The trouble with Afrofuturism

Earlier this month, I was in Amsterdam to attend Other Futures, the first festival of non-western science fiction, a great event that featured some of the best SFF content creators today. As I walked the cold streets, as I sat in panels discussing diversity in science fiction or talked about our histories, I kept hearing the term afrofuturism, not for the first time, but this time so often, and I think amplified by Black Panther, and I got a feeling it was becoming synonymous with representing the continent and its people in a certain way.

I know, afrofuturism is a broad term. I don’t even know what it means, and for that reason, I don’t like it. The problem, I think, is in the word ‘future’. When they label a work afrofuturistic, they do mean it is about the future of Africa or African people, right? Often portrayed positively. They also mean it’s about the present, without all the stereotypes and headline calamities, and that it is about a history, which is nothing like the horribly racist picture colonialists painted.

It’s easy to write about the past. You only have to listen to the oral tales that have survived, to read between the lines of colonial texts and figure out what they left out, and you write a story that challenges the dominant narrative.

But the present and the future….

I started making digital art last year. Here is one piece of fantasy, a robot-dragon walking the streets of Kampala, with his master.

Last year, I gave my work-in-progress novel to test readers. Two Ugandans who read it are not particularly fans of SFF, they are just good readers who enjoyed my earlier book, A Killing in the Sun, whose stories mostly sit in a grey area between genres, which is why the title story was shortlisted for a major literary prize. I aimed for the same in this book and both readers said they enjoyed it, very much, especially as it is rooted in a world they know. But they thought it was childish. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘The afrofuturism thing was too much,’ one said. She failed to relate to the techno-fantasy, and she echoed the lead actress of a short film I made last year; ‘This can’t happen in Uganda.’

If a reader needs to suspend belief to enjoy a story, a writer has to live in the world of the story to enjoy writing it. I think it has given me a ‘schizophrenic’ condition. I put that word in quotes so as not to assume I share an experience with schizophrenics. I discovered this condition in 2010 while working on a one-character screenplay about a radio-presenter stuck in a room, talking and talking and talking. The idea has obsessed me since, and I ended up telling a similar story in Her Broken Shadow, but it’s something I’ll be revisiting soon.

At that time, I was in a sweltering room in Nepal. Humidity made me feel as though I had a second layer of skin. A fan rattled overhead, the noise it made did little to assuage the heat. I was fretting over the structure of the script, the plot points and character arc, since I was a novice and fussed over such things. Suddenly, I teleported into the character’s room, in Kampala. I no longer felt the heat or humidity. The fan’s noise became the drone of bodabodas. The loud chatter of Tharu women winnowing rice, in a neighboring compound, became the yelling of taxi touts. The room was dark because the character had sealed himself in, the only light came from a table lamp, revealing a makeshift studio with a battered laptop and a mic made from scrap. I listened as he made jokes and played oldies. Then, another person crawled out from under the table, and a third popped up on the bookshelf. I did not know where these two came from. I snapped out of it, surprised and angry, plunged back into the hot, humid terai, and I jumped off my chair and stamped my feet as I shouted aloud; “I want only one character! Not effing three!” I never wrote that script because the other two characters did not go away.

Since then, I’ve lived in two universes, the real world and the mind-world which shifts according to whatever fantasy is in control. Of course, I can tell the difference. The line between the two is clear. Yet it hurts, for the mind-world is sometimes so strong that I can feel it.

For the last few years, the dominant fantasy has been that something turns Africa into, well, a utopia, for lack of a better word. A place where things work, with no poverty as we know it, no colonialism, where nobody feels inferior because of their (dark) skin color. It’s become my favorite daydream, and I’ll leave you to imagine why it hurts when I snap out of it.

Often, the catalyst for this change is a genius whose scientific inventions gives humans tools that respect nature, and which can be replicated with resources that are easily or cheaply available in any community. Inventions that destroy capitalism. Sometimes, ancestral spirits guide the genius. I think this is becoming a trope in works of African science fiction, partly because to many Africans the supernatural is alive and breathes alongside smart phones and robots and flat screen TVs. Sometimes, the genius has access to indigenous knowledge and technologies that have been kept a deep secret all these years (another emerging trope). The idea is that colonialism did not destroy everything, something survived and now arises to bring hope.

