Wednesday, April 29, 2015


There is an easy way to decipher whether or not an object, or activity existed locally before colonialism. For example, I know that a box and cupboard were not yet invented in Nkore before the arrival of foreigners that is why we call a box 'eboksi' and a cupboard 'ekabada.' These words transformed only by pronunciation, did not exist before the coming of an English speaking foreigner to our corner of the world.
In Ankore we have a word that captures the essence of human rights and humanity, a word that is used throughout many parts of Africa where Bantu languages are spoken. 'Obuntu.' The word has been with us for so long that it requires no further interpretation for many people in Africa and beyond. The widely held belief that justice, democracy, humane treatment of people were unknown to backward African tribes before colonization is proved wrong by the pre-existence of that one word. Yet we spend so much ink either asserting or debating the fallacy that the numerous concepts it stands for were brought to us by gun-wielding foreigners who introduced laws to protect us from ourselves.
So recently I was lamenting my inability to recite those lovely stories that my grandmother told in the early evening as we enjoyed fresh, organic beans and greens from her cooking pot. I have yet to meet a contemporary chef that can reproduce the authentic taste of my granny's steamed vegetables. We sat near her fire in a semi-circle and hang onto her every word as she told a story. The start was always the same 'long, long ago, there was a man who married his wife and they had their children.' (My corrupted mind even now wonders whose wife and children the subject of the story would have had other than his own!) When she paused to breathe we responded with 'Mhhm' or 'tebere' and she knew she had our attention. There was always a sad song thrown in the mix, a beast, a death or a cause of sadness or happiness but always it ended in celebration of the triumph of 'Obuntu' over evil. It saddens me now that hardly anyone I know remembers or uses the art of story telling aka 'okugana,' to educate their children.
The early Pan-African movement tried to reinstate our love for our names, our ways, our stories and our history but it's best proponents were silenced by the new political and economic order making sure that we will never fully utilize and validate words like 'Obuntu.' This silencing of our glorious past is completed by the continuous erosion of our languages so that we can no longer communicate meaningfully about what was authentically African. Thus I find myself struggling to write this story in English, the only way that it can be properly communicated to my children.

At 50 I know that until we are willing to tell our stories, the way they were told and handed down to us for centuries, in our own languages, we will continue to reinforce the fallacy that Africans were an uncivilized, backward people saved from themselves by outsiders.

— feeling disappointed.

Opportunity Cost

The old adage 'you cannot have your cake and eat it,' is so solid and many attempts to escape its truth are futile. In the early years the literal application of this was that you either had your cake in your brown bag or you took it out and ate it. Once eaten you had nothing left to exchange with your friend who brought your favorite cookies for break. So either you had the cake to trade or you ate it and had nothing to trade at break time.
This lesson becomes seemingly more difficult as we grow and try to get it all - the best of all worlds. As we progressed in school we learnt about opportunity cost, which is just a fancy way of saying you can't have your cake and eat it. So if you chose to dodge classes, failed to turn in your homework you would not get an 'A' at the end of term because there were so many gaps in what you had learned. You could make up for this by reading very hard for the final exam but that meant a lot of pressure as exams approached and that was the opportunity cost. Still we wanted both the good life and the 'A,' so we devised a way of eating our cake and keeping it: 'spotting.' We figured that if you looked at past national exam papers over a period of 5-6 years you could come up with a spotting formula. If in the the last three years a question on Napoleon of France was repeated on the test, chances were that this year they would ask about Bismarck or some other European historical figure so you skipped reading anything about Napoleon altogether and used your scanty reading time to learn everything there was to know about Bismarck. If you followed this principle with English literature, you would pick one or two classic novels and master them instead of reading a whole slew of books thrown at you every term. Judging by both my 'O' and 'A' levels, the system worked well if you got lucky (I got lucky;) but if you mis-spotted, you were in a whole lot of trouble.
At University I run out of luck. I learnt a little late that the 'Spotting' system did not work so well when there was massive material to sift through on a plethora of subjects. Granted, there were a lot of extenuating circumstances for my mediocre academic performance, nonetheless the principal factor was that the school exam system never prepared us for the lecture method or taking personal responsibility for learning. Instead school had taught us to 'succeed' simply by 'spotting' topics before an exam and then throwing them up all over the answer sheet never to be bothered by them again. In fact I remember vividly the bonfire we lit with our exercise books to celebrate after our final 'O' level exam. I finally focused and worked hard to scrape my way through law school but because I had an active social life the opportunity cost was that I missed out on an honors degree.

At 50 I know that our secondary and high schools did not equip us with the building blocks and skills for further education, we simply memorized topics for exams without really learning the subjects.

— feeling naughty.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Live Life

When I completed my education I had a problem of too many qualifications on paper and zero work experience. Apart from the few months of tutelage at a law firm, which I had done to complete law school, I had only worked as a sales girl in my mother's shop. I joined the ranks of the unemployed in Kampala, wrote hundred's of applications and prayed for a miracle. Even though my student life was over I tried to hang onto those carefree days, continued to revel in the night life of the city and drank more alcohol than I should have. It seemed to me that I did everything backwards back then because when all my friends were partying at Makerere, I had become a young mother and had to stay home caring for a baby. When I went to London, Lionel stayed back with his father and only came for short visits. Alone in London with a new set of friends and hardly any responsibility, it was time to live it up and make up for the missed years.
When I returned to Uganda it was difficult letting go of the carefree London life and I found my escape in Kampala's nightlife at Nectarine, Little Flowers, Ange Noir and Club Clouds. My father who thought I was unraveling stepped in and sent me away on a vacation that I had wanted for a while. I went to visit my BFF Lesley Ann,on the beautiful Caribbean Island of Barbados. The BA flight started its descent after the cross-Atlantic flight from London and when we cleared the clouds I saw for the first time the stunning beauty of the Caribbean. The aquamarine water, the miles of beaches with tall coconut and palm trees waving their welcome. I wished I was coming to stay even before we had landed. I toured the beautiful island's luxurious Sandy Lane hotel, the sugarcane plantations, Cave Hill University, Harrison's cave and the obligatory boat party. The nightlife was everything that Lesley had promised. We danced to Calypso rhythms and drank rum punch till the wee hours of the morning. Les was leaving for law school in Trinidad and Tobago and I went with her to Port of Spain where we visited even more beautiful beaches and danced some more.
Among my many memories of that vacation which I took to try and get in touch with my inner self and root myself in my new reality, I remember with amazing clarity a wall hanging at Les' grandma's house. She lived in a traditional Chattel house, charming in its simplicity. She was as old as old can be and sat there quietly while Lesley and I did the talking. A hanging on her wall read: 'If I had to live my life over again, I would make the same mistakes, only I would start sooner.' The words captivated me and I kept looking at it and re-reading it. This tiny old woman was telling her visitors something profound without uttering it. She had no apologies for how she had lived her life. In those same words I knew there was deep honesty, a sense of pride and little regret.

