improving health & lifestyle in vernacular


ON the evening that Gender Ministry Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana was launching his book ‘Corruption: A Tale of Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing’, I was the surprised, proud and excited recipient of a book written by another Ugandan few of you have heard about.

And whereas I will certainly buy Bigirimana’s book one day and give it an enthusiastic read, my eyes are now poring over ‘Huumura: Ebyokurya n’Omubazi gw’Amagara Gaitu’, a 143-page book by one John Arinaitwe.

I must immediately declare that Arinaitwe gave me the book free of charge, and that he has not solicited any publicity from me at all, poor fellow.

He handed two copies of his book, which retails at Ushs15,000 per copy (I’ll explain later why this detail is important), to Richard Barungi and I because we’re both members of the Board at the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation where he is employed as Manager of UBC West ‘Empikahoona’.

He was moved to make the donation at the end of a Board and Senior Managers’ Retreat this week for reasons I won’t go into now; if he had been only a poultry farmer perhaps he would have handed us a tray of eggs or a rooster.

Back to ‘Huumura: Ebyokurya n’Omubazi gw’Amagara Gaitu’, on the inside cover of the book is a quotation from the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BC), who is so essential to the world of medicine that medical professionals the world over swear an oath in his name, the ‘Hippocratic Oath’.

But this quotation, as presented by Arinaitwe, is in Runyakitara; which made me muse over the possibility of someone in Western Uganda studying medicine in vernacular and how that would increase medical coverage significantly!

Hindura ebyokurya omubazi gwawe, kandi omubazi gwawe gube ebyokurya byawe.” (No, I am NOT translating it into english, and I will tell you why in a couple of minutes).

A couple of pages later, after the National and East African anthems (I stand while writing this – and mentally applaud him!) I realised that the ENTIRE book was in Runyakitara.

As the realisation struck me and my reading slowed down, my admiration for Arinaitwe went a few notches higher on finding his very first entry taking a quotation from BOTH the Bible and the Quran, to explain the benefits or virtues of greens & vegetables.

And while I was squinting at a couple of words that appeared to be translated into the Runyakitara pronunciation of the english version of the same words, Barungi mentioned that the language of the book was much more complicated than his own native Runyankore.

We immediately took Arinaitwe down a line of questioning that he was ably handling when another colleague of his interjected with, “Wait! Do you know that the author of Katondozi (y’Orunyankore-Rukiga) commended Arinaitwe for coming up with some words in the language?!”

Katondozi y’Orunyankore-Rukiga’ is the Runyankore-Rukiga thesaurus written and published last year by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Manuel Muranga, Alice Muhoozi and Gilbert Gumoshabe.

These were the same words I was squinting at right then – Enkorera-mubiri (Enzayimu – Enzymes) and Entegyeka-Mubiri (Hormoni – Hormones). Arinaitwe explained that he came up with the words in Runyankore because he looked into the importance to the health of the body, of both enzymes and hormones, and decided to define it for ordinary people so they could understand them fully rather than just use the words.

It would have been unbecoming for me to stand up and clap my hands into his face, so I kept calm and questioned him some more.

My eyes popped when he said he had already prepared manuscripts translated into Lugbara and Swahili, and English! All these, he noted, had been done by his colleagues at work, quite kindly, I might add. 

“I haven’t done Luganda yet because they have asked me for money which I don’t have,” he said, in passing, but we stopped him there.

“How much?”

“They asked me for three hundred (300). So I will wait until I have that…”

We all paused for a while and looked incredulously around at each other till one person had the courage to ask, a little silently and in awe of the value of Luganda in general: “300 million…?”

“No!” he responded, totally missing our incredulity and the reason why we were so mistaken, “Three Hundred thousand.”

The courageous one plunged in again with: “Shillings?”

We paused again for a few seconds to try and understand how three hundred thousand shillings had stopped this life-changing, societal-improvement project from going to the next level.

That’s when he told us how when he finished the first manuscript he was a little unsure of his Runyakitara and so went to the Department of Languages at Makerere University to get them to proof-read and endorse his work, but was asked for ten times his current predicament with Luganda.

It was way out of his reach, and he tried to negotiate his way lower but couldn’t see how it would work so he turned round to leave, dejected. But one person couldn’t bear the sight and offered to give the manuscript a quick look-over. Shortly thereafter, the volunteer reader, a PhD Linguistics candidate, summoned him in excitement; this gentleman, Dr. Celestino Oriikirizar, had suffered non-stop migraines for an inexplicable period of time but while reading Arinaitwe’s manuscript had started following some of his nutritional advice and the headaches had gone!

Long story. Cut short. Book cleared and published. Now in my hands.

But then the man needs “300” to come up with a Luganda version – so I am going to mobilise that; YOU don’t even need to get involved, besides buying copies of the book (at the Uganda Bookshop). I am also going to buy up a few copies – a copy for each of my own children so that one day they pick it up and learn some vernacular even though it is heavier on Runyankore-Rukiga than Runyoro-Rutooro.

They will also be healthier, and will learn that another child, Arinaitwe’s own son, Allan Roy Arinaitwe, inspired his father to finish and publish the book – but sadly passed on before it came to print.

Rather than buy up tomes and re-publications by Dr. Atkins and others with diet plans of foods that don’t even grow in Uganda, let alone get to supermarket shelves here, Arinaitwe will be their nutrition and personal health guide.

Thankfully, the government itself recognises the book and presents a foreword signed by the Commissioner for Health Service (Planning), Dr. Francis Runumi; who rightly (yes – in Runyakitara) lauds the book for addressing lifestyle as a health issue.

In fact, I am sending a few copies to some people in a village I know, in the hope that this Ushs15,000 spent will save me having to spend a lot more in medical aid for preventable illnesses and ailments. And if this book found its way into every household upcountry in one language or another, just after UPE…

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