Of legends and fans

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In 2014,We were looking for a way to re-invent our music+poetry event, “Croak and rhyme.” It had been an unexpected success the year before and we needed to be more innovative.

One night, during a 4040 meeting at (now defunct๐Ÿ˜ณ) Cee cees restaurant,we made a list of possible artists, mostly the ones who seemed unreachable because that’s the only way we would have an edge.

Then we came up with the name “Maddox Sematimba” and suddenly there was no need for further debate. He was ‘the one’ and we needed to get him.

Some context; At the time, Maddox was living a quiet life and had not performed in ages. In fact, it was not easy to track him down because it did not seem like he wanted to be found.

For some reason, we love a challenge and the search began during that very meeting as people called people, who called other people that could lead us to the main man.

Our very own ‘Nalumansi’ took the lead on this. After several days of searching,connecting dots and a road trip to Busabala, he was tracked down. The next task was to convince him to get onto the big stage. He accepted๐Ÿ˜Š

We had the headline act we were looking for and nothing could possibly go wrong, right? Wrong.
While he had many fans and 4040 was slowly growing its numbers, the cost of putting on the show was quite high. Not to mention the background drama that comes with venues and difficult people who are always looking to give a problem for every solution๐Ÿ˜ฅ

Nonetheless, we persevered. Many other amazing musicians got on board and all agreed to perform at no cost. In fact, after making our ‘dream list,’ the only factor that would get someone off the list was their inability to accept our (zero) rates.
We didn’t hold it against them, we just couldn’t afford them and were open about it.

D-day arrived and we prayed for a successful show despite the anxiety.
That event was arguably the best organised we have had in recent times Incidentally, other people in the entertainment industry also noticed this.
A small dedicated team had put it together, under the outstanding stewardship of Nalumansi. The results showed.
Just before Maddox got on stage, Collin stood beside me assuring me that Maddox would never come for this event. We argued although I knew very well that Maddox was already in the building (technically in the gardens, at the museum)
While we were having this argument, the man himself got on stage. Walalala! Collin disappeared without a word. I, too ran to the front, to get a better view. It was the first and last performance I watched that night. The performers did a commendable job and then there was Maddox.

 


His laid back attitude as he belted those lyrics, that moment when he gave Nalumansi a shout out and the 4040 team burst into laughter wherever they were; the pause when the DJ played a beat and Maddox told him to please move on swiftly to another song; when Frank got onto the stage and sang with Maddox word for word, a if he had been part of rehearsals; it was all beautiful!
We were in the presence of a legend and he got everyone together, effortlessly.

We didn’t raise much from that event. In fact it the surplus was nominal but we did a lot more, things can’t be priced even if we tried.

Since then, Maddox has performed at several events and even released a music video after a long hiatus.
In 2015, a few friends and I tracked him down at a random bar in Munyonyo, to pay homage. By 1a.m, the stage was still rife with ‘curtain raisers.’ We sang along to songs we had never heard, got to know new artists and yawned from time to time as we awaited the presence of “our man.” We later went backstage to introduce ourselves and ask why he wasn’t coming on stage. “Mani promoter y’atutegeka..” he explained.
I really dislike starting things and not accomplishing them so I could not imagine going back home without watching at least one song.
Meanwhile, all of us stayed in different parts of Kampala and only one of us had a car that we were planning to squeeze into. This was before omulembe gwa uber๐Ÿ˜ฆ
I remember my neighbour’s reaction vividly as we got up to leave. “Sweetie naawe togenda b’ano abalala babowa.” (Please don’t leave, these other attendees are boring)
I smiled.

I can’t say that we re-awakened his career but I would like to believe that our genuine hope, belief and interest in him sparked something within his heart, to remind him how special he is.

I hope he can release an album or two before retiring. I look forward to purchasing the copies and getting as many people to do the same. He has an upcoming show meanwhile. Everyone needs to watch him in action at least once.

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What goes around…

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Originally posted on 2, April
Sometime back, a company organised an event and fronted 4040 as the charity of choice, to benefit from the proceeds.
I had met the M.D, *Charles a few times before.
When he pitched the event to me, I wasn’t moved. Not because I felt like there was anything wrong with the concept but for the mere fact that I was tired of users and could not imagine another scenario in which I pick up the pieces. The charges were also high and I knew that it would be a hard sell even to people who would ordinarily want to support our different campaigns. I shared this concern and he assured me they had it under control.
He was persistent.
We had a back and forth, including meetings which involved other members of my team.
I told him my only condition was that they did the work without expecting the ‘beneficiaries’ to go all out on promoting the event. Since it was primarily a business venture, they would go on about their work and contact us when ready to make statement or contribution.
Our plate was full and we couldn’t be adding events we didn’t plan for to our calendar.
He agreed.
We set the plan in motion.

