Hats and Feathers: The Fashionable Men of Karamoja

Every time I visit Karamoja, it feels like I’ve stepped into another world. I particularly like the colorful attire, which reminds me of Nepal, in many ways, (strange that they both love colorful clothing, and they both worship cattle). The one thing I can’t get enough of while in Karamoja, however, is hats, especially those with feathers attached. I can’t keep my fingers off the camera each time I see one, and I am never able to capture what it is that fascinates me about this fashion. I keep wondering if they adopted it in the recent past, or if it is something that evolved from ancient days. I would sure love to investigate it with an afro-futuristic lens.
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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The Darkness Behind My Book

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. 

Signing a copy for Auma Obama, the first buyer of the book. Photo courtesy of: Nyana Kakoma, of So Many Stories
Reading from the book during the launch at Storymoja Festival 2014, Nairobi. Photo courtesy of: Nyana Kakoma, So Many Stories

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.

@dilmandila that was some REAL writing. Thank you for sharing it. I know that took a lot. Wow. few can write with such honesty. *Applause*.
— Nnedi Okorafor, PhD (@Nnedi) September 25, 2014

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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Why I Started a Literary Magazine

Many say it’s madness to start a literary magazine. Such a venture, especially one that focuses on African literature, can’t make money because, they say, there is no market to sustain literature on the continent. When I mooted the idea of Lawino to a friend, her advice was, ‘Don’t start it. All work and no pay makes Ojok a poor boy.’ It was discouraging, hearing that I would have to put a lot of energy into the magazine, and maybe never get paid for it. Still, I had this burning urge, for I wanted a journal to promote new writing from Africa, with particular focus on Uganda. ‘Haha,’ this friend laughed. ‘Promote Ugandan writers? You are wasting your time. They never submit their work.’

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.

‘What?’ I asked him.
 
‘Kale you,’ he said. ‘It’s a two weeks to exam and you are reading a novel.’ I only smiled at him. ‘Do you cheat?’ he added. ‘You don’t even have notes, yet you are going to pass. Do you cheat?’
 
I had skipped many classes, to read novels. The school had a big library, one of the largest in Eastern Uganda, with thousands of books that were gathering dust, unread, begging me to read them. I spent a lot of time in the library, and I stole many books as well, but all the time reading novels. The previous year, I had run around begging friends for notes. Sometimes I read their notes as they took a break from revising, especially as they ate. Yet I passed the exams with such decent grades that I maintained my place in ‘M’, a stream reserved for the brightest students. But this boy knew I never cheat. It was easy to think I cheated. In retrospect, I now know I easily passed exams because I read a lot of novels.
 
‘God is so unfair,’ another boy, Emukule, said. ‘Some of us spend sleepless nights in class but we fail. Yet this one wastes his father’s money on novels and he passes.’
 
Then, a third boy, Bruce, asked, ‘But why do you read a lot of novels?’
 
And I replied, ‘Because I want to write them one day.’
 
I had tried writing the year before. The central character was a superhero, modelled on The Phantom but with Ninja-like abilities. I never got beyond the first page. I tried writing a play for the Scripture Union, and for the church at home. I remember buying two books about writing drama for churches. I was a devout born-again Christian at that time. But both the SU and the church were not interested in original stuff. They rehashed Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames. So I gave up. Though I had toyed with the idea of writing, until that moment I didn’t know that I wanted it as a career.
 
Bruce laughed. ‘You? To write a novel?’ He laughed so hard that tears came out of his eyes.

So I started writing. It might have been that same day, or the day after, but certainly it was before the exams. It was a crime book, about a rich woman who hires her childhood friend (his name was Rob, Robert Rugunda) to find robbers who have taken her stash of dollars. ‘Why me,’ the protagonist asks her. ‘I’m not a cop.’ And she replies, ‘You are a good detective. Remember you used to catch pen and pencil thieves while we were at school?’ So Rob takes the job, and it’s gunfight after gunfight, as he uncovers a plot that goes beyond mere robbery into one that involves a government take over. I blame that plot on the likes of Robert Ludlum, Fredrick Forsythe, and James Hardley Chase.
 
