Robert Gurney, A Night in Buganda. Tales from Post-Colonial Africa, Verulamium Press, St Albans, 2014, 169 pages. ISBN 978-0-9547166-4-6. Published 1 May, 2014. £25. Go to BUY page.
Available on Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Night-Buganda-Tales-Post-Colonial-Africa-ebook/dp/B00KU9WS5Q
Scroll down to bottom for sample story: ‘Guardian Angels’
This book aims at capturing in print images and experiences garnered for the most part during the nineteen-sixties in East Africa. It began as an individual exploration of memory in 2002 and evolved into a collective effort between 2012-2014. The author spent three years in Uganda from 1964 until 1967. The book’s backcloth is the descent from democracy to dictatorship. A group of mainly young men, fired for the most part by a vision of new ways of structuring society, experience a gathering storm of disharmony and chaos. Thoughts and images gathered since the sixties find their way into these pages. Fragments of experience are glued together by the imagination. The author is in touch with many of his colleagues from that period and is grateful to them for being able to bounce texts off them, just as they bounced ideas off each other in Kampala fifty years ago. The images are as clear now as they were then, perhaps clearer. The book was written as an attempt by the author to make sense of a complex period and an experience which often did not fully make sense at the time that it was happening. Several of these stories have appeared already in anthologies, magazines or blogs, in English and Spanish, in Spain, Mexico, El Salvador, Uruguay and Argentina.
Night in Buganda – 6 The Beggar – 6 Rimbaud’s House – 6 Rimbaud Square – 6 The Hills of Buganda – 6 Rimbaud’s Ostrich – 7 The Invisible Ones – 7 The Cage – 8 The Eyes – 8 A Garden in Africa – 8 Gisenyi – 8 Goma 1965 – 9 Goma 2012 – 9 The Zoo – 9 The Elbow – 10 Heat – 10 Guilt – 10 Overlapping Films – 11 World War Three – 12 Sitting on a Fortune – 12 Imagine – 13 The Snake – 13 The Cobra – 14 Spitting Cobras – 14 The Black Mamba – 15 The Polish – 15 Magic – 15 The Witch – 16 The Nile Virgins – 17 The Spirit of The Falls – 18 Where Are They Now? – 18 The Earthquake – 18 The Two Ladies – 19 The Sausage Tree – 19 The Silhouette – 20 Mwizi – 20 The Sun Glasses – 20 The Hippotami – 21 Wandegeya – 21 The Killing – 21 Diplomacy – 22 The Chemist – 22 Butterflies – 23 Impact – 23 The Lepers – 23 Lawrence – 24 The Mercenary – 25 The Occupation – 25 Chastity – 26 The Antidote – 26 The Stories – 27 The Bishop – 27 Silences – 27 Change – 27 The Wheel of Fortune – 29 Mukasa – 29 Ice Cold in Kampala – 30 The Message – 33 A Bird’s Eye View – 34 The Spirit of Africa – 34 The Calf – 35 UFOs over Kampala – 35 Harambee – 35 Magnets – 36 The Void – 36 The Pioneer – 37 The Jembe – 38 Bark Cloth – 40 The Egg Sandwich – 40 Moira’s Curse – 41 The Kingu of Sebei – 41 Breathless – 43 Tremors – 44 Things Fall Apart – 44 Hornbills – 45 The Frogman – 45 The Spy – 46 Bodies – 49 The Future Dictator – 50 The Rock – 50 The Club – 51 The Prisoner – 51 Rebels versus Assassins – 51 The Night Watchmen – 52 The Kick – 52 Mountains – 53 The Crooked Path – 53 The Termite Eaters – 53 Johnny – 54 The Sixty Second Friend – 54 Burn’s Night – 55 The Saviour – 55 The Bullet in the Neck – 55 Rule by Helicopter – 56 A Perfect Storm – 57 Guardian Angels – 57 Amin’s Eyes – 58 Light and Shade – 58 Newton’s Cradle – 59 The Nighty Ritual – 59 The Diaspora – 59 Obote and Nyerere – 60 Respect – 60 The Other – 61 La Révolution – 61 Frogs in Bujumbura – 62 The Fuse – 62 The Sea Venom Pilot – 62 The Car-Wrestling Snake – 64 The Scramble for Africa – 65 The Philosophers – 67 The English Pope – 69 Reality and Desire – 70 The Explosion – 71 Heat 2 – 72 The Marabou – 74 Magpies and Marabous – 76 Dying Vultures – 76 The Post-Mortem – 77 The Secretary Bird – 78 Secretary Birds – 79 Insects – 79 Lucinda and Clive – 80 Jiggers – 81 The Howl – 81 Wings – 82 Seeds – 82 Small Beer – 82 The Fox and the Python – 82 Cashpoint – 83 The Dreamliner – 83 The Kampala Club – 85 The Swap – 86 The Cockroaches – 