What’s it Like Being a Jamaican Living in Uganda?
Interviews

What’s it Like Being a Jamaican Living in Uganda?

Have you ever wondered what’s it like being a Jamaican living in Uganda? On our “Jamaicans to the World” Facebook Live show, Jamaicans.com founder Xavier Murphy spoke with Lysandra Idusso. She is a Jamaican who has lived in Uganda for 15 years. 

Xavier: What is it like being a Jamaican living in Uganda? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, the founder of Jamaican.com. Today in Jamaicans to the world, we talk to Lysandra Tenn who lives in Uganda. Welcome Lysandra

Lysandra: Thank you so much Xavier. It’s Lysandra Idusso now, now that I’ve married a Ugandan.

Xavier: Okay. Well, bear with me. I don’t think I’m going to have to say that last name, but bear with me because I’m probably going to mess it up. Where in Jamaica are you from?

Lysandra: I grew up in Kingston, Kingston 10 and when we were just about to leave, we had moved to Stony Hill for like a year, so really just Kingston.

Xavier: Okay. A Kingstonian.

Lysandra: Yes.

Xavier: So, tell us about your journey to Uganda. How did you get there? How long you been living in Uganda? And let me say this, the viewers here and probably you will see an interview with your father who is in Tanzania.

Lysandra: As a child, you remember things a bit differently. because we came here when I was still a kid. So, what I remember is my dad was, I like to say he was the man on the moon. He came here to Africa, looking for a habitable place. He went to Kenya, he came to Uganda, Tanzania, he went to, Ethiopia as well, and what he found was that Kenya was the best place. It was more stable, the dollar was not that bad and you know, the political situation was good, but then Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda were really terrible. We moved to Africa in 1989 or 1990. It was like, I think it was the end of the year. Yes, that was when I was 10 and then, yes, I’m telling my age. We lived in Kenya, for I think 13 years.

Xavier: You don’t have to give the years.

Lysandra: It’s alright though, I have no problem with my age. Then, we moved to Uganda. I’ve been in Uganda now altogether, I think, 15 years.

Xavier: Wow!

Lysandra: Something like that.

Xavier: In terms of Uganda, the people, you’re married to Ugandian, is it Ugandian?

Lysandra: Ugandan.

Xavier: Ugandan. And so you have settled there, what is it like? What are the people like? Tell us about Uganda.

Lysandra: Uganda is a lot like Jamaica, a lot; the climate, the vegetation, you know, like you have your coconut trees, you have your green banana, most of the stuff that’s in Jamaica is here. The thing we don’t have is breadfruit and ackee, but everything else is here. The people are very easy-going. They don’t like fighting, they’re fun, loving; but because of the very strong Christian background, that’s the difference between Jamaican people and Ugandan people. The extremely strong Christian background in Uganda, they’re very judgmental people, unlike Jamaicans.

Xavier: I don’t know where you can have more judgmental people than Jamaicans because for Jamaicans, a greeting is this, “how yuh look suh skinny?” (how come you look so skinny) They don’t say hello.

Lysandra: That sounds a lot like what my dad would say.

Xavier: Or, they say, “How yuh get suh fat?” (how come you have gotten so fat)

Lysandra: Same thing here. But that general freedom of, you know, you walk down the road with your shorts or your bikini top or your skirt and what they don’t have that here. They’re very conservative and judgmental in that way. Apart from that, I think Ugandans are very much like Jamaicans.

Xavier: Okay. Let me ask you about music then. You’re saying they’re very judgmental, in terms of music itself, are you hearing Reggae there? Are you hearing, other type of Western type music or is it more conservative where the music is reflective of being kind of judgmental?

Lysandra: Well, you know, I don’t want you to take that line and call them judgmental, the whole time.

Xavier: Alright.