At 50 I know that the little old woman gave me a gift that I had denied myself: I started to forgive myself and put my mistakes in perspective. I allowed myself to take risks early, knowing that I could live a full life, as I chose, with little regret.

— feeling positive.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Beautiful Europe

In the summer of 1988 I set off on a low budget backpack trip to see mainland Europe with three young postgraduate law students at the University of London. Lesley Ann was my BFF, Obi and David were classmates and great friends - at least they were at the beginning of the trip.
The overnight ferry ride from England to Amsterdam was spent on the dance floor rather than than the bunk beds in our tiny cabin. We stepped off the ferry to the charm of Amsterdam and after checking in to our cheap hotel took a boat ride on the canal, visited the infamous red light district and a discotheque where for the first time I was frisked and walked through a metal detector before being allowed to dance. Breakfast at McDonalds was a strange affair with some guys at the next table casually smoking 'pot,' which was legal in the Netherlands long before anyone dared even suggest such a thing. Cracks started appearing in our friendship with the boys as we disagreed on the quality of our tours. We left 'Sin city' on a train to Brussels where we took in sights of that city, ate Belgian chocolate and decided that we did not really like it. On the streets we met a character who asked Les and I if we wanted to act in a movie. He had our attention until we realized that his films ended up in Amsterdam's red light district at which point we fled. The next day we were in Paris and yes we took the boat ride on the Seine, visited the Latin quarter, drank good coffee at a roadside Cafe and joined the line in the Louvre to view Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. I was skeptical about the power of art until I stood before that painting. Her eyes touched me in much the same way that she has touched millions of people. My more artistic friend Lesley who was a student of art was in tears when she saw her. We climbed up the Eiffel Tower, had dinner in the restaurant at the top and marveled at the beautiful views of Paris. The following day in Madrid, we sat at tables on the street and drank wine served in carafes at a restaurant that had too many sausages and meats hanging at the counter.
It was in Spain, that the relationship with our fellow travelers, the guys, fell apart. We paid extra to dance and watch Flamenco dancers at an upmarket club. The trouble was that we were willing to splash a little more of our money and enjoy the finer culture while the guys were focussed on saving to visit more countries. When fun Spanish guys we met at the club dropped us off at the hotel where we were staying, Obi and David were no longer talking to us. They decided they were going on to Italy but Lesley and I were not done with Spain and we headed to Barcelona.
Barcelona was breathtakingly beautiful. We visited a bullfighting arena and a historic cathedral and then walked to the spot where Christopher Colombus set sail to discover the Americas. Then we proceeded to La Rambla, a touristy place with a carnival atmosphere crowded with punks and cross dressing men. We stopped to join a crowd of people looking at a man who was lying on a bed of nails and swallowing a sword. We stared in disbelief but when he was done we realized that someone had cut through my handbag and taken off with Lesley's passport and all our money. I had lost my debit card in Madrid when I failed to read the instructions at the ATM correctly. At the Police Station in Barcelona we had a light moment when we met a man holding a car radio that he had removed from his vehicle afraid it might be stolen only to find the next morning that the car itself was stolen. Lesley was a British citizen and we got help at the Embassy and started our return train journey to London. In the Netherlands we ended up on the same ferry with Obi and David and after the ordeal in Barcelona they were rather surprised at how happy we were to see them - after all we had parted in a fury. Our daytime ferry ride back to England was quiet and reflective, a real contrast to when we left.

At 50 I know that we may lose friends at an intersection in this amazing journey of life and sometimes it takes unfortunate incidents for us to realize how fortunate we are to have friends to walk with.

 — feeling wonderful.


During my primary school days at Kitante, we had determined that the sharpest kids in school all wore reading glasses. Some kids in my class had attempted many tricks to prove their vision was failing but I think when it came to the worst ruse, the cake went to Rebecca. One day during a class break, Rebecca declared that she was blind. If she was seeking attention, her ruse certainly worked because we all crowded around her desk to scrutinize her eyes. Now I always told the tallest tales in class but Rebecca's ruse made my stories of poor vision pale into insignificance. Her eyes were wide open, unfocussed and looking quite blind. She had about 15 pairs of curious eyes staring at her and she managed to hold our attention and trust for a while. Just as we were starting to get seriously concerned that Rebecca had gone totally blind, she ruined the moment by saying: "I can only see Rose and Rita!" Yeah, right! Rebecca was blind but she could only see her best friends. The bell rang and I returned to my desk happy in the knowledge that Rebecca was busted.
Much the same way that I was regularly busted by Dr. Gwasaze the ophthalmologist, who took care of my vision for many years at Mulago hospital. From 1972 to 1976 my Mom and I were regular visitors at his clinic due to my insistence that my eye sight was failing. Each time he stood me a measured distance from his Snellen chart and I proceeded to make a nuisance of myself. I tried everything from reading 'E' as 'F' and calling an 'S' a 'Z' but he was not fooled. Not once. Dr. Gwasaze did not even console me with eye drops but sent me home with nothing. I still wonder whether my Mom believed my regular vision complaints or whether she was part of a conspiracy with Dr. Gwasaze to crush my hopes of ever wearing reading glasses.

At 50 I know that Dr. Gwasaze did me a huge favor and is probably the reason why I am still able to read the farthest sign post on the road when am looking for directions - without reading glasses.

