120 million. I need 120 million now.

I’m slowly drowning in my sadness as I write this. Father has just lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and it’s emitting terrible smoke thanks to the leafy mango tree branch that he’s just thrown over it. I feel exactly like that smoke; I feel gray and aimless.

There is a medium-sized house right next to ours. Despite the unfortunate shade of orange that covers most of it’s surface, it’s pretty and has a compound that’s perfectly sized for the kinds of herb gardens I like to maintain. Using charcoal, somebody has added the words FOR SALE and a couple of phone numbers to it’s décor.

As my aunt and I were passing by it earlier, she brought my attention to the fact that nobody lived there anymore.  I sleep next door everyday! How could I not have realized that the neighbors had moved?

She went on to tell me she’d heard the house is going for 120 million. Oh boy. The excitement I felt was insane. My mind went into overdrive. What can I sell? Who can I ask? What can I sell? Who can I ask? Until it occurred to me that I have nothing in my life that I can sell and nobody that I can ask for one hundred and twenty million shillings. What a shame.

That’s pocket change for some people, you know. There are Ugandans who go into 21 billion worth of debt and get covered for by our government. How rich do you have to be in the first place to accumulate such debt? Probably rich enough to lend a broke writer 120 million.

I escorted my aunt to the road, ran all the way home and breathlessly informed my people of what was going on outside the gate. With 120 million shillings, I could own a house right next to ours! Perhaps I’d move in there or maybe rent it out at an exorbitant price . I could even make my friends pay me to hold house parties in it. Father looked at me in the same way you would a kitten climbing a tree and said, “Mildred, that house is 40 million, tops. If Housing finance got a serious buyer, it would probably go for a bit less.”

That is the moment I slumped down next to the smoky fire and began to type this. People, I have no where to find 40 million (which is 80 million less than 120 million shillings) and have nothing but bad ideas.

The first is to write and here’s why it wouldn’t work: writers in Uganda get paid really badly. My only hope would be to win something huge like the Caine prize of African writing and whereas that is achievable, it’s hard.

Another idea is prostitution which would probably work if I didn’t have such strong inhibitions. I take this opportunity to thank my parents for doing a good job.

The third idea is to start a school. The only problem here is that I dislike long contact with all strangers between the ages of 11 and 19 because they are full of hormones and are therefore unpredictable.

The fourth Idea is to stop thinking so hard about this and start a donation drive here where anybody who gives me over ten million shillings gets a free biography. I have no idea how to write those, but Google is full of how-tos.

P.s My kidneys are in great working condition.

Too young to marry.

Too young to marry.

Over the ages, “Too young’ has carried many meanings for different civilizations of the world. In the day of Jesus, it was perfectly all right for the holy spirit to go knocking on the womb of a 13 year old Mary but if any of that were to happen now there would be a massive scandal (unless they lived in Spain  in which case everything would be bueno).

Many of our mothers had us while still in the lap of childhood. The only reason I can think of for this is that they were still reeling from a time not far before theirs when people had to become men and women at the first sign of puberty because the life expectancy was short. Life had to be lived in fast forward.

Now however that the average Ugandan has at least 54 years in which to live and priorities have generally shifted from home and hearth to knowledge, careers money and networking, it always comes as a shock to me when facebook notifies me that a person I went to school with has gotten married.
My reaction usually goes from confusion to dread to pity because it seems so terribly rushed.

There are many roads to fulfillment, I know and for some people, marriage is the golden pot but why so early? When we graduate from university, we’re still hungover from years of education. Our true selves have only just emerged (if we’re lucky. self actualization can take a long time). Why would you willingly rush from childhood to an adulthood complete with the prospect of babies? Personally, I intend to enjoy the sweet freedom of fully owning myself before making the decision to start a life with somebody as dewy and sparkly eyed as I am.

The girls and boys stepping straight out of the lecture room onto the aisle have their reasons, I’m sure, but I’m familiar with only two.

One is the desperation to get out of their parents’ homes. People are unwilling to return home every night to the mutual discomfort and eventual resentment that arises when a young adult and an old adult both try to stand their ground.

Also, in what foreign media I’ve read, living with your parents after university is taboo; a sign of laziness on the child’s part and long suffering on the parents’. Things are different in Ugandan culture however. While it’s normal, admirable even for boys to skip the fold at the first sign of a beard, women have it rough. Voice your desire to get your own place and sengas will solemnly inform you that you’ll never get married. You’ll have become ‘spoilt’. In-laws won’t want to associate with a girl that lives out of her father’s home, apparently.

Our society is so hangover on the patriarchal way of doing things that a woman means nothing if she hasn’t found a man to validate her existence. If she’s not living with her father, it has to be with a husband.