Here are a few examples of these technologies. A road making machine that’s as cheap as a bicycle and that any community can build from scratch to make an all-weather road. Solar panels, again that any community can build from scratch using resources in their backyard. Sometimes it’s a plant that makes a wonder-fuel (another emerging trope, linked to herbal medicine). It grows in the backyard. If you want to cook lunch, you simply pluck off and process a few leaves using sunlight; turning photosynthesis into energy we can use. The fantasy that wakes me up each morning is a smart phone-like device, which does not need a service provider to make calls or access internet, yet it is cheap enough that any peasant can afford. Such a device could make the inventor an instant billionaire, and their country’s wealth would increase tremendously overnight. Maybe the value of the currency shoots through the roof as demand for it rises. I’d love to wake up one morning and discover that the shilling is now the same value as the dollar 🙂

What some call juju-tech. A snake-robot in a traditional maternity home. I call this artwork The Birthing Pot, features a still image from a documentary I never quiet finished.

Whenever I step out of my house and I’m swallowed up in clouds of dust from the dirt road, or whenever I ride a boda on a muddy road full of potholes, I curse the authorities for not using the road making machine. I curse them for taking huge World Bank loans and contracting all road works to China. When I the price of cooking gas goes up because the shilling has lost value, I wonder why I can’t get seedlings of the wonder plant. When the government shuts down the internet or media-houses, I know they are suppressing the device for if they allow it, they lose control. I become convinced that they are forcing the inventor to sell it to something like Google or Apple because these corps want to remain in total control of what people see on their devices, and dictators rely on these corps to maintain control.

Whatever the scenario, I can’t see our leaders having the guts to bankroll such inventions, partly because stories need conflict. Mostly because of reality. Our leaders would rather remain puppets of global corporations and Western or Chinese governments, to stay in power.

I’m not a pessimist. It’s just that the future is intricately linked to the present and the past. Look at the Arab spring. It brought a lot of hope, but where did that end up? Some people were determined to see it fail, and ensured we have Libya, and Egypt, and Syria. Look at South Africa, with Mandela selling out his people, with Zuma and the ANC’s new choice who has something to do with massacre of miners. Nigeria has ridiculous long queues for fuel, relies on plastic-bag water, and its generators hum a constant reminder of the leadership’s failure to fix things. Ethiopia is firmly in the grips of a dictator, while Kenya… well, it made a huge step forward following the end of the Moi-era, and now has made ten steps backward with Uhuru.

Recently, someone shared the front page of The Daily Nation. The headline was something about Raila vs Uhuru, and it symbolically overshadowed a more important story, about doctors re-attaching a boy’s severed arm. The kind of story that, if told more often, could make afrofuturism appear much closer to possibility, and then readers would not tag it as ‘childish’ or say things like ‘this can’t happen in Uganda.’ When the Ugandan government launched Vision 2040, people laughed in ridicule. When Makerere made an EV vehicle, people were skeptical and suggested Makerere merely assembled the vehicle. When the President launched a solar bus, celebrations were muted, because people could not see beyond his greed. Just as celebration of the arm-re-attachment is muted because people see what is happening in politics and they get worried.

It hurts to daydream of better things. It hurts even more to write about it, for at some point I begin to feel like afrofuturism is becoming something like a mind-control drug, something like a religion that makes you endure a horrible life with promises of a paradise after death.

Now that you are here, I have a small favor to ask. I regularly make science fiction films (easier to call them scifi than afrofuturism) and I’m looking for support. It’s very difficult to make it as a filmmaker in Africa, where there is virtually no market to encourage big film investments, and so any dollar you can spare will go a long way into changing things. Please pledge on patreon.com/dilstories You only pay after I make the film, and you can stop payments at anytime. If you want other options, like donating via mobile money or PayPal, please go here dilmandila.com/donate 

A still from my first CGI animation. I’m learning it to improve the visual effects in my films.
An earlier piece of digital artwork, made on Gimp.

How to donate to and support my films

Donate. Art needs Patrons

How to support my work

I make science fiction films set in Uganda (East Africa) because we are often ignored in visualizations of the future. When they include us, we are portrayed negatively, or as victims, or our stories are told through their point of view. I want us all to dream, to imagine ourselves in pasts and futures not written by someone else, only then can we take control of our destiny.

This year, I will make four or possibly six short films. Last year I tried to make a film every month, but it was very expensive, and I only managed to make a few, which you can see for free online.

I want to succeed, so I’m asking for your support. The easiest way is to use patreon.com/dilstories because it has an automated system. Ugandans, East Africans, use your ATM card if it has a Visa logo, patreon is secure. Otherwise there is mobile money. You get a lot of rewards, even when you contribute as little as $1, or UGX 5000. Your support will help build an audience for our stories.

