The Headline That Morning – Peter Kagayi.

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An image representing the book cover for Peter Kagayi’s The Headline That Morning.

This review was written by Lule Raymond, for Turn The Page.

Although the collection wasn’t written under a single theme “The Headline That Morning,” there’s a certain unbelievable way some, if not most poems point, with the most lucidity, or by murky allusion, at a particular headline. After coming to terms with an unheralded exhumation of a headline that befits the story of our life or a moment we’d rather forget like in “A Family Portrait” (a headline of divorce), or a heavy headline of self-analysis and effusive divulgence in “How I Grew Up,” the poet leaves us with a pile of bitter truths to haunt our innermost emotions with. But this does not make him a robot. He too is agonized; he weeps, he dies, he mourns, until another poem gives him a kiss of life. Or, gives us. We cannot be fully alive reading a book of poems which make us question who we are and the various comfort zones we “helplessly” decay in.

 

In “Saagala Agalamidde,” a reprehension against laziness or indifference which starts with a repetitive call or random appointment for someone to run very fast and tell another that he’s in trouble, the writer is multi-tasking; he’s fleeing our animosity, he’s warning us to wake up and check ourselves, and he’s also telling us where we have suffered inflection. “Saagala Agalamidde” is a special drum known to the Ganda people of Uganda which was ceaselessly beaten over a particular area/community early in the morning to mark the commencement of communal work. The phrase can be translated as “I will see no one lying asleep”.

 

During a Turn The Page book club meeting I attended with Peter Kagayi, he was asked to comment on his ability to predict the course of this country in futuristic poems like In 2065, 2031 On History Channel, and The Headline That Morning, and he said he wrote those poems “with a bit of cynicism” but nevertheless, it’s easy to make prophecies in a country like Uganda. But which kind of country is Uganda? Is it the kind where you “Stand up and see that here morality does not always prevail/ Here things are done in reverse”? Is it rather one where “The headline that morning/ Had heads in lines seated in Serena, / Nodding in correct choreography/ At the conductor’s sleeping instructions”? Or is it “Here we are victims of questions with no answers/ Questions which ask:/ Did we ever resolve the Asian question?/ The land question?/ The constitutional question?”? Maybe we could enjoy a little optimism. Something like, “The president had died of an incurable jigger/ We were so hurt we went nowhere for a month”. But I am in no position to make such a fruitless suggestion.

 

Since the book came with an audio CD containing about a quarter of the poems, I cannot deliberately ignore this fact. What the CD does, I think, are two things; act as a side-option, and also serve as its own conveyer of language and sound. A great number of things have been said about it, including it catering for people who are so lazy to hold a book of poems and read. And there was a claim that this laziness is because poetry is esoteric. Well, maybe. Maybe not. I think often poetry is misjudged before it’s even read or consumed in any other form. The elitism associated with it is but a prejudice. Maybe it’s all because of language: English. It’s been connected to a despicable sense of superiority, to hovering. But I disagree that that’s the aim of a poet in “Nightmares” for instance because anyone with knowledge of the political history of this country could ask Ben Kiwanuka not to go to work that day. And their choice of words or skill of presentation would hardly vary. This is also evident in “You Name It,” a poem which serves as a flying mirror. I think the reason for choosing “You Name It” as a title was to transfer the rights to say those things about man from the poet himself, to the readers. It’s hence a piece of work guided by continuity; the views are infinite. In this case, a reader’s failure to “name it” means the writer has failed to bridge the gap, to erase a misconception. And that’s as far as I stretch this view.

 

In the majority of the poems, we are driven into questioning our present situations by visiting the past and our future by dissecting the present and taking note of the heartbeat of everything that defines us. For futuristic poems, it’s upon us to normalise the flow of blood, the fatal accumulation of fat, and to cut out the diseased organs and substitute them with implants (or our true selves).

