After university I left Kampala for Nairobi, where my mother lived and worked. Subsequent posts in this series should establish that she was and is one of the wisest Africans ever.
Despite being very much like her in terms of genetics, facial appearance and temperament, I was intractably foolish. This was her home but I went back there because I thought that it was still mine as well. Unwise sons don’t realise that once you finish Uni, you are on your own. Your mom’s house is no longer your house. After school is finished you graduate from a resident to a parasite in that house.
I was finally done with Makerere when I moved back to Nai. Part of the completion of my sentence in that gulag had included two terms as an intern at the New Vision. Both were behind me now, as were all my exams*. I felt sufficiently educated. The next step was to get a job. The bundle of fatty porridge laced with misfiring neurons in my head told me that I shall find a nice one in Nairobi, one like my mother’s.
I loved Nairobi, which is several percentage points more than I have ever been able to say about this chaotic rabble-heap of trash, discarded liquor satchets and misspelled shop signs you people call a capital city. Kampala? Mbaff. Keep. Take. I made my escape with gleeful haste. I had done my time, served my sentence, paid for the grievous sin of applying to MUK in the first place and was now done.
I went to Nairobi. There to get a job.
I fully expected to find one, and more. I was hoping that I would also find on the cards a beautiful and leggy wife, probably a late 90’s precursor to Sheila Kwamboka or Victoria Kimani or something like that. At the very least I expected to get my Kenyan accent back with it’s rough Rs. I miss those Rs. Those Rs have Rrrrrresonance. They Rrrrealy make a point. I currently have Luganda Rs, which are a mix of R, L and W. Ask Douglas Lwanga how many times he is called “Douglas Ranga” and doesn’t realise the difference.
At the very most, I expected to get a nice job.
I got off the Akamba bus (late 90’s version of Uganda Airlines), rode a matatu (late 90’s what we had instead of Ubers) to my mother’s house, typed up some application letters, emailed them to the top advertising firms in the city then lay down on the carpet and began to watch Kenyan television.
It was after six months supine on her carpet vegetating in the glow of her TV that mum chased me out.
She started by asking me what I was doing there.
I replied, the fatty porridge neurons misfiring wildly, that I was waiting for a job.
She said, “You left a job in Kampala and came to waste my carpet ogling my TV? Get up and go back.”
(I should point out that my internship was basically the bomb. I was really good. I was an intern with a newspaper column, you be there.)
She didn’t ask aloud whether she had raised a man or a skinny, shabby house plant that was going to root in her sitting room for six months, showering only every other day, but, as I may have mentioned, she was and is a very wise woman. So she must have thought the question. And probably didn’t ask it because she already knew the answer.
So I packed my things, nze Son of Nagawa, and returned to this stinking dump of roadkill dogs and public urination of yours.
Mbu Kampala. More like “Dump”ala.
My first stop right off the bus was the New Vision. I had no plan of getting a job there. I still thought I was going to get a job in advertising.
Let me tell you why advertising: Advertising is writing work, but it is easy writing work. You can work for eight months to produce two sentences, usually something inane and unimaginative built around the phrase “your one stop” something or the other, but you get paid for the whole eight months.
Press work was different. Newspapers expect five hundred words from you in one day, and you can’t fall back on cliches unless you are one Sagara — you have to be creative.
The only reason I was at New Vision offices was it was near the Akamba terminal and so I went there to say hi to the friends I made during internship and/or see if any of them had any leads on where I could stay.
So, there I was in the Vision courtyard, skinny, unfashionably dressed, perennial baseball cap over the afore-described porridge mix, backpack slung over my shoulder containing all my life’s belongings, chiefly cassette tapes, novels, even more unfashionable clothing, extra batteries and five hundred 1998 UGX, which mum had kicked me out with, when up barreled Simon Kaheru, who was then Sunday Vision deputy editor, right hand of the legendary Joachim Buwembo.
Simon didn’t walk around, he barelled. He moved with the force of herds of buffalo. He was brash, urgent, and threatened the kinetic energy of an earthquake.
He was also a genius and so instead of running away I stayed to talk, or rather, to be talked at by, or rather, to be talked at from him.
He was joined in seconds, if memory doesn’t play mischief on me, by then-company secretary Robert Kabushenga. I don’t need to describe the force of Robbo’s presence. You already know that he is a mountain of a man, in the sense of: who argues with mountains. That is not a question.
Simon said, “You’re back?” The question mark was a mere formality. “Bazanye is back,” he informed Robbo, who had just arrived.
This is when Robbo, who was yet to become Mr Kabushenga to me, turned, faced me like Muhavura faces scrawny little punks, and asked, “Do you have a phone?”
The answer was that it was 1998. MTN had only just arrived in town and made cellphones not even affordable, just less unaffordable. Their cheapest piece cost five hundred shillings: all the money I had. The money I was supposed to use to find a place to stay and food to eat while I job-search.
The answer I gave was, “Umm, no.”
He turned around to go off and do some busy Kabushengaring. Such is Kabushenga–always going somewhere to do something that is urgent and vital that does not permit the squandering of time with young boys in Red Sox caps.
Before he turned he instructed, “Go and get one and come back.”
I remember feeling as if I was reeling in the aftermath of something massive and cataclysmic like those that happen in movies starring Dwayne Johnson, where the robots have decimated four US States. I didn’t even get to stutter the first syllable of the question “Why” before Simon scribbled down his and Robbo’s numbers so that when I get the phone and report for duty I can inform them without wasting time. This whole conversation, if at all it counts as a conversation, had proven that wasting time was not something these men did.
So I left the Vision, propelled perhaps by the force of these two men and their command, or by the fact that I am very much my mother’s son and, dumb idiot though I was then, I was still wise enough to know that I had just wandered into the leading media company in the country and been given a job instantly.
I spent all my money on this phone. In one day.
And my career began. I started there.
I didn’t chose this life. This life chose me.
He’s not lying. It was the time of my life.