There was a momentary pause from when he left his seat to pick a paper. The laughing in jest was muffled and eyes cast on him.
A small fire burned out three fat logs of wood warming a small circle that had gathered around it.
“This will be hard” Joel, the guy who’d stood up, said.
He skipped around briefly in excitement chanting some rambling before returning to a reflective pause on how he’d easily act out the word on the paper for his team.
About eight of them, some seated, others standing waited in anxiety, praying the clock didn’t tick off before they won this round of charades, another ten or thereabouts popped out snide remarks discouraging Joel even before he started.
The game of charades was like this. Two teams would square up against each other, a neutral judge would write out words on a paper that a member of the team would pick and act out for their team to guess the word in under a minute.
Joel’s was a phrase. A ‘dirty’ phrase. It needed the minds of his team to be as dirty too. A healthy serving of alcohol had been guaranteed on a table at the fireplace, whiskeys, gins, soft drinks and even flasks of tea were all on the menu.
So, in a giffy, he bent to the ground and acted out a sex scene and the guesses ran.
“Sex”, “Missionary style”, “Pleasure”. To all, Joel nodded in disagreement.
Then he stood up, flung a hand infront of himself and another behind, as you would ride a donkey, and ground his waist.
His team – and some of his opponents – burst out in laughter, the timer was forgotten, he went on and on and the laughing went from blithesome to buoyant down right to ground rolling.
Unable to continue the actions, Joel joined in on the laughter.
Soon the stories would be told about sexual encounters, experiences and how Joel had tried – but his team failed – to guess the word ‘dick-riding’.
That was the ultimate goal of the Koi Koi team. To travel the country and tell as many stories that would inspire people to see their own country. The phrase ‘Koi Koi’ itself, dominated on the internet by a Japanese card game, was used fondly in the Buganda culture as a starter for a riddle or story telling.
At the fireplace that evening, on Kalangala Island, the KoiKoi team had recreated, though not entirely, the ancient art of story telling for many African communities.
The night, turning morning then, was drearily shutting the eyes of many. At the extreme end of what was a semi circle sat Collin Asiimwe, a whiz bang of the group. You almost knew it was him when he spoke. His voice imperceptibly rose as he approached the point he wanted to make.
To say he was generous with his boldness was to underestimate his prowess.
I barely recall sleeping that night. The room bookings had been jumbled, unable to keep the frustration, Joan, fondly referred to by the group as ‘Mumbejja’ Luganda for ‘Princess’, asked that we move to a nearby Hotel.
Ugandan hotel Owners, particularly those at the Island did this a lot. They’d book in guests way over their room capacity, hoping, with bated breath, that the visitors wouldn’t turn up. Unluckily, for them, we all did this time, only late by a couple of hours.
So they moved us.
The rooms next door were not as exciting as those we’d earlier anticipated to be booked in. The bed was raised, the sheets rough, a blanket had been assigned horizontally on each, loosely covered with a mosquito net. Two slippers, one in red and its pair in blue were at the shower entrance. The shower itself, was a small square bulging with a toilet in one corner and an old rusty pipe running to its roof.
The webs were out, threading from the bathrooms to the bedroom and to the veranda where a plastic chair and a mat-sewn table had been arranged.
“We hope you like it here” the attendant told me as he handed me a set of keys.
Frankly, even in its mediocre state, it was a welcome breather from the ride to it. We’d been shuttled in a manual Rav 4 by a driver with excessive need for speed. His car radio was fit for a concert and his dress style, (black vest and blue light shorts) pitted him more as a distraught teenager than a professional hotelier.
I however chose to go back with him, I couldn’t afford missing the conversations around the fire.
5;00 am the next morning.
We were now deep in the bush, far from the lake, far from the sand and far from civility. It was 5 am. The bike rods could be heard cycle off in the morning quiet. Monkey chatters could be heard from the thickening vegetation. Joel, ahead of Pipes and Pacutho, both photographers of the group, cycled behind a guide we had picked from the shores.
It was just the four of us that morning, biking to set cameras ready for the sun to rise above the water. That shot had gotten us up at 5 am in the morning.
One major problem was about to hit us though; The sun wasn’t going to rise that morning anywhere near the lake side we had chosen. We waited, and waited, and shuffled out feet in the cold water till, in desperation we started photographing anything that came by.
Pipes was shooting tree logs that had fallen in water, Pacutho was snapping away at the monkeys that dogged in the dense thicket behind us. Joel, well Joel had carried a camera without batteries, so he sat on the log admiring nature and his Nikon.
We cycled back to the Island a bit disappointed, you could feel the low spirit as the leaves caved under the thin bicycle tyres we were on. Andrew had taken the trip a little too hard on himself, the bike he rode was a bad fit and he spent more time on his feet than with his bike.
We returned to the hotel to join the other pack who, by now, we brushing off the morning sleep. Some had gathered in the little TV room where we’d been almost three hours back feeding our eyes on the serving of a 2001 action movie that was airing.
The Panorama cottage chefs made mean cups of tea. Each laced with its own ingredient of herbs. We served, ate, and chatted the morning away.
That morning was reminiscent of an evening Colin, Joan and David had sat to craft the KoiKoi dream.
Set on a cold evening in the busy environs of Kisementi, the three shared cups of tea resting on a round glass table planted on tristles at the Somali-owned Cafe Javas.
David had explained to them how Kafunda Kreatives had borne the idea of celebrating Uganda’s independence but never quite really set off.
“We live in a country where we never see the good in us, only the bad” David would text me, a whole year and some months after that meeting.
David, Collin and Joan would, in eight weeks after that meeting have the first trip to Fortportal then later to Jinja, Packwach and now Kalangala Islands where we were.
It was common place to hear ‘wow, that’s beautiful’ ‘I’ve never seen this’ kind of compliments when the boats roved over the lake.
We caught one of the moments at the Island to shoot a piece to camera in which we drew the connection between domestic tourism and increased revenues.
That evening, while we headed back to the main Kalangala Island, with night flies ramming unsuspectingly into our tired bodies, the joke from the first night returned;
“Honestly, what were you doing Joel with that charade move?” Collin asked.
From the back, Pipes, the photographer replied “That’s the Joel Jjemba move!”
The boat burst into further laughter, for, after a long day trekking an Island, there was still some humour left.
Just like the ancestors of old that, after a day, sat down to tell the story starting with the powerful phrase ‘Koikoi’.
A link to the story that later ran that night can be found here