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©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2017)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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It is time for School

“Wake up”
“Huh?”
“I said wake up?’
“What is the time”
“It is ten minutes to eight”
“I wake up at eight”
“I know”
“ Why are you waking me up before eight?”
“We need an extra ten minutes this morning”
“Why?”
“To make your packed lunch”
“Do we have to take packed lunch for the trip?”
“In the letter for the trip it said it is an option”
“Why don’t you just give me money?”
“I haven’t got enough money”
“Do you have spending money to give me?”
“Yes I do”
“Can it cover my lunch?”
“It will not be enough for both lunch and spending?”
“I don’t eat much at lunch anyway”
“It is important you eat enough on a day you are out of school”
“What do you want me to do now?”
“I want you to wake up, brush your teeth, wash up, put on your uniform and come down stairs to choose your sandwich filler and type of bread”
“Am I making the sandwich as well?”
“No”
“Why do I need to come down then?”
“If I chose for you, you might not like it and not eat, as you do sometimes”
“What are the options?”
“Tuna and sweet corn, ham, cheese and bacon”
“What type of ham?”
“Cooked ham”
“Is there mayonnaise?”
“Off course there is.”
“What about lettuce?”
“There is lettuce” she replied.
“What type of bread do you have?”
“Both brown and white bread”
“Let me first think about it”
“There isn’t much time to think, you need to get ready for school”
“By the time I finish brushing my teeth I would have decided”
“Get out of bed then and go and brush your teeth”
“My jumper got dirty yesterday.”
“Where did you put it?”
“In the laundry basket”
“I will get a clean one for you while you are in the bathroom”
“You can make the sandwich without me?”
“It seems I will have to, because we have spent time talking and you will be late”
“Cool”
“What did you just say?”
“Cool”
“Make your choices. Here is your clean jumper. I want to go downstairs to make the packed lunch”
“I will have bacon, lettuce and mayonnaise with white bread”

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2016)

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Breaking news.

How is Kenny? Sharon asked Jo.
He is fine, starting to walk. She replied
Where have you left him?
He is at my mother’s house.
What can I get for you? The tall blonde waitress asked, her blue eyes darting between the girls.
She was holding a small white pad in one hand and silver tray in another.
She was new in this pub, covering for Kelly while she was on maternity leave .Although she was always polite and kind, she had not lived in the village long and the girls didn’t know her that well.
Lager, for me. Said Jo
A bottle of Stout and a glass, please. Sharon said

You can’t believe what I am going to say.
What? Jo asked
Spill the beans. Maria added
Can you guess? Sharon looked at the perplexed faces of her girl friends.
She didn’t know how to approach the news. These were her mates; they shared each other’s joys and sorrows as children, adolescents and now young mothers in this close knit community.
Since they turned 18, the village pub had become their meeting place where they let their hair down exchanging stories about their boyfriends.
Sharon’s heart skipped a beat as she realised the worry on Maria’s face. The contours looked anxious.
She stood up and straightened her skirt. Her drink sat in its glass patiently waiting for the announcement.
Are you ready to tell? Jo looked at her friend’s face folded with a frown.
Yes. I am moving to London.
The glass slipped from Maria’s hand but she gripped it before it hit the ground, splashing the drink in all directions. She had never been to London.

 

©Juliet.Lubega (unpublished 2015)


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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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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)