Unemployed house hunter completes writing assignment



I’ve been an ABC Open producer for the past two years and one thing I learned during this time was the discipline of writing. I am now a freelance producer living in Kampala, Uganda and one thing I must do is simulate writing tasks for myself to ensure this hard-earned skill doesn’t evaporate into the humid African air.

But no man, or expat wifey, is an island.

My friend Prince Philip of Texas and I have structured a writing exchange. Each month, we set a writing assignment, replete with mode of delivery and deadline.

Phil’s first assignment for me was:

Write a poem encompassing your feeling about the new era of planet earth and human kind 

No easy task. True to form, right on deadline, here’s the haiku I have constructed:

Hoping one more year

this realty sedan will grow!

above the mud hole

I selected the haiku form because when I was in Mexico with Gab, she described the visual haiku, a camera exercise she has practiced as part of experimental film workshops in Cuba and Canada.

Also, my grandfather was a pioneer of the haiku form in Australia, inspired in part by fighting the Japanese during WWII. In attempt empathise, Norm published a number of haiku anthologies. This is one of my favourite of his poems:

Ajar! Ajar!

the magpie cries to the

door of morning

Powermelders and People, Norman Stokes

I really didn’t know much about the haiku so I did a bit of research. The haiku traditionally has three elements:

  1. On count of 5/7/5 – The on is sort of like a syllable but more like the shape of the sound. For my poem the syllable count is correct but I am still trying to get my head around how to count on.
  2. Juxtaposition of imagery – I was trying to personify the car by giving it the ability to ‘grow’ but this is contrasted with naiveté of a particular machine having such a hope.
  3. Reference to the season – As the assignment asked about my feelings toward planet earth, I thought selecting the haiku form was inherently enough reference. But that’s a bit cheap. I haven’t really achieved a seasonal reference unless you consider the muddiness of African roads close enough.

So, why this poem?

This morning I was out house hunting with a quirky Ugandan real estate agent, Daniel. We were bouncing around the streets of Kampala looking at all sorts of apartments and houses. Between my questions about electricity access, furniture and security, I asked Daniel some questions about his job.

Daniel studied Economics but couldn’t really understand what a professional Economist would do.

“Just write a report once a year,” he explained. “And for the rest of the time you’re basically unemployed with no work to do.”

I used the word ‘abstract’ and he agreed with this definition. Real estate did indeed seem more practical but I suspect Daniel was more about the social aspect of this job.

When I asked whether he enjoyed his job, he gave a coy smile.

“Put it this way,” he said, “This time next year I’ll have a better car.”

The car we were driving in sounded like it needed its back axle replaced, its door panels were rusting and he definitely needed more petrol. And yet it climbed up and down all the muddy potholes with elegance, raced the boda bodas and fought the minivans with ease.

 “Yep, this scene captures my feeling about planet earth and human kind pretty well,” I thought.

Daniel is full of hope, wanting to take advantage where he can to get ahead. Kampala is a thriving city, and its not going to slow down so long as there’s development to be had. It’s an uphill battle to reconcile human poverty with protection of the environment. But we can hope that people will be happier because they’ve worked hard to fill in their own potholes. And if Daniel rents enough apartments to muzungus and buys a new car next year, then good on him.