Monday, March 26, 2012

Men With Guns

So Joseph Kabuleta had decided to retire from writing his sports column in the back pages of Sunday Vision and at such a tender age. Why? Did he ask for a pay rise and Vision sports editor, Fred Kaweesi said “no?” Did his nemesis, football guru, Lawrence Mulindwa storm his house with iron bar goons? Or did he simply fizzle, burn out – something that happens to the best of writers?

Kabuleta was no doubt a talented writer who did a lot to expose the seemingly endless rot, corruption and greed within sports in Uganda and especially football. Whilst I am sure many of us will miss his ramblings, there is one person who must have thrown a mega bash. No need to guess who, but just in case you never used to read Kabuleta’s works, it is Lawrence Mulindwa.

That said, I think I am beginning to lose my touch. Last Sunday I flattered a number of women and today I am all over Kabuleta? Eek!

There is something about men and guns. Or is it anybody who has a gun? Guns make people feel big, superior and in-charge. An illiterate and disabled ten-year-old boy with an AK-47 is as intimidating as a forty-year old with an AK-47.

Back before the millennium, I used to hang-out with Watembezi who used to live down the road from my folks. Since I was new in town, he would take me places – like Blue Note in Kansanga which, used to kick. One night and seeing I didn’t have a ride, I waited till he had had his fill of ale to hitch a ride home with and it was a long wait – till 3:00am. To say I was relieved when he said it was time to go would have been an understatement. And into his Pajero I clambered for the ride home. However, there was a ‘but’, in fact, two of them.

The first ‘but’ is that we turned into the Kibuli Road and headed down past Greenhill School and back then, the stretch of road just past Total petrol station was not tarmacked.

The second ‘but’ is that Watembezi slowed his ride and pulled out a pistol. The closest I had previously come to seeing a pistol was in a James Bond movie and in a holster that was wrapped round the waist of a cop in London. Watembezi’s pistol looked big and larger than life. And he didn’t stop there. He also cocked it and the conversation that followed went along these lines.

Watembezi: “Tim, you have to be careful. There are car thieves everywhere and this road is dangerous.”
TB: “Are you in the security services?”
Watembezi: “Getting a gun in Uganda is almost as easy as buying a beer!”

With that, and with one hand on the wheel, the other holding his a cocked pistol, he drove while peering out of the window looking for perpetrators. There were none – unless they had seen the muzzle of the pistol sticking out of the window and decided it was not worth being shot at and scarpered away.

In Kampala Casino, he put it away and we took a table at the far end, on the stage where the band, Misty Jazz, does its gig every Thursday. Slightly worse for wear and wanting to sleep, Watembezi was not in control and it was evident when his pistol fell out and clattered towards the floor.

Waitress saw it and an element of fear gripped her. She obviously told other Waitresses for they gave us plenty of space. If they were scared, I was terrified for we still had to drive home and that trip was one I don’t want remember and I think I should end that chapter.

A few years ago I was at The National Leadership School in Kyankwanzi. Not that I volunteered to go but somebody out there perhaps saw it fit that I could do with a bout discipline, cold baths in the morning and a couple of days devoid of pampering.
The real interest with Kyankwanzi comes when the AK-47 is laid out in front of you and you have to disassemble it, clean it and then put it back together. It took the best part of an afternoon to get to grips with that process followed by a lecture from Instructor on the power of the gun as well as a pep talk on the impending visit to the shooting range the following day.

For once, there was excitement especially from the unruly and riotous boys from Makerere University’s Lumumba Hall. I don’t know what they were expecting to get out of the trip to the shooting range but with Rambo, Chuck Norris, Steven Segal and Jean-Claude van Damme being mentioned, it was all about they being movie actors who play with toy guns and fire blanks while they, Unruly and Riotous Boys were going to be doing the real thing - real AK-47s and real bullets that can do anything from maiming to taking life away.

And the following day after a less than hearty breakfast, we were at the range. Instructor gave us another brief – not just once but three times just to make sure the message stuck. And then he pulled out his pistol and assured. He assured that should any of us disobey instructions, stand up or point the AK in an unauthorised direction, he would not hesitate to put a bullet into our heads.

