Maybe you aren’t a fan of BBC radio. If you are not, you are lucky. Ever since I got the faltering steps of mouthing the Queen’s lingo, I’ve been hooked. Without BBC, I’d be a zombie. And that’s why I say you are lucky.
Without BBC, I’d remember zero, zilch, goose-egg. And there are many programmes without which I’d know nothing, remember nothing. Unfortunately, already there are many BBC programmes I’m not able to listen to. ‘Outlook’, ‘From our own correspondents’, ‘Forum’, ‘Global Business’..... All these have been allotted impossible times. Or else their times have been taken over by programmes in French.
So, what happens to us, the strictly Anglophone? We don’t begrudge the Francophone their chance, of course. But BBC should try and provide two FM channels. One specifically English, the other, French. Then no one comes out the loser, for trying to please both.
Anyway, being a hard-nosed fan, last Tuesday morning I was listening to that BBC morning programme, ‘Network Africa’. And I shed a tear. You see, after 40 years of listening to it, I can’t imagine life without it. And yet, I was told I cannot listen to it again. It’s expiring, packing up, kicking the bucket. And kicking me in the process. Tomorrow, Monday, I’ll wake up to a different thing all together. How will I wake up, anyway?
Normally, every morning at 5h30, the cock wakes me up. Forget about that childish jingle preceding the programme that shrieks: “Wake up, wake up! This is......” I’m talking about that crow from a rooster, before the jingle. Ever since I choked on the first worldly air that I inhaled, I’ve been relying on the cock to wake me up. That “Gu--gu--hu--gu!” has always been my wake-up call.
Even before BBC, there was always a rooster to wake me up. In Rwanda before 1959. In Uganda up to 1962. In Congo (yes, DRC!) up to 1964. Then BBC, back in Uganda up to 1979. In Kenya up to 1994. And back in Rwanda up to now – and counting. Counting, yes, because 100 years is a long journey.... Of course I’ll clock no-less!
But we were on ‘Network Africa’. Last Tuesday, the Network Africa (N-A) team was reminiscing over their days at N-A. Caroline Dempsey (not misspelt?), who’s no longer at N-A, was being interviewed. She remembered one time when her duty led her to West Africa.
She recalled how a string of kids followed her wherever she was walking, shouting: “Whiteman, Whiteman, Whiteman!” Very annoying, no doubt, hearing a bunch of semi-naked cubs calling you a man. But it’d be unfair, since these kids don’t know what they are saying. Indeed, Caroline took it in her stride, stopping and allowing the kids to mob her.
In the process, she corrected them by repeating: “White woman! White woman! White woman!” After which the children chanted the refrain as they trooped around with her, wherever she went, with her leading the chorus, to the amusement of all of the villagers.
In my day as a kid in Rwanda, this was unheard of. We’d never heard of the word “Whiteman”, anyway. Yet we were living at the border with Uganda. But, for often visiting the shopping centre of Gisoro and attending mass at Mutorere Parish in Bufumbira, Uganda, we knew some English greetings, inaccurate as they were.
It was with the confidence of that knowledge that one time I happily skipped along to go and greet ‘Madamu’. After she’d climbed down from Vanduruwera’s car, I rushed to her side and, in front of her, I halted and saluted: “Umuzungu Gudumongywariyusa Madamu!” (Maybe you’ll have noticed that this ‘English’ was supposed to be: “White person, good morning, how are you, Sir, Madam”!)
I saw her skin turn red, from face to neck, then she seemed to be choking on something. But before I could turn and run off, I saw her move her foot back the way we did before kicking a banana-fibre ball. Then swiftly the front of her shoe shot up and hit me square in the face. I still remember the million stars that danced in front of my eyes. And then nothing. Black.
Much later, when I came to, mama was on my side, where I lay in the backroom. She checked that I was okay. Satisfied that it was only the lump on my forehead that she was pressing with warm cloth, she hissed: “Fat head, Ingina, what was wrong with you?” When I explained that I thought ‘Madamu’ was a mother like all others I always greeted, she looked at me with pity and shook her head in resignation.
At the time I didn’t know the details, of course. Vanduruwera was actually Van der Vella, the Belgian customs officer who was a neighbour and a friend to my father. He’d brought the new Amustanteri (administrator) and his wife for introductions to my father, Surushefu (sous-chef). But then these were colonial days. During the colonial days, you didn’t just run and greet ‘Madamu’. Remember, only White ladies were referred to as ‘Madame’, the true French spelling.
Indeed, today is a long way from the colonial days. I hope BBC will keep reminding me that.