The Snaking Ouga Highway

The road that passed in the middle of Ouga Land -the long, snaking road that connected the city and the rural areas- was once smooth, or so it was said.


Those that had arrived in the city of Ouga a long time ago, long before I did, in the years my father sucked from his mother’s breast, often said it had been so smooth a snail could have slid off it.


They said the road had glittered in the hot sun forming mirages that the nomads called ghost waters. A bus could have driven on it during the monsoon rains. They even likened it to a highway, saying that other vehicles apart from buses, Land rovers and Lorries often drove on it.


The number of Bedford lorry drivers that currently spent countless nights, pushing and shoving mud in a bid to get their rusted trucks to the next town before dark are more than I care to count.


Most of those who told the tales of the once glorious city now spoke with anticipation of better things but their lives were withered, eroded and filled with pot holes.


They talked of the good old days when the city, like the road, was planned, well-kept and something to talk of.  They talked of these things long into the night at Ma Ainea’s as long as someone kept the glasses of beer filled.


I sat with them every night listening, whiling away the hours often without saying anything unless asked.


We sat at the wooden pine benches facing each other, with a wooden table between us. Two oil lamps lit the place up, creating shadows on the wooden walls of the long room we called ‘the high bar’.


A small black and white TV sat at the counter. Years back, it would be switched on during news hour, when the bar still had electricity.

But like everywhere else in Ouga city, power rationing and the high electrical tariffs had forced Ma Ainea to turn to oil lamps for light.


The TV was another reminder of the days when systems in the country worked. And even if Ma Ainea had electricity, she would not have dared shown the state TV, the only TV that still operated in the country.


People preferred to watch the high action packed movies from China or Japan. They wanted to see who beats who regardless of the fighting technique or language.


Few people believed anything that came from the state and even fewer gave them an ear. They spoke ill of the state behind its’ back and often in the company of the most trusted, since the state had ears everywhere. Besides, anyone who was heard speaking against it would be snatched by the long arm of the state and taken to a place – where his loud mouth could no longer be heard.


People from Ouga knew old proverbs and always kept them in mind. In this situation, the operating proverb was out of sight, out of mind. Even the AM radio that Ma Ainea had bought in the days that she was Rose, the girl with the long hair, was stashed in some old cupboard gathering dust.


Mukani, an old teacher who had fallen to the ways of the wine, often said he had traveled in his youth all the way from his home town in Kitana to Ouga city to look for a job on his bicycle. He usually said it with conviction, forcing us to laugh until we fell off the wooden tables and benches of Ma’ Ainea’s. Surely that was nonsense.


How could he have traveled a good 700 kilometers on the rusted, squeaky, two wheeled contraption that he called a bike. What made it even more laughable was that he was like a scare crow, all bone and no flesh. In his current form, he could barely lift himself up the contraption leave alone ride it.


The thought of him cycling anywhere often made me pay three cents more so that he could have another glass of Lowa, the local brew. That set him talking, him and all the other oldies that had the notion that Ouga had once been a big city and it was going to be again.


But who, in this current age and time, would believe them? If anything, the best way to describe their once glorious road would be to call it a path. And I know what I am saying; I understand the meaning of the word road and path.


After all, am I not among the fruits of Ouga Land University, or OLU as we call it? Did I not get my degree, even though only a Bachelor of Arts degree as my father puts it with a frown on his face, but still a degree at the university?


I hear what you are saying, that the OLU of the old days cannot be compared to the current one. Yes I have heard that argument before, the one that says the old university was among the best universities in the world, with a capacity to hold its own ground against the likes of Makerere and Nairobi University.


But what would you know? You probably think like the oldies, the wrinkled fellows that sit at Ma’ Ainea’s with all that quality education in their heads waiting for us- the lesser intellectuals as they put it- to buy them, not a beer but a glass of Lowa.


Yes, I might have not studied as hard as Mukani, but my professor was happier than Mukani’s when he gave me a pass. Why shouldn’t he have been? I was one of the students who rarely gave him any problems, only appearing to class when I had to and once the exams were near, I enabled him to roof his house. What more could a professor, earning a government salary grade 9 want?


Times have changed but do these old wrinkled fellows believe any of this? They spend each second cursing the ways of the new generation while smoking filter-less cigarettes and hoping an idiot of the new generation with new money would buy them a round.


I buy another round and curse them for the hope they have.


6 thoughts on “The Snaking Ouga Highway

  1. I sponsor Aids orphans in Mbita, Kenya through I often wonder how much the children are taught about the realities in Kenya. From the sound of their letters they are busier with child-like activities, like soccer and school, to have much wariness about the rest of life’s truths.

    1. I applaud you for that. I have to agree that children are taught about making it via education, the realities on the ground are left for them to deal with when they grow up…. after school they are often lost in a world whose realities they cant handle

  2. This is quite an interesting tale. You continue to amaze me with your descriptive power and stories.

    Here, the old people (educated) still make reference to the universities of their time saying they’re better than what they are now. And even the new ones have no sound background, they add. Well, time will tell. What I know is that development will only come if new ideas are embraced.

    1. Thanks Uzoma… kinda hard to write about the period right after elections without being looked at as one who is copying the immediate post independence writers

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