They got to work marketing the event and my team even pitched in once in a while.
A few weeks to the event, I tweeted about a friend’s perfomance, asking people to attend. One of Charles’ colleagues,Tracy sent me a message that read “I saw you tweeting about a perfomance instead of telling your followers about our event.”
What in the world? I was furious. Now my personal pages were being policed? I couldn’t support my own?
I tried not to be rude as I explained to Tracy that I have many different interests and cannot be expected to only speak about matters pertaining to 4040, not to mention I hadn’t promised to promote their event. We were just adding to their existing strategies.

D-day arrived and as (partially) expected, the event wasn’t well attended, not enough for it to be profitable at least. Charles and his team had clearly invested money, lots of it. What they didn’t invest was more time in the planning process, to allow for better execution.
After the event, I made a courtesy call to Charles to congratulate him upon a milestone. Putting together an event of that magnitude in itself is/was huge.
A week went by and I asked Charles if we could have a meeting just to discuss the event, learning points and put a close to it.
He declined.
At this point, I already knew they couldn’t have made money and I was not even the tinniest bit mad that no ‘proceeds’ were shared. ย I know how difficult it is and being their first event, it could only get better.However, when he ignored my second attempt, I picked a clue and moved on.

Soon after, I found out that he was telling anyone who cared to listen that it was 4040’s fault the event flopped.๐Ÿ˜ฎ
He added that we were ‘nobodies’ and in fact every company they approached seeking sponsorship had never heard of us. (How is this even a problem? We get to spread the dream further,no?)
Apparently, they (Charles and his company) were merely doing us a favour including us in their event and yet we thought we were big shots. We would never prosper..
He went on to say that “If 4040 comes to look for their hours of footage that we filmed, we shall not give it to them. ”
It goes on and on but I will save you the other details. By now, you already get the drift.

When I heard these stories I was sad. Not sad for myself or 4040 but for Charles. I was sad because I did not think he believed what he was saying and if he did, it was simply in an attempt to find someone to blame but himself. On top of it all, that level of petty does not a leader make.

I kept this information to myself. Whenever someone cared to ask about the proceeds of the event, I told them the company hadn’t made enough to include us.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, Charles’ operations manager contacts me. I am suprised because my last encounter with the company in general was in form of the ‘blue ticks’ Charles accorded me.
I ask what it is about and she tells me about an upcoming campaign they have..๐Ÿ˜ž
Yup..it is indeed what you are thinking. They want us to get involved.๐Ÿ˜ฅ
Sigh.
In their world, everything was erased by time and a clean sheet could just be opened, new script written.
No questions asked.
Well, I made a call and asked some questions, engaged in a mostly one sided conversation in which I sought the closure I never had the chance to get.
I assured Tracy that there was no way we could work with them again especially since they are not trustworthy. I explained that I neither wanted their money nor an apology but I needed them to know that “I know” and that is no way to work with people.

I hope that one day soon, I will get to meet Charles, not to ridicule him or remind him of how he wasted a learning opportunity and future partnerships (although the latter would most likely come up) but to encourage him to look in a mirror, like really look; and then surround himself with more honest people.

 

 

Tomorrow’s leaders

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Originally posted on Friday, 31st March.
‘Real time story (stories?)’

Today we had the last Angaza (literacy program) session of the term..
Before heading over to the school we work with, I had a meeting with an Education consultant who has decades of experience. She is quite intelligent and exposed and yet she has the unique ability to make you feel like she is learning from you; all the while being warm and humourous.
Do you also get that feeling when you meet someone and wish you met them way earlier in life? She makes me feel that way. We spoke about a wide range of topics. I told her I was considering doing training to become an educator. Guess what, she mentioned a school that is coming up and is willing to recruit professionals in different fields and then train them. (Is this you? Get in touch) I have always thought teachers have a huge impact on our lives (bad or good) and perhaps I can get a chance to impact young minds. This is an exciting prospect and even if it doesn’t materialise now, I know its time will come and I will look back like ‘remember when this was only a mere thought?’

