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The Bakiga Window: Basketball at Sundown

Any sporting spectacle becomes twice as spectacular when you’re out in the African heat. Having exerted myself once this week during Tuesday’s staff versus students football match, I am happy this time to be sat on the grass as a mere spectator. 
It is Friday 15th April and I am nestled in amongst an ever-increasing crowd of students, watching teh twisting narrative of a basketball tournament unfold in the afternoon sunshine. The tournament, organised by one of my students, Frank, started just a little after 3pm and is slowly, but surely, reaching its climax. 
The teams are comprised of groups of boys from different dormitories, or form classes. Each team arrived full of eagerness and anticipation at around 2.30pm to the empty court positioned on a sun-baked hillside. By the time that the tournament had got underway, a crowd of around thirty students had assembled behind the backboards. 
This setting for a basketball competition has to be amongst the best in the world. I know that th…

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

 Christmas in the Kelly household means a few things: seeing Gran in the morning, a midday trip to the Falcon Inn, a mountain of food, an animated film, sleeping, drinking and then a Poirot murder mystery on TV. This year, being on the Agatha Christie binge that I am, I figured that I would have a read of a Poirot novel to get me in the mood.
Having focused my Poirot reading on the Middle-Eastern mysteries so far with the intrigue that they present to the reader, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is a much more traditional Christie novel. All the necessary elements are there: the big house in the countryside, a rich old man, the ‘black sheep’ of the family returning, mysterious strangers, jewels and a squabbling family.
The story starts on December 22nd and centres on a family Christmas to be hosted by Simeon Lee, a millionaire who made his money in South Africa as a diamond miner. Alfred and Lydia Lee, his son and daughter-in-law respectively, live with him in a large country house as…

The Bakiga Window: Don't Piss Off The Fish!

The air is always surprisingly crisp around the edges of Lake Bunyonyi first thing in the morning. The sun starts to come up around 6.30am, but the heat takes a short while longer to break through the low-lying mist and clouds. 
It is Tuesday 19th April and I am lazily dangling my feet into the cool waters of Lake Bunyonyi, from a jetty on Itambira Island. This time of the day is the most peaceful on the island and at first the only other noise is the lapping of the lake's deep blue waters against the legs of the jetty. 
After a few minutes of acclimatising my legs to the exceedingly cool water, I slip into the lake and momentarily my breath is knocked out of my lungs. The extreme contrast with the early morning air temperature comes as a serious shock to the system – but it makes you feel alive. I give myself a few minutes of splashing around, just long enough to kick start my body, before I emerge once more from the water to take in the view. 
The time passes slowly and after a…

The Bakiga Window: Your Life is a Product of Your Decisions

As you move through life, you realise that moral teachings come in a variety of forms and from multitudinous sources. It maybe from a particular holy book, or even from a wise village elder – it may even be that the writing is on the wall.
It is Friday 15th April and I am taking an hour or so out of the day to wander around the Kigezi High School compound, to talk to a few students about their experiences here and to keep an eye on what my own students are up to.
As I cast my eyes about, I notice that in a slight change from last year, the messages promoting good moral values are no longer just on miniature signposts planted into the flowerbeds; they are now painted using stencils onto the walls of the classrooms around the main central quadrant.
The sign that imidiately catches the eye of most tells students to, “avoid pornographic films.” Indeed, I am later to learn that there is a photograph, taken by one of my own students, with that very message in the background and me…

From a Crooked Rib by Nuruddin Farah

I stumbled across Nuruddin Farah’s novels when searching for something written by a Somali author. Perhaps due to the conflict that has raged for years in Somalia, it is very difficult to find much from Somali writers published in English.
From a Crooked Rib was published in 1970 and tells the story of Ebla, a young, orphaned, illiterate nomadic girl, who runs away from her encampment. She takes the decision to leave upon learning of her Grandfather’s intention to marry her off to an older man within their Jes (a group of families living in an encampment together).
She firstly escapes to a town, Belet Amin, where she finds her cousin and his pregnant wife. She also finds a guide and confidante in a character known only as the widow. Things seem settled until, yet again, Ebla finds her freedom compromised by a male character – this time her cousin, whose wife and child Ebla has been nursing.
In her haste she leaves Belet Amin with the widow’s nephew, bound for Mogadishu – still called

