For most of my primary school holidays, I’d go to my hometown Pakwach. I loved it. Spending time with my folks over there made for a perfect childhood.
My friends and I would climb cashew trees. I always aimed for the juiciest yellow fruit that hung by an unlikely twig. It was a daring attempt, near adventurous. I’d pull myself by the branch like a sneaky cat. I’d hold on tight, then stretch my hand and pluck the fruit. There’d be girls waiting under the tree to catch the fruits. I wanted to impress them.
I’d drop the fruit from up. They’d catch it and place it on a carpet cashew nut leaves. I’d climb down and we’d share the fruits. We’d then roast the nuts. How we knew how much fire to put in order not to burn the nuts was instinctive. I tried it recently and all my nuts came out black. That mojo had left my system.
We’d break the shells and place the roasted nuts on leaves. We’d then share them among the children around and everyone would go happily crunching between their teeth.
My cashew nut exploits went on well until one afternoon when the sun was hot. It was one of those days when you’d place a basin of water under the sun and you’d find it warm. You’d see steam rising from the water. The ground baked your sole. The grass turned brown. I wanted cashew nuts.
I climbed the tree like I usually did, climbed it really well. This guy here was heading for one special cashew nut. It hang at angle where the sun struck it with its best light. Like temptation and sin, it was inviting. I dragged myself onto its branch. There I was, getting closer but I needed to stand to reach the fruit. I looked up and as I rose, I missed the branch and I sang “I believe I can fly.”
I landed on the ground with a thud. All the children ran to check on me with their worried faces. Some laughed. I couldn’t get up, my head stayed down. Someone picked me, I don’t remember who it was, but they were one of the elders in the homestead. They carried one of the basins of water, placed it in the grass, and undressed me before the other kids. They bathed in public. I couldn’t hide my pee pipe. There were girls watching me. If the Lord came for me that day, I think I would’ve gladly gone. I was embarrassed.
They put me on a bicycle and rode me to hospital. My grandma attended to me. I wasn’t badly injured though. I still climbed cashew nut trees many more times after this ordeal.
There were times I’d go to the garden with my uncle, Barnabas. He’s like a brother. We’re of the same generation, almost age mates. We’d hang out together. We’d go to the river with jerry cans to fetch water. It’s different now. Grandma’s house has a tap with piped water. We don’t fetch water from the river anymore.
There was a day Barnabas and I went to harvest potatoes. I wore shorts and sandals. He had a cap on. On our way, we plucked guavas from the trees by the footpath leading to the garden. I ate those guavas, both ripe and unripe. It was the kind of stuff that made village life tick. We dug out potatoes and placed them in polythene bags. And just when we were about to leave, I had a bad stomach.
Shit made me uneasy. I couldn’t hold it in. Walking was hard. Standing was harder. My stomach felt like a toe that hit the edge of a table. Barnabas had an idea. He dug a hole at the edge of the garden, in the bushes and told me to drop my shit in there.
I scanned around to see if there was anyone looking, making sure my village crush wasn’t in the surrounding. I pulled down my shorts and squatted in the now created shit-hole. I dropped my dung in there, foul smell rising up like smoke. There were seeds of guavas in that shit. Hose flies didn’t wait for me to finish my business. They came around, disturbing my peace as I dropped faeces. I wiped my backside with fresh leaves from the tree around. I covered the hole. No fly was buried in that hole. I hope no one got diarrhoea from those flies. I didn’t wash my hands and went straight to playing. The potatoes we got from that garden the next season were the size of a baby’s head. My organic manure had a part to play in that harvest.
We’d also take goats to graze, tethering them in fields with fresh grass. It was harder to find good grass in dry season but the goats survived on what they found. I once tried milking a goat but I failed. It didn’t work out.
I also loved going to the village because of my grand-uncle, Barnaba’s dad. Captain, as everyone called him, was a guy who spoke with a British accent. He was taught by the colonialists. He walked with his shoulders straight, head high and took strides like he was the king of Pakwach. His moustache towards the end of his upper lips were like whiskers.
He had his exploits in the army during his youthful days. I’d sit beside him under the small bamboo forest on my grandpa’s compound. I’d be like a karate student ready to pick lessons from his master. He’d tell me stories from his younger days, the times he spent at Rhino Camp and Arua. He swam in river Nile as kid. And he was part of the band that played on 9 October 1962, when Uganda got her independence.
I remember him beaming as he told me about that day. That probably was the best moment of his life. He played the national anthem with a joyful heart. The sight of Uganda’s flag flying as the celebrations went on that day filled his eyes with happy tears. Our country was now truly independent.
He served in the army as a mechanical engineer, fixing army trucks and tankers and then advanced to bits of aeronautical engineering. He was a linguist. He told me he spent some time in Israel. He spoke Hebrew.
“When you don’t speak a language for a long time, you’ll forget it,” he told me, looking at me and then running his large hairy hand over my head. I’ll never forget those words from captain. I was nine years old. He was talking about practice, making me see the meaning in the saying, practice makes perfect.
I learnt it early in life, that if you want to be good at something, you’ve got to keep doing it. Keep pushing. Keep showing up. Sharpen that skill. Show it if you have to. No matter what happens, keep at it. Don’t give up. Don’t stop. Because if you do, you’ll forget it. You’ll lose your edge. It’s a lesson I’ve forgotten so many times yet remembered time and again. I miss captain.
I liked it when I went to the artistic, metallic, strong Pakwach bridge. I’d stand at the pedestrian walk side on the bridge and watch far-way canoes on the river with little-looking men throwing nets into the water and pulling them onto the canoe with fish. I’d watch hyacinth getting blown on the surface of the river. I’d see women pulling papyrus from the banks of the river, children swimming at the banks.
I’d watch elephants and giraffes on the other end of Murchison Falls National Park, hippos by the river side. I’d stare at the savannah grass and acacia trees in the National Park for hours. It was idyllic. I’d not want to leave the bridge but the sun would go down and darkness would rise.
I’d then leave, walking as fast as I could, sometimes running on the stony road to return the goats from grazing and to be home in time to welcome grandma with a hug. We’d have dinner on our papyrus mat by the three-stone stove fuelled by fire wood. She’d ask how I was, how my day went. I’d tell her it was fine, taking care not to tell her any mischief I was part of. We’d not talk a lot. But those very few hours we spent together made me feel grandma’s unending love. She’d put me to bed at about 8:00pm.