Monday, June 29, 2015

Enkuto Eratukura #7: A Sunday with Fast Eddie

The road to Bunyonyi, rising higher and higher.
Sunday 5th April 2015 - 10.30pm

Easter Sunday was a pretty quiet day. With the programme clear due to being a few days ahead of schedule, it meant the morning was a dull affair.

After a while of loitering around the hotel, I decided that I needed to do something and, along with Jas, we walked a less direct route past the hospital and down into the town to change some money at the Royal Supermarket.

The roads were quiet save for the occasional boda-boda labouring up the hill or freewheeling down it. One such boda, with an attractive female passenger on the back, passed us by and she waved – I thought I detected a faint blush in Jas’ cheek.

At Royal Supermarket, we undertook a quick exchange of around £2000 into an inordinate amount of Shillings and walked back up towards the hotel to see if anyone had snapped into action. En route, Jas took a moment to point out that my idea of walking through Bugongi, with a load of money in a backpack, might not be the best idea.

It feels like we’ve been out and wandering for ages, but, upon arrival at the hotel, it is clear that very little time has passed in actuality.


The whole group spent the early afternoon period at Acadia Cottages, high up above Lake Bunyonyi in the company of Chris Ruba and a crowd of girls from Kigezi High School.

The sun was furiously hot, so I tied my kaffiyeh around my head looking, I think, like a slightly lost pirate. I then got told by Sarah that I look Jordanian and Khadija decides that I should have the Berber name of Antar Ténéré.

With some gentle encouragement the two groups of students started to mingle and share stories about the subjects they study. Before long, Hannah was having her hair braided by one of the Kigezi girls.


Later that evening we dined at Cephas and afterwards headed to the hotel bar.

We put some money down on the pool table in order to stake our claim to it. I remembered that the rules here were that the winner stays on. So, with this in mind, I played a game against a slightly tipsy man and won.

Having assumed control of the pool table everyone wanted to play me. Next up was an Indian gentleman who I recognised as running the photo shop in town next to the supermarket. More by luck than skill I won again, much to his annoyance.

Suddenly, I was christened the Champion. A small man called Brian introduced himself to me. I suggested that he played against one of the students in our group, but he wanted only to face-off against the ‘champion’.

I struck a deal with Brian saying that he could play Thomson (the name he referred to me by after mishearing my name) as long as the students could play a game of doubles beforehand. It went against the house rules, caused a ripple of unrest, but the serious pool players decided that it would be nice for the youngsters to have a game.

Ironically only one student wanted to play and the doubles match that ensued between Tash and Tamera, and Suweyda and Fabio was a tough match to watch. The balls seem to just be pushed around the table for a laborious twenty minutes. The onlookers, and those who had queued up their money to play a game, started to drift away from the prevailing snooze-fest.

Eventually, Brian got his match and I won. It was beginning to get embarrassing. All the time I was playing, my first opponent stood in the shadows drunkenly murmering to anyone who would listen, “He has no skill. This one is lucky.”

I agreed wholeheartedly and made reference to Irish stereotypes to that effect.

After this there was another hastily negotiated doubles match – this time assented to by the Asian gentleman on the understanding that I had to play him in a rematch first.

Four games in and my luck ran out. I showed myself to be a good sport on a couple of occasions, letting my opponent off with a few minor fouls. Ultimately, Kabale’s answer to Fast Eddie had his win and left the bar satisfied; his honour restored.

The students started to now act as if I was a pool expert. I pointed out that a fair portion of my childhood was spent playing pool, with my dad, in pubs like the now extinct Avon Tavern in Warwick; Sunday afternoons, orange squash and whatever bar snacks were put out by Ray, Rose and Mortitia.

A little more time passed, along with a quick Waragi and tonic water, and we walked back to Green Hills for the night, rousing the grumpy night-watchman from his slumbers at the sentry post. Tomorrow morning we would have another meeting early on.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Living for the Weekend: Arsenal

Match programme from Arsenal.
It’s been a while since I’d really taken much interest in football – at least enough interest to start watching matches at the grounds themselves. Ireland don’t really get up to much these days and my childhood team linger aimlessly in mid-table, or, in a good year, might become embroiled in a relegation dogfight.

