From “Blue Lake, Small Island,” snippets of an un-noted experience.
It was 11 a.m. when we gathered in the backyard and left for the Village, Ali leading the way, her right hand gripping leashes to her four dogs. As we walked, we talked, in groups of threes and fours. Soon we arrived at a junction, where a wide path went left. “Would you like to see the police station?” Ali said. We would. So we walked down it, under masses of leaves strung together and suspended in the air by cobwebs, until we reached a wide clearing opening up to the lake, where two men could be spotted walking about, one looking at us approaching. The clearing housed around eight mud buildings and iron container-turned-apartments, each small and unbecoming, an unlikely police station. In their centre stood a short, circular hall with low walls, its thatched roof an overlookable cone—the typical traditional meeting hall. In my Igbo language, we call them obi, living place, living room, a setting utilized by Chinua Achebe for some of the most memorable conversations in Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God. I make a note to ask what Bulago locals called theirs. To the left of the obi was what seemed, from the smoke on its wall, to be a kitchen. In front of it, wrappers draped on her body, stood a tall woman who looked bald. One of the men—lighter-skinned than the Ugandans I’d seen so far on the island—had been circled around by our group. I turned towards the other man, towards his tall, big smile. Giles was moving towards him also.
“Meet my friend, Obi,” he said. We shook hands.
“I’m from Nigeria,” I told him.
The expression on his face when I told him this is something that I have, strangely, forgotten.
After I followed Giles onto a strip of grass-softened stones snaking into the lake, after we’d taken selfies there, as we left, the tall, big man said to me, “You’re from Nigeria?” I asked if he had ever been outside Uganda. He hadn’t.
Returning to our path to the Village, Ali stopped at a clearing to our right beneath trees, at the edge of which sat a stone pew littered with leaves. She walked to the pew, cleared the leaves with her foot, and stood in the centre of the clearing, her army of dogs around her. She looked up. She looked solemn. “This is a memorial garden,” she said.
Photo credit: Nkiacha Atemnkeng.