86 Hissing Cockroaches – 87 The Sack of Mangoes – 87 The Development Economist – 89 The Gash – 90 The Clutch – 91 The Flight of the Phoenix – 91 Porous Borders – 91 A Bad Day – 92 The Conundrum – 93 The Anthropologist’s Dilemma – 95 The Billiard Table – 96 Explosions – 97 Realities – 97 The Pitcher Man – 98 The Real – 99 Fort St George – 99 Brief Encounter – 100 The Last Straw – 102 The Heart of Africa – 104 The Gallery – 105 The Dead Man – 105 The Complainer – 106 The Stone Thrower 1 – 107 The Stone Thrower 2 – 108 Guy Fawkes and the Kikuyu – 109 The Lock – 110 The Bullet Car – 111 Seigneur Hugh de Gournai – 113 Henry – 117 The Lazy Man – 117 Charlie – 120 Kay – 120 The Spider Man – 121 The Greedy Academic – 121 The Praying Mantis – 124 The Green-Eyed Monster – 127 Kabs – 134 What do you write about Africa? – 136 Warmth – 136 Baring the Load – 137 Dalí and Josefu – 138 Ostriches – 138 Brief Encounter 2 – 139 John Kakonge – 144 A Night in Buganda – 146 Notes – 148 Contributors – 150
Colin Townsend, 6 June, 2014
Many thanks for ‘A Night In Buganda’ which arrived on Wednesday. What a delightful set of stories and reminiscences presented in an unusual and most entertaining manner. I have dipped into a few including the one about asking for a loan at the bank which had me laughing out loud and reminded me very much of the Steven Leacock story “My Financial Career”. Other tales bring back memories that haven’t been visited for nearly 50 years.
Colin Townsend, 31 August, 2014:
An extraordinary book – unlike any other I have read. A gathering of unusual stories from various young men and women who travelled to Uganda in the early 60’s to get their teaching diplomas at Makerere University, in Kampala, and then to head off to locations both urban and rural around East Africa to teach the local students. As may be imagined, they had a variety of experiences, hilarious, frightening, thought provoking and life changing. This book contains both true stories and imaginative interpretations of what might have been behind them, brought together with a poet’s flair for language. Some anecdotes are but a few lines long while others may last for several pages. However they will all have you laughing, crying, or perhaps just wondering.
Colin Townsend, IT consultant, Ottawa, Canada
Gwen Thomas, September 2014:
Just finished the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a glimpse into a time and place that seemed on the one hand so familiar for those of us who have lived overseas and especially in East Africa and and so distant as the idealism of the 1960s is hard to find these days. Wonderful read. It also made me think a lot about my parents who were in Bangladesh (East Pakistan then) in both the early and late 1960s. I will have to ask them more about living overseas during that time period as my memories are of the life of a little girl there. … Thoroughly enjoyed it.
Ian Warburton, Berlin, 1 September 2014 on ‘The Bullet Car’ one of the stories in A Night in Buganda:
“It’s a brilliant piece of writing. I was laughing away and then bam! Like an episode of the Twighlight Zone.
Niall Herriott, 23 July, 2014
A NIGHT IN BUGANDA – TALES FROM POST-COLONIAL AFRICA
BY ROBERT GURNEY
Bob Gurney has approached an obscure time and place – Uganda in the mid-sixties – in just the right way to interest the general reader. We who were there as teachers with Gurney are vividly brought back in time to a bizarre and colourful milieu and a number of us have contributed stories and observations to the book. For the reader who was not involved, the author’s unorthodox way of presenting incident, reflection and information in a rapid videoclip kind of technique works well. A long-winded factual chronological account might not have done the trick.
The upbeat, at times profound, at times trivial but always idiosyncratic and humorous writing engages the reader. But preferably this is a book to dip into until the many pieces have been sampled, rather than to read straight through. Otherwise the extraordinary nature of some of the goings on might wreck your head somewhat!
