Called To Serve: The Remarkable Story Of Kamwokya FC Part 2
In the second instalment of his superb essay Layth Yousif visits Kamwokya’s dilapidated ground before embarking on a perilous boda-boda ride into the city’s nightlife.
The next day we had a hearty lunch provided by Mr Francis at KCCC of Goat Stew, potatoes and Matooke, a staple mash of Banana that should never be described as such. It has a deeper, more resonant meaning in a continent where people starve to death. Matooke in other words means food. Stodgy but filling, with the goat succulent and tender I asked who cooked it for us. Mr Francis smiled imperceptibly and said, ‘our catering students who we teach,’ looking for my impressed reaction before adding, ‘they are mostly orphans’. ‘You have a catering college?’, I spluttered in amazement. ‘Yes’, said Mr Francis, eyes again blazing with pride, ‘why shouldn’t we?’.
‘Why shouldn’t we’, appeared to have been the correct answer to many questions raised by KCCC. Why shouldn’t Mr Francis, over 20 years ago, decide, with the help of Catholic nuns to provide a haven for the neediest in their community?
Why shouldn’t KCCC, with the onset of the HIV/AIDS virus that decimated a whole generation, then decide to build a surgery and staff it with doctors to help those suffering from the virus in Kamwokya? Why shouldn’t KCCC and Mr Francis then decide to staff it with qualified local doctors and nurses and beg and borrow life-saving retro-virals?
Why shouldn’t KCCC then begin to run a catering college – or for that matter dedicate a previously spoiled and dirty patch of scrubland to become a much-needed and much-loved place, and call it a sports centre – or even build a school on the same road as their offices for orphans?
And, why shouldn’t KCCC form a football team that not only represented this desperately poor but proud community, but was actually really rather good?
We drove over to what Mr Francis with his Sub-Saharan-dry, dry humour, called ‘our stadium’. Decrepit Motorbike taxis known as Boda-Boda’s ferried huge stacks of plastic clad mattresses, weaving in and out of traffic as dexterously as the primeval pterodactyl shaped black cranes that swooped disturbingly low over unsuspecting pedestrians.
Our driver, a man who everyone greeted with a knowing smile said ‘there are three things to remember about Kampala: the dust the traffic and the confusion’. Yet the confusion was compelling to a recent visitor.
Buses that looked more like camper vans, had windows proclaiming ‘Jesus is best’ and vied with ones preaching ‘Arsenal are the greatest’. Both types crammed full of humanity, as along roadsides without kerbs, butchered beef hung from shacks that spoke of violent decapitation. David and Sons Meat Purveyors read one, the fading hand painted sign hung at a right angle over an edifice that was smaller than a garden shed and far more dilapidated.
The queue didn’t seem to mind, even if the youngsters trying to prise their hands from their mother’s implacable grips seemed as bored as the forlorn poultry of trussed chickens, held as they were in precarious wire structures behind them. Women looked industrious and the men milled and discussed, revelling in their roles at the edge of inactivity.
A while later our driver informed us that we were now in ‘Old Kampala’. Crumbling low-slung edifice’s abounded in the shadow of the perfunctory but huge central mosque. Quaddifi had built it when he was busy defying the West by funding overseas Terrorist groups and subjugating his own people. How old is old? I asked.
He thought and replied ‘before 1985’.
It was instructive that in an ancient land only recently ran by a schizophrenic dictator and ravaged with deadly new problems, less than two decades previously was thought of as old.
Graffiti declared ‘God is With Us’ and a dilapidated healing centre proclaimed, ‘The Lord is my refuge’. The statement contained more than a shred of veracity considering many had nothing else to cling onto. The man with broken teeth and three limbs missing sitting on a miserable, filthy chair next to the mission was testament to that.
Nearby huge Roadside billboards urged ‘call and test’, ‘fight polio’, and ‘leave the sexual network’, co-mingled with promises of ‘absolutely guaranteed’ 20% returns with a background of gold bullion to convince non-believers. I hoped I knew which would be the more easily sign up for.
As we arrived at ‘our stadium’ I asked our driver if Kamwokya FC needed God with them. Quick as a flash he replied, ‘in Kampala, everyone needs a protector’.
To call Kamwokya’s home a stadium would be kind to Mr Francis.
What passed for a pitch was a flattened patch of dusty ochre earth set down from a busy road. Alongside the far touchline stood a collection of unfinished buildings that appeared to have been abandoned as a building project. A shabby grey wall stood behind the goal to our left and behind the right hand goal lay a collection of low slung ramshackle huts. On our side was a grass bank on which around 200 hundred Kamwokya supporters populated.
‘Is there a programme for the game?’, I asked Godfrey hopefully and in hindsight incredibly naively (one of the many trainspotting aspects of my character is that I relentlessly and religiously collect football programmes). Godfrey, a large man with an even larger smile, and KCCC’s number 2, roared ‘Programmes?’ incredulously, before adding, ‘where do you think we are, Wembley Stadium?’ He smiled and patted my back, ‘if you have Kamwokya in your heart that is all that matters’. If Mr Francis provided the idea, Godfrey certainly provided the enthusiasm.
What looked like scaffolding twisted into three large steps lay to our right. On it were about 10 supporters sitting on it discussing something intently. Probably the form of their centre forward I thought to myself. Sensing my stare, Godfrey shouted, ‘that is our VIP section, David Beckham will be along soon’. Like all good football supporters it was re-assuring that Godfrey didn’t take himself too seriously.
Mr Francis modestly slipped away but as he did so I noted that he was greeted like a long lost brother by countless burly men as he disappeared into the mass, acting as they did in many cases with reverential awe.
A tumbledown table behind us sold unidentified green vegetables, as the throng grew louder and more excitable. If Stone Island was once the uniform for English wanabees a decade ago, and short sleeved denim and a myriad of patches and badges ironed on, is now the archetypal German Football Supporter’s look, then Kamwokya’s hard core, mainly consisting of excitable young men, to a tee all wore silky shirts hanging loose over neat clean trousers with the occasional jacket thrown in. There also appeared to be a preponderance of motor-bikes parked on the hilly bank around which older more wizened men – who could have been 25 or 40 depending on the harshness of their existence – congregated. This was the Boda-Boda drivers section.
Their behaviour probably explained why Boda-Boda’s are to be avoided at all costs in Kampala, certainly if you value your road safety, as they were all merrily drinking large bottles of the strong Nile Special lager. New to town on my first night I drunkenly hailed a Boda-Boda, and asked him to take me to the riotous Irish pub called Bubbles O’Leary. The only reason I am still here to tell the tale is the fact that I was too heavyset/fat for him to speed manically whilst weaving in and out of the Kampala traffic that the recent Top Gear Special on Uganda ridiculed somewhat unfairly.
‘My brother’, he cried to me through his dusty helmet – one of which, I noted darkly, I did not possess – as the venerable 50cc concoction struggled and farted its way up a demanding slope, ‘we cannot go fast’ he shouted in genuine frustration, ‘ you are like a big hippo’.
I asked Godfrey who ‘we’ were playing. The ‘we’ went down well. ‘Bazaar FC’ he replied gravely. I nodded as if I knew something about them. All I knew from looking at them warming up was that to a man they were bigger than ‘us’, and that their defenders all had facial scars. I ventured to him that they didn’t look like a footballing side. ‘They aren’t’, Godfrey replied sadly.
The concluding part of Layth’s inspiring trip will be published this Saturday. In the meantime follow the writer on Twitter @laythy29