The firing mode that Instructor decided upon was ‘single fire’ as in when you squeeze the trigger, it will release one bullet at a time. The first group went and followed Instructors instructions to the letter and so did the next three groups. By now our ears had gotten used to the sound of shooting at a close range which, made me wonder why I used to get scared whenever I heard a bullet go off.

With that thought, I practically beat myself for cowering, for letting Soldier in gum boots intimidate me at a road block simply because he was carrying an AK-47. I thought back even further to an altercation I had with Police Woman who was guarding the American Embassy when it still on Parliament Avenue. She had me practically doing susu in my pants because pointing her AK at me, she assured me that: “I can kill and I have killed before” and then called for Military Police back-up who frog marched me to CPS.

I was now bold. I understood the doctrine of the AK-47. I was on the same brain level as that of Mikhail Kalashnikov, the man who had invented the world’s most popular killing machine. And the mere sound of a bullet was no longer going to scare me!

Just when I thought I had all the confidence and that the balls I had were no longer soft and mushy but were as hard as golf balls and that a kick from a woman’s stiletto would have no impact, one chap forgot what Instructor had told him.
“Before you start firing, make sure you have selected the single fire mode.” Chap on the other hand had selected rapid fire, that when he squeezed the trigger, a multitude of bullets ringed out. It was terrifying! I felt like I was in the middle of Bagdad, Iraq when Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell launched the first Desert Storm Gulf War.

I was accustomed to single fire shots and not rapid fire. Obviously I didn’t hang around. I fled and for the people who have been to Kyankwanzi will know it is a fair distance between the firing range to the Quarter Guard (almost the distance between Speke Hotel and Garden City). The ‘golf balls’ of balls that I thought I had, had turned all soft and mushy that a kick from a stiletto would have me withering on the floor in agony.

I still respect guns and to be honest, I am absolutely terrified of the people who carry them, for when it comes to shooting to kill, Chap with a PhD will shoot and kill you in the same manner as Chap who is a nursery school dropout.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The BAT Stakeholders Meeting

A couple of weeks ago, the world celebrated International Women’s Day with a public holiday. I have always been miffed at the thought of Women’s Day. Should we take it that out of the 365 days that a year has, somebody decided as a ‘by-the-way’ to toss the women just one day that they can call their own and leave the rest to us - the men?

I grew up in a female household, and as far as I can recall everyday was Women’s Day for my mother and sisters - Julie, Susan, Linda, Helen and Brenda. And seeing that I started off this cowardly tale on a feminine theme, there is a need to re-emphasize that cry with a belated Women’s Day message to every woman in Uganda especially Mrs. Muze, Aunt Ketts, Diana Mulira, Camille Aliker, Diane Kakaire (congratulations on the new addition to you family), Gaana, Natal, Patricia, my mum and of course, my editor Esther Namungoji that in my eyes, EVERYDAY IS ALWAYS WOMEN’S DAY! Did that not sound like one of those Oscar Award acceptance speeches?

So I once again, I hit Julie’s Joint in Soya and if you had read my cowardly tale a few weeks ago, I was venting my wrath on a bar lady called Sarah. I thought that there might have been some improvement since my last visit but alas and the most appropriate words to use would be: “S**t is tight for Sarah!” With my order placed, she shouted out to her colleague, “omwami ayagala ka-Club-uu (the mister wants a Club beer).” She used to say ‘Club-uu’ rather than simply saying Club, the way it is supposed to be pronounced. But now she has gone and added the word ‘ka’ as a prefix. Why would she go and do that?

Stakeholders meetings, workshops and capacity building meetings – they mean nothing to me. I have never been to any of them nor had l an idea of what goes on in them until I got an invitation from the tobacco industry, to attend a stakeholders meeting. Surely there must have been some mistake. I am not a shareholder nor do I have acres of land where tobacco grows freely. The invitation was followed up with both an e-mail and telephone call from somebody at BAT called Solomon Mutiya. With that, the invitation couldn’t have been a mistake so I duly took myself to Protea Hotel early one morning for the meeting and it was most obvious as soon as I walked into the meeting room that I must have walked into the wrong room.

