(My family with Monica in London on the day of Mrs May’s ‘Vote of No Confidence’).
Many of our supporters will know that we are currently hosting Monica Agaba here in the UK, our director of projects and operations in Uganda. We initially wanted Monica to visit the UK so that she could join Danielle and I at our wedding on November 9th. But after two totally unfounded rejections, six months of anxiety and frustration and in excess of £600, we (as individuals, not the charity) finally got her visa approved. A visa that, according to the British Government’s website, should only have cost £94. Of course we were delighted that the visa was finally accepted; the irony being that they approved it on the day of our wedding, November 9th. It seemed to me that this trip just wasn’t to be.
In spite of all the hard work, we decided to book flights for Monica after our honeymoon, so she arrived in the UK at the start of December. This was her first journey outside of Uganda. We write a lot about our perceptions of Uganda and other developing countries, and personally, I am ashamed that many people equate lower incomes, simpler levels of living and less material resources, with abject poverty and backwardness, and consider that these countries need to be ‘saved’ by rich Western people. It goes without saying, that I was fascinated to hear Monica’s first impressions of the UK. I gave her a week to settle and we took her to Stratford, London, Birmingham, special dinners with funders etc. before I pounced on her for some answers.
My mind was full of ideas about what Monica must have been thinking when she stepped off that plane at London Heathrow Airport. But I did my best to lay my bias aside and I started off by asking her one simple question: Which three words would you use to describe the United Kingdom? I was fascinated by her answer. ‘Developed, sophisticated and individual’ were the words she used to describe her first ever week in the UK. Of course that sparked a really interesting conversation and I asked her: ‘would you like to live here with Patience and Andrew (her daughter and husband)?’ She laughed out loud, in that typical Ugandan way and exclaimed ‘NO WAY!’ I asked her why she answered like that. She went on to explain that the UK to her was a place of luxury to be visited once in a lifetime. She had absolutely no interest in even entertaining the idea of resettling in the suburbs of Birmingham.
The other question I asked her was ‘what do you like least about the UK?’ She immediately said that nobody talks to each other. I asked her to explain. She said ‘in Uganda it is not about what we have, but about who we have. You could have nothing in the village and there would always be someone there to support you, to help you, to guide you when you’re down. Here, (referring to the village in which my parents live) people only tend to themselves. Nobody even smiles at one another. What’s the point of living if you don’t connect with the people around you?’
My heart sank. I totally agree, I thought. This is why I visit Uganda once a year and feel alive. I actually laugh, I talk to people I don’t know about nothing in particular. I dress how I like. The sun shines. Such simple things. Now I know politics in Africa in general have been viewed negatively by the outside world, and Uganda is no exception. But look at us, right now. We were together in London for my birthday yesterday and again we spoke about many things. When I honed in on politics and loosely explained what all the commotion was about (I hardly understand anything about Brexit), she chuckled. ‘Just like Uganda,’ she said. I laughed and agreed. ‘Welcome to the heart of the Divided Kingdom,’ I said.