off to a hakuna mchezo weight control or even weight loss year

AT about this time last year I was emerging from a thoroughly enjoyable festive season and going through my slight annual dismay at the reading on my bathroom scales as I stood on them.

Being overweight has never been a problem for me – even after it actually dawned on me that some people found it odd that I weighed so much. That particular realisation occurred at Mengo Hospital where my Aunt, Sister Joy Muwonge, worked and provided ready sanctuary whenever we suffered ailments.
Going through some treatment course at the age of about sixteen, I was asked to step onto the weighing scales but that routine exercise ended with a group of medical personnel gathered round to confirm and double check the readings, as well as their machine. I stood at 80 (eighty) kilogrammes.
They found it difficult to reconcile my age and my weight. I received warnings and words of advice that I took to be the routine from medical people, and life has gone on ever since with me accumulating more of these statements from a variety of people who did well in Biology and related subjects at school.
After my university days, when I was master of my own domain and destiny and didn’t need to rely on anybody’s menu allocations to determine my meals, I generally hovered between 96 (ninety six) and a hundred kilogrammes. A lot of meat and unhealthy prepared staple food was involved in this.
I also did not drink a lot of water or other such fluids that medical professionals would have listed as wise for consumption.

None of that worried me, and even the reading at the start of 2016 caused me no alarm even though none of my t-shirts felt comfortable any more, and my trousers tended to twist about in discomfort as if to give me hints of what I should be feeling.

The scales in January last year said I was 117 (one hundred seventeen) kilogrammes.

My suspicion was that the meals during the festive season had been exceptionally heavy and my exercise pitifully low, and I went about trying to correct it somewhat.

By April not much had changed, as my past corrective measures had been compromised by the busy political period and other excuses I cannot go into right now.

And then in walked a lady called Lucy Ociti (+256753471034), from the Fat Loss Laboratory. She had tried to track me down with little success for a number of weeks and when she eventually did I marvelled at her luck so much so that I had to give her two minutes. Just two minutes.

She couldn’t even pitch her solution properly because I kept interrupting with specific questions. I despise diets because I have spent most of my life (at this point) seeing my wife suffering through them quite unhappily.

I was happy to try one and show the loved one that: 1. I was capable of dieting myself and; 2. it was possible to diet without suffering.

I knew 1. above, and the questions I asked Lucy proved 2. above because the diet involved meats (besides pork) and allowed for some light cream salad dressings.

The cost made me hold my breath a little but turned out to be the best Ushs1.5million I spent all year on anything personal.

Following it more strictly than some people do religion, I got mid-way and thought I was on the verge of hitting my weight target. See, I thought a lot about how it worked, exactly, and then realised that it revolved around science we had learnt back in school.

Those lessons about food values? The manner in which the body processes food, creates energy, stores fat and so on and so forth? We know all that. We studied it. People took up sticks and beat us for getting answers wrong. And for some reason we grew up into adults without understanding it.

When my scales told me I was merely 90 (ninety) kilogrammes, I proudly went over to Lucy to proclaim victory and inform her I was en route to a platter of pork ribs within a matter of weeks. She was impressed, but still whipped out her own weighing scales – digital, this time – which said I was 99 (ninety-nine) kilogrammes, fully clothed and pockets full.

I was flabbergasted but also happy about one thing – that meant my 117 kilogrammes of January 2016 was actually a LOWER reading than my real weight at the time…

Some people think I have lost more than thirty kilogrammes, some think I must be ill, and others keep asking me to convey their regards to my big, older brother Simon.

I am now fitting into clothes sizes I last saw in my university days about twenty years ago. I have punched four extra holes into all my belts in order to avoid an embarrassing incident involving jeans slipping down to my ankles in public.

And I am still at some risk of that happening.

Yet I am still overweight.

Today, I oscillate between 90 (ninety) and 92 (ninety two) kilogrammes in the morning, and I still eat carefully, following the Fat Loss Laboratory principles. It makes for an easier approach to weight loss and fitness related resolutions. It has also underscored how much of what we learnt in primary school actually applies to the real world.

Both these realisations are going with me into this new year of Hakuna Mchezo weight control and weight loss.

what’s our beef with cows, steaks and leather in Kampala?

