Reading Uganda

The day starts with a power cut on Makerere campus. Then into the museum with Hilda to set up the poetry workshop – 20 students, most of them also attending the Tuesday session. The atmosphere is much more relaxed this time and we work through a range of individual and collaborative exercises exploring metaphor, image and meaning. What’s the difference between an idea and a thought?  It’s a lively and engaging atmosphere.

In the afternoon I’ve decided to build twin poems: The Book and The Tongue, that might reflect some for the discussions we’ve been having about literature and orature. The groups start using their African languages, from which we build refrains, then building a poem from individual components written on strips of paper. There’s a great debate in each group, a little bad temper, some bruised egos, but eventually the poems are built an work very well, sharing obvious similarities in structure, but exploring different aspects of language and experience.

After the workshop we have to launch a new Femrite anthology Never Too Late – short stories intended to provoke discussion of sexual and social issues amongst teenagers. The Chairperson of Femrite, Mary Okurut, is late, so we decide to use a reading of our two new poems to introduce the event. The power is still out, so a generator is thumping outside. The use of Luganda and other languages has an immediate appeal to the audience.

After speeches and readings, the book is launched and the socialising starts, though we’re in darkness by now. Jackee Batanda (who was once writer in residence at Lancaster) arrives with Mary Okurut. Then I’m kidnapped with two young Americans, Liz and Anne Therese, by ex-pat Vivien Craddock Williams and driven, rather madly, to the Athenia restaurant in Kololo, to a graduation party. We meet Derek, the graduate, a prince, a princess, some Greek Ugandans and the oldest muzungu in Kampala, John, who’s 96!  We’re complete strangers but received with great hospitality and a huge plate of traditional Ugandan food. They try to drag us to the dance floor, but by now we’re pretty tired and slip sideways and back to Makerere for a late beer and a long talk about our projects, Uganda, and where home is.

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