The Ghosts of Dictators in Bukoba

Some places are like pages of a book that preserves history. Bukoba is one such place. It boasts of something from every chapter in human history; Stone Age rock art in Bwanjai, ancient foundries in Katuruka, a colonial palace in Kanazi, and ruins from one of Africa’s first inter-state wars in Kyaka. I went to Bukoba to look at our distant  past, intrigued that the Bahaya could make high-grade steel 2000 years ago, and oral lore has it that they constructed an iron-tower that reached the heavens.  But I failed to get a decent look into that past because ghosts of two dictators blocked my view.

Hermes, a descendant of Kahigi,
he was kind enough to show me the ruined palace.
One of these was Omukama Kahigi, who I had not heard of prior to my arrival in Bukoba. I heard about his palace by pure chance. I had run out of places to visit and I was idling on the beach, chatting with a local woman, who mentioned that I might want to see this colonial palace. I jumped at the opportunity, hoping I would stumble upon something grand. Instead, I got a lot of oral stories that have survived for nearly a hundred years.

The German’s built the palace for an omukama, Kahigi of Kainja. He was the weakest, and the most looked down upon, of the eight kings who ruled Buhaya shortly after the collapse of the Karagwe kingdom in the 1800s. Each had his own autonomous territory, but Kahigi struggled to hold on to his authority, and he feared being defeated and subjugated by one of other seven. He paid tribute to the Kabaka of Buganda, who helped him cling on to the throne. When the German’s invaded, he found a new ally
The house the German’s built Kahigi. Oral lore has it that
a maze underneath was a torture and death chamber.
At school, when we are taught about colonialism, they say Europeans did not meet resistance, and yet listening to anecdotes like that of Kahigi suggests otherwise. The Bahaya passively resisted. Though they did not take up arms, they refused to cooperate with the colonialists, and this made it difficult for the Germans to gain a foothold. They needed the support of the local leaders, and clever as they were, they saw an opportunity in Kahigi. Being the weakest, hungering for power, Kahigi quickly ingratiated himself towards the Germans, and they used him to conquer the Bahaya.
 
“He was the first to realize the power of the Germans,” his great-great grandson, Hermes Balige Nyarubamba, apparent heir to the all-but-dead kingdom, told me when I visited. As other kingdoms resisted colonization, Kahigi welcomed the Germans. Warmly. They gave him what he wanted. Power. They made him ruler of the region, and to thank him for his help, they gave him a lot of land, and they made him a German officer, and they built for him a palace in 1905, the ruins of which I was visiting.
 
When I saw his photos, I at first thought I was looking at a German. I could not see an African man from that period dressed up like that. Hermes told me that his great-grandfather loved the German’s so much that he behaved like a German, he dressed, and ate, and walked, and talked like a Germany. After Germany lost World War 1, Kahigi became lost. He did not know to relate to his new masters, the British. He committed suicide rather than serve another master, some sources say, but Hermes said it was because a British officer mocked him for his love for Germany, that the British officer called him a ‘German pet’ or something to that effect, and Kahigi could just not live with that insult. He was in a worse place than when the Germans found him. 

 

German boy: Kahigi, in German uniform.
It took me a moment to realize he was African.
“Was he loved?” I asked Hermes.
 
Hermes shook his head sadly. “He was like your Idi Amin,” he replied. He told me that the Germans built a maze under the palace where they tortured and killed people, with the full cooperation of the omukama. After their defeat, the maze was closed. “There is a secret door,” Hermes added. His father, who passed away in 2010, once opened the door, and took him into the maze, but they quickly retreated because the horrors from a century ago still haunt it. He says he saw a huge spirit-snake that roams the tunnels, and he heard ghosts of the people who died in there. “We want to open the maze to the public,” he told me, “but we have to first conduct rituals to cleanse the place. It’s not nice in there. It is terrible and full of horrible memories. It’s still haunted.” After his father passed away, he tried to open the door again, but failed. He cannot remember how to open it.

Nor would he show me the doorway to the maze. “It is a secret,” he explained. “Before we open it to the public we have to first explore it. There might be buried treasure in there.” 
 
