Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Why can't I call Kampala home?

Recently a colleague asked me what my hometown was and I said Kampala.
However, my colleague felt I had not quite understood her question because she chose to rephrase it along the lines of “ I mean where are you from”, to which I repeated “Kampala”.
At this point, the clearly perplexed lady said,

“ But you are not a Muganda” and I said  “Yes”.

She added, “ But how then can you be from Kampala?”

This exchange went on for a while but it ultimately ended the same way most such exchanges I have had over the years have ended, which is usually something along the lines of me being told I have no sense of roots or belonging or other things of that sort.
The confusion on my female colleague’s part arose because, for some reason, nobody seems to ever “come from” Kampala.

There is a pervasive mindset in Uganda that only the few thousand people who can trace their family roots to a pre-colonial Kampala are allowed to call it their Home.
I find this quite absurd.

For those that are a bit puzzled at this point, let me attempt to put the exchange with my colleague, and others of her ilk, in context.

Kampala, the city in which I was born and have lived for all but 2 of the 37 years I have been alive, is the capital of Uganda. 

Kampala also happens to be located in a region called Buganda, from which Uganda gets its name and, which is predominantly populated by the Baganda. Baganda make up around 18% of Uganda’s population, which makes them the largest single ethnic group in Uganda.

Also, my parents are from different parts of South-Western Uganda and they are Banyankore. 

Furthermore, Uganda is a largely rural country and people like myself, born and bred in cities and towns, are a relatively small (but rapidly growing) minority.
Finally, in most Ugandan cultures children "belong" to their father and hence take on his name, clan, and by extension, wherever it is he comes from.

You would think that that last point above would pretty much put my issues to bed. After all, if the dominant societal culture says I come from wherever my father comes from then why would I say I come from Kampala?

The thing is that Kampala seems to have its own standards when it comes to these matters.

Let me explain with an example.

If my dad had been born in Masaka, which is in Buganda, and had then moved to Mpigi, also found in Buganda, and I had been born in Mpigi, I am sure I nobody would say I was from Masaka. Most people would simply accept that I am from Mpigi.
However, when it comes to Kampala the same logic does not apply.

I remember spending an exasperating 15 minutes explaining to the fellow who was registering me for a national ID, why I insisted on filling in Kampala as my home district.

The man was adamant that the people who had put that section on the form had meant for me to fill in where my father came from, not necessarily where I was born or where I had lived all my life. I had more important things to do than argue with the man so I quickly picked new forms and filled in an answer that was more to his liking and only then was I entered into the system.

I also remember a friend of mine from secondary who had lived in Kyambogo all his life but he filled in Lira when it came to filling in university admission forms section on district of origin. He asked me why I had filled in Kampala and not Mbarara and I told him I had never lived in Mbarara. He said that that did not matter because, according to him, the guys at UNEB (or ministry of education) would be confused by the mismatch between my "home district" and my surname.

By the way, nobody should get the impression that I have no love or attachment to Rwampara County in Mbarara district, (which is where dad was from).  I do like the place. Quite a lot, as a matter of fact.

I like the fact there is extended family all around the area. I like the peace and quiet I enjoy when I am there. Most of the time I spend there is quite refreshing and I enjoy most of the visits I make there once or twice every year.  I might even spend my retirement years over there in the unlikely event that I get tired of living in Kampala

However, despite all the things I like about Mbarara, it just does not feel like home.  When there I somehow always feel like that guest who comes to your house so often that you no longer feel the need to to accord him any special treatment, but he still remains a guest. He is still has boundaries he cannot cross because he is simply not a member of the household. 

I essentially have no sense of history with Mbarara. I have no memories of growing up there. No childhood friends I got into mischief with, no romances and relationships or  special places with deeply held memories attached them. Nothing.

You can pass whatever judgements about what my parents should or should not have done but that is neither here nor there.

Mbarara is just not home in the sense in which I understand the word.

I do however recognize Mbarara as my ancestral home and I see no contradiction in ancestral home and hometown being two very different, and mutually exclusive, things. It seems in this I am something of a minority, at least when it comes to the people I deal with on a regular basis.

Kampala, unlike Mbarara is in my DNA, so to speak.

I have seen it grow in the same way it has been all around me and moulded me all my life.  With its countless street corners full of memories, numerous childhood friends (and some foes), favourite spots that have come and gone, neighbourhoods I lived in that are now barely recognisable from 30 years ago. The good, the bad, the lovely, the memorable and the not so memorable.  Its all there in Kampala.

This city, formerly of seven hills, is the only true home I know. 

So. Guys…why won’t you just let me call Kampala home?