From Butabika, with love

Saturday May 01 2021
By Philip Matogo

I got the call at 9am.
Simon had flipped out, the caller said.
He was drinking liquor in a kafunda buried in the armpit of Kifumbira slums.
Then, he lost it. I was told that he wildly flung chairs about and hurled insults at punters.

Normally, an even-tempered dude, Simon was now Hannibal Lecter incarnate and ready to eat anyone alive who tried to settle him.

No one knows what brought on this temper tantrum but, believe me, it was on!
I left my home immediately, upon getting the said call, and walked down to Kifumbira slum.

This slum is an eyesore; a festering wound on Kamwokya’s metropolitan glory.  
Except for the road leading into this dark underbelly, the roads within the slum were narrow and dusty.

Inside this beast, shoe-box hovels sat indifferently beside outhouses of ash-grey corrugated iron, and a number of other motley structures given to urban blight.

Above this dense ribbon of dwellings and premises, a pall of smoke daily crept up the invisible stairwell to the skies, and disappeared Ninja-like. As if this Godforsaken place had been hit by a nuclear strike and lived to brag about it.


When it rained, the slum seemed drunk on bad weather as murky pools of still water rippled in the cold breeze while earthen pathways staggered through its wending roads. One of these roads led me to the kafunda where Simon was.

There, in the middle of a huddle of sobering drunks, was Simon.
His eyes were waragi-shot as he foamed at the mouth while breathing violently. He looked like a man possessed.

Ordinarily, he was so persuasive that he could sell red T-shirts at an NRM party rally.
When I saw Simon that day, however, I realised even though the lights were on in his head, nobody was home.  

So I stepped back into the crowd of amused onlookers and hatched a plan.
“We need to get him to Butabika hospital,” I whispered.

Ten minutes later, a double cabin pick-up truck pulled up outside the bar in readiness to implement this plan.
About 40 minutes later, we had parked outside the hospital.
We then led a smiling Simon to see the psychiatrist.

Butabika is a different world.
The place was flooded by mummified souls caught in the twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness.

All of them wore green jumpsuits.
The air was cheaply deodorised by the foul stench of urine mixed with Tyson-strong sedatives.

There were so many sleeping pills there that you could even hear the furniture snoring!

I sat down with Simon and the psychiatrist, while muscular hospital attendants loomed large in the background: ready to pounce if any of us made a false move.
Simon was mellow as he answered the doctor’s questions

Doctor: Do you know the difference between an old and new medicine?
Simon: One vaccine is Junior; the other is Vacc-senior.
The doctor nodded his head, like this made sense.

A mischievous grin then widened Simon’s face as he looked at me with a facial expression which simply said, “Aha!”
Then, like a bat out of hell, some in-patient stepped up to us and demanded to know at exactly what time the president of Rwanda was coming to visit him.

The doctor just looked at him and wanly informed him that “His Excellency” would be there for supper. At these words, the in-patient gave an emphatic ‘Good’, puffed his chest and moved on his way.

The doctor then asked Simon if he had ever tried to take his own life. To which Simon answered “No”.

But before the doctor could continue this line of questioning, Simon pointed an accusatory finger at me and said, “He has!”
Simon went on to unfurl a damning list of certifiable things that I had done in my life. As usual, he was at his persuasive best as he made me look I was the one who needed to be admitted.

As he spoke, his blue streak of convincing accusations and re-enactments of my “madness” went on for about five minutes as I shrank with shame.

It now looked like I might be admitted for being called mad, by a mad man!
At that point, a dwarf, clearly with something to prove, approached me.
And he said, “You must be one of those tall dwarfs.”
Confused, I stood up.

That way, I could look down on him in order to correct his bad eyesight.
But as soon as I stood, he threw a punch at me and his fist sailed squarely into my groin.

Then, I fell to my knees in agony
That’s when the dwarf and I came eyeball-to-eyeball as he said, “Oh, my bad. I see you’re a normal dwarf now.”
I was furious.

I grabbed the dwarf by his ‘Made-in-Butabika’ overall and was ready to wring his neck! But the burly hospital hands sprang to life and came down on me like a torrential downpour.

I was lifted clean off the ground and taken, kicking and screaming, to the mental ward.

While Simon, well, he went home after escorting a “mad person”.