Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Guidance from my Grandfather

I woke up this morning with a text message from my mom. I was finally able to send a text over last night, letting my parents know I was okay, after having been without service/internet for the last couple of days. Even though it was extremely late in Toronto, she could sense that I was missing them quite a bit, and we spoke on the phone for a while. Before I left Rwanda, my mom had forwarded me a chapter from the autobiography my grandfather wrote before he passed away. This chapter pertained to their life in Uganda, before they were forced to leave the country as refugees in 1972. I went to bed last night reading through the pages of the book, which will be published next year, and started tearing up. It was wonderful to read about his experiences, to read about my mom's early years, and to read about the wonderful life he started for the family in Masaka. It was as if I was going to use his autobiography to have him guide me through the town, which was quite the emotional thought.

In the morning, there was still no power. I was greeted by a knock on my door, and I opened it to find a staff member holding a large jug of water, for the shower. I talked to Jamie later and found that he didn't want to experiment, but I treated it as an experience, and tried my first bucket shower! :)

We enjoyed a quick breakfast with some fresh fruits, and then managed to bargain for a deal on the hotel room, as we had no power all night. We then met Chris and his family, and set off into the heart of town.

My first destination was the Masaka Jamat Khane (place of worship) where I had been instructed by my aunt to go find a particular gentleman, the Jamat Bhai (caretaker) of the Khane. He had apparently stayed back, and knew my grandparents quite well back in the day, and would be able to show me to their home, and the inside of the prayer hall. Chris told us that he is only familiar with the fields, and is not aware of landmarks in any of the towns, so we asked a Boda Boda driver (the name for motorcycle taxis here) to show us to the mosque built in the 60's. We found an old rundown mosque in the right area of town, but when I walked around and asked for the gentleman, Mr. Nurali Hasham, I was directed to another building up on the hill. We went there, and I knew right away that this was the place. It was a beautiful, HUGE space, obviously built for when there was a large Ismaili congregation in Masaka. As soon as we entered through the gates (which confirmed that this was the Ismaili Centre) we felt immediately at peace. It was a tranquil sanctuary, with gorgeous gardens, and prominently situated on top of the hill. I started tearing up when I saw the prayer hall, and recalled the paragraph in the book where my Nanabapa (mom's father) talked about his involvement in the congregation.
Unfortunately, the assistants notified me that Mr. Hasham was not in town today, and although I obtained his number from them, I was unable to connect with him over the phone. They still took me around, which was very kind, and I had some quiet time to myself to soak it all in. Upstairs in the prayer room, I took out my notebook, and ripped out a piece of paper. I wrote a note to Mr. Hasham, explaining who I am, where I'm from, and added some prayers at the bottom. I kindly asked the assistant to pass on the note to Mr. Hasham, and we went on our way.
Our next stop was what was formerly the Aga Khan School. This was the place where my Nanabapa first started working when he first moved to Masaka from Tanzania, as a teacher of math and religion. They used to live in the faculty residences near campus, and my mom actually attended the adjacent primary school. The Aga Khan Secondary School, where Nanabapa taught, has now been merged with the Masaka Secondary School, but many of the buildings still remain. The headmaster was so kind, immediately reaching out for a special history edition of their school magazine, to show me old pictures of the school. He permitted me to walk around the campus freely, and take as many pictures as I'd like.
Before leaving Masaka, we asked Chris if we could stop at a bank, to withdraw some cash. We were having quite a bit of trouble, and had to go to a few different banks, but this was obviously meant to be. At our second bank stop, I received a phone call from Mr. Hasham! He was in Kampala for the day, and was so sorry that he wasn't in town. He asked me if I could stay until the evening to meet him, as he immediately knew my grandfather when I mentioned his name, and said he had much history to share with me! Since I told him we were on such a tight schedule, he asked me to go back to his home, on the Jamat Khane grounds, and that his assistants would make us breakfast. It was very kind of him, so we made our way back. Jamie and I walked into his home, and were stunned - they had prepared SO much food for us! It was a lovely meal, and we had a chance to chat with the houseboy, who ate with us. He took us to the places around the grounds that Mr. Hasham wanted to ensure we saw before leaving, including the rooftop of his home, with a spectacular view of the entire town behind the Jamat Khane. We also walked around the gardens, and saw the foundation stone, from 1961, a ceremony which my grandfather wrote about briefly in his book. The birds in the gardens were gorgeous, with unique birdsongs that I had not heard previously. I just wanted to sit there for hours in quiet contemplation, processing everything, and imagining my grandparents, my mom, and my two aunts, and their active presence here so many years ago.

After walking through the gardens, we said farewell, and ventured off to Kako Secondary School, about 7km from Masaka, en route to Kampala. Kako S.S. is the high school where my Nanabapa taught at from 1964 until 1972, when all of the Asians had to flee as refugees. His passion was teaching science, and at Kako, he taught grade 11 and 12 Physics and Chem. He also became head of the science department from 1965 to 1972, a position he thrived in. In his book, he wrote about his love of teaching, and how invested he was in his students' success. When we walked in, the secretary immediately ushered us into the Headmaster's office, and asked us to wait for him. As soon as he came in, and I introduced myself, letting him know why I was there, the tears started rolling down my face. I was a bit embarrassed about that, but he was so kind, and grateful that I had come to visit, and touched that I wanted to learn more about my grandfather's past. As I signed the visitor's book, he told me that they are presently trying to compile information on the school's history, to be released at the school's golden jubilee next year. He regretfully informed me that they do not have many records from that time, but are in contact with various sources to find out as much as they can. We talked, and I offered to send over the chapter of Nanabapa's book, in its pre-published stage, for the history compilation. He was extremely grateful, and ensured me that I will receive a complete copy of the school's history document in the mail next year, commemorating the golden jubilee.

