TENDING TO THINGS WITH LIFE: A dose of literature to get you through Monday (series 8)

Waking up in the morning presents dreaded activities like bathing. And at Kaine’s the dread is justified. All you have for a bathroom is a shower head, a tap projecting from the cemented wall and a green metallic door.

The slipperiness of the algae infested concrete floor requires slippers with ridged and bumpy soles.

There are no hooks to hang your towel so you use the metallic rod projecting the shower head.

There is no soap-dish attached to the wall, so you rest it on the window-stool above the gaping porcelain squat toilet. And then hope against gravity that the soap does not slide in.

When I return to the room I find Kaine seated up in her big blue tee shirt. It has a picture of a big crumbly cookie with a streak of strawberry syrup for a wide smile.

Good morning!

“Morning. Why’re you up so early?”

It’s not early Kaine. It’s like eight or eight thirty.

“Yeah. But- it’s not like you have to go to office.

Someone called while you were snoring. I am going to be a panelist at a youth debate.

“Today?”

Yes.

She has a surprised-worried look. It is hard to tell which came first- the looks seemed to have appeared simultaneously. She is surprised probably because until 30 minutes ago, neither of us knew I was going to be a panelist. And she is worried because she knows just as well as I do that I have not prepared for this.

“I hope they are paying you this time.” It isn’t a question. It is more of a caution. This would not be the first time I would be doing work and receiving no payment. Kaine’s dual face lasts seconds and in its place she wears the same face she had last night in the taxi, with her ears plugged with ear phones. The face seems to read; there will be no more dialogue with me-henceforth, my mouth says nothing and my ears hear nothing.

It is common to do work and receive no payment when you have no job security or a job for that matter. I almost miss the formality of being employed; strangely what I miss most is having a straight answer to the question, ‘where are you working now?’ That is the frequently asked question I receive – second to the formal ‘How are you?

It is a very common question from relatives, former course-mates and from all the ghosts of my past like former lecturers, high school teachers. It is the rational question to ask a person known to have been in school and graduated.

“Where is the flat iron?”, I ask Kiane. I carelessly tossed my jacket and skirt on the Suitcase behind the door and the resultant creases need to be ironed out.

“Check under the bed”, Kaine replies as she snuggles back under covers to continue with her morning sleep.

My rehearsed answer to the frequently asked question is ; “I do independent research and writing”. It is a reasonable thing for a graduate to do but it rarely translates into an income. It is through such abrupt opportunities that I am able to make ends meet. An NGO that has not made Annual reports for four years needs to make up for lost time. Can I complete the work in a week? Funding was given for ten papers and only five have been written. Can I write two before Friday? The Organisation that called this morning promised an honorarium of 300,000 shillings -which is more than I need for next month’s rent- so I am excited.

Kaine gets out of bed and rummages through the heap of clothes on the suitcase for a pair of shorts to wear beneath her knee length tee shirt. She walks me to the gate: in the main house Peter is still asleep so there is no need to sneak out: barefooted, shoes held in my hands- in a desperate effort not to alert him of my sleepover. Still I have to make measured steps so that the knock-knock sound of my shoes against the concrete floor does not give away my stealthy exit.

***

I have sufficient time to pass by an Internet Café to refurbish my statistics arsenal. Quoting percentages from the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics or the World Bank Data Sheet makes all the difference at Youth debates. The topic of deliberation is ‘Enhancing Youth Participation in Politics’ and it has been extensively written on but the information is too much to process in two hours. As I walk uphill past the main gate of Makerere University I am suddenly flashed with the panic occasional to ill preparation ahead of public speaking.

I arrive at the Main Hall in time to catch my breath before being led to the raised platform at the front where seats have been arranged round a table facing an audience of over 200 University students. After formal introductions of names and occupations; each preceded and concluded with a handshake, I take my seat between the Journalist and the Political Analyst. The president of the National Youth Council is seated furthest from me.

The students are just arriving and for a few minutes I feel very exposed just sitting here before an audience that is not ready to receive us. Some eyes staring at us are heavy with scrutiny and judgment. I do not cut the sophisticated look in dress and demeanor as the other panelists and I fear I will not be taken serious. To compensate for this I adopt a serious countenance and try to hold down the panic welling up into streams of sweats under my arm pits and beads of sweat on my brow.

I have not prepared for this debate. Youth Participation in Politics! Ha! What do I know about Politics? I am not even a registered voter. I tried to register myself last year but the Electoral Commission had already decreed a deadline ahead of the Presidential elections.

Oh god. Oh god. Youth participation in politics… think Tindi. Think hard. You must wow the audience.

It is a relief to hear the moderator’s voice announcing the start of the debate thirty minutes late – the Political Analyst was starting to realize that his rants to me about politics in Uganda where competing for attention with my own insecurities. The announcement is also a trigger for the panic to rekindle.

The moderator engages the audience in a little game. And it gives me time to collect myself.

“Imagine you had magical powers, what is the one thing you would change?”

Their answers are about grand things: you can tell from their tones that some of the students are serious and they would actually do these things if they had a chance.

“I would create jobs for the youth. The statistics show that over 80% of Ugandan youth are unemployed…

“I would end women subjugation”

“… Change the health care system… 19 women die every day while giving birth…”

“…provide free quality education.     The Government spends approximately 13,000 Uganda shillings annually on each child in these UPE schools”

“Make Sevo catch some terrible deadly disease that he does not have already”

When the moderator has garnered enough enthusiasm about the Topic from the wishful students, we are invited to join the discussion –  and even worse than before, I feel like spot lights have been focused on us to further expose us.

I am wearing the very suit I wore the previous day:  all I did this morning was generously apply double-the amount of deodorant I usually wear. My black pumps gathered dust as I walked to the hall and I feel that someone in the audience may notice these little embarrassments when my turn comes to speak.

The Political enthusiast was a guild president in his days at the University and he starts his remarks with “Eaaa Makerere oh yea” to which the students in the audience devotedly respond “oh yea”. He repeats the chant three times and ends it with a remarkable “rwaaaaa!”

The journalist has an easy tongue and from her accent she strikes me as an international school graduate. She does not have to prove herself to the audience. They love her already because of the accent.

At the end of the debate I know I was not as impressive with my focus on the correlation between the state of the education sector and the high rates of unemployment in the country. I am not approached by half the number of students who rush to the other three panelists.

Upon receipt of the 300,000 shillings I instantly forget how distressful the afternoon has been because December’s biggest worry will be taken care of after I pay Rent.

   Copyright © 2016-2017 by Daphine Arinda

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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