Nandi's Grief By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
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By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
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When Nandi was introduced to her cousin Namusoke’s boyfriend Vianney, she could not help thinking that there was something wrong with him. Unfortunately she had not been able to put her finger on what exactly was wrong with him. All she knew was that it had been a strange deja-vu feeling, almost as if she had already seen him in her dreams or she had seen him before in real life. For the life of her, she could not remember where she could have possibly seen him. But he had been very familiar in an uncanny way. He had felt like an annoyingly forgotten memory at the back of her brain, which she was struggling to remember. Still when he had shaken her hand, she had felt herself recoiling with trepidation. The hairs on the back of her neck had risen. There had been something wrong with Vianney. He could have been a vampire, murderer or even the reincarnation of Jack the Ripper. Whatever it was, there had been something menacing and sinister beneath the veneer of his smile.
Namusoke was gorgeous. She was God’s African masterpiece. Her skin was a beautiful combination of dusky black skies and golden kisses. Her large almond-shaped brown eyes, were so dark, they looked like black jewels. They were eyes that always seemed to be laughing. She had beautiful sensuous lips, the lower lips being cerise-coloured and the upper lips being dark brown. She had the type of smile which reminded Nandi of Jill Scott – beautiful ivory teeth and all. Her long, thick as a forest, jet-black permed hair shimmered down to her shoulders. She was about five feet six and full-figured with the Beyoncé like curves which were prevalent in the African hinterland. Her deep-eyed Bantu bauxite beauty was irresistible.
So Nandi, who loved her cousin like a sister, could not understand why, Namusoke, who could get any man she wanted in Kampala, would be going out with Vianney. It was not even about looks or money; it was just that Namusoke was bigger than life. Her essence outshone Vianney’s. He was not ugly but he was type of guy who would never stand out in any crowd. He was handsome in a weak way; in an almost effeminate way, almost as if he were a batik painting which had been diluted with too much water. He had sable-coloured skin, an outdated French-cut, a slight, peach-fuzz moustache, a perfect set of teeth – like most Ugandans - and watery doe eyes which looked apologetic. He had dark, cigarette-stained thick lips. In Nandi’s opinion, their relationship was a classic mismatch. Her cousin was so vivacious and her boyfriend was so blasé, so normal. The hunchback of Notre Dame and Cinderella were a more likely match.
In short Nandi’s blood did not take to him.
But despite all that, 19-year old Nandi had gritted her teeth and smiled at her older, breathless, dazzlingly-dressed cousin. Her arrival into Nandi’s well-decorated five-bedroom, three-garaged Gaba home had been like a whirlwind, pretty much like the rest of her life. Namusoke was always in a rush. She was like a hurricane blazing through life and eager to experience every possible experience available to humans, a strange mixture of naïve and worldly. It was hard to tell where one started and the other ended. That day, she had been wearing a silky, clingy, sapphire-coloured dress which accentuated her illicit curves and open-toed high heels which revealed sexy silver toe nails but her smile had been vulnerable.
Nandi had been in the kitchen when they had arrived. She had been speaking with their cook who was preparing roasted yams, steamed cassava, sweet potatoes and matooke (soft Ugandan plaintain) enveloped in banana leaves, groundnut sauce, onion-fried dodo (spinach), curried chicken sauce soaked in turmeric sauce and beef marinated in ginger, tomatoes, cayenne, and cooked in peanut oil. Nandi had watched the cook in amazement as she added touches of lime juice, chopped vegetables including scallions, garlic, and rich marinades to the various meats. The kitchen had been engulfed in a rich scent of all kinds of spices; pomegranate juice, saffron, cloves, cardamom, coriander, garlic and cinnamon. She had been making a special dish of piripiri – a hot pepper sauce for Nandi’s father.
Namutebi was an amazing cook. Nandi had been taking advantage and learning what she could from her when she saw, glinting in the kitchen window, the blinding flashlights of a car entering their compound. She had rushed to the living room door to see who it was, with the typical excitement Africans had when they had visitors, when Namusoke and Vianney had breezed into the house.
“Hey Nandi.” Namusoke had greeted her breathlessly. “This is the boyfriend I was talking about. This is Vianney.”
It had taken Nandi two seconds to figure out that she did not like him.
“Nice to meet you.” Nandi had politely said out of obligation, while wondering where they were going.
She had noticed that Vianney had been driving a brand new white Pajero jeep, and wondered how he had afforded it. He could not have been that much older than her cousin who was 20. Not with those baby-face looks! She had noticed him twirling his car keys in his middle finger flamboyantly. She had also noticed that his clothes and shoes were expensive-looking and he had an ostentatiously vulgar gold ring on his pinkie finger. He had smelt of a costly, musky perfume. But his whole demeanour had given away the fact that he was not born with all those things. There was a way that people who were born with wealth, like her best friend, Doreen, behaved. They were casual and indifferent about these things and did not flaunt them about, like Vianney had seemed to be doing.
From the few things her cousin had told her, Nandi had put two and two together and figured out that he was not working. Nandi had felt very suspicious of him. Where did he get the money for all the things he spoiled her cousin with if he was not rich and did not work? She had noticed him looking at their furniture avariciously, almost calculatingly. His eyes had roved around her living room greedily, drinking in the furniture and paintings on the wall. It was not the most expensive furniture; they had bought it at Ikea, but it was trendy. People always thought that it was expensive because her father was not doing too badly financially and everyone assumed that they were rich. Besides she had spent her first ten years living in Sweden, and people here always assumed that people who had lived abroad were wealthy. She had felt her hair rise mistrustfully. Kampala was filled with thieves galore; in fact her neighbours had been robbed recently. Was he a thief too? Was he planning a heist?
Then almost as if he had sensed her animosity, he had given a weak laugh and said,
“Nice to meet you too Nandi. I’ve heard a lot about you.” He had offered his hand and it was one of the weakest handshakes she had ever felt, almost feathery as if he were avoiding her fingers. Her skin had crawled upon touching his.
Nandi had frowned. A snake had slithered down her spine and she had shivered.
Something had definitely been wrong.
“Isn’t he a darling?” Namusoke had gushed as she had gazed at Vianney with nothing less than adoration. He had seemed to blush from the compliment. Something about the way he had blushed, had rubbed Nandi the wrong way. It had not been done in the usual masculine way. Alarm bells had rang in her mind but she had not sure what to be concerned about! Nandi had then watched with apprehension as he had kissed Namusoke on the left cheek, his eyes still on her, daring her to make any objection. Her cousin had not even noticed.
