“Senga” I blurted out the words as I stepped out the car, the ground feeling uneven and rugged underneath my flat shoes. The sun was shining brightly through the cloudless blue sky, the hot and humid tropical air standing still around me, while the dust particles filled the atmosphere. Pieces of waste paper were flying around as if the force of the car stopping had just disturbed them from their sleep. It was 22 years since I last lived in Uganda in December and the scorching heat and dryness of this month felt like a distant memory. It was a stark contrast to the dustless streets, bitter and misty cold wind, Christmas lights and shopping buzz in London during the weeks leading to Christmas.
I looked at her elegant figure as she turned her head towards me; she broke into a smile revealing a gap in her teeth. That same chocolate brown face now showing its age. It was a bit drawn and looking darker. Her short hair scattered with silver grey patches. She was wearing a dark blue busuuti tied with a red waist band. The busuuti long up to her ankles, and underneath it, the sandals in her feet covered in dust but looked like they were meant to be bright yellow.
Senga Victo, as she was known to us, was my father’s youngest sister Victoria. Out of respect I was not expected to call her by her name, just Senga; my father’s sister. She had been married as a second wife to a District Judge, in another part of the country. She came back without her eight children when her marriage broke down about 35 years ago, and settled in this small trading centre Sanje next our ancestral village, Bubango and where she was born. Since then she has been very much a loner, in a society where it is rare to live alone. I knew very little about her children as they never came to family gatherings.
Senga’s legs have always been a mystery to me. Ever since time memorial, she always wore the traditional ankle length busuuti and today was no different. As my eyes scrolled down her body, I imagined her unseen legs to be giraffe like, long and longing for light and sunshine in the shadow of the dark, behind the busuuti. She looked like Nalongo.
Nalongo (mother of twins), was the woman who lived two houses from my mother. The house wasn’t built when I last visited 10 years ago and this time Mother had introduced Nalongo to me as her new neighbour and friend. I slowly lowered my body, preparing to kneel on the ground to greet Senga, and my eyes caught the dusty murram ground with potholes where we were standing. I then realised it had not been such a good idea to wear cropped trousers and come to the village. I had to get my knees dirty. I recalled how Nalongo had come running from her house in her pink floral busuuti, her hair in braids dangling behind her neck to greet us on arrival from the airport. I felt really embarrassed that this elderly titled woman with her status of twins knelt to the ground greet me and my children just because we were coming from abroad.”No don’t kneel” I said to her waving my hand for her to stop.”I should be the one kneeling” I continued. She was taken aback by my reaction, her eyes opened up wide almost hanging out from their sockets and she looked astonished. I then helped her to her feet and into the house. It made me realise how long I had been away from these customs and the expectations that I had forgotten or don’t follow them. I then introduced my children; my 21 year old daughter knelt to the floor in the lounge to greet her. Nalongo’s face lit up with excitement, her eyes dazzling and a broad smile gave view to a stained set of teeth. She clasped her hands and said, banange loudly in amazement almost scaring my daughter off. Despite being born in the UK I taught my daughter how to greet Ugandan elders traditionally, kneeling with her two knees on the ground. .
Nalongo was of the view that living in the UK means we don’t follow the customs.
Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2013)