The Omweso board is usually carved out of wood; according to Mukwaya, the preferred hard woods came from the Omukebu (Cordial Africana) and Omugavu (Albizia Coriaria) for durability.
“The board game is probably one of the oldest in Uganda. Many ethnic groups appear to have played it for centuries, yet its origin is still obscure, although some people have suggested theories which have not yet been satisfactorily substantiated…,” says Michael B. Nsimbi in his book, Omweso, A Game People Play in Uganda.
However, the scarcity of these trees has forced the carvers to use whatever is available.
One square or hole of Omweso is called essa (plural amasa).Brown seeds called empiki from the Omuyiki tree (Mesoneurum welwitschianum) are used as pellets (counters or men).
The Omuyiki tree takes 20-40 years to mature and its fruits are used to make a foamy concoction used as soap.
Each player in a game has 32 pellets. At the start of a game each player distributes his empiki four to a square in his first row.
The center horizontal line of the board divides it so that each player has two rows each of eight squares.
The object of the game is to capture all the opponent’s pellets or so to reduce them so that he cannot make a move.
The players sit or squat facing each other with the board in the middle on the ground or a stand.
All the 64 pellets remain in play until one player wins. This is not a team game and a player upsetting the board automatically loses the game.
Modifications to the traditional rules of the game have helped in cutting short the duration of a game.
Whereas one game used to last between 10 and 20 minutes, today, it lasts between three and even minutes. |
I love food. Many people who hear this usually join the ever growing list of people who believe it. A few good ones take on a caretaker role, and indulge me in one of my few legal pleasures. One thing is certain though, all these people’s roles in life change once they start believing I love food. From questioning the validity of my statement, to trying to understand how I’m capable of certain gastric feats. It is in light of this that I’d like it to be known that I won the inaugural eating contest at my former workplace. I did it all for love.
As with all love however, prevailing conditions determine how much is present at a given moment. Key of these is the presence of an object of affection. Forget all that rubbish about loving yourself, that shit isn’t worth it, nor is it comparable to loving someone/something else. You may be a selfish bastard, but you don’t care that much about yourself. That’s why you empty your account to please a lady, or try new positions and can’t walk the next day, all for someone else. Jesus surely wouldn’t have died for himself. Even you wouldn’t die for you. I guess what I’m saying is, I love free food more. In fact, I believe a wise person once said free & food are the best words in the English language, and probably any other.
Where am I going with this?
In Uganda, food is cheap. I’ll pause as Ugandans mumble, argue and later agree with me. If you pull away the obsession with aesthetics, location and status, a good meal is accessible to many, at least one a day. Street food brings this cost even lower with the now famous Rolex, such a popular meal that almost everyone has a favourite Rolex joint. This is usually a vendor along your commute route (how do rhymes keep popping up) who knows how you like it done; fresh tomatoes, eggs well done with loads of veggies and wrapped up in two warm Chappattis. There are also many ladies who sell full meals served by the spoonful at the roadside. There you can take your pick of beef stew, some Mulokony (Cow hooves), offals (Mohudu in South Africa) rice or anything. This is beside the restaurants and multinationals also fighting for this same hungry market. Then there are those who go to the market, buy fresh produce and cook their own food. My full membership to that club is still pending.
Now transplant me from my Uganda to a place with more fast food places than bars (you have to visit Uganda to get that), and what you have is a moment of personal reflection.
You See, Reflection
So obviously I didn’t board the plane totally unaware of what to expect. I knew where I was headed wasn’t Uganda. That meant a lot, but as a food lover, it also offered an opportunity to sample some new foods. The sharp chap I am is however always aware that plans tend to be straight lines, a step by step guide on how to get from A to B. While life on the other hand is like a winding river, only occasionally crisscrossing the path of your plan. It’s only at those intersections that life goes according to plan, so I wasn’t overly optimistic. But that’s just me.
Anyway, my first plan was to indulge in junk food. We Ugandans are raised organic, stew at every meal and the occasional junk food to spoil yourself. I was going to shock my system as much as possible. For a fortnight, my body was going to be a temple of deep fried meaty food. And I wouldn’t feel guilty about it. After all, I don’t grow fat, I develop a sort of aura instead. I was also staying at a hotel so even the gods that be couldn’t judge me for ordering from the kitchen. This plan was surprisingly easy to achieve since fast food, is food here. Wraps, spicy wings, fish, and even fresh chips at 5 Rand (1300shs) in some places. And the best part, no little ketchup packets like back home. There’s a condiment table, with everything from barbecue sauce to something in a white bottle that I’ve never used. With these, you can drown your chips in ketchup and smear barbecue sauce all over your meat like Vaseline jelly on a 90s baby.
