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During the launch of my first collection of short stories, A Killing in the Sun, one very irritating question kept coming up. What inspired you? It’s the brother of that question every writer hates. Where did you get that idea? Alongside it came its sisters, how did you get into sci-fi? Why do you write sci-fi and fantasy? I always pause before answering these questions, because it’s like asking me how I learned how to breathe.
Well, maybe not, but I don’t like that question because I think I’m never inspired. I always work very hard to drag stories out of the depths where they are buried in a pile of poop. To say ‘inspired’ is to make it seem like the idea dropped out of the sky and fell into my head. But it’s never like that. Every minute, things go into me and they have to come out at some point. The life I live dictates the stories I tell. Am I inspired to live? Well, no, I’m never inspired to live. I just live because I found myself alive. It’s a struggle to stay alive, to survive, to find even just an iota of happiness. The experience of it floods my brains like raw excreta. I have to digest all this poop, and then vomit out a refined product that smells of blood-stained roses. These are very negative images with which to describe myself and my writing, but I don’t lived a life of sweet roses. Rather, it’s one of pain and fear and self-doubt and agony and endless rejection. In other words, life sucks, and it will always suck, and only through writing can I make sense of it.
Take the title story, A Killing in the Sun, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2013. It’s about a soldier facing the firing squad, but memories of his childhood surface to turn his execution into a horror. I first wrote it in 2002, I think. At that time, two soldiers in Karamoja were accused of killing a priest, and shot dead after a trial that some people said was questionable. Their pictures appeared on the front pages. One captured my attention. In it the soldier’s zip was open, exposing a very clean and white pair of underpants. That image troubled me.
It made me think about the first few years of my life. The night I was born, so I’m told, my mother was screaming in labor. The neighbors did not come to help, for they thought soldiers had attacked our home. There was gunfire that night, for it was on the eve of New Year, and maybe the drunken soldiers, lacking fireworks, were celebrating by shooting into the air. Only one brave woman came to my mother’s help. She had nothing but a bed sheet wrapped around her waist, and she drove like mad to take my mother to hospital (by the way, this is how I got the name Dilman, but that’s a story for another day). Thus I came to this world under threat of being shot by a drunken, trigger-happy soldier.
For the next ten years there was a civil war in Uganda. It was common for us to find guns and bullets abandoned in our playgrounds. We kept hearing stories of children who were blown up because they played with strange metals. News of people disappearing forever was rather common. One of my earliest memories is of seeing a soldier walking behind a long line of people. Each person carried a heavy piece of luggage. Loot, we were told. The soldier had taken a walk in some neighborhood, looting shops and homes, and he had forced these people to carry the booty to the army barracks. He kept shooting to make them walk faster. The image reminded me of slave trade pictures in history books.
So when I saw the photo of a soldier with his pants unzipped, a few moments before he died, all these things came tumbling through my head and I had to write that story. Some will call that inspiration. I call it taking a poop to relieve myself of accumulated garbage.
I could give similar background material for most of the stories. Like The Doctor’s Truck, from my many years working in rural areas with NGOs on community development; Okello’s Honeymoon, from a pretty disastrous relationship, or maybe from the fear of getting hitched; The Leafy Man, from an article I read about two scientists trying to change the genes of a mosquito, and I read it at a time when I was sick with malaria every month, and I was scared I would one time go down and never wake up.
Two stories in the collection were born from the two years I spent in Nepal. These are Lights on Water, and A Wife and A Slave. Both are sci-fi, set in the future, and both discuss racism in its worst form. I’ve already written about my experiences in Nepal, but to give you a hint, at one time this woman, a friend to whose house I was going, told her baby something similar to ‘that black man is going to eat you.’ She was laughing as the baby wailed in sheer terror. At another time a girl screamed on seeing me, thinking she had seen a demon. In Nepali/Hindu cultures, black is associated with demons.
The trauma of living in such an environment gave me evil thoughts, like raping that woman and impregnating her with a child. What I was thinking about was that if she had a black child, she would not think of black people as demons. She would not use me to scare her child. She would not tell her child that I eat people. The reason they think habsis are demons is because they have never lived with habsis. So rape and impregnate one with a kalo child and they will be forced to love all kalo manches.