He had given her the creeps.
She always believed her body vibrations and they had been warning her about Vianney. The icy-cold look he had given her betrayed the fact that he carried dangerous secrets. There had been a marked incongruity in the chemistry between him and Namusoke. It had almost been as if he were acting. There had been a falseness, a forced nature, in his romantic reaction to her cousin which had made Nandi even more distrustful. Only Namusoke had been too blind by her infatuation to realize that her feelings were not entirely being reciprocated. Nandi had realized there and then that she was going to have to watch out for her cousin and keep an eye on him.
“You came at a good time. Mum and dad are out, Namusoke,” She had pointed out, knowing that her parents and older brothers would not have approved of him either. “So are my brothers. But they’ll be back in a bit. We have guests later on.”
Like many Kampala parents, Nandi’s parents would have raised hell if they had caught Vianney in their home or any other male who they did not know in their compound. But Namusoke knew the stakes. She had made sure to check and see whether Nandi’s parent’s black Mercedes Benz had been parked in the garden before she had ventured into their home with her boyfriend. Nandi’s parents were very strict. No male under her father’s age who was not one of her five brothers, a relative, driver, guard or worker was allowed on their property. They would otherwise face his wrath.
The guys of Nandi’s age, who lived in her neighbourhood knew to keep away, even if she was one of the most beautifully tempting girls on the block. The only guy who had dared to be brave enough to try and sneak into their compound to see her, had found himself dealing with two vicious, well-trained Alsatians, an armed guard and her father’s fiery anger. Rattled to the bone, he had spread the word around and the rest of the guys, who had ever had plans of doing the same thing, had backed off. The only time they got to see Nandi was when she was being driven in and out of her compound, which was rare but it was something that they looked forward to. Teenage boys had been dying to date Nandi since she had started growing breasts, but her father had ensured that it had never happened. He was not having his precious daughter getting pregnant or contracting AIDS, even if it meant shooting any male who dared come close to her
“Do you guys want something to drink?” Nandi had offered graciously.
“No, no.” Namusoke had said, “We happened to be nearby and I thought I would introduce you to Vianney since I am always talking about him. We’re rushing to the National Theatre to watch a play, then dinner and our last destination is Silk Club to dance. Vianney is introducing me to Kampala’s night life! It’s such fun!”
Aren’t you lucky? Nandi had thought sarcastically.
Nandi had studied Vianney. It was the first time she had met him in the few months that he had been dating her cousin. She had heard bales of stories about him and was now putting a face to a name. His body had been giving off all kinds of dangerous energy which she had picked up. He had the word “player” written all over his sneaky, weasel features. How could Namusoke have trusted him blindly?
“Just be careful.” Nandi had warned, narrowing her eyes.
“What do you mean?” Vianney had managed to look darker for a minute. His baby soft features had been replaced by an ugly frown. Nandi had felt a chill of fear run through her.
“Oh, lots of drunk drivers out there.” Nandi had said cautiously, her eyes never leaving Vianney’s. She had sent subtle subconscious messages to him, silently letting him know that she was onto him and was going to unmask whatever ugly secret he was hiding.
Lots of shady people, she had thought.
“It’s ok. Vianney is a good driver,” lovesick Namusoke had said with her summer sunshine smile. She had looked so young, fresh, lovely and trusting. She had looked so delicate and intoxicated with her emotions for Vianney. “He’s good at everything he does.”
I’ll bet he is, Nandi had thought acidly.
“But anyway we have to go.” Vianney had announced suddenly and like a cyclone they rushed to the door. He had seemed like he was in a hurry to get away from Nandi. “See you some other time.”
Nandi had felt like she had been hit by a tornado.
Time could sometimes be like a tornado. Things happened so fast, life went by so quickly, at the speed of pacific typhoons. Before you knew it, in the speck of time, death could be knocking on your door.
Four months later Nandi and her best friend, Doreen, went to the Bubbles O'Leary Irish Pub and Food - a bar/restaurant which was not too far from Doreen’s home in Kololo, a posh suburb of Kampala. As usual it was packed with the usual green-eyed, blue-eyed and light brown-eyed, beer-drinking European and North American expatriates as well as a sprinkling of Kampala’s moguls and notorious news makers. As both girls ordered their food, they noticed a very strange couple, sitting in front of them, with their backs turned to them. They stood out because there were not that many black people in the pub.
The woman, who was old enough to be their mother, was so overweight that her buttocks did not quite fit in her seat. She was wearing an expensive sleeveless shirt, which exposed rolled up flabby arms and her love handles were threatening to tear her expensive cream-coloured sleeveless shirt apart. She had a mammoth curly weave on her head - which must have been the reason why the expression ‘bad hair day’ was coined. She was as light-skinned as one could be with the help of skin-lightening products; more or less the colour of a sunburnt Indian. But when she threw back her head and gave off a loud laugh, the two girls caught a quick glance of her face. She was a very pretty woman. She had pretty Ethiopic facial features, typical of south Western Ugandan women, and had diminutive red-painted lips, a long thin nose and dazzling bedroom eyes. No doubt at some point she had been thinner and a whole lot more attractive, but the weight had distorted her features, while having mercy on her face.
Everything about her screamed of wealth. Her beautifully-tapered fingers looked like they had just come back from an expensive manicurist, her clothes looked brand new and her high-priced gray designer suit jacket was draped onto a chair next to her. She even smelled expensive; she had sprayed enough perfume for people within miles to smell. Her coffee-brown leather handbag looked like it had cost in the hundreds of dollars. She had a golden and diamond ring on one of her fat fingers which glinted in the midday Kampala sun, which seeped through the window.
It was hard to see who the man sitting next to her was, but it was clear that he was closer to their generation than to hers. From his back, he looked like he was half her age. He had one of those eclectic hairstyles which most young men had, with cropped hair at the back and sides of his head. The older woman, who although she had youthful features, looked like she was in her forties, kept rubbing the back of his head with her fingers affectionately with strong sexual suggestion. They kept kissing as if the world was about to end. It was indecent public lip-locking, which was still considered scandalous in a very traditionalist Africa. It was non-stop and stomach turning for the viewers.
