Don’t judge me. Let me judge you.

When is the last time you judged someone by their appearance only to be completely surprised when you found out they were the complete opposite of what you anticipated?

I will give you a minute to think.Mine was quite recent. I was watching an episode of America’s got talent when these four guys came on stage.

linkin bridge

Google image

I thought to myself, they will probably do some hip-hop. The tatoos, all black outfits, chains? Not the kind of guys I’d want to start small talk with.

Acapella? Really? Who would have guessed? Not me. Certainly not these judges.>>

shockThat beautiful rendition of ‘Somewhere under the rainbow‘ gave me serious goosebumps. I was severely awestruck!

When asked why they’d come to the show, the response was “This dude right here, he’s a big dreamer. We got together because of his huge dreams.” *refering to the group’s leader Montre Davis*  Don’t we all need that big dreamer in our lives? Sigh.

It reminded me of Susan Boyle, the then 47 year old who auditioned for Britain’s got talent in 2009. The judges and audience were visibly unimpressed by her appearance, when she got on stage..up until she sang her heart out.

susan boyle

She went on to release her first album later that year. “I dreamed a dream” topped charts and became UK’s best selling album. She has released 5 others since. I mean wow! It really is never too late to pursue one’s dreams.

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Thinking of these people who were easily judged on the big stage made me reflect on life’s ‘small stage’ scenes. I recently met someone I went to school with many years ago. After a few pleasantries were exchanged he said. “I was surprised to read about the charity work that you do, you don’t look kind.” I was both perpelexed and dumbfounded.I wasn’t sure how to react so I kept quiet. I wanted to ask about the features kind people possessed. I wanted to point out that up till that moment we’d never actually had a conversation. Instead, I wrapped up this awkward roadside encounter. I decided that the silver lining was he’d told me how he felt to my face. I actually agree with Chimamanda when she says “There are people who dislike you because you don’t dislike yourself.” Best believe we shall judge you for being too happy,positive, confident or successful. How? Why?

We have all been on either side of similar situations. You are an introvert so we tag you arrogant, you’re naturally friendly (to both sexes) but you’re labelled slutty. You spend more money than we are accustomed to so of course you are a show-off.  These and many other assumptions are made daily about people we don’t really know and may never even get to know. However, when tables turn and we are judged wrongfully by others, we are agitated. How dare they?! They don’t even know anything about me, my life, my struggles; But that’s exactly the point. We don’t have to know. In fact, we don’t want to know. Why, when it is just easier throwing a label, believing it and quickly moving on…?

“By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”

A thought just occured to me about the thousands of self-proclaimed experts that have been unearthed by social media. At first I only noticed them when it came to seemingly obvious targets like politics,fashion, food and lifestyle. Alas, that is not the end. Now we tell you how to write, how to sing,how to be a leader, how to draw,how to speak, how to run, generally how to exercise your position,skill or talent. Once we are done with that, we need you to understand how to deal with fame/attention when it comes your way ; not too nice, not too needy,but also kind of available; slightly aloof but also approachable.

As if this isn’t enough though, we have a view on how you should think. Don’t you dare deviate from the norm but also be unconventional. Generally, be yourself, but don’t be yourself. Either way, we shall be here, waiting, judging. You can count on that. Also, one more thing. By all means,don’t judge us, this is a one-way road.

Good luck!

“If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”

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I had a dream

Last year, we brainstormed during a meeting, out of ideas on whom to headline for Croak and Rhyme, 4040’s annual music fundraiser. The year before, we had surprised many, including ourselves and brought the legendary Maddox Sematimba as our main act. We needed to match up to our own expectations. “What about Sauti Sol?”  we thought. They are terrific musicians and would put up a good show, plus they are in the ‘neighbourhood.’ How would we pull that off? Obviously, we could not afford them. Our ingenious plan was to find an airline to give complimentary tickets, an up-scale hotel to sponsor the accommodation and then we would convince the group to perform at no cost. Easy peasy right? Not.

One of the best and worst things about my team and I is that we dream massive dreams. The more difficult it seems to pull off, the more we want it. We did not go far in this dream. We soon found out that Talent Africa was organising a show in Kampala for the afro-pop group. We took a seat.

The tickets to the show did not come cheap and while I was thinking of which organ to donate, Jem sent me a message that read “ How badly do you want to go for the concert?” I replied with few words and multiple emoticons. She made it happen. I anticipated their performance so much that I literally booed performer X off the stage because his set seemed to be endless. I assured Jem as soon as the band showed up, we would not to be sitting anymore. We’d have to take our spots at the front to dance and scream the night away. We did move when they were finally coming (for real) because at these concerts the main act can ‘appear’ 431 times before they actually show up. They gave a great performance as only they can. They have truly mastered the art of stage presence and performing live. My only regret was that they didn’t stay longer.

