Although this adventure happened a few months back, it’s now readable on Africa Geographic.
Well worth a visit.
Although this adventure happened a few months back, it’s now readable on Africa Geographic.
Well worth a visit.
“So what do you think?” Teresa asked as we stood inside the main room of the restaurant, The Black Lantern, that serves the best pork ribs in Africa – so is the claim. And it was here that our art installation barter would commence. We looked at the walls. Some had spears hanging from them. There were two empty spaces and then another space over the entrance to the porch overlooking the Nile.
“I’m thinking three string art pieces that we could hang on the walls,” GQ envisioned. “Do you have something we could use as a canvas? Wood or something?”
“I’ll have to look,” Teresa replied.
“What about that space in the back?” I asked (which was really the front reception area). A large wall stood bare, yellowish cream painted on it.
“Sometimes we have conferences and we use the wall as a projection screen,” Teresa said.
“What about above the line?” I asked.
“Yes, you could do use that.”
“We’d have to hammer into the wall,” GQ pondered. “Can we do that?”
“Sure,” Teresa nodded.
“We could do a 90 degree angle piece at the end of it,” I started to knock off ideas that were cascading off my rapid-working brain. “And then in the negative space we make three circle mandalas, from small to big, kinda like an evolution thing. No?” I turned to GQ who was nodding along.
I picked up the restaurant’s flyer and stared at the logo of a Grey Crown Crane silhouette (Uganda’s national bird that also appears on its flag) and the writing of The Black Lantern in Kuntsler Script font.
“What if we made the logo?” I suggested. “I mean, just the writing, on the top there? That way, you can still screen on the wall.”
GQ and Teresa looked up, envisioning it.
“We’d have to make stencils,” GQ said.
“Nah, I can copy it, free-hand.” Looking around I saw that it was me who made the claim.
As a kid I used to draw, illustrate, cartoon and sketch a lot. It’s in the family genes. It also annoyed my teachers as I wouldn’t pay attention in class (explains a bit). My rebuttal at bullies and anyone that pissed me off would be a cartoon of them in a compromising position. And I’ve drawn on walls before. My childhood bedroom saw me draw a cartoon of a basketball player squashed on the wall behind the door so every time a friend entered the room I’d say, “Watch it, mate. You’ve just squashed him!”
Eventually my years of teacher annoyance paid off and at my high school I was asked to draw on the wall of my class. Something the teachers have yet to regret 14 years later as my mate, who now teaches at the school, sent me a photo with the caption, ‘Remember this?’
Which I didn’t and was surprised when I saw it, barely recalling that I had drawn the clichéd two swans coming together to create a heart in a sunset (I know, I know but I was 17 at the time and not quite rebellious trying to impress girls. That would come years later. The rebellious part, that is. Still trying to impress girls).
And then there’s the cave paintings I did at Amuka Safari Lodge.
But I ain’t ever done a font before. And never at 50 times the size of the original (a ballpark figure).
“I like it,” Teresa said.
“Yeah, that could work,” GQ concurred.
We got Bingo’s blessing and began to sketch and plan over the next few days while watching a Ross’s Turaco with its striking red wings fly in front of our tent, the song of fish eagles – a pair of which had built a nest in the huge tree in the car park – creating a consistent soundtrack, black and white casqued hornbills buzzing about, the yellow-billed kite raising its young in the nest just off the porch, the red-tailed monkeys and the vervets jumping from branch to branch. The lightening shows in the evening when moon-sized clouds pounded the horizon and the heavy rains that drenched everything.
And then there are the sunsets.
Oi ve, the sunsets.
At one point we had to move to the Nile River Camp for two nights due to the Nile Porch being fully booked. Luckily, Bingo also owns the NRC (as it is locally known) and we were guided to safari tent number two.
Two nights later we were back at the Nile Porch, this time in tent number 4 with the same incredible view.
“I noticed there’s a door painted obscurely in the front there,” GQ said to Teresa the next morning. “Do you think Bingo would let us cut it into three canvases?”
“Ah, that door,” Saleem reflected as we watched the sun set over the Nile River. “There’s a story behind it.
That door was used for the house and one night our trusted askari (watchman) came in and stole the door.”
“Stole the door?” I repeated.
“Yes – ” Saleem attempted to continue.
“Who steals a door?” I pressed.