Well, when we got to Merowa Primary School,the energy was crazy. I was wondering ‘who can be this energised at 2:30pm on a hot Friday afternoon?’ Well the children were.
We had different professionals speaking to the children about art, medicine,journalism,photography, law and entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, our policeman speaker got stuck in traffic and couldn’t make it. I must confess, I was excited about the children’s potential excitement when he took them through drills and such. I hope I shall be present for when he can make it.

The children were excitable. Grace even had them do a mock presentation of News during her journalism talk and it was awesome!
It was amazing to note that some of the children came out of their shells even if they were sometimes withdrawn during our sessions.
Another outstanding moment for me was when I met volunteers who had no idea who I was. Most of them had joined weeks after orientation and thus we had not met before.
Sharon’s jaw dropped as she asked a volunteer, *Ali “You mean you don’t know the founder?” He was so unruffled and went on to explain that he had volunteered twice at the school and never seen ‘Esther’ there. He was right!
My smile was so big while Sharon stared at me in shock. After he walked off we discussed this encounter. Frankly, I was really glad. Most of the volunteers had responded to a call we made but Ali didn’t. He found out about quiz night but failed to make it so when he saw a tweet about our sessions, he made his way. Not because he knew anyone, not because of FOMO but because he genuinely wanted to impact children’s lives. This is what it is about.
That is what I have always dreamt of, that 4040 will get wings and fly so far that it is no longer attributed; for us to have a network of change agents anywhere and everywhere,who are driven by purpose and social impact; for young people(especially) to be motivated to do more for their communities not because they are called to, but because there is need. Period.

Ali is pursuing a medical degree at Makerere University and spoke passionately during his presentation, about dreams,freedom to change/tweak them and the need to be unapologetic about who you are.
I was engulfed by too many feels.

As if that wasn’t enough, when i walked out of class, one of the nursery school teachers, *Anne, opened up to me.
She explained that as a struggling single mother she couldn’t even give her children the education provided by this school. Her children are under the care of her mother in Pallisa. When I asked about the children’s father, she broke down into tears. How to give her a hug when the little children were pulling at my sleeves and craving attention๐Ÿ˜ฆ
Anne told me that she got into teaching because her parents could no longer afford her school fees after S.4 and a nursery teaching course was the most her sponsor could fund.
Perhaps if she had had career guidance and the support of people like our volunteers, she could have pursued her dreams.

I left in reflective mode with some mixed feelings,and an incredibly FULL heart.
March has been unkind in many ways but it certainly had a worthwhile ending.

Here is wishing you a productive, peaceful and meaningful April. May you have the strength to hold on even when you feel like giving up..and may it all be worth it, even if it comes out packaged differently from what you imagined.

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 posts๐Ÿ˜ž
3rd and last installment comes tomorrow.

Adult education (1)

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The year was 2012. I was the only one at the company who didn’t have any post-grad qualifications. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to study but since it was a marketing firm, I thought perhaps I could do that. I spoke to the boss about the company contributing to the cost and he was supportive.
I enrolled for the Chartered Institute of Marketing(CIM) I remember being so busy that Gilbert helped me bank the tuition. Bless him
Shortly after the first class, I became extremely ill. I was hospitalised for a while and came out almost a different person. I had enough time to acknowledge the possibility of death and ponder how fleeting life was.
I asked myself if I wanted to do marketing for the rest of my life. The answer was no. That’s how I became a ‘drop out’ without looking back.

I went back to balancing office work and 4040. I promised myself the only courses I would do, would tie into my bigger purpose and would have to be at my own terms. My own terms included paying for whatever it was that I wanted to study. I had savings but they weren’t that grand; not grand enough for the UK universties I later applied to anyway. Whereas I got admitted into the universities, I was always late for the scholarship grants which needed to be almost concurrent(Requirement was to apply for the scholarship after admission)
I decided to let it go since I secretly did not want to leave my baby (4040) for an entire year.

Several months went by. One day, as I was looking through the papers, I saw an advertisement. Commonwealth scholarships for a distance learning program. The MA was two years long, with 3 months of face to face classes in London. The MA options were perfect for me and the development work I was doing with 4040.
“Hello, is it me you’re looking for?!”
I stashed the cut out in my bag, decided to keep it to myself for a while and prayed about it. I looked at it from time to time.
I pretended not to care about it to protect my heart from hurting if I didn’t get in.

