By Aliker P’Ochitti
It’s 7:00pm, the last Monday of the year 2020. I have checked in; freshened up and taken an instant nap of approximately one hour from a days journey stretching Kampala to Kitgum.
I called a few reputable persons in Kitgum and they didn’t pick up,others picked up and were taking a night out in Aruu camp site in Pader, a nearby district.
An evening walk to stretch my muscles conflicts with my passion for a cold beer. The compromise was Hotel Boma, a previous corporate hangout that I frequented whenever in Kitgum.
This time round,my eyes fail to blink from the shock of no one nor sound effects of a festive evening from its entrance,I instantly knew I was in the wrong place.It looked lifeless but functional with miserable tired looking characters passing by in the compound.
A young man of modest dressing in a white Bob Marley designed T-shirt and dummy blue jean trouser and a flat soled Unister Sports shoe passes me by heading towards town.
I offer him my Covid19 fist greeting accompanied by courteous smile and like any other contagious smile; he responded with a fist and chest thumping for a Rasta’s respect.
“Where do Kitgum corporates spend the evening?” I asked.
“Go to Icon bar” and he gave me directions to walk back to the center of the municipality.
I traced my way to Kitgum’s busiest evening street defined by lodges, veranda bars and road side grills of every tribe of meat and rolex stalls .
This is likely the only street you listen to the most Luganda, Uganda’s commercial business language that defines the informal sector.
In between a corridor, I sighted legendary artist Bosmic Otim’s black double cabin truck with his posters and that of President Museveni vying for political office.
The Tumbiza sound track leads me to the entrance of Icon bar,Kitgums corporate bar.
Icon bar in many ways a semblance of Gulu’s Corner Cafe of the early 2000.
Eleman Komando UG, one of Bosmic’s lead singers welcomes me to the bar like a Gulu acquaintance and opening story lines of “How is Gulu?”
Icon bar is set behind a commercial building in a quadrangle that houses three pool tables and an adjacent rectangular likelow frame cubicles created to host small private discussions.
The walls are skillfully designed and painted with colorful and amazing art work of beautiful beauties with succulent breasts over light clothing just like what Gulu had at Corner Cafe.
After a few courtesies, I am impressed with the DJ selection that gives the venue the hyped pomp and class of a corporate audience like any other in the country.
The youthful audience nodding their heads and not yet dancing are well dressed with designer clothes and most of them expressed a great sense of fashion and the latest design consciousness of what is trending In the market except for two wacky tired looking white men galloping beer and enthusiastically enjoying a deep two man conversation in the company of unquestioning young ladies who look of the night. The ones that have mastered the art of minding their business and playing silence for compliance.
As I walk over to the counter for a drink, I am welcomed by two great acquaintances who introduce me to a third as,”The guy of NBS T.V”
I interjected by saying, I am not Benson Ongom. He says, “Yes, but you work together.”
“No, I am only a regular commentator as a political pundit but don’t work for NBS T.V”
I clear the air on my identity.
NBS is Nile Broadcasting Services Television.
My acquaintance looked disappointed as he wanted to make me feel good by creating a big impression onto his buddy; as in the company of a great personality.
As I sip my first cold sweating Bell beer,I am joined by the Proprietor, the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Kidega Nabinson Nok who is excited to receive me to his bar.
He inquired if all was okay and if I was in need of any further help,he would be handy. I am dazed by this professionalism and customer care.
We delve into old time Gulu stories of our days growing up as a teenagers in the company of Denis Okello(DO), his brother Bobby, and Janan Loum a.k.a Azia.
During my teens, we spent a lot of afternoon hours in their compounder Goan Quarters in the company of his younger brother Bobby who then was our only friend who knew how to do rap music. Back from Kira College Butiki in Jinja, he already knew reputable national music artists like Mental Cronnor and Gen. Mega D with their debut song In Heaven there is no beer.
Bobby was our childhood guy whom we believed had a future in music before he pursued a medical profession .If I am not mistaken, he was the first or the only one I remembered doing accapela songs with unique vocals like that of Luther Vandross hence knowing the word-accapela.