When this Bruce found me on my bed, writing, he frowned in puzzlement. ‘What are you going to call it?’ he asked. ‘Chase the Dollar,’ I said. And he laughed again. This time he laughed so hard that he fell on the floor, holding his sides. He went round telling everybody, and soon the whole dorm was laughing at me. They changed the title to ‘Chase the Adhola’ and they mocked me, ‘Why do you want to chase the Jop’Adhola from their home?’
The First War, the first story I published.
Their laughter didn’t stop me, nor did that of my parents and brothers. ‘You are simply copying another book,’ one said, trying to convince me to abandon the project and stick to my studies. I was not copying any book, but I didn’t tell him that. I passed the exams and stayed in M. I continued to write during the holidays. I lost my faith in organised religion, and became a backslider, as the Pentecostals used to say, and it would be ten years before I went to church again. I wrote, and wrote, and in July of 1994, as the World Cup raged in the US, just before my Senior Four mock exams, I took the train to Nairobi and gave the book to East African Publishers. I had enjoyed their book, John Kiriamiti’s My Life in Crime. I believed they would like Chase The Dollars even better. Well, my Nairobi adventure deserves a whole book of its own, but I got a harsh rejection. They didn’t even read the book. The receptionist gave me one look, saw how dirty I was, and said, ‘We don’t accept handwritten material. Get it typed.’
The second story that appeared
in the Sunday Vision
I returned home one week to exams. Luckily, they didn’t expel me for absconding from school. I passed in second grade. Then I continued to write, but I never managed to get the manuscript typed until the early 2000s, and even then, I only managed to have the first chapter done. I burnt that book, and wrote another, which I called Osu. I typed it up neatly.
I had just finished university. I didn’t want to work for a salary. I wanted a career in writing. I searched for a publisher, and then reality struck. I had nowhere to submit my work. Most publishers, including East African Publishers (who I learnt that their full name is East African Educational Publishers), preferred text books. None wanted a novel. The best option I had was Fountain Publishers, in Uganda. I gave them Osu, and they gave me encouraging words. I’ve never heard from them since then. I couldn’t go to FEMRITE for they favoured women writers.
 
For the first time since I started writing, I realised that I might be chasing childish dreams. By 2001, after eight years of trying, I had published only one short story, in The Crusader, and the newspaper collapsed before they could pay me the ten thousand shillings for the story. I wrote another story, novella length, for The Monitor to serialize, for they had done it with Mary Karooro Okurut’s The Invisible Weevil. One of their editors (I forget his name, but he was a Musoga) told me, ‘We can’t serialise your work. We ran Okurut’s book because she is famous. You are not.’ Ngrrr. After all those years of trying to write, I was like a blocked sewage pipe. I needed an outlet for the stories bubbling in me or else I would drown in that shit. But no one cared. No publisher was interested.
 
I would have given up. I nearly gave up, for who wants live like a malfunctioning sewage pipe? I got a day job with an NGO, and started to work as a volunteer, interviewing HIV-infected people on their death beds. A horrific job. It filled me with more stories, but I was severely constipated because I simply had nowhere to send these stories.
 
Until I saw a piece of fiction in The Sunday Vision, and they wanted more. I thought I could write better than what they had published. I sent them one, called The First War, which they printed under the title Cowards Live Longer. Well, I have already written before about how Simon Kaheru, Joachim Buwembo, and a lady whose name I forget (it started with A), how they patted my back and gaped in wonder at the story. I have already said how much getting such a pat from these editors gave me the energy to dream on, to persevere. I wrote three more short stories for The Sunday Vision. Those were the happiest days of my life, at that time at least. And then, they closed the fiction section, along with the joys I got from seeing my name in print.
 
After that, came another phase of constipation. I again wondered why I bother writing yet there were no publishers of fiction in Uganda. I joined an email group, which had people like Binyavanga Wainana and Kinyanjui Wanjiru. I suggested that someone should start a literary magazine, and the idea caught fire, and so Kwani? was born. Yet I never got published in Kwani? for at that time I thought I wanted to write horror stories. I don’t think they liked anything I sent them.
 
Soon, the constipation returned. I was again a blocked sewage pipe. But this one was short lived, not just because of the encouragement I got from Simon, Joachim, and the Sunday Vision team. I discovered the internet, and a plethora of ezines to which I could submit my horror work. I plunged back into writing, and soon got published. Yet I did not derive much joy in seeing myself in print again, for these ezines were based far outside home. I think I even stripped my stories of overtly African cultures to make friendlier to these alien magazines and their alien readers. It was a very demoralising, and I soon stopped bothering to write for them.
 
