Category Archives: In Kampala

Grammar, Google, and getting away from it all

Dee Nkozi

I retired officially from university teaching and administration last week on 28 February 2018. This seems an appropriate enough moment to have a quick glance back at a thirty+-year career together with its ups and downs. It all started innocuously enough: the lecturer for the course was on a sabbatical and thought I should have more than just conducting tutorials under my belt. And so I ended up teaching my first full philosophy course in the 1986-87 session when I was nearing the end of my doctoral studies. It was a small class composed mostly of seminary students who had to fulfil their obligations to take a requisite number of philosophy courses, and my course: medieval philosophy, was mandatory. They were mildly interested (at least I thought so at the time), but I was totally hooked! Nights were spent reading until the wee small hours, then writing out each lecture in large readable joined up worried that I be caught out by an innocent but unprepared-for question from a class not much younger than me. I was a nervous wreck at the start of each teaching hour, but they were quite forgiving of any gaps in my knowledge, and, happily, all of them passed the exam!

That was then. Thirty-odd years later a lot more lectures have been written up, slept through, enjoyed, given off the cuff, not-quite-booed-at but nearly, and a lot of dissertations have been supervised. By my reckoning, somewhere in the region of fifty master’s dissertations and a handful of PhDs have kept me up nights and had me out of bed when the moon was still making her rounds. I have lost count of the BA dissertations that, for the most part, had me tearing my hair out.

There were, of course, hard years, dry years, but also – thankfully – more fertile, enjoyable years. One in particular stands out in my memory. Being short of staff at the university on the equator, one colleague in my department and I each ended up teaching three courses in one semester and two in the next. That was to be the first graduation year at our new university, and 18 undergraduate dissertations were also thrown into the mix. I think we both had seven to supervise and somehow managed to farm out the remainder. That was a rough schedule that was made tougher by the fact that I had never taught any of my five courses before. A lot of books came back in the luggage before that year began and a lot of candles were used to read them night after night, getting each lecture ready just before it was due to be given. But apart from all the hard work that was a good year, and it stands out in my memory as the year I finally regarded myself as a university teacher. I learned a lot from teaching (probably more than my students!), especially in the environment and gender courses I taught, so much so that a half-written book has been on my desk gathering dust for the past ten years. It’s called Putting on Trousers that are Empty. Empowerment in a Patriarchal World. Rather a naughty title, but I think you get the central argument! Other more esoteric stuff is also on the back burner and I’m now looking forward to getting back to my academic roots with a follow-up volume to my first book on negative theology – if, as my granny would have said “God spares me”.

Previously in this blog I have highlighted my difficulties with understanding what has come to be known as Uglish (the Ugandan version of English) but over the years my ear has adapted rather well and my brain has finally caught up, so much so that I am almost a fluent speaker at this stage. But given the fact that in Uganda all my students were learning in a second language (for some a third language), English has almost always been a problem. My newly-allocated, end-of-second-year dissertation students were invariably scared sh**less by the third years: “eeeeh she’s too tough”, “she writes ALL over your pages in a green pen and you have to tick off the corrections as you make them”, “she tells you stuff about split infinitives, Oxford commas, colons and semi-colons, and attributive adjectives … she’s nuts” … things like that. No wonder they came for the first consultation in deferential mode. But they thawed as we began to work together, and I’m proud to say not a single BA student failed a dissertation. There were mishaps with two or three MAs but I’d rather not get into that. I did, therefore, spend an inordinate amount of time correcting bad English, but to my dismay only a handful of students over the years learned from the corrections – three of whom are now PhDs, (and I am happy to have been their doktormütter). But after so long, I have now lightened up a bit and am a little more tolerant; I “cope up with it” and let some Uglish slide – after all, everyone else will know what they mean!

