Mark Kaigwa

Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

Buses, Busia and The Border

In Happenings, Perspective on July 27, 2009 at 4:45 pm

So far, so great in Kampala. I love it here. It’s green like The Hulk and what Al Gore wants the world to look like. Weather’s great too. People are great too.

The trip was equally as ‘enlightening’ I took the night bus with fellow screenwriter and Maisha Finalist Bernadette Otieno for company. We took an Akamba bus to Kampala, and left on Friday at 7 PM. Bus wasn’t that full, which was weird. I soon found out that it would get weirder, people started getting off the bus as soon as Uthiru sides. What I haven’t mentioned is the mad rush I had to make for the bus. I left South B at 6 PM to hopefully get to Lagos Road by 7 PM. During rush-hour. On a Friday. On a rainy evening. *What was I thinking?* Well, God made a way, and I made it on time.

So how it works is that the Akamba bus to Kampala acts as a bus for all the other stops on your way to Kampala. So we also had passengers from Nakuru, Kisumu, Siaya and Busia. We were going to use Busia as our point-of-entry into Kampala. I had nothing to worry about, never been to Western Province in general, so was looking forward to the ride. I also tried to keep people updated via tweets and status updates. Funny thing I noted, though. At 2 A.M in Kisumu, everyone on board looked like a washed up extra on Lost or Pirates of The Carribean…All they needed to say was “Where’s Lock?” or go “Aarrgh, Matey!” It was too funny, obviously I might have been saying this because I was nowhere near a mirror, but that was besides the point.

I slept a good part of the way, something I’m thankful for. But our stops in Nakuru were cool. I’m not a fan of diuretics when travelling, but seems everyone else was – with people having coffees, teas, cokes etc. It was an interesting ride though. Was nice to stand in places I’d never stood before, didn’t eat anything at the stops, though, heard too many stories of  ‘that guy’ and trust me, I don’t (and neither do you) want to be ‘that guy.’ You know how the stories are “ Hey, did you hear about that guy who ate… at the bus stop at… it totally left him… and his road trip ended up being… all because he…” Feel free to fill in the gaps. And I had my chances, dozens of guys shouting “Njugu! Njugu! Njugu! Njugu Karanga! Njugu Chemsha! Njugu Patisha!” (Njugu are groundnuts or as you might call them – peanuts) and plenty other foods you might want to taste on an ordinary day. But this was no ordinary night, so no chances. Stomach trouble on a 12 hour bus ride wasn’t what I signed up for.

The border is probably the most hilarious bit of the story. So the bus stops. It’s 4 AM and we have no idea where we are. We hear a loud voice shout from outside “Passports! Everybody with their passports!” So I had mine safely zipped up in my jacket. Heard plenty of stories from friends who’ve travelled to dozens of countries, the general rule of thumb is that you don’t let go of your passport. Ever. Especially in African countries. At the border. You didn’t just travel all the way to the border, just to get your passport stolen. Nope. Don’t think so.

The Busia Border Post - Yellow Jackets and All

The Busia Border Post - Yellow Jackets and All

I get off the bus, groggy like everyone else and coming to with my new surrounding. The guy in front of me is quickly ushered away by a guy chanting ‘Passport, Boss. Passport.’ He gives the stranger his passport and is led to what could only be the Immigration office around the corner. His accomplice had been eyeing me and the second before my big toe had touched the ground off the bus, he was hounding me. He seemed pretty legit (for 4 A.M – he had a blazer on…), though I only stared at him for half a second before he got my hand and began to tug for my passport as we walked toward the Immigration area. I gave my passport to him, but followed him awkwardly close as he zipped off, quick to put a brother in a choke hold if he tried anything…Politely, though (You know me). He led me to a window with some light and in lightening speed, began to fill out a yellow sheet of paper – my immigration papers. I was surprised, to say the least. “Occupation – he asked me.” I was still in a daze to his ‘hustle.’ It was 4 in the morning and he was as perky, chirpy and zingy as a …tangy pickled pepper served right after some orange juice. In my half-asleep-yet-awake-enough-to-put-a-brother-in-a-choke-hold-if-he-tried-me kinda daze, I muttered Journalist as my foggy memory thought what I was doing at the Busia border (I was going for a Screenwriters Workshop – My mind got as far as Writers Wor…*end of transmission* hence ending up on Writer, Writing, Journalism…Journalist!

