Monday, March 27, 2006

A village burial

I spent most of yesterday in rural Bushenyi. Actually I spent most of he day travelling to and from Bushenyi (680km round trip). The purpose of the visit was to attend the burial of a distant relative. This was after heavy doses of emotional blackmail from my mum, which involved her telling me how important it was to always attend burials as a show of solidarity and how keeping aloof would result in nobody caring about me when I died. The part about solidarity I got 100% but the part about nobody coming for my burial just beat me. I wouldn’t care less who came for my burial because I will be dead.

Yesterday’s experience gave me an interesting insight into village burials. I have been to maybe 3 burials my whole life and I have always, with the exception of my old man’s eons ago, been no more than a distant observer at these functions.

First, the burial was like a major social event that brought all the people out in their good clothes, although the old lady we were burying was not a major community figure from what I could gather. The villagers came streaming in at around 1pm because it seems that there is some unwritten law that says all burials should start at 2pm.

People were then called for lunch and I started getting the feeling that the punctuality had more to do with the free meal than with time consciousness. In true village spirit, everybody was invited to lunch, even some chaps who struck me as just being curious onlookers.

During lunch I was surprised by the quantities these chaps can put down. I was passed a plate and at first I assumed they had served for 3 people due to lack of plates until I saw everybody around get served with similar heaps. I got the lady serving to give a smaller amount, which she did begrudgingly because she didn’t believe me when I said I had been given too much food (she probably thought I was passing a negative judgement on her culinary skills).

After everybody was sufficiently stuffed with a high carbohydrate lunch, the main business began. The old lady had to be laid to rest after a “few” speeches. This is where things got pretty interesting. It seemed to me that everyone was going to give a short speech. There was the widower, the kids, a brother, a sister, the LC chairman, the head of some village women’s burial cooperative (whose role I couldn’t quite get) and finally the two clergymen (our family is protestant and the old lady had been married to a catholic).

Most of the speeches were short and full of the expected pleasantries but some were not. One of the dearly departed’s siblings gave a speech about how she had taken care of the old lady until her dying day. The other siblings felt that they were being made to look like they had neglected the late sister and they let their displeasure be known. The clergymen also just couldn’t help the urge to participate in a subtle game of one-upmanship- continuously throwing barbs at the “other” group.

Even that ended and the coffin had to be lowered. I figured this would be quite routine and we would soon be on our way. But it was not to be. After the prayers and the hymns had been sung and the coffin was about to be lowered some elderly man said that the head of the coffin was facing the wrong way. A spontaneous and lively debate started over where the head of the coffin should face. Half the mourners soon entered the fray and I kept hoping nobody would throw a punch. The elder lost the debate and the coffin was lowered into the grave as earlier intended. The soil was poured over the coffin and that was that.

Something struck me about the whole experience. I wonder if all the villagers are schooled in what hymns to sing at burials or has everybody attended so many burials that they have all memorised the hymns. Every time the reverend started a song, everybody quickly stepped in to sing along.

We soon made a hasty exit after promising to come by again under more cheerful circumstances.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Some links

I have added a few more blogs to my Ugandan bloggers links section. Check them out.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Jay's Eye View-Part Trois. Green Kampala

Happened to be somewhere with my camera and thought i'd take a few snaps.

The primary school I went to is somewhere in one of the snaps. Which school is that?

A kampalan in Nairobi: The Re-run

I was going through my old posts and I thought I would rerun my maiden post. It is not entirely because I have nothing better to post. I just thought I would share my experience again since none of you was reading this third rate blog at the time.

This is just a once off. I promise not to make reruns a habit.

A Kampalan in Nairobi
The cold, chilly Nairobi dawn air greeted me as I stepped off the bus on my maiden voyage to this city I had heard so much about. I looked around as the city woke up for a new day and I wondered how the next four days would play themselves out. I was in town with some Ugandans to attend a conference but enjoying the evening life was way up on my priorities list.

Everything started off quite well with cocktail party at The Hilton Hotel on the evening of my arrival. I rubbed shoulders with some of the region’s most loaded people and after an evening of mingling and engaging conversations I felt rich by association (or was it the tusker beer giving me ideas?).

However, since these loaded people became loaded by sleeping early, the cocktail ended while the night was young and that all-important Liverpool-AC Milan champions league final was pending so I had to hit a real bar. Luckily some of my hosts were thinking likewise and decide to take me and some other Ugandans to a pub called Tropeez. At Tropeez I guzzled draught Tusker by the pitchers and generally had fun-until the match began.

I am not a traditional Liverpool supporter but I have always had a soft spot for that team. So when the match appeared like it was turning into a one-sided goal-fest I decided that I was not going to risk the wrath of Nairobi’s thugs (and cops who I had been told could be as nasty as the thugs) by moving to the hotel late after losing a match. I quickly sped off to my hotel after the first half, not because I expected much out of the match but because I wanted to chill closer to “home”. I had hardly settled before I started witnessing one of the most amazing comebacks in football history.

