Regret! What I didn’t expect.

I’ve always wanted to write about the decision that changed my life. l guess that thing is regret. l ask myself: What do I think of when I hear this word? what do I see? What do I remember? What lessons did I learn from it? What do l actually regret? What do l hope for? All of which I have to answer at some point. The decision to cut my father out of my life was a good move, at least that is what I thought. The man was never there, I am sure he had his reasons for that, but I was kept in the dark. A little explanation might have helped greatly. That decision forced me to grow up so fast, learn how to survive and go through each day relying on hard work. That decision pumped some kind of “special” motivation in me. I have always worked hard trying to be a better man than what my old man thought I’d ever be. I have moved and kept on moving with my life, I have proven the points that I needed proving. But that decision also brought about a few things that I have been fighting with, all my life. That decision put me in a very dark place, I closed myself off from people who might have loved me but because I was scared and heartbroken, I built this wall around my heart that was had to break. I have broken hearts and stolen dreams, yes there’s no denying. I pushed away people whenever they tried to get close. I get very paranoid when someone is trying to ask me a lot or trying to get so close. But most of all, I have always been depressed, for a very long time. I think I didn’t notice it because it became something normal to me. So even with everything I have accomplished in life, I still wonder what it’d have been like if I gave my old man a chance. I have had a good number of years angry at the guy, but the thing is, I haven’t had a day without thinking about him. So I guess, Regret is the word I am looking for.
I have always heard people say, “Don’t have any regrets.” For some reason I believed it was true. Why regret something if there is nothing you can do to change the past? But, one quiet September night, I realized that I did actually have one regret—not ever spending time with my old man. People tell me that “he was a loving and caring person, someone who made everyone smile.” I guess I missed out on all that. I remember that September day as if it were yesterday. For the next few days and more, until today, my life is a blur. I remember I’d go to class and forget my old man was gone and feel that he was still alive, it is a recurring nightmare.
Regret. That is the only feeling I can pinpoint. That is the closest I can come to even describing this feeling. Regretting things I never did, words I have said (whether I’m aware of these things or not) which in turn have had a drastic effect on not only my life, but on the lives of othersThe feeling is, indescribable. The feeling when you have lived your whole life clueless, lost, without a sense of meaning, unsure of what direction you are heading in, not sure what tomorrow is going to look like. I’d say it’s down to the people around you, or the environment you place yourself in, but it isn’t. Because I feel like that does not answer the million unanswered questions playing on my mind to this day. But at the same time, I don’t feel as though it was fully myself that was at fault here. I feel as though I couldn’t control some of the wrongs simply because I was a child
 
But the question is; what did I do about it when I became a man, and understood very well that maybe reconciliation might have changed everything. When he tried to reach out a few months before he passed away. So for some sort, I blame myself. Because as time went by I started to think of all the things my old man and I had not done together, all the things he missed out to see in my life. A strong man, all grown up, graduated college and taking care of his family. I regret not doing more for him, especially when he was sick. But how’d I have known! I regret not telling him thank you for all the things he might have tried to do for me that I did not get a chance to know. I regret not saying sorry for making him feel bad or for upsetting him sometimes. I regret not making an effort to make reconciliations over the years. I regret not being there. I have many regrets when it comes to all of the things I could’ve done and did not do with my old man.
I’m fighting to change that though, but it is extremely difficult due to the factors above. Just when you feel as though you have everything figured out, your whole life can change in an instant. Everything you have become so used to and fond of is snatched out of your fingers, and you are thrown back into a world where you feel naive, vunerable, and hurt. This has happened to me on numerous occasions, however I think it’s one significant moment that triggered everything else off.
I’m not quite sure why I chose to write about my thoughts. Whether it’s down to recent events, seeing how people have changed, or whether it’s just because I’ve reflected upon every mistake or bad decisions I have made in my life to the point of where I just want others to be able to read this and know that they are infact not alone. Perhaps I hope I’m not the only one that has been through this.
           When your father lives you when you’re a kid, when you try to find him, he says you’re not his child, “your mother lied to you,” he always said! You close of your heart and figure out life your own way. And when you’re 22 years old, he tries to call you for reconciliation, but your heart towards him is a mess and you don’t want anything to do with him. After a couple months, you hear from family members that he passed away. And you now start regretting why you never gave him a chance to talk but because you didn’t know he was going to leave you so soon, it is now too late. Gosh, I even didn’t know the man was sick the whole time! And for the rest of your life, you’re left with a load of unanswered questions; most importantly, “what if I gave him a chance?” “maybe things would have been different!
Although I highly doubt anyone has made the same bad choices that I have. It could be just me. Maybe I’m the only one that’s stuck in this bubble where nothing makes sense.What I can say is that it’s not down to one single occurrence though, it’s definitely the factor of multiple incidents and experiences, and realising that there’s pretty much nothing I can do to right my wrongs means this feeling continues to rest on my mind. What if there is a way to resolve everything though? That’s what I think about sometimes. Maybe start with knowing my old man’s family? I always pictures grabbing a meal with them and talk about the things he liked or what made him smile. Favorite food, and what kind of father he was. That will be so good to know. 
The hardest thing is trust. I feel as though trust is a very difficult thing for me, but opening this door into something so seemingly impossible to converse about has proven to be a very difficult task for me, and up until now, even writing about it seemed impossible. For a long time I didn’t even know if I could have a conversation with anyone from my father’s family. Maybe it’ll all make sense after I open up to them. These people not always being those I expected to dedicate my whole life for. Sounds a bit drastic I know, but without other people, I would be no closer to being the person I am proud of now, and having these people back in my life I feel would definitely restore some normality in myself, and help me become more grounded thanks to their advice, thoughts, even their presence. Maybe it’ll make sense to me too. I just don’t know right now, but finding out is definitely something I’d very much like to do. 
 
What I’m trying to explain is that, this isn’t how I wanted things to turn out. As much as I was so angry with my father, I always had this little dream of us being buddies again in the future. I didn’t know that the future was not going to be there after all! At this current point in time, if someone could give me a time machine and I could go back to at least a couple years, even then I would be a lot happier and more content with myself than I am to this day. The choices I’d make would be very different; I would have used my head, and not have been misled by my own anger. They say you don’t know what you have lost until it’s finally disappeared into thin air, but I’ve sat back and watched myself become a person who can accomplish everything but failed at one thing so important, spend time with my old man. 
If I could go back, I’m almost sure that this feeling that I live with would almost certainly be minimal, perhaps even nonexistent. Describing the indescribable is a task no one can achieve, but looking into a combination of feelings and past events can help explain why I feel this way at this current point in time. Over the course of thinking about what to type, and include in this piece, I am hoping that maybe a few loose ends might be tied up, and things may slightly started to make sense. Although I am not completely happy with myself right now, I’d say I am content. I cannot accept everything, however I live with it, and this is thanks to not only thinking into my life, and what I have experienced, but it is also down to those people who have stuck by me, and have helped keep my faith in friendship, and even myself. 
I’d hope one day, everyone who has distanced themselves from me for whatever reason will be able to read this, and know that I have been a mess all my life and perhaps this will change their perception on how they think about things. Maybe someone reading this feels how I do, and it has helped them clear things up in their head somehow. I’d like to one day be able to come to a full conclusion and understand exactly what has caused me to think about things in this way, and an explanation will come close to giving reason to why I feel this way, but for now it still remains a task I am yet able to achieve. 
Hey old man, I really love you! I always have, and I am sure you knew that very well. I miss you sometimes. Till we meet!  
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So you think you can dance!  