 

One thing to commend about Kagayi is his ability to be ubiqitous whilst retaining his seemingly simple but far-reaching lyricism. The imagery through which he gets his message across is unpredictable; it could start in panting and end in feeding the readers with dust. Yet even when one is able to trace the trail of one poem, the next opens a completely new place. I think this is the magic of poetry, the teleportation of emotions, the tinning of warmth.

 

“The Headline That Morning” is undoubtedly a fine way for a poet debut in a country where poetry, like rap music, still has to prove it isn’t just another delusion of grandeur through which the youth waste time and effort. We can experiment with poetry. Poetry can move society. Poetry can accomplish a great deal.

Obituary: Juliet Tumwesigye Birungi

This piece of writing appears here because, amongst all the families that she belonged to, Julie chose to spend what would, unfortunately for many, be her last moments with the Turn The Page one.

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Juliet Tumwesigye Birungi, an astro-travelling explosion of awesomeness, died on Friday, June 10, 2016.

Julie’s well stocked mind, infectious laughter, and her effectively able self are tools that she carried with her, in her wonderful bowl of positive vibes wherever she went.

Workaholic.

When she had an important message to put across, at least to me, she always took up her favourite seat in the foyer of her offices, the one next to the entrance, and sat across me to deliver, in detail, the nature of and the effects of all matters taxation, accounting, records – the keeping of, auditing and more of the same, all done with comparative examples from the informal, foreign, and start-ups worlds.

Her work was a serious affair for and to her, one she attended to with all keenness, and paid a respectable amount of attention to detail while at it. She delivered results worth note and to do that, she had to create the time where it was not. On one weekend, a Saturday afternoon, and after a day’s trip to the Ssezibwa Falls with a couple of friends, she told us, and insisted that her weary self would be going to work that very night as she had reports to complete and hand in with immediate effect. Irrespective of the fact that she claimed that she was working for a person she described as a workaholic, her guts to proceed, especially when some of the folks in the car we were in had passed out in sleep was admirable. On another day, I had to wait for three to four hours past a normal working day’s get off time just for her to personally see to it that everyone under her ambit was sufficiently compensated for their services. In a community of generally lax people, Julie put in more effort than most people ever will.

Social scene.

An event with Julie and another without her could easily be distinguished. The one without her was not worth the while. When she walked into a place, or positively responded to an invitation – as effectively as she always did – she never did it alone. She always brought along with her someone, especially a new one amongst the already familiar ones.

She was coolly tolerant with everybody, and blended well with them. She had little time for the inconsistencies, insensitivities, and insecurities of the nasty world we live in. She was well aware that so many people were a big part of her life, and that she was a potential or a crystallized friend to and every one of them. Still, she was not immune to distress, especially that created by some to negatively affect the innately freely given lives of people she considered friends or family. She, for example, skipped a day at work and spent it live tweeting attempts and alarms to free Danny T from the unfathomable chains of laughable government agencies.

Her voice and its influence as relayed on her pages on the contemporary social networks was efficient at rallying people to a certain or any cause that she believed in or wanted us to draw our attention to. Julie found it hard to shake the feeling that our country and its government’s priorities had disappointingly gone awry. When she attended an African Movie Night showing of a movie about Patrice Lumumba, she said that it was awesome, and wondered why Uganda would be paying UGX 5 Billion for worldwide PR when it could just set up cinematography grants so that we can tell our stories properly.

When she finally figured out how Twitter works – she had forgotten her first password and used to tweet in French to her five followers then, who included JP, or John Paul Asiimwe – and found her online voice, she became a darling of many whom she kept engaged in conversations about a range of topics. One way or another, she appeared in your or your friends circles, and left an impression with her memorable memes and good goofs.

Team Uganda.

