My depression…

…is me avoiding eye contact coz I haven’t mastered the art of looking friends in the eye and lying about the darkness I carry. It’s me adding speed to my steps to hide the sluggishness of my spirit; turning my face from the person walking past the office door coz I’m hiding eyes I just wiped. It’s me storming out of office coz everyone turns on an invisible tap in my eyes.

It makes me blink back tears in the presence of people I know and openly sob on a stranger’s boda boda home. It sends me to bed at 6pm, wakes me at midnight and keeps me up till morning like thoughts about an on-off lover. It drives me to a counsellor who I immediately dislike and I leave cursing all hospitals.

…it’s me cancelling phone calls and ignoring text messages; deactivating my Facebook and typing DON’T CALL OR TEXT in the family WhatsApp; flinging the phone across the room and curling in bed, cuddling pillows warmed up by tears.

It makes me mute the TV from six to six because voices of strangers stoke the voices in my head, and yet the sight of faces behind the screen keeps the world here. It helps me close the door to everyone knocking and makes me look at my darkness in the eye, admiringly.

…it’s me detesting dance. Even poetry.

It makes me eat everything I shouldn’t because food is the only thing I can control. It makes me crave the anti-deps because they understand my love for sleep. It makes me listen to Run on repeat and pray for the sky to fall together with the rain.

…it’s me shutting out voices that ask; You have it all together, what do you mean things are falling apart? You don’t look it, are you sure? It’s me switching off the phone 30 minutes to girls’ night out coz the thought of a crowd suddenly has me gasping for breath. It’s about finding the right words to explain why work – like my life – is undone. It’s me thinking about what I’ll say when the sky clears coz, I was just feeling low no longer sounds convincing, even to me.

When it visited this time, depression said life after here is a garden of flowers that bloom poetry.




We knew the battle was lost

when doors and windows puked

black smoke.


Thatch became wings

of fire that refused to furl

for the drizzle.


Huts knelt

before men

waving logs with crimson tongues.


The sun rose too late

to test its rays against

embers glowing in




West Nile





© Harriet Anena

Coming up in a collection about the two-decade Lord’s Resistance Army war in northern Uganda. 


…another woman’s throat will be cut tonight, her naked body dumped in a plantation, by the roadside, in a thicket, a stick stuck in her vagina. But we’ll see no blood, hear no wail, scratch not our heads about the similarity in these murders. She’ll be number 25 or is it 26? a statistic piling up since May. We’ll hear the news from one ear, forget it from the other. Because we are busy sharpening knives to chop another limb of the national bible. We are hungry and the dead are dead. Uganda!

Third Floor

Is it our secret

cracking your bedroom

wall like leprosy?


Did the wall see me

sneak in

that night like

an experienced thief,

face half covered by

hat rim and designer shades?


Did it hear the light tap

of my shoes on tiled stairs,

the hurried welcome,

snap of buttons and

thudding of hearts?


Does it remember

my muffled moans

cautious pleas,

the flow of tears inwards and

you grunting, ‘cum quickly before she finds us’?


How could I make the peak,

when instead of mine

you called her name,

smacked my ass

when I didn’t say ‘yes baby’

until I did?


How could I sprinkle, when

you groped my head for

hair full and silky like hers

breasts soldierly and disarming like hers

skin soft on touch like hers

found none and demanded

‘what happened to you?’


How can I delete the chapter of

that night on third floor when

the face of your gate man asking

‘sister, what is this you’re doing to yourself’

never leaves my mind?

Of minis & tight pants: Let’s know when to shut up

By penning this blog, I’m probably committing the same sin I’m about to reproach a section of our media for – not knowing when to shut up. So I’ll keep it short like the mini-skirt that is once again dominating our public discourse.

We woke up on Tuesday to a directive by the Public Service Ministry, telling all permanent secretaries and chief administrative officers to enforce a strict dress code.

While some of us were busy scratching our heads over the uncomfortable talk about a possible removal of presidential age limit, the proposed compulsory acquisition of land by government, and pinches from our bleeding economy, other people were rolling on the ground protesting “indecent dressing” among some government workers.  The ministry heard their cry and responded.

In fact, the director, human resources at the Public Ministry Adah Muwanga, explained how horrible the situation is. She said “some female officers are pumping up their breasts…” Stop there for a minute and have a mental picture of that. Hmmm see what I mean?

She added that the same female officers are wearing miniskirts and in the process sexually harassing their male counterparts. And that is where I get really distressed about this mini-skirt/indecent dressing talk.

