Home Is a Woman
Arao Ameny

About the Poem

The poet writes: “I wrote ‘Home Is a Woman’ in the summer of 2018. I was enrolled in an independent summer course with Professor Steven Leyva at the University of Baltimore. Unfortunately, it was also the summer my paternal grandmother passed away. I was named Arao after both my paternal and maternal grandmothers. She was my last living grandparent and her death shook me.

I had gone home to Lango for her funeral but I didn’t drop my poetry class. I was still turning in assignments when I was in Uganda. I wrote the poem during the six-hour car ride from Kampala to Lira about an earlier experience I had in a matatu. I told myself that when I left the car, I would have written something. I was thinking about Atat (grandmother) and I was thinking about her quiet strength. I was also thinking about my mother and my mother’s mother. I’m not sure if it was grief or frustration or both, but instead of crying, I decided to write. I wrote the poem by hand in a journal I keep in my bag, transcribed it, and then turned it in as part of my assignment for class. For two full years, I sent out the poem to literary journals, so this poem about “home” was literally looking for a home. I knew it was finished and it would be accepted somewhere, without any changes. I just had to be patient and not give up.”

Listen to the Poem in English

Read by Arao Ameny

Listen to the Poem in Spanish

Poem read by Patricia Bejarano Fisher
Home is a Woman

Before I enter the matatu
for the drive to Kampala then Lira
the driver stops me to tell me
he’s never seen me on this route
“you must live outside”
I remember I live outside my own country
I pretend not to hear
and he says it again, this time behind a cigarette and a smile
he asks me “who are your people? who is your father? your grandfather?”
saying he may know my people
I tell him my mother’s name and her mother’s name
and my great-grandmothers’ names
I tell him about the names of the land they could not inherit
unless their brothers or fathers or husbands gave it to them
I name and map the land, from that tree to the edge of the river
I tell him where my great-grandmothers were born
where my grandmothers were born
where my mother was born
I hum the names of the women in my family
over and over again like a forgotten prayer
a forbidden song
he asks again “who are your forefathers, you girl?”
I ask him “and who gave birth to them?” and I say the names of the women who gave birth to them
our ride is silent from Kampala to Lira
he gives me a curious glance from the rearview mirror at my many faces
looking at me while I hold on to my suitcase
while I carry all the women living inside of me
I carry them home
El Hogar Es Una Mujer

Antes de subir al matatu*
Para viajar a Kampala, y luego a Lira
el conductor me detiene para decirme que
nunca me ha visto en esta ruta.
“Debes vivir afuera.”
Recuerdo que vivo fuera de mi propio país.
Finjo no oír
y él lo repite, esta vez detrás de un cigarro y una sonrisa.
Me pregunta “¿quiénes son tu gente? ¿quién es tu padre? ¿tu abuelo?
y dice que puede ser que conozca a mi gente.

Le digo el nombre de mi madre y el nombre de su madre
y los nombres de mis bisabuelas.
Le cuento los nombres de la tierra que ellas no podían heredar
a menos que sus hermanos o padres o maridos se la dieran.

Nombro y mapeo la tierra, desde ese árbol hasta la orilla del río.
Le digo donde nacieron mis bisabuelas,
donde nacieron mis abuelas,
donde nació mi madre.
Tarareo los nombres de las mujeres de mi familia
una y otra vez como una oración olvidada,
una canción prohibida.

El vuelve a preguntarme “¿Quiénes son tus antepasados, chica?”
Yo le pregunto “¿Y quién los parió a ellos?

Nuestro viaje desde Kampala hasta Lira es en silencio.
Me mira con curiosidad desde el espejo retrovisor, mis múltiples caras,
me mira mientras agarro mi maleta,
mientras llevo a todas las mujeres que viven dentro de mí.
Las llevo a casa.

*Matatu = un matatu es un tipo de autobús pequeño que es popular en
Kenya, Tanzania, y Uganda, un modo de transportación barata que lleva
muchos pasajeros.

Translated by Linda Murphy Marshall

Author Information

Arao Ameny is a Ugandan-born, Maryland-based poet and writer from Lira, Lango, Northern Uganda. She earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Baltimore. She is a former journalist and communications professional. She has a MA in journalism from Indiana University and a BA in political science from the University of Indianapolis. Her first published poem “Home is a Woman” appeared in The Southern Review in 2020 and won the 2020 James Olney Award. She was a winner of the 2020 Brooklyn Poets Fellowship, a finalist for the 2021 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, a nominee for the 2021 Best New Poets Anthology for the poem “Home is a Woman” and selected for the 2022 Best New Poets Anthology for the poem “The Mothers”. In January 2023, Relations: An Anthology of African and Diaspora Voices edited by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond published her first short story “Atat” (‘grandmother’ in the Leb Lango language). She is an alumna of the Tin House workshop (fiction writing) and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop (poetry). Currently, she has a one-year contract role as a biography writer and editor at the Poetry Foundation.


