Tales From Buganda

REMEMBERING UGANDA

Baganda

You check on your friend. You and him are internet nomads. What that means Mr. Slow Getter is you earn a living freelancing on the internet. He is well. He says. Not that as you called you doubted his wellbeing. Nope! Calling is a more physical interaction for you guys who wish each other well through regular online messages. You meet often online till it appears as if you see each other daily. You talk, talk and talk for you aren’t sure when next it will be a phone call.

In between you settle on something challenging. Something out of the ordinary. Something that will pull you out of the chair-zone behind the key boards; the place you call office. It is all about killing monotony and finding wild fun. Not that what you do is boring. It’s freaking joy. In case you dint know, it makes you fucking bossy especially with the advent of the work from home Gospel by Tim Ferris!

 

Thing is you settle for a road challenge. No. At first it was never about doing a road trip. Initial thing was a trip towards upcountry (that freaking journey that consumes ten hours of your dwindling day not unless you are of the school of thought that goes Jambo jet) Yes upcountry drive was destined in solidarity with a close comrade whose loving mother had fallen. REST IN ETERNITY LOVING MUM. It is a success though. You wake up damn early and even manage to outrun that noisy weaver bird. The journey is slow, long, tedious but successful. The burial is a culmination of expression of sorrow and celebration of life well lived. You play your part and excuse yourselves. It is when the road trip Agenda strays in. You bow to it.

In between you have already trans-versed countless counties finding your way here. You are not sure but a rough estimate gives you a coverage of 2000 kilometers of road. You are determined to make it three thousands five hundred or there about. You feel when (noticed how I avoided ‘If’) you manage that kind of figure you will become super popular and brag to your friends about it and feel better about yourselves. And that your friends when they hear about that they will brag to their friends and feel better about themselves too. See? Everybody gets to brag to their friends and feel better about themselves. Am like a beacon of light, radiating douchey bragginess out into the world, uplifting one person at a time- like an Oprah for dickheads. You get to brag! And you get to brag! And you get to brag.

It rains in measures but that alone does not deter your now well thought out mission. So you walk on in the rains. Owing to culture you say hi to friends and foes along the way here and there. Where it’s necessary, you pick a taxi, then walk on, then pick a mat all in anticipation to cover some distance away from your usual horizons. The movement is swift save for the few distractions you brush off such as the rains. The night finds you at an all-boys (It reminds me of Revolution; Boys to Men) secondary school tucked in the heart of Siaya County. The school is called Rang’ala boys; a beast of a name. It’s here you are to pick a third comrade and by default spend the night. Look, you started the day at 4.am in Nairobi in the morning colds then here you are retiring way past midnight in a mosquitoes’ infested teachers Quarters in an all-boys school. It reminds you of the heydays as a scholar. Let’s not just go there comrades but it was a hell of a life though before this school burning became a celebrity thing!

You are up just in time and all set, the three of you; a full gang of three determined road trippers (is there such a word Marx?). You catch some school-like boring bus- the type that doesn’t play music and is aboard retirees trying their hand at ‘entrepreneurship’ coming back from the early morning Kiboswa Market. Bags lie on their laps. They carry them so treasured like they are stacked with their life savings but instincts are rife that they are stacked with dried fish because the air is pregnant with that smell. Who doesn’t like fish? I mean fish not the smell of raw dried fish. Who? By show of hands please. Your next destination is the lately hyped-Busia Town. You don’t close eyes on board because you are struggling to keep abreast with the surrounding locales. Your third comrade is a master of the place and he keeps doing his thing like he will get damn dollars for it. So he goes “….this place is Ugunja town. That is well, a shop and this is a tree blah blah blah” No one on the bus laughs. It’s like they have had way too many jokes or most possibly they do not understand a thing. Their faces though exude a futility of hope against a struggle for purpose. You conclude it must be a mistake retiring to business!

Zoom! Its destination just like that! Chaps scrabble for the door like they just heard some wannabe governor is dishing out notes outside the bus. The three of you sit on because none of you has been over here before. None. Even Mr. know this home zone. You prefer to get out last and talk to the guy you paid bus fare in low friendly tones “Boss, please show us Nakumatt Busia” It’s just adjacent where you are and it’s how it back fires in your faces. Thing is you needed to ask your way around this town not Nakumatt Busia; that’s no Google map.

It clicks your mind tips that you try reaching out to’ former’ friends who hail from here and none is forthcoming. The only one that comes through says he had just checked out to the city. You stray on confident but weary of losing way. You spot a sky scrapper, the only tallest building this side of the world by your SI measure. It’s a hotel. You move closer, then in ending at the reception. The confidence is still with you but the weariness has worn off. It’s like you were born right at the heart of this town. Damn! The receptionist, a dark skinned youth of about your age is quick to receive you blinded by your confidence. He suggests he guides you through the rooms before you settle for an option. You oblige and follow his back. It ends with you exchanging cards. The place is lovely good but your financial religion does not allow you to afford any of the packages. Not for that night but you don’t want to let him read that. So he books you under high net prospects unknowingly. You shake hands like those real estate moguls having closed off a deal to sell off the basement of Yaya center.

