tales of the office clowns


IT is my intention, one of these days, to print new Identity and Business Cards for some of my employees and co-workers, bearing the well-deserved legend ‘Office Clown’.

It’s taken me many years of casual study and unimaginable frustration to get to this point and I believe that my frequently flabbergasted expression will be easier on my ageing face if I implement this.

Today’s candidates for the title are two domestic staff and one market guy I frequently use for ‘mobile phone shopping’ (where you call the guy and he gets a boda-boda to run around buying what needs to be bought, and gets paid in mobile phone airtime).

Office Clown 1, call her Carol, got sent to the nearby supermarket to buy a pack of Pampers Size 5 or 4. Ideally, she should have called us earlier in the day to notify us that diapers were running out, in order for us to pop by a shop on the way home. As usual, she forgot to do so and earned herself a trip to the shops.

“Go with your phone and call me when you’re there so that you don’t make any mistake,” the missus instructed.

“Okay,” responded Carol, creating the general impression that she meant, ‘Okay’, a word normally used to mean, “I have understood what you are saying and confirm to you verbally that I will do what you have asked me to do.”

I discovered, eventually, that I don’t know enough english.

Fifteen minutes later, the missus was on the phone dialling and re-dialling Carol’s number and muttering her continuous and frustrated disbelief that the damn phone was off.

Half an hour later, Carol was back, and happily handed over a pack of Pampers Size 3, bought at just over Ushs23,000.

It still fascinates me how workers of a certain cadre do not consider numbers to be important factors in general, which is why they sign contracts agreeing to report to work at 0800 every day and stay till 1700 but somehow get in consistently late and find the time to leave early.

The missus, frustrated at the thought of having to either squeeze the infant into small diapers or drive down herself to Kitintale, began fighting off a fit of anger. I stepped in and called the askari, Bernard – just to show how simple these things can be – and gave him the receipt, the wrong-size diapers, and a hand-written note to give to the shop attendants. He, I should mention, was going anyway to buy a pack of dog food, which task is included in his job description.

His new job title, Office Clown, will also contain this task in its description.

“Go there and tell them – you see here where it says three/3? Tell them you want one like this that says five/5. Same money.”

He nodded.

“So, wait,” I said again, all very slowly and being careful that I didn’t move too quickly while doing so, “You understand? Give them this. And show them this three/3. Tell them you want one that has five/5. At the same money.”

“Okay,” he said.

I fought the temptation to test his understanding of the word, “Okay”

Life moved on and forty-five minutes later my phone rang. It was the market guy I use for boda-boda shopping.

“Sir,” he said, “These things you wanted.”

“Which things?” I responded, quite puzzled.

“These…er…um…dappers.”

Dumbfounded. I could not connect his phone call with the errand I had sent the askari on.

That, it turned out, was mostly because I am dense – as evidenced by my apparent misunderstanding of the word “Okay”, for more than thirty years.

Succumbing to my reality, I complied as follows:

“Diapers…” This, I should interject, is further proof of my imbecility, trying to correct the market guy I use for mobile shopping on boda-boda pronouncing the word ‘diapers’, but I quickly came back to my senses.

“What do you see?” I instead said, having done this before.

“There is one here that is Size 3.”

Image“I want Size 5. Can you see any that are Size 5?”

“We have been looking but they are not there.”

“Are you sure?”

“Er…let me check.”

Which made me wonder what his earlier mention of them having looked actually meant.

“There are some here.”

Relief.

“Good. Size 5?”

“No – Size 3.”

I was getting confused.

“Didn’t I send you back with Size 3?”

“No.”

I turned to my wife with a quizzical look, only for my market guy to say clearly and without any hint of irony, sarcasm, humour, malice aforethought, angst, or inherent idiocy, “You didn’t send me. You sent Bernard.”

Office Clown 3.

“We need ones that have the number 5.”

“Eeeeh-eeeeh. Okay, there are these ones.”

I waited a bit, then realised I had to ask, “What do they have written on them?”

“Hoog.”

“Hoog?” I seriously considered the possibility that there was a Chinese knock-off of Huggies but again, I am dense like that.

“Spell it, please?”

“Er…H-..um…double U-…no, er…double H-U-…eh…no, er…it is H-double U….”

“Is it H-U-double G…?”

“Yes.”

Finally.

“Okay. Bring those.” But just before I hung up, I thought to ask, “Eh – how much are they?”

“Eighty thousand (Ushs80,000).”

Eish.

 I started thinking about perhaps buying this massive pack of diapers so my life could just move on swiftly, but then thought to ask further,

“But they’re Size 5, right?”

“Er…Size 4.”

I couldn’t believe I was back to around Square One.

“Please put it down. Can you see anything like kilogrammes written on the packets?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, walk around and start reading kilogrammes written on packets.”

