Juliet Lubega


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My ancestral home

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The drops of rain hit my window on this cold and dark January morning. I long for them to clear the snow which had been falling over the last few days. I turn to face the wall thinking of the summer months, hot, like in the land of my ancestors. It was the home of my grand father, where my father grew up and, I was born there in 1964.

The elegant banana trees tower below the sky, and their ever dark green leaves spread out like cobwebs. They shield the drying beans, wrapped in their shrinking pods from the scorching sun at this time of year. They protect the secrets of a family too. It is the final resting place of our fallen.

Some graves are un- marked; others are names with stories told by those who met them. In my mind, I can touch the faces of my three sisters while I walk through the plantation. Their laughter echoes through my ears. The good and sad times we shared are memories I hold on to in my sleep.

I shut my eyes and stop to greet Alice, the youngest. Eighteen years was too soon to go. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of her. Where would she be living? What would be her job? Would she be married? What about her children? It wasn’t to be.

I arrive at the tall palm tree. I know it is the place where our house used to be. I sat here playing with my dolls made of dry banana stems, ebyayi, their square heads without hair or eyes, with straight arms and no legs. I was oblivious to the world I now live in, where they walk and talk.

My mother was usually seated yards away, and often glanced her watchful eyes over my play. Weaving her bright coloured wool thread into patterns of artistic crotchet, her hands moved in rhythmical strides.

Whilst I lie in bed, thousands of miles away, across the seas and no earth road besides a matooke plantation. My ancestral home, Bubango village is forever in my heart.

 

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2017)

 


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It is 7 pm in Uganda

Around 7pm it was getting dark and the temperatures plummeting. I was sitting outside trying to keep warm in front on the burning charcoal stove. My son sat next to me observing how my niece was cooking sauce in a pan over the hostile flames.
The chicken appeared from the corner of the house walking towards us. He jumped up from his stool.
“Sit down” I told him.
“The chicken is coming” he replied.
“It just needs to pass to go to bed” I said.
“Where is it its bed?” he asked
“In the indoor kitchen” I replied.
“Do they all have beds?” he asked.
“Yes, at 7 pm every day, they all stop running around and go home?” I replied.
I explained that every chicken is trained by its owner to know its home. When we brought this one from the village, it was tied using a banana fibre by one leg, to a post near the house for 3 days to enable it to learn its surroundings. Then it was let to run freely around the neighbourhood during the day, pecking for food.
“When you see the chicken coming home, then you know it is 7 pm” I told him.
He looked at me in astonishment.
“Do you mean all the chicken know their homes?” He asked
“Yes they do” I replied.
He remained standing looking at the chicken as it walked past us; its head straight ahead towards the door, gliding like a ship on water, it went through two entrances and passed all the shopping we had brought earlier and settled down in its corner in the kitchen for the night.
My son shortly went in the kitchen to see if it was there. He came back with a big smile on his face.
“It will wake up at dawn” I told him.
“How will it get out of the house?” he asked
I explained to him that it will walk up to this back door, where it will wait and may crow or make chuckling noises until someone wakes up to let it out of the house for

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2016)

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A unique city – Kampala,December 2012

It had been 20 years since I was in Uganda in December. The 20th of December in Kampala was a world away from London I and my children had left two weeks ago . The bitter cold wind, foggy mist , twinkling lights on the roadside light poles, lonely Christmas trees in open parks, decorations sparkling in every shop window, shoppers carrying bags of presents, Santa red and white fleece hats on sale and workers planning office parties to see their managers drunk.
Driving around Kampala all you could hear was occasional bursts of Christmas songs, like Sekukulu eyasokera ddala by the late Philly Lutaya or the timeless Mary’s boy by Bonny M from music shops. It was business as usual.
The sun was hot and unforgiving. The air was cloudy and filled with dust. The roads were full of pot holes but busy; mini buses packed with people, police men and women dressed in white manning congestion hot points and failed traffic lights. The boda boda motorcycles were whizzing around, squeezing between cars like termites, carrying people and goods.
A boda boda surged to over take us with woman passenger carrying a baby tied to her back. “Look Mum” my daughter shouted pointing at them. “They would be arrested in London” I replied. “Social Services would take the baby” she continued.
For my children this was the most unusual build up to Christmas they had ever experienced. They sat in silence as we drove past Makerere University. “This is my University” I said pointing to the main gate. “Oh yes, I remember we went inside during our last visit in 2001” my daughter said.
A new shopping mall has been built opposite the gate. I could see the colourful displays of dummies dressed in the latest fashion outfits, made to attract University students. “I can imagine spending all my money in this shopping mall in my days here”. I said. Its tinted glass walls were shining in the blazing sun, but there was no sign of the Christmas spirit.
“I haven’t seen a single decoration so far” my daughter said. “People here don’t decorate” I replied. “I can’t imagine what a tree with lights outside would look like in the hot weather” I continued. They both laughed. “I have never seen anyone selling a Christmas tree”. I said. “Do they grow them?” my son asked. “Hedges, sedero is what you can use to make a Christmas tree” I said. “With no decorations?” my daughter asked. “When I was young, I remember my mother putting cotton wool and some glitter, if she ever  made a tree” I replied.

