Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Mo Tejani (page 2)
 Talking with
Mo Tejani
page 1
page 2
page 3

 
Have you been back to Uganda?

Yes, I went back to East Africa in 1997 for three months. It was a quarter century after leaving and the emotional roller coaster of that trip is spelt out in detail in my memoir. Most of my family lives now in the United States and Canada, but many have made the trip back to Uganda in the last decade with their children to show them our family roots in Africa.

I read recently where Dixon Kamukama, a history professor at Makerere University in Kampala, said something to the effect that what Amin was attempting to do was to move the economy into the hands of the indigenous people, that his methods were crude, but that it had to be done. What do you think?

That the English speaking Ugandan Asians, invited by the British, were the backbone of the economy, used by the colonial British as the middlemen in their economic exploitation of the country’s agricultural resources — coffee, tea, cotton, sisal and sugar cane — is a fact. That most Asians never really integrated in Ugandan society and remained cultural isolationists, just like the British, is also a fact. That the current President, Musoweni, in the 1990’s made special trips to England, the United States and Canada to meet with the Ugandan Asian community to ask them to please come back and help recover Uganda’s ailing economy along with promises of compensation for properties and businesses lost, is also a fact. Historians, and writers, with their own biases and preferences, will certainly put out their own versions of this historic event (just like I do in my book by unearthing British government documents — declassified after thirty years — of what actually went on in the corridors of power at 10 Downing Street, the White House and the Parliament in Kampala.) The interested reader will make his or her own conclusions.

Where do you live now?

I live in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

What do you do for a living?

I write books, articles for travel magazines and feature stories on events in Asia for various publications worldwide. I no longer work with NGOs, but devote all my time to writing.

A great many RPCVs write about their Peace Corps experience. You have written about your whole life. Did you think in terms of writing several books, or did you just want to get it all out?
In my case, since my Peace Corps experience was over a quarter century ago, and, since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to roam all five continents of the world through my work with NGOs, focusing on just my Peace Corps experience would have been limiting and somewhat outdated. This first volume of my travel memoirs spans thirty-four years of travel over three decades in anecdotal format. This format allows me the literary freedom to jump back and forth in geographical and chronological time so as to weave both the central theme of the book (what is “home” for global nomads?), and the topics chosen for each chapter- as the “glue” to the myriad of anecdotes and characters floating in and out of my life.
     
The second volume will focus on three parts of the detailed lives of my large extended family (65 members at last count). The first part will focus on our life in Africa for over two decades, the second on life in refugee exile in the United States, Canada and England, and the third on what the future holds for the second generation of children of my siblings in this now easily accessible planet of ours.
Talk a little about the process of writing The Chameleon’s Tale. Did you do many drafts over many years? Was it an easy book to write? How did you do the research? Did you change names or telescope events?
Over the years, I have compiled journals, photo albums, taped interviews with family members, collected music and artifacts from different countries that invoke special events of my life. In writing the book, a process that took me some eighteen months from start to finished edited copy for print, I used them all to recall specific events, details of characters and scene setting background wherever any anecdote warranted each or several of these aspects.
     The book went through three different drafts during my writing process before it went to the editor. Numerous editing sessions with the editor on what to keep in, what to take out, how to rearrange the anecdotes and chapters, all took place in Bangkok in what turned out to be a challenging but exciting endeavor.
     Once the prologue and the overall outline of the book was fine tuned, and the “search for home” theme was established, the book flowed out of me in spontaneous flurry of anecdotes, week after week, till the epilogue was done.
     In the editing process, some events were telescoped and names changed where real characters requested as much so as to preserve both, coherence and privacy.
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