It must be exciting to find a person that makes you feel wanted, alive, complete but rushing to seal the deal might mean disaster for the both of you. Maybe he still has a roving eye to outgrow, or perhaps she’d like to accumulate more graduation caps.

The last reason I can identify is pressure from relatives and the mentality they have that if a girl is unmarried by 25, she deserves to be treated like milk that hit it’s sell-by date yesterday.

If you know something I don’t please enlighten me in the comment section.

Staying out late.

The praying mantis lands on the boda-man’s jacket with a dry, final sound like a slap. Unbelievable. Lamaro freezes where she’s standing: to the side of the motorcycle with one leg lifted and hooked at the knee. Her hands remain clutching at the hem of her brown lycra dress-top, making it stretch it over her leggings; a thing she was doing to minimize the amount of thigh that would show when she settled onto the bike.

A long, brown, ugly mantis.

Her face is flat except for a twitching around her nose and it is with great calm that she straightens her leg and backs away from the man, his bike and his insect. A thin sound starts to snake out of her mouth.

The bodaman panics and whips his neck from side to side, trying to peer over his shoulder. Unable to see anything, he cries out for a passerby to please tell him what monstrosity is sitting on his back.  “Kongolomabere,” Lamaro starts to mouth, but then remembers the laughter with which Alex met her pronunciation the last time.

The passing man flicks the praying mantis off and she’s about to thank him when he kicks it at her jeering, “As if it is a snake. You, a big woman. This is just insect.”

Her reaction is rougher than is fair, but after exhibiting so much self-control that day, even towards the little bitches in school uniform that yelled NO at her as she was walking out of the gate, she verbally smacks the sneer off his face. “Tumbavu, what business of yours is it what I fear or not fear?”

Lamaro clambers onto the bike and closes her eyes to stop herself tearing at the tainted jacket. It’s now Konshens or nothing. Too late for anything else. If I die I die.

Boda rides in Kampala are preparation for death. Not death. For that moment right before it when you’re certain that your entire existence is going to turn to zero in the next second. You and your issues are only going to be fit for burying, perhaps cremation, or maybe you’ll have been ridden over by so many speeding vehicles that there won’t be enough of you left to fill a spoon.

No matter how often you use a particular rider or how big his boda’s seat is, you’re always a brittle hair away from death: a freak swerve, a mean driver, an absentminded pedestrian.

The rider who delivered Lamaro from Maganjo to her changing place in Kamwokya was both a novice and a fool. He had no knowledge of the shortcuts, no idea where he as a two tyre man stood on the hierarchy of road users and no rhythm or bearings. Such an idiot was he that it took a slap from her to alert him to a van that was driving straight towards them.

And now this. A praying mantis. The cosmos can’t be more clear in voicing it’s disapproval of her decision to attend the show.

Tucking her guilt away and ordering her mind to shut up, she plucks a phone out of her bra.

Text me, Alex. I’m terrified. 10 minutes away. Be ready with my ticket. xo.

Lamaro sees the crowd outside Kyadondo rugby club and immediately feels bad. So monumentally huge is it that it resembles a thick millipede with arms sticking out at weird angles as a result of something devastating like radiation poisoning. She feels fake about her choice of career. Had she gone with terrorism, she’d be one blast away from supposed paradise, virgins and the like. her lifework would be complete.

As advised, she scans the millipede for a police officer to help her pick her ticket from Alex. The music from inside is whipping the crowd outside into a frenzy of envy and yearning. No policeman in sight. Perhaps up ahead? But from where she’s standing, “up ahead” is just a myth.

Plan B. She adjusts her bra, unfastens her earrings, throws them in, sticks her elbows out, leans forward and pushes.

To the guy who delivers a sharp pinch to her ass, Lamaro expresses her sincere hope that his mother will die of tapeworm. At the police officer who lifts her by the shoulders and throws her to the end of the line, she spits her hope that his cock will dis-attach and land in a pit latrine as soon as possible.To the dude who cuts short her descent into the sewerage filled trench that is bubbling just centimeters from the stumbling, hysterical millepede by grabbing her waist and pressing his groin against her butt so hard, she can feel the shape of every sperm in his sacs, she expresses her sincere thanks. And also, “When you die, I hope it will be quick. Before then, I hope you never get the opportunity to repeat your actions against anything more animate than a wall.”

After 30 minutes of clawing, shoving and having at least one kilogram pressed off her on all sides, she is birthed, blinking and gulping air onto the show grounds.

She allows herself a moment of nothing and that is how Alex finds her, staring blankly at a coca cola drinks tent. When he taps her shoulder, it feels like she’s been plugged back into the socket of  the living. Lamaro throws herself into him.