Every time we accuse women of “indecent” dressing, we insult men in the process. We (unknowingly I hope) brand men as libido-laden creatures with zero breaks in their pants. Andrew Karamagi drove the point home by articulating in a Daily Monitor commentary that it’s not true that men cannot restrain their sexual appetite.  Where are the other men to defend the restraint of their manhood, or is Muwanga actually right? If she is indeed right that your zipper goes gaga at the sight of a mini-skirt wearer, then the problem is still actually yours.

Anyway, I was expecting the media to ignore this “story” and tell us that indeed, the crisis we are facing in this country is not even close to mini. It’s maxi. But what do we see, front page coverage of the issue in both leading newspapers on Wednesday, July 5.

Thursday Op-eds in both New Vision and Daily Monitor were well-dressed but problematic in stance on the issue. The Vision one noted: “While it is desirable to maintain a good public image of the civil service, enforcing the directive as stipulated by the permanent secretary is not practical and could be open to abuse.” What the public needs, according to the New Vision editorial, is sensitization on how to dress “decently” and not a directive.

The Daily Monitor on the other hand, started with an entrapping headline, “People need services, not rules on dressing,” before detailing in the editorial that “Whereas the dress code policy is well-intentioned because it aims at fighting indecency in public offices thus shaping morality there, the question is whether the directive was absolutely necessary at this point in time”. So the directive is actually needed but poorly timed?

Let’s leave the issue of dressing and dress-code alone, people. The indecency that plagues this country and its public servants lie beneath the cloak – it’s in the mind, the hands, the eyes and every body part used to deny ordinary citizens what is due to them. That, is the stinking indecency we should be revolted by. That’s the indecency that should make us speak until our throats dry.

This is not the first time we are being distracted by this miniskirt babble by the way. In 2014, the signing into law of the “miniskirt” Bill by President Museveni caused quite a stir and I wrote about it here.  When Makerere University research fellow Dr. Stella Nyanzi stripped to her lingerie in protest against mistreatment at work, there was a similar outpouring of chatter and I, in this blog, wondered whether there’s anyone still fully dressed in this country.

We never learn, yet we should, and focus on the big picture, if not for anything then for the sake of our country that is facing actual issues. If we can’t, let’s at least remember that before all this came to be, there were once human beings strutting the face of this earth with nothing on, except maybe leaves, figs or animal skin. Did the men in that era mount women indiscriminately because they had no clothes on? Has the dress-code police chief, Fr. Lokodo reported more cases of rape in his Karamoja home area since they stay nude or half-dressed culturally?

Sometimes we should just let sleeping dogs lie!

But since the media decided not to shut up (because one of its roles is to inform), the worst they could’ve done was frame the coverage of this “dress-code/indecent dressing” directive appropriately (challenge, question, dissect) instead of reproducing the stereotype that Muwanga and her ilk are presenting.

And as you can see, this blog is now more than 800 words! So I’ll end here, lest I get accused of indecent writing.



To the star that never shone…

Government releases O-Level results. In Ntungamo District, Sekyondwa goes to pick his results from school. It is Third Grade. Aggregate 68. He is devastated! He goes home. Takes poison. Dies. His parents weep. His friends miss him. His head teacher recalls he was “an average student” because he also got third grade in mock exams.

Elsewhere, O-Level “stars” are starring in national newspapers (for a bloody full week), smiling and lifting each other on national TV and dreaming aloud about becoming pilots and doctors and engineers and lawyers and pursuing all manner of posh careers in the future. We can’t blame them! It’s either that or they are doomed. We told them that, we tell them that.

In Ntungamo, a family is burying a child because we – yes all of us – made it a capital offence, a sin (the General will soon declare it treason too) to get nothing less than a “good” first grade.

And some of these stars will go to A-Level expecting nothing less than 1AAAA, whether that involves excelling through “alternative” means. And on to the university they will go, buying or sleeping their way to first class or second class upper degrees, buying or sleeping their way into jobs…and at some point getting caught boxers or knickers down when they can’t deliver on the job…

Some of the stars sweated their way to stardom, they have it sorted when it comes to books, you know! Genes and all. We (will) envy them, rightly so. They will soar beyond the classroom and reassure you, we still gaat this! But some of the “legit” stars will also flunk in life, because all they know is ace exams and flunk in anything else other than pen and answer sheets (because we didn’t give a proper shit about them becoming all-round people).

To those ones we will say, eh but that dude had a brain mahn, I wonder what happened to him? Eh but that babe used to whip our asses in exams mahn, oba who bewitched her?