“I can’t believe the number of young guys who have sugar mummies in this city.” Doreen retorted in disgust, kissing her teeth viciously as she tried to avoid looking at the strange couple in front of them.
But it was difficult. The couple was an eye-magnet. Everybody kept glancing at them discreetly as the older woman shamelessly flirted with the younger guy, who did not seem to mind the advances. Their Demi-Ashton relationship and the public-nature of their flirtation, made people feel uncomfortable. It was just one of those things which was not done and was still not accepted, especially in an African society. Two arrogant-looking, middle-aged European women with tight conservative buns looked at them with a scandalized, horrified look and started gossiping about them.
“They are less in number than the girls who have sugar daddies.” Nandi replied indifferently. Her motto was to live and let live as long as it did not affect her or the people who she loved.
“You could not pay me enough to date someone my daddy’s age!” Doreen huffed, while rolling her eyes.
“Your dad is richer than most of the guys his age.” Nandi reminded her.
Doreen’s father was one of the richest men in Uganda. They lived pretty close to the top of a hill. Kololo was the richest suburb in Kampala, where many government ministers, diplomats and business tycoons also lived. Beautiful palm tree-lined Kololo where luxury BMW’s and Mercedes Benzes parked on the streets and in four-door garages, belonging to owners of three-floored massive designer mansions, was a part of Africa never shown the western world.
Doreen’s family lived in a large, newly-renovated, old colonial, double-storied house with Mediterranean colours; blue and white, a tribute to her father’s love relationship with Cyprus and Greece. Her father was Orthodox, due to his studies in Cyprus. Their ten-bedroom house was one which would have been at home in Miami with a grandeur and size which was very large, even for his family of six children. One of their two living rooms had floor-to-ceiling glass windows which led to an enormous veranda. They had a big terrace which overlooked the football field-sized, tropical flower-filled garden, tennis courts and swimming pool. At a perimeter wall, armed, uniformed body guards and several massive well-trimmed palm trees, kept the general public from seeing what was in their compound, but Nandi had been there several times, since her early teens. From their house and garden, they had an excellent view of the city and neighbouring suburbs. Their home had an Edenic essence to it; the type one saw in travel brochures and dream home magazines. That area of the city represented the beauty of Uganda, the potential of all the dreams that have come before and are yet to come.
“Well even if I was poor, it’s a matter of principle.” Doreen continued with raised eyebrows as she sipped her orange Mirinda drink, “You know how many of daddy’s friends hit on me when he is not looking? Last week it was the Minister of Tourism. What is wrong with all these men?”
“You’re asking me like I know.” Nandi shrugged. Then she reached across and placed a straw in her bottled Coca Cola and sipped some. She made an embarrassing clumsy slurping noise and felt her ears and cheeks heat up with shame. She looked around to see if anyone had noticed, but nobody had.
Nandi had had her own share of Kampala’s pedophiles on her back from the time she was fifteen. They called them sugar daddies or sugar mummies and she wondered when the country was going to address it for what it really was – pedophilia. Child abusing creeps! She could not believe that in this day and age, men in their fifties and sixties would go around saying stupid things like they would not get AIDS if they slept with teenagers. Didn’t they know how teenagers slept around these days? It was a vicious circle of everybody sleeping with everybody. If having sex meant that you were related to every single person that each one of your partners had bedded, then a lot of people were related. You could count the number of virgins on the tips of your fingers. There were practically none left!
“What’s sad is that old, bald, pot-bellied men take advantage of the fact that the young girls, like any other young girls in the world, want to be like the hip kids in school, craving their cool clothes, cool bags, and cell phones." Doreen reflected.
A bored-looking, thin black waiter, brought their plates of fish and chips and placed them in front of them. Both girls tasted their food and started adding ketchup, lemon, salt and pepper. They had both agreed that food from that area of Europe was generally not spicy enough for them, but for today it satisfied their junk food craving.
“Old men going after teens is as old as the Bible though.” Nandi pointed out. “I am not saying I agree with it, but it’s been happening for a while now, and it’s not about to stop. It’s the law of sex and economics, with many men having the upper hand.”
“But things have changed since then. Something is wrong with this society.” Doreen said as she cut through her succulent, fried fish, “For a society, which prides itself in being moralists, prudes, and anti-pornography, this sure is a highly sexual and promiscuous one. Did you read about the man who raped the four-year-old yesterday?”
Nandi was disgusted.
“Very sick! Last week it was the father who had been raping his sixteen year old daughter since she was nine.” Nandi commented. Then she raised an eyebrow at her best friend, “Remember how people reacted when she went public with the news?”
“Yea. They blamed her for airing her family’s dirty laundry. Then some ignorant people went on to say that the father was not to blame because after all he is a man and they have uncontrollable urges! Like being a man gives them the license to sleep with every and any woman, female child and female baby!” Doreen huffed and puffed. “I am so glad we both made it into law school and our first year is almost done. I have decided that I am going to be defending woman. I’ll join FIDA - The Association of Uganda Women Lawyers and men will shake in fear when they hear my name.”
“You’ll be great!” Nandi grinned, admiring her best friend’s beauty for the zillionth time. They were so close that ever since they had met, they had done everything together. In fact for both their O’ level and A’ level vacations, Doreen’s dad had paid for their tickets and spending money for them to go to the USA, Canada, England and Cyprus for 6 months. It had been so much fun, even if at all places they had stayed with somewhat strict relatives.
They were both interested in each other’s brothers. Nandi had been deeply in love with Doreen’s older brother, Kuteesa ever since she had laid her eyes on him at the tender age of fourteen. He was breathtakingly handsome with his broad-shouldered, deep-chested tall body and liquid amber eyes. His curly munyerere (soft curls) hair, which was shortly cropped, was the color of ambergris liquorice, black like the African night sky. She secretly thought that he had the most sinfully sexy basalt-coloured Kampala lips. Their well-carved shape made her want to kiss them all the time. But what she loved most about him was his skin, the combination of ground hazelnut and deep cocoa beans brown.
Kuteesa had started out by looking at her like a little sister, but recently things seemed to be slowly progressing into a relationship. Doreen on the other hand was seeing Nandi’s older brother Mayanja. It had been a cat and mouse relationship for a while, until Mayanja had pretended that he was moving on. That old-as-Egyptian-history trick had made her crumble like bread crumbs into his arms. Both pairs of parents seemed to be content with that arrangement and hoping that they would all have noble marriages.
