“Hey bro, where are you?” a local was friendly and generous enough to allow me to use his phone to call Gisa. We had arranged to meet at the National Theatre where I had been chatting with Jobray, a talented graffiti sketch artist.
“I’m coming in a few minutes,” Gisa had said. This was at 17:00 when we had agreed on 16:00.
A few minutes meant that I had at least an hour. So I sat and let my mind be blown away by Jobray’s sketch book that he carried everywhere.
“Man,” I exclaimed, “you’ve got some serious talent.”
At 19:00 I was just about to phone Gisa again when a familiar dreadlocked local turned up.
I know that guy, I thought to myself as he nodded towards me in a way that let me know that he was Gisa as I was sure we had never met before. He was tagged in a post I had made and had become an online contact until this face-to-face interaction.
“Hey bro, sorry about the delay,” he bro-hugged, introducing me to his pal, “Ruganzu Bruno,” the afro spurning local grinned and shook my hand warmly. It’s not often you come across someone in Africa who doesn’t shave his head completely, wear a weave or have dreadlocks. The afro is a look that definitely needs to spread.
“What do you do?” I asked my new friend as we headed over to his car.
“I’m an eco-artist,” he said, pausing patiently for me to follow up with the head-scratching,
“Whatta’s that mean?”
“I create art from recycled and upcycled materials,” he began to explain. “I’ve created a playground out of plastic bottles and my aim is to spread this art to communities all over.”
I then explained my philosophy and he opened his arms wide for a hug. “You and me are the same,” he grinned. We hopped in the car and I couldn’t help but feel like I’d met Gisa before. I searched my head for a memory, a recollection, a digital imprint on a brain cell that could relieve me of this feeling of de ja vu.
The topic of Zanzibar’s music festival, Sauti Sa Busara, came up and then it hit me as I slammed into the back of the passenger seat. ““Gisa,” I fished, “were you at the Sauti Sa Busara festival in Zanzibar?”
“Ya, bro,” he turned to look at my grinning face.
“I think we met there,” I said as I recalled seeing him around the four-day event and then on the ferry back to Tanzania when we actually spoke briefly.
“Yeah!” he exclaimed, recalling the same memory.
Fuck me, what a small world.
Gisa wasn’t able to host me but Ruganzu had purchased some land about 20 K’s outside of Kampala.
“You’re gonna stay with me,” he said. “I’m building a studio using bottles.”
“I’ll help,” I offered.
That night we had dinner at an Indian restaurant before Ruganzu drove us home, arriving just after midnight. In time to hear the pigs grunt and squeal in the next door piggery. In fact, the entire neighbourhood was a piggery.
Grace, Ruganzu’s lovely wife, opened the door for us. I ended up sharing the room with 4-year-old Freddy, Ruganzu’s eldest boy. Ubuntu (an ancient African word meaning,’ I am what I am because of who we all are’) being only two months old. I would quickly discover that all three men in the family are aspiring snorers.
The next morning I awoke with the help of the neighbour’s rooster and chirping birds. Expanses of green fields rolled in every direction, the view from Ruganzu’s pointing down to the valley. A Harrier Hawk landed on the brick house behind the property and startled some starlings. Casqued hornbills flew together and perched in a tall tree.
Uganda was full of them. Tall trees and Casqued hornbills.
I was shown around, Ruganzu pointing out the work done and the work to be done.
I dived in by cleaning out the space that would eventually become the studio and the next day I carried 10 sets of six bricks from one side of the property to the other. We then headed into Kampala and stopped at the National Museum where a large pile of empty glass bottles awaited our collection.
While waiting for the caretaker, we checked out the collection of former dictator, Idi Amin’s cars. A Mercedes stretch limo from the late sixties and his Rolls Royce. A 1980’s Mercedes stretch limo and a Toyota Landcruiser offered, for the humble price of 10,000 Ugandan shillings (about $4 AUD) to get you feeling like a president, being driven around the museum grounds in either car.
Only in Africa.
Later in the afternoon I cut about 15 empty 20-litre water jugs and filled them with the dirt I had just dug out to create a long step out in the field where the Ruganzu-styled statue of The Thinker sat, welcoming guests with its tree head.
That night we went out to visit Ruganzu’s friends, a couple of Norwegian girls. One was an exchange student, another had started a woman-empowering NGO and the others were volunteers. Home-made pizza was on the dinner menu and then later, after Ruganzu and I did the dishes, we headed out to Iguana, perhaps the best-known reggae bar in Kampala.
It wasn’t until four in the morning that I would see a pillow.
“Ruganzu,” I asked my new brother, “you sure your gonna wake up tomorrow in time?”
The Gypsy Queen was due to arrive in the morning and I didn’t want to keep her waiting. And Kampala was notorious for traffic.
“I’ll be up, I promise you,” Ruganzu promised before snoring off to cloud nine.