Remember, make the pledge now, and give the donation after I make each film. Your pledge will motivate me. You could also send money before I produce the film. I’ll thank you big time if you do.

The Fan Reward

First, a huge, huge THANK YOU! Then, you get a unique wallpaper every month, for your phones or desktop, made from the beautiful photos I take. PLUS a copy of the photo that you can print to hang on your living room wall. PLUS, as thank you for backing me, an ebook of the first four humorous short stories I published in 2001, with a bonus of two unpublished. PLUS access to my Patron-only feed. PLUS early access to an advert-free copy of the short films I make. All that for $1!?

BONUS! Those in Kampala get invited to the patron’s club, were we meet regularly, socialize over a few drinks and watch great films, or discuss art and literature and life.

The Fantasy Reward

Oh wow. You sure are in love with my work, and for this you get, every month, a unique wallpaper for your phone or desktop, from the cute digital images I make out of my graphic design talent. These images have a cool, family friendly sci-fi, fantasy, or otherworldly theme. PLUS, as thank you for backing me, an ebook of some the first horror short stories I published, with a bonus of one previously unpublished, in total about 20K words of sheer terror. This ebook includes the novelette, The Terminal Move, which was first published in 2014.
PLUS, all rewards above

The Poetic Reward

I write poetry. Mostly for my girlfriends. Now that you support me, you’ll get one too, every month! The poem will be exclusive to you and will come in different formats, as  ebook, as an e-card, as a plaque you can print and hang in your living room, as a wallpaper for your phone or desktop. PLUS a previously unpublished short story every two months PLUS, as thank you for backing me, an ebook of my first sci-fi novella, “The Flying Man of Stone,” which was nominated for a Nommo Award for Best Novella. PLUSall rewards above.

The Write Reward

You get a e-copy of the screenplay I used to make the short film of that month. PLUS you get a prose version of the story, also in e-book. It will be slightly different from the film, but just as enjoyable.  Ain’t that cool? PLUS, as thank you for backing me, an ebook with screenplays of all my previous produced short films, eight of them. PLUS, all rewards above.

BONUS! For those who pledge via mobile money, I gave your short script and give you feedback in a one-on-one session!

The Making-of Reward

So, I know how much you love my work, and I know you’ll love it more if you know how I made it. I’ll give you a tutorial through the whole process. You get the storyboards and director notes. PLUS download access to an .mp4 of the film. PLUS I’ll answer any question about making it. PLUS, as thank you for backing me, you get an ebook with screenplays of my two feature films, Her Broken Shadow (a scifi) and The Felistas Fable (a fairy tale comedy) PLUS, all rewards above.

Work in Progress Reward

This is the coolest of all! You’ll have exclusive access to something I’m working on, in part or in whole, a screenplay, a short story, a novel, a rough cut of a film (so you can have bragging rights when it’s out). This is a very hard thing for artists to share. Most won’t want anyone to peek at a WIP. But you support me so you have a stake in my creations :-)) I only ask that you respect the creative process and not share it with anyone. PLUS all rewards above!

Associate Producer

First, I want to clap and not stop clapping. Your heart is big and you are full of love. May your tomorrow be full of joy! For this you will get credit in my films as Associate Producer. Yes, that’s right. You get to put that in your CV, ‘I helped produce this film’ :-)) PLUS you get to email me any question you have, whether about my writing or my films or about film making and writing in general. PLUS all the rewards above.

You-in-the-Movie!

Do you know how much inspire me? Anything you tell me is an idea for my next film. You could use the film as a gift to a loved one (or enemy :-o). Say it’s your girlfriend’s birthday. The main character could have her name, her photo could be a prop!, or the plot could be adapted from events in her life or from your relationship (provided it’s film-able on low budget)  :-)) Ain’t that a cool gift? 

The Co-Producer Reward

I thank you for your support. At this point, it’s not just support but you are part of me. So you get to be a co-producer of the short films I make in the months of your support. This includes credit to your company, if you have one, and your company logo will be included in the film where other company logos appear, provided you and your company uphold values that promote social justice and respect the dignity of every human and of the planet. PLUS, all the rewards above!

Seeing Red in New York

I’m getting old, and I thought I was incapable of feelings I enjoyed back in the day. Like love at first sight. I last experienced it in my early twenties, but here I was again, with a few strands of gray in my beard, falling in love with a girl the first time I see her.

