Thursday, April 06, 2006

Ochre Houses

This morning, we were driving into town for a meeting at the Ministry of Education. coming down Jinja road from the general direction of Nakawa, we espied a jam backing up all the way to the Ministry of Internal affairs so we turned round and drove through the Uganda Management Institute into the lower Kololo environs so we'd take the jam free Acacia avenue, eventually.

From UMI we drove down Golf Course Avenue, lower Kololo, past Paul's (RIP) house and up to the stretch right below the airstrip that leads down to acacia. as we were driving down Paul’s road, Brian pointed out the flats on the right hand side - opposite the Golf Course apartments - that he grew up in except that when we started in on him about being a city bred kid and eschewing all the boyish joys of growing up in the countryside e.g. swimming in rivers, hunting, grazing cows, shooting birds, drowning cats, borrowing the produce of other peoples fruit trees, etc, he swore to high heaven that he was raised in Ruharo, Kashaari, Mbarara and they only moved to Kampala in the late eighties. Whatever

it was his comment on the spaciousness of the old house that got me thinking about the house in which I grew up, after which this blog is named. Now that was the perfect house in which to raise a bunch of kids. It was a double storied house set in a compound the size of 2 football fields. That would be soccer to some of you. We were on the upper floor and Auntie Susan, Joel's mum, was on the lower floor. the house was dead smack in the middle of the compound with a fence running down the middle which we of course tore down, save for the section at the front. we each had a garage big enough to park an IFA in. I know because my Uncle in the army once came over late at night and my mum asked him to get his unsightly escort IFA out of her sight, his soldiers drove it towards the garage. Now whereas the garage was high and wide enough to accommodate the truck, the door wasn’t as accommodating. So the IFA truck stayed outside.

Attached to the garage was a self contained - the politically correct term would be - servants quarters where John, who'd been with us since before I was born, lived with his family. There was plenty of room at the back for a well sized garden in which we grew doodoo and occasionally maize to keep Jajja happy, in the days before she came to live with us fulltime and insisted on teaching us the basics of crop husbandry. At the front of course was the rest of the compound, which we used for football n bicycle races and water fights and water slides when it rained. the best thing about the compound for me were the trees, guava and jambula (what’s that in English?), and one big ol' grandfather thing right in front of the garage that housed a monitor lizard in the depths of its cavernous root system.

That lizard was like the Loch Ness monster, only seen on very quiet afternoons when you were most definitely alone so there was no one around to collaborate your story. Climbing the guava tree was banned in 1989 when Big Joseph, aunt Susan's cousin fell off it and sprained his ankle. The idiot, taking us 6, 7, 8 and 9 year olds up on a dare. The Jambula tree on the other hand was a no-go area after caterpillars invaded its mid section in about '88. If the fruit didn’t fall down fast enough, we roped in everyone and took turns at throwing whatever it took at the branches so they'd give up their loads.


The trees on our side of the compound were better for climbing, and we had all the fruit trees so Aunt Susan's compound was greener, coz we hardly ever played there. When she complained that we were not playing on her side we created a roster for alternating between her side and ours naye bambi, her side had thorns in the grass near the gate. The other attraction was the termite mound in the boundary line between our compound and the guys next door. My granny used to call them a most derogatory term that generally refers to people from Northern Uganda. Shez old school. Being of varied ethnic origins, we kids only caught on when we went to boarding school exactly what she was going on about. I think she just didn’t dig the fact that they brewed their own beer in their compound.