But what I can’t let slide is the plagiarism. I know it’s not a local problem but it has become endemic in Uganda’s institutions. And the awful thing is very few academic staff complain about it; even fewer academics do anything to detect or prevent it. There is a number of reasons for this, not least is bottom-line laziness stemming from having two or three jobs to make ends meet. But stubbornly I routinely ran work submitted through plagiarism detection software. Students who violated the rules of academic honesty were almost always genuinely surprised to be the subjects of demerits. It was not unusual to receive an essay comprised of a series of plagiarised paragraphs (quite often disjointed) with a general reference tagged to the end of each. “But I gave the references”, they wailed. “But you copied each paragraph word for word”. “But I told you where they came from”. “Why didn’t you use quotation marks?” It was hopeless. I personally blame Google. As soon as this search engine became available on campus, library use was noticeably less while the computer lab became crowded. I myself love Google for all the great services it provides from how to get rid of jiggers under your toenails to the secrets of hing in Indian cookery, but its use by students leads to serious plagiarism. Despite my giving zero for plagiarised work, very few understand academic theft and, therefore, it continues unabated. Unfortunately, my little battles didn’t contribute much to winning the war on that front.

Another issue I am really glad to be leaving behind is basic student laziness regarding academic effort. As I have said here before, Uganda has a rather poor reading culture stemming from the fact that books were / are simply not available so teachers wrote / write notes on the blackboard which students copy and subsequently cram for examinations. That practice is, unfortunately still with us. Students will always want your notes to keep them in their comfort zone. To take notes in class and read about the subject in books is outside that comfort zone. “Just how much of this required reading textbook do I have to read?” “Well, er, all of it. Plus the other five recommended texts if you want a first-class mark”. “But I can’t read all that. Can’t you give us summaries?” Jeepers!

Over the years it has been a lot of hard work with some wonderful successes, but a lot of it was simply hard work with little thanks at the end of the day and much, much less pay than an average plumber (sometimes none at all). Although I must say I have received a fair few out-of-the-blue phone calls from former students thanking me when they got a job / promotion / higher degree / professional award …. . Those calls remain dear to my heart. And I do meet students on the streets of Kampala who always say thanks; “you were tough with us, but fair” seems to be the general consensus of those I taught. My former students are professors, vice chancellors and deputy vice chancellors, registrars, politicians, doctors, policemen and women, teachers, nurses and midwives, administrators, public health practitioners, bankers, development workers, IT specialists, farmers, shopkeepers, and fisherfolk, so my words have travelled far and wide. I hope some of those words have been remembered.

But now I think I have done my bit for tertiary education in Uganda. Twenty-five years and three universities later I am not sorry to retire from it all. It has been a steep learning curve for the most part, but an experience I would not trade for all the fish in Lake Victoria. I am going back to the academic work I started with after a hiatus of a quarter of a century, but I am going back with a wealth of experience that twenty-five years in Ireland could never have afforded me. A huge thanks to all the students who have taught me so much since I arrived in The Pearl of Africa as a naive philosopher hoping to teach for a year, get a tan, travel a bit, and then return to Europe for a tenured appointment. I for one am happy that life doesn’t always give us what we plan for!

And so this is me, back to my roots, sans robes, and loving every minute of it!

Dee Feb18

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Blogger who’s not blogging

Woa! Just realised how fast time goes by. I haven’t blogged for more than a year. Shame on me.

Let me start by posting this wonderful poem. I like the work but also I think of someone I know in Kampala who has two magnificent African Grey parrots caged:

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

(Maya Angelou)
The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

 

Creative Solutions and Revealing Names

December 1999

I was wandering around the nice new shiny supermarket in Kampala the other day actually looking for sweet mince to make a few pies when I found myself absently humming along to “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”. What? Then I realised what it was. Yes, christmassy tunes were being played on a continuous loop: commercial Christmas has finally come to Uganda courtesy of the South African supermarket chain. Sure enough, the next aisle revealed tinsel hanging in gaudy inappropriateness, small plastic Christmas trees in abundance, and old-fashioned red, blue, and green expanding decorations. I actually found myself indignant: what on earth do snow and pine trees mean in this land of sunshine and beautiful local oak trees?