Back to Kitgum’s Icon bar, as my bottle begun to “leak” and required refilling; the uniformly dressed young exclusively beautiful girls dressed in strikingly white V-neck T-Shirts with similar height, complexion that would even by community diagnosis look compellingly attractive checked on us more often to confirm we required refilling of our bottles.
After a few selfie moments with Proprietor Nabinson, two jolly looking young men politely asked for his attention to inform him,it was his turn on the pool table. He graciously excused himself patting me on the back to resume his game of pool.
An elusive young man walked in handy with his girlfriend to the counter with the familiarity of a regular patron as he teased the skinny brown lady with a gap in her tooth calling her “my own” and asked for a beer.
The lady at the counter ignored this uncalculated courtesy and chose to serve other customers.
After two minutes, fitting his fingers in between his girlfriends fingers to fit like a chain; his girl friend impatiently demanded for a Tusker Malt beer but again the lady at the counter ignored them.
With a voice of one whose ego has been ravaged, the gentleman demanded to join the VIP section and the lady at the counter politely demanded for a fee which he declined.
I later learnt Icon bar has a VIP section with more fancied chairs and privacy with a standby waiter.
In protest, he instructed his girlfriend in an unfriendly tone proposing to visit another bar since the waiters here werearrogant. His girl friend declined and demanded for a beer.
Without an option he surrendered his interest and played by the ways and interest of the ladies who seem to understand him as troublesome with his familiarity.
He pulled out his wallet with notes of 20,000UGX and 50,000UGX feeling the notes in between his fingers undecided whether to pull out either notes and decided to go for the 50,000 and banged it on the counter a loud ordering voice demanding for two bottles of beer.
Without looking into his face, the lady at the counter served him and offered him pocket change and turned to serve other customers plainly ignoring him.
A friend joined me dressed in a grey coat over a blue jean trouser obviously thirsty for beer and is shocked to find me at the counter.
“What brings you to my town?” he asked.
“The festive season” I replied smiling.
“Who are you here to write about?” he joked
“Lukitgum” I said smiling to poke him, literally implying people from Kitgum
“La’Gulu, don’t cause trouble here” he joked referring to people from Gulu.
“The year is coming to an end and I am looking for long distance trouble” I joked breaking out into bouts of laughter and stories of our days at University.
Suddenly, he received a call from his wife and excused himself to answer from out of the club. I could tell he was not a free man to be in the bar that late.
I checked the time, and it was getting to mid night and I remembered an earlier story about a Christmas party gone bad at the same place.
Police appeared at the climax of the party and to disperse the crowd,it’s alleged they tear gased the enclosed with already drunk customers to go home.
My mind reminded me of the Gaetano’s experience where police found him after curfew hours at his restaurant and bar and in a dignified way dispersed his customers, save for a journalist who filmed the inconvenience to make news and Gaetano ferociously complained on his rights to private property being abrogated on his show on Capital Fm next day.
Kitgum is now a municipality and not a town but the district leadership mindset is patiently in hibernation mode as a town where disrespect from authority is still the rule of the game unlike Gulu City.
I walked out to go sleep and prepare for the next days tasks impressed by the new and rising middle class of Kitgum that is being built by local investors for local members of the fraternity of Kitgum but sad that unless Kitgum voted for new young enlightened local leaders who understand the importance of the social identity and and brand of the district as a commercial municipality at the border of Ethiopia and Southern Sudan; it will have to bear with being underlooked as a Municipality yet to catch up in tandem with modern times.
Tomorrow, I hope to write about a meeting with a Mucwini friend and another from Madi Opei on Kitgums middle class business mentality while enjoying the ambience of Acaki Lodge Kitgum.
In the meantime, I highly recommend Icon bar for you if you find yourself as a visitor or local tourist in Kitgum for a modest evening before heading to Kidepo National Game Park.
The Writer is a fun loving socialite and critic based in Gulu.Email: email@example.com