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Play looks at 1970s Ugandan expulsion through lens of family forced to flee

Fifty years since Uganda expelled its Asian residents, Burnaby playwright explores his family's first-hand experiences in a play, 90 Days, coming to Metro Vancouver on Sept. 8.
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Actor Dhirendra plays Yusuf Rahim, the father in the production of 90 Days in PAL Studio theatre, Vancouver from Sept. 8 to Sept. 25,

The year was 1972. President Idi Amin announced the expulsion of South Asians from Uganda. 

Salim Rahemtulla, a 21-year-old student at the University of Manchester, whose family was in Uganda, read the news unfazed.

But despite belief that the situation would return to normal in a few weeks, he, woke up to a new reality. 

His family including his nine siblings fled the country and wouldn't be reunited until later. Rahemtulla remained in England during the expulsion while his parents and siblings were scattered across the world- from Austria to Canada. 

"My dad did not want to leave Uganda," Rahemtulla recalled. "He only decided to leave on the last day when it became very clear that even those that stayed in Uganda would be forced into camps and into villages."

Fifty years later, with the feeling of fear and anguish still fresh in his memory, Rahemtulla, has penned a play about the experience of a modest Ismaili family fleeing that humanitarian crisis. It comes to Vancouver on Sept. 8.

Encouraged by one of his daughters, Zahida Rahemtulla, the first-time playwright started writing back in 2018 about his family's experience during their last days in Uganda. 

"The memory always stayed with me," he said. "I told myself that if I write, I wanted to write about the 90 days."

Western Gold theatre brings the world premiere of '90 Days,' based on the Ismaili family, to Vancouver's PAL Studio theatre on Sept. 8. 

The play draws numerous parallels between the past and the current political scenario across the world. Rahemtulla believes that it's vital to share his voice. 

In addition to the play, his first memoir "Namirembe Road," is completed, and he hopes to publish it soon. 

"Are we wanted here? Will our memories of Kampala slowly fade, becoming only a thing of the past?" is a question that will remain in Rahemtulla's head for a long time, he said.  

90 Days

Where: PAL Studio Theatre, 581 Cardero Street, Vancouver.

When: Sept. 8 to Sept. 25; 7:30p.m.

Cost: $25- $34 per ticket. 



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