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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Ride Along

Last night I took an uber at about 21:55. I usually sit in the front when I am alone but I let Karen have the co-driver’s seat as I placed my ‘luggage’ in the back. Some people feel safer at the back but I am more comfortable studying my chauffeur in this position. I digress.

Shortly after dropping off Karen, he initiated a conversation.

*Hakim*: How is work with your organisation?

Me: Which organisation?

Him: You do fundraising or something…?

Me: How did you know?
* I notice the donation boxes I placed in the car before getting in*

Oh…you saw the boxes. <Face palm> Work is good

Him: What exactly do you do?

Me: We work with vulnerable children to improve their literacy. Right now we are working in Makindye division.

He asked several other questions about how we started, what we have achieved and how we raise funds. . As we were nearing Old Kampala he said “I would also like to start paying monthly subscription, from January. I was in total awe.

‘When did my pitching skills get this good?’ I thought to myself. Just a few minutes into the ride and he wants to subscribe? It was suspicious.

He asked me about what my parents think of this decision and remarked. “If only Uganda had 100 more of you, we would be in a better place. You are so young yet you are doing so much to improve lives.” I muttered an awkward thank you and was grateful to be at the back sans eye contact.

I realise the conversation has been heavily one-sided and begin to ask him about what he does. He mentioned he owns a transport company. We had just been talking about the need to hire a car for a scheduled 4040 trip to deliver children’s books across the country at our meeting earlier. I grinned as I made a mental note.

We were now getting closer to my home and the most bizarre thing happened. Hakim began to slow down and I noticed the indicators were rightly directed towards my stop. He was off by just one house and I had not given him any directions up until this point. I told him it was the next turn and he quietly drove- then parked.

Me: Have you dropped me off before?

Hakim: *Laughs*

Me: How did you know where to turn?

Him: The GPS

Me: That is a lie. My location shows a landmark close to home, not the actual house

Him: You are a big woman, I know where you live

Me: *Freaking out a little* Please tell me you have been here before so my heart can settle

Him: Relax Esther. One day you will know

Me: I am going to spend the night trying to figure this out. I will probably not sleep. Please explain.

By this time my left leg is out of the car but the rest of my body is intact as I wait for an explanation. I was holding onto his fare, my own little ransom.

******

At about this time last month, I set off from home to make deliveries to 3 locations. Donation boxes to be placed at Karveli restaurant, Hair by Zzziwa and the Kurb. They were fragile and I opted to hire a car. When we got to destination number 2, Krishna mart mall, I got out of the co-driver’s seat to pick a box from the back seat. The driver had forgotten that I would have to pick something from the back. He reversed the car to get a good parking spot and ran over my left foot in the process. I let out a silent scream and he noticed a little too late. He yelled in disbelief, with a million apologies. Amidst my shock, I asked him to drive towards the front to free my foot which was still stuck.

What happened next stunned me as much as my small ‘audience.’ I carried the box and walked right towards the security check point. The security guards asked me if I needed help or a hospital perhaps but I just shook my head and kept walking. Even my tears froze. It is kind of funny now. *SMH*

When I got back, the driver could barely look at me. His gaze kept drifting towards my foot and I kept on repeating “I’m fine.” I got to the Kurb and asked him to end the trip. He tried to refuse the money but I wouldn’t hear of it. I kept reminding him it was an accident.

My plan was to make the last drop off and take a boda boda (motorbike) to the office. I received a phone call as I waited for management to confirm where I could place the box. It was the driver. He said he was waiting for me so that he could take me wherever I had to go. I tried to fight it but he would not budge. I gave in.

The trip was quite short but he spent it apologising and asking about my foot every 2 minutes. The pain was mild and I had so much on my mind, I had quickly moved on. I hoped he would do the same, for his own sanity.

We finally got to the office and I assured him I was okay. My friends/colleagues were equally shocked by the tale. Besides mild pain, I really was fine. No swelling or (visible) blood clot. After a couple of days, I was as good as new.

*****

“You were very kind to me after that accident in Kisementi, Hakim said. You forgot me but I can never forget you.” At this point I was utterly dumbfounded.

“I didn’t even tell my wife, nothing like that had ever happened to me. I knew that God would bring you back into my life. When you requested the uber today, it did not show your name or face but when you called, your name came up because I had saved your number to check on your foot.”

