Memories from the lost Garden of Africa

John Otim

Like a rose garden full of bees the city of learning buzzed with the joyful sounds of celebrant youths. Everything about the place commanded the sense of the wonderful. I did not believe such a day would come. Nor that if it came, it would end!

The elements so mean and volatile lately suddenly calmed up. Instead of the usual cloud cast common at this time a lovely sun arose. Later while the sun still shone fairyland showers barely visible to the naked eye washed and cleansed the city of learning. At noon the sky darkened alarmingly. But within minutes the sun was back and the dawn hour had returned: a blushing bride draped in fineries of gold, indigo and violet.

By eventide the sky was blue again just like it had been in the morning. The last rites of the school year, the one everyone waited, were about to commence.

The arrival was like that of the Queen of Sheba. In a select company of pretty women the Star, a hometown artist, stormed the arena like an army of invading Amazons.  Once on stage she seized the microphone, took control, and in one swift movement of her seductive body she began to fill the arena with her lyrics. I could not believe.

It was a show whose memories would linger long. Those yet unborn would talk about it. She had that thing about her that made you want to possess her.

In the fading rays her face was brighter than constellations of the Milky Way. Her radiance triggered shockwaves across the arena. All around were shudders. The magic of her performance buffeted the arena like angry storm waters.

Finally she reached for the eternal song from no less but Roberta Flack, the Black Goddess. In a voice passionate, sexy, motherly and tender she blew away our minds. She possessed the song totally, took it to heights none had done before, and through it she possessed us totally. We loved it.

I heard he sang a good song

I heard he had a style

And so I came to see him

To listen for a while

When we thought that all that could be given had been given, other songsters from her company climbed onstage to join her. Among them was the Kenyan, a Masai, a modern day Venus no less. Now into the melody that followed, the young Masai put in everything that God had so abundantly given her. The song was the love anthem of Africa, the indelible Malaika.

Malaika, nakupenda Malaika

Malaika, nakupenda Malaika

Under the seductive spell of the Masai, the evening long ago on a roller coaster breached the final frontiers and reached beyond boundary. The night grew soft, grew tender and full of meaning. A moment came and the dream campus now totally consumed within itself melted and dissolved into a timeless zone of pure gold. From somewhere the urgent voice of a girl could be heard: “Is this real? Is it real?” It was then, that the performers all joined together in a closing act that none present could ever forget.

Imagine there are no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace

As I listened again to the words of the prophet I found myself becoming again the Marxist radical I had long ceased to be. I encountered again the rhapsody of the Burmese girl I first met in my freshman class. I heard again her impassioned vision of a world seamless without borders united in celebration of the harmonic and the beautiful. But I recalled also the wise words of the Ghanaian writer Kwei Amah. The beautiful ones are not yet born.

Later in the night long after the music stopped, restless with excitement from the rhapsody of the day and unable to sleep, I stepped out into the cool airs. The entire scenery radiated grandeur. At this hour the city of learning right at the heart of Africa was a scene out of Arabian nights

Even a deathless god

Would have looked in wonder

Hearts filled with pleasure

Were he to come upon it

Westwards across the vast expanse of play fields were the exploding skies, signs that the storms would come again. Eastwards up above the groves we use to call the love garden, now climbed the feisty moon, adorned now in layers of veils, Bride of the East, bashful on her maiden night.

I tried the best I could to forget but the old song returned and silently hammered away in my brains: If I had a hammer, hammer in the morning, hammer in the evening, all over this land. I was on fire.

Years later, after coups and counter coups, wars and assassinations all over the land, when a semblance of normality had returned to my shattered life, now as I dashed towards the city along Independence Avenue by Freedom Park from my hideout at the foot of Mount Elgon a billboard caught my eyes:

Paragon Pictures presents The Last King of Scotland

It hit me like a bolt from the sky. I thought the past, the bad past, was gone. Now when I entered the city I saw everywhere young people pushing and shunting as only the young can, snapping up tickets for the pleasure of viewing caned images of the Strongman: a kaleidoscope of a murderous tyrant seen through the eyes of a young Scottish adventurer the Strongman had befriended and generously rewarded with all manner of luxuries including a virgin for a wife.

Paragon Pictures presents The Last King of Scotland

Back now at my old hideout with the day long gone and the night closing in, I pondered rave reviews from pages after pages of the local and the international press. As though someone coached them they chorused  

Powerful, thundering, colossal, brims with charms do not miss this movie. Bloody and funny

It was common knowledge that the real life events of the period the movie presented had been monumentally cruel and bloody. But of course since then, the brutality of new tyrants holding on to power in parts of Africa, have made the old man’s atrocities appear the very image of moderation.


John Otim