There are three buildings in the palace. According Hermes, after the Germans constructed the first, a mbandwa – prophet, or shaman, – warned the king that he had used the visitors to gain power, but a time would come when that power would fade away, when his reign would weaken and die, and he would not have even a house for his children. He would have nothing valuable to give to his children. So Kahigi asked the Germans to build a new house for his son. They did. Kahigi however did not tell his son, Alfred Kalema, the full prophecy, so when Kalema tried to enter the new house, he saw a fire, and a giant snake. 

“Is it the same spirit-snake that haunts the maze?” I asked Hermes, interrupting his story.


“Maybe,” Hermes replied. “You see, the prophecy had it that doom would come soon, and Kalema would not enjoy the fruits of his father’s gamble with the Germans.” So the snake prevented Kalema from entering the house and Kalema had to build one, the third house, for himself. No one was able to live in the original palace until Kahigi’s grandson, Peter Nyarubamba, born in 1958, came along.

 

A shrine within the palace, where ancestral spirits are worshiped.
Some rooms in the palace are also used for spirit worship.
The family now lives in near poverty, partially surviving on fees tourists pay. The Tanzanian government banned all traditional kingships, and gives royal families no allowances. This palace had fallen to ruins. It resurrected and opened to tourists following the efforts of an American professor, Peter Schmidt.
 
“There is German treasure hidden away somewhere in here,” Hermes tells me as he explains the family’s financial situation. He thinks that because of the prophecy, Kahigi asked the German’s not just for a second building, but for treasure for his descendants. “They gave him a lot of treasure,” Hermes added. “We don’t know what kind of treasure it is, or how much it is, but the German’s buried treasure somewhere here and we are still looking for it. That’s one reason we can’t open the maze to the public, or reveal the location of the door.”
Ruins of a Rugaruga guardhouse, outside the palace at Kanazi, Bukoba.
Just outside the palace, are trenches, which Hermes said were dug during the 1978 Uganda-Tanzania war. I paused to think about the significance of these trenches, and them being so close to the palace. It put two kinds of people who I think are responsible or Africa’s current socio-political crisis in the same geographical location, two ghosts who are a symbolic representation of how things really fell apart in East Africa; how colonialists easily subjugated our grandparents, and how post-independence misrule and corruption stifled our opportunity to rise. Two people who hungered for power and used it selfishly. I’m superstitious, and I wonder if the ancestors were sort of preserving history by having these two things, the palace and the trenches, exist side-by-side to this day.
 
Bukoba still talks about Idi Amin’s invasion, even those who were not born at that time give animated narrations of tales from the war, and maybe this is because the Tanzanian government made efforts to ensure the people of the region never forget the war. Bukoba town bore the brunt of aerial bombings, most of which were thankfully wide of the mark. Some historians say Idi Amin’s pilots were not properly trained, and Tanzanian anti-aircraft guns brought down a number of the planes. People display pieces of metal in their offices (at least one that I saw), which they claim was from Amin’s planes. In Kyaka, a town an hour’s drive from Bukoba, Amin’s forces did considerable damage to some buildings, and the Tanzanian army keeps one as a monument to the war.

 

The ruins of a church in Kyaka, Tanzania,
destroyed during the Uganda-Tanzania war of 1978-79
Before the war, this building belonged to the Lutheran Church (ELCT). At first, there were two parishes, Kashasha and Kituntu, which joined to form Kyaka Parish and it built this church in 1960. The church stood on a hill, and must have been a majestic structure in its prime. Then, in 1971, Idi Amin started a feud with Nyerere, and there was talk of war. The Tanzanian army asked the church to vacate the hill, for it was of a strategic military importance. Whoever controlled the hill would control the town, and the main highway between Uganda and Tanzania. The church then shifted to what was supposed to be a temporal location, but which is where it stands to this day, because in 1978, war broke out and Idi Amin bombed the hill. By that time, it was a purely military post, with heavy equipment. The war left it in ruins, but Amin failed to control the hill, and hence could not control the town of Kyaka, and the highway, and thus he lost the war. 

Or so the oral tales have it.
 
