Sequins and Sapphires, Series

Sequins and Sapphires: In Transit

By Kathryn Kazibwe, Uganda:

Of the needs of a person, the need to belong is among the strongest. Right from birth, a child learns that it belongs to a family. It then broadens the circle and finds its place among friends. With age comes a sense of belonging within even broader circles. We want to know where we lie, what we can call our own, what makes us who we are. My name, my culture and traditions, my duty as a Ugandan…all these things are cells in the organism that is me.

Growing up in Kenya, I always had it in the back of my mind that I was different from every one else, even though it was never overtly stated. I just felt it in the little things. Like the reactions when I carried matooke and binyebwa (plantain and peanut-sauce) to school for lunch. Never tried that one again! My tribe was never mentioned during GHC class when we were told about the origins of the Luo, Kisii, Kikuyu and others. When we were given homework to trace our homeland from country level down to province, district, division, county, etc… I was at a loss because I hadn't been taught about how that worked in my country. While I cannot say it was a difficult experience per se, I know that I lived my life like a visitor, waiting to be uprooted from the seedbed and taken home, where I could put down real roots.

When we finally did relocate to Uganda, I thought, ah, now I can begin feeling normal and shed my otherness. But the reality was nothing close to that. I found that I was a visitor here too. I didn't share my peers' similar experiences of childhood songs, TV shows, and games. I was peculiar. I just didn't fit in. Language was a big reason for my otherness. I grew up speaking a mix of English, Luganda and Kiswahili. We spoke lots of Luganda at home, so I never expected it to be a problem. To my surprise, whenever I spoke it at school, I elicited questions about which school I was from, followed by 'I knew it!' reactions upon letting the cat out of the bag. For a while, I gave up speaking Luganda entirely, waiting for such a time as when I felt I had a wide enough vocabulary to sound like a true Muganda. To this day, though, people still say I don't speak my own language well, even though I believe I am quite good at it!

Looking back, though I expected it to be easier on them, I imagine the shift must have been just as uncomfortable for my parents as it was for me and my siblings. Much of our cluelessness was blamed on them. When we would speak to my aunts in Luganda, they would laugh and call us bakikuyu. I remember them asking Dad why he had never brought us to see them, complaining that as a result, we knew practically nothing about our people. I took it lightly then, but I can now admit that I envied the deep relationships that my friends shared with members of their extended family. All I had was my immediate family. All my friends had been left behind. After a while even my Kenyan friends couldn't comfortably speak to me in Kiswahili any more; they had moved on from the slang I knew as a child. To say that it was disorienting would be an understatement; knowing I wasn't Kenyan, yet not feeling sufficiently Ugandan either.

I was lucky; I was young, and Kenya and Uganda are essentially not that different, yet moving still had its effect on me. Perhaps it is wise to view the entire earth as home, and just roll with the punches. For now, though, I am not eager to go exploring other lands just yet. I think I will stick around for a while, and then we'll see where the nomad in me points her compass.

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