At that time, I had not read Nnedi Okorafor’s book, Who Fears Death. I only got to read it this year, and it was like looking into a dark mirror and seeing my dark self grinning at me. That is the power of speculative fiction, of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. It presents a platform to examine humanity from a unique point of view. Think of George Orwell’s 1984, would it have been as powerful if it were not sci-fi? And Lord of the Rings, born out of the same environment of Nazi Europe, would it have been as powerful if it were not fantasy? If I had not read Who Fears Death, I would have never imagined that my reaction to this Nepali woman was a seed of using weaponized rape in ethnic cleansing. Even if I had read the article that got Nnedi to writing that book, I don’t think it would have forced me to re-examine myself. I would have continued to believe that I was a good guy, that I could never descend to such bestial evil, that my reaction was justifiable. I could read that article in one sitting, but the book, I lived with it for two weeks, whenever I got a break from work, whenever I was in a bus stuck in traffic, and every word I read spoke to me with a strong voice.
I had to ask Nnedi what she thought of this, and she responded in a tweet, see below.
After reading an advance copy of A Killing in the Sun, Ivor Haartman, editor of AfroSF, sent me an email, saying he was working on AfroSF 2, and he wanted me to contribute. He particularly wanted a story set in that dark world of the stories mentioned above, Lights on Water and A Wife and A Slave. That world? I don’t like even thinking about that world and I was hoping never to go there again. But he said, “Yes, I hear you there, it is a scary world, very scary, and that’s why I like it, it’s a big warning, a needed warning.”
I was recently chatting with a friend, someone I met in Nepal, and she told me, ‘Surely Dilman, you did experience some good things in Nepal.’ I did. A lot of good things, which kind of outweighed the bad, and which is why I stayed there for two years, but I wish my mind was like the rest of you guys. I wish it could store the good, and never remember the bad. But my head is a terrible thing, and all the shit that happens in my life ends up in a big cooking pot up there, only to come out as stories. Which is why I call myself a social activist, for I want these stories to speak to the reader the way Who Fears Death spoke to me, the way it showed me my dark self.
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But I believed that Ugandan writers don’t send out their work because they have nowhere to submit. I think my career would have kicked off a lot earlier if I had somewhere to submit my writing, somewhere close to home, with editors who understand my environment and with readers who live in the cultures I write about. As it is, I had no platform to build a career on.
I started actively writing fiction at an early age, sometime late in September of 1993. I was in Senior Three. St. Peter’s College, in Tororo. End of year examinations were around the corner. Students were panicking, terrified of ‘winds’, slang for failing. If you got ‘blown by winds,’ it meant you were expelled from school for very poor academic performance. However, while other students panicked, I lolled on my bed, legs hanging up in the air, as I read The Stand, by Stephen King. That was the first adult horror I was reading. I just couldn’t put it down. A friend, Tusubira, stopped by my bed on his way to class. He stared at me for many minutes. I became uncomfortable.
|The First War, the first story I published.|
|The second story that appeared
in the Sunday Vision
|Here it is. My first collection of stories.|
|A Labwor woman in Karenga. I wonder if she would fear commitment!
What reasons would she give to avoid getting hitched?
|Rosey Sembatya, who wrote the note. Pre-commitment fears.
Read it here on facebook
Everything they told me about Nigeria turned out to be true. They are loud people. They talk as though they are quarreling, much like Indians and Nepalis. I have a theory that a combination of high temperatures, humidity, and eating too much pepper (piro in South Asia, pepe in Nigeria), gives one a big mouth and a hot temper.
|A street food vendor in Lagos. The city is full of yellow and green.|
On the plane, one Nigerian man made the Ethiopian air-hostess cry, because she couldn’t give him the food he wanted. She tried to tell him, ‘I’m sorry I can’t serve you that,’ but she doesn’t know proper English, so she said, ‘I’m sorry for you.’ The Nigerian exploded. ‘Sorry for me? Did you pay my air ticket?’ The others seated around him soon joined in harassing her. They wanted wine. She served them. They insisted on getting more than the tiny bottle they were being given. It nearly turned into a riot. Too much pepe, I think. Their outburst made the poor woman cry. I felt bad for her. I nearly cried too. I had to explain to the ogah what the woman was trying to tell him, and then he felt so ashamed of himself that he followed her to the back room (what do they call that room in the airplane where hostesses hang out?) and he apologized to her.