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Last week on Monday morning I tweeted about a dream I had had.

sauti tweet

While I was minding my own business, trying to work on my dissertation, I took a break and went online. I found a message from Joseph saying he’d read my tweet and that I should call a number (which he shared) to continue the conversation he had started. I asked him to quit playing games with my heart right away *hands up if Backstreet boys came to mind as you read that. No? Okay. Moving on *

He assured me that it was real since Sauti sol was coming for a show that weekend. What? Which rock was I living under?I did not even now about the concert. When I checked twitter, I found most of the replies to my tweet were referring to the upcoming Club mega fest where the group was scheduled perform. Here is what followed, I loaded an amount of airtime my phone doesn’t usually subscribe to, said a short prayer and made the phone call to the +254 number. I shared the details with their publicity person and when I was done, I sat on my bed thinking ‘Could this really be?’ That is when I did what any normal person who has faith does. I opened my closet and looked at my vast collection of 40-40 t-shirts.(the only clothing item that is upgraded almost regularly) I chose the t-shirt that I would wear if my request was granted.

faith thanks God

Over the next few days, I asked those who understood my anticipation to pray as I tried, albeit, unsuccessfully to think about other things. Lo and behold! I receive a program and guess which team has a slot with Sauti Sol? Breathe, Esther breathe!, I had to remind myself.

It is one thing to enjoy music by a musician or group of musicians, it is totally different when you realise that they are more than that. To blend talent and compassion for humanity would seem obvious and yet it still remains a reserve for a specific kind of individual. Knowing Sauti sol extends their time and resources to children through their Soma soma initiative struck a chord with me while we dreamt of bringing them to Uganda. As with everything else, God had other plans. He needed them to come and be part of our literacy program (recently christened Angaza which means to shine) that resonates with their belief in education and encouragement of young people to pursue their education.

When Bien, Polycarp, Austin and Savaro met the children, it was magic from the start. They were exhausted from their long weekend of activity but that did not stop them from sharing some love and energy.

band laugh with kids

kids peace

polycarp baby

Sauti kids happy

The group encouraged the children to stay in school and value their teachers and education. They emphasised the importance of finishing school, which they, themselves, did alongside their musical career.  Having met at Upper hill High School themselves, it was easier to illustrate real life examples of some of the benefits from their time together. When Polycarp was introduced as having graduated in Actuarial science, the children were asked if they knew what it meant, there were several resounding ‘Yeses’ in the audience. I was laughing too hard to google the meaning, for my neighbour of course.

high 5

Bien speech

 

Would this session have been complete without some music and dance? Nope! The children got to learn the chorus to Sura yako and the cherry on top was the lipala dance. They were overjoyed and kept singing long after the band had left.

hearty laugh

See this pure happiness! So infectious!

As a friend remarked, the adults might have been more excited than the children. I can’t speak for everyone but how often do you have a dream, literally and watch it come true, before your very eyes- soon after? In my life, I can’t say often and for that, I am all kinds of grateful.

Photo credit: Daron

 

Thank you Sauti Sol 🙂

Keep believing.

Status

Bantwalaaaa

My first real encounter with rooting for a sport was in my pre-teen years. The sibling whom I followed was a supporter of S.C Villa, a local football club, so naturally I chose their then biggest rival, Express FC. I flipped through newspapers to the sports pages so that I could stick my tongue out if his team had lost.

When the attention moved to the English Premier league years later, I did not follow suite.  I retired. Occasionally I followed the progress so that I could hold conversations and tease if my siblings’ teams were losing but it was never out of real love for the game. To date I still watch some games and drop in a Pogba here or an Ozil there so that my friends can raise their eyebrows at my sudden ‘knowledge’ of what’s happening in the football world. Otherwise, it is Uganda cranes and supporting African teams during world cup that can move me. After that, I am back to my oblivious self.

When we first brainstormed over fundraising events, football was a no brainer, given its universal appeal. Indeed, to date, it has not disappointed. Basketball was a close second and even that I could understand, given my short stint playing it in my teen years. I probably speak for many when I say we fear that which we don’t understand. That was rugby for me. I knew completely nothing about it. Whenever someone suggested we hold a rugby tournament to raise funds, I asked them to guarantee at least 10 teams before we could consider the idea. Said person who’d come with one intention- to suggest their idea and go- often never welcomed this additional imposition. The idea often got swept under the table even as we discussed it as a team because it seemed much too difficult to implement. How quickly we forgot that our first football event had no more than 40 people before we peaked at 1,200 attendees, one year later.

