For Dr. Stella Nyanzi: I plead guilty to silence


It’s been six months since you were incarcerated.

Before you knew the whisper of walls in Luzira Prison, we all trooped to your Facebook page, making breakfast of your words. The whole day, your words rained onto our timelines; words unclothed, words un-sugared, words un-minced.

You and silence were milk were lemon. You became yogurt on contact.

It was easy then, to cheer you on from the safety of our gadgets. It was easy then, to fantasize about matching your peppered condemnation; your verbal slap against the MP whose testicles were squeezed in detention; your whack against the politician whose breasts were groped during a demo, even the court said, No Way! ; your stomp against broad-day abduction of citizens from court precincts; your rally call for what should be basic, accessible, like sanitary pads for school girls.

It was easy then to shake our heads in admiration, shock, awe as you spewed lyrical about your body, your sexuality, your imagined sexcapades. You were the ssenga – the aunt – mother, counselor, academic, researcher, fierce critic… You were many things in one, and when one’s body is a cargo of many things, they rumble like clouds ready to spew rain.

You and silence were milk and lemon. You became yogurt on contact.

You touched fire and dared us to do the same. You said it’s okay to call a vagina a vagina, not nini; it’s a body part, our body part. You said we shouldn’t conform to the Bible of social norms that says women should keep mum, not raise their voices, not trumpet their ache, not climb the ladder higher than. We learned, sometimes even dared to peel the shame that comes with carrying the body of a woman. We learned to play with the fire in our hearts and to let the butterflies in our stomachs soar and flap – aloud.

It’s six months since jail became your home and the silence here is loud. And I am guilty of hiding my face before asking, what happened to Stella, how are her children doing? I am guilty of forgetting, like Facebook that moves on to the next biggest sharer, the moment you stop naked-ing yourself in its presence.

I’m guilty of private-ing my anger, my rage, my dismay at what has become of you, and them, and us. I am guilty of wrapping my body in a garb of silence; the silence you refused to bed; the silence that has kept me, us safe while you get used to the chilly arms of jail.

My ancestors must have tattooed a proverb on your back; aling aling ma kicelo wanga ki cogo – why do you want me to remain silent when they have pricked my eyes with a bone?

Sometimes, the silence here fools me into thinking that you went to jail with the ills you fought against. It’s a lie. Agulu [pwod] odiyo otac – the water pot is still pressing the head-pad.

I know, we know, but silence is convenient. Silence is cheap, even in this economy. This time, this silence is no weapon. This time, this silence is no self-preservation. This time, this silence is no shield.

On this day, as you mark your birthday behind unenviable walls, I break my silence a little. Still, I plead guilty to silence about you, about them, about us. 

 

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Wake me up when the Kyaligonzas start facing actual music


I’m driving on Ggaba Road, heading to town (at the swamp just after Soya-Bunga). My side of the road is relatively clear of traffic. On the other side of the road, a stream of cars snail pace towards Ggaba. All good, until the driver of a UPDF double cabin truck pulls out of the traffic jam, full lights on and speeds towards me.

I could swerve out of his way, onto the walkway and perhaps run over roses and lilies sold along that road. But I don’t. I turn my full lights on and drive on. By this time, other motorists and pedestrians are looking at me, perhaps wondering what is wrong with my head.

Seeing that I am not going to give him way, he squeezes back into his lane. We exchange quick stares as we drive past each other. My eyes tell him, go hang, report me to Daddy or even God (in minister Rukutana’s voice). His eyes spit hellfire in my direction. On the faces of some motorists and florists nearby, I see smiles, smiles that say, well done, but eh! nga you can risk!

That was 2017. It was not the first time the driver of that double cabin truck was acting bullish on the road. When I saw him, I did what I did. It could have cost me. I was lucky that army man was not Maj. Gen Matayo Kyaligonza.

Kyaligonza & his U-Turn

Kyaligonza has been trending on social media since Sunday over the assault of a police officer on duty. The media reports that Sgt. Esther Namaganda stopped the car that the general was being driven in, from making a U-Turn in the middle of the road in Seeta, Mukono District. The general allegedly slapped Namaganda and his two security guards unleashed hands and words on her.

A photo  has been circulating online of Kyaligonza in a white satin shirt (oh the irony of color) with his hands inches away from Namaganda’s face. One of his guards is clinging onto Namaganda’s collar, his colleague holding her arm. They are both in army uniform. A video  has also surfaced, showing one of the UPDF soldiers clinging onto Namaganda’s arm as she attempts to writhe out of the grip in vain.

