Learning to Fly

Learning to Fly


 By Damali of Kyanjja, Africa

I remember the day as plainly as the last hour.

It was bright, sunny. Very hot. The message beeped as I stood in the queue designated for those who were to collect their National IDs. Uganda has had its own share of confusion, and this NIN thing is as disorganized as they come.

I was number 57 and the chances of getting my ID before 3.30 p.m. were looking good.

But then, I got a message from Frank, my maternal cousin.

“Hi Jacinta, Miriam is now out of the hospital but they said we will need to report to the hospital every day for monitoring. Can we stay at your place since it is closer to the hospital?”

I slowly put the phone away as I drifted to my earlier plans to escape Uganda’s extended family trap. Perhaps it is not all Ugandans, but since I do not meddle in other people’s family affairs, I am left to assume two things: either other people have the means to supply across their extended family borders or they too battle like me and have decided to abscond from duty.

For me, though, I am simply tired. I fantasized about living in Chile. Yes, Chile. It is an unlikely choice but it is far away, not suspicious and because no one thinks of it in terms of US Dollars, I could move there and live a nice quiet life. Free from the burden of spending my every earning on not so random relatives with endless ailments.

Was it because I did not fall sick that they thought I should cater for their bills?  To be honest, my UGX 5.2 Million take home salary is not enough to carry us all. I do not have children of my own. But sometimes it feels like I gave birth unknowingly. I never have enough to clear my own bills because someone in the family needed my help, because “I am their only hope”.

Perhaps I could go away. Leave this country. Escape it all. The government that does not deliver – although quite frankly, we are the government. The system is riddled with corruption – but these too seem to be here to stay. But for me – especially for me – my extended family. The school fees for the twins, the endless ailments of Aunt Jajja – come to think of it, Aunt Jajja is not even my direct granny. She is an aunt granny! But her hospital bills come to me. Yet her progenies like to brag about their big jobs and big pay cheques and fancy company cars.

“You are the reason we are alive,” they tend to say, and somehow, the guilt works its magic into pity and slowly turns me into an eternal Mother Theresa.

“Number 11…” an official screamed.

Time check – 3.55 p.m.

To hell with this. A national ID that is not going to add to my life? I turned to the guy behind me, looked him up and down, and sold him my place in the queue for UGX 10,000. Nothing mattered to me anymore, as long as I got out of the country. I had a British passport (thanks to my parents who had me there); I would figure out the transition to Chile.

“Hi Frank. I am happy that your wife is out of hospital now. I am genuinely happy for you both. Regards, Jacinta”.

With that, I turned off my phone permanently.

When I got home, I knew exactly what to do. The important documents were always in the same drawer. I had little to pack but did not bother with it.  Two pairs of jeans, a tank top and two t-shirts, and a change of underwear, a tooth brush and toothpaste and I was good to go. I threw on my favourite sketcher and walked to the door of my two bedroomed apartment.

“Why had I kept a two bedroomed apartment when I lived alone?” I wondered out loud. No wonder people like Frank imagined I would extend the offer for them to stay with me – of course it is for them to find it easier to commute to the clinic.

On the way out of the apartment, I left a small envelop with the askari to deliver to the landlord.

A quick boda boda and I was at a nearby internet café where I did two urgent things: a quick email to my boss, tendering my immediate resignation, and then I booked the next ticket out of town – it would be several hours but I could wait them out at the Protea in Entebbe.

With that, I left. I did not look back. Not to the average job, and not to the leaching relatives.

So help me, God!


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