Dispatch from UK | Article Response ~ Life isn’t that lonely abroad

Posted September 15, 2011 by arthur in Featured ~ 6,695 views


By Arthur Mwenkanya Katabalwa, Dispatch from UK:  Stanley Gazemba writes an article; , about a book, which chronicles the dire life of an African immigrant living in the USA. In the article, a line catches my eye about the book which is meant to make people think about immigrating. It reads, “…….Which is enough reason why all potential immigrants need to read this book; if only to take the scales off their eyes.”  I say no immigrant wanting to make a life outside of his or her own motherland should read that book. I am yet to read the whole book but let me react to what Stanley Gazemba highlights.

First of all, any would be immigrant or indeed anyone already immigrated like I have, should ask some fundamental questions as to why they are in the country that they are in. What has taken one away from their motherland? Have they left by force or is it by choice? If it is by force, where one has to run away from persecution of any kind then the argument is different.

Let me on this occasion concentrate on some of us who have moved abroad out of choice. I live in the United Kingdom. And by all intents and purposes, The United Kingdom is my second home. Uganda, my country of origin, will always be where I came from. Now, I live in the UK and I had better make things work here.

When I had just moved to the UK, one of my relatives made a very interesting comment to me. She asked me to put a time limit on how long I was staying in the UK else I would always live in transit, where I would have fridges, shoes and all sorts of things by the doorway waiting to be taken back to Uganda when I returned. They would be there ten years later if I wasn’t putting a time limit.

My father, the Late Rev Laban Bombo once told me while I was wasting time as a teen-ager that life was not a rehearsal. This is it. No replay! So when one decides to leave their country of origin by their own choice to live in the UK, USA or Timbuktu, don’t waste time. I have met so many people here in the UK and in Europe, who have lived away from their countries for decades and in many cases the most productive time of their lives and they curse and reject the countries they are in. What a waste of time! One may as well be in prison. Because what I have seen is that people live like that with one eye on their country of origin and don’t develop what they have because “lumu tujja kuda ku butaka” (one day we will go back home). When?

But let me turn to those who are living abroad or are thinking of moving abroad. First of all, to those wanting to move abroad, the streets in New York, London and certainly in Stoke On Trent, UK where I live are not paved with gold. They are paved with grey concrete slabs!!! One has to work hard. I am not very sure of the state of the economy in my native Uganda at the moment. I haven’t been for a while. I have never worked there for more than seven months in all my adult life. But from what I remember when I last worked there as a fledgling journalist, there wasn’t much for me to do. Apart from passing time sitting at Radio Buganda with Shanks Vivie D or searching for scraps of work from The New Vision. Life was a struggle. If things have improved now, the passage of time and the growth in the economy have helped.

When I moved to the UK, I was made aware that no job was not doable. Thankfully my family had been through the UK for education and on holiday so I was warned. My attitude stopped at London’s Heathrow airport. Bills have to be paid. Back in Uganda, my mother used to ask me to run to the neighbor for a pinch of salt if we had none. Not here. It is just not the done thing. One doesn’t walk about to the neighbor’s house asking for a spoonful of salt. Sorry, but this isn’t Uganda.

The reality abroad is obvious. One is abroad. So, the sooner that one makes that adjustment the better. “Abroad” is just not dire for lonely foreigners. It is dire for everyone who isn’t on a decent income. And that is true for everywhere else. What makes the pill easier to swallow in a country where one is from is that that person will know how to survive. I have been in the company of a British man in Uganda who was broke. I wonder what letters he wrote back home about the situation in Uganda was because he had resorted to selling roasted ground nuts.

The article highlights the loneliness that many immigrants face abroad. This is a major problem. My father once told me that the loneliest place he had ever been to was London’s Trafalgar square. Yet he was standing there with about two thousand other people. One of my loneliest times ever was in Uganda when I went to boarding school at Busoga College Mwiri. Simply because I was away from home. I was just across the Nile not abroad.