With a Sporti simmering in my hand and not a single ashtray in sight, I made a hasty retreat back to the notice board which, confirmed that I was in the right place. But, where were the smokers or the ashtrays?

The meeting was something to do with ‘those people’ from parliament and who would rather I refer to them as Hon. Members of Parliament (ha, what a joke!) and who have a notion of trying to introduce an anti-tobacco control bill. “What?!!” That is exactly what I screamed out and the scream was quickly followed by my sparking up another Sporti.

Since the anti-tobacco lobby began to gather steam, we smokers, have become an endangered species. My human rights as a smoker are being trampled on just like a person who is confined to a wheel chair. His human rights are being trampled on if somebody constructs a building that has no wheelchair access and like the organisers of the Vagina Monologues said when the government clamped down on them, their human rights to free speech were violated.

With the agenda set, I sharpened my knives. It was bound to be a stormy meeting and there was a need to be focused, alert and to conjure up some swear words apart from my favoured tumbavu that I could unleash should one of those chaps from parliament get out of line.

Before I go on, there is a need to express my disappointment at many of my smoker colleagues. I expected a mass turn out at Protea but, I was all alone, a solitary coward thrown out there to defend the rights of every smoker in Uganda. I should have cowered at the thought, but I surprised myself. My chest puffed out and my arms suddenly had more muscle than Rambo. I was ready. And when the microphone went round in which we had to introduce ourselves, whilst everybody simply whimpered out their name and sat down, I boldly lashed out my name that it reverberated round the room. Not content, I followed it up with a definitive ‘smoke-on-that’ statement: “And I am a smoker!” With that, I cast my eyes round the room whilst slithering and spitting out my tongue like that of a King Cobra ready for the kill and I saw them – the chaps and the lady from parliament and do you know what they were doing? They were all cowering just like that judge that Jim Muhwezi said was cowering under his bed while he (Jim), was fighting for the liberation of Uganda. Okay so MP’s have balls, but I had the real deal - mayinja’s, down my pants! They were on my turf and they knew it too.

I really didn’t pay much attention in the meeting for I had more pressing thoughts. Would they be serving us lunch? Would they be a cocktail later that evening?

With the thought of a beef luwombo for lunch, a rather articulate Julie Owino who jazzed (spoke) with a full, full axe-so (accent) and who was giving us vibe (the gist) on the state of the tobacco industry, the alarm bells began to ring.

Can you imagine Smoker’s, parliament wants to make it illegal for us to buy ‘separates’ amongst other things?! So I have not done the required research, but dare I say a good proportion of smokers cannot afford to buy a whole pack of cigarettes thus, they buy what we call separates – one or two sticks for example. If the sale of separates is stopped, the ramifications will be very costly.

But I am not against some form of tobacco control and I am mindful of non-smokers, but there are some people who have the nerve like, Ruth Ondoru, who claimed to be an MP from Maracha District and who incredibly, had no idea what was in the bill, Young Lady who accosted me in Silk Oxygen which is the smoking section of the club and ‘Pastor’ whom I once gave a lift in my car. Let’s start with ‘Pastor’. Can you imagine, when I lit up, he had the nerve to tell me off and in MY ride that he would prefer it if I did not smoke?! Is there any need to guess what happened next? Just in case you can’t figure it out, the ride screeched to a halt outside the gates of Electoral Commission on Jinja Road, the central locking system disabled itself and I reached across, opened the door for him and barked at him to be on his way in a taxi or by boda!

Young Lady in Club Silk had the nerve to complain that the smoke was irritating her. Blowing smoke into her face, I sneered at her that there was the option of her going to Silk Lounge which operates a smoke free environment. With that, she walked off in a huff while saying I was being inconsiderate. Really?!

