The first of Liyana Dizzy’s three-part story & music experience: A portrait of a girl who is certainly not Dead Prez, a wonderful playlist of soukous music, and 24 year olds who don’t really care about fitting in.


Clare at our first and only meeting

Clare at our first and only meeting

Clare and I are the same age, born ten days apart. She has been living-slash-studying in Kuala Lumpur for the past four years.

If one were to draw a line from Kampala to Kuala Lumpur, it would run almost similar to the Equatorial line. That was one of my first observations of Uganda. So when we met face-to-face for the first and only time, I asked her to tell me about home.

“We came from a bloody kind of past, and it’s been 20 years since that past,” was Clare’s first response. This candid statement was promptly followed by a long sip of coffee which gave me some time to digest it (very few people introduce their home with ‘a bloody past’).

She continued: “Uganda is made up of over 50 tribes— who all have their differences— and average food, but meals were always in groups… in circles, like Chinese dinners. Each kid has a plate, or shares a plate. Even the local brew of my father’s tribe was drunk communally from two long tubes attached to a pot, like shisha.”  

Her uncanny ability to relate something alien to someone alien was alien to me. It struck me how Clare drew connections between what was distinctly Ugandan and what she knew Malaysians would be more familiar with (Chinese dinners, shisha).

As a university student myself, I noticed African student communities as somewhat insular, clustered in and around an ecosystem of African shops and businesses, symbiotic, but reluctantly so. These grocery stores and cafés didn’t ever really draw in Malaysian crowds. They were — like the student communities themselves — comfortable and isolating all at once, like a collective mystery no one else was curious enough about.

Admittedly, I also thought that I would be speaking to someone from this community. Clare’s living-slash-studying in Kuala Lumpur showed through in her short cropped hair, her penchant for malls, shoes, and Twitter. She seemed, just as much a product of modern globalization as I was.

Here was this girl, with her melting pot of references and rojak vocabulary wrapped up neatly in rapid, gunfire English. She didn’t strike me as someone who participated much in the ecosystem of the African student community here. I later found out I was right: Clare chose not to stick with the pack — a decision that defined her stay in Malaysia.

I thought about how our mutual friend Al introduced her, “She’s proud to be African, but she’s not in your face about it. She’s certainly no Dead Prez.”

***

Clare and I would only meet once in person, on a now-or-never basis; she was on a plane that very night, returning to Kampala as a fresh graduate. We had to settle for a modern friendship, using every networking service available to draw our own line across the Equator.

She was also the first person I wanted to talk to after I wrote this story. “Can I tell you about a girl I met the other day?” I asked her over a Skype call. “Her name is Clare, but if you think there are more similarities, I’d love to know.”

Usually bubbly, Clare kept quiet as I read her this piece. She was so quiet, I even had to check if the call was still active. “Are you there? I’m done. Is it fiction?”

“… No, no, it isn’t fiction at all. In fact I think I’m going to cry,” she said. “You have my story.”

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