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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Concerts at 13 Kitante Road

My niece Michelle challenged me about our poems and prose always being about the sad moments, and while I believe the saying that our sweetest songs often tell of our saddest moments, I also want to remember the fun and laughter.  When I was growing up, in the late 60s we often performed little concerts for Aunts and Uncles, with cousins – for the fun of it, and to get some pocket-money… here is a little vignette:


Adults upright on

Dinning room chairs.

The side of the staircase forms

A dark wooden backdrop

to the stage.


The first number

An Indian song that

Norah taught.


‘Mwogowali mali mali

Mwogowali maaaali

Eeeeva pali, teeeva pali

Chakara, chakara

Shugari shari’


Voices singing

Foreign incomprehensible words

That were probably incorrect

Hand and leg movements


Faces beaming with pride!


Next – Joyce’s song

Choir in place …  and …

‘Sikwendera, sikwendera

sipiriti, sipiriti, sikwendera, sikwendera

oh sipiriti!

Oh, oh, oh sipiriti …’


The parents clap their hands

the performers smile with glee

And hurry on…


Finally the ‘piece de resistance’ – the ‘bakisimba’ dance!

The white enamel basin

Now a drum, throbbing ..

‘Olunkutiza, olunkutiza

olunkutiz’olukutwala mu



Dancers line up –

Sweaters on hips – all ready

The singers start…

‘Twe yanze twe yanze

Waalalala kabweteme mu mwonger’ekyupa



Dancers march in, kneel down, pay their respects

And then …. they start,

Hips seem to swivel

Twisting and turning to the beat

Of the drums

Feet stepping forward gently

Singers clap and ululate!

The climax

The audience and performers are one!


Tu tu tu!

Tu tu,tu tu

Tuku tuku tuku tuku tu



Concert over,

The hat full of coins

We sit and share

Our spoils!

Poems for Nabutiiru

Velvet Skies

11 years old

and afraid we have lost

my father


3 days ago

he was taken

from his office

to Naguru.

Nsubuga came home

driving like a maniac.

He told mummy.

Now the house is full of people

that we keep serving tea.

Are they mourning him?

Are they praying?

Are they planning

ways to bring him back?

My heart is heavy.

Many others have been taken

and never returned

I retreat to the only place

I can be alone –

the bathroom.

As I run the water

I remember mummy saying calmly,

on the first day,

‘Your father has been taken,

but don’t worry, we will be alright.’

I believe her.

She was later allowed to visit him

And when she returned she said,

‘Your father said he loves you.  He said

no matter what happens you must

walk tall, with your head held up high.

He has done nothing wrong.’

Tears roll down my face

the comforting warmth of the water.

enfolds me.

I stare at the velvety skies

through the frosted glass window…

Light blue … deeper blue … purply blue…

It is dusk.

God made this time specially

‘God,’ I speak

in our special time alone.

‘Let Daddy come home today. .’

I am praying for all of us –

Mummy, Maliza, Estella,

Fay, Chris and me.

Finished I look up.

The sky is now black

and my fingers old and wrinkled.

I put on my pyjamas.

Walking down the stairs

headlights sweep into the driveway.

I hear the pounding in my chest

as I peer through the french windows.

A white Datsun with UVS number plates

stops in front of the door.

The doors open

and out he comes…

‘DADDY!’ I scream

and start opening the door.

Behind him a dark man follows.

‘Ssh,’ say the adults, as they push me away.

I do not know their fear –

Many have been returned

only to be taken again

or killed at the door.

‘Daddy,’ I say,

squeezing past them

hugging him.

we are wrapped in velvety skies.

The man in the shadows looks on

‘You are happy to see your daddy?’

He asks


We walk into the house

And lock the doors.

Daddy is back.

Black turns to velvet


First day

Maama took me to Gayaza

On that first day

A coming of age

I could hardly wait for!

That afternoon, with

Suitcase packed

Metal tuckbox hiding

Roasted peanuts, home-baked

cookies, sugar, margarine …

I jumped in and

The car refused to start.

Daddy away in Addis

Uncle Dennis unable to help

Uncle Patrick still at work

I held back the tears

It was the first day

As the sun began to set

the car miraculously started.

Why don’t we go tomorrow?

She asked.

I really want to go today.

We packed the car again.

Torch in the glove box and

Uncle Patrick, next to Mum

Incase the car broke down.

It was almost dark when we arrived

The dorms lit up and a buzz

I was there on the first day!

And she returned home

Under the warm dark

Blanket of the night…

Weeks later

Estella told me.

‘On their way home

as they rounded the corner

from Kibuli to Kisugu

Her headlights shone,

on a pickup truck parked by the roadside

Then like spotlights on

soldiers urinating by the road side.

She dimmed them immediately.

‘Simama!’ they shouted,

pulling her out of the car

With a slap.

