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Thursday, January 28, 2010

‘If you took poetry from me, I wouldn’t recognise myself’

Guy Mambo is one of the original brains behind The Lantern Meet of Poets. He told Dennis D. Muhumuza about the magic of words and why he would be lost without poetry.

How did an architecture student end up pursuing poetry?
I was once told architecture is poetry in stone. I just have a fascination for words and phrases and life seems to be full of stories, so yeah, I write!

Does that mean architecture will be completely forgotten after campus?
Call me a dreamer; I was born to do architecture. Actually, I believe my being a poet makes me a better designer. So, no, I’ll pursue my career as an architect passionately and poetically.

How did the Lantern Meet of Poets idea come about?
Day dreaming - a very verbose and grandiloquent ranting with my friends about our passion for writing and how we always keep it in the dark for our own eyes and the need to share.

What goes into preparing a recital?
A lot of time; dedication, strong memory and bountiful of sacrifice, plus a steady knee!

Do you get to fascinate some girls with poetic lines?
Just “some girls”? Let me answer that with two lines from one of my poems: ‘My words that you question without the benefit of your voice/my words that linger, and leave you no choice’.

How important is poetry to you?
It quite manifests in each and everything I do; if you remove poetry from me, I wouldn’t recognise myself...or so I think.

When were you happiest?
When Mnet’s Studio 53 said they’d feature our second recital (held in January last year) on their show.

What is your greatest fear?
To lose the zeal and self belief that I need to mould my dreams into tangible and productive realities.

What trait do you most deplore in others?
Absence of a sense of purpose; a cause, for which one may live - I feel it breeds stagnating personalities and a cancer of apathy.

What’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?
An Aston Martin DB9... in my most humble dreams though!

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
The fact that I have no gap in my teeth; it would have been felonious and funk.

If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?
The original (now mystified) nose of the Sphinx!

What do you owe your parents?
A comprehensive and fully developed Guy Mambo; the best I can be.

When did you last cry, and why?
Recently during Mass, the tune of a song rendered me emotive – it touched a soft spot.

To whom would you most likely say sorry and why?
My first girlfriend – in P2. We went on a date and I bought ice cream but jammed to share it... ha ha!

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
The pen, which is the bridge between the mind and material reality.

Have you ever said “I love you” and not meant it?
I am a man and a poet, what do you think?

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
My parents, Kunta Kinte, Rem Koolhas, Peter Zumthor, Marcus Aurelius, Confucius, Gipir and Labong, Michael Jackson, Tupac Amaru, Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Pope John Paul I, Russell Peters, Kylie Minogue... and I should be seated next to Delilah (Samson’s ex).

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Felonious funk” and “this too, I take into the dark”.

What is the worst job you’ve ever done?
My attempted debut at unofficially being a member of the Namilyango College choir. It was a job badly done!

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I’m not your biggest fatalist, but I think if you edit the past you affect the now and the morrow. I wouldn’t change a thing; I am a product of grace, my fortunes and my mistakes.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
So far, the most solid thing I (with my buddies) have managed is the Lantern Meet of Poets, an entity that embodies our passion for writing. By the way, we are having our next recital on February 6, so don’t miss.

What’s your favourite poem and why?
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, because I feel I can relate to it. For all the times my choices, or decisions, or opinions, seemed odd in the eyes of society, it sort of holds your pinkie through such ordeals.

Let’s end with you telling us a ‘poetic’ joke!
Hardest thing you’ve asked so far! We poets are not the most comedian of kind.... poetry is only funny when put in context, so this too, I take into the dark.

--Sunday Monitor, January 24, 2010

Joy Doreen Biira co-presents the Morning Show with Shawn Kimuli on NBS TV and works with Capital FM. She told Dennis D. Muhumuza how she juggles both and wards off overt attention from men

What are your New Year’s resolutions?
Hahaha…those can be tricky! Though, I’m carrying out a SWOT analysis on my life i.e. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats if any (did I just say if any) hahahaha, but yes, threats too and prototype resolutions. Okay, now I’m sounding strategic, but seriously, this year I need to venture deep into the media with God’s guidance.

