Celebrating Life :)

September! Oh how the months have flown by!
I am always excited about beginnings. If you tell me you have got a new job, or started a new project, I am going to blow it out of proportion. If things don’t work out, well we celebrated when we could.
New months are no different. My insomnia helps me ‘watch’ them begin, as the clock strikes midnight. No, no glass slippers, just lots of glass dreams.
I begin the months with hopes of unforeseen goodness. Surely they sometimes backfire, but the glass is always half full. *Goodness, the overuse of this glass analogy must stop* Okay. The mug of tea is always half full 😀
This month was no different. I was chatting with a few friends when I noticed one rare addition to my chats at about 23:58.. Gloria is always in bed and offline before 10:00 pm. I instantly asked her what was wrong. She said she was waiting for September. Caught the bug, have we? I thought. Two minutes later I told her we’d made it to the ninth month that happens to be our birth month. Yaay!
On twitter, I noticed she was replaying some of our conversations with the hashtag #CelebratingEsther. I simply ‘favorited’ and went to bed. The next morning I noticed a few of my friends  were doing the same. Oh well, no one will know which Esther it is. Except, a few quirks were uniquely me so it would be difficult to deny. I hid in a corner and waited for the day to end thinking they were doing it because in was the 1st of the month. Alas! it was not to be. It has continued and it is mostly sweet and bittersweet. Some experiences I actually have no recollection of. The beauty of friendship 🙂

So here I am smiling my way to ‘old age’ because everything that might have made it to my eulogy, I get to ‘hear’ while I am alive. That can only mean at the funeral, everybody will just sing and dance as they celebrate life. Oh wouldn’t that be fun?
Speaking of celebrations, last week I got a message from a gentleman who commented on one of my blog posts. It turned out he wanted to invite a few people, including myself to dinner. This invitation to dinner at Endiro coffee came with some coffee tasting too. Yes, even with my sworn love and dedication to tea, I can sip coffee. I noticed it was happening on a Thursday (which is 4040 meeting day) and almost cancelled on Cody but instead I decided to multi task. I attended the meeting for a bit then made it in time for dinner. That day I got soaked twice by the rain until it just became funny.
The guests were all female bloggers except for one gentleman who works on television. The conversations were engaging and the atmosphere pretty friendly. Being a slow eater who is often slowed even more by ‘kaboozi,’ I was shocked to realise the pork ribs and rice on my plate had disappeared in record time! I looked around and noticed almost everyone was still eating. *high fives self* The food was great, as was the company.

Cody explained that he had called us all to celebrate the positive messages in our blogs. “I want you to know that someone out there appreciates you. That is why I called you here today.” Normally, I would have broken into a loud ‘awwwww’ but I kept it silent. I was shocked when he made reference to one of my blog posts.

To be honest, I started to write because I needed to, hoping my story or those of people I know could touch a life or two. I only just recently changed my theme after a long time and don’t even know how many people follow my blog. I think sub consciously I believe if I put so much effort into numbers and appearance, it will become work. That would take the love out of it. For now though, it is just honest and I am glad someone out there appreciates it.
It was an unexpected experience which I loved. It reminded me of a time last year when I got a group of my female friends and told them we needed to give ourselves a treat. Everyone would buy their own dinner. The only condition was that they had to dress up or make up, generally do whatever else they needed to do to impress themsleves  and then have a good time. It ended up being a beautiful night where we got to know each other at a deeper level and share laughs. It coincided with a good friend’s engagement. She had been proposed to just a couple of days before. We were left swooning as she narrated her love story.
It cost us Ugx 30,000 tops and at the end of the night each one of us hitched a ride with whoever was going to our side of town. Seriously, you need to consider celebrating every milestone even in the tiniest of ways. In the absence of one, create it. “Just because it’s Tuesday” sounds doable…no?

This morning I woke up to a sweet message that ‘celebrated’ my belief in love, in people and kindness. I have read and re-read it and I can’t stop but wonder where it all began. I think it has a lot to do with all the rain and clouds that brought beautiful rainbows at the end. Where would we be without faith or love?
This month I committed myself to write at least one thing I am grateful for every day. I am hoping the 30 days will become 365 days and then life will just be an all-round celebration!
I don’t know about you but I am going to celebrate the life out of September and if you don’t do something about it, I might consume your sun light too.

celebrate

 

Carpe diem.

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All I want for Christmas..