I was completely speechless. What are the odds that the same person who drove me to drop off the boxes appeared on the same day I had to take them back home, almost exactly one month later…? **&^%(@?<<!

Eerie.

In the words of Hakim “Sometimes bad things happen to you and you have no idea why but there is a reason for them. You just never know what God has planned for your future.”

I have nothing more to add. Listen to Hakim

Happy new year!

Jambula

I have not been able to write in ages. I know why, but at the same time I don’t.

A few minutes ago, I found this little book in my memories; one of the sweetest, most thoughtful gifts I have ever received. I got it one year ago today and I am sure there is a reason I had another look at it today. I have read it over and over again, and it feels like someone is giving me a warm hug, telling me ‘every little thing is going to be alright.’

It is the beautiful sunrise, the middle-of-the-night rain,the cozy couch, that favourite song, all in one.

I am archiving it here because it is just sooooo good 🙂

Thursday..

36

Originally posted on Thursday 6 April

It is Thursday, my most ‘predictable’ day of the week because I am sure how it will end- with a 4040 meeting.
I often schedule appointments around it..If anyone wants to have wedding meetings with me involved, I ask that Thursday isn’t an option; if there is an invitation on a Thursday, I make an exception only if it is really important or if I know my presence will make a difference.
Everyone who knows me, knows this bit of my schedule. *If I owe you money, this is all a joke👆*
This bond has lasted longer than some relationships. We stick together. Before the meetings we are catching up, during the meeting we’re being a menace to the chairman and after the meeting we are saying goodbye but really staying. <cue song- Everytime I try to leave, something keeps pulling me back…🎼🎶🎵>
Even when I am unwell, I force myself there. I know that a night fight or disagree, but we all want the same thing-to create change and that is priceless.
Today it rained in the evening and there were some cancellations as expected but still 14 friends were there to discuss over tea and snacks, sharing ideas that we hope will change lives.
We used to meet on Tuesdays, then two members enrolled in a Master’s class that required them to study on Tuesday. We moved days and never looked back.
We have had ‘5 homes’ where we have met for 5 years.
Some members have settled down and stopped coming, others have settled down and still come; some are single and searching..others are single and being searched..and some..we don’t even know..and it doesn’t really matter. What we know is a have each other.

I don’t know what this picture will look 5 years from now and to be honest, that doesn’t make me lose sleep at night (as much as it used to) I am basking in the now..and the now is beautiful!

It speaks of dreams and rainbows, pain and lessons, love and loss, hard work and loyalty. It provides so many things I never even knew I wanted, that fit right into this life of mine.

 

I probably didn’t do much in my own power, to deserve this blessing that keeps on giving..but one thing is for sure; I will do everything in my power to keep it, to keep them.

Limitless blessings

34

Real time update; From an email I received.

 

Dear Esther

Greetings from *Renewed hope family to the 40/40 team. Hoping you are all doing well. I am happy to inform you that we are doing well, the children are doing well too.
I am glad to inform you that *Renewed hope* has of late gotten a partnership with an American based organisation called *New day international. They purposely registered to work with us and in this they have committed themselves to raising money to help the running of *Renewed hope which is going to include salaries, food etc.

They are also thinking about constructing a medical facility that will as well serve the community, construct a secondary school and also buy land for *Renewed hope for farming. They hope to work with us on this in phases.

We are praying about everything they tell us as we waiting on God.

Keep praying for us. Here is a reminder that it was because of the partnership that we have had with you that the world got to know more about us, reaching this stage is a great success that is attributed to your support and good relationship with us.
Thank you.

P.s: *I edited names of people/organisations to protect their identity*

Do you see God? Always working overtime for those who love and serve him🙏

Starting Over

12
The year was 2013. I quit my job without a plan and needed to convince myself that it was the right decision before I could convince my loved ones…and then the ‘world.’
I was constantly looking for signs and any positive feedback or bright light shinning on 4040 qualified. Similarly, when too many humps came my way, I would re-evaluate my decision and contemplate going ‘back.’
Around that time, I got nominated for the ‘Heroine of the year award’ by the Young Achiever’s awards.
I was excited but also extremely anxious😢

