fetch me the chaps who make zebra crossings…NOW

Zebra Crossing


Somebody, please point me to the person in charge of deciding where zebra crossings go?

At my kids’ school it’s ridiculous.

The zebra crossing over there, on what I believe is called Gaddafi Road, is a little faded, but that is not the problem – it might actually be the solution, because the sooner it disappears, the better.

Because the crossing runs from one end of the road to the other, right onto the entranceway into a parking lot (see above, again).

Yes – the safe crossing point at my children’s school leads pedestrians straight into oncoming traffic. There are crazier things happening in the world, of course, but this would be high on your list if it were happening to your children two times every day.

This is not the fault of the Aga Khan Education Services, which is run by hard-working educationists and administrators, because my expectation of them is to provide an education and an environment in which that education will be received and absorbed in an enjoyable manner.

Which is why I ask again: who is in charge of these things? Who is the person who took time to examine the problem children and parents were facing getting across this busy road, and worked out that a zebra crossing would solve it?

That person must have researched the concept of zebra crossings and the fact that they give right of way to pedestrians – the same right of way that driving instructors, back when I was in driving school, explained to me in some detail.

On establishing that a zebra crossing would be a good solution to the problem of children and parents risking life crossing a busy road in Kampala City, the person behind the Aga Khan zebra crossing probably got to work designing it.

From the looks of it, that person’s idea of ‘design’ was to: a) Draw black and white strips. b) Leave.

The strips aren’t even all the same size!

Taking into account the speed of internet access used to google ‘zebra crossing’ (if that person’s internet provider is the same as mine), and the time taken to pick up one pencil and one sheet of paper, this entire process should have taken four minutes.

And that person certainly didn’t get involved in painting the actual zebra crossing onto the road, otherwise the folly of its placement would have been clear to see, if they had their wits about them while doing the painting.

That folly is clear to us, parents and children alike, as we make that crossing daily like gladiators facing vehicular monsters under the control of the maniacal drivers Kampala seems to produce in their thousands.

The plot thickened recently when due to genuine security concerns cars were prohibited from driving into the school yard to drop children off, and more recently when the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) rightly put a stop to the practice of parking on the pavements.

So now, all vehicles must go into that one parking lot, accessible strictly over the same single zebra crossing that leads children and those parents adventurous enough to accompany their young into the arena.

Not all parents or minders, I might add, face this danger; some are too busy to get involved and toss their little ones out of the car in order to head off into commerce and duty. They are not taking risks, I presume, since there have been no reports in the recent past of vehicular tragedy at this school.

Other parents, minders and drivers, while speeding off to their other lives, narrowly escape killing their children’s classmates every morning and afternoon while doing so.

Again, they can’t be fully to blame because their only access in and out of the parking lot is by way of the zebra crossing.

Luckily, there is a traffic officer present most mornings to guide the chaos. But if the zebra crossing designer had applied just a little bit of planning during their work, then that traffic officer would have been deployed to create a higher level of order or handle a more serious crime elsewhere.

The officer in question is most times assisted by some parking attendants kindly provided by the school and, together with parents and children, small crowds form to intimidate the vehicles enough to avert death.

The challenge is entertaining to observe, but some times also irritating. Like the Friday before last when one Nadia-driving lady impatiently hooted at a group of parents, children and attendants to get them out of her way after she had dropped her ‘passengers’ off.

On realising that her car horn was not achieving the desired effect, she took a leaf from the book of taxi drivers and drove over the pavement and kerb, inches away from ANOTHER group of parents and children, and made her way into the road.

The irony of a child-dropping parent being a threat to the lives of other children and parents doing the same is as thick as that of the zebra crossing leading into the parking lot; and just a little less thick than the designer of this zebra crossing itself.


pain is the defiance of a three-year old in stormy weather at night

Those in Kampala will read the time at which this is coming in and will surely sympathise; the defiance of a three-year-old in THIS weather at THIS time can only lead to kiboko or a VERY MAJOR lesson in patience.

Over time, my three-year old has developed a system for summoning us to her bedside in the night, which involves pestering her eleven-year old sister awake by calling out to her gently but continuously until she responds firmly as proof that she is awake, then instructing her to call either one of us.