And some of the “fake” stars, the ones who forge their way into everything and everywhere, will surprise you by doing just fine and you will wonder, qwe, do you remember that babe/dude? Kale she/he was aaaaaaaa but see where she/he is now!

And we can’t blame them! Our education system is a single-formula affair. You either know the formula or you don’t. If you don’t, give way!

When shall be stop being so average? Oops, my bad!

The Other Chapter

I told my sister,

Okot plunged his tongue in my mouth when I was 13.  He called it a kiss

He inserted his hands in my blouse and tried to make dough out of my breasts.

He called it romance

My sister said,

Why are you telling me this now, 17 years later?

I told my sister,

My stomach wasn’t strong enough to empty the secret and

my mind did a good job helping me forget

My sister said,

I’m going out to throw up

I told myself,

How lucky!

My own vomit has been stuck in my throat since 1999 when

the man my cousin calls a husband introduced me to The Other Chapter.

I killed a man last night

It started like this. The Doc said I have a syndrome.

When the syndrome comes, it sets my spine on fire, my intestines go into a pull and shrink mode, my mind forgets what it should remember and remembers what it should forget.

My hormones get jumpy; sometimes (most times) I don’t want to get out of bed because my body acquires the weight of a train and aches like it’s aching to win a Nobel. On those days, I hate the music that usually make me smile and I shrink like a tortoise, convincing the world I don’t exist.

On such days, I hate popcorn and sweet bananas and sugarcane and I refuse to make pancakes even when on other days they are the only food that drive my foul mood to the woods.

On such days, I take long walks around the neighborhood and ignore the dogs I usually fear; close my ears to the hissing of men who call me sweet baby without a clue about the bile I carry inside.

On days like those, I jog on that steep hill even when the Doc said, keep it low impact, dear. I jog long and hard because sweat drowns some of my demons.

On such days, I get fatigued without lifting a finger and sleep becomes a difficult lover to woo.


Sometimes I wake up before my alarm shrieks, I prepare breakfast and actually enjoy it.

On such days, I wear my hair wild and put on red lipstick and a mini-skirt and ditch my bra and play loud music in the car and drive fast.

On those days, I arrive at work on time, work so hard I get scared my boss might think I’m after his job.

On such days, I watch movies with guns and mischief and love. When the night arrives,  I cry looonnng and hard for no particular reason and feel good about it; I dance before the mirror and walk around the house naked.


When the Doc told me about the syndrome, my mind deleted its contents in a flash, my eyes zoned out everything and I felt my ears fly off my head. I didn’t hear the Doc ask if I am okay.

Of course I was not okay. But I told the Doc I was perfect and smiled that smile that I only smile when I am with my mother or when fantasizing about twins and living in a tree-house.

The Doc said I had taken the news better than he’d imagined and I heard his breath stroll out of his nose loud and relieved, his face creased in a cautious smile.

How could I not take it well when it’d been years of whoring from one doctor to another, one hospital to another trying to find the clan and religion that this disease subscribes to? How could I not smile that smile, when it had taken years of guess diagnosis and misdiagnosis and mis-treatment.

Does the Doc know what it means for your hair to start falling off your head because they got fed up of the meds and stress and neglect? Does he know what it means to learn that you were on anti-depressants you could have done without? How do you detox your mind from such gamble?

How could I not smile when the disease I had moved around with for years suddenly had a name, even if it’s a chronic?


This Doc didn’t just shove tablets down my throat like I had gotten used to. He said, take note of how you feel when you eat anything. Exercise in moderation. MANAGE STRESS. I loved him for that. For putting me in charge of my syndrome. My IBS (Google it).

I have done all that. I do all that the Doc says. In fact he says I’ve become a Doc myself (I guess I just need a practicing certificate).

But you see, my body still throws tantrums and my skin hasn’t grown tough enough to shake off stress with ease; my tummy is still proud, choosy and bossy. I’ll take wheat for breakfast today and my system coils its tail like an obedient dog, and the next day I eat wheat for breakfast and my body gets defiant and every body part wants to do a Brexit on me.

I try.

I know I try because my back got one solution. It loves the hardness of the floor.

On most days I ditch the softness of my bed and embrace the hardness of the PS – the Presidential Suite (see, someone had to give it a befitting name to make it lovable). My back loves how the PS extends its arms past the fluffy carpet and kneads by skin and spine and everything. The fire in my spine dies out on those days and I lie there, eyes on the ceiling, creating stanzas in my head or storming out of the PS to grab the laptop and write down words before they retreat to that place in my mind that forgets what it should remember.

