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ORANGE FOR THE SUNSETS

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 7 months ago

29 July 2019 ORANGE FOR THE SUNSETS by Tina Athaide, HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen, April 2019, 336p., ISBN: 978-0-06-279529-8

 

“You got to look outside your eyes

You got to think outside your brain

You got to walk outside your life

To where the neighborhood changes”

-- Ani Difranco, “Willing to Fight” (1993)

 

“Nationalism teaches you to hate people you haven’t met.”

-- paraphrased from a friend’s FB post

 

“‘You don’t get it...do you?’ Akello’s arm pumped up and down.’This is our land. They don’t belong here.’ Water gushed out of the spout. ‘Asha lives in her big house. She goes to fancy dances at her club. She doesn’t have to worry about money. She doesn’t have to quit school.’ Akello stopped suddenly. 

‘Neither do you,’ said Yesofu. ‘I can ask Baba to talk to your dad.’

‘It won’t matter. It’s the only way we’ll be ready.’

‘For what?’ Yesofu pulled down on the pump and water spilled into the pail. 

‘Once the Indians go, there’ll be land to buy...shops for sale.’ Akello picked up the second pail of water and handed it to Yesofu. Thunder rumbled overhead and they quickly started down the hill.

‘So you’re okay taking from the Indians?’ he challenged Akello.

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right.’ Yesofu imagined Kintu and Café Nile. He’d worked for Mr. Bhatt for years. Bet he wished he could own his own café. But was it right to kick out Mr. Bhatt and give Café Nile to Kintu?

‘It’s not like I’d be stealing,’ said Akello.

‘In a way…’ Their eyes met, each daring the other to back down.

‘You want Asha to stay. But did you ever think that it may not be good for her?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘She’s your friend. I get that.’ Akello stopped in front of his place. ‘But she needs to go. Her Uganda is changing. It’s going to be an Africa for the Africans. Not an Africa for Indians and Africans.’”

 

It’s 1972. Two Ugandan tweens, Yesofu, who is of African descent, and Asha, whose parents are Indian, are lifelong friends. Yesofu’s mother has been doing domestic work for Asha’s parents since before Yesofu and Asha were born. But when Ugandan dictator Idi Amin decides to expel most of the Indian population from the country, Yesofu is caught between his African friends and Asha.

 

ORANGE FOR THE SUNSETS counts down the 90 days that Idi Amin gives the Indians to leave Uganda.

 

A third of the way through the book, a climactic scene sets the stage for the balance of the story. Indian teachers departing Uganda have left Yesofu and Asha’s school shorthanded, necessitating the combining of classes. Yesofu walks into a now-tightly-packed classroom where all of the African kids are sitting together on one side of the room and all of the kids of Indian descent are left on the other side. Yesofu alienates his African friends by taking a seat next to Asha. Then bedlam erupts as Yesofu’s African friend Akello tells the Indian students in no uncertain terms that they are going to be booted out of the country. Yesofu realizes in that moment that, no matter who he chooses to side with or sit with, it’s going to be a loss.

 

A couple of pages later, a tank and a bunch of soldiers pull up at Asha’s house.

 

Readers learn the basic historical background of the situation preceding the story: Uganda was a British colony. The British didn’t want to employ the Africans to build the railroads in the early 1900s, so they brought in Indians to do the work. The British left Uganda in 1962. Over time, the Indians had achieved prosperity while the Africans, like Yesofu’s family, remain living in small huts. Now Idi Amin, having consolidated power, promises to take back the country from the Indian Ugandans and improve conditions for the African Ugandans. 

 

Much of the complexity in this coming of age story has to do with the two young people having very different backgrounds and economic statuses. Asha has never once seen Yesofu’s house or neighborhood. She’s an extremely likeable character, one I came to embrace. But either she’s still just too young to see the big picture, or she’s comfortable with the status quo, which is all she’s ever experienced.  Either way, Asha has never really understood what underlies the schism being spotlighted and exploited by Idi Amin.

 

It turns out that far-reaching unintended consequences result from putting a nationalistic finger on the scale. Yesofu stands to lose as much as his departing Indian friends: schools are on the verge of closing; his opportunity to play cricket and, perhaps land a sports scholarship to attend secondary school evaporates; the economy is sinking into chaos; and he is about to see his closest friends for the very last time.

 

Nationalism pits people against people. It’s a corrosive philosophy. While there is good reason for significant discontentedness among the African population of Uganda in 1972, there is no good reason to expel an entire group of people, most of whom are living honest, decent lives. 

 

Similarly, trying to demonize and ban everyone of a particular religion, or locking up little immigrant kids in cages, is nationalism. Today’s young people will find plenty to consider about this memorable story of 1972 Uganda.

 

Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com

https://www.facebook.com/richiespicks/

richiepartington@gmail.com  

 

 

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