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Laetitia Mugerwa: This Village Girl in France

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I had been smitten with the idea of living abroad since I was young, thanks to relatives who lived in Europe and came back only to be treated like kings and queens who had solutions to all our village problems. I remember when a family friend who lived in England came to visit my parents one evening, Lord knows we didn’t sleep. The gentleman came all in one package as a medical doctor, a professor, an immigration officer, a lawyer and more. I fantasised about becoming him; visiting Europe one day and coming back home to reason for all my village people, having earned all the qualifications. The idea of going abroad for me since childhood was a “buy one, get ten for free.”

After my undergraduate in Uganda, I was fortunate to go for my Masters in Savoie. France was different from Uganda, I’d imagined. France was a new and distant place.

Growing up as a child in my world, I juggled a lot of familial conflicts. Almost every time, there will be a dispute to be settled between one family member and another, from close relatives to distant relatives. Growing up in a large extended family made me witness a lot of arguments. Then, I was alone because my older brother and sister had left home and so I grew to confront this trouble or dive my head into books by western authors to seek refuge. This grew my desire to go to France.

And then this village girl went to France.

In October 2012, I was on my way to the country of my dreams, leaving behind a big family battle between my daddy and some of his relatives who thought it was a bad idea for him to get a loan of $250 to help me top up my ticket and head abroad for my studies.

Even though I had no clue how I was going to pay back the loan, I was determined to go to Savoie. It was drama but I still went.

I reached Savoie and confirmed I was a villager there. So many adventures of life, good and bad, awaited me. I realised my imagination of abroad as a place to “buy one, get ten free” was a big joke. Reality dawned on me.

Paying the $250 loan faster so my father would have peace with his relatives was on my mind. So I woke up every day to clean the toilets of gyms before going to school and came back in the evening to babysit toddlers.

Imagine the frustration when I realised I couldn’t get the all-in-one qualifications I thought the family friend that visited from England had when I was young. Boy, was I bothered! I was bothered that I couldn’t speak a word of French and frustrated that all the stories I was told about living abroad were false. I hadn’t even visited The Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, which I imagined I’d visit on my way to the office – as I’d read in books.

I may not have gotten everything I read in books, but this frustration woke up the village girl in me and helped me push through. You know, sometimes when you act ignorant, you get helped easily and learn faster. I’m embarrassed about this but I have come to terms with the fact that I was a villager in Savoie. So I learned better, attained the right knowledge and valued my village more.

Laetitia Mugerwa is an international researcher, and founder of Empowerment Initiative for Women and Youth Uganda. Despite her profession, Laetitia is a human rights advocate which she expresses in all her writing for years.