In which our hero’s afternoon Guinness is interrupted by the arrival of a surprise visitor. It is a little four-year-old girl.
How did you get all the way to Kyaliwajjala from Kireka? I thought the traveling range for little kids like you is greatly limited by factors such as the severe shortness of your legs and your lack of jobs that provide taxi fare.
Baz, where there is a will and a mind as brilliant as mine, there is a way.
What is your will, then, Lizzie? Did everyone and not just me move out of Kireka? Is there no one left to annoy? Do you, therefore, have to travel this far in search of prey?
Ah, Bazzie, still as cute as ever. I can’t wait until I am tall enough to pinch your cheeks. Don’t let the fact that I hardly ever thought about you convince you that I did not miss you. You have always been very dear to me. How is work? Munange, these days I just see you in the papers.
Well, work is…
…And enough small talk. Baz, I am here to ask for your help as a media professional. My mother is standing for elected office, you see.
You have a mother? I could have sworn you were the byproduct of careless toxic waste disposal.
Hah. Yes. Cute, as I said. Anyway, my mother got it into her head that she should stand for the Local Council. I love her dearly, of course, but she isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier. She is very impressionable. The Obama thing got to her. Her campaign slogan, for example, is: “Indeed, we are capable of it.”
No offense, but your mother is not the sharpest knife in the ninja-belt.
The issues on her campaign are very radical. The other day she was railing about how the white man stole our African brothers from the motherland to be slaves and how heinous that was. She says that the white man should bring them all the hell back. I think she has one particular African brother in mind. The other day she asked me whether I would be willing to take on my stepfather’s name. I don’t have a stepfather, I replied. She said, “You will if all goes according to plan.” She then asked me how I feel about being Lizzie Obama.
First of all, and I am tired of having to say this, the didn’t steal the slaves. They bought them. Why are Africans so insistent on denying their complicity in this crime? Why don’t we want to take responsibility for our part in this?
And enough about you, Baz. As I was saying, my mother is really working hard in this campaign…
Besides, Obama is not the descendant of a slave.
Did you miss the part where I suggested that my mother is stupid by saying she is not the sharpest tooth in the chicken-grinder?
So she has a crush on Obama and so she is trying to get into political office and to pressure the white man to repatriate the descendants of slaves in the hope that Obama will be sent to Kireka, where he will meet her and marry her?
You see my problem.
I don’t see how I can do anything about this except laugh until my ears pop, of course.
There is. The media has greatly underplayed the criticisms against Obama, almost to the point of absolutely ignoring them. I believe that it is your duty to publicise these criticisms and, in doing so, kill my mother’s crush and let life get back to normal. Well, as normal as life can be when you are a brilliant genius child with a mother who cannot be described as the spangliest tutu in the closet.
Hmm. I’ll see what I can do. But I cannot promise anything. Many people are tired of hearing about him.
They are tired of hearing the sloppy slop-slop sounds of the media’s wet lips on his backside. Publish the criticisms. You know us, the public. We love to build someone up and then tear them down.
Okay. Let me get to work on his illegitimate children and his drug addiction and his latent homosexuality.
I know some – I won’t name them. You know them—some cynical, hoity-toity, intarekcho too-cool-for-school bloggers who will snub their nose at the mere idea of blogging about Barack Obama. Unless it is to say that he is overhyped and overblown and that they cannot discern how his ascendance will influence the price of whatever domestic-use commodity they feel inclined to cite, they will shun the very mention of his name.
Obama, puh-leese!” they will snort. “What’s the big deal.” With a full stop to indicate, as usual, that it is not a question, but is a statement.
Well, I am sorry. I am not on that bandwagon. I love me some Obama. I look at the man on screen and turn darker as the envy burns higher and higher. I wish my country had one of those, too.
Yes, he is a politician who is being treated like a rock star, but that is not a shortcoming on his part. It is not a fault that he is a supernova of sex appeal, a man so blazing hot that when the smitten interns start tumbling out of the closet by the dozen around 2012, each clinging to a stained item of clothing, there will be no impeachments at all. Just more envy.
The question we need to discuss is this: How will he affect our lives in Africa?
I have some ideas.
Don’t close Guantanamo bay. Leave it open. With only two inmates. Lil Wayne and R.Kelly.
I am sure we all agree that we need to get Lil Wayne ejected from society and removed to a place where he can no longer do harm. Some misquided people may complain, but history will absolve us.
And if R.Kelly can be interred in a place where there are no TV cameras, meaning he cannot stare at our daughters with his slimy porny eyes album after album after album, Africa and the entire world will be even more grateful to President Obama.
Kyaliwajjala, where I rest my head, is not sparsely populated. It teems with bloggers and journalists and other cool types of people. It teems, in fact, with Victoria. It’s a wonderful area for the most part, if you don’t mention the creepy Zombie Dog or the water supply problems some of the residents are experiencing.