There has been outpouring of outrage. Rightly so. The Assistant Inspector General of Police Asan Kasingye said the incident is unacceptable and tweeted about Kyaligonza’s demotion  in 1989 when he slapped the Officer in Charge of Jinja Road Police Station.

The army spokesperson Brig. Richard Karemire tweeted of the incident that “it is very regrettable and apologies to our Police Sister (sic)”.   So far, the two soldiers – Private John Robert Okurut and Lance Corporal Peter Bushindiki have been arrested and held  at the military police headquarters.  If you were waiting, like me, to read that Kyaligoonza was also arrested, tame your excitement.

About 30 years ago, Kyaligonza was a brigadier. After the ‘slap’ incident, he was temporarily stripped of his rank and downgraded to a colonel. Today, he’s a major general. Smell the coffee!

Maj. Gen.l Kyaligonza (in white shirt (C) and his security guards rough up Sgt. Namaganda.
Internet Photo

Gwanga’s ‘happy guns’

If you thought Kyaligonza’s case is a first, remember Kasirye Gwanga. Trouble seems to follow him whenever he goes, and in many cases, he doesn’t shy from admitting it. In November 2007, the retired Major General slapped a police officer for allegedly blocking him from using Entebbe Road. Just last month, Gwanga shot at car tyres belonging to Catherine Kusasira, saying the musician’s bodyguards and friends were attacking his son.  In 2017, Gwanga set fire to a tractor he found on his daughter’s land in Lubowa, Entebbe Road, accusing the owners of land grabbing. Gwanga even admitted it. “I burnt that tractor. Tell them. I am now hunting them. I am a bad hunter. Let them know,” he told Daily Monitor. In 2008, Gwanga reportedly slapped the aide of then Security Minister Amama Mbabazi.

To date Kasirye Gwanga has nine cases of similar character registered against him at police. None has led him to jail and they definitely didn’t stand in the way of his promotion in 2018 from Brigadier to Major General.

Gwanga has been a district chairperson, director of stores for the UPDF and presidential advisor on Buganda affairs, and is a bush war veteran.

Byandala’s punch

In 2016, Minister Abraham James Byandala, who was on trial over corruption, reportedly punched a female journalist as she filmed him leaving the Anti-Corruption Court. Ms. Judith Nalugga of Bukedde TV was apparently punched in the abdomen (an accusation the minister denied) and was left holding onto her bosom. The incident drew condemnation from women rights activists and media fraternity and the public. Later, rumors had it that mediation happened, compensation was done and the case died.

Byandala has worked as minister for works and transport, legislator for Katikamu County North, among others.

Kibuule’s ‘indecent’ rape victims

In September 2013, Ronald Kibuule, then Minister for Youth and Children Affairs, said rape victims who are indecently dressed are to blame for their predicament. In Parliament, Kibuule denied okaying rape against women and girls. Daily Monitor, who reported the story first, released an audio of the minister’s statement. Still, he didn’t resign and wasn’t fired like rights activities demanded.

In March 2015, he was reappointed to cabinet as State Minister for Water Resources.

In 2016, Kibuule was accused of assaulting a female security guard  at Stanbic Bank in Mukono District, after she reportedly demanded to check him before he can enter the banking hall. Women activists rallied behind Hellen Obuk and demanded the resignation of the minister. He denied wrongdoing and the bank issued an apology to the minister.

Kibuule is also Mukono North constituency legislator.

As you can see, our history books are not short of records about officials in high positions taking matters into their own hands, or being accused of grave acts. History will also tell you that such cases suffer from pre-determined death. And we can’t complain much. Someone sneaked impunity into our DNA and now all we can do is watch its many faces.

But, just in case things change for real real; just in case the Kyaligonzas start facing actual music, then wake me up.

#MissCurvyUganda: Here’s why we are cutting the tree and ignoring the roots


Hailstorms have been falling over social and mainstream media space in Uganda over a “new” development: the Miss Curvy Uganda beauty pageant.

In the wisdom of Tourism Minister Godfrey Kiwanda, adding “curvy and sexy” Ugandan women on the list of “tourism products” would do Uganda proud. After all, tourism is the country’s top forex earner. There are already similar competitions around the world – in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, France, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and India, among others. Who can blame the minister for feeling obnoxiously inspired?

Growing up in northern Uganda, there were songs of admiration about women with ample butts, and praise for “plus size” women whose footsteps could be heard from afar. But that was as much loudness as was tolerated of many women. A lot has changed of course.