In most traditional African culture, every life aspect has specific music to accompany the telling of a story. That is why learning traditional African music is to simultaneously learn and embrace all of a given culture. The call and response way of playing traditional African music helps to increase the way people focus. Also, it challenges people’s brains and allows the process of doing and thinking about many things at the same time.

Traditional drumming is a powerful tool for helping participants to communicate, tell stories and learn about traditional daily life in Uganda, and Africa at large before the influence of colonization. Before the telephone was invented African people used drums to communicate, tell stories and express their emotions and feelings. I remember when I was growing up in my village when one of the chores as a teenager was to carry the village drum on my back while my brother is beating it to communicate announcements from the village chief (Chairman) around the village for people to here. For example; If there was going to be a village meeting, the drum boys would walk around the whole village drumming while announcing the meeting. Same thing happened in churches. Every Sunday morning the drum reminded people that there is a church service.

In Uganda, people believe rhythm is natural in their bodies. Rhythm is a basic form of communication and is very rooted in them. Traditional Ugandan music is what binds the community together. Traditional music is an essential component of Ugandan dance. The energy of the drum forms an important triad of music, dance and song that is very important in our tradition. There is a certain heartbeat that you feel when you connect with the rhythm of the drum.

Dance in Uganda is not a separate art but forms part of everyday life. Unlike many dances of the west, Ugandan dance is not detached from the lives of the people. It is a spontaneous release from the people and translates everyday life experiences into movement. Based upon the spoken language, Ugandan dance is a source of communication through which it is possible to demonstrate emotions, beliefs, everyday life activities and other reactions through movement. Love, hatred, joy, sorrow, courage, fear, and all other emotions are expressed through rhythmic movements. We have songs that are meant for educating girls growing up or boys growing up.

Dancing and drumming are integral part of every day life. – Picture by: Eddie Lukem.

The people dance the sowing of the seed and the harvest, puberty rites, warfare, hunting, birth, death and life after death. There is the rain dance, dance of the sun, dance of strong intelligent offspring, courtship dance, marriage dance, dance for the twins, etc. Some dances have particular meanings or stories behind them; others are named after the drumming rhythm or the instrument (eg. Bakisimba, the Kiganda dance from Buganda Kingdom. Usually danced by planting your toes with every beat of the drum or Muwogola which is the fastest dance and always climaxes the dance session).
Within the Ugandan community everybody dances. There are special dances for certain members of the clan; there are dances for women only or men only or the elderly or the young. These individual dances are closely associated with ritualistic rites of passage.

Uganda, like I mentioned in the previous blog has many ethnic groups, each of which has a different language, history and tradition.  Music and dance reflect these identities so that every tribe in Uganda has its own style and interpretations of dances and rhythms. Many traditional dances have a particular costume that enhances movement. Ugandan dances have traditional roots, which implies that it is creative and not ‘written down’. Traditional dances are developing all the time.

As in many African countries, dance is an important part of ceremonies and special occasions. Uganda’s different peoples have their own special dances. For example, in the eastern region, the Basoga practice a dance known as Tamenhaibunga which expresses the importance of love and friendship. Its name literally means ‘good friends drink together and don’t fight in case they break the gourd holding the drink’.

Kiganda Dance from Buganda Kingdom

The most widely recognised Ugandan dance is the Kiganda, where the performers move their lower body to a drum-beat. It is a tricky dance, requiring great skill to keep the upper torso controlled and rotate to the music from the waist down. The dance has many variations for different occasions, but the version often seen is the one performed in honour of the Baganda king. There are certain movements that portray different things from the different cultures, whether it reflects where they live –in the mountains or desert, for example –or the things they need to know about becoming a young woman.

Always remember that in all traditional dances of Africa, there is reason for the movements, and there is form, and there is technique and each is developed according to the ethnic group. The dances will have variations in gesture and movement across the continent, and across countries from Kenya to the smallest countries like Rwanda, Togo to Angola. Also influencing the dances will be natural and cultural elements. For example; If you are in the forest, then your movements are often tighter and, because it is colder there, your movements are often faster which helps you warm up quickly. If you are out on the plains, you are under the burning sun and the dancing would be slower.

Gumboot Dance

And in South Africa, there is dance called Isicathulo –or the Gumboot Dance lol. Its stamping style is derived from Shaka Zulu who would have 10,000 warriors stomping together to frighten the enemy. Today, the Gumboot Dance, created by those who work in the mines, gets its name from the boots they wear. But it is the sound of the boots pounding on the earth, the hand clapping and the different patterns that help to authenticate the Isicathulo, which is now part of the Zulu people.

Although Western culture has spread throughout Africa, many of the traditional African dances have also spread throughout the world. For example, the Africa in April festival in Memphis, Tennessee. Troupes like this help preserve and share the culture and traditions of African dance throughout the world, sharing the joy far beyond the native tribes and keeping the history alive.

So if any of you want some dance moves, contact me. I will for sure teach you some Kiganda moves. Lets get out there and dance today.

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Life is a not Zero sum kind of game.

I grew up playing football. It taught me a lot of great lessons about competition — and a lot of not so great lessons about life. Do not get me wrong here, I really love football. From the age of four, I played football constantly and competitively. I played in school, and for my village team for the most part. Football taught me patience and working hard, perseverance, critical thinking — crucial skills for tackling life’s hard problems and difficult situations. All these taught both on the field and off the field by the coaches.

Football wired me to think causally at a young age. You have the talent and the ability to pass the ball better than your opponent; you will score more goals. Increase your dribbling speed or run faster than the defenders; you will weaken the other team’s both left and right side. Every correct move always led the team closer to scoring a goal and winning a game eventually; and every wrong play brought the team closer to defeat.

Football also introduced the idea of the “other”. Us versus Them. Our school versus theirs. I remember our school fighting the other school because the referee awarded a penalty to the opposing team. Some times match officials ended up being beaten because one side is not happy with some calls being made by officials. And every game was zero sum — there was only ever three points for the win, either to be shared if it is a tie (one point each team) or taken in its entirety by the winner. No way to grow the pie.

The Legendary Brick Game.

At the age of thirteen, around the time my friend got his first Brick Game. The device was a significant mark of freedom for a teenager, even though it lacked real utility. I remember it well — a small box-shaped gadget with a traditional black and white screen. Sometimes I carried it with me as if it was mine. It was kind of a cool thing! Well, until when I hear him shouting, “who took my Brick Game?” And that is when I ran so fast to put it back on his small table before he realized it was me who had it. It could not access the internet or have Snapchat capabilities, but somehow he was never bored when he had it because of its one and only included brick game. It resembles the modern day Tetris! He was addicted to this game. Every time he was sitting alone somewhere, you just knew he was having a round of Brick Game going. One day I asked him about the cool game he was playing and he thoroughly described it to me. I could not understand a thing, more like listening to a lecture in English (At that point in my life, don’t judge). I actually understand English pretty well. I think! oh well, back to the fun stuff. So, I had to try it (the brick game) out, and see if I can handle. oh boy, oh boy!

One thing that stood out right away after a couple of tries and fails was, this game was frustration in a very human form. It is repetitive! It is very impossible to win! It is driven by luck! I don’t know why, but somehow it became the truest representation of life there is. In comparison, football is more of a fun but crazy war game. I still do play football competitively. Up to this day, I still wish I can have access to this Brick Game, a constant reminder that life is a Brick Game itself, not entirely football, I mean competition!

I’m going to try to make this distinction clear.

