Author: Oscar Ranzo
(Originally published in 2013)
Recently, I bumped into a school time friend I had last seen in high school, and, in true Ugandan tradition, he asked me what I was up to immediately after we’d exchanged pleasantries. Turned out I was coming from The Hub, which is one of the bookshops where my books are distributed in Kampala, so I told him exactly that. ‘You write!’ He said, surprised, and I said, ‘Yep,’ reaching into my bag and handing him copies of my four published children’s books. He spent sometime looking at them, flipped through the pages, and then finally glanced up at me and said, “I totally can’t believe you wrote these. I mean you never spoke English in school.”
And he was right. English speaking was perhaps the most strictly enforced rule in the schools I went to, and whoever broke it risked being lashed across the bum several times with those deadly bamboo canes. Yet everyone who went to school with me must remember me as one of the few students who got punished everyday for speaking vernacular. I was simply rebellious: I didn’t see the point in speaking in a foreign language when I could best express myself in my language, and I have continued to speak Luganda for the better part of my life, except on those occasions when I am 1) speaking to a foreigner or some one of a tribe with a language I am not fluent in, 2) speaking to an attractive Ugandan lady I have met for the first time, and 3) conducting official business.
My friend was now perusing the first paragraph of one of the books.
“So in what language do you write?” He finally asked.
“I write in English.”
“Do you first write in Luganda and then later translate in English?’ He probed, still skeptical.”
“No,” I said, “I undertake the entire process from planning and drafting to revising, editing and choosing titles in English.”
“How come you can write articulately in a language you rarely, if ever, speak?”
“First I read a lot, and I have read a lot of books written in English. Actually most, if not all the text I have read since I was a little child has been in written in English, the consequence of which has been that I think entirely in English,” I explained.
He didn’t seem convinced, so I went on elaborate that most people who speak two languages often think in one and yet speak largely in the other, and that since creative writing is largely a product of the imagination, such people, if they are writers, are most likely to write in the language in which they think.
Well, I don’t know about other African writers, but I personally undertake most of my writing in English, and this happens by default, because I think and have always thought in English. However, there are times during the writing process, like when I am describing people or places using similes, or trying to perfect dialogue between two characters that I fleetingly turn to thinking in vernacular before turning back to English, both in thought and on paper.