Recovery

How is February coming to an end already? I am shook! << Speaking of, are there any slangs you hate/find ridiculous and end up using them as a joke only for them to stick? Mine include ‘bae’ and now ‘shook.’ Yup, I am cringing as I type but here we are!

The past couple of months have been a rollercoaster. One day you have inexplicable joy because your person who has been out of a job for over two years has finally signed an awesome contract then out of the blue a wave of depression hits. You are half way into a sip of pina colada celebrating the gift of another year for your loved one only to receive news of the loss of another. I have asked “life kyeki?” <What is life?> silently and out loud, more times than I can remember since this year began. Some highlights have stayed with me nonetheless.

Moses* called me at the end of last month. He invited me to speak to a group of recovering addicts under his care. It was a busy time and I asked him to slot me in close to the end of February; Wednesday last week to be exact. I forgot about it. As the day drew nearer, I began to panic. What did I know about addiction? What could they possibly learn from me? Who made me an authority on any subject? Would they be able to tell that I was a fraud, preaching hope while crumbling inside? SOS!

*****

Incidentally, I met Moses at a talk last year. He belonged to a mentorship group whose leader invited me to speak. I was told to expect 15 or more people. I walked into a well set up room complete with a podium and ‘high table.’ Only 5 people showed up. It was so bad that we each had to pack the snacks which had been prepared for a bigger group. BUT; It was also one of the most fulfilling sessions I have ever facilitated. The small group was so eager to learn, they took notes and kept flipping pages. I was so pumped, I just went on and on. I chose to sit with them in a semi-circle and encouraged them to interrupt at any point. They did! J It was doubly awesome because my fried Ritah joined in. We had plans later that evening and she offered to attend the talk as well. Her voice was a great addition to the discussion because she had experience as a volunteer. I did not have to give all the examples. She was right there to pitch in.

*****

After several attempts, asking Monsieur Google to help me plan my talk, I decided to relax. Each time I have spoken from the heart, it has worked out just fine. I would do the same.

I got there almost an hour early. This gave me time to catch up with *Cathy who is an employee at the organisation.

The Christian non-profit supports individuals to overcome addiction. The residential program lasts a period of one year. During that period they are equipped with life skills as well as knowledge of the scripture.

I was told to expect 16 men between the ages of 16 and 50. My audience comprised of 14. I asked each of them to tell me their names and something about them, preferably something they like to do/something which makes them happy. Most of them mentioned football, cooking (pleasantly surprising) and God. I wasn’t ready when this gentleman’s turn came. He was arguably the oldest in the group. He calmly said. “Henry. I am a father.” 5 words, simple yet heavily loaded. For a few minutes I drifted off imagining how he got here, what his children thought and how he felt ‘hanging’ with teenagers in the same space. When I eventually snapped back, we were on to the last introduction. The next exercise involved them writing their biggest, boldest dreams on a sticky note. What they would do if they had limitless resources. I later jumbled them up and let each one read someone else’s dreams.

Almost all of them mentioned their intention to do more for a vulnerable group, from orphans to the elderly and recovering addicts. *Daniel called out “Esther, you haven’t told us your dream…” and that was the perfect intro for my story.

I spoke about my journey and openly shared about the 9,876,421 road blocks I have faced, I shared countless testimonies and told stories within stories. It was actually pretty mentally and emotionally draining going down memory lane. My audience was mostly quiet except for *Daniel and his neighbour, Aaron. They kept mumbling, taking notes, and I even saw a high 5. I thought to myself, “I am either really interesting or these guys are working on their own happy project.” Nonetheless, I continued, trying to engage everyone the best way I could. Finally, it came to an end, and I asked for questions or comments. Walala! I was NOT ready. First of all the pair that seemed busy throughout asked like 15 questions all on their own and then the rest. I had a 5pm meeting, meaning I needed to set off by 4.30 or so. I quickly realised it was going to be impossible to leave. I sneakily texted Kristine to let her know I would be late then gave these men my full attention. Their questions were deep, some of them silly, as if testing my sanity. All of them were engaging. I quickly noted who the ‘class clowns’ were. Henry did not say much else :/

Just as I thought the questions were coming to an end, Daniel asked “Can you please look at our proposal before you leave?”

Me: You mean you have written and completed a proposal during these 2 hours?

Him: *laughs* No, we started planning this 2 weeks ago and you came right in time.

