proudly displaying the glorious beauty of the crested crane of Uganda and my own heritage


I WOKE up this Saturday to the usual avalanche of overnight WhatsApp messages, and as usual focused on the timely morning ones in the groups I value most, among which was the question: “Guyz help wiz de spelling of Crested Crane in Luga flow”.

What he meant, this friend of mine aged more or less the same as I but who obviously spends a lot of time with very young, poorly educated people, was: “Friends, kindly furnish me with the correct spelling of the word for ‘Crested Crane’ in our beloved Luganda as written by our ancestors?”

I deciphered his meaning and responded quickly with, “Engaali“, which another friend shortly thereafter corrected to “Eng’aali” – because “ng'”

Handwriting
ng’

replaces that combination letter
we use in Luganda. It gave him great pleasure to make this correction, since I am always giving my pals grief by correcting their English (with the exception of the first question of the day).

I conceded, but with the explanation that I did not have the combination letter on my keyboard and also that the spelling was acceptable my way in some contexts.

Then I concluded with: (“My grandfather was Mawesano”).

The Crested Crane is also called “Entuha” in Runyakitara languages or dialects, and shortly after my WhatsApp convo one of my cousins called Sentuwa came to mind as a shelving project his workshop, Derrick Furniture and Fittings, had made designs for last year has being looked over by an artist who was going to essay it in clay and paints.

That went by quickly until many hours later when I received a call that came in during a five-minute gap in which I was free to take it.

The caller was called Maximo Beyongyera, a young man who worked at Sentuwa’s Derrick F & F, and he was calling to make a delivery.

I have met Maximo only once, on the day he came over with Sentuwa (I use the name on its own here quite deliberately) to consider the shelving project. He is a young man, and was rather quiet on the day as we walked around talking about design and carpentry and entrepreneurship. If you knew my cousin and I together you would understand Maximo’s silence.

I had to draw him out at the end of the day to talk a little bit about his background and interest in design. He was authentic and quite keen, and very, very interested in proving that Ugandans could make the very best of things as other nationalities – hence his employment in a carpentry workshop. In which particular workshop, I must add, he was clearly well-placed, as most carpentry workshops don’t come with artists but Sentuwa is an Accountant who was also behind an IT company, so his things were bound to be different and interesting.

Our project didn’t take off, for some reason, but a couple of weeks ago Maximo wrote me an email telling me he had left Derrick F & F, and apologising over the shelving project not getting done. That was odd, as I didn’t think it was his fault or that it was his place to issue an apology.

Even more odd, but very pleasantly so, was the rest of his email which stated that since he left the employ of my cousin, “since you are a lover of art, I have been keeping an art work which I wanted to hand over to you on the day of our project’s completion because I wanted to create a relationship as far as creative art is concerned.”

I was immediately moved by the passion this employee was putting into his work, may God bless him wherever he goes only for him to continue with:

“I have attached three art works for you to choose one and take it for free and I know you will like them.”

I was licked!

mosaics
Photos and Art Pieces by Maximo Beyongyera

I found it hard to choose, but replied with gratitude and asked what the market value of the other two pieces would be, hoping that I could snap them up myself or find him some serious buyers.

The value was serious numbers – which made the offer of a free one cause me to take an even deeper breath of gratitude to him and whoever raised him!

Eventually, I found time to go over to collect my (absolutely free!) art piece from the showroom where they were kept but the caretakers there didn’t have clear instructions, so I left empty handed but having informed Maximo.

And today, he called me to make a delivery, asking that I make appropriate arrangements for him not to be turned away on arrival.

He did not want a transport refund, or even hint at compensation. He was taking off personal time to personally deliver a highly valuable work of art that he had personally created as a personal gift to be given to me as a memoir for a project that had not taken off.

I got back home in a hurry to place the piece in its appointed position, and everyone present marvelled at its composition – a mixed media piece with a shiny, glassy veneer on top of a pin board material, put together in mosaic.

img_20160312_223455.jpg
Maximo’s chosen art piece (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

In the evening, as I told my little family the story of how the art piece had arrived into our lives, I noticed the resemblance between Sentuwa’s name and the word Entuha – yet earlier this morning I did wonder fleetingly what link there was between Entuha and Eng’aali in our Bantu languages.

