UCU medical school director’s memoir offers personal glimpse of 1952-2016 history in Uganda
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2018/12/ucu-medical-school-directors-memoir-offers-personal-glimpse-of-1952-2016-history-in-uganda/
Dr. Ned with his memoir (UCU Partners Photo)
By Patty Huston-Holm
Unless you speak the Runyankore tribal language, you might be intimidated by a book entitled “Ndyamuhaki!” The author, Ugandan Edward (Ned) Kanyesigye, explains that what appears to be a single word on the front of his memoir “is actually a sentence.”
“It’s hard to explain in English,” he admits while pointing to the chapter 13 epilogue on pages 150 and 151. These final two pages illuminate the author’s fondness for a southwestern Uganda Rukiga hymn based on the Psalm 116:12 question of “What shall I return to the Lord for His goodness to me?” Specifically, the song’s chorus is sung as “Ndyamuhaki Yesu” with the rhetorical question: How can I ever thank Jesus?
Like many individuals coming to the end of life on earth, Kanyesigye – known more affectionately as “Dr. Ned” – sat down in his early 60s and started to document his life. His version of that life was published in 2016 but has more recently come to the attention of readers because of Dr. Ned’s role in the start of Uganda Christian University’s new School of Medicine. As a medical doctor who has seen and studied first-hand the need for such a school, he was instrumental in the four years of discussion and planning and in the September 2018 launch of the first class of future doctors and dentists.
In the first few chapters, he describes his “rags to riches” story. The beginning is typical of a child growing up in a Third World country. His father was an alcoholic and absent, including when he spent time in prison for “careless loss of money at work.” Ned got his first ride in a car at age 11. He entered secondary school with no shoes. Paying education tuition was an ongoing struggle.
Among the most memorable childhood stories was the author’s first recollection of death, including seeing iron nails for the first time as carpenters pounded them into his grandfather’s coffin. His late-teens’ entry into medical school includes a description of seeing cadavers – a memory that no doubt resonates with watching his medical school students’ experience with that today. His candor is refreshing throughout, including when he describes how he graduated from medical school a year late because of grades on the surgery portion of the examination and explains why his belief in God was so strong.
“Many of us who came from poor backgrounds tended to be more religious,” Ned, now age 66, penned on page 47. “When you were poor you…look up to the Creator for a happier, richer and more progressive life.”
The author is equally as honest about when he was doing well financially, namely when he was hired as a behavioral scientist doing work in Uganda for a medical research council based in the UK, and during his 26 years with Uganda Health (Civil) Services. In addition to travels around the west, southwest and central parts of Uganda, his work and scholarship opportunities took him to every continent except South America, including the countries of China, England, Australia and the United States.
In addition to his growing up years, the most turbulent times were when working and studying in the midst of government transition turmoil. As Ned discusses his study and work, he weaves in his connection – lack of food, water and supplies and the presence of gunshots – to the historical transition of power in Uganda. He tells us what he was doing during Milton Obote’s leadership related to independence from the British in 1962 to Idi Amin’s rein of terror in the 1970s to the National Resistance Army led by current president Yoweri Museveni.
For non-African readers, the text may be slowed by unfamiliar-sounding names of people and Ugandan geographical locations and understanding of certain cultural references (i.e. matooke is a type of banana). Chapters 11 and 12 that list main achievements and appreciation to family and friends, respectively, can be ignored except by those listed there. And the formula of starting most chapters with a time frame would have been better served by using one of Ned’s many rich stories at the onset.
That said, “Ndyamuhaki!” is a good read. This book is worth the time for those desiring a better understanding of Ugandan history with a first-person twist and to learn the life story of a leader for the new UCU School of Medicine.
Information about the book can be obtained from Dr. Ned at email@example.com. More information about the Uganda Christian University School of Medicine can be obtained at https://www.ugandapartners.org/priority-projects or http://ucu.ac.ug/component/k2/item/25-ucu-to-launch-her-medical-school.
Those wishing to support the school from the United States can contact Mark Bartels, executive director, UCU Partners, at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.ugandapartners.org/donate/ To support the UCU School of Medicine from Uganda, send mobile money on 0772 770852 (Uganda Christian University) or email email@example.com.