When you bury someone from abroad

funeral flowersAn article by Nora Fakim in the Guardian newspaper a few days back carried an article as  ‘Why Africans in the UK pay so much to send relatives’ bodies home’ – “home” defined as being in a given country on the African continent.
This article struck a chord primarily because I happen to be of African ancestry/origin and have experienced some of what was raised in the article. I also believe I stand to experience more if not similar occurrences of these in the coming future of my residence outside of Africa.  After witnessing the often distressing scenarios where relatives back home have sold off ancestral burial grounds or constantly make financial demands towards various funeral rites, most persons I’ve come across have all but resigned themselves to being cremated or buried here in the UK.
My first experience of having to deal with returning a deceased relative back home was in 2008. My paternal aunt and adoptive mother had passed away after years of residing out of Uganda for over 30years. Without a written Will stipulating what she wanted, it fell on me and my siblings in the UK to ascertain from her religious affiliates what she would have wanted done pertaining to her burial, alongside that of our elders and her living siblings back in Uganda. Her religious affiliates were very clear, she didn’t mind her body being cremated and ashes scattered in a chosen garden or her remains returned to her ancestral home.
We opted to go with the latter given the insistence of our father, who was the brother to the deceased. However in so doing, the financial aspect of organising for all this fell upon us here in the UK. Fortunately, my adoptive mother had life insurance and honest religious affiliates in the likes who assisted us in overseeing all that was necessary to get her remains returned to Uganda without the need to seek or mobilise fundraising requests from the Ugandan community in the diaspora etc.

 

The one aspect I find contradictory to the argument for returning our deceased to the African continent irrespective of whichever genesis of reasoning comes down to economics which more often than not, falls on those in the diaspora to fund-raise. Namely, the cost of returning the remains of the deceased, the burial costs and the maintenance of the grave. Most often, all this is expected to be undertaken by the person(s) in the diaspora.

There are factors that need to be weighed by all. Those in the diaspora need to hold frank conversations amongst themselves, companions, relatives or families; over what they would want to see take place in case of their deaths. Persons need to be proactive in setting a plan of action that is transparent instead of opting to push their Will in a shroud of secrecy or cultural/religious dogma. There’s often a taboo about discussing their Will I’ve found when the subject has been raised.

There is no one rule fits all. Options need to be explored by diasporans especially if they’ve been in paid legal employ during their years of residence abroad.

The options to look into; 1.) Life insurance: – that can help towards returning a deceased back home and which persons can pay a regular contribution towards in the course of their residence in the UK.

2.) The cost of a plot of burial in the UK which can range from anything like £3,000.  Such information is readily accessible with such co-operatives like http://www.co-operativefuneralcare.co.uk/arranging-a-funeral/immediate-concerns/paying-for-a-funeral/?gclid=Cj0KEQiAno60BRDt89rAh7qt-4wBEiQASes2tRl6uJDOtL8nP9JEPF45mabvc29O4Hd-dXhhmVcv-cgaAgPj8P8HAQ

Not for the love of water alone

John Legend heads under water

It appears to cost nothing to pause…and breathe. Yet it can be the most challenging action for most of us to take especially in times of emotional and physical conflict.  The pausing to breathe I am talking about isn’t that experienced by an asthmatic or anyone with compromised breathing. It is the breathing of a being not compromised, be that human or not.

Pausing, gives one time to re-align themselves and focus on what is truly the most pressing or urgent priority to the given situation they find themselves in. Not only does breathing provide your body with necessary oxygen, but it also rids the body of waste like carbon dioxide.   When conflict threatens to invade our space, our ability to protect ourselves often becomes at odds with our ability to remember to breathe properly.  What often ensue are harsh words or actions to deflect any perceived threat.

Not long back now my mother’s habit over water came to make sense.  Whilst most of us reach for our mobile phones as escorts to everywhere we go, for my mother a full bottle of water has been her companion.  She will make sure her drinking water bottle is filled up at every given opportunity irrespective of seasons of the year.