Monica tells me she no longer ‘feels’ Christmas the way she did when she was little.
“Back then, all our step mothers would come with their children. There was so many people and the house was filled with joy,” she recollects.
She was too young to think about which ‘wife’ was treated better or investigate why, she of all children rarely got the ‘Christmas dress’ she desired. She simply enjoyed the holiday.
As she grew older, she soon realised that the absence of her mother, who passed away when she was little, meant there was no one to stand up for her. Nonetheless, Christmas was Christmas and she would enjoy it at all costs.
I promised her we would put up the Christmas tree together. I don’t know if it is going to help but I certainly won’t let her to lose the spirit of Christmas on my watch!
Like her, having the family together is one of my favourite things about this season.
Musical interlude >>>

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give a king, pa rum pum pum
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

Don’t let them tell you you’re not good enough
Don’t let them tell you you’re not strong enough
Me and my drum we’re gonna change the world

I realise that Christmas has been overly  commercialised and I have encountered several people who simply do not see the fuss.
I say, if Christmas will give us reason to visit our folks in the village, spend more time together, give more than usual, shop for the family and have our city light up, then I can deal with people who have lost the sense of what it is truly about.
Perhaps your calendar does not agree that Jesus was born on 25th December, heck maybe you do not even believe in his existence. That is okay. The one language that should rise above religion, sex, race or beliefs is love. It should not take the festive season to remind us to love, but here I am asking you to be engaged in full gear.
See, I am in the ‘business’ of love and spreading it is my trade. At 40-40, we try to make it ‘Christmas every day.’ Even when it is not, we are spending time planning to make this ‘spirit’ manifest in the lives of the children we support and you, the giver.
Whereas this is not the easiest trade, with most transactions being felt and seen, it is also pretty fulfilling. We get paid in hugs and smiles! 😀
I have a wish list of my own, I am sure we all do somewhere. Some things I may never acquire, others I could even find tomorrow. Working towards this list is not easy but at least I have faith and I have the mind to accept what can’t be.
There is a group of special people I know though, they need to be reminded to believe, to be shown that hope is very much alive.
This year we are asking you to join us and make Christmas memorable for these beautiful children we support. Some are orphans, others were abandoned and a number of them are battling cancer.
When asked what he wanted for Christmas, Daniel did not hesitate to let us know he needed new clothes for church. Sunday is the day he actually gets to go out to the ‘real world’ without wearing a uniform or struggling for space. The blue shirt he often wears is a bit worn out. Also, it is not really his because on some Sundays, Moses wears it. This is his chance to own something that truly belongs to him.
At 15 years old, what is it you desperately wanted?
We want to give Daniel his outfit and make the wishes of 50 other children come true.
Their desires are modest, a pair of shoes here, a football there, some toys and watches in between.
Thanks to the support from our friends and networks, we shall be wrapping these gifts this evening.
christmas morn
To be honest, if 40-40 did nothing else all year round and simply gave these, often forgotten children one beautiful day and that gift they had their eyes on, I would be content. As a plus for me, we are involved in a lot more.
Do join us this Saturday at Akiba for a day of giving, laughter, food, games and pure unadulterated fun.
This Christmas party may lift the spirits of the kids but I daresay, your own life could be changed forever.
santa es+baby
In case I don’t ‘see’ you soon, have a very Merry Christmas and fulfilling 2015!

Cheers to the future

A couple of weeks ago, I started a new year, a new chapter in my life.

Unlike past birthdays, this was the first one where my mindset switched from “Where did all the years go?” to “I cannot wait for what the next few years have to offer.”

This past year was also one of growth and maturity (or so I hope) and I have learnt a few things, noticed others that hitherto silently passed me by but mostly I am grateful for  several things that will probably not all be tackled in this post.

Providence, family, friends

I didn’t think that I would quit my job for my passion and I did not know if I would last. I did it anyway..and here we are.

It is one thing to believe in something so much you will give anything for it, it is completely different to have people believe with you.

I have been blessed by God in countless ways but the most important gifts he has sent have come in form of angels that I call my family and friends.

We do not always agree or even pretend to. Many of them saw what could go wrong with my choices, and continue to remind me how precarious it is, but they stay anyway.

What we all deserve is someone/some people who are willing to put their doubts aside and support us, if for anything-just because it is what we need.

 

The will, the drive, the strength to carry on

 

I am not a morning person mostly because I get very little sleep at night and then actually begin to rest just before sunrise so conversations, phone calls, work that start this early often mess with my system and I avoid them when I can.

Nevertheless, I do them anyway. There are t.v interviews I have had to do which involved getting there before 7a.m, appointments with people who have no time besides those early hours and I can’t begin explaining my issues.