Strange but true.

So in (I kid you not) in less than a minute, he pointed me to where I was to stand, and had a good laugh at my passport picture (No, you don’t want to know why.) I stood in line, gave my passport, got a stamp on it and received a blue paper in return. He quickly got my attention and drew me back to where we filled the original one. I stood again in awe as he asked me how long I would be in Kampala, I said 24 days, he put down a month. I was a bit awestruck. He quickly looked at me and with a cheesy salesman smile and beamed “In case of emergency.” I chuckled anxiously. He then smiled and said “ I’m sure you’ve got something for me. You know, for the trouble…” I chuckled again and went back to queue with the same bunch of people. I was confused though. Everyone still had the yellow form and I had a blue one now – all filled out too. I began to circle around the lines of people like a lightening struck moth – looking for a light. This guy, (gosh, I don’t even know his name, we never even got that far) saw me looking confused walking the people and called me. “Mark…Mark! Come here.” I approached. He pointed me to the other side of a gate i.e. The border to where I was supposed to go next. “I’ll take you,” he said. Like I had any other choice.

We approached a policeman who I showed the passport and blue form. He nodded, and sent me through the gate to the Uganda Immigration Office about 50 metres away. I walked with my good friend, thinking of the convenience he had saved me, and how I admired his hustle – for 4 in the morning, he made my day. I gave him something ‘for the trouble.’ He quickly told me he had to get back, he couldn’t get as far as where i was going. I knew he was going to get another ‘customer.’ I didn’t mind. He was good help.

I went on to queue at the Ugandan Immigration Office, a small office, akin to the Busia one. This time, I had company – from the other side of the border. They had yellow jackets – exactly like the City Council Officials in Nairobi – only the City Council officials have ‘Corruption is Evil – Parking Attendant’ on theirs. These fellows each had a wad of cash that if it was in it’s Kenyan equivalent, would have them far from the border at 4 AM but in some lavish hotel in Nairobi. Ugandan Shillings vis a vis Kenya Shillings retail at the ratio of 26:1. Still getting over that. I look at it like the math lesson I never asked for, paying back for any I missed 🙂 These were some dodgy fellows who I’m sure could pull a fast one on me, and from what I heard  now, they pull stuff that ought to be in The Real Hustle.

I forget to mention, as I took in all these sights, Bernadette was on the other side of the border with her blue form wondering where to go. She gave me a call, and I went over to get her. She wasn’t as fortunate with her Immigration Writer Companion or IWC (I just made that up…they need an official name though.). He was a rather dicey character, while he filled out her forms, he chased after a fellow IWC who had a debt of his.

Note to IWC’s: That’s not a good look with the customers, so take notes: Chasing after debtors is a no-no.

(Back to regular programming)

And after helping Bernadette out with the forms, he quickly named his price… 200 Shillings – $2.7 …needless to say, she had to cough it up. He wasn’t smiling. I paid my guy less than half that – which is still quite a bit, but I had some change so I didn’t mind.

Note to IWC’s: Always smile, you can do it, if you’re that perky at 4 A.M. You can do it.

We went on to have the bus searched by ‘Customs Officials’ and trust me – whatever high tech approach you might be thinking now, it was a guy with a flashlight who walked through the bus and combed through luggage. Simple, but effective.

It was an experience I just had to share; too funny and special to keep to myself. So now you have an idea of what to expect when you get to the border…at 4 A.M.

If you have any border stories, I’d love to hear them…

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Lola Kenya Screen Preview: Independent Producers in Eastern Africa Workshop

In Film, Happenings on July 20, 2009 at 8:13 am

Those interested in attending a 3-day policy-making brainstorming workshop at Lola Kenya Screen 2009 later this year can send their Application (request one), Motivation and CV to director@lolakenyascreen.org.

Lola Kenya Screen Logo
Deadline is 25 July 2009.

Independent producers from:

  • Eastern Congo-Kinshasa
  • Rwanda
  • Burundi
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Kenya
  • Sudan
  • Ethiopia
  • Eritrea
  • Djibouti
  • Somalia
  • Return tickets & accommodation for one participant per country available.