A water bottle - mum's constant companion

A water bottle – mum’s modern ‘gourd’

Initially it concerned me, thinking she might have an underlying medical condition that made her feel thirsty so I took to running all sorts of tests to rule out everything and anything my inquisitive mind could think of until I was satisfied there was nothing to remain concerned about medically.  I just accepted she loved her water. At least that was what I thought until realisation set in.

calabash/gourd

A small version of this gourd/calabash was used not only for water but sometimes local brew

How I came to finding out why this habit of carrying a water bottle had become such a defining factor to my mother’s way of living was actually by accident whilst listening to a song Buladina by a well-known Kadongo kamu artist – Paul Kafeero.  Now in this song among much advice, the father advises his daughter on how to avoid being quarrelsome or how to remain calm by way of sipping on water which she should always keep in a small gourd (ensumbi y’amazzi) by her side.

This song along with having observed my mother’s relationship with her ‘drinking-water bottle companion’ is what brought me to the realisation of the benefits of remembering to breathe so as to avoid not only physical and emotional conflict, but to stay healthy.

Taking a sip of water aids in forcing me physically to pause and breathe…whereby I avoid saying or carrying out impulsive actions in a reactionary fit.

A lesson from a source unexpected

Sunset Gold and Blue

A week back an occurrence took place to someone close to me while out with his young son.  Whilst walking past a local park, his son had spotted a group of 5 Asian children, similar in age, playing football.  Being a keen and enthusiastic football player my friend’s little boy had asked his permission to check out with the group of boys to see if they could allow him to join them and play. On consenting to this, he’d walked over to the group and asked them if they’d mind him joining them.  One of the boys from the group who appeared slightly older told him to hold off first whilst he checked with the rest of the group first.  The group appeared to go in to a sort of a secret ballot over this request before one of them returned and told him they’d decided not to have have him join in with them.  To this response, my friend’s little boy nodded his acceptance of their decision and thanked them anyway before walking away to rejoin his dad.

You might be wondering why this episode had a profound effect on my friend, the dad of this little boy.  It made him reflect how effortlessly his son in his innocence had simply accepted the decision of the other little ones not to have him join them in play. He didn’t push to be accepted nor complain that they’d turned him down. He simply accepted.

Well. Usually as adults especially, when we are met with rejection, the immediate reaction is often anger and the need to voice what we see as an injustice done to us by the other person(s).  In this instance, one might even have taken the rejection to be based along the lines of racial prejudice.  And the reasons for the other person(s) rejection might just as well be down to prejudice. Or in the situation of these little Asians boys, that they were about to pack up and leave the park.

Most of the times, I believe that rejection is simply a state of the mind of the individual(s) in that given moment and not in any way connected subjectively to the individual being rejected.  Even so, I like to believe that the rejection in one area is opening me up to be accessible to other areas that I need in that given moment. It is to my best mental health to hold that view than to allow negativity to fester in me.

My friend’s son revived that lesson of acceptance. When one accepts a situation, they remove the weight of evoked anger, whilst they over analyse and stress the motives of an issue. They don’t necessary agree with the act or decision, they simply accept it is not their call to get worked up over it.

vegetation-savanne-afrika

The struggle of fundraising in black or African communities

Two weeks back I came across a lady who posted in a UK-based black on-line social community on Facebook seeking to have sponsorship and or support from fellow black persons, in her drive towards the Sickle Cell Society-UK.sicklecell

Now this online social network group on Facebook which I recently joined, currently has about ~16,000 members who I do believe are actively involved in receiving notifications of all that is posted. It is a group after all that you request to join and not at all just open for the global public.  So I am assuming that all members have at some point before being added have wanted to be added with the overall aim of furthering development, support, education etc,  among the black community here in the UK.

The current numbers within this group total ~ 16,000.  You would have thought or hoped that given a cause such as Sickle cell sponsorship or support  would have provoked this amount of membership to respond to.

sickle-cell

Sickle cell anaemia/disease or trait is after-all synonymous within us all the black people irrespective of where you happen to be born on planet earth.  When you do the calculations from the the 16k membership, and with the minimum contribution of each member of £5, based on everyone donating the minimum of £5 you would have had over £81,300 towards this sickle cell charity which this lady would have worked positively for this lady ; and that’s at the bottom end of the scale.  It is embarrassing  that out of the membership numbers, only a couple of persons (~3) responded to the call.

