First time published author Lionel Ntasano, is a 30 year-old Burundian. He speaks to Success about his new book, “Greener on the other side.”
Going with the popular assumption that life is always greener on the other side, do you think that it doesn’t matter where you are?
No matter how many times I am asked this question, I still find it hard to answer it. Nevertheless, I truly believe that it never matters where you are.
Your main character is a political refugee, were you a political refugee yourself? How has your experience shaped the writing of this book?
I was never a political refugee. We left Burundi in 1986; I was only two years old. My father found a very promising job at COMESA in Lusaka, Zambia, where we spent sixteen years of our lives. I never really spent time in my home country. We went there for holidays, visiting relatives and friends. We also travelled to many other countries for vacation (Zimbabwe, Zaire now known as DRC, Kenya, South Africa, France, Belgium, Holland and the (USA). I attended French international schools, and a British system boarding school, sharing classes with children from all over the globe. I then decided to go to college in the USA majoring in electrical engineering. It was actually what my father wanted; I had no idea what I wanted to do. I met a few guys who were into music and followed them.
It came to a point where I had to choose between being a musician and getting an education. I got scared and decided to get an education. I ended up in Kenya. At first, I thought it was the worst thing that could happen. However, I probably learned the most in my four years in Nairobi. I had the most fun as well. While in college in Nairobi, I got a chance to further my studies in Switzerland in culinary arts. I was already focused by then, and nobody could stop me. I got internships in some of the best restaurants in the world, from Switzerland to the Ritz-Carlton in Florida. I met people from different backgrounds, ethnicity, cultures and social classes.
Given the life that you have lived, do you in some ways find it hard to identify where home is?
Yes, it has been hard to identify where home was. However, since 2011, I have been working and living in Bujumbura, Burundi. I have decided to settle here and give my biggest efforts to the community.
What inspired you to write this book?
Growing up, my younger brother and I were sheltered by our parents. So we spent a lot of time playing just the two of us. We ended up being some really creative youngsters, creating characters, scenarios and many imaginary friends. It might sound weird, or funny, but it helped us in our creative endeavours later on in our lives. As I was inspired and constantly surrounded by musicians and songwriters in my late teens and early twenties, it only added to my already crazy way of seeing the world. When I came back to Bujumbura, after deciding to settle down in 2011, I had to get accustomed to some of the inevitable living conditions. I left my parents’ house to live in a tiny apartment on the other side of town. Now there are some major power cuts in our capital city. I had already experienced the party life, the travelling and the heartbreaks. I was involved in a major hotel project and always came back home late, tired and confused. In the summer, the power cuts became more common. That is how I decided to write, I needed to make sense of what was happening in my life.
How long did it take you to write this book?
It took me a year to write this first one. Like I said, I was the project manager of a start-up hotel; I had to find the time and energy.
Do you have a specific time?
Yes, very early in the morning.
A specific place?
I need to be alone. I have a tiny round dining table where I write my best.
What book are you reading now?
I am currently reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Alex Haley. I have never met or seen a Black man who thought or spoke like Malcolm.
Do you prefer writing with music?
I can only write with music blasting in my ears. I tend to write the best stuff with music that I listened to when I was younger, or when I was happier, or when the world was at my feet. The album that would probably be playing would be “Prose Combat” by MC SOLAAR. He is a pioneering African/French rapper that used a lot of jazzy samples to create the album in 1993.