I looked at the new church, and I saw symbolism in the bombed out structure. The new building is nothing compared to the one that was destroyed, it is no architectural wonder, and is not magnificent. Even the ruins is grander than the replacement church. There in I saw the legacy of African leaders, they destroy, and what they destroy, is replaced by things of far less value.
~~
 
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Bukoba: A Secret on the Shores of Lake Victoria

Bukoba: A Secret on the Shores of Lake Victoria

Visiting Bukoba in Tanzania turned out to be an exciting way to spend the end of year holidays. There was very little information online about its attractions, or how to get there, and this was a pain. I could not just google about an attraction and figure out how to go there. In fact, even in the villages with the attractions, some residents had no idea. At the rock paintings in Bwanjai, for example, I asked a bodaboda rider to take me to the caves, but he had never heard of them, though he said he had lived there for a long time. The scanty information may be because Bukoba doesn’t get a lot of tourists, and the advantage of this is that the hotels are not overpriced. I got very decent self-contained rooms at about 10k TZ shillings, ideal for a budget traveler. 
Somewhere to relax. The beaches are ideal for camping and picnics.
The site with the most information, Zamadamu Katuruka, was also the reason I decided to visit. I came upon it while researching iron works in ancient Africa, and was surprised to learn that the Haya produced high-grade steel as far back as 2000 years ago, probably around the time the Bachwezi ruled the region. It told me how little we know about our histories, and how distorted our histories have become after colonialism and foreign religions. I was curious as to what the locals thought of this history, and what the tools the Haya made with this steel.
If you love architectural wonders, Bukoba is full of them! Old colonial houses like one this make up much of the town.
Beer, roast goat or fish, and ugali at the beach. Hmmmm!

 To get to Katuruka, where the most famous ancient foundries are located, one online site suggested I take a dalla-dalla bound for Maruku, but whoever wrote that advice had probably never used a dalla-dalla in the Kagera region. They pack people like firewood. When I took one, from Bukoba to Kyaka, at the end of the trip after I had run out of money, we were twenty six people in a mini-bus meant for fourteen passengers. To Katuruka, I took a boda-boda, mostly for convenience and to save time. In a dalla-dalla, the 40 minute journey would have gone on for two hours. Besides, the boda-bodas are reassuring for they all have spare helmets, and it was far cheaper than a dalla-dalla. I paid about 10K TZ shillings for a return trip, and the rider waited patiently for an hour as I toured the place. I would have paid about 2000 TZ for a one way trip on a dalla-dalla, and then I would have had to get a boda to take me to the actual site.

I liked it that Katuruka is right in the middle of a village, and the tour takes you all over the village. I don’t like visiting ‘dead’ places which exist purely for tourism. It’s the one thing I really enjoyed in Bukoba. All the sites were ‘alive’ with people living within them, and it was often easy to get a guide from the community. In Katuruka, a young man of about 20 years showed me around. He learned about the history of the place from his uncle, the official caretaker, who had gone away for Christmas. From what I gathered, the uncle was bored with the job since it did not get many visitors, and so this young man, who had finished school but had no job, found himself with employment.

 There are twelve sites in Katuruka, spread over about a kilometer of the village. We started with a visit to a reconstructed chief’s palace. It looked so small that I wondered if they got their history right. I didn’t like it. The furnaces too were reconstructed, nothing was original. I was beginning to feel a little cheated, for I had seen similar furnaces before that were not built for tourists. Then we got to the spot where an iron-tower ‘that reached the heavens’ once stood, and the tour became a little interesting. And then, the ‘vanishing well’ made the trip totally worth it.
  
The well is part of the royal history of the Bahaya. One of the kings, Rugomora Mahe, fled to exile following a feud with his father. He lived somewhere in present day Uganda with a one-legged water spirit called Mugasha. Mahe returned to the kingdom after his father’s death and found a severe drought and famine, and he asked Mugasha for help. Unfortunately, the spirit sent too much water and floods killed people. Then Mahe called out to Mugasha again and this time the spirit gave him a well, with instructions that it should be kept clean and pure, and no fish should live in it.
  
Whenever the well becomes dirty, it vanishes, and reappears in a different place. I saw over ten dry holes, which were previously locations of the well. They are close to each other. At one time, the Lutheran Church built a spring well, and their reverends prayed to break the curse, but the well dried up in no time, rendering their money wasted.
  
At the well, I found a woman who said her name was Regina. “I think the well keeps vanishing because of drought,” she said. “It moves from place to place depending on the season.” I did not buy her reasoning. I’ve seen seasonal streams and wells before. They never shift position, but here was a well that never stays in the same place!
  
Regina knew nothing about Mugasha, or Rugomora, or the iron smelting, though she lives just a few meters from the site called Zamadamu Katuruka. “Isn’t that a school?” she asked.
Regina draws water from the current location of the well.