Although the book might be dismissed by some critics as anecdotal, there is a definite theme or thread. Partly it is the chaotic, unpredictable circumstances of our lives in those few years in the sixties. Like most young people we were ignorant of the dangers or else realised them but had the devil-may-care attitude of youth. We were certainly politically naïve. One only has to look at the Congo, Uganda, Ruanda and other nearby countries in later years to see how outside manipulation of venal leaders has caused so much suffering amongst such naturally and normally friendly people. Neo-colonial as well as post-colonial?
But the political and social aspects come into the book not in a heavy-handed way but as an interesting backdrop and A Night in Buganda is worth reading even just for the bizarre cast of characters, like something out of a surreal play.
Niall Herriott, poet and short story writer, County Cork, Ireland, formerly Biology teacher, Namilyango School, Buganda, Uganda
Brooks Goddard, June, 2014:
A Night in Buganda by Bob Gurney, Verulamium Press, 2014
Experience was. Memory is. In the house of memories there are many rooms, and in going through those many doors there are recollections of pleasure, mystery, foreboding, and pain. Bob Gurney lives in such a house, and he has slowly been going through the rooms populated in this case with friends who were also in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania in the mid 1960s. Despite regular meetings at The Museum Tavern in London, details of incidents do not often rise to the surface, and thus there are many qualifiers in the text about remembering correctly, forgetting names, and embarrassment. The title echoes Dineson’s Out of Africa: “I had a farm in Africa,” as if the very words could bring back years of experiences. Many of us had a night in Buganda, some at the City Bar, the Gardenia Restaurant, the halls of residence at Makerere University. My primal night experience in Buganda was waking up on my first night in Uganda at three am, wondering just what I was doing there one day into a three year contract. It is trite but true to say that for many Westerners there is something very powerful about a night in Africa.
The short chapters of this evocative book are episodes of memory covering a variety of experiences. Some relate to the many individuals the author met, fellow Europeans, Africans, and Asians. There is the Kingu of Sebei, Saul Olek, Moira, Babu, and Clive. Gurney is at home with all. There are the locations: Namilyango, Kitante, Kololo Hill. The Kampala Club presents Gurney with a persistent problem of colonial life: discomforting racist assumptions and remarks. Better just stay away, but it is not always possible to do so. There are chapters whose very titles signify contentious thought: ‘The Spirit of Africa’, ‘What Do You Write About Africa?’ and ‘The Mercenary’. In short, there is something for all readers who will find, as I have, that now is the time to write my own book. A Night in Buganda makes a very good template, and I would definitely mention the fruit bats of Wandegeya and the vibrant personality of Margaret from the north.
Brooks Goddard, Needham (Boston), Norfolk County, Massachusetts
A Night in Buganda por Bob Gurney, Verulamium Press, 2014
La experiencia fue. La memoria es. En la casa de los recuerdos hay muchas habitaciones, así como al atravesar esas puertas hay muchos recuerdos de placer, misterio, presentimiento, y dolor. Bob Gurney vive en una casa así, y de a poco ha pasado por las salas pobladas, en este caso con los amigos que también estaban en Uganda, Kenia y Tanzania a mediados de los sesenta. A pesar de las reuniones regulares de The Museum Tavern en Londres, los detalles de los incidentes no suelen salir a la superficie, y por lo tanto hay muchos calificativos en el texto, tratando de recordar correctamente, olvidando los nombres, y la vergüenza. El título nos remite a Memorias de África de Dineson: “Yo tenía una granja en África”, como si las palabras pudiesen traer de vuelta aquellos años de experiencias. Muchos de nosotros tuvimos una noche en Buganda, algunos en el City Bar, el restaurante Gardenia, las residencias de la Universidad de Makerere. Mi experiencia primaria nocturna en Buganda consistió en despertarme en mi primera noche a las tres de la madrugada preguntándome qué estaba haciendo allí, después de sólo un día de un largo contrato de tres años. Es trillado pero cierto que para muchos occidentales hay algo muy poderoso en una noche en África.
