finding opportunity in ebyangwe (loofahs, for the non-Ugandans) without having to bathe

finding opportunity in ebyangwe (loofahs, for the non-Ugandans) without having to bathe

Ebyangwe (Loofahs) in real, vivid colour. (Photo by Simon Kaheru)

On the dashboard of my regular vehicle is a bathing sponge – the type I was raised on, made out of the cucumber-type plant that back in the day was staple in most of our homes.

It’s called a Loofah (Luffa) and originates from somewhere in Asia – in fact, the original name for it is Arabic – ‘luf’. But in Uganda we call it ‘Ekyangwe‘.

The one in my car will join about eight others placed in various spots round my home. I don’t actually use them – the details around which will be best kept private – but started gathering them up recently because of an interesting twist to a trend Kampala dwellers should have certainly noticed by now.

At various roundabouts, road junctions and traffic-heavy spots there are groups of little children vending these loofahs in categories. Some of them (the loofahs, not the roadside children) are as bare as the one in my car, but others have a cloth piping round the edges to make them look nicer.

These children, in the beginning, appeared to be urchins begging for change. But someone somewhere hit upon this interesting idea of conscripting them into a sales team. When I first started noticing them and declined to make the purchase I was being enticed to, they tended to ask for some bottled Rwenzori Water or, in rare cases, money to buy a snack.

But one day my wife and I were taken aback when two of these children, little girls, handed us two loofahs and insisted that we take them both free of charge. I couldn’t understand how this would work in their favour, and quizzed them briefly.

“So that next time when you come you will buy,” said one little girl.

It was nonplussing, should the word exist. Did these little girls have a marketing budget that provided for free sampling? By the way, how come they are so many in number? And they all appear to be the same size and age…?

Actually, wait! This appears to be a rather lucrative and well-organised industry going on here right before our very eyes! Whoever is behind the business is so orderly that they have recruited a sales force, trained them, probably put them in some sort of uniform, and deployed them strategically at points of vantage.

The one problem, besides the possible lack of the relevant licensing for this trade to continue uninterrupted, is the use of children in situations that put them at risk.

The people behind this Loofah trade, though, are more sophisticated than many other businesses I know that have not gone so far as to open branches anywhere!

But that’s not all that this clever entrepreneur, or even one better than them, could do.

It is a very easy plant to cultivate, so making excuses about it not growing would be difficult. The internet presents a myriad of recipes from almost every country in Asia, that involve this plant – including its young fruit, its rind and all!

Besides food it also gets to be used as medicine for a long list of ailments (administered carefully).

Back when we were little children every home in our neighbourhood had one of these vines climbing up trees and little homestead buildings so I imagine we would be at middle income status by now if we had continued this practice with focus.

The first use of the ‘ekyangwe‘ we all know as the Bath sponge, though some of us also used bits to wash dishes through the 80s and 90s, before the imported scrubbers became normal.

In Paraguay, however, they make furniture and house construction materials out of the loofah by combining it with other vegetable matter and recycled plastic – a point I am going to raise with my colleagues at Coca-Cola who do plastic waste recycling.

In Japan it is grown over buildings to shield windows from harsh sunshine, while many other countries use it as a decorative creeper the way we did when my grandmother was still alive, complete with those bright yellow flowers.

In the United States it is also used as a bath sponge.

Note that the ones that the little children sell by Kampala street-sides go for Ushs1,000-2,000 each if they don’t have a piped border, and Ushs2,000-2,500 with the piping. The ones in the US go for US$10 a piece…

The Kampala roadside children don’t have internet access to establish that last fact alone and establish contact with the people who could buy their sponges and put them on Amazon – but YOU do.

Even if you can’t work out how to turn ‘ekyangwe‘ into food or furniture, lazima you can go down to those children and buy up their stock, liberate them from the street, then make a very neat profit selling them on Amazon!

Opportunity is spelt ‘Ekyangwe‘.

suffer the little children…or NOT!


Children In Dangerous Situations
Modified from memegenerator.net

SATURDAY afternoon, as I was driving from a brief Daddy-chore, I got to Kintu Road in Kitintale and joined a brief queue of cars on either side whose occupants mostly had the hairs on the backs of their necks standing on horrified ends.

My view was better than that of the people in the cars behind a large truck at the head of the oncoming queue. The three cars ahead of me facing that truck were all small salon vehicles whose occupants were certainly as petrified as I was at what we saw.

Standing in the middle of the road in front of the large truck was a little boy, not more than one year old, dressed in a dark blue shirt and matching pair of shorts. Having been alive for so short a time, he had no idea how close he was to dying at that very point.

Human beings generally believe in the supernatural because of the way that truck driver managed to spot that little boy in the middle of the road and actually stop before flattening him to the tarmac.