Culturally, people need to understand that unlike like in the Ugandan public transport where one will know the life history of ones neighbour before departure, things aren’t done like that. But hope isn’t lost. Not everyone abroad is walking about singular. Efforts need to be made to develop a circle of friends. Attend events and civil functions. The danger always is that people from similar backgrounds tend to congregate together. This has led to ghettos developing. I am also riled by the failure for people to integrate. This experiment of liberals around the world forging a multi cultural society is a failure and a farce in my judgment.

Another viewpoint that was put across was that the poor immigrants are shocked by the weather. Let me put this across this clearly. Even indigenous people are fed up with the weather. It’s atrocious!! Why are European resorts filled to capacity in the summer with people sunning themselves? Because the weather north of a certain parallel is just terrible. When I have been on holiday in the Mediterranean I have been put on a flight back to the UK in a volcanic mood because like any one who has been on a flight descending into any major UK airport, break through the cloud and one finds that the darkness has settled across the land. Descend into Entebbe and one will not see a cloud in sight from Yumbe in the West Nile region where one feels properly in Ugandan airspace. On the other hand though, I look forward to the spring in the UK because everything smells so fresh. The flowers are a riot of color!!!

Living away from home isn’t as bad as it is portrayed. It is hard. Things are not as we have known them back at home but why are so many of us abroad despite the pain and anguish so depressingly put in that book? Because it isn’t that bad.


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One Comment

    Rev. Jessica Nakawombe

    Interesting Mwenkanya. Quite true. I can’t pass on this. To me life abroad is from each one’s perspective and experience. It is like the six blind men of Hindustan who individually described what an elephant is from their different personal experiences and feel. Indeed we have six descriptions of a whole elephant yet in part. To each one of them, they thought they had it all, and I think no one could convince them otherwise that there was more to the part they had – an ear, a tail, a leg, a trunk, etc.

    Like you said, we need to network and interact with other people, those like us and those different from us wherever we are.

    The Uganda case is also like the abroad experience. Many live in the stone age with lighting fire with a stone and grass literally, yet a few have all the tech high gadgets. you have seen all the photos/pictures. they don’t lie. They tell it all. Katanga,Kivvulu, Tororo, Malaba, Bwayise, etc – slums!

    Even abroad I have seen the homeless many of whom have been highly educated, with Bachelor degrees, Masters degrees and even Ph D holders. In Boston, Harvard Square, I befriended a Black homeless man and he told me some stories. He used to sell a Homeless Magazine that was produced by the homeless and some churches, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, and another organisation. I made sure that I bought that Neswpaper whenever it came out. The stories written by the homeless were amazing. Many had become homeless fromm addiction of drugs, many from divorces, many from mental sickness, many from loss of a job.

    At the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, fellow students, in the formation of Church ministry, were very much involved with the homeless and soup kitchens. One female clergy, started a wall less and roofless Church on the Boston Commons near the Episcopal Diocese. However, it took the Bishop years to endorse it! She persisted. I have come to learn that they are many such Churches now in the country which is a good thing.

    In USA, some have bought houses and condos on mortgage, posh cars on notes, yet others live moderately and happy. Some states have many Ugandans and good for social networking, yet others have so few and are scattered so life can be lonely. Others want to disappear into oblivion, eat, drink and be merry. So when it wears off, life can indeed be lonely!

    Paul E. Billheimer, a Pastor wrote in his book in the 80s, ‘Destined To Overcome’, that, “Someone has described a modern American as a person who drives a bank-financed car over a bond-financed highway on credit-card gas to open a charge account at a department store so he/she can fill his Savings-and-Loan financed home with installment-purchased furniture.” May this not be also a description of many modern Ugandans abroad?

    We have worked many jobs which we could not do back home. But we have to make ends meet. We have been humbled and we have humbled ourselves to fit in. Making fast money like in Uganda can’t work abroad. It may for a while, but the long arm of the law catches up with you unlike Uganda where you may never be caught, or be caught and you bribe off the police, or the Judge. Not abroad! Some people discover that too late.

    Yet some are doing really very well, from their sweat. Some have climbed all the steps to the top without missing some. Some have gone through the slow but steady process. I am urging those to share their keys, their secrets to how they climbed up. We are all ears. Knowledge is power. God says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Omuganda agamba nti, “Gakuweebwa munno.” “Ndi mugezi, nga mubuulire.”

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