The last week of term as a boarder was always a mixture of intense happiness and sadness for me. Looking back now, I recall that I had been a boarder at this convent boarding school from the age of around 4 having driven my paternal aunt and adopotive mother mad with wanting to be in school so bad that she put me in school to preserve her sanity. Nursery had been so much fun but they didn’t have boarding facilities at the time, so the convent sort of I guess fulfilled what my adoptive mum required on all levels. She was a full-time secretary in the ministry of foreign affairs at the time and the choice of being left with a string of nannies and househelp didn’t sit well with her I suppose. So, here at last was the last week in school and we all had set chores we had to accomplish prior to being allowed to leave the school grounds. The happiness I felt was down to the fact that I would be eating nicer food for the coming weeks, but the sadness was down to the knowledge that I would be missing my school friends and the fact that this was going to be a revision holiday for my primary leaving exams.
I wasn’t told that I wouldn’t be returning to school until on the drive home. I had been collected by a driver and instead of returning home, I’d been driven to my grandmother’s house where I was to be prepared for my journey to the UK. I didn’t like my grandmother’s home or her…but this is a story for another time. I hoped my preparations wouldn’t be too long! The journey to my grandmother’s house felt weird…, there was an eerie silence along the routes and I witnessed shattered windows of houses and huge craters in the road along the way that we passed… The army appeared to be everywhere and there were dead bodies in the streets, some still clotherd fully in army gear, some had no boots. Some of the living I saw were busy carrying stuff out of shops using any means necessary and in a hurry to get to wherever it was they wanted to go not appearing to be aware of stepping over bodies in their haste. Then their would be outbursts of gun fire and you would see someone being led by a crowd of persons shouting and hurling stones and sticks at him. Within what appeared to be seconds, that person would be just a form of burning tyres… I wanted to return back to the convent. We’d not even known the civil war had broken out and yet here I was right in the middle of the aftermath of what appeared to have been a fierce battle! I remember asking the driver if it would be ok to return me to the school – I was happy to spend the holiday there if it meant not seeing any more dead bodies lying around the street!
It is strange how one becomes accustomed to such horrors and actually stops to be affected by them. I recall walking amongst dead bodies accompanying my cousins to search for items of sale in what had once been an army barracks not far from where my grandmother had been, playing with grenades as if they were toys…
My adoptive mum had been posted to the UK by the foreign office as PA to the Ugandan Ambassador – which is how I came to be joining her two months after her arrival here. This posting had come about for her shortly after the new transition government following the fall of Idi Amin’s regime. I didn’t get a chance to return to say goodbye to my school friends sadly. Being young is great however – it allows you to overlook unpleasantness and lets you formulate a dream world to escape. My journey to the UK was just about to unfold and soon I was to be facing different challenges and experiences.
My flight to UK was with Air France which meant I flew via France. Couldn’t speak a word of French but flying as an unaccompanied minor, I had great fun! I was allowed to go in to the cockpit, met the captain and allowed to touch the controls! It was absolutely great! I didn’t enjoy the food on the plane at all – the orange juice tasted as if it had gone off and the coke was too fizzy and not sweet like the one back in Uganda. I recall asking for water instead…
I remember arriving in Bayswater in the Spring of ’79. It was so warm and beautiful! I couldn’t believe the pink flowers on the trees and the paved clean streets along the way. I assumed every black person I saw was from Uganda and would greet them politely in Lusoga. Although I hail from the Baganda tribe and the language is Luganda, I had spent so much time in Busoga that it was languages and dialects from this part of eastern Uganda that I could speak fluently.
I was enrolled in to an all girls school immediately, Sarah Siddons. The school system I found strange. They placed me in a form because of my age as opposed to testing me first on knowledge like they did back in Uganda. I had a difficult time adjusting to the food at school but loved this meal they had after called pudding. I liked most of the lessons but I had to do special English classes initially which I found a bit strange…I could spell better than most of the girls in class yet I had to study English and I had assumed they would be better than me. In time I learnt the hard way about some of the rude words of the English vocabulary… It came about in the playground as is usual! There was one incident of teasing I recall experiencing for my being from Africa before realising that a lot of my fellow new students didn’t know much about Africa other than what was played out on TV programmes like Tarzan! For instance I recall one girl asking me if we had houses in Uganda or if we still lived in trees…Then another asked me how I got to England. I thought it very strange initially but when I realised that some were doing it for nasty reasons, that’s when I started to get testy too. I would for instance answer them in a monkey noise and behave like so or I’d agree, yes we still lived in trees and didn’t walk but swung around and that yes, I’d been swallowed by a huge whale which had swam and regurgitated me at the shores of Spain where some kind travellers had taken pity on me and allowed me to stall in their car to England. I wasn’t much fun to tease, so they left me alone after such. Then next run in I had with native English persons was at a residential school trip to East Anglia. I do wish such trips are still arranged…Anyway, while in E.Aglia, I had this woman come up to me, touch my head and feel my hair. Then her little boy had asked me if my blood was black… I didn’t much feel like cutting or pricking myself to prove either. So I told him, yes. My blood is black and it is like acid. My teacher was not amused.
Almost 35yrs on and still here in the UK, having done all sorts, I get asked why I’d want to return to live or work in Uganda. The answer is simple. I love going to places where I find I have skills that can be of use to that environment. Being a native of Uganda, I would like to give something back to my ancestral land. I admit it has its challenges, but then life is full of challenges and for my nature, this is what spurs me on. Equally, I love England too. It has been a haven and home to me for so many years and where possible, I’ve done all I could in the communities I’ve lived in to put something back. I would just like balance out what I can offer across both worlds.