He then personally took me around campus, showing me the stunning landscape viewable from the hill it is set upon. He also pointed out the old and new buildings, and talked to me about the school's present state. I was very grateful for him taking the time to escort me around campus, and I told him how much the headmaster at the time in 1972 had helped my mom's family leave safely, by giving Nanabapa a letter for tax clearance and of recommendation, and that I was very grateful for the school's assistance. We exchanged contact information, and after saying goodbye, we left Kako S.S. I was remembering Nanabapa and Mama (my grandmother) lots today, and cried quite often. I am confident though, that he'd be happy to know that I went to visit his place of passionate work.
We left for Kampala, having seen everything except for their old home. When my aunt had visited a few years back, they found that only one wall still stands from the bombings that occurred back then, as it was a house in a very nice area of town. I wouldn't have known which house (wall) it was, but am sure I would've cried some more, so it was probably best I didn't go searching for it!

En route to Kampala was a much smoother ride, on tarmac. I must sound like a broken record, but I assure you, the landscape was stunning! The road was situated in between huge fields, with hills in the far distance. Jamie slept again for the entire ride, but I kept my eyes on the scenery, and the interesting things we'd pass. These included giant cattle, families biking with up to four people on the seat, bananas on trucks ready to be exported, more than I've ever seen, and trading stops with people selling street food at car windows. Chris bought roasted plantains for his kids at one of the trading spots. Immediately after people noticed that he was purchasing something, a number of  men with freshly grilled shish kebabs, roasted corn, popcorn, and roasted fish ran up to the car and presented their items to his window. It all smelt delicious, so next time I will definitely give money to him to get me some too!

About halfway to Kampala, we came to a spot with a ton of tourist busses, and more spruced up shops than the street shops we've been passing. There was a giant line across the road - we were at the equator! We took some classic touristy pics, with one foot on either side of the equator, and had some good laughs about it. The shops were also really great, and I bought a pair of awesome African-printed pants, that I am excited to wear over the course of the next few weeks!
After our equator stop, Chris' baby boy, Anthony, started crying quite a bit. We couldn't get him to stop, but thankfully we weren't too far from their final destination: Kampala! We arrived in the bustling city, and met a tour guide who was going to join us for the last leg of the trip, as he is more familiar with the cities than Chris. He took us to a local restaurant, where we had a traditional Ugandan lunch, with similar items to our SFB upstairs lunch, but packed with much more flavour! It was absolutely delicious, and a great price too! We understood why the place was packed solid, with so many local businessmen and women grabbing a cheap, but hearty meal to get them through the rest of the day.
We then visited the Kisubi Tombs, a UNESCO heritage site, and the site where the last four Kings of Buganda (the name of the empire) are buried. The tomb used to be the largest hut in the world, but was unfortunately burnt down in 2010. Since we couldn't go in, the guide at the tombs gave us a very detailed history of the kingdom, background on each of the four kings, and showed us around the grounds, first dressing me in a traditional African skirt. We learnt a lot on this short trip, and I'm glad we decided to go, even though it's undergoing its reconstruction presently!
We then made our way to St. Paul's Cathedral, one of the largest in Kampala, situated on top of what is called Peace Hill. It was a beautiful church, overlooking the city, with marvellous views from every angle.
After these short two stops, we left Kampala, en route to Jinja! There was a ton of traffic leaving the city, and by the time we reached Jinja, the sun had already set. We decided to stay at a budget place called Nile River Explorers-Backpackers, and it was awesome! The place had tents overlooking Lake Victoria, tents a bit inland, dorms, and traditional hotel-type rooms, it was packed with foreigners, all in town to partake in the wild activities Jinja is famous for. Most people were there to go on white water rafting trips, in the grade five rapids, but others were there to kayak the rapids, boat through the Nile, motorbike around the lake, or even horseback ride. We ordered food, and Chris asked us to call the owner of the van, to confirm that we can keep it for an extra half day, in order to see my dad's birthplace, Kaliro, in the morning, and be dropped back to Kampala in the afternoon. Unfortunately, after an hour of arguing, bargaining and harsh verbal exchanges, we were left in Jinja by ourselves. Chris went with the other tour guide to Kampala, and dropped the van off there, for another driver to take it back to Kabale. We were quite flustered, but thankfully there was wi-fi at the Backpackers resort, so I was able to FaceTime with my parents for quite some time which made me feel much better. In addition, Peter, the receptionist, said that he could get me a driver to take me to Kaliro in the morning, while Jamie white-water rafts on the grade 3 rapids. My parents were quite concerned about me having to go alone, but Peter assured me that the driver was reputable, and he gave me his personal contact info in case anything went wrong. It was extremely kind of him to do this, and I was grateful for the wonderful hospitality at this campsite.

We went to bed with the sounds of monkeys crawling on our rooftops, which was pretty cool, and I just sat in bed for a while, letting the day's events sink in. Certainly an emotional day, but it was quite special, as I really felt that my grandfather was directing me around his town, through his autobiography. A day I will most definitely not forget!

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