Home is a Woman is Arao Ameny’s first published poem and its last two couplets make a striking reiteration of the poem’s premise. “I carry all the women living inside of me,” writes Arao. The language is lucid yet crisp, simple yet utterly moving. A poem of memories, it is a testament to not just matriarchs but also a longing for home. “You must live outside”, a Ugandan driver says. A patriarchal demand for her paternal origins is demanded afterward. “Who are your people? Who is your father?” the driver asks, insisting on a mention of forefathers despite a given maternal history. 

Arao’s poem defiantly critiques patriarchal masculinity, exemplifying Bell Hooks’ notions in The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love. According to Hooks, “The crisis facing men is not the crisis of masculinity, it is the crisis of patriarchal masculinity.” While one may assume autobiographical ranges in the poem given Arao’s background as a Ugandan based in the U.S., the poem’s reach is beyond her.  

In 2018,  Reuters reported tragic “unsolved” murders of young women, with more than 20 corpses along roadsides south of Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Cases of child marriage and gender-based violence still ripple across Uganda but the crux of Arao’s poem, though critical, does not reduce itself to a polemic or anthropological discourse. The poem pulsates with a narrative texture that deifies women, and its title aptly captures this.

Though Home is a Woman is Arao Ameny’s first published poem, it is so poignant and remarkable. Since the publication of the poem in 2020, Arao Ameny has been invited to read her poetry at a public forum hosted by the United Nations and been selected for the 2022 Best New Poets anthology, an anthology of emerging poets distributed nationally by the University of Virginia Press.

Ifeoluwapo Olatona


“Male Feminists inside Uganda’s Police Strike out at Killing of Women.” Reuters, 5 Mar. 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-women-police-idUSKBN1GH1OG.

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Fanni is Radnóti's wife
Located near the Tang capital city of Chang’an, site of the modern city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province, in central China.
Soldiers of that time commonly wore a white head cloth, similar to what is still worn by some peasants in China today.  The implication is that the conscripts were so young that they didn’t know how to wrap their head cloths, and needed help from elders.
Before China’s unification under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C. there were several competing smaller kingdoms.  Han and Qin were two of these kingdoms. Han was located east of famous mountain passes that separated that area from the power base of the Qin dynasty, with its capital in Chang’an. The Qin dynasty itself only lasted about 15 years after unification due to its draconian rule, but soldiers under Qin rule retained a reputation as strong fighters.
The area of Guanxi, meaning “west of the passes”, refers to the area around the capital city of Chang’an.
This is an alternative name for a province in western China, now known as Qinghai, which literally means “blue sea”.  Kokonor Lake, located in Qinghai, is the largest saline lake in China.  
Before China’s unification under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C. there were several competing smaller kingdoms.  Han and Qin were two of these kingdoms. Han was located east of famous mountain passes that separated that area from the power base of the Qin dynasty, with its capital in Chang’an. The Qin dynasty itself only lasted about 15 years after unification due to its draconian rule, but soldiers under Qin rule retained a reputation as strong fighters.
Oulart Hollow was the site of a famous victory of the Irish rebels over British troops, which took place on May 27, 1798. The rebels killed nearly all the British attackers in this battle. (Source: Maxwell, W. H. History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798. H. H. Bohn, London 1854, pp 92-93, at archive.org)
The phrase "United Men" is elaborated upon in the Notes section below.


An Italian word meaning “foundry.” It originally referred to a part of the city of Venice where the Jews of that city were forced to live; the area was called “the ghetto” because there was a foundry nearby. The term eventually came to refer to any part of a city in which a minority group is forced to live as a result of social, legal, or economic pressure. Because of the restrictions placed upon them, ghetto residents are often impoverished.

"You’re five nine, I am do-uble two"

A reference to the year 1959 and the year 2020.

"The Currency"

Meaning US dollars - this is drawing attention to the fact that Cuba is effectively dollarized.

"Sixty years with the dom-ino stuck"

This sentence is a reference to the Cold War notion that countries would turn Communist one after the other - like dominos. Cuba was the first domino, but it got stuck - no one else followed through into communism.


رحلنا, or "rahalna," means "we have left."


Habibi means "my love."


Ra7eel, or "raheel," means "departure."


3awda, or "awda," means "returning."


أهلاً, or "ahalan," means "welcome."

a5 ya baba

a5 ya baba, pronounced "akh ya baba," means "Oh my father."