Kampala

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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?

Bungee
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.

Last house

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

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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.

Blues

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.

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87 Comments
  1. Looks like most people read your blog at work….you should have a NSFW warning…okay why did she miss the TZ guy???

  2. Been to Kampala once, can’t wait to go back again. Its a magical place and who can forget the roadside chicken? Great piece as always.

  3. This was worth the wait Biko.
    Bungee: I needed a good hearty laugh and that part provided for it in totality. Asante.
    Last house: Mama Hajati Nandawula Nusala, reminds me of my Grandmother. Similar traits. (I maybe biased but, hey.)
    …all in all, impeccable writing. keep it up man.

  4. Its 6.46pm. Nairobi Time and this is half past nostalgic. It makes me wanna bring the campus gang back together and (though it would kill me) smash napoleon! Nice!

  5. My my my…Biko I so love your life! The story of ur landlord is really touching. You have a way of finding the best in everyone! Thanks 4 making my night.

  6. When am older and I get time, I’ll try to go back to every place that made me just so I can write about it and make others envious of my experiences.
    The bodaboda, I second that, especially because you have the liberty to spread your arms and feel the wind blow your face with your eyes closed.
    Nice piece.

  7. this is unacceptable biko. you don’t send a post excusing for not posting early yourself,promise to post later then post this…this excuse.

  8. Kahuna! You actually did the story! Great piece. One thing though, did you ever try to trace Roy’s (and, well…) place?

  9. that congo chair reminds me of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Personally think it was the most horrible book i’ve ever read in my life. Have you come across it? if so, what are your thoughts?

  10. great story, but it feels unfinished and rushed…or maybe i expected too much? great writing nontheless….

  11. I once lived in uganda and we had one of those baths with no roof too. No door and the sun as a spectator admittedly that helped when there was no hot water. But the towel never seemed long enough to keep out any stray eyes.

  12. Hey, fellow gang members where u at?!
    My birthday is coming up in a wks time, i wasn’t planning on celebrating it, i had no psyke for it until i read this post. Would asking for sagana contacts be too much?

  13. ‘Jinja Nile Resort’ that name has a certain ring to it that I can’t put my finger on. Reminds me of many things at a time, like ginger(the root)+nile perch mmm wonder how that would taste :-D…I just hope I don’t dream about it tonight :p

    Lovely post. I love how you go from humour to mama’s love to memories of friendships, nice flow.

    ”We don’t bungee jump, us black people, we go hunting.” ahahaha

  14. Biko, I love your blog, very inspiring, but could you write something that is totally different from this? Like your bad side, faults; something nasty about you. Just to make ‘us’ feel better, be human, huh?

  15. I know those so called luxurious buses, but if you ever rode in the non luxurious ones you’ll understand that luxury claim.

    Bungee jumping is definitely on my to do list … someday!

    As for riding a boda at night in Kampala, it’s such a thrill. Only for me it was @3am!

  16. Biko u’ve inspired me to leave a comment

    Gaiiii….Kamparrrra…..Kabalagala….road side chicken….again Kabalagala…road side chicken and late nite bodas bodas (when i was there it was still on blackies) = great great memories…

  17. Bungee jumping in Jinja is one hell of an expirience!! The fear, then the rush my oh my!! Its mad fun.
    Bodabodas in the dead of the night….madness just!

  18. The long wait has been worth it, as always, awesome these things you write……especially the bungee jumping as thats what i have planned to do next month, now tell me…the stepping off the ledge….you didnt do it or??? now that makes me wonna change my mind! coz am damn sure i will pee and i will cry.

    and whislt at it….maybe i should start the bungee at Sagana……then to Kampala>>Zambia/Zim>>Capetown as i believe the metres increases in that order. So where exactly at Sagana do they do it?

  19. I like the way you describe the people you meet. Reminds me how important it is to see people as more than just faces, names or titles.

    “She’s called Mama Hajati Nandawula Nusala. Good people deserve more than one name…”

    Well Jackson Biko, it was definitely worth the wait. Have a good and safe trip.

  20. Nice staccato piece. Easy Coach used to be good back in the day, what happened? And yeah, you had no business bungee jumping!