It happened while I was in Iowa, towards the end of my IWP residency.  I had been in the US for over ten weeks, and still held this stereotype that Americans don’t like bright, colorful clothes, at least that’s what Hollywood made me believe. They prefer shades of gray, blue, white, and black. University of Iowa had a lot of yellow as it is the school color, so much yellow that it sometimes hurt the eyes. And there was red in the cornfields, all their barns are painted red while the farm houses are white, but hardly did I see anyone wearing a red piece of cloth.

In Central Park, New York, one of the pictures I took, that I love very much.

Then, one day in the middle of October, there was rain. The ground was wet and mirrored everything. I didn’t like it; it felt like refrigerated water falling from the sky. I had just finished a panel about reading, and was walking to the Prairie Lights bookshop with a bunch of other writers, my eyes on the pavement, which looked like a sheet of ice. Then I saw the reflection of something strange, a red sweater, a red umbrella. I frowned. I looked up, and saw a woman was smiling underneath that umbrella, maybe at some happy thoughts, maybe at sweet memories. She had this faraway look in her eyes – I never knew the meaning of that phrase until I saw her – as if she was dreaming happy dreams as she walked in the rain. And I fell in love.

In my yesteryears, I might have had the courage to do something about it. Now that I’m wiser and disillusioned about love and such fantasies, I simply stored the image away, thinking of a romance novella that would open with this scene: An African in the US, unhappy because people wear clothes with very dull colors, meets a smiling girl with a red umbrella – maybe it turns out like Singing in the Rain and they start dancing.

Just a dash of read in his feather, reminds me of the fashionable people of Karamoja.

I hurried on to Prairie Lights and was soon sipping wine, when I see her walk in. I bit my lips hard and gathered up enough courage and walked up to her and said, “I saw you smiling in the rain a few moments ago.” And she said, “Really?” And she gave me that smile — of a person who seems to be forever dreaming happy thoughts — and I felt warm inside me. We talked for a long time, maybe thirty minutes, maybe an hour. She is a writer too, and we both have one thing, which we call ‘mild schizophrenia’, though she envied me because I often have lucid dreams. She told me that while walking in the rain, she had been listening to one of her characters…..

We had to stop talking because she had a movie date. We haven’t talked much since. I think it’s better that way, better to dream sweet dreams of what it might have turned out to be, than awake to the music of a sad and broken reality.

A child playing with soap bubbles. Notice the red photo-bomber?

After that, I started to notice people in red, as if my eyes had developed some kind of magnetism to the color. I’d see it over a mile away, nearly obscured by all the dreary colors. Then, I went to New York, which was darkening with winter, low clouds swirling above sky scrappers, making everything bleak and dreary. Chaotic masses of human beings bustled about wrapped up in dullness, but I saw red much more often than in other places.  I’d look up a street and see just one red piece of cloth standing out amidst all the dulls. My camera got busy. I love street photography, and in New York capturing moments of people in red became my favorite pass time.

Arrow
Arrow
Slider

 

How Van Damme Showed Me Great American Food

I love food. Whenever I leave home I look forward to strange dishes, like snails in Nigeria, to tasting the wonders of the place I’m visiting. But I didn’t expect any culinary pleasures in the US because everyone who goes there complains about the food. I braced myself for three months of eating junk, of feeding on things that taste like plastic.

A meal to eat on the go. Po’bo

My first bite was a banana. I thought, since it was a fruit I loved, it would help me adjust. But as I held it in my hand, I thought something was wrong. It had a logo on it. I frowned. A branded banana? GMO? Afraid, hesitant, I took a bite, and it confirmed every horror story I’d heard about their food. It was like eating sponge. At least it was yellow. The next day at breakfast, they gave me a green banana. I stared in awe at those eating the unripe fruit. I took a bite, and it had a bitter taste, which was better than the yellow one I’d had the previous night.

During that breakfast, I had frozen eggs too. Everything on the table had come straight out of the fridge. The only hot things were the tea and toasted bread. I soon learned that they love very cold food, that they have no problem eating stuff straight out of the fridge. I can understand eating room-temperature salad, but frozen salad? Frozen boiled eggs? And the eggs had an expiry date three months away! Boiled eggs are not supposed to last more than a day. This one was covered in some gooey yellow jelly to preserve it. For lunch, they gave me chicken (I think its their national food). I’m used to enjoying chicken parts; drumsticks, wings, back, breasts, adunde. But I couldn’t tell which part I was eating, it was just chunks of flesh and it tasted like salty paper. Every meal was like swallowing a pill to take the hunger away and keep me alive.

Stuffed Mushrooms was a pleasant surprise. Sadly, such delicacies were few.

