Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Punching Bag

During the Idi Amin era, whenever there was talk of outside countries, the usual countries – England, America, France and Canada for example sprung to mind. But there were the other ‘unconventional’ ones like North Korea, China, Romania and Czechoslovakia which stole their way into the conversation and which we had little regard for. However, seeing Uganda Television had a broadcasting monopoly, they made it a tedious habit of screening hour upon hour of communist propaganda documentaries made by those countries.

At one point, I even thought The National Theatre was a Chinese Cultural Centre in Uganda for just about every square inch of wall space had pictures of Chairman Mao and something to do with his Cultural Revolution.

While today, China is viewed as suspicious by the western world, it is an economic power, a source of cheap imports and fake goods. A few weeks ago, when I asked people what they knew about China and the Chinese, they said: “Eyes with small slits, sweet and sour pork, no butts, small busts, road works and cheap goods which break down after two days.”

Regardless that they have eyes with small slits and they have no butts to sit on, the Chinese are here in Uganda and are diversifying from their traditional jobs of construction, road building and the food industry.

They have branched out into entertainment that to the best of my knowledge, the first Chinese pub-cum-nightclub, opened up a few weeks ago in Kansanga next to Al’s Bar. And knowing the Chinese, by the time we blink our big eyes, that solitary pub-cum-nightclub would have mushroomed into twenty or more by the end of the year and while they rake in the dime we will moan at the missed opportunities that their eyes with small slits saw and our big eyes missed.

Despite the large Chinese community in Uganda, of which I don’t have any as friends, the only contact I have with them is in eating their food.

Going back, Uganda was gearing up for CHOGM. Roads were being repaired; trees planted and new hotels were being built at a furious pace. While all that was going on, I was having lunch at Jeremy’s, the carwash between Clock Tower and the railway line on the approach road to Nsambya traffic lights. It was a Monday and Jeremy’s was relatively deserted.

Two Chinese men walked in and despite an abundance of seating, they choose to join me at my table. They also struck up a conversation, a conversation which went nowhere because they were speaking in Chinese and I was speaking in English and they couldn’t click was I was saying and neither could I click what they were saying.
But they were insistent on getting through to me that, whenever they asked what I thought was a question, they would first ‘hit’ me on the arm to get my attention. They hit me so many time times that by the time I was done with lunch, my arm was sore.

So the question begs, what is it with people who feel the need to ‘punch’ or ‘hit’ you whenever they talk to you? Can’t they just spit out whatever it is that they have to say and leave it at that without inflicting some form of grievous bodily harm?

Moses lives in my hood and whilst he is a nice chap, he finds it seeming impossible to talk to you without beating you up first. And during his conversations with you, he expects your total attention and that includes direct and unwavering eye contact. Dare you blink or look away he will punch you back to attention. Try and multitask – send a phone txt while listening to him, he will punch you till you stop sending the txt to listen to whatever it is that he is trying to tell you.

Worse, it transcends to driving too. As you drive and you are concentrated on the traffic ahead, if Moses is sitting in the front passenger seat he will punch your left arm to get your attention. If he is sitting behind you, then it’s your shoulders that he will hammer away at.

Then I met Rose. Rose, came across as a pleasant enough lady until I discovered her habit - pinching that is. When she first pinched me on my thigh, I thought she was coming on to me. “Hmm” I thought to myself, “a lady of ‘today’, a lady who knows what she wants and is not afraid to go out and get it.” Seeing that the pinch was not aggressive but subtle, why on earth would I not think she was coming onto me?
But she was far from coming onto me. She was doing it to get my attention and worse, the more Club beers that she drank, the more the pinches hurt. When she got up to go to the washrooms, I sought to exchange seats and put some space between her and I and lucky for me there was a taker who didn’t mind because he was smitten with her. However, when she returned to find I was no longer sitting next to her, she didn’t show any disappointment or ask questions. Back in her seat, whenever she wanted my attention, nonchalantly she leant over the person who was sandwiched between her and I and pinched me so hard that I squirmed.

Seeing that I have written this small excerpt on her, it has suddenly dawned on me that I have not seen her for a while. I wonder why?

Tired of being punched and pinched I sought help from people who have been in similar situations and their advice was straight forward. If they pinch, pinch them back. If they tap you, tap them back and if they punch you, punch back so they told me.

Let’s call him Moshe for the sake of it and to protect his identity. Well tell a lie. I am calling him Moshe to protect myself from him. I met Moshe through a friend of a friend and we had settled down to some drinks in a Namuwongo kafunda. I had the bottle of Vero water pressed to my lips when his elbow hit my arm. Of course there is no need to tell you what happened next and no, I did not swing him a left. I figured that like Moses and Rose, he was one of those people who had to hit you to get your attention. I let him be seeing that I really didn’t know him that well.
Then it happened a second, third and on the fourth time, that was it. The gloves were off and remembering what I had been told, whenever I wanted his (Moshe’s) attention, I would punch him on the thigh.

The first time I punched him, he gave me a quizzical look. To counter his quizzical look, I gave him a smirk. The second time I punched him, he had his beer glass in his hand that the jolt of the punch made him spill some beer. Now he was agitated and I was happy because I felt he now knew how I felt whenever he was doing it to me.
I was beginning to enjoy myself but when I went to punch him again, he was ready and waiting. He grabbed my fist before it hit his arm, gave it a bruising squeeze and with that, his ‘wires’ snapped and he unleashed a tirade that went along these lines: “Man, what the f**k is wrong with you?! Quit hitting me. Am I a punching bag? Jeez you have issues – style up!”

It turns out that Moshe was not punching me to get my attention. The bench that he was sitting on was so uncomfortable and coupled with an uneven floor, in trying to position himself into a good seating position, he had been inadvertently knocking my arm.

While I sulked and used the cold bottle of Vero Water as an ice pack to ease the pain inflicted on my fist, I was nevertheless comforted by his words – ‘“Man, what the f**k is wrong with you?! Quit hitting me. Am I a punching bag? Jeez you have issues – style up!”

Don’t say I haven’t warned you for if any of you feel the need to punch, pinch or tap me to get my attention as you talk to me, be ready for my verbal onslaught.