Kampala, 2012

Tuesday’s rain turns into a beautiful evening of faint clouds and mild sunshine. I take a walk through the campus: part University, part African village and part botanical garden. Pied crows, cattle egret and hadada ibis pick over the lawns. A huge flight of marabou stork circles on thermals, effortlessly elegant. The ones nesting overhead make a dry flapping sound, exuding a rank stink that falls with twigs and shit to the pavements.

On my return I’m diverted from the path by fallen power lines, which have been accidentally downed by a lorry. They lead to the Guest House and a night without electricity follows. I take a taxi into town for dinner at the Masala Chaat and end up arguing with both drivers about the exorbitant fares – it’s a sign of the pressure that rising fuel prices have placed on the economy.

When I set off for Femrite in the morning, work has begun to restore the power, but it looks like a long job. I work with a focus group of five teachers and have a long and fascinating session, which I capture on my digital recorder. The teachers are sophisticated, eloquent and – once again – passionate in their views. I was wrong about one thing: every one of them repudiates the idea of a book with a ‘moral message’, making out a nuanced case for literature that stimulates but doesn’t direct opinion. I begin to wonder what perceived pressures might have led to the highly moral tales that Femrite published in their last short story anthology, ‘Never Too Late.’ Nobody, it seems, has a good word for NCDC.

By early afternoon I’m back on campus and looking forward to my interview with an old friend – leading Ugandan writer, Julius Ocwinyo. I meet him at the Fountain Press office and he reinforces many of the insights I’ve already been offered. He is, after all, one of the few Ugandan writers with a book on the curriculum and has been involved in language teaching for many years. A noisy student rally is staged right outside the window as I record the conversation. When I walk back to the Guest House, the engineers are just descending from the restored power lines. It’s a fine evening and tonight the sky is full of black kites as the marabou storks take their turn to sulk in the trees.

Thursday is a beautiful morning. The power has been restored and I’ve been able to prepare handout for my workshop. Hilda picks me up at 7.50 and drives to Kira road. I spend an hour answering mail and copying documents as the students arrive. I have 11 of them in the session and run a tight, even prescriptive, workshop, covering a number of essential editorial issues and illustrating them with poems, stories and writing exercises. They’re a good-humoured bunch; perceptive and sensitive to the nuances of the work I ask them to read. Lunch is a full-on Ugandan affair of cassava, posho, matoke, fish, and meat in groundnut sauce. A hot and humid afternoon is spent in re-working sentences and lines of poetry to create editorial consistency and we experiment with composite poems. It’s great fun and we begin to plan the results of the sessions on the CTWR website at Lancaster.

After work, I wander up to Kisimenti for dinner and read from my Kindle in the dwindling light. By the time I’m ready to leave, a taxi driver recognizes me and brings me back to Makerere without hassle. The evening air releases a softly ebbing heat and the Guest House is bright with light.