Instead, I wrote with the hope that one day an African magazine that published the kind of stories I wrote would crop up. I wrote and wrote, for I had hope that things will improve. Indeed, time changed. One of the stories I wrote back then, A Killing in the Sun, which is a horror fantasy, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2013. Today, many of these stories are part of my first full length book, a collection of speculative short fiction, thanks to an adventurous South African publisher, Duduzile Mabaso, of Black Letter Media.
Here it is. My first collection of stories.
Today, the African writer does not have to feel constipated as I did, nor does s/he have to feel like a blocked sewage pipe. There are many platforms one can submit to, like AfroSF, Saraba, Jalada, Sooo Many Stories, KalahariReview, Kwani?, Short Story Day Africa, BN Poetry Awards and Writivism, and book publishers like CassavaRepublic, Fox and Raven, and Black Letter Media. Yet I still remember those dark years, and I don’t want other writers to go through such trauma. One more litmag, one more platform, won’t hurt. Rather, it expands the options available. Writers do need a platform that has roots in their lives and cultures. A writer cannot grow if this platform is far outside their community.
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Seven Reasons Why Women Fear Commitment

Women are more afraid of commitment than men. They’ll end perfectly good relationships for no reason at all. Even when they seem perfectly happy in a relationship, so happy that the man is encouraged to buy a ring, the moment he proposes, things start to go downhill. Some of them become serial heartbreakers. They make men need them, and when he’s firmly in a girl’s grasp, when he starts to dream of having children with her, she gets scared and tells him, ‘You are too clingy.’ Well, no man has ever figured out what women want, but I think I have. You might think of the good old reasons, that they are pursuing a career, or that they want to travel and see the world, or that they fear children will make them shapeless, or that they were hurt once and so would rather stay single. Far from it.

 

A Labwor woman in Karenga. I wonder if she would fear commitment!
What reasons would she give to avoid getting hitched?
 1. Women are afraid of men who love them too much.
Apparently, the modern guy has seen Titanic, and wants to be a replica of Jack. But the modern girl isn’t impressed. She doesn’t want a man who superglues on her, who calls her every few minutes. They don’t want men who stay home to help with supper rather than go to the bar to watch soccer. Don’t call me pig. I heard all this from women themselves. I thought about this article after I stumbled upon a note a friend of mine, the writer and poet Rosey Sembatya, made on facebook. In it she gives eighteen reasons as to why she is afraid to commit, and four of these had something to do with the attention the man gives her. “He’ll adore me and I won’t know what to do,” she writes. “He’ll be my friend and I won’t know what to do. He’ll like coming home at 5pm just to chat as I prepare dinner. Who said I’ll be home at 5pm? He’ll like crazy buy me flowers like I said I like them.”

2. Women fear the knight will transform into a pig.
The man she falls in love with might be a fantasy figure straight out of the glossy magazines, a dashing bombshell with a six-pack. But disfigures all man. He will advance in his career, and get too busy to go to the gym. The money will flow in, and he’ll have one too many beers, and too much pork, and then his tummy will balloon until he looks pregnant, and the fat will cause his neck to disappear. And as Rosey writes, “He’ll grow hair in his nose. Then he’ll refuse, or forget, to clip the hair in his nose until it escapes and connects with his moustache, until it becomes gray. Then he will wake up having drooled and want to kiss me on the lips.”
 
3. Women never know what they want.
In researching this article, I took a peek into the abanonya (those searching for love) section of Bukedi newspaper, where the bold women put ads for the kind of men they are looking for. Many of them give very contradictory characteristics in what they want to see in a man. There are those who write that they want a man who is either a Born Again Christian (the radical holy-spirit firebrands) or a Muslim. Does that make sense?

 

A Nepali woman. She lives in a culture where staying single is not an option.
4. Women fear men who cook better than they do.
This is a strange one. You would imagine that with all this feminist talk and women liberation circus, they would fall head over heels for a man who does the cooking. But no. They prefer to do the cooking. Maybe they are afraid that if the man is a good cook, then he will always find fault with their cooking, and thus they will never be able to satisfy him. I was once in a relationship where she never allowed me to cook. She limited my role in the kitchen to washing the dishes, boiling water for tea, and boiling rice. She thought if she allowed me to cook, I would feed her blackened beans, or half-cooked potatoes. Then one day she saw a picture of a dish I made, and she flipped out. ‘You must have bought it from a Chinese restaurant,’ she said. Maybe we broke up because she realized I was a master chef. 🙂
 
