Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Bakiga Window: Basketball at Sundown

The crowd begins to grow at the sun begins its decent behind the hills.
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 this simple flat surface carved into a hillside may not match the world’s most advanced arenas, but this afternoon it seems to be coming close. With the competition rumbling on, with the unending green of the cultivated hills of Kabale district providing a backdrop, the crowds continue to grow. 

Now, as the competition reaches its zenith, with the intensification of the sporting battle kicking up clouds of dust that rise up to waist height, the number of spectators has increased to at least three hundred students, staff and passers-by. 

Due to my own personal excitement of admiring the picturesque location, my concern over my burning mzungu skin and my ignorance of the rules of basketball, I cannot recall which team actually emerged victorious from the heat haze. Either way, as the leader of bazungu group, and in the absence of anyone with an OBE, I was called upon to present the trophy and make a brief speech. 

The whole afternoon leads me to reflect that often we are so concerned with entertainment being something that can be found on a television set, that, if anything, sporting contests like Frank’s basketball tournament remind you that entertainment is something much simpler and more wholesome than all that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

Cover image (c) HarperCollins
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 Alfred runs the family business.

After many years of seemingly not caring for his family, Simeon Lee decideds to invite all of his sons and their wives to share Christmas with him. Reluctantly, his children accept. Also invited to the planned festivities is his hitherto unknown granddaughter, the exotic, half-Spanish Pilar Estravados. The final guest to party, arriving uninvited and unannounced is Stephen Farr, the son of his former business partner in South Africa.

Prior to Simeon Lee’s demise, a number of uncut diamonds go missing from his safe after he has shown them to Miss Estravados. Superintendant Sugden is called to look into the theft. Later that evening Simeon Lee is killed in a noisy and bloody battle, in an apparently locked room. Chief Constable Colonel Johnson attends the crime scene and brings along his friend to help look into the case. His friend is, of course, Poirot and as you would expect, it is not long before Poirot takes the lead.

As the investigation unfolds within the confines of the mansion, it appears that many of the characters are not what they seem, or who they say they are. Everyone has a potential motive and just when the reader is becoming sure of the guilty party, Poirot reveals the most unlikely of perpetrators during a gripping denouement.

Again, Christie uses a different structure to entice the reader. Choosing to separate the action into the seven days from 22nd to 28th December, allows us to see the disparate Lee family considering the invitation to Christmas, coming together, observing the tensions grow, all before the trouble erupts.

So, if you want a break from the family, or from stuffing the turkey this Christmas, take a trip back to 1938 with this novel, and thank God that your dinner will be a lot simpler than that of the Lee family!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

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

The view from the swimming jetty on Byoona Amagara.
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 around thirty minutes, by which time my colleague Grigorios has joined me and is swimming around in front of me, the sound of deep bass drums starts. A collection of small dots in the distance, dancing around in groups of five or six, start making their way down the sides of various islands that occupy the lake, including the far tip of Itambira Island, headed for the shorelines. 

Then, emerging from the base of the islands appear small dugout canoes to collect the dots and provide passage for them to their school on Bwana Island. Suddenly, my daily bike ride through Warwick racecourse as a child seems to pail in comparison to the dramatic daily commute for the pupils of Bwana’s primary school. Of course, for them it is normal, but for me and my group of bazungu it is something of a spectacle. 

"Please do not pollute the lake, it pisses off the fish!"
As I leave to start packing up my tent for the journey back to Kabale, I stop to read a sign next to the stairs, at the end of the jetty. It explains a set of guidelines about how not to piss of the fish – an important thing if you live on an island

Furthermore, it reiterates the importance of the Byoona Amagara resort’s desire to balance out the revenues from tourism, with the desire to be socially responsible for the whole of the local community – fish included. For that reason, my band of bazungu will continue to return year after year to enjoy the lake and not take it for granted. There is nothing better than eco-tourism with a sense of humour.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

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

"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 in the foreground. Nice.

"Love your Father and Mother and you will live longer."
It does seem to me a very un-British way of dealing with morality. In the UK we don’t really seem to openly discus moral values – they are supposedly implicit in our actions perhaps, but not so glaringly displayed. I don’t know whether this is a good or bad thing, as I must confess I’ve not really considered the matter that deeply.

For many bazungu the messages provide an often-humorous insight into how issues relating to morality are dealt with in a country that is in step with its religious and moral compass. Many of the other messages talk of God and of respecting your mother and father.

Regardless, one of the messages seems to resonate more than any of the others. This message reads, “Your life is a product of your decisions.” Momentarily my students become reflective. Not solely reflecting on what they have been experiencing during their weeklong stay in Kabale, but also reflecting on their own education back in the UK. Maybe a small reminder, from time to time, does come in useful after all.
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