Beware of your Uncles

I was standing by the roadside in my home area of Kitintale one day waiting for a taxi when a car pulled over with several men inside it.

“Hello!”, one elderly gentleman called out in Runyankore. “How are you, my child?”

The African habit of respecting one’s elders kicked in immediately.

“I’m fine Uncle”.

“How are mommy and daddy?”, he exclaimed enthusiastically.

I tried to place him in my memory which is very popular for being similar to that of a goldfish.

“They’re fine Uncle”.

“Are you going to Nakawa? I can give you a ride!”

I was late for work and here was a guardian uncle offering me a quick hop and a skip and a jump. I clambered in. I noticed though that they did not put me in a window seat. One man got out and I was made to sit in between three fellows. ‘Uncle’ was one of them. All in all I was in a car with five men I didn’t know.

In minutes they got down to business. ‘Uncle’ pulled out a black paper bag and begun speaking in Congolese all of a sudden. I don’t know what he was saying but it appeared he wanted me to buy these very precious ‘diamonds’ that he was shoving in my face.

I knew on the spot I’d made a terrible mistake getting into that car.

“I don’t have any money to buy your stones”, I politely said. ‘Uncle’ looked angry. His voice rose as he protested my poverty in more Congolese.

“I want to get out now”, I didn’t pretend not to be afraid. Timidly I asked over and over: “Please can I get out of the car?”

He stopped being friendly. He abused me long and loudly but the important thing is he let me out of the car.

Since that day I do not know how many uncles I have offended by telling them to their face I don’t know them and refusing any attempt at conversation.

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Better safe than sorry!

Have you ever tried to take 1k away from a drunkard?

It was around 3.00 am and I was in an Uber on my way home from the airport. As is the wont of the average Ugandan passenger, I struck up a conversation with him.

“How’s your day been Ssebbo?” I asked him.

“Not good. Not good at all”, he sighed, his face morose.

“What’s the matter?”, I queried further.

“Can you imagine that since 8.00 am I have only made 30,000 shillings?”

Reader, this is a paltry sum of money to justify more than a day of working.

“You think I don’t want to be in bed now?”, he continued. “But I can’t go home with only 30,000 shillings!”.

“I’m so sorry”, I said. “Maybe erm…tomorrow will be better”.

“I doubt it”, he said gloomily. “The weekends are the worst. People become extra stingy. The women complain that I have manipulated the app to increase the fare and the men pretend to be drunk so they don’t understand how much they have to pay”.

Suspecting that I and mine have been one of these cretins in the past, I hastened to beg him to have an open mind.

“Now that’s not fair”, said I, defender of the drunkards. “When one is tipsy their judgement is impaired. Maybe they are genuinely confused”.

“Get out of here!”, my driver barked. “Try to take 1k away from a drunkard and see if his maths doesn’t become better than a calculator”.

When you put it like that…

Trials of a teetotaller

Every year some news outlet tries to paint Ugandans as relatively idle humans by measuring how much alcohol we consume. It’s becoming a competition. Sijui Kenyans know how to drink on weekends while Ugandans keep it rollin’ all day every day so we’re the real drunkards.

But do you know how hard it is not to be a drinker in Uganda? How stressful, how anxiety inducing as soon as you open a menu? Let me tell you.

The most affordable drink is a bottle of soda

Yet I hear that stuff is poison. You’re drinking pure sugar, it does bad things to your teeth and if you’re out all night there is a limit to how much soda one can consume. One’s health is at risk after two bottles so the teetotaller spends the rest of the evening staring at his friends getting drunker and louder with nothing to keep his own tongue busy.

Water is for alcohol control only

Most teetotallers have an aversion to paying for water to drink. We can get it from our taps at home. It only takes five minutes to boil.

The price of tea doesn’t make any sense

A cup of tea ranges from 6-9 thousand shillings. I know I failed maths at school but I think a quarter litre of water is not worth more than a bottle of beer. This is when most teetotallers fold and order alcohol in defeat.

In fact, drinking alcohol makes more economic sense

With bars selling soda and water at 2,500 to 4,000 shillings, ethanol becomes significantly more attractive.

Don’t even talk to me about juice

I’ve ordered juices more expensive than alcoholic cocktails. There is a bar in town whose juices I used to love because they were delicious and plentiful and not a bad bargain. Then management realised that people liked their juices so they decided to become dickwads. Now they serve half what they used to, and the other half is chokeful of ice so that after oh-6 sips?-you’re drinking water. That way, your order their expensive juice all the faster as the ice quickly dilutes the flavour.