— feeling thankful.

Friday, April 24, 2015


I don't know how many times I have seen kids who climb up a tree or rooftop, when it suddenly dawns on them that they can't get down. Self preservation steps in and they realize before making a fatal mistake that they can't really fly.
You would think that by the time I got to University I would have outgrown this phenomenon but that wasn't the case when a popular Congolese band (I believe it was Franco with his TP OK Jazz Band) brought a show to Makerere in the 80s. The Quadrangle at which the show was booked was full even before the warm-up artists had started to play. There was barely any standing room when we arrived so I followed a group of friends to a window and somehow managed to negotiate the climb to the roof. We had the best view in the house and the mood was fantastic as we watched, danced and sipped warm beers through a straw (Don't ask: It was a Kampala thing in the early 80s to drink warm beer out of a bottle with a straw.)
Everything went well until the the end of the show when people started clearing out and we realized we could not remain perched on top of the building for the rest of the night. After a festive night with plenty of warm beer, it simply did not seem possible to get down without breaking something. I stood up there with my friends, tipsy and panicking from an acute attack of vertigo. There was no help on the way as those below us seemed unaware or unconcerned about our plight.
To this day I don't quite remember how we finally negotiated our way back to the ground after what seemed like an eternity, but I was quite sure then that no artist, no matter how good, would have enticed me to climb up that rooftop again.

At 50 I know that sometimes we soar to high places where we enjoy a fantastic perspective on life but we should also prepare a safe path back to the where our perspective on life is average yet secure and closer to reality.
feeling safe.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


In the mid-80s I was a postgraduate student in London and it was there that I first experienced the need to act on the nudging of my political conscience. Living abroad as a member of a minority race put into perspective the struggles of all oppressed people. One rainy evening - and there are many of those in England; - my friend Juliet and I emptied our purses and put together enough notes and coins to pay a fare. Golders Green was quite a distance from our College in Central London. Normally we would have taken the Tube and a bus to reach our destination but because of the rain we took the Tube to the closest train station and then flagged a black cab for the rest of the journey. At our destination we stepped out of the cab and I counted the notes and coins while Juliet tried to hold an umbrella steady over our heads. I handed the exact fare to the cab driver because of course we had no extra money for a tip. The cab driver knew before counting that he wasn't getting tipped for this trip and so I experienced my first racist attack: "Why don't you just stay in Africa you monkeys?" it hit me like slap across the face but before I could think of a sharp retort he had driven away. Juliet and I were momentarily oblivious of the weather and stood in the rain gaping in disbelief as he sped off.
Another time we were on a crowded train with some 'Yobs' (Boys spelled wrong because they behaved wrong;) coming from a football match where things may or may not have gone too well for their team, so they were in a frightfully loud mood. We ignored them mostly and continued chatting in our mother tongue. Our failure to acknowledge their presence may have irritated them so they turned on us and demanded "Sing it in English!" Well, first of all we were not singing and then there was no need for us to communicate in English since we both understood each other perfectly well in Runyankore. We continued to ignore them but felt the temperature in the train rising by the second. At the next stop we scurried off the train followed by abusive racist remarks.
We felt closer to our roots in London and started patronizing those pubs where we were guaranteed to meet other African students. The Winnie Mandela pub in the basement of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies was a favorite and it was here that I got first hand accounts of what it meant to live under apartheid. I was infuriated that even in a black majority nation, Africans had no say in how they were governed and lived like second class citizens. So I demonstrated with our brothers and sisters, keeping vigil through a cold winter's night at the South African High Commission on Trafalgar Square, I marched with them to Wembley to celebrate Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday. The camaraderie was both comforting and uplifting. We were one, brought together by our intolerance of racism and the human rights abuses suffered under apartheid. We sang together, we drank together, we laughed together and we kept the fire burning in our hearts long after we left London. So when Mandela walked free we celebrated together from wherever we were that fine day in 1990.

At 50 when I turn on my TV and see South Africans killing fellow Africans, demanding that they leave their country, I know that there are racists out there grinning and thinking they were right all along to say that black Africans have the attention span of a squirrel.

feeling sad.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Juggling student life and first time motherhood was never easy. I lived off the University Campus and drove to Makerere for lectures then rushed back home to take care of my baby. Sometimes a friend would ask for a ride into town and on that day two friends, Alice and Rebecca jumped in the car with me.
It was 1985, Museveni's NRA guerillas were advancing towards the capital city threatening to bring down the Okello regime and one could not travel a long distance without being stopped at a roadblock. We got stopped on Bombo Road and a soldier in military fatigues approached us and asked me for the vehicle registration card. When I opened the glove compartment to retrieve the card, the soldier did a double take, peered into the compartment once more and then jumped into a trench on the roadside, yelling out to his colleagues. My friends and I looked at each other in puzzlement wondering what had caused so much excitement. Five to six soldiers were walking carefully towards the car with guns aimed at us. We started screaming, scared out of our brains. The first soldier reached into the compartment and pulled out an oval shaped black object and shouted 'What it is this?' I had never seen it before so I shouted back; 'I don't know.' By now the scene appeared like something out of an action movie. We were pulled out of the car roughly and stood there shaking as the soldiers debated whether to take us to Nile Mansions (a notorious torture chamber) or the nearby police station. A kind policeman took pity and said we were just students from the University and he wanted the case logged at Wandegeya Police Station.
Everything took on a dream-like quality as we were led into the station, asked to remove our shoes and belts before being thrown into a filthy cell. The floors were slippery with human waste and in those cells men, women and children were held together. My friends kept asking what I had in the car to which I had no answer. The kind policeman came back and informed us that we had been arrested for possession of a 'tortoise' hand grenade and the military officers wanted to know how it came in our possession. I nearly passed out with fright. It did not help that we spoke the same language as the rebel leader trying to overthrow the government. It took a while but I finally remembered that a relative had borrowed the car over the weekend and this relative was dating an army officer. That saved us from a very unhappy ending. I had learnt in my criminal law class that an arrested suspect was entitled to one phone call at the police station and I insisted on it. I had to think fast and decide whom to trust with this single opportunity that could mean either that we would be free or on the way to a torture chamber or even death, which was not uncommon in those days. I called Emmanuel, my brother (RIP) who bless his heart, found some humor in this whole situation. He knew the owner of the grenade and produced him at the Police Cells in record time and we were freed after nearly five hours of this nightmare.
There were not too many friends asking for a ride into town after that. I also learnt to check what I was carrying in my glove compartment before I switched on the car's ignition.