To begin with, I didn’t feel worthy. That award had previously been won by Dr.Matthew Lukwiya (rest his soul) whose heroism saved several lives when Ebola hit Uganda hard. He literally sacrificed his own life. I, on the other hand, was a rookie at most.
Awel, who put the awards together, mentioned that I was the only one who really needed to pitch what I do since all the other winners were in a competition of sorts, and were established themselves. Way to go increasing the ‘puresha!’ (Pressure)

I decided to use my fear and anxiety to fuel my preparations to speak at the event.
D-day arrived and Victoria Hall, Serena was filled to capacity (it isn’t small by any standards) Luckily, I had managed to ‘smuggle’ extra invitations for my team and knowing that they were in the room, along with some members of the family, helped. Sadly, I couldn’t make eye contact with any of them as nominees sat separately.
I kept hearing the names of the dignitaries present,titles like Queen, C.E.O, MD flew over the room as little ol’ me sat, shaking.
That entire week I had had trouble sleeping..I had dreams, scratch that-nightmares.
Once I was tripping in high heels, then in another, I was stuttering as I spoke.
I always woke up in cold sweats.

Well, when I was finally called to the podium I realised why I had been afraid. It was intimidating!😥

The lights, the people..did I mention THE PEOPLE? I didn’t imagine them naked (which is advice on how to handle speaking to large crowds, apparently)
I was shaking from my waist downwards..for the entire duration.Thank God no one could see that..
I received the award and then I spoke..and spoke and then spoke some more. I just couldn’t stop. I pitched with all my heart, or so I would like to believe.
I even called out the NSSF MD in my speech. *where those guts came from, only God knows*
<He would later re-appear when we won an award in 2015, story for another day>
I don’t know if I made any blunders in the speech, nor do I remember much of what I said.

 


I do remember the aftermath though.
Speaker after speaker commended our work, many pledged support.
It was the biggest crowd I had ever addressed and one of the most important too.
At the end of the event, I collected a ridiculous number of business cards and mentally noted everyone who said ‘ get in touch, let’s work together.’
Since it was December, I waited for the festive season to end.
After the new year began, I started knocking doors and sending emails.
Between those who ignored me, asked me to come back ‘next week’ for several months and played hide and seek, there was a grand total of about 3 individuals who honoured their pledges or came through months later.

It didn’t matter, okay it did..it kinda hurt too but more than anything it toughened me and prepared me for a lot worse;Not to mention I have had countless speaking engagements since..and although I am always anxious, I like to remind myself of some of the lion’s dens I have been to and survived.

Aluta continua

Do unto others

Part one (story number 2)
Some months before the 4040 journey, my friend started a company.
Let us call him Frank.
He invited 5 other friends, including myself, in different positions. We all had other ‘hustles’ and met once a week.
During these weekly meetings we discussed the vision for the company. We also contributed financially to a ‘fund’ during each meeting.
One of the issues to tackle was climate change and we were planning a symposium. That was 6 years ago so you can imagine how ‘current’ the themes were. We would probably have accomplished quite a bit by now.
I speak of it in past tense because one day we were up and running and next day…we just weren’t.
Frank is quite ambitious, a go better who had a clear vision of what he wanted. Some of his friends were either less interested in this particular venture or just weren’t in the place Frank needed them to be. They missed meetings without apology and generally had a laid back approach to work.
I do not like to start things if I have no intention of seeing them to the every end and generally frown upon unprofessionalism so I was bothered by their laxity. I mentioned this to Frank a few times but I could also see they were friends first, even closer to him than I was, so it remained one of those things I couldn’t do much about.
I decided I would do my part. Another friend, Sophie who was in charge of accounts also took her work seriously. We would balance it out. I hoped
We started setting up meetings to rope in partners. We weren’t going to fight global warming on our own, now were we?These 20 something’s were ready to take on the world.
I even got shares in this company..Whaattaabout?!
Along the way, without so much as a goodbye, the company went into oblivion. I can’t quite say how or when..but it did.
Maybe the time wasn’t right or the team wasn’t ready; perhaps other life commitments took over. I will never really know.
This week two things happened to remind me of Frank’s company. I got a notification about a Facebook like (as I am an admin on the page) and I took a boda boda that rode past one of the organisations I had approached to partner with us.
I smiled.
Fast forward, 4040 begins and I give it my best. I have a team made up of friends so there is a line that should or shouldn’t be drawn. It’s a conundrum.
I look back at my work with Frank, there may not be much to show but I do not regret giving my time and resources.
I was supporting a friend, when he needed it and I would like to think I accomplished that.
do-unto-others
Part two (Story number 3) *You will notice that this is like 5 stories in one so please allow me to combine , and count them as two-yes? Yes. Thanks
Later on,Frank gets a good job as the right hand man of a prominent C.E.O. Circa early 2014, we are in the process of building a dormitory and we are Ugx 5 million (approximately $1,500) away from meeting our target. We have run campaigns, organised events and used up all the ‘public’ avenues to raise funds. I pray for a miracle and make a plan to ensure anyone who dares to ask “how are you?” gets the real truth.
Stuck is where I was. This dormitory needed to be completed and short of a miracle, there was no other way.
Around that time, *Ruth and Frank* get in touch. Ruth was coming into the country for a short while and wanted to have tea..Frank was just casually checking in on me.
I told both of them about my struggle.
Ruth immediately offered to contribute Ugx 1 million. I wept!
By the time Frank checked in, my problem was less by a million shillings. I told him we needed Ugx 4 million.
He also immediately suggested his current workplace and asked me to draft a letter.
In our conversation he told me to consider it done. Given how close he worked with the CEO. I believed him, without a doubt.
The next day, I trekked to town armed with a soft copy of the letter, an empty purse and a grateful heart.
I went by Frank’s office after printing the letter. He suggested changes. I went back to the printery, edited and brought the ‘final’ copy complete with attachments.
I walked to Ruth’s with a spring in my step and told her about my miracle. She was excited. We had our tea and she handed me the 1 million at the end. This was the work of God and I was honoured to be a servant.
A week went by and I contacted Frank.
He said I would have feedback the next week. After one week I got in touch. He mentioned his boss was away.
Next time, the boss was ill.
Then, no reply.
Suddenly,all  my messages and calls were being ignored..
I was confused because all he needed to tell me was that the request was rejected..or even come up with some story about the organisation only taking part in a certain kind of CSR which we didn’t qualify for, blame it on global warming. Anything.
Instead.
Radio silence.
Finally I got a clue and decided to look for the balance from scratch. It was H.A.R.D!
I blamed myself for counting my chickens before they hatched. I was the only fool in this equation.
The thing that confused me the most was I did not see why Frank had to treat me this way. It made no sense. We were friends. I had spent two years hustling to build 4040 and he knew it. I mean, I could see why someone else would do this and have experienced it from several people especially on this 40-40 journey but him.why?
I was perplexed but I had to let it go, grudgingly.
For a long time I thought I would not be able to look at Frank or speak to him. I felt he had treated me like awfully and I didn’t think I deserved it. When I confronted him, I left feeling patronised and had to accept an apology than I never did receive. He literally acted like nothing had happened while I nursed my still-very-fresh-wounds.
In case you were wondering, we managed to raise the Ugx 4 million balance. It was not easy but we somehow did.
The story wasn’t over.Yet
About a year later, 4040 starts another campaign to raise funds for a second dormitory, for girls. Lo and behold! Frank asks me to draft a letter so he can talk to his boss about funding.
I read the message and all my frustration and anger returned. I felt sick to my stomach.
It felt like deja vu except I knew for sure it was real and not the brain playing tricks.
I decided to take a few deep breaths and then I called Sophie.
Now in case you don’t remember, Sophie had served with me at Frank’s company..and was now volunteering with 4040.
The conversation went something like this
“Frank has contacted me about contributing for the girl’s dormitory. If he is serious, I don’t want my pride or feelings to get in the way of our girls getting a home. I don’t trust myself not to have an outburst or say things I will regret so do me a favour and take it on from here.”
She understood. I later drafted the letter and send it to her. She did the follow up while I remained present only remotely.
In a couple of weeks, the payment was approved and an EFT made to our account.
I generally like closure and would have wanted to know what changed this time round. It would be nice to understand why my calls and pleas were avoided like the plague. Was this second attempt penance?
However, none of these is as important as the girl’s dormitory that finally became a reality because hundreds of people contributed, including the company Frank works for.
dorm-main

The complete dormitory for girls in Bombo, Uganda

What would you do?

Note:
This is my second and third installment in what I hope will be 40 stories about the 40-40 journey spread out during these 40 days of lent.