“Musa, can you hold on for a few minutes? I need to check on my cooking.” I said sternly excusing myself from the conversation. “Alright” he replied hesitantly probably thinking I wasn’t coming back. I assured him that I will be back in a few minutes. I went and sat down in the large black two sitter sofa in the lounge, heavily breathing, I could hear my heart pumping and a hot sensation trickled through my body. I felt hot and my throat felt dry. I then went to the kitchen opposite, opened the fridge and poured orange juice into a glass which I drank very quickly, feeling the ice cold liquid gush down my neck like water through a hose pipe. Although I was furious at Musa just turning up, we had been mates in Uganda and I was determined to find a middle ground. A few minutes later I was back on the phone and explained to Musa that; I had visitors for the evening and couldn’t go to Heathrow. If he took the Underground train to Seven Sisters and phone me again, I would be able to help him get a cheaper Bed & Breakfast at the nearby Finsbury Park. Reluctantly Musa agreed but I never heard from him again. He probably expected me to drop everything, not only pick him up but allow him to stay in my home. Whether I have lost the well celebrated Ugandan hospitality is debatable. I just know I did the right thing for myself.
I soon got to the West Green Tavern on the same side and just a few yards from the saloon. Its large blacked out windows looked like dark sun glasses in the summer sunshine. I recalled when I first heard of this pub several years ago. “A Ugandan pub has been opened up in West Green Road” my friend Halima sounded very excited on the other end of the phone. “What? Is it selling Ugandan beer then?” I asked. “Yes, it is” she answered. “You mean real Bell and Nile Special in the big brown bottles?” I asked further. “It is selling UgandaWaragi (vodka) and muchomo (charcoal barbeque meat) as well.” She replied,full of laughter. We found it funny that someone had thought of opening a Ugandan pub at all, we agreed to go there on Saturday and find out what was going on. How will Halima go in a pub? I wondered after I put down the phone. I have never known Ugandan Muslims to go near alcohol in Uganda. Perhaps she just wanted to see the reality of an attempt to recreate a Ugandan baala on West Green Road and felt part of a community? The West Green Tavern is not only a place you can access Ugandan alcohol but music, live performances, karaoke and meet Ugandans you may or may not know. They come from all surrounding areas in North East and North West London for a night out.
At the zebra crossing besides the pub I glanced at my watch, to establish whether I had enough time to check out the new Ugandan boutique near the Somali shop.“Mr Gomesi” ,the white writing on a sky blue background read, as I went past aboard bus 41 towards Seven Sisters that morning. I beamed as I saw this new addition to the long line of Ugandan shops and traders along West Green Road. In its display window, the lifeless model dummies were wearing bright, multi coloured floral busuuti and coordinating waist bands for women. The white kanzu for men. The straight rectangle kikoyi in its Ugandan standard colours of yellow, red and brown lay in the display shelf, as well as various colourful beaded necklaces and bangles. This was what I had longed for a long time. It was going to save me from endless efforts, to get my mother have a busuuti made for me every time someone I knew was travelling to Uganda,I thought to myself. She often has to travel from Masaka to Kampala to get the busuuti to the person who would then bring it to England to me. It is difficult for her to keep up with the weather seasons and appropriate colours. Once in December she sent me a bright lime green busuuti for a winter February function. Between December and February is the hottest and brightest time of the year in Uganda, whereas it is dark and cold in the UK.
I felt national and historical pride on West Green Road. Busuuti is the traditional dress for Baganda women and has been adopted by other tribes. The busuuti made from 6 meters of cloth evolved from the suuka which is the modern day kikoyi won from below the armpits. The original suuka was made from bark cloth the sacred material of the Baganda.I t comes from the ficus tree (Ficus natalensis), also known as bark cloth tree or mutuba in Luganda. My grandfather was a bark cloth maker by trade and had lots of mituba (plural) trees in our ancestral home at Bubango village. The suuka design exposes the upper chest of women. When an English missionary, Miss Allen walked from the East African coast and founded Gayaza High School in 1905,a boarding school for girls, she felt that the girls were cold in suuka. She then designed the upper chest and sleeves. The local tailor was Mr Gomez. Subsequently the busuuti is also commonly known as ‘bordingi’ or ‘gomesi’. I had been smiles all day looking forward to checking out this shop,it had become easier for me to buy Ugandan traditional wear and I felt proud as a Muganda woman, and an old girl of Gayaza High school. However, there was not enough time to allow busuuti viewing at Mr Gomesi boutique. I had to leave it for some other time.