After dragging Jonesy along to watch Leyton Orient whilst I was still living in Walthamstow, he decided to more than repay the favour by offering to take me along to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday 1st February 2015; there to watch Arsenal (his team) play against Aston Villa (my team). This all coincided, in a timely fashion, with moving house to Islington. 

Most of the build-up to the match, for us at least, revolved around Jonesy’s anxiety about the distance between my new flat and the stadium itself; he simply wouldn’t believe me that it was a ten-minute walk.

As it was, we managed to get from his place in Leigh-on-Sea to Islington in such a small amount of time that, before long, we were sat in Bedford Tavern on Seven Sisters Road enjoying a drink.

After a quick stroll down Berriman Road, Tollington Road and Hornsey Road, which is always closed to traffic on a match-day, we arrived at a great bowl of steel and glass nestled in between the East Coast Mainline and the residential streets of Islington; the appearance of the Emirates is a lot cleaner and more majestic than many other Premier League stadia.

Arsenal’s decision to move, at the height of their most recent period of success (the "Invincibles" season of 2003/04, most notably), wasn’t unanimously  popular amongst all fans. There was no doubt that the lovely old Art Deco Highbury stadium, just around the corner, was a firm favourite with many of the Arsenal fans I seem to have for friends. Built in 1913 the club stayed at Highbury until 2006 and their move to the Emirates, a stadium, somewhat unglamorously, built on an old waste disposal site.

There was a bit of bumbling around with the credit card-style tickets where the seat numbers aren’t readily apparent, before we finally found the way into the club level seating, scanning our cards on the way, getting handed our complimentary match programme and ascending on an escalator to the middle tier of the stadium.

It really couldn’t be any further from little old Brisbane Road.
An Aston Villa corner; a rare moment of attack in the match.
The ‘club level’ of the ground had a warm bar area, completely enclosed, keeping out both the cold and presumably the riff-raff. Looking down from the large glass wall was an expansive view of the other spectators filtering their way slowly in.

We resisted the temptation of anything more to drink and headed straight to our seats in amongst quite a diverse crowd: a Chinese father and his little boy, a pair of elderly women and four burly Turkish men. Still, these weren’t my Aston Villa comrades, all of whom where sat on the lower tier to my immediate left – a noisy minority in this giant 60,000-seater stadium.

For Villa the match didn’t really get started. By half-time they had already fallen behind to a goal scored by Olivier Giroud and Paul Lambert, the Villa manager, was clearly out of ideas already. To add insult to this, Mesut Özil, who’s never really hit top form at Arsenal, seemed to be everywhere.

At half-time there was the consolation of a complimentary bar and, in lieu of any cider, I started the sorrow-drowning with some decent white wine.

The second half brought about more misery as four more goals found their way into the Villa net; one each for Özil, Walcott, Cazorla and Bellerin. At least there were two shots on target for the away team during this half. For the visitors, of particular note was the performance of Carlos Sánchez who, without exception, seemed to lose possession everytime an Arsenal player came within five metres of him.

Villa were looking ropey and the signs weren’t good for either Lambert’s job prospects or the team’s Premiership status.

The one moment of hope for Villa nearly resulted in me outing myself as an away supporter in the home section. After what seemed like an entire match without a shot on target, out of nowhere a shot actually challenged the Arsenal 'keeper. From the pit of all my frustrations came the utterance, “So you remembered how to shoot then?”

Jonesy looked at me with shock, presumably fearing a mini-riot, but, to our relief, another Arsenal fan turned and said, “Yeah, they’re rubbish aren’t they mate?”

Once the final whistle was blown and the 5-0 rout complete, we headed out of the stadium and back onto the chilly streets of Islington once more. There is no doubt that for everything that Brisbane Road offers in terms of heritage and a vibe reminiscent of how football used to be, the Emirates offers sleek, brutal modernity in return. It is Harrods to Orient’s corner shop, but this should not detract from either ground.

I criticised modern stadiums after my visit to the retro Brisbane Road, but the Emirates is proof that it is possible to blend the modern game of football with some soul.