Same old Kampala, not fussy about Christmas decorations, cards or presents.

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2014)


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A visit to Loi

We drove into a murram road leading into Sanje village to see Loi, my cousin and child minder of my pre-school years
I remembered how she used to dig in the matooke plantation or fetch water from the well; her clay pot sat on a flat hat of coiled dry banana stems to protect her head and for balance, whilst I was tied to her back. My legs spread out on both sides of her body and a tight cloth around me firmly tied in 2 big knots below her breasts. Since then I and Loi, now in her late 80’s developed a bond; she is my personal adviser and I phone her regularly from England. She had prepared lunch for us.
Loi lived in a red brick bungalow with glass windows, a heavy wooden brown door and a shinny corrugated iron roof top. Her compound was neat with thick short cut dark green grass and I felt guilty that we had to drive over it.
As we got out of the car, she appeared in the door way. Her dark face littered with wrinkles but with a twinkle in her eyes. She is a short woman, slightly bent with silver grey hair. She was wearing a blue busuuti tied together by a black sash and brown sandals. She can still walk without a stick and my daughter was very amazed at how speedy she was trotting around despite her fragility. Her mobile phone was in a small cloth bag at the end of a string and was hanging over her chest like a necklace.
I gave her a hug, and while I put my arms around her neck I looked at her frail back where I spent most of my pre school years and smiled to my self. She shook hands with my daughter and greeted her in Luganda “Osula otya no?” she responded “bulungi” in her English accent. Then she shook my son’s hand, they couldn’t speak and just nodded their heads.
She welcomed us in the house. Its furniture was a spread of beautifully coloured and stunning patterned mats, made out of dry palm tree leaves that she makes by hand, on a concrete floor. Different shades of yellow and cream mixed with purple, green and blue woven in and out of each other.
The lounge looked very large because there was nothing else apart from her work in progress mat coiled in a corner next to 2 piles of dry palm leaves; one was white and the other dyed blue. The walls were bare and the red bricks uncovered. A plain light green polyester curtain hang in the door way between the lounge and adjoining utility room. Through a side way gap in the curtain I could see a wooden cup board and some sauce pans, their exterior covered in dense black soot created by cooking with firewood.
She is unable to carry out her home chores now; fetch water from the well or plant beans and maize in her plantation and has a home helper. A tall woman with short masadde hair. Both laid out the lunch on cooked banana leaves placed on a kawempe, papyrus mat; matooke, rice, groundnuts sauce and beef stew.

While everyone ate with their hands, she had 3 forks for me and the children. I had thought about buying forks on our way here, but decided not to in order to enable the children to experience real African village life.
©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2014)


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Used

Veronica felt hot and sweaty as she turned his words over and over in her mind. “I thought we were in this together?”She searched in his eyes for clues. He was stone faced and cold, with a smirk, he replied “What do you mean?”.”Starting a life together in the UK with the children” she said and kept her eyes straight into his.
A tear trickled down her cheek and she gently wiped it off with the tissue. She wasn’t sure why she was crying, maybe she felt sorry for him.
She gripped her palm and felt her warm sweat against the fluffy paper. She held on tight, biting her teeth together as she held her balance
He sat down on the red stool next to the dressing table. Holding his passport in his left hand and tapping his right foot on the burgundy bedroom carpet.
“We are going to live together?” he said as he turned the passport over and over as if his life now depended on it.
“You just said you are going to Uganda for six months” Veronica said.
“Yes but I am not going for good. Am I?” .He picked up a brush from the dressing table looking at her through the mirror.