 
There are no secrets to cooking great dishes, as many modern men have discovered. They stay single well into their thirties (often because they cannot find women who are ready to settle down), and this forces them to learn to cook. Some will go to restaurants, but eating out every meal is not only costly but outright boring, so these men spend the long years of bachelorhood unconsciously perfecting their culinary skills. When they get bored of pasta and boiled eggs, they search the internet for recipes, then they simply turn on the stove, throw a few things into the pan, and bingo, a Chinese dish. Why then are women afraid of men who cook better than they do?
A dish of pasta, vegetables and beef, made by a bachelor. Me 🙂
5. Women are afraid of a man’s wardrobe.
‘My future one will love pink,’ Rosey writes, ‘and have pink boxers, and pink shorts, and pink shirts, and a pink key holder to match.’ Hmmm…. They will force him to wear costumes of their choice. They think his choice of clothing will kill them with the laundry. ‘He’ll say he feels adored when he sees me washing his jeans with my bare hands.’ A long time ago, an aunt visited us, and she was telling my mother how she hates washing her husband’s jeans. She decided to hide them, and instead bought him a bunch of coats and ties. ‘You look more charming in these,’ she said. He had never won a coat or tie in his life. He drove a bus for a living. She complained about how impossible it is to wash grease off jeans. He did not see how he could go to work in a tie. He wanted his jeans. A fight broke up. They divorced.
 
6. Women set very weird standards in what they look for in a man.
Recently, I was talking to a woman who works at the driving school I went to. She is in her thirties, and not yet married. I asked her what she is waiting for, and she said she has not yet met the right kind of man. She wants a widower, or if not a divorcee, who already has a child under the age of three. She is a born again Christian, and she says it has been her prayer request for seven years now. Every Sunday, she goes to church and asks God for that one thing. Please send me a single man who already has a child under three. ‘Why?’ I asked her. ‘So that I can test myself and see if I am a good woman,’ she said. ‘You see,’ she added, ‘loving another woman’s child is the hardest test a mother can face. I want God to give me such a man so that I can see if I turn into an evil step mother.’
 
Nothing she said made sense to me, but it clearly was an excuse to stay single. I don’t know what her history is. Maybe she suffered a terrible childhood under a step mother and wants to make amends. I don’t know why she bothers God with such an insane request. I can only pity the scores of men whose heart she has broken because they don’t meet her criteria.
 
She reminded me of another lady I tried to date, a long time ago, a Mutoro who said she preferred light skinned men. Not white men, just light skinned Africans. Unfortunately for her, most of the men who picked interest in her were dark, like me, and the most insistent of all was a guy so dark he looked blue. He was a sweet man who sent her flowers and chocolates every week. Poor guy.

 

Rosey Sembatya, who wrote the note. Pre-commitment fears.
Read it here on facebook 
7. Women are afraid they will get less sex once they are married.
This has to be one of the greatest paradoxes in life. Single men think they don’t get enough bed action because they don’t have a hole dedicated solely to them. They know how difficult it is to convince a woman to open her legs, that’s why they use their hands, or end up gay 😀
 
Single men envy married men, who they think get bongobongo whenever they are horny. But married women complain that their husbands don’t poke them at all. They think single women get all the action because single ladies have all the freedom in the world. At least when you are still single, a commitment-shy lady will say, you can do bongobongo anytime you wish to. All you have to do is wink at any man you see, whether he is a bodaboda rider, or a drunkard staggering home, or a hunky model, and you’ll be sure to catch his attention for chances are that he is a starving animal. But when you are married, hmmm, you are stuck with one guy whose performance leaves you hanging in suspense.
 
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Potraits from Kampala’s Literary Scenes

She runs the Ranchers Seafood and Steakhouse, where many literary events take place.  This was during a Commonwealth Writers event.

Melissa Kiguwa, a feminist and poet, with Helen Nyana, a writer and publisher.
Helen Nyana, writer, publisher, photographer
David Kaiza, Writer and Editor
A participant during the Commonwealth Writers Conversation, Kampala, 14 June 2014. She was not asleep.
A participant during the Commonwealth Writers Conversation, Kampala, 14 June 2014
Patricia, writer.
A participant during the Commonwealth Writers Conversation, Kampala, 14 June 2014
A participant during the Commonwealth Writers Conversation, Kampala, 14 June 2014
Jackee Batanda, writer.
Rosey Sembatya, writer and board member of FEMRITE
Daphne, a poet, attending the readers and writers club at FEMRITE

 

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, writer, and winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2014
Goretti Kyomuhendo, writer, and founder of African Writers Trust
A participant at the Commonwealth Writers Conversation.
A poet performs during OpenMic at the Uganda Museum
A poet after her performance during OpenMic at the Uganda Museum
Participants during the Commonwealth Writers Conversation, Kampala, 14 June 2014
Kelsey Claire Hagens
Beverly and Melisa, during a panel discussion at the Writivism Festival 2014
At FEMRITE readers club
Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Writer, Poet, attends the Writivism Festival 2014
Clifton Gachagua, Poet, Writer, Editor at Kwani
Billy Kahora, Managing Editor of Kwani

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How to Enjoy A Holiday in Nigeria

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.

