A tale of two lives: My journey from Uganda to the U.S.Derreck Kayongo
Have you ever wondered what a bicultural child looks like and how that kid views the world through the perspective of two cultures? More importantly, have you ever seen one that borrows from both cultures in order to become successful? Well I am one such child.
I who was raised by two women: my biological, Ugandan mother, Miriam, and my adopted mother from Pittsburgh, USA, Marge. The cultural shock I experienced living between the lives of these two women was enough to make me the weirdest kid on the block! But my story doesn’t begin there, of course, so I’ll start from the beginning.
I was born one year before the reprobate leader of Uganda, Idi Amin, took power in Uganda. (Many of you may have seen this bloody idiot depicted in the movie, Last King of Scotland.)
Before Uganda deteriorated into the abyss of war, my mother left her job as a teacher — the pay was too low — and reinvented herself as a businesswoman. Her newfound craft was designing wedding gowns and tailoring. She didn’t have mannequins so she would have me dress up in these beautiful dresses to measure sizes. I would constantly remind her that I was a boy and she would respond: “Son, this isn’t about your sex; it’s about whether or not you will have school fees next semester. And if you tell your dad I dressed you like this I will kill you, do you get?”
That was Miriam. She had me cross-dressing at the age of 7! She loved fashion. She always said to me: “Fashion is a language that is spoken by a few; try to speak it and you will always get a free compliment.” To this day, my mum loves seeing and being seen. (And I dress well because of it!)
As Miriam was building her business something was happening in Uganda, my father was also reinventing himself from being a teacher to owning a printing press and making soaps. Then all hell broke loose. Uganda, under the rule of Idi Amin, fell into a war that brought the most horrific doldrums in our comfortable lives. What started off as a small war grew into a regional war that pulled in countries like Tanzania to collectively get rid of Amin. What had started to be a beautiful, comfortable life for us as a family turned out to be a disaster, which is where this story really begins …