 The next day, Christmas, I idled around the beaches and watched birds. The food was great. I mostly ate fish and ugali. I enjoyed the architecture, for I have a thing for old houses. I was thrilled to see houses built on rocks, like in this photo. There were daytime dance spots on the beach, which were enclosed using canvas, mostly for children and youth.

The next day, I wanted to go to Musira. I was told there were caves that were burial sites for traditional doctors, but the locals were not really aware of this and someone whispered to me that those caves are seasonal. During the rains, they flood and are inaccessible. They are not even deep enough to explore, or so I was told. I heard that in Musira I could have seen crashed remains of Idi Amin’s warplanes, from the Tanzania-Uganda war of 1978, but this turned out to be false. The army ferried all the debris away. Discouraged, I instead visited a colonial palace, which the Germans used to conquer the region, but it’s quite a bit of a tale, so I’ll save that for another post.
  
On my fourth day, I visited the rock paintings at Bwanjai, which is in the same village as the Nyakijoga Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. I’ll start with the shrine. If you are Catholic and want to say prayers, visit it, otherwise, it’s a waste of time. To reach Bwanjai, I paid 3000 TZ in a shared taxi, and it deposited me in Mugana town. There, I asked a boda-boda guy to take me to the rock paintings.
  
That was the icing on the cake, to tour a village with a guide who was born and lives in the area. We rode into the wild and we talked about life in the village. The locals value the caves mostly because they can take shelter as they herd cattle. I was intrigued that nearly all the shelters face away from the sun, with only one getting directing sunlight in the morning. Each cave has a canopy that eerily resembles a front porch, and this makes me think the rocks were constructed. I could not stop asking myself; Is it just nature, or are these ruins of some long lost civilization?
Work of nature or ruins of a civilization? A Stone Age rock shelter in Bwanjai, Tanzania
Rock art Bwanjai, Tanzania. This set has not been defaced, other caves were in terrible shape, with feces in some of them.

 I know, ‘experts’ say that Stone Age people had no means to build anything grand. But I look at the pyramids of Egypt and wonder where they got the technology. I look at the ruins in South America and wonder how those ancient people hauled huge stones over many miles. And when I look at this, I wonder, is it really just a work of nature, or is there something we are missing? Why is it that all shelters (entry ways?) face away from the sun? Maybe someone should use a scanner to check if there is something inside those rocks.

 Amidu, my guide, showed me a way to the rocks via a small stream with a minor water fall. The locals call it kyabazaire (loosely translates to ‘it belongs to those who give birth’). In the old days, after a delivering and the placenta refuses to come out, they would make the mother lie under this water fall to force out the ‘dirt’ inside. He used the word ‘dirt’. These days, a woman might need an operation to remove the placenta. I wondered if the waterfall was an effective method, or if it worsened the woman’s situation….
An illegal brewery near the rock art at Bwanjai, Tanzania

 Further down the stream, I found a mother and her son brewing alcohol. It is illegal to brew alcohol in Tanzania and so these people have to do it in hiding, in the bushes, far away from the eyes of the authorities. When they heard our motorcycle, they at first ran away, fearing we were police. They only came out of the bushes when they heard Amidu’s voice. They offered me a jug of the brew, and I paid for it. We sat there in the wild and I enjoyed my Christmas two days late. The brew was so strong I can’t remember how I made my way out of the bush.

~~
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Ideal for backpacking and camping, the civilized wilderness of Bukoba This was taken on the way to the Bwanjai Rock Art Caves, Tanzania

 

The Cathedral in Bukoba town is worth is a visit, but it is open only when there is a service, and photos are not allowed.
The exterior of the cathedral in Bukoba town, it is magnificent.

 

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Seven Tricks Ugandan Girls Use to Hook Men

