what’s a coup d’etat?

I started writing this in a state of apolepsy but then did a quick google search to confirm my feelings only to discover that maybe I meant epilepsy? But I was sure that what I was going through was akin to an apoleptic fit, so I checked again what the symptoms would be and google planted more doubts by asking, “…did you mean epileptic fit?

Actually, I meant apoleptic fit, but now that the almighty google was asking, I wasn’t so sure.

But then neither was google, apparently, because I still got results with apoleptic fits in them – but of people who had it mostly in 1879 (Alex Steele of Athens, Ohio), some other time in the 1800s (Henry Lange of Saginaw, Michigan), 1777 (Timothy Robinson of Massachusetts) and many, many more between 1700 and 1900.

All contemporary mention of apoleptic fits is mostly conjencture (“…would have had an apoleptic fit”) and I therefore want to confirm to the world that there is NO SUCH THING AS AN APOLEPTIC FIT!!!


So stop having them.


All writers and actors should take note.

Whither Africa?

“So what are you going to do when you go to Nigeria?” asked a friend of mine over here yesterday.

“I’m going to Nigeria?” I asked, a look of astonishment flashing out of my face.

“Aren’t you leaving in three weeks?” he asked back, a little alarmed that he might have walked into a faux pas related to appearing to be eager for my departure or something.

Blank silence ensued for a few seconds as I waited for it to hit him.


Then a few more seconds went by, and the sensation of alarm turned his face red, then redder, and just before it was ready to burst in panic, I rescued him with, “Well, I’m going back home in about three weeks, but where does Nigeria come in?”

Realisation reached out and smashed him in the face, turning it an entertaining shade of purple as he flusteredly (not a real word, but coming soon to a web dictionary near you compiled from blog entries such as this) went, “Uganda! I meant Uganda. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry about that…”

No big deal, one would think, it’s just an ordinary faux pas. But NO! It’s NOT so much an ordinary faux pas as a footpath that many world citizens meander through because they are intellectual pedestrians; strolling down this small clearing around which the bush is overgrown with poverty and disease that sometimes obscures their view of the bright flowers of hope and vegetables of effort growing there!

The two main symptoms of sufferrers of this syndrome are: a) their tendency to refer to certain country-specific issues as “African” and b) their blindness towards Africa in general.

They consider Africa, the continent, to be one large mass of homogeneous activity that results mostly in disease, poverty, sufferring and a need for help.

“Last week I was in Africa,” another fellow declared to me in halting English two months ago.

“I’ve lived there for more than thirty years,” was what I wanted to reply with, but the polite upbringing teamed up with the feeling that this conversation was heading to somewhere entertaining (for me, not him), and kept me from doing so.

So instead I asked, “Where did you go?”

“The Canary Islands,” he replied, continuing with, “It is very sunny in Africa.”

“Yeah,” I wanted to reply again, “But only during the day. And only in the places where it is very sunny.”

But I let him go on.

“I liked it there,” he said. And I continually forgave him for speaking in these short, single sentences, because if I were required to make conversation in German I would perform far poorer.

“Good for you,” I actually replied, “Maybe I would like it too, but I have never been there.”

“What?!” was his astonished response, and at this point you must be wondering why I appear to hold conversations with only morons, but refer to United States Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin and her situation (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/11/05/palin-didnt-know-africa-i_n_141653.html).

Many of our friends and colleagues in the developed world see as as one group of people with generally the same culture (involving drums, dark-deathly religious rituals, wild animals, disease and so on and so forth), language (a series of clicks and many words that sound like drums – i.e. Bonga Donga Wonga), interests and problems. Whereas most can distinguish between Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, they simply cannot understand how a Nigerian can be different from a Ugandan – worse, how a Kenyan and a Ugandan can be different.

Granted, not many Africans can easily tell the difference between the occasional Korean and a Chinese chap, and they all seem to say, “Ching Chong Chow” when speaking.

But that’s different. We identify them easily enough as I just did above – Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysians even Sri Lankans, dammit.

But we get identified generally as Africans. My ongoing campaign now is to create an understanding of the differences that exist between the different nationalities. Divisionism vs. the drive to create an African Union? Not at all: Africa is a contintent. With between 47 and 53 countries (depending on whether or not one counts some of the outlying islands). Each country has between one and one hundred different tribes (Nigeria might have more!) each with its own cultural beliefs and traditions in the same sense that Turks and Kurds are as different as the Welsh and the Scots.

That doesn’t stop the European Union being the European Union, does it?

That’s lesson number one.

To look at us as generally ‘Africans’ is simply laziness. We need it to end, otherwise none of the ‘problems’ associated with us will ever get solved simply because they are not being understood.

time to get it right

watchThe Sunday Vision, my work-er-mater, published a great piece on time keeping yesterday (online at http://www.sundayvision.co.ug/detail.php?mainNewsCategoryId=7&newsCategoryId=428&newsId=668347) that told how complicated it can be getting the time right in Kampala (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kampala) city.

