Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Thursday, 23 July 2015

Beginnings in Uganda

I moved into my new home ten days after arriving in Kampala. The Magnay Builders were still finishing off the work on the house though the rain was pelting down, undoing some of the work they had done before the end of each day. Behind the house, the loose mud flooded down into the kitchen garden and sometimes into the kitchen itself.

   Our Project Team Leader, Madge, who had lived in Uganda for decades had arranged a maid for me. Grace, who lived with me for five years and became a dear friend. In that time, she learned to read and write, had two babies and became an adept cook and house-manager. 

   I remember, one day, playing tennis at the American Recreation Association and inviting a horde of men and women for dinner at the end of the day. I merely phoned Grace (the cheek of it!) and told her how many would arrive for the meal. When I got home with the crowd at seven in the evening, there were fresh flowers in the vases, new towels in the bathroom and a full Indian meal ready for all of us. 

   When I left Uganda in 1994, my expatriate friends were queueing up to employ Grace. She 'interviewed' them and picked one, but her relationship, almost mother and daughter with me, had spoiled her for a strictly madam-and-maid situation. Later, she left her first employer and found another. Sometimes I talked to Grace on the phone, from Zambia, where I was working on another project. She died of AIDS a few years later, still under thirty years old.

   So many of my friends and colleagues have succumbed to AIDS since I left Uganda. Grace and many like her did not know how they could have avoided it. There were no anti-retroviral drugs then. And nobody talked about it either.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

UGANDA - 1998 (for Shumon who has a great few years in Uganda in front of him.)

The fag end of 1998 in Uganda. I arrived on a rainy day - the kind of rainy day when even the frogs retreat and the soft mud everywhere begins to descend down all the seven hills, which Kampala is famous for. I was met at the airport by the local Assistant Director to the British Council, Richard, a warm-hearted man, who became my friend and confidante over the years. Like so many expatriate friends, I have lost touch with him too, with both of us moving from country to country, not always remembering to touch base, cherish friends.

   Richard had nearly given up on me that day because the immigration authorities kept me the wrong side of the counter - they were suspicious of Indian-looking people.  Couldn't possibly be an Adviser to the Council; I did not look the part.The Deputy had flagged my arrival with the Immigration, but clearly I was way different from their expectations. But then, I often met this reaction within the British Council from strangers, so I was unfazed.

   I was accommodated at the local Diplomatic Guest House and the rest of the team came to meet me after Richard had settled me in and left. They stood around, uneasy, wondering perhaps as to how I would alter the mix. I was glad when they left; I could catch up on sleep, think about the family in England, who had been concerned about my accepting a post in Kampala, of the recent Amin fame.

   Nothing, however, had prepared me for the morning after: the Kampala sun beamed down on a sloping garden, full of tropical colours, the pettrichor was reminiscent of Kerala after the first days of monsoon and I rapidly got re-acquainted with the chameleons wandering around on the turf. I could get used to this, I thought, especially after the guest-house cook served up a cooked breakfast of toast, bacon and sausages, and actually asked me what I would like for lunch.

   I began to feel very important.

(More to come on Kampala.)