“Bro,” Saleem laid it down, “it’s Africa. Anyway, I went looking for that door. I was asking around, going into the villages and checking every door on every house. I was on the hunt. This kid came up to me and showed me where the door was. It was painted but I recognised my fucking door and I took it from the building. The guy claimed that he bought it for 50,000 shillings ($20 AUD) from my askari.
So I told him to come and find me at the Porch. Meanwhile I had called the askari and told him to come over. I deducted 50,000 shillings from the askari’s pay and gave it back to the guy in front of him.”
“And now we’re gonna chop it up and stick it on the wall,” GQ erupted into laughter as did we.
Speaking of, “Shall we get to work?” I asked.
I sawed the door into three almost-equal pieces and hammered in nails after GQ drew the circles.
She created the first two pieces and had a momentary lapse of sanity when she decided to let me do the, “Pièce de résistance,” on the last canvas.
While GQ strung up the first two pieces I spent my time free drawing the font onto the wall. It’d been awhile since I’ve used my brain to this artistic and engineering capacity so it was a little overwhelming at first.
The fuck am I doing? I can’t fuckin’ draw this shit. And on a ladder? The fuck was I thinking. Who put me up to this?
Self-doubt is a bitch of a dog that just wants to bite you in the ass as you try to hop over the fence to safety. But I whipped around and bit that bitch right back. Add on some encouraging words from GQ, the staff (“Well done.”) and some guests and three days later the font was on the wall, somehow looking exactly like the font on the flyer.
“Jesus,” I said aloud standing with GQ, Saleem and Teresa, admiring the sketch. “That was fuckin’ exhausting.”
But now came the hard part – hammering in 1700 nails.
Perhaps we were caught in the euphoria of seeing the work actually coming to life, or perhaps it was the amazing food that distracted us, either way, we were all unaware that the reason why the nails were bending was because they were wood nails.
Even though I was attempting to drill in pilot holes the drill bit wore down and the nails still bent. Turns out it helps if you use a drill bit for concrete rather than for steel.
“Let me call Joque and ask him if he has any drill bits,” Saleem whipped out his phone. “Concrete-steel nails?” I heard him repeat Joque’s suggestion. “Yeah, we could try that.”
Wouldn’t be my first ‘D’oh!’ moment.
Once we had the nails it took two days to hammer them into the points GQ marked.
“Yessis, you guys have patience, aye?” Bingo said on his occasional visit to see how much destruction we were doing to his wall.
Teresa had overheard him explaining what we were doing to some of the guys at the NRC.
“So the guy asks him, ‘But how do they have so much patience to hammer in all those nails?’ and Bingo says, ‘Because they are artists, bru’.”
“You spelt Lantern wrong,” said a guest, attempting suicidal humour.
GQ and I began to string up the letters – which also took two days. When we were done, we stood back like proud parents, admiring our creation.
“Looks amazing,” Bingo said.
“It’s fuckin’ amazing,” Saleem concurred.
“It’s very beautiful,” Teresa added.
“Quite chuffed,” I grinned.
“Quite chuffed,” agreed GQ.
*Check out the Timelapse video here
“I’m almost tempted to drive you to Jinja myself,” Nabifo said as she pulled into the petrol station as far out of town as she could go.
“So let’s go!” I said.
“Yeah, come with us!” GQ threw in.
“I’m expecting a large group,” she said sadly.
We hugged as we parted ways, setting up shop just outside of the petrol station (a pump and a shack). After a weekend of an upset stomach and an inner ear infection that had me face my demons and a wet climb up Wanale Falls, GQ and I were finally on our way to Jinja – our last stop on our Ugandan adventure.
A truck pulled up but the driver wanted money. Ten minutes later a bakkie pulled over.
“I’m going to Kampala,” said Frank.
“Are you passing by Jinja?” I asked knowing that he had too.
“Can we go with you?”
“No problem,” he grinned. “Let’s go.”
Frank was a telecommunications engineer. “I work on the mobile towers,” he said.
“Do you climb them?” I asked.
“Sometimes but most of my work is on the generators,” he shrugged.
“You probably drive around all over Uganda with this job,” GQ added.
“Yes,” he said.
“Gotta favourite place?” I asked.
“Yeah, that place is phenomenal,” I reflected on our time in Rubuguri.
“I just have to get my co-worker to sign this paper,” Frank said as he turned off the road and headed through a small village to the nearest mobile tower, a menacing metal structure standing at about 60 feet. He called out to his mate who guided him to another tower that then lead us to the third tower where we finally found him.
