Moving On

My first real encounter with young passionate Ugandans chasing a big dream came in form of the Lantern meet of Poets. Man they breathe(d) passion! I vividly remember the day Lillian told me about the group and her subsequent excitement as they planned their first recital. It was a mix of eagerness and fear. Last year she reminded me that I sat with her backstage until it was her turn. Frankly all I remember from that recital was sitting proudly in the audience and resisting the urge to whisper to all my neighbours, ‘that’s my girl.’ I marvelled at her effortless ability to command the stage, her eloquence and confidence. I watched the other poets in awe, some visibly anxious and others whose performances said to us “I was born for this!”

lantern

Lillian and I had tested our rhymes as naughty teenagers in High school. She would pass a note that read “What do you think of the colour red?” and I would reply “Let us start by looking under the bed” or something silly along those lines. Before we knew it, we would have a complete poem, mostly full of stupidity, I might add. This would go on for most of the lesson, particularly the Political Education class which was most relaxed. I caught Mr. Miwa noticing me, noticing him, noticing us a few times but he never did penalise us.  I guess he decided our grades would speak for themselves or he just let ‘children’ be children. I don’t remember us failing though, it was quite an interesting class. One of the few for me, actually. Ask me about Physics though, I’ll come at you with a pendulum clock.

Fast forward to several years later and the Lantern meet partnered with my alma mater. It brought a certain joy to my heart. I thought if they had existed in my time, I would probably have joined in. At that point in my life, words were surely my escape. Perhaps I wouldn’t have gathered the courage to hit the stage but I would have liked to be in the presence of those realities, admiring the string of words and stories woven.

Speaking of words, I have never really found myself worthy to critique writing, any art really. I feel almost as if I would be dictating how the artist should feel, how they need to express their emotions; how they should interpret their thoughts and package them for the audience. I find that a tad unjust. While the audience certainly matters, I feel like sometimes we lose ourselves, our original message, trying so hard to fit into their expectations…but that’s just me.

I can still hear the echoes of “This revolution will not be televised” and how I left that evening thinking “Woah! What a time to be alive!”

Each time I got a chance to watch the Lantern meet at the National theatre, it brought back fond memories of my relationship with the place. As a Primary school pupil in the school choir, making it to the theatre was the equivalent of the Olympics. We participated in competitions that were held in schools all over the country but only the crème de la crème made it to the finals at National theatre. I suppose it would have been even more exhilarating if we had to travel miles to get there but unfortunately, I studied only a few metres away. Nonetheless, it was a thrilling experience for my young excitable mind. We weren’t half bad either. I remember crying inconsolably when I was about 10 years old, after we emerged second, nationwide! Ha! If only I knew then what I know now, I would tell little Esther to celebrate that ‘win’ and savour it. I would assure her that life would present so many more reasons to cry and this was one of the better days. Thankfully, ‘we’ never lost the passion and we did lose that competitive gene. Now, doing our best is good enough and I wish mini- me had known that.

After almost a decade, the Lantern meet of poets has decided to bow out. I have not had the chance to get the scoop on this scoop. I know for a fact that I would have loved to have them around forever but then again I am sure they have their reasons.

I would like to salute you for dreaming, for growing, for reminding us to appreciate the power of poetry, of words of rhythm and rhymes.

You were just but University students armed with a dream and a canvass when you began, look how much beauty you left us!  You created a movement, a force to reckon with and we are indebted to you for that.

 

I started this hoping to write a short piece celebrating the Lantern meet of poets and inviting you all to the last recital but 800 words later here we are. *smh*

If you are in Kampala this Saturday, come and say goodbye to them in style. The show will begin at 7pm. Tickets go for Ugx 20,000 and are already on sale at National Theatre.

lantern-meet

 

Your stories gave us light. Thanks for the memories!

 

 

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In the beginning

When Linda dreamt of travelling the world, she figured it would be only for pleasure; to relax, learn about different cultures, meet several people, make friends out of strangers, experiment with various cuisines, write and then live to tell the tale. As with most dreams, the package was considerably different when it arrived.