Well, right now Maximo Beyongyera’s piece is in a place of honour right opposite another Crested Crane by one Alfred Businge of Masindi,

img_20160312_223613.jpg
Businge’s art piece (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

whose resilience I applaud since making a living off fine art in Masindi cannot be easy.

Maximo Beyongyera’s other pieces are on display in a showroom on Old Port Bell Road, opposite the Petro Fuel Station, in Shop No. 1. But if you call him up on 0705768063 you can snap up one of the other two or commission him to do something bespoke for you.

I have seen a couple of Crested Cranes within my neighbourhood, but none has perched within my garden yet. Still, I am thankful to Maximo Beyongyera and Alfred Businge for their talent as I now have two of the birds right in my daily living space.

two journeys, one path – different destinations


TAKING a walk through Mutungo for health reasons – exercise, I must declare – I found myself at the top of a road I had ignored countless times before, and ventured down its lead.
The short walk was uneventful besides the number of people I had to prompt into responding with “Good evening!” as I walked past grey and brown walls shielding what appeared to be regular residential houses with regular grass gardens.
Then, quite suddenly, the grey and brown was broken by a burst of thick shrubbery. I believe my breathing changed before my mind had fully taken in what my eyes were seeing. The thick hedge ran for a regular distance but I slowed down my paces to take it all in, and to peer through it out of curiosity.
There was much more behind it than just grass and a house; the flowers and shrubs were not rare and in some cases not in bloom, but it was interesting to observe. So interesting, actually, that when I got to the gate and found it was wide open I took that as an invite.
Inside, the neat garden exceeded my expectations, as it came with many pots and plants,img_20160121_170250.jpg all of them obviously made (the pots) and nurtured (the plants) within the perimeter fencing. The house was obviously old, probably built when my grandparents were youths, but it was well kept. Against the front of the house, someone had carefully fashioned an archway of flowering shrubs that arrested my attention for a while before I called out, “Koodi?”
There was a stirring in the sitting room and a young man peeped out of the window to return my greeting and inform me that the person behind the pots and plants was probably in the smaller house at the back – and he left his television set on to pop out and check.
The fellow, who this young man identified as his cousin Joe of Jowy Creations, was indeed away but could be found on Facebook.
A few days later I returned, this time deliberately, to view the garden again and try to meet this Joe of Jowy Creations.
Again, the gardens were still but there was sound in the sitting room. This time I didn’t have to call out before the very same young man, possibly wearing the very same vest, stood up from his television viewing position.
His cousin was in, this time, and came out to meet me though I first summoned the TV watching youth to interrogate him a little bit. Top on my mind was the question: Had he been watching television non-stop since the last time I had been, a few days ago?
He laughed and said he hadn’t. He was on holiday, from his university course studying “IT”, and was therefore chilling. Did he have a laptop or something else to occupy his time? He chuckled a bit but became irritated at my lugezi gezi, but I made it clear to him that I had an endless supply of it and would return to him after meeting his cousin properly.
img_20160121_170421.jpgHis cousin, Daniel Joe Semakadde, listened quietly to the exchange while behind him I noticed the garage held about fifty concrete pots in formation which hadn’t been there the last time I was.
He then took me round the garden to see his plant creations, his pottery and even
ironmongery! This was their grandparents’ home, and they now live there with a sectionimg_20160121_165903.jpg of the family.
Semakadde, a graduate of Food, Science and Technology, took to interior design as a child and made his first sale at the age of fourteen by putting together some dried twigs, colouring and arranging them in a pot. He still went through school dutifully, taking a difficult professional course, but during that time img_20160121_170446.jpgtaught himself how to make pots, weld metal, grow plants and design art pieces.
He has lived off that income very comfortably ever since.
As he spoke, his cousin was back at the television, and I could not understand how the fellow had let me leave the first time without trying to sell me any of the Jowy Creations. So I cut short the visit and called the young man out of the house for some more lugezi gezi.
To begin with, he had only Ushs15,000 to his name at that point, and confessed that he didn’t know enough about pottery and plants to earn any money from me doing it.
Long story cut short, we made arrangements for his cousin to train him for the remainder of his holiday, and I offered to ease the process by paying for his transport from the television set to the garden for the training course.
Today marks the end of Week One, and I am praying I don’t find him in front of a television. I also need someone to give me lessons in understanding how these two young fellows can grow up in the very same home and take such different paths in life – one to wealth and success through sweat and hard work, and the other likely heading to a despondent declaration of a lack of opportunities.

out of the way things to do in 2016


I’VE just read Davis Kawalya’s blog post ‘Where Is Our Self-Esteem?‘ and made a snap decision to adopt this practice.

