December in Uganda brings families together in much the same way that families come together in November for Thanksgiving in the USA. If the Thanksgiving movies I have watched are to be trusted then the family gatherings in Uganda are just as awkward as the ones in the States. My family is scattered around the country and the world but we try to head home to be with my parents in Kakoba, Mbarara.
The family tree itself has become a very complex figure. There are my blood relatives and then my relatives through other means. I try to keep things simple by adopting an embracing and inclusive meaning of family because of the many roads along which I have traveled and the battles I have fought. My daughters Joannah and Hannah Bwomezi; whom I live with when am not on duty in Mogadishu are the closest in Nairobi and that is where I start gathering the clan. When I get to Kampala, there is my son Lionel Muhangi - who at 30 years cramps my style every time he calls me 'Mommy,' is waiting. There is Edward Kashegu my other son, a little younger than Lionel but also close enough to 30 to make me feel ancient. I acquired Edward and his brother Joel Busingye through marriage as I did their sister Grace Natukunda. Grace is older than Lionel but also calls me Mom! As if this were not disparaging enough there is my brother-in-law Colin Muhoozi, who is too close to 40 for anyone to believe am his mother but Colin is still my son for the time I spent raising him. Colin has a son and my daughter Grace has two children and yes, they call me grandma! I will refrain from adding my cousins, aunts and uncles for the sake of brevity, but they too are part of the extended family that joins the caravan on the annual trek to their respective homes in Mbarara for the annual madness.
Depending on everyone's schedule and availability, (one can no longer force grown men and women to follow;) we try to leave Kampala together. We hire a mini van and still need an additional car and off we go. Last December we got to Mbarara, where more of the clan had assembled and entered the warmth of the home in Kakoba where my mother had prepared akatogo (yummy) for all arrivals. My brother John-Mark Mugisha and three of his children were there last December, as was my baby brother Peter Mugisha with wife and two kids. The first day was all joy, squeals and laughter as we caught up on who had grown taller, who had grown shorter and yes; who had put on the most weight. Joseph the brother we left in Kampala, joined the next day with wife and son; and the house overflowed with warmth and happiness. After sleeping arrangements were settled and some of my kids and grand children relocated to the farm, Karwera, where they still feel Bwomezi's absence so keenly; the reality of the extended family started to settle in.
My dad and mom wanted us to sit still, listen to their tales and attend every church service between Christmas Eve and the New Year (There are plenty!) The boys wanted to go to 'The Heat,' a local night club, the kids fought over video games and iPads, my daughters asked when we were going back to Nairobi, my other kids at Karwera (including the 30-something year old brother-in-law and my daughter;) wondered why I and the girls stayed at Kakoba instead of my late husband's home where they must have felt I had abandoned them. Before long Hannah convinced me it was time for her to visit her friend Mbabazi in Kampala, Joseph and his family returned to Kampala, Peter and his family started packing for South Africa, my mother was concerned about a brother Andrew Mugisha who could not make it from Florida. The loud laughter of the first day was tamed by non-stop arguments, bickering and some tears - then before you knew it the holiday was over. I started the long journey back to Mogadishu wondering why we put ourselves through this ordeal after every 365 days. Yet it is all the chaos that makes it a family event.
At 50 I know that the glue that keeps families together is not their last names or the manner in which they became part of the family but their willingness to suffer through the ordeal of belonging to each other.
— feeling blessed.