As a child I would sit next to my grey haired father as he told my sister and I stories about his past. My dad lost both his parents at a young age and was only able to put himself through school by convincing British educated Ugandan Priests that he was worth the trouble. The other half of the evening my father usually spent giving my sister and I unsolicited advice about how everything around us belonged to him and how we ought to work hard and get our own.
This consistent pep talk was intriguing, however I recall that as he spoke I constantly found myself writing every word he pronounced on my dark thigh using my figure. It was not surprising as the only subject I managed to pass at school at that time was English. My father’s daily dose of speeches were not the only words I found myself spelling out. It was every conversation I forced myself into, everything I watched on television and not forgetting the confrontational words exchanged in the midst of my sister and I’s daily 8pm fights about whose turn it was to turn off the lights.
I attended Kabale Preparatory School in Uganda for primary school.Every afternoon, our primary one class was forced to sit under a tree whilst Mrs Tindebwa assembled herself in the mighty reading chair and began our daily dose of afternoon story time. For the first few months my best friend Bora and I took turns taking a young nap behind each others backs for what felt like 30 minutes each. It was not until the arrival of the British blue eyed Miss Lee, who took over the mighty chair and narrated to us Charlie And The Chocolate Factory that I fell in love with storytelling.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory to me was a world of escape. I could see myself drowning in pool of chocolate surrounded by golden haired white boys and girls singing along with the Oompa-Loompas. I loved it. But it was not my world. It was not my reality. I went on to read more books that featured children just like me however these books were not for me. These stories did not have characters that resembled me. There was nothing I read that talked about the streets of Kampala. The market vendors hiking their prices every two hours or the incredible Owino market were one could by multiple pairs of jeans that the vendors tried to convince us were Louis Vuitton. That was my reality.
But all the stories I came across seemed to tell me otherwise. They convinced me that there was a better life across the blue ocean. That my dusty roads would be replaced by clean tarmacked ones and my English, well I just had to practice and sound more like Miss Lee and the brother with the Canadian accent who joined Kabale Preparatory and immediately made head boy because visitors from abroad could understand him better.
I have always loved the idea of escaping reality and creating a world of my own. Writing provided me with that space. It was non-judgemental and always opened its warm arms to me even after years of fear and resentment at the idea of picking up a pen.
It was after reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s Half of A Yellow Sun, that I realized that I did not have to escape. My Chocolate factory was right here, it was just as magical and it too was a story waiting to be told. Today I write for my Africa. I write for my Uganda.
Today I turn the invincible word on my dark thigh into a reality and try to make it known that we too, the people from the Dark Continent have a variety of stories to tell.