Her chance at a London experience showed up in form of a scholarship that she never imagined she would get but that is a story for another day.

Linda’s departure was mostly heartwarming with a hint of pain that was safely tucked away for future reference. She spent time with her loved ones, most of whom passed on a word of advice or a gift and lots of laughter. Others shared something even more precious, time. The distractions were quite welcome as she did not have too much time to think about the changes that were yet to come.

At the airport, she shocked herself when her friends left and no tears welled up in her eyes. Progress, she thought.

She took a corner sit and drank a cup of tasteless overpriced coffee. It wasn’t long before her stomach reacted and begged to be released from that misery. It could have been the anxiety, the terrible coffee or both. She did not care. She needed to be physically prepared for the 15 hours ahead. “Will there be enough leg room, will I manage to catch some sleep, shall my neighbour snore?” were some of the questions running through her head.

When she spotted Maureen*, whom she had not seen in years, she smiled to herself. If Ian had been there, he would have started a long speech about how she knows someone in every part of the world. She walked over to Maureen and tapped her shoulder. Maureen turned around and her face could not hide the surprise. They caught up for a while before an announcement was made. Boarding would begin shortly. They exchanged contacts and Linda caught up with the other two Ugandans with whom she was traveling to London.

Helen* was wearing a ‘kitenge‘ dress and open shoes, much to Linda’s surprise. Was this an attempt to bask in the glory of African heritage in the meantime or did she not have any warm clothing? Linda decided to pose the question as she could not imagine how Helen hoped to deal with the winter upon arrival in the UK. Her fears were confirmed when Helen explained that she planned to shop in Doha during the two hour layover. Linda started to spell out that the prices would probably be outrageous but quickly realised that her counterpart was quite unruffled. She then offered what little garments she had in her hand luggage and went on to scroll through the available entertainment.

The intern was an easy choice as she needed something with a simple story line and a chance for laughs. Alas, the laughs came with tears too. It was difficult to tell if the emotions were entirely brought on by the movie or if it was simply the spur that the heart needed to face its imminent situation.

The hours flew by, laced with drama from the little toddlers sitting next to her,some depressing music from Adele and failed attempts at sleep. The minutes before landing at Doha were a complete delight, everything sparkled like a collection of jewels. All she could think of was the vastness of God’s empire and its boundless beauty.

The two hour layover confirmed the fears about airport prices. Helen found a pair of jeans at $200. She settled for a pack of socks at $21. Linda caught herself a little too late when she  started to ask Helen why she had not shopped in Downtown Kampala where things would have been much cheaper. There was really no use crying over spilled milk.

The group grew larger when the Ugandans got to meet the group from Kenya (which is the biggest) and the lone Tanzanian. They were reunited, a year after their first encounter. Odd hugs and handshakes were exchanged as everyone tried to remember each others names and grab a seat pending the connecting flight to Heathrow.

Linda later found a seat further away, prior to boarding. She met Isaac,* a Nigerian who had traveled back home for the holidays and was returning to work in London. He tried to convince her that Uganda had pyramids until they agreed that he must have meant Sudan. He was quick to offer tour guide services when he learnt it was Linda’s first time in London. Mmmhh.

The remaining journey was longer, ‘bumpy’ and did not have enough distractions. Attempts to sleep as late as 3a.m were futile but Linda did not stop trying and frantically looking at the clock. Alas, there was no winning.

At 6.40 a.m, after what seemed like decades, the plane finally landed at Heathrow. This marked the final step, in the beginning of this new journey for 15 East Africans, many of whom are parents, continuing with their Masters’ degree, several miles from home.

In the following weeks, we shall stalk Linda and all her ‘maalo’ as she meets people,discovers places and deals with her very first winter.

Google image

Google image

 

 

Ode to my sunflower

Somebody new is in your room. It feels wrong. It is like somebody moved the furniture and I hit my head against a closet that wasn’t where it used to be. Will I like her? Will she like me? Shall we get along?
Let’s face it. There will never be another you.
Oh my sunflower! I found a piece I wrote about you two years ago here. Still, it feel like it was only yesterday!
On Thursday you told me you would leave on Sunday. You promised to call and visit despite the distance. I asked if you were happy. You replied. “Ye, Essie. Leka ngende mpumulemu.” (Yes Essie, let me go and rest)
I walked away with a choking feeling in my throat. Was this really goodbye?
I would love for your new business to succeed, for you to fall in love, have some mini yous running around. I wish for you only happiness and bountiful love.