Which is harder between working on radio and television?
I would say with TV, body language, dress-code, good health and eloquence plus research are of great importance. Radio is but the same though you can dress down (casual look). Putting the two on jig-saw, TV is harder. It’s not an easy task to wake up every morning looking fresh like yesterday was ideal. A lot goes on in the day and one has to put all that aside and smile to the audience, because hey, you’re being watched, which radio would hide!

You did IT at university; does that make you a geek?
By geek you’re saying I’m an obsessive enthusiast….haha! I’m not a computer freak but I think IT and the media are cousins; they both boost each other, so maybe I am!
You recently intimated on Facebook that you are working on a song with Shawn, is it for real?
Lol! Sounds like a mirage, huh? Look at the brighter picture; Shawn is a recording artiste, I’m a bathroom singer. Do you think a record is possible? If you think so then it will happen.

When were you happiest?
I think my first day in nursery school. The excitement of going to school with my brothers and sister altogether was great; I was tired of being left home alone.

What is your greatest fear?
Failure. In my dreams, everyday life and goals, I ask God to favour my endeavours. You know, sometimes it’s not about how many times you fall but how many times you rise and stand on your feet again. You weren’t born walking; you crawled first and fell many times but never gave up. “We fall down, but we get up!”

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Arrogance and impersonation. Both don’t yield a thing.

And what do you most dislike about your appearance?
Well, God’s creation can’t be taken back. I’m not complaining but having a very light complexion can at times give one unnecessary attention especially when it’s uncalled for. I’ve learnt to deal with it.

Talking of attention, especially from men, how do you deal with it?
Principle is vital when given attention, regardless of gender. Being down-to-‘soil’(earth) works for me; these two sayings guide me; “Better be kind because the people you meet on your way up might be the exact ones you meet on your way down” and “Love many, trust a few.” And hey, politeness costs no penny!

What is your favourite scent?
The natural scent of flowers, especially daisies and roses.

What do you owe your parents?
I owe my lovely Rwenzururu parents my success. The values they instilled in me have made me who I am.

When did you last cry, and why?
Just December 24, 2009 – they were tears of laughter! A man doing karaoke at Alleygators sang and threw the whole crowd into laughter at his rugged voice; but I guess that’s what karaoke is about. Before that, I cried when DJ Ronnie passed on.

Have you ever said ‘I love you’ and not meant it?
Not yet so far. That’s a heavy but light phrase, it can cost when you don’t mean it.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
A “good friend” I regarded close but was the reverse. I learned my lessons. Don’t mind a disappointment, it always comes in handy. What goes around comes around.

Let’s end with you telling us a joke.
You don’t want me starting on that else you get goose bumps! Your ribs will contract instead of cracking, ha ha ha!

--Sunday Monitor, January 17, 2010

A black man can be friends with a white man

Title: Mine Boy
Author: Peter Abrahams
Reviewer:Dennis D. Muhumuza

It’s an African classic. The solidity of its subject matter in itself will blow your mind, if not the verdant prose! Mine Boy is the story of love and not, of injustice, struggle and the hurt of the black individual in apartheid South Africa.

It’s a story of men who are powerless to influence the events that bring constant hopelessness in their lives and are forced to hide their misery in drink. It’s a story of Xuma and his friends, toiling on in the mines; where many return coughing blood and die young.

The first time I read about the liberation struggle of Elias Tekwane in Alex La Guma’s In the Fog of the Season’s End, I thought no other work of fiction could depict the dilemma of colonised South Africans better. Peter Abrahams changes my stance when suddenly I catch myself repeating the questions that trouble the solitary mind of his protagonist. Can a black man be friends with a white man? Should a black woman desire the things of white people? Must a man run who has done nothing?

I stop reading momentarily and turn to peer once again at that front cover shot of the helmet-wearing mine boy staring pensively ahead as if afraid of a looming darkness. There’s a restless pounding in my heart as I get deeper into the author’s scrutiny of Malay Camp. Meet Leah – the fearless Skokiaan Queen, soft and hard, with a grip like a vice, a deep rich voice, and “sharp dark eyes that can see right through a man.”