Both privately – she once painted her nails and her cheeks in the Uganda flag colours – and publicly, there are not so many people who made up and/or supported what could collectively be termed as Team Uganda like Julie did. We – Joryne Arigye, Marion Kyanzi, Mandela Nelson – danced together on a wet field and walked with – Brian Kyeyune, Annet Twinokwesiga and I – a couple of friends in support of Ruyonga’s rolling out. We – Julie, Patra Kigula and I – had tumblers of coffee lattes and shared platters of The Sound Cup food when Abaasa released The Rukungiri Mixtape. We braced the heat and crowds to join her Mary Hill High School girlfriends, known to each other as the squad, to celebrate Kampala in the Kampala Festival. Through her, we became friends with notable DJs like Twonjex. Through her, we started listening to and appreciating budding artists like Gravity Omutujju. Through her, we finally appreciated A-pass. Thanks to her, we had a good laugh at The Mith’s expert taxi fare haggling skills.

She appreciated local art – by attending events pertaining to and purchasing all forms of artistic expression – and made attempts at creating her own. Some of us discovered Maria Nakato’s Otakan Designs through her. We encouraged her to continue making more of her own accessories which included necklaces, chokers, bangles, and earrings. She, too, was a work of art, as was well illustrated by a painting of her by an immensely talented friend of hers Jessy Muyonjo.

Books, and foods and tales and more.

Whatever it is was that Julie chose to do or chased, she did with all the love and passion she could master and put thought into it. Her passions ranged. Notable ones rotated around taste and expression. Her tastes, in music, art, literature, and destinations were eccentric. Her expressions, in dressing, making up, hair styling, speech and its tonality and more were exquisite.

In a folder she shared with me, one containing all her music, movies, photos, documents, and more, I have learnt that she tried to fill any gaps and limits she encountered in her tastes by embracing contemporary sources and knowledge of other cultures, from learning the Spanish language to trying out Haiku Poetry to finding the love of Atesot and Kenyan men.

She loved books so much that when, on her birthday, I bought and delivered to her a cake, she threw a fit and asked me why I had not brought her a book in its stead. She always carried more than a copy for book swaps, some of which happened at Rugby events, and was the first Ugandan to contribute to the Mathare Slum’s Book Drive, a project run by friends in Nairobi, Kenya. She looked out for and shared news for book sales, and marked as to read those she saw with us and felt she wanted to.

Towards the end of 2015, when Turn The Page was taking shape, she laughed at me when I asked her if she was up to joining a WhatsApp chat group dedicated to our cause, and, when she did, came along with six like thinking members we had not anticipated, including one, Penny Mapula, from Botswana. Her last formal, so to say, event or public engagement was our book club meeting.

Julie and good food were best friends. She knew where to find the best, and recommended it to the interested. Our and her very last moment was shared over generous platters of Wandegeya’s TV Chicken which we – Conrad Kuzooka, Marvin Tumwine, Annet Twinokwesiga, Julie and I – commented should have made it to the ongoing Kampala’s Restaurant Week. On the way there, she had asked Lillian Opio, who had been sickly, to not worry about the chicken and “just take tabs”, before supplanting it with; “that is like living the moment today”. That is who Julie was. She did not compromise when it came to food. Sometime in 2014, she shared with an idea of a majorly fresh fruits canteen she had brand named Katunda Bar. I encouraged her to proceed with it. I hope that, someday, we will construct it in her memory.

Her love for good food was informed by contemporary sources as well. She had collected, and probably got excited by simply reading recipes for salads, soups, pizzeria, Mexican, Italian, and better foods and cook books from the Food And Cooking Network.

On Thursday, June 2, 2016, Julie and I shared a seat in a taxi bound to Kisementi. We had just finished with a meeting which had been held in her offices on Kampala Road. In the traffic jam, we talked, slept, and failed to agree, from a range of pictures she had in her phone, on a dress she wanted for a forthcoming party, and whether to proceed to Yasigi’s for the Uganda Bloggers Happy Hour or Iguana to meet up with Mashoo Aichi and Sharon Kukunda. We eventually chose Iguana because she felt that she was not ready to mingle and confer with renowned bloggers as she had most of her writings, including all the tales I had persistently asked her to share, in draft form. In 2014, her and I shared more about the same over a lunch of what she was later to term as “dry Sound Cup rolexes”. She wanted to write and more often than not ran her drafts by me. I encouraged her, and tried all my best to raise her confidence. I am certain that she has gone away with several undocumented moments which, to borrow from the link to her blog, had not yet screamed out.