‘How dare you shine lights on us

As we help ourselves! ‘

They grabbed the torch

Shoved them back in the car, shouting:

‘Drive! And if we find you again

only God knows what will happen!’

She drove like a mad-woman

On that dusty road

Past the church and

As they got to the tar road

a pick-up truck appeared

‘It’s okay,’ said Uncle

‘It’s not the same car.’

She got home

Safe and sound, but only just,

On that day.

And never said a word

To spoil my first day.


In a foreign land

Mother is seated

shoulders hunched

tears slowly wetting

the table

drop, by drop.

A soft moan escapes

from her mouth

Two aunties

sit next to her

talking in hushed tones

faces taut

The teenager stands by the wall

looking on,

anger rising within

’What did they  say to her?’

she wonders.

Mother looks up at her

‘I’m alright.’

‘Khukhu passed away last night.’

She quickly goes over and

Wraps her arms

Around her mother.

‘I am so sorry, Mummy.’

They sit quietly for a while.

Mother looks at the children.

They have recently moved here

away from the strife at home.

The two older ones are disabled.

The younger one only 13.

The caregiver barely 19,

In this country far from home.

Mother wrestles with herself.

She must bury her mother,

about that there is no question.

But can she leave the children alone

in this foreign land?

And will she be safe


to that land of strife?

Her husband is thousands of kilometers away,

There is nothing he can do.

Her eldest child even further.

The second eldest is at home –

she might make it for the funeral.

The aunties speak.

‘What if the soldiers get you?’

‘Why don’t you stay?’

‘It’s close to the border.

I must go.’

‘Will you be alright?’

She asks the child.

‘Yes Mummy, we will.

The mother quickly packs her bags.

She gives the child some money.

‘Put it in a safe place and use it wisely.’

‘Yes, Mummy.’

As the mother speaks to the caregiver

the child takes the money

and puts it in a small box,

with her mother’s special pens

in their special place

in her mother’s room.

‘I will be back in a few days,’

mother says.  And she goes.

The next day, the child looks for the money,

In the special place.

It is gone, with the box.

She looks everywhere, but cannot find it.

She calls Aunty and

they go and buy milk.

Aunty calls her careless.

Mother returns.

‘I couldn’t find the money.’ Said the teenager.

A tear rolls down her face.

‘ Where did you put it?’

‘In your pen box, in the special place.’

Mummy smiles and opens the other cupboard.

She took out her special pen box

From a different place

and nestled in there

was the money.

I have been away for a while – but am back – and will be sharing some of my poetry…

The VIP Room

‘The builder of the nation is dead.

But he was old,’

they said.


On the 6th floor, in the VIP room

Of our National flagship hospital

He lay.

6 weeks

he waited for his hip to be fixed

only to be

buried with it untouched!


‘The builder of the nation is dead.

But he was old,’

they said.

Waiting 3 days

For the physician to come

and then have the surgeon disappear –

To a conference, they say.


His health ebbed away,

As he lay on his back.

Then his stomach ached.

So they cut him open

And stitched up his gut

His hip still untouched


The builder of the nation is dead

But he was old,

They said.


On the 6th floor, in the VIP room

Of our National flagship hospital

He lay.

‘Here, take this blood

QUICK to that lab in town

It will do tests we need!

We rush around, vials of blood in our bags

to get the results they need.

There is a lab

In the Flagship you know

But mostly it does not work


Results in hand

We rush back to the room

But the Dr only returns the next day!


The head nurse refuses to give

Sterilized hospital bedding,

 ‘Washing machines destroy them, you know. 

Ward X has none left, for they used the machines

– but I still have all my sheets!’


I look at the nurse who

starts her ward round at 11, 

takes blood samples hours after the doctor’s request!

Bile rises inside

but as I open my mouth to speak

someone says…

‘Don’t antagonize the nurse ,

Be grateful that she is here.’


‘The builder of the nation is dead.

But he was old,’

they said.

In the VIP room on the 6th floor, of our

National flagship hospital

We love him and pray for him

It is all we can do

Impotent against a complacent system

that is grateful for crumbs!


Slowly he starts slipping away


He vomited all last night

(in the VIP room on the 6th floor

of the national flagship hospital),

But the nurses would not come

‘Too many patients,’,they said

‘And at least you are there.’

As the sun drew over the horizon

His vomit turned to blood

And still no nurse came.

So we took out our phones

And called the doctors we knew.

‘Please come,’ we cried

To the VIP room, on the 6th floor

Of our national flagship.

‘We really do not know what to do!’


Off to ICU he goes

And still no sterilized sheets.

‘Bring his blankets and pillows too –

And take off your shoes when you come in!’



Early Sunday morning

The ward phone rings and

a nurse comes round the door

‘They want one of you to go

to ICU,

they need to talk to you’

I hurry and dress

For I am young and quick

And when I enter

I see

The builder of the nation is gone

And his nation staggers along.


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