So, that boda has to be flagged down and the cold braced. When there, sense has to be made even if you are there only in body.

The rain has showered me from time to time but I think of them as hazards that come with the job.

What is most challenging is the fact that there are no ‘direct results’ and even if they come, they take a while. Unlike the early bird who will get to his stall and  target those heading to work to increase sales, I will talk till I am out of breath, meet everyone I can to sell this dream and the wait. Simply sit tight and wait.

I am grateful for the patience to wait, and to have something that I believe in- to wait upon.

When it comes to strength, even I have no idea where it comes from. Sometimes 36 hour days occur and you can’t explain to an ‘ordinary person’ what it is you were up to, many times not even yourself.

It is funny how people are so quick to judge based on physical appearances.

Big=strong, Small=weak. What is worse is that they openly admit it.

“You are Esther? I didn’t expect you to be so young and this small.”

Me: I had no expectations of what you should look like but that is just me.

The 40/4o team recently participated in the cancer run.The idea was that we stick together whether we have to jog, walk or crawl, and we did. I had not eaten well for the past few days but I didn’t give it much thought. That was until my stomach started to act up after we reached the 5km mark or so. When my friends would say, let us run downhill, I would gesture that I was right behind them but the truth is I was barely managing.

Somehow, I grabbed one of them and told them the truth on one condition- we finished the race no matter what. We did 🙂

I want to say size is not everything but it would be redundant.

The mother’s ‘motoka’ eh!

I learnt how to drive when I was about 18 and I thought at the time it would be a nice skill to have for the ‘future.’

Driving was easy but road users were not. I got so many insults for being ‘mu kintu,‘ coming from the ‘privileged side’ or simply for being young and a woman. This would mostly happen when stuck in traffic especially next to taxi. I started to always have the window up no matter what or pretend not to understand Luganda.

The skill did come in handy! Before long, I was the go to person to pick that relative arriving at 5a.m or drop another to the bus station at 12a.m. Was this the reason driving school fees were paid? Well played.

No but seriously, I did my duties grudgingly but with a lot of love 🙂

Fast forward to the past year, after worrying about her daughter’s late nights and endless meetings, events and appointments, the mother decided to give her blessing. If I was coming late, I needed a trusted chauffeur or her very own car. That is how the ‘small’ woman above ^^ began to worry less about those constant meetings, pick ups, deliveries and for that I am truly grateful!

40-40 registered, complete with an office and bank account

There was a time when Banura and I would have millions of shillings for a particular projects. We could not bank this money in our personal accounts because, you know and then keeping it was also not the best idea.

When your friend in the UK says they have sent 100 pounds, you run to western union and withdraw it. You get to your favourite restaurant and a menu with scrumptious meals is brought before you. You check your wallet and look at the crisp new shillings you got from the exchange and none of them are yours. So you order for mirinda fruity, with ice instead. Don’t ask about the ice, it is a long story.

Those days are now over, no more nightmares about missing funds that were meant for the children. Temptations are fewer.

As`we hunted for banks, one Relationship Manager told us ’40 days over 40 smiles’ sounded like a forged name. That did bite quite a bit, but when I look at our registration certificate,the office, that one dedicated employee and a bank statement- I am more than thankful. Also, I know that this will make for a good story one day 🙂

Sleep/Rest, when it does show up

I am very thankful for the gift of sleep. It might not always be there but when it is- ooh the joy!

Sometimes I wonder if I had a boss what I would say. “Sorry I came in at 11, the sleep only came to me at 6. You understand, right? Thanks”

My schedule can be crazy but at least it is on my terms, okay mostly it is. When I wear myself thin, it is my choice and oh how I cherish the ability to blame myself for my own bad decisions.

I know who I am

The first thing that comes to me is the gospel song “I know who God says I ma, What He says I am, where He says am at, I know who I am.”

When you really know who you are, to the extent that you are not shaken by what people think or say of you, you are walking a fine road.

I can’t pretend to have got to that level,more so when it comes to people I care about being on the ‘other side.’ However I am comfortable in what is within, knowing that it belongs to me and I am in control of it.

Everything else that is external shall come and go with age and time but the soul is eternal.

In William Ernest Henley’s words, “I am the master of my fate,I am the captain of my soul.”

My Mony

This lady right here came to my heart and never left.

When I get out of bed and the folks are already at work, I first find her, ask how her night was and then my day can begin.

