti. Gripping stuff. There I was widening my eyes and looking at the ceiling in that way you do at a funeral service to keep the tears at bay. Over some dead bees.

And when summer was over, back up the mountain they went to retrieve the hives and bring them down to their winter home.

Here’s some sobering information. In the last 5 years, the bee population has dropped by one third. 1/3. If bees were to disappear from the face of this here earth, humans (you and me both) would have just about 4 years left to live. So, if all the bees in all the world dropped dead today, my infant son would just about make his 5th birthday before the zombie apocalypse hit town and wiped us all out. Now that’s grim.


As I stood there in my pyjama bottoms watching the bee buzz against my window I remembered another random fact, how they can become tired and lose the energy required to return to their hives; in that moment I purposed that this time, and in future, I wasn’t going to swat this bee (to an almost certain death) so I opened the second window and out it flew.

Fun fact 1.

If you find a tired looking bee in your home … whats a tired looking bee you ask? well, a bee that’s sort of lazily flying about, in a a non-frenzied non-purposeful way … if you find a tired looking bee in your home, a simple solution of sugar and water will help revive an exhausted bee.

Simply mix 2 tablespoons of white granulated sugar with 1 tablespoon of water, and place on a spoon for the bee to reach. Hey, you could also help by sharing this post to raise awareness.

Fun fact 2.

The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) is improving livelihoods in Masindi and Bushenyi districts in western Uganda, by giving former hunters an alternative method of making a living in bee keeping.

Whatever our response to nature and the world around us, we need to always remember that we are all interconnected. What you do now, to something as small as a bee, could be signing the death warrant for your grandchildren. So inform yourself, be eco-smart and make a difference.

Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall we be saved. – Dr. Jane Goodall




The Butterfly Effect

We’re stuck in traffic in Mabira Forest again, on the trip between Jinja and Kampala. I was stuck going out and now I am stuck again going home. Why? Because it has been decided that the trees and shrubs closest to the road must be trimmed. And it must be done in the middle of the working day.

People say it is because the road is finally about to be built in a real highway. From the number of trucks being neatly lined with wood, I think the only beneficiary is whoever gets to sell the smaller pieces for firewood, the medium ones to charcoal makers and the largest bits for timber.

I’m stuck here and I’m thinking about butterflies. It used to be, only a few decades ago, that your drive from Kampala to Jinja could be interrupted by a swarm of butterflies. They flew so thick and beautiful that people stopped, or drove really slowly to get through them. I haven’t seen it happen since I was a child.

Butterfly 2
A swarm of butterflies in the Tucavaca Valley Municipal Reserve in Bolivia
         Steffen Reichle

The term Butterfly Effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the metaphorical example of a tornado being influenced by something as small as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier. The butterfly effect is the idea that small things can have non-linear impacts on a complex system, and it has been applied to physics, economics and the weather.

Small things in a complex system may have no effect or may have a massive one, and it is virtually impossible to know which will turn out to be the case. However, human beings are predictable in this regard. We always have HUGE impact and we very often KNOW EXACTLY what DAMAGE we’ll be causing.

Like in Mabira Forest, for example. Approximately 300 square kilometres of natural rainforest has been protected as Mabira Forest Reserve since 1932. Despite this protected status, the forest continues to disappear at an alarming rate.  The forest has been home to many endangered species, some of which probably go extinct each day. And I am not just talking animals. Plants and medicinal herbs and all knowledge of them is disappearing.

Gone, like the butterflies. While we hack and chop and shape our so called ‘Vision 2020’ like crazy blind fools.

I’m stuck in Mabira, but instead of a cool, breathtaking view of nature, I can feel the sun heating up the roof of my car. Instead of the sound of birds or crickets, there is a cacophony of cholera-merchants trying to sell me roast chicken, gonja and soda. Instead of butterflies, there is the occasional buzzing of a bluebottle fly, feeding lazy from the hands of the cholera merchants.

I’d give anything right now to be able to sit in this car and show my son a swarm of butterflies. I’m beginning to think he may never see one.

Butterfly 1
A swarm of monarch butterflies, worldwildlife.org

Here we are, the most clever species ever to have lived. So how is it we can destroy the only planet we have? – Jane Goodall


The Butterfly Effect

Conservation. Chimpanzees. Habitat.

So, picture this.