Veronica moved from the bed and stood in view of the mirror. He was smiling to himself. She felt a surge of anger sweep through her body like a wave.
“You know we are four months in arrears on our mortgage” she reminded him.
“I know”
Whilst brushing his hair, he turned and looked at her
What is going to happen while you are away?
“I don’t know”
She opened her mouth and closed it.
“What?”
Where do you live?
“I live here”
His words hit Veronica like hot flame. The arrogance in his voice felt painful in her ears.
“Who is the father of these two children?”
“Me”
“Do you expect me to keep up with the mortgage and look after the children alone?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Aren’t you working?”
“What are you going to do in Uganda anyway?”
“I will see”
His arrogance sent her head spinning
She realised that since Kagwa got a better job he has been saving up for this trip behind her back.

 

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2014)

 


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Death Exchange

It was misty and getting dark. The chilly winter air hit my face as I turned round the corner into the cul-de-sac. I was holding the white lined paper where the address was scribbled in red ink. Through the fading light I saw an elderly man walking towards me. A small fluffy brown dog was walking besides him, its tongue slightly out of the mouth and wagging its tail left and right.“What is going on there?” he asked, turning his head and pointing towards the house with a grey door at the end of the road. “I have seen lots of black people going in and out”. “That is where I am going too” I replied. I checked the address one more time. He stood there and looked at me. I raised my head and our eyes met. His silver grey eyebrows were slightly raised and his mouth twitching. “Someone has died”. I informed him.
I walked past him towards the house. Outside stood two men each holding a can of beer. They were having a conversation in Luganda. “Nga kitalo”. I said. “Kitalo nnyo” they replied in unison. The door was ajar, and I just walked in. A teenage girl was holding a tray full of drinks; Coca-Cola, Fanta and bottled still water. “Pick one” she told me. I got a bottle of water. I smiled at two little girls who were playing with a doll on the patterned carpet stair case. One was wearing a purple high necked jumper dress and brown cowboy boots. She was holding a small feeding bottle trying to feed the ‘baby’ while the other one, in a red corduroy dress, and braids with brown beads was holding the ‘baby’ and stroking her black hair.
On my right was the door to the kitchen. I stood in the doorway and greeted the two women inside “nga kitalo”. One was standing in front of the cooker stirring rice in a big silver pan. She had a green and yellow kitengi wrapper around the lower body. The other I recognised as Nalongo, the mother of the twin girls, who went to my son’s school. They both replied “kitalo nnyo”. “There is no school on Monday” Nalongo said. “Thank you for reminding me” I replied.
“Excuse me” I heard a husky man’s voice behind me and I stepped aside. A dark, short man wearing a black beanie hat carried two heavy plastic bags of raw chicken pieces into the kitchen. Behind him were three men each carrying a crate of Fosters beer into the lounge. I followed them. In the lounge some women were sitting on the floor on a red and blue palm leaves mat. I saw young girl kneeling in front of my friend Ndagire on one of the sofas in the corner of the room. I waved to them. Two men were sitting at the dining table with a bottle of wine in front of them. The one with a bald head was sipping wine from a glass and the one in a long sleeved blue shirt was writing down what the woman in a grey coat was saying. A big basket, kibbo, was next to him; in it were donations towards the cost of this gathering and the funeral. I knelt down on the edge on the mat and greeted everyone in the room “nga kitalo”. They all replied together “kitalo nnyo”. I walked to the man with the book, I put a £20 donation in the kibbo and he wrote down my name and phone number. “Thank you, we will text you the funeral arrangements,” he said.

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2014)


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Grand Father’s legacy

Whether you met him or not you can feel him, smell him and touch him. His influence never fades.
Grandfather died in 1968, in his 90s.His final resting place is below these beautiful banana leaves spreading out like butterflies.
This Mutuba tree represents everything he stood for; a humble village man who planted lots of such trees, harvested their back by wrapping fresh banana leaves , beat them with wooden mallets into bark cloth to sell for a living.
I felt immensely proud of my grandfather to find history repeating itself when I visited this plantation, my ancestral ground at Bubango Village in Rakai District in March 2014
A young Mutuba tree being harvested in the same way he did nearly 100 years ago.

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©Juliet.Lubega (unpublished 2014)