But local decorations in many parts of rural Uganda are also strange in that they often consist of twisted toilet paper of the hard green or blue variety. When I first saw TP strung across the door of a new building, later to be cut quite ceremoniously with extreme seriousness, I was horrified. I’ve got used to it now just I got used to the crotched items covering tellies and computers. But I did put my foot down when the church was similarly decorated for a major feast, and quickly removed the TP covering the lectern, much to the dismay of the students who had taken the time to wrap it lovingly in various shades. Thus, the gaudy christmas decorations jarred because they were, quite simply, out of place. In my view, some things work in some cultures and some work in others, with the exception of toilet paper in the church.

Another creative solution to an annoying problem that I now engage in on a regular basis is sticking something sharp into the upper hole of a three-pin electric wall socket. This happens because many of electric and electronic goods sold in Uganda have round European two-pin plugs while the wall sockets have three square pins as in the UK (naturally). Hence the sharp object exercise. It used to scare me but when I saw welders and the like simply sticking the wires themselves into the wall socket, I realised that getting two pins into three wasn’t so dangerous after all.

I have already extolled the various uses of the bicycle and the boda-bodas but the other day I saw a passenger on a motorbike with a wheelbarrow on top of his head – ingenious really. And if you have no broom or brush and need to sweep up, you simply gather a bunch of twigs, twist them together and off you go on your cleaning spree. When you have no credit on your mobile phone, you call the person you want to speak to, let it ring once, and then swiftly end the call. Chances are the other party will phone you back. This is called “beeping”. All of this creativity reminds me of the strange inventiveness of Mr Bean.

The other thing that works here is names, both people’s names and names for businesses. Let me start with business names that no-one batts an eyelid at: “God Cares Butchery”, “Save the Little Ones Primary School”, “Las Vegas Motel” (a wooden shack with a curtain for a door), “Blessing Lodge”, “John and Flora Shopping Emporium” (in a similar state), “Honest Butchers”, “Ave Maria Shopping Complex”, “Divine Providence Nursery School”, “In God We Trust Pork Butchers”, “Lovely Inn”, “Good African Coffee”, “Super Supermarket”, “We Sell Genuine Meat Butchers”, “Cinderella Supermarket”, “Hungry Caterpillar Nursery School”, “Save our Souls Orphanage”, “Holy God Day and Boarding Primary School”, “You’ll Never Drink Alone Bar”, “Delightful Shoppers Paradise”, “Divine Brother Driving School”, “Chinese Paint Nails Beauty Salon”, “Beautiful Shoe Shop”, “Weary Travellers Inn” (in very weary condition), “Stop and Shop Here Shop”, “Phonny Phone Repairs”, “Nice Bakery”, “Deep Enterprises”, “Obama’s Restaurant and Car Wash”, “Biotech Nursery School”, “Hope Clinic”, “God’s Gift Hair Saloon”, “Train Up a Child Nursery and Primary Day and Boarding School” (has to be one of my favourites), “Faithful Dairies Milk Shop”, “Compare General Hardware”, “God’s Grace Domestic Appliances”, “Simple Stationary Suppliers”, “Brave Traders”, “I Feel Like Chicken Tonite Restaurant”, “Friendly Supermarket”, “Three Samuels Primary School”, and finally, Wikiliks Sound and Entertainment”. I could go on (and on and on).

And what about these names for kids: Adolf Hitler Mukasa, Mutebi Ronald Regan, Bill Kato Gates? I also once taught a young man named Grace and another named Blessed. And, just as in the olden days when people in Europe got names such as Brian Rua (red), Alan LeJeune, Charles the Blad, or Pepin the Short, Thomas McTeggart (son of the priest), many names in Uganda mean something. My all-time favourites are: Ssebabi – the ugliest person of all; Tibanyenda – they don’t like me; Maandera – I am tired;  Nvannungi — good sauce; Bakashabaruhanga – they prayed to the god (try saying that when you’ve had a few pints of the black stuff); Turiahikayo – we shall get there; Katuramu – it is there; and the best of all: Atidrizea – I have put my hand in poo. Yikes!

Take the name Kandahar. Nothing strange about that I hear you say, but here it has become a slang word for a woman’s private parts; the man’s is known as a drone. Go figure! A recent debate in Parliament saw an MP refusing to say Kandahar in the House causing much merriment among the members (sorry).