Los breves capítulos de este libro evocador son episodios de la memoria que cubren una variedad de experiencias. Algunos se relacionan con las diferentes personas que el autor conoció, compañeros europeos, africanos y asiáticos. Están el Kingu de Sebei, Saúl Olek, Moira, Babu, y Clive. Gurney está en casa con todos. Existen los lugares: Namilyango, Kitante, Kololo Hill. Gurney presenta el Kampala Club con un problema persistente de la vida colonial: suposiciones incómodas y comentarios racistas. El prefiere mantenerse alejado, pero no siempre es posible hacerlo. Hay capítulos cuyos títulos significan un pensamiento polémico:’El Espíritu de África’, ‘¿Qué es lo que se escribe sobre Africa?’ y ‘El mercenario’. En pocas palabras, hay algo para todos los lectores que encontrarán, como yo, que ahora es tiempo de escribir mi propio libro. Una noche en Buganda es una buena plantilla, y me volvería a hablar de los murciélagos de Wandegeya y la vibrante personalidad de Margaret oriunda del norte.
Brooks Goddard, Boston, EEUU, junio de 2014
Gurney, R.E., A Night in Buganda. Tales from Post-Colonial Africa, Verulamium Press, St Albans, 2014, ISBN 978-0-9547166-4-6. 168 pages.
Robert Gurney’s A Night in Buganda is a record of his experiences, insights, perceptions and emotions in the 1960s as, firstly, a post-graduate student of Education at the University of East Africa, and, secondly, later, as a practicing teacher of languages at a senior secondary school in Kampala, Uganda.
These personal reminiscences are placed within the wider context of the culture, society and politics of the area at a time of great unrest and change. The book is not intended to tell the full story of the young British and American teachers in East Africa in any complete and chronological way. Instead, it details Gurney’s life in and impressions of Uganda during those years. Thus, the straightforward facts of East African life are seen through the eyes of a young graduate away from his homeland for years for the first time in an unknown and little-understood land. This was an inspirational and unique experience which only a few were lucky enough to enjoy. It was an experience that changed the lives of the young teachers involved as well as the students they taught.
Gurney documents the privileged post-colonial world that was the environment of East Africa. The young teachers enthusiastically combined this world with multi-cultural absorption into the Africa of magic, myth and strangers to produce an exhilarating, unforgettable, unique experience.
Gurney’s scatter-gun approach allows him to pick out those memories which are most important and vivid to him and his collaborators, ranging from the extraordinary to the mundane. The result is a kaleidoscope of snippets covering many topics and conversations, both real and imaginary, ranging from the civil war to the beloved East African curry to snakes and even to floor polish!
All those who were part of the Teachers-for-East-Africa scheme or familiar with its young recruits will recognise many of the characters that appear in A Night in Buganda, either by name,reputation or legend! The book is not only peopled with diverse, dedicated teachers who tried to make a contribution to educating East Africa at a time when it was not yet able to produce enough of its own, but also by the colourful array of nonconformists and misfits to be found then in the melting-pot of East Africa. Sitting in his usual seat in the City Bar restaurant in Kampala, the gregarious Gurney met so many who have become the enthralling cast that emerges, endlessly fascinating and endearing.
A Night in Buganda cleverly mixes Gurney’s memories with those of mainly other ex-teachers so that a complex, varied picture of life in different parts of East Africa is portrayed. The mini autobiographies of the main contributors reveal the array of talent, ability and eccentricity that was recruited to teach in East Africa.
A record of life in East Africa for the young teachers who delayed their own climb up the greasy pole of ambition to commit to helping the under-developed world is long overdue. Those young graduates were plunged into a new life in an unknown continent from the moment they boarded ship in London. Gurney captures the excitement of this remarkable experience with insight and humour. He makes all of those involved wish that the clock could be turned back.
David Smith, Bexley, Kent (formerly of Kololo School, Kampala)
Gurney, R. E., A Night in Buganda. Tales from Post-Colonial Africa, Verulamium Press, St Albans, 2014 , ISBN 978-0-9547166-4-6. 168 páginas.
A Night in Buganda de Robert Gurney es un registro de las experiencias, los puntos de vista, las percepciones y las emociones en la década de los sesenta, en primer lugar, de un estudiante de posgrado de Educación en la Universidad de África Oriental y, en segundo término, más tarde, como profesor de idiomas en un colegio en Kampala, Uganda.
Estos recuerdos personales se colocan dentro del contexto más amplio de la cultura, la sociedad y la política de la zona en un momento de gran agitación y cambio. El libro no tiene la intención de contar la historia completa de los jóvenes profesores británicos y estadounidenses en África Oriental, en una forma completa y cronológica. En su lugar, detalla la vida de Gurney y sus impresiones de Uganda durante esos años. Por lo tanto, los hechos simples de la vida de África Oriental se ven a través de los ojos de un joven graduado a gran distancia de su tierra natal y por primera vez en una tierra desconocida y poco comprendida durante varios años. Esta fue una experiencia inspiradora y única que sólo unos pocos tuvieron la suerte de disfrutar. Fue una experiencia que cambió la vida de los jóvenes profesores que participaron, así como los estudiantes que ellos enseñaron.
