WHAT is first striking when meeting Deliah Nalukwago are her smile and presence. At only 27-years- old, the young student of clinical acupuncture - who also pursues an artistic career on the side - already shows the confidence of a great master. She sat down with ChinAfrica to talk about her atypical and inspiring story.
It all began in 1998 in a doctor's office in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Then eight-year-old Nalukwago observed with great attention the gestures of Dr. Wen, who was inserting, with meticulous attention, strange needles in the skin of her mother, who suffered from neuropathic pain. No treatment had been effective until then, but the foreign technique of the Chinese practitioner seemed to have an unexpected effect: for the following month, her mother felt re-energized.
Since then, the word "medicine" has been closely associated with "China" in the mind of young Nalukwago.
A mix of knowledge and culture
This thought association finally became a tangible reality in 2009, when Nalukwago received a scholarship to study at the prestigious Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. On the advice of Dr. Wen, who in the meantime had become her mentor, she chose to begin with a classical medicine curriculum, and then move on to traditional Chinese medicine.
"Western medicine seeks primarily to cure, whereas Chinese medicine is more preventive in nature. This is a major difference, but the two complement each other," explained Nalukwago. "In the former, however, side effects, dosage and interaction between different drugs must be taken into account. Traditional Chinese medicine, and acupuncture in particular, has none of this. While we must take care to ensure that needles are sterilized, there is no pain and there are no side effects."
In order to graduate in 2019, Nalukwago is now doing research under one of the country's most recognized acupuncturists, Dr. Li Zhigang. "I am very lucky to be able to work with him because he is a leading figure of acupuncture in China. He is an excellent teacher with whom I can improve myself everyday."
When she arrived in China in 2009, the young woman had to first learn the language, which she speaks fluently today. "I still have trouble understanding certain words, sometimes," she said. But rather than an obstacle, she sees it as a way to motivate herself. This pushes her to work harder than her peers, to stay in constant contact with her teacher and to ask many questions to remain on top.
"However, it is not always well seen. In Chinese culture, asking questions can be considered rude or shameful, especially if you are the only one to ask!" she said.
Indeed, one of her daily challenges is to combine the two medicines, Western and Chinese, whose mechanisms are both different and complementary. "It's sometimes hard to connect them every time, but I'm working on it."
An artistic calling
Beyond her passion for medical science, it is music that holds a special place in the heart of Nalukwago, whose "compassionate nature always pushes [her] to reach out to others." And this passion also goes back to her youth in Uganda.
At the age of 12, Nalukwago realized that she loves to sing, and especially that she has talent for it. "I think we all have a hidden gift. For me, it's my voice!" she said laughingly.
Although she performed brilliantly in a series of competitions and shows, her parents did not approve of this nascent passion. They believed that music could distract her from her studies and ended up forbidding her to perform. Heartbroken, the young girl had no choice but to obey.
"I felt like an immense void in me," Nalukwago remembers. "It was as if I had been deprived of one of my senses, I was devastated."
Far from a distraction, music was in fact a way for her to concentrate her energy and achieve her goals. "It is through music that I express my creativity, it's not an end in itself," said the budding diva. Nowadays, during her spare time, when she does not study, Nalukwago performs with Rebels 5, a group inspired by jazz and soul music, in which she is the soloist. The band has even had some success.
"It's always fun when people recognize you! It's flattering and it touches me in a certain way, but I keep my feet on the ground. I don't let it go to my head."
Indeed, Nalukwago's head is already full of promising ideas for her future. "Of course, I plan on going home. I will probably be the first licensed acupuncturist and the first practitioner specialized in clinical acupuncture in Uganda. I want to play a role in the development of my country and help move things forward. I almost feel it's my duty to do so!"
In a few years' time, she hopes to have her own practice and train others in Kampala, enabling other practitioners to expand their range of knowledge and skills. "I want to open a health and wellness center for alternative medicine. We have nothing like this in my country and I would like to combine Western medicine, Chinese medicine and traditional Ugandan medicine," said Nalukwago. Because, as she says, there is no reason why we should not use techniques that have proven their value.
In the meantime, the acupuncturist with the warm and deep voice will continue to sting her clients while singing.