The eleven-year old, once awakened, is always desperate to go back to sleep and applies herself to her three-year old sister’s assignment with energy fuelled by this desperation. Since we are always asleep when her frantic shout comes through, our response is always quick, frantic, panicked and, again, quick and frantic. It is always only after we have completed the sprint and hurdles across to their room that we remember that this is normally a summons by the three-year old to entertain any one of her middle-of-the-night needs.

Things proceed calmly after that, most nights, but it is painful.

On this night, in this weather, it is even more painful; first of all, I have developed a system of not waking up fully when this happens, in order to fall back into sleep in the style of the military command ‘As You Were!’ – I’m sure you all have this. The human body is an amazing thing for having this auto-setting where you can memorise slumber and lock it in, go to the loo or fridge or frisky kid for a few minutes, then Return To Unit or Return-To-Sleep.

When the weather is like this one right now, raining cats, dogs and other larger animals, the body has ways of absorbing sleep so completely that you begin having dreams of candles melting and merging with their holders like your body onto the mattress under the blanket. Even in your sleep, you find that position that you are somehow aware is the perfect one without moving even a toe to one side or another; and the sound of the rain in that slumber penetrates all sleep and even enhances rather than  interrupts it.

In THIS weather, Return-To-Sleep is automatically engaged, but when I got to the three-year old’s bed and heard the first words come out of her mouth I became immediately alert to how awake she was and fear set in.

“Daddy,” she said, to test whether I was surely, properly awake and to prepare me for a long discourse ahead, “I am seeing light and I want to bathe because I think it is morning.”

She is now at that age where she comes up with such statements of reason for things that make you first work out how she did it before you can address her argument – which puts you on the back foot when she follows it up with another argument.

Imagine this position at THIS hour of the night in THIS weather when your body is locked into Return-To-Sleep mode.

I wasn’t entering into a conversation.

The poor eleven-year old was also awake but unlike me, her return-to-sleep is faster and more assured so she got up to use the loo. I decided that I had to change the three-year old’s nighties, children being children, and immediately dispatched her to go with her big sister to the loo while I picked out her change of nighties and waited for them to return, only to hear a bit of commotion a few minutes later.

Shuffling over to the rescue, I found two white ants fluttering about, the eleven-year old sleepily watching their feeble drama, and the three-year old pointing at them with commands for someone to put them out of commission.

She hadn’t used the loo yet.

I crushed them underfoot – the white ants, not the girls – on my way to picking her up and placing her on the loo.

Disappointed at how quickly this had been resolved, the three-year old then declared, “I am going to pupu.”

This is her threat whenever I take her to the loo and appear to be in a hurry, and in polite adult english language would be phrased as, “If you think this is going to be quick, you have another think coming!”, while in Luganda it would be, “T’ompapya! Ndi wa ddembe!”

The eleven-year old gave me a sympathetic diplomatic fifteen seconds of company then left.

I didn’t even acknowledge the threat and after two minutes held out the nighties with, “Have you finished?”

I breathed a sigh of relief when she disembarked from the loo, but then she headed to her room and roused the eleven-year-old to help her with finding another set of nighties – her preferred set of nighties, for this occasion.

I watched in disbelief as they browsed the clothes cabinet, the three-year old with a running commentary of her clothing preferences and wearing history of some of the outfits, and the eleven-year-old showing a little commitment that ended when she realised I had arrived.

After trying on two sets of nighties and rejecting them, I begged her to go to sleep and she responded in the voice and tone of my Aunt Robinah, the most big-headed of my beloved aunts (which is why God gave her Edgar for a son): “But I don’t want to sleep.”

She didn’t shout it, or whine, or anything child-like; she stated it as if to say, “Seriously, why do you think I am all up in these clothes right now?” or “Beera mu kilaasi”.

The eleven-year-old, always focussed and now in the comfort of her bed, gently asked me to tuck in her net tightly and bade me a good night, then promptly dropped off. This is when I remembered how it was only a couple of years ago that her and her nine-year old brother began appreciating the opportunity for sleep that rain provides. The nine-year-old, meanwhile, cannot be anywhere in this story as he has a strict sleep policy when it rains, which reads in full as follows: “Sleep.”