Doreen was one of those startling beautiful people who were not aware of their lure. She never noticed how her deep, silent, youthful power hypnotized most men, and quite frankly she did not care. She was wearing a short dress of violet organdy with a speckle of tiny violet roses engraved in her kinky hair. Like Nandi, she usually wore her natural African hair in an Afro, but today, the front part had cornrows and the rest was left out in a huge afro. Her long neck, which was graced with a string of cowrie shells, was like a mahogany tower which rose from her dress. Her features were like a perfectly chiselled cameo. She was like one of those African sculptures with sharp features. Her eyes looked like two large amber jewels in the delicate mahogany face, her mouth a gracefully carved African ruby. The Ankole thick ruby lips opened to say more,
“The whole topic pisses me off! I mean women are supposed to control themselves sexually and be virgins when they marry while men get praised for being philanderers. Then all of a sudden, these ‘virgins’ are supposed to know every sexual trick in the Kama Sutra book on their marriage night. Go figure!”
“It does not make sense.” Nandi agreed as she caught a blue-eyed expatriate checking her out. He winked at her with a come hither look once their eyes met. She was immediately offended. He must think he was in Half London or something where all those prostitutes lingered, she thought. She took one look at his pregnant belly, eagle nose and balding head and looked away sharply. Her eyes jumped away from his rudely with all the arrogance of a beautiful teenager. He was definitely not her type and she was not going to even let him entertain the notion that he could even have a chance to have her. He should stick to grannies his age. Ish! What did he think? That he looked like Denzel Washington? She refocused her attention back to her friend’s conversation. Doreen was still ranting.
“It does not at all. Men go about behaving like we have no sexual feelings and urges. Only they are allowed to express their sexuality while we wait for the one man to express ours with. In the meantime, this one man has tasted all the different flavours that are out there and slept with enough women to start a school. They forget that in order for them to sleep around, unless they are gay, they need women. So how are women supposed to remain virgins? Isn’t that the biggest double-standard out there…?”
“You’re telling me! I have no idea how you can be a virgin and a vixen at the same time. It definitely does not balance out.” Nandi said as she bit into her food. “Thinking of it is enough to give me a headache, to be quite frank. We live in a world of major double-standards.”
Doreen was obviously on a roll.
“Yea and the women who are not virgins or who make the choice to test the waters, are called ho’s. If you are not a submissive virgin wife, you are a prostitute! Go figure….”
“Go figure!” Nandi sipped her drink and ate a forkful of her food as she secretly watched two great-looking guys walk in.
One of them caught her eyeing him and grinned back at her. She knew him. He was that light-skinned guy from the half-British Newman family who a lot of girls liked. She blushed and looked away sharply, remembering that she already had a man. Then she reminded herself that women check men out too. Wasn’t that what the eyes were for? They only difference was that women did it tastefully and discreetly, especially when their partner was next to them. What was the point of God creating beautiful creations if they could not be appreciated? Men who thought that they had a monopoly over checking out the opposite sex made her laugh. Women were better at doing it, like many other things.
“It’s so unfair.” Doreen complained, bringing her back to the conversation at hand.
“Yes I agree. There are very few options. You are either ‘dried up’ as an old, bitter spinster, locked up to one man for the rest of your life as a concubine, girlfriend or wife or you are a virgin. Anything which is not on this list makes you a ho. It’s totally unfair.”
“I’ll tell you what part of the solution for AIDS is. Men need to be taught from childhood to keep it in their pants. Parents should stop teaching their sons that it’s ok and acceptable for men to be promiscuous and it’s not for women. It’s not ok for anyone – male or female.” Doreen continued.
“But that’s a whole new set of values, Doreen! It’s a fat chance that it will happen. I mean teenage boys watch the example of their fathers and they too start practicing with the house girls. I’ve seem my cousins shamelessly chasing their house girl’s skirts. Did you hear about that house girl who got pregnant and did not now whether it was the father, sons, uncle or son’s friends who had fathered her child? She claimed they had all raped her numerous times and threatened her never to talk about it.”
“Then they had all said that she was a whore. It’s a losing game for women no matter what unless they are in control. I mean look at the lady over there,” Doreen used her head to point to the sugar mummy, “She is probably with her son’s friend over there because the options are slim.”
“Either that or she still likes breast-feeding.” Nandi joked suggestively and they both laughed.
“Thanks for bringing me back to earth.” Doreen giggled happily, “We didn’t meet for us to discuss my feminist views.”
“You know I like hearing you talk, “Nandi protested, “You have such a passion when you speak. Like your father.”
“I doubt my dad would appreciate my views. He may have been educated in Europe, but he’s still as traditional as they come, deep down. He can’t wait to marry me off and get his bride price.” She said quietly as she inspected her perfectly manicured fingers. “Some men will call me a male basher, but I am not. I would not be with your brother if I were. He’s wonderful to me. But I am not blind to what happens around me. I am just challenging the status quo. The average Ugandan village woman does not have it as good as we do.”
“I know. I know. Hey, Doreen, remember when I asked you if your brother knew any Vianneys..?
“Yea.” She quirked an eyebrow. “What’s all the hullabaloo about him?”
“Well, I asked because my cousin is involved with one and I want the dish on him. What did you find out?” Nandi asked with the same uneasy feeling she had felt a few months back.
“What did you say his last name was again?” Doreen asked with a mouth full of chips, despite what her mother had taught her as a child.
“I am not sure what his last name is…”
“Well it can’t be Vianney Mulindwa,” Doreen exclaimed.
“Why? Nandi frowned as her heart raced.
“Because there was only one guy called Vianney when my brother, Richard, was going to St. Mary’s Kisubi Boys School. He’s the closest to the age of the guy you were talking about. When he went to Kisubi, there were plenty of rumours that he was gay...”
“That he was what?” the words detonated from Nandi and she spilled some of her drink on the table.
“You know , gay? The male version of lesbian?” Doreen said in a snarky way.
“I know what it means. I just wanted you to repeat the word because I was not sure I had heard it right.” She said with a note of panic in her voice.
“So it cannot be him. He was never seen with girls.” Doreen shook her head and frowned.
Nandi felt a fear growing in her breast. Something was wrong.
“But isn’t there a possibility that they were just rumours?”