Lysandra: You can look at Ugandan people as friendly and warm. That stands above everything else as a characteristic across all the tribes, there are like 54 tribes here, but across all the tribes being warm and friendly is the undertone. Jamaican music has had such a big impact on Ugandan music. They’ve been having Jamaican concerts here since the early nineties. Everyone has been here, Shabba Ranks, Red Rat, Chakka Demus and Pliers, Lucky Dube from South Africa came here, Sean Paul. Last year there was Chronics. We had Morgan Heritage. Everyone has played Kampala. The music here is very heavily influenced by dancehall and reggae. Even the gospel music and on the charts what people like to listen to right now is Nigerian music, Jamaican music, Ugandan music, Kenyan music and, there has to be top 40 US, because that’s the programming worldwide. But that in order, that’s what they like to listen to nowadays. Yes.

Xavier: Being Jamaican, when you meet people an yuh sey (and you say), I was born in Jamaica, what’s typically the reaction? What’s the typical reaction when they learn that you’re Jamaican?

Lysandra: They’re like, can you speak Patois? But they don’t know Patois they are like, can you speak Jamaican? That’s the first thing everyone says. I’m like, not again. I have to explain to people having an accent is the first thing that’s going to make you stand out. You try not to, because everyone thinks that because you’re a foreigner, you’re going to do something great for them. It’s not always the case.
A part from asking me to speak, they asked me, can I sing? It’s just all about entertainment. They think every Jamaican record. A lot of people have asked me to go to the studio and help them with their lyrics. That’s just fun.

Xavier: The key question is, have you gone to the studio?

Lysandra: Many times. Even this guy who was running for president, I’ve been to his studio so many times. When I worked at the radio station, I worked at a radio station here, the most popular radio station here, for like three years and that’s where I met most of the artistes. Being in the studio, I’ve been to almost all the studios in Kampala, not singing, just correcting their lyrics. Because they want to sing in Patois but they don’t really know. It’s a complicated language.

Xavier: It is a complicated language and there’s always debates and discussions. The one I heard lately was; we have to formalize the language, but all the folks that know it are not willing to go back and learn a formalized language because it’s always been oral and what’s interesting is we always do a comparison of many of the languages that are spoken in Africa where a lot of them are oral and there is no real structure or anything written down but that’s a debate for itself.

Lysandra: Very true. People have tried. Remember those little Jamaican dictionaries, it was mostly funny, but people loved it.

Xavier: It sounds like I’m talking to, you worked in radio and media maybe, you have a little celebrity thing going on here. What do you do? What do you do there in Uganda?

Lysandra: Back then, when I was younger, yes, I was a celebrity. That one I can’t deny. But right now, though, because you know, I had to grow up and work for real money. I’ve been in advertising for the longest time. I’ve worked with, the major international names who have affiliates here. PDWA, DBB, those are the guys I’m with right now; the Brand House, Moringa Ogilvy. I’ve worked with Red Sky, quite a few. I’ve been in advertising for a long time. And in advertising, I’ve been doing experiential events, PR, strategy and client service and also a little bit of production and media buying. I’m a one woman advertising agency. I can really fit in anywhere because I’ve taken time to study 360. The one thing I can’t do is graphic design. Although I’m an artist, I can do fine art, but I can’t do graphic design.But right now running DDB, I have a startup and it’s doing pretty well. It’s called BringGo Fresh. So BringGofresh.com. People can go on there and order vegetables, fruits, meats, fresh baked goods and dairy, all kinds of dairy. We’re really a connection between the farmers and the food consumers. it’s really about the farmers because they have so much food loss on their farms. It’s ridiculous. People are starving, but so much food is going bad on the farm. So we can’t have this, especially not in Africa where the imports are very, very expensive. We made a connection between 40,000 Ugandan farmers and the internet. So now they can sell their food there. We’re trying to expand to export globally, but wow! The red tape is crazy. So, one day at a time.

Xavier: All right, well that’s good. Really great! Another question I have is, tell us about local customs and if there is any local customs that you had to get used to once you moved there.