You have a family. A spouse, some children, some cousins next door in the village with their own mummies and daddies. Maybe a Jajja or two. You’ve lived in this sweet spot for years, nay, decades – the Jajjas moved here because the original sweet spot was crowded, overcrowded. So now, this is your family spot. The earth is good to you in this spot. All the fruit your children can eat, plenty of foliage to take a stroll in. Enough private spaces for you and your spouse to take a matrimonial siesta in. A nice rocky patch for the Jajjas to sun themselves in. Birdsong to wake you in the morning and a bubbling stream to soothe you to sleep after nightfall.

It’s basically all gravy. Until it isn’t.

You’ve been hearing rumours on the forest grapevine of land grabbing. Reports that your neighbours have been forced out of their homes by an ‘investor’ and have been forced to take refuge with their relatives in far-flung places. Except that unlike any investor you know, these ones don’t act like the usual ones.

See the usual investors don’t take away your homes. No, they’ve been content to come by and pass through, taking photographs of themselves posing by your homestead or if they’re lucky, taking a selfie with one of the Jajjas in the background. The more daring ones will plant and tend a shamba in one of the shady spots in the vicinity of your home. Or they’ll hang up a few cylindrical boxes, in a tree branch, for wild bees to turn into a hive. You’re content to look on as all this happens because you don’t eat what they plant – most of the time anyway – and as for the wild honey, there’s usually plenty to go round.

Well, now the rumours are accompanied with the high pitched whine of machinery, followed by a sound you have come to dread. Even if you didn’t know what it was the first time you heard it – the sound of a great big creaking crash – you instinctively knew it wasn’t anything good … and gathered your children round you protectively. Some days the whining and crashes go on from dawn to dusk and other days, there is the blessed sound of silence.

But where before the silence was merely a quiet tapestry of forest sights and sounds – the flash of a birds’ wing as it catches flight, the scurrying of a rodent, the swish of a leaf laden tree branch, the cry of a far-off canine, and the dull thud of a falling wild fruit – now, the silence is pregnant. With dreadful anticipation and fear. The children can feel it, the Jajjas are no longer eating because of the stress. There is talk that your family, you, will have to leave.

But, to go where?

This is your home. It is all you know.


18.4% – or about 3,627,000 hectares – of Uganda is forested.

Between 1990 and 2000, Uganda lost an average of 86,500 hectares of forest per year. That amounts to an average annual deforestation rate of 1.76%.

Between 2000 and 2005, the rate of forest change increased by 21.2% to 2.13% per annum. In total, between 1990 and 2005, Uganda lost 26.3% of its forest cover or around 1,297,000 hectares.

Measuring the total rate of habitat conversion (defined as change in forest area plus change in woodland area minus net plantation expansion) for the 1990-2005 interval, Uganda lost 24.7% of its forest and woodland habitat.



Where do we expect the animals to go?


Conservation. Chimpanzees. Habitat.

A penny for your thoughts: A story about Betty

This is a real life story.

It is a story about a young girl called Betty. Betty came to work for my family, in the mid Nineties, as a house girl. Yes, that’s what we called them in those days, before feminism and political correctness turned a perfectly good term into house-keepers/house-helpers/domestic assistants. I was 9, going on 10. She was about 15 or 16. Right on the edge of beginning her life.

I do not know how she came to work for us, for my Mum actually. I wasn’t old enough to be privy to those details. But from conversations overheard in the kitchen between her and various older people (older than me) who lived with us then, I gathered it was the stereotypical story – absentee/negligent father, lack of school fees, working to support herself and maybe some siblings. In return for her house girl-ing, my mother would send her to school in the coming year, this being the Christmas holidays. Nursing school or secretarial studies or nursery teaching college were the options in those days.

She was a pleasant enough girl. Worked hard. Got on well with us children. Even helped me with my holiday homework once or twice. We weren’t particularly demanding children anyway, some porridge in the morning, a sugarcane snack, a spot of lunch, maybe some errands round the house and we were sorted. We were quite content to be left to our own devices, climbing the guava tree or making playthings out of the clay from the anthill or driving our wire cars round the house verandah. Which is how I saw my first used condom.

We lived in an old double storeyed house. The family bedrooms were upstairs, directly over the ground floor sitting room. So there I was, going round the side of the house and just about to reach the sitting room windows when I looked down to ensure I didn’t catch the tyre of my wire car in the crack in the verandah as I turned the corner, and saw, right at the edge of my field of vision, a … well, a used rubber.

