My Ugandan Hill – Charles H. Colman
My Ugandan Hill is Makerere Hill in Kampala. The author is quite clear that the writing is aimed at Middle-Grade students and that does feel accurate. It tackles everything head-on in an honest and descriptive style and wraps a story around the places and people Charles meets during his time spent in Uganda. The story starts with Charles taking off in a plane from London to Uganda, making several refuelling stops in Rome, Cairo and Khartoum until he arrives in Kampala, Uganda’s capital.
The story is a wonderfully told account of Charles’ life while he lived in Uganda with his mother and father from when he was almost two years of age. The narrative is delivered with great feelings of nostalgia and the personal memories are told with deep affection – even the dangerous ones. The perilous encounters during his six years include; coming face-to-face with a black mamba snake, a caterpillar which gave him contact dermatitis, the mango fly which laid eggs under his skin and the typhus tick which nearly killed him. His other encounters with an African rock python, the biting African bullfrog, Ugandan cockroaches, his pet chameleon and malaria-carrying mosquitoes describe a region steeped in insects and wildlife that scare the bejeezus out of me. Thankfully the story didn’t deal with spiders.
A major person in Charles’ life was his nursemaid, Nyesi, who cared diligently about him and instilled a sense of danger to keep him safe and seemed to have the answer for all the family’s needs. Charles and his friends Jonti, Clare and Chris, give us the fond images of young children playing and exploring. They all became friends pre-school and then attended the all-white European primary school. While there is an obvious segregation during those years the story does touch on the language, beliefs, history and religion of the wider area.
The last thirty per cent of the book is provided as author’s notes and cover a multitude of topics including politics, history, language and wildlife.
The reason I wanted to read this book is two-fold, firstly I have a long term goal to read a book about every country in the world, secondly, my company do a lot of healthcare work in Uganda and we have very strong links with businesses and hospitals. There are surprisingly quite a number of links between Ireland and Uganda from commerce to academia to healthcare. Ugandans are friendly people, generous and with a witty sense of humour, so when I see Uganda I’m always drawn to it.
This is not going to be a mainstream book and so much has changed in Uganda since the early 1960s that it provides a limited window into life in Uganda in present times. It is a charming nostalgic story and is well-pitched at children between 8 and 12 years of age.