Interview: Elizabeth and Mary Roussos

Strolling around the verdant gardens of Athina Club House on Windsor Crescent in Kololo, you see several plants cleverly veiling each table, cordoning it off for privacy. In one such section, I meet the raucous and merry Mary and her reticent sister Elizabeth Roussos, in their element. With a nonchalant shrug, Mary says, “Our parents were lovely; a completely different mixture!” And different they were. Their Greek Cypriot father, Andreas Roussos, arrived in Juba in 1938 to join his uncle, who was already part of the affluential Greek trading community there. He soon got involved in transporting coffee from Beni and Butembo, in the Kivu region of the then eastern Belgian Congo, and smoked and salted fish from Lake Edward to neighbouring Uganda.
He fell in love with Uganda, and also his Polish wife, Eugenia Genoveva Kakwa, a nurse who had been displaced from her home country due to the war and had ended up in a camp for Polish refugees in Masindi.

After marriage, they started their life in Fort Portal, where the sisters were born. “I was the baby of the family!” laughs Mary, referring to her older siblings Nicholas and Elizabeth. “Today, I am probably the oldest European, born in Uganda, to be alive,” laughs Elizabeth. The story of the sisters’ multilingualism (they speak seven languages, including Swahili and Luganda) is seamlessly woven with the family’s journey and the country’s political situation. During their schooling in Butembo, which was across the border in Congo, they studied in French and Flemish. After Congo gained independence, Mary and Elizabeth were shifted to a school in Mbarara, Uganda, and then a boarding school in Cyprus and Athens, where they finally learnt Greek. While they were away, in 1961, their parents bought the home where the Club House stands today, from a Goan called D’Sousa Figueiredo.

The family was involved in several businesses over the next ten years, until Idi Amin came to power. The Roussos’, like many other wealthy families at the time, were expelled. Part of the family moved and managed their business from Kenya, while others, like Mary, moved to England.
After the fall of Amin, the family returned to Kampala in the 80s. But it was not the home they had left. Mary and her then French husband moved back to England for a few years, before she returned to Kampala. In 1991, President George Vassiliov of Cyprus appointed Nicholas Roussos as the honorary consul in Uganda, and their home in Kololo became the Honorary Cyprus Consulate. Elizabeth is still the vice consul. Today, Mary, Elizabeth and Nicholas’ Kenyan widow, Ruth live in this beautiful property.

While the senior Roussos’ have engraved their roles in Ugandan history, the next generation is not far behind. Elizabeth’s son, Andy, started the tavern – Andy the Greek’s (it closed down and made way for Bubbles O’Learys).
This Greek Cypriot family prides itself on its global outlook, Ugandan roots and Grecian food. “He makes the best moussaka in town,” states Mary, waving at Costa, the chef.
The Athina Club House was among the first restaurants in Kampala to open after Amin, and its popularity evidently hasn’t waned. “Our rates are still the most economical in Kololo, at $50 for a single room, and $65 for a double room, and this is inclusive of an English breakfast. Even our 10-course buffet, especially the Greek spread on Wednesdays, is extremely popular. The Mountaineering Club of Uganda meets at our restaurant every first Thursday of the month. We also host many parties such as graduations, weddings, baby showers and birthdays,” states Elizabeth.