“You’ll like the food in New Orleans,” someone told me when she heard I was going there. “There’s real food down there.” I was skeptical. After weeks of choking on goo, I could not imagine enjoying food until I returned home.

In New Orleans, the first restaurant I went to, because the sign said they served seafood and I wanted to taste oysters, was obsessed with movies. It kindled hope. The walls were covered with images from movies and movie stars. There was A Streetcar Named Desire, Rocky, Gone with the Wind, and many others. Of course, there was Marilyn Monroe. The atmosphere seemed great, low lights, almost like having a candlelit dinner. I thought that anyone who was so obsessed with movies was a romantic and would cook great food. I was so wrong. The oysters were fried and covered in something that gave it the taste of very oily and brittle mandazi.

Cafeteria crap.

I wanted to enjoy my stay. I refused to let the bad food kill my mood. Knowing I was in the country of great movies, I decided to visit movie locations, an easy and cheap way to see America, guaranteed to avoid over-rated and over-priced tourist attractions, because the whole place is a movie set.

As I searched for locations in New Orleans, I discovered the Nicolas Cage tomb. I frowned. Was he dead? Nope. Yet he has a tomb at the St Louis Cemetery No. 1, a unique burial site where bodies are not kept underground, but above ground. It’s a true city of the dead. There are said to be over 70,000 corpse there, sharing graves. Nic was one of my childhood heroes, so I decided to see it. Surprisingly, there is an entry fee to the cemetery. Twenty dollars per person, for a forty five minute visit. I think they get so many visitors that they decided to make some money. They claim its to prevent vandalism, but did they have to charge that much? They took only cash and did not give us receipts, so probably the guides pocket all the money. We were about seven people in the tour, and yet after it the guide still asked us for tips! (I’m going to rant about their obsession with tips in the next post.)

Apparently, Nicolas Cage is a voodoo person and he built a tomb to salvage his career. He wanted his grave to be close to that of Marie Laveau, a voodoo priestess whose grave partly accounts for the cemetery’s fame. Sadly for Nic, after he built this pyramid-shaped tomb, his career went downhill. He ran broke. He owned one of the houses I wanted to visit, the LaLaurie House, where a woman called LaLaurie tortured and killed hundreds of slaves back in the 1800s, keeping their dismembered bodies in her attic. This house is said to be haunted and Nic Cage bought it knowing its history. He lost it in 2009 to foreclosure. They say there is a curse on him. Some think it was bad luck for him to build a tomb while still alive, and right next to Marie Lavaue. Proof of the curse? There’s a crack on the tomb that no repair can fix; it keeps re-appearing, same shape, same length.

The hippy film Easy Rider (1969), starring Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, had a sequence shot in this cemetery. They say they shot it on an extremely low budget, and so they sneaked into the cemetery at night, without permission, to shoot in secret. The film is about two men riding around the US while high on drugs (and Wikipedia says real, hard drugs like cocaine and marijuana were used on the set) While filming, at the Italian society tomb, Hopper allegedly convinced Fonda to talk to the statue of the Madonna as though it were Fonda’s mother, who killed herself when he was ten years old, and ask her why she left him. When the Catholic archdiocese, which runs the cemetery, saw the scene, they were pissed off and banned all filming in the cemetery until today. Some people claim it is because the production team broke the head of the statue of the Madonna.

City of the dead, with that of the living in the background.
The Italian society tomb, were only Italians were buried back in the day.
Where Nicolas Cage will be buried.

After the cemetery, I went searching for the Frenchman street, where they shot one of Van Damme’s most famous fight scenes, from the movie Hard Target (1993). The fight has all the round kicks and splits that made him a darling to action fans worldwide, but it also has some of his best, cliché quotes. “Next time be more careful when you show your wallet.” (And the woman he tells this looks at him wide eyed, the way women in Hollywood movies look at the male hero who has just saved them.)

I had trouble finding the location of this scene, for at the beginning the woman walked under a big sign that said Half Moon Utility Restaurant. When I saw it, I decided to go and eat there, but it looks like it was closed a while back. However, another restaurant appeared for a few frames, but it was clear enough for me to get its name. The Praline Connection. The name sounded like a movie’s title, and for a moment I thought the set design department had made it up as some kind of joke, but it turned out to be a real restaurant. I can’t remember if this is where Van Damme had just finished having a meal or tea or something (in which he complained about the hard times) but well, the restaurant still stood and I decided to have a meal in it, just because I saw it in Hard Target.

The Praline Connection

Am I lucky that I did?