|The streets of Lagos are full of Maruwa, three-wheel cars.|
They warned me before setting off that I needed to have a yellow fever vaccination certificate, that I would not be allowed into the country if I did not have one. I set off with a vaccination card, which had a bunch of shots that I had got before going to Nepal. I assumed yellow fever was one of them. But at Entebbe airport, an official almost stopped me from boarding the plane. I think she wanted a bribe. She said I did not have a yellow fever vaccination. It had happened to me before, but this was at the boarder inMalaba, never at the airport. I told her that I travel a lot, and surely of the twenty or so shots listed in that card, yellow fever had to be one of them. She insisted she could not see it, and so she would not let me board the plane. She claimed she was doing me a favor since the moment I reach Nigeria without a yellow fever card they would deport me immediately. That is when I became certain that she wanted a bribe.
|They call this a bus. They overload passengers.|
I then played a trick that I always do whenever confronted with such corrupt officials. In the pretext of looking for my wallet, I opened my bag and pulled out my DSLR camera. When she saw it, like all the other corrupt officials, I saw panic leap onto her face. ‘Are you a journalist?’ she asked. I smiled at her, and she gave me a nervous laugh. She handed me back my vaccination card and passport, and said, ‘If the Nigerians ask you for yellow fever, say it is this one.’ She pointed at an item in the list of shots, Typhod, and before I could say anything, she shoved me away towards the Ethiopian Airlines desk.
|Lagos is full of vehicles in
dangerous mechanical conditions
But all the way to Nigeria, I was worried. The camera trick worked on the Ugandan official, because she was afraid of the Ugandan media, but a Nigerian wouldn’t give a rats ass about my camera. I was nervous as we queued up to face the immigration officer. A guy from Curacao was pulled out of the line. ‘You don’t have yellow fever vaccination’, they told him. Of course all this was done hush-hush, without anyone overhearing, but he later told me what happened, when we met at the function which we both were going to attend. ‘Why do I need it?’ he asked the official. ‘To enter the country,’ the official said. ‘Isn’t my passport and visa enough?’ he asked. ‘No. The yellow fever vaccination is more important. If you don’t have it, you will be deported.’ The poor guy was at a loss of what to say. Just as he thought they would deny him entry, the official said, ‘But if you have a hundred dollars…’ The Curacao guy’s face lit up with a smile. ‘No,’ he said, I don’t have a hundred. But I have fifty.’ The official then walked over to his boss, whispered, and the boss gave a slight nod. The official came back to the Curacao, ‘Boss says fifty is okay. But you have to add ten for me. Put it in your passport.’
|A palm wine seller. When in Nigeria, make it a point to taste it!|
They took his money. Crafty like immigration officials everywhere. At least in Kenya, when they fleeced Reiza of a hundred dollars because she did not have a yellow fever vaccination (and she was not even going to Kenya, she was changing planes enroute to South Sudan), they gave her a certificate. The Nigerians just took the sixty dollars and sent the poor guy on his way.
|eba, one of the delicacies of Nigeria.
And below, wild meat on sale at the roadside.
Outside the airport, we were taken to a taxi that had been sent to pick us up. ‘Hurry! Get in!’ the driver shouted at us. Then I saw two soldiers running towards us, weilding guns. ‘Go! Go!’ One soldier shouted, holding his gun like he wanted to shoot. ‘Get in quick!’ the driver yelled at us again. We scrambled into the van. I was certain Boko Haram had attacked the airport, and they were whisking us quickly to safety. The vehicle sped away. My heart was pumping fast, like in the cliché, expecting to hear gunfire at any moment now.
|God’s Grace Ministry Inc. Worlwide, Bayelsa, Nigeria.
Why would a church have the word incorporation in its name?
|The nine commandments of dressing, according to
this church in Bayelsa, Nigeria.