If parliament takes it upon themselves to impose draconian controls on us smokers, we are not going to take it lying down – at least I am not and nor would BAT board chairman, James Mulwana for it would mean he would be out of a job. We smokers reserve the right to smoke because it is a basic human right. By the way, the lunch did happen but it was no beef luwumbo luncheon as I had hoped.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Al-Shabab Melee

I have a bone to pick with the Swagettes. Back then, we knew then as the ‘Small Brown Things’ – the bu-girls fresh out of campus and who would strut into Nandos or Steers, buy one Coke and like a miracle, make it last for two hours.

If not, when you asked them if they were hungry, they would say ‘no’ but as soon as your food is presented, they and without shame would start picking at your chips. Worse, everything that you did for them, they would twist it round and make it look like they were doing you a favour! If you picked them up from the depths of Naalya and took them to Club Silk, they were doing you a favour. If you dropped them home, still, they were doing you a favour.

Today, the ‘small brown things’, have been replaced by the Swagettes. Swagette is more aloof than Small Brown Thing. Their preferred footwear is sandals and when they walk, well, they don’t walk but merely drag their feet like it is too much for them to lift up their feet and put one foot in front of the other and walk the proper way. They also swing their arms lazily like they are a burden to them. Plus they are always chewing gum. Hmm chaps, it seems that Swagettes have a case of bad breath.

Enough of them I say. I am not a chap who has beef with other races, tribes or religions. Okay so I lie. While I have no issues with Muslims, I have a touch of beef with the local Imam near my house who wakes me up in the wee hours of Friday mornings when he is calling people to prayers. I also have issues with the Chinese. Why would they invent the chopstick when it is so much easier to use a fork and you can get more in your mouth? What do they do when they have to slice into a succulent steak? They didn’t think about that did they now? And is it the Karamajong who think it is hip and funky for women to knock their front teeth out and all in the name of beauty? Have I not justified myself as to why I would have beef with the people I have mentioned? You feel me now don’t you?

So there is that road almost opposite Pride Theatre that links Old Kampala to the Lubiri ring road – are you with me? It goes into a valley on which either side of the road are car mechanics or garages. Further up the road past the intersection is a mosque on the right hand side and some meters ahead is the Lubiri ring road. The busiest section of that road is between Pride Theatre and the first intersection. Mechanics run all over the place with spare parts. If not, they are busy doing a hasty spray job on the roadside. In that mix, there is the chap with a wheel barrow peddling pineapple, the ladies ferrying lunch while, getting their boobs and butts groped. Basically, it is a katogo – total disorder!

That section of town also has a large Somali community and while they are visible most days, it is Friday before and after prayers that they really show their numbers.
Why I was in that neck of the wood and on a Friday, I really can’t recall. Okay, so I lie again. I can remember. I thought it would be a shortcut of sorts to get to my meeting with Client.

But let’s put a bookmark there for a while and talk about the Somali’s. I have never been to Somalia – or is it Somaliland now and I don’t intend to go there in a hurry. And I also don’t know anybody who comes from Somalia save for a chap called Leeban Omar who once used to work with me at WBS. The little knowledge that I have about Somalia, I pick up from Sky News, BBC, UPDF’s Paddy Ankunda whom I believe is still based there and a chap called Joshua Kato who has a very safe desk job at The New Vision but has since taken leave of his senses to travel there and report on what is going on. Hmm, who does he think he is? Does he think he is the male version of CNN’s Christiane Amanpour? He however, is a gutsy lad and I commend him for his bravery for going to Somalia especially when it is ruled by all sorts of bandits, Islamic militant factions from Al-Shabab, Al Qaeda and God knows who else.

I am at the intersection which is chaotic. Every time I inched the car forward, Wheel Barrow Pusher popped out of nowhere. If not, it was kids or Chap carrying more sigiri’s on his back than he could manage. It was next to impossible to cross the intersection.

I had to be bold and I was. I screeched the car into the intersection. Just when I thought I had made it, there was a thud, a loud thud. But it was not a thud of metal against metal or car against car. It was car against human, and the thud was followed by a squeal. When I looked up, there were two Somali men looking at me, and the picture on their faces said it all. They were irked! The shouting followed. “Look where you are going!” they screamed. “Can you even drive?” the younger of the two added.

