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Colleen Higgs

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Hills of Kampala

I got back last night from a week in Uganda at the first Femrite African women writers’ residency, aptly called “Shared Lives” — which was facilitated by our very own Helen Moffett. The week was a gift, a rest, an inspiration, refilling of the well. I had a corner suite with huge windows overlooking the hills of Kampala and Lake Victoria in the distance. A huge palm tree outside my window housed ground hornbills that flapped and rustled and preened themselves. We had two layers of mosquito netting around the bed, which turned the bed feel into a romantic canopy.

Hilda Twongyeirwe and Lillian Tindyebawa organised the residency with a lovely calm manner and seeming effortlessness. I can’t thank them, Femrite and the members of Femrite, as well as the donors enough for hosting us for this unforgettable week.

I was impressed and inspired by too many things to capture in a quick blog.

Please google Femrite, it really shows what a small group of committed people can do and how they can have an enormous impact. Many of Uganda’s prize-winning writers are members of Femrite, writers such as Monica Arac de Nyeko, Glaydah Namukasa, Doreen Baingana, Violet Birungi and Susan Kiguli (the only one we were lucky enough to meet).

Writers from Ghana, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa participated in the residency – each person brought wisdom, stories, lives, a new perspective.

I loved Kampala, which appears to still have very strong ties to the villages and rural regions. The city bustles with taxis, bicycle taxis, scooter taxis (boda bodas), 4 X 4s, trucks, buses, people walking, people pushing handmade wooden wheelbarrows piled with bananas or building materials. Still a largely subsistence economy people make their living providing transport, selling clothes, shoes, homemade takeaway foods, plants in roadside nurseries. Others roast g-nuts and sell them and at the Bujanga Falls on the Nile a photographer took group photos and sold the prints to us for 2000 Ugandan Shillings (roughly R10) The roads are pot-holed, dusty and jostle with life. The climate was fabulous, tropical, steamy, but not really too hot. We had a few thunderstorms and sudden downpours. On balmy nights, we sat around on the terrace of the Hotel International Muyenga drinking Nile, Trader, Club or Bell beer and eating divine Indian curries and Naan bread discussing the politics of books, the world and Africa or just reminiscing about our lives or recounting the incidents of our day to each other.

I will never forget Hilda, Lillian, Winnie, Connie, Margaret, Philo, Sophy, Yaba, Kingwa, Olivia, Helen, Mastidia, Yemuhdish, Betty whom I now feel are my friends and sisters. The week was intense full of stories, writing, reading work in progress, getting feedback, practising reading for the Makerere University public reading.

Some of the other people who joined us for an afternoon or were with us at Makerere were charming, friendly and very welcoming. Everyone I came into contact with made me feel welcome in Uganda and in fact the stall holders at the Craft Market at the National Theatre say as you look at their crafts, “You are very welcome.” I was delighted to meet Mother Hen (Mary Okurut – the founder of Femrite), Uncle Tim (Prof Timothy Wangusa), Patrick Mangeni, Barbara, and Allen.

I will write more anon, and no doubt Helen will too. But just wanted to get down a few first thoughts and an overall impression. Femrite will be producing an anthology of work that was either written, edited or worked on during the residency.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    November 24th, 2008 @13:48 #
     
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    I second, third and fourth everything Colleen has written -- we were treated like beloved prodigals. I've seldom felt so wholly welcomed -- by individuals, by Femrite, by Makerere University, by Kampala, by Uganda. So much to tell. Off to Cavendish to get my camera repaired (deadlines be damned).

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    November 24th, 2008 @17:01 #
     
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    Uganda: a writer's paradise? It's where Paul Theroux met VS Naipaul, after all - two people decidedly not suited for the Femrite conference - and, latterly, where Colleen Higgs met Susan Kiguli.

    Colleen's post makes me wistful, because I'll likely never make it to Femrite. Or do you think - would they take an Americo-South African male in drag?

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    November 24th, 2008 @17:21 #
     
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    If they do, I certainly hope photos are taken.

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    November 24th, 2008 @17:27 #
     
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    Maybe we should do next year's ban'quet in drag?

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    November 24th, 2008 @18:41 #
     
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    You know Ben they have men who are associate members of Femrite. Uncle Tim - is one of the members and so is Patrick Mangeni. I think that ugandan male writers have felt a little left out, so Femrite in true Ugandan fashion has been very welcoming and accomodating.

    I will find out how you can join and post the details. We are going to be starting an African Women's Writers Network, out of this residency. So keep your eyes and ears open maybe all of you could become associates of Femrite Africa (if that is what it will be called).

    BTW - I would love to see the male contigent of Book SA in drag, oh Rustum I can see you strutting your stuff in white high heels and big hair.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    November 24th, 2008 @19:27 #
     
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    Colleen, just wait till you see the pic of Rustum I got on Sat night before my camera battery died. Ben is posting it for me.

    Femrite does indeed have a vocal and benevolent male contingent. Very vocal -- Uncle Tim proposed to me (on the grounds that his first wife was also Helen, and he was looking for another Helen to replace her).

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    November 24th, 2008 @21:31 #
     
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    I think our vocal and benevolent male contigent would fit right in with the Femrite men and Uncle Tim would make a delightful addition to the Book SA commentary. After our reading at Makerere he came to me and said, "after hearing your poem, 'I can't think in a straight line' " a direct reference to a poem that i read on the Monday at the reading at the hotel. I was utterly charmed, only to hear later that he had proposed to Helen! (see P for proposals of marriage).

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  • Maire
    Maire
    November 24th, 2008 @23:47 #
     
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    Sounds like you had a marvellous time, Colleen and Helen. So great to hear Colleen Talking as a writer as well as a publisher and helper of all writers.

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