In life, you can not control the field. As I mentioned earlier, In football, you can predict the future (the opponent’s next move). There is a “best move” for any given position. You can force your opponent to play the ball back in their own half and that is good defending. You can have a lot of moves in the game, basically if one move is blocked, you can turn and switch the play on the other side of the field. Football comes with a set of best practices. Coaches put in a lot of time to teach players the different formations to play on the field during games. i.e 4-4-2 (four defenders, four midfielders and two strikers), 4-3-3, and more.

Brick Game? A totally different story, you only know what the next piece is. You play for the present moment, trying to construct the best possible configuration of pieces, knowing that it is impossible to predict the situation even two pieces from now. You do not get fooled into thinking you can control the future.

I spent much of my life in the football mindset, trying to find the best possible play or force my way toward a predetermined conclusion. I was hard-wired to see causality all around me, to look back and around before I control the ball, to know my next move before I control the ball, to have another option just in case one is blocked, and to seek control on the field. But real life is not causal. There is always a distribution of possible events. Things happen that are one in a billion. There is no direct, predictable response to our actions. Our lives are open systems where any number of unobservable events can change our outlooks and perspectives in moments. Even life’s biggest decisions are hardly calculable — that’s why a lot of marriages end in divorce, right?

In this crazy rollercoaster we call life, your only opponent is yourself. Playing football, I grew up looking for opponents — people to fight, slide tackles to make, people to blame, people to prove wrong. I imagined enemies when there were none because fighting was easy. I treated everything like it was zero-sum when there was so much else to gain. But for the Brick Game, my friend always said you are playing against time and the never-ending flow of random pieces of all shapes and sizes from top to bottom. The mindset is internally focused — you are challenging yourself to correctly manipulate a random stream of inputs into an orderly configuration. There is no final boss. No blame to assign.

The real game of life is completely internal. There really are no big, bad enemies who exist to make you suffer. There is no absolute right or wrong move that a certain opponent can pull. And your score can increase to infinity, if you just push yourself harder. Your life score can increase slowly or quickly, depending on how hard you push yourself.

So, please do not try to guess what pieces are coming when you try to improve your situation. Like the Brick Game, you can simply put yourself in the best possible position without seeking to completely control the system you play in. By all means, control and challenge yourself — seriously, go for it — but do not expect any favors just because you did. And remember…

Just put yourself in the best possible position. – Credit: Martin Chapman.

In life, no one tells you when you have won. In football, you will get to see your opponent sad and gutted because they have lost a match. You will see the final scores posted everywhere. You will feel the satisfaction of victory — unless, one day, you don’t. I enjoy being uncompromising in setting goals for myself. I get great satisfaction from knowing that I can regularly set myself a personal challenge and attack it daily. Whether I accomplish what I set out to achieve, only I know. Because that way I get to build my determination, my focus, my will to persevere at things I know have no conclusion. And I don’t play to win — I play to play. And I think we should all try to play life for the sake of playing. We should not only see our enemies or seek to control.

We must understand that this is simply a matter of perspective. Football can end up being a lonely game — but so can the Brick game or any other game. But they all require patience and determination. They all require an open mind.

You and you alone get to choose how you play your life. Try to play the right game.

  • Till Next Next Thursday…your’s Truly. 
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Buganda! Home Sweetest Home

Because of the political unrest in my country Uganda, caused by a dictatorship and human rights violating – government that has been in power for so many years, so much time tend to be focused on confronting the challenges in Uganda, it is very easy to forget what an amazing place it is. “The Pearl of Africa”  (Uganda) is incredible. I mean really awesome! Though a small country, Uganda has a little over 56 tribes! It is the starting point of one of the most amazing rivers in the world – and its very longest – the Nile. The river is born in the ‘mountains of the moon’, more accurately known as the Rwenzoris, which are some of the mountains you have probably never heard of but have to try see some day! Lake Victoria has been called the most amazing lake on earth, and the country is one of the best wildlife viewing destinations on earth thanks in large part to the stunning Murchison Falls National Park, most people who have made the trip so far have managed to visit this amazing place. So, if you have not visited or you have visited and did not get to know much about this awesome place, here is a little bit about where exactly I come from.

Uganda is made up of very many Kingdoms, the biggest part of the population comes from specific kingdoms such as; The kingdom of Bunyoro (also known as Bunyoro-Kitara), The kingdom of Buganda, Ankole, Toro, Busoga, and others. I personally come from the most beautiful Buganda Kingdom ruled by His Highness the King of Buganda, commonly referred to as Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II (son of Mutesa II).

Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II

The 5.5 million Baganda are a Bantu-speaking people (singular Muganda) who make up the largest Ugandan ethnic group. We occupy the central part of Uganda which was formerly called the Buganda province. Buganda, which means ‘bundles,’ is our subnational kingdom,  the largest of the traditional kingdoms in present-day Uganda, spread out in the modern districts of Kampala, Mpigi, Mukono, Masaka, Kalangala, Kiboga, Rakai, Sembabule and Mubende.

Baganda cultural dance

The language I speak is referred to as Luganda and our customs are Kiganda customs. My kingdom is home to the nation’s political and commercial capital, Kampala; as well as the country’s main international airport, Entebbe. ‘Uganda’ (a Kiswahili word for ‘Land of the Ganda’) was the name used by the Arab and Swahili traders on the East African coast to refer to the Kingdom of Buganda. The Kingdom’s history of over 700 years, has had the Kabaka (King), as the supreme ruler and the Lukiiko as its Parliament. Buganda Kingdom is the oldest Kingdom in the country.

The kingdom is divided into administrative units known as Amasaza (counties) which are further sub-divided into Amagombolola (sub-counties), and these are sub-divided into parishes called Emiruka which are subdivided into sub-parishes. For example, I come from Busega Parish. The smallest unit is known as Bukungu which is more or less a village unit. All the chiefs at all levels are appointed by the Kabaka (King) and they are directly responsible to him. He could appoint or dismiss any chief at will.

The Otter

The people of Buganda are organized into groups that have a common ancestry and constitutes of the most important unit in Buganda’s culture – the clan (with a “c”). The leader of each of these clans is a chief and rules a section of the territory. There are five original clans referred to as Banansangwa simply meaning the indigenous clans and they are: Ffumbe, Lugave, N’onge, Njaza and Nyonyi. These have continued to expand, reaching up to 52 clans as of today. I come from the N’onge (The otter) clan.  I am so proud of that. The head of my Clan (Ow’Akasolya) is Kisolo. My secondary Totem (Akabbiro) is Kaneene. Our Clan seat (Obutaka) is at Lweza, Busujju and our Clan Motto (Emibala) is Bakyanjankete, Lwajjali. Here is what is funny about clans and the animals that represent them. You are not allowed to eat an animal that represents you clan. And since my clan animal in The Otter, I got lucky because no one eats those things, maybe some people. I have some unlucky friends whose clan animals are, Chicken, Cow, Goats haha. You know how that story ends right?

When it comes to religion, the Baganda believe in superhuman spirits in the form of mizimu, misambwa and Balubaale. The Balubaale are believed to have been men whose exceptional attributes in life were carried over into death. The mizimu are believed to be ghosts of dead people for it is believed that only the body dies and rot but the soul still exist as omuzimu (singular of mizimu). Such ghosts are believed to operate at the family level to haunt whoever the dead person has a grudge with. If the mizimu enters natural objects, they are believed to become misambwa. At another level, the mizimu can become tribal figures and also be known as Balubaale. Crazy and scary right? That is the part of my culture that I never liked and I am lucky that I was raised by a beautiful woman who never wasted her time in that part of my culture. We never had to worry about scary stuff like that.