They look. When the one in the red skirt and blue panties performs a convulsing downward dog with so much devotion that you can see her round, vapid eyes shining between her legs, they gape. When the one in a tutu with the thighs full of thunder starts to shake away all of the things her momma gave her into the crowd in return for its attentions, they practically bawl; she with her face between his shoulder blades, he with his palms over his face. This bawling quickly turns into outrage when the emcee tries to shoo thunder girl off the stage for being fat. Shya!

The shock of wobbling buttocks and sacred things being flashed at them wears off quickly. Dancehall is in their blood, infecting them with randiness, making their pelvises revolve of their own volition.

The looking goes on. Alex at the twitter page off his Nokia, Lamaro at the crowd and at his profile. Irritation is mounting. She’s starting to feel abandoned. A fight. No resolution in sight. Dancehall plaiting itself into everything. Is irritation real when you’re popping your ass and bopping your head?

More girls on the stage. Konshens knows what he came to Uganda for. The show is good. His refusal to dance with miss thunder is final. His preference of the small girl, ‘pretty gyal’ with the orange bra and black panties is clear. He slaps her ass. She waggles her tongue. “What am I doing here?” it seems to ask.

In the air: weed and noise. If there is tension between them, it’s getting ground to nothing between their bodies. Dancehall has won that fight.

Konshens knows how to read a crowd. He’s not stupid enough to try that crowd surfing stuff. A real Ugandan will move clean out of the way and laugh when he lands. When the crowd doesn’t know a song, he tells the DJ to skip it. When people start to lose interest, he brings Chamili on. When the sweaty smell of exhaustion begins to rise of the crowd, he tells them to wyeve some. They wyeve some. Hard to hate this guy.

It ends. Lamaro’s outfit is not the same. They’ve lost her belt somewhere. She took it off a little too quickly when Alex said, “It gives you two stomachs. One is better than two, in my opinion…but I don’t know about these things.”

Later he says, “What were you thinking? You looked like a clown!” Apparently, brown leggings and brown dress tops don’t go well with golden pumps and nappy hair.

Lamaro’s howls of laughter are laced with mortification. Were those stupid school girls right after all? What clothes does one wear to such things anyhow, where you spend all your time behaving like you have none on?

She shouldn’t be laughing, she knows. She ought to turn to him with a serious face, eyebrows lifted superciliously and say, “Even if I had decided to wear a sack, that should have been acceptable to you.” But she doesn’t.

She laughs and laughs and laughs.

It happened! My first runner’s high.

You guuuyys I experienced my first runner’s high today!  It’s cold out, drizzling a bit and I’m able to run longer and harder on cold days. This was my route: Down Kanjokya street (From Maad Advertising) then up the road that leads to Lohana with a 50 second walking break. I continued past Lohana and ran that straight stretch leading to Kololo then turned around. Again, I allowed myself a short walking break.

I ran down the road leading to Kisementi and it was as I was climbing back to Kanjokya when it hit. That full body orgasm they call the runner’s high. Try and remember the best, the warmest, the giddiest, the most elated you’ve ever felt and then forget it because it falls one centimetre below that feeling. Mama nyabo!

I felt like:

An orange being peeled and then being placed into a bowl of warm water.

Like what a moulting snake must feel when the last centimetre of its casing falls off.

Like a baby being thrown up into the air.

Like a cat sneaking into it’s owner’s bed at night and settling next to their bum.

Like a person with some glorious disorder that makes them jizz from the head down.

You guys I felt so happy, I started to laugh like a hyena with a torn mouth.  I couldn’t even continue running. I just giggle-walked back to office.

I love this running life.

(I’m trying but failing miserably to upload a picture of my sweaty, grinning face off my phone, so I’m just going to find my happiest picture and cain it below this sentence).

Hyena. Torn mouth. Ooh yea.

I like to move it move it

Making the decision to work out is easy, but actually starting to do it requires the kind of mental and emotional preparation that can exhaust you without even making you break a sweat. You have to battle ennui, inhibition, those school memories of having to run cross-country and your natural fear of looking stupid before you’re ready to get on the road to fitness.

My jogging kit remained in a bag under my desk for two months before I carried it outside, kicked it to expel any snakes and started to use it. Partly, this was because I wanted to exercise for the right reasons.

Sure, my waistline had expanded to meet the flesh below and above it so that if I felt the desire to wear a waist, I’d have to superimpose one using a belt, but I preach the gospel of self-acceptance. What if age or motherhood makes me permanently larger and rounder? Will I resent time or my child for stealing my figure?