At 50 I know that no matter how well the story is told in hindsight, only those who have experienced terror during war can truly relate to the fear of that moment when your life hangs in balance.

 — feeling bad.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


The smell of gunpowder stays with you in much the same way as baby powder. You just remember it. After the trauma of the 70s and 80s I welcomed the opportunity to learn how to shoot an AK 47 machine gun as part of a controversial paramilitary course for all new Ugandan civil servants in the 90s. The journey to the training camp was deliberately tortuous. Somewhere in a swamp, in the middle of nowhere, the bus that was taking us conveniently stalled. We were forced to carry our personal belongings, which included a mattress and small suitcase; the rest of the way. We walked for about six miles through unfamiliar bush terrain with mosquitoes accompanying us most of the way. When we arrived in the middle of the night I was exhausted, angry and first thing in the morning I was sick with malaria. What I thought was supposed to be a great adventure, was fast turning into a nightmare. I got medical treatment but was left alone, lying on a thin mattress on a dormitory floor, getting sick in a basin for the first couple of days of training.
The first weeks were sheer agony and I cannot tell what kept us going. A couple of people escaped but somewhere in the haze of illness, psychological and physical torture, I adjusted to life in Kyankwanzi and actually started loving it. Waking up at the crack of dawn for the morning run, followed by a hasty breakfast and a day in the bushes cutting branches and finding materials to build our own huts was tough. We rolled in thorns and stopped feeling their sting. We drank water from a pond that a decent cow would scoff at but I never got ill again. The day's hard work seemed to be forgotten at night as we sang around a camp fire and listened to war stories. I soon became a platoon and then company commander. Our classroom was an open area under the shade of a large tree and here we slept through most of the classes but everyone was alert when we started learning about the AK-47. We belonged to a generation that had been tortured by the gun and we were anxious to demystify it. The depth of the trauma we had suffered was captured in one dramatic moment when Naitema, a fully grown man, burst into tears at the first sound of a burst of rapid fire from the instructor's gun. I remember we laughed and made fun of him but now I wonder what memories had been stirred by that sound.
Before they allowed us to touch the guns we went through a lot of training to ensure proper discipline including holding, walking and practically living with a stick that was our 'gun' for a couple of months. If you were ever found negligently pointing that stick anywhere but the ground, the punishment was severe. On the range we learnt how to fire with a measure of accuracy and felt the power of the gun against the shoulder as the bullet left the chamber. We learnt how to assemble and disassemble the AK-47 and how to clean it. I learnt that the relationship between a soldier and their gun is very intimate and protective. Those 90 days at Kyankwanzi changed my perception of guns and the people who use these weapons.

At 50 I know that the AK-47 is a weapon that can be used by just about anyone but how it is used has nothing to do with the weapon and everything to do with the person using it.

 — feeling accomplished.

Monday, April 20, 2015


At the height of the war that ousted Idi Amin, the Headmistress at Bweranyangi decided to absolve herself of the responsibility of minding hundreds of teenage girls when fleeing Amin soldiers and some randy 'liberators' were raping girls and women. She called an assembly and asked those who could leave to go home and those that could not she would keep and try to protect. My family lived over 300 miles away in Kampala but I was not letting an opportunity to leave school pass by so I decided to go with those girls who were headed to Mbarara town about 40 miles away. It was the town where I was born and my grandfather lived close to our country home so that would be my proposed destination. No transport was provided by the school so we had to walk.
By the time we got to Rwentuha barely 10 miles into the walk I was exhausted. To my relief an old Uncle came and claimed me from the group of pedestrians saying my father had sent him to meet me. I hesitated to leave my group of friends but I was later grateful that he cut my journey short and I stayed at his home with my cousin Eva until the war passed through the west and headed to the capital city, Kampala. Months later my Aunt Aida came for me and together we hitch hiked the rest of the way to Kakiika, Mbarara using rural routes to avoid soldiers on the highway, spending nights at relatives' homes. I stayed with my paternal grandfather in Kakiika until the war ended and my mother finally came to pick me. I remember the joy of seeing my brother and mother after months of uncertainty, not knowing where they were and if they were alive. By that time I had learnt to balance a pot on three stones and cook using firewood, skills I would never have learnt but for the war.

At 50 I know that when we are going through hardship the instinct to survive blinds us to our desperate predicament and we live from one day to the next without acknowledging who we really are. I was an internally displaced person (IDP) and I didn't even know it!

— feeling lucky.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Bootleg Times

During the 70s and early 80s following Idi Amin's economic war in Uganda, many essential commodities disappeared from grocery shelves including bottled beers - at a time when many needed a drink to escape the brutal realities of the day. Breweries shut down and refined alcoholic drinks like everything else were imported or smuggled from neighboring countries and sold at prohibitive prices. For the well-to-do, Scotch Whisky was easily accessible and the most common brands were Glayva, Queen Anne and Haig. Glayva came with cute little glasses and a red heart-shaped coaster emblazoned with the words 'I love Galyva.' Haig was known for its famous slogan: 'Don't be vague, Ask for Haig!' For the really loaded there was Chianti and later Mateus wine from Italy.
Of course there was the other variety of alcoholic drinks, which were poured directly in your glass from jerrycans. In western Uganda we had Tonto aka 'foot wine' a mild banana wine that slowly warmed the senses without causing much drama. But for the student on a tight budget who wanted a quick high there was 'Kasese,' a distilled clear spirit that was the precursor to Uganda Waragi. Kasese could also be re-distilled and then what you got was a deadly brew known as 'Emandure' aka 'Kill me Quick!' The deadly concoction had the unfortunate effect of wiping your memory. If you imbibed this stuff on a regular basis you most likely would not remember whole chunks of your life and you would also be uncertain of the present.
Distilling and possessing these brews was banned under the 'Enguli Act,' but the Act remains the most redundant law on Uganda's statute books. The law was not enacted to save our liver and memory, it was enacted to protect the commercial interests of those who invested heavily in refined bottled drinks while killing competing grassroots breweries. The Police who are supposed to enforce it are among the biggest violators of the law, faithfully brewing and imbibing the illicit brew in their quarters - during and after working hours. At law school we chuckled about a case where an accused person charged under the Enguli Act walked free because the evidence went missing at the police station! (Yes you guessed that right, they drank the evidence.)

