And so we arrived. My sister and I. We were due to meet up with my father, my younger sister and several members of my extended family in Kampala, Uganda.
The journey from Entebbe airport through to Kampala was fascinating. The atmosphere in the city was absolutely electric. The air was heavy with moisture and the sun was baking down in all it’s glory. You somehow got the sense that this city was alive. I hadn’t really experienced a similar sort of energy in South Africa and I often found myself entranced by what was unfolding before me. Every direction you looked there were men and women of all ages selling-cooking-drinking-talking-drinking. The streets were busy and completely chaotic. But they looked happy.
We met up with everyone soon enough and they welcomed us warmly as they entertained all our questions about the city with enthusiasm and encouragement. When we spoke we focused on what we all shared and not on our differences. It was refreshing. Every time my sisters and I would meet a new family member we would all play the so-who-do-you-look-like-in-the-family-tree game. It was fun, we all did it and our cousins shared who their look-alikes where with pride. There seemed to be a great sense of community here. They spoke often and lovingly about our family members from all over the world. We chatted and shared our well-rehearsed stories from our very different pasts as we all caught up. Our conversations only punctuated by loud laughter and the unfortunate human need for sleep. It meant a lot to me that I was connecting so well with my cousins. They showed me the city. I rode a boda-boda (little motorbike), whizzing through the traffic and break neck speeds like any other young man my age would have done had he grown up here. I found myself quietly grasping for authenticity here. I wanted to feel like what it would be like to be from here. Not to experience Uganda as a tourist.
Before we knew it, it was time for us to head towards my father’s village. My time in the cosmopolitan Kampala had all but ended and I was reluctantly heading off to my father’s home with very little prospects of an internet connection and a couple of hours of electricity a day… Hey I was just 19 and the prospect of not being able to charge my iPod was a tragedy in itself.
Then we set off onto the road. It was only 600 kilometers or so, completely chilled I thought, but no the roads were as rough and rocky as the mountains that draped over the horizon around us. Somehow after the first few hours or so I managed to fall asleep as our little car rattled along through the countryside.
And so we arrived in Kisoro. The rain was pouring down, in what was quite an aggressive evening shower. We stepped out onto the soil of my fatherland and our feet sank into the mud as we scrambled to offload the luggage and scamper into the house. Not quite the poetic arrival I had in mind. But nevertheless we were here. As we walked through the door we were embraced by many family members I did not recognize, they were sitting with excitement and a sort of quite curiosity. After the introductions were made we headed off to bed. There was an indescribable aura about this place. Far away from the hustle and bustle of Kampala or Cape Town, Kisoro was asleep. I collapsed onto my bed with only the beat of the rain drumming against the zinc roof to keep me company. I slept.
“Cuckoo” – The sound of a rooster squawking away broke my usually impenetrable slumber. What an obnoxious creature, I thought. With my iPod and my Laptop batteries both hopelessly drained I sulkily left my room and took a walk around the compound. It was beautiful. The air was fresh, the grass a brilliant green. This new world in front of me seemed to me to be some kind of controlled wilderness. Almost like a window to a different time. Banana leaves painted much of the town and a network of gravel roads were etched into the rolling hills the lay in front of me. It was stunning. But as I stood at the top of the hill looking around me I did not feel what I felt I ought to be feeling. There was no romantic penny drop moment were I expected to feel some kind of ethereal connection to the land. *Sigh* So I shrugged it off and headed back inside.
We spent the rest of the day speaking with our cousins in Kisoro. For really the first time on the journey I really felt the language barrier. Between many creative hand signals and every nervous smile in my artillery I tried to connect with as many people there as I could.
Once the sun had set the major event for the evening was gathering everyone for supper. The men drank beers and sat broodingly together in the lounge. Before long my younger cousins turned on our rather modest television set and played one of the few DVDs we had. A set of “Mind your Language” episodes. Ironic no? We all sat together, watched and laughed until the we had drained what was left of the electricity gathered from our solar panels throughout the day.
The next few days were a bit of a blur. Filled with plenty of family visits and plenty of solitary walks..
So my father and I finally went down to the village together on what if I remember was a beer, bread and Kosovo run for the house. I remember looking through the village trying to drink in every detail while listening to my father’s stories of his youth. This place looked like something out of a 1950’s film, were it not for all the misplaced mobile telecoms murals that adorned every second store in the area. There were plenty of children laughing and playing all over town. As we parked near the market my father got ready to leave the car and before I knew it the car was swarmed with children staring at me with a great deal of curiosity, each one pushing the other out of the way to sneak a peek at me – The Oddity. I decided not to leave the car for a few minutes to gather myself. It had finally hit me. How alien I was to this land. No matter how romantically my father spoke about Kisoro or how much he tried to transfer his endearing love for what this place means to him, I may never be able to call this place my home in the way I know he would want me to. Once I had pulled myself together I joined my father. He stopped and spoke to what seemed like everyone. Many of them knew my name already… I was often asked why I don’t speak the language… And when I planned to learn it… I would always laugh off this question. My dad would usually respond “He will learn”. When? How? Why had I not made greater efforts to learn even a bit of the language while I was here? Was I not the one who said I was here to discover my home? I was aware of the hypocrisy of my thoughts and my actions. I was then and I am still not proud of them. So I kept this to myself.
Our trip to the village seemed to be a turning point for my trip. A harsh awakening – It had happened here too. I could see now, I was not Ugandan enough.
We made our way back towards Entebbe. As we drove through the country my father continued to be Uganda’s most enthusiastic tour guide. I admired his passion but felt deep remorse that I felt so distant to him when he shared his stories. We are from different worlds. Different times. I felt sad and frustrated. How can I connect with my heritage? This trip was turning out into something that was becoming very difficult for me to process. I was grateful to be there and I knew I would carry the love my family shared with me in my heart for the rest of my life but I did not feel like I belonged here. I did not feel a connection to the land that gave birth to my clan.
With a heavy heart I set off back to South Africa, leaving with more questions than answers.
That’s life I suppose.
One way or another I knew I needed to find a way to resolve this, to be at peace with this. And so I arrived back in South Africa more confused than ever and so my journey continued.
Until next time.