That’s why reactions to Kiwanda’s “innovation” were swift: condemnations, demands for apology, calls for the minister’s resignation and threat of censure from Parliament. Kasambya County MP Gaffa Mbwatekamwa called it “sex tourism”; Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo said it itemises and demeans women. Even the church, always measured in their statements and cautious about the “fights” they pick, said something cutting; the pageant is “a disgusting display of exploitation” and “belittles women”.

However, it’s President Yoweri Museveni’s comment on the contest that highlighted the problematic nature of beauty pageants and the commodification of women generally. Last December, Museveni applauded and hosted Miss Uganda Quiin Abenakyo when she was crowned Miss World, Africa. On the Miss Curvy Uganda pageant, Museveni said the contestants could have gotten “excited” following Abenakyo’s success at Miss World. He didn’t like the idea that “we are marketing our women for tourism”; plus, it was not a cabinet decision.

The truth is, the state has long been engaged in voyeurism of women’s bodies, only that this time, it will make money while at it.

In November 2018, minister Kiwanda unveiled Ugandan socialite Zarinah Hassan (aka Zari) as a tourism ambassador to much body trolling and tongue wagging online. In February 2019, the same Kiwanda announced Anita Fabiola, a Ugandan socialite and media personality as the next tourism ambassador, to similar reception online. Both women, who fit Kiwanda’s “curvy and sexy” parameters, have for long been fodder for tabloids in Uganda and elsewhere. Both women had it rough when their nude photos were leaked online. They faced arrest under Uganda’s anti-pornography law that Ethics Minister Lokodo prides in upholding. In the eye of the state, Zari and Fabiola are not fit to step into the moral pulpit that the anti-pornography law upholds. To therefore see the country endorse these two women as tourism ambassadors, points to two things; hypocrisy by the state in advancing women’s causes, and in Kiwanda’s case, stoking public excitement about these women as symbols of sex and “indecency” to woo tourists.

But don’t be fooled. Even the ‘regular’ beauty pageants are not immune to criticism. When Ugandans were still brimming with pride over Abenakyo’s eloquence and beauty, Museveni castigated the “Indian” hair extensions she wore on her visit to State House (of course he couldn’t say it’s Chinese hair. China is the incumbent darling). He advised Abenakyo to wear her hair natural. I am #TeamNaturalHair but I also don’t lose sleep over anybody’s Indian or Sudanese hair.

Similarly, in 2014, Miss Uganda Leah Kalanguka became a subject of online trolls, including from some women, who said she was ugly. It wasn’t enough that she had ticked the boxes of slim body, height and “sexiness”. Even her “intelligence” that some had applauded didn’t matter because she wasn’t “beautiful” enough.

The flip-flop in beauty standards have characterized pageants for the past 160+ years. American ‘showman’ Phineas Taylor Barnum is considered the face behind modern-day beauty contests, but the practice can be traced farther back to 1839.  While Barnum’s first pageant in 1854 was met with protests, he had planted a seed that grew into a tree – a tree that doesn’t show any sign of drying up.

It has been normalized. The normalization has become easier over the years, with glittering coatings such as ‘beauty with a purpose’, ‘beauty with brains’, etc. In Uganda, beauty queens have in the past been ferried to gardens with gloved hands and gum-booted feet to promote agriculture and show that they are more than bikinis, catwalks and make up. Beauty contestants today are also tested on their knowledge of culture, how well words and ideas flow out of their mouths, their talents, how easily they can start and hold a conversation and how much they know about current affairs and the world.

The further normalization of prescribed beauty also takes place in our homes. In any typical pre-marriage preparation in Uganda (and I believe elsewhere), there will be an “aunt” or Ssenga to coach the bride on her marriage life, something that is often dominated by one thing — always look beautiful, otherwise other “good looking” women will take away your man. Men are seldom told, look good dude, groom up, otherwise your wife will dump you. In today’s digital age, social media “aunties” tell women the “how to” of beauty, complete with video illustrations. Men are “physical” beings, women are often told. And while a popular saying here is that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, the unwritten proverb is that the way to a man’s heart is how beautiful you [a woman] look.

And so, women have become, consciously or otherwise, both participants in and victims of objectification. For Uganda’s Miss Curvy Contest, a woman – Anne Mungoma – is the contest organizer; and no, she doesn’t see a problem with the body auction. You who is running your mouth that she is sexualizing fellow women has nothing upstairs but thoughts about sex [her rebuttal].