The Bakiga Window: Exploring the Backstreets

The backstreets of any town are always a treasure trove of hidden gems. They obscure from the casual traveller or commuter a great deal of real life - a life missed from the main road. Kabale is no exception to this rule.
It is Wednesday 20th April and the midday sun is engaged in a battle with dark rainclouds for ownership of the Kigezi skies. This morning I have been at the Taufiq Islamic School and now I am exploring some of Kabale’s backstreets alone, something I have never had chance to do before.
Upon leaving the main road, I cross an open square, past the Edirisa, and head down Nyerere Avenue. Along this street I don’t stir much curiosity in the local people and pass the Kabale Milk Centre unnoticed. Here young boys on bicycles precariously balance heavily laden milk churns on their luggage racks before riding off into the distance.
I reach Nyerere Drive Road, turn right and then right again shortly after passing by the modestly named Amazing Pub.
I find myself in a small stre…

Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh

It is unfortunate that, although thoroughly enjoying this book, you can't help but feel a little bit dirty for having read it and liked it. That said, Evelyn Waugh picks apart the colonial world of the inter-war years wonderfully and treats most parties involved with the contempt they deserve. 
The story itself follows the story of a fictional African island state of Azania. Their Oxford-educated monarch, Emperor Seth, starts a programme of reforms to modernise his country. Emperor Seth recruits an Englishman, Basil Seal, who, needing something to do with his life, decides that working in Azania is a great idea. 
So with a cast of characters designed to add an element of chaos to the story, things move forward at quite a pace. The French consul, Ballon, becomes increasingly disgruntled with the modernisation plans, as do the church leaders - especially when their place of worship is threatened in an infrastructure building programme. 
Inevitably, all roads lead to a coup d'é…

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Following on from my first foray into the world Agatha Christie's Poirot earlier this year, I couldn't resist picking up another novel from the collection. Similarly to last time, I selected a novel set in the Middle East, this time in the British Protectorate of Mesopotamia, what is now Iraq.
Published in 1936, and set prior to Poirot's most famous case, Murder on the Orient Express, this novel is centred around a group of scientists on the site of an archeological dig - something close to the author's heart as her second husband, Max Mallowan, was himself an archeologist. Most of the action doesn't take place at the dig though, but rather focuses around the claustrophobic confines of the staff compound.
The narrative starts with a preface by Dr Giles Reilly, who goes about introducing us to our narrator, Nurse Amy Leatheran. Nurse Leatheran assumes the narrative, retelling the story of what happened subsequent to her employment by Dr Leidner, one of the archeolo…

World Food Day 2011: Food Security

In one of my endless Twitter conversations with Inii Ukpabio, I recently learned of something that had gone hitherto unnoticed in my knowledge of development studies. It related to different types of security and the fact that there was such a thing as ‘food security’.
Unknowingly, I had already shown some awareness of the issue of food security in East Africa by looking at the choices families may have to make between food costs and education, and also when looking at aid distribution during the current East African famine.
And so, being a latecomer to the international development party, I scratched my head a little and then realised what a massive issue it really is and could continue to be for the world and in particular, to my beloved corner of East Africa.
In Uganda, where the shilling remains so weak and inflation so high, the implications on food security are seriously high for the average citizen on the street. In the urban environments, wages aren’t going as far as they o…

The Right Kind of Aid II: East African Drought Crisis

Anyone with a heart, or even a scrap of interest in their fellow human beings, will find it hard not to have been moved by the scenes of hunger and desolation coming from the Horn of Africa. Countries such as Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Sudan are having all been affected in some way by an immense drought that has it the region. Eritrea may also be affected, but according to the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) data is hard to come by there. At a time like this the support of a foreign government towards an affected group of people shows the great degree of compassion that people can show to their brothers and sisters around the world.
Indeed, it can go some way towards restoring my faith in humanity – especially where the Western powers are involved. In this spirit, on the 6th July, the UK Government stated that the size of their assistance will run to £38 million pounds (just under $61 million at mid-market rates) which, ac…

The Bakiga Window: The Closest Thing to Eden?