“Could be. You never know.” Doreen shrugged, “Look Nandi, don’t sweat it. I am sure that whatever feelings you have regarding that guy are just a false alarm. I am sure your cousin Namusoke has good judgement. She always had a sensible head on her shoulders. She would be able to tell if something was wrong.”
“You’ve heard of the down low, Doreen. Remember when we were in New York, the guy was on the Oprah Show talking about how many African American married men and boyfriends were secretly gay. They all have women to cover up the fact that they are homosexual. I am sure it’s not a new phenomenon and is not just limited to the USA. The way men like sex around here, women better start….”
“Yikes! That’s cold and very disgusting!” Doreen objected in shock. “Why did you have to bring the topic up when I was eating...?
“Yea, whatever, Miss Prim and Proper. We both know you have a stomach of steel.” Nandi teased her friend, “Look human beings are free to do what they want including who they sleep with. We all have choices. That is what makes us human. But it’s unfair for those guys to lie to their women like that!”
“Do you think I am going to argue against that?” Doreen asked.
Just at that moment, the young man who was with the older woman got up to visit the toilet. From his walk, it was clear that he was slightly intoxicated. He twirled his keys around his middle finger – such a familiar action to Nandi. That action made her look at him harder and then by accident their eyes met. It was exactly what she had suspected.
It was Vianney.
It was already too late.
When she had spotted Vianney at O’Leary’s it had not been the same person she had seen before. He was a much skinnier version of himself. There was a sickliness about the way his flesh hung on his bones. The usual firmness was gone and was replaced by a slightly sagging texture. His hair was curlier, more baby-like and he was shades darker. His lower lips now had an unhealthy reddish tinge. He still had that weak handsomeness but it was even more washed out. Somehow it was weaker. The changes were subtle; you would only notice them if you were looking for them.
All of a sudden, Nandi saw the guilt in his eyes she just knew. It was a deep knowing which came with heartbreak, disillusion and pain. She knew what had been wrong all along. She felt the fragile porcelain of her heart breaking into a million irreparable pieces. Now she knew why Vianney had looked familiar. She had seen him before, but with a different older woman. She had only seen him with the other woman at Kampala Club for a few minutes, but like a jigsaw puzzle, everything was coming together. Suddenly, uninvited, the memories came flooding back to her.
She also knew why she had not heard from her beautiful cousin Namusoke in eons.
What pain! She felt hatred for Vianney growing from her intestines. She wanted to confront him, but she realized that he had already received the worst punishment any human being could have ever had. He was a walking corpse. But still she glared at him with the iciest, drippiest, North Polar look she could give. Her eyes were like bullets. From the way he fled to the toilet, she knew that he had figured out that she knew his secret.
He was a walking corpse.
“Nandi are you ok? You look like you have seen a ghost.” Doreen asked with concern.
“What? No I am fine.”
But she wasn’t.
How was she ever going to be fine after that?
After lunch with Doreen, Nandi decided to head of to Bwaise where her cousin, Namuske lived. At her insistence, Doreen’s driver dropped her off at the old taxi park instead of at her Gaba home. From there, after having been directed to the right place to get it, she got into a taxi and headed off to her cousins place. It was in the outskirts of Kampala not far from Makerere University, the citadel of learning and the country's national hospital - Mulago. Bwaise which was one of the most poverty ravaged areas of Kampala, was a bustling peri-urban sprawl of crowded tenements. Bwaise was one of the most populated ones: people-wise, hovel-wise and small-business wise. Many of the homes, a poor combination of mud, brick and rusted metal, were built dangerously close to each other. They were ramshackle dwellings erected hazardously on a swampy terrain. The area was frequently water flooded and rubbish heaps abounded. But despite that, the area was surrounded by beautiful flamboyant florescent frangipani, bougainvillea, palm and acacia trees, hibiscus shrubs and swaying pawpaw trees.
Apart from the main road, there were no paved roads per se. Small bare-footed children with yellow water-filled jerry cans, weighing more than a child, walked past her. Little girls hoisting baskets and plastic buckets atop their delicate heads trudged past her, eyes raised at her with curiosity. Mothers with despair in their eyes and babies wrapped onto their backs with lesus (East African cloth), cooked for their babies on iron-cast charcoal stoves. They had soaked cassava in white slightly cracked, enamel bowls, were peeling matooke and sweet potatoes, crushing groundnuts with mortars and pestles, scaling fish, and tirelessly kneading dough for chapattis. She saw a woman hanging clothes on a line, amidst a group of shrieking imps, probably her many children.
Hundreds of people were selling food in markets; running small retail shops; doing carpentry; tanning leather, doing shoe repairing, weaving cloth, working iron and frying pancakes. A few bored-looking, grass-eating cows and goats were tied with loose ropes to hibiscus hedges. Hundreds of matatu’s and a handful of food-laden lorries drove past on both sides. The smell of mafuta (petrol), car excrements, ffene (jackfruit), spiced food, fried food, wood, dust, rain, rubbish pits, sweat, cow dung, smoke from charcoal stoves and perfume permeated the air. The sounds of speeding beeping cars, screaming babies and children playing, haggling salesmen and women, shouting hustlers, quarrelling women, the various mannerisms and intonations of local languages, iron being smelted, cars being repaired, local music blaring from old radios, rustling skirts, rubber sandals being slapped against the ground with rushing feet, bicycle bells, men whistling appreciatively at attractive young women, jingling bangles, high-heeled shoes clicking on tarmac and mooing cows filled the air. It was vibrant with life!
Bwaise was the kind of place which the Western world thought represented the entire continent of Africa. It was the type of place World Vision advertised, to the annoyance of many Africans. European cameramen would conveniently ignore the universities, teens with cell phones, wealthy areas, downtown cores and upscale hotels, choosing to focus on places like Bwaise. It was the kind of place where you found the expected stereotypes; legions of flies, the big-bellied, barefoot children with tattered clothes and war-torn poverty.
But at the same time, like women all over the continent, the women of Bwaise, regardless of their poverty, made extravagant fashion statements and flaunted their beauty. Beige coloured, bleached, sepia coloured, chocolate, mahogany, caramel, ebony, charcoal women with weaves, head wraps, turbans, braids, plaits, permed hair and hot-combed hair wearing colourful busuti’s, boubou’s and tie-and-dye clothes walked about with designer bags. They were beautifully and elegantly wrapped in African and Asian fabrics of silks, cottons, laces and taffetas, which were folded and draped around their bodies, the African way, to emphasis their African bottoms and hips. Fashion shows must have been created in Africa because everyday was a fashion display day.
