"The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” Samuel Johnson
Uganda, the peal of Africa and where the Ugandan Asian Diaspora story all began. But as I go back to the start, it isn't only the tales of oppression and brutality associated with Uganda of the 1970s that I think of, but the expectation of finding answers to some long-held questions about the country as it once was, and as it is now.
"You must be really excited," people keep saying to me when they learn I’m finally going to make the trip to East Africa that I’ve fantasised about for over 20 years.
Excited is certainly one way to describe how I feel as I prepare to head to where the roots of my family history lie, Uncertainty and expectation is another. More palpably though, I feel a sense of purpose because it’s a part of my history that will finally be made real.
My appreciation of that history has, to date, come from hearing the stories of my parents’ generation, both good an bad. But nothing compares to knowledge gained from experience. Ryszard Kapuscinski, arguably the most inspiring journalist to have documented the shifting landscapes of the whole of Africa, wrote in The Other that:
“In a reporter's understanding, a journey is a challenge and an effort, involving hard work and dedication; it is a difficult task, an ambitious project to accomplish. As we travel, we feel that something important is happening, that we are taking part in something of which we are at once both witnesses and creators, that there is a duty incumbent upon us, and that we are responsible for something.”
For Kapuscinski journalism was a mission, a necessary route to discovering more about the essence of a common humanity by encountering and integrating with the unknown as a means through which we might know ourselves more deeply.
It's with that kind of intention that I go to Uganda in search of something I'm not yet wholly sure of. In the process of retracing the footsteps of my parents, albeit decades later, I hope to answer those questions that lie at the heart of every journalistic inquiry - what is the country and its people like now as compared to 40 years ago, what happened along the way, how and why did things change, and where are we now.
Salman Rushdie once said that “our lives teach us who we are”. Here's hoping.