The euphoria was only marred by the barman refusing to keep the pints flowing after 11pm. I had to beg his pardon because he was not making any sense to me since this was only 3 or 4 minutes past the hour. The man was adamant and said his licence would be revoked if he sold me anything (apparently there were some city council spies around masquerading as customers). No beer past 11pm, how do these people survive?

I later learnt that there were different licences for different establishments, which dictated how long one could sell alcohol because before long I would be leaving the club straight for the bus as the sun crept up. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The following evening, we visitors were hosted to a dinner at Carnivore. I had heard so much about this place and its exotic roast meat and that I could not wait to partake of what it had to offer. Suffice it to say I did not turn down anything, beef, lamb, ostrich, crocodile, camel- the works. I was also enjoying the share of the Ugandan chick next to me. She said she could not eat that "weird" meat (chicks...hmm, never to adventure).

After the dinner and speeches we were told to board the official bus back to the hotel. Our Kenyan friends had told us that that there was a wicked disco on the premises, which we had not seen since we had been in tents outside. A few like-minded Ugandans and myself decided to let the bus go and chose find our own way home.

First, a crucial point. Two words every linguistically impaired (Swahili-wise, that is) Ugandan beer lover visiting Nairobi has to learn are baridi (cold) and moto (warm/hot). Because I had earlier been taking draught, which was by default cold, I had not realised that the Kenyans actually liked their beer warm. While in Uganda the warm beer is the exception, back in Nairobi one has to specifically ask for baridi.

Anyway, being a Thursday, the disco was not happening so we were relocated to another place called Choices (or choi as those chaps called it). The place is a cross between Fat Boyz and Al's bar; therefore it was happening. After a while in the place, our hosts got tired andthey had to leave us on the dance floor after we assured them that we would be fine as long as we knew the fare for a cab back to the hotel.

Every thing went on fine until some drunk fellow nearly started a fight with us. Probably he was not amused by the fact that the foreigners were outdancing everybody and drinking the bar dry. The issue was sorted before any bottles flew and we saw this as a warning to flee the scene.

With heavy heads, me and my pals woke up to another day whose evening highlight was a home hospitality. Our hosts were some lovely ladies who hosted us to a night of Kenyan cuisine and some fun and games. The githeri, kachumbari and most of the other food was superb except for some mixture of fermented milk and mashed vegetables-that would take some getting used to.

We later ended up in a club called Casablanca, which was full of white, Indian and Arab guys. I felt that this was the place to be and was all geared up to have a blast until I realised from the bill that a beer was 200Kshs, which did not bother me (I might have still been high on that bubbly, hot and flavoured Morrocan steam pipe I had just smoked) until some quick arithmetic told me I was drinking a beer at Ushs 4,600. I then realised two things: why there were hardly any locals in the bar and why I had to get the hell out very fast.

A few calls later, the guys and me were being driven to Klub House 2 (K2), which is a much larger version of Wagadugu in Kamwokya. This was my kind of place. Here was cheap beer, music and pool. The party went on until the very wee hours of the morning of our last day in Nairobi.

By the last day, the body was weak and I felt I could not push it any more. Thankfully the conference closed at mid-day, which left me a few hours to chill before the banquet later in the evening after which I thought I would have my first full night’s sleep since hitting this town.The banquet was a tame affair at the Stanley Hotel, which I later discovered is the oldest hotel in East Africa (103 years old). Being a 5-star hotel one had to be wary about how one dealt with the cash bar. We had been told that the hotel had given a discount and beers would be Kshs150 (UShs3500) as opposed to the usual Kshs200 (prices like this made me rethink my opinion on Rhino Pub). I had to be easy on the beers, which was made hard by the waiters ever hovering above my head asking if I needed a refill (as if they were the ones buying the beer).

As soon as the banquet ended the Kenyans were suggesting a proper send-off at Florida 2000 nightclub. All the plans for an early night immediately disappeared. Since we were all leaving on the same bus early the next morning my Ugandan chaps and I reasoned that we would hang out in the club until late, head straight for the hotel, shower and board the bus.

Having sorted that out, we hit the club. We shook, watched dancers that would have made the former Shadow’s Angel’s appear as tame as Sunday school kids, and generally made merry until the sun was about to come up.

As I settled my sleep deprived body in the bus I could not help thinking how much of a blast I had had. I promised myself to come back next time and get to see what the city looks like outside the bars and nightclubs. I was also feeling a conspicuous lightness in my wallet. But that would be a worry for another day. Right then all I wanted to do was sleep for all the 13 hours to Kampala.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Confessions of a lapsed blogger

Forgive me blog friends for I have sinned. It has been many days since my last post. I accuse myself of suffering from not being interested in anything strongly enough to want to write about it.

I have been suffering a mental blockage for a while now and I have been incapable of thinking straight for more than a few seconds at a time. My brain seems to sever the connection it has with my fingers everytime I get close to a keyboard.

My batteries are being recharged for a comeback.

Now guys you can proceed and do whatever it is the priest does at this point in a real confession booth.

Absolve a brother.