Having just come from Kololo, Nandi was hit by the huge disparities in her country. She had only visited this area once, and she had been driven there last time. She had remembered how, as a little girl, her mother’s nose had turned up with snobbish superiority at the poor conditions and squalor they had encountered her cousin Namusoke’s place. There had been pigs, goats and chicken in their backyard, not to mention naked children running about - Namusoke’s nieces and nephews. Nandi’s mother was one of those spoilt Kampala women who had grown up wealthy and been blessed enough to have married a wealthy person, and so she did not take to poverty very well. She reacted to it in the same way other women of her calibre did; she either avoided it or ignored it when confronted.
However, although it had an unfinished look to it, because it was a stone, and cement brick house with a small garden and shrub fence, Namusoke’s home was one of the nicest houses in the neigbourhood. It was a regular Kampala suburb bungalow, with a generous verandah and a semblance to the old colonial style of buildings, but her mother had been in a hurry to leave regardless. Sometimes Nandi had been driven past the area on the way to school, when she was still going to boarding school but she had never really gone into it except that one time when she had gone with her mother to visit her cousins.
Nandi had disobeyed her parents and come to this god-forsaken place; this place which the devil had sped through and destroyed. She had also disobeyed them and taken a “common” taxi (her mothers words), something they despised but that she had been doing for years behind their backs. She hated being treated like a fragile princess. She was almost 20 for goodness sake!
Now, because she was actually delving deep into the area and not driving past, she was visually bludgeoned by the huge difference between being rich and poor. She made a mental note that the poor worked very hard, often long hours. They probably worked harder than people who were wealthier than they were, but were still stuck at the bottom. However she was awed again at how the mixtures of the sights and the sounds, the sharp contrasts and similarities represented the beauty of Uganda. Uganda, despite the poverty in some areas, was a stunningly beautiful country with a spectacular landscape of teeming flora and fauna, impressive hills and valleys, ice-capped mountains, savannah and endless waterways. And the people! The people, despite their problems, were a happy people, smiling and laughing with each other, even with strangers. Having lived outside the country, she realized that Ugandans lacked the formal frigid coldness which many Europeans had, and she liked that. They were warm and vibrant, and loved life in a simpler way, appreciating even the smallest things. They definitely loved their beer, dancing and music.
She was breathless and her feet were dusty by the time she knocked on the front door of Namusoke’s place. One had to walk up a small hill to get there. Her mother, a tiny long-suffering woman, whose beauty had been faded by so many troubles, opened the door. Her eyes brightened with pleasure when she saw Nandi and she enveloped her in a bird-like hug. Then she led Nandi to Namusoke’s room, after offering her a delicious, ice-cold glass of passion fruit juice mixed with fresh oranges. When Nandi entered the room she realized that it was worse than she had expected.
Who was that skeleton lying in her cousin’s bed? Who was the shrunken, dehydrated undernourished, emaciated, skinny as bones person with the mouth ulcers lying under her cousin’s sheets? Who was the impostor with the cracked, dry lips? Who was that ghost with wasted skin, that willowy wisp of a human being lying in that bed? It surely could not be beautiful Namusoke! She was a darker form of herself and had lost most of her hair. The few patches of hair which were left were now baby-soft. Her fragile scrawny hands, which scrambled to cover herself with her scraggly blanket, were now practically the size of a child’s. Her large sunken eyes protruded from her eye sockets and tears poured from her eyes as she gazed at Nandi. She was so tiny!
Namusoke was a living corpse.
“Namusoke!” Nandi felt the tears sting her eyes and flow down her cheeks. Her legs almost crumpled underneath her body. She forced herself to swallow the pain she was feeling. “Not you, beautiful Namusoke!”
“Vianney…has has it.” Namusoke croaked with mournful eyes. Then she said a lot of bitterness. “He was the only man in my entire 20 years who I had sex with and he had it. What were the odds?”
“Oh Namusoke. Why didn’t you tell me?” She asked, and her tears began to flow. It was so obvious that it was too late. She could see the raw anguish of her cousin’s torment in her eyes, which were about the only part of her which was still recognizably human.
“I was ash…ash…ashamed Nandi. I was angry, hurt, sca…scared, and …and a whole assor…assortment of feelings but mostly ash…ash…ashamed. You…you kept warning me to…to be careful with him, but I was so …so taken by him and his posses…poss…possessions. He had beau…beautiful clothes, a nice car and he always…always had a lot of mon…money.” She explained through spurts of weak coughs, “He gave me a lot of…of things my…my mother could not afford.”
Talking was a struggle for her and Nandi felt her heart wrench as she watched her cousin make a great effort to be her usual self.
“Oh Namusoke…” Nandi cried as she flopped on the bed and held her cousins hands.
She was sobbing softly, so grieved by the injustice of what had happened to her cousin and yet she understood. She understood that innate female desire to be taken care of, the deep yearning for life’s pretty things but she was still very sad because her father had paid for Namusoke’s education and it had not been enough for her. Namusoke’s mother had tried to raise her as a single parent but it had been tough. Her husband had died in the war and left her with eight children.
Even before her husband’s death, his drinking, womanizing and gambling had already brought poverty to their doorstep and they had lost everything they had ever had. All the homes and land they had once owned had been taken by their debtors despite the fact that she had mouths to feed and had worked hard to have some of their homes contsructed. So she had been grateful when her husband’s sister had convinced her brother-in-law to help. The two girls had grown up together and both had gone to good schools. But that had not been enough for her. The glitz and glamour of the world, the trappings of wealth, the allure of being a ‘kept woman’ had seduced her.
“Did you know how he got the…the…the disease…? Nandi felt she had to ask.
Their eyes met and Nandi could tell that Namusoke was glad her secret was out and was relieved that she no longer had to keep it all in. She could see that all the shame and secrecy had been tearing her cousin apart. She saw in her cousins eyes that she had been paralyzed with the fear of the unknown and of her aloneness but seeing her cousin, Nandi here was reassuring. Nandi was someone who she could really talk to.
“His sugar…mummy!” Namusoke said bitterly, struggling with her words. “I heard the rumours but…but ignored them. Then ….one day I found them ….together. I walked away ….before she…she saw me but…but I was so hurt.”