A man has a lot of tricks to seduce a woman. Some are outright crude, like using his middle finger to scratch her palm when they greet. Some are outrageous, like whistling at her as she walks down the streets. Others are ludicrous, like telling her lies about his wealth. Because of the gender power play in society, boy-tricks are almost everyday happenings, they are out there in the open. Often, when a woman sees them she knows what’s up, and either slaps him in retort, or kick his balls, or plays along. But the girl-tricks are not always obvious. Sometimes a man has to look real hard to figure out what she is saying. Here are some that I experienced. If you know any, leave a comment below.
A scene from my film, Cursed Widow Blues
 1.      Sing Me A Song
A long time ago, a certain girl would sing Marc Anthony’s ‘I Need You’ every time she saw me. I always wondered about that, but I never got the hint. She was still a teenager, maybe nineteen, and I had just started working. She was my neighbor. I had a computer, a rare thing in those days, and boasted of a large collection of mp3 songs. She would always urge me to play her that song. Once she came to my room, sat on my bed, and made me play the song seven times in about thirty minutes. I never got the hint. Several months later, she came again to my bed, and she was very angry. She asked me to play for her Ciara’s ‘If that boy don’t love you by now…’ and that is when I got the hint. By then, another neighbor (a married man) had ballooned her, and I could only bite my lips in regret.
 
2.     The Panty-Flash
Some girls however not so coy about it, and one bold trick I encountered many times is the ‘panty-flash’. This first time it happened I was in university. I was alone in my hostel room, reading a novel, when a lady walked in. I don’t remember what she said to me, or what she was looking for, but she bent down to pick up something, and in that moment, from the corner of my eyes, I saw her panties. White. I looked up from my book, and she was smiling, talking, but I did not understand what she was saying. Then she dropped what she had picked up – all these years I try to remember what it was and I can’t! – and again she bent down to pick it up, turning her butt to me, and showing off clean white panties. I did not know how to react. I sat frozen, just staring at her, and she was there smiling at me for a long time. You see, I was still a virgin and I was still very terrified of women. After a while and I did not respond, she jeered and stomped out.
 
The next morning, I saw her get out of my roommate’s bed. My roommate obviously knew how to read the signs and he took the opportunity without hesitation when she repeated the ritual for him (I think she was in a certain mood and had no boyfriend). I slept through their tryst, didn’t even wake up to notice something wild was going on just a few feet away. Only when I saw her walking out, without so much as a ‘good morning’ to me, did the significance of her pant-showing antic strike me.

 Watch my most famous short film, WHAT HAPPENED IN ROOM 13, feat. Anne Kansiime, Richard Tuwangye, Veronica Namanda, and Gerald Rutaro

Later, I heard another story, of another guy whose girlfriend had bought new panties and she wanted him to see what they looked like. She hid behind a curtain, wore the stuff, and then strutted around the room showing it off. This poor guy was obviously worse than me, for this was his girlfriend, and he did not even read it right? I mean, she tried on like seven panties, or so I heard, and he never made a move. She dumped him straight away.
 
A few years later, I was in living in Kamuli town. I rented the boy’s quarters of an old bungalow. One day, I looked out of my window to the landlady’s backyard, where the house girl was cooking a meal in the veranda. She sat on a three-legged stool. She saw me looking out, and then her legs parted, slowly at first, hesitantly, then full wide until she could show off her panties. Green with black dots. She left it wide open for about a second, and snapped it closed shut so quickly that if I had blinked I wouldn’t have noticed. When I did not react, she repeated it, the slow, hesitant, teasing opening, then the quick close. I could clearly see what she was up to, but I did not pursue the matter because I had a girlfriend at that time. Besides, this house girl was underage, about sixteen. A few hours later, she crept to my window and whispered “Coward!” and ran away before I could respond. Every day for a week, while she was fixing lunch, she showed me that green piece with black dots (Did she have only one, or many of the same color?), and after lunch she would creep to my window and whisper-shout “Coward!” I was so much relieved when they fired her. Apparently, the landlady caught her doing something with a banana….
Actors do selfie while shooting my horror/sci-fi film
What Happened to Jilted Lovers
3.     Selfie
These days, with a proliferation of smart phones, a woman does not have to flash her panties. Last year, I was at a friend’s shop and I saw this girl looking through the racks. She was a beauty, with a natural, short hair-do and hardly any make-up. Her jeans were tight and the friend caught me looking at her. Apparently, he was her good friend. He called her over and said, ‘Hey, you both are single. Why don’t you check each other out?’ We exchanged numbers, and a few days later went for a movie at Acacia mall. As we waited outside the theater, she started to take selfies. Then she showed me the selfies, commenting on how she looked weird in each. As she scrolled through the pics, I saw a nude one. She quickly snatched away the phone and she screamed.
 
‘Oh gash! You weren’t supposed to see that!’
 
She looked really terrified that I had seen it, and she looked around to see if anyone had seen it. Out of politeness, to calm her down, I said, ‘Oh, I really did not see anything. What is it you are scared about?’
 
