Going to Kampala

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Sometimes I ask Mother Karua to tell me stories of her past. How it was like growing up back in the day when the world was in black and white. I ask about her first date. I ask who she would have married if she had not tied the knot with my dad. I always imagine that one day I will use these stories for my fiction.

Yesterday she told me a story about her heritage. Turns out Mother Karua is Ugandan. Well, she was born in Uganda. Actually all her siblings we born in Uganda, in a town called Kisenyi (I googled it). My grandfather, Peter Adhiambo, was a man of biashara; his trades took him past the borders of Busia, and into Uganda. He carried his family with him. His wife, my grandmother (Tila Nyomoso, God bless her soul) would give him nine children, and one miscarriage.

My mother is one of those nine children. Had it not been for the power struggles in Uganda, maybe my grandfather would not have died before his due date. Maybe they would have continued staying there. Maybe my grandmother would not have sold all his land and property and set for her journey back to Kenya, where the voices of her husband’s ancestors whispered to her – urging her to come back to where she belonged. Kalkalda Village – that is in Alego, Siaya inside inside.

So I may have been a Ugandan myself. However, I doubt I would have the stomach to endure Museveni for so long. You see, I have not been blessed with the opportunity to travel around this big island that poets call Mama Afrika. But at the poetry of my soul, I know that even after being privileged to visit all the places in this region, and if you ask me where I choose to live, I would pick Kenya, hands down. It’s where some of the most beautiful places and people in the world are found.

But then there is Uganda.

As fate would play its hand, my own father worked at the border as a taxman. First he was stationed at Kisumu, then Nairobi, followed by a brief stint at Isibania, then a stretch Busia and Malaba. He stayed at Busia and Malaba the longest. We would go visiting him, and every time, we would cross the border into Uganda where women with babies wrapped on their back sold huge bananas. These bananas were called Bogoya.  If you ate one Bogoya, you would skip lunch. If you ate two Bogoyas, and the sun is up, you would find yourself snoozing the moment you sit down. Bogoyas are heavy, and they sit in your stomach for very long.

Even then, I never ventured into Kampala. My old man went back to the dirt before we had any chance to. I would only visit Kampala once when my grandmother got sick with cancer. Throat cancer. Poor lady in her late eighties could not pass food down her throat. Mother Karua and her siblings decided to take her to Mulago Hospital, and of course when the time came for Karua to visit her, she carried her lastborn with her. Me.

Uganda is such a scenic country. At least I can only speak of the parts I have seen; which is basically the road from Busia all the way past the Owen Falls in Jinja to Kampala. It is green. Forests jewel the tarmac road, and there are not so many vehicles to pollute the air. It looks like something from a photoshopped advertisement. I remember sitting with my Mother in a matatu to Kampala and admiring the landscapes. Little wonder my grandfather decided to move to that place back then. He must have seen a post card and decided “Shit, I have to visit this place.” I guess that is why they called it the Pearl of Africa. Because Uganda, ladies and gentlemen, is the world as it was in the beginning.

The beauty of Uganda would later be buried under the images of my grandmother lying on a bed in Mulago Hospital. By then she was tired. I heard her tell Mother Karua that she is tired of hospitals. She is tired of being fed blended food via a tube directly to her stomach because the cancer in her throat had put a roadblock sign saying “No way through.”

She spoke of her days in Uganda throughout the night, even after the doctors told her to rest after chemotherapy. I listened.  Sometimes, in between the stories, she launched into a word salad of ancient Luo, impressive Kiganda and very bad Swahili. I just nodded my head pretending to understand whatever she was going on about.

I spent my time in Kampala saying the words “Osivotya Ssebo” over and over and anything any Ugandan told me, I just replied “Naburunji nyabo.” Even when it was man. I would later come to know that nyabo means lady, which explained an awful lot – like that grim look my grandmother’s male nurse gave me when I told him “Naburunji nyabo.”

To be fair, those are the only Kiganda words I knew.

Like a punch line to a bad joke, my grandmother would give up on fighting for her life in Uganda – the very same place her husband lost his, many years back. She told Mother Karua “Aol nyathina, dwoka dala.” She was tired. She wanted to go back to her home in Kalkada.

I am sure it was the chemo.

I am going back to Uganda this coming week. To Kampala, to be specific, thanks to the good folk at The Writivism Festival. They have this amazing package that demands of Ksh. 6000 only, and in return you get to attend festival free, and they take care of your transport to and fro. They have also bargained with hotels in Kampala such that if you present your ticket, you are given a discount in accommodation rates.

The idea is to get as many book lovers as possible to attend the Writivism Festival from Nairobi. Already I know a few people who will be on that bus. People who have taken advantage of this 6k deal.

I know Ciku Kimeria (author of Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges), Abigail Arunga (author of Akello),book enthusiasts – James Murua and Beverly AkoyoMoses Kilolo (Managing Editor, Jalada), the lively Oduor Jagero (author of True Citizen) who, together with Richard Oduor Oduku (poet extraordinaire) will surely not let that trip become boring…or quiet. Ndinda Kioko of the Miles Morland Scholarship 2014 fame has booked her seat too. Also, you should know by now that any place where Zukiswa Wanner is, there has to be a riot.

These are just but a few.

I will be there, with a camera in tow, taking pictures and videos and making everyone else jealous on social media. As usual. If you are a book lover, if you are one of those people who are scared of dying because you will not have read one amazing story, then you need to call Wanjeri and book a place on that bus.

I was part of the Writivism Mentorship program, under the guidance of Tope Folarin. I would tell you who this fine gentleman is, but surely, well known people need no introduction. Sadly, I did not get long listed, and I felt bad, mostly because of the overbearing guilt of letting down my mentor. I shook it off, took a bath, and watched Game of Thrones.

Later on, when Munyori Literary Journal shared the shortlisted stories, I paid them a visit.

My favorite story of the shortlist was Being a Man by Adeola Opeyemi Salau. But by God (and all my ancestral spirits hovering in Uganda) I swear Nnedinma Jane Kalu had the best opening line I have read in a while. Her story Social Studies starts like this; Father became a portrait hanging on a long nail in our dark sitting room that smelt of sadness. Hebu look me in the eye and tell me you do not want to read the rest of this story.

Caterer Caterer by Pemi Aguda reminded me of those juju Nollywood movies that Mother Karua piled in a section of our wall unit – safely locked away and the key carried in her handbag. Devil’s Village by Dayo Adewunmi Ntwari is a sci-fi with a punchy ending line, and Dream by Saaleha Bhamjee is just as divine.

In as much as I want to meet all those big lit names on the Writivism Festival lineup, it would be a lie to say that I am not drawn by the curiosity to visit the land where my grandfather is. I want to walk through the streets of Uganda and guess what it would have been like if this man Peter Adhiambo had lived longer.

The Writivism bus leaves Nairobi this Monday at 7pm.

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  1. Loved the piece, in fact, I enjoy all your pieces…I am Ugandan and haven’t been back in a long long time can’t wait to see what you think of Kampala.

  2. LOL I was about to attended it and I would have bombarded you to respond to my emails but I have an 8-5 to attend to. Y’all have fun, guess I’ll catch you guys next time.

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