WHEN Nick Makoha was eight years-old he was dropped into a new school in a new country and felt totally lost.

To compound the problem, he couldn’t get the hang of Maths.

But his kindly teacher, Mr Patel, took him under his wing and in a short time, Nick grasped the subject and his confidence soared.

However, soon after Mr Patel died of a heart attack. The schoolboy was devastated.

“I remember sitting under a tree in tears on hearing the news,” recalls the now father-of-two.

“And I thought ‘What can I do for Mr Patel so he knows that he meant something to me?’ So I wrote him a poem and they put it in the year book.”

The story reveals much of Nick Makoha; a displaced youngster who cared enough to commemorate a man who’d made such an impact upon his life – yet chose to do it via poetry.

It’s perhaps no surprise to learn Nick would go on to become a poet, playwright and a performance artist. It’s no surprise the natural storyteller’s new story is about identity.

Nick’s new play, The Dark features a section of his life that underlines concepts of belonging and identity.

His early life is complicated. Born in Uganda, his parents met as university students but split just after Nick was born.

His parents weren’t wealthy, but their university (“an offshoot of Oxford and Cambridge”) offered scholarships to special students to take their PhDs in London.

Nick’s mother took up the offer and the four year-old found himself living with his father, now a doctor, and his new wife.

But back in London, Nick’s mother heard of the ravages of Idi Amin’s dictatorship, the ethnic cleansing tyrant well on his way to murdering half a million people, creating a climate of absolute terror.

“This was a really stressful time for my mother,” says Nick. “She needed to study, and yet left her family, her mother and sisters (and son) behind.”

In 1978, however, she knew she had to get her son out.

“The country was crumbling, pretty much like Venezuela is right now. “

Nick’s mother flew back to Kampala and in a dead-of-night operation he was smuggled out of the country.

“She had to get me across the border into Kenya, but I had no passport. Nothing. And she couldn’t tell many people what she was doing.”

Nick and his mum then moved to London. Three years later he was sent to boarding school in Kenya. But life was even more peripatetic.

At one point, he lived with his dad and family in Saudi Arabia, moved back to Kenya - and came back to London when he was 16.

“I lived in suitcases a lot,” he says, with a wry smile.

Not surprisingly, he grew up with a sense of detachment from his father, a story which later appeared in Nick’s play, My Father and Other Superheroes.

It tells of a little boy who creates a fantasy father, makes him into a Superman or Spiderman character.

Clearly, the theme of identity was now ingrained into his psyche.

“When you are living in one country and born in another, and at the same time you are a refugee, you ask yourself this question about being a ‘foreigner’ and what that entails.

“When people think of the term ‘refugee’ they don’t really know the country they have come from.

“I wanted to get beyond that stereotype. I wanted to learn more about what my mother had to do to smuggle me out of the country.”

Nick travelled back to Uganda to retrace his mother’s steps in escaping.

Meanwhile, having children of his own polarised his thinking about identity and place. The result is his new play.

“The Dark is a play about different places of darkness. It’s about the darkness of the mind, the darkness of the heart, the darkness of thought, of the human condition.

“It’s about what Uganda really is. But I also wanted to ask the question ‘At what point in my life did I become The Other.’ Where do I belong? You can move from country to country and feel you are part of wherever you happen to be - yet people ask me ‘Why are you here’?’ I’m always negotiating this.”

So where does Nick Makoha feel he belongs? “That’s the interesting question,” he says, smiling.

“I have a European outlook, an English understanding, I live in London, but a strong-rooted African sensibility. When I’m in my mother’s house I’m in Africa.

“That’s what the play is about. Who decides if can belong to a society? How can we decide to dismiss someone on the basis they are not us? People need to included in the conversation of existence.”

The play is especially relevant to a Scotland right now that is reliant upon foreign workers and immigration. But it makes us wonder if Scotland’s DNA is altering?

“That’s right,” he agrees. “Countries are constructs. And human beings move around. But there are also disasters and conflicts which force people to move.

“Yet, at the same time, modern society seems to aspire to the self. But we have to think at what point are we connected to others?”

Nick’s play is heavily reliant upon the female voice. “If the writing was a big learning curve for me it was realising how I had been silencing my mother’s voice, her really strong narrative.

“Not deliberately. But perhaps because it was a delicate story. Yet, when you allow the woman’s story to emerge, well, wow. It really gets it home.”

He adds; “The Idi Amin regime isn’t just a period in time, it’s the story of human beings, of mothers, brothers, sisters, aunts. It’s one of identity. Of belonging.”

It’s also a story of how a welcoming Maths teacher can alter a young boy’s life.

“It is,” says Makoha, smiling. “I felt had to be told.”

The Dark, The Tron Theatre, February 15-16.