All the cars stopped and stayed still until someone, who turned out to be a fairly random man, came from across the road and lifted the little fellow to safety. The women who formed the welcoming committee on the other side of the road received the infant without much fan-fare.

One elderly one called to a younger one who made quarrelsome noises down at him and then, fueled by the various remarks by her neighbours in the collection of houses and rooms nearby, pushed him to the ground with the instruction, in Luganda, that he should “Go back and stay there!”

The poor fellow, not comprehending why this was happening to him, burst into tears, picked himself up, and shuffled with his dust-covered back towards the area his mother had pointed to. One minute ago he was on the flat, hot tarmac dancing a baby jig with all those fantastic vehicles whizzing past while someone played loud music nearby, and the next he was covered in dust and being hit over the head.

The lugezi-gezi kicked in and I had to strike up a conversation, but not with the errant young mother – with the elderly one who I insisted should have known better and had a responsibility to guide the other.

She started by explaining that the child had followed his unknowing mother and then strayed, but I cut her short – at which point she summoned the offending mother.

No – I wasn’t going to arrest her even though she deserved it, I said, as the offending mother also tried to explain that the little one had just followed her…I lost my patience a little bit and explained that it was mostly poultry that walked around and expected their young to follow in a straight line, but that even THEY check occasionally.

It took many more minutes of conversation till they both agreed that children should be treated with a little more care. I was neither convinced that mother would change nor decided that I should go back on a daily basis to check up on the boy’s upbringing.

2018 and children are still being raised to the background tune of “Nja kukuba!”?

Yep – that phrase many people of past generations heard as they pranced around and frolicked: “Nija kuteera!/Nta kupiga!” and so on and so forth!

The offending mother, in this case, confessed to being 22 years of age and agreed that she didn’t know better. She couldn’t look me in the eye, out of what I hoped was shame but feared might be fear – which was why I had asked to speak with her elder friend, neighbour and possibly mother.

She was only raising her child the way she knew children were raised. By not being given too much attention for too long. By not being held by the hand at every step of the way. By not being repeatedly given emotional validation. By not getting any soft treatment when they make mistakes of any nature.

Because life is harsh and hard.

That cycle has to be broken – not by raising children who are spoilt and soft and won’t make a success of themselves in the harsh world. But by teaching them responsibility and the positive values that make us a positive people.

By stopping them from getting into harm’s way when they are young and tender, but teaching them how to survive should hard come to them when they are older.

the rain and the children


There is a certain number of children beyond which one is not guaranteed that continuous deep sleep under heavy rain and thunder.
Study that statement carefully.
Basically, the logic is that if you have one child then you have a 50:50 chance of having your heavy rain deep sleep interrupted; anything more than just that one child decreases your chances of sleeping drastically.
In general, most of the children will take advantage of the rains to also enjoy some deep sleep, but there will always be one who departs from the script under ordinary circumstances. In a worse case scenario, you might even have more than one doing so, taking turns to send you for water, toilet tours, entertainment and so on and so forth.
Last night after the first major peal of thunder, I was summoned to the presence of only one of my brood and presented with a classic heavy rain problem:
“I can’t sleep. The rain is too loud.”
She was quite right about the volume of the rain, and I immediately acknowledged so then told her to just close her eyes and try to sleep.
“I did that and it didn’t work,” she responded, in a tone of voice that signalled frustration and anger at science in general.
As usual, I started a discussion about the science of rain and lightning and thunder, hoping the dullness of the topic and depth of my voice would bore her to sleep. Failure was complete, as I started nodding off in mid-sentence myself and she had to wake me with:
“I still can’t sleep. It’s really too loud.” This time in a tone of voice so hard that I realised I had to be more careful approaching the problem.
I suggested prayer, story-telling, and a couple of other tactics but she had tried some and rejected the rest.
Eventually, looking out of the window at the torrents of rain, my mind went to the Bobi Wine song ‘Singa’ (“Singa, nze Museveni…Singa, nze Sudhir omugagga…”) and I tried to imagine what those two would do in these circumstances.
We would have fallen draw-draw, as some would say.
This was a problem no money or power could solve.
But I needed to look on the bright side of the issue and, first and foremost, stop the conversation from going any further. You see, the problem statement was one that I could possibly tackle: “I can’t sleep. The rain is too loud.”
If we went on talking there was a chance that we would get to a demand such as, “Make the rain stop” or “Decrease the volume of the rain.”
These are fatherhood nightmare statements, in these situations, because they put our hero-status to a direct test held under stressful conditions invigilated by a hyper-alert young one with very high expectations.
Those are the kind of demands that make fathers create entire dramatic productions backed by nonsensical stories that they pray will be forgotten before the children enter into their teenage years. Acceptably embarrassing options in these extreme circumstances include phonecalls to so-called ‘Rain Offices’; the use of imaginary remote control devices to decrease the rain volume; and even positioning oneself before windows and using some mind-force energy to push the rain away.
It is very embarrassing but can be highly effective if timed right and the elements of nature comply within reasonable measure. The only problem is that eventually you get asked to “decrease the heat” during the hot dry seasons and whereas the solution is switching on a fan, the act is not as heroic…
So “I can’t sleep. The rain is too loud”, needed to be managed and for the moment I was the man for the job.
If she had been of age, this problem would have been fixed by a double measure of a wide range of tonics from various bottles kept in the relevant cabinet.
Sadly she was above the age where moving to our bed was a solution to any problem from “My stomach is hurting” to “I had a bad dream”, and so my options narrowed down even further.
I couldn’t dare, meanwhile, curse the rain; we’ve waited for it long enough and will be forever grateful for it.
The solution: wait out the rain in her room while ensuring conversation does not get to “Make the rain stop” or “Decrease the volume of the rain” levels.
So I transferred the failure to sleep and took it on in full measure. That’s me here. Being an insomniac on behalf of my daughter so that she can get enough sleep to manage a few hours of school tomorrow.
See; all I have to do during the day is go out to work so I can afford their school fees, the mortgage, their food, clothes and so on and so forth.
I will sleep when they are old enough to get their own house.