MY FAVOURITE Argentinian was a fellow in Uganda called Pedro Seambelar.
I found him working at British American Tobacco and made friends pretty quickly for a number of reasons, and the one time I was upset with him was when we were planning to host the gods of our global tobacco leaf business, on a visit to Uganda.
In that Board Room putting plans together, I was irritated that Pedro spoke up in support of the idea that the meat that would be fed to the visitors in Hoima be bought from all the way in Kampala. I objected on the premise that there were certainly enough butchers in Hoima to supply our needs, but heard back the view – not from Pedro alone, but also from a South African, an American and a Briton in the group – that our beef was generally not good enough.
I eventually lost the argument, but heard quite a lot about how we don’t achieve good cuts of beef, don’t age it well for tenderness, and so on and so forth.
As I ventured out to my first of many restaurants in Buenos Aires the other week, that discussion was on my mind because I very badly needed to demystify the superbovine Argentinian concept of beef.20150621_192606
Even as I type this out, my salivary glands are reacting to the juicy memories of the week’s dining in fine restaurants, train station meatstops and mall food courts. Every one of them, without fail, offered up a consistency of beef that caused me some concern about my situation back here.
For about a year now I have boycotted beef in general at home unless it is minced into a hamburger patty or braised in an upcountry location preferably at a traditional ceremony – both guarantees that it will be extremely tender and full of 20150621_194504flavour.
In urban spots and most Kampala restaurants I generally avoid it especially if it is served up in those chaffing dishes that form the buffet gauntlet that is honestly the bane of the busy lunchtime diner.
The Argentinians certainly know their beef, I agreed, but so do a good many people in upcountry Uganda.
As I munched through various types of tender, juicy steaks I read through piles of brochures and leaflets and magazine and internet articles about this Argentinian beef and kept finding references to the cows themselves being given special treatment throughout their lives.
A lot of specific care and attention goes into the cows’ feeding, breeding, transportation and even slaughter and carcass management.
The role of the chefs, therefore, is made much simpler because the product presented before them is in such fine form, rather than driven down in cramped trucks to crowded abattoirs for slaughter then hacked up with pangas into indeterminate chunks.
With toothpick firmly in mouth, a number of questions shot through my mind after every meal:
  • Is it possible that beef over here would taste better if we had abattoirs positioned in upcountry Uganda where the bulk of the cows are produced?
  • And what is so complicated about abattoirs that we cannot have some set up in locations closer to where cows are herded?
  • Are refrigerated trucks very hard to create?
  • Can’t engineering students design some and modify things to make them?
  • What do our food, science and technology students study and why can’t they give us ways of turning all our cows into superb steaks that we can use to attract dollars to Uganda the way Argentina took mine the other week?
  • Where do all those hides and skins go after the abbatoir, and why isn’t Basajjabalaba a producer of leather belts, jackets, wallets, luggage and furniture the way so many Argentinians are?
  • What simple item can we pay enough attention to all through the process from inception to the time we serve it up, so that we make Uganda world renowned for it the way Argentina is for their beef steaks?
  • And where, in Kampala, can I find as juicy a steak as the ones in Buenos Aires? (This is NOT a rhetorical question. Email me, please.)

spice up your life & the economy

One morning this week I arrived early at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel and decided to walk through the lower gate opposite Speke Hotel, just to test their system.

A pleasant faced askari readily unlocked the gate, checked my bag and let me through with a little banter and I wished him a nice day – but only verbally where he probably hoped for more.

I climbed up the staircase with that early morning vim and vigour of a man addressing a mountain trusting in the presence of a large prize at the top – in this case, my first fruitful meeting of the day punctuated by a good hotel breakfast.

A few metres into the climb I stopped, breathless; not because of what you would suspect if you saw my numbers on a weighing scale, but because of the sight that caught my eyes just then.


That staircase has been in existence probably from before my childhood and has always had a strip of garden running down its middle. I can recall the sight of some of the flowers in that garden from way back then

I have taken more to gardening these days for a number of reasons, and last year had a very disappointing experience with a packet of marigolds that sprouted massive stalks that bore absolutely no flowers.

Here, in that Sheraton strip, I saw a bunch of healthy marigolds and wistfully touched one for a few seconds when I realised what was before me and that’s when my breath caught in my throat.