Boarding the Ethiopian airlines
Granted, not all Nigerians are like this. I was there for only a short time, and didn’t get the chance to see the places I wanted to visit, like the Badagry slave museum and the Fela Kuti museum. But I totally enjoyed it. And would love to go back there. The thing about Nigeria is not its many attractions, but it’s people. They have a unique culture, a way of life that is close to the comical, for an outsider, and for me who sees humor in everything, I had a great time. I would love to go back.

 
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.

 
When my turn reached, they did not even bother to look into the card I was carrying. They saw it was a vaccination card and assumed it had a yellow fever shot. I secretly sighed in relief.
 
The airport itself was hot and stuffy, without any air conditioning. It looked dirty and overcrowded, too noisy, with hundreds of Nigerians screaming at immigration and customs officials. It might be richer than Uganda, but at least we know how to give visitors a good impression of our country. The Nigerians had to pass their baggage through customs. Foreigners however were not required to go through customs, which I found weird. They do not trust their own people? One very fat custom official was yelling into the face of a pregnant woman, in pidgin English. I didn’t understand most of it. Two of his friends were trying to calm him down. ‘She’s pregnant, don’t shout at her.’ The woman was shouting back. I wonder what that was all about.
 
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.

 
Only then did I notice that we were the only ones being whisked away. Other people stood idly on the kerb. Other soldiers looked bored. ‘What was that about?’ I asked the driver. I did expect to hear something about terrorism, but he instead said, ‘We had parked in a restricted area. You see, you are international guests. We did not want you to walk all the way to the car park, and the soldiers gave us only one minute to let you board.’ I felt anger stir. I would not have minded the walk to the park to board the taxi without any drama. Maybe this guy gave the soldiers kitu kidogo to allow him to park in a restricted area, but I never understood why he did it. The soldiers must have put a ‘No Parking’ sign in that area for a reason, but why then do they allow some people to park for only one minute, even if it is to pick ‘international guests?’

 
The word international, I later came to learn, has a special place in Nigera. I spent so short a time that I never fully comprehended the value they put on that word. But I’ll give you two examples to illustrate. Markets and churches. We went to a rundown market along the Highway from Port Harcout to Bayelsa. It had only a few vegetable stalls, and a few concrete stands, but it had a big sign proclaiming it to be an ‘international market’, because it sold goods from outside Nigeria. I wondered what then they called the high class shopping malls in Lagos, ‘super international markets’?Yet, calling a market ‘international’ just because it sells goods from across the boarder would mean every market and every shop is ‘international’, why then call some local? It defeated my understanding. But I could see why churches include the word in their names. To attract more worshipers (and therefore more money). It seems to me that to say something is ‘international’, it then is of superior quality. In Bayelsa state, I had a chance to see one of these international churches. The photo says it all.

God’s Grace Ministry Inc. Worlwide, Bayelsa, Nigeria.
Why would a church have the word incorporation in its name?
A friend who is married to a Nigerian woman told me that their version of Christianity is rather comical. They are very religious people, I think. As we drove to our hotel, I asked the taxi-driver, ‘Who is Murtala Muhammed?’ for I noticed that the airport is called Murtala Muhammed International Airport. And he replied, ‘A prophet’. I was stunned. Why would they name such an important airport after a prophet? Is he a very powerful prophet? ‘He is a dead man,’ the driver said. ‘They cannot name a place after a person who is still alive.’ Only after I had reached the hotel did google tell me that Murtala Muhammed was once a military ruler of Nigeria, and is considered a hero. It amazed me that the taxi-driver did not know this, and instead associated the name with some religious figure. 
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.
 
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Call for Actresses and Actors

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.

