Written By Stella Riunga
You wouldn’t expect there to be such a difference-it’s just one bus ride across the border, after all. I’m not some white-skinned ‘expat’ coming to share my ‘expatise’ for a princely salary in dollars. I’m just some Nairobi chic who wants to try out something new before the years roll by and I wonder why I did nothing adventurous.
Uganda to me is Kampala, because that is where I live and work. I hear of the amazing Sipi Falls, Murchison National Park, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where the gorillas live, the green and beautiful hills of Kabale, but I am yet to go there, maybe another day, another time.
Nine months, the time of incubation, is how long I’ve been here. I find that significant, somehow. Some days are good, days where the warmth of Ugandans envelops me like a hug, their smiles, their enchanted delight at my being Kenyan, riding to work with my neighbours in the morning, enjoying a good laugh with my colleagues in the office, experiencing the warmth of sunshine after a much welcome shower of rain, watching droves of long-horned cattle being led to pasture. I admire the hope and resilience of a people who have been through the most brutal of wars, and the instability and brutality of several successive military regimes.
Then there are the bad stretches. The frustration of not being able to speak Luganda when outside my comfortable work-home bubble, the ridiculous cost of living (bread is 80Ksh!) , the never-ending dust, the rubbish heaps piled ever few metres, attracting those unsightly guardians of the city- the Marabou Storks. The terrible, terrible taxis (matatus), the psychotic boda bodas weaving in and out of traffic at terrific speeds… some days, it truly overwhelms me.
I am fortunate. Friendships have come easily to me. It never ceases to amaze me how similar our experiences are as East Africans. We listened to the same imported Western music, we can remember the very first non-government owned TV stations, we read the same books in high school .We regularly abuse and deform English to suit our mother-tongue influences. We bash each others’ women, behaviour and dress mode-and enjoy it. We had Moi for donkey- years, they have Museveni (still!)
I don’t expect to be here long, but already I feel myself changing. I stroll where I used to march, smile more, shout less, and I have learnt to tough it out when I am convinced I have reached breaking point. Is it madness that I plan to leave steady employment, potential greatness, all to go home? I guess my class 5 Methali za Kiswahili book was right- Mwenda tezi na omo, marejeo ni ngamani.
© Stella Riunga