ELLE (UK) - - Elle Col­lec­tive -

y fa­ther died of Aids when I was three years old . From then on, ev­ery­thing in my life changed. My mother, Har­riet [played by Lupita Ny­ong’o in the film] strug­gled to pay school fees for me, my sis­ter and my broth­ers. Not only that, but we didn’t have enough money for food. I went to school un­til I was six, but then I had to drop out. I re­mem­ber sit­ting at home alone, watch­ing the other kids go to school in their uni­forms. It made me sad to see them go­ing and I was so bored; at school there’s al­ways some­thing in­ter­est­ing go­ing on and you have friends to talk to.

I be­gan help­ing to bring money into the house by work­ing for my mother’s busi­ness, sell­ing corn to peo­ple liv­ing in Katwe. I hated the job be­cause I had no choice but to do it. My mother needed help pay­ing for our rent and food, which would usu­ally be one meal a day of rice or ba­nanas, if we sold enough. When I was nine years old, we were evicted from our house be­cause we couldn’t af­ford to pay the rent, so we went to live on the streets. We didn’t have any­thing to eat or drink; I was al­ways hun­gry and scared be­cause young girls and women were raped a lot of the time. The most im­por­tant thing for women to do on the streets is to pro­duce kids, and that’s all. I didn’t want my life to be like that of my mother. I wanted it to be bet­ter, but it was hard to dream about life out­side of Katwe. There was no one to in­spire me be­cause most of the peo­ple lived the same life, so it was dif­fi­cult to think about a world out­side of the slum.

One day, my brother Brian told me that they were giv­ing a cup of por­ridge to chil­dren at a lo­cal chess club set up by a sports out­reach pro­gramme. I de­cided to se­cretly fol­low him to the di­lap­i­dated church where the club was held and dis­cov­ered a dozen chil­dren play­ing this strange game I’d never seen be­fore. The coach, a mis­sion­ary called Robert Ka­tende [played by David Oyelowo in the film], spot­ted me peer­ing in and in­vited me to join. But I wasn’t in­ter­ested in play­ing chess or mak­ing friends with the other chil­dren – they teased me for be­ing dirty so I fought with them. All I wanted was the cup of por­ridge.

There is no word for chess in my lo­cal lan­guage, Lu­ganda, which is ironic be­cause it is chess, a game that con­sists of just a board and 16 pieces, that saved my life. When I went back home that day and told my mother, she was not happy with me. She thought chess was an­other form of gam­bling, like all the other games peo­ple played in the slum, and she warned me not to go back.


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