kamwe, kamwe, nigwo muganda…you will never get enough of this

Kamwe, Kamwe from newvision.co.ug
Photo from http://www.newvision.co.ug – thank you!

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.

i know an American Ugandan lady who did a really good job for YOU

A few weeks ago I was getting rid of email entropy – that condition that inexplicably leads to the accumulation of material such as happens in hand bags, drawers, glove boxes and in this case, email inboxes.
I was surprised to find an email from one Cathy Kreutter, making comments about an article I had written about two years ago. Horrified that her email had gone unattended, I worked out that she had sent it at a time I was dealing with a personal tragedy.
Quickly, I belated corrected the situation and was so happy that she forgave me that I offered to buy her coffee some time if she was still in Uganda (her surname suggested that she wasn’t Ugandan), and did so promptly to make up for the two-year gap.
Over that coffee (tea and water, actually) my mind exploded in various ways.
First of all, to the content of her email: she was responding to an article because she needed to re-inforce something I had said about how Ugandans CAN deliver high quality products when we put our minds to it.
Cathy Kreutter is an author. Right now she is not ready to write her full story, and has chosen to write children’s books but the quality of those books is such that she has won international recognition for both her content AND the production.
By occupation, she is a Librarian, so her association with books is not to be taken lightly. Paraphrasing a lot of what she said, I worked out that when she decided to write her first book she was irritated that everyone thought she had to send it off to Dubai or India and further afield in order to get a serious job done.
Like a good Ugandan would, she chose to write her book with the determination that it would be stitched and bound in Uganda by Ugandans, and then sold anywhere in the world as her evidence that we, over here in the Pearl of Africa, can do just as well as anybody else in the rest of the world.
Painstakingly, she cajoled the people in the printing section of the ambitious Vision Group to be even more ambitious and aim for the very best work possible – and even if they did balk at it in the beginning, they eventually rallied round and – voila!
I Know An Old Mzee Who Swallowed A Fly” – a book written by a Ugandan, illustrated by Ugandans, produced by Ugandans and published by Ugandans went ahead and won a Moonbeam Award!
This was no mean feat. The Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards go to the very best books found “appropriate for the North American market”. The book is good enough to feature properly (at full rates) on Amazon.com, which platform will reject poor products or price them at massive discounts.
I shot an email over to Jim Barnes, the Editor and Awards Director of the Jenkins Group, which is behind the Moonbeam Awards, and he said this was the first from Uganda.
“That may be our only Ugandan entry. We get some from South Africa, but that’s about it,” he told me.ac59a078-ee13-438c-bb3e-b06f239665e3
So Cathy Kreutter had put Uganda on that map through her sheer insistence that it could be done – and kudos to the guys at Vision Group for working so hard to achieve that.
Now, that wasn’t all that tickled me when I met her. This lady, it turned out, has been in Uganda since 1981 and is now a Ugandan citizen. Her book, should she write it, will be a captivating read even if she doesn’t believe so right now.
Her story involves so many near misses that it could even be turned into a movie; yet in spite of those near misses her and her husband still came and lived in Uganda through the difficult days and are now localised investors (not missionaries) in the fabric of the country.
I could have been skeptical about this but the day after I met her I went out to the Katosi fishing village for an event with a firm called RTI International, which was doing a very low key handover ceremony of a school building. As I took photos of the excited schoolchildren, one of them caught my eye because his t-shirt bore the words, “CornerStone Development”.
I had seen that written on the back of Cathy’s book, and she had told me it was a foundation her husband Tim was heavily involved in (put modestly).
But they had nothing going on in Katosi – which meant that the child wearing that t-shirt was one of those far-reaching effects of intervention that proves it is a success – and THAT is what the proceeds from her book go to fund. Not the t-shirts, but the schools that Cornerstone builds – in Rwanda, Tanzania and South Sudan as well.
Well there is more, apparently, as we will discover this weekend when we all flock to the Protea Hotel to launch her next book – “Tendo’s Wish”.
The stories about the books themselves are different, and need more column space. This weekend, though, we will applaud this American Ugandan who, like her life story, took an American folk tale and Ugandanised it to great acclaim, putting the two countries at par on that level.