Well, that is a little detailed background about the culture, country, kingdom, and family I am from. I hope it makes things less complicated to some of you or, make it even more complicated, please let me know.

The skies can be grey sometimes when it is about to rain in my country but there is still a certain kind of light there which means the colours remain so bright and alive – the banana palms are vibrant green, the muddy earth so red. These last few months have been the supposed rainy season but the rains have largely failed, with no rain at all, the drought has been getting serious every day that passes. Here in California, sunny days always mean being outside, swimming in the ocean, soaking up the sun on the beach and

When water is scarce, school children have to fetch water for their schools.

enjoying evening happy hours at sunset. In some parts of Uganda long sunny months mean famine. Because people survive on agriculture. They plant their food and with no rain for them to grow, time for harvesting comes when there is nothing to harvest, hence starvation for many people.

It really feels as though a change in climate has taken place. This is the longest the country has not hard rain and the hottest it has been ever. But take heart my brothers and sisters, rain will come. Santa Barbara here has been in a drought for a long time but finally it rained.

Now let’s go to school – We have one of the worst public education systems. School in Uganda is different as well. First of all, there is no free education. You pay for school from the first day you start school. We always have three major national examinations to worry about and these exams determine your life. As kids, we used to prepare to sit for the Primary Leaving Exams. It is a big deal there – if you fail you have to repeat the year again and again until you pass to go onto another level; which is secondary school – if you can afford it and that is a big if. So there are many times in a Primary seven classroom where kids are 16 or 17 years old, either due to being held back or simply because their parents could not afford to send them to school until they were older. The later being the story of my life! Once you pass the PLE (Primary Leaving Exam), you are promoted to secondary school where you study for four years in Ordinary Level (commonly, O-level). At the end of O-level, you sit for the UCE exams (Uganda Certificate of Education). If you fail the exam, you repeat the class until you pass it. If you pass the UCE exam, you are promoted to the Advanced level (commonly A-level) where you study for two years. At the end of the two years, you sit for the UACE Exams (Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education). If you pass the Exam, you get to go to the University, wooohoooo! If you fail the exam, you have to repeat until you pass it. But because of poverty, many people can not afford to repeat all these classes so they tend to give up on school. Many people whether they fail or pass the A-level exam, they end up dropping out because attending Universities is very expensive. People love to go to school, to them it is a key to a bright future and they get heartbroken when they can not have access to education.

The colourful School uniforms.
Picture Credit: Victoria Harbison – Turn The Page Uganda.

I had some fun times in school and one of the most memorable part of my Secondary school was the excitement in the school for Visiting Day weekend. This is the weekend when all the parents and guardians of the children come from far and wide to bring them a picnic lunch and spend time together. It’s a day both beautiful and terrible. Children walk around grinning, hanging off their parent’s arms sipping sodas while others stand all day at the front gate, desperately watching the dirt road for signs of parents who never come. Those were my favorite weekends and my nightmares when my mother said she could not make it.

Another exciting part of growing up in the motherland is, the time. Those of you who know me well understand how good of a time keeper I am, right? – okay good! But before you point fingers especially in my direction, I am honestly telling you that it s not completely my fault.

It is hard to describe the feeling of being constantly busy, constantly overwhelmed and forever spinning when it seems that all you managed to achieve in a day is maybe washing your clothes. It is said that Africa runs on a time of its own, that if you get one thing done in a day you’re doing well. It is very easy to think that you understand such things without actually having experienced them for yourself. I have a life of experience I assure you. Washing clothes was my worst chore at home. I hated it with all my – well, everything. The point is, it involves hours of backbreaking scrubbing, multiple tubs of water (to be filled from a slow-running spring on the other side of the village) and that good old multi-purpose laundry soap.

I can not sign off without telling you guys about this tale of the wooden sandals – ‘obukalabanda’! Years ago, a time when the world was still simple and beautiful, wooden sandals were en vogue. This was a pre-era of today’s Gucci, ‘The Davies’ (not taking any questions),  Miu Miu, and Jimmy Choo’s of this world. An era where shoes were a myth and walking barefoot was a common thing – normal. People figured that they had to find a way of insulating their feet from the rough ground. Hence, the birth of wooden sandals. When we were young, parents used to tell us that they used to have these sandals and i am sure there are villages which still make them and use them. These were sandals made out of wood. They would cut it into a foot-shaped base and design a little ‘anchor’ on which the big toe and index toe would hold. It sounds hectic and uncomfortable, but it was an in-thing. These sandals were fashionable and durable. They could stand all kinds of weather and all kinds of surface; rough or smooth. They mirrored class and style. If you owned a pair, you belonged to society’s creme. Purists hated them for their ugly shape, but who minded the shape, anyway? People loved them anyhow.

Wooden sandals – ‘obukalabanda’

Life has a funny way of taking on an increased intensity as you move for a long time. There have definitely been days when I have struggled hugely and wondered how I could possibly stick it out not being there for five years now. There were times when bathing in a bucket was not fun, fetching for firewood in a forest down the hill to make dinner was hard, eating once a day was all I knew or not all some times. All the challenges that came with the poverty I grew up in were quite an experience. Looking back to all that today, there are so many other little moments that make up for it. Now, with just over five years ago and I do not know how many more, I feel as though every moment was precious and the thought that I actually said goodbye to so many people, many of those are my best friends, My Grandma, My friends, Twaha, Sula, and Alex Kabenge, that I will never see again makes me feel sick. I have never been one for goodbyes and I never even got the chance to say goodbye to them. It scares me so much to go home, because I really do not want to face some realities. They had become my entire world, it is especially tough. I torture myself wondering when it will be that I make it back and if by then all my favourites will be there, and some forgotten who I am.

So I am here, working hard everyday but I know that Uganda will forever be a part of me. The skies are already clearing – it never stays cloudy for long – and soon the sun will be scorching upon the motherland. And I have learned to appreciate that growing up in my home sweetest home was so different to anything I would ever done and although it is by far the greatest challenge I have ever faced, it’s definitely been the most rewarding.

 

 

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Nothing is free, not even dreams.

Sometimes I have this feeling that life is just playing by different rules, It’s own twisted rules. Like seriously, the real rules are there and they somehow make sense but they are so complicated, and not comfortable at all. My guess is, it is why we never manage to learn them. We have all grown up knowing that competition is the only way to survive. So we know how to compete, we know that “life is not fair” and we are well versed with how society can be very judgmental sometimes. So at least we got the” easy” parts down, but how about the complex parts? There is more to just, “life is a competition.”

The business you work for? Someone’s trying to drag it down. That job you like? Someone would love to replace you with a computer program. That girlfriend / boyfriend or the visa that you want? So does somebody else. We are all in competition, although we prefer not to realise it. The first time I went to the US Embassy in Kampala to get my visa is quit an interesting story! I will just tell you a very brief version; Going to the Embassy that morning, the only thing I was carrying was my passport and I was dressed in a very not formal way at all. The gentleman seated next to me asked me, with a very prideful smile on his face why I was dressed the way I was dressed! Because apparently according to him, dressing formally increases one’s chances of getting the visa. I started to “low key” freakout calmly. The more paperwork you have regarding your assets is very important in your visa processing and if you do not have them, there is a risk you might not get a visa. See, competition! everyone thinks they got what it takes, and once they realized they do not, they will do anything to come close. And that is why we have to give our lives a lot more options. For people who settle with one thing they do best and no option, there is a name for that “gambling”, but with life this time. And in that sense, you are setting yourself up for a very hard life to compete in. For example; If you think you play football and that is your only plan in life, do not be surprise when there is a super “wonderkid”, younger than you, faster than you and scores more goals than you. He/she does the exact same thing you do but on  way better than you do.

