Brian is a journalist. He is a writer, radio producer and presenter, web designer and he’s currently studying animation and design in South Africa. He has written creative pieces for some Ugandan national newspapers but for a long time, creative writing had taken a back seat, till now! The first time I saw Brian’s facial caricature in a weekend newspaper, up there with the article headline, it took a while to sink in that the guy who’s article I was about to read sleeps next door to me in my university hostel.Brian started writing again and Wshop has provided the space to publish his articles for the meantime. Without further ado, Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Abong Brian.
When people said the world was big, I never really took time to imagine the scale of that. Sure, some with more active imaginations will think up notions based on a number in square miles, a Google map memory or even sci-fi. But you can never really get to terms with the scale of it until your world changes. I’m not talking about finally fulfilling a resolution or one of its effects, marriage. I’m talking about war, or something gentler, like an extended stay in a “foreign” land, away from what was your world. Friends and their connections, habits, family, that small cocoon of variables that when put together, were your life.
I’m writing this from Johannesburg, my home for the rest of 2017 and maybe longer. I was supposed to have written it during my first weeks here, I didn’t. It’s however here in all its glory, about two months after I arrived in the City Of Gold (Egoli). In this first installment of what the inside out characters in my head have termed “The Big come back, Last Chance, It’s never gonna work,” I’m going to recap one of the things I’ve learnt about myself.
Homeless people make me uncomfortable.
True, seeing less fortunate people makes a lot of people feel something. Pity, disgust, maybe even love, I don’t know. But mine is a feeling that’s getting on my nerves. Hmm, I guess that’s why they call them feelings.
Anyway, the homeless or whatever the politically correct term are like traffic lights here. Back in Uganda, traffic lights hit the news before the road. There’s an announcement, bids, occasional controversy, artistic impressions follow and then works start. My point is traffic lights are few, leave the city and that list is even less arousing.
In Johannesburg, the case is different, the city is laid out on a grid. This means all roads intersect at some point. At almost all of these, is a traffic light. And for each of the colors on these lights, there’s probably a homeless guy around.
This became a real problem as it took on a mathematical dimension. The odds were in favour of the homeless. I bet that’s never been said before. Anyway, the sheer number of them would puzzle anyone from another African country. In Uganda, our beggars are usually people who physically can’t fend for themselves. In Johannesburg, they’re able bodied bi-linguists at least. And they are at the pick and pay, the KFC down the street and 6/10 times, the guy tapping your shoulder.
So what exactly is my issue? Well, the number of these chaps has made me start acting like that the stereotypical woman. And before you spit at your screen, I mean that I change my mind like the stereotypical woman changes clothes. Case in point, when one looks at my smile, it’s evident I have more than one sweet tooth. This neglected medical condition makes me walk to the shop for some of the least essential things known to man, candy. Chocolate, sweets, jelly things with weird shapes, you name it. But the presence of a haggard looking fellow, standing close to the entrance, empty cup in hand, is enough to make me temporarily forget the candy. Now there I am, having had to muster energy to leave whatever wherever, heading back with cash in one hand and broken dreams in the other. The feeling I tell you is one I can’t explain. I can however say it’s similar to guilt, shame and anger having a hungry baby.
This hybrid mutant feeling I have now discovered, is my fault. I’ll explain why.
When I first arrived, my mind was foggy. To reiterate, my world had changed. In this new world, I tried out a few new outlooks. Most of them in front of the mirror. One of the more practical ones though, was a sort of ambassadorial role (I like how that rolls). Seeing as I was not from here, my actions could impact people’s opinions of where I came from. On realising I’d come up with such an idea, I immediately gave myself a pat on the shoulder for possessing the power of logical reasoning.
I was then thrust into this heavy role when right outside my hotel on the first morning, a teenager in what I initially thought was Kanye West inspired fashion approached me. Don’t blame me, it’s South Africa, many things are different here. Anyway, after failing to register that no communication was taking place, I informed him I didn’t understand the language. I however had an idea what he wanted because of the universal language of gestures. No one rubs their tummy and points to their mouth to say “hey, punch me in the gut so we see what comes out of my mouth”. This was confirmed later when he spoke English.
Now my reaction based on the chosen outlook that day was, Ugandans aren’t stingy, but we aren’t ATMs either, so here you go, but don’t bother me again. I thought of it like buying protection in those Mafia movies. This quickly proved to be a shit idea as the next day, he treated me like a long lost friend. By the end of the first week, the number of people I knew in my new world was 40% homeless people. The other 60% later told me my approach wouldn’t work, a fact I’d learned firsthand. This made me feel dumb, and in my chosen outlook, my nation too.
Keeping with my allergy to stress, I quickly switched my outlook so as to move on from the guilt. That outlook’s effects are however here to stay. I can never spend money at a retail establishment and walk out the same. I’m less of an impulse buyer now, more of a bulk buyer. Thanks homeless fellas, you made me uncomfortable.
Written By Abong Brian