Lysandra: Local customs I had to get used to; the very long greeting. Oh my goodness! Because of my Nairobi upbringing, and my Jamaican roots, we’re very impatient and a little bit hot tempered. So when it comes to trying to get the information out of someone really fast, we’re like, hi, how are you doing? Okay, here’s the question and then people are still greeting you. Yes. How is the family? , like, how are the pets? How is your house? They keep going on and on and you’re like, I just wanted the artwork for this client, please.
The greeting is very long drawn out and they take a lot of pride in it. They believe that that is the ultimate mark of being polite. You know, if you’re not with similar people who want to go faster, it sometimes can get annoying. That’s an everyday thing. But apart from that, so many of the customs are so delightful. It just rubs that out. You know?

Xavier: Food. Talk to me about food.

Lysandra: Oh my gosh! The food here is …well, we have everything, we have everything. The local food is very bland. But, when you look at the makeup of the cuisine, it’s very much Jamaican. It’s Just that they don’t like pepper and they don’t like too many spices but you get everything here, you get Eritrean food, you get Italian, you get, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, you get Brazilian. Everything is here. And I think all these people come here and they’re like, Oh my gosh, you have all these spices. You know, everything grows here. You have ginger, cardamom, black pepper, everything is growing here. Uganda is like the most fertile place I’ve ever seen. You go into a farm and it is a spice farm. They have vanilla, they have everything. It’s amazing. So….

Xavier: You named all these restaurants. Is there a Jamaican restaurant?

Lysandra: Yes, there is a Jamaican restaurant. There’s a fellow called King and he’s from the UK, but you know, the second generation Jamaican, still a Jamaican doesn’t matter how far removed. And his restaurant is called Jerky. It’s Jamaican jerky and they do jerk everything. And there’s another fellow who is in our Caribbean group. He’s from Guyana and he has a Guyanese restaurant called Guyana Spice, which is very nice. It’s my neighborhood, is just up the road and then my Aunt who lives in Tanzania, she’s coming in and opening a real Jamaican Vegan restaurant, which is going to be fabulous like the ones she has. She has three restaurants in Dar es-Salaam in Tanzania. So she’s coming here to also open,

Xavier: That sounds interesting.

Lysandra: So much going on and Ugandans can’t get enough. They love to party, they love to go out. Anything to do with a restaurant or a bar you’re in business.

Xavier: You talked about a Caribbean group you’re involved in. Is there just a group of people or is it an organization has been formed for all the Caribbean people that are living in the area where you are?

Lysandra: Yeah, it’s an organized group and we are Caribbean people from everywhere. Really. We have, people from Trini, we have a lot of Jamaicans; we have Guyanese. There’s so many people there. What we do, we meet once in a while. When we can’t meet, we do zoom meetings, we keep minutes, everything. We have a SACCO going; and we have some projects that we’re working on, like a website, and things like that. Ultimately, the idea is to invite everyone, to come back to Africa and to give them a soft landing. They can come to us. They can come to the organization and we can help them with everything, opening a business, finding a place to stay. They don’t have to go through the rough landing most of us did. We can help them with movers with furniture shops. So many of us have businesses.
We have people in there who own one of the biggest opticians in Uganda is a Jamaican lady and her Ugandan husband. We have chefs, we have professors, people who work at the universities. We have a lot of people in our group. We have farmers, we have a lot of people. What we’ve been working on is trying to get, a Jamaican Consul and it’s in the works. It’s almost finished and as soon as we’re done and he’s pronounced the Jamaican Consul for Uganda, we’ll have a massive get-together and start using the internet to call people home. Whether they want to come for a Safari or they want to settle down, or they want to see the business opportunities; we are just going to open up and tell them, “guys, we will help you with everything. We’ll stop what we’re doing and help you. You want a place to stay, you can stay at somebody’s house for a month.” Whatever it takes. We want people to come.