Gurney documenta el mundo poscolonial privilegiado que era el entorno de África Oriental. Los profesores jóvenes combinaron con entusiasmo este mundo con la absorción multi-cultural en el África de la magia, del mito y de los extranjerosos para producir una experiencia emocionante, inolvidable, única.
El enfoque amplio y disperso de Gurney le permite escoger aquellos recuerdos que son más importantes y vivos a él y a sus colaboradores, que van desde lo extraordinario a lo mundano . El resultado es un caleidoscopio de fragmentos que cubren muchos temas y conversaciones, tanto reales como imaginarios, que van desde la guerra civil hasta el curry precioso de África Oriental y las serpientes e incluso a la cera para pisos!
Todos los que formaban parte del régimen Teachers for East Africa (Profesores para África Oriental) o que se familiarizaban con sus jóvenes reclutas reconocerán muchos de los personajes que aparecen en Una noche en Buganda, ya sea por su nombre, la reputación o la leyenda! El libro no sólo está poblado de diversos profesores dedicados que trataron de hacer una contribución a la educación de África Oriental en un momento en que todavía no era capaz de producir lo suficiente de sus propios educadores, sino también por el abanico amplio de los inconformistas e inadaptados que se encontraban entonces en el crisol de África del Este. Sentado en su asiento habitual en el restaurante del City Bar en Kampala, el gregario Gurney conoció muchos de los que se han convertido en el elenco fascinante que emerge en este libro, infinitamente cautivador y entrañable.
A Night in Buganda mezcla hábilmente los recuerdos de Gurney con los de otros, principalmente los ex-docentes, produciendo una imagen compleja y variada de la vida en diferentes partes del África Oriental. Las mini autobiografías de los principales contribuyentes revelan la variedad de talento, la capacidad y la excentricidad que fueron contratadas para enseñar en el este de África.
Un registro de la vida en el África Oriental para los jóvenes profesores que demoraron su propia subida a ‘la cucaña’ de la ambición y que se comprometieron a ayudar al mundo subdesarrollado tenia que haberse hecho hace mucho. Esos jóvenes graduados se hundieron en una nueva vida en un continente desconocido desde el momento en que abordaron la nave en Londres. Gurney captura la emoción de esta extraordinaria experiencia con perspicacia y humor. Él hace que todos los involucrados deseen que el reloj pudiese dar marcha atrás.
David Smith, Bexley, Kent
David Simmonds, formerly of the Aga Khan High School, Nairobi
Review: A Night in Buganda
When a group of trainee teachers from Europe and America arrived in Kampala in the mid sixties, they found a beautiful equatorial country with exotic flora and fauna, and a colourful people wonderful in their openness and spontaneity. Freshly independent, the atmosphere was optimistic and progressive. However, social and political upheavals in the late sixties led finally, in 1971, to a military coup that put Idi Amin into power as absolute dictator, and plunged Uganda into a terrifying period of menace and wanton destruction.
One of the teachers, Robert Gurney, has collected anecdotes and observations of his own and also from many of his friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, who lived through Uganda’s post-colonial revolution. Looking back on their lost youths as well as the lost innocence of Uganda, this very mixed bag of tales and testaments contains the amusing, the naïve, the moving, the informative, and also the profound. Through them Gurney has extracted a single ‘core sample’ through those complex and difficult times. As a result, we get a unique and fascinating insight into those days and nights in Buganda.
Dave Simmonds, Kirklytham, June 2014
David Simmonds. ex-integrante del Colegio Aga Khan, Nairobi
Comentario: Una noche en Buganda
Cuando un grupo de profesores en formación de Europa y América llegó a Kampala a mediados de los años sesenta, se encontraron con un país ecuatorial precioso, con flora y fauna exótica, y un pueblo colorido maravilloso en su apertura y espontaneidad. Recién independiente, el ambiente era optimista y progresista. Sin embargo, la agitación social y política a finales de los años sesenta llevó, finalmente, en 1971, a un golpe de Estado militar que instaló a Idi Amin en el poder como dictador absoluto, y comenzó en Uganda un período terrible de amenaza y destrucción sin sentido.