It’s only late last year when I saw tributes to the late Jonah Lumu, all blacks player that I decided to read up on him and rugby in general. I also discovered what the haka was. That basic knowledge was still not the same as watching and following a game.

In one of the first meetings to plan Bantwala7s, I learnt the words ‘contact’ and ‘touch’ but remained clueless as other technical details were being discussed. Unlike other events where I have potential players off the top of my head, this time I had to think hard before stalking my brother to get his friends in on it, my friend’s hubby and other loose networks I had.

With a dedicated team that wasn’t taking no for an answer, the #Bantwala7s journey took shape. We were straight out of #5AsideUG and only had a month to make magic due to unforeseen date clashes but this small group of hard working individuals ensured that they maximised the few resources available.

Saturday morning was slow. A few people strolled in from time to time while the rest of us looked at the clouds, warning them not to dare drop a tear. I was more worried about rain than I was about turn up, although in this city, they are very closely related. Surely, if we had snow, would people not go to work or school in the name of weather? I digress.

no jokes

Photo credit: Picha

group 1

Short shorts :p

aww

Awww 🙂

 

kids

Photo credit: Picha

 

The afternoon got busier and I stationed myself at the gate to convince people to buy VIP tickets or let us keep the change. My friend Diana said I was about to start pulling out people’s wallets myself at the rate at which I was going. You can’t blame me, it’s for the children. *angelic smiley *

At some point Mr. X tried to start a verbal fight. He wanted a complete breakdown of what his 10,000 would do before he could pay. After I explained, he assured me he had his own children to take care of, why help these ones? Uhm, because they do not have anyone else and need all the support. “How is that my problem?,” he asked with a sneer. At this point, I just started to count to 30 in my head. *It could be worse*

es bantwala

I suspect this picture was taken around that time. Eh, if people knew what they look like when they’re mad, perhaps they’d never frown. *hands on head* Photo credit :Daron

 

One ‘clever’ guy assured us how he had won a ticket (never mind that we didn’t give out any tickets) When asked where he’d won it, he explained that it was through a radio competition by NSSF. Meantime, he was wearing a suit. I wanted this guy to just get in for free because that effort alone. Eh! *Sarah on the other hand stayed at the entrance tent for a while. I asked her if I could escort her in with an umbrella (The rain didn’t listen to our pleas by the way. It still made an appearance, albeit for a short time) “ No, I am waiting for my blesser to come.  Do you think this weave is cheap to maintain?” That was my cue to find a lane I could fit into.

Amidst these drama sessions, I couldn’t help but be thankful to the supporters who have been with us over the years, through every failure and win. Those who understood when we explained why we were charging more at this event than we usually do. Sharon who came all the way from Mbarara that morning and the supporters who showed up from Mbale and Jinja. (The ones I know of) Surely, who are we to deserve all this favour?

You may have noticed some of the team members who’re usually running around, being threatened by losing teams, fixing a cable here, were quite relaxed this time round. If you didn’t know better, you’d think it was the calm before the storm. The truth was the organisation was impeccable and the rest of the work was left to the professionals so not much was left to do. Sadly I still did not get to watch a single game although it was very high on my to do list.

We shall be announcing the figures soon. While those are important, there is a story that is far more fulfilling for me. The story of almost 800 people giving up their Saturday to join hands for a cause that benefits children whom they may never meet. The story of devotees who even in their absence contributed because they understand what 40-40 stands for.

Bantwala7s was an event organised to support our literacy program that incorporates health activities in its implementation. The funds will be used to support literacy sessions where we read and write with children, improve their grammar, confidence, reading and writing skills; to buy children’s books that will aid us in these exercises, to organise health days for parents and children who are unable to access basic health information that could protect them from preventable diseases, to set up a learning space and reward community leaders who’ll champion these initiatives alongside our team.

You see, on the surface it looks like just a simple Ugx 10,000. In reality, it is hundreds of lives changed. You can also volunteer to be part of these initiatives. Call +256774703959 to join the volunteer pool for this program. You can also  contribute by subscribing or donating books. Call +256772652535 or visit 40daysover40smiles.org

A major thank you to all our partners, the players and everyone who showed up, or contributed in absentia. 4 and a half years and counting, simply because you continue to believe in us!

 ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’