The Praline Connection was “originally thought of as a home delivery service targeting career women who were too busy to prepare home cooked meals for their families,” according to a note on the menu. Instead of a delivery service it became a restaurant “serving great recipes that were passed down to us over the years from our relatives.” The food did taste like home made food, not like the factory crap in other restaurants, and finally on the menu I found familiar items. The food tasted as if a grandmother back in a village in Tororo had prepared it. The waiters were the friendliest I met, they dressed classy, and they patiently explained the strange menu items and suggested what I might enjoy. They even asked me where I’m from and engaged me in conversation, making me feel like I was visiting a relative, not a restaurant. I gorged myself at The Praline Connection, knowing it would be a long time before I had good food again.

Portraits of Writers: IWP 2017

Just a few days ago, I returned home after three months in a writing residency in University of Iowa, USA, where I enjoyed the company of writers from thirty three different countries. Quiet an experience! I love taking photos, especially portraits, for I enjoy immortalizing the expression on faces of people. Often, I do this when they are not aware that I’m snapping, because I have a telephoto lense, and sometimes the expression I freeze is priceless. Enjoy these. I’ll be posting more photos themed on portraits from my travels, so be sure to subscribe to this blog by email to get them in your inbox.

Ubah Cristina Ali Farah (fiction writer, poet, playwright, translator; Italy)
Vladimir Martinovski (fiction writer, poet, critic, translator; Macedonia)
Sharlene Teo (fiction writer; Singapore)
Ghada Al-Absy (fiction writer; Egypt)
Enza García Arreaza (fiction writer, poet; Venezuela)
Antoinette Tidjani Alou, (fiction writer, poet, translator, scholar; Niger)
Subraj Singh (playwright, fiction writer, journalist, critic; Guyana)
Gimba Kakanda (fiction writer, poet, journalist; Nigeria)
Yaara Shehori (fiction writer, poet, editor; Israel)
Kinga Tóth (poet, translator, illustrator, songwriter, performer; Hungary)
Hajar Bali (playwright, fiction writer, poet; Algeria)
Maung Day (poet, artist, translator; Myanmar)
Okky Madasari (novelist; Indonesia)
Fujino Kaori 藤野可織 (fiction writer; Japan)
Lava Omer لاڤە عمر دەروێش (poet, translator; Iraq)
Ramsha Ashraf (poet, dramatist, playwright; Pakistan)
Esther Dischereit (poet, novelist, essayist, stage and radio dramatist; Germany)
Anne Kennedy (fiction writer, screenwriter, poet; New Zealand)
Kirmen Uribe (novelist, poet, essayist; Spain)
Yuriy Serebriansky Юрий Серебрянский (fiction writer, journalist; Kazakhstan)
Xavier Villanova (playwright, screenwriter, stage director, actor, translator; Mexico)
Kim Doyoon 김도윤 (fiction writer, librettist, translator, critic; South Korea)
Santiago Giralt (playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, fiction writer; Argentina)
Tilottama Majumder তিলোত্তমা মজুমদার (fiction writer, poet; India)
Fatena Alghorra (poet, journalist; Palestine and Belgium)
Wipas Srithong วิภาส ศรีทอง (fiction writer; Thailand)
Julienne Van Loon (novelist, essayist; Australia)
Kristian Sendon Cordero (poet, fiction writer, essayist, translator, filmmaker; Philippines)
Panashe Chigumadzi (novelist, essayist; South Africa/Zimbabwe)
Audrey Chin (fiction writer, non-fiction writer; Singapore)
Stuart Lau 劉偉成 (poet, essayist, critic; Hong Kong)
Yan Chung-hsien 顏忠賢 (fiction writer, poet, essayist, art critic; Taiwan)
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (fiction writer; Kenya)
Dilman Dila (writer, filmmaker; Uganda) A behind the scenes photo of him taking the portraits in this post. Credit Kaori Fujino

 

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.
~~
 
If you enjoyed this post, consider supporting me. You can become my patron at patreon.com/dilstories and help me make short films in the scifi, fantasy, and horror genres, which are tough seeing they require a lot of special effects. Or you could subscribe to my channel on YouTube.com/dilstories, where you can also see some of my films.
 
You Might Also Like:

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.

~~
If you enjoyed this post, consider supporting me. You can become my patron at patreon.com/dilstories and help me make short films in the scifi, fantasy, and horror genres, which are tough seeing they require a lot of special effects. Or you could subscribe to my channel on YouTube.com/dilstories, where you can also see some of my films.

 

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.

 

You Might Also Like:
 

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.
 