I know there are some out there who read the article and recalled the number of times they realised how late they were going to be walking into a meeting, and so stopped outside the meeting room door and adjusted the time to cover the loose twenty minutes. Of course, no-one ever stopped a meeting to allow you to pass your watch around as proof that you were let down by the timepiece.

Except Prof. Apollo Nsibambi, Prime Minister of Uganda, for whom I once acted as meeting secretary when he stood in for the Vice President as Chair of some committee to consider one or another urgent government matter. First to face his wrath was yours truly when I stepped into the room not more than two minutes after he had – all of us having just been informed of the change of arrangements.

“And who are you?” he asked, still settling into his seat at the head of the table.

“Simon Kaheru, Press Secretary to His Excellency the Vice President of the Republic of Uganda,” I fired back in full Yes, Prime Ministermode, brimming with confidence at being so sharp, astute and punctual, as it was 1102hrs, only two minutes past the appointed meeting time in spite of arrangements having been changed – with my help in many ways – with only five minutes to spare.

“You are late!”

I couldn’t believe he was going to hold this against me, and began to protest with good reasons such as my having been the one calling up everyone else to inform them that the Prime Minister would be chairing rather than the Vice President – a service I could have left out since they would have realised this on entering the meeting room, but a service I thought necessary to provide in order to achieve the underlying goal of reminding them all of the meeting time.

“This is unacceptable, Mr. Press Secretary! Are you here to take the minutes?” he asked, still in an angry tone of voice.

“Well…,” I began, phrasing a polite refusal, since I was only here to notify him that everybody else he expected was going to be late for the meeting. Very, very late.

“Then sit down and take the damn minutes!”

He sounded like Hitler.

So for the next thirty minutes my note folder, some Commissioner in a ministry I can’t recall, and I sat down peacefully and listended to the punctual professor pontificate on the tardiness of Ugandans overall.

“Madame Minister you are late!” he shrilled when a lady minister began stepping into the room, causing her to retreat momentarily, startled.

“This is disgraceful!”

“But Honourable Prime Minister,” she began to protest, causing me to wince in anticipation of his impending correction as to the form of address (Right Honourable). None came.

“There is no excuse acceptable under these circumstances. This meeting was set one week ago. I am the Prime Minister and I am here on time. You should be ashamed of yourself. Even these officers are here before you, what example are you setting as a leader of government?!”

One hour, ten minutes, three humiliated cabinet ministers, and four cowering other officials of government later, the meeting actually began. With a five minute warning from the Right Honourable Prime Minister on the ills of poor time keeping and the impact it has on the management of government affairs.

That’s not the reason I try to keep time though – it’s just correct to do things at the time you say you are going to do them. It’s so obvious that nobody needs to write, talk or complain about it. But we all know that the 0800hrs meeting will start at 0830hrs, meaning that the 1000hrs meeting will start at 1100hrs because it would have started at 1030hrs but the 30-minute delay must be built in anyway, and so on and so forth until you find that it is October 18, 2011 and you are using a calendar that reads July 27, 2009!

Solutions? Just keep the damn time as you say you will, dammit!







no soaking dishes at night!

Yep – that’s my Resolution for 2009.

No, I don’t work in a kitchen somewhere in Hamburg.

The foundation is built on a tactic we used as children. The two household chores I hated the most were ironing clothes and washing the dishes – in that order. Mopping the floor was a bit of a strain on the back but I have always had a pathological dislike for dust (I still love my Kampala, but I would love it more if it were dust-free!). Washing clothes became easy after I got to secondary school because from that time onwards I had people under me in age or status to whom the task fell with or without menace. Slashing grass was cool because I would enter into an imaginary world where I was a Samurai and … don’t get me started. Basically, nothing got close to the irritation of dish-washing and the tedium of ironing.

I hate ironing to this day simply because it appears so unnecessary and dangerous. Even thinking of a flat iron conjures up images of bits of skin peeling, not to mention stories I read of torture chambers that were fitted with these gadgets and an uncontrolled supply of electricity. In my current circumstances, this is one of the major downsides of being a part-time bachelor, and it’s all I can do not to stop immigrant-looking people in the street and offer them money to iron a pile of laundry accumulated over a couple of weeks.

Washing dishes comes a close second – and for a number of reasons too:

a) the annoyance that came with bending over every so often to fill a small receptacle with water from a twenty-litre jerrycan (this was Obote II, where there was NO water in any tap in Kampala outside of State House and close affiliates – speak out now if you had tap water then so we know where your bread was butterred…there was no butter either, except for the once-every-nine-months pack of Kenya Creameries Corporation butter you got to taste if you visited so-and-so whose aunt visited Nairobi oba when?).

b) the irritation of water dripping down the sink front and splashing in small patters onto one’s feet.

c) the dank darkness of the kitchen at night, with the threat of those damn rats kicking off another pantry party and their own edition of the Fast and the Furry right over your barefoot and now wet with dishwater feet.

and d) the discomfort that came with filling oneself up with the staple of those days then having to go through the above conjoined with the need to gather dishes, throw the scraps out, then start clattering about while everybody else either watched your favourite programme (a repeat that you had all watched sixteen times already but hey, that’s what was on), or went to bed.