He even prays for it to rain at night so that he can sleep. The nine-year old so keenly looks out for rain at night that if he hears the signs early in the evening he will be off to bed well ahead of the rest, to lie in wait for the rain to fall.

Not so the three-year-old, and tonight I could see that my seminar on the subject had flopped.

So, ordering her to enter her bed with a sternness I hoped she would not ignore, we faced off for a few seconds and she gave in.

I was overjoyed!

Tucking her in with instructions to close her eyes and just go to sleep, I left.

But my Return-To-Sleep setting had worn off.

And as I tried to regain it, seeking my perfect sleeping position and listening intently to the sound of the rain beating down, I heard instead: “DAAAADDDDYYYY!”

She was now thirsty. The rest is insomniac history.

finding water in Kampala – a beginner’s guide

It made sense for me to be on the road with ten empty jerry cans just after five o’clock on Friday morning because: a) I don’t listen to local radio much anymore, and b) my domestic employment policy is very much unlike Google’s.

Explaining a): I dropped off the FM station radar a while back because the one segment of the day when I would be sure to be tuned in to FM chatter began to involve my children being in the car with me, and they became of an age where they would actually listen to what people on the radio said.

At first, I’d be quite aware of the moment when these radio presenters would be just about to burst into profanity or lewdness, and I was practiced at raising my voice while turning the radio volume down. Most of the time, though the joke and story on FM stations here are salacious, or based on some personal ‘relationship’ issue with inane solutions being offered up by the presenters, or focused on some American or European issue.

I therefore could not intervene often enough, and very much aware of the risk of dumbing children down so early in the morning and in their lives, I switched off the radio and started them off on offerings from my CD collections, downloaded podcasts (including a Ugandan one by Mister DeeJay) and the BBC.

As such, I missed all radio announcements about a water shortage this weekend.

Explaining b): Google employs the most intelligent people they can find, through a rigorous, painstaking and very detailed process, then pay them very, very well.

Because of my failure to employ domestic staff in this manner, my oft-repeated instructions to them to keep filling our emergency water receptacles, aka jerry cans, and ensure that the water stored within them is clean, keep getting ignored along with many other things I say, request for and order. 

Also, even though they spend the day listening to FM radio broadcasts, none of them heard the announcement regarding an impending water shortage.

As such, on Friday morning there was only half a jerry can of water for the entire household to share around covering ablutions and breakfast, and I was soon groggily driving down Jinja Road.

I circled various places till I woke up and realised that I had no idea where to get water from in the event of a shortage – the National Water offices. But which ones?

I drove in the general direction and then, voila! There was a water tanker, aka bowser, driving right towards me.

I flagged them down frantically, and they were all too ready to stop the car and hop out to talk with me.

We negotiated for about ten minutes, parked smack in the middle of Mugalu Road, aka, Fourth Street, and trotted back to their truck – only to return to me with a question:

“Boss, you said we are going where?”

“Just follow me,” I said, ultra-polite and hopeful that I would not be having a smelly day ahead, then gave directions.

“This lorry cannot make it up a hill,” they explained, “we need to go and get another one.”

I parked by the side of the road waiting and as my mind cleared with the morning skies, I noticed this signpost:


So THIS is where people get water in this town! 

I had seen these water bowsers before, of course, but not here – parked at various odd swamps around Kampala piping water into the tanks! I had sworn NEVER to get involved in their disease generating activities.

But now, what was I to do?

When the fellow eventually returned, thirty minutes later, I knew for a fact that he had been at a swamp filling up his tank.

“Where did you get the water from?” I began my interrogation.

“The National Water tanks, sir. Very clean!”

I paused and gave him that quizzing look. He paused and gave me back that look that indicated that I was just being foolish because there was no way I was going to prove otherwise, I had no water and would have none till Sunday, and if I didn’t swallow his story then I would have to just go to hell.

It was a very eloquent look.

I emptied my Milton’s steriliser and the deal was done.