This explained his questions about vision, mission and general organisational structure during the talk. I agreed to look at the proposal.

Finally, Jesse put up his hand. He had picked up on a part of my story where I mentioned difficulty in getting volunteers, discerning who is there for the right reasons and maintain friendships. He read a Bible verse in Colossians (Col 1:15-18)  and encouraged me to focus on God and not people and just as he was concluding Tom opened his Bible and to reiterate read “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters (Col 3:23) *Martin then added Proverbs 4:18 “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” I was overwhelmed but they weren’t done yet. Jesse asked if he could pray for me. They all stretched their hands and he started to pray. I had mentioned my struggle with insomnia briefly and here he was bringing it up. Jesse prayed for my family, friends, past, present and future, like an old friend or even a sage. The tears that I had controlled up till that more moment could no longer be held back. In that moment, I surrendered the baggage I had carried to this house and felt much lighter. By the time the ‘Amen’ came, I had forgotten where I was.

Everyone who needed an extra word, came over after the talk.

Jesse recommended a book.

Rodney offered to cook for me on his day off as a thank you. (I believe they earn these after 3-4 months)

Jeff asked me to check out a home for street children he helped set up.

Eventually, I sat with Daniel and Aaron to go through the proposal. Daniel’s energy constantly at 100 “I did not finish school so I am not good at writing, but I am a good talker. My boy here does the writing.” (patting Aaron) I read through and talked them through the alterations. They are looking to seek permission from the organisation; to do some work within their community. They hope the organisation can contribute half the start up capital and they (students) can fundraise the rest.  They want to use their spare time to clean homes, fumigate, garden and other related activities; to utilise their time and energy plus make extra income. It was quite humbling.

I invited all of them to our annual football fundraiser #5AsideUG slated for March 10th. I was worried about it because they have to ‘earn’ their days off and there will be alcohol sold at the event. I asked the administration to weigh the pros and cons then get back to me.

Cathy sent me a message a couple of days ago. The students are looking to put together a football team and contribute. I explained that my invitation meant that they attend at no cost. She said they knew that and wanted to contribute the little they could regardless. *Sniff*

I hope they can make it, if only to have some fun, a connection with the real world and bear witness that dreams do come true.

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Adult education (3)

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*Third and last installment*
After a difficult first year, I dealt with a dreadful second year.
If there is anything I have learnt over time, it is resilience. You can fake it at first but eventually it becomes who you are; you hang on to hope even when reason tells you not to, you somehow manage to drown out negative energy from external sources (not always I must add) and you get up nonetheless.
You get up and you try again.
I did just that. I persevered, painfully.
I was often my best friend and worst enemy, sometimes in the same breath.
When it came to time to write my thesis, I had an opportunity to pay tribute to the reason I had got the scholarship in the first place.
I chose to write about volunteer motivation and guess what my case study was?
Yup, you guessed it! Forry forry(4040)
Even better, I excelled. Yes, this story ends well.
In a couple of months I graduate with an M.A in Education, Gender and International Development from a University that ranks amoung the top 10 worldwide.
That isn’t as big a deal to me as the mere fact that I completed amidst all the trials.
I will not be able to go to London to show my maalo and wave my ‘degree’ incessantly at strangers..but when that transcript appears in my mail, I intend to give all the glory back to God, celebrate him and find a small way to mark this milestone.

 

“I am sure of this, that HE who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Adult education (2)

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When I received the email that I had made the shortlist, I was in shock! How?!

Then the second round came and I was elated to find that I was one of the 15 East Africans chosen. Euphoria!
We went for a training session in Nairobi, to get to know how to use the system, interact with alumni and get ready to begin.
I was the youngest least qualified person in the room. Some people were doing their second or third Masters,others were speaking of PhDs; They worked in established institutions and here I was trying to explain the mothful that is “40 days over 40 Smiles Foundation.”
In the afternoon, one of the Professors who had flown in for orientation asked, “How many of you got permission from your bosses to pursue further education?” Hands went up.
He turned to me and asked why I hadn’t put up my hand..then added “I forgot, you are the boss!” Everyone laughed. I didn’t. Deep down I felt intimidated and undeserving.
It was the continuous joke from then on. I perfected my poker face.

One of the requirements for the scholarship had been to explain how you would develop your country after the degree and I had given an elaborate plan; my vision for 4040. It was all I had. It had to work.

