We met Arinaitwe Andrew on our way to Ntinda through the Kyambogo University short cut. He vends fruit on a one wheeled cart which he has to push around door to door to meet old and potential clients.We were hungry so we stopped him and bought some fruit. He’s been doing it for over five years since he entered the city. He sells mostly pineapples, mangoes, water melons. This time he only had delicious yellow mangoes on his cart.
While at work he hides his dreaded hair under a hair sock. He was losing potential clients who were willing to support him but were uncomfortable with the dreads most being under the assumption that he would spend what they give him on his hair instead of doing something more productive. So he usually lets them out only at night.
I was given the task of setting up an online space for Expression Ug, a collective of Ugandan budding artists, and I am glad it’s finally up.Please pass by and share your thoughts http://www.expressionug.wordpress.com
Have you ever wanted to be shocked? Not like emotionally or whatever, not that bull shit. I mean being shocked by electricity. My first knowledge of electric current was when I was about 5 years old. A lot was going on around me, unlimited sodas from my Dad’s job, a dog called tiger and my elder cousin getting thrown across the room for poking his fingers into an electrical socket.
Don’t be sad though, he’s alive with two kids now, and he’s an electrical engineer. Not everyone is Ephraim, but if for some reason you may be one of the people who think going through similar circumstances makes it easier to achieve greatness, you probably read self-help books too. So consider this a chapter in one.
Becoming an Engineer
Uganda recently introduced pre-paid electricity. We call it Yaka and you load that shit like airtime. Among my hopes when I got to SA was they somehow didn’t have Yaka. Leaving Tambo airport, I realised that wasn’t going to be the case. I sat in a CLK Mercedes Taxi, and was driven onto an 8 lane highway. Audi and other international brand factories and stores peppered the route. Pre-paid electricity surely couldn’t defeat these chaps.
A few weeks later in my flat and I realised it hadn’t because right at the door, was a prepaid meter. As luck would have it however, I’ve never paid a cent. The damn thing doesn’t work, or should I say works for me. And it’s next to the sink. So if you ever want to be an electrical engineer, pay me a visit. Ill feed you, and give you a chance to do the dishes. And hopefully, you’ll get shocked.
Securely & Shockingly moving on
Today’s entry however isn’t about career guidance and wall mounted keyboards. This article is about personal insecurity. That shit where you doubt yourself. Does she love me, do I matter, or in my case, am I stupid? That kind of shit.
How many of you have University degrees? Now how many of you can say that getting that shit was easy? I definitely can’t. See, despite believing I didn’t work hard, I did more than I was comfortable doing to graduate with my first degree. When I got that piece of paper, I forewent the usual social media euphoria of posting grad pics and went straight to upgrading the freelance job I had at the time. That ship sunk like a titanic built somewhere in Katwe. Four years later however, here I am. Presented with the honours of doing an honours. I guess this is how an MP feels.
But after two months of honourable studies, the assignments don’t make sense to me and the few results I’ve received insult my intelligence. It’s like intelligence is relative. But how can that be?
See, when a runner starts failing to hit the times he/she is used to, when a musician can’t hit the notes they used to, that is a scary moment. Now I’m not comparing myself to a fading Olympic star or an out of date singer, but I used to think of myself as smart. Smart enough to do anything half assed and still pass. That was my thing.
Recently, I realised I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. I actually felt stupid. No one told me. But a realisation came over me. My mental arsenal looked ill equipped for the battle ahead. It’s like all the machinery and tactics I had were out of date. Almost like Arsenal the team. But I digress, these are more serious matters.
So what made me feel stupid?
It’s crazy, but I think it’s true. I suck at keeping promises, especially those I make to myself. I swore I’d never touch a cigarette, this was when I was about 6 years old. I’ve been smoking longer than I’d lived by then. I also swore I’d never return to school, and that university graduation would be the final day. Unlike all those mock things at the end of Primary, O Level and A-level. This was going to be the real deal, I would say bye to that Prison that had held me for 19 years of my life. But guess what, having escaped the system the right way, it grabbed me again. Perhaps I was too dangerous to be left free, I’d probably radicalise the youth with my ideas, raise a bastard kid outside formal education.