At 50 I know that many of us started consuming alcohol to escape the harsh economic and political realities of the day. The problem is that some are still stuck in that era of the 70s and 80s - still struggling to remember what happened last night.

— feeling silly.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

School Dances

Jennifer had the only decent pair of stiletto heels at my all-girls boarding secondary school and all of us with the same shoe size lined up to borrow them for the school dance. The pair was a shiny burgundy matching the maroon skirt of the school uniform, which we were compelled to wear when we went to closely supervised dances with the boys at Ntare School.
The whole event, hosted by the Scottish Country Dancing Club was quite a farce. Bweranyangi Girls, was a missionary school located deep in the heartland of western Uganda. Scottish missionaries who had taught there left with the advent of Idi Amin but they left behind their culture and so in my final year at the school, I had the dubious honor of chairing the Scottish Country Dancing Club. We practiced our eight-some reels and skipped arms akimbo with so much pride without once questioning the relevance of this exercise to our education and future. The greatest and perhaps only benefit of membership was an annual dance with the boys at Ntare School. On the day of the dance we boarded the back of a TATA lorry and took off with hearts pounding at the prospect of dancing with boys. In hindsight the thought of girls disembarking from the back of a lorry - and trying their best to do so with grace and dignity in front of our heart throbs; is hilarious. But what did we know? We were so unsophisticated that it took me years to realize that the perfume called 'Moonlight' that we passed around the day of the dance was an air freshener! After the Country Dancing was done we engaged in some ballroom dancing - waltzing with boys was a thrill after weeks of practicing with our girl friends. Anyway, I was thankful for my turn to wear Jennifer's stiletto heels to the dance because they helped me carry off this farce with some elegance.

At 50 I know that the hours I spent practicing a foreign and seemingly inconsequential dance were not entirely wasted. It was during those memorable days that I started developing social skills and life long friendships.

— feeling amused.

Friday, April 17, 2015

No Second Chance Sometimes

We have all experienced that moment when we wished we could go back and say what we really meant in a smarter way but the moment has passed and gone forever. When I was a teenager I wished for many retakes of conversations with my mother. I had the gift of the gab and at times acidic words left my tongue unrestrained leaving a pained look on my mother's face. She would walk away visibly hurt and spend the next couple of days humming Gospel music while I thought about what I said and paraphrased it over and over in my mind. Listening to her humming and seeing her pained look hurt more than the lashes she landed on my buttocks when I was younger.
Years later I took my first assignment as a spokesperson and unintentionally amused a journalist who was recording my interview by asking him to reshoot it so that I could retract an error I had made. He smiled and honored me by reshooting then he went ahead to use the original interview with all my mistakes just to humiliate me. I learnt there and then that spokespeople are not given a second chance in real life. There are many other instances like job interviews, office turf battles and domestic squabbles when the smart and witty response that would have made me sound exceptionally smart comes to mind immediately after my turn to speak passes. So I have learnt to have handy notes ready when I prepare for public speaking because even the most carefully memorized lines are not immune to stage-fright.

At 50 I know that if I could go back in time I would prepare for those private mother-daughter conversations the same way I now prepare to speak to total strangers.
feeling sorry.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Like Mother Like Daughter

My headstrong daughter takes a lot of pleasure in telling me that she is a rebel - just like me. Am not sure where she picked the idea that I was rebellious but I suspect she has been talking to her grandmother. She even posted a meme on Facebook of a photo we took together and added a caption proudly declaring: 'Like Mother, Like Daughter!' This makes me wonder whether we are now the typical dysfunctional family. Whoever coined that phrase should have taken time to clearl...y define the functional family. Instead they have left me thinking that every family am related to through blood or marriage easily qualifies as dysfunctional. When I was growing up we did not blame our families for our bad behavior. If you did not study hard for your exams, you would not then tell everyone that the reason you got an 'F' on your English test was because of your dysfunctional family. You took responsibility. Today it appears that all the families that I know are at some point on the continuum from somewhat dysfunctional to over-board dysfunctional. If the wife makes all the hard decisions because the happy-go-lucky hubby will not make any decision at all, that is a dysfunctional family for some. If the man is domineering and no one else in the home is allowed an opinion, definitely dysfunctional. If the kids do not listen to either parent at all, yup, dysfunctional. The dysfunctional family has become a reliable excuse for an array of mistakes and crimes. A shop-lifter, wife batterer and serial killer are that way because they were raised in dysfunctional families. I have no doubt that families have a role in shaping character but I fear that a time is coming when the dysfunctional family will become a recognized defense in a criminal trial.

At 50 I know that there is a tendency to attribute all bad behavior to upbringing, blaming the adults and absolving kids from personal responsibility.  The result is kids with more rights than good sense.
feeling confused.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Girl Friends

My girl friends of more than 30 years have remained committed to girls night out for decades. We meet to let our hair down and catch up with each other's lives. As we grew our education, careers, private lives and vocations took us in different directions but to this day we will meet and catch up. Over time these meetings started to follow a familiar rhythm. A potluck dinner with barbecue meats, home made salads, red and white wine and lots of beers. Dinner and drinks ac...companied by dancing and party games, charades is a favorite. The conversation is always interesting but even more interesting is how the content has changed over the years.
Our conversations used to be all about boyfriends with the usual suspects facing the same relationship challenges. Someone had scored a hot catch, someone was getting engaged, then someone disappeared for a while and the news leaked that their engagement had broken and they were licking their wounds. Soon everyone seemed to be getting married or having babies. A few remained hardened bachelorettes as the conversation turned to breastfeeding and different breast pumping devices. Before long it was the marital struggles, domestic violence and the friends offered a shoulder to lean on. Marriages broke, some survived, lovers made up, people got promoted at work some got Doctorates, some became successful others regressed. We are now mothers, widows, spinsters, divorcees, 'single-but-looking', newly married and married for far too long; but still we meet for a good meal, fine wine, less dancing, more charades and lots of laughter. As it becomes harder to get us all together in the same room we meet in cyber space share stories and support one another when we can. The conversation these days is about hot flashes and the early or late onset of menopause. The content of the conversation may have changed but the tempo is still the same and the comforting familiarity of it all is such that anyone can jump into the conversation at any time and most likely we will all know what they are going to say. 