Little did I know that getting in was the easy part.
We received our first major assignment and boom, another blow. I fell sick and doctors could not figure out how/why despite tests. I hated to be the new student asking for extra time but I had no choice. It was granted and I literally
The next assignment came with it’s challenges. I mistakenly used a phrase without crediting the author-plagiarism! I received a stern warning thereafter. My undergrad hadn’t prepared me even by 20% for this new system.
I continued struggling though. After year 1, I was convinced I would fail.
I said it to myself and anyone who asked.
Whenever results were about to come, my body went through pretty much everything but a stroke.
I knew if I had been paying my tuition I would quit but I kept telling myself this scholarship could have gone to anyone and I was privileged, how could I ruin this? I decided to hang in, albeit painfully.
The work load was crazy. I didn’t really have a break in my own life and there was no one who understood. My classmates were miles away, dealing with their own issues. The few times I tried to reach out didn’t yield much.

I had no clear time table because there was no physical class to go to. That meant, more often than not, everything else came before school.

I jumped in and out of depression. Some weeks I simply stayed in bed all day, cut off the world and then eventually willed myself back up again.
Trying to work in this state was futile which in turn frustrated me and left me feeling like a fraud, a failure completely unworthy.

Trying not to write books under the pretext of posts😞
3rd and last installment comes tomorrow.

Our first 4040 baby

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Dear Penda,
When your mama first told me she was expecting you, I laughed. She always has a joke up her sleeves so I didn’t think she was serious.
The drive home from Bugolobi got a little quiet and I started to wonder if she’d actually meant what she said.

Before long, she started to glow. Pregnancy certainly looked good on her. I am sure by now you have figured out where you got your good looks, and free spirit..and and…
The journey was exciting and it was also a learning experience for me. Being a last born myself, I didn’t really get to watch all these beautiful steps to motherhood.
Your mama was incredibly active, even when we begged her to slow down.
You attended meetings, ‘worked’ at events, paka-chinied, eh, your womb experience must have been an adventure! No wonder you can play for hours on and and it is incredibly difficult to put to bed.

Your mama also loved bread! When they say bun in the oven, they don’t mean her because she had a bakery in there😁
I like to tell the story of how she would carry her loaf of bread to 4040 meetings and some members of the team would tease her. That is before they would punch a slice or 3😒 (Names withheld)
I anticipated your arrival like my life depended on it.

March 22nd
I had been under the weather that week and feared that you’d make an appearance in my absence. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. As fate would have it, your mama was admitted to a hospital next door to home. *You can see why we are neighbours😉*
That was one loooonnngg day.
Your mama paced, paced and paced some more.
Then they took her to the theatre and it was my turn😧
Pace. Sit. Stand. Pace. Repeat. Text a friend. Call mum. Stalk the medical personnel.Pace. Sit. Stand.
Finally, the nurse came out and handed you to me. My heart, oh my heart!
It burst like that ribena berry (I will need to show you video evidence of what I mean)
When your mommy saw you, everything fell in place. You are her life.

You have grown at a scary rate.This morning, I was looking at your baby pictures in awe. I now kind of understand what parents go through watching their children grow too fast.
You’re such a joy to be around,the only therapy that I need.
Your smile, infectious laughter, killer dance moves, ever-growing vocabulary, crazy energy and everything in between.

For many of us, your aunties, the 4040 team, you’re our baby too. When we dot over you, relish it, it’s from the deepest corners of our loving hearts. We promise to be here, for you, for mummy, for always.

It’s an absolute pleasure to watch you grow. As you find yourself, I pray that you continue to know. I hope that your bright light will continue to shine because it allows others to shine too😊

We thank your mama for giving us the opportunity to raise you, to spoil you, to be there every step of the way. We can’t wait to see what the future has in store!

As you watch frozen for the 4,519th time, we celebrate you. Because of you, we have an extra reason to be happy today.
Happy 3rd birthday our Penda, you’re a blessing to us.

 

With so much love,
Your lovestruck God mommy.
Xoxo

Note: Originally posted on 22nd March.

Mother’s day

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Four years ago, on Mother’s day, I sent a friend, Hannah, a mother’s day message.
She replied “Happy Mother’s day too.
I told her she’d made a mistake.
Hannah: No, I haven’t. You have 90 children. I have only 4. You deserve it even more.

 

SONY DSC


Since that day, I have thought a lot about motherhood; paying special attention to children who have not been lucky enough to receive a mother’s love, those who lost it along the way, those raised by a single parent or none; trying to understand adults whose actions reflect absence of role models.