The media and society continues to reinforce these contradictions. Today, you’ll read about “bummy” women causing “scrotal eruptions”, how “juicy woman” A is causing problems in the marriage of a “juicy-less” woman B, etc. The next day, the same media will body shame a woman for putting on weight; they’ll praise the slim and “portable” woman. In school, the slim, tall, light skinned girl will become Prom Queen while the short and chubby one will be called ugly. But there are also cases of small bodied students nicknamed “stick” and taunted for their “feather” weight. In music videos, including those titled African Queen or African Beauty, the “queen” is always a tall, light-skinned woman – perfect set of teeth, smooth skin, long neck, full lips, round glittering eyes. Whenever a “curvy” woman is featured, it’s her butt that is the center of interest. The camera will zoom into her “curves” as she gyrates. The [male] musician will ogle or fondle. In the entertainment industry, you’ll read about celebs going under the knife to achieve the “perfect body” – enhancing the size of their butts or making their boobs smaller. It doesn’t matter that they later get attacked for it.

The battle is hard to win.

But for a start, we could start by recognizing that it doesn’t really matter whether a beauty pageant is for curvy or curvy-less women. It doesn’t matter the intension or what the organisers seek to counter (we can still promote any cause for and by women without subjecting them to body parades and contests). At the end of the day – the purpose for which beauty pageants were started always rules, i.e., using women to compete against each other through a contrived and narrow standard of beauty.

In selectively frowning upon the Miss Curvy Uganda contest (and remodeling of women as ‘products’) but cheering the other beauty pageants; we are cutting the tree trunk and leaving the roots intact. And these roots run deep. Get a bull dozer, somebody!

**

@ahpetite / harriet.beranena@gmail.com

 

No beers here…


I’m 13 years old and in a bar. Music is blaring from loud speakers. There is happiness everywhere, like the disco lights spilling on dancing bodies. I’m standing between my cousin, Grace and her husband, William. He came up with the idea of “outing” so that I can see the other side of life in Bweyale.

“What’re you going to drink?”

“Nile special,” Grace says.

I have neither the age nor experience to drink a liquor in a bar. But instead of my favorite Fanta, a bottle of Pilsner Lager is pressed in my hand “because it’s sweet and mild”.

Grace starts to dance. Fiercely, like the dance floor has feet-tickling powers. She continues to dance like she wants to shake off an invisible demon. William is dancing too but showily, eyes darting about as if to check if his moves are making an impression.

I stand aside, taking it all in. Then, a few sips later, my head begins to spin but I don’t put down the bottle. It’s sweet after all, and gets sweeter with every sip.  William buys another one and I continue drinking. The disco lights are more now – bright and dim, bright and dim. Colorful.  I’m also speaking a lot of English.

*

Two weeks earlier, Daddy had grudgingly allowed me to go spend part of my Primary Seven vacation with Grace in Bweyale – 110 kilometers from home. It had been years of different relatives begging my parents to allow me go spend some time with them. Mama was the easy one, but Daddy never budged. They accused him of being overprotective and mean with his children, as if we were breakable porcelain.

I was ecstatic when Daddy said yes to my Bweyale trip. I would see Karuma Falls and the baboons at Karuma Bridge and a whole lot of things. I would leave Gulu for the first time in my life! Coolness!

Boarding a taxi to Bweyale alone was both scary and exciting. At Karuma Falls, the taxi snail-paced over the bridge as if going fast would make it plunge into the fierce milky waves below. I shivered as I watched the waves slap rocks whose heads protruded above the water.

The chit-chat and laughter that had earlier engulfed the taxi as passengers watched baboons fight over maize cobs and bananas thrown to them through the window, or how little baboons hung from the belly of their mothers – were replaced by a stony silence.

It was only until Karuma was out of sight that someone cleared their throat and said:  You see that Karuma, it has a powerful god.  In fact, President Museveni one day dived into the falls in a well ironed suit and hours later, emerged without a drop of water on him. We listened in disbelief but everyone was still recovering from the fright of crossing Karuma to interrogate the story. We all settled for the theory that the big man recharges his ‘power bank’ from a god who resides on the bed of Karuma Falls.

Once in Bweyale, Grace bought for me new clothes and shoes and took me to the market which had more fish than anything else. I was also amazed at how much Acholi was spoken in this land of Banyoro but I was soon reminded that the area is host to refugees from Gulu and other parts of northern Uganda who fled the LRA rebel insurgency.  Bweyale felt like home and not a refugee town.