At 50 I know that the friends that survive the changing seasons and fortunes of time are those who make the effort to stay in touch even when we are least likely to want their company.
feeling thankful.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Death with Dignity

The last visit with my paternal grandfather was sad. His mind seems to have receded back a generation or two and he mistook me for my mother. The conversation was a bit awkward when he called me Janet (my mother's name) and asked me how Anne was doing. He died at the ripe old age of 93 and no one thought of his 'forgetfulness' as a symptom of illness. In fact everyone in our village understood that he was suffering from old age. His mind was allowed to wander undisturbed and in full understanding that his condition was expected and acceptable. One thing to be said for our village communities is the social security net of the extended family which ensured that the dignity of our elderly relatives was preserved in their final years. We supported them in their homes until they passed on then the family came together for the burial and funeral rites in what was strictly managed as a family affair.
But that was before we travelled and watched cable TV. Enterprising Ugandans have learnt that there is money to be made from old age and death, so nursing homes and funeral parlors are creeping in to erode the culture that surrounded our rites of passage. The simplicity and dignity of funerals is being replaced by the same vulgarity displayed at weddings. Social commentary and carefully positioned photographers focus on the place of death, the funeral company that is contracted, the number of wreaths, the size and style of the casket, the suits of the pall bearers and the outfits of the closely bereaved. A well draped widow in large, dark sunglasses with orphans in matching black outfits make for good cover stories for tabloids. Yet all the glamor cannot match the simple dignity and intimacy of my grandfather's funeral. The point was driven home when I returned to my deceased husband's graveside the day after his burial to find the pile of flowers we had left there was all gone. The carefully chosen wreaths picked by individuals to express their fond farewells were packed by the funeral company as we walked away from the grave weeping. The local undertakers who stayed behind to cover the grave were not accustomed to the new style funerals so they assumed that it was the norm for the pall bearers to pack the flowers back into the empty hearse. They did not realize that the grave was being plundered!

At 50 I know that we cannot stop the wave of modernity that comes with globalization and increasing affluence but I hope that we can identify the best practices in our cultures and preserve them jealously.

— feeling pissed off.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Becoming a Dinosaur

Five reasons why my kids think that am a dinosaur:

1. I remember my Dad's car number plates from the 70s (UYT 404) but I do not know the number plates of my car.
2. I love African American comedy and watched nearly every Eddie Murphy movie but my kids laughed when I asked, 'Who is Kevin Hart?'
3. I say 'I like that number,' when I hear a favorite song. Apparently no one says this anymore....

4. I tell them they can't go to the disco without my permission. Kids say they are no longer called discos.
5. The telephone number in my childhood home was 30365 but if you ask me the number of my cell phone now, I have to check.

At 50 I know am experiencing that curious phenomenon when it gets difficult to keep pace with new trends in urban culture or retain new frivolous information but thankfully my earlier memories are still intact.
feeling concerned.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Daisy - More than a Toy

Daisy is a pretty little stuffed lamb that came into our home when my daughter was only four. Daisy has moved with us around the world from Plantation, FL to Silver Springs, MD, back to Plantation and then Lake Mary, FL before we relocated to Kampala, Uganda then moved back to Lake Mary, FL . She now lives with us in Nairobi, Kenya where we have already had two homes in as many years. We nearly lost her once in Mbarara, Uganda when the neighbors kids took a fancy to Daisy and borrowed her to play. My daughter's distraught reaction to that incident made me worry about her devotion to Daisy. I feared that Daisy symbolized some kind of deep seated feeling that could not be expressed in words. Now I regard Daisy as a symbol of the familiar: She is one of the few things in Jojo's life that has remained constant and predictable as I dragged my family across the world from one job to the next, one calling to the next, from one home to another. When I think of my childhood and youth there are only three homes I remember and only one that I call my childhood home because we stayed there longest. I had the stability of remaining in one place for years, decades. We got to know the neighbors and they became extended family at a time when Kampala was safe enough for kids to walk around the neighborhood without fear. We had mango trees and guava trees growing in the backyard and ate their fruit for many seasons. We completed primary school, secondary school, high school and joined university with the same group of friends. All this we took for granted and found rather confining so we dreamed of going abroad, far, far away from the familiar neighborhood of our childhood and youth. My daughter is 17 and Daisy hasn't grown at all but she is still one of the most loved and well taken care of stuffed toys ever. She represents the past and the familiar in Jojo's life...the mango trees and guava trees of my childhood in Nakasero.

At 50 I know not to dismiss the strong attachment that we have to our favorite things. They are the thread that weaves the tapestry of our life; the glue that holds together the memories that paint the mural that is the story of our lives.

— feeling thoughtful.

