I like to joke that one of the reasons that my parents allowed, still allow me to be my authentic self is because once you’ve birthed and raised a rebel; you quickly learn that conversation over control is in your best interest. And maybe my artistic abilities are the universe’s little payback in the patience training that I have subjected my folks to. Because like me to my parents, I have come to learn that any artistic project takes time and patience. Conversation-over-control. If you have had to create story characters, develop a story’s plot and take a piece of writing from the first paragraph to the final edit for example, you know that the story and your characters do most of the leading on who and what they should ultimately become. Your biggest role is guidance based on that information.
It is in the month of May that my mother made the final edit after a long 9 months and brought this project to life. During this month, I like to take more time than usual to reflect on my life, especially around my birth-date. Last week I clocked in another year towards the 30s, which has me hoping that they’re right those who say that that decade is when life really begins because let me tell you – the 20s are as exciting (?) as they’re tiring. My time reflecting took my mind on a trip about, among other things, my personal journey to freedom – which is an ongoing one I must add.
I have been asked a couple of times what freedom means to me. Most of the times were as a result of a short story I wrote whose title was, Finding Freedom. So naturally the readers found it a pertinent question to ask, or so I imagine. Each time, I had a couple of answers based on my life and that of my complex characters for who as creator and defender, I felt a great responsibility adequately represent. But it is the recent time that had me stop to think about it a little longer. I was asked to say what freedom meant to me in one sentence. Look, I am a storyteller. ‘One word,’ doesn’t naturally come easy for me. But also, and perhaps more importantly, I am constantly seeking freedom in every aspect of my life. As a womxn obviously, as a creative artist often trapped by the uninspiring routines of the corporate world, as a daughter, as a friend and a lover, you name it. One sentence simply cannot cover it – or so I thought.
When I was only 12 years old in my final year of Primary School, I walked up to the teacher during English class and asked to step out and use the bathroom. I stood a few feet from him and, “May I please go out?” He stopped and weighed me through his silver-framed glasses. The classroom went quiet. “May I please go out?” I asked again, this time inaudibly. He then responded. “If you can’t kneel down, go back and sit.” Now at this point I feel that I must give you context. I went to a Primary School whose values were built on those of the Buganda Kingdom, so much so that the King and Queen were regular visitors and one one of the King’s daughters was one class ahead of mine. Kneeling was taught as a sign of respect. We did not question it. Not out loud at least. I remember getting a blisters on my knees a couple of times, one of which my father made an appearance at school and caused a scene in the headmistress’ office.
You would think that I’d be elated that my father fought for me when I could not. I was not. As soon as he left, the blame was transferred straight to me by the school administration. Teachers were whispering about the girl whose father was making noise in the headmistress’ office. The nurse had a thing or 2 to say. But hey, I digress. At school we knelt before dormitory matrons mostly, as we greeted them in the local language, Luganda. To that I complied. Except this time I could not understand for the life of me why this teacher – a teacher of English required me to kneel before him in order to go use the bathroom. So with my heart pumping through my chest and all my classmates’ eyes on me screaming, “DON’T DO THIS, EDNA,” I walked back to my seat. The teacher taught for an extra hour into lunch. My bladder felt like it would burst any minute. While I sat cross legged, trying not to move my body at all, I assessed scenarios in my head of how I would be totally humiliated if a little stream of my own urine would start flowing through the classroom desks from right under my chair. I stayed put for the extra hour.
To this day I think about that 12 year old girl who was the genesis of what would inevitably become a stubborn human being. Today, I pay homage to her courage. I celebrate her small resistance; and emulate her freedom. And a week ago on my birthday, I woke up thinking about her spirit as my one sentence to what freedom means to me: the spirit of my 12 year old self. I have of course, as you might imagine, performed many little acts of rebellion during the more than 2 and a half decades of my life. This time however is when it was most important for the womxn I would become. Not just because it was one of my earliest moments of a resound NO, but especially because it was when I remember being most afraid, most hesitant; and without support. Yet I still relied on myself to resist that which however seemingly trivial an instruction – one that I had obeyed many times before anyway – was not what I wanted to do. Looking back 15 years later, I know that that girl is who I want to be every time I have to choose between the comfort of conforming and the courage to seek new heights of my freedom.