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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Waiting: Kyomuhendo digs into the terror and trauma of Amin


Waiting (2007) is Goretti Kyomuhendo’s fourth adult novel after The First Daughter (1996), Secrets No More (1999) and Whispers from Vera (2002).

Unlike her first novel, written when she was just a diploma holder in Business Studies, Waiting was published in 2007 in New York by the Feminist Press after the author had attained a degree in English Studies and was pursuing a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. So I was eager to establish how it differs from her previous works in terms of the quality of writing and the way it is structured.

Set in rural Hoima from where the author hails, the 111-page novel takes us back to 1979 when Idi Amin’s repressive regime has been knocked out by the allied forces from Uganda and Tanzania.

The book is divided into three parts that explore the overall effects of war and violence on ordinary people. We learn all about their suffering through what the teenage protagonist, Alinda, tells us as her family and her neighbours are besieged by fear as the remnants of Amin’s soldiers fleeing to northern Uganda where they can feel safer, wreck havoc; raping women, killing and pillaging under the blanket of darkness.

The tension of the affected is felt right from the first page when Alinda’s grandmother, Kaaka, urges all to eat because “If these men come, they will kill you unless you have the energy to run, and run fast.”

So dire is the prevailing predicament that Alinda’s father, a Post Office clerk - who has fled from the insurrection in the city and returned to his rural home - has to find a hideout in the banana grove near the main house for his family to sleep at night, in what is reminiscent of the night commuters of Gulu at a time when the LRA insurgency was monstrously attacking and killing civilians for sport.

Little Alinda witnesses the brutal kicking in the stomach and later the shooting to death of her beloved grandmother, and she is also there when the Lendu woman gives first aid to an old man whose leg has been blown off by a landmine. It all embodies the magnitude of terror and trauma people have to endure during the madness of war.

Beyond the impact of war, the novel also explores the theme of identity and cultural diversity. Alinda’s friend, Jungu is of mixed race and a symbol of exploitation that the locals endure at the hands of the Indian businessmen before they are chased while the Lendu woman from Zaire represents the refugees in our land.

The author succeeds in bringing out the rural lifestyle in a way that reminds a reader of Regina Amollo’s A Season of Mirth (1999) and Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine (1966). Amid the ravages of war, natives encourage one another and share light moments and often turn to traditional solutions for their problems. And how superstitious they are! According to Kaaka, a leaf falling from a tree announces a visitor coming and not leaving anytime soon while a pregnant woman suffering a heartburn apparently means the child she’s carrying has “a lot of hair”!

This time round, Kyomuhendo is beautifully frugal with words. The simplicity and definitiveness of her “novel of Uganda at war” makes it better than her previous works. Of course, you can beg to differ!

--Saturday Monitor, December 24, 2011