Like other Ugandans in other sections of The Great Dustbowl, some Kyaliwajjalans have jobs in the city or, at the least, in Nakawa. They traverse the prohibitive gap between here and yon by riding, if not in their own nice cars, by riding in taxis.
The rest, of course just hang around the hood smoking reefer and beating their kids none of whom wear pants.
I am one of the productive residents. It is evident. You are reading my produce right now.
I have learnt the tricks to minimising the vast potential for fucking up your whole day that a taxi holds, so when I use one, I always sit in the back. At the window.
I do the same on the way back, because though my day has by now already been completely fucked up by agencies other than taxis , I still do not want to put my night at risk.
Last night, I wedged myself into the narrow space between the back seat and the one before it and proceeded to lose all feeling below the knee as the taxi waited for twelve more sardines to clamber in. Since it wasn’t exactly rush hour, I turned to my solace in times of loneliness: My mobile phone internet.
I facebooked for a while and then the van finally reached capacity and began to trundle Kyali-wards. But that is not what caused me to grasp at my chest and hiss in a personal vernacular of surprise.
It was the woman sitting right in front of me.
There was a woman in front of me talking loudly on the phone. I swear. I could hear every single word. I could even hear the person on the other side.
Now, I am not one of those people who, when they hear another person speak in public, get irked if they cannot see who the person is speaking to. I have no trouble with people using the phones and the airtime they bought, not even if it is MTN, my last post regardless. What struck me about this scenario, or to put it in a way that expresses the strength and violence of its impact, the thing that was totally kicking my ass about this whole scenario was that I recognised the voice.
Of the woman.
In fact, come to think of it, I also knew the bellowing cartoon-gorilla-like voice on the other end of the call.
The woman calling was one of us. A confirmed member of my gang, the Kyali Bloods. She also attends the same bible study and cell group as I do in Kyali. I know her. She lives there when you pass the bodaboda stage then you go down behind muyembe. We usually meet at Mama Abudu in the morning when she has cooked cassava. I even kicked her dog once, when I caught it trying to pee in my compound.
Having established that I totally know this chick, the puzzle I was faced with settled its horns into my already soundly kicked ass. What should I do now?
Of course, the obvious answer would be, tap her shoulder, grin and wave, wait for her to finish speaking to Joe Young on the other end and then proceed to have witty, intelligent, inspiring conversation for the rest of the trip and fuck Facebook.
But there was a problem. I, personally, have experienced this: When you speak to someone who is behind you in a taxi for more than a few minutes, you soon develop a very unpleasant crick in your neck. If the conversation proceeds, this crick stretches down to your back and, unless you stop talking to the person behind you, you will end up telling yourself that you would rather not have this spine if that is the way spines hurt.
I could not ask this woman to undergo such torture just for me. Why should I make her suffer? She has never done me very much harm.
Perhaps what I should do is tap her on the shoulder, grin and wave, exchange minimal pleasantries and then we both return to our respective phones, her lumbar vertebrae remaining intact.
But umm, no. That would suck for me.
Because that would be antisocial and cold and soulless and while I do love all my Facebook friends ( with one exception), I would much rather talk to someone who is going to respond in audible form and in real time. Someone who will actually see, and possibly be alarmed by, and then politely pretend not to notice, how much I move my hands when I speak. I can’t help doing that sometimes. They take on a life of their own, just waving this way and that. Sometimes they don’t even move in time with the story. Sometimes I think I accidentally left work with someone else’s hands and they are trying to escape, so, no. Option two would bum me out.
Do we have an option three?
That ellipsis indicates the next two dozen minutes of our trip as I tried to come up with a third option. During that time this woman, Mukyala Neyiba was still on the phone, I kid you not. How do people go and criticise MTN, when right here in front of me was a full blast of evidence. Ninety-nine per cent y’all!
Soon we got to Wandarand (That is what they call that taxi stage next to Wonderland Inn. People from Kireka, Kyebando, Najjanankumbi, Rubaga etc will get it with no need for elaboration, but I have to spell it out for those toffy-nosed Fauntleroys wussypants richie-poos from Muyenga who won’t even understand why we call that other stage at the Welcome to Kampala sign “Ellokamu”.)
At Wandarand I finally got a plan. And she finally got off the phone and I prepared to execute the plan.
But no, she was not off the phone. She had just put it down to reach into her handbag. And now I shall digress. Why do they call them handbags? Why does the denial persist? I will not be party to this conspiracy of silence. I will call a sack a sack and not a big bag. She reached into her sack to remove the fare she was going to pay the conductor.
I sighed wistfully and thought of the advantages of riding in taxis with people who have large notes.
And then she got right back onto the phone.
