Growing up in Kampala was one of the greatest experiences of my life, though with hindsight this should sound like a no-brainer. Kampala kids were not brought up to believe they were special, even if the media and the people in the villages said so. Not this Kampala kid anyway.
Children who grew up with increasing restrictions, walls pressing in from all directions because urbanization was swallowing up all types of free space was the stuff of children’s lives. Kids can be discerning. They know when their lives are just one big con.
Nevertheless, my experience was everything I would have wanted it to be. Parents who believed I was God’s answer to all their prayers (really,that was my mom) could make virtually anything happen. Two semi-retired middle aged people found a way to give their precocious wee child a sheltered childhood.
Childhood is made of experiences that serve to shape how one will view their world. If you survive all the falls and the broken bones and the poison (“Don’t drink this.” “Oh but I just did.” “What!? That’s paraffin!”) and all other indignities that are by nature visited upon those who have to walk through the shadow of childhood, you earn the right to face the world with super powers.
Mine was at the end of the Okellos junta through the early Museveni years. I had learnt along with thousands of other children the anthems of the post-Idi Amin euphoria.
All kids sang Golongolo Pippa Kawung’ayidde, and Sipolingi. For many children during those years, it was a heady period because the adults were singing songs of revolution after Amin had been deposed. Like it happens everywhere in the world, music came in forcefully to remind the traumatized populace of the eight brutal years.
By the time my friends and I were going through those critical formative years, the songs had already evolved; nobody thought to find out what the actual lyrics were. To be honest, nobody really cared.
So we lived through the tail-end of the Obote years, the Okellos and then the NRA.
Childhood memories from the mid-1980s include dirty apartment blocks in many parts of the city, pock-marked by the madness of war. Buganda Road flats, Wandegeya, Makerere…
My family moved from Buganda Road to Bakuli, near Blue Room. As a child, I either was too naive to see the strain my parents were enduring, or maybe in my mind, that’s just the way the cookie crumbled.
The truth is many parents were suffering. Jobs were scarce; the bad years were supposedly behind us, but the new regime had to science the shit out of the sorrow and angst pretty fast seeing as the economy was in shambles. Fathers had vanished, families had been torn apart, the banks had been looted.
I had been to Buganda Road Primary School, flying my on my own, but boarding school came in at just the right time. I survived St. Kayasi (Mwiri Primary), Makonzi Boarding and Budo Junior.
Childhood was really fast flashing lights of the city. The few times I went to the countryside, I always felt like a fish out of water. The village kids didn’t quite know what to make of this strange thing that spoke a foreign language and scarred easily.
There’s no denying childhood colors our worldview. Where a village kid grew up with the quiet of the hills, drums on a Sunday morning, birdsong clearly distinguishable and fireside stories told at 7pm because there was no electric power to watch TV, a city child had so much going on in their heads. There’s no way the two could see eye to eye on all issues.