This article shares a visionary dream that should inspire Ugandans to innovatively design and build 3-Generation Homes. We need to transcend cultural taboos for enhanced social, cultural, and economic development, and harmony.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a gentle glow over my Bukoto cozy compound, I closed my eyes, and a vivid dream began to weave in me. It spanned decades, from 1988 when I first set foot in a bungalow in Bugolobi, to the transformative journey of 2018 when I visited part of my family in Plzen, in the Czech Republic. In this dream, the boundaries between time and space blurred, revealing a profound tale of tradition, family bonds, and the extraordinary potential of family prosperity through shared social and economic opportunities.
Before dreaming, here is to the memory lane, to facts and figures: I will never forget that 3rd of September 1988, because it was the day I entered and started living in the best bungalow of my life. It was a spacious three-bedroom house. I was then the Technical Manager of the wound-up Uganda Consolidated Properties Limited (UCPL). UCPL was a parastatal (a company with majority shareholding by the Government) that constructed, rented, and sold residential, commercial, and industrial properties for the middle and high-income class. The plot was located in the so-called bungalows’ prestigious area of Bugolobi, on a 0.20ha (half-acre) of land. A plot that is 35 meters wide by 57 meters long was a heaven on earth. It was a haven where both home and children found ample space to flourish.
Here, under the open skies, I got married and brought forth a family. I watched in great comfort, as my children grew, played, and ultimately got ready to venture out to seek their destinies. It was cozy and comfortable. Though the master bedroom was not self-contained, it had enough of the spacious rooms, a separate bathroom, and a spare toilet. We didn’t need anything fancy: we were content with what we had.
Still, in reality, a leap to 2018 transported me to the picturesque city of Plzen, in the Czech Republic. I have a (big) son and daughter of European ancestry. Their mother and stepfather conceived an idea and built a home where all their (big) children and grandchildren live! This is the 3-Generation Home. I enjoyed the heartwarming experience of this unique home. In this three-storey house, grandparents, parents, and children coexist harmoniously, pooling their financial strengths and embracing their shared heritage, for better social and economic prosperity. I slept in the flat owned by my daughter, together with her husband and children. And I slept soundly in this home. As if this was not enough, my nephew living in London joined us with his son and we were all the merrier! The resounding echoes of laughter and social sharing within those walls mirrored a lifestyle that defied modern trends of segregated homes. It underscored the power of social and economic solidarity. This 3-Generation House has a unique design that respects the individual’s family’s private life, yet pools everyone together when the need arises:
The grandparents live on the ground floor in a one-bedroom apartment, with the best of their requirements. The rest space on this ground floor is for common facilities like heating the house (talk of European drastic climate that made them tame nature better than us, a different story), storage of bulk materials, and the children’s play area. There is a spacious verandah for everyone to gather at leisure;
One has to go around the apartment to find stairs that lead to the first and second floors, where the (big) children and their children reside. And they have their facilities like any block of flats have. In this way, each family enjoys its privacy, yet they all easily meet on the spur of a moment;
The drive and compound are commonly shared and enjoyed! Mention the swimming pool, the swings, and shade trees! The families co-own the entire property, and they pool resources to enjoy its social and economic benefits.
Back in dreamland, I now relived a life in my magnificent good old bungalow in Bugolobi. I was in that best part of the house, the compound, on a sunny afternoon, seeping the Bakiga-sweet porridge. I was seeing the wonderful garden behind the house, and my wife and maid were collecting fresh maize to roast, vegetables, and fruits to eat. The compound was full of my kids and their friends, at the play area, and swimming in the pool that I had built myself. Dreams thrive in distortion. My dream changed to the time we held a big end-of-year party on the 31st of December 1998, ending in the wee little hours of dawn. The 20 guests had easily parked in our ample drive and compound. Oh, how I loved that house!
But then, the dream transformed the bungalow into a three-level apartment building. I was old and retired, but not tired. The cozy bungalow had transformed into a more magnificent block of apartments, right before my very nose!
In the new-found heaven, I lived in a corner on the ground floor. It had a big kitchen, a spacious sitting room, space for my never-ending work, and musical instruments. I had access to the magical and splendid gardens. I had all I needed and a bit more, without the excess baggage of space, when old children leave the parental homes. In addition, I had, close by, what every grannie craves for most: the company of grown-up offspring and grandchildren!
My daughter and her husband lived on the first floor, with their three children. They had a similar layout to our old bungalow, but theirs was more modern and elegant.
My son and his wife lived on the second floor, also with their three children. They had retained but modernised the same design as our original home. Thanks to architecture and engineering, with minor modifications and strengthening of some walls, the structure below supported the two new floors above. In line with the new trend, the master bedrooms were self-contained. Instead of the single squeezed garage in the original bungalow, we designed three open but covered spaces for parking.
Both my son and son-in-law had agreed to construct a family skilling center above this space. It was a large open room where the family and visitors were entertained. It was equipped with modern gadgets and a smart TV. Here, I and the young parents taught our and neighboring children, the old but useful social and cultural knowledge. I became the uncle-shwenkuru master-recounter of African folk tales. It was a job I was best qualified for, and the “students” were plenty and eager to learn. We used a smart TV and power point projections to maneuver the world of children and the aged, together in harmony! I thrived in the 3-Generation Home at its best, healing my age, and enriching my descendants with unique and extra love!
The most amazing thing was the structure behind the building. My son-in-law, who was an innovative farmer, had suggested that we build a mushroom house and a greenhouse for tomatoes, onions, and other crops. He removed the roof above the servants’ quarters and extended thereupon a greenhouse, designed in composites of timber and concrete.
Soon, my son-in-law and daughter-in-law got used to staying with me, shedding off the cultural taboo of living with a father- in-law!
The condominium law immensely helped us. It made the three families of parents, children, and grandchildren co-own and manage the property. We then shared responsibilities and benefits equally. This dream ignited a vision of a life surrounded by loved ones in harmony. Oh, what a wonderful blissful life I lived, surrounded by my children and grandchildren in harmony. By living in the same compound and in harmony with my offspring, I enjoyed the feel-good of “Even in advanced age, I still matter.”
But then I woke up to my 2-month-old grandson’s cries. He had terrible intestinal colic.
Like most good dreams, it ended where enjoyment started! I felt, never-the-less, inspired enough to share its long-tern plan vision. My resolve to preach the “3-Generation Home” gospel was strengthened by these reasons:
There are many disused, underutilised and nearly empty giant homesteads, because children grew and were culturally chased away, “to start their own home by themselves”;
There are many miserably aging and lonely parents, who silently crave for company of their children and grandchildren, after unwittingly “chasing them away”;
There are current businesses of, “Homes for the elderly”, where children damp their suffering parents, convinced that they have no other choice! Many are in substandard houses, employing maids to “gently look after their children”, who often cause untold misery to the same children and resources!
Remember the tragi-comedy best-selling play, “The Servants’ Quarters” by Batangaazi at the Uganda National Theatre in 1998? It featured the wasted resources of the wasteful style of living.
I believe in embracing unity and togetherness, reviving the tradition of the ancestral homestead. Let’s reconsider rejecting some cultural norms, and instead pool resources to build three-generation homes for better social and economic prosperity. This proposed new norm is a topic worth debating.