The sun is setting to my left as I sit looking out over what could be paradise on earth. The trees are helpfully beginning to mute the warmth of our most powerful star as it sinks lower and lower behind the line of hills to the West.
It is Saturday 16th April and I am sat watching the evening sky paint its moving picture over Lake Bunyonyi, from a vantage point on the Itambira Island resort of Byoona Amagara.
As with every year, after a week of attending meetings, organising my own students and working on education projects with various institutions around Kabale, we retreat to Lake Bunyonyi to relax and reflect for the weekend. As with previous years, we have come with a group of Kigezi High School students and staff.
I will admit, that at this moment, I am leaving all and sundry to their own devices and, although I am sat with two close colleagues, no one is speaking and I am glad of that fact.
This place is so unspoiled by humanity – I guess I mean large numbers of westerners. Th…

The Bakiga Window: Taufiq Islamic Primary School: Part II

In a manner so typically Ugandan, Yasim approaches silently and politely asks whether he can have a word with me – it is one of those ironies that a word has to be had in order to have a word with someone. Irony aside, he has heard back from the Sheikh and arranged an appointment for me.
It is Wednesday 20th April and once more I find myself en route to Taufiq Islamic Primary School. The morning started in the usual way: waking up sleepy students, ensuring that everyone had 'taken' breakfast and had a supply of bottled water, and then walking with the group down the hill, into the town. At the foot of the hill, the group scattered into many fragments, with everyone off in search of their own adventures. I head straight on, past the noise of the metal workers, over to Taufiq.
After having had to beat a hasty retreat last week, I was unsure of who would be in my reception committee.
Teacher Bright was the first to greet me, before taking me inside to meet with the Headteacher L…

The Bakiga Window: Taufiq Islamic Primary School

The sun is relentless this afternoon. After a typically rainy season morning of mist and showers, the clouds have parted and I can feel my skin beginning to cook under Uganda’s wide blue skies.
It is Wednesday 13th April and I have delegated my group leader responsibilities for a few hours, in order for me to go about following up on something I promised I would last year, namely visiting the Taufiq Islamic Primary School.
When I visited last year, my immediate reaction was use a selection of adjectives, all with negative connotations. This wasn’t as a reflection of the school as an organisation, or of the small, but hard-working, Muslim community who look after it, but more focused on the cramped conditions that the boarding students had to live in.
So it was, that after a short lunchtime meeting with the father of a student from Kigezi High School, I followed the path down to Taufiq: past the ladies selling bananas, weaving my way through the hive of activity that is the taxi rank,…

Coucher de Soleil en Normandie

Whilst London was gripped by fleeting madness, I was fortunate enough to be in Ouistreham, France. It is a small coastal resort in the Calvados département in Basse-Normandie. The weather was extremely good, with the exception of the last day when the rain made a brief appearance.
The above picture was taken on the broad expanse of flat sand that makes up part of Gold Beach, in Ouistreham, at sunset or coucher de soleil.

Moonraker by Ian Fleming

The third novel in the series Moonraker (1955), sees a noticeable shift from the style of the first two. The first noticeable difference is the division of the novel in three parts: 'Monday', 'Tuesday/Wednesday' and 'Thursday/Friday' - in a way reflecting the normality of a working week for many readers. Indeed the first few pages seem to portray a mundane start to an average week at the office for Bond, away from the international jet-setting, dangerous, man of mystery role that we've seen graphically displayed in the previous novels.
The action starts in a low-key manner. M, Bond's boss at the Secret Service, is a member of a Gentlemen's club and has been alerted by the management there about a famous character who insists on cheating at cards, despite his wealth. So it is that Bond is invited to play Sir Hugo Drax at cards, in turn teaching him a lesson and softly putting an end to his unfair winning streak.
Drax's character is one of the mo…

Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

So, having read and enjoyedCasino Royale, I couldn't really resist reading Live and Let Die (1954). Most people who have seen the films maybe haven't read the books and frankly they're missing out. What has continued to delight me about the novels is the fact that they are a lot darker and more serious than the Bond films. 
In the second novel, James Bond is called into action to take on a Harlem gangster, Mr Big, and his network of criminality that inevitably leads back to SMERSH. The nature of Mr Big's activities revolves around the selling of 17th Century gold coins in order to bankroll Soviet spies' operations in the USA. Meaning that the locus of the tensions moves from British-Soviet relations to US-Soviet relations - the biggest area of tension during the Cold War. 
From Harlem and the jazz clubs, all the way to the Everglades, it seems that Mr Big's network is endless and this claustrophobia is recreated in Fleming's writing. The story eventually l…

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

It was always going to be the case that, after reading a 'new' James Bond novel authored by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming, I would need to go back to the roots of the story. So, when looking at the vast back-catalogue of Fleming's Bond novels I was surprised to see that Casino Royale (1953), one of the most recent Bond films, was actually the starting point for Bond as a character in the series of novels. 
The first novel follows Bond, a British Secret Service spy, on a mission to a Casino in Royale-Les-Eaux, a (fictional) northern French resort. His aim is to bankrupt Le Chiffre, an operative and paymaster for the Soviet counterintelligence agency SMERSH - a name which means 'death to spies'. Operating undercover as a Jamaican playboy, Bond very nearly comes unstuck at the baccarat table, before getting a little financial help from his CIA friends. 
Job done? Not quite. From here events move quickly as Le Chiffre takes his revenge for the harm that Bond…

The Bakiga Window: Enter Stage Right

A young girl stands nervously biting her nails whilst holding a couple of pompoms. Peering around the corner of the doorframe, into a room darkened by the inclement weather outside, she watches as her teachers perform a number of traditional Kikiga and Rwandese dances. Her turn will be soon.
It is Wednesday 13th April and after spending the first half of the morning at Blessed Academy's out of town nursery, we are now at the main primary school premises in Kabale. It is still raining heavily and the roads have nearly finished their transitions into flowing rivers of red mud.
I feel a tiny bit on edge as the first performances unfold in front of the other class children, the teachers and the small bazungu audience. I guess that the uncertainty comes as a result of watching a show without having any idea of what is going on beyond the obvious aesthetic display.
Questions continually pop into my mind: What does this movement symbolise? Why is that man wearing a straw wig? Is this Ki…

Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie

As a child I was brought up on a cocktail of television adaptations of Agatha Christie’s work. It is only in my adult life that I have realised just how prolific a writer she really was. My favourite of all her characters was undoubtedly the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. This, combined with my love of Middle Eastern culture, led to choosing Appointment With Death as my first ever Christie novel.
Appointment With Death was published in 1938 and is based in Jerusalem and Petra. It follows the fortunes of a satisfyingly diverse range of characters: the Boynton family and their domineering matriarch; an old friend of the Boynton family; a young female doctor; an internationally renowned psychologist; and a couple of well-to-do English ladies.
We see remarkably little of Poirot at first in this novel, with the exception being when he overhears the words, “you do see, don’t you, she’s got to be killed?” through the walls of his hotel room. To many, this could be throwaway statement, t…

