Saturday, December 27, 2014

They Must Be ISIS or Boko Haram

In Uganda, we are fond of generalizing. When we see men (usually) having a beer at 9:00am, we are quick to label them drunks. Anybody who is super skinny with pink lips, we say they are riddled with HIV/AIDS, while anybody with dreadlocks is into drugs.

Over the years, I find I have slowly been sucked into generalizing, a move that a few years ago slid me into hot water. Near Pride Theatre in Old Kampala, I lashed out at two Somali’s whilst in a fit of road rage and called them Al Queada. For my troubles, Somali and in a pre-emptive strike, goofed me through the open window of my ride.

With terrorism on the rise, there is a need to be cautious, the need to report to the security authorities everything that we see and deem to be out of place or suspicious. However, seeing we don’t know what Terrorist looks like or what is suspicious, we end up generalizing.

On a recent flight and as we waited to board, American Lady sitting next to me, leans over whispering something along the lines of: “I hope they are not on our flight.” While it was a busy Entebbe airport, I didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know who she was referring to.

They were ten women, all clad from head to toe in burqa’s with a net like curtain at the front – presumably so they can see where they are going. The chatter American Lady spewed out was about the atrocities in Kenya and Syria and how women in burqa’s are strapped with explosives, are evil and are not to be trusted.

On the flight, my seat was at tail of the plane while Burqa Women sat just behind the first class compartment. It bought some comfort in that if they were as American Woman put it – ISIS and Al Shabab Women intent on blowing the plane out of the skies, sitting at the tail of the plane would have bought me a few more seconds of life over the rest.

American Woman sat two rows ahead of me - her head bobbing in and out of the aisle as she kept watch on her quarry, a move that made everybody nervous and earned her a whispered reprimand from Chief Purser who told her that not all women who wear burqa’s are ISIS or Al Shabab.

In transit in a coffee shop at Bole airport in Addis a few hours later, American Woman had a new terrorist to pick on. Addis is a major transit hub for flights to West Africa and seeing the airport was full of West Africans, American Woman labelled anybody with a West African accent as contaminated with Ebola or has something to do with Boko Haram.

But what does a Boko Haram terrorist look like? And despite Ebola being in the news for months on end, how did she come to the conclusion that anybody from West Africa is riddled with the disease?

While most people ignored or pretended to ignore her concerns, the few West African’s who took stock of her nonsensical chatter, stared at her in disbelief.

After listening to American Woman, I began seeing things that were really not there - that maybe American Woman is right about every West African wearing a boubou being a Boko Haram affiliate and Ebola infected and every woman in a burqa is ISIS or Al Shabab yet, I shouldn’t be thinking that way. I shouldn’t be generalizing because my West African friends who wear boubou’s don’t have Ebola and the one Somali woman who I know well and who sometimes wears a burqa, is not Al Shabab or ISIS. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

No Church This Christmas. All I Want Is My Sunday Vision Bonus!

There is, more to the month of this December than it merely being the last month of 2014 and the month of the Christmas festivities. It is, also the month of bonuses.

December is that critical month, the month when bosses ‘are supposed’ to bestow upon us a bonus as a sign of gratitude for the hard work we have done over the year. Even House-ee, as she heads off to kyalo, she too, expects her December pay plus bonus.

Security Guard who works for Saracen will also expect a double bonus – one from his employer Saracen and the other from you, the person whose house he guards. Grass Cutter whom you have been calling since the start of December to come and do the needful but to no avail, will suddenly materialise this Christmas week. He too is also thinking of his bonus while with no tact, Traffic Policewoman will spit it out in black and white and simply say: “Eh, you have not left me Christmas” after she stops you for a nonexistent traffic violation.

But it’s the church that bothers me – God, Bishop and Pastor et al whose eyes bulge at the thought of rich December bonuses like Pastor who has a church along Entebbe Road. In his church, you sit according to how much you expect to give him. Sh1m plus will get you a seat at the foot of the pulpit, 500k somewhere in the middle and 25k outside in the shade. But that’s not all. If he is to pray for you, as in a private prayer, it will cost you at least 1m plus. Hmm! And this Christmas day week, he will have no shortage of people willing to give him a bonus.

While Victor is an Oga from Ghana and holds the title of ‘Bishop’, he looks more like a shady doctor from the backstreets of Accra waiting to chloroform you so he can butcher your stomach open and make off with your kidneys. Hiding behind crocodile skin shoes and a starched Ghanaian robe, he does not use a bible for his biblical quotations but, an iPad.  

Watching him at the pulpit, he exhibits no religious traits and ends everything he babbles out with: ‘money’. He told us: “You can’t expect the Lord to look favourably upon you if you go to him empty handed.....dig into your pockets, pull out a note and hold it up for the Lord to see.” Me pull out my 10k note? Was he on crack? Like a few others, I pulled out 200 shillings which did not go down well with him. He harassed us into pulling out notes and there went the 10k into a basket, a basket that was taken into a back room and never to be seen again.

As the service drew to a close, he held up envelopes and told us: “Come and get an envelope for the Lord. Put in 100k, 200k, 500k or 1m. If you don’t have the money, go and borrow. If you can’t afford your donation in one go, you can do it in two instalments.” Hmm, God wants us to end the year in debt?

But as I wait for my Sunday Vision bonus, can God really justify getting a bonus this year? I mean, when House-ee was busy goofing and trampling on 18-Month-Old Kid recently, where was God? Was he engrossed in watching Mary Luswatta on Scoop on Scoop, Big Brother Africa and re-runs of Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear that he didn’t notice the melee unfold? Seeing he did bleak, I really don’t think he deserves a bonus – do you? Anyway, if I do end up in church on Christmas day, look for me in the cheap 1k seats at the far end of the car park. And on that religious bombshell, have a good Christmas!    