Mind Your Language

The other night I received a message which broke all known grammatical rules and reminded me of Henry Higgins' distaste for a Cockney accent in the 1964 seminal musical 'My Fair Lady.' Remember the line? 'Oh why can't the English teach their children how to speak!' We have been thrust into a global society and it's nearly impossible to find a homogeneous community (even on Facebook) that speaks only one language. English is no longer owned by the English - we all need one international language to survive in the bold new world. Unlike Eliza Doolittle, English is not our mother tongue and we do not have any obligation to meet Henry Higgin's exacting standards. We let the language evolve to capture our own cultures and idiosyncrasies; and in the process we slaughter the language and let it bleed to death on Facebook. Still I was outraged by the message which read:
'Its beyond ma human imagination to prove how u r doing. Well, i got to extend my sincere regards as far as your evening is concerned. have it nicely please.'
Normally I would have deleted the message but it was a gem in vulgarity. So instead I posted it on Facebook and let it bleed while we went down memory lane remembering past murders of the English language. During my youth the language suffered most when young men scribbled pick-up lines in the snail mail letters which we eagerly anticipated. The grammar was not always wrong but the metaphors were killers: 'As I saw your body gliding across the waters of the pool, my heart was arrested,' wrote one love sick pup. My personal favorite was: 'This morning I looked in the mirror and I saw you!' I sometimes wonder if the people who wrote those pitiable lines ever scored girlfriends. How I wish I had kept them for my daughters so we could compare notes.

At 50 I know that there are many lonely guys out there who have not realized that it's not their aftershave that's keeping them single - it's their poor use of language!

— feeling entertained.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Musical Disgrace

We grew up on kinder pop music. Lyrics could be followed, they generally made sense and told a decent story. Even then, our parents cringed when we bumped to 'Dance the Kung-fu,' rocked to Michael Jackson's 'Off the Wall' and jumped to Marley's Reggae. They were trapped in their era of waltzing to old Jim Reeves melodies and Miriam Makeba's 'Malaika.' I started to appreciate their perspective when I too cringed through MC Hammer's sounds and the violent lyrics of very popular rap artists of his time. In those days there was very little Pop music produced on our local scene . I kept hoping that the world would regain its ear for meaningful melodies and that our local music would gain pop status. Uganda eventually got its pop scene when someone automated musical instruments and priced them well within the reach of many including the villagers of my home town.
So recently I had the misfortune of listening to an artist from Western Uganda making his debut (and I hope his last attempt) at 'Pop.' The lyrics lament kids that are disrespectful of elders and castigate children for greeting their grandmother with 'Whazzup Nyakwe!' It took me a while to figure that Nyakwe was the hip abbreviation of Nyakwenkuru (grandmother!) From start to finish the song is full of contradictions and mixed messages crudely corrupting my mother tongue with broken English. The song's only entertainment value is its hilarious lack of logic as the singer stitches together unrelated lines that rhyme only in his dreams. Automated instruments have made it possible for untalented individuals to slap together a few lines and create melodious atrocities that they call music. There ought to be a law! 

At 50 I know that music technology has progressed faster than talent.
feeling irritated.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Daddy Dearest

Every girl has a special relationship with their father and am no different. For as long as I can remember he has been the solid rock on which I leaned when things were not so sparkly in my life. In childhood he spoilt me and we had a warm relationship, as a teenager I rebelled and saw his harsh side. But it is in adulthood that he totally amazed me. My father looks out for me in a way that makes me indebted to him for the rest of my life. When I was broke he had some savings to share, when I was homeless, he offered me a roof over my head. He seems to understand my motivation for taking certain actions even before I have worked it out myself and he gives me clarity when I am uncertain. He never judges me even for my weakest decisions. He has offered advice without expecting me to take it and many times I take his advice because I do not feel the pressure of making the decision. Whenever am troubled he offers calm wisdom and often quotes that verse in Ecclesiastes that reminds us that everything is but the wind. When my marriage was on the rocks he did not judge or take sides, he simply stood by me holding my hand and praying. He never prayed for a specific outcome but he prayed for me to find peace of mind. Many a time he referred to my middle name; 'My daughter, I called you Busingye, (Peace) for a reason. Find you own peace of mind.' 

At 50 I know that there is truth in the suspicion that a lot of the dissatisfaction in marriage stems from women expecting their spouses to treat them just like their Dad did.
feeling loved.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Truth Will Set You Free

Children have a way of forcing us to revisit our past and to re-examine the truth about it. I remember the seething anger with which I walked out of my marriage to live separately from my sweetheart- I never divorced him (don't ask me why - I haven't figured that one out yet.) If you asked me at the time of leaving I could easily reel off ten reasons - a couple of which were strongly justifiable in popular view. If you ask me now I wouldn't be so sure. And that uncertainty crept in when my two babies, aged about four and six at the time; asked me so innocently 'Mom, tell us the truth, were we adopted?' I don't know what feeling hit home first: Guilt for not sharing with them the reason we were living so far away from their Daddy or the pain of knowing that they were missing him so much. As young as they were, society had already inflicted on them its misconceived norms of how many people should make up a family and they figured there was someone missing in the picture. Poor little tots were trying to figure out why?
I wish I could say that I immediately sat them down and told them the whole truth and nothing but the truth - that would be a lie. It takes time for us to deal with the truth honestly. We know the truth, in fact we live right through it but when the truth is too painful to share we hide it somewhere in our sub conscience and let it remain there undisturbed until some nosy kids shock us into searching for it and staring it square in the face. And so the truth is that the multiple reasons I used to give for walking out of my marriage were eroded with time. They were eroded by that sneaky truth that kept slipping out of its hiding place to confront me. My initial reasons were all his fault (of course,) but the truth showed up now and again to point me to the part that was my responsibility and after wrestling with truth for long enough you simply give up because truth is so powerful. Now that he is gone for good, I regret that while he was alive I did not find the courage to tell John, that the reason we were friends again towards the end was because I had made peace with the truth and owned up to my part in the breakdown of our relationship.

At 50 I know that being honest is something we are all proud of but in all honesty, it is not something that we can claim to be 100% of the time.