It confirmed to me what I had heard, that Nigerians take their religions too seriously, maybe so seriously that it becomes rather comical. Like this church in Bayelsa, that has a set of guidelines for its worshipers. I have heard of other crazy churches, like the one in South Africa where they eat grass, and those in Uganda where they have banned offering coins and where blessings are on sale. But this one, with its own version of the ten commandments, which you can see in the inset, made me laugh out loud! Women, among other things, cannot wear wigs and attachments, nor can they wear trousers, or open back dresses that show off their breasts or shoulders. Reading this list of prohibitions makes me think of radical Islam, not Christianity, yet it is called God’s Grace Ministry Inc. Worldwide. The term Inc., (an incorporation) should give you a hint on what it’s motivation really is.
Next time I come to Nigeria, I will look out for such hilarious churches. But I will also look out for the food. It’s the one thing I totally enjoyed there, and it’s the one thing you should look forward to in case you ever find yourself in Nigera. I ate snails, for the first time in my life. They taste like chicken gizzards. I ate bush meat, antelope, the butcher told me, though I wonder if that was really true. And then there was the palm wine, which deserves a whole post on its own. It gave us diarrhea though, so maybe I shouldn’t be talking about that!
|A snail on a plate, ready to eat, and below, snails on sell.|
Dilstories is in the pre-production for a TV comedy series, tentatively titled The Love Makanika. We are seeking actors and actresses for the lead roles in this offbeat comedy. We will not hold an open-call audition. Rather, interested persons should send us an email (see details below), and we shall then contact potential candidates to audition. The series will be filmed in Kampala, and so interested persons must be able to travel to, or reside within, this city.
|What Maggie might look like.
Picture borrowed from http://life-reflexions.blogspot.com/2011/07/inspirational-afro-hair-styles-fashion.html
BITU (mid twenties): She likes her hair natural, and is sometimes bald. She has been Maggie’s employee and friend for many years. She grew up in a small town, until Maggie brought her to the city to braid hair. She dropped out of school because of a pregnancy. Her child lives with her mother upcountry. She is unmarried, but is keen on a village pastor, the father of her child, who she wants to get rich before she can accept to be his wife. She has a sharp tongue, and her witty punchlines put her in trouble. She is flirty, but not promiscuous, many men bring her expensive gifts, but she never gives in to any.
|What Bitu might look like.
Picture borrowed from: http://www.goodenoughmother.com/2011/11/ask-rene-my-husband-hates-my-hair/
What might pastor look like? You!
Only those who get in touch before 15th April 2014 will be considered for the pilot, the shooting of which is scheduled for the last week of April, in Kampala. Those who get in touch after this date will be considered for roles in future episodes.
For more info about dilstories, please visit http://www.dilstories.com/
That I called it The Total Agony of Being in Love should tell you where I got inspiration. Love Actually. That film. I loved it when I first watch it, sometime in 2004, and I loved the way they portrayed sex, and relationships, and it made me want to tell funny stories. I believe many stories I’ve come up with were inspired by this film. I have made four episodes of the series, and I plan to make more. Like the title says, the series will revolve around the pains of being in love.
The episode I love the most is When An African Man Cheats. I first heard a similar joke in secondary school, and it made us laugh real hard at that time. It is a man’s joke. I don’t think women will find it funny. Well, I adapted the joke, and added a whole new punchline to it. You can enjoy it below.
The other episodes include this one, Why do Men Make Love. We were one time having a chat, a few mornings ago, and a woman was complaining that her husband only makes love to her when he wants to go to sleep. He uses her as a sleeping pill. I at once thought it’s something worth talking about. I wonder, how many men use women in this way?
One of the first episodes we did was about a Lonely Girl. It is based on a poem by Rashida Namulondo, who won the BN Poetry Prize in 2013. I have had this wild idea for a long time now, of turning poems into videos, the way they make music videos. It’s not an entirely new idea, and several people have already made video poems, but I’m thinking it could be a way to help poets earn cash from their creations.
Well, so there we are. A few videos to give you a great laugh, and you should expect more. Subscribe to our YouTube channel, and you won’t be disappointed!