Out there in the open ffwa, like a tiny dirty linen…

Those were the days when condom use demonstrations were held using a yellow banana. Philly Bongoley Lutaaya had just died. So we had all seen condoms. Obviously there was a difference – in content – between the condom on the banana and this one in the grass just beyond my feet. That’s how – drum roll – I discovered what a used one looked like.

‘course I stopped, squatted down and looked at it. Took a good, hard, long look. Then I wondered where it had come from. The window to my right opened into the corridor from the sitting room to the unoccupied ground floor guestroom. Then, with realisation dawning in my brain, I slowly looked up, to the first floor window of the bedroom occupied by one of the various older people mentioned above. My Mum’s cousin. My Uncle. Who shared a bedroom with Betty. Their beds were separated by a curtain. A Nytil curtain.

Suddenly, I recalled a fact that my pre-pubescent brain had filed away. A few weeks after Betty had joined our household, Uncle had slowly taken to joining her in the kitchen after supper. Uncle, who like a typical Musoga man of those days didn’t like to do housework. Me I just assumed he was helping her wash the dishes. After all we laid the table and brought the food to the table and cleared the table after eating. The least he could do was help her wash up. So I thought. It now appeared that he was helping her with more than the dishes.

I eventually got up and drove on but only to call my siblings to come and see. We poked it a bit with a stick, got bored and carried it, with the stick, to the fence where we chucked it into the undergrowth. And then I promptly forgot about it.

Until about a week later, when my grandfather showed up in the evening. Which meant he was going to spend the night. My grandfather didn’t like to sit in the house after dusk, said he found it too warm and stuffy. So he sat outside under the old Kabaka-njagala tree, with my Uncle, My Mum, my Grandmum and one or two other people. In those days the Swahili news, with Swalley Khisa, on UTV came on about 7:30 pm which is when we served them tea, followed by the Luganda news – or maybe it was the other way round, I don’t remember. What I do remember is that they talked from when the first news bulletin came on, up to the English news with Bbaale Francis – or was it Lucy Banya that day? – which was at 10:00 pm. I know, because Jajja always watched the news and when the opening tune struck up I went to get him. Which closed the discussion.

So, the duration between two news bulletins is how long it took to decide the course of a young girl’s life, and how it’d go from that point on. Maybe it was decided the night before I found the used condom, maybe it was decided over a sinkful of dirty dishes and soap suds, maybe it was decided when her father either failed or neglected to pay her school fees. All I know is that my part in the decision making process was serving the tea and roast groundnuts which fuelled the discussion.

Betty left, with Uncle Mugaya. Whatever he was studying at the YMCA while he lived at our house probably ended there as well. The next time I saw her, 2 kids in tow, at a function at Jajja’s village house a couple of years later, she looked rather haggard. I assumed since she was living in Jajja’s boys quarters with Uncle, whom I knew was unemployed – from his numerous messages to my Mum asking her to fix him somewhere, she was probably digging for a living. She had heard, and was super excited, that I’d gotten a 4 in PLE; I couldn’t bring myself to ask how her life was. I just thanked her for her good wishes, smiled and kept quiet but inside me, something died a little.



P.S: Betty still lives in the village but no longer in Jajja’s compound. She’s a lot bigger and a lot browner, but with dark patches on her cheekbones now. Her husband, my Uncle, after a long spell of subsistence farming and produce trading is now a Gombolola Internal Security Officer (GISO). Lord knows how he wangled that. They’ve had a couple more kids. With his new status and the government motorcycle came, naturally, a second wife. Our house girl is now my Aunt. Aunt Betty.

A penny for your thoughts: A story about Betty

A penny for your thoughts: Motivation, aka Afande dodges the bullet

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The valley between Wakitaka and Musima villages is where the transformation occurs. He knows this. He’s not ok with it but he’s learnt to live with it. It’s the uniform you see. In Musima, the village-village, the uniform is a sign of status, it makes him stand out. It gets him called Afande, Boss, even Ssebo. In Musima he looks people in the eye or above their heads. In Wakitaka, more town than village, he becomes part of the background, another splash of colour in the kaleidoscope of town colours, smells and sounds. Another punctuation mark on the page of life.

