Strange firsts

It is an unusually busy time at school. Everybody has a deadline here, a draft to submit there and of course there is the daunting task of the pending dissertation. Conversations have grown shorter and and everyone is always rushing somewhere. Linda feels the pressure and constantly looks for ways to take a breather once in a while. This morning before heading to school, she chose to visit a colleague on her floor who has been missing in action. Someone might be battling depression in their room while life continues for the others. Luckily, she found Patrick alive and well. He was in the process of making an omelette and in high spirits. They chatted for a while and she said her goodbyes just before it got awkward. “Do I offer her my omelette? Do I make her another? Wait, I am out of eggs…, how does this work?” and other such mind boggling questions.

When Linda realised she was running out of time. She considered using the tube (underground train) which is much faster, or settling for the slower paced, and considerably cheaper, bus option. She settled for the latter and would later be strangely satisfied with this decision. She got onto the bus and immediately went upstairs for it presented a better view of London. Even if she kept seeing the same sites on this route, it was still better than the cold, mostly unfriendly, tube rides. It wasn’t long before a foul smell hit her. She noticed the further she walked, the worse it got so she settled for another seat. One lady whose first language was probably not English exclaimed “smell!” and Linda nodded. She left. Linda waited for the next stop so she could also move downstairs.She thought the bus would stop for a while but it started without warning and then ‘walala!,‘ she ‘flew from the first step to the bottom and hit herself hard on the ‘wall.’ For a second, she didn’t know what had just happened. Breathe.Stay calm. Get up. Thankfully, she only hit her body so the head was ‘safe.’ A gentleman by the steps asked her if she was alright, and went on to talk about how dangerous those stairs were <“Is he really talking to me?”, she kept asking herself>
After all the cold stares, and false smiles she’d grown accustomed to in London, a short conversation with a stranger was definitely something to write home about. When she thought people had ‘forgotten’ about the loud thump, she walked over to a lady who had a free seat next to her “Do you mind?,” Linda asked and the lady moved. “Did you hurt yourself?,” she asked, concerned. Twice in one day? Something strange was certainly going on.

The bus was quiet again until a lady *not Mzungu* who’d only just got in stormed towards the bus driver “There is a terrible smell in this bus and I want to get out, now!,” she yelled. The poor old man got up and walked around the bus. H explained that he had a cold and as a result could not smell anything. She asked for a ‘new’ ticket and said she’d get on another bus immediately. He obliged. Now that they could ‘openly’ talk about it. The sweet old lady in front of Linda remarked, “I can’t smell anything.” Sweet old lady on the right responded “You are lucky.” Linda went on to explain that it was much worse at the top and that is why she had moved. Sweet old lady number 1 was so giddy. “I am having a lovely morning, people are usually so mean and angry, I am just glad we can all get to talk.” Linda’s sentiments exactly. She told her ‘new friends’ how she dropped her grand daughter at school three times a week and always found people to be in too much of a hurry. “They are texting and knocking everyone without even looking up,” she complained. She turned to Linda and masked a whisper “I always tell my Bell to wiggle her legs in the stroller and when they look up I’ll say, Sorry I guess you didn’t see us coming.” This naughty Jajja was too sharp 😀 The two old ladies realised they were both going till the last stop and would have to withstand the smell Linda was almost at her destination. “Is anyone still at the top?, old lady number 2 asked. As if on cue, a gentleman and a lady walked down looking disgusted. “It’s the smell, isn’t it?” she asked. They replied in the affirmative. It is a wonder they had stayed that long. The debate began on if it was urine or the smell of a corpse. *It seems imaginations run wild in places were people rarely talk to each other*

Google image

Google image

Linda had actually began to enjoy this random kaboozi, in a random setting with even more random participants. When she got to her stop, she wished them a good day just as sweet old lady number one called out to her “We can see you are running away!”

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Out and about

The life of a student is a complicated one, especially when in a place away from home. You want to work hard and excel but you also need to take in the sights and sounds, uncertain whether you shall get another opportunity to indulge.

Linda is no different. She looks at her to do list and then turns to her ‘to visit’ list soon after. Imagine her joy when she realised some of the must see places were next door to her residence!

When Linda was certain she was going to London, she shared her address with her brother. He looked it up and exclaimed what a great location it was. Filled with anxiety and related emotions at the time, she did not fully comprehend what he meant, until Sunday.

On Sunday, she arranged to meet her brother’s friend James.* He had agreed to take her to church, and show her some sights.