I cannot understand why so many Africans give up their lives to go over there. I met a Ugandan who has lived there for about ten years. He went as a student, got lucky and got a German wife, which paved way for him to become a resident. But he said it was also easy to become a resident if you learn the language, and that many people get deported because they fail to speak German. There is a place, which the Ugandans call kiyumba, where they take illegal immigrants to learn the language and culture. If you are in the kiyumba, then you are called a kamwanyi. Kiyumba is a kind of asylum, a place to train immigrants on how to become Germans. This kind of contradicts what I hear about how illegal immigrants are treated over there.
|Riding a bicycle seems a better idea than taking the bus or train.|
|Waiting for the bus.|
I can’t imagine what it is like in the full terror of winter, with snow falling, or rain, and the bus guy refuses to let people in simply because it’s not yet time! Why couldn’t he let us wait from inside the bus, until it is time to drive off?
Then, just as he set off, a woman came hurrying towards the stop, pushing a pram with a baby in it. She waved, frantically, pleading for the bus to wait. Maybe she was shouting, but we could not hear her voice. The driver saw her, yet he had no expression on his face as he stepped on the gas and sped away. He could not wait a few seconds for the woman and her baby, for then it would mean effing up his schedule, ruining the system. Now the woman had to stand in the cold for another twenty minutes for the next bus.
I wondered how far the mother and her baby had come. Though Berlin seems to have systems to care for disadvantaged people, the insistence that buses and trains only stop at designated spots is a nightmare. If your home is a mile from the bus stop, and you have a baby, or a physical disability, you are screwed. The two weeks I spent there, I was limping most of the time, for I had to walk, walk, walk, and it was such a strain. If they do want to help physically disadvantaged people, then they should go beyond making buildings and vehicles easily accessible. They should make public transport be able to stop wherever such a person wants to jump out of. Like in Uganda, and most of Africa, where you simply tell the driver ‘maso awo’, even though there is no stage, and the bus will stop.
|Anti-Nazi grafitti and stickers, run by http://www.antifa.de/, litter the streets.
This sadly means there is still Nazism and racism.
I thought this impersonal thing was only in the systems, but even the people have lost a sense of comradeship. If you do not have a phone with GPS, or if you are like me who cannot read maps because all my life I have had to rely on asking locals for directions, and you get lost, you are screwed. I was going to a party. After a lot of trouble, I eventually found the train that would take me to the place. On reaching, I couldn’t find the street. It was dark, eight o’clock. I asked a woman for directions. ‘Oh,’ she said, with a big smile, ‘you are going to F_strasse? Just go down this way, turn left, and there you are.’ I went down the way she pointed, turned left, and I was not in F_strasse. I asked another person, and she gave me directions again, which I followed religiously, only to find that she too had sent me to a totally wrong place. I was lost. They made me walk around in circles for over an hour, with each person I ask claiming to know the place, and then giving me totally wrong directions.
At one point, I was angry and frustrated, and thinking of going back to my hotel, and then I approached a man, who ran away from me, screaming, ‘No money! I have no money! I’m just a German! I have no money!’ What the f**k was that about? He probably thought I was a beggar, or that I wanted to mug him.
Finally, I met an old man. I asked him if he knew F_strasse (I can’t remember how the name is written), and he told me why I had walked around in circles all night. ‘Don’t you have a phone with GPS?’ I did not. He had a map in his pockets. An ‘analog map’, as he called it, and he was kind enough to stand with me for nearly ten minutes until we figured out how I could reach the street I was going to.
As I made my way to the party, already tired and pissed off, I kept wondering why those people (six of them) gave me totally wrong directions. Did they do it deliberately? Why? Did they just not know their own neighborhood?
I could not help but compare it to a time I got lost in Nepal. When I asked for directions, I ended up in a conversation with the locals. They wanted to know my name, where I came from, what I was doing in Nepal, whose house I was going to, what I had for lunch – and I got to know about them and their families. In Uganda too. You get lost, the locals will give you all the directions you need, and if they do not know, they will tell you so. Sometimes, they will offer to escort you right up to the door you are searching. Asking for directions is an opportunity to socialize, a chance for the traveler and the local to get to know a bit about each other. But apparently not in Berlin.
|The trains really fascinated me.
