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.

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Being thankful…even in times of challenges

Nature-Holiday-Uganda-Murchison-FallsI’ve been living in a sort of chaotic haze the last couple of weeks.  Becoming a grandparent of two by my two daughters in a space of four days had left me in sort of a suspended limbo operating on auto-pilot going from one emergency to the next. It sort of brought back memories of my nursing days in trauma care. The beautiful blessing that they are, has only unraveled as the haze clears.  Challenging and difficult as this new phase of my life is, I am very thankful.

Only a couple of hours ago, I learnt of the death of young Elizabeth Nyanzi in the prime of her years – almost similar in age to my eldest daughter. I cannot even begin to imagine the emotions the parents are going through right now.  I never knew the family personally, but I was very close friends with the cousin to the family.  I pray for them all…

It is ironic that the topic of death seems to intertwine with life at almost every turn.  My father was reported to have died on the 4th of July.  I say this because as with most information about my father, one cannot be too certain of what is fact and for peace of mind one learns to accept whatever is said.

His death had not come as a surprise.  It was inevitable when one takes in to account the complexities involved.  What was surprising was the animosity of his co-wife in holding all of us (by this I mean my siblings and extended paternal family members) to financial ransom initially at  £5,000 refusing to release our late father’s body for burial and threats of killing any who dared intervene with her plans. Ironically she had not been so vocal against us when a month prior to dad’s death she had accepted our financial assistance to get dad admitted for medical intervention.   She pulled this off whilst parading armed guards and some other female claiming to be working in the President’s office and a royal princess who now miraculously claims to be a relative of ours! One really wonders how each and every domestic issue nowadays in Uganda somehow ends up involving the President or some chief judge officials.

For someone (co-wife) who claimed to be so much concerned about dad’s health, keeping him at home even when his deteriorated physical appearance alone dictated otherwise, seemed her only plan.  It had only been on the off-chance of us requesting one of our nephews to go check on dad that we learnt of his condition. Intriguing that with older siblings and children on ground in Uganda, she hadn’t felt it necessary to inform anyone of dad’s condition.

The chosen family

The chosen family

After two weeks had passed upon dad dying, possibly when the co-wife and this “newfound grand-daughter princess, Bwanga Flavia Namirembe” plans of getting as much cash from the Ugandan President had come to fruition did they declare the funeral of our father.  Interestingly these two persons saw fit not only to use the death of my siblings that had once served in the NRMO army under the current President as leverage for a ‘cash pay-out’, but also to return the body to grounds that are kept and looked after by the very persons they had initially excluded from all funeral processions.  The fact of using my deceased brothers is my main bone of contention.

We (my siblings) have been handling and burying all of our loved ones including one of the brothers (Capt. David Kato – RIP) used in this leverage without so much as a penny from the President or State in past funerals. So burying our father didn’t require us knocking on the President’s door for financial support unless of course those involved had their own ulterior motives.

My mother who now resides in UK went through a lot of during her course of marriage to our father but fortunately she is not a bitter person by nature and is far well-brought up to lower herself to such.  These two women using mum’s dead sons as leverage for material gain without so much acknowledging her role pissed me off big time. To add insult to injury is their continued death threats to her remaining children in Uganda.

Uganda is a very interesting country where persons can fraudulently fabricate and photoshop themselves on to families that they have no blood kinship – and this appears to be sanctioned by persons from even high up in her judiciary and governance.  It is indeed the case that ghost employees don’t stop in government offices or rigging, but in many areas of Ugandan life.

I am thankful that after such a tumultuous month of July that saw us bidding our father his final farewell; my two daughters have given birth to sons who could almost pass for twins – whereby the re-birth that were my dad and the twin brother I never knew. In this new phase, I appreciate and embrace the new beginning.  In the ruins, there’s always gems.

I hope you are at peace dad – I wished you well in all.

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 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.

A question of preparation

“A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.”

— Francis Bacon

Often we are faced with situations or opportunities (setting aside exam time scenarios!) when we engage with persons we either admire or disagree with.  Unfortunately, it is when such an opportunity/situation has passed that the ‘light-bulb’ moment shines through and we smack ourselves on the forehead for not having said or asked this or that question.  On the other hand, when we do ask the question, come away still not quite satisfied.  Any of this rings a bell?

No. I am not talking about that date once upon a time which went belly-up…

Take for instance a friend of mine today shared a joke about a couple whose marriage came to a grinding halt following revelations of an indiscretion which took place in the very early years of their marriage.  The long end of it all was that my friend was warning fellow “good men” out there to avoid at all costs revealing any secrets to their better halves. Reason being in that although some of us can say we forgive, we do not forget.  Well, I could see his point of view in as much as how we each define forgiveness…and forgetting! I guess it could be comparable to asking a husband to forgive and forget upon finding out after decades of being married, that the children or one of them was not biologically his.

I tend to be intrigued by this forgive and forget carry-on…What are we forgiving, the act of indiscretion or the person’s fall from grace?  Are we seeking forgiveness for being caught out or for having kept it a secret? I do agree forgiveness is essential for self-healing foremost, I just do not agree about forgetting the reasons or lessons of that which you are forgiving. For in forgetting the causes/reasons, chances of repeating similar occurrences from taking place will most likely be the pattern.

But back to my original quest of why it is important to prepare yourself beforehand for everything and anything.  Preparation is always the key.  Let’s take a moment and consider some questions that are truly empowering for many given situations:

Is there a message for me in this experience?

  • What’s the gift in this situation?
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What’s the most loving thing I could do now?
  • What’s the most important thing for me to focus on now?
  • What would I do if I knew I could not fail?
  • What would I do if there were nothing to fear?

Realise. By pausing these questions to yourself, often making a rushed decision or even saying something that could cause you egg on your face, you give yourself a moment’s reflection to finding out the gravity of it.

Remembering women that have inspired me

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.

Nuns
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. MumI 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.

Grandmother (Jajja)
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.