But I am still asking: What is everybody else doing? Do you all have 10,000 litre tanks at your homes? Do you also have bottles of Milton’s lying around the house to sterilise swamp water?  

the al-shabab mentality and loose talking youth

On Tuesday morning, one Radio Sanyu talk show took calls over the unnecessary comments by Youth & Children Affairs State Minister Ronald Kibuule, linking indecent dressing to rape.
One of the irate callers, seeking to sensationalise the issue with some disgusting shock-and-awe, asked what Kibuule would say about babies being defiled and whether it was linked to their diapers making them appear attractive.
My eleven-year old, listening to the discussion, was quite upset about it all – adding to the anxiety she was already going through over the terrorist attack and siege at the Westgate Mall.
Every day she got home asking whether all the hostages had been released, so worried she was, and one day I had to explain it all to her – starting with Al-Shabab.
And on Tuesday it hit me that Al-Shabab means ‘The Youth’, while Ronald Kibuule is Youth State Minister. Al-Shabab comes up with stupid arguments to justify their abhorrent barbarism, and Ronald Kibuule came up with a stupid argument to justify an aberration. This week, Al-Shabab slaughtered women and children, and Ronald Kibuule voiced an opinion which, if followed by anybody anywhere in the world, would kill the souls of many women and children in more ways than I care to think up.
My daughter was terrified by the idea of terrorists storming anywhere, and continually prays it doesn’t happen, but don’t ask me about how I explained to her what Ronald Kibuule said – I could find no entry point for the discussion. I preferred that she did not really know of his existence, let alone that of his views mixing indecent dressing and rape.
Indecent dressing does not lead to rape – to some it may be culturally wrong and irritating but it certainly is not reason for anyone to commit the crime we call rape; just as your being a non-Muslim is not good reason for a religious person to gun down you, your wife or your daughter.
Violence against women and children is one of those things we can never sit back and accept easily; if the terrorists at Westgate Mall had conducted a four-day exchange of fire with soldiers and policemen, we would have watched the engagement a little bit differently. But they targeted women and children, and took us over the edge because that behaviour is right over the edge.
I have known victims of rape and of domestic violence, and neither issue has ever been a good theme for a joke, in my view.
Initially, when the public outcry broke out, some asked him to apologise – and I advised the same, but not believinghe should stop at that. His apology would put voice to correcting a perception, but what did he really think about rape?
While trying to reconcile that thought with his explanation Wednesday that he had been “misqouted” and “misunderstood”, I came upon another Monitor news story from December last year titled, “Law On Dressing In Offing”, after Kibuule opened a Youth Camp in Kayunga District under the banner, ‘Inclusive Skilling For Employment and HIV/AIDS’.
In his speech, the story goes, he told the youth many different things including the warning that dressing indecently seduces men who end up raping or defiling girls.
If your mother wore a mini-skirt when they were en vogue in the 1970s, or your wife or sister does now, and you have daughters who will certainly wear short skimpies one day in adolescence, I can see you worrying.
To his credit just a little bit, shortly after being appointed in 2011 he said young women in Uganda would be given pepper spray to protect themselves against sexual crimes. Of course, this hasn’t happened.
“My role as state minister for youth and children is to ensure that the people under my ministry are safe. I will do whatever it takes to protect them,” he said then.
Again: Of course, this hasn’t happened.
Here’s my worry with him – he’s a young man of just 30 who should be a smooth, suave, savvy operator shining the path for our youth – 77% of Uganda – and giving us hope that we have leaders for tomorrow.
But this? He was just the usual politician showing up without speech notes written by professionals and technocrats synchronising thoughts with policy, the party manifesto and resources on the ground. Ergo the off-cuff casual comments that would work very well in a bar ill-fitted for intellectual discourse – much the same way that his colleague Father Simon Lokodo ended up putting Uganda on the map for being extremely interested in legislation over mini-skirts in spite of our having much more pressing developmental issues that could be articulated quite clearly by primary school children in General Paper essays.
Was his comment in line with the NRM principles or government of Uganda policy? Of course not – and neither does Islam endorse the waging of a Jihad that kills women and children!