The next adventure is to sneak into Uganda and come back just in time but you don’t know how. In between you have managed to gather that Uganda is just a fence away. It’s how you promise our poor receptionist that you got some business in Uganda then come check in for a night and it’s how he foolishly booked you under high net prospects because you sighed 10k for an ensuite business room as cheap yet it was the most expensive package they had on offer.

Either way, one way of another you should find your way to Uganda by crude or means. It will be a life line for the three of you. Not that it means so much but it will crown this road challenge of yours. Where there is a will there is a way brethren. Can I here an Amen? A Good Samaritan sprouts from the blues aboard a black-mamba. He is a struggling, beaten but jovial man. He speaks but jokes mostly. To say the least he is a master of the trade pegged on how he puts across his words. He does his trade between Kenya and Uganda as you come to learn from him ferrying chaps back and forth with his age-tested bicycle for a living. In between, he pitches his idea and before you decide you have collectively awarded him in one accord the contract as chief tour guide. Based on his mastery, he has promised to show you around the banana republic and back. He puts it in a way you think its irresistible fun. He fetches up two more colleagues and off you go; three of them with bicycles’ ferrying each one of you. It’s long since you ever used such form of transport and boy is it not fun? I mean this is the crème dela crème of all the tours.

He is a born story teller, he talks talks and talks about entirely everything; him peddling like a pro, you perched on the carrier behind him with your comrades keeping a safe distance a head. Him and you lead the entire crew from behind. Once in a while he offers stoppage instructions and drums the three of you for a kamukunji with his colleagues waiting on the side lines. The Swahili chaps say, “When the monkey is marked for death all the trees get slippery” (siku ya kufa Nyani, miti zote huteleza) don’t worry about that though. Look, first the now tour guide makes sure he buys your trust, which he does so fast well. He makes you feel that he is part of you and that he means no harm but help. Then having succeed he makes sure that he drives fear down your spines but in the initial friendly tone though. You read no mischief even from the fact that all along you guys have not negotiated on price! In his many stop over kamkunjis, he first starts by asking if you are enjoying then he explains a few landmarks before finishing with the fact that you guys have entered Uganda illegally and you should be on the lookout for men in uniform he stresses the fact that he is in control and all is well. You ride on. The place is poor but promising. In the final stop over in which he makes his end game kill, by virtue of “having remembered” all of a sudden, he narrates that ferrying around Kenyan cash deep inside Uganda is a crime and the police can easily spot you. You see fear is real. As a counter solution because he runs the game, he offers to take you guys to a “Bureau” where you will partially exchange your Kenyan cash for Ugandan then later come pick Kenyan cash as you check out. Deal, you think.

The “Bureau” is no lovely exchange bureau de change you are used to in Nairobi rather it’s some guy running his trade inside a third rating boutique on a dusty road adjacent an Equity Bank. It’s suspicious but those stories of sijui when you go to Rome do what Romans do popes your mind. You start to imagine that’s how things are done in Uganda. You had a deal before remember? You guys flock into the place like caged up refugees. Fear has won you now. You feel no Nairobi freedom. It starts getting you guilty that you had crossed over. Our guy though keeps psyching you up. It works. It happens you don’t have so much liquid cash on you. It’s a round figure of around 2800 Kenya shillings but gang you are about to go “RICH” it’s a rags to riches story! You ask your friend if all this is not similar to the Nairobi Wash-wash tales. He gives a resounding No. You trust him. You have always done. You trust the guide then the newest character; the guy with the money! The one who has by now convinced you that his exchange rate is 15. Yes and it’s what he is holistically offering you at a promise to pick back your cash at the same rate. He says with you he is doing no business. According to him, he is only doing a favor of ‘holding your cash’ As he proposed his rate you converse with your colleague and mention the market rate as being 30 for Kenya to Uganda 25 for Kenya to Tanzania but your host’s strong convincing prowess stands out, so you settle for his favor.

Your friend goes first, he fetches out kshs 2000 and a whooping Ush 30, 000 is flung to him. You see I mentioned rags to riches and you thought ad gone nuts. You come second; you search your pockets and hand over kshs 800 with a kshs 20 to boot. Mr. Money bag in return rewards you with Ushs 12, 000 in notes with an additional Ushs500 in a single coin. Have you found time to watch Dj Khalid’s balling video? Now this is it in practice. This nigga does his trade like he runs the show. It’s like all girls of that subsection know him by his second name. I mean he swings over those notes like money is his last worry, like he doesn’t need them. You easily start thinking he is tendering in his papers for Nairobi Gubernatorial race come 2017 and Kidero sir here is real competition, meet Mr. Money bag. Dint I tell you money runs this town? Your third comrade is as broke as church mouse. He has nothing to exchange. You laugh at him but wait he will laugh at you dead hard. “Just how do you make it in this town without money?” You joke. Here we are two rich niggas with a broke comrade but who cares when you have real notes lining your back trouser pockets causing your trousers to sag and you to walk like a college kid bawling rolling with swag on the streets. You promise him that his case is rested for you guys are loaded. Look here, your kshs 2820 just transformed to Ushs 42,500.