It certainly could be the case that such social networks groups have differing objectives hence why such call outs for practical call out for such redress are not positively responded to.

The reason why I was one of the persons that responded to this call out for support is partly down to past experience. About three years back Ida Horner, a friend of mine in Surrey had set up a social enterprise charity through a belief that persons needed to be assisted with help to enable themselves to help themselves reach their potential as opposed to the usual route of charity. I’d believed in Ida’s ideology and still do, but soon found that the challenge was to get the Ugandan diaspora community to get on board.  Various fundraising ventures were put in place, advertised etc, but still when it came to the realisation of these ventures to raise the much needed funds, we fell short of expectation. The community we were calling upon to give support or involve, just didn’t appear interested.  The realisation came to be that the persons who heeded our call to support were completely out of the social or  community of target.  This has been a recurring pattern on so many occasions that in the end we ceased to even bother or try to reach out within the target community for support.  The conflicting irony is that the black community upon seeing that the supporting persons are from the non-black community, react negatively and with suspicion.

Check the situation with Jazz music and performers or unique ethnic artists and you might begin to see…the audience that supports such artists is predominantly not from the black communities.  Believe me, I have attended the some the shows in the South Bank during seasons when African artists are given a platform.

I work within both the NHS and academic or research sectors of UK’s institutions and have observed what the impact of Sickle cell anemia-1 copy_detailSickle cell anaemia or disease has had on the black community in relation to treatment, management, research and funding. In addition, I have also observed cousins back in Uganda that have been fatally affected by sickle cell disease.  Thus the call this lady made was of interest to me on two great and important fronts.

I fully understood the daunting or challenging task she faced having experienced similar in past fundraising ventures.

In all this observation, I am left with  questions:-

Why is it so difficult or challenging within the black community/communities to enable, or encourage us black people to support persons who put themselves forward to raise funds that will give redress to finding solutions or management of ailments?

What can be  done to get the black community to participate in a proactive manner towards resolution of  issues that directly affect us all without coming across as politically motivated?

 

 

The alternative voluntary job

parenting1Having recently discovered Viber I got chatting to a friend from Uganda who put me to task about my blog page that appears to have gone rather silent. It wasn’t for lack of topics to blog about, the real reason was down to my restlessness and poor practice in using my time.

To kick-start off my blog I’ve been asked to give my take on parenting. First of all, this is one definition on what parenting is about…

Good parenting happens when a person creates for a child a stable, nurturing home environment, is a positive role model, and plays a positive and active part in a child’s life. Good parents provide moral and spiritual guidance, set limits, and provide consequences for a child’s behaviour. Good parents accept responsibility for the total development of the child and guide the child in making sound, healthy, life decisions through open communication and mutual respect. – US systems policy, 2002

Most people think that a good parent is someone who has “good” kids. The truth is, however, that good parents can have any kind of kids and for the worst part not at all reflecting their goodness, but rather the genetic character of the child. What parents can claim credit or blame for, however, is their own behaviour.392683_10150447486643558_228102923557_8866395_670180841_n

Parents can do a good or poor job of parenting: socializing and educating their kids and providing a healthy model for them to emulate but whether or not the character of their child/children opts to emulate is an entirely different matter. In my native language of Luganda there is a saying which loosely translates, “we [mothers] give birth to the body but not personality”…tuzaala mubiri so si mwoyo.

Whilst definitions of parenting get isolated in to “good/bad/poor”, I am not keen on the use of ‘good parenting’; instead I opt to say positive parenting practice. Reason being: seeking to add what is positive or focusing on the positives in all situations adds motivation both to the one practicing the parenting and the one being parented.

Parenting style and family factors

The approach to parenting differs dependent on personality, character and existing family factors. It can also be compounded by cultural and/or religious beliefs and practices.