Finally, just before the deadline, I decided to apply. It was so haphazard that I didn’t even first write out my information offline,edit, share with a confidant then send. No, I just filled in the essays on the spot and clicked ‘send’ then forgot about it.

End of part 1.

T.I.R.E.D

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Originally posted on ย 27 March

Today I got up in the morning and heard what sounded like a crack in my back. I immediately lay flat and waited.

I have had a long month so I mentally dismissed it as a result of the work load.
A couple of hours later H called me and shared some not-so-good news. I told her that phone call was my cue to get up and face the day. I got up. A few minutes into my morning routine, the first person I was meant to meet cancelled. I wasn’t sure whether to be mad or happy. I decided to take it as a sign. I would get up in the afternoon for my errands. Back to bed I went.
As if the universe read my mind, the skies opened generously shortly after this decision.
I covered my head to ‘sleep.’

 

I generally don’t sleep much. I can’t nap unless I have been drugged. I can however,close my eyes and pretend to nap.
It wasn’t always like this.

I am an active person and when I don’t have anything to do, I get restless. When I have too much to do, I am in my zone but doesn’t mean I don’t get anxious.

By the time an event comes, I have lived it in my dreams, awake,half-awake and asleep.

I realised that the only way I can truly rest is when I leave the city, better still when I am out of the country all together-preferably without a good connection-phone and internet.

This lack of rest eventually catches up. You can’t fool the mind or body for too long. When the fatigue sets in,certain systems begin to crash,slowly. Sometimes, it comes as a single blow.
Most of the time I can sense it. In most cases, I manage the symptoms as they arise; other times I keep going because I know; There is no one having sleepless nights about how to make it all work. I do my best knowing that if this fails, I will only have myself to blame.

The truth is, I thought by now, things would be easier. 5 years is a long time to hustle day and night. It is a long time to still be going through certain routines you thought would be long gone. It is a long time to always get so near and later realise how far you are. This doesn’t mean I do not value the wins. I truly do.

The truth is,it could take 5 more years, decades even to get to that place where I can comfortably sleep,take long vacations and still know that everything is under control.

Maybe it won’t even get easier at all and I will just get better at dealing.
What I want to share with you is that it is difficult, in an inexplicable way.
Blood, sweat and tears-that’s not an expression, it is REAL.
When ‘they’ say nothing worth having comes easy. It is true. Of course there will be some ‘easy’ wins along the way but overall it is not for the faint hearted.
This applies to starting anything really, a business, a relationship, a family.
However, some responsibilities consume you more than others.
True leadership is taxing. It is cold. It eats you up. It wears you out and tosses you out in the wilderness to fend for yourself.

What people want to see and share is the success story and I think that’s awesome;I just wish more people were truly honest about how they got there,what they went through, what they sacrificed;what they would do differently given the chance.

Sometimes it is so gruelling you want to quit and go to a new city and start over-
Many times you will even forget to eat, or remember but still find that food is tasteless because your mind is wandering constantly-
You will get so tired that you can’t rest and the exhaustion will seep into your emotional and spiritual life; it will affect your thoughts and productivity
Often you will be alone, so alone that you will hit rock bottom;you’ll cross the line to depression and even consider taking your own life-

Your loved ones will not always be there, they will not always understand,they will fall short of being enough. They might even be the cause of your pain from time to time-

Sometimes, you will be envious of others who seem to have it easy-
You will not bother to determine if they are just better actors-

During tough days you may consider dropping the dream to take the easy route
You will weigh your other options

You will receive a lot of crappy advice,some of it dispensed with a lot of love
You will encounter naysayers often
You will lose friends
You will face betrayal
You will be misunderstood
You will second guess and ‘tenth guess’ yourself
You will need to be your own cheerleader,more times than you can imagine
You may drown in self pity once in a while
It will probably not end well
You will cry
And cry some more
Even if you aren’t a ‘crier’-

You may find other ways to deal
Drugs
Alcohol
Binge eating
This will probably soothe some of the pain, mostly psychologically anyway
But your reality will still be waiting when you are done.

You might become hard
You will still be fragile.

You will need to feel EVERYTHING and allow yourself to.

Embrace ALL pain.
It is fuel for learning,for growing, for inspiration,even for healing, as ironic as it sounds.

“Every man dies but not every man truly livesโ€.
Your struggle,your pain all because you want to do more than just exist, you want to live.

Do that, severely.