my office door

Brand, spanking, non-working new!

See this cheap door handle? Notice the design right at the top there? I first saw these door handles in 1997 when I moved into a muzigo in Bugolobi. They could have existed earlier but I was at university and, before that, either home or boarding school – all of which were old buildings with old, near-antique fittings and fixtures. My days in that muzigo in Bugolobi are understandably hazy, but I clearly recall the angst with which I’d approach my door handle every night after the nightly post-work alcoholic interlude. I always had my key in hand about ten whole minutes before getting to the door itself, and would start thinking of the different ways in which it had confounded me on previous nights. Occasionally, when I least expected it, the key would turn on the first try and the handle would bend downwards, and the door would swing open. For hours after that I would be emotionally unsettled at the experience, and the ensuing lack of sufficient sleep always made my hangovers even more complicated the next day. But I didn’t suffer too much – most times I would get to the door and then begin finger gymnastics with my lock and key. I would ‘surprise’ the lock by slamming the key into it and turning suddenly; or I’d gently slip it in while humming a tune and pretending I wasn’t there, then turn ever so slightly in the hope that the lock would be distracted and forget to seize up. Sometimes I’d get to the door talking at the top of my voice about how murderous my current mood was, hoping that the damn lock and its door would burst open in fear. These ‘tactics’ rarely worked. And I suffered for years. Fast forward to the day I moved into this office, some years ago. When I saw the lock, my eyes flickered a little bit like this guy: I actually hoped, the first time I inserted the key into the office door, that it would be different from the other one… I was wasting time.

The damn lock bullied me just as its cousin in the muzigo had done all those years ago.

I played along for three straight days before giving up and assigning my man in the office – Dalton – the added responsibility of ‘Doorman’ with strict instructions to ‘be at the door and open it as soon as I approach the office building’.

After about four days, he also showed signs of waning – which I noticed because his shoulders slumped a little every time he approached the door. Suspecting that he was getting ready to abdicate, I threatened to insert a clause in his contract around the management of the lock, and he straightened his back on realizing that the damn door was becoming a threat to his entering into an eighth year of uninterrupted service.

In the course of his being doorman, we became good friends, mostly because we found ourselves spending lots of time standing at my door as he fidgeted with the key and lock trying to get it to open up. Small talk frequently ensued, sometimes threatening to burst out into lengthy discourses on the meaning of life.

But most of all, we developed a joint, deep-seated hatred for the lock and it’s door.

Fast forward to October last year, when I decided that enough was enough and issued fresh instructions: (“Get rid of this damn lock!”) which I repeated every four days or so with increased sternness till the holidays broke out and the spirit of Christmas made everything mellow.

Until last Monday.

Returning to the office from a frazzling customer meeting, I inserted key into lock while running a lengthy phone call and finished a long discussion on the merits and demerits of a proposal I was pushing through to some client, when I realised that I had been turning the key to no end for about two whole minutes.

The lock appeared to have given way!

A little excited that this was probably it’s last day, I summoned Dalton at the top of my voice and pointed him to the offending lock.

Without a word, though I could see his disappointment at having to deal with this even though I had gotten to the door before him, he jumped right in and began turning the key.

I watched him and became hypnotized until it hit me that another two minutes had gone by with him turning the key non-stop in one direction.

“Stop!” I shouted, a little excitedly at the prospect that this was finally over.

He stopped.

And looked at me.

“So?” I asked him.

“The door has refused to open,” he responded.

Dalton does this a lot. He finds no irony or mirth in standing there and expressing the obvious as if he has made a mind-blowing discovery. At this point, for example, he had made no consideration that I had been standing there watching him try to open the door for two whole minutes, or that I had already tried for about the same time and failed to unlock the door. He also wouldn’t have appreciated a wisecrack response such as, “The door cannot refuse because it is inanimate…”

He did, though, appreciate a stern look that he was quite familiar with which said, “It’s your job to find solutions, not to state problems. If I can’t get into that office then you are not doing your job, which means that you won’t be entitled to a salary – which I technically cannot even write a cheque for since all the necessary paraphernalia for this are on the other side of that door.”

That look, though, only penetrated after another two or so minutes. And my only clue that it had penetrated was his jumping up suddenly and saying, “Let me get a carpenter.”

Fair enough.

I took refuge in the boardroom and emerged an hour later to find the good fellow patiently waiting for the carpenter, at which point I realised that he might be … “Wait…what is the carpenter coming to do?”

“To fix the lock.”

Controlling my temper considerably, I launched into a discussion around the amount of angst that the damn lock had caused to both him and me, and concluded my submission by politely asking him if he really wanted someone to repair the wretched thing and therefore keep our misery going for a while longer.

I managed to persuade him.

Like the Terminator on a fresh mission, he headed straight for the Administration and Accounts people, and within minutes he was out the gate.

Off to buy a new lock.

I retreated to the board room, my mind at peace. My heart was racing just a little bit faster in anticipation that I would soon be walking into my office cubicle with a minimum of fuss and far less stress than ever before. I pried the old key off my key ring and actually laughed at it straight in the face.

Three hours later, Dalton was the board room door.

“Sir. I have finished!”

The smile on his face brightened up the day further, and I marched behind him ramrod towards the door and our brand new, hassle-free, quick opening, modernistic, double-action door lock:

(See picture above)

*Dalton was not harmed in the recount of this tale.


thinking out of the paper packaging box in which the original table would have had to be shipped in
thinking out of the paper packaging box in which the original table would have had to be shipped in

This morning Shane sent me this photograph with the caption, “These guys won’t sit back and wish for things they can’t have”, and I immediately thought to myself: “Innovation”, and then defined the word in my mind as “Making use of what you have to get what you want.”

