A Bloody Past
Uganda has gone through six presidencies since their independence in 1962, each deposed of in wars and coup d’états— the most notorious ruler being Idi Amin, who clocked 300,000 deaths under his regime before they got to him. I was relatively unfamiliar about Uganda before meeting Clare, but then I remembered watching The Last King Of Scotland a few years ago. Clare was right, it was a bloody kind of past.

“True story: My mother’s life was threatened three times while pregnant with me. The worst was when my dad wasn’t around. Someone broke into the house and tried to steal from us. My mother, pregnant, hit him with a very sharp object. He bled and tried to strangle her but she hit him again. He leapt from the balcony, leaving a bloody handprint on the wall. Every time she tried to paint over it, the handprint would always show.”

Clare’s parents lived in a government-owned flat. Her mother was a civil servant and her father worked in the aviation industry. The building had three rooms to a flat, and three floors’ worth of flats, occupied by other private workers and civil servants.

However, the post-war area was undeveloped; people took advantage of the bushes to hide and attack others. There were police barracks right across — “the only saving grace,” Clare said — but it didn’t stop crime from happening. Once, someone even set their car on fire.

The five-year Resistance War ended in 1986 with the election of current Ugandan president Museveni, bringing some form of stability to the region. Clare was born a year after. She would grow up with the memory of military around schools, hospitals, learning institutions, and even in marketplaces. But there was also the good stuff.


“Our parents tried very hard to give us a normal life, since it was just us daughters anyway. It wasn’t until recently that the girl child has been given priority towards development of the nation. So at the point when we were growing up, people didn’t expect much of girls.”

What did that translate to in her house? She paused to consider this. “It meant my parents didn’t want to limit our dreams or desires. We always had room for our talents. We could do anything.”

Clare continued, announcing that she was going to tell me “one funny thing!” This is what it was: When she was three years old, she decided she was keen on studying. So her parents placed her in a private kindergarten, and got a bicycle-for-hire man to take her there every day.

“But why is that funny?” I asked Clare.

“Because I went to school on a bicycle!” she exclaimed. “Other kids would show up in big cars, and carry really cool bags, and my parents did their best to help me fit in. Since we didn’t have uniforms, my parents bought me a really good bag, and really nice shoes. But I always came to school on a bicycle.”

Clare’s father would also return from work trips with little gifts, such as a pair of “really cute” purple shoes from London. Clare wore them to kindergarten until the soles wore out, and tried wearing them even when they no longer fit.

When asked what made her childhood special, she immediately credits her parents. “They were a bit exposed. They both got to travel and see different things.”

Her parents also knew how to throw a party, which would last for days sometimes. Clare calls them the “highlight of our lives”. She promises to show me more over Skype when she gets home.

Clare speaks with much nostalgia of the music she grew up with. I have shared this selection of soukous bands in part three of this series.

“We have every CD this legend [Madilu System] ever made… it’s a bit of Lingala and African jazz,” Clare said. Now, this soukous song from Clare’s childhood is one I’ve adopted… to shimmy along to at home with friends, sambil sidai baju.

Clare turns twenty and her parents send her to study in Malaysia. After a childhood and home filled with dancing, parties, and song, she slips into what she finds to be a much, much quieter life.

The series continues here: Clare finds her voice | Feedback: serambi@poskod.my

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