LEAD ROLES
MAGGIE (late twenties, early thirties): She has a bachelor’s degree in commerce, but became a hair dresser on failing to find a job. She works from home. She loves African hairstyles, and wears a big Afro. She likes spending on clothing, cook books and food. Her business is struggling. She becomes a relationship counselor to supplement her income. She has never been in a relationship, following a traumatic event in her teenage years, but she believes she knows a lot about love. Many people seek her advice. Though an honest woman, she ends up being something of a con artist. The advice she gives her clients are sometimes outrageous, out of this world, and sends her clients into hilarious adventures as they struggle to find love, and to hold on to their messy relationships.
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/

SUPPORTING ROLES

PASTOR (mid twenties to mid thirties): He comes from a strict religious family. After his father dies, he steps into the helm of the village church. It is a broke church, and he is looking for American sympathizers to inject money into it so he can become rich and marry the love of his wife, Bitu, with whom he has a child. When this money doesn’t come, he wants to leave the church and find a real job, but his mother will not hear of it. He still lives with her and she rules his life.

What might pastor look like? You!

If you would like to be part of this, please send us an email with the following information:
      1)     A professional bio-filmography. No more than  200 words.
      2)     A sample of your work, either as a link to youtube/vimeo, or on DVD.
            Post the DVD to Dilstories, P.O. Box 59, Seeta, Uganda.
      3)    A headshot. Jpg files no larger than 1mb.  
Send the email to productions@dilstories.comwith ACTOR/ACTRESS APPLICATION in the subject line.

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/

Enjoy our hilarious web series on YouTube: The Total Agony of Being in Love

The Total Agony of Being in Love

A few days back, my facebook status read: Dear God, please help me. I want to be funny, but the only jokes I can come up with have either sex or poop in them. I don’t know why I’m fascinated with the two, but I also do not know why they are taboo. It’s something everybody does, and both are vital to human life. Still, they do not seem to be something people want to talk about. Or joke about. So recently, I set out to make a series of funny videos, for distribution via youtube. In this series, I will try very hard to make only clean jokes that can be enjoyed around the family dinner table, in front of your children.

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!

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What I Disliked about Berlin

There is an African proverb that says a child who does not travel thinks his mother is the best cook. Well, a child who travels, and still thinks his mother is the best cook, has a point. I was in South Africa for a couple of weeks in 2008. Loved the place, the people, and have planned to go and live there ever since. I went to South Asia, lived there for two years until 2011. Great people. Colorful culture. Beautiful but violent, painfully ancient and slow to adapt to modern laws of happiness. In the end, I couldn’t wait to get back home. I went to Europe for the first time, earlier this year, stayed in Berlin for about two weeks, and I don’t think I was impressed. No, it’s not a place I would ever want to live in!
I loved the trains, and the beautiful architecture.

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.

Yet, it’s not really this that made me dislike Berlin. I never encountered immigration problems personally, so I cannot speak much about it. Thing is, the place was too clean, too organized, too systemic, too much like a place for robots to live in. What happened to the dirt and randomness and chaos that makes life fascinating? Too cold! I can’t figure out how people live in such a cold country. I went in February, during winter, and they say it was a warm winter. No snow fell during my stay there. But I still hate coldness. It was much like in Nepal, where I had to wear layers of clothing, where I could not get totally naked. Not even while in bed.
Still, the cold would have been tolerable if the place had the human touch. Well, human beings live there, true, but they have made systems to run their lives so much that they have lost what I call the human touch of living. Only robots can be happy in such an environment. 
 
Riding a bicycle seems a better idea than taking the bus or train.
Take their transport system. One morning, I was at a bus stop. A cold harsh wind was blowing. I thought my face was peeling off. There were about twenty other people, feeling the pain of the gale, and there was a bus right beside us. Idling. A bus with air-conditioning. In it we would have been warm and protected from the wind. But the driver did not open the doors. It was not yet time. Nobody complained. I wanted to shout, to scream at the driver to open the doors, but I kept mum because the others waited patiently, braving the cold, until the scheduled time reached. Fifteen effing minutes we spent there in the cold, and this bus guy sat in the warmth, looking at us as though we were — I don’t know what he thought we were. Polar bears?
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.

Other than the inhuman systems, and the inability to socialize with strangers, the impersonal relationships, the place is bloody expensive. It costs one euro to take a pee! That’s the price of a cup of Turkish tea at the Donner Kebab place I frequented. That’s the price of a decent meal in Kampala. A French woman who now lives there says she makes sure she goes to the toilet before leaving her home, otherwise she won’t be able to afford peeing in the public toilets. 
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A Statement On the Sex-Tape Hoax

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,

Dilman Dila
Writer/Director/Producer
The Felistas Fable.