It hit me while I was standing at a road junction in a local suburb called Bugoloobi. It was around three PM and my smartphone reported the weather at 30 degrees celsius.It felt as if the sun was sitting on my head and sitting with a very fat bottom.
I squinted up the road and that is when the realisation hit me: this is one ugly place. The roads are cracked and pocked with holes. On each side stand dusty, cracked buildings with ragged laundry wafting out of the windows. Wandering morosely among scattered mounds of trash are skinny stray dogs that look like they could at any minute crumble and just dissolve into a cloud of dust and houseflies.
This place is ugly. And yet it is what my hometown is made of.
You have heard of Uganda because it is famous, and what you heard, because this is what we are famous for, is how gorgeous a country it is. So whence this dissent? Why does this man then claim that it is hideous?
I didn’t say that Uganda is ugly. Uganda is beautiful. And every country is, to be frank. Every country on the face of the earth can be confidently called stunning to look at. Desert lands? Graceful sloping dunes under startling blue skies. Mountain ranges? Regal and mysterious from their mist-covered tops to their green valleys. Tropical jungles? Verdant and lush.
I once saw a photograph of the midnight sun in Antarctica. It was breathtaking.
Even though all I was looking at was the lower half of the paper being stark white, the other half being just a being a bit less white, and a small round bit that was a sharper, more brilliant white somewhere in the middle, it was still mesmerising. Absolutely amazing.
Every place that God made is beautiful, we conclude from our research, and Uganda, with our rivers, valleys, mountains, plains, skies, lakes, and forests, is no exception.
Until you come to Bugolobi. Bugolobi is cramped, crowded and chaotic. It is all dust, dirt and all you smell is the dung of stray dogs and the droppings of garbage birds. It is repugnant.
And the heat makes it worse, because we know it is our fault. This is global warming. When you are being grilled under 30 degrees and you are staring at four festering rubbish heaps, each within hopping distance of each other, you know why the world is doing this to you. It’s payback. Why do we trash so many mineral water bottles? In fact, why do we drink so much mineral water? Pure water literally falls from the sky free of charge on a regular basis. Why don’t we just carry cups around instead of making so much garbage? No wonder the gods are warming us.
It is as if we feel we have beauty to spare and beauty to waste.
Take for example that old trope about which African country has the most beautiful women. It is a question that cannot be answered because, in life, the most beautiful woman is the one who is kind enough to smile back at you, kiss back at you, consider kids with you and not lie to her father about who you are. In short, typically, with the expected exceptions, the most beautiful woman is the one you are in love with.
And Genevive Nnaji.
Maybe therein lies the lesson. It is my belief that Africa is not unique in history. Everything we celebrate and everything we regret, everything that has happened here has happened before, elsewhere at some point. We go through things not because we are Africans but because we are humans.
It just seems closer and more immediate because it is happening to us. Like Bugolobi. You stand sweating under the heat and dust of this dusty corner or the Bugos ghetto and that’s all you see and feel so you forget that you are actually in a very very beautiful country, a very very beautiful world.
You fret and fuss over whatever crisis is wringing your poor heart to shreds tonight and you forget that beyond these trying hours, behind them and after them, are many many pleasant days.
This is an updated version of a piece I first wrote for Suluzulu.com