What Will I Do Before I Die?

A bucket list? That list of things I must do before I die?

I do not remember at any point in my life making such a list, but sometime during my teenage years, an insane desire to write novels gripped me, and this flared into a ridiculous quest to make a living out of telling stories. So I guess the cliché items on my bucket list would be things like “get published,” “win an Oscar,”get really famous like Werner Herzog.” But the nightmare of trying to get a decent break makes those ambitions rather childish.

To live a quiet life, without any ambitions other than to eat grass. Now that’s something!
And it’s times like today when you wish you were pursuing other goals in life. When you wish you were a teacher in a primary school in some unknown village, with the only ambitions being to get drunk after screaming at pupils all day long. Times like this when you get a rejection letter from a film festival, after you paid a hundred dollars in submission fees and another forty to the courier. When you feel like the biggest job you’ve done in your career is worthless.
 —
Like Reiza said, “Don’t worry. 10,000+ other filmmakers got a similar rejection letter.” But the whole thing with trying to be a filmmaker, or a writer, is that you don’t want to belong to the slush pile. You want to be among the 180 films that got selected out of 11,000+ submissions—and when you eventually get to see some of those 180 films, you can’t tell why they picked them and not yours! It doesn’t matter that just a few weeks before, you were celebrating because another major festival accepted your film in one of its programs. That is past. This is present. And the rejection will feel sour in your mouth until the next bit of news either makes you feel worse, or lifts you out of the gloom.
To tell stories, or die trying, should be top on the list!

So what is it that I really want to do before I die?

I could spend the rest of my life trying to figure out the answer. I know it is not to get published, or make a film, or win an Oscar, or win the Booker prize—though that is something I have pursued for nearly twenty years now! Since I was only fifteen. I still remember the first day I picked a pen and started writing on my exercise book. I was curled up at the bottom bed of the double-decker, in a long room which housed forty other students. Dirty dormitory. Mill Hill Room 6. St Peters College, Tororo. Everyone was in class at that time, and like the delinquent I was, I felt dodging class was cool. So I would louse in the dorm all day reading novels instead of “real books.”

There was this mean, big boy in my dormitory. A prefect, if I remember. He saw me writing, didn’t say anything, walked out, and returned three hours later. When he still found me writing, he got curious. He knew I couldn’t be copying notes, because I wasn’t the kind to think about class work until about one week to examinations. He came over, tried to read my illegible handwriting, and couldn’t make sense of what he saw. He asked, “What are you writing?”

“A novel,” I replied.

He started to laugh. He grabbed the book from my hands and ran out. I tried to chase him but he was too fast for me. He ran laughing. He went from dorm to dorm, showing it off to people to encourage them to laugh at me. “Dilman is writing a novel! You people, see! Dilman is writing a novel!”

Sure enough, the laughter built. And amidst the laughter, came the whispers, “Dilman has run mad.”

Over the next several weeks, groups of students would come to watch me huddled on my bed, silent as a dead fish, writing. They had smirks on their faces, a glitter in their eyes, a confirmation that I had surely run insane. How could I think of writing a book?

A few months later, I confirmed my insanity when I sneaked into a train, and off  I went to Nairobi, to talk to the East African Publishers to publish my book. I sold my textbooks and some of my clothes to raise the ticket, and to have enough money to east while in Nairobi. The train journey lasted 36 hours, but I could not afford the food on board. I was starving when I reached Nairobi, but ambition burned like a mad fire in my heart and propelled me to look for publisher’s office. I got it after six hours of bumbling about, a village boy lost in the vast city.

But I finally found the publisher’s office, and I thought I would walk out a rich and famous boy. The receptionist who received me had the same smirk on her face, but she was kind to the little boy who stood in front of her desk, with five nearly tattered exercise books which he was calling a novel. She simply said, “We don’t accept handwritten work. Go get it typed.”

I came back to my senses. I could not type, and I did not have money to pay a typist. I returned home—after a big adventure in Nairob, which I am going to wite about someday—and resumed my studies. I passed the Senior 4 exams by a miracle. But I did not give up on trying to write that book. I did odd jobs during the holidays, enrolled for computer lessons, and took typing lessons (Mavis Beacon, wherever that program vanished to!), and by the time I finished university, I was a typing pro: 60 words a minute.
 —
Well, back to the question, if my bucket list has no item that concerns writing, then what is on my bucket list? To travel and see the world? I know that’s another burning ambition I have. It’s one of the reasons I packed my bags and went to live in Nepal for two years, a country I’d never heard until I got an offer to work there. Now that I’m back home, I’m already thinking of hitting the road again, going to some far away country whose cultures I know nothing of, and living there for a while. Like a drifter.
To see the world, and experience different cultures, is in the list.
To love and be loved? Well, that’s close. Really close, but it’s on every human being’s bucket list. It’s part of the human psyche. So it doesn’t count.
 —
To have babies? To climb Mount Everest? To photograph the beautiful sunsets at the lakeside? To beat my girlfriend at karaoke? To write a bucket list? Ha! I must certainly do that before I die! I must come up with a list of things to do before I die, before I die! Hahaha. Very funny, Dilman.
I better go and see a shrink. Maybe he will tell me what I should put in my bucket list.
— 
You May Also Like:

Open Fly at the Airport

Last week, I got an email from the most important documentary film festival, www.idfa.nl. They accepted my first feature length piece of work, Untouchable Love, in their Docs for Sale section. How I wish I had finished it in time to meet the deadline for the main festival! (I’m reading this in October 2017, as I rework this blog, and I laugh at how naive I was. Docs for Sale, haha! I’ll write about that in another blog.)
Well, when some people hear that I was in Nepal (overseas!) for two years making a film, their first thought is that I got a lot of money. Sometimes I laugh on hearing that, for the story behind the making of Untouchable Love can make a documentary of its own.
 