The Queen.

One of Julie’s favourite quotations about family was an unaccredited one which read; “Family isn’t always blood. It is the people in your life who want you in their; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.” Julie was one of the scanty few people who lived life as opposed to being alive. Her passing lessens that number. She lived by every word in that quotation. She was a member of many families.

As the black shirts which have been prepared to remind us her will reveal, Julie will be remembered by some as a rasta who signed out of Iguana’s Jamrock Thursdays by saying the words; “it was real”.  She will also be remembered by members of her rap duo, which included Prize Joy Magezi, as a rapper, who made part of the group named The Antibiotics.

However, one of the families that Julie belonged to was what would rather pass as goons worth nothing better than scorning. On the path to her residence was a group of ever irie Rastafarians. To her, they meant no harm, as they had both – Julie and the gang – recognised each other by a style of hair dressing which they both agreed upon.

Whenever she approached them, irrespective of the time of the day or night, all she had to do was bow her chin, and place it on her fastened fists while saying the words “big up ‘pon yaself” or “large up ‘pon yaself”. On hearing those words, they would put on hold whatever it is that they were doing, and line up behind her to escort her all the way to her final destination, and keeping her safe from any possible danger. That is a family that will most certainly miss her. All they knew her as was as their Queen.

By extension, Iguana, which hosts a reggae theme night that Julie attended religiously, should get a Julie hologram to help enliven the inevitable somberness in the future. On realising that it is a hologram, it would not be a bad option to turn to it to say “large up ‘pon yaself” or “big up ‘pon yaself” in honour of the Queen. At the very least, they can hang – and never remove or replace – a large painting or picture of Julie on one of their walls.

Of unending conclusions and painful goodbyes.

There are not enough apt words that can describe how much anyone who discovered Julie will miss her. The loss of Julie should anger everybody. Not just her family – who has lost someone so young, someone of a tender age, someone who was in the prime of their life, but individuals she met and influenced – for they have lost a bond that no one will ever provide or replace; and institutions – like the police, which, apparently, did not offer the best of responses and her workmates who have lost a selfless, resourceful, and hardworking person who was by no means a spoke in the wheel of their day to day operations. The death of Julie is the kind that should start revolutions anywhere and everywhere. What form those will take, I know not, but I am certain at least something positive, something that can help stop robbing us of our dear ones will be done frequently in honour of Julie.

Julie was well aware that life moves on after your or anyone’s death. She acknowledged that it was sad thing. Her death has taught us that it takes a genuinely happy person like herself to cause so much unbearable sadness.

It is our fervent hope that Julie’s family, and especially her Mother, will find more of God, that their pain will gradually ease, and that they will be comforted by knowing that they sired, nurtured, and shared one of the best people ever with the world. It is rather quite unfortunate that someone who was full of life suddenly has none left in them. She stopped when she still had a long way to go. She meant so much to so many of us. We will never be the same without her. We will always miss and celebrate her.

 

 

 

Kintu – Jennifer Makumbi

So he was sacrificed at the altar of knowledge?’ Kusi tries to reconcile her mother and aunt.
‘For knowing and refusing to know,’ her aunt says confidently.

Is this how Nigerians felt when “Things Fall Apart” or “No Longer at Ease” were released? Is it how the Kenyans felt when “Carcase for Hounds” or “The River Between” were released?

When you ask Google what famous Ugandan novels she knows, she will give you ten names. Only ten names as opposed to the twenty plus of Nigeria or Kenya. One of these ten is Kintu. I can understand why.

For much of the books written by African writers, there is a great chronicling of local history and profiling culture. In fact this is not just African writers, it is writers everywhere. This is why we probably know more about Victorian lifestyle than Ugandan pre-1900 lifestyle. We’ve read more of it than our own.

