The bags on his back and a cloth round his chin,
And tucked in his waistbelt, the Post Office Bill,
Despatched on this date, as received by the rail.
Per runner, two bags of the Overland Mail.
When the flight of fancy reverts, my dreams travel to places where I served and lived
in East Africa. Then a picture emerges of Soroti. I ponder about its distance,
remoteness and aloofness. I visualise the flapping, flitting and droning of butterflies in
the warm Teso air and try to inhale the fragrance of wild flowers. I realise the short span
of human life and how the days glide swiftly. I feel homesick.
After my vacation leave in 1958, I was posted to Soroti. The Postmaster C S Patel and
myself were both clerks grade one, although Mr Patel was considerably senior to me in
service and age. After drifting of all these years, I must say, he was a noble man and it
was a pleasure to work with him.
Primarily I was supposed to take care of the sorting office, ie dealing with the inward
and outward mails including sorting of letters in the Post Office boxes. I had a small
cubicle with a little window where I would sit on a tall stool and do my work. The rays
of the piercing, scorching sun would enter my cabin and literally burn my whole system. The intense heat would go to my head and I would curse the gods of Soroti. The
authorities in those days had not thought of a fan to stir the atmosphere. For a clerk like
me, there was nothing I could do but to be contented with my fate.
After a year, when Mr Patel proceeded on overseas leave, I took over the office. As
my nature was, I began rearranging, reorganising and changing everything. This
specifically related to various articles of furniture. During this switch, there was a paper
sorting rack which stood against the wall and needed a few persons to shift it. It was
about seven feet high, four feet wide and four feet in depth. It had 20 large pigeon holes,
each about a foot square. At the base there was space like a trough where you placed
newspapers, magazines and letter bundles for sorting.
When the sorter throws or rather sorts a heavy item, it goes with force and a thud.
Thus with the knocks and wallops for years, the back of two of the pigeon holes had
partly opened and formed a gap of half an inch. In this crevice, a number of postal items
had accumulated. I found three small letter bundles and some loose stuff for addresses to
various towns and locations.
Postmasters and sorters had come and gone, but the sorting rack had stood there like
sphinx. The date-stamp impressions indicated the material found dated back to different
months and years and had been lying there undisturbed, in deep slumber, some of it for
quarter of a century. My heart jumped up and I felt excited. Such finds are very rare and
could only take place in fantasy. It took some time for my flurry to calm down.
I compiled a list of all the items, furnishing the date and place of posting (from the
date stamp impressions) name and address of the addressees and the circumstances as to
how they were found and sent it to the Divisional Controlling Postmaster for further
action. They were eventually forwarded to the addressees with an explanatory note
about the delay in delivery! What happened to the addressees during this period is a
matter for conjecture. Some had gone away from their address while some had migrated
to a different planet.
In October 1998 my wife and myself visited Uganda and travelled extensively by car.
This was our second trip together since leaving there, although I was in East Africa a
third time. Nowadays, the Post Office has its own conveyance called "Post Bus" which
delivers the mail bags to all the Post Offices throughout the country. These buses
generally carry 25 passengers. The fares are reasonable. I "post-bussed" to Soroti. My
wife did not accompany me saying the ride could be strenuous for her. It was a delight
to be in the old surroundings.
In the good old days, there used to be government Rest Houses in Uganda. There was
exceptionally a cosy and comfortable one in Soroti. But the rest houses are a story for
another day. I stayed at the Soroti Hotel at thirty thousand shillings a night. An English
pound is equivalent to two thousand one hundred shillings. Being an ex-postal staff, the
Post Bus driver was courteous enough to give me a lift to the hotel which is two miles
from the Post Office.
I was at Soroti to wander in its streets and neighbourhood. It was a captivating
morning. To have a feel of the rocky environs, I took an almost abandoned, untrodden,
deserted, twisted, lonely path to walk from the hotel to the Post Office. My trek was
more charming for me than the end of my hike. I knew I shall not tread the track again.
There was a bounce in my steps.
My Post Office was still alive. As always, there is bonhomie among the staff. The
Postmaster greeted me warmly and showed me around. I said to him, I had left a particle
of my heart there.
During my time, there were 20 members of the staff which consisted of telegraphists,
telephonists, counter and sorting office personnel, telegraph messengers, office boys and
the Postmaster. I recollect Okado, Okudu, Ukudu, Olum and Okunya. In addition there
was the engineering staff. If I recall correctly, the Engineer in Charge was an
Englishman, Mr Singer. There were two hundred Asian traders. They have departed.
The folk I knew in various government departments have disappeared. None of them I
shall ever meet. I heard whispers from the past. Half forgotten faces came back to me.
I had a hankering to go to some other areas in the region viz: Katakwi, Kaberamaido
and Moroto. I particularly pined to see Bugondo, a small, forlorn, forsaken, silent,
sleepy village on the lake shore. You feel you are in a trance while there. My yearnings
did not materialise.
However, there is Sipi Falls where during my time at Soroti, on occasional weekends,
I would go for a picnic with my family. This time I was able to spend a few nights at the
Falls Rest Camp which is like a Five Star Hotel. It was originally constructed as
Governor's retreat on a cliff directly overlooking the falls and the Karamojong plains.
Now in Bwana Governor's hideaway, the holidaymakers, with a glass of White Cap
beer in hand, gaze at the immortal Sipi which continues its safari, with its fall and flow,
for ever. It is the most beautiful and romantic waterfall in the whole of Uganda
according to "Lonely Planet Guide".
While trudging towards my old government habitation, I thought I was going home
after my office hours. Long years had fleeted away but it seemed it was only yesterday. I
felt melancholy and bleak. At my dwelling, I could hear the patter of tiny footsteps of
my children on the floor. I sat down on a stretch of lush green grass which I knew and
recognised, in the front compound. I looked at the face of the grey sky. I felt I had never
left Soroti. The birds were in song. There was a swish in the trees. The time was tripping
And I would lie down again
in this familiar portion of Earth
A guest among the trees
And dream each night of coming back