Her face folded from horror to a frown. ‘You did not see it?’ She asked, full of doubt.
 
‘No,’ I said. ‘I did not see anything.’
 
‘Okay,’ she said. She took some more selfies, and started to scroll again. The selfies came up, and then the nude came up again. This time, she did not snatch away the phone. Pic after pic came up, some with Desire-poses, and others – well, she was screaming ‘Oh god! This is so embarrassing! Please don’t look! Please look away! What are all these nudes doing on my phone? Oh my god! Don’t look!’
 
Of course I did not look away. But I was not thrilled either. I bit my lips, and cursed myself: ‘Did I really have to buy overpriced 3D tickets to get into these pants? I could have done it with a rolex!’

 Watch my new short film, a sci-fi horror, Cursed Widow blues

We watched the movie, we ate at Sky Lounge, and then I bade her goodnight. She was genuinely surprised. I think she wanted me to say something other than goodnight.  But being the good girl that she was, she said, ‘Okay. Let me take a farewell selfie.’
 
I knew exactly what she had in mind. She would take the selfie, then start scrolling…. At that time I was a little angry. She was treating me like a kid who did not know anything, I mean, you know how you would show a child how to peel a banana?
 
‘That won’t be necessary,’ I replied, and walked away.
 
A few days later, I told the shopkeeper friend what had happened and he explained it all. ‘Sorry about that. She asked me how to approach you, and I advised her that you are the shy type so she should take a lead in everything. I guess she scared you off with her boldness.’
 
I agreed. I wish she had taken the lead in a less subtle manner. She looked nice :-))
Does he look innocent?
Filming Cursed Widow Blues, a horror sci-fi film. 
4.     I’m A Virgin
The most common trick, and probably the most effective still, is when they claim to be virgins, or to have never been kissed. It that excites a certain instinct in men. You see, men want to have bragging rights – Speke: ‘I was the first man to discover River Nile!’ Masaba: ‘That’s nothing. I was the first man to climb Mount Elgon!’ – and so when men hear of an innocent place waiting to be explored…..
 
The first time a girl used the trick on me, I fell for the trap, and was utterly disappointed to find that she was not a virgin. I was really disappointed. The second time it happened, the girl looked the innocent type, but when we kissed, hmm, she was an expert. I didn’t bother to find out if she was a virgin. I swear I did not!
Monica and Favor, play man and wife,
in my short film Cursed Widow Blues
 5.     I’m Married
Closely related to that is them saying ‘I’m single but not searching,’ for men want women who are free, absolutely free. But again, some women know men go for married women, for it’s a bang-wham without a lot of attachments, and even if you end up ballooning her, well, she has a husband at home to blame. A while back when I had a day job, I shared an office with a certain woman and so we spent nearly eight hours together every day. After five months, I knew everything about her husband, and especially how he could not satisfy her, and how she had always wanted a dark, tall guy who did not tuck in his shirts…. I got the hint, but nothing happened. Believe me. I was so relieved when a third workmate joined our office.
Smell that baby. G’dah and Philip perform on stage
Kampala International Theater Festival, 2014
6.     Perfume
Another date. Another disaster. This one a little bit of a spectacular disaster. You see, I have a poor sense of smell. Unless it is really, really very strong, I can’t notice it. Sometime in 2014, I was dating this bombshell, and it went on for a few months without things moving forward. Remember, I’m the shy type, the cowardly type; I fear rejection so much that even when a girl is so obviously into me I’ll hesitate to ask her to take things a notch higher. And so this time, we were at a fancy restaurant (I won’t tell you which one), enjoying a nice evening, and I was jittery, wondering how to tell her I wanted to be her boyfriend. I did not know she was thinking the same thing, and that she had decided to let me know with a perfume. But I have a poor sense of smell, and so I did not notice her perfume.
 
‘This smells nice,’ she said, sniffing at a bottle of mineral water.
 
I frowned. Mineral water? I wondered if they had started producing scented water. I sniffed at my bottle. Nothing. So I explained to her, ‘I have a poor nose.’
 
Shortly after, she excused herself and went to the bathroom. When she came back, she again picked up the water bottle and sniffed at it. ‘Can you now smell it?’ she asked. I did not know that she had added a bit more of her perfume to tickle my poor nose, so I said, a little confused, ‘No. I still don’t smell it.’
 