    It’s all part of the Lola Kenya Screen 2009 which will host plenty of skill development programmes. It runs from the 10th to the 15th of August Rut Gomez Sobrino of the Barcelona-based UNESCO Centre of Catalonia—UNESCOCAT leads the team of mentor experts who will conduct the programmes. Sobrino shall conduct a round table conference on the UNESCO Audiovisual E-Platform project in the framework of Lola Kenya Screen.

    Also present will be Danish television director, producer and concept-maker Anette Tony Hansen, who will facilitate the Television Drama for children and youth workshop with adults. It is expected that at least five TV drama films targeting children will be realised from this hands-on workshop and that thereafter there will be greater interest among TV practitioners to create more professional TV dramas for children and youth.

    All this and more. See Lola Kenya Screen
    Spread the word.

    Mawulire ki Kampala? Here I Come!

    In Film, Happenings, Perspective, Real Talk on July 9, 2009 at 11:22 am

    It’s been a minute since I hit up the blog, I know…but in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been pleasantly distracted by Posterous and Twitter, on which I proclaim you can follow me much closer, and much better. Blog is for big news, like this news. With that, I might as well make it formal: I have good news. I’ve been selected as a finalist in the Annual Maisha Filmmakers Lab Program for 2009.

    Maisha lab snippet

    The Maisha Film Lab is arguably the best Filmmaking and Technical Lab in the region and it’s main lab is it’s Annual 23 day lab in Kampala, Uganda. This is one of the greatest stepping stones for filmmakers in Eastern Africa with many Maisha Alumni going on to chart out some serious headway in their respective film industries. Besides the Annual 23 Day lab, they also conduct 4 shorter Screenwriting Labs (8-days) at 4 Regional Film Festivals (I was a part of last year’s at the Kenya International Film Fest in Nairobi.) I’d encourage you, if you’d be interested in filmmaking or writing for screen to participate and apply for one of their labs.

    So I leave for the beautiful city of Kampala from the 25th of July to August 16th. Hopefully, if I don’t actually direct my film, I’ll assist in directing someone else’s. (fingers crossed) Directing is something I’ve really wanted to get into for the past couple months. I’ve been patiently writing, and though I’m yet to see a film through to production, it seems this might be my chance to do both. A quick recap into how I got into screenwriting.
    In December ’07 I attended a Theatre Company Playwriting workshop with Playwright Roberta Levitow. I wasn’t a selected participant, but with some free time on my hands after finishing uni, I was so glad that Keith Pearson and Mumbi Kaigwa let me attend as the Go-pher :). I ended up participating and eventually writing a comedic play on an altercation I had with The Kenya Police regarding a safety-belt in what could (only in Kenya) be referred to as ‘The Crackdown Era’ – Where The Great Matatu Reforms of 2007(R) occured. The skills I learnt there were (and continue to be) invaluable to me. They were the best foundation and exposure anyone could ask for. I served some great tea as well, by the way 🙂
    From then on, I went on to co-write the Warner Bros. Interactive  Project ‘Pamoja Mtaani‘ (Part of the HIV Free Generation Project) and work on 5 Animated Short Films. Cajetan Boy worked with me on Pamoja Mtaani, and he introduced me to Maisha. I sent in an application to the first Maisha Screenwriting Lab at KIFF (Kenya International Film Festival) and was accepted into the week-long screenwriters lab. I kept excellent notes and learnt plenty. I also developed a couple better screenplays, not to mention Radio and TV Scripts for Advertising (The industry, I’m slowly beginning to call House – not Home i.e. you can move house, you can’t move home… But no lie, it’s growing on me. 🙂
    Of that lab, came out Writer/Director Paul Ekuru’s The Dance for Wives (Which premiered in Kenya at Alliance Francaise on Monday 6th July after screening at the Zanzibar International Film Fest and The Rwanda International Film Fest…I was at the premiere and uploaded pics to my Posterous. View them here) I’m so glad to see Paul’s film get the attention it has had. It was nominated for two Kalasha Awards recently, Best Short Film and Best Leading Actress (Karen Lucas aka Kaz)
    So, long story short, applied as soon as I found out about this years lab, back in May and I got the call on the 2nd of July. Can’t wait to see what will come out of this Lab. I don’t know all of the other finalists personally, but I know that my friend Bernadette, also at last years Maisha Lab @ KIFF and Richard from Big Brother Africa 2 were selected.
    Can’t wait to meet, study, re-write, re-write, re-write and make movies! Wish me luck!