This first week in March is geared up to recognising women all over the globe to admire and aspire to; culminating in nominations, some of which end up publicised internationally in various tiers of social podiums. It was from on such social network that my mind wandered. For those that know me noting my mind taking frequent bouts of walkabout is not entirely unusual. It is the norm. The idea came to me to revisit women in my Buganda culture who inspire me and who left a lasting impression which formed the person that I am and continue to grow in to being, right up to now. Sometimes in the rush to always be on top of the social network radar, credit is given to persons already taking up space on the podium. Celebrities, politicians or CEOs of brand corporations are the ones who most persons will vote or nominate as their inspirations, when the reality to some of us, this is by far not in the remotest of practicality useful to our ‘real world’. In particular I recalled the women in my life that inspired me and have played a great role in which I am the woman I am now. Here is my brief window of some of these persons.
I spent my initial childhood years up until the age of 10 in Uganda. Half of this time I spent mostly in a convent boarding school deep in the rural village of Eastern Uganda. The nun that made a great impact on me and who I still remember was Sis. Mary Olivia. She was the kindest, happiest and unpretentious out of all the nuns I ever had the pleasure of meeting at such an impressionable age. I remember returning home in my first primary one holiday saying I was to become a nun…The other was Sis. Mary Euphrasia (RIP). She was such a delight as not only the Head Mistress, but she truly answered her calling with the grace and honour it deserved. The whole school mourned her passing away when she did, genuinely.
Women in and around Namunyumya
In-between the customary school vacations I would return for holidays to the central region of Uganda, or what I now see as the urban parts of Kampala city. However during the harsh school days as a border, it was the village women near the school who were my saviours when it came to solving hunger pains. By getting me to fetch water or firewood for them in any availed moments of escaping the school compounds, I was able to barter such services for cooked meals and often fruits which I could then trade-off with some of my school peers. This exposure to the village women also helped me learn about their customs and culture – but more so, the differing languages spoken. To see the way many seemed to go about their set daily chores was an eye opener to what I certainly wanted to do for my own life. For a fact I left Uganda, not able to speak my mother tongue, but could speak many of the dialects spoken in Eastern Uganda. I think this was the best time of my childhood. I learnt not only how to relate to persons not born from a privileged background, but also to value and respect different cultures and practices. We all want similar things – in just varying degrees and presentations.
Mum (Margaret Bakulumpagi)
My mum (RIP) in the first 17yrs of my life was actually my paternal aunt though I learnt this when aged 8, I still maintained her as my mum to the day of her last breath on this planet. She raised me from the age of 2yrs, but for the latter part of my childhood became estranged from her husband. As a child I missed the person I had come to see and think of as my dad (Benon Walusimbi). Perhaps if my mum hadn’t been economically well off, I would have felt this loss on many levels – but after a time, I got used to not having him around to dot on me. Mum continued as the one and only bread-winner, going out to work a 9-5 office job when we took up new residence away from her marital home. I hardly saw much of her as she mostly left early in the morning and returned quite late in the evening. With hindsight now as a mature woman and with children of my own, I have an inkling of the balancing act for her life she was trying to attain but back then as a child, I resented this. I was a needy child and prone to wanting a show of affection which for a very busy working single mother, just didn’t cut it.
My mum was the matriarch of her family, the first-born who virtually everybody looked to for solutions both economically or otherwise. Whilst my teens saw me and mum temporarily at logger heads, I still respected her and wised up to the bigger picture of reality as it were/is. In my later years, I remained quite close and in admiration over her ability to reason and balance all that put before her. One of the profound impact she had on my was in relation to how most wealthy or rich families treated their house servants. I recall an incident whereby I’d come home on vacation and had proceeded to leave my dirty plate out for the maid to collect from the table whilst I went to sit down and watch TV. She had looked up from whatever it was she was reading opposite to where I sat and commenced to ask me if I had started paying any of the servants in her house. Baffled I answered – No. She then told me to get up, go and clean not only my plate but all the dishes and plates followed by asking the house keeper what other chores she had pending to allocate them my way. She informed me “Until the day you own your own home, pay your own servants – you will continue to do those chores in my house young lady!”
Mum gave me an opportunity to become independent and a survivor in all areas I could ever find myself in, never to be conciliatory and to question each and everything, but to be brave enough to own my choices as opposed to looking to apportion blame on anyone. It is this, which I miss of her most. Mum – I truly understand now. This is for you and if I never told you enough – I’m sorry for all the silliness that was played out causing us to waste so much precious time that we had left with each other.
On the domestic front after the separation, mum was now supported by her mother –in-law and sister-in-law to help raise me and my sister. Unfortunately I can’t quite remember ever addressing her by name – only as jajja (mother to Benon Walusimbi of Makindye). She is the only grandmother I can truly state to say I ever came close to having in the full sense of a grandmother. Whilst I alternated my vacations staying at relatives, during the brief vacations, my grandmother had been a source of education for most things a girl child ought to be. Things like the difference from ebisaniko (the banana leaves used in steaming food) and ebisasiro (rubbish) for instance! She was quite strict and sometimes stern, but admirable.
Aunt Nakamya Mulindwa
One of the relatives homes I frequently spent my vacations was of a paternal aunt (RIP) who was in a polygamous marriage. The thing I admired about this aunt was her quiet and simple demeanour. She taught me how to “manage” a homestead with ‘hands-on’, never assuming that just because she was wealthy or rich, the servants were the only persons that did all that work around the home both inside and out. She never once showed any partiality to any children in her home, treated all equally. I admired her ability of being the perfect hostess whenever called upon – and never heard her take to gossiping. Albeit educated, but yet opted to remain a full-time stay at home wife.
She would often exchange gifts and buy items for her co-wives – in particular, one in the village as a thank you for the milk and all other dairy produce her husband would bring back on return. On choice mornings, we would head down to the “lusuuku” (kitchen garden) to do any needed cultivation before returning to do house-related chores. During these sessions, she’d patiently point out the various species of vegetables and root foodstuffs and medicinal plants for us young ones. She was my first teacher at baking. I loved this aunt to bits and I’m so sad she never lived long enough to be my Ssenga to the beautiful man I now call my husband. I observed and learnt a lot and still feel there’s more I needed still, to learn from this aunt.
Mother (Joyce Kato)
My biological mum is a marvel. I probably took some of the caring and nurturing gene from her. She has not only managed to remain loyal to my biological father through what many of us wouldn’t stand but she always has a kind and comforting refuge to offer when needed. She is truly a joy and remains the much appreciated and loved blessing to us all. Surviving and living with the emotional loss of her 5 children, my siblings, has not changed her zeal for living and being a happy beautiful soul. She always sees the best in everyone and this kinda rubs off on all who she comes to be in contact with. I just wish I could have her green fingers and ability to craft the many handcrafts she has graced us with. Her story intertwined with mine…continues…/
As the years have come and past, there have been many other women in my lives who although not been able to place here today are very much a part of me and the life I have. Persons like Deborah who I genuinely think is the Mother Theresa incarnate who came to my rescue by teaching me what it means to truly forgive and live life with love after so much sorrow, especially after the death of Aunt Miriam Kaganda. That was a bittersweet period of my life to lose someone like her before she could celebrate my graduating from nursing school. Debbie – I love you and hope that next time I’m on ground in Uganda we make time for you to meet my husband. You are the reason that made it possible for the impossible to be undone.