On your way to the Holy Grail, you’ll sometimes have to sip from plastic shapeless mugs, but it’s okay and I hope you’ll have the humility to recognize the shapeless plastic mugs for what they are; vessels that will curtain raise for the fine wines you’ll eventually get to sip in your golden chalice.
2013 was the year of many twists and turns and true to this it wore many shades; from the dark that came with an attack on journalism when Daily Monitor newspaper was raided over General Sejusa’s letter that highlighted a plot by the ruling NRM government to turn Uganda into a monarchy (For the record the stuff written about is happening right now) and to the brighter shades of Manchester United’s record 20th top-flight league trophy, also probably read as our last great season of the twentieth century.
On a personal level, it was my year of becoming; my final year in Secondary school, one I took by the horns. It was the year I dared to do it all, the world was at my feet and I juggled it like a pro.
I was in a good place in my Senior 6 and I waltzed through all three school terms daring to balance my education and co-curricular activities and as the year drew to a close I couldn’t help but feel elated, I was leaving high school, and boy it felt good.
Even before I sat for my last exam sometime around late November, I had plans, I was slowly taking the step into adulthood and responsibility, I saw my friends who always had money and I liked that, I wanted to call my shots too, to be independent, such was my determination that I kept my ears on the ground for any opportunities Entebbe would offer.
In the past I’d caddied at the golf course and also had a stint at a local restaurant as a cook cum waiter and felt I’d mostly done well especially with the caddying where I’d part timed during my senior four vacation, the restaurant business wasn’t bad too, keep for a few “salt incidents” that hadn’t gone well with my boss or the cat that had been tortured into eating my salted meat once it was deemed unconsumable for human beings.
But that had been months ago and in the year 2013, I didn’t know what life would throw at me and in all honesty the odds and maybe evens too were all stacked against me, I had no idea how I was going to get employment.
Statistically, youth in my age group (15 to 24) in sub-Saharan Africa were twice likely to be unemployed compared to any other age bracket, yet somehow I kept on manifesting my employment in the hope that I would figure it out and live my Ugandan dream.
The idea for where my next job came from an evening on the beach, sometime around the dying days of November on one of those weekends at a sort of reunion party organized by my now former classmates at the beach.
It was a party that I shouldn’t have even attended because I couldn’t afford the fifteen thousand shilling tax that had been attached to it but none the same I got lucky when my blessing (your Uncle Paapa) offered to foot my bill and so that evening on the last day of the month we’d find ourselves at the beach in what would be mostly a disappointing night highlighted by low turn up, the soothing voice of Irene Ntale, likes of Khalifa Aganaga, King Saha and the doctor of music.
We enjoyed the breeze, spoke about life and how uncertain the future was, how we wanted to get jobs, discussed stuff like what Universities we’d go to the following year, I whined about how my mother had been rude to me when I asked her for some money as a last ditch attempt to make it to the party, the conversation swirled around how we would get employment then Paapa would suggest that we give Greenfields a try.
I’d never heard of the company, keep for the fact they were a processing plant that had jobs for casual workers. I liked what i heard, a job opportunity that didn’t need papers or experience was the dream and in that surreal moment by the beach, I drew a mental picture of myself working there and because I didn’t know what work we’d be doing, I channeled my inner Salvador Dali into drawing a picture that had me counting notes in bundles after breaking the deodorant bottle I’d recycled to save my money.
7:00 am on Monday found us at the gate of Greenfields lined up outside, patiently waiting for the person in charge of picking casual workers. we were both nervous and had goosebumps that could’ve been mistaken for pimples but we stuck together and spoke with some of other employment seeking colleagues who were more familiar with the work done and got an idea of the work we’d be doing if we went through the selection process.
We got lucky to both be among the chosen ten casual workers needed for that day and watched atleast twenty other people get sent back home to try their luck tomorrow or even never.
For the next couple of hours we got acquainted with the work and we were assigned to cleaning (guys that wore yellow and always had a mop stick and bucket) for Paapa and for myself “By Product”- final stage guys that wore dark green overalls and handled the food we were meant to process to remove its bladder which as I would find out was a valuable commodity that had to be supervised by two mean looking garlic munching Indian men in a small 8X12 ft room.
We worked Monday to Friday and with some luck I became a constant feature chosen everyday not because of my charm or hard work and the fact that I occupied little space but strangely because Rackara is a unique difficult to pronounce name that picked Madam Barbra’s interest and ultimately distinguished me. So on the familiarity my name to her, I had the rare luck of consistently being picked and for my part I worked like a Trojan for the five thousand shillings I earned per day.
The company provided us with overalls- to distinguish us by the different departments we worked in from Filleting, Skinning, By-product to Cleaning, gumboots and gloves for safety and a shower out of generosity to remove the evidence of our work from our bodies which was in itself an unachievable task because trimethylamine (TMA), the chemical responsible for the fishy odor which in the execution of our duties gave us a sense of how fresh a batch of fish was also served the purpose of ensuring that we moved around smelling like the deceased fish we worked on and no amount of detergent, medicated soap, herbal soap or even bleach could take that away from us.
