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What I Learned from My Parents, Elders and Peers about the Gift of Community: Part One – The Man Who Did His Best Not to Belong

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What I Learned from My Parents, Elders and Peers about the Gift of Community: Part One – The Man Who Did His Best Not to Belong

What I Learned from My Parents, Elders and Peers about the Gift of Community

One – The Man Who Did His Best Not to Belong[1]






Kiwafu Village, Entebbe


I recall that when I was a little guy growing up in Entebbe there was a man that we called Mwaami (Mr.) Semei. Mwaami Semei was, by the standards of the day a well-off man. He had a BANTAM motorcycle, a brick house with a corrugated iron roof, a well kept yard and garden, and two milking cows. He always wore a tie and jacket and a top hat to work.  It was said that he had a diploma in Veterinary Medicine from then Makerere University College, and he worked at the Veterinary Research Centre at Kigungu. Mwaami Semei lived an apparently self-sufficient life with his wife. They did not have any children and they seemed never to have any visitors. The couple did not participate in any events in the community, not even funerals and weddings. They did not even go to church. They had mango, jackfruit (ffene) and other trees, most of whose fruit just fell on the ground and rotted. There was no kid or thief who ever dared to sneak into Mr. Semei’s compound to partake of the latently bountiful harvest. Such was the aura and enigma surrounding Mwaami Semei and his wife. Then the aura and enigma was blown away, and Mwaami Semei and the rest of the village were brought together by a very sad and tragic turn of events. …. Mukyaala Semei seems to have developed an acute illness, and she died at the hospital.


In those days, there were no commercial undertakers. All funerals and burials took place within a day or two of a person’s passing, and all adults in the village pitched-in to help and console the bereaved family. In Mr. Semei’s case, there seemed to be no family turning up to support him. And the community held back and left Mwaami Semei to deal with the tragic turn of events on his own. Somehow, Mwaami Semei managed to transport the body back to his home. He also seems to have managed to spend a night alone in the house with his wife’s body. The following morning, Mwaami Semei’s neighbours reported that he had gone out and started digging a grave at the back of the house, but that he was having a very hard time. … It was then that the Mutongole (Village or Parish Leader) who was at that time a man from Tooro called Mwaami Kadaari, went to see Mwaami Semei.


Apparently, Mwaami Kadaari informed Mwaami Semei that the other members of the village community were reluctant to come and be with him because he had not been participating in the village life and they did not know if they were welcome to his house even at that tragic time. Mwaami Kadaari said that he would go and get some men in the community to help dig the grave. So, some men went and helped to dig the grave. By this time a large number of curious community members stood at a respectable distance observing the proceedings. Once the community diggers completed the grave digging, Mwaami Kadaari informed Mwami Semei that the community had done what they could do for him. Left on his own, Mwaami Semei started pulling and dragging his wife’s body, wrapped in bark cloth, towards the grave site. After only a few steps from the front door, Mwaami Semei broke down, sat on the ground, cried like a baby and shouted, “Please, come and help me!”


Responding like they were on cue, community members sprang into action as one. They helped Mwaami Semei to his feet, and carried his wife’s body for him to her final resting place. One of the neighbours read some words of final committal from the Prayer Book. (The Parish Catechist / Lay Reader had been reluctant to perform that role, reasoning the dead person was not known to be a member of any church.) After the burial, the whole village community stayed behind to console and encourage Mwaami Semei. Some women went back to their houses and came back with food, while some men brought drinks. For days, people remained with Mwaami Semei, day and night, until they felt that he could cope with being on his own.


For his part, Mwaami Semei opened up to the community about his own life’s issues. He spoke about his alienation from his family because one of his brothers had said unkind things about his then future wife. He also spoke about how he and his wife had insulated themselves from all of family and other people after they lost their only child as a baby and Mukyaala Semei had been told that she could not have any more children. He thanked the people for responding to his call when he needed someone to help him.


Going forward, Mwaami Semei ensconsed himself into the community. From that time on, he did not miss a funeral, a wedding or a child birth, or any other event in the community. He loved so much to go around to various people’s houses and just say, “I have come to say, ‘Hello!’ to you.” Mwami Semei became a most loving as well as most loved member of our community.


[1] This is the first of series of blogs that I intend to write on the subject of Community. Much as the world values independence, there cannot be peace, joy, love and hope in the world without an understanding and practice of the concept of belonging and community. I sincerely believe that the majority of the problems experienced by the people of Uganda stem from a lack of, and shallow or fraudulent appreciation of belonging and community. This especially among those that purport to be the country’s leaders. My reflections on this topic are deeply rooted in the influence of my parents and other members of the village community in which I grew up.

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Thank you Bbuye Lya Mukanga for taking on this responsibility of reminding us that after the family, the community around us is the next most important medium for our survival. I for one, I am proud to say that I am a product of the community I was raised in- the whole village. The Batswana have a saying that an African child is brought up by the whole village. You have also reminded me of the quotation " No Man is an Island''. simply put ; every man is part of the main. No one is self-sufficient: we are interdependent. We are given to each other for each other ; to be there for one another. Those who read the Bible know very well the verse in the Book of Ecclesiastes that says that : A rope made of three cords is hard to break. Thank you once again. Looking forward to reading your posts about the gift of the community. Jane Nannono

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