Finally, this is an excerpt from a speech believed to have been given by President Idi Amin (he of Last King of Scotland fame) in the presence of Elizabeth, Queen of England:

“My majesty Mr. Queen Sir, horrible ministers and members of parliament, invented Guests, ladies under gentlemen, before I undress you, let us open the windows for the climate to come inside! I hereby thank you completely Mr. Queen, sir; and also what he has done for me and my fellow Uganda who come with me. We have really eaten very much. And we are fed up completely.” You can read more at: http://www.kenyan-post.com/2012/05/funniest-speech-ever-from-african.html.

Postscript: We now have three spanking new student residences sitting on the hill where the scraggy cows used to live and they look quite splendid. I suppose I should feel honoured that the middle one has been named after me but I don’t think I deserve to have thirty students carrying little key rings around in their pockets with Carabine 12 or Carabine 21 inscribed on them. And yet I am secretly pleased, although I suspect that the minute I leave the place, students will vote to call it Mandela or Ghandi or someone-more-worthy Hall.

Kampala … in more “interesting times”

February 1995

It all began around the time when Mr Stanley (of “Dr Livingstone, I presume” fame) appealed for missionaries to Uganda in 1875. Many took up his call and the first missionaries of the Church Missionary Society arrived a short two years later in 1877. For the Catholics, reaching Lake Victoria near Entebbe in 1879 entailed a rather tortuous journey: they travelled from Marseilles to the Spice Island of Zanzibar and then simply walked the rest of the way, hacking their way through eight-hundred miles of fever-infested bush as they moved slowly into the interior of East Africa – bringing their own brands of bodily ailments with them. When two of them (Father Lourdel and Brother Amans) reached Uganda, their first task was to seek audience with King Mutesa (the Kabaka) at Mengo, the capital of Buganda. Presents were given and, in return, the Kabaka gave permission for a small group to set up shop evangelizing the locals their way.

However, a strange twist in this story concerns the fact that Alexander Mackay of the Church Missionary Society had reached the Kabaka before them – he too had trekked from Zanzibar through the unaccommodating bush to reach the breathtakingly beautiful shores of Lake Victoria to bring the Good News to its inhabitants. The story goes that Mackay was asked to be the spokesman for the newly-arrived Catholic priests and apparently told the king more than he was asked to. Since the CMS had already been in Uganda for two years, they thought the newcomers were intruding on their turf and were more than miffed – after all, the new lot had the rest of Africa to set up shop in:” Why here? Mackay, although part of the Anglican mission, was a member of The Free Church of Scotland – you can imagine his reaction to the papists!

Histories tell all sorts of interesting stories about this rivalry, but from the Kabaka’s point of view, it was even more complicated than the old rivalries between Teagues and Prods. He was worried about the designs of Egypt on his northern borders and so his dallying with the English Protestants and the French Catholics had political overtones in terms of countering the Arab influence from the north. And the Kabaka was also worried that the Bazungu wanted to take over his kingdom. Happily for him, he passed away in 1884 before any damage was done. His son, the young Mwanga, took the throne of Buganda but he inherited all his father’s fears and more. In 1885, this volatile young man grew even more worried when news reached him that the Germans had threatened Zanzibar and were working their way through current day Tanzania. Scary news indeed for a young king perched on a perilous throne! Mwanga, although a newcomer to royal politics was very much part of the various intrigues going on at his own court which included Arab (slave) traders who were anxious about their own lucrative businesses in the clove gardens of Zanzibar, a trade built on the labour of stolen human beings.

When things hotted up in 1885, news of a visit by CMS Bishop Hannington and his caravan through neighbouring territory frightened the Kabaka so much that he (under the influence of the Arab traders) had the group captured, imprisoned, and then brutally murdered. He was afraid that the Bishop was opening the path to other Bazungu who would depose him and seize his lands. After Hannington’s murder, the local clergy of both persuasions grew increasingly worried about their own safety and, of course, tried to win the favour of the Kabaka. According to accounts of the day, Mwanga blew hot and cold in turns with the English and the French – effectively keeping them all on their toes. Not a bad tactic for a newcomer in politics!

