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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.

About Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa

I am a facilitator, coach and storyteller/storyfacilitator, and use story, song, art and dialogue to facilitate change and development in individuals and organisations. Over the years I have become aware of how I have used stories to make sense of my life - and of the ways in which we all use story, consciously and unconsciously. Stories - myths, folktales and personal stories - are used to teach, to bind, to questions, to hold ambiguities, to explore, to hold up a different picture, to bring together and also to hold back, to suppress, divide and destroy. With this understanding I have built story into my work. I use it to make conscious the stories people and organisations tell themselves that either support or hinder their growth. I use them as an opening, an invitation to begin to speak about the difficult things - to name 'the elephant' in the room. I use them as an invitation to people to dream of possibilities - and I also teach people to tell and to listen to stories because without a listener there is no story. I was born in Uganda and lived there until I was in my early teens. Since then have lived in various parts of East and Southern Africa - and have been involved in development work in Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and the UK. I have also coached clients in South Africa, Namibia, the UK, Belgium, Israel and USA.

5 responses »

  1. Phillippa, the story is so moving and so is your profile. I think I am loving the reasoning behind story telling as I often tell stories unconsciously yet they have an impact that could be used for the greater good. Thanks for sharing

  2. A vivid account…nostalgic…

  3. You’re good Pippa. I didn’t realise I was holding my breath ’til the special pen box showed up 🙂

  4. O the pictures you paint and the feelings you gently and potently elicit! Thank you for this gift.Thank you . My blessings… Love Maryse

  5. I especially love “First Day” … So terrifyingly real! An ugly reminder of those bad days – How did our parents do it? Yet they carried on, school, work, family… .!! And in the midst of the ugliness, there is a story of love. A mother giving her daughter a wonderful first day. 🙂


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