“What a dog! What a total jack ass! I hope he rots in hell!” Nandi was enraged. She wanted to kill Vianney. She wanted to see his blood. How could he do this to her cousin? That should be a crime! How dare he deliberately spread his disease like that? He needed to be thrown in the worst Ugandan prisons where rats would feed on his flesh and red (warrior) ants would eat the bones!
“He broke dow…down and told me that not…not only did he have it, not only was he cheating on me …..with that fat…fat sugar mummy, but…but he was also…also bisexual! He liked me…men too…and his oth…other partner – a man - had it and…and had given it to…to him!” Namusoke blurted out, her eyes virtual whirlpools of tears.
“The irresponsible son of a bastard! How dare he? How could he do such a deliberate thing? Oh Namusoke, What an ugly tangled web!” Nandi said angrily, literally pummelled by the ugly words. She felt as though she had been punched by Ouma, the Ugandan boxer in the area of her heart. “How convenient for him!”
“App…appar…ently his man lover is…is a known ….business man in Kam…pala.” Namusoke informed her cousin acrimoniously. She sounded like a forlorn, wretched animal. “He’s a rich guy who… who can…can afford med…medication. He never to..told me who ….who he was, but he said Kampala would be sh...sh…shocked if they…they found out. He also said that…that the gay …the gay community here was…was a lot larger than…than most peo…people thought!”
“What a bastard!” Nandi was incensed. This was just too hard for her to stomach and she found her body trembling with so much grief that she thought she would die. Why young, vibrant, beautiful Namusoke? Why?
“I am glad you came because….because I do not have much mo…more to go. I am so… so glad that I can get stuff off…off my chest.” The skeleton that was Namusoke said, “I lost the…the baby a mon…month ago. You have no …no idea how depressed I was.”
“You mean you were pregnant?” Nandi burst out, shocked. Her lower jaw dropped. “On top of all that drama? He makes me want to kill someone!”
‘Ironic isn’t it?” Namusoke said weakly as her face crumpled into tight sobs. “I had sex very few times with …. with him. I insisted that…that we use condoms but…but he must have ….must have put a hole into them because I … I got pre…pregnant right away. I got the sym…symptoms qui…quickly – the intense hun…hunger, the…the morning si…sick…sickness, the…the tender breasts and I was ….was exhausted all…all the time.”
Nandi said nothing because the hole in the condom trick was one she had heard of so many times that it scared her. She had heard, when she was in her high school, that guys would prick the tip of the condom with a hole, to make girls pregnant, and so the smart girls had learnt to bring their own condoms. She also remembered the times when some people with the disease had terrorized the city with the famous infected blood-filled syringes they had walked around with, threatening to inject anyone in their quest for revenge. She could not comprehend the maliciousness of some human beings. But she wiped away her cousin’s tears.
“Don’t make the same mistake Nandi.” Namusoke continued faintly and it was obvious that her energy was ebbing quickly from her body, “You know what makes me …me angry is the fact that it wasn’t even enjoyable. Not even …even once. It was not worth it at all. It was so …so painful that I won…wondered what all the hype is…is about.”
“Namusoke, don’t tire yourself.”
“Are…are you still a vir…virgin, Nandi?
Nandi blushed a million shades of brown.
“Well, it’s basically like this. Kuteesa and I have done some er… heavy…er petting, but we’ve never gone all the way. I am too scared to.” She admitted, shamefacedly. “I know that compared to most of our peers, I am too old to still be one, but technically I am….”
“It’s nothing to be ash…ashamed of…” Namusoke said with a wisdom beyond her years, “Keep it…it that way, so you…you do not…not end up like…like me.”
“Each time we did it, I felt like I was …I was being rap…raped. That is how…how intense the…the pain was. People go on like…like it’s such a great thing but I …I hated it! That was…was why we did not do it that many…many times. Only…only five times and…and I hated it each…each time! I was so…so sore after…afterwards that I…I could not walk for days!”
“Namusoke, don’t tire yourself out.” Nandi repeated as tears rolled down her face, sensing that the outburst of anger was slowly sapping life out of her cousin. Both girls were now openly crying.
“What’s the…the point Nandi? I am…I am dying any…anyway.” She said resignedly, defeat shrinking her spindly frame. Her voice was now notches above a whisper. “Lying here has…has made me…me think of a lot of things. For ex…example I ….I wonder how many women have gotten pre…pregnant right after ….after having terrible, pain…painful sex. I wondered how …how many women have end…endured abu…abusive sexual relationships for…for the sake of their…their children. I even wondered how…how many women ha…have lived and died without …without having an…an orgasm. How many have….have been raped and….and kept it a sec…secret. Many times sex is only about …about the man’s ple…pleasure. What about our…our pleasure?”
Nandi who did not have much experience in these matters said,
“I am sure not all men are like that.”
“Probably not. But …but the fact that women have….have to…to fake orgasms says…says a lot. My theory is that there…there are a whole lot of…of unsatisfied women out…out there. Women need to be …to be honest and…and get what is…is theirs.”
“You are probably right Namusoke. I am so sorry about all this. I am so…so heartbroken.” Nandi broke down and taking off her sandals, she slipped onto the bed beside her cousin and circled one arm around her in an embrace like a child. Namusoke felt so shockingly fragile. Warm skin on bones. Skin soft like velvet cloth. “What will I do without you? You are the sister I never had.”
“I wanted the…the baby Nandi. My brothers wan…wanted me to abort it, but I…I wanted it. The doctors say…say being pre…pregnant is what made…made me det…deteriorate so quickly…” She said feebly, her face creased with pain and devastation. She said it with a dreamy quality to her voice as if the baby had brought a sense of magic into her life. It was even clearer now that the energy she had spent talking to her cousin was tiring her out.
“Are you sure it’s not something else? Malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid?” Nandi asked with false hope, “You know how many doctors misdiagnose diseases…”
“It is…is what it is…is Nandi.” She forced a smile for the sake of her cousin. Even her smile was different. There was a small white paste on what used to be beautiful brown gums. “It is what it is. I have…have accepted it. But I...I am glad you …you came. Everyone else turned their…their back on me once…once they knew. It’s the…the shameful scourge which…which no one wants…wants to be associated with. I was so scared you…you would do…do the same thing and…and that is why I never…never called you.”
“Namusoke.” Her voice broke. “You ought to know that I am not like that…”
“When you are…are in my…my situation, things cha…change.” Namusoke said, suddenly shivering violently. “People tur…turn against you.”