In May 1886, with the Brits and King Leopold mounting missions to save their lads in Buganda, Mwanga grew increasingly angry with the young newly-converted Christians at his court. It is said that they began to refuse to indulge in acts of “unmentionable abomination”, and this began a bloody slaughter of the innocents. The culmination of this brutal spree of maiming, castration, and killing culminated on 3rd June when a group of twenty-four young Christians were burned to death at Namugongo – currently site of the shrine to these Uganda martyrs who died for their newly-found faith. Thus it was that Uganda’s earliest Christians quickly became martyrs, just as in the early days of Christianity itself. This persecution of the Christians certainly could be described as living in ‘interesting times’, and thereafter Kabaka Mwanga became increasingly embroiled in battles with all religious parties: Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims. Not an enviable position.

After his deposition, though strange and twisting plots of the Arab traders at court, Kabaka Mwanga appealed to the Imperial British East Africa Company in 1889 for help in getting his throne back. The Brits were apparently non committal but did agree that the Kabaka be placed under the Company’s Protection – protection that never materialized because he got his throne back without them.

But things went from bad to worse, and when a certain Captain Lugard of the said Imperial British Company (who, not surprisingly, believed that imperialism was the answer to the slave trade) arrived at Mengo in 1890 to secure the Kabaka’s agreement to placing his kingdom under a British Protectorate, a series of small sparks eventually ignited. When Lugard succeeded in getting the great Kabaka to sign away his land, his revenues, and his armies, Mwanga eventually turned to the French White Fathers for support against a common enemy. Eventually, with a bad-hearted Irish arms dealer thrown into the mix, the question of who actually started the war isn’t really important, but one did start, and a bloody one at that.

Lugard issued weapons to the English who are said to have opened fire on the French who could be described as baiting them across the hill at Rubaga in January 1892. Three months of civil war ensued. The English emerged victorious with Mwanga and the French forced to turn tail and flee Mengo, leaving the Brits to start implementing unspeakably harsh tax systems and subduing the natives in their usual clod-footed fashion. Apparently Winston Churchill (he of “the pearl” one-liner) saw through to the core of the problem: the age old rivalry between the French and the British had taken on religious undertones – a bit like other “Troubles” in more recent times. But the European scramble for the goodies of Africa was the real heart of the problem, not religion or national allegiances. And while things eventually sorted themselves out in a way, and relative peace was restored to all the waring factions, even today, you can feel the lingering ghosts of Lugard, Lourdel, Mackay and the CMS, and the rest of the Catholic White Fathers when you take a walk up to their erstwhile strongholds on the hills of present-day Kampala.

Back to the cathedrals. The Roman Catholic one was consecrated in 1925 and is said to be built on the former royal enclosure of King Mutesa. An interesting turn of events that. The Protestant Cathedral was built at Namirembe hill. The original grass-thatched church on the hilltop was consecrated in 1892 but was blown down in a storm in 1901. A replacement was eaten by white ants and pulled down in 1904. A third cathedral was struck by lightening after only eight years in existence. Fourth time lucky? Yes, the current church was consecrated in 1919 and still stands today. Both cathedrals are wonderful examples of early colonial architecture and both are loved by the people who worship there. Manys a quiet afternoon can be spent wandering around their insides and indeed their outsides where they afford the most enticing views over this city of expanding hills. But spare a thought for the bicycles: getting to Church of a Sunday morning for those without motorized vehicles can be a serious expenditure of effort. The cool relief on the inside is a fitting reward for those who sweat their way up the hill to thank God for more peaceful, less interesting times.

Kampala on a Sunny Afternoon ….

August 1995

Last Thursday I found myself in Kampala with a bit of time for a walkabout after fighting with immigration to get my temporary pass commuted to a work permit. I eventually did get it, but trying to deal with officialdom is a bit like knitting with one needle: it’s very frustrating. Now I’m not normally the type of lady who lunches, but being in Kampala around one-o-c1ock or so is exciting because some of the hotels have the most amazing buffets with the most unusual side shows.