The afternoon ended with a return fixture of our own; a trip back to the Bedford Tavern. The consequences of this visit are recorded, I am told, on a mobile phone belonging to my girlfriend’s sister.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Enkuto Eratukura #6: Travellers' Paradox

A boda-boda guy arrives near the market in Kabale.
Saturday 4th April 2015 - 5.00pm 

Liz, not assuming that we’d be delayed by so long, had arranged a meeting between teachers from the ominously named ‘Committee’ to take place with teachers from WMSF, Coombeshead Academy and me from Fulham Cross Girls’ School.

The Coombeshead guys had had a late night on Thursday for similar reasons to us, but, after a good night’s sleep sharing with a donkey down in the middle of Kabale, they looked distinctly fresher than us. The meeting was essential and thus unavoidable in order to establish a programme for the next few days, but my health was at a low ebb.

What started as a bit of a sore throat during Wednesday’s parents’ evening had turned into an all-singing, all-dancing cold; in the heart of Africa.

As I was reading William Fotheringham’s biography of Fausto Coppi, who died of malaria after visiting Burkina Faso, I was struck by a bout of paranoia about my cold. Thinking of Evelyn’s advice concerning tonic water, I robbed Raman of a cold and flu tablet and armed myself with a bottle of cheap tonic in lieu of anything better at the hotel.

The meeting was, despite our fatigue, a successful on. We managed to work out a rough programme for the various CPD activities to take place throughout the week with minimal fuss.

With a draft schedule finalised within an hour and a half, we rounded up the students, who had been busy chatting with their Coombeshead countrerparts, and headed out for some orientation.


Amongst the many meanderings and ramblings of the day as we wandered through Kabale's town, one of the more interesting exchanges occurred when we arrived at the football field where the street children were playing.

Upon our arrival, a few of the children started running towards our group. This was swiftly followed by a minor stampede. There was hugging, hand-shaking and greetings in English and Rukiga.

This brought about the obligatory posing for photographs, which I opted out of.

Whilst some of the children started to sing and dance, Tamera came over to Jas and I and said, “I feel weird.”

We looked at her a little puzzled. Tamera is a little strange and so her confession wasn’t out of the ordinary.

“Did you eat something dodgy?” Jas asked.

“No,” she replied quietly. “I feel really uncomfortable with everything. It’s a bit like we’re here and this is all a show; like we’re coming to observe animals at a zoo.”

Tamera, half-Egyptian, half-English, and well-travelled is used to seeing people in different settings and scenarios around the world. Her observations are generally well-informed.

After some discussion we decided that what she was describing was classic Travellers’ Paradox; whereby, in order to try and have a broader experience of the world you travel somewhere new, only to find people singularly showing you what they think you want to see.

“You can’t have a natural interaction any more,” she lamented. “What are we actually doing here? What is our purpose?”

I suppose, aside from the regular arguments about neo-colonialism and voluntourism, there is the question raised about what one’s intentions in coming to work in Africa actually are.

For myself, the friendships and the opportunity to take West London teenagers somewhere new is and has been the biggest draw over the years. Allowing them to have their own existential debate and to learn about something, on the ground, that many students of their socio-economic background wouldn’t be able to. For me, the Bob Geldof “feed the world” mentality of my first trip has long gone.

That said, this didn’t stop the discomfort over feeling that the children feel as if they had to put on some form of show in order to impress us. They really don’t; we would have happily learnt from them and helped where we could regardless.

All we require is a little normality and the chance to learn about others without feeling that we’re in a strange parallel world.

Whilst Tamera was finishing her explanation, a car pulled into the playing field and group of boys, who weren’t part of the project we were visiting, got up from their slumber and ran over to it.

These boys were in a really untidy state. Unlike the children at the centre, these boys didn’t have the look of children who were cared for and most looked as if they were under the influence of some strange narco-stimulant cocktail.

The car they ran to was in good condition, and, after some initial herding around the car as it come to a halt, the boys started to form a line. One occupant of the car emerged with a camera. The boys briefly arranged themselves for a photograph.

Something was then passed out of the driver’s side window to the children and they dispersed, running in the direction of the town, leaving the field they were occupying completely empty. Being some distance from them, I couldn't see anything conclusive.

No one but Jas, Tamera and I seemed to notice this peculiar moment. Was this duo benevolent or in some way manipulative? I was not sure that we would find an answer during a stay.
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