Happy Birthday Uganda!! 53 today and counting 🙂
South Africa has a Public Holiday on the 24th of September – Heritage Day. There is a bit of a history of this day. There is also ill-feeling around the fact that this has now been White-washed to National Braai Day which cheapens the day. Be that as it may, I would like to commemorate my own Heritage Day and share part of what makes me, me.
- I am not a refugee. I remember being in lower primary at school and hearing people call me one and I had honestly never heard that phrase and when I dutifully went home and asked my parents what it meant, I saw the disgust in their face and honestly thought it was a swear word. My parents moved to Kenya as part of the East Africa Community and they got jobs in Nairobi. Yes I am a foreigner, but a legal one and really a labour migrant.
- The same thing applies to my status in South Africa. I am proudly foreign but also extremely legal and here by choice. Weirdly, I had my own status prior to marrying a local boy. Yes I am aware that marriages of convenience do happen but by the time we got to settling down, they had tightened up all of those loopholes. And they continue to do so even to date. Don’t even remind the number or height of hoops we had to jump through to get married.
- Growing up in a very Ugandan home but in a foreign country, was never confusing. Not in the least. Without much explanation, it was always known what happened at home and what was non-negotiable and the level of influence that we could pick up outside and bring home and you just knew what fit where.
- Some non-negotiable Ugandan aspects? We always knelt to greet my parents and other visitors, we proudly bore only our Ugandan names- my mom was particularly clear about us using our first names that identified us as coming from my fathers community and not our middle ones that are from her community. Our foods always had groundnuts, we had groundnut sauce, sweet potatoes, amukeke (dried and steamed sweet potatoes), matooke (plantain), atap (millet), firinda (beans), obutusi (traditional mushrooms), smoked and dried beef and fish. Just brought tears to my eyes and loads of salivating as I remember some of these meals.
- We also learnt Kiswahili and Sheng’ that was spoken by our contemporaries. We adopted chapati (flat bread), ugali (steamed maize flour) and sukuma wiki (kales). We wrote local exams and went to local schools living and mingling with predominantly Kenyans. My accent? How many times have I been in Uganda and had people walk up to me and refuse to accept that I am Ugandan because of my accent. I think it is now a confusing thing because the most I get is, “Are you from East Africa?”
- As I have gotten older, I have learnt not to question too much what makes me me. I have certain core beliefs that I hold dear to me and surprisingly, a lot of them are inspired by my Christian faith as I view that as my first and biggest cultural lens. Thereafter, in light of what makes the most sense to me as an African child. Some cultural practices differ from community to community and indeed nation to nation but for the most part, they are summarised by respect for all, care and regard for all and your enviroment and in some cases, there are gender expectations that you must adhere to.
- In planning the wedding, it did get confusing but even then it played out how I order my worldview – get all the requirements for the Church wedding out of the way and then get the traditional/ civil stuff finalised. The traditional stuff was a mix of both my mom and dad’s practices and you would expect it to be similar but it wasn’t and as long as I was told where to stand and what to do,I did and it got done.
- As I am getting older/ maybe in the last four to five years, I have seen an increased interest in my traditional dress (ssuka) and I delight in wearing it to special occasions. As a married woman, there is also additional jewelry that I get to wear it with which makes it even more special. An interesting finding for me was also the fact that I asked my dad whether my grandma took my granddad’s surname and he told me two things: (i) in our culture, before the wazungu (White man) came, we didn’t typically take on surnames because it was taboo to name someone after yourself unless the baby was born when you were going to die or were at war and were expected/feared dead and (ii) names in our culture are indicators of a clan and since a man would never marry a sister (a fellow clanmate) it was never expected that you would take on the new (clan) surname. On that note, I figured why take it on then?
- Something I do ask is what is Kenyan culture. What of that background contributes to me. A friend asked me recently, when you say you are going home, where do you mean? Unequivocally, Kenya. I KNOW the people, the context of stories, the language, the setting, so many firsts and memories singly and with others. It’s a whole part of my life and a part I love with such intensity, it is both exciting and scary. But is all mine to pick and play with.
- So happy heritage day and here’s to all the things that make me,me. Cheers!!
PS: If you are from Uganda (the Motherland), please let me know if my spelling of the food is fine – prior to now, I have never had to spell them out.