Meet Xuma from the north, boss boy, afraid of no man, the underground master, respected and much loved by fellow mine boys, does not say “baas” to his white master. Meet drunken daddy and his cackling laugh, piddles in his sleep, no longer moneyed – or kind – or strong – or feared – or respected a man he once was. Meet the all-seeing Ma Plank, who sometimes winks roguishly and her leathery old face creases in a naughty smile.

Meet the beautiful, bright and complicated Eliza who wants the things of the white man. Meet “My name is J.P. Williamson and I’ll crush any sonofabitch!” J.P, afraid of being sober. J.P, tall and big and strong and dangerous (but not stupid) like John Steinbeck’s Lennie of Of Mice and Men. Meet Dladla and his glistening knife.

“Listen! The city of gold is cold. If you live here you must be hard like stone. If you are soft everyone will spit in your face, they will rob you and cheat you and betray you...”

The novel teaches you that it’s not enough to destroy, you must build as well. That a man’s a man to the extent he asserts himself and that only those who are free inside can help free those around them. The aggressor wantonly destroys without building. Xuma has asserted himself to an admirable extent but is not man enough to comprehend the politics that drive the perilous Johannesburg. But after an outburst with his boss, he sees the light and dreams a symbolic dream in which a man without colour is surrounded by laughter. Oh yes, a black man can be friends with a white man after all!

--Sunday Monitor, January 17, 2010

A mysterious night

Inno had admired the girl of his dreams and suffered silently. Finally gathering the guts to tell her on a moonlit night, he was interrupted, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

Loyda sat outside her father’s house sobbing quietly. It was shortly after 9p.m., and the resplendence of the light bulb on the balcony shone down on her, providing a vivid view. In the dark, Inno was watching, and it stung him like the cut of a sword to see such hurt on her face. He believed only beasts could displease a girl like Loyda. He wanted to leap out of the shadows and kiss away those tears but he was consumed, fascinated; for in tears and laughter alike, a combo of sensitivity and femininity; a beauty as rare as it was difficult to fathom, defined this neighbourhood girl.
One cannot begin to tell the seemingly endless times –mornings and evenings – when Inno skulked about if only to catch a glimpse of her or hear her voice. Then he would hurry home with beautiful dreams of him and Loyda roaming relentlessly in his mind. Pulling out his journal, he would proceed to write vigorously, his heart thumping, and when all calm returned, would rip out the pieces, furious that nothing could accurately convey the intensity of his feelings and thoughts for Loyda.

On this Sunday evening as he hid in the dark cold, watching the teary girl, he decided he had to be man enough after all faint heart, it was written, never won fair lady. He had to step out and establish the cause of her pain, and then pour out his heart too; God knows he had a lot of pouring-out to do!

Inno took a deep, long breath when suddenly the door swung open and out came a lady with a sweeping stature – no doubt Loyda’s mom. In one hand she held a small Bible, in the other, a golden cross, a big-beaded rosary around her slender neck. She was wearing a white night gown, translucent in the bulb light, giving her such a seductive figure that for a moment, Inno thought she was the goddess of attraction.

Stooping, she said, “Come on Loyda, don’t be such a child,” the wind blowing her soft words right into Inno’s ears.

Her words were the ignition for Loyda broke into fresh violent spasms of tears so hot they made the veins in her neck and on her face stand out alarmingly; as if about to explode. The moon shone on wanly in the sky, the wind blew even harder, making the door and window frames creak, and Inno gritted his teeth, disturbed to the core by the elusive significance of this baffling and gloomy night.

Just then, just like that, a very small, shirtless man appeared at the door with a walking stick and wincing painfully, hobbled toward Loyda and her mom. His awkwardness and agonising groans attracted the attention of Loyda, who abruptly ceased sobbing and jumped to her feet. “Don’t, dad, please,” she said, her tear-stained face awash with pity and concern. The man opened his mouth and mumbled things that came to Inno’s strained ears muffled and incomprehensible.

Loyda smiled (oh the beauty of that smile!) and wrapped her arms around the sickly man, resting her head tenderly on his small chest. They stayed there like that for a long, long time.

