In the early 1980’s, when I was 10 years old, things changed at my school with the arrival of a new vice-principal. At O’Connor Public School in Toronto, Mr. Goldberg set up a close-circuit television studio. The show the students and Mr. Goldberg produced was called OCTV News.
In a small room of the school that used to be the teachers’ lounge, coffee makers and plastic cushions were replaced by an anchor’s desk and a camera as big as me. A few grade five students, myself included, rotated through the various production jobs. Sometimes I was the sound engineer, which meant putting the needle on the Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun” – our theme music. Sometimes I was the announcer, which meant telling Angelikki to show up to the Peter Pan play rehearsals. She was playing Peter, and I was Wendy.
One “International Day,” we had to bring a dish from our heritage to be sampled by other students. Mr. Goldberg forgot it was International Day and didn’t write anything into our scripts about it for the OCTV News. That day I was co-announcing.
“Susan and Eric, just ad-lib about the International Day after the news,” Mr. Goldberg said seconds before we went on-air.
After the news, Eric asked me what dish I had brought in and I told him “matoke” – a common Ugandan meal made of steamed and mashed green bananas.
“Where is Uganda?” Eric asked.
“In Africa,” I said.
“Oh, Africa! I thought they ate people there, I didn’t know they ate food!” Eric said.
I almost burst into tears.
“I think there’s a lot you don’t know about Africa, Eric,” I said. “My uncles, aunts and cousins who still live there don’t eat people.”
“Well what is Africa like?” he asked.
I had only been to Uganda as a baby; I was born and raised in Canada.
My father came to Canada on a Commonwealth scholarship. When he returned to Uganda for a new job with a new wife and baby (that was me), Dictator Idi Amin was in power. We all escaped the country with only our lives.
I told Eric – and also about 500 other students who were watching OCTV – everything I knew about Uganda. I told them stories about my family who lived in a brick house, not a grass hut; who drove cars, not camels, and who ate matoke, rather than people. The response was phenomenal. Scores of students wanted to know more. They had questions, many of which I could not answer. I asked my teacher if my father could come to class and talk about Uganda. Soon afterwards, Dad was standing at the front of the class with my globe piggy bank, rattling change as he turned it to point out Uganda.
My father said we fed those students with knowledge of African people. I guess we did feed those kids at O’Connor a lot more than matoke.