Of course I did not think you would stay forever, but the reality hits that much harder you know.
Thank you for listening when I needed someone to rant to. Sometimes you asked why ‘Liz stopped visiting’ and I would tell you she did something nasty. Then you would tell me all the mannerisms you had noticed, such great discernment.
We used to agree on which stories would break mom’s heart and why we should not tell her. Surely, there’s no denying that you grew into a lovely sister.
The gifts and your sneaky ways. The ‘wise men’ who wanted to surprise me needed to speak to you nicely. We would be together and you would get a phone call and walk away. Some minutes later, you would arrive with a bouquet of flowers or a gift. Ever so devious!

Last year on the eve of my birthday, I was duped into a dinner..only for two friends to leave early for ‘other commitments.’ It was on the morning of my birthday that I realised what had happened. I found a breakfast table full of gifts and cake. Of course! It all made sense. I felt like a little girl on Christmas morning (of bulaya definitely) as I opened each gift. I don’t remember eating. In fact I turned down evening plans that day so I could just sit in my room and thank the Lord for my amazing family and friends. You were part of a beautiful memory, you often were.
When I didn’t pick my phone up and my friends suspected I was home. They immediately called you. They didn’t want to hear about my ‘phone is always in silent mode’ nonsense. Goodness, what shall we all do without you?
Just a few weeks ago I was extremely sick and just as weak but still trying to play superwoman. You ordered me into the bathroom, warmed some water and gave me a thorough scrub. Surely, you understand how difficult this is?
Every morning for as long as I can remember, you have been the first face as I see. The first ‘wasuze outya?’and ever since I started dealing with insomnia, after asking how I slept, you quickly asked if I actually slept.

At night, you sometimes sat with me and dozed off as I had a late supper. I’d tell you to go to bed and you would assure me how you are awake. Seriously, there’s a drug in that television that puts people to sleep. These little things meant the world.
You always cooked a hearty breakfast when you knew I hadn’t eaten the night before..gave me options when my stomach played tricks. You understood my love for tea, like no other. Some days you asked if I wanted another cup <at an odd hour> and I always responded the same way. “When have I ever said no to tea?” You made mandazi for us and by us, I mean family, 4040 meetings, the kids breakfasts. Name it. Surely you are already a mother simply waiting for a child.
Speaking of 4040. Gosh the errands you have had to carry out! You were a member of the team in every sense of the word. Helping me pack and unpack a host of items before and after or events, helping me sneak out mum’s flasks full of tea and dishes for our strategy meetings, (even if we were often caught) listening to our grand plans, hearing about most of the issues that I could explain and advising, buying some of the items we sold to raise money. I really could go on. This meant a lot.
The way you spoilt my siblings, folks and I shall definitely stay with us for a long time if not forever. To be honest I only vaguely remember my childhood nannies, if at all. Perhaps it’s because I met you when I was already a teen, heavily enhanced by your beautiful heart. You are my favourite and that is putting it mildly.
Did I mention your constant faith and prayer that held me steadfast in the belief that everything would work out? I constantly shared my testimonies with you because I knew you would get it.
On Saturday night, mom and I handed you our gifts and said our goodbyes amidst sobs. When you noticed the awkward silence that followed, you go down on your knees and said a beautiful prayer in Runyoro..oh it was like music!
On Sunday I escorted you to your brother’s home and we chatted some more. It was like I was giving my sister away to another family..but then again, you are our family, his, bound by blood and us by love.
I know mum and I (mostly) will miss you greatly, as will everyone else who encountered your soul through us. I mean it’s been almost a decade! I know that somehow, we shall be okay.
I am going to do a few things in your honour that I will tell you about when the time comes.
For now though, may my beautiful sunflower, Monica only continue to blossom.

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