The sky grew smoky and sinister, the wind blew with renewed violence, the moon became paler and the dolorous song of the owl sounded urgent in the nearby tree. Inno could take it no longer and soon found his way home, still worried and confused about what could have caused such tumult to Loyda, but determined to find out sooner than later.

--Sunday Monitor, January 10, 2010

A case for kicking premarital relationships out

Title: Kissing Dating Goodbye
Author: Joshua Harris
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza

In a world where promiscuity has seemingly become normal, one must admire Joshua Harris’ guts to write a book titled Kissing Dating Goodbye in which he argues a tight case that fornication and physical intimacy are dangerous and premarital relationships unacceptable to God. 

You’ll love or despise it depending on how strongly you feel about being in a romantic relationship or not. The author urges the youth to use their time to serve God first (seeking purity) until they are ready to commit to a relationship that will lead to marriage.

The book answers unanswered questions on when the right time to date is. It also covers the common controversial topic: Is it alright for born-again Christians to marry or date non born-agains? The author lists signs of superficial relationships and defective dating and shows you how to guard your heart.

Harris believes dating is a dangerous thing often driven by selfishness with many jumping in (casual relationships) to quench their lust, show off or out of the fear of the responsibility that comes with commitment.

He writes that in all matters of the heart, we should seek God’s guidance and try out the friendship stage - getting to know our partners well; otherwise jumping right into intimacy without commitment is like going mountain climbing with a partner and halfway up deciding you no longer want to hold your rope.

Simply put, the fleeting pleasures of casual relationships bring guilt of conscience and lead to heartbreaks. The ideal relationship, according to the author, is one in which the partners engage in “courting” or getting to know each other well until they realise they connect emotionally, intellectually, socially and spiritually.

And parents are better off being involved early for advice and accountability, he writes. For those who must date, Harris moots the idea of “group dates” to avoid the temptation or compromise that often comes with being out only with your date.

The book is not preachy. It’s an interesting read because it’s interspersed with real life stories that carry humbling lessons. Like the girl who gets a nightmare when on her wedding day her groom’s endless ex-girlfriends line up next to him, forcing him to admit to his bride that he left a piece of him to each of them and that there’s nothing he can do about it.

Many people jump from one relationship to another – a thing that comes back to haunt them when they choose to settle down and discover they cannot be satisfied by one partner because they have given themselves to many before.

Kissing Dating Goodbye is a book abstinence campaigners and others who cherish the ideal of purity will love. You have to read it to discover that singleness can actually be a beauty; after all it’s only temporary. In fact, after enjoying the freedom of singleness, Harris finally found his true love and is today happily married.
It will inspire those who are on the verge of conforming to remain steadfast. After all, taking the road less travelled, like one great poet wrote, makes all the difference.

--Sunday Monitor, January 10, 2010

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Midnight Adventure

Title: A Midnight Adventure and Other Stories
Author: Cecilia Thomas
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza

A Midnight Adventure and Other Stories is a collection of five short stories specifically written for teens but penned with such adroitness as would appeal to older readers as well considering I couldn’t put the book down after I had opened the first page.

Written by Cecilia Thomas, all the stories are set in India and written in a flawlessly suspenseful and humorous style that reminds of Nobel Laureate Sir V.S Naipaul. They cover familiar themes of beauty, intrigue and exploitation and generally tackle the battle between good and evil.

As with protagonists that drive great works of fiction, the central characters in these stories have foibles but in the end, evil is exposed; the virtuous become victorious and poetic justice is attained. Ironically, the title story is, in my opinion, superseded by the rest in terms of plot development. It captures teenage romance at its basic but is not the kind of story you will remember long after you have finished the book.

Gratefully, it is followed by The Gentle Terrorist, a story with an enviable end twist. It’s about a man who “kills” the brother of woman he’s in love with and unable to face the disgrace of being branded a murderer, let alone find the courage to tell her, runs away and becomes a rogue; recklessly fighting for money in the hope he could meet his death. His fierceness wins him the appellation “The Tiger” but time comes when he decides to return home. He returns with dire wounds but is nursed by a veiled woman, who in the end turns out to be Radha, his old flame! Also turns out that the officer at the police station who wants Ram Singh’s head dead or alive is none other than Narendra – the man he thought he had killed years ago.