We have whined, prayed, sang, shopped and pretty much done everything together.

When she finds me meddling in the kitchen, she will ask what I need and fix it, especially those days when a meal is the last thing on my mind.We have an inside joke that even if you have had a meal at a 5 star Hotel, you will still come home and have at least something.

She has loved my family and I and all those who have walked through our doors. Quite frankly, I do not know what we shall do without her.

For now though, I must maximise her calm, generous and prayerful self 🙂

There are so many things to be thankful for and beautiful lessons that have not come easy but have come nonetheless.

Your dream won’t let you be still

The most used ‘app’ on my phone is the ‘notes’ because there is always a new thought,idea or reminder to make 40-40 better. This is on top of the hundreds of notebooks I own (each with different contents I might add).
You can’t stop. You won’t stop. Once the dream begins to grow, you want everyone to feel the way you do, the adrenaline, the pain,the passion, if not for this dream- then for something else because you can’t imagine anyone living without at least one thing that makes them momentarily insane.

The dreams and nightmares too:P

It is one day to Hoops for Grace. We have planned it for a while and we hope it will be massive.  We can only do our bit. Some people on the team started having dreams about it as far back as last week, sleep is becoming elusive and of course there is that drama from within and without that will always be there.

It is funny when it isn’t sad. I would love for it to work, to show the dedicated people that even a handful of people can make huge impact and that their work did not go to waste.

Mostly, I want it to work because the children at Akiba Foundation need a home that has no sign of cancer except the meds that shall be hidden in shelves.

This Saturday, come to bush court and change a life! If you can’t, feel free to make a donation to the worthy cause.

hoops poster

What goes around comes around

So many incidents come to mind but the one that I have recently been musing over occurred sometime back.

The manager of a restaurant we were having our meetings scolded me for having meetings where our consumption reduces each week. It was in a good location since the office was too far for most people.

I asked him to let us know if he wanted us out because we would do it.

Exactly two weeks after he called me back. I knew my bluff had been called but alas. “I have realised that you are good at mobilising people. Can you help us get more clients using your networks?”

I needed several moments to recover. A few months later, he was no longer employed there. Perhaps he is in a better place:)

As soon as religion comes to dominate, it has as its opponents all those who would have been its first disciples

How true is that? Replace ‘religion’ with any experience you have and see that loyalty is ranks highly on the the world’s ‘endangered species’

I read a story once of a dog that had been going to the cemetery where its master was laid to rest, everyday for years and the caretaker always waited till it had left before closing the gates.

I might not understand people who leave their wealth to animals. However, I imagine after dealing with betrayal from the human race, a loyal dog or cat may not be such  a bad idea.

The strongest people crumble and fall, the most fickle also have their days of victory.

I have learnt that forgiveness is a gift to yourself. I have also seen the power in silence. When you are wrong, admit, and once you see that you are right, save everyone the ‘I told you so.” The person you are telling knows you told them and so do you. ‘Riyalle’ save that breath for like a Uganda Cranes match.

People will give you 2% after you have invested 100% but if it was never about them anyway, then you march away with your head high and your 100% that they may never find anywhere else!

We have digressed but..we go.

The past year was a good one, even in its bad times-it was good.*We are strongest when we are weak* I mean,even the stone that the builders threw away became the cornerstone 🙂

We ought to be as wise as the man who built his house on a rock.

My birthday month is now gone *tear* but I have beautiful memories to last me a lifetime.

Everyone of you who made my day great and the days before or after, you know I love you and I try to show it rather than say it. The real rebeauty though, is in all the years ahead of us.

Every gift,cake,message, song that I got from those that know me well has a story. Those are the stories I want to build on with each and everyone of you, for a lifetime 🙂

cake 1 es

cake 2

 

cake 3

I might add I didn't sit at the front in school but eh!! *breaks into song...meet me at the river*

I might add I didn’t sit at the front in school but eh!! *breaks into song…meet me at the river*

See you at Hoops for Grace on Saturday. I can’t wait for the blog post when I tell you how amazing it was!! 🙂

Xoxo

Passion. Pleasure. Pain

It is one year since I made the decision to walk out of what is commonly referred to as  ‘gainful employment.’ When I asked google what it meant, this was the response I got. ‘Employment situation where the employee receives consistent work and payment from the employer’

Never mind that I thought gaining can be in other ways, you know, knowledge, dream chasing, etc? Well, I was wrong-“serving to increase wealth or resources”

wealth, wealth and more wealth. I could argue though that wealth is more than just assets, right? Perhaps,another day.

