Kampala, 2012

Sunday morning in Kampala is overcast and humid. A church bell tolls as I write and Makerere campus is already wide awake with the singing from church services which seems to collide, rising and falling through faint traffic and birdcalls. Two days ago I was watching red grouse and curlews on the moors behind Lancaster, this morning a row of marabou storks roosting in the palm trees faced me like a grim judiciary.

It was an easy journey, leaving Manchester for the overnight flight to Dubai and then Entebbe. On time, I was met by Hilda, Julie and Beatrice from Femrite. The drive into Kampala is a chance to catch up with a characteristically humorous account of Ugandan politics and its vagaries, plus the latest moves by Femrite to secure guest writers and funding for their events season.

Hilda drops me off at Makerere Guest House for a quick shower and then we’re off to the huge brick-built church on Namirembe Hill for the wedding of Glaydah Namukasa, a former Crossing Borders writers who won the Macmillan African writers prize. The service – in Luganda – is long and intense, the whole event is professionally filmed, and a choir in white surplices leads the congregation. When all vows have been exchanged and the organist launches ‘Here Comes the Bride’, terse gusts of wind are raising grit outside and ripping at the temporary plastic sheeting on the church roof, cracking out a random accompaniment. Despite the overtones of British culture, there is a very powerful and pervasive sense of Bugandan culture at large, from the beautiful and elaborate costumes, to the tenderness and spontaneity of response.

The reception – for about 500 people – is held in a square of canvas pavilions at the nearby Silverton Gardens. There is a live jazz-pop band and a dais for the bride, groom and bridesmaids. A huge tiered cake sits on a central platform and a professional MC warms up the audience as daylight sinks and bats zip overhead. The speeches begin, mainly in Luganda, but also using English for strategic phrases. Cheering, clapping and ululation greet each speaker and the band provides a funky backbeat to the whole event. Before the final speech, there is the feeding of the five hundred – an impressive event that is carefully orchestrated. The bride kneels to feed the groom, then is fed by the groom to symbolise their mutual dependence and love. When Glaydah speaks – looking amazing in her white wedding train – she drops into English to say how honoured she is to have the director of the Crossing Borders programme at her wedding. It’s a deeply touching moment in an intimate and moving family setting, showing how the work we did in Uganda helped to change lives for the better.

I say goodnight to Glaydah and her husband, Andrew. Hilda drops me off at the Guest House for some welcome sleep. It’s Saturday night and Kampala is seething with nightlife. I’m planning an easy day tomorrow – Sunday – since most of my interviews are set up and the workshops all have outline plans in place. The Wi-Fi is working and the Orange mobile phone network has reached Uganda at last, promising to make my life a little more functional here.

By the time I wake and head for breakfast a ferocious game of tennis is underway on the clay courts outside, Wandegaya is bustling and houdada ibis are squawking past the windows. There is the relentless patter of footsteps, a susurration of voices, a far-off singing, as if the whole city is celebrating a new day.

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