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©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2016)

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The Governess

“Well, I always tell my girls it’s better to mistrust people at first,” said the lady at the Governess Bureau. This poignant sentence stung like a bee in my ears. I raised my head and looked at her sternly, looking for an explanation as to why she had said this. My lips trembled and suddenly I got second thoughts as to what I was letting myself into taking up a position as governess in an English family on Diplomatic service in Germany.

I felt my stomach turn and the palm of my right hand started to sweat as I clung on to the large envelope she had just handed me. She jerked her head upwards and looked straight at me, her large blue eyes sparkling and her long brown hair falling loosely on her shoulders. I was taken aback by her beauty, her soft velvet skin, the long pointed nose and high cheeks. In a soft caring voice she asked “Did I just scare you?”. ”No madam, I am alright” I replied trying to compose myself.

As I lifted my brown suitcase off the floor, ready to leave the Bureau the lady walked towards me and gave me a pat on my shoulder and said reassuringly “you will be alright”.

My taxi arrived shortly. A fifteen minute journey to the train station seemed an internity as I took in all the surroundings of my home town, We turned right from the Bureau into Middle Lane and passed the Bank where my mother used to work all those years ago. The City Council Offices, a large white building staring at us ahead. As we passed the Central Gardens the memories of my mother taking me for children’s out door parties in the summer holidays started to surface. A strict disciplinarian who taught me to respect adults, my mother was always careful of the people I spoke to every time we went to these Gardens, just like the lady at the Bureau had just told me.

The town, my childhood and old life faded away as the train pulled out of the station to Dover. I felt a new responsibility tower upon my shoulders, exciting but daunting prospects of a new life abroad.

Two seats away from where I was sitting on the train I noticed a lady, about middle age. She reminded me of my Aunty Cathy who loved ribbons, just like her she had a red ribbon in her silver grey hair, her large forehead showing through. She was wearing a red jumper on top of a white embroidered blouse, a floral round skirt and red pumps. Her hands placed firmly on top of her red handbag lying upon her lap. She constantly looked at me sideways through her brown framed spectacles with a twitch on her lips, smeared with bright thick red lipstick.

Aunty Cathy was my Father’s youngest sister who lived on her own in a cottage at the outskirts of our town. I loved her Sunday roast, and often popped down to see her for Sunday lunch on the days she wasn’t busy attending the Women Church group which prepared tea for the Sunday Mass congregation at the Parish Church.

“Send me a telegram when you arrive in Munich, will you?” she said, just as we sipped our last drops of tea two days ago. It felt like Jesus and his twelve disciples on their last supper. I will miss her, I thought to myself as she had become my soul mate since my parents had been killed in a road accident ten years ago. Aunty Cathy had been my rock, my parental guide. I could sense the concern in her voice about me flying the nest to work abroad. She probably quietly would have preferred me to find a husband and marry in her local church but as usual she was supportive of my decisions.

Arriving at Dover the Ferry was nearly ready for Departure across the Channel. The journey was over before I realised. It had been nice in the Ladies cabin. The stewardess was so kind and had changed my money for me. She also kindly tucked my feet inside the travel blanket as I dozed off for a nap to wean off my exhaustion.

I gathered the bottom of my pleated skirt and sized the weight on my suitcase before putting it down again. Sighing loudly beneath my breath I looked at the flight of stairs above me, wondering how I was going to get the suitcase up on the train platform.

Then just as the whistle sound echoed through the station, an old man wrapped in a plaid cape climbed up the high step next to me. He looked very old, 90 at least. He gazed at me as I checked my watch to establish the boarding time for the train to Munich. In an assuming tone of voice he asked “You have been in Germany before of course?”
I replied “Oh no, this is the first time I have ever been abroad at all”

 

©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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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)