I recently spent a weekend at a Guest House in Rushere that presented the usual comedy I have come to associate with upcountry travel and accommodation.
Among other incidents, I found my bed was tilting towards the headboard, which made for some uncomfortable sleeping; I felt it would have been easier if the tilt were the other way because I’d have gripped tightly onto the headboard in cliff-hanging slumber to avoid slipping off to the foot of the bed – but this other way induced a headache.
Then, the first night I froze in my hotel-style-tightly-laid bed having failed to make the bedcovers to sufficiently fit my bulk. I believe the reason I didn’t suffer hypothermia was that at least my legs and feet were warm, even though the blood and energy had all flowed to my head due to the tilt of the bed.
The next evening I got back to the room and found it hadn’t been attended to because I had taken the key with me, unknowing that the Guest House policy provided for only one key in existence at a time.
Eager to freshen up after a long day and not ready to share space with the housekeeping staff, I decided to lay the bed myself, and discovered why I had suffered a beddings deficiency: the blanket and bedcover had been laid on sideways the night before!
The housekeeping staff had learnt well enough how to lay a bed and have the covers tightly tucked in like professionals, but hadn’t paid attention to which end went where! (#smh as we say on Twitter.)
I was still pleased enough with the place, called Akakoma Guest House, that I stayed a second night and found time to quiz the owner-manager, John Texas, who I’ve known many years as a businessman in Kampala.
After laughing at my experiences with his staff and acknowledging that he had a major problem getting professionals to work there, he told me that the Guest House was going to be called “Rusheraton” (I pray he doesn’t actually call it this!), which humorous quip is exactly why I, and many other people, like Texas.
Then he told me the story of Akakoma as I shook my head at how much Kampala living was wasting the time and lives of so many Ugandans, while bigger opportunities lay fallow upcountry.
Akakoma Guest House started off as a Yoghurt Training Centre that he felt would do well because of the number of dairy farmers in Kiruhura and his own success with Yoghurt. His farm in Rushere is a model farm that is frequently visited by farmers from far and wide to marvel at his cows and crops. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the couple of billions that had been pledged to develop the Yoghurt Training Centre it so it eventually sat back and started “breeding snakes” instead.
Till a pal passed by and told him to, “Build it; they will come.”
He did, and we have.
Now, he’s building a sauna.
Sauna? Why, before you get the staffing right?
“Do you know that people of this area go all the way to Mbarara to use the sauna and steam bath? They hire a whole minivan and go – 14 people at a time. And these people have money!”
I didn’t know this but the backdrop of this conversation was that thick darkness that is normally used to describe Africa, with not a glimpse of light anywhere. The type of darkness in which one is certain that there are massive trees; and possibly wild animals, some pre-historic; and out of which occasionally a bright pair of eyes suddenly emerges, raising a quick terror in your throat.
In my case, the terror dissipated each time because the bright pair of eyes turned out to be a guest going past us from the garden seats to take a urinal break in between whiskies and beers.
And these people did not have money just because Kiruhura is where the President hails from – they are agriculturalists who have been shown how to make money using their produce and cows.
“Every day there is about Ushs1.8billion that comes here for milk alone, forget about other things like matooke and what,” Texas told me, “Ushs200,000 goes to this one, Ushs1million to that one, Ushs50,000 to that one – all for milk. A litre of milk used to be Ushs200, but now it is Ushs1,000! These people were keeping cows just for prestige, but now they are making money out of their cows. They need to spend that money somewhere!”
Mind you, he also gets some of that daily Ushs1.8billion himself, this John Texas.
His yoghurt goes for about Ushs1,000 a glass, meaning that a litre is about Ushs4,000.
And yet, strangely, he still spends time in Kampala. Texas has threatened for years that he would leave the city and settle upcountry, but you will still find him doing ‘business’ in the city.
“Anti we are in Kampala hoping to get a big deal of like US$500,000! But I have never seen it!” he laughed.
Neither have I. Just like all those graduates of tourism and other hospitality courses who instead of going to work at Akakoma Guest House, are peddling their CVs even to the likes of me; and all these boda-boda chaps who could be growing matooke and coffee in their villages but are here chasing Ushs500 coins and clogging up traffic.
I don’t know if my neighbourhood receives Ushs1.8billion a day, but I keenly realise that Kampala shouldn’t be the end-all for everything I do, even though it does provide a good pause in the narrative of my life in Uganda.