You need a car. You run to the bank and get the loan.
TRUE UGANDAN: There is a way many Ugandans growing up, play by the script and all this pressure about society expectations does not help.
Every Ugandan seems to be chasing something. They wake up every morning hoping for something. They hope that one day, they will finally arrive at a peak of satisfaction. And hopefully, this peak will be the realised Ugandan dream. But what’s this dream?
For starters, we all begin shooting for this dream in nursery school. Nothing much happens here. Except that it now comes with a graduation ceremony. The transition from Top Class to Primary One. It’s in primary that the race begins. Here, children become aware of their parents’ financial standing.
God forbid your broke parent takes you to the top tier schools. How on earth does your parent drop you off at school in his Vitz while other parents are lining up their fuel guzzlers? Nonetheless, you soldier on with hope that things will get better.
But the teachers will now shift their attention to the children of the Range Rover owners. This extra attention comes with an allowance. Unlike your parent who doesn’t tip the teachers, these Rover drivers are able to tip teachers the equivalent of a monthly salary. But you convince yourself that getting Aggregate 4 will redeem you.
The secondary shift
You top the world at primary school. It is time to find yourself a traditional school, the one that can be abbreviated; Sunsas. Namugongo. Buddo. Kitovu aka SHACK. Kisubi aka SMACK. What about Gungas? Gizza or Bingos. For a moment you are leveling up with the top dogs. Then, they buy their way into the same school.
You see them, you knew them, now here they are. And the race starts all over again. Every beginning of term, they cannot stop narrating their holiday escapades. They talk about their travels to Taj Mahal, to the London Bridge. The best from your holiday is your hustle at home, dealing with curfew, washing utensils. At this age, they are already dealing with money, accompanying Dad to meet some of his CEO friends. You, on the other hand, are answering why you are wasting soap. And probably getting a few strokes for it. But you are convinced the race will end soon. Do your best, ace your UACE exams, get government sponsorship and things will be just fine.
You finally made it. It is government sponsorship. Makerere? Kyambogo? You did it. You cannot wait to graduate as an engineer, lawyer, doctor. The Dopamine is up there. The children of the rich, they performed, but just not fine enough. Their parents are impressed with their ‘stellar’ performance. In fact, they have been rewarded with rights to the family car. They can drive around.
But you tap yourself on the back, I can use the boda boda and show up at their parties. After all, you are gonna graduate as a doctor. And earn that big money. You are told! University begins, the rich kids are nowhere to be seen. Last we heard from them, they were sitting their SATs, doing their IELTS, the TOEFLs, now they are in some American or European university.
If you are in MUK, or MAK depending on who you ask these days, you will have your bedbugs and strikes to deal with. You will deal with stories of ‘sex for marks.’ You will soon learn that you can buy your way out of the retake. It is at this point that the world begins to tell you some brutal truths. That the fastest don’t always win the race. You will see people drop out. You will see fellow students run berserk. Heart breaks, pregnancies, name it all.
It is graduation. At the graduation party, it is story after story congratulating you for not bringing shame to the family. That one uncle asks you to immediately drop your CV to his office. Don’t blame him. It is the alcohol talking. In Uganda, you must promise big things at such functions. If you are a girl, you are probably reminded that they expect another party soon, aka introduction or wedding. For Ugandans, there is this belief that marriage should define a woman. That tension begins to bear on strong.
Your first job
Although your uncle sent you on a roller coaster of lies, it turns out he was just another low level employee at his place of work. You succeed in getting a job, probably at one of the law firms in Kampala. Reality begins to hit hard. You cannot break even on the one million salary. You are then told, a degree is not enough. At some point, you need to upgrade. The HR person convinces you that it takes patience. Do this role, that role, and eventually in 10 years’ time, you will get through.
But you need a car. You run to the bank and get the loan. Now you must live off peanuts every month. But at least when you show up in your car, your fellow Ugandans assume you are doing well. Wedding pledges, you are expected to pledge big. At some point in your bedroom, you begin wondering: “Is this what I signed up for?”
Was adulting a big lie? Is the dream about a job, buy a car, build a house, raise a family, rinse and repeat? Does a Ugandan ever dream beyond these basics? Or is a Ugandan imprisoned to a life of mediocrity? So that even at his hospital bed, we have to crowdfund for the bills.
We can do better!