Juliet Lubega


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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©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2016)

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Every Year

Tulips announce the month of May
I wake up to the sound of the birds
The long days and the short nights

May hands over to June
June to July
Before we know
It is August.

I feel the heat of the blazing sun
Like the bare African savannah trees
Till September arrives

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2015)


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Idi Amin ; A legacy or curse?

Idi Amin Dada, Africa’s most notorious dictator of the 1970’s.The 3rd President of Uganda since its independence from Britain in 1962.With virtually no formal education he rose through the ranks of the army from the colonial Kings Rifles through to being trained at Sandhurst (UK), until he seized power in a military coup from a civil government in 1971.He put Uganda and her people on the International stage for all the wrong reasons.
Idi Amin is the greeting that you get on the streets of Tottenham in North London when you introduce yourself as coming from Uganda. Very little tourist information is known about this small African state, the hospitality of its people and sense of community, the richness of its culture and language and its ever green vegetation.
Set at the Equator and nicknamed “the Pearl of Africa”, Uganda is home to the world’s highest mountain range, the Mountains of the Moon in the Ruwenzori National Park. It is the source the River Nile, the second longest river in the world, and it has the highest concentration of primates on earth, including the majestic mountain gorilla, one of the rarest animals on the planet. It is safer to say you are from Kenya or Tanzania, to avoid the reference to Idi Amin.
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Nagawa was born in London in 1991. Idi Amin’s Uganda bears little relevance to her. To this British born young girl, the story of Idi Amin as told in the film ‘The Last King of Scotland’ is the nearest she will ever get to understand.
I was busy typing away the corrections of my story from the creative writing course that I didn’t notice the shadow of Nagawa as she turned to open the front door. She was returning from an overnight stay and her school friend’s house in South London. “Hello Maama?” she said as her light brown face peered through the living room door where I was working. ”Hello, how are you? Did you enjoy the party and how is Kukuwa?” She sat in the brown leather sofa, fiddling with the bunch of keys and staring at me with a blank face. “What is the matter? I asked.
She recited what had happened at the party, at her Ghanaian friend Kukuwa’s house. When she introduced herself as coming from Uganda, the adults at the party wanted to know about Idi Amin. What did you say? I asked. “All I know about Amin is in the Last King of Scotland” she replied
I felt pain in my heart as I realized that the Idi Amin trail had found my daughter as she mixed in the social circles of the UK. I looked her and wondered how she was going to cope with the endless questions about Idi Amin and whether there was any possibility of this chapter in Uganda’s past fading from the world history. I realized how living in another country has brought us closer to this part of life we would rather stay away from, read about in books or watch in films.
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In Uganda, Idi Amin has been forgotten. His existence is firmly placed in the country’s history. During a family holiday in December 2012 I and my children visited the refurbished Mengo Palace, following the airing of the BBC 3 documentary ‘Under Cover Princess’ in 2010 that featured the Buganda Princess Cinderella Nvannungi. Formerly the official residence of the Kabaka of the Buganda Kingdom, it had been turned into the notorious Lubiri military barracks after the abolition of the Kingdoms in 1967.It holds now the derelict Idi Amin torture chambers where more than 300000 Ugandans are believed to have been electrocuted to death and their remains dumped in the nearby man made Lake;Kayanja ka Kabaka to feed crocodiles that were bred there. As the short dark well spoken man, our guide took us on a tour of the site, he informed us that it was a major attraction to tourists and we were shortly joined by 4 Kenyan tourists. He expected a group of German tourists in the coming hours. That was the only brush with the Idi Amin for the month we spent in Uganda.
However, The Last King of Scotland was waiting for us on board a British Airways return flight to London Heathrow in January 2013.A reminder of the inquiries and explanations about Idi Amin, Ugandans of all generations are faced with outside the country.

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2014)


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Relief

I suddenly raised my head and slowly turned it around the room, it is still, the silence is deafening as if nothing exists. You can almost feel the walls move and the ceiling murmur. The air seems to whistle and the movement of the pen marks every sound like footsteps. The room has large windows, with half pulled blinds through which pops the tops of the houses in the opposite street. The sky is scarlet blue with silver grey clouds and a trail of aircraft lining the flight path.

I can feel my stomach turning, reminding me of my physical needs against my emotions which have occupied me for the last 12 hours. The smell down from the cooking downstairs reminds me of how long I have been working on this story. There is bitterness in my mouth as I pour out my recollection of events on this piece of paper. Reliving my past has never tasted so sour.

I then realised that I haven’t opened the mail of the day. The pile of envelopes rests in the same spot I hastily put it in when I first got into the room. I had spent a restless night debating on how I want the last chapter of my book to shape. It is the book I had my eyes set on to provide income to save my home, that opening mail was bottom of my priority list.

I gently stood up, taking care as if releasing my bottom from glue on the chair seat. After a long yawn and stretch almost with intention of starting an exercise class I walked towards the small wooden circular table to pick the pile of letters.

