The most unexpected side effects of this weight loss and lifestyle change programme keep cropping up at awkward points.
This last one came at the end of a couple of lengthy but comfortable flights and quite a lot of anxiety beating traffic, security checks and immigration people across three countries.
On arriving at the Immigration counter in Beijing I engaged my reliable tactic of being bright, chirpy and polite all rolled into one. Most other people at this point are in a bad mood, tired, hungry, dying to use a toilet, or hungover.
Some immigration officers have been known to be exactly the same. So when the two meet, sparks either fly and rejection stamps are slammed down or a series of sullen questions ensues, causing heavier amounts of anxiety.
My bright, chirpy but polite approach is mostly a refreshing punctuation to an otherwise dull career choice on the part of the average Immigration Officer (outside of Uganda – ours are the very best Immigration Personnel the world over. Absolute Saints and the Royalty of Border Control customer care. May they all live long and their enemies prosper down the generations. <—surely, that should secure me an easier life of travelling in future.)
At the desk in Beijing, the Immigration Police officer greeted back less chirpily than I had kicked off, and took my papers pronto. With my smile illuminating his desktop, he did his job right up to the point where he had to scrutinise my passport page against my face.
Normally they take a look at the photo, glance at me, stamp and then we go. He looked at the photo, glanced at me, looked at the photo again, then looked at me properly.
He kind of signalled for me to turn to the left a bit, so I gave him the right hand side profile. He then signalled to the right and I gave him my left.
He looked back at the photo and wasn’t satisfied.
“You from Uganda?” he said.
This was obviously a delaying tactic, since the Passport in his hand stated so, my yellow Uganda Cranes t-shirt said so, and my black Ugandan face with that smile all Ugandans wear must have given him a further clue, if he read that article about Uganda being the most friendly country in the world.
Besides that, I had just been listening to Bobi Wine & Nubian Li’s “Ndi MunaUganda” (but had moved to Mose & Weasel’s “Omukisa Mpewo“). He didn’t know any of this and it would have confused him further if I went into it, so I kept it brief.
At that point in my life, I didn’t need a sudden huddle amongst Chinese Immigration Officers over this. So I resisted the smart-ass type of response that would have been totally appropriate but only exists in the more liberal comedies: “Yes. Me flom Uganda.”
Instead, I offered the brief and to-the-point: “Yes. Uganda.” while nodding with eyes wide open.
He looked to and fro again, then shook his head. It took me a minute to figure out what the problem was. Many people on the street also do this at times – look, look again, shake head a bit, then either confront or move on.
“But…” the Immigration Police chap said, halting.
I held up my hand to stop him short, and whipped out my phone.
Luckily, I have sent a couple of people my Before and After photographs before, and know how to readily pick them out of my gallery.
Within seconds I had the phone held up to his face and as he screwed up his eyes I was worried for a second that he couldn’t actually see anything, then remembered that was probably a racist thought.
A few seconds later, he smiled in understanding.
Giving me the thumbs up, he turned to his pals and said something in the language that his people use (I keep saying it’s not Chinese, but I don’t find them committal on this Mandarin-Cantonese thing).
They all burst into hearty laughter and my passport was stamped for me to go through.
“Welcome. Uganda!” Not the entire country, mind you, just me.
Had I been stopped, the people at The Wellness Project (www.thewellness-project.com) would certainly have heard from me on all their platforms (The Wellness Project Africa on Facebook, @twpafrica on Twitter and thewellness.project on Instagram). If they had stopped me because of my actual face looking much less chunky than the photograph in my passport, I would have blown up Lucy Ocitti’s phone (+256 753 471 034) narrating how drastically successful the programme had been.
Because of that Wellness Project, and Lucy in particular, I also suffered various instances of trepidation every time I had to unfasten my belt at the security checkpoints.
See, it’s not easy to adjust one’s mindset from a Size 42 trouser waist fitting to a Size 36 within a matter of months, and costs money as well. So instead of doing the regular thing and changing my entire wardrobe, I have been taking loose risks with decorum every time the security people tell me to put my belt through the scanner.
Luckily, I have mastered the art of bunching up the trouser waistbands in one fist as I shuffle through the sentinel, and have a technique for letting go for just long enough to raise my hands suspect-style so I can twaddle through to the other side without flashing underclothing.
A few days later, as “Uganda” was leaving China, I had my phone on the ready for the immigration officer. I suspected that he was the very same one but then, again, that could have been a racist suspicion so I acted cool and oblivious, and handed over my passport.
The guy, again, was puzzled by the disparity between the photograph in there and my physical appearance. I was ready with the photograph and held it up on my phone, resisting the temptation of saying, “Don’t you remember me showing you this as I was coming in?”
He smiled and said something to his mates, to which they all laughed. I graciously avoided insulting them in Runyoro, which my travel mate would certainly have found entertaining, and made my merry way back home.