Uganda – to me – is like a woman who gave me a second chance. I wrote this intro three days ago as I sat in my porch at Jinja Nile Resort in Jinja. It seemed like a kick-ass intro at that time, even better it seemed like the intro that stimulates a flowing prose. An apt literary foreplay. Now, at 1.23am on a Sunday, no, Monday I’m at loss where to take this piece. It seems like something someone else wrote. Of course it doesn’t help that I’m drunk, but I will explain why I’m drunk later.
On Thursday night I got into a bus. Easy Coach to be precise. They called it a luxury bus but the only thing that was luxurious about it was its speed. They didn’t offer water, or biscuits. It didn’t have curtains. The overhead reading lights didn’t work neither did the leg room they promised me; the lady seated in front of me squashed my knees the whole journey when she pulled back her seat all the way back to have shut-eye. Luxury my ass.
I’m killing many birds with one stone in this trip. Trying to squash as many pieces as I can in one trip because it will be a long while before I travel again (another story in itself). This laptop I’m using is borrowed (thanks Liz) and the owner will be coming for it at dawn, so I will post some of the highlights of my trip. Shall we, gang?
The world would end in a few hours. The Rapture. I wasn’t scared the world was coming to an end because for me the world came to an end the day they started selling fuel at Ksh 115. On the eve of this so called end of the world I was in Jinja with my coat hanged on Jinja Nile Resort, listening to River Nile gurgle outside my room. But I needed to be fearful, we don’t fear God enough and I think we should. Perhaps in order to seek fear I wandered into this place called Adrift Adventure, a very mzungu place. They do Rafting and Bungee and all that odiero stuff. They weren’t expecting me but I thought it would be nice to do a story about them. So I pitched up flashed my press card and the owner asked “Do you want to bungee, complimented of course.” I said of course.
First time I bungeed was in Sagana at Savage Wilderness Safaris, that was three years ago. I jumped off 40meters. Harrowing experience.
Now I sit here (I have to change the tense here for purposes of clarity) 50meters over the Nile being strapped up. I’ve had a Nile Special beer at the bar to calm my nerves. It didn’t help. I’m seated on this wooden chair called the “Congo Throne” it looks like a juju chair with sculptured heads and all that mumbo jumbo stuff that odieros live for.
The instructor is saying something but I can’t hear him because I’m trying to control my breathing, trying to be a man about this. I stand up, and hop like a kangaroo to the jump ramp a meter away. The wind whispers in my ears, taunting me, willing me to give up. Below, at the bar, a bunch of people look up, cameras poised. I’m the last one to jump, the five before me were all girls and so there is NO way I’m backing out. But I’m scared shitless. My toes straddle the edge. Below the Nile sparkles in the noon sunshine but I can’t see its beauty, I’m a man on the gallows so I don’t look down. You look you perish. Instead I look at the far away hills.
The jump instructor holds my shoulder, he says gently behind my left ear “Ready when you are.” Thing is you can never be too ready to jump. My knees are getting weak, my heart is running away. I want to pee. And I want my mommy. This is crazy, I’m a black man I have no business bungee jumping. We don’t bungee jump, us black people, we go hunting. Life is crazy enough than to add this. Please God. Breathe in. Don’t pee Biko, don’t bloody pee. “Ready when you are buddy.” That voice again, gentle but mocking. We don’t have the whole day, it seems to say. The girls down at the bar are watching, so are the three dogs. Hands to my side. My thighs start shaking from fear. My heart, oh my heart is beating hard. My breath stutters in my chest. I close my eyes. My hands start shaking. I hold my breath. Don’t pee Biko. Don’t bloody pee.
I step off the ledge.
This is the last house I lived in my final year of campus – a squalor existence, even for a student. I shared this one roomed structure with my Tanzanian roommate, Gasirigwa, a man who I never once saw tie a belt- and he always tucked in. The man with “Gifted hands” (long dirty story). To get to our humble bedsit you have to pass through seedy corridors and quite often jump over dingy trenches. I don’t come from a rich family. I couldn’t afford to live in a posh hostel, OK, I could but that would have left me with no money for food. So to save, I lived in a
house like this but I can tell you that this place was so damned special to me.
The bathroom was outside. The bathroom didn’t have a roof and the door was made of mabati, which had these holes in it, which meant that when I was taking a bath you would see my nuts if you bothered to look closely. Thankfully people who lived around here had better things to do than stare at someone’s nuts. They had other things to do, like survive perhaps? Here you carried your water to this bathroom. You hanged your towel over the door. You balanced you soap dish on a plank of wood. You threw water on your back and you scrubbed up.