The Bakiga Window: Nursery on the Kisoro Road

It feels like I’m on a bit of an adventure this morning. A group of four of us, upon hearing the rumbling of Mugisha Wycliffe’s car coming along the red dirt track, leapt to our feet, ready to run out into the rain, across the car park, and into his old Toyota.
It is Wednesday 13th April and we’re visiting the nursery of Blessed Academy, to be introduced to the children and some of the staff.
Perhaps the most curious thing about the nursery is that it is some 15km outside of Kabale – away from the location of Blessed Academy’s primary age school. It feels strange to be whizzing along the Kisoro road, leaving the other staff and students behind, but mildly refreshing. I have with me: Helen, a member of staff; Stefan, a former student before I taught at WMSF; and Carmel, a current student.
The rain has been falling heavily for most of the night and as such the electricity in Kabale has stopped. With the noisy generator outside the front of Green Hills, it is a wonder than anyone got an…

Basil D'Oliveira: Cricket and Controversy by Peter Oborne

It is sometimes difficult for someone who was only seven years old at the time of Nelson Mandela’s release from Robben Island to understand the magnitude of Apartheid in South Africa. I remember watching an old looking black man on the TV in 1990, walking along a dusty street, waving at loads of people and that was it. When you’re seven, you don’t always understand that history can actually happen – you think it is something from the past.
Basil D’Oliveira, or Dolly as he became known, was born in Cape Town in 1931. Being of mixed Indian and Portuguese heritage he was officially classified by the Apartheid regime as ‘coloured’ – what in the UK we would now term mixed race. This immediately barred him from many things in South Africa, the most notable of which was the right to ever be able to play his beloved cricket for the country of his birth, despite his talent.
This excellently well-researched and heavily referenced book by Peter Oborne tells the story of D’Oliveira from his days…

The Bakiga Window: On Any Given Day...

On any given day, the main street through Kabale loudly plays its song. The rumbling of trucks’ tyres provides the beat, their engines the bass. Over this the boda-bodas provides a dissonant scream of a melody. Occasionally solo riffs are mixed in and out by a people asking, ‘osiibire gye’ and ‘agandi’.
It is Thursday 14th April and I am on the covered porch area of the Royal Supermarket in the middle of Kabale town – a kind of focal point for Bazungu resting on the Ntungamo-Kisoro road.
The man in charge of the shop, Bunty, is an Indian. His little brother having been raised most of his life here regularly switches between Rukiga, Punjabi and English, much to the relief of the high number of customers who frequent the store.
At this store Bazungu come in all varieties, much like the flavours of juice. You can choose, English, Irish, American, German, Dutch and even Slovenian. They shuffle in, give a 'knowing glance' to any other bazungu in the shop, buy their goods and shuf…

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Never one to do things in the most logical of orders, I watched the film version of A Single Man, starring Colin Firth as the main protagonist, before I had read the novella. In fact I had no clue about the existence of Christopher Isherwood prior to watching the film. The film was a fantastic piece of cinema so I decided to investigate the novel behind it.
A Single Man is the story of one day in the life of George, a gay Englishman working as a professor in a Los Angeles college. The narrative focuses an intense light on George's movements and actions from the moment he wakes until the end of the day - maybe that should say the end of his days.
George is living in a neighbourhood that was once bohemian, but has been slowly populated by homogenous, Stepford-esque suburbanites. They all aspire to have clean lives free from anything 'queer' infringing upon it. To this extent George exists very much on the periphery of this way of life with the character of Mrs Strunk as good a…

The Bakiga Window: Watching Evening Arrive in Kabale

When you've been as busy as I have today, a moment's respite from it all is a necessity. I've met many familiar faces and greeted many new faces and now is an opportunity for thirty minutes of 'me' time.
It is the evening of Monday 11th April and I am sat on my balcony in Room 103 of Green Hills Hotel, Kabale - a hotel that is as familiar to me now as my own family's home in Warwick, in the UK. As the trip leader, my one perk - other than executive decision making power - is a room with a view and balcony.
This time of day is perfect for reflecting on the frenetic pace of the day behind you with all of its counting of shillings and being here or that at such a time. What an irony it is then that Ugandans don't seem to rush around for anything and yet bazungu are quite happy to, exhausting themselves by 6pm. What was it that they say about mad dogs and Englishmen?
Sitting back, even as the smoke from a combination of coal and kerosene burners drifts up the vall…