Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“Lots of our problems would just disappear if we danced more”
John grew up in Uganda, and still sees it as his native country. “We moved to Kenya when I was seven because the dictator who was in power in Uganda wanted to murder my father (who was a professor of political science). Life can be hard”, says John. After graduating in cultural anthropology in Nairobi, he moved to the Netherlands to train in dance. “I was looking for sensation, for new opportunities. I wanted to focus on my dream. But I felt divided; I missed my family and the African lifestyle, but I wanted to dance. Sometimes you have to accept a situation and simply make the best of it.”
John found the Dutch culture challenging. “When I arrived in the Netherlands in 1993, the first thing I noticed was the structure and tidiness. People were very direct and always on time. I admire people’s courage and optimism in always going by bike, even when it’s pouring with rain or snowing.”
However, John also sees a lot of loneliness. “People are getting lonelier. They sit there in their own bubble, keeping themselves busy.” He thinks that although the standard of living has risen, the quality of life has declined. “People should switch off their phones and talk to each other more often. This would help to stop depression. People share so much online, but they’re actually far less sociable.”
Things are very different in Kenya and Uganda, where people are never alone. “The African culture is a ‘we’ culture. We get together more and we’re there for each other, even if we disagree”, says John. He tries to recreate this feeling of unity in his dance and dance classes. “I want people to connect, not just in spirit but with their bodies too. Even if they are on totally different sides of the spectrum. This is what dance does. Europeans feel uncomfortable dancing, they’re scared to let themselves go. They over-think it. Lots of our problems would just disappear if we danced more. We eat to nourish our bodies, we dance to nourish our souls.”
In an attempt to bring his two worlds closer together, for the past ten years John has been organising cultural dance trips to Uganda. “The Dutch see the real Uganda during these trips. They experience the culture as well as the nature. They stay with traditional Ugandan families, and learn about each other’s customs and ideas at first hand. They witness life from another perspective.”
John tries to raise his children with the best of both cultures. To his mind, the most positive thing about the African culture in this respect is that children are given responsibility for daily tasks from an early age. “On the other hand, children in Africa are seen and not heard”, comments John. “In the Netherlands, parents really listen to their children.” John intends to return to Africa when his youngest child is old enough. What would he think if one of his children decided to do the same? “I would cry from pure emotion; I would celebrate. My twenty-year-old daughter spent seven months studying in South Africa. This really moved me. I admire her so much for doing that.”
Name: John Kayongo
Date of birth: 10 August 1970
Place of birth: Uganda
Motto: ‘We eat to nourish our bodies, we dance to nourish our souls.’
Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.