Then there’s just the disrespectful pricing

On one of my teetotaling ventures I went dancing with friends at a bar on John Babiiha Avenue (that’s former Acacia Avenue to you). I ordered a bottle of water and was given something that resembled my deodorant. After three whole gulps, the 2000 shillings I’d been charged for the sample had vanished.

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I needed 6 more of the damn things

Is this why I don’t have a car?

Few of us pay attention to statistics until they come knocking on our front door and tell us we’re on the list.

Data in Uganda says that the average woman is paid 40% less than the average man. Information like this is not important to the average woman until she and a male colleague compare their pay cheques.

I was having a conversation with a former colleague and as we casually complained about how little we were paid in our line of work, he dropped his salary: almost double that of mine.

Mama nyabo. I did not know what the phrase ‘to be stunned’ meant until that moment. To this day, weeks after that conversation, it stuns me still to think of it. I had worked for an organisation for half the price they offered my fellow brother!

It’s not like this was even a desk job where one could claim the old ‘Well, his CV has more lines etc’. Nedda. This was work as freelancers. And no, we did not sit down with the employer to discuss the figure they would offer us upfront so that one can claim the woman had poor negotiation skills. We were both told upfront what they could pay us. And my offer was slashed considerably.

Forlorn, I put my hand on my cheek and mourned my years of blissful ignorance.

“How many times, universe?”, I wondered. “Was I the victim of a one time occurrence of statistics? Or had this been happening multiple times over the years? What of single mothers? How many companies are paying them half what they’re worth? But why am I comparing myself to single mothers? Should I now get pregnant to get a raise? Is that how this works? But I don’t wanna get pregnant. No, this is too much to deal with right now. Alcohol!”

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That’s better. Now, to resume…

It is usually argued that a man has more financial responsibility so he has to be paid more. No bloody wonder. If women are walking around being paid half as much as them, it’s no surprise they still turn to men to help them eat!

Not all men appreciate the stress of being a main provider for a home. Not all men are educating their daughters with the expectation that they shall marry a man to make ends meet. Not all men who have been produced and raised by a woman want to turn around and tell that women she’s not worth the same as him in financial terms.

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I understand we have a Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development…

Uganda: A splendid country for disclaimers 

Published in The Daily Monitor: monitor.co.ug

The first thing I do before I check into a public place is look for my Ugandan disclaimers. I call them Ugandan because the official use of disclaimers are not the same as the ones that are applied in my beloved country:

“Please enjoy our goods and services. If we annoy you or disrespect you or if anything bad happens to you here, that’s your business. But please. Enjoy our goods and services”.

In a restaurant

Order and eat and take your behind off their chairs. If you hang around after they may consider you a vagrant. Disclaimer? “No idlers allowed”. This happened to me in a popular restaurant in Kampala and I could hardly believe my ears. So before you give some places your money, make sure they won’t chase you away once they’ve gotten what they wanted out of you.

In a club 

I LOVE club disclaimers. You never know what they’re going to allow you to wear from one day to the next. One evening I and some girlfriends visited a club and part of her outfit was her hat. The disclaimer? “No caps allowed”. This was a problem. If she took off the hat, all the style and pizzazz was gone from her outfit. We didn’t bribe the security guards but we did come close to getting down own our knees to allow her to enter looking the bomb-diggity.

Never mind the one about how they’ll throw you out like a vagrant after you get drunk drinking the alcohol they served you. That one kinda makes sense. But they should throw you out gently.

In a shopping mall baggage centre

What’s funny is that all the major shopping malls with the capacity and staff to look after your property have a disclaimer saying they’re not obligated to. The same disclaimer refuses you to enter the mall with your precious property. So you see, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. One day just for fun, I told the baggage handler I didn’t want to hand over my yoga mat because what if she decided to steal it? She wasn’t happy.

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The yoga mat story was actually at Shoprite. Their principles resemble though!

In a hotel 

These ones have lawyers write their disclaimers. It doesn’t matter if you’re robbed, beaten, raped, poisoned, the disclaimer covers it all. And knowing three people who have been robbed blind in hotels in Kampala (one of them very prestigious), you should take these disclaimers as a sign that your safety is a matter of luck.

And then you have the damn hotel safe 

Yes. You will find a disclaimer waiting for you inside there as well. I once opened it to deposit my precious items and noticed a piece of paper inside. Right away I knew my old friend, the disclaimer. The hotel was not responsible for anything I put in the safe!

