What you need to know:
- The love that surprised me is precisely what you are doing now, reading me.
- You might not have realised it but this conversation of ours is exactly eight years old today.
Surprised by Love is the title of a poem by my friend and long-time Makerere colleague, Prof Timothy Wangusa. Arguably Uganda’s finest living poet, Wangusa, or ‘Uncle Tim’, as his many generations of students and admirers call him, will turn 80 this coming Monday. I will tell you more about this venerable octogenarian after we celebrate his great day.
But the love that surprised me is precisely what you are doing now, reading me. You might not have realised it but this conversation of ours is exactly eight years old today. You and other like-minded people of goodwill have been reading this column every weekend since May 14, 2014! What did I do to you or for you to earn such unconditional love?
“Cha mtima, cha moyo”(a thing of the heart [is] a thing of the heart), goes a Kiswahili methali (proverb), in what appears to be an ungrammatical and tautological utterance. Apart from having no verb, it recoils on itself by using two words, “mtima” and “moyo” which mean the same thing, the former being only slightly archaic. The apparent illogicality of the utterance, however, is the gist of its meaning or significance. It suggests that it is futile to rationalise about affairs of the heart, like love.
So, maybe I should not be overly surprised that you keep loving and reading me, for reading is an act of love. At its best, it is not a forced or prescribed activity, but a free and voluntary process of intimate communication with a writer whom, in most cases, you have never met in person. The miraculous beauty of it is the writer-reader relationship that arises or may arise from this process.
Feedback and responses
In my case, I feel and cherish this relationship with you in the feedback and responses I get from you every week. These range from the simple “that was a great read” through emphatic challenges to some of my opinionated views, to perceptive corrections of my occasional technical and factual blunders. The line that is ever music to my ears is the frequent one that you are looking forward to my next article.
So, please, keep your responses coming. They assure me that ours is a true conversation, and not a monologue. As I keep telling my students, the communication process, comprising writer, message, purpose, medium and reader, is not complete until there is a response or feedback to the writer. Most importantly, your dialogue with me suggests that you know the main reason why I keep writing: my ardent desire to share with you my stories, my feelings and my views, for what they are worth.
I confess (naungama) that I do not always respond adequately or even at all to all of your communications but my failures are never out of insensitivity or lack of respect. My occasional silence is due to a combination of factors, including a genuine feeling that a reader’s request lies beyond my scope of knowledge or competence, internal parameters of what each of us writers should cover, and now a growing energy and memory challenge, with advancing age. But, as they say in Uganda, one little fall does not stop the children’s song.
Our song of celebration, however, must include a special squad of contributors to our lively palaver. These are the intrepid men and women at the Nation Centre. You no doubt heard that NMG journalists collected a bouquet of trophies at this year’s Annual Journalism Excellence Awards. This was a cause of joy and pride to all of us. But it was no surprise to us who know how passionate, professional and committed most of these people are.
Academic and literary life story
In any case, what we saw at the awards night was only the tip of the iceberg. The whole process of commissioning, writing, editing, producing and distributing the pieces we read in the paper is startlingly complex. The professionals in the media house, in their humility and objective detachment, do not lay much store by personal plaudits. In any case, as one of the winners of the awards put it, “Every good story is always a result of team work.” Still, they deserve all the credit, as individuals and as a team.
Our column, as I told you, originated from a suggestion by some (then) young editors at the NMG that I should tell my academic and literary life story. It did not turn out exactly like that, and I am glad that it ended up as the free-flowing chat that you and I share on these good weekends. Our editors, in their wisdom, have left us free to choose the topics closest to our hearts and most relevant to our times and climes. Our longevity, I suppose, suggests that it has been well worth our while.
As you know, however, some major themes have dominated our conversations over the years. Among these are the woman’s cause, our East African unity, our cultural and linguistic identity, especially as flagged by Kiswahili, and the human and social sense factor in our educational systems. This is in addition to my sallies into literary and other creative endeavours.
This brings me to a humble suggestion of our way forward into our ninth year. Our editors and you, my readers, can help me refine the plan as we go along. First, I would like to make our chats increasingly participatory and interactive. In other words, I would like to receive suggestions from you of topics we can reflect upon, with me only as an enabling guide.
Secondly, can we bring a technical “know-how” element into our conversations, without turning them into dry-as-dust classroom sessions? I often get requests of assistance with my readers’ writing and general communication skills. Maybe we could share tips on such matters, with reference to the experiences of an old practitioner. Matters linguistic, literary, publishing and teaching would come in handy here. Let me know.
Thank you dearly for reading. I will keep writing.
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and [email protected]