Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Morning Glory

Peter and I didn't like each other that much. But he lived next door and we suffered the aura of disapproval between our two homes..It hung like a dirty smell you could not get rid of.
   He had good reason to dislike me: my puppy, Leone (named after Sierra Leone, where I worked for five years) regularly wriggled under the chain link fence between our houses, and the shrubbery bordering it, to go marauding in his garden. Marauding as in dig up the Impatiens and Begonia, steal slippers for chewing up, leave disagreeable offerings on his neat, shining lawn.
   But we had something in common, Peter and I. We were both keen gardeners; we found the Uganda morning sunshine irresistible. Out we would tumble on to our lawns. Our grievances were briefly suspended on those special mornings in Kampala when the sun shone, the lawn was silver and the air translucent. On such mornings we would call out to each other, 'What a morning,'  and actually smile and feel fraternal. We knew we were blessed. And it was unthinkable that you could carry annoyance around with you for anyone or anything.
   I have often thought Uganda has the finest climate in the world. Not too cold, not too warm, through the year. Stick a walking stick in the ground and it would sprout. And when the morning sunlight caught the multi-coloured foliage of the succulents and the slightly wet blooms of the many-coloured Cannas, they shimmered.    The people were kindly too unlike Kenyans over the border.
   We had a saying in the British Council: many of the African men and women we sent out to the UK on scholarship, from various countries, would predictably fail to return when they had finished their studies. They went to the U.S or melted seamlessly into that huge mass of nameless people who became illegal immigrants. But the Ugandans always came back. How could you give up on that country, if you were born there?
   Sierra Leone was another kettle of fish altogether. The mornings were harsh and the temperature into the mid-forties by the time I started walking the short distance from my flat to the lecture rooms. It was an act of courage; you had to mentally prepare for it, girt your loins, bring forward the stiff upper lip.... In the afternoons you stripped to whatever you could get away with. Which was near nothing. And of course there was no water on tap till the pump opened for a brief half hour in the evenings.
   The place had its moments though. The water came in the mornings, very early, and the women would go out with buckets to collect it. Kargbo next door would get his radio out and High-Life would blast forth from his balcony. The radio was his pride and joy and all others in the flats had to know about it. Until David Thornton reached the point of no return. He would be in adviser - dreamland at six in the morning, sleeping off a heavy evening at Pa Kargbo's verandah-bar. (Yes - he was also called Kargbo. Like the Nairs in Kerala, Kargbos and Banguras abounded in Makeni,Sierra Leone, where I was posted from '83-'87) He threatened to drop the radio in a bucket of water if he heard it at that time. David had his uses.
   If I had my pick though, I'd still opt for those lazy June mornings in Thalassery, smells of Dosha and Sambar wafting from the kitchen, the sun playing hide and seek with clouds, occasionally giving up for the rain to come pelting down. The fishermen would be trotting past with his fresh head load and the girls would be walking to school, long plaits swinging suggestively well below their waists. A place to watch the world go by.
   The women with the huge watermelon baskets and the red-spinach vendors came after the school crowd, followed by the black-and-white important looking line of lawyers, gowns flowing behind them. They looked neither left nor right as their 'status' decreed. Until a bus scattered them, hurtling down the road with murderous intent.


  1. Mmmmmm....makes me wanna get myself to Uganda. I like your romantic memories of Makeni Teachers' College, too. From time to time, I find myself pining away for a Rogbesseh Village Morning...or better yet, a hard rainfall evening ~ with the neighbor on his verandah playing a thumb-piano...I REALLY miss those peaceful times. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I think I need to edit that to say "a mild rainfall evening." Hard rainfalls made the zincpan rumble! :)