The other day we — the Froese 5 — were driving down the highway, on holidays, eating chips and playing Safari cards and having a general good time while listening to a very funny part of John Irving’s novel A Prayer for Owen Meany, a part I knew they’d like, where poor little Owen pees his pants when he gets too excited while hiding in a dark closet.
The humour is right up with a memorable line from that same Irving book that says that reading newspapers is akin to a really bad habit, the reading equivalent of junk food, or, to quote someone else, is also to say that you should always believe what you read in the papers because this makes them infinitely more interesting.
Here in Uganda there is a national paper called the Daily Monitor. They are very sneaky over there. Rather than using the motto, “Lies Every Day” on their billboards everywhere they use the other, the one that says “Truth Every Day.”
And in this particular day’s edition here we have a story about the 10-year Ugandan boy kicked out of school because he has HIV, a dreadful condition an unfortunate number of Ugandan kids are born with.
Both of his parents died of the disease and now the boy – the paper gracefully spared him more trauma by not publishing his name – just needs, besides medical treatment, a fair shot at his education.
He’s barely into it, just now starting what is called Primary 1.
His guardian went to the Monitor with the revelation that he was kicked out of his P-1 class because of his sickness. His teachers were apparently afraid he would pass HIV on to other students and, seeing the boy’s less than beautiful appearance, they showed him the door.
We’re not sure what exactly those teachers have those 10-year-olds do in that P-1 class to make it possible to pass HIV around, but the principal later told the newspaper, no, it’s all wrong, and he, for one, doesn’t believe what he called “the lies of the press.”
Further, said the principal, if the boy is on treatment, he is now more than welcome to study at the school. This is how this particular story opened the door for the boy’s return to class.
Which goes to show how effective certain lies can be. With any amount of luck, whatever they end up doing in their own vocation, my own kids will learn to lie so well.
The other day, the Standard, the campus paper I helped found some time ago, the one still going on its own steam for some years now, had its managing editor sacked by the university.
(“Sacked”, in Uganda, is the word used for “fired.”)
This means the Standard is now on Managing Editor #4. This is because #3, the one just sacked by the university, published such so-called lies, similar to the ones published by the Monitor, that is lies dealing with how people are treated, people who came and knocked on the Standard’s door looking for some help.
In fact, this isn’t the first time #3 was sacked. Many years ago, Uganda’s president of the day, Milton Obote, a man who wasn’t ever in line for a Nobel Peace Prize, did the honours.
Apparently Standard M.E. #3, who managed a government paper at the time, published lies then too, lies during a dark time when few had the backbone to stand up and tell the government that enough bloodshed is enough.
So the other evening this man, Standard Managing Editor #3, sat in my living room. He sat not far from where #1 (also sacked) and #2 (not sacked, but left early out of exhaustion) had previously sat.
(To empathise with the university, in an African country where good journalists and newsroom mentors are as common as hockey pucks , it’s not easy to fill this particular campus editor’s chair.)
There, #3 and I talked.
And, because he is my friend, I prayed for him.
Pass the chips.