— feeling blue.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Follow your Dreams

Looking back I cannot help but wonder how people stay in one job for decades. When I first joined the foreign service 25 years ago my eyes were set on becoming an Ambassador, the highest civil service level for Foreign Service Officers. I shared an office with other FSOs some who looked the part of aspiring Ambassadors and others who were disheveled by years of serving time at the impoverished Headquarters as they prayed and hustled for their next international posting. I joined the game with gusto, prayed and hustled until I got lucky and landed my first posting to the United Nations Permanent Mission in New York. I still remember the excitement of receiving that posting letter in the 90s. Eighteen months later I was sitting in front of the Ambassador and his wife as they tried to convince me to stick with my career instead of returning back home to start a family with my husband of a few months. Their logical argument based on why I was lucky to be where I was, sounded like utter simplicity bordering on mediocrity compared to the determination I had to be with my sweetheart and bear us some little tots. And thus ended my dream of becoming an Ambassador as fast as possible.
Twenty years later I have worked as a contractor in the Ministry of Finance, started my own business and walked away from it, become a rabid activist who wrote consistently for a decade - not to mention squabbles on TV, Radio, Podiums, Rallies, 'street battles', nine years abroad, joined politics and lost two elections (before and after my self-styled exile,) and now am an international civil servant. In between that I scored two daughters in addition to a pre-existing son. Oh, and nearly all my Foreign Service cohort are Ambassadors somewhere. So I smiled when a friend I had not heard from in years asked 'Anne Mugisha life number what?' It struck me then that:

At 50 I know I have only this one life to live but there is no requirement to live it in a straitjacket guided by the rules of one career, chained by the goals of my earliest vision. Versatility has its risks and I may not be an Ambassador (yet,) but girl, do I have a story for you
feeling amazing.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Keeping it Real

I catch myself moderating my children's dreams and then wondering if am doing them a disservice. I mean there are dreams and then there are wild fantasies. So my daughter wants to buy a Gucci bag with her first salary and she also wants a car for her Sweet Sixteen birthday. Yup! She has been watching the rich girl TV shows. So I dissuade her from both dreams the latter because I know there is no way I would buy a real, fuel powered motor car for a sixteen year old teenager even if I could afford it. Since I will still be paying her bills when she turns sixteen, that particular dream is in the category of wild fantasy. But what right do I have to dissuade her from using her first salary to buy a designer bag? Am I not tempering her dreams with my own reality - just because I could never have afforded any bag let alone Gucci, with my first salary? Am not only assuming that her first salary will be as meager as mine, I am also questioning her judgement and attempting to manage her priorities, after she becomes an adult. Do I have a right as a parent to determine her future priorities? This reminds me of my visits to my parents' house when my mother tells me to wear 'proper clothes' to Church and father tells me how to prioritize my spending. Sometimes I call it advice other times I feel so patronized and feel like saying, 'Mind your own business!

At 50 I know that parents moderate their children's dreams out of love and a need to 'protect' them from future disappointment. The trick is to find a balance between keeping it real and clipping their wings before they can even fly.

— feeling focused.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Release the Grief

Life does not prepare us to mourn. No matter how imminent and how certain, we are still unprepared for the gut wrenching pain. Easter Day 29 years ago I did not feel the joy of the risen Christ having just buried my brother. Death did not lose its sting that Easter weekend, the pain was too fresh and sharp. It made no sense. He was only 22 years old, he loved life and his life was snuffed out after a very brief illness. Nothing could have prepared me for the magnitude of that tragedy. I have since lost others dear to me, but something in my heart was buried with Emmanuel that Easter weekend 29 years ago. Today the pain of losing a loved one is still immense but it is not the same as that first time. I have found a place in my heart to draw comfort and find peace with the passing of loved ones over time. The deep sense of loss is tempered with the firm knowledge that death is only a stage in life that is as certain and as predictable as breathing itself. 

Once you get down to it why are we really hurting when someone dies? I found that I grieve for myself and those left behind rather than the person who passed on. We cry because we miss them, we mourn for what they could have been to us or to others in future, we hurt because we wanted more time with them. Grief can be a very selfish emotion indeed, so one important stage of grieving is learning to let go.

At 50 I know that I will never be prepared for the passing of a loved one and I cannot fully predict how deeply it will hurt, but I love this fleeting life and will not allow grief to get in the way of living it fully even as I prepare for the next life. Happy Easter.

— feeling peaceful.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Expect Nothing

The frustration in our lives is not always caused by what we fail to attain but rather what we expect to attain. When I was a political activist I shared my ideas and ideals on the issues of the day to help build that critical mass needed to cause change and to transform my fortunes at the polls - that altar of public perception. A political activist may be a leader of sorts but most activists expect that their cause and leadership can only be validated when they become titled - an MP, Chairperson or President - in the structures of power. So until they reverse their fortunes at the polls an activist may become increasingly frustrated and feel unappreciated. I beat myself up many times wondering why even the highest ideals failed to make a difference at the polls. I wallowed in self pity and pondered on the misfortune of a fickle society that failed to appreciate higher ideals. Yet I also willfully refused to acknowledge that my self-righteousness was an egregious flaw.

At 50 I know that everyone likes being rewarded for their contribution but society does not owe us any reward for our personal sacrifices. When the reward doesn't come in the form you had expected then bask in the good that your work may have brought to others. That is your reward.

— feeling satisfied.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Luck & Opportunity

I have experienced worldly comfort and I have been poor in the midst of plenty making for a unique perspective on good fortune and bad luck. A middle-class upbringing in Africa gave me just enough so that I never felt deprived. Even though life's luxuries were limited, I had three meals a day and my parents never skipped a tuition payment at school. I had clothes on my back even if they were not always in the fashion of the day. I took these things for granted, nothing more than the essential necessities of life. Later, life took me to America and I arrived in the lowest echelon of society. I was so poor that I needed help from the State to feed my children. I bared my life to total strangers, declaring my income, my bank account balance, employment plans; before I could qualify to get the food stamps that would shame me at the supermarket where others paid with cash and bank cards. I knew the humiliation of visiting only those clinics that would accept State health insurance. Still I was glad for a country that gave my kids a chance. The school bus picked them every morning and took them to class, they were never hungry and when they were sick they got treated. Later I would harness the solid gifts of my middle class upbringing (education, social networks, confidence and belief in my abilities) to work my way out of poverty.

At 50 I know that at the start of our lives luck has a lot to do with whom we are destined to become because we do not choose where and to whom we are born. Our efforts begin exactly where our luck stops but effort must meet opportunity for us to steer destiny. What we eventually become is a result of how well we applied ourselves to harness luck and whatever opportunity we got.

— feeling blessed.