‘Back in my day…’ is a phrase that I became accustomed to whilst growing up and more often than not, the mention of these four words would be a signal to switch off and pretend to listen whilst mum/dad/ nanima (grandma) or nanaji (granddad) reminisced about the good old days when “life was simple”.
But one day a few months ago, whilst in Topshop attempting to coerce my mum into buying me a overpriced top, she said “when I was little, growing up in Uganda all I ever asked for was a tube of Smarties and I was grateful to get them” and I put the top back down.
It got me thinking, not only about how easy it is to forget the value of simple things, but also about my background.
Now I can be defined by a number of things, Asian, Muslim, British, I am what you might call a jigsaw of cultures and traditions, but I have always been most proud of my African background.
My great-grandfather, on my dad’s side was from a small town called Mnyusi in Tanzania, and it was from here that we took our surname, Mnyusiwalla, which translates literally as ‘from Mnyusi’. As a child I always took great pride in informing friends that I had my own little town in Africa, boasting that I was a princess in a different country, the latter wasn’t true of course, but they didn’t know that.
My great- grandfather, Mohammadali Yusufali Mnyusiwalla was well known within the little town, located in the Tanga region of East Africa, and started a successful business providing fresh vegetable and milk to the bigger surrounding towns.
Today, all that remains of this business is mere memories and the Mnyusiwalla family have long since left Mnyusi, having moved to the big cities of Dar-Es-Salaam, Arusha and further afield to places such as France, America and of course Great Britain where I myself was born.
East Africa was also home to my mother, born in Uganda in 1958, up until 1972 when the entire Asian population was unceremoniously thrown out of the country by Idi Amin and she moved to England.
Although both my parents now live thousands of miles away from the countries in which they were born and once called home, evidence of their African backgrounds is still prominent in our household, from the food we eat to the African sculptures and painting that take pride of place and even the language my family speak. In our house you can often hear us speak Gujarati (our mother tongue which originates from the Indian state of Gujarat) punctuated with various Swahili words such as ‘sani’ for example which means plate.
I have been fortunate In my twenty-one years to have visited Africa a number of times, but despite this I realised how little I seemed to actually know about my family and their lives prior to my existence. I never asked them what it was like to grow up somewhere so different to Britain, different not only in climate but also in culture and lifestyle.
This may seem off-topic but when reading about the lives of famous people, I am most interested in how far they have come, where they were born to where they have ended up, and I find myself wondering where I may be in the future.
Recently it came to me that I don’t need to look to newspapers and magazines to read about interesting lives, I am surrounded by people with a story to tell right on my doorstep, people who have started new lives in different countries be it through personal choice or by force.
In this blog you can read about their lives and see their stories