In 1998, I was in Primary six at Namalemba Boarding Primary School – Eastern Uganda. It was a fairly middle-class school. It may not have been the middle class of Kampala, but it bore the footprints of a middle-class school.
While it was a mixed school, the day section was for mostly pupils in P.5 and below. The school attracted children from prominent families in the region- with the exception of me and a few others- very few.
During visiting days and parents’ meetings, parents would drive their beautiful cars and come to visit their children. Not mine though. This man, in this photo, would ride his old bicycle, for a total of 6 hours to visit me and go back.
I particularly remember one parent’s meeting. My mother was away for a workshop. This man cycled his bicycle (manyi gakifuba/manual) for about 3 hours…came to school and attended the parents meeting.
The parents’ meetings were conducted in English. This man, Mr. Dhabangi Wilson, whom I respect so much, did not and does not know English. He cant read or write…not even sign. But he came and sat in there, almost looking out of place but he sat there for me.
He sat at the back of the room and when the meeting was over, they called the children to join their parents. I asked him what they had said in the meeting and he said, ‘Mwana wange, ate nanditegeire ntya? Boigoire Luzungu. Tibitegeire. Aye iwe sooma. Sooma!’. (My son, how could I have known? The meeting was conducted in English. I did not understand anything. But study hard. Study!’ I signed for him in the visitors’ book and we walked out of the room.
I carried a green polythen bag in which he usually carried cookies, ground nuts or food.
Sometimes I felt a sense of shame…wondering why its me who had a poor parent visiting me…and sometimes got hurt by comments made by some bullies…but thankfully, deep down …I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and connection to him. He had become family. He was there.
Whether my mum was able to come or not, he was there- every Sunday, for three years. Through him I felt a sense of connection to home. He told me whatever was happening at home including about a goat that had given birth or chicken hatched.
When the parents meetings were concluded, the children from rich families whose parents had brought cheers, daddies, quencher, and an assortment of luxuries joined their parents. With tears in my eyes, I went and joined Dhabangi, who was my parent at that minute.
Most of my friends understood my situation though and they never made fun of me. They always invited me to their parents and we would share meals.
Dhabangi was the only person that would come on a bicycle. The whole school knew him…and the moment they saw him, the children would immediately tell me your father has come. Sometimes, due to prolonged hours riding under the scorching sun, he would arrive when his shirt is full of sweat.
When there was any issue for which he had to meet a class teacher or school authorities, I would interpret for him. He always said, ‘Enule tofayo…sooma. Sooma inho, Iffe titwalina mukisa gwemulina. Imwe musome. Odagula emotoka edo ovuge bwewekalangula. ’ (Henry, don’t worry. Study, study hard. For us, we never had opportunity to study. But you study. You will buy those cars and drive if you study hard. It was incredible how much he believed in education. Incredible
It hurt to be poor. It hurt to be visited by someone riding a bicycle. It hurt to be laughed at by other children. It hurt that he would have to ride such a long distance just to see me.
Now, 24 years later, I see how much he loved me…and how important it is that he was there. I can’t keep quiet about this old good man on the plane. From where I sit, he is written on my memory as a full chapter of my life story.
Goodness and Mercy follow Goodness and Mercy. In the unseen workings of nature, the wheel of possibility is always turning. We just have to keep moving.
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