The ingenuity of the Indians is best captured in Lost and Found, about a woman who makes dazzling Christmas lanterns but whose son’s disappearance has so troubled her and turned her into a “mad” woman. When the adventurous professor of English orders a dozen lanterns, he can hardly trust “Mad Mythri” to deliver the lamps as promised but he takes the chance and it pays off in a most moving manner when Mad Mythri finds that her long lost son is one of the homeless children picked by the benevolent professor from the streets of Calcutta.

The story The Yellow Beads is about a girl with independence of mind who defies her parents, turning down a marriage offer from a cunning rascal; while A Spunky Daughter is about an idealist who believes people are all good and susceptible to change and sets on the journey of proving his theory by changing criminals into respected members of society.

I bought this book as a Christmas treat from St Paul Book and Media Centre and it was worth every penny; it deserves prime space in your bookshelf as well.

--Sunday Monitor, January 3, 2010

Tongue-in-cheek master leaves creative writing vacuum


Death is inevitable. As William Shakespeare put it, he that dies this year is quit for the next. But the death of Austin Ejiet, author and newspaper columnist could go down as the greatest tragedy to befall Uganda’s writing industry this year.
Ejiet, who died at Nsambya hospital on Saturday, introduced the creative writing course at Makerere University Literature Department, published an anthology, Aida, Hurray for Somo and Other Stories and three books in his indigenous language, Ateso.

At the time cancer of the liver and of the pancreas took away his soul, he was the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Kampala International University after serving at Makerere University for over 25 years.

“He was a brilliant student who got a first class degree at a time first class degrees were rare,” says Prof. Arthur Gakwandi, who taught Ejiet at Makerere University in the 1970s and was head of literature department at the time Ejiet was a young staff member. “He taught many, inspired many and will be remembered as a brilliant person with a great insight into literature.”

A profound writer who probed deeper and turned satire into an art form, Ejiet was also a master of the tongue-in-cheek whose writing style served as a model for many journalists and other writers. “We lost a mentor,” says Hilda Twongyeirwe, the coordinator of the Uganda Female Writers Association (Femrite). “He read the first manuscripts of Femrite and advised. The people he brought up as writers are more than I can count.”

One of those was Regina Amollo, author of A Season of Mirth. Her manuscript had been rejected for 20 years but Ejiet liked it, made comments and directed her to Femrite offices. Today, Ms Amolo is a respected novelist.

“Ejiet is a frank, spirited and courageous writer whose ability to raise disturbing questions about sex, human desire and identity is nothing short of heroic,” Dr. Susan Kiguli wrote in a 2005 review of the deceased’s book. “He mainly told the truth, laughingly.”

“He wrote stories of excellent quality and his death means the death of excellence in the short story genre,” said Danyson Kahyana, a lecturer of literature at Makerere.

Ejiet’s brilliance and articulation was reflected in his Sunday Monitor column, Take it or Leave it. A keen reader would tell that the man found graft and injustice highly contemptible. He often satirised African demagogues who by ends and means cling to power and accumulate dubious wealth, losing nobility of character. He was also concerned about moral degeneration, crowding in urban centres, corruption but most of all his stories showed a passionate sympathy for the marginalised.

“He was one of the most talented and knowledgeable commentator as a political and literary critic; he delivered strong messages in an entertaining way,” says Charles Mwanguhya, editor of Inside Politics. “We will miss his knowledge and experience.”

But Ejiet’s unfettered truth didn’t go down well with some individuals. In 2007 when Monica Arac de Nyeko won the Caine Prize for Literature, Glenna Gordon wrote a story in which she asked why women writers were scooping all the prizes. “The men are too busy running after money, politics and drinking beer in bars in the evening,” Ejiet told Ms Gordon then.

His comment provoked fury among male Ugandan bloggers and engendered a fiery debate on who was writing more and better among the sexes. A rumour that could not be verified by press time is that Ejiet was flashed out of Makerere by one of the top university administrators who was intimidated by his critical writings.