More options and opportunities increase chance of survival. Photo credit: Bernard Olipo

Yes, we have to dream big and follow those dreams like I wrote in the previous blog. But dreaming and putting those dreams to reality is NOT a guarantee or an entitlement that you now have to sit back and watch the dominos stand. There is nothing free in the world no matter how big your dream is. We always have to keep coming up with new ideas and that way we can learn more and grow both intellectually and economically. Most people have a mentality to settle for comfort. We tend to focus on the things we do best, those that give us the most comfort and pleasure. We are scared to get out and try new things or to have an option for our lives. Basically “putting all the eggs in one basket,” which to some people it is a vey comfortable way to live but to others, that is a crazy big bad idea. We have so many capabilities as humans, that means there is a lot we can do with our lives. I think it is always good to have a “plan B, C, or D” if you can, because it will make you look at more than one option to any plan. The more options and opportunities one can present to themselves, the better chance of survival.

For instance, if you were in a burning building with thousands of people and there was only one door to the outside, do you think your survival rate would be better if that same building had multiple doors leading out? Of course it would. haha. Life is no different in the planning stages. Always assume there will be a fire. Do I have an escape master plan for myself incase of a “fire”?  of course I do, dahhh! Do I know the end of the story? Yes. Do I hope that I never have to tell it? Yes, because that will show that I never settled for comfort, that I had a plan for every step. I have conceived the ending of the character, which is me, but the only way I would tell it is if nobody cared about the character anymore. Ok! let me cut some slack for some of my friends, yes I agree sometimes society pushes us into doubting our potentials.

Think about it. Most achievements are only significant relative to others. If you swim more miles, or if you can dance better, or get more Facebook Likes than the average. Well done. It’s a painful thing to believe, of course, and that is why we constantly convince each other the opposite. “Just do your best”, we hear. “You are only in competition with yourself”. Haha and the funny thing about clichés like that is they are designed to make you try harder anyway. If competition really did not matter, we would tell struggling children to just give up. Ha, sorry I was supposed to go easy on some friends, but this is actually easy.

Fortunately, we do not live in a world where everyone has to kill each other to prosper. Thank God, right? God blessed us with abundant opportunities, and enough for us all to get by, even if we do not compete directly. Please do not fall for the delusion that there is no competition. People dress up to win partners. They interview to win jobs. If you deny that competition exists, you are just losing. Everything in demand is on a competitive scale. And the best is only available to those who are willing to truly fight for it not just dream about it. Remember that you are judged by what you do, not what you think.

Haha speaking of which..

Society can really be judgmental! No kidding, it really sucks sometimes. You get judged by what you can do for others. Can you save children from a burning house, or remove a tumour, or make a room of strangers laugh? You’ve got value right there. “Trending now” they say.

That’s not how we judge ourselves though, I wonder why! We judge ourselves by our thoughts. One of my famous lines to myself of course is, “I’m a good person”. “I’m ambitious”. “I’m better than this.” But guess what, I right away feel so good after I ‘hype’ myself up, mostly at night though. All these “hypes” are not how the world sees us,  not even how we see other people. Surprise! Well, just in case you did not know. Intentions that mean well do not really matter sometimes. Sometimes they do.  An internal and deep sense of honour and love and duty counts for “squat”. What exactly can you and have you done for the world? That is a 5 dollar question, in Ugandan shillings of course.

Abilities are not prized by their virtue. Whatever admiration society awards us, comes from the selfish perspectives of others. A hard working janitor is less rewarded by society than a stockbroker. A cancer researcher is rewarded less than a supermodel. Why? Because those abilities are rarer and impact more people. Write an unpublished book, you are nobody. Write a book about the Potter kid, and the world wants to know you. Save someone from being snacked on by an alligator, you are a small-town hero, but cure cancer and you are a legend. Unfortunately, the same rule applies to all talents, even unappealing ones: get naked for one person and you might just make them smile, get naked for fifty million people and you might just end up being Kim Kardashian, or close to that, you never know. And that is when a confused human like Davies shouts, “that is feeeekin’ not fair at all.”

But honestly, is it really “not fair”? I feel like our idea of fair is more of a self interest catch. As super humans, we like to invent moral authority. Who does not want to be an “America’s Got Talent judge”? It is why we have referees in football matches (the real football!) and judges in courtrooms: we have an inborn sense of right and wrong, and we expect everyone else to comply. Our parents tell us this. Our teachers teach us this. Be a good boy/girl, and have yourself some sweets. Be a bad boy/girl and get knocked in the head by either your mother or her dude. Take your pick.

But reality does not give a – sheet – of paper of course! You studied hard, but you failed the exam. You worked hard, but you did not get promoted. You love her, but she will not return your calls. Shoot. That reminds me! My friend Natnael (Nate) is going through this now. Poor guy!

The only way to make full use of the boat is when it is in the water. Think Brave..

But I think the problem is not that life is unfair; it is our broken idea of fairness. Take a proper look at that person you like but they do not like you back. That is a complete human being. With so many years of experience because they are completely different to you, they interacts with hundreds or thousands of other people every year. Now, honestly what are the odds that among all that, you are automatically their first pick for “love-of-their-life”? Because – what – you exist? Because you feel something for them? That might matter to you, but their decision is not about you. Sorry Nate!

Similarly we love to hate our bosses and parents and politicians. Their judgements are unfair. And stupid. Because they do not agree with me! And they should! Because I am unquestionably the greatest authority on everything ever in the whole world! Now, I know what you are thinking. And I am telling you that I actually agree with you, It is true there are some truly awful authority figures. But they are not all evil, self-serving monsters trying to line their own pockets. Most are just trying to do their best, under different circumstances to our own. Maybe they know things you do not know, there are life lessons to learn everywhere around us. But however they make you feel, the actions of others are not some massive judgement on your being. It is all a byproduct of being human.

One of Paulo Coelho’s books I read is called “The Winner Stands Alone.” It was a very delicious book – I mean I enjoyed it. What caught my eye was the notion that, Name and fame – as sought by millions across the world – is nothing but an illusion. An illusion, most of us chase, but are not aware of the true story behind each and every scene. The “behind the scene” can be a mess sometimes. And some people will never admit to that, they only show or tell you the “good stuff”. Get naked, and become famous – everything has a price. But even after getting everything you once desired (name, fame & money or whatever else you desire), sometimes the real thing keeps getting away from you. That is happiness and feeling satisfied with life and all your achievements, big or small.

He also points out how the media manipulates masses into thinking that whatever it is selling, people need in their lives to feel happiness, or else their life is not worth living. From personal experience, running after “all that glitters” will not bring you happiness or peace of mind. If you are not satisfied with what you have, then chances are you will not be happy after getting what you currently desire either. I know that most of us get so hung up on how we think the world should work that we can not see how it does actually work. But facing the reality, by setting goals and boundaries for your life, complain less about unfairness,  and having faith that God always has a plan might just be the key to unlocking our understanding of the world, and with it, all of our potential.

Till next next Thursday….Peace and hugs.

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Dreams: An out of this world experience

I’am confident that the first step towards success is a dream. No matter where one goes or who one meets, all people are sure to have one thing in common: they want to follow their dreams. In a perfect world, we would all be able to achieve those dreams. However, even the smallest disruptions in our daily lives can make our dreams seem impossible. But first off, How often do we dream? What kind of things do we dream of? Many people struggle to put their dreams into reality. Is it fear of failure, insecurity in their abilities or chalk it up to wishful thinking that holds them back?