The universe however had other plans and as I moved out of the hotel, I realised I would probably have to leave my fast food behind. But for a while, all I had was a frying pan, so I just spiced up the junk food with visits to restaurants that served African food. I was finally eating some stew again, and animal parts that many back home would sneer at me for eating. From chicken feet to cow innards, a Goat’s head to pig legs, a meat lover would enjoy what’s on offer. I also learnt that Posho (Pap) here is enjoyed dry, like the Kenyans with their Ugali. This obsession with maize mill seemed Pan African, I realised early on. I thus couldn’t carry my Ugandan prejudice around with me. See, unlike many people who are never force fed Posho, Ugandans are. It’s one of the reasons I hated school. You can’t have Posho as your school staple, day in, day out, then occasionally find it at the home dinner table, and still love that meal. No way. It’s outlived its worth, the taste buds meant to enjoy it have retired, and I believe they’re no longer with many Ugandans.
But to have a pap meal, whether bought from KFC (yeah, Posho at KFC) or any other place, away from the connections to school and its memories, is different. It’s only then that I realised the white stuff is actually nice, and I no longer need a litre of sauce to wash it down, nor do I need a spoon or fork.
A frying pan can only do so much however, so I now have some pots and pans. After getting over the initial shock of seeing onions the size of mangoes, I am now capable of creating aromas that make my neighbours want to be my friends. It’s safe to say my love for meat has grown exponentially, considering I haven’t had pork in over 2 months, that’s saying something. But when I cook maize, it comes out as it went in. Perhaps I can’t fully digest it, or maybe it wasn’t fully ready that time.
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.
Wshop is slowly growing into something bigger. Initially, I was running this blog alone but with time some few people who appreciated where I was going with the blog volunteered to take part in the content creation process.
They join me in the field to look for content which is great for many reasons but mostly, it’s a great security measure. See in Uganda, as most places in the world I assume, walking around dangling an expensive camera on your neck or shoulder is bound to get the attention of people who would want to keep it for themselves. Walking around in a group reduces the chances of camera theft which gives me a sense of security and lets me focus on shooting.
Shooting in a group is more fan and, being an introvert, it gives me the confidence to take shots I would have otherwise chosen not to for fear of having to engage strangers in conversation and, often offering explanations to what I am doing.
One of these volunteers is Kawooya John, aka Jon JFK. I’ve known Jon for about 12 years now. We met at the beginning of secondary school and it’s been quite a ride. I asked Jon to write something about himself for the blog so that you, the blog fans and followers, can know a little more about those that contribute to the blog. Ladies and gents, here’s Jon;
Hello!! I’m Jon JFK!! If your wondering what the initials stand for, that’s a story for another day. At some point while growing up I thought I had a plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to my destination. I thought of life as a straight clear road, only to take a turn after spotting the ‘signs’ as I rode along…
As a child I did love the camera, the mere sound of the flash amused me. The film strip (as it was known in the 90’s) of the gadget itself used to fascinate me. I think back then all this was a sign for me to realise my talent. If you would have told high school me that I was going to grow up and fall in love with photography, I would have been shocked. I had a dream once; studying law. I dreamt about joining an awesome law firm and even had hopes of saving the world through helping others. Like most dreams, mine came to an end shortly after graduating from university.
I then embarked on a path to self discovery. This path opened me up to a number of things photography being one of them. Photography is an art I use to tell a story. In a way I believe that can save the world too. I shoot anything that has a story I can tell. I take shots of birds, weddings, models and consumer products. With every story I tell, I am grateful that it’s out there for someone to relate to.
Hold on, let me tell you about this one situation I seemed to randomly find myself in. See…
she stepped out towards me surprisingly, making it impossible to gather my standing as I stood there laced with a “what’s to come” feeling. A feeling brought on because of that lingering conversation we had without even saying anything, but the glances thrown back and forth they they spoke of another untold proclamation.
I mean this women had my senses dazed and confused to the brink of, what can only be classified as emancipation… and it wasn’t merely for the sake of the desire to see her naked, nah it was because of the aura she continuously radiated, see her beauty and overall presence is what attracted me but the, truth of the matter is her character is what made me want to keep her next to me.
Yes I said it’s complicated, because the extent of what we could discover about what we could be, we’re oblivious to, so we created something that was borderline amazing. Shit, she even had an old man trying to spark up conversation. The type of women that knows her worth & could drive a prophet to convey a drunken smile while reciting religious scriptures devoid of hatred.
So in the end, somewhat thankfully, friends is what we were always destined to be, the rest was how we came to realize the best of what it meant to just… be. So friends we remain even though our friendship will forever with untold endings, be intertwined till the end.
This, was my encounter with the women behind the smile of a… lifelong friend.