So I’m back in a mental institution, one of higher learning that is. And admittedly, everything else is going alright, except for the god damn essays. I know it may seem weird, a writer moaning about writing. But fuck you, are puns allowed in essays? I don’t know.
I last wrote anything academic five years ago, four for anything creative. I was bribed by the system, after a few character building jobs, I landed one that allowed me have a rotating chair, the occasional trip, per-diem and the chance to live a little. All I had to do was show up and do my job. This meant writing took a back seat, at the end of the bus. Soon, I was planning my retirement. 30 is the golden age, I still believe. I could still make it if I finish this degree in time, make some good money and find something to invest it in.
Anyway, school was the furthest thing from my mind, even as I sent the applications, I still didn’t believe or want to get admitted. But alas, here I am. At least it’s a prestigious university.
So anyway, with a mind reset of almost everything academic, here I am faced with analysing and writing essays. After scoring two 50s and one 40% in my short essays, the fact that I have to write a final paper shocks me to the core. I was so scared when it hit me, I let out a little laugh. The kind you make when you’re not sure whether to laugh or scream. In this small panic, I wrote my first blog article in 3 years. Yep. That’s how this came to be. And I realised, maybe, just maybe, this is how ill cope with the essays. Practice makes perfect, but if you stop practicing, your perfection will be in the past. So what’s that thing they say about clouds, yeah, they bring rain sometimes?
Anyway, 2 months is shorter than how long most stupid people have been stupid, surely I can jump out of this before it becomes a permanent condition. Because that saying that no situation is permanent, isn’t understood by stupid people.
Mornings are sacred. That quiet time between 5am to 9am is meditation time; something I’ve always been comfortable with since childhood and something which was reinforced during my time in secondary school. At that boarding school, students hardly spoke at that hour. We all had to be up by 4.30am and had to be at our desks for the morning prep session by 5.00am. No one spoke in class at that hour. If you weren’t busy reading your books, you were busy fighting to keep your eyes open to read. One would hear voices after the morning prep session.
Quiet environments are the way to go. They are holy in those real quiet moments. But when you live in some areas in or around Kampala, Uganda silence is the first thing you have to forget about. You will get it once in a while. If you use the public transportation system which is a network of privately owned commuter taxis (yes, I know), you should never expect to have quiet for too long during your tenure in that particular taxi. Someone will decide to catch up with long lost friend at 7am and also talk about the weather among other topics and you have to listen in and not complain because it’s a taxi and you have no ownership privileges at all.
The taxi ride this morning was added to the list of the worst experiences I’ve had in a taxi by far. As soon as I entered it, two men seemed to be discontent with the fare that had been set for those who were getting in, the same fare as those who’d been picked up kilometers back. These men thought this was unfair. Which they were right about. One of them occupied the seat behind me and the other was seated on my right. I was literally in the middle of their conversation. They continued on about the fuel prices which weren’t making things any easier. They paused for a few seconds and I thought they were going to go into silent reflection and keep quiet for a while but boy was a wrong!
I was skeptical at first because come on, who’s going to talk for that long with the rest of the passengers quiet? These two men talked without pausing for more than an hour. They talked about a variety of things. They talked about health care, the issue of corruption in the nation, inadequate representation by the current young and naive members of parliament. They talked about the high cost of sugar, their sick relatives who survived death narrowly because some medical personnel were focused on earning money from the patients than treating them. They talked about their fear for the young generation. I remember being very glad they weren’t showerers aka spitters.
They talked about how corruption is now the order of the day. They talked about the large puddle of water, a result of flooding, that the taxi had to go through. They compared some of our national systems with those of countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Canada and two other countries I’ve forgotten. These men talked for what seemed like forever! At some point it felt like I was listening to a morning radio talk show. The traffic jam doubled the torture because we their loud voices pierced through the silence like small sharp ninja daggers. I must say I was impressed on the other hand by their ability to maintain conversation covering some national topics and issues.
