Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

A commentary on news and events in Uganda and elsewhere


Just an ordinary bloke.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Walking down memory lane - Part II

JINJA ROAD - I stand at the new Kitgum House junction for a couple of minutes to catch my breath. I remember the old round-about, with its power substation and shrubs and wonder why it has taken us several years to realise that round-abouts are an inferior form of traffic control only useful for one-street towns.

The junction is new but driving habits die hard. There is a express lane down from Garden City for motorists headed out of the city towards Jinja road but this is clogged by cars trying to sneak back into the lane for cars headed towards Mukwano! I look up and see the cameras installed as part of the CHOGM package and wonder hwo they are supposed to work. They don't seem to be pointed at the cars, so they are not really traffic cameras, and I don't think anyone gets their pockets picked at a busy junction. Well, you never know.

I turn off towards Jinja road and walk past the Centenary Park, set up in the 90s to commemorate 100 years of Kampala's existence. My mind goes back several years when an Egyptian circus, called AKEF or something similar, came to town and set up giant tents with acrobats, fire-eaters and other same such. That circus, opened by no less than President Museveni, was part of our coming out party as a country -- not out of the closet mark you, but out of survival mode to party mode. Those were the days of Lucky Dube's mega-concerts, of travelling Congolese music troupes with catchy Lingala tunes we could sing word-for-word but did not understand, of bleached female dancers with gyrating waists and who seemed to glow in the dark. Those were the heady days of partying, or lotteries, of stunt men kissing or groping cars to see who had more staying power and would be able to tell off the rest: Hands off my Hyundai. Those were the days when Sanyu FM was Sanyu FM; when Dance Force still had the force; when Rasta Rob was on the M.I.C; when motorsport was still popular -- and competitive and was often flagged off here. Ah, those days!

The park has now been privatised and commercialised; children pay to use the playing area and the green spaces have been shared out by restaurants and pubs. The jungle that once was the back end of the park is now being replaced by a concrete jungle.

I walk past the crowd waiting for rush hour taxis, at the stage by the park and wonder why some of them -- especially those spotting pot bellies -- do not just walk home. I get to the Celtel roundabout, which I hear was supposed to make way for a junction but got a stay of execution because it would be too disruptive and, also, I hear, because someone needed the money to complete some urgent personal projects. Mbu!

As I go round the 'bout, I look up to the Celtel House, once one of the swankiest office blocks in town and still a looker, and remember the days when mobile phones in Uganda were called 'Celtels'. They were not for everybody, mark you. One needed about $2,500 just to get connected and hundreds more dollars in monthly bills. One also needed to take out a gym subsription in order to be able to lug around the heavy bricks they handed out as mobile phones -- in reality payphones in disguise.

I could never have afforded a 'Celtel' even if my life depended on it, and when MTN came to town, I remember close family members admonishing me for 'wasting money' on a mobile phone. As I walk past Celtel House, I chuckle, remembering how, one after the other, the sceptics all took to mobile phones and how the ubiquitous they have since become.

I walk up past the Internal Affairs ministry and the passport office, and recall the days when passports took months to come and had entries at the back for you to register foreign exchange purchases. Those were before the days of a certain man called Sudhir Ruparelia and Red Fox Foreign bureau and Crane Forex bureau whose 'Growing to serve and serving to grow' might easily be the longest-running radio ad known to me.

The cars are now zooming past me much faster but the sidewalk, made ready for CHOGM, is a reassuring presence underfoot. Across the road, the British American Tobacco factory roof has been given a fresh coat of paint but the smell of tobacco still lingers in the air, as do memories of the street bashes they brought to down with their Benson and Hedges brand, skirting bans on direct advertising with enticing and rowdy street shows outside Club silk.

The new Ange noir club still towers over the daytime din and bustle of industrial area as well as the night-time commerce -- legal and otherwise -- and cacophony of catcalls, thumping music, drunken arguments, etc. I am reminded of the days of sneaking out school to come party at Club Silk or Ange Noir often armed only with the entrance fee and transport back to school -- sometimes not! I recall the smarter boys who, tired of spending their pocket money on club entrance fees, invested in duplicate stamps and ink. The clubs would have two different stamps and one group member would pay, have their wrists stamped, come out and compare notes. The appropriate stamp would then be retrieved and, for a small fee to recover the initial investment and to cover finance and other charges, would be administered to willing members. Until the clubs introduced glow-in-the-dark ink we couldn't find in the shops.

I am almost lost in thought when a car turning into the Jinja road police station almost runs over me.

To be continued.