He rides through Wakitaka on his way to work at the restaurant. This bicycle was the first thing he bought with his first salary. There were a lot of hungry nights after he bought the bicycle, most of which he spent lying on his threadbare mattress gazing upon his bicycle. These hungry nights taught him something. You must plan for things. You don’t just do things anyhow. If he could go back, he would have deposited money on the bicycle, paid it off slowly. Hadn’t the Muyindi told him that most people did that, pay slowly? But he knew why he did it. An afande shouldn’t walk through the village of Musima. Walking was for other people. That wasn’t the real reason.

It all started with a girl. As most things do. Her name was Fatina. By village standards she was a raving beauty. With her big eyes and the gap in her front teeth and of course, her kabina. God had compensated what she lacked in height by giving her a fairly large bum. What God didn’t count on, or maybe He knew and found it funny, is that also giving her knock-knees would exaggerate the appearance of her already large bum. When Fatina walked through the centre of Musima, all six shops of it, everyone who was watching had a reaction. The chaps lying on their bodas watched her through half shut eyes, as if to better focus, slowly sucking their breath in through their teeth as they fantasised about doing it to her. The older women stared scornfully at her, despising her youth, the firmness of her bust and the smoothness of her skin. The older men thanked God they were not her father, for surely, no good could come out of such beauty. It swelled a woman’s head, gave her ideas.

It was that bum that started it all. Fatina was walking from the shop, with her sachet of cooking oil and her halfu of posho flour, when – as his eyes followed her down the road – he suddenly caught Apuuli’s eye from across the road, following Fatina’s progress. Him and Apuuli had never got on. Maybe it was the town airs that Apuuli affected; he went to school in town, rather than at the local Wakitaka Secondary. Maybe it was the fact that Apuuli liked to ride his father’s Bajaj motorcycle up and down the road, almost always coating him in dust as he returned home carrying two 20-litre jerrycans of water from the borehole. Whatever it was, from that September day when he and Apuuli caught themselves lusting after Fatina’s bum, it was on.

Fatina liked animals. She was the type to rescue puppies from the roadside or look after people’s wayward chicken and turkeys. He figured that maybe if he got her a puppy from that Mzungu woman who had a shelter in town, where his neighbour Kirya worked, he’d be in the door. So he set his plan in motion. Talked to Kirya. Kirya talked to the Mzungu. Came back and told him to wait two weeks. So he waited. When it was almost time, he sent Fatina’s friend Nabirye to tell Fatina that he had a message for her and was bringing it on Thursday.  After supper. He was secretly hoping to find one of her parents at home so that they’d notice him. Bold move, yes, but our man was never one for prudence. Nabirye came back to tell him Fatina would be waiting.

Come Thursday. Kirya returned from work with the puppy in a box. He checked it, made sure it had no fleas or ticks and gave it some scraps to keep it content and happy. Then he had his supper, hoisted the box onto his shoulder and strode purposefully towards Fatina’s compound. Deciding at the last minute to use the back entrance, he detoured through Kayiwa’s compound and round the back of Fatina’s. Pushing the back gate open, he slowly stepped through the entrance. As he turned to close the gate he caught the reflection of light off a piece of chrome, from under the Jackfruit tree opposite the gate. Figuring her father was home; he suddenly realized maybe this wasn’t such a smart move after all. Unfortunately it was too late and someone must have heard him entering for there was a suddenly a sound as of footsteps rapidly approaching the back door from inside the house.

Before he could figure out a move, the door was pulled open a bit, someone peered out, then it was flung half open and Fatina stood there, her hair slightly disheveled, one blouse strap hanging off her shoulder. Even from where he was standing he could see two things clearly as she hissed at him in an angry whisper, asking what was he doing there. First, under her thin cotton vest, she clearly had no bra on. Second, was her kabina peeking out from under the towel draped loosely around her waist. Temporarily bereft of words, he soundlessly held out the box towards her. Two things then happened in rapid succession. The door opened all the way, revealing Apuuli in boxer shorts, and, the box moved in his hands and out leaped the puppy, landing halfway between him and the doorway.

He looked at Fatina. She looked at the puppy. The puppy growled at Apuuli. Apuuli looked at him. An eternity passed. It could have been a couple of seconds. Then Apuuli snaked one arm around Fatina’s waist and pulled her back into the house, as he watched, all the blood draining from his body down into his legs, making them feel as heavy as a mature banana stem. “Kale, I thought it was your father, I thought he had caught me this time…” floated out just before the door handle clicked shut.

