Juliet Lubega


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The Return

19th December 2012.The tall and big rectangular white billboard among numerous small ones, zoomed in front of us as we approached the muram (earth) feeder road off the Kampala-Masaka highway; ’King’s College Budo, Budo Junior School-Gakyali Mabaga’ the red letters stood bold and firm against the white background like an older brother protecting a young one.
I smiled at the same old address P.O. Box 1712 Kampala. An address that was at the fore front of my memory as I wrote letters to my parents complaining of hunger, the bad school food of the 1970’s and reminding them of the visiting days. I turned to my mother, who was sitting behind me in the car and said, “I think you remember the address well”. She smiled and nodded in agreement.
My daughter asked her “Jajja how did you send Mum to a school so far from Masaka?”
“It is one of the best schools” she answered.
“Didn’t you miss her?” she continued.
“Off course I did but it was what was best for her”
“Mum, would you have wanted to send me to boarding school in England?” she asked me.”
“Well, I wouldn’t for two reasons. First, I can’t afford it; boarding schools in England are very expensive. It is not the sums of money we are talking about here in Uganda. Most important; and one of the main reasons I am taking you to see my school is: in the time I have lived in England I have had to be defensive about attending a boarding school so young. I learnt quite early on that I shouldn’t talk about it. If I am being honest, I feel cheated that I should be made to feel ashamed of that part of my upbringing, a background I should be incredibly proud of and what made me the person I am today. The place of boarding schools in Ugandan society is very different from England. Jajja did not take me to boarding because she ‘didn’t want responsibility’ and I don’t feel ‘unloved’ or ‘neglected’ as a child.”
There was absolute silence while I poured out my explanation. My voice croaking and breaking as my impaired speech struggled to contain the emotion. I recalled the struggles and sacrifices my parents had made to bring me here in their quest for my education: no holidays, no days out or luxuries, my mother only bought a new dress probably once a year, she saved her teachers’ salary to pay my fees.
”What?” Isa, our driver asked, shaking his head in disbelief.
” Apparently so” I replied.

 

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2018)

 

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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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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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Audition

She looked at me. Her brown framed spectacles slanting towards the tip of her nose. Her short brown hair arranged in large waves. The expression on her face was seeking for an answer. I stared back unsure of what to say or do. Since she had announced that we were going to do a production of The Bird Catcher from Magic Flute by Mozart, I had occupied my self with looking outside through the large windows of the music room. It was annexed to Hutchinson house, the central dormitory in the school compound. I could see girls in pairs and small groups walking up and down the pavement. My hand was fumbling inside my uniform pocket, holding on to my blue handkerchief. I was contemplating putting myself forward for the auditions of the main character but it was my first term in Gayaza Singers and a junior. As an O’ level student I felt intimidated by the longer serving A’ level members.
Three A level girls came forward. Miss Hobday took off her glasses and wiped them with a white handkerchief. She run her hand through her hair and said “Can some O’ level students come forward too” her eyes fixed on me. I took a deep breath and felt my body usurped with confidence. There was silence and the girls looked on in anticipation. I slowly got up and walked to the front of the room and Miss Hobday broke into a smile to mark the achievement of her words of encouragement.
All my fears vanished as my voice filled the room with Handle’s Lascia ch’io pianga and I could see the beaming faces in front of me.
I re-lived the moment I performed ‘Embwa yange’ a traditional folk song I used to lead in primary school within weeks of my first year, four years earlier for my house, Cox during a singing competition. Not only did I catch the eye of the English music teacher Miss Hobday but whole school then knew who I was.

 

©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)


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Sezibwa Falls, Uganda -The hidden treasure

From an unassuming right turn off Jinja Road, we drove into an earth (murram) road flanked by sugar cane spread out like a thick green blanket. Behind the sugar plantation we took a left down a steep hill onto a dead end. In the right hand corner is this spread of beauty.

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We arrived to a peaceful and quiet and relaxing atmosphere with beautiful gardens. The still atmosphere interrupted by the sound of the falling waters.