Dreams are very interesting. We all have them and we want to realize them, yet we do everything in our power to talk ourselves out of accomplishing them. We convince ourselves, “It’s unattainable”, “It’s too big”, or the infamously simplistic “I just can’t do it”. We focus so much of ourselves on counter acting our lives and goals that we never stop to think what would happen if we only used our power for good. In many ways we fail to seek our purpose in life, because after dreaming, we come up with reasons why the dream is unachievable. Many great ideas were conceived from a dream, nurtured in very random places like basements and garages. The only true limits we experience in life are those we create or those we allow others to impose upon us. Why, we would be able to move mountains and catch bullets with our teeth! When will we stop paralyzing ourselves and allow ourselves to experience the peace and comfort of acceptance. Rather we continue to play the victim in our fears where we remain trapped.

Have you ever watched children at play? The fact that their dress is over their head, shorts are in a knot or hair is a mess, doesn’t seem to affect their ability to charge the playground like a champion and grab the monkey bars by the…..well, bars! They don’t concern themselves with questioning whether their skill and ability is “up to the challenge” they don’t care! All they are concerned with is having fun, making new friends, getting their hands dirty and trying new things. Whether they are consciously aware their souls live for the experience. Children experience life to the fullest in everything they do by immersing themselves fully into their task and living in the present. Children dream freely and openly. Have you ever had a little one approach you only to tell you that when they get big; they are going to be a super star? Well, I have had to listen to many conversations from children back in Uganda, who don’t have a place to sleep, food to eat, and can not even afford to go to school but when I asked them what they want to be! They always answered confidently that “I want to be a doctor,” “I want to be a pilot,” and very many other aspirations. There is certainty and confidence in their eyes. They truly believe they can achieve anything and fulfill their dreams. The differing opinions that live in the adult mind have no place in their consciousness.

“Childhood means simplicity. Look at the world with the child’s eye – it is very beautiful.” – Kailash Satyarthi

The most interesting part is how it is amazing that we only dream of greatness. I have never heard of anyone dreaming of failure or to be unsuccessful. Failure in actual sense has no place in our dreams, it is instilled by the dreamer, not the dream. There are very many successful dreamers who have failed so many times before they became successful. The difference is that failure was not going to end their dreams only motivate them to dream bigger. From personal experience, I know how true this is. I have failed at school (regardless of the circumstances) before, I failed at making my relationship with my father work before he died and a bunch of other things. I have heard words like “You’re going to be a failure”  from my father when I was 9 years old. But every single day since then, those words have been more of a motivational part of every success I am today.

It is important to be a generation of humility, compassion, and love.

Dreaming is the easy part. Acting on the dream is harder. It is better to recognize that a dream is a long journey. On the simplest level, it takes commitment, time, desire, and courage. But as we know in this world, rarely is something great easily realized. A few days ago, I just finished reading an interesting book by Bruce Wilkinson called “The DreamGiver,” Bruce tells the story of a man named Anybody. Anybody has a great dream, but struggles to break free of his comfort zone and push toward his dream. One afternoon he draws the courage and begins to tell others of his dream. They laugh at him, tell him to stop being foolish and forget about his dreams. “Stop kidding yourself, you can’t do it,” they would remind him. These “dream bullies” make every effort to push him back to mediocrity. Do not ever get caught in this trap. I am here today to tell you that you CAN do it, Just put all your mind to it and do not give up.

You might be wondering how do I know that this is possible? I have done it. A few years ago, I decided that I was going to step out in faith, and believe in myself. I was going to follow my dream. I was in a similar place as “Anybody.” I was comfortable but unhappy. I, too, dreamed a greater dream. I came to the realization that I wanted more out of life, not just focusing on playing football. I wanted to finish school, The challenges, failures and experiences I have faced in my life have shaped the character I am today. I know I have learned a lot and I still have a lot to learn. I have also learned to be a human of humility, compassion, love and hard work. However, above all, I have learned to put people before myself.  No longer was I going to stand in the way of my dreams or was I going to let anyone else either.

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” – John Lennon

Many people questioned my decisions and looking back now I recognize why; my dreams impacted them. I challenged their comfort zones. They feared my success because of the implications that it had on their lives. They worried that they would lose their partner in pity or were so locked into mediocrity and their comfort zones that it was impossible for them to imagine my success. They viewed the process or decision with great skepticism. Today, my dream is evolving, but the dream is still very much alive. Has it been easy? No. Has it been rewarding? Yes. Will I someday realize my dream? Definitely. Dreaming is recognizing and embracing the potential for greatness and seeking it in all areas of your life. I know very well that I have shared many dreams with people around me because sometimes we share the same dreams with others. Believe in your dreams and your ability to accomplish them. Keep your dreams in front of you because without it, It is easy to lose one’s way on the path of life.

Life is a book, with a lot of chapters, some chapters are fun to read. Some chapters are so hard to go through and might make you feel like giving up on reading. But as for each old chapter, comes a new one with a lot of different characteristics, and trust me, there is so much to learn from the old ones. And I am always ready to take on the new chapter, no matter how hard or how fun the old chapter has ended. No matter the stumbling block, every dream can be reached with the right approach and mindset. Determination and self evaluation are key factors in reaching goals and overcoming obstacles in ones way. There is no limit to what can be achieved once one knows the feeling of accomplishing a dream.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” – Harriet Truman

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Nothing Gives Meaning To Humanity Like Compassion

Compassion is a character trait common to most everyone. However, although most do embody compassion, a few people are so kindhearted that they stand out far above the rest of society. Rich or poor, young or old, compassionate people are the world’s greatest treasures.

In my lifetime, I have had the honor of reading an amazing book called Tattoos On The Heart by Gregory Boyle which my best friend borrowed me. For the past 20 years, the Rev. Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who started Homeboy Industries, has mentored and counseled the more than 12,000 gang members each year to learn job skills, get their gang tattoos removed and attend therapy sessions on everything from alcohol abuse to anger management. This is one of the largest gang-intervention program in the country, serving the needs of thousands of East Los Angeles gang members who are looking for a way to leave the streets behind. Its motto is: “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

 

Homeboys

One of the themes that stood out for me is compassion and off course this is because of the actions of Father Boyle. For example he is constantly there for others in their time of need and strife and he does not look down upon because of where they came from, but rather embraces them as if they were his own kin. Gregory Boyle defines compassion as a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another person who is struck by misfortune, with a strong desire to ease their suffering. Basically It is helping those who are hurting.

There is no compassion without sympathy and empathy. Compassion starts with sympathy which is basically realizing someone’s pain. It is being alert to a weary friend or a stranger in need of assistance. And once you have realized that, they you imagine how much they must be hurting which creates a feeling responsibility, and sometimes the need to find the cure for that pain which is empathy. I care about you, I care about who you are, I love the goodness that is in your heart and the desire you have to learn and grow and become even more and even better than you were yesterday. These are words I am sure a lot of people would receive with a big smile on their faces and it does not matter at all where you or the other person is in life. Whether they are in deep trouble or not, seeing the best in people is key to unlocking their potential and after all I can never blame anyone for being human.

Father Gregory says, “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather that stand in judgment at how they carry it.”

