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My name is Ashwin Soni. I was born in Kampala, Uganda, East Africa, Africa.
On his childhood home…
It was very lovely, I was born in Kampala, and I lived there until I was eighteen – twenty, until I came over to the UK to study. So, I had a very beautiful time until I was four years old, very caring parents, very loving parents. I was one of five, I had four sisters and I was the only male, the only son and in our culture the son is always considered in a more favourable situation – it was in those days.
I had two older sisters and then myself and two younger sisters, and until the age of four, as far as I can recall, we had a beautiful life. A life of bliss, a lot of love, caring. Unfortunately, when I was four years old my mother died and then it became a very difficult time for us. My father was an ordinary person, a jeweller, and he suddenly got landed with looking after five children. Back home, normally, the family friends would rally around and provide as much help, support and guidance as possible. Family and friends were fine, but my father was left to his own devices, more or less, and he had to manage going to work and looking after all five of us and that was a difficult time for all of us.
The neighbours were really great, and we relied on the neighbours initially and they took extremely good care of my sisters, taught them how to do their hair and cook and so on. Most of the cooking was done by my father because we were all young, I was four, my eldest sister was eight, and there was a two-year gap between us all. So, it was myself at four then six and eight, and then my two younger sisters who were two and one.
I had an aunt who didn’t have any children and she lived quite far away from us in Kenya and when she came to pay her respects, she said at least she can help because she didn’t have any children and she took my two younger sisters away with her and bring them up. That was super because that helped my father a lot. The one-year-old settled very well with my aunt but the two-year-old she just couldn’t settle. So, she was brought back for my father to look after. He had to go to work which didn’t work out very well.
Fortunately, there was a friend of my father, (unmarried man, very highly paid), an accountant, he became very good friends with us, and my father and he said “let’s all make it a success” – our family. We called him “kaka”, means “uncle” and so he became a fatherly figure as well and it financially stabilised the situation. My father could get a menial job, so he still worked, got up very early in the morning, got us all ready for school every morning and in Uganda the school starts from 8 o’clock until 1 o’clock and then afternoons are free. So, my father used to get us up early, get us ready and got the neighbours to take us to school and then he would go to work and come back at lunchtime and bring us back from school. Then he would go later back to work, and we would be looked after by the neighbours and that went on for three or four years and we were at the age where you need very strong parental guidance, training and caring. The caring was there but the guidance was difficult because my father wasn’t very confident with the guidance that was needed, particularly with my sisters. So, we were difficult children, my eldest sister became a motherly figure, very protective of us, and she made sure none of us were ever being stupid or harmed, and the neighbours were superb, they helped and supported us quite a lot. But it wasn’t going to be very sustainable for our upbringing with my father having to have a full-time job and having an uncle – so two males – without female guidance, it was hard.
I became frustrated as a young child and I just didn’t want to know anything and became quite uncontrollable in many ways and that also brought more tension in the family. Schooling wise we were not doing well, none of us were that interested in studying or doing anything productive. We were noisy, uncontrollable, and the neighbours did what they could, but the situation wasn’t going to be good for us.
Fortunately, my aunt that I spoke about who my younger sister went with to Kenya, they realised the difficulties that my father was going through, they said they would move to Uganda – Kampala, where we lived and if my father and uncle were okay, they would move in with us. We had a reasonably big house, so living in a joint family is second nature for us. As an Asian community we are used to living together in a big family, a joint family.
So, when I was something like six years old, my aunt came to live with us, she was literally like my mother and she brought up all of us, in a big way! She brought all sorts of disciplines, regularity, culture, religion, respect, all the good words that children should be brought up with, she brought along. The rest is history, we were the most successful children ever, because her mission in life was to make sure that she brought happiness