I have many tender memories in this place. Many. Yesterday I went back to this place, to see what had changed but also to say hallo to my former landlady, a woman I will always love deeply.
This woman took care of us even when we were late at paying rent. She never hustled us, always kind, always gracious and caring. And during Ramadan, when they broke their fast, she would send one of her daughters with a trayful of rice and meat. And her daughters were women of such good hearts, a testimony that the apple never falls too far from the tree.
She’s called Mama Hajati Nandawula Nusala. Good people deserve more than one name. The room – which was her living room turned into a hostel – is no longer up for rental. We were the last tenants.
One of daughters opened the door when I knocked. She’s called Namaganda Hanifah, she let out a little excited yelp when she saw me, started blubbering something in Kiganda. She then threw her hands around my neck. The commotion brought out her other sister, Namata Aisha. Another pair of arms around my neck. Animated chatter; where have you been? Oh my God, what are you doing here? Are you married? Do you have children now? How is Kenya? How is Gasirigwa? Is he married? Does he have children? Do you see him? I have missed him! Will you tell him I have missed him?
Where is mom? I asked. Someone called out and mom came out, looking healthy as usual. God takes extra care of kind people, I’m convinced. We hugged. She wiped tears from her eyes. I tried not to be too emotional about it. We chatted, I took pictures. I thanked her for taking care of us. More tears from her. Then I gave her some money and she went down (Uganda style) almost on her knees, to receive this money and that right there touched me so damned much. I love that woman.
This is where we had most of our meals in campus.It was called Blues back then. They served basic student meals; beans, matoke, greens, meat, the works. We had a table here; myself, Kagame (Putting in a Appearances), Enoch, Brian and Roy. No chicks. This is the one place we all sat as men. At Blues dreams were born and some were dashed. At Blues we talked about things that otherwise we wouldn’t have talked about having beer. We talked about the future mostly and how we were going to take over the world. We talked about making it in life; we had ideas, creative ideas. And it cost us something like Ksh 30 a meal. At Blues we forged such strong friendships.
I went back to this place to find a new joint, Red Sea, a far cry the Blues we knew. And it breaks your heart a bit, change does that. And things have indeed changed a lot, at Blues and with us. Roy is in Australia, a father of two now. Enoch is in Uganda, single and still nursing his sarcastic tone. Brian got married to a girl he shared a class with (what do you know). Kagame – the hustler he is – found himself in Calgary, Canada making something of his life. Life happened to all of us. Going back to Blues was nostalgic in a way; it reminded me of our passions yes, but also about our naiveté. But if there is anything that this place symbolized was the power of dreams; the achieved ones and the ones that escaped. At Blues we broke bread.
I’m from Kabalagala as I write this. I was with my boy Luis. We started drinking from my hotel room at 4pm, why not, I haven’t seen him in 4years! It’s a Sunday (was a Sunday) so we went to Capital pub; remember the place where the guy in white shoes was having a go at the hooker in an alley? Yes. Capital Pub is still as dorky, it’s still full of hookers in cheap glittery dresses, it still plays great music. I went to the bathrooms and nobody was washing their armpits on the sink. Thank God. We drunk whisky and wine. And we got bloody high. We later ate chicken by the roadside, seated on this wobbly bench. We nipped into clubs along the strip, looking for nothing in particular.
Later Luis suggested that I take a bodaboda, not a cab, back to the hotel. “Chief, I’m staying at The Serena, not Mugambo lodging in Nabutiti!” I slurred drunkenly.
“Look, don’t take a cab, use a bodaboda, I know what I’m talking about, you will thank me. It’s an experience.” What the hell. We jumped on different bodas. Mine was driven by a guy who introduced himself as Bongoman. I swear that’s what he said his name was; Bongoman. For 15mins I rode at the back of this bodaboda, the wind in my face, the tarmac running under our feet. It was an irresponsible thing to do; riding this motorbike in the drunken state I was in, but this is life isn’t it? Plus it felt good, I felt alive, cutting through the darkened backstreets of Kampala, trying not to fall off at 1am in the night.
It’s going to 3am now. I have to sleep. At 9am I leave for Entebbe. Good morning gang.
Ps. The wireless in the room is crap, I can’t just load the pictures. I will do that when I get to Nairobi. Sorry about that gang.