They call him D, short for Dennis. He held a smile that was captivating, genuine and it was the main reason I took a look at his work as he called out the all too familiar and common, “come, look, I give special price for you.” Laid out on the boardwalk where handmade African artifacts. You could find anything from goblets, bowls, Africa outlines, strings of colorful beads, four-foot tall giraffe statues and smaller wooden elephants. He saw the tourist in me and desperately wanted my money, but after I asked where he was from, his story began to unfold.
D was from Uganda, located in central Africa. He grew up in Bukoto, a township in the city of Kampala with his father, the township priest, his mother, older sister, and younger brother. He told stories of riots, rampages, and burning within the township. But after a long gaze at the ocean he looked back at me and in an even solemn tone, he announced his father had been shot. Being a renowned man in the city, he was sought after by the white people and shot straight in his head in front of his entire family. It brought chaos to the township which quickly fell apart. The once community fled in all directions, every man, woman and child for themselves. His sister fled to the UK through a business deal, but through the disorder communication fell through and she hasn’t been heard from since. His brother fled as well, ultimately ending up in Johannesburg, a large city in South Africa. With D ending up in Port Elizabeth seven years after the tragedy, it wasn’t until two years ago that he and his brother finally found each other. With land comes pride, which is why his mother never left. She held onto the fifteen square feet of land his family owned and hasn’t left yet.
He came here with nothing. Leaving his town, family and two businesses behind, he was left with nothing. For the first four months he slept on the streets. Not used to the city life, he was scared of everyone, even the children. He spent his days at the boardwalk where the weather was a little warmer and more tourists were likely to give him money for bread, the only thing he could afford for the first seven months. Through relationships built, he learned to sustain himself with art. He began carving and mimicking designs of other local artists. Seven years later he can stand on his own two feet and feel proud of the business he has created. He had a passion for life that was truly remarkable.
“I’ve lost, I’ve suffered, I’ve started over, and I’ve succeeded. This is what life is about. This is why I am happy. You can’t appreciate life until you can say you’ve really lived.” – D.
People here give, share, love. They want to tell you their stories so you can learn where they come from, learn about Africa. Learn about the real Africa too, not the modern, tourist, “make-up” covered version that has been created. These people have lived. They’ve lived more life I could even dream up. They are proud. They want you to know them, to understand their struggles, to feel proud for their accomplishments.
“I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.” -Eartha Kitt.