Whilst I have been accorded some beautiful compliments over how well my daughters are maturing in to young ladies, I do not accept the credit is all down to my parenting alone as a single mother/parent over the years. This was before I met my current partner of the last five years and hopefully one to spend my old age with. My partner has actually accentuated my parenting role.

A whole system of support way back from birth not least their genetic makeup has played and still is playing a part in how these young people are maturing in to as adults. Verna Springer, a friend, mentor, sister from another ‘mother’, midwife being  one of many!

Overall and in effect I owe my parenting skills to my late aunt who nurtured me to become the person I grew in to. Authoritarian and stern, but effective.

My older brother ‘Uncle Beno’ has been a pillar of support since I can remember, taking on the role of a male figure during the girl’s formative years and still does to this day. This is not to say the girls’ father was absent physically from their lives.  He was…at least until they were teens. Enabling the girls to grow up balanced was more important than indulging my revenge for the adult issues that existed between me and their father.

Mind you, divorce or separation where children are involved does have an impact on all concerned and this is where parenting skills can truly be challenged. This and the teenage years are the critical periods of parenting  where I’ve been advocating for parental support from the social system here in the UK.

When parents separate or divorce, it is imperative to support the children to not take the burden of the issues the adults have between them.  When the affected parent(s) are hurting it is sometimes very difficult for the characters/personalities involved to put the interests of the children foremost.  Hence why it is imperative for social systems to give this area redress and support.

Comparisons

Nostalgia allowing and if I am to compare the brief childhood time spent in Uganda, parenting was a practical and community affair entailing physical care and practical education. The business of psychological or emotional care was predominantly the preserve of grand parents – assuming the grandparents had welcomed your mother! If not, well you just forewent the luxury of wallowing in a grandparent’s dotting and instead faced up to reality early.

Everyone older than you was a parent and could even discipline you as they saw fit. A child belonged to the whole clan in which shared responsibility was expected. Note: I said nostalgia. I cannot vouch for what is taking place now.

These ends (UK) when you become a parent and find yourself to not have a supporting network of friends or extended family members, then I’m afraid you need to imagine yourself as someone that has just taken on flying a plane for the first time. I remember having to take my eldest daughter with me shopping for groceries 72hrs after she’d made entrance in to the world. It certainly wasn’t for wanting to show her off – I simply didn’t have anyone to leave her home with and Tesco hadn’t started doing home deliveries then! That’s another thing that comes to mind…it is rare to find new-born babies with their mothers shopping or in public places in Uganda. Give it time though…

Whilst reading up on parenting books may help, and hopefully if you’ve had exposure or even practice looking after other people’s children, the reality of you being in the driving seat can be overwhelming. And that’s only in the early part of parenting when the little bundle of joy has not yet learnt to assert his/her rights other than exercising the vocal chords and lungs.
It’s the teenage years that can make or break you as a parent when you alternate between losing the will to leave and wondering if somehow in your labour pangs you picked up the wrong child. Accepting I was the most hateful person and yelled at for refusing to agree to what was deemed to be cool became part and parcel of my teenage parenting drill. Remember I had this on rotation of 3 girls.

Teenage yearsP3

Teenage parenting is the period when you have to reach deep to use all your skills, both mental and physical as a parent to keep the communication open while remembering to remain mutually respective to your child. It is important to get in there first before external influence does it for you in exploiting their naivety. I remember my telepathy skills went up a notch monitoring what was spoken or not spoken, taking interest in friends made or dropped, then the sleepless nights when the rebellion phase hits. Repeating the mantra of focusing on their beautiful positive characters did save the day and my sanity.

P4In the process I also learnt that reacting to inappropriate behaviour made it worse resulting in the behaviour becoming an attention seeking method. Instead I would pay attention to appropriate behaviour by rewarding or praising it. I find as humans even in my working environment, praise or show of sincere appreciation wins big time in motivating people. As does genuine respect. of an individual’s input no matter how small in age or status/social standing  – well all need to feel appreciated and respected.  If I was practicing empathy, customer care skills, management etc at my workplace, why not put it to use on the most precious investment in my domestic setting?