Uno de los maestros, Robert Gurney, ha recogido sus propias anécdotas y observaciones y también las de muchos de sus amigos, conocidos y colegas, que vivieron la revolución post-colonial de Uganda. Mirando hacia atrás en sus juventudes perdidas, así como la inocencia perdida de Uganda, este bolso muy mezclado de cuentos y testamentos contiene lo divertido, lo ingenuo, lo conmovedor, lo informativo, y también lo profundo. A través de ellos Gurney ha extraído una sola “muestra del núcleo ‘a través de los tiempos complejos y difíciles. Como resultado, se obtiene una visión única y fascinante de aquellos días y noches en Buganda.
David Simmonds, junio 2014
Lilian Hayball and Mike Clarke, Science teachers, Kololo, Mmengo and Kibuli Secondary Schools, Kampala, 1966-1973
A blast from the past!
Dusty heatwaves seemed to emanate from this heavy tome as I drew it from the packet.
My memory took flight.
Even before I had opened your book, for me the East African horizon stretched round me 360 degrees.
The Kigelia sausage tree was domed by an impenetrable steely blue sky, strewn with white fluffy clouds.
As quickly as they drifted away, dark oppressive storm clouds began hastening towards us.
A sharp little wind teased up dust motes at our feet.
Half the sky from the ground up turned black.
The wind sharpened.
Deep red streaks of a sunset curved behind us, as we assessed the storm and its strength.
The last of the sun’s rays lit up a far stand of fat Baobabs, silhouetted in the apparently barren landscape.
Dusk approached and with it large drops of rain fell out of the sky.
Time to seek shelter.
We remember Verulamium Press, and the ruins at Verulamium, visited often.
Thank you for making the effort to bring this book together, it is wonderful!
We will continue to dip into it and have our memories jogged by the numerous anecdotes.
Limassol, Cyprus, June 2014
In answer to the question “Should I write a second volume of stories”:
Mike says “Maybe”…but he reasons that the market for a second volume may be rather smaller than for the first one.
He says this one is wonderful, and UNIQUE. It would lose its uniqueness, unless you are thinking to add to the Africa series.
E-mail from Lilian Hayball, Cyprus, 03.05.14
Alejandro Drewes, Poet
Es un tipo de literatura que me ha apasionado siempre; pienso en especial en las memorias de mi amada Karen Blixen y su granja en Kenya.
It is a type of literature that has always fascinated me; I am thinking especially of the memoirs of my beloved Karen Blixen and her farm in Kenya.
Buenos Aires, June 2014
Dr Michael Tribe, formerly Lecturer in Economics, Makerere University College, Kampala.
A preliminary skirmish with it suggests that it is an eminently ‘dippable’ book – not one to be read through from beginning to end as it were – but this is a very good attribute. Congratulations – it captures the atmosphere very well.
Niall Herriott, Head of Biology, Namilyango School, Buganda (1965-1967)
Hi Bob, thanks for the book, it’s a great read, really enjoying it, will send comments when finished.
Kilmichael, County Cork, Republic of Ireland, 2014
David Smith, Economics and Geography teacher, Kololo Senior Secondary School, Kampala (1965-1970)
Just finished A Night in Buganda—great read and superb nostalgia. So many memories of places, events, stories and old friends. Congratulations on a fine achievement. We must get together soon to celebrate publication.
Bexley, Kent, 2014
Ian Warburton, Computer Programmer
I read some of A Night In Buganda. Its great. Many great moments like the guy with the crumbling house on the mountain, the snake spitting at the windscreen and the tribal war in the car park.
St Albans, 2014
Robert Gurney lived in Uganda between 1964 and 1967, key years in Uganda’s history. Robert has compared the memories of those eventful years to a compressed file. It was almost impossible at the time to make total sense of the fast-moving events.
He attended Luton Grammar School where his Spanish master, Enyr Jones of Gaiman, Chubut, in Patagonia, shared with his pupils a view of Spanish and Latin American literature imbued with a Latin American and Welsh sensibility. Enyr Jones was the most relaxed of his teachers and seemed to like the pupils. His method was one of close textual and linguistic analysis, for example of the novel Pensativa by José Goytortúa Santos (Mexico), Zalacaín el aventurero by the Basque novelist Pío Baroja, Cervantes’ Don Quijote and Las novelas exemplares. One of the French authors studied in the Sixth Form was Albert Camus whose novel L’étranger and Existentialism left an indelible impression on the whole class.
