A tale of a lost shirt


Tragedy struck the other day. I lost my shirt. For avoidance of doubt, and in case anyone thinks I have been putting our last shillings on a horse, the truth is even worse than that. The garment in question was a cherished piece of faded linen which had been evading eviction from my wardrobe for several years. Particularly in this climate, it was a comfortable piece of attire which will be sadly missed.

The last time I looked closely, at small rip had emerged half-way down the back of this shirt. What I didn't realise, when the teachers in the staff room asked what had happened to it, was that the small rip had evolved into several gaping holes. There were puzzled looks when I explained that I was in training for my next career as a tramp. Little did I appreciate that I didn't need a lot of training, but Mrs R could probably have told me that anyway.

Yesterday a note arrived from Justine at the school by child-courier. Around here this is the preferred form of communication - a child and a chitty. It is far cheaper and sometimes even quicker than an SMS text message. The note was to tell us that the school had a stock of shirts that I could look at if I wished, and blouses for Mrs R as well if she liked. Justine was trying to be polite.

We know that as a means of raising money for the school, Justine occasionally sells clothes, which is a popular local activity. The Saturday market has no small selection of traders who have gone to Kampala to buy a large bale of second-hand garments which have originated from the west's High Street charity shops. Quality varies but is surprisingly good and a large sack can be had for 300,000 shillings (about £85).

Shirts seemed to be the topic of the week-end. Within an hour of Jusine's chitty, Julius, one of the teachers at Sure House, arrived at our door looking for Justine's stock of shirts. She actually keeps them in the house next to ours and Julius set about working out which of the hundred keys he had been given fitted next-door. In the course of talking to him, he told us that the reason he had not gone back to the school this term was that over the holidays his sister had died shortly after giving birth. It seems the two events weren't related. The man involved had left his phone number but little else and didn't seem inclined to take responsibility for the youngster. So Julius has found himself having to take responsibility for his nephew and Justine had said he could take some of the clothes stock. He has hired a shop in Masaka and hopes to earn a living there.

One never has to look far in this part of Africa to find someone in difficulty. In a country such as this, there are far greater worries than losing one's shirt, but in case anyone is wondering, it wasn't my last one. If we appear sartorially challenged these days, it isn't lack of choice so much as absence of water to wash clothes in afterwards. It might rain next month. If not, we may be reduced to looking up Julius' shop and re-stocking our wardrobes.