He closed his eyes. Opened them. Closed them again. Opened them. No, it was still there. The image of Apuuli in his boxer shorts. Damn Apuuli. He didn’t even wear normal underwear like the rest of them! Damn Apuuli and his father’s Bajaj motorcycle. Damn him and his town ways.

The nuzzling of the puppy at his feet is what woke him from his stupor.

He’d picked it up, left through the back gate, leaving it open, and dropped the puppy in front of Kayiwa’s house as he strode through the compound. He walked to the shops, bought 3 sachets of coffee-flavoured gin, sucked them dry then went to sleep. He woke late the next day and walked to town, to the restaurant where his aunt worked as a cleaner, and he asked for a job. Three days later he got the call: He’d been hired as an askari. He bought a bicycle with his first salary.

He didn’t much see Fatina anymore. The gossip was Apuuli had given her kabwotongo. Syphillis. On top of a pregnancy. Mbu her parents had taken her to her grandmother to have it. Apuuli was seen less and less, and never on the bajaj. Someone must have told him his stock had fallen in value in the eyes of the village. It didn’t matter to him now. He had a job. A uniform. And a bicycle. His own bicycle.

Photocredit: Matthias Mugisha, Pearl Eyes Photography 

A penny for your thoughts: Motivation, aka Afande dodges the bullet


II – Do it now or do it later

His name is Henry. He’s about 5’ 2”, but he has a way of walking, bouncing really, that makes him seem much taller. He’s wearing a faded blue checked shirt, rolled up to the sleeves. His collar is frayed and the shirt is missing the top and bottom buttons. His shorts are denim, cut roughly just below the knee. His dusty feet are clad in battered ‘Bidco’ plastic shoes – the knock off version of your Crocs.

He’s sitting on the step that leads into his one room tenement, what you call a ‘muzigo’. His, the last one on the right, is one of a line of 6 mizigo. They stand at a right angle to a larger block of 4, two roomed mizigo. From where he’s seated he can just make out the images on Isabirye’s television, through the open door of No. 2. That’s another thing, the bigger rooms have electricity and his do not. When he makes enough money to buy a radio, he reckons he’ll have enough to move up in the world, into the muzigo with electricity. He keeps bouncing his clenched right fist off his knee.

Henry is in town – well actually, a trading centre on the outskirts of this upcountry town – because he run away from the village. He left his village as soon as the news of Hellen’s pregnancy became public. When he first arrived here he convinced himself that he’d make enough money to support her, maybe even send for her to join him. He pretended that they could become a family, in the bright two-roomed mizigo. Now weeks have become months, and he doesn’t even know if Hellen had the baby. No one knows where he is. He knows that. He rode off on his dad’s bicycle, just threw a few things in his school bag and left. He has since sold the bicycle. He bought a mattress, 2 inches thick, a basin, some NICE plastic plates and cups. Paid rent. Which is Ush 20,000 a month.

He got a job on a Mugaga’s construction site. The ‘Mugaga’ is the rich man paying for the construction work. Henry is a porter. He mixes the cement, sand and water and delivers the mortar to the masons. When the masons need more bricks, Henry delivers them. He is also responsible for cleaning up the site. Things like broken bricks and spilt mortar. The Mugaga doesn’t like to find that sort of thing. Says it’s wastage. Henry sees the Mugaga arrive in his car sometimes, usually as they’re winding up for the day and he’s cleaning up and putting the tools away for the night. The Mugaga noticed him once and spoke to him. Gave him Ush 5,000. Henry hoped it would lead to something more. Maybe a better job. He hoped the Mugaga had seen the promise in him. But he hasn’t spoken to him since then.

Working on the site is hard. Especially now that its’ been raining. All the heavy lifting, and now working in the rain, is hurting his chest. He has been coughing for a week. His daily wage does not cover medical bills. He bought some tablets at the health centre. The nurse there is kind to him, treats him like a mother would. She’s the only person who has asked after his family in the six months he has been here.

He misses his family. He misses his siblings. He wonders what they say about him now. When he left, his younger brother Fred was preparing to sit his Primary Leaving Examination. His parents always told Fred to be like Henry. To read hard and go to secondary school like Henry. He misses secondary school. He only had a year to go to finish his ‘O’ Levels. Sometimes he hated school but now he mostly misses it. He misses Hellen too but wouldn’t admit it to anyone.

