By Dr. Martin M Lwanga
Kyebando, is a Kampala suburb, where I was raised. Our house as I remember was surrounded not by walled fences common today in my present neighborhood where neighbors meet at traffic stops, in shopping malls or on Whatsup chat rooms. The boundaries of most homes had simple green hedges and a wide entrance, most of course without a metal gate, to allow in casual visitors anytime.
The families there were of simple hard working folks who rose up before sunrise and off they dispatched to their duties- of building the nation of Uganda! Mostly they looked out for each other. There was Muwanga, a UK trained engineer, who worked with the government water corporation body and whenever the taps ran dry he was the man to ask. Another was Kiggundu, who was admired for his smartness as he worked in Barclays Bank. There he might be met on the shop floor in a starched shirt supervising staff. He would gladly lend a hand to one he found with an issue. Then there was a certain Nsalabwa, a radiologist working with Mulago hospital, where he was known to interpret those dark films for ailing parents who were often fronted to him by neighbors.
As children we grew up in the shadow of these men and women who quietly went about their duties and would hardly make it into the history books. Except for a one Professor Sali who came up with a controversial AIDS cure in his backyard laboratory that was unfortunately discredited by the powers be. Otherwise all lived quiet lives, and much of their earnings were spent on raising their large families.
In fact, once we kids reached a certain age it seemed they all conspired to take us to parochial boarding schools – which most of us hated much due to the staple perennial diet of “posho and weevil laced beans.” Back from school then they would dispatch us to the villages each had come from and actually considered still home. “Go and spend time back at home with granny!”
Most are now gone. But I always pass through Kyebando where Maama, a retired nurse, still lives in the house she raised us that often had more than ten mouths to feed at ago. My father, Mwanje, was a town planner, working in the survey Department of Kampala City Council. He took his job seriously and since he was in charge of protecting public land I recall many times when he would pull his car off the road to chase off someone he found encroaching on public land. Everyone now and then while visiting at his office I would find him helping out people with petty issues like licenses, some of course neighbors. He has been gone since 2007. But maybe not!
A few days ago I had to leave my car in one Kyebando parking lot as I sped off somewhere. When it came to pay I discovered I had no loose cash with me. I asked the parking lot owner whom I had no idea of to wait for me. “Of course I can always wait for you.” The stranger waved me off. “Why!” I queried. “I know you are the son of Mwanje.”
This normally happens to me here, strangers who startle me by referring me as “the son of..” Once I was buying drinks down the road for a house party but had no crates which one must leave behind. The strict shop owner once I explained my predicament, simply asked how much I wanted. “I know you will return my bottles because you are the son of Mwanje!”
One thing I now know is that Kyebando is one of the safest place for me – because if harm would dare its path towards me, there is a lot of social good will out there, due to the name of my parents. I also know that if I did something silly, people there would feel aghast and condemn me as “what has happened to that stupid boy of Mwanje!”
Most of these people do not care to know my name. They look at me through my parents lenses. This by the way also happens in Bamunanika, the village, from where my father came from. I never saw my grandfather, Kalinabiri, who had served there as a chief and died in 1944. During his time he had championed colonial policies like every household must plant a cotton field and then be able to take children to school. He also helped build a local church that my father took to another level. His children would go on to assume leadership in the area and one, Kavuma, become a chief as well. All are gone. But whenever I visit there, the local people swoon around me and refer to me as “the grandson of Kalinabiri!”
While there in church and at local events, I am always pulled from the back and given a front seat. Yet I have hardly lived there. Still my grandfather and the names of his children gives me a certain passport to claim favor. These people have never bothered to know my actual name and I think would care the less. It’s enough that I am the grandson of a good man they knew ( or heard of), one who passed away before I made my way into this world!
Now a few days ago while reclining in my living room passing time and watching TV I heard the President of a certain country share how he has “worked and planned for my children and grandchildren.” He was urging the rest of his countrymen to do just as well. I considered his advice well meaning. But I also noticed he forgot to point out the most important part of the message. How!
Anyone can work and plan for his offspring but the means how one does matter most, I believe. I am able to thrive peacefully in Kyebando because of the good name my father created for me. I thrive in my ancestral village of Bamunanika because my grandfather left a good name. Long gone but their good name still yields dividends to a child one never saw.
However, just as I bask in my good fortune, I am aware of certain situations where children of certain folks must either flee the village or do a lot of explaining once their folks depart from this world. In fact, certain kids aware of the vulgarity of their parents lifestyle are quick to sell off all the wealth built and hide safely far from their parents homelands. They dare not face the villagers who it seems have been waiting all along to exact vengeance. “We are waiting!” Haven’t you heard that.
Some years back I was among a party of Ugandan dons visiting in Netherlands. We ended up meeting other Ugandans living there, some students. During one such meeting we were introduced to one tall dark skinned pretty lady. And this is how the introduction went. “This is the daughter of Archbishop Janan Luwum!” At that point everyone in our party turned, our hearts melting with joy. Why! We were so delighted that the daughter of the martyred bishop had got on well since her father was brutally martyred on apparent orders of dictator Idi Amin, whose rule he had criticized. Over joyed few seemed to care to know this lady’s actual name. We would all have done anything for her. She was our heroine. Yet I have also wondered what if someone had whispered- for that is what it would take- “the daughter of so and so is here!!!”
Only some years back I handled an assignment to look for an Executive Director of a certain organization. For some reason the normal process could not yield the right candidate. One day I bumped into someone in search of a job. I took him to the Board and once they saw him there was immediate approval. Why! He was the son of a deceased public official whose good name still resonated with all those distinguished Board members.
As we go about our lives may it occur to us that a day not long will come, when, for one of our offsprings, a request for a favor may yield back,” Yes, of course, because I know your parents and the good things they did!” But for others it will be a hard stare and a casual walk off – if the child is anyway lucky to survive the mob. May it also occur to us that for some children whom the parents worked so hard for their good future these will be at pains to share “I am the son or daughter of so..” This is because of certain fear and dread of a predictable reaction of disbelief, shock and quiet withdraw. Leaving the child only to innocently ask, “What wrong did I do!”