Work at Greenfields was tough and often highlighted by long hectic work hours, daily injuries from fish bones, cuts from sharp knives and also long hours and rude bosses who insulted their employees at free will, it didn’t help but in an insane way I loved it, or rather the fact that it filled my wooden safe.
On one of our more hectic days I left work at 6;00 pm, tired by the day’s hustle and boarded a taxi from Katabi stage. I had never used a taxi on my way to or from work; often preferring to walk the two kilometers which often translated to a twenty minute walk but on this day I was just too tired and figured that spending five hundred shillings on transport wouldn’t leave a huge dent on my finances.
All was going well and I’d settled in well and closed my eyes in a resting position when the woman behind me happened.
“Abaaye, ek’enyanja kiyingide takisi” (Guys, a fish has entered the taxi) she said to a mostly disinterested audience who at first didn’t hear her- probably because we were in a noisy place or maybe they’d heard but didn’t understand what the fish had to do with the taxi.
In a taxi that had atleast ten people engrossed in the usual passenger stuff like browsing on their phones, listening to music, the occasional gossip,, and sleep, I was probably the only person that heard her- only because sat behind her.
I laughed more out of politeness than the humor she had laced her diction with, It wasn’t until the weight of her words and its allusion hit me and slowly with labored movement I began to withdraw my laugh, first to a chuckle, then to a smile, then to a frown that was preceded by the most stoic expression I could muster in those desperate times. I realized how close I’d been to been eaten alive then said a silent prayer of gratitude to the Lake Nalubaale spirits that had just saved me from embarrassment.
But she wasn’t done with me yet, like a striker who missed a penalty in need of redemption she struck again.
“Abaaye ek’enyanja kiyingide takisi naye baaba tufa”. She repeated adding that they were dying (apparently of the odour).
This time she was louder, from the front where the driver sat above the steering wheel to the back where a girl I knew from school played games on her phone, they all heard her. Like the qualification hopes of the Cranes depended on her, she had put her heart into it, her voice had been crisper, like something had snapped inside of her, she’d delivered it much better with the conviction of a comedian at the Apollos who knows it’s now or never.
With a little help from trimethylamine that had spread in the taxi and the fact that a few of the passengers were regulars who knew that Greenfields employees boarded the taxi from Katabi stage, her words struck a chord with her fellow passengers and they broke into laughter.
It was so funny that some passengers laughed with tears in their eyes, the much more inventive ones asked rhetoric questions like what type of fish had entered the taxi and for my part I answered under my breathe that it was mostly Nile Perch and abit of tilapia.
I wanted to say something, maybe even insult her back and say something in my defense but one of the perks of making indirect attacks at people is that the person being mocked often can’t react lest they confirm that the dig was meant for them and true to this there was no way I was going to acknowledge that I was the aquatic animal.
So I just sat there fuming while my scales itched, my gills seemed to be failing me and in that moment, no matter how much I tried I just couldn’t breathe in enough air, I was trembling, in a fiery rage.
A little voice in my head told me the dig hadn’t been mine since I hadn’t been the only passenger to board the taxi from Katabi stage and she could have directed her dig at anyone of the two of us who’d joined in from the previous stage.
The only flaw in my logic was that the other guy who had taken the window seat beside me was well kempt in a suit while for my part I donned a blue superman t-shirt and tight black trousers; the likelihood of the passengers thinking it was him were near to slim so I resigned myself to the fresh waters of the lake I was in.
Time just seemed to be limping about and a swim that ordinarily took me five minutes dragged on for ateast fifteen minutes with more stops to prolong my torture and somehow I wished that I would get swallowed by a shark, but logic reigned in and I reminded myself that sharks only exist in oceans.
The thing with starting out Hailee, is that you’ll probably get to do stuff that will cause you ridicule and sometimes it will take you days even weeks to get over the unkind labels your hustle will likely attract but provided it pays your bills and you like your job then it’s always worth it and it’s a lesson I would learn the following year in 2014 when having quit my job to move to Gulu I would lose the semblance of independence my job had given me.
My clothes would still have TMA in them, but there would be no dates like the one I wrote about here, I would constantly lack airtime and even the money to watch United play and in retrospect I would miss being in those halls staring at carcasses of departed fish and the Agnes Akite wannabe at the back wouldn’t matter anymore.
In a way I won’t always have lessons to offer from my own failures and mishaps but I hope that you’ll find from your own unique experiences morals to live with.
Hi, Hope you’ve all been great, it’s been a hectic couple weeks with both work and books so didn’t post much as I would’ve loved to but thanks for supporting me regardless.
Apwoyo Matek for the positive feedback I’ve got since I started this series, I hope to keep your around more consistently.
To read the previous post of my Dear H series, kindly click on the link.