 Water particles filled the air adding freshness to the surrounding ancient trees.

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  Surrounded in mystery and bound by tradition Sezibwa Falls is Uganda’s hidden treasure. This breathtaking water spectacle falls over 7 meters over steep sharp rocks forming a small lake below.

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 River Sezibwa continues its journey to Lake Kyoga in central Uganda; it is merely a trickle of stream with a visible river bed at this point

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 This beautiful enclosure is owned by the Kingdom of Buganda.It is a  tourist attraction but of cultural significance to the Kings(Kabaka) and chiefs of the Kingdom.

The tree behind the shelter was planted by Kabaka Mwanga in the 1800s

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First day at School

 

 7th January 1971, the start of a new school year in the country and a new life for me. This day that was to shape my position in Ugandan social circles forever.

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 We were late, but I was excited about joining a new boarding school, away from home and the watchful eyes of my parents. I was going to have my own voice and opinions. It should have been a daunting experience for a six year old, but I was too busy wondering about how an ordinary girl like me had managed to beat off stiff competition to be admitted to this school.

 I rarely kept quiet during the Masaka-Kampala journey, often chatting to my father.  On this occasion I was lost for words and awake, immersed in my own thoughts and day dreaming about life in the new school .I pondered over the events of that morning and why we were late, we were supposed to arrive at 2 pm for admission but at 1.30 were still having lunch at Masaka Tropic Inn, a farewell meal despite a tight budget. My parents putting on brave faces for my sake.

 Despite their efforts of saving money since I had passed the entry interview six months earlier, on that morning there was not enough money for me to start the term on time. Both of them had spent the morning running around trying to borrow from relatives and friends to total the 400 shillings (about 1pence in modern day Britain).

It was 2 pm when we left Masaka to embark on the two hour journey to Budo Junior School.

 Enthralled by my new possessions, I forgot about the worries of the morning hours, and ignored the faces of my stressed out parents. I had a new black suitcase, pink jinja sheets, and a brown checked blanket, a green bucket with a white handle, red wellington boots, green lusejjera (running shoes), new dresses, night wear and above all my blue and white swimming costume.

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 We drove through the large red iron gates of the school and up a drive way flanked by Kabaka anjagala trees each side. “This is like the Buganda Palace drive”, my father explained. ‘King Muteesa 11 and his son Mutebi attended this school, they had to use a royal type drive in’ he continued. I marvelled at the two adjacent rows of the Kabaka anjagala trees with their large green leaves. They looked like protective arms round the school drive. I felt protected by the Kabaka as we drove through.

 At the school office, we were greeted by two girls about twelve years old. They were wearing the red jinja school uniform. Like my own, according to the school rule their hair was cut to half an inch. I couldn’t grow my hair long any more, have plaits or biswayiri. I felt sad when they cut it short but seeing the girls made me feel it was worth it. The girls led us into the staff room for the admission.

 While my parents were doing all the paper work for admission, I stood there like a lost puppy, glancing around the surroundings of the place I was to call home for the next seven years. Outside; purple hibiscus flower bushes stood in a mud bed in front of a glass door building.  In the distance was a large red brick school hall with doors that looked liked extra large owl eyes staring in the night. A play ground lay between that building and the Kabaka anjagala trees.

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 Flanked by my parents carrying my suitcase, we arrived at Grace House, the middle of the four girl’s dormitory block. We met the matron, Mukyala Juliana, a grey haired, dark skinned small woman. She was wearing a blue ankle length dress instead of the busuuti which I found odd for her age. She reminded me of my father’s sister, Senga Eresi. Senga was so old that I called her Jajja, grand-mother.  After sorting out my bed, Mukyala Juliana handed over to the house prefect, Solome, and disappeared into her flat through the door that joined it to the dormitory.

 I said my goodbyes to my parents at the door clutching my small hand into Solome’s and fighting back tears. I was excited, but anxious about their safe journey back to Masaka in the dark, and that I would not be home until half term, in six weeks.

© Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2014)