Rachel, one of my many second year Literature students, took the time to talk to me in my office this week to kick off - what I hope - will be a weekly interview with people from this community. I had ten questions written down but allowed the discussion to evolve organically rather than stick to a script. She was, after all, doing me a favor.
She discusses her childhood, her family, her goals, and her future. Rachel's first language is Kiswahili (having grown up in the foothills of Mount Kenya) but has lived in Kampala since 2000, where she and her mother came to rejoin her father. I hope to have photos and video to accompany these interviews once I get a camera again.
Question 1: Tell me about your childhood.
Rachel: I came in 2000 from Kenya to live with our Dad...our real Dad. We started living as a family but it was so hard because I had not lived here (Uganda) before and I did not know all these languages around me and I could only speak Kenyan languages. All the people were strange...I don't know how to describe it...but you find yourself in this strange place and suddenly you just want to leave but you can't because it's your destiny to be here....yeah...and much as they try to make you feel comfortable there has always been that feeling...that somehow you need to go back.
Me: And so when you say things are strange..what do you mean?
Rachel: The cultures. Kenyans are different from Ugandans. I'm sure you know that.
Me: Tell me more about that.
Rachel: In the way they behave. Ugandans are much more warm I guess. Now that I'm older I know that, but then I didn't know (when I lived in Kenya) because I lived in a small community full of warm people of the same tribe so I didn't know that then but now I do. And um...they (Ugandans) have a tendency to speak so many languages. I haven't got around to learning them all. Even Luganda, I cannot speak it. I can understand it if someone is speaking it. Really, I can. And maybe if I need to speak Luganda I can, although I don't find it necessary.
Me: What about your parents?
Rachel: Well, they live up country because my mom works in Kenya. do you know Tororo?
Rachel: So they live there at the border. My Dad works in Uganda. My Mom works in Kenya but she comes back home every day. It's a hard thing to do but she just has to...if they are to stay married of course.
Me: How did you get here?
Rachel: I was given a course in Social Sciences but it was flat and my hopes and dreams did not lie in that field so the better option was Literature which means I had to do Education. I had to take it because it was the only other option and I have always been passionate about that..ever since I was a child, everybody knew that, much as my parents were against it. They didn't want me to do that. Nobody believes I can be a teacher. I should say so...
Me: Why not?
Rachel: I don't know I guess it's just the way I behave, my character...People don't believe that I can stand in front of people and share knowledge...um...they say I'm shy. Okay, I think I'm shy too but not really to that extent, so (sighing)...now that I'm doing what I do, this course, I love it. I think, just think, not know that - perhaps - it is what I was meant to do. You know, like pushing us to go to that place, where we never intended to go but it's really the best thing that could happen to us.
Me: What about your goals after you graduate from Kyambogo (University)?
Rachel: Well, I don't think I want to teach, but I might have to.
Me: Why do you say 'have to'?
Rachel: Because after next semester we have to go for teaching practice. It's not an experience I'm really looking forward to, but it's something we have to do in this course. So, that is really going to determine whether I am going to teach or not. If I don't do that, I'm just going to go into my dad's business I guess and probably stay there for some time before I really know what I'm going to do with my life, yeah...but in the meantime I guess I could teach Literature in Secondary school. I think I love teaching but not a big group. Maybe a small group of people who can understand me really.
Me: What about where you want to live?
Rachel: City life is really hard so after the semester I go back home (Tororo) and I don't really come back until the next semester starts. As for Kenya, it's just a matter of when I want to go...I've built my life here in Uganda but I still have my relatives in Kenya.
Me: Do people think you are Ugandan?
Rachel: Well, actually they guess I am from the west, but that's not really true. They also think I'm Kikuyu. do you know that tribe?
Me: From near Nairobi?
Rachel: Yeah, they think I'm Kikuyu, but I'm not. So I just let people think what they want. You know, sometimes you try to convince people but they think what they want. It's kind of nice to have people guessing...
Me: Who is the most influential person in your life?
Rachel: My mom. I can say she is not my best friend but she is almost my best friend. I tell her everything. I admire her. If I have something that has been disturbing me or some issues or pain or whatever, I always talk to her. Actually every day before I go to sleep I have to talk to my mom.
Me: What's her name?
Rachel: I don't know if you can pronounce it...Zipora.
Rachel: Yes, it's Kenyan. You probably cannot grasp it.
Me: Probably not...so the next question is what is the best thing about Uganda?
Rachel: You know I'm torn between two borders. I can say I love Uganda. The people are so warm. And for Kenya, I love the countryside. The place is so nice. Okay that's where I live somewhere near Mount Kenya in a place called Meru. It's a lovely place...very cold...but just nice.
Me: What's Uganda's biggest problem?
Rachel: I cannot really answer that...
Me: That's okay. Tell me about one vacation or trip you would like to take in your life.
Rachel: Um, there's a place in Kenya called Tsavo. Have you heard of it?
Me: Tsavo National Park?
Rachel: Yes, I would like to go there with my mom and brother someday, because my mom has always wanted to go there but she's kind of terrified of wild animals and maybe she can get over her fears and have a great time of course.
Me: Okay last question...what are three words to describe yourself.
Rachel: Maybe quiet...I don't know. I'm not overly ambitious.
Me: So that's what you're not...
Rachel: (Laughing) It's really hard to describe myself.
Me: Oh, it is?
Rachel: Yeah because I have these different views about myself.
Me: Like what?
Rachel: Like I'm a person who hides her feelings. I don't really let people know what is going on inside me. Eventually I get to tell them but not at that moment. I take out my feelings in my writing. I just...at the end of the day I just go to my diary and I write everything that has been going on...so I don't know...does it have to be three words?
Me: I doesn't have to be....so all I have for you is quiet...
Rachel: You know when I give somebody a piece of paper, they read it and say 'If only you could express yourself in this manner it would be a different Rachel, not the one we know...'
Me: Mm-hmmm. Okay I lied. One more question...what do you like most about writing?
Rachel: Let me put it this way, it's the ability to put into words what you want them to know, what is going on in your mind or in your life...that is your experience you are writing about. It's just that what I love most about writing.