Generally, the show at one particular hotel consists of the most ugly creatures on the planet: Marabou Storks. These most horrid of birds have the most awful manners: they actually pee on their legs to keep themselves cool. Now many an ornithologist might think that was pretty cool but it’s a habit that I hope humans don’t catch on to. These massive birds (kaloli in Luganda) are scavengers, they’re ugly (in fact, they’re so ugly you’d wonder how their own mothers could love them), and they’re said to be mean. If one of those monsters landed on your doorstep with a baby snugly nestled in a pouch dangling from its beak, you’d send the kid back. But anyway, despite their ugliness, they’re fascinating and many of them stalk regally around the hotel grounds as if they own the place – in fact, they probably did in the not-so-far-distant past. Every tree in sight has been earmarked as a nesting place and anxious mammys and daddies take turns to ensure than their offspring make it safely beyond the shell stage of existence. Actually, even though these birds have a bad PR, they make excellent garbage collectors, a job that Kampala City Council doesn’t take at all seriously. There are skips littered all over the city with their contents overflowing. And if the Council forgets to replace a skip in the usual location, people continue to dump the garbage anyway. It’s what keeps these baby carriers alive.

But while I was contemplating one of nature’s oddest looking beasties, the most interesting thing happened. I was sitting on the hotel terrace having a delicious cup of coffee, when a bit of a stir near the entrance caught my attention. I turned around to see lots of men in dark suits and walkie talkies walking swiftly down the entrance ramp. Strange, I thought, what’s going down? Then unexpectedly, three African presidents calmly followed and into their waiting limos. Wow! Coffee and another show! I was beside myself with excitement since I have never in my life seen a person who has been on the telly, that is if you discount Sean Rafferty in Boots one wet Saturday yonks ago.

Thereafter with a few hours to spare, I decided to visit the cathedrals of Rubaga and Namirembe. Both bastions of Christianity sit atop magnificent hills overlooking the city and both are wonderful historical and architectural monuments. The Namlrembe Cathedral still calls worshipers to prayer with drums and that is a sound for sore ears in a traffic-noisy city like Kampala. Talking about calling people to worship: one of the things most exotic in my first year in Uganda was the call of the muezzin punctuating the mundane working day with reminders of the sacred. I still like being within earshot of prayer, whether the drum, the bell, or the vocal variety. But these two magnificent cathedrals stand on the sites of awful massacres and battles of the early years of Christianity in the country, and they hold the secrets of much bloody shenanigans of the past. More anon.

Capital Traffic

July 1993 Capital Traffic

Shopping in Kampala and what a day-time experience! Uganda, once famously described by Churchill as the “Pearl of Africa”, truly is a pearl and one without price – except if you happen to be wearing one in some of the shadier districts of Kampala where you are likely to lose possession of it. This capital city is a mass of paradoxes and contradictions all struggling for supremacy – or at least understanding. In Uganda itself more than forty-two languages can make communication difficult between roughly north (Nilotic) and south (Bantu). In the Central Region in which Kampala is located, Luganda is the language of most people but you still hear many other languages, including English and KiSwahili.

Kampala, like Rome, is a city built on seven hills (now it is more but seven sounds more prosaic and maybe even a bit lucky), and sits almost 4,000 feet above sea level which is a great blessing because of the heat. If Dublin could be described as an aged, “blowsy harlot”, then Kampala is her younger sister: noisy, exuberant, always busy, dirty, seductive, and yet amazingly attractive and filled with the most delicious sights and sounds I have ever seen.

Driving to Kampala during the day is not as scary as driving at night but it is still a fairly hairy experience. Four-wheel drives vie for space on the crowded roads with bicycles carrying everything from bananas (huge bunches from which our familiar “hands” are cut) and sacks of charcoal, jerry cans of water and waragi (crude alcohol), to coffins (yes, you read me right) and three-piece suites! The Man claims to have seen a sick cow being transported to the vet on one. And it’s not uncommon to see a bicycle (short-journey “taxi” in rural areas) or Honda 70 (ditto in urban areas) passenger having a relaxed conversation on a mobile phone as the transport weaves its dangerous way through traffic that doesn’t make sense to the untrained eye. And if said passenger is female, she will, incredibly, be sitting side saddle with her ankles demurely crossed and sticking out at a generally unsafe 20 degree angle.