I was impressed with myself – anyone who wants to make use of that quote, please ensure you attribute it to me – Simon Kaheru, February 10, 2012.

As you go about your work, think about these guys above.

If we were a more organised society, the government people in charge of innovation (would that be the Ministry of Technology and Industry or something – which we don’t have…or the Uganda National Institute of Science and Technology?) would run up to that village, take those kids up and insert them into some programme that will make them great inventors.

It is kids like these above who are going to come up with a once-and-for-all solution to the potholes in Kampala – or the answer to all the nonsensical problems we suffer on a daily across the country.

Discussing this on another forum, Guma declared himself to be too shy to make his comments public, but suggested that the problem with the above is that the government might not be willing to take the kids and their ideas up.

I think otherwise – the objective is not for the government itself to pay but for us (the private sector and whatnot) to make use of them.

If this mud and wattle table gets seen by more people, for example, somebody should think of setting up a chain of such tables while somebody else makes balls out of some local material…

Then, the money that has been rolling out in $s to import those tables you see by the roadside will instead stay here and get used to do more serious things or perhaps get channelled into buying tractors and more useful equipment than pool tables.

Meanwhile, hotels will begin to crop up in Moroto with mud and wattle furniture because these kids have shown us it is possible…and it will be listed as one of the world’s great places to visit because of the novelty of sitting on a mud bench as one sips stuff like Ugandan grown and brewed tea.

abuse sabbatical

I am on Day Eleven of this sabbatical and nobody is enjoying it…except, perhaps, people and companies who pay me to do stuff. And maybe my wife.

It all started Twelve Days ago when I set off for this birthday party…Actually, if I were to be strict about this I would say that it started the day I took my first drink, because I recall quite vividly the story I did about Uganda’s Acoholics Anonymous and its champion, who told an incredulous me that the path to alcoholism starts with one’s first drink.

That was way back when I was just beginning to extricate myself from life as a university student. Being in university, a pal of mine (Stephen M^l3ma) said, was “three years of seriously mismanaging one’s life”.

But let’s start at about eleven days ago. That Saturday evening, I went out to a party quite innocently, with full wifely permission to have a ball. I am sure of this because we were scheduled to go together till some medical doctor took it into her head to advise my better half that taking it easy would be the best plan for that Saturday evening.

The sky was growing dark as I drove out of the gate – not because dusk was approaching, but because the weather seemed to be turning. Remember, this was ten days ago, when the sun was hovering at about the level of most ventilator windows in Uganda. Remember, eh? Those days just recently here when we would be drinking water by the gallon and feeling it evaporate through the nostrils even before it got to the epiglottis? Eh? When piggeries had taken on a distinct smell of bacon in a clay pan?

The storm that was impending as I drove out of my corner of Kampala was impressive. To be honest, the manner in which the lightning blazed across the skies that night appeared to be a hint from the Almighty that I should really be turning back to the safety of home, but my judgement was clouded by the deafening thunder that followed, so I drove on blithely into the party night and succumbed to the excitement brought on by the long-anticipated rains. Let me just say now that I strongly suspect that after that weekend there must have been cows, pigs, goats and other such tasty animals that became so excited by the rain that they slung themselves onto mchomo grills to celebrate.

I did the alcoholic equivalent.

The downpour was only the beginning of my downfall, both of which continued when I got to the party venue and found that the rain had forced the DJ and mchomo guy to take up occupancy in the tent that had been planned for guests.

Being a small residential party, the plan appeared to be for the small 50-seater tent to provide cover just in case the sun persisted beyond 2100hrs, as it sometimes seemed to in those days. This small tent, we discovered after twenty minutes of rain, can actually fit 80 people under it alongside a large BBQ grill, a DJ and his equipment, and one or two of his speakers. And a table for the rest of the food. Plus all the other people who run out of their cars into the rain, cross a parking lot, and race up the grass into the same damn small tent.

Cold, wet, dishevelled and squashed between machinery, smoky well-marinated meats, loud machinery and other cold, wet beings, I focussed on warming up the good old traditional way when a party presented itself. It took a while before I began to confuse the lightning for fireworks, and after managing to suppress the urge to go, “Yeah!” the third time, a streak of lightning shot down the side of Kololo Hill, I decided to sober up a little and changed drinks.

My condition at the time, what with the continuous exposure to heat since the start of the year, the sudden onset of rain and the presence of alcohol exacerbated by the absence of guests this wet and cold night, was not good.

Under normal circumstances, changing drinks would have involved the introduction of water or soda or even fruit juice. These were not normal circumstances, and it wasn’t long before I lost the plot entirely.

To cut a long story short, I believe I was ejected from a night club shortly before the sun came up, and made it home without incident as far as memory serves.

I awoke at 1000hrs to find the good lady of the home sitting by my bedside ready to cook me a hearty breakfast punctuated by painkillers and fresh juice.

But not before she politely informed me that I had stopped drinking for a month.

I was too messed up to think about what I was agreeing to – and the reality hit me the next Wednesday as my throat started thinking about the coming Friday.

But I have stuck to the so-called ‘agreement’ these eleven days past and must say they have been pretty good so far. The house help can’t stand me, because now I have my superpowers back and keep pointing out dust on the wall at the bottom of the compound…at 2000hrs; and can hear them not turning the tap off in time to avoid letting a few dr0ps go to waste up at the boys’ quarters.

But I am on an abuse sabbatical and I will stay here no matter how much anyone complains.

For the next eighteen days.

Unless my wife decides to politely update me one morning.