“Hello boss,” he grinned at me.
I grinned back playing the part. Company vehicles aren’t allowed to have non-company passengers in them. Once the paperwork was signed we hit the road and continued on our way. Frank wasn’t married but had a girlfriend in Kampala, where he lives.
“I plan to marry next year,” he said. “But I have a son.”
Mbale to Jinja is a two-hour drive through green rice fields that line the road and vast papyrus plants and wetlands.
“You have a beautiful country,” GQ said to Frank. She had told this to every driver we had, reminding the locals of what they have. “And Ugandans are so friendly and generous.” Also good to remind them that not everyone is an asshole (unless they’re from Birhalwe).
Before reaching Nalubaale Hydroelectric Power Station in Jinja (previously named Owen’s Dam which submerged Rippon Falls in 1954, named by John Hanning Specke, the first European to reach Lake Nalubaale which he christened Lake Victoria. He discovered the source of the White Nile back in 1859) we passed the big roundabout where the Ling-Ling Chinese restaurant on the highway towards the town of Jinja is located.
It was here that we were to meet Teresa who, along with Saleem, co-manages the Nile Porch River Lodge and The Black Lantern à la carte fine-dining restaurant, a Jinja institute. This barter was all GQ. I just tagged along looking pretty. But I was also throwing in the usual: play a few gigs, write an article and GQ was to create an art installation on which I would be the pretty assistant.
The Nile Porch River Lodge (NPR) is wedged between the Nile River Camp (NRC) and the Nile River Explorers (NRE. Who knew Jinja would be a town of acronyms?) where I had played for food and bed when I first entered this great country.
We were on the lookout for the Chinese restaurant. Luckily, it was built in the Chinese architectural style so it stood out like a kangaroo might in the Serengeti. Frank pulled over and we hopped out just as three boda-bodas made their way over.
“We go?” one asked.
“Sure,” I grinned. “We go – over there to meet our friend. I dunno what you’re doing though.”
They shrugged and biked off. What is it with these bodas? Its as though they’ve never attempted to use their feet other than to change gears on their bike. They seem perpetually glued to the seat of their two-wheels, just hanging around, pouncing on unsuspecting foreigners, scavenging like hyenas.
Perhaps I should carry a sign that would read: ‘Have legs, will walk’.
Teresa was already in the car park when we trekked over. She drove us into town to pick up her carpenter, Ronald, before we headed off to the lodge where I met Saleem and their two incredible kids, four-year-old Kanaya and six-year-old Khaleel.
“You guys can stay in tent 8,” Teresa said, as we were shown around the vast, green property. “Bingo really likes trees,” she referred to the owner as we walked among the tall jack-fruit trees.
“Looks like tree testicles,” GQ remarked.
“There’s a visual,” I grinned.
Teresa laughed. “Bingo planted all the trees here,” she continued. “He was the first one to put a raft on the water when the Bujigali Falls were still falls.”
According to local legend, the falls are the sacred site of the Spirit of Bujabald, embodied in a man, Jaja Bujabald, the 39th incarnation – the spirit doctor – who lives by the falls. The 95-year-old fella (four years ago. May have aged since) protects the community by performing rituals at the falls using local plants and herbs for medicine. There have even been reports that he can walk over the water (hmm, what would Jesus do?).
During the ’94 Rwandan genocide dead bodies dumped in Lake Victoria would float all the way to the Bujigali Falls and were wedged on the rocks. It was Jaja Bujabald that removed and buried them. His prophecy is that many people will have to die and others will fall mad if nature is destroyed and the dam built (enter ISIS).
About four years ago the Ugandan government constructed the dam even though they promised that the last dam would be the last dam. It turned Bujigali Falls – which were the first rapids when you went white water rafting – into a lake.
Next year, the Ugandan government is yet again constructing another dam that will turn the rest of the rapids into a lake and end white water rafting in the region forever and cause irreversible environmental repercussions that would affect the already decimated Lake Nalubaale.
Our tent was a combination of concrete and canvas. We had our own shower, toilet, a choice of double or single bed and even a lounging area.
And then there was the view. Here’s a picture since I can’t really put it into words:
“Not a bad barter,” I hugged GQ as a yellow-billed kite swooped around looking for prey or that perfect twig to add to its nest it had built in the tree off the porch of the restaurant.
“Quite chuffed,” she grinned. “Our word for pleasure.”