The basic rule of thumb for driving in Kampala seems to be: the bigger you are, the more rules you can break. That means you can drive straight onto a roundabout no matter who else is on it (except if they are bigger than you, of course), pull out of a side street without looking, make your own colour arrangements at traffic lights (if indeed they are working), overtake even if there are oncoming smaller vehicles, and park wherever you like, irrespective of double yellow lines or whether the parking spot you have chosen happens to be in the middle of the road.

Once you know these basic rules you might be a bit safer on the roads but you must also learn to be aggressive and bully your way out of side streets and the like. Having driven once in Kampala and survived despite being a polite and courteous driver, I have resolved to put on my bolshy hat next time and give as good as I get once I know my way around the side streets and learn which ones to avoid. In fact, you have to avoid those streets if you have a low-slung saloon car for danger of disappearing into a pothole or at the very least breaking an axle.

My first shopping trip for food took me to the fresh food market at Nakasero and I was blown away by it all. Having lived in Belfast and Dublin I know how to look after myself in a big city and I would describe myself as fairly street wise. But that training didn’t prepare me for what I experienced at Nakasero. I had been warned not to wear flashy or expensive jewellery but I don’t have any so that wasn’t a problem. Not to sling my bag over my shoulder because thieves have taken to cutting the straps on women’s bags (men in Uganda don’t seem to have taken to carrying their stuff in bags like Italian or French men). I didn’t but I was still overwhelmed. That market is busy with a capital B and I was nervous, not least because I couldn’t understand a word of what was being mostly yelled above the sounds of the traffic and buyers and sellers.

Having changed some money I was in possession of a goodly amount of Uganda Shillings, or so I thought. I was almost a quarter of a millionaire since five quid is the rough equivalent of eight thousand shillings. So off I went to spend some of this loot on items really coveted after a week of living on the prison régime of hard bread and margarine.

I bought bananas (of course I did – how could I not?), a huge papaya just beginning to turn yellow, a large bag of shelled peanuts to be roasted and savoured with an eventual evening beer, three pineapples quite ready for immediate eating, unlike the supermarket ones at home that have to sit for a week to be ripe enough to cut, and a bag of passion fruits to be made into delicious tangy juice all for a ridiculously cheap price. I am still converting Uganda Shillings into Punts and it seemed like very little but they told me back at The Equator that I had been “done”. I had been charged mzungu price (prices for white people who don’t know enough of the language to bargain or who still stupidly convert Shillings into foreign currency and think they are getting a great deal). In fact, I did think I was getting a great deal, but once my friends told me that I had paid the equivalent of school fees for one term for one kid in a rural primary school, I began to look at my bananas with different eyes. I ate them, but I ate them slowly and I savoured every delicious bite.

So, fruits done the next items were proper coffee, butter (sorry, but I still can’t live without the stuff), salt bread, preferably brown, yoghourt, and breakfast cereal. I love breakfast. When I was about 12 or 13 I loved cornflakes so much I had them for lunch and tea as well. But that was then. I had matured a bit since but I still wanted a good breaky. That was to be more difficult. I tried all the small shops around the market and found everything from colour televisions to Time Magazine, but none had any of the items I was looking for except for the cornflakes and they were 10,000 shillings for a medium-sized pack. I thought I had made a mistake because by my quick reckoning that was about £6.50. Even for a cornflake lover like me that was too much so I left the shop sad and the shopkeeper even sadder.

But I survived my first shopping trip and returned to my current, without current abode on The Equator more than satisfied with my first experience of Kampala and extremely pleased with purchases that were mostly organic and a million times more flavoursome than the specimens I had ever tasted in Ireland. I still craved brown bread and butter and real coffee and cornflakes but I had other stuff that would keep me going for a while until the next shopping trip this amazing capital city.