I am going to compile a list of things that I will do between now and the close of 2016, which I am calling ‘Out Of The Way Things’.

The list is going to contain things I wouldn’t normally do but that are easy and fun to do – and tending to quirky more than adventurous.

His blog post did not render me suddenly stupid, so I will not be bungee jumping or wrestling leopards.

The first thing on my list is what he had down in his blog:

Out Of The Way Things in 2016

Life is not exciting enough doing the things that I normally do, and reading Davis’ blog I recalled a time not long ago but before I was clear about responsibilities, when I would do such things with a group of pals who would take a contract out on me if I dared give clues as to their true identity.

Some of our antics were of the harmless shock-therapy type that would have triggered anything from angst to angina, and a few were life-threatening (for the onlooker as well).

This year, my list will NOT include any of the latter, and few of the former.

And having a list, by the way, is not to make the process boring and regulated – the spontaneity will remain in the manner that the activities that get onto the list will be chosen. For instance, I am now duty bound to say that loud, public prayer in a taxi – with or without any of you witnessing it.

This had better be fun and involve no painful repercussions especially of a physical nature. Back when I used to do these things more frequently I was light enough on my feet to flee the scene if things began to escalate. Right now I can imagine myself sprinting so slowly that my punishers could hold a lengthy, verbiage-filled meeting and take corrected minutes and then find me eighty metres away panting for dear life.

The risks will be few, therefore.

My out of the way things to do in 2016 will also not involve money. I cannot spare for silly eruptions such as those three a.m. “We go to Kigali!” arrangements that result in month-long hangovers and a life wondering how many relatives one actually has, scattered around the world, and whether they will ever make themselves known in a dramatic manner to a compound full of one’s official bloodline.

My out of the way things to do in 2016 will also take place strictly in Uganda, because there are countries out there that put our definition of the word daring to shame.

Everything on that list will be sure to raise the eyebrows of my favourite aunts and grandaunts, and I will therefore try my best to ensure that they are present for the events.

My wife, meanwhile, will need your prayers.

i’ll be spring cleaning before making any new year resolutions


I DON’T disdain New Year Resolutions, but over the years I have relegated them to lower than ’Spring Cleaning’ or whatever term we will use in our Ugandan climate for this.
Subconsciously, I believed ‘Spring Cleaning’ to be the heavy cleaning that people did in their homes during that season of the year, having come out of Winter and the entropic accumulations at the end of the year.
The way it worked, as the season turned from the bleak, grey, cold Winter to the bright, warm, flowery time of Spring, people opened up their windows and doors and took the opportunity to clean out their homes and let fresh air in once again.
The idea that it was linked to European seasons that we don’t have down here rankled me a little bit until I checked my trusted internet for more on the origins of this Spring Cleaning that I was going to rename and then promote over New Year Resolutions, and found that it didn’t actually originate in Europe. The practice originated possibly somewhere in Bible times when the Jews took it up as part of the observance of the Passover, or even earlier in Persia of the 2nd Century CE.
We don’t have our seasons ordered in the European manner, in spite of what the nursery rhymes and our primary school teachers kept reciting; nevertheless, the term ‘Spring Cleaning’ appropriately accommodates what we should generally be doing at around this time.
Well, New Year Resolutions are supposed to work more or less the same way, but for the mind and soul. So during an eclectic late night discussion over the matter during the holidays, a couple of us arrived at the idea that we could premise any Resolutions we needed to make on physical cleaning and make them more realistic.
Rather than just cleaning, we agreed, we could take the opportunity to do renovations and rehabilitations around our homes during this holiday season so we start the year off in cleaner, fitter, more organised environments. This was the time to tighten all the loose screws, replace faulty bulbs, oil doors, check and clean out plumbing, fumigate, paint, fix furniture and fittings…
All the things that most New Year Resolutions claim to do for the body and soul, but more visible.
The day after that discussion, I started summoning my usual supplier of these services and set them to work as I pulled on my own gloves and went round on an enhanced Do-It-Yourself session.
One of my relations realised that the party they traditionally host during the holiday gave them the perfect opportunity to put this cleaning exercise onto their calendar, and will this year be adding cleaning and repairs onto their party budget.
Re-organising, cleaning up and doing general repairs in our homes, it turns out, is even more appropriate during the Christmas and New Year’s break because many of us can take time off to stay at home and supervise the work being done so it is free of the comedic drama that many tradesmen bring along as part of their service (which is the subject of many other stories I am posting online).
This week, though, I am happy to be proclaiming NO verbal New Year Resolutions but enjoying a much more meaningful and long-lasting physical clean up exercise around me that will make it easier to make those life changes that I can refer to as Resolutions.
I suspect that the discovery of gym bags and exercise apparel while cleaning out certain corners of the house, for instance, might trigger off some guilt that will cause me to exercise a little bit more. And if a few of those diet books that some (rude) people insist on giving me as gifts fall off bookshelves as we arrange libraries in alphabetical order by author, then maybe they will find themselves in the kitchen and open before meals are cooked.
My cleaning exercises, therefore, will take precedence over making New Year Resolutions now and in the future, so that the resolutions themselves are more logical, orderly and implementable.