Your guides are waiting outside like vultures. Look the initial deal was to just pope nose into Uganda and back but here they are with a new hot offer, they want to drop you off to Igembe; that place they say men’s classy wear is sold at toe-mah-toe price. You have money. You are all arrogant. You agree even without questioning. They helter skelter drop you to some bus stop that should connect you to that Igembe town of Uganda. You dish out three a thousand shillings note and give each one of them; you are already doing it like that Mr. Money bag. The thing with money, it comes with arrogance. Then the arrogance crowns you with some fake confidence.

“How much to Igembe?”

“Three thousand shillings each” (with a disturbing Ugandan accent)

You don’t hear that each part. Those are peanuts, you think. You board, the three of you. Everyone offers hard stares. They can tell you are Kenyans from the way you are commandeering. They can relate with the popular Eurobond stories they have been hearing but they keep mum only talking with their eyes. The vehicle takes off. It’s like it was only waiting for the three of you. It makes you feel important like you run this town.

Now here is the story, when perhaps you happen to step foot in Uganda and they award you those many notes, please and I use the word please, act quick and stop thinking like a Kenyan and switch to thinking like a Ugandan. Thing is a Kenyan with kshs 42,500 is balling rich. I mean what can’t he not do in this town? Especially on an idle Saturday weekend when Arsenal is struggling to salvage relevancy against a resilient LECEISTER City, he can buy all revelers booze in a joint up of Moi Avenue. Some will say this guy is man enough but a fair majority will drink to their full and say look, he is only splashing on us to compensate for his small pecker or he is a ‘pharmacist’ to mean he does drugs; the hard ones not over the counter stuff. Yet some will way lay you on your way home hopes wide spread to keep the balance for themselves. The deal breaker though, all the girls will put up with your bad looks and pose for selfies and go #Sponsor-manenos and just like that you are an overnight sensational. What happened to the days a man would spend his hard earned money in this town without raising eye brows? On the contrary a Ugandan with Ushs 42,500 is broke-ass poor. Let’s not even go into budgeting. How do you even budget that dear accountants?

The distance is disturbingly long and the money tends to emit heat from where it sits in the pocket. Nobody alights. No one gets in. You go on and on. It’s rubber against the road. The chap at the door keeps picking notes for fare. It’s the turn of the three of you. You offer to pay. Again you ask him “how much sir the three of us to Igembe?” (In midiwos voice) He says 9,000. You reach for your back pocket, You count all the notes from front then from the back front, the figure does not change its 9,000. That’s all you have after dishing out 3,000 for the riders. You turn back to your friend and ask him to pay. He does. The arrogance starts washing off. So does the confidence. You start discussing about the rates again in audible voices. It’s how you meet a Kenyan friend on that mat. It turns out that that Mr. Money Man was to give you double of what he did (Ushs 85000) imagine what that could have done to you guys! You curse but are determined to find him on your way back but already more than half is spent. Wait, that’s drama or is it ndrama?

The Kenyan friend advices you alight at the next town which happens to be Bugira for the said Igembe is tucked on the furthest south towards Jinja town. You get out and stray through the Bugira shopping center. You keep asking commodity prices. They keep answering in Ugandan shillings. It is challenging for you do quick conversions of-head to Kenyan shillings before giving a counter offer. Did I mention Math was a problem? At this point, poverty has checked in and you have started thinking like Kenyans with Ugandan shillings!

Bugira town is dead boring like a lonely village tagged along a busy road. You hush up and pick a mat back to where you started counting up to four hours apart. The journey back is a boring one. All of a sudden you realize the three of you are broke. You know that feeling? The feeling of a grown-ass man broke as hell seated next to a pretty Ugandan lady on mat with undying temptation to pay her seat and open a conversation. You keep glaring through the window. Your eyes meet the plain fields, swampy and untended. “Why can’t those land sellers on Thika road invade this market? The houses are an indication of a population struggling with abject poverty behind a leadership you read in news is dictatorial.

First stop is at the “Bureau De Change” you are lucky as lurk to unexpectedly bump into Mr. Money bag tucking away a bunch of notes into his jeans trousers. He is a shocked man. You confront him head on but he is quick to find a sneak out.

“My boys, how was the tour?”

“We are good, but we want our money back”

“Easy easy, nimemaliza cash ya Kenya, wacheni niwapeleke kwa beshte yangu awasort”

This is how you lose him as the new merchant takes over. You introduce your case. He offers to take the Ugandan notes in exchange for Kenyan money at a rate of 35 Percent. That’s a shocker. After your expedition all you have on you is Ushs 21, 000. So the other guy duped you! It’s exasperating. The thing with money it loses value in a dink of a second. By exchanging your cash at 15%, you lost half the value. Taking this new offer automatically cancels another half-plus of the remaining cash. So this niggas are determined to push you out of town. Sobriety has taken control of you. You refuse to pick up the offer and instead resolve to do lunch before crossing over to Kenya.

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