The walk to church was practically 5 minutes, a great relief for her knowing her Sundays were sorted. Westminster cathedral stood there, in all its grandeur and poise. Staring would be for later. First the mass.

It was a beautiful sermon that recreated Jesus’ baptism and its meaning to the lives of Christians. The message may have not been very new, but its delivery was.

After mass, the two took a short tour of the chapels and James wondered aloud, why African churches did not also adopt the concept of little chapels within the cathedrals.

With a variety of restaurants to choose from, they settled for an Italian restaurant called “Zizzi.” Not in the mood to experiment, Linda ordered a pizza, as did her host.

PP

It turned out to be the right decision as the pizza was scrumptious. The olive oil availed to use with reckless abandon was a plus.

What followed was nothing short of a little adventure. The walk to various sights was like a scene from a movie, or perhaps more than one. From Buckingham palace to Hyde park to the Houses of Parliament and a quick stop at Downing street, it became increasingly improbable for Linda to keep her eyes from widening (or her jaw from dropping)

Piccadily circus, surrounded by theatres, cinemas and restaurants offered a great atmosphere filled with energy and lights, lots of them. This was followed by a walk through Leicester square which houses several theatres that are often used for movie Premieres (All those red carpet moments seen on t.v suddenly struggled to be remembered)

leicester-square-09

big ben

As James and Linda walked returned from their view of Big Ben and the London eye, Linda couldn’t help but make out the sounds of Sam Smith’s, “stay with me.” When they turned around, a gentleman, with chubby cheeks, probably in his twenties, stood there belting out the lyrics, guitar in hand..and guitar case filled with coins. His voice was sultry and seemingly effortless.

She asked James if they could stay and watch. Before long, a small crowd formed. His rendition of Passenger’s ‘Let her go’ was tear-worthy (in a good way) At this point it was 4 degrees and the wind was unamused too. They left shortly after this song. This was not before James passed Linda a pound to tip the talented young man. It was quite possibly the best pound she’d ‘spent’ since she got there.

They started to walk back. Next day being a work/school day.  Time seemed to have stopped in Linda’s head.

At a cinema en route, they stopped for warm beverages. Linda looked at the cinema’s prices. Movie at £18??Sssh…Surely Channing Tatum ought to give you at least a hug during the movie at that rate, no?

It was quite difficult to do much when Linda got back to her residence. She ate the leftovers of her pizza and gave thanks to the Lord for opportunities, kind acquaintances and life.

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Free food!

The day started out cold and rainy. All Linda could think of were the excuses people would be making to cut work or make their way out of appointments back at home.

She found a colleague and they set off for the train station.

Controller at the train station : Are you Kenyan?

Linda: No, Ugandan

Guy:  *In heavy British accent* Ogamba ki?

Linda: *Wide grin* Gendi mani….

The ride to the University was smooth and fast.

The venue for the ‘new’ student’s meeting was a bevy of activity as Linda settled in her seat.

She said hello to her neighbour who happened to be Australian. As they got to talking he asked her if she knew the singer Roberto and if he was from Uganda 😀

Linda: The one who sang ‘amarula?’

Him: Yes! Is he Ugandan?

Linda: I wish. He is Zambian

Him: I love that song!

Great ice breaker. Before long, they were catching up like old friends.

With a few hours to spare before the next session, Linda and her friends took a stroll to pick up their student IDs. The campus seems to have a new building that pops up every other minute.

At the orientation, the group had been told about a gentleman who serves free lunch daily and had been toying with the idea of trying it out.  Free food in London? Why not?! Some of the other students were sceptical but Linda was happy to try anything at least once.

By 12pm, the queue was filling up. They were curious about the food for that day’s serving and quickly joined in.

It turned out to be rice, some bread, mushroom sauce and even strawberries! (for dessert perhaps?) The portions were quite big too. Best of all, it was hot!

hot food

 

Daniel, by far the funniest guy in the lot, started to exclaim that he would not buy any food for as long as he was at the University. He started mapping out a route in which he would head to school daily, with or without lectures just for the food. Daniel even vowed to get a seat in the library with perfect view of the serving area so as to arrive on time.

This is the same guy who earlier said he had  plain ugali (posho) for breakfast that day because he was unsure when his next meal would come 😀

Linda could not get over the guy who cooks and serves this food and made a mental note to get him to tell his story, at a later stage. If this happens, we get to ‘hear’ it here 🙂

 

More next time.

 

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