If you want to know the seventh trick, subscribe to my YouTube channel because I’ll make a movie about it 🙂 Hey, if you enjoyed this article, you sure will enjoy the films I make. They are free to watch on YouTube. Naye do you know how expensive making a good quality film is? Kati if I have a lot of subscribers, and hence a lot of views, I’ll make enough money to invest in the seventh trick. Show me some love 🙂 Subscribe www.youtube.com/dilstories
 
You Might Also Like:

Seven Reasons Why Women Fear Commitment

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.
 
~~
If you enjoyed this, you will enjoy my short films. Subscribe to my channel and watch them on youtube.com/dilstories Do subscribe and share with your friends. I upload a great short film every month. Remember to follow me on twitter and facebook and you can donate to my films here
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.

 
You Might Also Like
 

Africanized Christianity and Enchanted Places of Kenya and Uganda

This Christmas, I can’t stop thinking about how Christianity in Africa is gradually morphing into a hybrid religion spiced with local traditions, just as it did in pagan Europe. One strong indicator of its future is visible in Legio Maria. I first heard of them in my childhood, after a neighbor’s child fell off a tree and died (apparently). A group of Legio Maria prayed for him and he resurrected. A few years later, we planted a moringa tree in our home. They have something against that tree, so one day they showed up at our fence and said prayers to curse the tree, and the tree grew so big that it threatened the house and we had to cut it down. In spite of these strange happening, I never bothered to find out about them until I visited Western Kenya in March of this year.
 

I only wanted to see rocks. People think Stonehenge is a human structure, but are quick to dismiss the beautiful formations in many parts of East Africa as works of nature. I think these rocks have something about them worth looking into, and so I went to the famous ones in Kisumu, not like an archeologist, but to get a sense local views about them.

  Subscribe to my youtube channel and watch great short films

The Crying Stone, Ikhongo Murwi.

After finishing some business in Nairobi, I took a bus to Kakamega and then a boda boda to the Crying Rock, a pillar-like structure about forty meters high with a smaller rock sitting at its top. It is so named because water runs down its sides, leaving a tear-like stain, from a mysterious source at the peak. The boda guy said it was far outside town, but it was only a short ride, and it would have been quicker if the road was good and if he knew exactly where we were going. He did not, in spite of the rock’s alleged fame, because, he said, he did not see its use. In the past it was visible from the road, but the family that owns the land planted trees around it, and now the only way to see it is to go right up to it. Not a difficult journey, though the road petered out and I had to climb the hill on foot. Good for exercise. I met an old woman who insisted I pay for seeing the rock. I gave her 200 bob. She showed me a cave at the foot of the rock, which she claimed Legio Maria use for worship, but I saw no evidence of this, no candles, no pictures of holy people. Then she told me the secret of the Crying Rock. “I’ll tell you because you are not a mzungu,” she said. “We tell wazungu something different.” It’s hollow at the top. When it rains, water collects, and overflows. Since I came during the dry season, there was no overflow. That was the end of the visit. I felt cheated. I asked her about the significance of the rock to the local community, for I read somewhere that they held rituals there, to end droughts, to cleanse those who commit incest, and such, but she said the only people who bother to go to the rock are tourists, and Legio Maria (of which I saw no evidence). If you want my advice, don’t go there. It’s a waste of time. A place whose essence is consumed in less than ten minutes is not worth visiting.

  Watch a video poem: A New Prayer

I jumped on a bus, and sped off to Kisumu, to explore Kit Mikayi. I arrived at about one o’clock and had lunch at Kit Mikayi Hotel, where a girl with a charming smile served me dry fish, sukuma wiki, and ugali. It was great to feast on a local delicacy. Her name was Qintar. Not sure how she spells it. I asked her about Kit Mikayi. “I went there once,” she said. “I prayed and fasted for three days for a good husband.” She is still waiting, but is hopeful that soon he will come along.
Qintar, in Obama t-shirt, at her hotel, Kit Mikayi, Kisumu.

 Watch a short comedy film, on what happens when African Men Cheat

I must note here the importance of folk history attributing the rock formation to human activity. Why this set? Why not all the others around? Does it allude that an earlier civilization or probably humanoid species constructed it? Sadly, colonialism and Westernization has taught us to treat this lore as hogwash not worth of archeological investigation (I sometimes relate such legends to Krishna’s submerged city of Dvārakā).

If you visit Kit Mikayi, walk around the village. It’s worth it. John was kind enough to host me at his home for a few hours. It’s a very beautiful place. You’ll enjoy the scenery, and the rocks.