The second reason was that after a year of working around Kamwokya, also known as the HQ of street hecklers in Uganda, I’d become timid. These men were so bold about shouting obscenities, staring and even getting physical that I wasn’t sure I wanted to call attention to myself by jiggling around in a vest and tights.

And then one night I awoke with what felt like a pig of exhaustion lying across my shoulders. No amount of stretching could unseat it. I was lying on the floor, thinking dejectedly about the old days when I’d sleep like a baby after yoga when, get this, I heard the invisible pig chuckle.

My jogging started the next week.

It was hell of course and after 3 weeks, my knees failed. If you intend to work out, do some research. Find the necessary stretches on Youtube and buy a pair of proper shoes because the pain that runner’s knee comes with is stupid and terrible.

I posted an update on facebook asking for advice from other runners and was devastated when all the comments were variations of ‘take some time off’ and ‘do low impact exercises’ because as terrible as the first few weeks were, an intense, unbelievable balloon of excitement would explode in my brain after every run.

My understanding of the scientific explanation I’ve read regarding this high is that your body computes increased physical activity as a fight or flight situation and produces dopamine, serotonin and endorphins to lessen the shock/impact , thus making you very high.

The idea of going back to a life of sleeping with invisible animals around my shoulders filled me with so much dread that I hugged the computer screen when I discovered Zumba. Zumba is a combination of aerobics, dance and fun. It’s great, but made me feel like I was cheating on jogging. I found myself saying things like, “Jogging and Zumba occupy two completely different spaces of my heart!” and “Jogging is my spouse but Zumba is my favorite gigolo”.

We’re in an open relationship now.

Working out will make you more confident. I know this because I don’t get heckled anymore thanks to the scary eyes I learnt to throw the gigglers on my running route. Your memory improves, your productivity increases and you learn self-discipline (if you can work-out every day for 7 weeks, you can do anything).

I’ve dropped 10 kilograms, look like a goddess-complete with emerging abs, and this new vanity will probably drown me.

Cultural Identity: Who are you?

Recently, I saw a drawing that had the word birth on one side, death on the other and a puzzled looking man in between. Its message was we’re born, suffer confusion/anxiety, and then we die, which is a pretty accurate description of life if you’re a pessimist.

The issue of identity is not the most pressing in the world. You cannot die from an identity crisis, unless it makes you so miserable that you kill yourself. It’s not as critical as hunger or thirst and yet it’s just as inescapable, and can make you blind to all the blessings in your life. Even if we were still in the Garden of Eden, I’m sure self-definition would still be a thing to grapple with. In fact, let’s for a moment consider how things would be if Adam and Eve hadn’t gone munching on forbidden things.

Death wouldn’t exist which I assume means we wouldn’t age. Adam would be the oldest and probably most attractive man because of all the wisdom that comes with time. But we’d be sinless, right? So we young women wouldn’t covet him. We’d have our own young mates. What would the age of consent be, though? 1 million years?

We’d be asking questions like, ‘How do I, a woman in my twenties contribute to a society that is run by people who are several million years older than I am?’ But wait, we’d be unable to think, right? Meaning we’d be floating about in bubbles of euphoria? Oh boy. Let’s rein this in and go back to discussing identity as it exists in the real world.

During a recent Blogger’s Happy Hour at Mateos, there was an argument about whether or not Africans should recognize tribes and the territorial boundaries that the colonialists imposed on us. As the argument grew, English, the speaking and owning of it, came up.

Africa and its people have been through a lot of ugliness. The continent is still being plundered and exploited both openly and in secret. I’m sometimes jealous about how successful Kenya and Tanzania have been at integrating Kiswahili into their schools and everyday life (even though that language also has foreign influences) because Uganda just seems complacent in comparison with the way it’s taken English up and made it into a standard that people have to rise to or else get belittled.

Our children get beaten and shamed at school for speaking local languages, which have all been grouped under one word, “vernacular”. If you have a British or American accent, the people around you will be simultaneously envious and impressed and many Ugandans have a complex where they’re suspicious of anybody who speaks ‘like a white’ but will return twisting their tongues even after 5 minutes of being on foreign soil.

All this said; how do we make this less than desirable system work for us on a day to day basis? Most opportunities come riding on the back of an education given to us in English. It is not reasonable or beneficial to carry around bitterness against the colonialists and it would be suicidal to cast English aside and refuse to trade, communicate and make a living from and in it.

Chimamanda Ngozi once said that, “English is mine. It has become mine.” For peace of mind and prosperity, that’s the best attitude to take. When Life hands you a foreign language (and culture), turn it into money, books and a testament to how interesting living as part of a dual-culture can be.