"A letter to Luzoku" Writing Competition: The Winners
2018-11-01 13:18:34 -


By Karen Mukasa Denise


My dearest son, I hope this letter gets to you while you’re still alive. It’s Mama writing from the Stillorgan asylum home in Dublin. I understand that it may come as a shock to you that am writing after five long years of silence but I hope that you can reason with and forgive me.

The memory of our last day together came back to me. Last Saturday, I and your sisters Akia and Nomsa were in town. We had gone to what seemed like a pride parade. At first, I was a bit hesitant to go but it would have seemed rude of me since the Amnesty group had offered to drive us from the home into town.

At this parade I saw thousands of women and men, young and old, matching like proud peacocks on the streets of George and Thomas. Amidst all the chants and joyful noise, my eyes were drawn to a banner in the crowd that read “We are free We are gay We are happy”. These simple phrases were written in the eye-catching colours of the rainbow.

Those simple words didn’t leave my mind. Hours after the parade I kept chanting them at night in my small room trying to make sense of them. That’s when it hit me; that horrible memory of our last day. Floods of tears poured uncontrollably from my sunken eyes as that event played like a disk in my head.

There you were, so happy and young at home from university. You still wore your graduation cap and gown — a symbol of your achievements. I was prouder than a peacock. Sadly, all it took to wipe the joy from my heart were those five rushed minutes when the vicious policemen came into the house.

I recall the way in which they grabbed you by the collar of your gown. Thoughtlessly they threw you onto the back of their pickup truck as they loudly condemned you for being a homosexual. “We shall not tolerate people like you in this country. Uganda is a country of God and people like you aren’t welcome!” one of them yelled strongly as the truck drove away.

After that awful evening life was never the same for the family; night after night your father cried in my arms blaming himself for not raising you right. When the neighbours’ angry looks and comments got to him, he couldn’t stay anymore and so I never saw him again. Left alone with your sisters, I decided it was best if we moved to a new place for a new start and so we packed our bags and left for Ireland.

When we got here, we were put into an asylum home and luckily your sisters were able to go to school. On my part I was not able to work for a while and so I had a lot of thinking to do.

For the last five years I’ve been so angry at you, my son. I blamed you each day for bringing shame onto our family because I strongly believed that you had done wrong. “If only he just married a nice young lady and got on with life everything would be pleasant,” I used to think to myself.

All my life, I strived for nothing less than being a good mother and an excellent Christian above all and so I couldn’t help but feel betrayed by you, my only son.

Moving to this new city meant that I had to revisit my parenting. It meant that I had to let go of what my country had taught me and what my culture had instilled in me. This wasn’t easy for me at all because it called for rethinking my whole life. It felt like all the values that I held dear to my heart were wrong, like that of family (man is made for woman). Little by little I had to learn something new each day.

One Sunday morning the girls and I went to church. This church was not any ordinary one; it had a gay and lesbian choir, as they called it. You would never find one like this back home. When I learnt about the choir in this church I immediately went into a sceptic mood but my legs pushed me into this church. I sat down in amazement as I saw men and women of different skin tones singing as one for the message of love despite the labels. I was drawn back at what I had witnessed because it wasn’t what I was used to nor what I was taught.

After that day’s sermon, I was left doubtful. I felt torn as I tried to comprehend the lifestyle here and it broke me every time as I realised that all I should have done was to accept you the way you are instead of trying to blame you. Every time I walk down the streets and see a gay couple holding hands, I am saddened at the sight when I think about how happy and free they are and how distressed and chained you are.

Every single day has carried a lesson with it for the past five years. This one fine summer afternoon I was making my way into the supermarket when I saw a group of young girls. They were no more than sixteen years. They each wore a skirt or dress that was well above their knees. They didn’t seem bothered by the devious looks thrown at them. I felt a wave of sadness inside as I silently judged them. I was jealous of them. I wished that for a second I would be one of them. I wished that I had never grown up in a culture which taught me that the only way a woman could earn their respect was by dressing “decently”. This meant covering up what they should be proud of; their bodies.

Seeing those young girls reminded me of my rather sad teenage-hood where I was shunned if I dared to wear a tight dress. In this moment, I now realise that I’ve spent my entire life fulfilling cultural standards and thus making me a slave to these constructs. It even makes me sadder to know that I had been raising my children in a culture with such limitations.

I am conflicted, my son. Uganda has always been my home; I was born and bred there but now I feel like a stranger there, unwelcome. On the other hand, Ireland has become a new home for me but sometimes I feel like an intruder. Sometimes it’s evident that the perspectives I grew up with aren’t the norm here. I can’t choose between the two homes but maybe I prefer to be the intruder. The intruder in a city that’s more accepting.

About those rainbow words I mentioned earlier — my son, you deserve to be free and happy no matter who you are. Living in this city has challenged me to let go of what I used to believe was the truth. Sometimes the line between wrong and right isn’t always clear but the bond between a mother and son is. I am letting go of my own conflictions and am choosing to do what I believe is right. I am coming back for you my son.

Life has taught me that sometimes all you need is a change of location for a change of mind but accepting that change isn’t always easy. It didn’t happen overnight for me. I hope that you can forgive me for leaving you alone for such a long time. I hope you understand that we all were victims of cultural constructs. I look forward to the day when I see you again — alive, happy, free and marching with the rainbow crowd.

With love, Mama Thembe.



This 17-year-old from Clontarf in north Dublin took second place in the 14-17 category for a heartbreaking plea from a mother to her son

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