So we created this excuse of “soaking the dishes”. After dinner, if it was your turn to do the dishes, you would a) quickly gather up all the crockery, b) toss the scraps into the bin, c) arrange the dishes carefully in the kataasa (washing basin inserted into the kitchen sink), d) then fill that up with water, and then e) be the first person to settle in front of the small tv, which was amazing because everyone else had a headstart on you since all they did after dinner was: a) walk to the TV.

“I’ve soaked them,” was the confident reply to Mummon and I can’t remember who came up with that one.

Anyway, the night normally ended with everyone blacked out in front of the TV or slumped somewhere en route to bed, and if you were lucky then Mummon or some temporary maid would do the dishes in the morning or you got to do them under more pleasant circumstances since the rats were sufferring their hangovers quietly.

Even lunch dishes got soaked, because while you were soaking the dishes you could not be assigned any other duties. If you became zealous and did the dishes within fifteen minutes of coining the assignment then you became free to help out with cleaning up one of the rooms the some little brother was taking forever to get to.

And then I worked out ways of soaking other stuff as well – when sweeping the paths at secondary school one could take a break to “let the dust settle”; before mopping the floor it was wise to soak it first with a soap and water mix “so that sticky stuff would be scraped off easier”; before sitting down to do homework I sharpened all my pencils and ‘organised’ my reading space, but situated in a position that allowed me viewing access to the TV.

But of course there was no soaking the ironing.

Procrastination. Whatever definition the experts give it, procrastination is a comforting exercise because it relies on a false sense of rationality. My definition of procrastination is not going to see the doctor when you need to because you are not feeling well enough to leave the house.

It’s the scourge of the efficient man and little boys like my nephew who repeatedly fall into the crisis of having so much fun playing a run-about game in the compound that when the susu is finally really coming, he is too far away from the toilet and ends up collapsing in a wet, embarrassed heap that causes the game to end for everybody.

Well, this year I am going to susu the minute I feel the first itch.

No more soaking trousers…I mean dishes.

Anything that needs to get done gets done the minute it starts needing to get done.

Starting with clicking Publish now.

But after a quick spell check – no need to be stupid, in case I spend the rest of my adulthood in the toilet suspecting susu…

Woof Woofgang

The Lady is German
The Lady is German

The one member of my family I am quite happy I didn’t bring to Germany with me is Tungo.

Tungo is not to be confused with Tungo Li, head of the Rebel Alliance spy network (if you know this detail without the help of Google then the Force is probably strong with you!) but had she come to Hamburg I am sure she would have become a rebel of sorts.
Tungo is the family dog.

And in Uganda that can be a tricky position to hold, because in some families the family dog is of an indeterminate breed and enjoys no ceremony from the time it joins the family – which just happens – to the time it leaves – ditto. In these families the family dog gets called one of the three simplest names we have for dogs – Simba (Swahili for Lion), Police (because it guards you) and Dog (in any language possible) – and is generally looked after with the same amount of effort that goes into naming it.

Some other families have dogs to help herd the cows, but not in the sense that the Sheep dog does, rounding the sheep up in an organised fluffy rugby scrum; the cow dog is normally tolerated as it yelps and skips about around the perimetre of where the cows and their herdsman operate, and contributes absolutely nothing more to the process of herding cows than the nutrients it provides to the pasture.

Then there are dogs like Tungo.

Tungo is privileged compared to the others in her species back home.

A month after we got her the breeder paid an inspection visit and was loudly scandalised to find her curled up in a doggy bed inside the house – so we hid her hamper of toys just in case a melee ensued.

Thankfully, our maids are endeared to her and have never complained about having to follow strict dietary and grooming regulations (and one of them even drew some mild wrath when my wife discovered she was lacing Tungo’s meals with prime cut beef on top of the dog’s meat specially procured from a nearby supermarket!)

Tungo is living the life of the Lady, which is evident even to pedestrians who catch sight of her on her cushion in the car boot when we are driving places for the weekend.

So bringing her to Germany would have shattered her confidence to bits, I am sure, starting on the ride from the airport along which she would have definitely seen others of her species riding within the main cabin of the car rather than the boot.

She would have began drafting her rebellion manifesto on noticing that her fellow canines were strolling about the streets willy-nilly – some without leash or restraint – and an outbreak of violence would have occurred the day she saw a dog being let onto a bus or train, with the fighting intensifying after it came to her attention that other members of the free world were even allowed to enter into non-food shopping centres and to join their owners in restaurants.

No, I’m glad I didn’t bring her to Germany.

Also because unlike the rest of the family, who would have unquestionably whipped out their Ugandan passports at the airport on the way back, she would have had a good reason to pull against her leash.

After all, she’s a German Shepherd.