Words. I know a friend who was told that he was a total failure. I think he didn’t disappoint. I know another friend who was told that he couldn’t amount to anything. Now he’s worth much more than he was labeled.

For some, words are like heavy metal. Alloys of the tongue. For others, they are just mere aluminium foil. For ladies, they are more like their livelihood. They will sit down and tell tales, until they are reminded that they have work the next morning.

On the contrary, when they don’t have work, they will talk until the darkness silences them. All they need is one word, and 9,999 more will follow.

They say that what a man will describe in one word, a lady will describe in 10,000. So I think when silence is golden, to give a lady a chance to speak is like a disaster. To have 8 ladies speak in quick succession is like 9/11; it won’t happen 9 times out of 10 in a whole millennia. But again, this is COVID-19.

When you’re trapped in a house with 8 elderly ladies, what do you expect? At least two hundred words per minute. How is it possible? I don’t know. Probably alloys of the tongue, or something like that. Doesn’t make sense. But I think they are just rappers by birth. If Busta Rhymes were a person, He would be a lady, especially an elderly one. Ladies have words for centuries β€” literally.

On this particular day, the “one word” was Ojabile β€” my Uncle, the embodiment of an 18th Century person living in the 21st Century. It’s that deep.

To start with, Ojabile wore a suit for the first time in my sister’s wedding. It wouldn’t have been a big deal, but this guy was shabby. Who boldly wears slippers to a public office? Ojabile. Who proudly talks without brushing? Ojabile.

To be fair, he probably brought this upon himself. He just had to be the talk of the day. At least be shabby, but shower. I somehow think this guy drank more water than he showered. He smelt so bad that he would suffocate flies. You know how bees are classy? Therefore, at the mention of his name β€” Ojabile, bees would just die. He would even show up in the middle of the night unannounced, and you wonder why he didn’t at least call to inform you that he was coming. Sometimes he’d show up so drunk that you wouldn’t even want to be in the same room as him. Not to mention his snoring. He wouldn’t let you sleep in peace; he was like an alarm clock without a snooze button. If you wanted to get inspiration for not sleeping at all, sleep in the same room as Ojabile. It’s like he was going to die in the morning, so he wanted to finish all the air in his lungs in one night.

I could go on and on cause when they say “when it rains, it pours”, I think they mean Ojabile. For Ojabile, words just don’t stop pouring. He’s like Karuma Falls incarnate. The bridge to words. The abridged Acholi dictionary. The alloys in the tongues of the 8 elderly. So how couldn’t we talk for 10 hours?

To make matters worse for Ojabile, or better for the 8 elderly, the President temporarily banned any form of public transport, therefore, Ojabile was walking 80km to and from the village every 2 weeks. He must have taken these social distancing things too seriously. This was that spark needed to light up the whole forest. The main argument was that, at the very least, he could afford a bicycle, but from the look of things, he deliberately refused to buy one. So everyone refused to feel pity for him. “He loves walking? Let him walk! No body knows where his money even goes.”

However, what wasn’t part of our 10-hour debate was why he was walking 80km. You’ll really never know or understand a person’s pain from mere gossip. The truth is that he definitely didn’t enjoy even one km of the 80, but there was a reason. There’s always a reason. So I think you can guess why I called him. I wanted to learn more about his 80km walks. In this period, I think calling can save lives. You don’t actually have to visit someone to know how they’re doing. Someone once told me, “In Kampala, visitors are not welcome!” Harsh. But certainly in this season, you’re not welcome. I can’t even feed you. I think I’ll give you like Banana leaves for breakfast.

Now, we are from up North, where the sun shines brighter than anywhere else in the country. I think that’s why we are the darker majority. Black objects absorb heat. I hope in like a thousand years we don’t become a totally new race: The Purple People. It’s also the place where the word accent is pronounced as “accen”. I wonder why we usually drop the “t”. It’s probably something related to tea, but It’s definitely a t-phobia.

This is why my heart almost cracked when I called him. Never gets old.

“Ellooo (to mean hello) young man. What do you wan’? Eh, you’re an adul’ now. You can even call phone.”

Okay, jokes aside. Turns out he couldn’t work from home and with every passing day, the money was the one doing the social distancing. But I think his biggest concern was that it was planting season and if he didn’t plant, the future would be a disaster.

If you’re a farmer, I don’t even know how you can work from home. I’m maybe looking forward to those days when somehow technology develops a way to be on the garden, and still not be on it β€” like virtually. That sort of thing. Cause I don’t like that hoe. But Ojabile likes it. It is like his darling; he chose to walk 80km just to be with her. But he could have ridden for her, until I found out that he could barely afford a meal a day for his extended family. They were surviving on cassava and beans, or on certain special occasions, pasted pigeon peas. Now, this is a super delicacy when you’re homesick, but when you’re sick of home, you definitely crave something a little foreign. So how could he even afford a bicycle?

I have a Cyclist-friend who delivered something to my place. The look on his face just defined how he was living. You didn’t have to study trigonometry to know the sine of his face. The usual burst of laughter was now like a distant inaccessible Island. You could tell, without even asking him, that He was also surviving on one meal a day. But I loved his resilience. He wasn’t happy with the way things were going, but he was happy to be alive. In his words, “There’s no point in dying when trying to get some money. Right now, let’s try our best to stay alive. Don’t get tired of washing your hands. Don’t get tired of sanitizing. If we die now, there’s no future to chase.” This was his hope: the future. His eyes are on the future, but his hands are on that soap.

“If we die now…” Ojabile and my cyclist friend are just an example of what is actually happening out there; in our houses. I don’t have to tell you that there are people who are sleeping hungry. People who get pennies today, and tomorrow all they’ve worked for is done and have to grind for more. And it’s not like some of them were reckless or hated the idea of saving in the past, but what was there to save? Hand to mouth; only their stomachs were there to save. We can judge and point fingers, but “If they die now” what’s the point?

I recently watched a News Broadcast where a woman was cooking stones just to lie to her kids that she was cooking some food β€” false hope. Her kids would later dose off in that waiting process. She was stuck. I’m sure she later on got support because she was fortunate enough to have her issue broadcast on live TV. Not everyone is that fortunate, but they’re fortunate to have you. Don’t be blind to other people’s needs. “If we die now…”

“If we die now…” For many people, it’s no longer Stay Home, Stay Safe. It’s Stay Home, Stay in Hell. A report by World Health Organisation shows that in February 2020, the domestic violence cases rapidly increased, almost tripling. They say that ‘East or West, Home is best’, but home is no longer a safe haven for very many people. It is hell β€” to say the least. Some wish they’d run East or West, as far away from home as possible, but there’s no escape. But there is. There’s always something you can do. Victims, reach out. Neighbors, look out. It could be a life saved.

Did you know? Ask a muganda. Obulamu actually means life. The main purpose of the lockdown is to prevent the spread of the virus and essentially save lives. It doesn’t make sense if people die in lockdown. Don’t walk away from domestic violence; obulamu means life. Don’t walk away from someone hungry if you can help; obulamu means life. Don’t walk into your own death; Stay Safe, Tonsemberera. Stay away from me. Obulamu means life.

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Written by Godwin Ochieng (0)

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  1. Great work. It has great humor and at the same time a great message. It is a very inspiring work. I am very impressed. It is just mind-blowing. The transition from the funny stories to the important messages was remarkable. I have never read anything like this. It has a very important message and well done. It would be very great if more people read this piece.

  2. An enjoyable creative story bro.I liked the rich imagery describing Obajile,lol.You are correct: we are told stay at home and stay safe,but for the majority home is a hellhole,gbv,hunger and more.But all it takes is for you and me to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

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