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Oscar Ranzo On Going Home

The "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home means for authors who have spent three months in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's Fall Residency. This week's installment comes to us from Oscar Ranzo, writing from Uganda in January 2014:

[Click to Enlarge] Ranzo (at center, in red shirt) with family in Uganda.
[Click to Enlarge] Ranzo (at center, in red shirt) with family in Uganda.
Several weeks have passed since I returned home from the States.  Incognito.  Chose to do so because I didn’t want any fussing, by family and friends, surrounding my return from the 10-week residency at the University of Iowa. The plan had been to sneak back into the country without telling anyone (aside from my younger brother, who I’d given the task of picking me up from the Airport) spend a few days adjusting back into Ugandan mode, before plunging into my pre-departure routine, of writing, visiting schools, and running the day to day business of the Oasis Book Project as swiftly as though I had never been away. I’d hoped I’d be able to lay low for some time while gradually shocking people who still thought I might be abroad by calling them using my Ugandan phone. But as soon as I called the first person, the word quickly spread that I was back, and before I knew it the very thing I’d been desperate to avoid – the excitement synonymous with returning home from a trip to America – was happening: the fusspots were organizing a welcome party for me. In vain I tried to stop it, but my siblings were adamant it had to happen, and gave so many reasons why it had to, until in the ended I relented and let it be, but not without insisting that it be kept a kindred affair.

And a lovely Kindred Affair it was, a rare get together which started with my first proper Ugandan meal in months (Ugandan food is the only thing I seriously missed in Iowa) and ended with me sharing my American story right from being nominated and selected for the International Writing Program to being awarded the title of Honorary Fellow in Writing at the end of the residency, from time to time my narrative being interrupted by questions from a curious brother, sister or cousin. ‘So what does that title mean?’ A cousin asked, and everyone paid attention, but didn’t seem to understand, while I tried to explain the significance of my honorary title. That’s when it occurred to me that for the first time in months I was the only writer in a room of more than two people. Throughout my time in Iowa I had become used to being in the company of writers, most of them much more accomplished than me, and it always felt nice listening to and learning from the deep literary conversations they often had.

But that was Iowa, a UNESCO city of Literature; this was home, a literary desert, and now that I was back, I knew I had to, and have once again, become used to being the only writer, not only in my close circle of family and friends, but also in my entire hometown of more than 70,000 people. Without doubt I miss the company of other writers, and all the literary activities, especially the book readings and writer discussions that were commonplace in Iowa City. At times I also have nostalgic recollections of my life in Iowa: I particularly miss the warm baths, the washing machine, and the weekly house cleanings. I, too, miss the spacious, well stocked libraries, the gigantic book stores, the street benches, where my muse was always on a high, and, every time I use the internet here, with its frustrating speeds and unreliable connections, I miss the very fast internet speeds, let alone the stable connections that were the norm in America.

 

[Click to Enlarge] Ranzo teaching in Uganda.
[Click to Enlarge] Ranzo teaching in Uganda.
Yet, despite the aforementioned shortcomings, I have also realized that writing in a literary desert also has its advantages, the most noteworthy of which is the fact that my stories are often the only ones by a local writer available on sale in schools, helping me sell books in numbers that upcoming writers in America, Europe and other literary advanced countries would find enviable. Ever since returning home I have been exploring ways of making the most of my 10-week stay in America to increase the popularity of my stories at home: I have given press interviews and invited a big media house to support our campaign to promote the reading and writing culture in the country; and, all being well, I am optimistic that in a few years I will be able to sell enough copies per month to enable me afford the good life I lived in Iowa City.
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