Of course this is not to say or believe all at home was like Little House on the Prairie! In between I’d experience moments of wanting to send them to Uganda to be straightened out or until their hormones calmed down. I am aware some parents in the diaspora have taken this option, however this was not for me.  I’d remember that my role in their lives did not just extend to just the pleasurable aspects of their existence but in all stages of their growing up to hopefully become responsible persons.   Using that option would simply be passing on my inability to learn how to deal with the effects of their changes and instead giving that stage of their development to someone else. I guess  I like doing things the hard way!

Sending them off to boarding school like had been part of my earlier childhood was not an option and besides, boarding school fees here in UK unless your earnings are well over £40K, is not an option. I missed out on that boat soon as I had the 3rd child and was looking at a single parent income.

Conclusion

It is my belief that family therapy is vital in as much as parenting support to all of us parents especially when we lack any kind of extended family or community support. It gets parents to re-evaluate how they interact with each other as a family and seek solutions on how best to communicate taking in to account each other’s personalities and characters.  No one method fits all – parenting skills are an acquired skill on the job moulded to fit in accordance to the personalities, quirks or individual characters that make up a family unit. Open communication remains the key in all and sometimes this key can only become visible when family therapy or support is in place.

The experience has shown me the value of having taken a career break in the first 5yrs of my daughters lives. It put me in a better position to study and learn their characters and how best to communicate with them as individuals – something I wouldn’t have been able to perhaps do fully if I’d placed them with another person. It also made me realise why grandparents always seemed to know more about the characters of their grandchildren than the parents. However, this has been my experience and my journey.  It shouldn’t translate to be a template for everyone. but rather as a reference point on some issues that might come up during parenting.

I wish every parent the best and for them to enjoy the experience. I have.

Not forgetting about you

“I learned… that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic, striving, but it comes to us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.”
— Brenda Ueland

Stress, fear, negativity, too much to do and doing things for others at the expense of our own needs — these all stifle our innate creativity. Relaxation, fun, meditation, and going after our dreams all get the creative juices flowing.

The above description fits most persons these days, especially those within the diaspora community I have crossed paths with that have yet to learn to take good care of themselves both physically and mentally.  That’s all they have truly.

On the whole most Africans in the diaspora in stressful situations strive to ensure that they save all they can, working sometimes 24/7 in all conditions, most, hostile simply because of the colour of their skin; just so they can amass set amounts to pay off debts back in their home countries, put kids to school, put in to business or build houses in the hope of having homes for when they return.  Dreams which turn out to be nothing more than pure hell on earth psychologically.

Without repeating the echoes of so many African diaspora before that have lamented on this, the very persons within their families they entrust such funds to are often the ones that betrayal them and will deny it if and when confronted to the point of even murder.  The relatives will blame each other or the government or just about anyone else, but themselves. It is pure and simple. You are forgotten to exist as a real person but are seen as a source of supply, much like the water from streams which not many bother to stop and question it’s source.  You just are. When you raise this issue you will most often be told candidly that you should have been wiser.

So I say to fellow persons: be kind to yourself, do not forget about you. Do not loose yourself in sacrificing all of you to appease or please everyone. This is an infinite task. Others will all be just fine with or without you when all is said and done. It is the way it always has been since time immemorial.

Question is: Can you be comfortable with yourself? Be creative – you will be pleasantly surprised.

 

Where value of life is determined by economics

“In school you get the lesson and then take the test… In life you take the test and then get the lesson.”
— Unknown Source

How is a problem in your life really an opportunity?

Problems invite us to go inside to recognize a bigger picture of ourselves and of life. This bigger picture brings meaning to what is unfolding.

When you feel trapped in a problem, see if you can shift your perspective. Ask yourself, “What am I being invited to learn from this situation?” The answer will always revolve around a quality or value, like gratitude, freedom, compassion, love, will, humour or acceptance. The answer will also always promote union rather than separation.