That was it! TB was no longer the coward. I unleashed a string of expletives that even I found rather disgusting and too hot to handle. And I didn’t just stop there. I went on with more expletives and I am sure, some of them, I just made up. Sensing I had cornered them and I had them reeling back, there was a need to execute the killer blow – the coup de grace, the beheading.

The coup the grace or the beheading spewed out and lingered in the air for what seemed an eternity. It was not “f**k you” or “tumbavu”, my favourite Luganda swear word. I yelled out: “You bloody Al-Shabab’s why don’t you just go back to Somalia and blow yourselves up!”
I was still smirking with a sense of self-satisfaction when suddenly Older Somali was by door. Before I had time to react, two swift punches came flying in through the open window. The first caught me on my nose, the second on my chin. Then he stepped back and waited for my reaction.

Of course I was not going to take the two punches lying down. I squirmed in the car seat, I wanted to do susu, I wanted my mummy, and I wanted to be at home!
By now Crowd had gathered and there was more confusion. They wanted a melee and in all the shouting that was going on, it was difficult to know whose side they were on.
Meanwhile, Older Somali still stood there with a clenched fist, waiting, waiting and waiting. I had had enough. I inched the car forward and while I once again did shout out ‘Al-Shabab’ and adding in ‘Bin Laden’ and ‘Al-Qaeda’, my voice was so timid, so low that even I barely heard what I had said.

Twenty minutes later while sitting in reception waiting for my meeting with Client and nursing a fat lip, Receptionist was itching to know what had happened. And she made it her business to call all extensions. I could lip read what she was saying: “Eh people, TB is in reception. I think he has been fighting.” To Receptionist I say: “If you are reading this cowardly tale, no, I was not fighting. Rather, I was involved in an altercation and there was no need for you to go telling the entire office so they could all come a gawp at me!”

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Dr. John

To Muzee, Phado, Willo and the rest, they simply call him Dr. while others call him Dr. John. Now which one should we go with? Let me give him some respect and use the latter. Dr. John works in Kamuli and according to what he tells us, he specializes in pregnant mothers (I hope it is not some morbid fetish) and child infancy. But there is something mildly disturbing about that. We all know that Kamuli is the jigger capital of Uganda. Secondly, none of us have been to Kamuli to watch Dr. John at work plus he never seems to talk about pregnant mothers and child infancy but jiggers which, leads us to believe, could he be the chief jigger remover who has been sent by the Ministry of Health to sort out Kamuli?

But in all fairness, Dr. John should have inherited part of his late father’s legacy – but he didn’t. That legacy was the ability to run for John’s father back in 1972, did Uganda proud when he came back from the Olympics with a bling of a gold medal draped round his neck. What he did inherit (and we don’t know where from) was the ability to use his hands – not just to be a doctor, but to mix, as in mix music – video’s, music or otherwise.

DJ Shiru who ply’s his trade out of Club Silk is supposed to be the best there is at mixing, but watching Dr. John do his thing in Monot a couple of weeks ago, I am sure Shiru, would have stepped back and admired the abilities of Dr. John for he was simply dope!

When I say ‘dope’, I don’t mean dope as in contraband drugs but dope as in hip. Dope is a word favoured by the Swagg Generation and should any parent wish to more about the Swagg Generation, I am hardly the coward to ask. Try Ernest Bazanye on the second to last page of this, your favourite Sunday magazine (that sounds like the most biased plug for a magazine considering I am a contributor)!

Why Dr. John chose to do a bout of video mixing that Friday night remains a mystery. I thought he had learnt his lesson when he last played music in Miki’s Pub. You see the people – Willo, Paulo, Phado, Muzee and the rest are a very complicated bunch when it comes to music. They will push Dr. John to go and play in a DJ booth that is cut off from the crowd. And as he does he thing, they in the meantime sit back and quaff beers while making small talk with the PYT’s. And every time Dr. John tries to leave the booth to rejoin them at the table, they send him back. “Go mix some more” so they tell him. And with that Dr. John heads back to the booth.