*

The morning after the bar spree, Grace comes to wake me up, which is a first. My beer-laden head makes it a battle to get up. Alinga and I sleep in a hut, just next to Grace’s one-bedroomed rented house.  Being a 13-year-old, I’m ‘too old’ to share a house with a couple still active in bedroom matters. I may see and hear what I shouldn’t. In any case, their two children, the eldest only about three years old, already occupy most of the space in the sitting room.

Grace enters our “bedroom” and shakes me awake. A smirk lingers on her face. She starts ranting about the previous night’s rendezvous and how I rapped to them in English. Me rapping? Everyone knows that you can’t get more than five words out of my mouth unless you threaten me with a civil war. I’m the quiet one, the ‘well-behaved’ girl. Quietness, I have been told, is good behaviour. Even at school, my report card always reads “polite pupil” in the comment section and that makes me keep my head down the more. I talk even less when elders are around.

I ignore Grace’s mockeries and go about my daily chores, pushing my hangover body hard. But by midday, I’m getting drunk afresh. Grace notices the clumsiness in my steps and says, ahaaa, the beer is reworking, to which William recommends another beer.

“The cure of a hangover is taking more alcohol,” he says.

I respond with a loud no, and head out of the house.  I run into a lanky man at the doorway.  He has a camera slung across his chest and a white envelop in his right hand. He holds my hand and walks me back inside. He is a photographer. I soon learn that not all that flashed on my face the previous night were disco lights.

He gives the pictures to William and he looks at them, his eyes lingering on a particular one, before he passes it over to Grace. She looks at the photo, looks at William and they burst out laughing.

Then it is my turn to look at the photos. I look dazed in most of them. Drunk.  Then I see the picture that must have caused the laughter. In the photo, William’s lips has enveloped mine –-like a child learning how to drink from a small-mouthed soda bottle. My big round eyes are wide open, like I have seen something I shouldn’t have. Grace is standing there, slightly away from us, her teeth out in a smile, her cheeks dimpled.

I look up from the photo to Grace and William, and on my face they read the message that I have seen the photo of interest. They started laughing again. The laughter carries the sound of a rehearsed mockery. I still hear it.

*

William is a builder. He has recently got a contract to build a house near home. He is the foreman. So he comes home as frequently as he chooses. He also has money. That means he drinks more and showers his kids and wife with niceties.

Since my arrival at his home, William acts as though I’m invisible, unwanted. So I watch my every step, go over my words before I utter them, even if it’s just a greeting. I only speak to him when he says something to me, which is rarely.  But that changes after the bar episode. He looks at me more intently, speaks nicely to me when Grace is away but becomes the complete opposite when she is around.

It is one of those days when he has come home at lunch time that he finds me seated on a stool, my back to the door, as I sort rice. He slips his hand inside my blouse and grabs my breast, tilts my head backwards with the other, and kisses me.

He walk away, without a word. I wash my mouth with soap.

The next day, William comes home again, when Grace is away in the market. Their daughter is about two years old. She is the favorite of his two children. He lifts her off the floor, places her on his laps and kisses her full on the mouth. She pulls away fiercely.

I crave the resistance of that two-year old.

*

Results of the Primary Leaving Exams are soon out and that means I have to return to Gulu and prepare to join Senior One. Grace buys for me more new clothes and shoes. She also shops some essentials for me to take to my parents and to thank them for entrusting me with her.

I have been a hardworking and a disciplined child, she says. The neighbors agree.

A day before my journey back home, William comes home in the afternoon and goes straight to their bedroom. Grace is in the market, as usual, vending fish.

From the veranda, I can hear William call my name. The second time he calls, I go inside and stand in the living room. “Come here,” he beckons, his voice restrained from the bedroom. He is lying on his back. He doesn’t get up when I enter the bedroom.

“How are you?”

The smallness of the bedroom means the head of the bed is by the entrance, where I’m standing. He grabs my hand before I get time to respond to his how are you. From that position of his eyes facing the ceiling, he pulls me to a bending position, my head, directly over his. He holds me by the back of my head and closes the gap between my head and his.

Outside, the sound of Grace’s laughter at the neighbor’s house makes him disengage, like my lips have suddenly become embers.

The next day, I board a taxi back to Gulu, my bag full of new clothes, shoes, soap, sugar, salt, cooking oil and my heart, heavy with a secret.

17 years later, I tell my sister:

Okot dipped his tongue

in my mouth when I was 13.

He tried to make dough out of my breasts.

My sister says,

Why are you telling me this now?

