You all probably hold special places in your hearts for your fathers, dads, daddies, babas, or papas. Some dads still live while others have sadly passed away to a world unknown to us, but today we honor them all.
My dad was a very special man indeed!
My dad did not exactly know when he was born. This is not uncommon when you are born to illiterate parents in some deep village that had no access to hospitals, schools, or any other meaningful infrastructure for that matter. The only way a parent knew when a child was born was to think of an event that might have occurred during the time of birth. For instance, parents remembered a good harvest, a famine, a flood, a drought, a bloody tribal raid that claimed a loved one, or an invasion of locusts. It could be a sensational event like an eclipse! Oh yes, “that moment when darkness abruptly takes over daylight,” my mum once told me. With that knowledge in mind, a parent then notes such a year and records it as a child’s birthday. (No one paid much attention to months – too much to remember, I suppose.)
My dad’s birthday was recorded as the year 1948, which would have made him 72 years old today, although my guess is that he was probably born around the year 1944 – 45, making him 75years old. (Still close.) Dad was the third of three brothers: Kapel Lokelim, Kapel Ngiro Gabriel, and Kapel Dedeng Paul. All the three brothers were so tall, with my dad at roughly 6.2ft, while his brothers at 6.4ft or more. Lokelim and Ngiro were not only tall, they were gigantic with more muscle on them than my slim dad.
Dad’s family like many other families at the time were pastaralists who although had a permanent homestead, the men, husbands, and sons seasonally moved from place to place in search of grass and water for their cows, goats, and sheep. Being the youngest son, dad’s brothers made him look after the herd most of the time, while they took care of some other unknown errand, or simply napped under a tree. (This is a common sight in Karamoja.)
When he was left alone with the animals, my young dad would curiously venture into the only “school” in the village. School was a large compound under a big tree where a teacher gave lessons to his little naked boy pupils. Girls were never allowed to go to school, their place was home to help their mothers with chores such as grinding grain (sorghum) on a stone for dinner, fetching water from the well, hiking mountains in search of thorny bushes used to fence the homestead, weeding the gardens, looking after the little ones, and brewing alcohol for sale and home consumption. From a young age, a girl had to learn from her mother all the important chores that would make her a worthy wife and mother when she was of age. Even the boys who went to school at all were very few, reason being that they had to take care of cattle to support their families. Animals were essential and are still vital to my tribe. Everything depends on it: clothing, bedding, food, (milk, meat, and blood) and money. Money was used to buy medicine if the cows got sick, or it was used to pay the traditional doctor who treated everything from malaria, pregnancy complications, small pox, measles, you name it. These “doctors” made their patients drink herbs from select plants, (which worked most times, believe me) or the “doctor” made the patient wear some animal part, a bird’s claw, or a special bird feather to caste off evil spirits. (Not sure this worked, but it didn’t stop the doctor from administering it, or the patient from obliging.) In most cases though, the doctor preferred payment in form of a chicken, a goat, or better yet, a cow, depending on how sick one was.
If dad was lucky on one of those days he sneaked into school, he got served a cup of porridge – a tactic used by the school to lure children to “class.” But if luck had deserted him like it did on most occasions, his older brother Lokelim would come looking for him at school and drag my dad away, whipping him for neglecting the animals to wander off into somebody’s garden, or to get lost all together. Dad told my siblings and I a couple times that looking after cows was a miserable business; it meant he leave home at sunrise and return at sunset worn-out and starved. That when days were hot, he searched for a tree with good shade, but as soon as he made himself comfortable, the animals would have quickly gone a good distance. Goats especially were burdensome; unlike cows that took their time grazing, goats always seemed to be in a rush, racing away into the vast open land. In the rainy season which was usually characterized with blinding lightening, maddening thunderstorms, and torrential downpours, my dad sought shelter under a cow. Yes he did!
Dad was so lucky he happened to have an uncle, Lokwang Chaudry, who was miraculously not only a member of parliament (MP) for Dodoth (dad’s county), but who later became a Minister for Karamoja Affairs. I honestly still can’t fathom how a man from one of the remotest regions in the country could against all odds not only get a good education, but end up becoming a cabinet minister in the Obote I and Obote II regimes of 1962 -71. Anyway, on one of his routinely visits home, he heard of how dad had caused all sorts of problems for his family by insisting on going to school, and that no amount of whippings had deterred him. By now, dad was in his late teens when the minister who had one other sibling, Nangiro Margaret, decided to take my dad back with him. He first enrolled dad to a primary school in Moroto District, Kazimeri Primary School (which both my sister Jacqueline and I would later attend) then ultimately took him to Kampala city where he enrolled my dad in one of the most prestigious schools at the time, Kololo High School. This school was modeled on a British style curriculum; in fact, my dad was one of the very few black students amidst white and mostly Indians. Dad went on to finish high school, meet my dear mum, get a plush job as District Commissioner, Moroto District, and between them have six children.
Toper ejok papa (Goodnight dad.)
To be continued …