Twice Removed Migrant by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

In January 2018, I went back to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, my birthplace. We Ugandan Asians were exiled from the country in 1972. I settled in London, vibrant, exciting, ever-changing. In time that past faded like newsprint on old papers. Decades later, I was back in the land that made and nourished me. The visit was emotional and, at first, disorientating. The country is still lush, green and gorgeous; Ugandans are still calm, stoic, full of laughter and generous. In some parts the city hadn’t changed at all. But  the  centre was overcome by too  many cars, too much noise, vainglorious tall edifices – hotels for the very rich, casinos, big businesses.
My young driver, John B and I had been educated at the same, excellent primary school. It was demolished, the land sold to developers. A desolate structure stands there, incomplete after ten years. John raged, I cried a little. Outside this eyesore, on the pavement, sat a man selling cut mangoes sprinkled with chilli powder and salt. John and I relished them as our eyes watered. Those old days came alive. As Proust wrote in ‘Swann’s Way’, the first volume of The Remembrance of Things Past: ‘When nothing subsists of an old past, after the death of people, after destruction of things, alone, frailer, but more enduring, more immaterial, more persistent, more faithful, smell and taste remain for a long time, like souls remembering, watching, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest.’
At times I felt like an interloper and at others, like a long lost wanderer coming home. I found the tiny flat where I spent my early years. This is where my mother used to cook food for weddings, engagements and birthdays. Funerals too. In that sooty, airless kitchen she produced vats of what East African Shia Muslims call ‘akni’ – a subtly spiced rice and meat dish, piquant goat meat, coconut chicken, aubergine and potato dry curry. It was all done on coal-fuelled or Primus stoves. Her devoted assistant was Japani, a black Ugandan. They sang Hindi film songs while they worked.
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