Four minutes of reading out kilogrammes written on packets, we arrived at a pack that offered 12-22kilogrammes.

“Stop! That one. How much is it?” I was on tension. My heart had stopped in wait for the right amount, regardless of the make of diapers, their country of origin, their size, colour, smell or any other factor.

“Ushs18,000.”

Fatigued by my phone walk round the supermarket, I gave up but the missus needed to confirm one last detail.

“What colour is the packet?”

“Green.”

She nodded her assent of purchase.

“Buy those ones,” I instructed. The moment was not heroic. I needed to do something intelligent to redeem myself, but before I began searching for a crossword or jigsaw or Sudoku puzzle, I asked the Clown,

“What Size is it?”

“Five/5.”

(Note the colour difference from the one in the photograph, by the way)

my name is…honourable so-and-so


EVERY time I hear a Member of Parliament introducing¬†themselves as ‚ÄúHonourable So-and-So‚ÄĚ I suffer that irritating feeling at the¬†back of¬†my neck that forms the beginning of a cringe. If he or she does not¬†quickly follow up that social gaffe with a profoundly witty joke or the¬†declaration that the cure for cancer is in their possession then the cringe is¬†complete.
 
From the very first time it was formulated, the polite handling of that form of address was for somebody else to say it of you rather than for you to declare yourself so. Unlike titles such as Professor, Doctor, Engineer or King, your being honourable was determined by the people around you.
 
Just to be clear about our honourable representatives, I do not mean to say that they do not deserve the title. This title is given to them by we, the people who vote them into their seats, because we decide generally that these are the best people we believe should sit down together to regulate the country on our behalf.
 
We do not elect them because of any godly characteristics¬†they might have or any special supernatural qualities, and we do not make them¬†our¬†representatives because they are ‚Äúthe best‚ÄĚ people in our constituencies.
 
We SEND them to Parliament to REPRESENT us because they are¬†LIKE US. We pay them through our taxes and they report back¬†periodically to¬†satisfy us that they are representing our interests as per our ongoing¬†instructions. And if we feel they are doing a good enough¬†job, we renew their¬†appointments. And this stands for all officials we elect ‚Äď from primary school¬†prefects, through LC 1 Chairpersons to the¬†President himself.
 
As the Constitution says somewhere prominently, all power¬†belongs to the People ‚Äď us guys ‚Äď though we assign certain individuals to make¬†use of it for our benefit.
 
Now, along the way, this concept of representation got lost in translation and now we seem to be lesser mortals than the people chosen from amongst us to do our bidding.
 
There are many reasons for this but one of them is the¬†shortfall of humility suffered in this part of the world ‚Äď and humility is not¬†a quality¬†dished out in large supply anywhere in the world.
 
Unfortunately for us, this lack of humility is backed up by¬†tools that both confuse and dazzle us; like the big cars ‚Äď which, ironically,¬†are paid¬†for by we, the people. Or the things that get done using the fat¬†salaries ‚Äď again, paid for by we, the people. And so on and so forth to create¬†a¬†cycle that we are already finding it hard to get out of.
 
It’s time to start pointing out the signs so that our representatives at all levels remember their positions in society.
 
When someone stands up to declare himself to be ‚ÄúHonourable‚ÄĚ,¬†finish cringing and then let them know. When one of them shows up and¬†signs a¬†full page of your Visitor‚Äôs Book instead of just one line like everybody else,¬†remind them that they are just a human being. When they¬†insist on being ‚Äútoo¬†busy‚ÄĚ or slight you in any way, remind them that when they were seeking¬†endorsement for office (also called votes) they¬†were the most polite man in the¬†village, walked on foot and rode¬†boda-bodas,¬†and even drank malwa and other such things.
 
In fact, go out today and serve the leader nearest to you a reminder. At the very least, send them a text that reads, “humility|(h)yoo’milite| (noun): a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.
 
You’ll be doing all of us a favour.

Jeremy Clarkson, Uganda LOVES You!


Into the abyss

There is a man called Jeremy Clarkson. He is a global media celebrity. If you’ve never heard of him maybe your media consumption is limited to Kampala-based tabloids, FM stations with a small radius of coverage and you have no satellite, if any, TV.

I am one of his fans. He is truly entertaining as British media people go: funny, irreverent, pointed, straight-talking and get-your-hands-dirty (particularly if it’s about cars and vehicles and stuff). He also has a weekly column that is good reading.

He is a husband and a father, and comes from good stock complete with the wealthy family.

That’s Jeremy Clarkson.

He was in town (Kampala, Uganda) this week reportedly filming for Top Gear, one of my (and millions, nay, billions) of other people’s favourite BBC TV show (now you remember him, right?).

Many of us yuppie-elite-city-dwelling-BBC-watching-petrolhead-wannabe types were beside ourselves with excitement at the possibility of bumping into him; and there were many sightings of him at the Serena, Bubbles O’Leary, The Junction…some places just started claiming he was there to get a bit of free publicity because the man is a celeb.

