‘I betrayed the potential to become a doctor for Literature’ ― Playwright, Lanyero Patra Lucile.
Written by Derrick Asaba on December 1, 2021
Lanyero Patra Lucile, 23 is a finalist at Makerere University pursuing Bachelor of Arts with Education (Literature and English). She grew up from Lukome village in Gulu district in a family of four where she is the firstborn to Galdinus Okwonga and Monica Akello Okwonga. She attended schools like Bright Valley School, Iganga Girls Secondary School, Restore Leadership School and now at Makerere University.
Despite the trauma she went through as a child under the guardianship of a housemaid, Lanyero has lived to tell stories of such ilk, those that align with the society she has grown up in and has since published her first book (play) dubbed ‘Vagin Widow’. DERRICK ASABA sat down with her to get the ins and outs of her life story and the inspiration to write as a career.
What was growing up like, for you as a child?
It was so tough for me because I grew up in a family where parents were always absent. I really didn’t get so much of the parental love yet it’s what every child needs. My siblings and I suffered in the hands of a housemaid. It was a bit traumatizing. I kept writing those things down; the sufferings I went through as a girl with my sister who follows me. It was terrible and I would not wish every woman to go through what I went through. By the time my parents realised, it was a little bit late.
It must have been a lengthy story but how was it under the guardianship of the housemaid?
It was very terrible. We were in a day school which was far from home. We would reach school very late because we had to first wash utensils. We were house-girls ourselves. Being an elder sister, I had to help my younger sister. She could do the small chores and I would fetch water and cook. We used to eat once or twice a day. If we happened to eat twice, it would be a neighbour’s food. In our house, it would be only once and she wouldn’t care. The rest of the money she could take to her parents.
Where were your parents as you suffered this unfortunate treatment?
When my sister and I were born, an Education scholarship opportunity came for the both of them. My mum got a scholarship at Nsambya School of Nursing and my dad, at Makerere University. They went on to pursue their careers and we were left in Gulu with the housemaid.
Didn’t they get knowledge of how you were being treated at the time?
Phones weren’t so common then and we had no ways of communicating. Sometimes my mum would come back to visit us but whenever she came, the housemaid would warn us not to talk about what had happened and threatened to beat us if we reported her. Being young kids, we bowed to her threats. When my mum was coming back, the housemaid would bathe us and everything would be good. All this happened between my 6-9 years before Primary Four.
Your story highlights ‘trauma’. What is the most traumatizing moment you recall?
We were being beaten from home and chased to sleep on the streets. It happened only on three nights but they were terribly cold nights and one happened when I was actually sick. I had terrible malaria and she pushed me out claiming that I was pretending to be sick. She said I should go out and die. (She gives a sigh of relief as she narrates this ordeal)
In your opinion, what do you think was the reason that forced the housemaid to behave this way?
I think she was always pushed by envy and jealousy. The school we were going to was a powerful school. She worried that we would study, be successful and forget her in future to cherish our parents who weren’t around as she took care of us yet she took care of us and that we would. I think her intentions were to destroy the future she thought we had. By mistreating us, she thought we would be discouraged.
How did this affect your behaviour at school?
Because of the situation at home, I used to sleep in class and kept crying most of the time. When I left home, I feared to get back home yet I had to get back home in time. At school, my friends always tried to cheer me up but these were only nightmares in my head. I would cry, thinking about my sister who I loved so much.
When do you eventually see a ray of relief?
In 2009 when I was supposed to join Primary Five, it’s when I got some relief because my parents came back fully. Even though neighbours used to report, our parents used to find it controversial especially when we talked under the fear of what the housemaid would do to us. They later on realised in 2010 that we were suffering terribly.
How different was it when your parents finally came into the picture?
When I got under the care of my parents, things took a new turn. My parents were so loving. The future they wanted to fight for, killed us but they are good, caring and responsible people.
What are some of the remedies they availed to doctor you from the past situation?
They brought a counsellor from St Mary’s Hospital Lacor who talked to us because we were really hurt. The home we were living in was so traumatizing so we had to shift to some other place a little bit far. They took us to a good boarding school afterwards and kept showing us that love. She narrated the whole story to the teachers and they gave her the permission to always come to school weekly to check on us. I think she was also scared that our behaviour would change.
What was the experience like while in a boarding school?
The school was extremely good because we had mentors who used to take care of us very well. We would also eat well. The main reason why we were taken to that boarding school was because my mum wasn’t fully done with her education. She was scared of bringing another trauma by hiring another housemaid.
About writing, when did you start?
I started writing when I was in Senior Two. My Literature in English teacher then, Ms Sabila from Iganga S.S, saw that I could write and sought to nurture the skill in me. We were reading Wole Soyinka’s, ‘The Lion and the Jewel’ and she asked us to write anything we thought about the book. At that young age, I wrote about how the author should have written the book.
What did you suggest the storyline should have been?