Nandi noticed the shivering and covered her with the extra blanket, which had been carefully folded on her cousin’s dressing table. Namusoke started coughing. It started like a cough, but very soon she sounded like she was choking to death. Nandi flew into a panic just as Namusoke’s mother crept into the room. The smell of death and rotting flesh suddenly overpowered Nandi.
“I think she needs to rest.” The older woman informed Nandi as she patted her daughter in the back gently like baby. Then she sat on the bed and held her only daughter in her arms with the most heartbroken look that Nandi had ever seen in her life. Namusoke stopped coughing. She looked spent as she looked at both Nandi and her mother.
“Auntie, please allow me to sleep here with her for a few hours.” Nandi begged, knowing that time was a luxury that her cousin no longer had.
“Nandawula, you know your parents will not like that. They never allow you to go anywhere alone” Her Auntie said tightly, “Do they know that you are here?”
“No, they do not. But Auntie, I am no longer a child!” Nandi said stubbornly. “I am old enough to make my own decisions and I will face the consequences. I want to be near Namusoke!”
“Please mother….let..let her stay if….if she wants to…to.” Namusoke whispered. “You know that…that I am dying any…anyway. Allow us…us to spend our last.. last moments tog…together. I don’t have much…much life left in…in me.”
“I hate it when you talk like that!” Her mother complained angrily, fighting back tears. “Parents are not supposed to bury their children!”
“It’s reality mother. Look….look at me. Do I look like…like I will ever…ever heal?”
“There is hope. The pastor in my church….”
“Mother…please!” Namusoke interrupted, “The last…last thing I want to…to hear about is…is God. Not even…even your Jes…Jesus can save me.”
“At least let him pray for you…again.” Her mother begged.
“So I…I can see that look of….of disgust, jud…judgement and…and contempt in his…his eyes again?” Namusoke responded angrily. “I do not…not need a hypocritical pastor….pastor in my life….life right now! I have prayed enough. It…it is between me and God now…..I do not need…..intermediaries! I hav….have done all my…my praying!”
There was a long, uncanny silence between mother and daughter as the mother reflected on her daughter’s words. Nandi felt uncomfortable, as if she was seeing more than she really should be seeing. Then Namusoke’s mother unclasped her hands and gently placed her daughter’s head on the soft pillow again. Her entire body chemistry broadcast undetermined degrees of pain. She was a shadowy remnant of herself but her tiny frame fought back the threatening tears. He stood up with a strong, steely, proud back. She needed to be strong for her daughter, she thought as she faced Nandi.
“Ok you can stay, Nandawula. She’s lucky she has you, Nandawula.” The mother said sadly, “Which is more than I can say for a lot of her friends. She was calling out for you in her sleep, but every time I wanted to send someone to tell you, she would object. I am glad you came of your own accord.”
Then she walked out of the room. Nandi took off her shoes and climbed onto her cousin’s bed. She lay down next to her cousin and they gripped each other’s hands.
“Aren’t you…you scared you will…will get it?” Namusoke asked, sounding like a little girl.
“Namusoke! You know better than to ask that. I am not some uneducated, ignorant villager who thinks that you get it by touching people or eating with them. I know how you get it.”
“I never…never thought my…my life would end this…this early.” She said sadly and then forced a weak smile. “I hope when…when you have children you…you will tell…tell them about…about me.”
“Namusoke….Of course...” She smiled, “But you’ll be there too. You are going to heal. You can tell them yourself. A lot of people live a long life despite the disease. You can fight it!”
“It’s…it’s over Nandi. I am…I am dying. Now that I…I have see….seen you I…I can rest.” Namusoke said as she sank deeper against her pillow.
“Namusoke, please! Stop it….” Nandi begged, her voice filled with tenderness and regret.
“Ok,” She relented feebly and they both chit-chatted for a few minutes. They brought up wonderful memories of things they had done together until Namusoke, who was utterly exhausted, fell asleep in the middle of a sentence.
Nandi found herself napping off too.
A cold wind woke her up. She felt as if something had flown past her. Her eyes snapped open but she saw nothing. When she woke up, it had only been two hours since she had fallen asleep, but it had felt like an entire lifetime. She sat upright and gracefully slipped her legs onto the floor. Then she stretched her arms widely, yawning lazily. She was so glad that she had come to Namusoke before it was too late. She would have never been able to live with herself, knowing that her cousin had died a lonely death. She would have felt like she had abandoned her when Namusoke needed her the most.
She could not wait for Namusoke to wake up so she could tell her how much she loved her and how she was going to help her fight it. What she was not going to tell her was the fact that she was rabidly livid over the fact that a son of Uganda could go about callously spreading his disease with impunity. She lamented the fact that many sons of Uganda were doing this on purpose, destroying the future mothers of their children, and by extension the children themselves. How could have Uganda come to this? How long was this vicious cycle going to continue? How long was cycle of viciousness, selfishness, irresponsibility and desire for revenge going to claim innocent, trusting victims? Lives like her cousin’s, who had been in love and had trusted foolishly….
When Nandi looked at her cousin there was a peaceful look on her face. Maybe she should just come back tomorrow instead of waking her now, she thought. She knew that if she delayed going home any longer, her strict parents would start getting worried. She bent to kiss her cousins cheek, and then she noticed that there was something strange about her. Nandi opened her eyes wide in horror, immobile for a moment. She surveyed Namusoke carefully, scourging her face, looking for signs of life. She could not help it but she felt her blood pressure rising. It could not be! Vianney, aka the vampire, murderer, devil’s spawn, witchdoctor’s son and the reincarnation of Jack the Ripper could not have triumphed! He could not have robbed her of something she loved this dearly!
She placed her hand above her cousin’s nostrils to feel if she was still breathing.
She was not.
She felt for her heartbeat.
It had stopped.
Nandi’s heart stopped beating and her breath got stuck in her chest. There was a strange buzzing sound in her brain. Her eyes filled with terrible understanding. The full realization of what had happened filled her with a terror she had never known. Grief tore through her entire body, flooding each single pore and her eyes filled with more tears. She heard somebody screaming with deep angst. It was a deep-throated, open-mouthed, ear-shatteringly loud African wail of anguish and woe. It was only when her Auntie came running into the room that Nandi realized that she had been the one screaming.
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Copyright JMN Jane Musoke-Nteyafasã2006