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Uganda: Ever missed a place?
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Uganda: Ever missed a place?

post by Samira Sawlani

Everyone teases me about my obsession with Africa.. more so with Uganda.. those friends of mine in Uganda and in the diaspora embrace me as one of them when they hear of me eating matoke.. when i mention that i love the royco spices or the mandazi i get shrieks of oh my gosh, the sound of acceptance? perhaps.

On the other side is everyone else.. a mix of those that do not understand but allow it to go on.. this mixed up Indian British girl who wants to claim a land 6462km away.. and those that take every chance to say.. you will always be the outsider.. accept what you are where you are from,. u can never be one of them.. that is not your earth.. your soil.. your anything.. outside.. mzungu.. muyindi.. that is what you always will be.. i have no roots in uganda.. i am not an indian ugandan with ancestors who moved there.. i am simply a very lucky girl that got an opportunity at the age of 24 to go over and work and volunteer there.

In ‘A Sunday by the pool in Kigali’ bernard valcourt says to his rwandese girlfriend gentille ‘my country is the country of the people i love.. the person i love’ although it is difficult for me to say if it is the country of the person I love.. the people I love.. certainly.

I recently received a bundle of gifts from Uganda.. handbags.. jewellery.. sold in that little market behind jinja road which is half the price of the same sold at national theatre.. kabalagala pancakes.. the little baby banana’s.. bags and bags of coffee from 1001 cups… i even ate posho which i can’t stand but which i could not put away because it is the closest I could get.

Since these gifts arrived my mind stays there.. i remember walking from wandegya to jinja road.. sitting in a taxi on its way to kissase, the sun shining as i hang out on bukoto street…. listening to zuena on replay.. the silliness of the red pepper.. watching barbed wire on a sunday evening and giggling even though some of it is in luganda and i have no idea what they are saying!… mzungu mzungu babies running to you… the rain falling to clear away the dust and dirt.. .its no longer a memory, I am almost there. and then like a thud falling back on to earth the way cartoons do when they fall out of a spaceship.. it dawns upon me where I am, leaving a mix of bitterness at being back in the real world, the euphoria of having re-lived those moments and the painful craving of wanting something. somewhere. which is out of your hands.

These days I feel it most.. maybe that’s why I’m writing this because I just want to be there, at about 5pm local time.. walking any of those hustling bustling streets. sun slightly going down.. just to feel again.. the madness of going to owino on a saturday.. that hot sun coming down on your skin leaving a tan which will remain for months and months.. even after you have left.. even after you have unpacked.. even after the suitcases are put away and normality has resumed… the tan will linger on your skin the way the smells and the noise and the moments linger in your mind.

My most precious memories are the ones which make me laugh.. the Boda driver in kisoro who on the last day asked me to marry him and stay forever or send my sister if i couldn’t stay.. the man on the street who said ‘mzungu how do you find Uganda’ and when i answered i love UG he cut me and said i love u too.. my first look at the newspapers and those adverts ‘young man seeks sugar mummy please call…’ , the hilarious bum enlargement injection posters across Kampala, the nausea after eating a Rolex… a mandazi.. but still having one the next day.. the shock of turning up in kisoro and realising my 5 learnt luganda phrases were going to be of no help and i now had to deal with trying to pronounce Mwaramuts, amasho, Nzagaruka and of course drinking ubusherra which I was offered everywhere and I struggled with sooooo badly (bitter unfamiliar taste!) but did not want to be rude and say no!

With elections weeks away.. I fear..I am real enough to know the corruption and drama in the country.. but I don’t want Uganda to be slashed across the television screens for 2 minutes a cocktail of riots, violence, bodies and officials screaming for calm, until boom its off the screens forgotten about as we hear about the next drama in the next part of the world.. whether the elections are free and fair.. I cannot say.. but the fear of them spiraling out of control.. to make people think that like so many other countries across the world Uganda is one more with a flawed political system and violence the only way to deal with it.. I hope not because it is so much more.. it is the pearl of Africa..

And how people should know that it is more than the pearl of Africa.. more than the source of the nile… more than the beauty of kabale.. the gorrilla’s of bwindi… great coffee.. the spectacular Serena hotel.. it’s a chaotic paradise of boda drivers.. a little (lot!) corruption, crazy taxi park’s, pot-holed roads, resilient communities torn by war in some parts, boda drivers and people selling maize trying to rip you off! its the sleaze of the red pepper newspaper, lovely people talking to you on taxis’… its learning new phrases like ‘short call’ and ‘style up’, its Rolex after hitting the clubs, power cuts, atrocious phone call charges (MTN!!!), home to people with the biggest hearts, the most welcoming attitude and a land so beautiful that as you drive on kira road and look up you see the greenery with those houses with the red roofs.. or when you go up to the Bahai temple or up in naguru and you look out at Kampala.. when you take that scary night time drive to south west Uganda and u see the moonlight hitting parts of mbarara.. you almost wonder that with all its imperfections.. could this be the most beautiful place on earth.. those imperfections which make this country so perfect.. but if everyone knew that.. then this pearl of Africa would not be my secret.. and everyone would want to make it theirs.. and i cannot allow that!

So while I sit here with my Kampala cravings.. i know I am one day closer to being there again.. hoping everyday for that dream Uganda job to walk through my door.. working there again.. waking there every morning with the knowledge that somehow.. it’s home.. after all.. my country is the country of the people i love.. and I write this with a want for it… and a thank you to all of those that understand my want for it. xx

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