how big is your christmas tree this year?


img_20151216_165328.jpgMY sitting room Christmas tree this year is quite small.

It wasn’t a deliberate choice on my part, and when we finished decorating it a couple of weeks ago and sat under the glow of its lights for a while, I started practising justifications to give to the children in case they took issue with its size.

I had planned for the tree to be much bigger, having told everybody last year how disagreeable it was for any resident of Uganda to buy plastic imported trees when we could simply chop a few branches of our local Christmas firs and fully enjoy the nostalgic tinge of warmth it brings.

At the start of the year, I put aside space in a garden upcountry to plant a few trees of my own so that in November I’d have a small harvest to sell to like-minded persons keen on decreasing on our imports of finished goods and maintaining our childhood traditions.

After that, it took me three months to give up on that approach and instead turn to a gardener at a roadside nursery and seedlings centre in Kampala. After many discussions he finally understood my needs, though it took another two months for him to actually act on them even though I had paid for the seedlings.

This not being my day job, I could not spend enough time on the ground supervising the growth of trees. Even if it wouldn’t have helped the objective of the project, the gardener contracted to do the job did not share my horror and disappointment, one day not too long ago, at finding that the seedlings had grown to just a couple more feet than when I had last seen them months before.

When he eventually absorbed the reason for my irritation, he turned the blame squarely onto his employees – two old ladies who do the actual tending of his plants. Apparently, they kept trimming the prickly branches of the trees because that made it easier for them to weed around the base.

Of course, I told him, they would do that because: a) their protective clothing consisted entirely of one torn, bedraggled lesu each and; b) they did not have sufficient information about the project and therefore should not have been left unsupervised to raise a large, luscious Christmas tree – especially since even he, the owner and manager, had not understood what type of proper Christmas tree I wanted until I had taken him through seminars.

His sheepish apologies failed to result in a voluntary offer of a refund, and I found myself ferrying the trees – two by two – out of his custody and to my home, where I spent a few weeks sprucing them up myself and working at their enhanced growth.

I even had the pots ready for them and had commenced, together with my children, with their decoration in readiness for a magnificent display that would certainly result in happy sales.

This did not happen.

Instead, I have the best of the lot standing proudly in the corner of my sitting room, adorned by decorations and lights, attracting our attention every evening as Christmas music plays in the background.

I am happy with my tree because it is not a large, massive one going right up to the ceiling and weighed down with baubles and trinkets, then surrounded by piles of gifts like one’s imagination would create.

My life is not like that.

It is modest yet a proud statement of achievement, however little, of a goal I set out on and scored in some measure. But it’s compromised size is a direct result of the frustrations we face doing ordinary business with ordinary people who don’t pay attention to small details.

More importantly, it represents a promise that next year we will have a bigger, brighter, more luscious tree, as it will continue to grow even after we take it out of the room.

Plus, it will take more gardening effort of our own – which work I am looking forward to in months to come, along with the full batch of trees.

The same will apply to many things for us – from natural beauty, to bank balances, to the size of business opportunities and even basic knowledge as my children are still in school.

Actually, even if the children don’t take issue and ask me, I’m going to give them the more lengthy version of the justification for how small our Christmas Tree is this year – explaining how much bigger it will be next year and the year after that.