Saturday, December 13, 2014

What's The Beef With Waiter and Waitress

Just why do Waiter and Waitress want us to be rude to them – to be called “stupid” and “mbuzi”? But they force us to use those words on them. They really do.

Nodin was straight to the point. “Do you have one of those bar mats I could use?” Waiter and trying to muster up all his self confidence let out a small whisper: “A mat?” which was followed by a silence and a stare off. Finally Waiter broke the silence and spewed out the unexpected. He said: “You want a mat for sitting on? No, we don’t have any of them.” For his efforts, Waiter earned himself a mouthful of not-so-kind words from us.

On another outing, we asked Waitress how much a beer costs and in a crisp clear voice, she replied: “3k”. Doing our arithmetic, we concluded that with the dime we had, we could afford four bottles each. When she served the first round of drinks, I pulled out 6k and that’s when trouble started. She looked at the 6k with a ‘what is this’ look?

“There is balance of 1k.” I thought I got my sums wrong – but wait a minute, two beers at 3k = 6k not so?  Then she starts the weepy tale. “Now you see, 3k is only for Club, Bell and Nile. The rest are sh3,500.” Why did she have to force us to call her mbuzi under our breath?

I was out in a backwater kafunda near Mbuya barracks with Lucy who has the burden of editing this column and my order was precise. “Tusker, Coke and glass.” I also threw in a ‘please’ for good measure. When she came back, all was well until I saw the glass. It was that small glass, the glass that hotels use for juice at breakfast.

Trying to explain that she had bought a breakfast juice glass instead of a beer glass would not have been a wise move for she would have given me a: “You asked for a glass and I gave you a glass now, quit bitching” look which forced me to slip out a quiet ‘stupid’. 

Winfred, is one of those ladies who is not into confrontation. If Waiter or Waitress makes a mistake, she lets it slide. It’s her philosophy. When Waitress showed up to take the order, this was the very brief spiel.

Waitress: “Yes?”
Winfred: “A Coke please.”

There was no answer from Waitress. She simply turned on her heels and came back with a Krest which she was about to open until I interjected saying: “I think she asked for a Coke not so?”

“But Coke is over” she responded and while she did try to improvise, she might have opted for Pepsi which, is a near twin to Coke. But a Krest and attempt to open it without out consulting the person who had made the order, that was not on. Ugly words came out which did not go down well with her that, for the rest of our stay we got a hostile service.

Waiter and Waitress don’t like polite customers. Period! They want us to be rude to them. To put the case to rest, despite repeated and very polite attempts to get the attention of Waitress by calling out: “Excuse me nyabo”, she stood leaning against a pillar with an: ‘I wonder what’s on Bukedde TV’ look. So I employed a king cobra hiss on her. Her ears perked up and with a positive attitude she scanned the gardens and came scurrying to take my order. Nsenene Hawker who was across the street and who thought the hiss was directed at him also fell in!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

To Freshen Up or Okufuka Wa?

Her butt and one that had none of the touches of an African butt – as in no flesh or curves but, flat as an ironing board had barely sat down next to me and I already knew she came from Iowa in the US, that her grandparents had fled Budapest, Hungary shortly before the Iron Curtain went up, she was an Orthodox Jew, has four sisters and two brothers, she misses her cocker spaniel dog and that she is doing volunteer work somewhere in the backstreets of Luwero. 

How she managed to throw out all those words in between mouthfuls of pasta, glasses of wine and a cheese cake dessert was a feat that even the ‘motor mouth’ – Andrew Mwenda that is, would not have been able to pull off.

Somewhere down the line, she leant over and politely excused herself saying: “I am going to freshen up.” “I am going to freshen up” is an imported saying to Uganda and I don’t know who brought it here – the Europeans or Americans?

As she marched her-no-flesh butt off to the washrooms there was time to ponder what exactly “I am going to freshen up” means. Was she going to pee? Wash her face, armpits and apply more makeup? Perhaps she went to brush her teeth? Could it be a worst case scenario of wanting a change of underwear?

Whatever it is that she went to do, even if she had said it out loud, it was polite, subtle, and warm and there would be no need for anybody to say: “Did she really have to say that out loud?”

As it is, she came back looking fresher with colour in her cheeks along with a fresh coating of perfume.

We all have different ways in asking to go to the toilets. When I returned to Uganda in the late 90s I was at Yakobo’s pork joint in Ntinda and politely asked Waitress where ‘the bathroom’ was. I said it because it was what I was used to saying in England. She swung me a quizzical look and simply stood there waiting for me to reaffirm what I had just asked her. And I did. Hesitantly, she asked me to follow her round the back of the building and pointed at a door.

Inside the door, there was no toilet or urinal, but a shower head and a basin with a scrubber and a tablet of Imperial Leather soap on the window still.

This was no toilet and when I came out in a flash, she was standing there still, with a quizzical look. “Toilet?” I asked to which she pointed to a different door.

Ugandan men on the other hand, at least ‘the uncouth - I didn’t go to school types’, always feel the need to announce to the world their intentions. And yes, they won’t ask for the washrooms. Instead, they stand up and shout ‘eewe’ or ‘gwe’ to the nearest waiter or waitress and while tugging at their crotches, they bark out: “Okufuka wa?” (to pee where?). Some take it a step further by holding on to their bottoms while shouting out: “Toilet, toilet wa?”

But why the need to ask while tugging at the crotch or holding on to ones bottom? Does that tug at the crotch ram the message home faster to whoever they are asking? Do Waiters or Waitress need to know that we want to go for number two? No they don’t.

Suffice to say that that even some of the lowly class Ugandan women will say they are going to freshen up. But the Ugandan man, he still has a long way to go.      

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