Robert graduated in French and Spanish from St Andrews in 1964, having spent a year in Paris as an assistant de langue anglaise at the Lycée Chaptal and at the Sorbonne where, as an auditeur libre, he attended Spanish literature lectures in French. He spent a shorter period at the University of Salamanca. In Paris he tried, unsuccessfully, to write a novel. Since then he has completed a novel (unpublished).
At St Andrews, Professor L. J. (‘Ferdy’) Woodward’s lectures and tutorials made a deep impression on him. Ferdy’s Spanish poetry classes were the highlight of the week. Ferdy developed students’ imaginations. Robert tried to put into effect the lessons Ferdy taught him when he himself went into lecturing. Unless one had been taught by Ferdy, it was difficult to understand his message. It was more than the acquisition of facts, more than being about social and economic usefulness or relevance. It was about creativity. When asked what his philosophy was, Ferdy replied: “making square pegs for round holes”. The class nodded in agreement.
Douglas Gifford added a tremendously mind-broadening dimension to the Spanish programme with lectures ranging from the origins of the Spanish Language and Latin American colloquial Spanish (slang, euphemisms etc) to ‘erotic arrangements’ in medieval Spanish cities and Spanish texts written in Arabic. One of the final year projects Robert particularly remembers completing under Douglas’s supervision involved research into the way the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela had influenced place names along the ‘Camino de Santiago’ in northern Spain.
Dr Arsenio Pacheco underlined the importance of establishing an individual point of view on the authors studied, valuing the contributions of all thirteen students in the class of ’64, the largest by far up to that date (the previous intake had never gone above nine) to the understanding of the text being studied. Dr. Pacheco taught students that there was not just one answer to a question to aim at on, say, Unamuno, in order to get a good mark. This was a different approach from that of the French where there seemed to be a requirement to produce blueprint answers. Dr Pacheco also offered a Catalán option (which Robert took) and was eagle-eyed with students’ translations from and into Spanish. Robert’s rudimentary Catalán proved invaluable in negotiations with staff in the University of Valencia when the latter would go into secret conclave in the local language. Waiting for his moment, he would interrupt, in Spanish, with “Yes, but on the other hand”.
On graduating from St Andrews there was a possibility of undertaking post-graduate study in the field of Spanish Philology/Linguistics. Two topics discussed were ‘The Gypsy Language of La Mancha’ and ‘Thieves Slang in Barcelona’. Caló and Germanía had featured in the undergraduate programme. Robert was not tempted by either. He was more interested in undertaking research in twentieth century Spanish poetry, specifically Lorca. At the time, however, he felt (wrongly, he sees now) that he had spent enough time studying the writings of the dead. In retrospect, he can see the personal benefit he received from studying Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Calderón, Fray Luis de León, San Juan de la Cruz, Saint Teresa of Avila, Góngora, the anonymous author of Lazarillo de Tormes and other Picaresque authors whose presence can sometimes be detected in Robert’s poems and short stories.
Robert was selected to join the TEA scheme (Teachers for East Africa, an Anglo-American joint aid programme). Arriving in Uganda with high hopes – his decision to go there was essentially idealistic, part and parcel of the heady atmosphere of the sixties – it was difficult for him to know what to think as the country lurched from democracy towards dictatorship. This book was written as an attempt to make sense of a complex personal experience.
In 1965 Robert completed the Diploma of Education at Makerere University College, Kampala, Uganda, part of the University of East Africa (now Makerere University). Teaching practice was at secondary schools in Kampala and Tororo, on the Uganda-Kenya border. In 1965 he began a full-time post at Kitante Hill Senior Secondary School, where he taught English and French. He was also put in charge of sport and launched a great variety of activities by badgering the European clubs in Kampala to open up their facilities to the kids. The pupils were from poor backgrounds. He would say, “Look, the country is independent now. Come on, you know it makes sense” and they would open up their swimming pools, tennis courts, badminton courts, etc, etc.
While in Kampala, he concentrated on developing his French, obtaining the Saint Cloud audiovisual method certificate offered by the French Embassy. He lived in a small French community on Nakasero Hill, in central Kampala, next to Lugard’s Fort, among French Embassy staff and people from Rwanda and the Congo. He created (wrote, presented and acted in) a series of programmes, French for Schools and Colleges, for Uganda ETV. He enjoyed driving in Rwanda, Burundi and Zaïre (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). He tried, unsuccessfully, to create a link between Kitante and a school in Kigali, Rwanda. In 1965 he taught French, briefly, on the same voluntary basis as that of the French TV programmes, at Bombo Sudanese Refugee Camp near Kampala. He felt a growing need to move on to post-graduate study and contemplated applying to Makerere. The topic he had in mind was the Novel in Francophone Africa but this may have involved completing the MA in African Studies first.