When it is time to go, nobody bothers to tell him. They just stand up, get into their rides and head off to the next location. Just like that. And unknown to Dr. John, he is playing music for an empty table.

In Monot, I found that there were some unexpected fringe benefits to be derived by standing next to Dr. John as he did his thing. With every successful mix that he pulled off, a cheer went up. And with each cheer, Dr. John put all his worth into pulling off yet another successful mix. However, the unexpected fringe benefits I was talking about were not the cheers but rather the beers that were showered upon him by those who appreciated what he was doing. The beers were being delivered to the DJ booth in two’s, sometimes three’s.

Now this is the point where DJ’s don’t exactly like their jobs. When they are doing the mix, they concentrate, they think four songs ahead – almost like a chess player and they are cut off from everything except trying to please the crowd. Another thing, they don’t like having any form of liquid (beers, soda’s) near the decks or the PC incase of spillage.

As the beers were being lined up, Dr. John obviously had no time for them which got me thinking. I really need not have been a student of Harvard Business School to figure this one out but, why would I break into my 20k note to buy beer at 4k yet, there is an endless supply waiting and all through Dr. John’s hard work?

I slipped the 20k note back into my back pocket (there was really no use of walking round with a wallet and all for a solitary 20k was there?) and started quaffing on Dr. John’s beers. I even had the nerve to ask Waitress to exchange them for colder ones, and bring me a barstool so I would be comfortable as I did the quaffing that had to be done.

When Dr. John showed signs of slowing down, I would leap off my barstool, rush up to him and give him ‘moral support’. I would tell him things like, he is better than DJ Shiru and that, Elvis Wava is a tight of mine and I can arrange for him to play in Club Silk on a Saturday night. Those were the words Dr. John wanted to hear. His ego swelled. His chest puffed out like that of the resident rooster – ready to make that first crow at 5:30am as well as trying to assure the local Imam that his crow carries further than the Imam’s ramblings from the mosque’s loud speakers as he calls people to prayer.

Encouraged, he carried on with the mix. Encouraged, I went back to my barstool, whistled for Waitress who seemingly had pulled out the coldest ever Club beer that Monot had. I swirled it round my mouth for a while then let it trickle down my throat while giving a thumbs up to Dr. John. This is it. This is bliss. But there was some thinking to do. How do I convince Dr. John to return to Monot the following night to do yet more mixing? I mean why can’t I keep my 20k for a rainy day?

Anyway, as time wore on, Monot began to empty. Outside on the terrace where Muzee, Phado, Willo and the rest usually sit, it was an empty table save for the remnants of a bottle of Johnny Walker – Black, and a near to the brim glass of Moonberg – which obviously was Muzee’s drink.

If Dr. John found out that he had been abandoned by his friends that, would be it. He would call it a night, pack up his mixer and all then sit down to drink the beers he had been given. But I was not yet done. I managed to squeeze a further 40 minutes out of him in which three beers were delivered.

As I had my fill, it was time to go – well time to sneak out. There was no need to say bye to Dr. John because people these days don’t say good bye. Willo will leave half a glass of Guinness and a cigarette burning to give the impression that he is still around. Paulo heads off in the direction of the toilets then scarpers through the back door. Muloodi, we simply don’t know how he does it. One minute he is there and the next he is gone. Muzee pretends his phone has rang then walks out to a ‘quiet’ place to take the call - the quiet place being his car that is roaring away. I just walked out – just like that.

The following evening when we saw Dr. John, he was semi vexed. He said he thought that the previous night the crowd had been buying him beers but bleak. At that, I sank into my seat and kept mum. And he went on: “Then I packed up my stuff ready to come and re-join kimeeza but it was empty. All I found was Isaiah (his driver) waiting to take me home.”

And with much regret, Dr. John did not play music that night which necessitated me breaking into the 20k note. What was his problem? All we wanted him to do was some video mixing. Was that too much to ask from him? If his late father still had the energy to do a victory lap after scooping the gold medal, what was another day of mixing to Dr. John?

Expelled From School And Sent to Prison

I was fortunate enough, that during my academic career, I was never suspended or expelled from school – not because I was a good boy who to...