Victor Ochen: let’s take him viral for Uganda


Allan Ssenyonga (@ssojo81 on Twitter) is a Ugandan living and working in Rwanda who makes incisive, prolific observations every so often in his weekly newspaper column down south (I don’t get that paper in regularly), and more importantly, on Twitter.
A week ago he was angry at the Ugandan media focus on Desire Luzinda, Bad Black and the likes of Zari instead of presumably ‘more serious’ matters.
“Dear friends,” he wrote, “that’s how Bad Black/Desire Luzinda find space on page one while you struggle to know when the next LC elections will be held.”
“From setting the agenda,” he continued, “newspapers now just reflect what is trending on social media…in the process (the papers) have lost their voice.”
We applauded him, in between tweets about the just-leaked racy nudes of one Sheebah, a musician.
“Newspapers seem to be struggling to be blogs. Like that 30yr old who still wants to sag his jeans to hangout with campus kids,” he went on.
He hit nail after nail on the head with heavy, effective tweets, but of course life went on and the newspapers are probably not following him THAT keenly.
By the time he was tweeting this up, I was popping off a few of my own seeking excitement, on Twitter at least, about 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Victor Ochen, whose appearances on our front pages so far have not been numerous enough by far.
Victor Ochen’s popularity amongst the social media crowd is low, of course, because of his severe failure to be photographed in a state of undress or on video while engaged in a sexual act.
Victor Ochen and-Archbishop-Desmond-TutuThe most commonly available photograph of him online has him draping his arm over the shoulder of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
This amazing young fellow is being lauded (a nomination on its own is serious global applause) for starting and running the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET) in northern Uganda which has changed the lives of thousands of people.
Without focusing on how young he is in calendar years, Victor Ochen’s initiative has provided direct surgical medical rehabilitation to more than 5,000 victims of torture, gunshot wounds, rape and other forms of war-related trauma in northern Uganda.
And while most people prepared to cast votes for the Social Media Awards 2015, he got nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
And he wasn’t nominated by me, or any other Ugandan I know – even though nominating someone isn’t complicated at all – the categories of persons and organisations who can nominate people are many and include any Member of Parliament (Victor Ochen’s MP must be kicking himself right now, I wrote in my first version of this article; but when he read it on Saturday night – the early edition of the Sunday newspaper – he sent me a Facebook message and we had a good chat about this.
Victor Ochen’s Member of Parliament is Moroto County’s Benson Obua-Ogwal and he is NOT kicking himself over this.
“I’m not surprised by his nomination, and he deserves it. But you and I know that it is hard to know exactly the criteria for such nominations, going by many past winners. I dare say if the nomination came from me or a fellow African of any rank it probably would not have carried as much weight as the nomination from …(this is revealed a few paragraphs from here)... He has worked very closely with international friends, and we have been in touch. I am proud of his work. I’m praying he wins. It will be my pride and that of the people of Moroto County, Lango and Uganda!!” he told me.
To nominate someone you just send an email to postmaster@nobel.no; but obviously if your airtime has been eaten up by all those WhatsApp messages with photos and videos of Ugandan ‘celebs’, then you can’t send that email.
Without saying that all of us who didn’t nominate Victor Ochen for the Nobel consideration were otherwise engaged in soft pornography, guess who nominated him?
The American Friends Service Committee.
No, it is NOT a Ugandan organisation with an American name. The organisation doesn’t even list Uganda as one of the countries in which it has operations, so I am not certain or how where they heard of Victor Ochen.
The AFSC itself won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, and so is high up on the list of organisations allowed to nominate future winners. We have to applaud them for using their valued opportunity on Victor Ochen.
There is no telling exactly how many people have been nominated for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize, since the organisers, the Nobel Foundation, keep the list of nominations secret for 50 YEARS!
Still, there are people who make their nominations public, and so we know that Victor Ochen is up against Pope Francis, Ban Ki-Moon, Edward Snowden and the World Health Organisation, among around 200 or so others.
At this point, it is not healthy to judge your own friends, or posse, or investment club as you ponder the proverb regarding ‘birds of a feather’.
Instead, salute Victor Ochen for getting nominated by way of noble Victor Ochen 2hard work, and say a prayer or cross your fingers that the Ugandan flag will be flown in places such as the location at which the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates are announced and awarded.
And tell your children about Victor Ochen so that they aspire to be like him. Also, if you can take a break from your smart phone, or the bar, or life as usual otherwise, lobby our educationists so that they include the work of Victor Ochen and people like him on the curriculum of our schools.
It is important for our millions of students to get exposed to more of Uganda’s Victor Ochen’s than all these undressed celebs and their shenanigans.
And maybe for our media to tell us more about the work of AYINET than the last sighting of a photograph of a nude person on the mobile phone of a misguided person.
In fact, YOU get a photo of Victor Ochen and send it round to a couple of people with a few positive comments just in case you can inspire more people to be like him.
Victor Ochen
The heroic Victor Ochen – photo from http://www.africanyouthinitiative.org/

