I have never liked cheques. I wish the whole world operated on cold, hard, cash. Can you buy bread with a cheque? No, you have to wait faithfully on that piece of paper to ‘mature’ before you can visit the ATM and withdraw your cash. And woe unto thee should there be an inconvenient public holiday between you and the maturity of your baby cheque, ha ha ha! As one of my dearest friends, Janice, likes to say, “You will sing songs” (usually said in an ominous tone to mean that unpleasant times lie ahead).
Anyhow this story started with a baby cheque.
I was working in Kampala, Uganda, for not a lot of money. I was working there because when the opportunity arose, I knew I had to take it. I had to experience something outside of my normal. I wanted to have stories to tell my future children. Most of all, I wanted to prove (to myself) that I could truly be ok by myself. This was the first time I was truly independent, away from home, family and that most treasured financial safety net: Bank of Mum and Dad (BOMAD). Yes, I have been very fortunate to have parents financially able to chip in when things are tough.
So, it was one of those days when a long weekend loomed between me and my baby cheque. I was doing badly, very badly, to be honest. It was a combination of adjusting to a new place, learning a new currency in an expensive city and looking for liveable rented accommodation. This is the one time in my life when I could honestly say I didn’t have two coins to rub together, more like one coin to bang against the edge of my shoe- ha ha ha! I was living in the servant quarters of a friend of a friend, so luckily, I wasn’t paying rent. The situation was temporary though, a soft landing while I looked for a place to rent. Now, it was a Friday and all I had between me and poverty were two 500-shilling coins (roughly KSh 40). The fare home was Ksh 1,500. My infant cheque was not going to mature any day before Wednesday the next week, so what now? I thought through my options. Funny enough, it never occurred to me to ask anyone for money. I don’t know why, it didn’t even register as an option in my mind. Perhaps it was pride, or fear, or a combination of both.
So Friday 5.00 p.m. arrived and I started walking to the Eastern gate of Makerere- the office where I worked was based in the campus then- as I contemplated my options. There was only one thing to do, and that was walk. Google Maps tells me that it’s 5.6 km from that gate to Komamboga. And so I began to walk. All the way down Gayaza Road to the roundabout and up to Kalerwe market. Past the market, past the crazy traffic and the even crazier drivers. After Kalerwe and before Kanyanya lies a very long, straight stretch of road- longer even, if you are on foot. The one thing I remember on this route is a signboard for a church called ‘Mountain of Fire and Miracles Revival’ or something of the sort. I always giggle when I come across such church names. Mountain of fire! Are we sure we want to go there?! And then I was at Kanyanya, another name that never failed to draw a chuckle out of me- Kanyanya- a small tomato!
When I got to Kanyanya I knew I was almost home, just a few minutes more- 2.2 kilometres- to Komamboga, the beautiful, quiet residential area where my SQ was located, at the back of a lovely home belonging to a retired academic. I walked on, and on. Me, my baby cheque and my twin 500-shilling coins. These were the coins that would eventually get me to work the following Monday.
I got home. I remember even now the house at Komamboga so well; the large, imposing gate, the tall lush trees that shed a shower of leaves every day along the drive, the beautiful grassy lawn at the back where I washed my clothes, even the household dog that came to like me- eventually. I cooked in a tiny outhouse. My permanent possessions were my shoes and clothes- that was it. I also remember questioning the wisdom of my move, day in, day out. When would it get better? When would I have friends? When would I ever feel at home in this strange land that I had chosen for myself?
That was an unsettling time in my life, but looking back, I’m glad it happened. I’m glad I know what it feels like to walk a long, long way home because you have no money. I appreciate the loneliness then, when I only had God for company. I know what it’s like to be at the receiving end of help and mercy (it’s much, much easier to be on the giving end).
Sometimes life can feel like that hot, long walk- endless, uncomfortable and unchanging. But one thought has always kept me going when life is at its worst- this too shall pass.