“You can talk fo shizzle…” That was all I could hum to myself.
Finally, just when I got to my stage, she hung up. Just when I said, “Maaso awo” and the words floated past her ear and she recognised my distinctive Ganda-boy baritone.
“What? It’s you! Oh, Ssebbo gyebare. Nga tusanyuse etc. All protocol observed!”
“Yo, homegirl!” I responded from a bent posture. “It is I. It has been I all the way from Nakawa. You know, you should always try to sit in the back. That’s where the cool people be,” I said as I pushed my way through the uncouth and subhuman parts of the taxi population, i.e. those I did not know.
“Instead of discussing how the new US president will confront the Gaza conundrum, I was forced to spend the whole trip composing this blog post.”
“It is going to be so exaggerated, isn’t it?”
“Of course,” I said. And by then the van had regurgitated me completely. It sped off. Leaving me to come here and write about how I met her.
You need to understand, first of all, that she doesn’t love you. I know she keeps saying all these sweet things to you, but they are all lies. The seductions of your hooker must not be mistaken for earnest protestations of a true love.
The radio jingles, the yellow flags, the free t-shirts and all the sugary slogans about a warm yellow family living in a beautiful yellow world, gleefully touching each other and so on, that is just MTN “throwing lyrics”. MTN doesn’t love you. She is just saying those things to get you into bed.
Because that is the nature of the relationship between a large corporation and the individual customers out of its market of millions. She just wantst to get as much money out of you as she possibly can, and, short of outright lies, will say whatever it is that you want to hear.
Now, don’t get all indignant here. You don’t love your phone company either. You are only with her because of what you can get out of her: You just want to make as many calls as you can with the least inconvenience possible.
So you really should not get mad when she treats you with less than absolute adoration and respect. If she isn’t completely affectionate sometimes, you should not take it personally.
Now that the annual chorus of we-hate-MTN whines — the one which crests every December, the month when MTN’s service always develops serious problems, it is time for me to swoop in like Nathan Petrelli and save your blood pressure.
I could do this by helping you rant. I am good at rants. I don’t actually, literally fly like Nathan Petrelli, but if I have any Heroes-like power, it is this: I am the Incredible Hulk of rants. I can rant as powerfully, as profoundly and as prolifically as Kevin O’Connor can fart.
(Now, let’s see how long it will take for a google search to lead Kevin O’Connor here).
But that won’t help. It will be like moaning to your hooker about how you feel like you are unnapreciated and taken for granted. MTN knows you are unhappy. MTN hears you rant. MTN knows the names you are calling her. She knows you are hurt, she cannot help but know. But your problems are not her problems unless they affect the money you pay her. And she’s going to come back for that wallet next year and in spite of all your raving and hollering and wailing, there is nothing you can do about it.
Or is there?
Most of you victims believe that you cannot huff, snort, say, “I have had just about enough of this!” fling your simcards into the trash heap and stomp off to another network because your MTN number is your widely-circulated business contact. People who owe you money call you on that number. You can’t ditch it.
Can’t you? Really? Well, here is where my mutant superpowers come to your aid.
Using my uncanny gift of insight, which I use by lowering my glasses and glaring, (I learnt the technique from Superman) I have discerned that MTN isn’t really in the business of selling simcards. They don’t make their bread from you having that number.
They are in the business of selling airtime. And that is their weakness.
If you want to strike free, you don’t need to chuck your simcard. Just stop buying airtime.
“But Ernie, if you are so intelligent that you even think it is a Heroes superpower to have a brain so smart, answer me this: how will I make calls without airtime? Eh? How? How, dumbass?”
No! NO! You are the dumbass! Skyupedi!
And now that I have dealt with that impudent objection, let us continue.
What you do is you get another simcard, from another more reliable network. And then buy THAT network’s airtime and use THAT network to make calls. This has worked so well for me that I don’t just have two cards, I actually have two phones now. My MTN line, which all my creditors and debtors use to get in touch with me, never gets more than 1,000 bob loaded onto it, and that is just because at times I feel like surfing. All my calls are made from my Uganda Telecom line.
“But Ernie, you ki-plonker! It’s not spelt like that! It’s spelt in lowercase. Moron!”
Shut up before I shove this shoe back up there. I know you don’t want that to happen again.
I was saying, I am about to get me a katorchi for my MTN purposes and then get another simcard and do my surfing exclusively on Celtel…
“But Ernie, it is no longer called Celte— OUCH! AARGH! Okay, I’m sorry! I’ll keep quiet!”
… my surfing exclusively on Celtel and my calls on Uganda Telecom. And then my MTN number will just lie there for those who cannot reach me otherwise. See? Just like that, I have saved the world. You are welcome. It’s the least I could do. No, don’t mention it. All in a day’s work.
update. In case anyone was wondering what’s going on with Never Man….