Come to think of it, Jinja was, still is, a pretty diverse place to live. Aunt Susan is western, her husband (RIP) was eastern - yo, Joel, didya ever get circumcised? Say you were facing the road in front of the house, the guys on the right were well, northern or eastern I dunno, those ends. The guys on the left were just as varied. Behind us was Bagarukayo who I believe was western, his sister definitely looked western (bust-waist-hip wise). Directly in front of us were Bryan who is half Rwandese and Michael who is half Russian - we never ate at their house. Right next to Michael’s house was a block of flats chock full of BaChottala and Arabs. At home we ourselves spoke, actually were spoken to - coz we barely learned the languages, in everything from Luganda, Lugwere, Lusoga, Kinyankore, Kifumbira, Kinyarwanda to Kiswahili - that would be aunt Rehema's husband Omar. And the same demographic was pretty true of all Jinja. My first crush was on an Arab chick called Kultham, I chull when her bro Rashid made it the butt of neighbourhood jokes.

But I digress - that was for your benefit Carlo. That termite mound was the source of some fine clay. we used it to mould our own toy pistols coz Mummy bless her heart wouldnt buy the kind that shot real pellets and water pistols were for the gals. At least with clay pistols, when you run outta "bullets" you could hurl your weapon at your enemy! Muhahahahahah!!! Sorry Sam but man, you were killing me that day!

The house itself was really old school. it had these red floors that you find in all the old houses countrywide and the walls were really thick so when my granddad spent the night he'd complain that it was too warm - for future reference, his house is on the lake shore - so Mummy would let him seat outside after dusk for a bit, to cool off and of course we would clamour to be allowed to keep him company which meant that we got to play outside! At night! Those floors, I think they're made outta a mixture of iron peroxide or something, were the kind that well, had to be waxed so they'd shine real good! Naturally it fell upon us of then nimble backs to do the deed. I believe I have written about this before. To our mums credit she gave us the choice of either waxing the floor first or settling in for the Saturday TV funnies, or vice versa. we usually did both at the same time so when Scooby Doo and Shaggy were doing that running in one spot thing before showing the bad guy a clean pair of heels we were sliding across the floor on our hands and knees.

Like any old house it had its eccentricities. like every time it rained, the house leaked in three places, 1.right outside the dining room - which weirdly had a window between it and the corridor, a real life window in the middle of the house, 2.right outside my mum's room and 3.in the left hand corner just inside the dining room. Even though we had the roof tarred, no Kajjansi tiles on that house, only a flat roof and iron sheets, the leaking never ever stopped. Another thing I loved was the winding ornamental staircase that led from the living room down to the ground floor. We only ever used that when we had like serious company in the house otherwise we'd all just use the back door up the staircase past the kitchen.

Watching TV late at night was a trick coz man, there were all kinda noises coming from that staircase. Course I know now it was just the house settling but back then, it was scary!!! Picture the irony, you're watching Monday night wrestling on UTV and rooting for Kamara the Ugandan Destroyer on WWE - World Wrestling Entertainment, but when the show's over your ass is scared stiff of walking past the glass panelled door to the staircase lest something jumped out and grabbed you.

My favourite of all the quirky things about the house, ok truthfully, one of my favourite things would have to be the windows. They were all over the place. And they came in all shapes, from big bay windows to the louvered things. What I especially liked about the ones in my mum's room was the opening mechanism. You just turned this little lever on the window sill that was part of a device whose job was to open and close the window. no need to stretch your hand out through the burglar proofing, a much detested but necessary addition in later years, you just turned the lever and the window swung out or inwards.

When we left Jinja, my sis promised that one day she'd return and buy the house - it belonged to Nytil where my mum used to work - I’d usually keep quiet when she said that because I was privately thinking, "Not if I get there first!"

3 Comments:

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Thu Apr 06, 11:47:00 pm  
Blogger Jay said...

ahh the memories. By the age of 10 I had lived in 4 different houses but the 2 years spent in the Jinja house are some of my best. its almost like you were describing our old house on jackson crescent, except for the size.
I went back last year after a long time and its now a guesthouse-two friends guesthouse or something.

Fri Apr 07, 10:38:00 am  
Blogger Jay said...

by the way activate word verification for your comments. You are getting spammed.

Fri Apr 07, 10:39:00 am  

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