And then it happened.

It was on one of those nights when sleep gets tired of playing hard to get and offers itself for free. On one such night, my eyes fluttered open when my ears caught a click-click sound. From my PS, I saw him standing outside the door. I waited, and held the blanket tighter.

The click-click came again and the door flung open. The security light from without followed him in and I saw shock engulf his face when his eyes landed on the frame in the living room. The encounter had come too soon.

He moved closer, pulled the blanket off my body and I sat up in that speed that seizes my body on days when I wake up before the alarm.

I hit him on the neck in that spot where they say life resides. I left him to finish dying and I walked out of the house to take some air outside.

There was no dead man in the morning. No blood. Just bits and pieces of what used to be my blender, scattered on the floor like it died struggling to take say a prayer.

You see…

I do everything the Doc tells me to do.

He just didn’t tell me how to snap out of a dream that involves killing a man.

1. Are you wearing a bra?

The #ImaginedConversationSeries takes place in the writer’s mind.                               Believe it at your own risk.                                                                                                                        


So, how have you been madam poet?


That’s all?

Were you expecting something greater than great?

Now you’re going all philosophical on me, aha?

I repent for my philosophical sins

I have always wanted to ask; what inspired you to write A Nation in Labor?

Do you want me to tell you a secret?

Yes yes…

Never ask a writer that question. Ever!


It’s like insulting the person of the president writer

You’re just dodging the question

Must there be an inspiration?

Yes! Of course!


Anyway, are you wearing a bra?



I hate bras. So today when I was putting on this dress, the upper part was a bit tight and I figured if I removed the bra, it would fit better. I did just that!

Don’t you feel uncomfortable walking around without bra?

No. My boobs are quite well behaved.

So why do you wear them at all?

So that people like you don’t knock off their toes staring at my stuff and so you don’t get an excuse to start a #GetAnenaABra campaign

That reminds me. Your show, “I bow for my boobs”…did it have anything to do with your hatred for bras?

No. It had everything to do with my love for my boobs

Lol. How?

My boobs are political, just like any other woman’s I think. They are a weapon. In my case, they are the most favorite part of my body so I get every excuse to fix stuff about boobs in my poems and stories.

What do you mean your boobs are political?

I’ll tell you more in my upcoming book


(Oh! You believed that?) No.

Kale, but you shortchanged us in that show. We thought you’d show us some boobs like for real real.

Bambi, the show was political erotica, not political porn. I also didn’t want to lead Fr. Lokodo into temptation.

Hahaha as for that minister, leave him! Anyway, are you seeing someone?


Woooow. Congrats. Who is the lucky guy?

Junot Diaz

Yiyi Anena, now you are lying

Honestly. I had a fling with his brain and eyes and it has matured into a fully-fledged long-term affair of unimaginable escapades…

Only his eyes and brain?

Well, and his dimples too

What about his eyes…they are so intense

Look at you, having a man-crush on people’s crushes!

Hahaha my bad

You are forgiven. Next time get your own crush

Are you a virgin?

Of course! Not.

Wow. Kale you don’t look

I know! Wait, I don’t look what?

You don’t look like a sex person



So you sex people have what, poems inscribed on your foreheads screaming…

Okay okay I get you. Moving on, what are you listening to?

Why the rush? I thought you’d ask me more questions about this sex thing


You look disappointed.

Of course not

Good, just breathe. You know, the world would be a much better place if we were a little more open about sex. Don’t you agree?

Well, that depends…

Anyway, what was your question again?

What song do you listen to a lot these days?

Are you gonna kiss me or not?

Ehm whaat?

It’s a song by Thomson Square

Phew! You really got me there…

I know! I saw your hands retreating to your pocket! It’ll pass…

Anena, you are evil!

You’re the second person to tell me that

Who else told you that?



So you reporters are these days taught at J-schools to jeer at your sources?

Hahahaha I am sorry. Wait, I have remembered. When did you last have sex?

Which year is this?


Okay, so it was 201…

Aha wabula you chick you want to lie again. Anyway, what’s the latest movie you’ve watched?

Me before you

That romantic drama film?


How was it?

I cried the entire time. It was so painfully sweet! The crying I mean. You get such a release after crying. But I also hadn’t cried in a while so I just found an excuse to reduce the amount of tears in my tear thingie. Is it tear duct or tear gland?

I’ll have to google that. Okay, as we wrap up, what’s your favorite line right now?

It’s from my upcoming poetry collection


Set me on fire

Whaaaat? Now? You want me to end up in jail?