Xavier: So I put in my request to stay at somebody’s house!

Lysandra: You can stay at somebody’s house for at least a month. Go on safari, look at the place, meet the people and see if you like it to live in. Education here is fantastic.

Xavier: So you mentioned Safari. Is that the one thing, you would say if someone was visiting, do that?

Lysandra: Oh yes! Uganda is so green. We’ve got the biggest Lake in the world, we’ve got mountains of the moon we’ve got gorillas, we’ve got all the big five, we’ve got waterfalls, we’ve got inland lakes, the biggest inland Lake…. deepest inland Lake, which is Bunyonyi. Very beautiful. That’s where they got the inspiration for Wakanda. It’s the exact copy of Lake Bunyonyi. When you see the scene open up and there’s this Lake and lots of Islands in it, that is, Lake Bunyonyi. We’ve got so many little mountains for people to climb, we’ve got clubs like the mountain slayers, the Goran climbing. We’ve got zip lining, we’ve got everything. We’ve got beaches, yet we don’t have a sea. I mean, really what’s not here?

Xavier: You have sold me. Sold!

Lysandra: Yes it is real. It is really a fantastic place. We’ve got the most birds and butterflies in East Africa. So yes.

Xavier: I’m going to switch up just a little bit. So I know you’re married, you have a son?

Lysandra: Yes. I have a son and I have a stepson as well.

Xavier: Okay. Your son, how does he identify? Does he try and learn a little bit about that Jamaican side? And how is that? I know he’s 10 today, right?

Lysandra: Yes, he’s 10. He’s at that age where he doesn’t want to be awkward or different. He just wants to melt in with the rest of the kids so no, he doesn’t really identify with being Jamaican. He more identifies with being Kenyan. Cause his dad is Kenyan. When I take him back to Jamaica and he sees how fantastic it is, I’m sure he’ll start to identify.

Xavier: You know what? You’re so right. They’re at the age where a lot of it is trying to fit in and then as they find their place in life then you try and start to explore the other areas and add to….. Once he gets to Jamaica we know he’s going to come back and he’s going to be like, “big up.” (give respect)

Lysandra: Yes. You know.

Xavier: We will see. I want to get into language. Is the language English?

Lysandra: Oh yes. Primarily English. Everyone speaks it. It’s very easy to hire people to do your work here. It’s very easy to go to school. Primarily they speak English. Apart from that, the most popular language apart from English is Luganda, which is just one tribe’s language. But because Kampala, the central, is located in Muganda Land, then most people speak Luganda. A little bit of Swahili but people don’t like it because it’s the army and the police who speaks Swahili. Ugandans don’t like anything to do with rules. When it comes to speaking, Swahili, Swahili is a turnoff. They don’t like it at all.

Xavier: Oh, wow! Very interesting. I Want to thank you for spending some time with us and giving us some insights on Uganda. I’m going to put you on the spot. I don’t know how much of that language you mentioned that you know, but how do you say goodbye so I could tell you goodbye in Uganda and if you don’t remember, that’s fine.

African landscape with Nile River and giraffe

Lysandra: No, I know Swahili. I don’t know Luganda because I grew up in Kenya, so Swahili I would say kwaheri tuonana. That is goodbye and see you soon.

Xavier: Kwaheri?

Lysandra: Kwaheri. Yes. Kwaheri Na kuonana. Na Kuonana is I ‘ll see you. So goodbye. I’ll see you. and now that it’s nighttime, you would say, usiku mwema which is have a good night.

Xavier: Okay. So I don’t know, remember any of that. I’m just going to say, thank you, you and your family. And I appreciate you spending some time with us. And for those of you who want to learn that Swahili just replay this back. I don’t even know how to say goodbye.

Lysandra: Well, sure. Thank you so much. This has been so nice.

Photo Source: DepositPhotos

About the author

Xavier Murphy