I love those of you I’ve gotten to know and those I’m getting to know. And I love those who come and read what I say but haven’t yet left a comment – including those who never will. I love you as a fellow-traveler along the road of life. I love you as someone dedicated – no matter how imperfectly – to living a life of personal growth, of happiness and character. I believe that we are an amazing group of people with amazing God-given capacities. We are all works-in-progress. One of life’s purposes is to improve on the wiring under the hood of our lives. I believe in the ability to stand and courageously be the people were are meant to be.

I’m not perfect. Nowhere near it. I am a flawed person. I’m a flawed friend. A flawed co-worker. A flawed neighbor. I have weaknesses and character blind spots. We all do. That fact doesn’t define us. What defines us is what we’re doing about it. You see, the ability to grow and climb and reach and evolve is infinite. There are infinite number of ways we can grow that are beyond anything else. The ability to rise above and break through and overcome, the ability to survive and change and improve, the ability to learn and apply the principles of happiness to live with joy as we develop the same qualities as happy people around us possess. What makes us even more special is the ability to shape and reshape our inner world, In other words, you can become what you most want to become. and be assured this may take sacrifice and hard work and sustained effort over time or even failing or getting in trouble along the way. But there are always going to be paths to what we want most in life.

Of course, sometimes what we want will not serve us very well. In that case, I also believe we can be inspired to re-evaluate what we want and align our desires with our capacities and what is in our long-term best interest.  And as humans, it is important for us to support others in their journey.

I don’t ever want us to be terrified of tarnishing our reputation or wondering, ‘What if one of our clients turns around and does something awful? … Relapse happens.”— Father Greg Boyle

But in the end, it is who we are that matters, not how much we’ve been able to stuff in our closets and stack on our shelves and pad our accounts with.

So as I continue to grow, I hope to embody the outstanding compassion many influential people we have in our communities such as Father Greg Boyle has shown throughout his life.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
― Mother Teresa

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What’s In Your Stocking?

It is about that time of the year again, that time when the rains are heavy and the roads are jam-packed. Christmas season is upon us and this is not just about the Boney M and Philly Lutaaya music playing through all the shops and malls around Kampala but it’s about how the season brings most people together. Christmas is called Sekukkulu, in Uganda and is celebrated on the 25th of December. Everything stops for Sekukkulu, Hospitals start discharging patients to go home except for those who have serious conditions. (Last year I read about a certain village where patients ran away from the hospital or stolen away from the hospital by their families so they could go home and enjoy the day with their families!) Most government bureaucrats take their holiday break from almost the middle of December to the second week in January. All official business grinds to a halt. With the arrival of Sekukkulu, the prices of food and other goods become incredibly high and the crime rate also increases.

Before the 25th December every year in Uganda, you can see and listen to how people prepare themselves for this special day. Christmas is a special day to everyone in Uganda that nobody can forget or even try to miss. That is to say mature people, youth, children, rich and poor, those living on the streets, both believers and non believers. Some people travel to different parts of the country, between rural and urban areas, to celebrate Christmas with their families. Different homes clear their compounds, decorate their houses with either real or artificial Christmas trees and balloons so as to make it more beautiful and colourful.

Most of these people are usually late travelers who have been too occupied to make it to the village early enough, so around the 22nd of December, you will notice how the taxi and bus parks will be extra busier than usual and bursting with crowds of people trying to find their way to the countryside.. During Christmas season,  bus and taxi fares are usually hiked twice the amount you pay within the year and the vehicles fill up with passengers within minutes of parking meaning, if you are on the way out-of-town you have to leave either early in the morning, midday or later in the evening.

The Kampala New Taxi Park

First off, all children have school vacation at this time. Their school year goes from February through November, so they have just had graduation. In January parents will go to sign up their children for another year of school. So you can understand that there are no special Christmas programs at school. But what happens before December in some families is the most interesting part. In my family the Sekukkulu plans started almost in the month of October when my mother starts pointing out which chickens would be slaughtered on Sekukkulu. Those chickens were coddled to make sure that they were nice and fat for Sekukkulu. Chicken plays a central role in the Sekukkulu feasting. Families that couldn’t afford chicken any other time somehow would find a way to purchase chickens for Sekukkulu. The news that somebody cannot afford chicken on Sekukkulu is met with great sadness.

The process of getting ready for Sekukkulu and preparing the meal is not a chore, but a joy. Love is the major ingredient.

Secondly, shopping. For us it mainly happened around March or February because this was when things are still cheaper. My mum could take us to the market called “Owino market” where there was a variety of things. So basically i got my Christmas outfit eight months before Christmas, and it fit me perfectly by the time i wear it in December because she always got it a little bigger, “just in case you grow,” she said.

Children Carrying Kids

Of course in Uganda, the way we celebrate Christmas might be a little different from how other countries do it. It’s the age-old reverse migration where thousands of people pack up and leave Kampala for their villages, the city becomes less busy and empty that you can walk through town without fear of “Boda-Boda”motorists knocking you. So come with me to my home in Uganda.

On Christmas morning many people prepare for church and that’s when the churches get to be full with many people because even those who never attend church at all, Christmas is the only day they get to go to church. The evening before Sekukkulu is a very exciting time as the aroma of the foods being prepared fills the air. That day some families will slaughter cows, goats and sheep. The children are busy cleaning the home; especially sweeping the courtyard. The grass is cut. As a child, I knew that we would spend the whole day running around delivering food my parents have put aside to give to friends, family and neighbors.

I still remember people delivering meats, sugar, Blueband (butter), Kimbo (cooking oil,) obutunda (passion fruit,) onions, cassava and tomatoes. Then came the food from the in-laws: we always looked forward to that. They always tried to outdo themselves from the year before. They always included fancier foods which were very rare to most Ugandans like cakes, biscuits and soda.

During the Christmas season, the number of markets will increase throughout different areas of Uganda. This is because some people keep their money to buy clothes for Christmas so as to appear differently smart on that day. Different homes begin to save some money, store or keep plenty of traditional food for example bananas (matooke), sweet potatoes (lumonde), yams (Mayuuni), cassava (Muwogo), beans (Bijanjalo), soya peas, cowpeas, Irish potatoes (Obumonde obuzungu), ground nuts (Ebinyeebwa ebisekule), vegetables and many others either in their granaries or gardens. Firewood, charcoal for cooking, domestic birds like hens (Enkoko), ducks (Embaata), turkeys (Ssekoko) and domestic animals such as goats, cows, pigs, sheep and rabbits are also saved for Christmas day. This allows people to fully enjoy the meal on the day, along with different types of drinks.

Of course, most important was preparing chicken, to me the climax of Sekukkulu. After the chicken is smoked, it is well seasoned and then wrapped in a smoked banana leafs and then steamed together with the matooke or green bananas for hours in separate wrappings. The steaming bananas give the chicken a good taste. Just like chicken, the bananas that would be cooked on Sekukkulu are chosen in advanced. Bananas are cooked green, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. After the bananas are cooked, they are mashed within the banana leaves and re-cooked, giving them a taste to die for. The method of steaming food wrapped up in banana leaves is very unique and it gives the food a true Ugandan authentic flavor that cannot be imitated in a modern American kitchen on a modern stove.

Matooke being served.

And by Christmas evening some people go to church-organised functions (Christmas Carols) and others go to other festivals, beaches or recreation centres. While children go to Christmas parties which are most times hosted by the village church. At these parties, they get a chance to meet Father Christmas. In countries like America and England, Father Christmas is supposed to enter the house through the chimney and leave the gifts in small gloves called mittens, or under the Christmas tree. But since most homes in Uganda don’t have chimneys, Father Christmas comes to Christmas parties to gives children gifts. Father Christmas is kind and good. He loves children and wants every child to have a happy Christmas.

