Weekly Local Biography

  Mo Tejani

By: Elle Faraday

Many people spend their lives searching for their one true identity, whereas Mo Tejani has spent his life finding new ones. Kicked out of Uganda at the age of 21, Mo began a journey that he is still travelling on today, over 35 years later.

Mo Tejani (left) with Tim Cahill

In 1972 Idi Amin forced out 80,000 Ugandan Asians from their home country giving them just 90 days to leave and a mere 50 pounds in their pockets. Mo was one of these people. He was forced to say goodbye to friends and loved ones, many of whom he would never see again. He returned to Uganda in 1997, 25 years after he first left. “It was an emotional roller coaster but I went on a roots journey. I went to find my mother’s house – I wanted closure.”
Many of you will be familiar with Mo’s book, A Chameleon’s Tale, which tells anecdotal stories from his life and travels. “The book criss-crosses different continents and is not in chronological order. The prologue gives a setting and my stories in each chapter relate to that particular country, not to the date. This format allowed me freedom to express myself and bring up issues that I wanted to raise,” he said.
He knew he had great stories to tell and wanted to share them with everyone. He wrote the book in Chiang Mai because after being based in Thailand for 14 years on and off, he wanted to get away from the frenetic lifestyle of Bangkok. “I have always loved Chiang Mai and needed a more sedate life in order to complete my book.” He has been in Chiang Mai for about 2ฝ years and has no intention of moving on just yet.
Mo spent many years working for the Peace Corps as an English teacher. This job enabled him to travel around the world at a time when people rarely left their own country let alone travelled to a new continent. It was during this time that Mo learnt new languages and lived in many different cultures. Today, he speaks eight different languages and has experienced life across many continents.
On his first visit to Thailand in 1979, he taught English in Phuket and Chiang Rai. “Part of my training for the Peace Corps was emersion with a Thai family, learning their culture and language. This training has never left me. I’ve seen a lot of change in the last 30 or so years but I still love Thailand as much as I did all those years ago. This is why it has been my base for 14 years.” Mo was involved in the NGO world for about 20 years in various different positions. He always loved to write but this passion was never fulfilled until recently. “I had dabbled in writing but had always put the job of writing a book to the back burner, until now.”
It took him about 16 months to complete his book as he had so much material to work with. “It wasn’t what I was going to write that was a problem, it was what to put where and what to leave out. I’m one of those people which things just happen to. I don’t go out looking for them.” One of the most harrowing times in Mo’s life was in December 2004 when he found himself in the middle of the tsunami. He almost lost his life but luckily both he and his partner survived. He dedicates a whole chapter of his book to this traumatic time in his life.
A Chameleon’s Tale
was published in June this year and in just a few short months, has sold about 1000 copies. This book has opened many doors for Mo as well as reuniting him with friends he thought were lost forever. “Many, many friends from my past have got in touch with me. Some of these people I hadn’t seen for as long as 30 years. It’s actually very fitting with the theme of my book.” For him, meeting up with lost friends was indirectly one of the hidden messages of the book. “I am continuing to enjoy this aspect of my life at this time and hope to meet many more old friends along the way.”
Since June, Mo has embarked on a tour of Thailand promoting his book. He has given readings all across the country including Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Pattaya. In August this year, Mo attended the Book Passages Travel Writer’s Conference. This conference hosted a number of well known writers who turned up with the intention of working with and helping new writers and those yet to be published. The conference lasted four days and covered areas of marketing as well as sharing tips of the trade. Mo learned a lot from this conference, but perhaps his most memorable memory was meeting the authors Amy Tan and Tim Cahill. “Tim was reading my book and actually turned round and said, ‘This is like eating popcorn, I keep devouring each story’. That was really good.” Since the conference, doors have really started opening for Mo. The book has received excellent reviews, and this has given him the confidence to take his book to America. Next year he plans to complete a book tour of America and Canada which he hopes will lead to great things.
Asked about the future, Mo replied that he is working on his second volume. “I have plenty of material and I thoroughly enjoyed writing the first. That is my future plan at the minute.” As well as writing this second volume, Mo also writes freelance articles and undertakes research work. Despite being incredibly busy, Mo is also very content. “I am very happy with my life at the moment. I am doing what I love best, writing and reading.”
The back cover of the book asks if ‘home is just an illusion.’ Mo thinks of nowhere as home. He has ended up in many places and stayed for a myriad of reasons, but nowhere has ever been home for him. He has acquired an immense amount of self-confidence by having had to survive without his family and without a national identity. “I have been on a self-discovery journey for the last 35 years and my book portrays the change in myself over time. I have gained confidence and knowledge which I may otherwise not have gained if circumstances had been different.” Many travel writers explore the depths of the world in search of a story, Mo writes about where his life has taken him, not where he has taken his life.
If you are interested in buying a copy of Mo’s book, or would like to contact Mo, you can visit his website on www.mo-tejani.com