When you start to read Kintu, you are thrown into a hot scene that showcases one of the worst vices of Ugandan society, “mob justice”. It’s a seemingly random death but a death at the beginning of a book spells a lot of story, as we all know.

Jennifer has a very captivating style of writing. I have seen it in another piece of her work -“Let’s Tell This Story Properly”. Her plot is not structured chronologically. It moves back and forth like a dream but is the kind of dream that has a proper beginning and a meaningful ending.

What she takes us through is a shared story woven over two hundred and fifty-four years. It tells the circumstances of six characters and how their history defines them.

The story is particularly gripping because it talks about home, Uganda, Buganda. It is so gripping because there are so many places it describes that I can walk to now and stand in. Like Mulago. Makerere College School. Bunga. Masaka. Places I have been to. It is gripping because the culture is something I can relate with: The effect of religion, campus life, etc. What’s more is that it tries to explain the reasons to so many unanswered questions in our minds.

It’s a tale of African mysticism that can easily steal your sleep and leave you pondering on your roots.The question of twins for example: I never knew why when twins die in our culture, they say “Babuuse” (they’ve flown). There are so many rites that come with twins that it seemed Baganda were fussing over nothing. When you read the story, you get new found respect or is it apprehension for twins.

It really weaves a tale of its characters alongside that of Buganda and Uganda. This is one book where finally someone talks about pre-British Buganda and pre-independence Uganda and what it meant for the locals. It goes through the different regimes, the issues that affected the country, how they affect individuals; things like HIV, war etc

Jennifer’s tact is in telling you what you have an idea about yourself. I really feel like it’s the first book that gives a fair idea of Uganda/Buganda.

I don’t know how it feels like for non-Baganda or non-Ugandans, but personally it really gave me a shaking.

I admire Jennifer for taking the time to research and teach so many Ugandans and in particular Baganda what they may not know about themselves. I for one know that an urban Muganda maybe a very disengaged Muganda but this book gives one a knock on their head and makes them awake.

I fell in love with Kintu’s life. How it might have been in the 1700s in Buganda. Family life. Sexuality. Kingdom and the other interesting aspects you will find. I also fell in love with Kanani, the Muzukufu because I relate. I understand the writer gives you a bias when it comes to what to believe but I can see the struggle of having to believe in a foreign god when your people believe in the local ones.

I sympathise with Ssuubi who is being haunted by her twin, who lives not exaclty afraid of death but waiting for it in vain. I understand the burden on Miisi’s mind, knowing all you know and not being able to know at the same time.

It’s such a rich book I am glad I did not hurry to read it. I will definitely think more about where I come from, and will look forward to more from Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.

This is a groundbreaking piece of Ugandan work.

Book club rules? No! But, guidelines for engagement

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A picture from our inaugural meeting, on Friday, May 27, 2016.

  1. Besides turning up for meetings and keeping time, which happen every fortnight, and between 5:30PM and 7PM respectively, there are, really, no rules. We believe in freedom, in all definitions of the word.

 

  1. Members can raise objections and/or suggestions for amendments to the books highlighted for/in the schedule, and ask that necessary changes be made.

 

  • Those suggestions, for example, pertaining to availability of the book scheduled as a common book for the month, can be raised at least two weeks before the following month so as to allow all members to prepare accordingly.

 

  1. The first meeting is organised in a unique way, one that provides invited local – Ugandan – writers with a platform to interact with their and new readers, engage them, and encourage them to both criticise and purchase their work.

 

  1. The first meeting concentrates, and importantly so, on what can be described as simple, easy to consume or appreciate works that may include a poem or story or more that make up part of what has been published as an anthology that they contributed to.

 

  1. The second meeting, and final meeting of the month, is dedicated to the text or common book for the month which is a longer read and is selected, for various reasons, from different parts of the continent.

 

  • For the purposes of comparison and inclusion, the first meeting may schedule a local work which is coupled together with a notable, alternative work from another region of the continent with the intent of comparing how our literature matches up with the rest of the world that we live in.