Interviewing one of the girls, whose crime was to fall in love.
It took me one year from the time I decided to make this film to fly to Nepal. One year of researching and knocking on NGO doors for a chance to go to South Asia. And why did I want to make it? I was searching for the meaning of love. Yet another girl had broken my heart. I was depressed, looking at a bleak future where I grow up in a lonely house with a dog for company. I started to ask myself, “What is the meaning of love?” and then I thought I could find the answers if I wrote a book about it. Or made a film about it. I heard of the poor girls in strict Muslim countries who have no freedom to fall in love, and I thought of going over there — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, or some such place — and telling their stories. But the insecurity in that region discouraged me. And then I learnt about the youth in Hindu societies suffering a similar fate, and I decided to go to South Asia. I quit my day job, blindly, stupidly, and embarked on a foolish mission to become a full time filmmaker.
 
I lived like a beggar in Nepal.
At first I wanted to do it in India, but I failed to get a way in. I had to settle for Nepal. As I mentioned before, it took me almost a year to finally board the plane to go to Nepal. By this time, I was broke. When I landed in Kathmandu airport, I had only 135 US Dollars in my pockets, and I had to pay a hundred dollars for a three month tourist Visa. Then I was left with 35 dollars and a pair of jeans whose fly was broken.
 
In spite of all the pains, making the doc was fun!
The zip went broke shortly after I left Entebbe. All the security checks — take off your shoes, take off your belt — stressed my pants, which I had worn for nearly a whole year. They were faded. I badly needed a new one, but as I had quit my day job to make this documentary, I was really broke at the end of that year. I couldn’t buy new clothes. And the zip of my favorite jeans stopped working soon after I completed the stupid security checks at Entebbe.
 
Worse, I had forgotten to put on underwear that day. Well, not forgotten, but as I rushed out of my house to catch a commuter taxi to the airport, I noticed I had not worn any underpants. I searched through my laundry basket and could not find a clean one. I knew there was a clean boxer somewhere, but I just couldn’t find it. Time was running out. I had to go to the airport without any underwear. And after the last security check, the zip broke.
 
Unluckily for me, I had checked in my luggage. I could not get a new pair of trousers to change. The only luggage I carried around was my laptop bag, and so I put it to best use — holding it in front of my crotch so that people would not see the open zip. The only problem is that each time I had to pass through security, I had to surrender the bag, take off my belt and shoes, and inevitably expose my unzipped pants with the member dangling inside.
 
We stopped in Addis Abba for about two hours, and then in Delhi for six hours. When we finally reached Kathmandu, I was so glad. Only one more set of security people to endure and I could be able to change into a more decent pair of pants!
 
But what a statement I was making! Here I was coming into Nepal, to make a documentary about love, with my pants unzipped and my ‘gadgets’ dangling in the darkness for everyone to oogle at! No wonder, my Nepali hosts kept offering me wives to bring back to Uganda. :-))
 
They thought I was rich, being a foreigner. They could not believe that I had only 35 US Dollars in my jean trousers with a broken zip when I walked into their country. And that for two months, I had to live in cheap hostels (Chetena Kendra, in Banepa) and with kind families, until I found a permanent home for myself in Dhangadi town. 🙂 
 
I wish my arrival was much more glamorous. 🙂
I went to Nepal as a volunteer, through Volunteer Services Overseas, and so my accommodation and food was covered for two years. I had to work as an Advocacy Adviser to a local Nepali organization, but I might have as well been on vacation. My workload was so light that I ended up referring to myself as a ‘voluntourist’. But well, this helped me to dedicate a lot of time to making the documentary. I had to look for money to make it, and I needed a lot of cash for I had to travel from one end of the country to the other — a three day journey by bus, two hours on a plane — collecting stories, interviewing witnesses, shooting pictures, and I was wondering how I would pull it off. I had to do this within a certain time frame or else I would return to Uganda without achieving my goals. 
 
Being a black man living in Nepal tested me with fire. I had to endure negative culture shock, a lot of staring, a lotof things that made me want to give up. But luck befell me nearly ten months down the road. I heard of someone with an underspent budget, who was looking for ways to spend the money, and I convinced them making a social action documentary is a good way to do it. I went on to  make the documentary.
 
Now, almost exactly two years after I set off for Nepal, the documentary gets accepted at IDFA’s Docs for Sale. Hopefully, it’s the first in a long line of festival acceptances. All I pray is that next time I want to make a film, I won’t have to fly through several airports with unzipped jeans and only 135 bucks in my pockets.
 
You might want to get updates on my future projects, so follow this blog, or go to www.facebook.com/dilstories And if you enjoyed this post, help spread the love. Email it to a friend. Share it on facebook and twitter. The buttons are above (can’t figure out how to put it below the post as well). Next time, I’ll write a bit about love, sex, marriage and dating in contemporary Nepal. Please come back.
 
You May Also Like: