A first time visitor to Uganda once remarked, “I can’t wait to get to Uganda so I can also use the word banange. All my Ugandan friends use the word and each uses it differently.” The word banange is a Luganda exclamation that can randomly be used to express awe, excitement, amazement, wonder, and other emotions. It is this exact banange feeling that you get when you read Manchester Happened.
The beauty with a short story collection is that you consume it at your pace. It is like a cup of bushera, you do not rush eating it. You take your time. As I read, I found myself having to re-read some of the stories just one more time before proceeding to the next.
In reading some of the stories I felt like I had grasped an idea about Manchester, in MALIK’S DOOR, I was reminded of the “social retakes” that used to happen at girls halls of residence at Makerere University where you had non-students coming to pick on the girls residing at the halls. Like Malik standing across the road near Kro Bar, they would position themselves at the drive ways waiting to take their chance at anyone who would dare cross their path. The use of relatable imagery to the mind of a Ugandan reader is epic. And I think the same applies to any Briton.
This short story collection addresses a number of subjects that affect many a Ugandan migrant in Manchester- stories that are never told. Identity seats at the centre of them all. As much as they have to deal with the idea of double citizenship so do they with double identity.
In CHRISTMA IS COMING, Kisitu finds himself a victim of self-censorship just like many of his colleagues. They have to live both the Ugandan and British lives at the same time. “This is unacceptable, Mr Kisitu. In this country, we don’t encourage violence, blah, blah, blah…”
Poonah has to inaugurate Namuli in SOMETHING INSIDE SO STRONG, into the culture of how things are done, “… Let me tell you about this place. You come, you do your job, you keep your head down. Carry a lot of thanks yous, I am sorrys and excuse mes. The way they make mistakes is not the same way we make mistakes.”
Creating an identity is hard enough for one but having to create more than one (identities) is worse especially for the young ones. It is the struggle that Luzinda goes through while at school, finding it unacceptable that the white boy has to excuse himself for referring to him as black. Or, it is a similar case we find in LOVE MADE IN MANCHESTER where Masaba is itching to come back home (Mbale) to take part in the imbalu circumcision ritual.
It is this tight grip of home that Kitone tells us of in THE AFTER TASTE OF SUCCESS of Mikka and his children back in Manchester, “Mikka always talks to his children in Luganda. He’s very keen. Everyone in the Ugandan community knows you don’t talk to Mikka’s children in English.” This happens despite the tale without word that Mikka rarely comes back home and when he does, he never comes along with his children.
In the entire collection, every person in Manchester has their personal reasons why they left yet in everything they do, they always have home at heart. A closer example is Nnalongo in MANCHESTER HAPPENED with her half-Luwero house littered with Ugandan paraphernalia of straw mats, masks with elongated faces, every ethnic basket from home, batiks, gourds and carvings. In addition to eating only Ugandan food, not entertaining English in her house and of course her relentless love for the kadongo kamu country music she plays.
The stories bring the debate of the place called home down to an individual. The challenges of parents that decide for their minor children who grow up to make their own decisions that may not be associated with the interests of their parents. This is mainly a result of the trial, the need to fit in. In MY BROTHER, BWEMAGE, Nnabaka confesses, “I didn’t want to go back. Not after the way we left. I would have gladly stayed in Britain and pretended that Uganda did not exist.” Never mind that she found herself in Manchester as a little girl of 8.
The struggle to fit in is evident that in as much as she identifies as Nnabaka and her sister Nnaava, both known Ganda names, on their way from Entebbe Airport, Kajja refers to them as British, an argument she discounts. “Kajja did not realise that it takes more than holding a British passport to make you British.” She soon came to absorb the shocker fully, “…we were not Ugandan in Uganda the way we were in Britain.”
One thing is for certain as you read the different stories that the arm twisting that families go through leaves them at crossroads having to make decisions that may not necessarily be pleasing to themselves or their kindred- like we all do in life. Survival is more important than anything else. As other traditions and norms continue to influence the lives of these Ugandan migrant workers, the question of liberty dominates and influences their decision making at all levels, from individual to families to the entire community.
AUTHOR: Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
TITLE: MANCHESTER HAPPENED
GENRE: SHORT STORY (FICTION)
PUBLISHER: ONE WORLD