I suspect these disclaimers have an element of illegality to them but I’ll leave that to the experts.

 

A prayer for the children

Published in the Daily Monitor: monitor.co.ug

Do you remember how a long time ago being a secretary was a full time job that involved just typing letters and keeping appointments? Do you ever think, like I do, about what happened to all those secretaries during the ‘digital revolution’, when bosses learned to type and print their own work and the skill of shorthand became irrelevant?

I think about the change technology brings with it and how it impacts the lives of people who find themselves unnecessary overnight. I say, I think about these things and I feel very very sorry for children being born today and honestly, the ones who come after them should start praying shortly after being born.

See here. Back in the day, specialization was ‘on form’. You had to be good at one skill and one skill only. If you strayed and became talented in multiple fields, you were labeled unfocused and a flibbertigibbet. Not good employee material.

Unless your field is surgery or accounting it’s fair to say this luxury of specialization no longer applies. Now one is supposed to be fluid. Before, it was a matter of pride to say you’d held the same job for 25 years. Today if you’ve held the same job for 10 years, consultants will ask you if you need therapy. Why aren’t you moving on and acquiring new skills; adapting to a new environment? Flexibility is the thing!

And if you don’t have the changing times to stress you, you have the ‘citizen employees’ (like citizen journalists). These are people who have skills naturally that the rest of us acquire by going to school. So while 3,000 people are selling their souls to learn Information Technology in a computer science institution, some 12 year old is designing the app that they shall come up with after graduation.

Most people worry about extra years piling on and claim they want to be young again. Mbu youth is fleeting but sweet. Please. Youth is stress and uncertainty.

gmom-1Some of us want to skip all this working business and wake up dead

This restaurant I’m about to tell you about? Couldn’t make this shit up if you tried.

Let me start by saying this is one of the fanciest, poshest, most expensive foreign food restaurants in one of Kampala’s most expensive locations. I shall not mention the name because every time I’ve done that and the restaurant has gotten hate, I have risked assassination over food joints. Also, people started to call me ‘restaurant slayer’ and that’s just a terrible rep to have if I’m not being paid for it.

So. This special, unbelievably disrespectful restaurant-Hold on, I need to make a cup of coffee before I share this stupid shit.

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Kale. Now let’s dance

I went there with three friends and we ordered two courses of meals. My friends kept asking for the wifi-password but it kept taking a long time coming. Eventually, when we were even done with dessert, the unfortunate waiter whose job it is to annoy customers on behalf of management came to ‘give’ us the password.

“You must give me your phones and I put it in for you personally”, he said.

Kissmyasswhat? 

“Why?”, asked one friend. “Why can’t you just give it to us like normal people?”

“Because when we give it to clients, they give it to their friends outside or people who are not customers etc and we want to avoid that”.

Mama mia. Mama nyabo. I turned away to stare quietly at a pillar because I could feel myself escalating to sweat the small stuff.

“You don’t want what?!”, one friend exclaimed. “We’ve come in here to bring you business and you’re telling us you think we’re wi-fi password thieves? You think people come to this restaurant to steal passwords for their friends? What level of madness-how can you treat us like this?”

One of our party is one of those guys who, unlike me, believes in One Love by Bob Marley. So he handed over his phone. The waiter cradled it and put in the password himself. My other offended friend also gave in and handed in his phone like a schoolchild.

I sat there and continued to sweat the small stuff in my head.

“Do you want also, Madam?”, asked the poor waiter.

“Are you people insane?”, I tried not to shout. “You want me to just give you my gadget? This is disrespectful, unacceptable and BY THE WAY, tell your manager that it’s downright crazy to order people to hand over phones to be touched by his staff to input anything!”

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I’m off to get this book because Kampala’s kamanyiro shall kill me young

Flirt with a girl on the street:A gentleman’s course

Published in The Daily Monitor: monitor.co.ug

Never has a sentence directed to a girl’s back ever had such a quick and positive impact as the one a man directed to me on Valentine’s day.

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No shade, please. I didn’t pay him to do it.

Sometimes, moving around this city of ours as a lady can be a real pain. I don’t know if women subconsciously carry a basket of oestrogenic perfume that yells to the corresponding testosterone in the male gender but suffice to say that on occasion, one can scarcely leave one’s house and return unmolested.

So I have learned to cross roads to avoid hissers, and Jackie Chan has taught me to duck and dodge the rest who want to graduate from hissing to touching and grabbing. It’s a jungle I tell you. But not always. Sometimes you bump into a person who for a brief moment allows the jungle to resemble a garden.