Back then he made it seem like if she didn’t prove she loved him he’d walk away. He knows now he wouldn’t have walked away. If she’d stood her ground, he probably would have waited. Sometimes he wonders why he pushed her to choose to do it then? Why then when they could have done it later?

There’s no point thinking about that now. He has a more important question to deal with right now. Which is how to spend the Ush 500 coin clenched in his right fist. Should he buy a chapatti now and go to sleep on a full stomach or, should he buy it in the morning and start work on a full stomach?



I – Where was he when my cousin needed him?

I’m still unsure how I found out. It was a process. It was as if the knowledge of it kept expanding and growing until it was right there in our faces.

Maybe it was when she stopped attending classes, and stayed in bed most of the day. Maybe it was the fattening of the cheeks and the way that her skin tone slowly changed colour, becoming lighter by the week.

We joked about the lightness of her skin, commenting that maybe she had begun to use Fair & Lovely. She laughed with us in a way that told me something was wrong. Jenna’s mother had passed away when she was still a girl and her father, a university lecturer, buried himself in his work. Jenna sometimes complained that he had more time for his students than he did for her and her brother Timothy.

They were our cousins and so we sometimes spent holidays with each other. This holiday turned out to be the last we ever spent together; things were never the same after that. I used to hang out with Timothy; we went swimming and spent time at the youth fellowship. Always had the feeling that we were not ‘cool’ enough for Timothy so I wasn’t surprised when he begun seeking the attention of the guys at the basketball court.

In an effort to be supportive, I begun attending basketball games to watch Timothy play. It wasn’t too long before Jenna started coming along, and cheering loudly whenever Timothy made a three pointer. He wasn’t tall enough to dunk but he sure could shoot a basket. That’s how we met Michael, Mikey to his friends. Mikey was on the team, which made him super cool, and I guess that’s made him attractive to Jenna because in the months to come, the really difficult ones, we never saw anything of him.

After games, we took to walking home together, the four of us. Except that I walked with Timothy while Jenna walked with Mikey. Then one day, Jenna told us to go on without her; she’d catch up later. We didn’t think too much of it because, secretly, we were relieved. See, Timothy and I liked to stop by this place on the way home for a ka-glass of gin and a kilo of roast pork. Jenna didn’t like any of it, the smell of the gin, the dirt in the joint or even the way the serving girls always ignored her and spoke only to Timothy, or occasionally to me.

For one full holiday, Jenna and Mikey seemed to spend more and more time together until we barely saw them any more. Even basketball was forgotten. If Jenna needed anything, Mikey would be the first in line to get it.

It was the long Christmas holiday before the first term of Senior 6, and Christmas was making everyone cheerful. At our home, however, there was news of something else. I’m still unsure how I found out, because issues of ‘adults’ are never discussed with children around. But somehow, the news of Jenna’s pregnancy filtered through the family. My mother was the first to discover it. Two more aunties visited our home in rapid succession. And then Jenna’s father came. My father came home. There were tears. There was shouting. Then more tears, and more shouting. Finally, resignation. Concern.

Had Jenna been to the doctor? No. Did she know when she was due? No. Did she know who the father was? Silence. Timothy and I immediately thought of Mikey, but out of some sense of loyalty to Jenna, we decided it was not our place to say. We thought Mikey would surely come. Him and Jenna were so close. He would come. The news of the pregnancy got out – outside the family, and into our friends. Still no Mikey. Eventually, after the baby was born, Jenna spoke up and named Mikey. His mother came to the hospital to see the new baby girl. And then she came back the next day with Mikey’s father, but still no Mikey.

At the time it seemed like love, it seemed so romantic, but trust me; there was nothing romantic about having a baby in secondary school. There was nothing romantic about losing all her friends. There was nothing romantic about having to join ‘A’ level when us guys were in First year at Campus.

Jenna lost two years of school, falling behind me, but with support from the whole family, her baby was taken care of when she finally returned to a new school to repeat Senior 5. They wouldn’t let her join Senior 6 otherwise. A new school where no one knew her. Where there were no memories. Where the path home did not run past the basketball court. Mikey went on with his life, conveniently pursuing further studies abroad. Jenna was lucky to have the support to catch up with hers.

