Tag: Ugandan Refugee Movement

photo7I had a the honour of being a part of the launch at Carleton University in Ottawa yesterday of the Uganda Collection — an archive of over 1,000 newspaper clippings, two video recordings, and a personal memoir that documents the expulsion of South Asians from Uganda in 1972.

This is a magnificent collection (now digitized and therefore preserved) of a very important event in Canadian history.

Senator Mobina Jaffer, herself a Ugandan Asian expelled in 1972, spoke at the event, as did Michael Molloy, president of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society and an immigration officer in Kampala at the time of the expulsion. I was thrilled to participate by doing a reading.

The collection includes this now infamous ad  the Leiceseter town council placed  in the Uganda Argus in 1972 (and which was referenced in Where the Air Is Sweet).

uganda_leicester_poster

As my June 3rd pub date draws closer, a question has been popping up in my mind:

“What do I want to achieve with this book?”

The answer is somewhat obvious: Success, of course! In all its myriad forms. But the thing is, I have been successful with respect to the book. I found time and space to write it. I finished it. I found an agent to represent me. We sold it. I edited it. And edited it. And edited it. It’s about to be published. But I feel a need for something. I still want something. What? Sales are important, positive reviews, media attention, more time to write my next book. These are reasonable responses.

And yet my mind, unsatisfied with the answers I am offering, keeps asking the question.

And so I have been sitting with it. And sitting with it has taken me back to the impetus for writing this novel. What is it that has given me the energy and the willingness to spend money (giving up and turning down well-paying jobs is spending money), the willingness to take time away from my small children, the willingness to give up every safety net I have carefully woven in my life?

Of course I want my book to sell. But if I wanted money and material security I could have kept my job or worked at advancing my “career.” Attention, not so much. I generally hid in the newsrooms in which I worked. Figuratively, literally.

Media attention can drive strong sales, as can positive reviews. And I want my book to reach as many people as possible. But why? To what end?

I often like to read interviews with authors I love. Old interviews, new ones, whatever I can find. Recently I came across a 2003 interview in Quill and Quire with Ann-Marie McDonald. In it she discusses her second novel, The Way the Crow Flies. Something she said, and the way she said it in this interview, grabbed me, held me. Answered my question.

She is speaking about endings, and what constitutes a happy ending.

“I always think the happy ending today is when the story comes out. When there’s a witness. When you know that the story, in its fullness, will be released and returned to the people who should have had it all along. I think that’s a happy ending. That’s a release.”

Ugandan Asians leave Entebbe, Uganda. Photo: NHQ/AC Roger St. Vincent Collection PH-437

Ugandan Asians leave Entebbe, Uganda. Photo: NHQ/AC Roger St. Vincent Collection PH-437

What gave me the guts to spend money, to take time away from my precious children, to be certain in the face of apparent uncertainty was the knowledge that I was bearing witness. The story of the Ugandan Asians has never been told, not in any meaningful way. My fictional story tells of truths these people lived. To share their story is what has compelled me. To share their story is what I want to achieve with this book.

I have my happy ending. It’s here. The story is written, freed, and soon it will be returned to the people who should have had it all along. And how grateful I am for the privilege of being able to give them what was always theirs.

Everything else is icing on the cake.

I had a wonderful conversation earlier today with Mike Molloy, senior fellow, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa, and former Director General, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and former Ambassador of Canada to Jordan.

In the early 1970s Mike was a junior immigration officer at the Embassy in Beirut, which was responsible for immigration from East Africa. In August 1972, when Idi Amin expelled Asians from Uganda, Mike was integral to coordinating the Canadian effort to secure shelter for these Asians.

In a makeshift diplomatic office in downtown Kampala, Mike and the Canadian team processed more than 6,000 refugees in 60 days.

His lecture on this extraordinary effort provides an excellent overview of the context of the central event in my novel – the Asian expulsion – and tells the fascinating story of the Canadian diplomatic efforts that followed.

Highly recommended viewing!

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