And again, she went to the bathroom, and again she asked if I noticed the smell, and still, I didn’t realize it. Honestly, I did not know she was hinting at her own perfume (I’m very slow in these things, which is why I’m still single) and all along I thought she was indeed talking of the scent of the mineral water. I did wonder why she thought the mineral water bottle would smell differently after she visited the bathroom, yet it stayed on the table. If she had taken it to the toilet, that would have been a different matter, I would have thought she had peed in it or something, but she left it behind, and believe me, her question troubled me a lot. I nearly told her that I noticed the smell, out of politeness, for she seemed very eager for me to realize the water companies had started packing scented water, but I am the honest kind, so I said I did not notice the smell. If only she had spoken directly of her perfume, I would have pretended I noticed it and the disaster wouldn’t have happened. But she kept talking in metaphors, and so she kept going to the bathroom, and adding the perfume, and adding, until eventually everyone in the restaurant was sneezing.
 
Okay, at that moment, I did realize there was a new smell in the air, a little different from the fumes and dust that wafted in from the streets, and I asked her; ‘Are you wearing perfume?’
 
Before she could reply, a waiter approached us. He had a handkerchief over his nose, and he spoke firmly. ‘I’m sorry, your perfume is bothering everyone. You have to leave.’ When she hesitated, the waiter grabbed her by the arms and dragged her out of the chair. Poor girl.
 
I caught up with her on the pavement outside the restaurant. She was trying to flag down a boda, but oh gash, each boda who came close to her rode off very quickly without even bothering to ask her anything. She was in near tears. ‘I did this to show you I want to be your girlfriend but you are too stupid!’ She slapped me, a real hot slap that I still feel to this day, and then she stormed off into the night. I wonder how she got home. I haven’t heard from her since then.
 
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I Was Arrested for Abandoning a Baby

I did not want to talk about it, but this lady at OleeBranch went public about it, and so I have to continue the conversation, to tell you what her actions did to me. I don’t think she meant harm. I think she is a nice person, but there is an Acholi saying that goes ‘Yom cwin oneko latina’ – forgive my inability to write in Luo – which means ‘being too kind hearted killed my child’. She says she kindly offered to baby-sit for a stranger in a taxi, even as this strange mother showed no gratitude at all, and I believe her for she seems like a good person.

A child cries for something. I took this photo in Kit Mikaye, Kisumi
At that time, I did not know her. We had met maybe only once before. I can’t remember where – one of those art things (was it Bayimba last year?) and we had barely talked. Just a dry hello and brief introduction. So that day, when she walked into the taxi, I thought I recognized her from her sandy-colored dreadlocks, but I was not sure.
 
I was not sure either where I was going. I am more used to Jinja-Mukono road, I know all the stages. But with Entebbe road, I only know where to pick the taxis, and where to get off in Entebbe town. So I was fidgety all the time, wary of being robbed if I asked fellow passengers for directions. See, I had a camera bag. I was going for a gig, to take photos at someone’s birthday party. With Kampala what it is today, I feared if someone thought I was a stranger to the place, they might want to take advantage of it and mug me. I had to get off in Zana and I was not sure where that was. If she was near me, I would have asked, but she was like three rows in front, and I was squeezed in the back-row. Besides, I was not sure if she was the lady I knew. She had a baby, which confused things some more.
 
So when she alighted, I followed her to ask for directions. I thought a woman with a baby would not try to rob me. By the time I got out, I found her arguing with another mother. My Luganda is not the best, and I could only understand fragments here and there, but I thought they were arguing about a child. Olive said to the other woman ‘Have you forgotten the child you gave me?’ Now, I was certain I had misunderstood that Luganda phrase. Surely, a woman can’t give another woman a child unless they use hi-tech reproduction and cloning, which, as far as I know, is still science fiction. ‘Me? I gave you a child?’ the other woman asked Olive. ‘You rasta must have smoked weed and it is making you deny your own child.’
 
That’s what I thought I heard. My brain still refused to process the information, for I thought I was misunderstanding. But then, someone had paid me to take photos at a birthday party, and I had to get there, so I interrupted the quarreling. ‘Excuse me, are you Olive?’ I asked her, tapping on her shoulder. She turned to me and her face was folded in a frown, her glasses caught the lights from a street lamp so I could not see her eyes. I wondered if indeed she had smoked weed and forgotten her own baby. I once read a story about a woman in the US who smoked and then put her baby in a blender to make juice. She later told the police that she thought the baby was a giant pineapple.
 

‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘I’m Olive.’ And then she recognized me. ‘Dilman!’ Yep, she was the one I met. ‘You are the guy who writes those crazy scifi stories.’ I was impressed that she remembered what I do. ‘Can you believe this woman? She gave me her baby and now she’s denying it!’ A tear rolled down from beneath her glasses and I felt sorry for her. Either she was too high or she was telling the truth. I could not decide which was which.

Grandmother and Child in Kit Mikaye, Kisumu
I turned to the woman, but to our great surprise, the woman was gone. Just like that. We looked around, and I saw her disappearing into an alley. ‘There!’ I said.
 
‘Hold the baby,’ Olive said. ‘I’ll bring her back.’
 

She thrust the baby at me. She was so mad that I could not refuse, and so I took the baby. Olive sprinted off after the woman and soon she too disappeared in the same alley. I do not remember the last time I had a baby in my arms. I did not even know if I was holding it right, since I was wary of my camera bag being snatched, but the little thing seemed happy to be in my arms and it was laughing and smiling at me. Its toothless gum caught the street lights and glistened like (an angel? I suck at such descriptions) but yes, it glistened, and it gave me an idea for a sci-fi horror story, in which a man finds what looks like a human baby but a weird light radiates from its mouth……

Nearly thirty minutes passed and Olive did not return. Now I got worried. My phone was ringing. The birthday people were calling, but I could not answer for my arms were the full of baby. And my legs being weak, my knees were wobbly, my ankles hurting. Standing for so long had left me woozy. I had to find this Olive fast, and give her back her baby, but I didn’t have her number. As my phone continued to ring, it occurred to me that I was stuck in a place I didn’t know with a strange baby in my arms. It was early night, just coming to 9pm, and the street was already largely deserted. Only a few boda-bodas laughed at a stage, and a rolex stand glowed somewhere in the scene. I thought maybe I could give a boda guy the baby, and ask him to take it to the nearest police station, so I walked over to the charlies.

A calabash protects a baby from the harsh world in Kitgum district
‘What?’ one guy said, after I explained, and I knew he had not understood my Luganda. ‘You want us to do what?’
 
‘I’ll pay for the transport,’ I said, speaking slowly so they would understand me, mixing in a lot of English. ‘Just take it to the nearest police station. I have to work. I can come later to make a statement. I’ll leave my number. Bambi, help, I have to work.’
 
‘Are you throwing away your baby?’ the body guy said.
 
‘It’s not my baby!’ I said.
 
‘We saw you and your wife coming out of the taxi with it,’ another boda guy said. ‘Now you want to throw it away?’
 
‘That was not my wife!’ I said.
 
‘Da-dee,’ the baby said. Now, I’m sure it did not say those exact words, but it made a sound that could pass off for Daddy, and it was laughing with me, pulling on my shirt.
 
‘See how it calls you daddy,’ one guy said. ‘See how it laughs with you? And you deny it?’
 
Things happened really fast after that. A mob formed quickly. They threw all sorts of accusations at me. ‘He stole the baby.’ ‘He impregnated a woman and she dumped the baby on him and now he wants to dump it on us.’ And the mob grew rowdy. Someone suggested they lynch me. Another said it would not be a wise idea for what would they do with the baby? Another suggested they beat me up to teach me a lesson. Then a police car showed up. God, was I glad to see the cops? At least the mob wouldn’t beat me up, or lynch me.
 
‘What is the problem here?’ a policeman asked.
 
‘This man wants to throw away his baby,’ the bodabodas chorused.
 
‘Take him in,’ the officer said to one of his juniors.
 
They ripped the baby off my hands, and the baby started to howl. They handcuffed me, and threw me into the back of the pickup. We sped off to the police station, the baby howling all the way. When we reached, they gave me back the baby, and the moment it was in my hands, the baby stopped crying, and promptly fell asleep, snuggling against my chest.
 
‘You are in big trouble,’ the policeman said.
 
~~
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Beautiful drooly smile in Kitgum district.

~~

Do you know what happened next? Then please, tell us. Leave a comment, or write it in your blog and let Olive know. This is a chain story for the #UGBlogWeek. The first is available here. Another response is here.

 
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