If there’s one thing the characters in Jennifer Makumbi’s
stories know, it’s how to field an uncomfortable question.
“Let me buy you a cup of tea…what are you doing in England?”
“Do these children of yours speak any Luganda?”
“Did you know that man Idi Amin?”
But perhaps the most difficult question of all is the one they ask themselves: “You mean this is England?”
Told with empathy, humour, and compassion, these vibrant, kaleidoscopic stories re-imagine the journey of Ugandans who choose to make England their home. Weaving between Manchester and Kampala, this dazzling collection will captivate anyone who has ever wondered what it means to truly belong.
*Includes Let’s Tell This Story Properly”, winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2014.
Author: Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Hardcover: 318 pages
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
You know when your family is the poorest in the clan but you have these wheezing-rich cousins whose father sometimes helps out with your education, medical care and upkeep but sometimes threatens to withdraw his help if you don’t do as he says? You think to yourself, hmm, if I lived with them, my prospects would improve, I’d be successful, help pull my family out of the hole and the world would be boundless. You approach Uncle. Can I come live with you? He hesitates: he has heard your story before. He’s impatient with your “lazy”, “incompetent”, “backward” father who shouldn’t have had so many children. But you’re lucky; Uncle takes you in, and when you arrive at his home you join other relatives living with him and make a world. But Uncle’s children, fed up with sharing their home with cousins from all over the clan, cry out, We’re squashed, Dad. You shrink and try not to take up too much space, but it hurts when they presume things about your family. For you, the situation is more complex than an incompetent father.
Often, when things are not going right, cousins’ resentment flares up and tantrums are thrown: Get them out of here. You shrink again, but privately you question their belief that your father should have had fewer children. After all, the cost of bringing up one of them, the pressure their needs put on the earth, could have brought up six, maybe even ten, of your siblings. Their childhood is long and indulgent; so is their old age. Still, when Uncle complains about the number of your siblings, you twist your lips and swallow the stories your father told you about Uncle’s wealth. You keep your head down and try to make the most of your situation. You keep closer to the other relations Uncle is looking after – some of whom sneaked in after he said no, some of whom escaped abusive relatives, some seeking respite from strife, some who came to study but refused to go home. When we call this phenomenon “extended family”, you people at home insist that family is family, no one is extended. I thought, maybe I should let you see for yourselves? So, here are a few unfiltered snapshots of our world.