The Internet Forgets

Forget, internet.

Forget that I am portending that the dictator in Kampala will one day not whoosh past in his convoy.

Forget that I am foretelling that we shall mourn the Kasese massacred, that we can’t mourn today.

Forget that I do not see the going on the pieces of paper thrown into iron boxes every five years.

Forget that I do not see it in the copper and iron of the bullet either.

Forget everything I say, now.

Forget, internet.

Forget.

Wait

When he says that he likes your smile

You start thinking that he means more

 

Wait

 

When he takes your number

Your friends hear that he must be interested

 

Wait

 

When he WhatsApps you the hearts

Your fears begin to fly away

 

Wait

 

When he asks to meet at a restaurant

Your friends confirm his interest for him

 

Wait

 

When he asks how you feel about him

Your heart wants to burst with excitement

 

Wait

 

Wait and wait until he thinks that you are not interested in him

Wait and wait until he stops initiating things

Wait and wait for your own leadership to emerge

Wait and wait for your own existence to shake so much you grab the phone and demand to see him and tell him what you have been feeling before it kills you.

Stop me from talking

I want to listen

To sit and hear you talk

I want to be told things

 

But I can’t stop myself from talking

I can’t help but respond to everything I hear

Teach me how to keep quiet, how to listen without responding

 

You are telling me about when you were spanked

I do not know why I have to tell you about my own spanking experience

The time that man looked under your skirt

I do not know where the story of that girl in the neighbourhood who was molested comes from.

 

Teach me to listen

I now do not know how you ended up on the boat to Italy

Because my tongue spilled half-known stories of exes who migrated.

 

I ask you to pick up the story from where you left it, where I do not remember

You oblige but forget to tell me not to take what looks like your thunder before it gathers steam

And so I start talking about postcolonialism and all the isms that take us away from your story.

 

Does imprisonment help people who do not know how to control their tongues?

Is there a school for listening?

Where do those who can’t listen go to learn how to listen?

Six Apologies

I am sorry that our parents did not teach us to leave when the love runs out

I am sorry that leaving abusive unions has become a revolutionary act

I am sorry that the world does not like it when we choose ourselves

I am sorry that we have to forgive ourselves for wanting peace

I am sorry that we have to be shamed for preferring ourselves

I am sorry that I have to apologise for your right to love you

Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino #UgBlogWeek

Originally posted on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 23:33

If you meet a foreigner and ask them about Uganda, the first things to come to their minds will be Idi Amin, some think he still rules the country, nowadays Museveni has been confused with Amin so much, so the tag that we are a country ruled by a dictator seems to be a permanent one for now. Those who follow Olympic sports especially who remember the past will tell you of Aki Bua. Those who treasure their knowledge of geography, especially African geography may tell you of the second deepest lake in Africa, Lake Bunyonyi being in Uganda, or will tell you of the River Nile having its one of the many potential sources here or of Lake Nalubaale (some people call it Victoria) etc. If you meet one who has read African Literature, especially poetry, you will be told of Okot p’Bitek.

Okot lived from 1931 until 1982. His work however did not die. He lives in those who have read and heard his poetry. His better known work, Song of Lawino and its companion, Song of Ocol must have sold the largest number of copies in history for a Ugandan literary work. But Okot also wrote Songs of Malaya, Song of Prisoner, The Horn of my Love and Hare and Hornbill among others.

Every time I read Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol, the better known of his works, it is a new experience. It is a typical example of a living work. A work that does not die. A work that remains relevant through time and times. This day, I quote some extracts from Song of Lawino and trust me, we just need to look around ourselves, for the Africans we are, these things Okot railed about, live with us.

Here we go; From “The Buffalos of Poverty Knock the People Down”;

And while those inside

Eat thick honey

And ghee and butter

Those in the countryside

Die with the smell,

They re-eat the bones

That were thrown away

For the dogs

 

And those who have

Fallen into things

Throw themselves into soft beds,

But the hip bones of the voters

Grow painful

Sleeping on the same earth

They slept

Before Uhuru!

And they cover the ulcers

On their legs

With animal skins.

 

And when they have

Fallen into things

They become rare,

Like the python

With a bull water buck

In its tummy,

They hibernate and stay away

And eat!

 

They return

To the  countryside

For the next elections

Like the kite

That returns during the Dry

Season

Part II

Originally posted  on Friday, 15 July 2011 at 00:03

Part I of Re-visiting Okot p’Bitek was published here on Facebook on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 23:33. Then, I hoped Part II would come on the heels of Part I. But let me not stir complaints among you who read and enjoyed Part I. 15, July, 2011 is not so much a long time after Part I was published, here on Facebook of course.

In Part II, we again visit Song of Lawino, this time to that poem, My Name Blew Like a Horn Among the Payira. I am not quoting it in its entirety. I am quoting just a few extracts of the poem to make the point I desperately want to make. Here we go;

I was made chief of the girls

Because I was lively,

I was bright,

I was not clumsy or untidy

I was not dull,

I was not heavy and slow.

 

I did not grow up a fool

I am not cold

I am not shy

My skin is smooth

It still shines smoothly in the moonlight.

 

When Ocol was wooing me

My breasts were erect

And they shook

As I walked briskly,

And as I walked

I threw my long neck

This way and that way

Like the flower of the lyonno lily

Waving in a gentle breeze.

 

And my brothers called me Nya-Dyang

For my breasts shook

And beckoned the cattle,

And they sang silently:

 

Father prepare the kraal,

Father prepare the kraal,

The cattle are coming.

 

(…)

 

You trembled

When you saw the tattoos

On my breasts

And the tattoos below my belly button

And you were very fond

Of the gap in my teeth!