I have also already made conscious decisions about the kind of parent I want to be, and how I hope my partner and I will complement one another; when I have a family of my own.
This entire experience has opened my eyes and taught me things I would probably not have learnt had I been placed anywhere else in the world.
I do not take that for granted.

Croaking, Rhyming n’ebigenderako

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We have come up with the wackiest names and some catchy taglines.
It is mostly spontaneous and often when we over think concepts, they don’t work quite as well as we planned.

Croak and Rhyme was one of the more effortless ones. We wanted people to croak (sing off key) and rhyme (as in poetry)
That Friday night in 2013, at Lion’s bar, Sheraton, an event that was organised for a little more than 100 people spilled 5 times over. The hotel management even asked us if we could do it every weekend because of the killing they made from drinks.


That night, the turn up was mind blowing, and the venue wasn’t that big. We only collected entrance fees and it was our first night event but in a couple of hours we had Ugx 5 million.
I remember the nervous break down I had when I found out a reporter from a popular tabloid was in the area.
One of my biggest fears had always been waking up to find a ridiculous story undermining the efforts of our work with their colourful language.
In the end, the proceeds impressed us so much that we made the decision to raise the balance (from 28 million) to construct our very first dormitory for 210 children.

 

This one is for YOU

I wrote this 4 years ago and recently discovered it when Gloria asked if I ever shared it on my blog.

I decided to post it here. May it remind someone, today that they are never alone.

 

This one is for the girl who can’t sleep at night because her father is coming late yet again with woman number five, six oops she lost count

It is for the single mother who raised her daughter but has only gotten insults and lies in return, tales she can’t recount-

This isn’t for the ‘perfect family’ that goes to Sunday brunch or spends their weekend in Zanzibar

It is for the ones who don’t know where their next meal will come from because daddy is always in the bar, mummy’s pennies hard to come by-

For the girl who lost her youth to chores and fending for her younger siblings when she would really like a day off, okay maybe that’s too much. How about an hour or two just for her?

 

Here is one for the man whose father abandoned him as a child and still wants nothing to do with him many years later –

The daughter who did not get to meet her parents, unsure if they are proud of her wherever they are

The son whose dad and mom left just before he achieved his dreams

 

Today isn’t about the curvy confident girl who walks with an aura of splendour

It is for the one who is uncomfortable with her sexuality

Lesbian, asexual, transexual-

 

That girl who often hears words like fat, plus size, overweight, weight loss, exercise, gym bla bla bla gosh, when does it all end? So, I love juicy chicken, sue me.

But ooh, that isn’t all; the ‘small’ girl isn’t safe either. She is skinny, she is dieting, and she must be anorexic. Do you ever get clothes that actually fit? they ask. You must be spending all your time on fashion magazines, they add. Have they ever heard of genes? I guess not-

 

This one is for that boy who was bullied throughout school and thought the world would be more sympathetic

But all he has got is cruelty and thoughts of suicide. Surely everyone would be happier without him

It is for that girl who lost her self-esteem as a child and is still waiting for it to somehow grow back. Mummy can you hear her? No, wrong selection, it is she that took it away in the first place.

It is for the boy who doesn’t belong

Who stands in the middle of a crowd and feels all alone

It is for the girl who wants to know God

But can’t take the first step

The one who tried to walk the path with Jesus

But had no one to hold her hand through it all

 

This one is for the wrongfully accused that still serve sentences

The individuals whose existence is questioned because of their resemblance- to this tribe, that terrorist group, no matter how unrelated-

It is for the virgin who was shunned by her partner

The repentant thief that was judged by an angry mob

The girl who was abandoned after her last abortion

Even if she did it to please the man she so dearly loved-

The mother who held her baby for the first time and smiled

Blocking thoughts of the father that fled-

The girl whose little angel didn’t make it to her first birthday

The boy who only hears stories of birthday cake

 

It is for the broken hearted man who swears to stay alone forever

Because the love of his life said she would never leave but sort of meant;

I will never leave you, Mark, James, Earl and pretty much every guy that comes my way

It is for all the smiles you put on another’s face

Even as you weep profusely thinking about your life-

 

This one is for the hidden truths

The silent cries

The secret lives

The unspoken pain

The broken families

The poker faces

This one is for you…not the ‘you’ that the world sees but the ‘you’ who battles every day;

The real Y.O.U

 

lonely

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