  21. All those who wanted to chew Biko’s head off for posting an apology are not gracious enough to come on and apologise for their irrational behavior….anyone? maybe they need to take lessons in kindness and courtesy from mama Hajati Nandawula Nusala. Oh and Caroline really needs to chill out geez…

    I love the piece, i love the Last house and the Blues part.

  22. Brilliant. Your pieces paint a vivid image of the characters you portray…i just landed on your blog today and after coming across so many people you have talked about, I find “myselef” (UG speak!). Lets do another drink up before you leave Kampala, great catching up with u man!

  23. Its quite admirable that you apologize when you don’t write, however It makes you feel obligated to write by Monday and I would rather have your inspired genius pieces than an ‘obligated piece’. Am sure the fact that you feel obligated doesn’t help when you are having your dry spells.

    Good piece,quite picturesque.

  24. I think I read too much into the ‘generous’ daughters who came bearing trays. And more perhaps??? Lol

    Biko, you should host a party for your readers… a masked one maybe? That way we can all get together without needing to completely unmask…

  25. Good trip down memory lane. Always leaves one emotional.

    Did a down the memory lane trip the other day to the campus I went to. Only ran out of time before I could visit “Gashororo.” where we used to live.

    We had a crazy landlord – always high. He would occasionally order us out of his houses in spite of us presenting him receipts proving we had paid rent.

    Receipts to him were useless.

    “Eti umeripa, na haija andikwa kwa Kitabu??”

    Hehe.

    That time we are outside, in the cold.

  26. Lovely piece though it feels hurried. The bungee jumping scene is definately the climax. You have mastered the art of imagery. Fantastic

  27. Great read Biko,

    I must say though that I agree with Amirah…While its very professional to apologize whenever you fail to write; When its all said and done “Bikozulu” is your blog. Should you wake up one day and for one reason or the other decide that you’ll update your post on Tuesday or even on Wednesday, flow with it Biko. I wish not to downplay the fact that many readers (myself included) look forward to Mondays, but I would personaly appreciate it more if you gave yourself the permission to be YOU, rather than write out of obligation. Am just saying…
    Bless you.

  28. I love that I have been able to paint a mental image of every one of those scenes in my head: I’m almost bungee jumping; the bathroom; can see you guys eating at Blues; mama and her daughters – their faces, their excitement, their hugs etc.

    Something’s still missing though, can’t quite put my finger on it…

  29. “dont pee Biko”….heheheehe, am sure you did! a few hot drops…. lovely piece. now i want to go to kampala but this time will be ‘campus guy on a budget way!’

  30. after that read,i beta visit ‘champala’ it sounds more fun and exciting.great read though,always looking forward to your posts….i always say ‘beta late than never’

  31. I hate to be critical. Especially because I could never write this well, but there is something wanting here. In any case, I appreciate you telling us you were going to be a little late. Keep it up Biko.

  32. I HATE YOU! You write the way I dream I can write. Everything about Kla comes out so well. CapiT’s, Kabalagala, the chicken, the bodaboda’s! We always had cab money but ended up buying that last bell and took bodas, two chicks per boda in short skirts and heels.

  33. I knew your house looked familiar looks like those kansanga houses…yes i studied in Kampala..and i jua Lui too…waah you brought back many memories I tell you..:)

  34. I love your description of people and places. Going down memory lane….i miss those uni days, operating on shoe string budget but still having a good time.

  35. Ha ha ha ha! was in an internet cafe when i read this, i laughed and everyone stopped what they were doing, i had to apologize.

    I cant blv u did tht! but u never said everything, i think smtmz some stones are better left unturned.

    Hey, thanx a lot for the good memories!

  36. I was waiting with anticipation for you to jump! Damn Biko, you are good. Why Lie. I will pass by that place in Dec on my way to Rwanda. Thanks for the great Read. Keep up stirring our imaginations.
    Cheers.

  37. Hey Biko,
    So I am reading your blog and remembered the when I lived In Jinja for four years. I loved the quiet but somehow I fit well in Nairobi’s hustle and bustle. The reason why I am commenting though is because I do online marketing and the comment you made about easy coach just lit up a bulb in my head with an idea of “hey I could call this guys and see how best to manage their reputation online”….. after they fix their buses.