My man, what are you talking?

My clansmen, I ask you:

What has become of my husband?

Is he suffering from boils?

Is it ripe now?

Should they open it

So that the pus may flow out?

 

(…)

 

My husband says

He no longer wants a woman

With a gap in her teeth

He is in love

With a woman

Whose teeth fill her mouth completely

Like the teeth of war-captives and slaves.

 

*

 

Like beggars

You take up white men’s adornments,

Like slaves or war captives

You take up white men’s ways.

Didn’t the Acoli have adornments?

Didn’t Black People have their ways?

 

Like drunken men

You stagger to white men’s games,

You stagger to white men’s amusements.

 

Is lawala not a game?

Is cooro not a game?

Didn’t your people have amusements?

Like halfwits

You turn to white men’s dances,

You turn to musical instruments of foreigners

As if you have no dances;

As if you have no instruments!

Does one need to add anything, to this?

As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work.  This is the third post.

A 2011 Look-back on Ugandan Literature: Introduction to a #UgBlogWeek series

In 2011, I was twenty three years old. While I was formally a post-graduate student at the Law Development Centre, my mind was at the verge of deciding to pursue creative writing dreams and a life of letters at the expense of a career in legal practice. This was the proverbial career cross-roads for young me. I have not exactly resolved the conflict between a career in the law and in literature, I have decided that both will find a home in my mind and life. I will have my cake, and eat it at the same time. Of course I am equipping myself with enough ammunition to deal with those who think in narrow frames, about the boundaries of the legal and literary endeavors.

In 2011, I was very close to Dennis Muhumuza, who knew of my interest in creative writing, and who kept advising me to read and read more. He brought me a number of books to read. He lent me some, and sold me others. I took to reading a lot of Ugandan literature at the time. I remember visiting as many bookshops as I could find in Kampala and buying as many Ugandan books as I could afford. I was also very close to Kyomuhendo Ateenyi, under whose influence I attended the then weekly Lantern Meet of Poets’ Sunday meetings at the National Theatre. My old friend, Alex Niwamanya kept insisting that I go with him to the FEMRITE Monday club. I was always lost in discussion group sessions talking law things I never found time to go.

In 2011, Beatrice Lamwaka was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. The Ugandan literati were excited about the achievement, they congratulated her, they wished her well, and they publicly took pride in her achievement. But not all Ugandan men among the literati were happy. I remember an email that landed in my inbox one day, calling on Ugandan men writers to rise and challenge the women. I was a 23 year old, who did not know enough, who was reading as much Ugandan literature as I could because I believed as I do now, that the best way to train oneself to be a writer is to read. I wasn’t a Literature graduate. I did not know the sender of that strange email personally. I had not been on the scene. I was trying to know about the scene, to even know what a scene is.

In 2011, Jennifer Makumbi’s Kintu had not yet come into the Ugandan literary life. Dilman Dila hadn’t published A Killing in the Sun. Melissa Kiguwa had not yet published Reveries of Longing. Daniel Kalinaki had not published Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution. Nyana Kakoma hadn’t started a publishing house. There was no festival, focused primarily on celebrating literature. Alex Twinokwesiga hadn’t started Turn the Page. Nevender’s blog wasn’t yet holding Uganda’s flag in the African literary blogosphere. I do not know where Esther Mirembe of Subtle Royalty was, then. Roland Niwagaba, of the Muwado fame, where was he? What about Kirabo Byabashaijaof The Rising Page and Sydney Mugerwa? Things were different from today, in 2011. I wish I could be 23 again, in 2016. It was a different experience being 23 in the Uganda of 2011 and being at law school wanting to be a writer and lawyer simultaneously.

In August 2011, I left Uganda to pursue further studies. It was a way to merge my interest in Creative Writing and Law. I saw the pursuit of a Master’s degree in Human Rights as a step towards my fuller self-actualisation as a lawyer-writer. The year I spent in Budapest would change everything. The story of the Budapest days and what came after will be told another day. This month’s Ugandan blog week, I am revisiting my exploration of Ugandan literature in the first seven months of 2011. I am re-posting the reviews of, commentaries on and excerpts from some of the Ugandan books I read in those months.

It is no longer 2011. Five full years have passed. This is why I am looking back at my perspective on life and literature at the time. I am embarrassed grossly by some of the opinions I held at the time. I am grateful for the lessons that came of my being a rookie aspiring writer in 2011, while also pursuing legal education. I hope you enjoy the seven posts from the past, I hope you laugh at my naivety. I hope you get agitated at my biases at the time. I hope you see some hope in my younger self. I hope you sneer at my ignorance of certain things. I hope you mock my inexperienced voice. I hope you see where my reading is coming from, for what it is. I hope the past makes you feel better about the present. I hope you share your thoughts about the books I read at the time. I hope I read from you, as well. I hope you find the books fascinating.

Patriarchy in Love

She may hate herself more than you hate her

You can’t say anything until your phallic privilege subsides

 

You ridicule her for using words like phallus

You humiliate her for attracting you

For loving you more than herself.

 

You know exactly when it begins to go where you do not know how to swim

You know when to say that you do not know how to be loved

But you do not say

You wait and will blame her for not seeing that you were an axe waiting to be used.

 

 

Muse

I believed her when she called me a writer

Even if I told her that I’d rather a storyteller

 

I went for my hidden pen at night

And found that I had no pain to write away

 

I had an ambition to satisfy

And she married not myself before a publisher could see this manuscript

 

I couldn’t un-write everything

And so her memory is what you are holding in your hands