They talked for so long, It was pointless trying to fight listening to what they were saying. I was there receiving their first conversation sound waves. I thought about putting my earphones on but the ones I currently have aren’t the noise canceling kind. Plus I didn’t want to risk being a topic of conversation in case my attempt at seeking silence was noticed. I stopped fighting. I gave in and listened in against my will.
It was sad that during the entire conversation, these men didn’t have anything good to say about our country. One could simply say that these were just two men talking not the majority and yes, these were only two men talking but it felt like they were the voices of many. I’ve heard bits and pieces of similar conversations through the years and it’s sad listening to such talk. Perhaps because beneath all the comparisons, the jokes, the subtle laughter, there are deep truths that go down to the very core of how many things have gone wrong.
As we soaked in more of the conversation our taxi was stopped by a traffic female officer who signaled to talk to the taxi driver. The two men immediately start speculating that we are all going to be forced to get another taxi to town when the officer realises something is not right with taxi registration documents or license. This was no surprise because it has happened to many in Kampala. It didn’t take long for the taxi door to slide open. We emptied the taxi and left the driver and his assistant (conductor) behind negotiating with the officer.
I guess that was a final illustration of what the two men were talking about the entire time; a broken system that needs long term solutions.
We got stopped yesterday as we walked through an area called Kasokoso. A young man saw one of us holding a camera, warned us about using a camera in the area without permission because the are has angry people, which warning we took seriously and decided to place the cameras away, but though he had seen us put the cameras away, and he clearly hadn’t seen us shooting anything, the sight of a ‘huge’ camera being held by a strange face was reason enough for him to call some community members, and the area Chairman at that, about the two strange people “taking pictures of the neighbourhood.”
As we walked back towards Moses’ place, another young man walked towards us, greeted us and asked us about the pictures we were taking. Before we could fully explain what we were doing, we were immediately surrounded by four more people asking lots of questions. They asked to see some ID, which we provided. They asked who had sent us and what had we been sent to do. They asked about what we do for a living, where we stay. The questions kept coming.
Moses and I kept calm and answered all the questions they had but some weren’t satisfied with what we had to say. I got the sense that some of them wanted the situation to escalate more than it had to and all they were waiting for was the green light from their Chairman, who at that point was looking through the passport ID I had handed over. Moses tried showing them proof on his camera screen that no pictures of the area had been taken, which was true, but that didn’t help the situation much. They kept the interrogation going on for a while until the Chairman got some calls which he received after excusing himself.
Fortunately, after the Chairman looked through my passport, and after he received those 3 calls, he was somehow convinced that we weren’t a threat. The mood changed from an interrogation into an educative session where he told us about the impression the locals have when strange camera people are seen around the area. He told us about the land wrangles in the area and how the land issues are very delicate. He told us they have had strangers with cameras come around in the past and that has caused them problems. He handed my passport back. We apologised for not consulting them before coming into the area with cameras and we were left to continue on.
Later that day, I did some research about the area, which I should have done in the first place, and found out that what they were saying was indeed true. In 2013, the residents started protests against those who wanted to evict them from their homes. The protests turned violent and this got national attention. Fortunately for the residents, the eviction process was halted soon after those violent incidents
Meeting those people and reflecting on what they were saying made me realise their reaction was justified. When it comes to human threatening human survival, nothing can be taken for granted. It must be irritating and exhausting to have to be on the look out like that every time. To always be on your guard otherwise your home might vanish if you don’t protect it by all means.
I am glad there was a reasonable leader present, the Kasokoso Chairman, who was knowledgeable enough to know that we didn’t pose any real threat to his community. Kudos to you sir, and may we have more reasonable leaders like you in the future who’ll prevent internal misdirected conflicts in our communities.
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.