The day Rita Kenkwanzi called my number was extra busy for many reasons and ordinarily I would have left my phone at home to avoid distractions.
I took her call, having no clue who was on the other end, and she quickly introduced herself then explained that “Ralph” had given her my number. I don’t know many Ralph’s but that situation wasn’t critical. She was calling, she said, to thank me for mentioning her book in a recent article and to give me a personalised copy of ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda…and other lessons from my father‘.
“Thank you, but you can simply autograph the copy I have,” I said, but she insisted her end.
It didn’t make sense to me because from my reading of her superb book she was young and very intelligent – surely she should be trying to make as much money off the publication as possible?
We eventually met last weekend and she confirmed my feelings – about the money objective and many other things.
Like its author, ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda‘ is simple but brilliant, elegantly put together, pointed, positive, unconventional and difficult to get out of one’s head.
When I first started reading the book I got to the second page when I first paused to think about who and how old the author was. I was pleased that she was going to teach me about one of our cultures, and excited that the learning was going to be so eloquently put.
A few more paragraphs in and my mind had began to boggle at how rich this book actually was. I sensed a kindred at her attitude when one publisher she approached with the book asked why her father qualified to be written about.
“Who is he? Is he a politician? Musician? Is he a public figure perhaps?” asked the publisher, who Rita has asked me not to reveal at any point – a pledge I made without elevating it to a promise.
She went ahead until she got it done – which is another reason this book is so meaningful. If more of us out here were like Rita Kenkwanzi this country would reach middle-income status before the promised deadline.
That was one of the reasons I gave her to encourage her to print and sell more copies of ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda‘.
The other, more serious one, is the reason for the book. She decided, at her father’s 65th birthday celebration, that the man meant so much to her that a speech at the dinner just wouldn’t be enough.
For about three months she combined her literary skill, remarkable energy, curiosity, some money, her old soul and a deep-rooted love of her parents and her culture, and emerged with ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda‘.
“Friends, we are here,” she writes at the start, “I could have harnessed all my energies to writing a brilliant collection of essays about Nelson Mandela or Kwame Nkrumah but neither of these men took my face in their hands and wiped the traces of soup from the edges of my mouth, before teaching me how to hold my spoon correctly.”
Even stopping there, one would already be a better person.
Rita Kenkwanzi defeated that publisher whose thinking is deep inside an awkward box most of us reside in here in this country; the idea that we only say good things about people we care about when they have died; that we only write or talk about people when they have achieved big things; that our expression of thoughts, ideas and feelings should be verbal rather than written…
I suggested to her that ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda‘ was the exact opposite of a Funeral Order of Service – it is much more complete; more carefully put together than most; celebrates the life of a person who is living and has therefore read it; and, most of all, it is complete in many ways funerals don’t allow us.
Her father, Christmas Benon Godfrey Kataama, ‘Chris’ for short, is the key focus of her book but Rita introduces us to a large section of her family going back generations. It is a history lesson delivered in a lively fashion by a lively spirit. And she did it so well that there are more people out there following suit!
When I finally sat down with Rita I was taken aback by how consistent she was. ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda‘ reveals how introverted and yet cheeky she is, which she proved when she told me the Saturday plans I was interrupting.
More: when my pet dogs came frolicking around her she froze in terror – proving the bit in the book when Chris returned home during a lunch hour and she lost valuable time opening the gate for him because the dogs were loose in the compound.
He talked her through it and she let him in, and reading that episode made me warm at the thought of how many fathers raise their daughters in this way – guiding them through their fears, encouraging them to try the impossible, and never giving up on the job.
The more time you spend with her, the more you realise how old this young lady’s soul is. I shook my head when she held up her Polaroid-type instant camera and showed me the last prints she had taken because she “like(s) capturing the moment in the moment…”
Actually, one of the reasons she even read the first article in which I mentioned her book was her old soul and her love of reading. That article was my take on the superb book, ‘The Call Of The Peacock‘ by Mahendra Mehta – and it’s here: https://skaheru.com/2018/07/05/heed-the-call-of-the-peacock/
In that article I mentioned the book, ‘Dream Half Expressed: An Autobiography‘ – written by Mehta’s father, Nanji Kalidas that inspired many to venture out and chase their dreams.
One of those that was inspired by it found a very old copy of the book in his father’s library and has since read it many times over is a mutual friend – Isaac Kayonde – who turns out to be quite close to Rita. Rita herself has been eagerly waiting to get access to it.
When she turned up she had the copy, carefully enclosed in a cellophane wrapper, and presented it to me for my holding and viewing (NOT reading) pleasure. That pleasure will only be exceeded by my one day reading the words in that book.
But back to ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda‘, I insisted to Rita that she had to print and sell more copies of the book, so that more Ugandans could enjoy and be influenced by it. She was reluctant – her introverted side in control. Her father is quite the same way, and had tried to reject the book as “Too much” when she first presented it.
We argued the point, over printing and selling more copies, till she agreed – provided the proceeds went to a charity or to funding school libraries in her home district.
She is a determined young lady, so I know that this shall come to pass – just as many more of us will be writing our own books to celebrate our loved ones while they are still with us here on earth.
‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda‘ may have started a revolution that many will thank Chris Kataama for. – because he raised her and enriched her life to inspire this beautiful publication.