 

  • Meeting dates may change, but only due to conflicting events, or unforeseen inconveniences beyond our control. In any circumstance, prior communication will be made.
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    Our common text for the month of May, 2016.

 

  1. Suggestions for new books for the bookstore and alternative books for the book club are always welcome.

 

 

 

Schedule of common texts for the rest of the 2016.

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A picture from our inaugural meeting, on Friday, May 27, 2016.

June, 2016.

First meeting – June 10:

The Headline That Morning, by Peter Kagayi. (Uganda)

Second Meeting – June 24:

Kintu, by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. (Uganda)

July, 2016.

First Meeting – July 8:

  1. A Nation In Labour, by Harriet Anena. (Uganda)
  2. Musings Of A Tangled Tongue, by Yemi Adesanya. (Nigeria)

Second Meeting – July 22:

One Day I Will Write About This Place, by Binyavanga Wainaina. (Kenya)

August, 2016.

First Meeting – August 5:

Broken Voices Of The Revolution, by The Lantern Meet of Poets. (Uganda).

Second Meeting – August 19.

Hiding In Plain Sight, by Nuruddin Farah. (Somalia)

September, 2016.

First Meeting – September 2.

  1. Akello, by Abigail Arunga. (Kenya).
  2. Picture Frames, The Writivism Anthology 2013, by Centre For African Cultural Excellence (Uganda, and beyond)

Second Meeting – September 16.

Boy, Interrupted, by Saah Millimono. (Liberia)

October, 2016.

First Meeting – September 30.

  1. Roses For Betty And Other Stories, The Writivism Anthology 2015, by Centre For African Cultural Excellence (Uganda, and beyond)
  2. Let Us Tell This Story Properly, edited by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, for tan anthology of the Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize.

Second Meeting – October 14.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngonzi Adichie (Nigeria).

November, 2016.

First Meeting – October 28.

  1. Lusaka Punk And Other Stories, an anthology of The Caine Prize For African Writing 2015, by Kwani.
  2. Fire In The Night And Other Stories, The Writivism Anthology 2014, by Centre For African Cultural Excellence (Uganda, and beyond)

Second Meeting – November 11.

Dust, by Yvonne Ahiambo Owuor. (Kenya).

December, 2016.

First Meeting – November 25.

  1. The Cock Thief, by Parselelo Kantai. (Kenya).
  2. Weight OF Whispers, by Yvonne Ahiambo Owuor. (Kenya).

Second Meeting – December 9.

It Is Our Turn To Eat, by Michela Wrong. (Kenya).

Book Club

The essence of  the Turn The Page Book Club is, mainly, to interest and  maintain both confidence and conviction in a market made up of readers and authors that would otherwise and gradually grow disinterested due to dearth of enthusiasm and a general lack of innovative formulas to keep both readers and authors motivated.

The club is an all embracing community of people who are interested in contemporary works of African literature.

It brings together people who reside in different towns in the region – its first zone of concentration, but keep in close relation with each other by way of diverse online platforms, if and when they can not make a team of at least five people in their local towns of either Kisoro, Mbarara, Kampala, Jinja, Kitgum, Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa, Arusha, Singida, Dar-es-salam, Kigali, Gisenyi to mention but a few.

Its members have a meet up, on an agreed, regular, consistent date to have a discussion on a recommended or suggested book(s) that has been read by all their colleagues.

Meet ups are organised to share views and gain insights into the month’s book(s) of choice and encourage struggling writers to write even more by criticizing their work.

The book club is always open to suggestions for books which are influential or topical enough for the members to confer upon.

Also, it organises events which take its members to BBQ-ing or camping spots in the region where they enjoy both book discussions, public readings, conversations and the beauty that is the ever inspiring nature.

It will, in the future, organize festivals which will bring together all the remote book club members, authors, publishers, distributors from across Africa  and beyond to an ever changing African location in for a celebration of literature.

It will, amongst others, involve, interest, and partner with various institutions and communities in the region and involve them in reading, and reviewing the books they are interested in – suggested and/or recommended or otherwise.