My alternative was; Lakunle was made way too much into modernity. I wasn’t happy that at the end of the book Sidi had to marry Baroka since I don’t support polygamy. At least Soyinka should have softened Lakunle’s heart to accept to pay the bride price so that Sidi could eventually marry him. Baroka was too old and could have been even Sidi’s grandfather. Injustice to the girl child!
What was the teacher’s reaction?
She was amazed by the way I brought it up and argued it out. She urged me to harness my skill to become a writer since I could do absolutely nothing on Soyinka’s literary piece. She asked me to start writing my own stories but due to the fact that I was still young, I was somewhat careless. When I joined Senior Five, that’s when I remembered that I was a writer. I even recalled the fact that my teacher had encouraged me to write and even publish my content. When I joined University, I continued to write and also did some poetry.
What niche were your writings based around?
I used to write about drama. Research states that people who like drama are people who are traumatized. I don’t know how true that is but I also found myself so interested in it. I remember I wrote about; Funeral Celebrations, Alcohol Addiction, A girl who finds it hard to emerge from society, How childhood trauma can kill a child’s future, among others.
What more did writing push you up to?
In A’ Level, I got an opportunity to write about my school: satirising the school and almost got suspended.during the school’s electoral process, I didn’t participate because of some issues. However, I went to the Headtecher and gave him reasons why the school needed two Head Girls. I reasoned it well and was appointed Head Girl. In case of anything, I always represented the school.
There must have been a lot of politics therein. Or else, what are some of the reasons that you gave to win his spurs over?
The reason that I gave was the agenda I had for the school. Since there was tribalism in the school, I promised to spearhead its uprooting and also promised to represent the school in the outside environment. Out of this representation, Cornerstone Development Africa recruited me as a mentor under the High School Leadership Development (HLD) programme.
What subject combination were you offering at A’ Level?
I was doing a combination of History, Economics, Literature and Sub Maths (HEL/Sub Mtc) and got a distinction in Sub Maths. The passion for Literature made me do HEL but the school had offered me BCM. Even at Iganga S.S. students thought I would become a doctor because of how I used to help them out when it came to science subjects.
What’s this love that you have for Literature that killed the scientist in you?
I choose to be happy and love what I do. I would have become a doctor but trust me I would be doing it for money. My passion lies in Literature and when I am in this circle, I am in the right place. I do it with all that I have and the small world that I shall be doing it in shall appreciate it more than going to the hospital: treat people because I must treat them and in case I am off-duty and there is a serious patient who needs my help in particular, I can’t run. If someone has the passion for being a doctor, even if they are on leave and the patient is dying, they will run and help them. But when one is doing it for money, it doesn’t make sense. At the end of the day it’s humanity that matters. People have to see something in you and should be happy because of you. So, I looked into that too and realised I can impact lives and people appreciate who I am as a writer rather than waste time in a hospital.
Passionate about Literature, why then didn’t you go for a course in writing than for Education?
It all goes back to career guidance. I actually thought I would go for Film Production. But at Makerere, there is a full package Education students get, especially those who teach English and Literature. For instance I study Editing and Publishing, Film and Cinema project, Oral Literature Research, among others. I realised all that would make me a good writer is in Education. There are times we act. It’s really a resourceful course for anyone who wants to become a good writer.
When did you start on your first publication, ‘Vagin Widow’?
I started writing on this play in my Senior Six vacation and kept building on it as I wrote some other books. During the first lockdown in 2020 that was characterized by idleness, it required everyone to find something for themselves. That’s when I decided to polish this book. In case the lockdown was lifted, I envisioned it to be a selling time because I looked at it this way; that companies would be sold down and I would publish my book cheaply. I used that opportunity.
What does this book talk about?
It’s a book whose main theme is ‘Gender based violence’ against women in societies we come from. It is a fertile ground where one learns that ignorance and silence are together one chronic cancer. Each scene is a reflection of what we all experience in our society. The book is perfect for personal evaluation and excellent for societal transformation since it leaves the reader with the question of a solution.
Who are some of the people that you worked with?
I worked with Professor John Oola, Professor Samuel Onyer, Job Lazarus Okello, Daniel Tusiimukye K’aabasa, Tim Kreutter (Executive Director, Cornerstone Development Africa), Toolit P’ Kitara, Monekwir Innocent Ocaya among many others
Who are some of the people that inspire you?
In the writing field, I am so proud of Okot p’Bitek. He did wonderful Literature and whenever I read his books, I feel there is a vacant place that needs to be filled in Uganda. We need writers like him because he made us proud. Not only him but also African writers like Chinua Achebe whose Literature is equally rich. There is fortune in African writers and a reason to write more and advocate for what is ours. When it comes to a person that I follow, I love female hustlers. Every personality has their imperfections but a part of their story, hustles to where they are, gives me the inspiration to work hard for example Sheebah Karungi. I also look up to my mum because she is a good wife.