As soon as we find the meaning in our challenge, our resistance to it melts away. Often, awareness of the lesson is all that is needed to resolve the problem. If not, the awareness brings us courage and ways to work through it.

This week has been a great mental challenge to me, with emotions ranging between rage and disgruntled acceptance of the injustices met out to those most vulnerable in the global system.  Not long after witnessing a clip involving an armed protestor outside a factory in which he had been working. He had suffered an industrial accident that had cost him some of his fingers leaving him with infected stumps that still required medical/surgical treatment he couldn’t afford. For his peaceful means of protests, the owners of the factory called some rogue police officers who descended upon him brutally to beat him up before bundling him away to some police post.  It is anyone’s guess as to what else was done to him when they finally got him where cameras couldn’t show.

Mukwano Industries of Uganda by name prides itself in being a friendly company going by the interpretation of the meaning of mukwano in the commonly spoken Luganda language in Uganda.  Mukwano Ind. showed no mercy or friendship to this ex-employee when it stood by allowing dog-like police officers to administer such brutality on this man no doubt as payback for daring protest to bring to light the paltry compensation settled for his injuries sustained on their work premises.  When the spokesperson for Mukwano Industries finally graced the media after almost a week had passed – he not only failed to comment on the conduct of the his company’s actions in relation to the call-out police’s actions but blamed the ex-employee for being the aggressor.  A smear campaign was soon initiated by the unions which are supposed to be defenders of workers. Your guess as to who was bankrolling their stance.  Incidentally the police officers who were called to man-handle this  man (Suuna) for some reason opted to operate out of their jurisdiction.

Thing that bugs me the most is that so many accidents happen and will no doubt continue to happen in such companies similar to Mukwano Industries in Uganda. One is left to question if any safety reports or checks have ever been done in relation to any cited or reported accidents – and the viability of their sincerity if they were done.  But the real reason as to why such companies or persons feel they can do as they please is down to the country’s lack of enforcing it’s legislature of virtually any laws.

The main cancer is that of corruption where officials are paid off in exchange of ‘brown envelopes’ to cover up unsafe practice, intolerable cruelty and abuse of workers  which sometimes even leads to loss of lives.  The lives of people are only valued in respects to their economic viability. If you are an investor or can pass yourself off as one in Uganda, you can do just about anything and get away with it.

No sooner had my spirits gotten used to this harsh cruel reality on hand, than when reports of a gang-rape of a young lady come by me. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUfcyNjCvNk

Now don’t get me wrong. Rape is rape – no matter who or where it happens. Lord knows absolute horrors are done by fellow Uganda men on fellow women etc. The anger that this rape elicited was from the excuse the police officers who this helpless young woman ran to for help and justice gave her before accepting a bribe and shelving her report of the account that took place. This raised history of a gang rape case involving a young male not long back in a Kampala suburb again involving Asian perpetrators who in a similar manner were also allowed to get off scot-free leaving the the victim to suffer in agonized silence – to date.  No follow up was made of this young man to date…  So pardon me for not mincing my words when I advocate for Ugandans to boycott investors who rape!  This is the excuse paraded to victims that have suffered at the hands of corrupt officers when their reported cases have been spirited off and justice remains an unattained dream.

Well; out of the ashes, rebirth happens. The genesis of raising awareness to persons over their rights as human beings.  Sexual offenses shouldn’t be blamed on victims any more than rapists should be glorified with excuses. (Yes sadly, there’s still some way to go in Uganda to educate persons that rape is not the fault of the victim!) It is time to raise this awareness and educate persons to differentiate between consensual acts and forced or coerced acts. To raise awareness in how grooming persons occurs in relation to the existing economic factors that are fertile ground. To demystify the laws regarding sexual offenses in Uganda in relation to all walks of life ranging from abuse of trust by care-workers/teachers/guardian/employers, to human trafficking of persons in to sex-related slavery.  Ignorance and economics is what those who exploit, thrive on…

For me, this is the opportunity that has come out of the challenging events on ground in Uganda.