My hands froze as I looked at this particular white envelope; I turned it on the other side to have an idea where it had been sent from. The post code at the back was very telling. It was from the bank. I clung on to it as if my life depended on it while the rest of the letters tumbled to the floor. I then felt an electric shock through my body, hissing in my ears and my head spinning as I fumbled to open it .It threw back my memory to the day I lost my job, two years ago. The coldness in the voice of the Company manager as he relayed the decision of the Board to me; “You have been made redundant with immediate effect on a 6 months pay in advance”

Life had turned to the worst as I struggled to keep up with my mortgage payments and cost of living. My savings had since dried up and I was falling back of my financial commitments by the month. Having secured a book deal through old acquaintances and almost 15 years experience in publishing, the book I was writing was expected to be my saviour.” If only the mortgage lender could wait a few more weeks everything will be alright”, I found myself loudly speaking to the still air.

As I opened the envelope, my lids began to move uncontrollably. Fearing the worst, my eyes filled with tears. As I had one more glance through the windows, the house tops seemed to be moving away, growing smaller and smaller in the distance. I jerked to keep my feet firm on the ground. The contents of the letter were not as bad as I first thought. The bank had agreed to give me 6 more months of grace from mortgage payments. I took a depth breath to release the tension of the last few minutes which seemed an eternity and slowly walked back to my chair to resume my writing.

© Juliet Lubega (unplublished 2010)


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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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Real Daughter?

She raised her head upwards, looked straight into my eyes and said “Where did you buy these my daughter?”.”At the Ugandan shop in West Green Road” I replied softly. “How do they get here still fresh? She asked as she twisted the green kikuta in which the beans lay. Five pink beans lying there like sleeping beauties. From a garden somewhere in Uganda they had been confined to these pods throughout the eight hour flight to London, before she unceremoniously plucked them out and dropped them into a pan to be cooked.

“I actually don’t know. I seldom see the fresh beans” I replied as I sat down next to her. Mama Ahebwa was a formidable woman. She was tall and huge with very wide hips. A typical Hima, light skinned, beautiful, a large smile and dark gums. Ahebwa was Daudi’s youngest brother, she dotted on him and it earned her the name Mama Ahebwa.

Daudi and I had been married for two years. The wedding took place in Uganda because of the low cost and convenience of carrying out all the traditional marriage customs with our families. We had three weeks annual leave which was spent bogged down in ceremonies and did not get enough time to get to know each other’s families. So when he suggested that his mother comes to London to visit and get to know me better, I had no reservations.

Mama Ahebwa had been with us for two weeks now. She learnt her way around the kitchen very quickly and was active in cooking. She insisted that as long as she was here, there was enough time, and her son had to eat ‘proper’ food. Therefore, we will not eat pasta and sandwiches.

”Do they sell Ugandan millet flour here” she had asked on her first day. “Yes” I replied. “Do you have any in the house?” she continued.”I don’t buy or cook it. We leave very early for work, and have no time to make bushera for breakfast” I replied.

She was silent. Did she expect me to cook breakfast for her son? I wondered. As much as I would like, and maybe even my own mother expected me to, work schedules and life in London was too fast to allow it.

“So what happens in the morning my daughter?” she said with a sinister smile.”We each make our own cereal, tea and toast” I said. There was a feel of honesty in my voice and I hoped she would understand because that was what was going to happen the next day.”I will buy millet flour tomorrow for you Mama” I assured her.

Within two weeks our lives had turned upside down. Mama Ahebwa  woke up earlier than us every day and by the time I was ready to come down , the bushera was ready. “My daughter, your breakfast is ready” she always said without a smile. I sensed she wasn’t happy but let it pass.

I did the cooking as much as she allowed me too, silently and patiently, and bought what she wanted to cook and eat.; matooke,cassava,millet,sweetpotatoes,groundnuts sauce, tilapia fish, cat fish,beans,ugali you name it.  Our shopping budget went through the roof.

 

“For how long are we going to go on?” I asked Daudi. “She is not going to live here for ever” he replied dismissively.”I understand that, we only eat Ugandan food occasionally because it is imported and expensive.” I said. Daudi just looked at me. “Maybe you should have a word with her” I suggested.

Daudi came back from work just as we finished the beans and Mama Ahebwa followed him upstairs. On my way to the bathroom shortly afterwards, I passed by her bedroom, he was in there.

“What sort of wife is this? It is two years and she hasn’t given you a child. She can’t even wake up to make you breakfast .We paid a lot of cows and heavy dowry my son. You should have married Kajuna’s daughter”. Mama Ahebwa said in a serious voice.

“You are right Mama.I regret marrying her. I should have listened to you.” Daudi replied

His words stung like a bee. Fighting back tears I tiptoed down stairs.”I can never be her real daughter. I thought they were talking about food” I murmured under my breath.

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2013)