Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Quality of the Day.

Yesterday I thought about Kampala. It was the quality of light here in Croydon on a bright winter's day that reminded me of the time I spent in my garden on the Kyambogo campus in the late eighties. I didn't have to do much; there was my gardener, Sam, to do all the digging and the planting. Sam, who died before he got to twenty years, like a great many Ugandans who did not know about AIDS, and believed what their culture said - that it was essential to sleep with many women as soon as possible after initiation to test out the skills learned at the boot camp.

   Sam was one of the world's innocents, fiercely loyal to the garden and me, in that order. He did not know a word of English when he came to me, but was fluent by the time I left.

   It was a huge garden, a half-acre of the kind of Kampala land on which you could stick a twig and it sprouted leaves, and just cutting the grass took forever. There we grew elephant grass or paspalam, which grows sideways and does not have to be cut too often. It is sturdy and does not get diseased like the more precious Mexican grass, a real prima-donna, that most people have on their lawns in India. In England it is an egalitarian mixture of weeds and grass of all kinds that I disguise as a lawn by keeping it short. I don't have a Sam around to keep my lawn primped in Purley.

   If you got up early in the morning after a rainy night on the campus, there was this translucent quality to the light. There are no words to describe it. You felt like staying in the garden forever forsaking house and work and everything else; it was other-worldly as though the benediction in the morning made everything right with your world - even when the pipes ran out of water, the power blinked off and the neighbour's dog had put down its morning offering in front of your gate.

   I considered it a pity I had to go to work on those days. But I came back at break for coffee, at lunch time, and early in the evening after lectures finished. All those times I wandered happily in my garden, sometimes with my dogs Leone and Makeni named after Sierra Leone and Makeni, a small town up North, where I taught from '83-'86. I took my dogs for a romp in the Secondary School grounds that were also situated on our campus. In the evenings it would be deserted and peaceful.

   Grace, my cook and general factotum, would have cooked my evening meal - all Indian food that she learned to do better than me. She also died of AIDS soon after I left. When I look back, so many of the people who were part of my life: the English Lecturer who planned a play with me, my Head of Department, that lovely man, David Nyakairu. my colleague Helen Akwanga... and five or six from my Maths class each year.

   They simply did not know.

   Then again, there was the other Kampala: looting and and killing ten minutes walk away from the campus on Jinja Road, the famous Jinja (an hour's drive away) where the Nile begins its long journey to the sea far away to the North. 

   Of all that, in my next blog. Africa beckons as it does now and then.


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