In June 2008, asked by a journalist to comment on modern African writing, Ejiet said contemporary writers are lightweights compared to the likes of Wole Soyinka and Okot p’Biteks. “If our writers today are to reach that level of reverence,” he advised, “they need stamina and a long list of consistently good publications because they are competing against western writers and DVDs.”

The connoisseur drew inspiration from timeless works by writers in the calibre of Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Wole Soyinka, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ngugi wa Thiongo and Enid Blyton whose works he fell madly in love with during his early formative years.

A self-confessed cynic, Ejiet loved reading so much that he attributed his weakened eyesight to an obsession he was unapologetic about.

“My life has been dogged by so much tragedy but my association with literature helped me pull through” he said.

But it is his brilliance that shall be difficult to forget. It earned him cult-hero status in the literature fraternity; Dr Okello Ogwang called him “larger-than-life” yet he was also “a reserved, quiet and shy person,” according to Prof. Gakwandi, while Ms Twongyeirwe said Ejiet’s “humility and tender nature was overwhelming.”

He made his mark on our literary scene and earned his reputation in the media. Thus when he stands before his creator, he can confidently say he played his part.

Adieu bwana Ejiet; may your soul rest in eternal peace.

--Daily Monitor, Tuesday, January 5 2010

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Does the cut prove you are a man?

This movie portrays the battle between modernism and traditionalism in regard to Imbalu and the pressure from human rights activists to replace it with the medical approach, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

Crafting the Bamasaba is the latest documentary by Makerere University filmmaker and lecturer of film, Dr Sr Dominic Dipio. The 62-minute documentary is a riveting portrayal of the ritual process of Imbalu (circumcision) beyond the physical cut.

Through interviews with elders and those who have faced the sharp traditional knife or shunned it in favour of the medical cut, the producer shows why Imbalu remains an integral part of the Bagisu. For example, they believe that a man who braves the knife is valiant enough to defend his family, clan and community from the lurking dangers of everyday life.

As the knife descends, one is expected to stand firm without even wincing in spite of the pain. In fact, pain is valued during the ritual because it not only attests to the boldness and virility of the candidate but is also viewed as preparation for the challenges of the future.

As part of the “testing” also, a circumcision candidate is expected to put a piece of hot coal on his toe to show his bravery and readiness to face the knife. Indeed, circumcision is a matter of life and death - are you a man or not? Will you bring shame or honour to your family?

It’s so deep-rooted that just like the body of a man who commits suicide is whipped before it’s buried in some cultures, among the Bagisu, an uncircumcised body is first circumcised before it’s buried. This has negative consequences on the circumciser of such a body because he’s never allowed to circumcise again. So as compensation, anything he asks of the family of the dead man is granted.

The pressure to preserve the cultural heritage is so strong that a Bamasaba woman is not allowed to marry outside their community let alone an uncircumcised man. After all, it’s believed that the sexual prowess of a circumcised Mugisu is unrivalled, so why a woman would want to look elsewhere is something they can’t understand.

It also has something to do with why an uncircumcised man is not called a man but a “big boy.” In fact, all through, the circumcised men brag about their masculinity but according to one of the learned ladies who attended the premiere at Makerere, “The boy who’s circumcised in hospital is the most courageous because it takes more courage to defy tradition and do it there.”

As it is, the women among the Bamasaba are taken as sex objects. The drum used during Ineemba, the closing dance of the ritual, is shaped and positioned like an erect penis ready to penetrate a woman in a sex act and the women wiggle and dance suggestively with males to songs of sexual innuendo. As one of the elderly women mourned, “Imbalu was of the past; today they are obscene and spoil the world with their songs.”

Even the fear that it’s a satanic ritual is corroborated by some of the interviewees who say the circumcisers and circumcised are guided and possessed by Maina, the deity of the Bamasaba.

The title of the film is drawn from one of the interviewee’s comments; he observes that the crude-looking knife with which hundreds of young men are cut every season is “a revered instrument for crafting men.

--Sunday Monitor, December 27, 2009