During his last two years in Uganda the project slowly formed in his mind to undertake back in the UK post-graduate on the poetry of Federico García Lorca. He was fortunate to be allocated the Lorca specialist Ian Gibson as his research supervisor by Professor Anthony Watson of Birkbeck College, University of London. Ian persuaded Robert to investigate the work of Juan Larrea, possibly Spain’s most difficult poet (private communication with Agustín Sánchez Vidal, Santander, July 1984).
On his return to the UK, having not taken a post in Toulouse owing to a mix-up (the letter went to a Kampala friend’s address in Paris and was not forwarded), he was appointed in 1968 Lecturer in French (with some Spanish) at Hendon College of Technology. He went on to lecture in Modern Languages at Middlesex University, London. He passed the London University equivalence examination in 1969. He completed a PhD in Spanish,The Poetry of Juan Larrea, in November 1974 (awarded 1975), under the inspiring supervision of Ian Gibson, the Lorca, Dalí and Buñuel specialist. (Ian introduced Robert at the launch of Dragonfly at the book launch in Madrid in 2013.) Robert’s thesis (updated) was published as La poesía de Juan Larrea by the Universidad del País Vasco in 1985.
He has lectured on French language and society, French, Latin American and Spanish literature (mainly modern Spanish and Latin American poetry). Lecturing involved extensive travel, mainly in Europe but also in Latin America, setting up joint study programmes and visiting students on their year abroad.
Robert’s research was completed with the help of University of London and British Council post-graduate scholarships. It involved 200 hours of interviews (plus informal conversations) in Argentina with Juan Larrea, in French and Spanish (1972). In Spain he met Salvador Dalí, José María de Cossío and Luis Vivanco. He interviewed Gerardo Diego, who helped Robert enormously, in both Spain and France.
He writes in Spanish and English. His books of poetry and his short stories have enjoyed some success in Latin America and Spain. His poems have attracted prizes in Israel and Argentina.
A series of short stories in Spanish, The Seven Deadly Sins, based on experiences in Africa, is being published by Benma Grupo Editorial, Mexico City in their Pecados anthologies.
“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
Some stories are just too bad to be told. Some stories, perhaps, should just not be written. This may be one of them. But, then, there are worse, I suppose, that definitely can’t be published. I have always believed that a text, once written, should leave the world a better place. How can this one do that, unless, in the telling, it cautions us never to hand too much power to any one person? On 12 April 1978, I have heard, soldiers loyal to Amin entered a church in Kampala and started firing above the congregation. Pentecostalism had been banned. There were six hundred people in there, men, women and children. The soldiers, they say, were ‘wild-eyed’. I can believe it. I saw it one night, with my own eyes, in a club in Mengo twelve years earlier. The assistant pastor sank to his knees. Hundreds more did the same. The red-brick church echoed with the deafening roar of gunfire and prayers. A man in the orchestra raised his trumpet to his lips and blew it loudly. The soldiers panicked, thinking it was a Christian counterattack and fled the scene. Four hundred escaped at that moment but two hundred stayed. The soldiers returned and began to spray more bullets at the roof and the walls. They took Joseph Nyakaru’s trumpet and threw it on the ground. They fired at it until it was just a piece of twisted metal. The congregation was taken to the State Research Bureau on Nakasero Hill, to Lugard’s Fort, next to where I had once lived. General Mustafa Adrisi Amin’s second-in-command, signed an order that they were to be burned alive. They prayed hard. It seemed to work as Adrisi’s car was involved in a crash. His legs were destroyed. He became wheel chair bound and turned on Amin. Many of the congregation were badly tortured in Nakasero but, somehow, they survived. It is said that George Santayana wrote: “Those who ignore history are doomed (or bound) to repeat it”. He didn’t say that. He said, it appears, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” He was echoing Burke’s words. But whichever way you say it, it is true. That congregation must have had a guardian angel. Ours is History. The History Department of the university in my home town has just been closed down.
Gurney, R.E. A Night in Buganda, 2014, pp 57-58.