I always enjoyed playing football on Christmas. There is always different football matches around the village which were very interesting. People play to win a Turkey, a cow, a goat or even a chicken and be assured, the whole village is going to go to support their local team. The excitement built, as more and more food gifts arrived from family to supplement the meals already planned later in the day. On top of the bananas and chickens, different types of meats are cooked as well as sweet potatoes, cassava and rice. The Sekukkulu dishes are specially made with unusual delicacies. Everybody eats and drinks until they cannot eat any more. After the major feast it is time of storytelling, games, dancing and singing while drinking soda and snacking on cakes. The Sekukkulu celebrations go on to the wee hours of the morning. Everything is closed on the 26th of December.

Father Christmas at a Children’s Christmas party

Sekukkulu is not about giving and receiving presents as Christmas is in the United States. Instead, it is about sharing, love, food, family and new clothes. It’s about the spirit of family, it is easier to share a big meal with your neighbors out-of-town than it is with those in town. The excitement that comes with going to an old stone church with browning furniture and singing old hymns in your local language is quite heart warming. It’s about how you feel when you see several happy children running around in cute brand new clothes that they are scared to get dirty because they love the fresh feel of them. It is about how your grandmother lights up when you bring your plate back for a second helping of your favorite because you know her food always tastes the best. The feeling of family as you meet different family members you have not seen in a very long time and catch up like you last saw them yesterday.

I think now it is very clear that I have not had Christmas with my family for almost six years now. But I have high hopes that soon we are going to have a big Christmas meal together.  And this year has been particularly hard for me, especially after my father passed away. Yes, the season is upon us. Whether the year has not been the best for you in all aspects of life, getting on the road with that bubbling excitement about spending days with your family can create the help you need to forget the troubles that befell you with the year. Ti’s the season to be happy, jolly and celebrate a year of getting new experiences and looking forward to making new ones next year.

“Mbaagaliza Sekkukulu Enungi, N’omwaka Omugya gubeere gwa Mirembe” (I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Count Your Blessings, Not Your Problems.

Agree. Who wouldn’t find a photo of two kids sashaying under the rain in their school uniforms using Banana leaves or sometimes Yam leaves as umbrellas, that is hilarious and funny, right? Geography calls these havens South East Asia, Africa, or South America while, political scientists include it under the enumeration of Third World Countries. “Developing Countries”, rather, to make it more apolitically sound and correct. Many might have been wondering how does it feels like growing-up in such state: Is it true that mosquitoes are everywhere and Malaria is a no big deal disease? Or, crickets are not insects but crispy snacks in some cultures, especially during Friday drinking sessions, then is it still a T.G.I.F. moment? Well, President Barack Obama, himself once lived and experienced Jakarta in live action during his childhood years, even learnt how to speak the local language.

Photo Credit: Kendisan Seruyan
Two Kids and a Banana Leaf Umbrella.

Hot Red Ferrari or Yellow Lamborghini must be usual to be seen everywhere in New York or Paris where drivers are on crazy speed limits to bring themselves into places in a click of finger tips. These kind of cars are rare show in these regions or could be the other way around, SUV owners are not using them on a daily basis for transport, to their belief it may cause a risk to their safety because of theft or robbery. Commoners are in the comfort of a different public transportations from the common “Bibaasi bye’busega” to so-called “bodabodas.”in some countries like Uganda. “Bodabodas are motorcycles that operate like taxis and “Bibaasi bye’busega” are very old almost wrecked buses, non-aircondition kind of transportation, seats more people than it is supposed to carry, and breakdown on a regular basis. This might all sound like a very miserable way to get around but boy oh boy! the memories I have about the whole experience are ones I wouldn’t trade for the world.

And when it gets stuck, everyone gets out to save the day.

Traveling on “Bibaasi bye’busega” would almost always carry a story to tell: There are times I took one, to my delight it did not stop upfront to where I was, and when it finally stops, the engine shuts down completely and the only way it starts is when the “conductor” and a few other passengers jump out and help push it so the engine can start. And the most fun comes when the engine starts, the people who were helping to push it now start running so that they can jump on it before it takes off. As I climbed I noticed that the driver was an old man approximately on his 60s. Understood that his eyes wasn’t clear as it used to be, wearing an oversized shirt, sleeves folded into several numbers, so it would fit well into his skinny size. That moment my tears were about to give in, then realized, is there really a need to pity? Pitying is feeling sorry for someone, it doesn’t solve anything, instead it worsen the scenario for making them feel more insecure. Why show some sign of weakness when you could be the strength of those in need of courage. After all, everyday comes with its own surprises and we always find ourselves in places and situations that make us good candidates to make some else’s day even better. Remembering that today is not just any ordinary day. Today is a day that matters, the day that I will have the choice to make a difference in my life and the lives of those around me. That I will have the choice to smile rather than frown, be grateful rather than selfish, lift up rather than put down, accept rather than reject and love rather than hate. Today I will have the choice of seeking hope for the future or remain in the hopelessness of the past, the choice to laugh or cry (Both will make you feel better, Its a guarantee). Today I will have the undivided attention of God to ask Him anything I want. I will be able to ask for help, plead for a friend or just enjoy His present. It all depends on me. Whichever I choose, I know for sure that today matters.

Make the choice to make today a day worth living. And don’t forget, tomorrow is another day.

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God’s Green Brush Strokes On a Red Dirt Canvas

As I reflect on how much the beauty of Uganda always settled my mind, I can’t stop to wonder why I felt that way growing up. But living in a  different country and traveling to many other countries has helped shade a little light on how important the values and the beauty of the country that raised me.

So for this blog, I am going to tell you alitte about the beauty of this country, Uganda!

We have a tendency, in the states, to rush. Ugandans do not. Which is not to detract from their work ethic – the village I grew up in were all up by 6am every day, often earlier, with heavy physical workloads all day long. Kids come home from school as the afternoon approaches evening, carrying loads. But conversations were never peppered with glances at a cell phone. Kids hold hands as they walk and talk. Eye contact and names were important. People ask of other people’s lives, and families and remembered details when they see them days later.

Uganda can be captured in the smiles of its people all over the lush, contoured red land, blanketed in tropical greenery. You can sense the change in people’s attitudes as soon as you step on the Ugandan soil. Smiles widened, and a more helpful people approached is quite an experience.

 

smiles
Smiles all day.

I admit that for many of us, the knowledge of Africa comes mostly from movies we watch, many people expect to see dirt and plains, giraffes and lions.  Nothing like that at all; I honestly have seen a lion once in my life, and that was when I had to paid to go to the zoo on a school trip when I was in Primary school. When you get to Uganda, as you drive hours from Entebbe Airport, you are actually greeted with the beauty of the shores of Lake Victoria, through Kampala the capital city, Jinja one of the famous industrial city, and to Mbale the home of the famous Bagisu tribe known for their ritual circumcision of boys as a sign of turning into manhood, oh! and One City’s Light Village in the foothills of Mt Elgon. Temperate weather,  colors shouting to your eyes you’ve been missing out for years.

The Beautiful Sunsets
The Beautiful Sunsets

And then the magnificent Sipi Falls! Home to three waterfalls (well, 4 since the top one is a “twin falls”). A lot of people rappell down the 100m (300ft) main waterfall. A perfect night at Sipi Falls is always a fun one. Sitting by a fire in the cool air and looking up at the Milky Way. As the embers burn, the evening lays itself out, waypoints of life’s stories and experiences dotting it’s course. “The Pearl of Africa” is incredible.

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Sipi Falls. 

 

 

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