An old man I met, John Obuyo Ngeso, who lives near the site, and serves as a tour guide, told me it became a shrine a long time back during a severe drought. The leaders consulted a shaman, who said the rock had ‘tied up’ rain. To perform rituals to end the draught, they smashed a hen’s head against the rock, then slaughtered a goat. They grilled and ate these without ugali, then threw the goat entrails mixed in chicken blood into a crag in the rock, where the shaman said certain prayers. Within a day, rain fell. Apparently, every other place got rain, but not this rock. He added that in times of drought, the rock ‘cries’ and water flows down to save the land. I wondered how to relate this tale to others about the origins of the rock. He could not explain.

One ritual closely related to origins goes like this; when a young man marries a woman who is not from the area, they have to perform certain rituals inside this rock, to not only make the woman part of the community, but to ensure she never leaves. That is why there is hardly any divorce in the area, Obuyo said. He took me to the cave where they take the girl, and he demonstrated the ritual; it involved the woman making ululation sounds, or maybe screams. He was an animated storyteller.

Two Legio Maria faithfuls rest under a rock after a long pilgrimage to Kit Mikayi. They were part of a larger group.

Oddly, these rituals take place in a cave that has Christian artefacts – pictures of a European Jesus alongside that of a Black Jesus. That is the magic of Kit Mikayi. All kinds of religious sects consider it a very holy site. During my visit, I saw two: A group of Legio Maria rested under a shade after a trekking over ten miles in a sort of pilgrimage. Behind a rock, a group of Roho Mawa (sic) Christians sang, prayed, and meditated. I asked the Legio Maria why they worshipped at a place associated with ancestral spirits. “God is Everywhere,” they replied.

Inside the cave, where Legio Maria pray. Notice the candles, the potraits of a white Jesus, a black Jesus, and a black Virgin Mary. Locals worship ancestral spirits and perform cultural rituals in this same spot.
Legio Maria faithfuls in a procession, holding portraits of their founders, Mama Maria (right portrait), black Mary and spiritual mother of Ondetto (left portrait) the black Jesus.
The next day, when I went to Luanda’ Magere’s grave, I was not surprised to find a photo of Melkio Ondetto, the black Jesus who founded the sect. According to lore, Luanda Magere was made of stone. He never lost in battle, until his enemies sent a Delilah to figure out his powers, then they killed him. He turned into a rock on the spot upon which he fell. His rock, for all his legend, is a tiny lump half-buried in the ground. In the past, the place was bare, but a man (they didn’t tell me who) got a dream in which Luanda complained about being out in the rain and sun, so this man built a house over the rock. There’s a second house in the compound, for Luanda’s mother, because Luo sons build their homes to the right of their parents. Locals worship in the shrine, seeking blessings and, in the past, warriors would sharpen their spears and knives on his rock for good fortune. It is not uncommon to see both Legio Maria and ancestral spirit worshippers in the same room, kneeling in front of the same rock, praying to the same god.
 

One of the Legio Maria followers, also a caretaker at Luanda Magere’s grave, told me they believe Luanda Magere reincarnated as Dedan Kimathi, that Luanda Magere’s spirit keeps possessing different people. I wonder if they’ll make Dedan Kimathi a saint, or if he is already one of their saints.

After Luanda Magere’s site, I proceeded to Angoro Bethlehem (they have so renamed several villages in Western Kenyan that are significant to their faith), the village where Legio Maria’s founder, and the black Jesus, Melkio Ondetto, was born and raised. The brother of Melkio Ondetto, and the second Pope of the sect, had passed away and was due to be buried the next day. I sadly could not stay to witness it, for I had work back home. It was a fascinating place, with and the Legio Maria are warm and welcoming, humble and unassuming, their Cardinals are not pompous. I intend to visit Angoro Bethlehem another time, maybe when there is nothing going on there like a huge funeral.

Luanda Magere’s shrine. The rock is in the shelter on the right. The portrait of Melkio Ondetto, founder of Legio Maria, hangs at the entrance to the shelter above the grave.
Christian grafitti at Ssezibwa falls.

I am sure all over the continent, there are other such sites, places where both Christians and traditional African spiritualists worship, just like places in the Middle East that is holy both to Muslims and Christians. I wish I could live into the future to see if Christianity and ancestral spirit worship morph into one, and if these sites will become some kind of temples.

If you enjoyed this article, consider support me so I can bring you more like this. Follow me on youtube.com/dilstories, watch my films, share my films, share my articles, or you could donate to me via patreon.com/dilstories

 
You Might Also Like: