December 5, 2018
Catching morning news is an old habit of mine so I started my day as usual, by switching on the television. I was not having breakfast at home and I was hurrying. I finished pressing my shirt and buttoning it up as I stood waiting for the tele to come on. I looked at the screen and that is when I read a message: “Sorry, your GoTV service has expired.” There was no time for questions; I was shut out. I got into the car and left.
I was heading into the heart of Kampala to attend a meeting at Embassy House. To rid my mind of the humiliation I felt leaving the children without their favourite cartoon channels, I cranked the car stereo to some morning jokes on the radio.
There was a segment on 88.2 Sanyu FM where people described a problem and asked listeners for help. The call-in was from a married woman who was asking listener’s advice on an issue involving her former boyfriend. He had surfaced and they each badly wanted to revive their love six years after they went separate ways. He was now asking her out on a date and she was love-struck. Six years ago, they broke up, and each going their separate ways were both married to different people. She wanted a chance with him in order to “cure an itch.” The argumentative DJ Fatboy did his usual thing, dramatising the story; he almost made it look like the dangerous affair between these two lovers was justified. This is his presentation style, and I have my reservations about his approach. Callers started ringing into the radio program to advise the lady. One of the callers said, “Woman, see you on the other side.” The DJ asked, “Where?” and the caller said, “Hell. ” He hung up the phone.
I laughed so hard I think the black of my gums became visible for the first time. I didn’t realise that the traffic had slowed, so strangers in passing cars could see me. To my surprise, I seemed to have sparked a wild debate inside one of the passing vehicles. It was a matatu – a minibus with about fifteen people inside. Everyone in there was leaning near the windows trying to see into my car. I could see a few of them who thought I was probably nuts. They were pointing at my car, laughing and moving their hands in the air. I thought about how easy it is to get attention by the mere act of laughing out loud while alone.
I arrived at the meeting venue first. A security guard at the entrance to the basement of the building flung the gate open for me without even doing a routine check. An extra gift for leaving my warm bed early was a safe parking space, a rare treat in Kampala. After helping me park the car, the security guard extended a hand shake and I reached forward to receive it, but instead of continuing to act magnanimously, he asked me for “Chai” – tea. Call it giving or taking a token of appreciation, a “thank you,” a bribe or outright corruption. I think every Ugandan meets it every day. Uganda Zaabu – Uganda is Gold! A common adage here.
I gave him one thousand Uganda shillings. But almost immediately after, a nasty feeling gripped me. I felt bad submitting to the bribe, but he smiled away and invoked blessings to follow me throughout the day and all the days of my life. Who wants to miss out on heaven when a mere 1k can purchase you a ticket? I headed for the elevator at the basement.
Two hours later, the meeting started. But by this time, my nine-year-old twins Tasha and Tabby were about to begin their journey home from school by bus. I had to step out of the meeting several times to organize things on the phone. They go to boarding school 280 kilometres away in Mbarara and use Global Bus to get back home to Kampala at the end of the term. Putting them on the bus alone is risky, but it is early training on how to safely use public transport. I sent logistics for the trip through Gladys, their teacher, who always does a fantastic job of settling their minds and bringing them to the bus terminal. She helped them as I finished the meeting, which ended around lunch time.
Lunch in a plush city restaurant was out of the question, as I had little cash left after sending most of it by Mobile money for the children’s bus tickets and refreshments. There is a roadside food vendor near my office and I made my way there. Shadia served me fresh beans, cabbage and eggplant sauce with rice, posho, and sweet potatoes. And Matooke, a must at every meal.
I sat inside her makeshift shelter on Kisosonkole road. Sitting inside that place brings back memories of when I was young having lunch in the garden. Here, I was totally in nature, surrounded by other hungry people minding their business and enjoying Ugandan food. Nothing is too awkward. If you find enough seating space and you can use it all, you might enjoy your meal with your legs stretched out. Sometimes, it is packed with customers and gets hot, sweaty, and puffy with a mixture of Sigiri– charcoal stove smoke and heat on the corrugated iron roof. The occasional wind might gather dust from the street. You must use your hands to keep it out of your plate and balance of the food on your lap so you don’t drop your lunch on the floor. Never mind, the food tastes greater than all these things combined.
Shadia’s personality is something of an attraction in itself. She can’t be shut out. Even if you prefer to eat in silence, she will crack you up. She speaks of politicians as predators, and politics as a game. She interprets issues of government like love affairs gone sour. Anyone is about to get dumped. She’s an expert on every topic. She never stops snatching away a conversation and taking it in her direction. That day, she freaked out at a customer she had just met for having no table manners. But they turned out best friends after that. I washed my lunch down with a pineapple flavoured Mirinda and got on to some work.
It was approaching 5 p.m.and I knew that the bus with my children was approaching. I spoke to the conductor on phone and we agreed that he would drop them off at a bus stage before the city. I wanted to avoid waiting for them in the city centre due to the traffic. At this point, I headed for the Busega roundabout where Masaka road joins Nateete Road, a busy interconnection for all Western traffic. Not long after, the bus arrived. I used the magnificent Expressway to connect from Busega to Kajjansi, my township. In a few minutes, we were home. My hungry and thirsty kids got their Dad’s best attention after we arrived. Tevin, their brother, who was on holiday for a week before his sister’s arrival, joined us at home with cooking items. We ate and drank and talked. Stories continued late into the night.