Jenna no longer spoke much, outside of stuff to do with the baby. She didn’t complain much about where she ended up but I’ve often wondered if she’d have wanted to study something else at Campus, had she been free.

Suubi. That is her daughter’s name. It means Hope.


Flying the flag for Uganda.

November 1, 2015

A while ago, I was in an internet cafe getting some paperwork done. In the midst of it, an old Mzungu man walked in in a bit of a state. He needed to get a document to someone in the UK and he needed to do it yesterday.

So, the nice lady at the front desk scanned his document and then emailed it for him. Because he had interrupted my transaction, with my permission – respect for one’s elders and all that – I guess he felt compelled to share with me what the fuss was about.

The pensions authority in the UK had written him in June, asking him to send them his bank details (he retired here) so they could wire him his ka-pension. The letter reached him today hence his kavuuyo.

I advised him to go up the street to Aramex and open an account so in future his mail would arrive on time. It would cost him a bit more but he’d never have to rely on the empathy of strangers again.

While I waited for my stuff to be finished, we got into conversation. He was convinced that I had lived in his country (which I have but that’s besides the point) because “I was helpful like his countrymen”.

… I politely disagreed, pointing out that Ugandans are helpful! He must just be hanging out with the wrong ones … then we went into a bit of a back and forth, him dissing Ugandan mechanics, carpenters, plumbers, just about everyone in the service industry and me trying to defend all of us. Then he said this, and I paraphrase,

 “… The pensions guys in the UK ‘followed’ him up to UG and asked him for his bank details so they can give him his money. In UG, even if you personally trek to the Ministry of Public Service for months, nay, years, someone will still conspire to steal your pension. Lord forbid that after retirement you move to Kagera village in Kisoro! …” That Kisoro bit is mine but you get the point.

What could I say?

 Then I left the cafe and crossed the road to the car. Guess what, the attendant hadn’t ticketed me and when I asked how many parking tickets I owed him, he instead asked whether I didn’t have any money to give him. Kale imagine, I’ve just spent 30 minutes of my life assuring this Mzungu that we are not all thugs trying to reap where we have not sowed and here is this jackass trying to rip off his employer!

After giving him a proper earful, I drove to his company office and reported him. Then I called the pensioner, and accepted his offer of a drink to smooth over my ruffled Ugandan feathers.


Flying the flag for Uganda.


My wife is not a fussy person most of the time but she has turned into a total stranger, food wise.

The first, and really the biggest, sign that things were not right-side up was when she suddenly announced that there would be no eating of meat and related products. She couldn’t stand the scent of it cooking. For most people that is not remarkable but in my wife’s case this news created the sort of shock I would feel if our Parliament were to vote tomorrow to reduce its size and restore presidential term limits. She comes from a clan of people known for their prowess at eating meat. For example, it had long been the family custom that after Sunday service we would stop by a supermarket for a pack of bacon and sausages and proceed to the parents’ house for breakfast at which the bacon took very prominent centre stage. And now, I was supposed to simply consign our stock of it to the freezer indefinitely. Surely, no greater love have I felt than that I would give up my meat with nary a second thought.

I was tempted to indulge my desire for meat elsewhere but the story came to mind of a neighbour who on his way home to Jinja bought, and ate, a piece of roast chicken at a truck stop in Mabira forest only to throw it all up upon entering his house. The shame of his young children excitedly pointing out the contents of his vomit was enough to cure him of the desire to do any more roadside eating.

The other crazy thing she’s been doing is snacking on chilli-flavoured Corntops (a promise to buy her some was part of how I got permission to visit the barber after an enforced period of Afro growing). They are a type of puffy crisp made out of maize and stocked in abundance at the new supermarket that she now favours, having thrown out the place we’ve been shopping at for years. Corntops are quite tasty and I have on occasion been known to favour a packet or two.

Now, that my wife is enjoying her Corntops would be rather unremarkable except for the fact that she is allergic to maize. Yes, quite violently allergic, to the point that she has been hospitalised in the past for mistakenly eating some. We’ve got Kenyan neighbours and whenever we visit for dinner, we are favoured with a dish of mukimo, a mash of Irish potatoes, butter, peas, celery and fresh maize kernels. We’ve mastered the art of surreptitiously picking out the maize and scooping it onto my plate so she won’t have an allergic attack because, truth be told, mukimo is quite tasty.
And now here she is feasting on Corntops and I have no idea how to stop her.