I came across such a gardener when I was walking towards the entrance of Acacia mall and I felt a presence approaching me from the back (I don’t know how but I felt it I swear). Before I begun to walk faster to avoid any hissing or touching a male voice distinctly and very politely said to my back, “May I please beg the pleasure of saying hello to you?”

Well now. Who talks like this in real life? If that ain’t the way to get a girl’s attention I don’t know what is. Just look at how the words in that sentence elevate a guy from creepy attention seeker to downright gentlemanly.

‘May’
This implied that if I responded with a curt ‘No’ he would not be offended and shout at my back that I have the figure of a grasshopper for rejecting him.

‘Please’
Now when was the last time someone troublesome ever said ‘please’ first? This one was surely a decent fellow.

‘Beg’
Just in case I was not persuaded by the first two words, he tossed this one in to assure me he was as harmless as he indeed turned out to be.

‘Pleasure’
My man. Keep talking, keep talking. Let me even turn around as you continue so I can see for myself if you’re for real.

What we talked about I shall not disclose. But he kept his right hand politely over the vicinity of his heart the whole time and when we parted ways, he gave me a deep bow.

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A round of applause for whoever raised you, Sir!

 

No, white man, no

A European friend of mine invited me to dinner with her and a British man who had called her for a meeting. She’d never met him before and wanted to feel safe so she asked me to come be a third wheel. I didn’t mind. I’ve always got my sisters’ backs.

He worked in security, he told us, and oversaw very delicate operations. It appeared one of these operations were taking place while we were eating as he kept getting phone calls. It was very sensitive, he assured us. His employees (all Ugandans) sometimes worked 48 hours straight. But he wished he could rely on a more professional work force.

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Oooooh yeah. Here we go.

“It’s really very difficult working with Ugandans”, he told me. “They’re just so lazy and want to get paid for doing nothing”.

I wondered if he thought I was from Ecuador but he assured me he was on point.

“You’re Ugandan, you know what I’m talking about”, he said to my face. “Almost impossible to get good results out of a Ugandan”.

My friend’s face wore a look of wondrous incredulity with which I empathized. For her heart’s health I made no scene and sipped my wine to keep my tongue occupied.

“Yes, yes”, I kept nodding as he went on about the fakeness of my people. I noticed that he was dressed in the best and every time he opened his wallet, I was surprised the sheer volume of notes could fit in it. Uganda and its people who sometimes worked 48 hours straight for him made him this money and gave him a place to call home. But they are also lazy. Okay.

I wonder if my Ugandan body would be safe if I lived in his country and complained about its inhabitants to total strangers from the same place.

The sad, sad day I tried & failed at Stand Up Comedy

I’m the kind of person who will chase a dream professionally. That dream will be killing me, and I will refuse to let it go.

“I’ve told everyone I’m going to achieve you!” I’ll tell the dream. “So I am NOT going to let you go until no one is looking anymore!”

It took the most public humiliation of my life to learn to that some dreams are better sampled in slumber.

The Queens of Comedy were launching their big debut. And they were calling for ladies with spunk to join the queue of the Cotilda’s and Kansiime’s.

“Come all ye who think you have talent!” they called. “We are giving ladies the stage to be as awesome as us!”

“That’s me, man!” I told everybody. “I am going to be discovered, maaaahhhhnnn. I’m going to go on tours once people realize how awesome I am!”

My brother begged me not to do it. My sister giggled as I practiced. My co-workers stared at me in wonder.

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I didn’t listen coz I know who I am

The fateful evening dawned at Laftaz Lounge in Centenary Park. The place was packed. Of the hundreds of people I’d invited to watch my big debut, only three people showed up. My former boss, my sister and a recently acquired Facebook friend.

“They’ll be sorry”, I thought sourly of those who had betrayed me. “One day, they’ll be begging me for tickets”.

I was a disaster.

People laughed for the first five seconds. After that, it was a painful silence as my honestly boring jokes played games with themselves. The minutes stretched and I considered just stopping and walking off. I straightened my back, stuck my chin up and carried on.

A group of people begun to clap and cheer loudly in a bid to drown my voice out. I shouted louder into the microphone. Cries of ‘Banange, Genda!’ begun to drift my way. I stuck my lip out and ploughed on. When I got off the stage, the applause was genuine as people were so happy to see me leave.

One of the queens approached me again for the next event. Told me it takes time for anyone to find their feet.

I assured her I was quite fine not being funny, thank you very much!