One of the fans, in despair at failing to meet this TV legend, spent a day googling him just to get close to him somehow and came across a column entry from September 2011 titled, ‚ÄúMy Daughter And I Stepped Over The Body And Into The Brothel‚ÄĚ

I read the article in half-disbelief hoping his irreverent comedic style would come to the fore but it didn’t. He seemed to be taking this seriously.

Apparently, his visit to Uganda last year was based on a domestic policy that has him taking his kids somewhere educational once every year.

Hence: ‚ÄúI‚Äôve seen poverty in my travels‚Ķbut nothing prepares you for the jaw-dropping horror of a Ugandan slum.‚ÄĚ

Yeah ‚Äď Jeremy Clarkson, global media celebrity and possibly graduate of a British educational institution of note, took his daughter to a slum for her annual spot of education about the world. And into a brothel in that slum. A place not many Ugandans have been to, I might point out ‚Äď myself inclusive.

Of course, he doesn’t anywhere in the story tell us about the more posh slums he has visited with his children, but who cares?

The rest of the story is the usual idiocy ‚Äď including a claim that ‚Äú‚Ķin a two-hour walk I didn‚Äôt see a single girl under the age of 18‚Ķ‚ÄĚ They don‚Äôt survive (AIDS)‚ÄĚ‚Äô

And this got published in the Sunday Times. In 2011. The same year the Sunday Vision over here photographed him with a fan at Quality Cuts, where he probably had a sumptuous meal of a quality you won’t find in many Surrey restaurants.

You can understand such drivel being published back in the 1800s when the Speke’s and Livingstone’s sent dispatches back to England about what they had found here, because they were the first foreigners to pop over and there was no way of verifying it.

But today?

Well I guess it‚Äôs what is expected of him, so I won‚Äôt challenge him to a duel lest he pens another piece about being mugged in the jungle or something¬† – however much we‚Äôd enjoy that (yeah ‚Äď go figure which part).

His column on a visit to the Third World just wouldn’t be interesting if he said he’d dined at hotels with plush furnishings such as the Serena, Emin Pasha, Speke Resort, Paraa or Chobe Lodges; if he’d told his readers that Ugandans actually drive cars on tarmac roads and wear clothes that are sometimes bought brand new from the same clothing stores as the rest of the world does.

His readers would have been bored to read about the Ugandans who know how to read and write. Who actually put away three square meals a day ‚Äď or try not to in order to lose some weight (ahem) just like many of those Brits you see on TV do.

Ugandans with internet access. Who can use computers. Who solve problems on a global scale at various private corporations and non-governmental bodies such as the UN and World Food Programme.

Ugandans who work hard at what they do ‚Äď be it tilling land, grazing cows or making the art & crafts pieces that Clarkson probably bought a piece or two to take back to Surrey with him ‚Äď the same way I always buy one or two to put at home in Mutungo.

Ugandans who spend money on Clarkson’s books. All of them. And who buy Top Gear DVD sets. Or used to, till today.

Clarkson’s only report of Kampala is from his visit to the slum. And he probably believed he was doing us a favour in some way by raising charitable emotions amongst people in the UK who have money.

For the record, Clarkson (and make sure your daughter reads this bit for her education): poor people everywhere don’t need handouts and charity. The money you spent in that brothel and in the bars you visited is much more important than the comic relief or Live Aid contributions.

But now, let me introduce Jeremy Clarkson to you again, only this time let‚Äôs meet him in a brothel in a Kampala slum, where he probably spent the visit here with his daughter since he doesn’t say where they spent their nights during the educational visit.

And we meet him after he’s had too many Nile Specials amongst some other treats and is now squatting over a filthy latrine:

Jeremy Clarkson is a big, white man with grey disheveled hair who squats over a filthy latrine noisily creating a splatter against the floor that I am certain gets onto his shoes. You’ve got to question the morals of a man who spends so much time in the cheapest and filthiest brothels of Kampala, but more so because he takes his children with him.

Luckily, nobody can accuse him of paedophilia or worse, because he only drinks a number of beers at the low-set coffee table with his daughter, who doesn’t complain either, so we must assume that he is a good father.

Unfortunately, considering the number of people who acquire the deadly AIDS scourge from interactions in these cheap brothels, we might not be seeing much more of Clarkson in the near future…

I could go on with this selective reporting but perhaps instead I’ll just move on and try not to spend too much money on anything that might end up funding another visit of the Clarkson household to a Ugandan slum, or prison, or mortuary.

And maybe the Top Gear report on Uganda will say a few good things about us. Just maybe ‚Äď but that doesn‚Äôt pay back for the rot he’s written about us before.

We love you, Jeremy Clarkson, but we love Uganda more!