Nyanza



I was named Nyanza, after the little bird chattering above the waters and shores of Lake Nalubale. My mother said she got the name when I was in her belly. I would move like a little bird flying as if making circles every time I heard my big brother Soba’s voice. He would sing to me as I grew, and my mother said my movements were like the little swift in the sky looking for insects to eat.

 

I am blessed that I have my Mama, Papa, and Soba looking after me in our little fishing village. My first memory is following Soba down to my father’s boat as we watched him gather his net and belongings for a day of fishing on Nalubale. I am five then and Soba is fifteen.

 

“Soba, tell Mama I will be early for lunch today. I want to go into town and be the first selling my fish!” Papa said.

 

Soba would help him gather his big net that would soon be full of fish into his boat. “I painted it pink and blue for the luck of having a girl and a boy,” my father said once.

 

Soba wanted to go fishing with Papa but didn’t dare ask. It was a school morning and we would both be off after our breakfast. Soba would walk me to my class before he left for the high school, not too far down the road.

 

“One day I will own ten fishing boats, Nyanza, and will feed all of Kampala my beautiful fish- or maybe I will just be a doctor, I don’t know yet. I just know they will write about me and I will be rich and famous. All the candy you could ever want; Just for you. But you have to run my business. You are going to be very bright and good at your studies. I know you will.”

 

When Mama oiled my face and handed me my composition book and little satchel of two sharpened pencils, I headed out the door with Soba to hold my hand.

 

It is a good memory.

 

On the main road with Nalubale and our tin-roofed home fading into the distance, I saw two boys Soba knew from school.

 

“Soba, let her walk by herself. We have things to do. Maybe no school today?” a boy named Joseph said.

 

“Jo-Jo, go away. You do not discard your treasured possessions, do you? She is my treasure and I will always take her to school. And what will you do, waste time? “

 

On this day, I knew there was a champion for me. I was a treasure. I had not heard anything like that before and knew that I would have to grow up to run my brother’s business. First, I had to learn my math and spelling. But next, it would be super​-​businesswoman for me.

 

 

My brother at twenty-five did get his wish of success. Already, he acquired three small boats and he had a staff of six. This bounty blossomed from Papa’s one fishing boat.  At fifteen, it was time for me to leave school and go off to college in a place very far away; Kingston, Jamaica. I would be attending the University of the West Indies a year early. I would stay for my undergraduate and the plan was to stay on for medical school.

 

Soba was insistent that I would attend medical school after I memorized all the bones of the body from a few pages of a big book called Grey’s Anatomy. He printed them out for me and I studied until I was sure I knew every piece of a working body. On my 12th birthday, he surprised me with an old plastic skeleton all the way from Mbarara. As the years went on, he would bring me journals and books for my studies. It was as if I were a young medical school student, not even into her teenage years already.

 

Days before my departure across the Atlantic, Soba seemed stressed. He kept asking me over and over whether I was packed and ready for my flight. I did not have many belongings, so his questions began to make me nervous.

 

“Soba! Stop worrying. I will be fine. You must calm down,” I said to him.

 

“I cannot calm down! This is very important. Can’t you see? It will be bad if you are not properly packed and I must see to it you are ready for your trip,” he said.

 

“When was the last time you slept, Soba? You were working all night on the computer. I saw you this morning on the computer. Are you having those spells again where you don’t sleep for days?” I asked.

 

It was uncommon for us to yell at each other, but my concern grew. Soba sometimes would spend days in his room working on a project, not sleeping, barely eating. Mama would say he had demons that wouldn’t leave him. I would shush her and insist that he was just onto a breakthrough of some kind and would soon be back to normal.

 

Papa would say nothing as if he would ignore that something was bothering his son. He would just spend more time outside the house and return when things seemed calmer. He was a quiet man. I knew he listened to ​M​other’s warnings of demons as his son’s ailment was getting worse.

 

“He is angry. A grown man not in charge of his emotions is not right,” Papa said before heading out the door.

 

Mama pulled me into our small kitchen and spoke quietly. “I have to take him to Father John to get this wickedness out of Soba. He is not well, and I know Father John will know what to do”.

 

“Mama, no! You must not do this. Father John will chain him to a post, and the prayers don’t work that way.”

 

I was young but had seen the men and women chained to posts in the church with healing oils and bibles to fix them. It could be weeks, even months, of being chained. I was vehemently against this. In my mind, this was not a solution to my brother’s illness. I knew of the scientific method and I did not believe in the healing oils. The only part of Father John’s church that brought me peace was the singing. It was beautiful to hear the congregation sing to heaven, rejoicing. Music was the blessing of the church, but not the chains and not the chanting.

 

“If you do not think that is a good idea, what about the village healer? He has ancient medicines that might work. Remember that balm he gave you for burnt hand after you spilled the kerosene years ago? I remember that soothed you and it healed in no time. He is traditional. He may have answers, Nyanza.” Mama said.

 

I did not know what to do or say. I was afraid for Soba. He was a businessman now and I did not want him to lose business or his reputation in the community, if he started treatment in such ways.

 

But I remember the soothing balm for my blackened hand. It felt good and in weeks I felt better. But I looked down at my hands at the scars left behind. I read about the healing nature of some of the traditional medicines since I had planned to become a doctor. Mama encouraged me to know my culture as well as the western books I studied too fervently.

 

I was glad Mama was sharing her thoughts with me on how to help Soba. I knew if we didn’t work together, it could get worse, especially after I left for school.

 

“Mama, something is wrong with Soba’s brain. It is telling him that he can’t sleep and that he is very sad and angry. This is not demons. This is like having a heart problem, Mama. He needs to see a doctor who will give him advice, as well. If you try traditional medicine, please also take him to the clinic in town that could possibly help. Soba has been taking care of us and now it is time we take care of him. I will do more research online to see if there is something more I can learn, but no chains, Mama- He is not violent like that. He has never hit you or me and that is something positive.”

 

I only wished I knew more. In Jamaica, there was work going on studying the herbal medicines of traditional healers and how they could blend with the western medicine taught in the schools. With more research, there would be answers to why the plants of Africa and the Caribbean did so much for us, like healing my burn. With time. That was something I didn’t have.

 

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