Next to the marigolds were a couple of fennel stalks, and some lettuce, and coriander, and a type of cabbage, and above that some mint…

I was a little confused yet felt a tingle of excitement; some time in December I stayed over at a vineyard in South Africa where they had a spice garden that looked exactly like this! And I spent a couple of evenings there breathing in the air and inspiration to work harder at my own.

And now here I found that my own Sheraton Kampala had implemented the very same! On closer inspection, I noticed that some of the spices and vegetables had been snipped the way my own at home are because I frequently pick bits for use in the kitchen.

As usual, my thoughts were on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook within minutes, and some people declared that this had been going on for a year and was the pet project of the hotel chef (not the despicable fellow of the Matooke Revolution of a while back!)

I doubt that the hotel’s entire spice and vegetable supply comes from this very garden but if it did then how revolutionary that would be! You see, in Uganda we can grow almost anything anywhere, but spend a lot of time whining all over this fertile soil.
Three weeks ago as I drove through Eastern Uganda in the blazing heat and dust I kept noticing a strain of a plant we call omujaaja (a type of mint) all through Busoga, Butaleja, Mbale, Kapchorwa, Soroti and further. It took me a day to pluck up the courage to throw some leaves into a flask in my hotel and it WAS omujaaja or similar! In Soroti they call it emopim and everyone I asked found it quite unimportant.
From the images on the internet and descriptions, this emopim is most probably a variety that is commonly called Catnip, one of six hundred (600) varieties of mint out there.
Catnip in North America
“Aaah! Even the goats don’t like it!” declared one chapI asked on the ground.

I was flummoxed, and could not even begin to explain how there was wealth amid all that dust, considering that simple internet searches put 250grammes of Mint Tea at close to US$20!

Minutes after his goats and emopim comment, the same fellow lamented to me about how hard his life was, and I couldn’t blame him because obviously nobody was telling him about the value of herbs and spices.

Ironically, countries in the harshest climates of the globe grow the bulk of the world’s spices – India, Bangladesh, Turkey and China are top of the list – yet we can do much, much, much better with our soils using little pieces of land.
One research paper I checked put the global spice and seasonings market at US$12billion last year and reckons it will grow to US$16.6billion by 2019!
And even here, in all the urban centres of Kampala, the price of herbs, spices and vegetables is quite dear…yet a lot of them are STILL imported from other lands.
What are we doing?
Whining while standing on top of this soil.
Seriously, unlike the lamentations put forward to me by some young (they claimed) chaps this week, we don’t need to each own massive tracts of land in order to engage in gainful agriculture. Of course it is always better to go large scale and fully commercial, but even a chap in an apartment could cultivate enough herbs and spices in buckets on his verandah to make a nice little income supplying a couple of restaurants.
I’ve started my own experiment at home and strongly believe we won’t be buying coriander after a couple of months. And I will take the savings from that and pile them up to replace another plant…like that, like that as I spice up my life!

improving health & lifestyle in vernacular


ON the evening that Gender Ministry Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana was launching his book ‘Corruption: A Tale of Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing’, I was the surprised, proud and excited recipient of a book written by another Ugandan few of you have heard about.

And whereas I will certainly buy Bigirimana’s book one day and give it an enthusiastic read, my eyes are now poring over ‘Huumura: Ebyokurya n’Omubazi gw’Amagara Gaitu’, a 143-page book by one John Arinaitwe.

I must immediately declare that Arinaitwe gave me the book free of charge, and that he has not solicited any publicity from me at all, poor fellow.

He handed two copies of his book, which retails at Ushs15,000 per copy (I’ll explain later why this detail is important), to Richard Barungi and I because we’re both members of the Board at the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation where he is employed as Manager of UBC West ‘Empikahoona’.

He was moved to make the donation at the end of a Board and Senior Managers’ Retreat this week for reasons I won’t go into now; if he had been only a poultry farmer perhaps he would have handed us a tray of eggs or a rooster.

Back to ‘Huumura: Ebyokurya n’Omubazi gw’Amagara Gaitu’, on the inside cover of the book is a quotation from the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BC), who is so essential to the world of medicine that medical professionals the world over swear an oath in his name, the ‘Hippocratic Oath’.

But this quotation, as presented by Arinaitwe, is in Runyakitara; which made me muse over the possibility of someone in Western Uganda studying medicine in vernacular and how that would increase medical coverage significantly!

