July 8, 2018
The lawn at the back of my house is roughly 20 by 50 feet. It has some trees and shrubs, crowded mostly on the left, in front of the two-story chicken coop. Halfway in the middle ground stands a natural hedge about two feet tall separating it into two sections: the part which is regularly mowed and the lower section where a vegetable garden inhabits the same space with two patches of sugarcanes, one purple-stemmed and the other green. In many ways, that little lawn and garden surrounded by an unplastered brick wall feels like an island where birds and animals hunt or hide away and humans unwind and play.
It is never free of visitors: the grey heron, the hadada ibis, weaver birds, free range chicken, ducks, and finches all come regularly. The finches sing at dawn, midday, and evening. I have never heard the heron sing. It is a stealthy hunter, usually perched atop the brick wall stalking, before settling into the weeds and blending with the surroundings.
This morning Juliana, three years old, and Dave, three and a half, woke us up singing at the top of their voices. They are the neighbour’s children from Mr. Musisi’s and Mr. Senawa’s families respectively. Their “Omusana gwakaaaa, enkuba etonyaaa”—“The sun is up, the rain is coming” song—usually does not leave any adults asleep. Juliana and Dave’s early morning orchestra, where they trudge around and regale the community with melodic nursery rhymes and lullabies, is something beautiful to hear and watch.
Unlike on other days when the sound of the singing remains at a short distance away, Juliana and Dave had their gig right outside of our bedroom window near the front porch. The gig was preceded by running laps on the lawn. Their performance began, and was followed by a 360-degrees step-trot survey of the veranda that was accompanied by loud humming tones: “Egaali y’omuka esitula, esitula emotoka musanvu, bwetuka mu koona ekolola, ko ko ko ko, ko”—the train ferries cargo, it carries seven cars, on breaking speed at the corners, it coughs ko, ko, ko, ko. . . .”
For breakfast, I made toast which we had with fresh Kagoogwa mangoes—the very sweet ones with “a thready bit” inside.
Shortly after, we were on our way to Kajjansi town where we run a grocery shop. We did as we do each morning, stopping at wholesale outlets in our township to pick up fresh supplies for the shop such as milk, bread, buns, cakes, yoghurt in different flavours, and other assorted soft drinks. I made my way through the light traffic which was a mixture of cars, pedestrians and boda boda—motorcycles—all milling on the narrow road and its walkways to find a parking space right in front of the depot.
I remained inside the car as Charlotte, my girlfriend, stepped out to pick the items. I could see Mr. Suubi right through the windscreen at his hardware store using a shiny pair of pliers to cut for a customer what looked like a piece of metallic drying line. By good luck, after paying for it, the customer walked towards where I was parked. He was a slim middle-age man with a distinctive height, which most of us Ugandans with a shorter height and stature would normally associate with people from Sudan. “Hello good morning sir,” I greeted him cheerfully. “Very well, how are you,” he replied. That’s when I figured out that he could speak good English. “Is that a drying line for clothes,” I continued, turning my head get better eye contact with him. “Yes,” he replied.
“I bought one like those before but when we put clothes on it to dry they got rust-stained,” I said. He looked slightly taken aback by what I said about the product he had bought, but rather than sulk, gave an even brighter smile than before when I was greeting which revealed a gap of many missing teeth in his lower jaw. He assured me in his best English, “Not this one, this one is good. I bought from him before.” “Thank you sir, have a good day,” I said and waved at him as he looked intently into the road, waiting to cross to the other side.
My girlfriend was opening the car boot to load the tray of milk and yoghurt when my conversation with the “tallest” man in Kajjansi ended. A man whose name I do not know, because culturally we are non-direct preferring to know the “stranger” well before asking their names (sometimes also not from the very person but from others), we didn’t introduce ourselves by name, although I gained a free tip from him about where to look for a rust-free drying line. How courteousness could win me a free gift of knowledge!
At the shop we discussed how the services in our simple sports bar, whose opening we timed around the commencement of 2018 FIFA World Cup, could be improved. We agreed that a metallic barrier was needed in between the bar section and the shop in order to prevent a shop break-in while the bar is open. On top of the barrier would be a flat top to act as additional placement for drinks on the side of the bar. A lockable access gate would be needed on it. We are looking around for the resources to implement these changes for a more secure working space.
For lunch we had fresh beans which my girlfriend added to some Mukene—silver fish and assorted curries with the usual topping of cow ghee. We had that with mingled Posho, or cornmeal, which I cannot get tired of irrespective of how many times I eat it in a week. But not so for my girlfriend who prefers Matooke—or steamed banana—and Karo—millet bread. Luckily we both enjoy Eshabwe, which is salted cow ghee sauce, so we each have our expectations when it comes to what is cooking.
It was Kabubbu yesterday—the roadside market day when everyone with something to sell from the surrounding communities comes to the Town Council area to sell them off. Owing to the wide variety of goods in the limited spaces available inside the gazetted trading area, the market characteristically always spills onto the road itself often causing choking traffic stoppages. However, being that the heart of the market is located not far away from where our grocery shop is located, we mostly get an upsurge in customers on market days, the reason why I thought it wise to stay behind in order to help my girlfriend who normally runs the shop alone.
There is a lot of weighing on the scale to be done as people mostly prefer weights to be confirmed right in front of them. I knew that left alone, she would get very tired. Unfortunately though, we didn’t have as many customers as I expected. We could catch long breaks in between.
One of our regular customers in the bar, Keith from Rwanda, brought with him Sam and Moses, who he said were his Ugandan brothers. In a short while, Keith’s girlfriend joined them and the place started to get busy. My girlfriend made Katogo, a stew improvised from the remainder of the Mukene beans’ sauce and bananas. Keith and his brothers decided to buy the bananas while we offered to prepare the meal. It worked out perfectly. Around 8:30 p.m., we had a filling dinner upon which we switched gears from the easier lager beers to more sophisticated liquors like Uganda Waragi, V&A Royal Gin and Bond 7 Whisky. Well, they did. I am strictly a lager beer drinker and I kept to my usual Bell beer. Their serving of the first 750 ml bottle of Bond 7 was finished by 10:30 p.m. They were joined by several other revellers who these days arrive to watch the World Cup football games on the large screen that soon we needed extra seats from Aisha’s salon next door. We had no World Cup games yesterday to follow, but amazingly we stuck around until late. We managed to sell all the big loaves of bread plus a 10 litre crate of Jesa milk. Keith and his brothers left around half past midnight for their home in Kiggaga the rich man’s area as it is locally known.