the ‘ebola is Africa’ bullshit needs to be stopped BEFORE the disease itself


Earlier today you must have seen this map:

Ebola In Africa

Please share it with anyone and everyone in THE WORLD so that they begin to understand that this continent is not one big tent under which lives this big, close-knit family called Africans.

And kindly go over to people like the professionals who run kidshealth.org and make them replace their entire philosophy with this map.

This evening, while checking on a couple of ideas I had in the middle of handling my four-year old’s feverish cough (NO – she does NOT have Ebola!), I landed on this page (http://kidshealth.org/kid/) and was surprised to see the section titled ‘Ebola’.

Ebola 1

Do you see what they are doing there? This is a website that communicates DIRECTLY to children, with a clear focus on the ones in the United States of America, and their idea of Ebola has it linked to the continent of Africa in our white entirety.

Don’t think, by the way, that the purveyors of this website information are so stupid that they show you a picture of the full human body to depict a headache:

Ebola 5

They understand the idea that the body is made up of different parts, and, presumably, that an ache in the head is called headache and so on and so forth. The idea that the continent of Africa does not have Ebola across the entire landmass, therefore, should be easy for them.

Luckily, on one level, this is not the type of page that a medical researcher will visit for information on Ebola, judging from entries such as:

Ebola 2

But the children who read this, I fear, will be traumatised for life with the thought that these “many people in Africa” are sick.

And one cannot therefore fully blame American children or their ignorant parents for all manner of silly reactions such as:

1. The teacher who had to resign her job because she had returned from a visit to Kenya and parents of her school in Lousville, I-Can’t-Be-Bothered-To-Find-Out-Which-State – which is probably closer to the Ebola case in the United States than Kenya is to any case of Ebola in West Africa this year. (http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/education/2014/11/03/louisville-catholic-teacher-resigns-amidst-ebola-fears/18417299/)

2. The two children from Senegal who were beaten and shouted at for being African and therefore probably having Ebola.  (http://edition.cnn.com/2014/10/28/us/ebola—-school-beatings/)

And many other stories besides.

Isn’t there a high possibility that these students and their parents had sought some high quality information from the likes of http://kidshealth.org/kid/?

You see, their editorial policy…actually, read it yourself:

Ebola 3

“rigorous”

“extensive review”

“by medical professionals”

Okay, they don’t know geography or communication, obviously, and need help in that field – thus the need for them to refer to the map above.

Ebola 4

Showing them the map above would help them in their ’18-step process’ that has hitherto failed to notice that the VAST MAJORITY OF THE CONTINENT OF AFRICA DOES NOT HAVE EBOLA.

I’ve done my bit, and gone to their ‘Contact Us’ page where, politely, I have suggested: “You should not spread the stereotypical error that Ebola is linked to the entire continent of Africa, as the map you have presented for the disease indicates. Be clear in your communication so that the children of the United States of America don’t grow up associating everyone from Africa with this disease. You might also wish to mention that some people in the United States and also Europe have contracted Ebola…”

I know that on its own this is a weak blow.

So, please, join me, go over and submit your own suggestion?

Please?!

Help the American child to NOT be mis-educated so?