I crossed the road again heading for the Salabed shop on the other side to find out the cost for sending cargo to Uganda by ship. Since the Spring cleaning I had this heap of clothes outgrown by my children and from me. I had been thinking of sending them to help out members of my family. A group of men were standing outside Salabed. From a distance I could see they were discussing some news papers. As I approached them I heard they were talking about Ugandan politics.I also recognised one of them. I had helped him get on a course in 1993 when I worked for Uganda Community Relief Association. I greeted them together ‘Musibye mutyano ba sebo” ‘how are you today gentlemen’ “Bulungi” ‘fine’ they replied. Known to him as a Community Worker, he asked the others to refer their discussion to me. I was handed the newspaper and asked my opinion on the standing of the political situation. I looked at the date on the Bukedde paper, it was two weeks ago. I quickly excused myself that I couldn’t stop to chat as I had to pick my son from school. In reality I had nothing to contribute as I am completely out of touch. I wondered how any of this affected their daily lives, but admired their enthusiasm for keeping up with news in Uganda even if they had to debate information which was out of date.
I entered the shop, the owners a delightful couple from one of the large tribes in Eastern Uganda were packing someone’s cargo. I held my breath to avoid laughing out loud as the shipment included an ironing board. Instead I greeted them in their Lusoga language “kodheyo”, ’how are you’ and they replied “tuliyo” ‘fine’. I then found a reason to laugh, pretending it was my inadequate Lusoga accent and I can’t speak it in real terms, I can just about greet. In fact of about 45 languages spoken in Uganda, I only speak Luganda and English fluently. I was laughing at the ironing board, with all the wood and metal in Uganda, I was fascinated that anyone was shipping an ironing board even if it costs about £5. After a brief conversation about the prices, I left the shop and headed for the bus stop a few yards away. Just before I got to the bus top, my eyes caught a big poster in the display window in the Ugandan owned shop a few feet away. I stopped to browse. It was advertising a concert by Ugandan artists who were on tour to be held in East London, and all the Ugandan hot spots in London where you could buy tickets. I was actually interested but the bus was approaching. I decided to come back another day and get more information.
While on the bus I pondered over the events of the last hour, the Colombian women buying matooke, the significance of the Equator and how food brings people together. I thought about meeting Katalina and our relationship in a new context. The importance of socialization, and community cohesion in a foreign country; for example the pub and Ugandan artists. The historical context in which I find myself as I live in this area of London, just by having attended Gayaza High School in Uganda. I couldn’t help but smile at holding on to news from Uganda. How the well being of our families in Uganda still matters .What is it that we hold on to about back home? I kept asking myself. Ironically, three weeks into a month holiday in Uganda in 2001, 11 years since I left. I wanted to come home to my bed in Avenue Road off West Green Road. My Mother wasn’t amused when I kept telling the children “When we get back home….we will go to the seaside……see the sort things out” “Eh bannange!” She sighed with a queer look on her face at my endless reference to home meaning London. I am still confused about ‘home’, it seems ‘home’ is where you are not living at that given moment. I can’t define ‘home’ but West Green Road is where my life rotates between two countries.
***West Green Road
A walk on a street in Tottenham, North London; looks at one hub where a community in the diaspora struggles to maintain their common identity. It explores a shift in relationships away from home, and examines how migrant communities struggle to differentiate between their lives in the host countries, and their origin. It highlights the social cohesion within diaspora communities through lifestyles and how they maintain ties with their origin. The touch of history is an attempt to identify any aspects in the host country that link to one self, in the quest for a sense of belonging. It attempts to establish at the real home and how people define it; it is neither here nor there.
Juliet Lubega (Unpublished 2013)