I tell my sister,

My heart wasn’t ready to empty the secret,

my mind did a good job at trying to forget.

My sister says,

I’m going out to throw up,

I say to myself,

How lucky! My own vomit has been stuck

in my throat since 1999.

*

 

Dear man, imagine yourself with a vagina for a day


Imagine yourself, a man, with a vagina tucked in that place where your balls and penis once dangled.

Now, imagine several pairs of eyes strolling your body, daily. Pairs of eyes that belong to people who have never walked a mile in your vagina-ed self. Pairs of eyes from people who prescribe how you should walk, talk, react to advances; how you should dress and undress; how loud your laughter should ring; how much layer of flesh should sit on your bones, and the distribution level per body part.

Imagine yourself, a man, with a vagina, just for a day. That should be the least of your worries though. The big deal is in having to explain yourself, every time, when someone whacks you across the face, insults the body you were told was created in the creator’s image; and reduces you to a under-the-table creature.

Imagine yourself with a vagina one morning; and at your door are a group of men who disregard that you are a daughter, sister, mother, friend, human first – and not just a vagina bearer.

Now, if we are together at this stage, then you’ll know why a woman who was stalked and harassed by a 25-year-old man, is being blamed for the two-year jail sentence the dude got. You’ll know why, even when the man pleaded guilty, the woman still had to explain herself with tears down her face as the ‘young man’ laughed throughout the court session. You’ll understand why this woman- Kabarole Woman MP Sylvia Rwabwogo — is being accused of ruining the future of the ‘young man’ by taking him to court, instead of ignoring him like the rest of harassed women do.

And you’ll be puzzled too, at the men [and women] who will sanitise your pain and belittle your anger.

Imagine yourself with a vagina for a day, dear man, then we can talk.

Empty Chair


The bullet sliced the air above bodies

swept to the ground with fear.

Then it landed

on her.

Why her?

Why not her?

She’s only 2. Julian Nalwanga.

She’s lucky to have left

the madness of this place

for a better one below.

 

Her mother disagrees.

She paces the verandah

of the court building,

remembering 2011,

when walking to work

was a crime.

 

Her eyes shift from the empty dock

to the empty chair

bearing the magistrate’s jacket.

 

Still, she waits.

My depression…


…is me avoiding eye contact coz I haven’t mastered the art of looking friends in the eye and lying about the darkness I carry. It’s me adding speed to my steps to hide the sluggishness of my spirit; turning my face from the person walking past the office door coz I’m hiding eyes I just wiped. It’s me storming out of office coz everyone turns on an invisible tap in my eyes.

It makes me blink back tears in the presence of people I know and openly sob on a stranger’s boda boda home. It sends me to bed at 6pm, wakes me at midnight and keeps me up till morning like thoughts about an on-off lover. It drives me to a counsellor who I immediately dislike and I leave cursing all hospitals.

…it’s me cancelling phone calls and ignoring text messages; deactivating my Facebook and typing DON’T CALL OR TEXT in the family WhatsApp; flinging the phone across the room and curling in bed, cuddling pillows warmed up by tears.

It makes me mute the TV from six to six because voices of strangers stoke the voices in my head, and yet the sight of faces behind the screen keeps the world here. It helps me close the door to everyone knocking and makes me look at my darkness in the eye, admiringly.

…it’s me detesting dance. Even poetry.

It makes me eat everything I shouldn’t because food is the only thing I can control. It makes me crave the anti-deps because they understand my love for sleep. It makes me listen to Run on repeat and pray for the sky to fall together with the rain.

…it’s me shutting out voices that ask; You have it all together, what do you mean things are falling apart? You don’t look it, are you sure? It’s me switching off the phone 30 minutes to girls’ night out coz the thought of a crowd suddenly has me gasping for breath. It’s about finding the right words to explain why work – like my life – is undone. It’s me thinking about what I’ll say when the sky clears coz, I was just feeling low no longer sounds convincing, even to me.

When it visited this time, depression said life after here is a garden of flowers that bloom poetry.

 

embers


We knew the battle was lost

when doors and windows puked

black smoke.

 

Thatch became wings

of fire that refused to furl

for the drizzle.

 

Huts knelt

before men

waving logs with crimson tongues.

 

The sun rose too late

to test its rays against

embers glowing in

Acoli

Lango

Teso

West Nile

Congo

Sudan

CAR

***

© Harriet Anena

Coming up in a collection about the two-decade Lord’s Resistance Army war in northern Uganda.