Hindura ebyokurya omubazi gwawe, kandi omubazi gwawe gube ebyokurya byawe.” (No, I am NOT translating it into english, and I will tell you why in a couple of minutes).

A couple of pages later, after the National and East African anthems (I stand while writing this – and mentally applaud him!) I realised that the ENTIRE book was in Runyakitara.

As the realisation struck me and my reading slowed down, my admiration for Arinaitwe went a few notches higher on finding his very first entry taking a quotation from BOTH the Bible and the Quran, to explain the benefits or virtues of greens & vegetables.

And while I was squinting at a couple of words that appeared to be translated into the Runyakitara pronunciation of the english version of the same words, Barungi mentioned that the language of the book was much more complicated than his own native Runyankore.

We immediately took Arinaitwe down a line of questioning that he was ably handling when another colleague of his interjected with, “Wait! Do you know that the author of Katondozi (y’Orunyankore-Rukiga) commended Arinaitwe for coming up with some words in the language?!”

Katondozi y’Orunyankore-Rukiga’ is the Runyankore-Rukiga thesaurus written and published last year by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Manuel Muranga, Alice Muhoozi and Gilbert Gumoshabe.

These were the same words I was squinting at right then – Enkorera-mubiri (Enzayimu – Enzymes) and Entegyeka-Mubiri (Hormoni – Hormones). Arinaitwe explained that he came up with the words in Runyankore because he looked into the importance to the health of the body, of both enzymes and hormones, and decided to define it for ordinary people so they could understand them fully rather than just use the words.

It would have been unbecoming for me to stand up and clap my hands into his face, so I kept calm and questioned him some more.

My eyes popped when he said he had already prepared manuscripts translated into Lugbara and Swahili, and English! All these, he noted, had been done by his colleagues at work, quite kindly, I might add. 

“I haven’t done Luganda yet because they have asked me for money which I don’t have,” he said, in passing, but we stopped him there.

“How much?”

“They asked me for three hundred (300). So I will wait until I have that…”

We all paused for a while and looked incredulously around at each other till one person had the courage to ask, a little silently and in awe of the value of Luganda in general: “300 million…?”

“No!” he responded, totally missing our incredulity and the reason why we were so mistaken, “Three Hundred thousand.”

The courageous one plunged in again with: “Shillings?”

We paused again for a few seconds to try and understand how three hundred thousand shillings had stopped this life-changing, societal-improvement project from going to the next level.

That’s when he told us how when he finished the first manuscript he was a little unsure of his Runyakitara and so went to the Department of Languages at Makerere University to get them to proof-read and endorse his work, but was asked for ten times his current predicament with Luganda.

It was way out of his reach, and he tried to negotiate his way lower but couldn’t see how it would work so he turned round to leave, dejected. But one person couldn’t bear the sight and offered to give the manuscript a quick look-over. Shortly thereafter, the volunteer reader, a PhD Linguistics candidate, summoned him in excitement; this gentleman, Dr. Celestino Oriikirizar, had suffered non-stop migraines for an inexplicable period of time but while reading Arinaitwe’s manuscript had started following some of his nutritional advice and the headaches had gone!

Long story. Cut short. Book cleared and published. Now in my hands.

But then the man needs “300” to come up with a Luganda version – so I am going to mobilise that; YOU don’t even need to get involved, besides buying copies of the book (at the Uganda Bookshop). I am also going to buy up a few copies – a copy for each of my own children so that one day they pick it up and learn some vernacular even though it is heavier on Runyankore-Rukiga than Runyoro-Rutooro.

They will also be healthier, and will learn that another child, Arinaitwe’s own son, Allan Roy Arinaitwe, inspired his father to finish and publish the book – but sadly passed on before it came to print.

Rather than buy up tomes and re-publications by Dr. Atkins and others with diet plans of foods that don’t even grow in Uganda, let alone get to supermarket shelves here, Arinaitwe will be their nutrition and personal health guide.

Thankfully, the government itself recognises the book and presents a foreword signed by the Commissioner for Health Service (Planning), Dr. Francis Runumi; who rightly (yes – in Runyakitara) lauds the book for addressing lifestyle as a health issue.

In fact, I am sending a few copies to some people in a village I know, in the hope that this Ushs15,000 spent will save me having to spend a lot more in medical aid for preventable illnesses and ailments. And if this book found its way into every household upcountry in one language or another, just after UPE…