I must say that after that terrible experience, I had much nicer encounters with Germans. A woman saw me at a bus stop, reading the information board, and she asked if I needed help. I said yes, and she did help. Another man saw me puzzling over a map, and he offered help without me asking. It happened more than twice, but the first experience was deeply etched in my head. I never asked for directions again. I instead tried my best to learn how to read maps. One time, I was going to the Neue Synagogue from the Berliner Dome. It was just around the corner, but because I did not trust them anymore, and decided to use the map, I found myself taking two trains and a bus. Its only when I reached the Synagogue and recognized the buildings around the Dome in the nearby distance, only then did I realize what a dork I had become.
This is a public apology to Mathew Nabwiso and Tibba Murungi Kabugu, whose reputation is suffering because of a misconception over a video I uploaded on YouTube, a few months ago. The video is being taken out of context. It is not porn, or a sex tape. I appeal to all media houses and tabloids in the country to desist from spreading the lies around this video.
|Mathew and Tibba in a scene in The Felistas Fable|
I first met both Mathew and Tibba when I was working for The Hostel, a short lived stint that lasted only two months or so, late in 2011. I saw they were fine actors, and since I had a feature film project, The Felistas Fable, I invited them to audition for parts in the movie. I was glad to work with them in this film. It is not a pornographic film. However, there involved a sex scene between the two characters that they would both be portraying. This scene was not simply for the sake of having graphic displays of sex, but it was a plot device and it was also for comic purposes.
It maybe not be possible to show you how we used sex as a plot device or for comic purposes, but I will invite you to watch another short film that I made, in which we use it to great effect. What Happened in Room 13 http://youtu.be/RZnpN86hPzo
Filming sex scenes are the most boring part of making a film. Anyone who works in the industry knows that. There is a certain degree of undressing, to make the audience believe that it is an actual sex scene, but the actors will remain decently clothed throughout the filming process. However, during one of the takes of this scene, our cleaner interrupted, saying she wanted to wash dishes. Being a low budget production, we were filming on location, and therefore any noises in the kitchen would interrupt us.
During the editing, I saw this clip, and I thought it was funny. I laughed every time I saw it. I thought it would be a good tool to promote the film, especially on YouTube, because there was humor in it, and we are trying to market the film as a romantic comedy. Please note that I have already uploaded other behind the scenes or unused sequences from the film, which are not sex related, but which have humor in them. For example this video clip, http://youtu.be/TxBYThXl2Ew.
Unfortunately, after I uploaded this behind-the-scenes clip, some people mistook it as a sex video. They did not see beyond the characters re-enacting the scene. This forced us to remove the video from YouTube. It’s also unfortunate that the moment we removed the video, after it was online for about three months, some people uploaded illegal copies on social media. I think that it’s because we removed the official video that the false rumors began to spread, and I’m sorry about that. It was been online for more than three months.
I would like to now clarify two things.
1) The clip being spread is not from a pornographic film, nor is it a sex tape. It is from a decent film. That YouTube permitted it to be uploaded testifies to the fact that it falls within YouTube guidelines of acceptable family entertainment. You can watch the trailer of the film here. http://youtu.be/prPKiv0NIqw
2) The scene was not shot in The Hostel. The Hostel, and the team behind The Hostel, have nothing to do with the video.
I would like to apologize to Mathew and Tibba, and to their families, for the hurt this has done. It was not my intention to profit from their embarrassment. The moment the video was misunderstood, I removed it. The video clip was misunderstood and is being spread out of context. I do not understand why, nor why they are associating it with The Hostel, because the clip has text files identifying the true film from which it was taken. My apologies to Fast Track, and the team behind The Hostel.
I would like to end by appealing to all Ugandans, to media houses and to tabloids, and to social media platforms, to please verify the truth behind a rumor before spreading it. It is your social responsibility to spread only what is the truth, and not to take things out of context.
For more details about the film, you can contact me via this website. http://www.dilmandila.com/
I remain yours,
The Felistas Fable.