One Monday two years ago, I opened something that would change my life-forever. At that point, I did not know this, only the author of life did.

Before I knew it, I was in love with these children who fit perfectly in my heart. It seems like their spot had been there all along.

I found myself spending lunch money on a boda boda ride to visit them, work hours to plan for them and weekends to do all the above with anyone who was willing.

40-40 was quickly becoming my life and although I recognised this, I needed to work, survive and be ‘normal.’

It wasn’t very long before I realised that I was biting more than I could chew. By day, I was keeping the social media pages active, running to hospital to visit a sick child, meeting potential partners and countless things in between. By night, I was writing business plans, editing marketing strategies and looking over proposals for the job that paid my dues.

I always told my boss “I will have it sent to you by end of day and by this I mean midnight.” As a result, my emails to him usually had the 11.58pm time stamp. I felt like superwoman. I was chasing my passion and doing my job, surely it couldn’t be that complex, right? Wrong!

My system began to crash physically and emotionally, relationships quietly crumbled and at any one time, I was under pressure from not one but both ‘entities.’ It was a nightmare!

Crossroads

Most of the people who cared about me expected me to ‘snap out’ of this ‘charity thing.’ Explaining my predicament only proved them right. “Focus on your job,” was the easy response.

Here I was-a journalism graduate writing business plans after failing to find work in ‘my industry,’ a ‘mobile mind’ that jumped at any opportunity to work out of office and ‘multi tasker’ who could not even realise when to ‘give up.’ Something needed to change-fast.

Decisions…decisions

I decided that I would not think about how to survive or what the future held, not too much at least.

I had not consulted anyone before starting the 40-40 journey. I took it then invited people to take it with me. It somehow worked.

I made up my mind to leave the job on my own and hoped that those who mattered would understand my decision and support me.

When I sent that resignation letter, I felt a strong sense of peace and a similarly powerful sense of panic. I am all about the optimism so I had to make sure the positive outweighed all other depressing thoughts. *breathe*

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

What next?

I needed some time to think, take a journey of self discovery and come back ready to do the job I was made for.

That was not to happen, not quite at least.

I no longer had ‘work’ as an excuse so structures had to be set up, plans made and as much as possible and we needed some evidence of progress, right? Okay. *breathe*

The Marathon

The events that followed were mostly miracles and if you believe in signs-these were the ‘loudest’ signs you could find.

I do not take credit for these. Many nights I went to bed and had this to say to God. “Really?”

When I quit, I barely sat for a week, ‘scattered brains,’ as we like to call them were at their best(worst?)

We planned a team building at one of the team member’s homes. While there, we had a speaker who among many things said, “ Why do you keep acting like a small organisation? You have grown, by now you should even have an office.” The irony! When I leave work is when you bring up such things? Thanks!

That night I went home and told mom. She knew someone who was leaving an office just next to theirs and gave me the contact.

Within three weeks, together with my friends and family, I had the ‘millions’ required to pay for 6 months rent. The rate would be ‘good’ because the former tenant put in a good word for us.

That was just the beginning.

Most of our events brought in about 5 million shillings (total) by then, Hoops for Grace that September brought in 5 million UGX as the surplus..

We would then have our most successful online campaign the following month, dubbed #BuyABrick- for a dormitory we were building. It raised 8 million shillings (cash) in 10 days on facebook and twitter. Period.

The following month (November) came with the inaugural social media Awards. 40-40 scooped the award for “Best Campaign” in a category we were certain we would not see light of day in. Why? The household names we were up against-Coca Cola, MTN and Airtel. How??!

As the year came to an end in December, I would be recognised as the “Heroine of the Year 2013” by the Young Achiever’s awards.

In three months,40-40 had had more ‘action,’ than I could contain. If the universe was sending a message, I had received it loud and clear. Wouldn’t you agree?

What lessons can I share? What do I wish I knew? What does this experience mean?

If at least one person can believe with you and go the extra mile, you are onto something

The 40-40 greater family is in thousands and that looks good-on paper.

The naysayers are lurking around, perhaps even one in three. To keep the main thing, the main thing amidst life’s hurdles is extremely difficult but NOT impossible.

Two years ago I met Joseph* In fact, he was one of the only people on the team whom I did not know from ‘my past life’ (Everyone else was a friend or at least an acquaintance)

He was dedicated,you could see that. Him and I were (are) also very different.  It took a while for me to get used to him, one of the reasons being >> ‘tasemba na kyo’ (loosely translated to mean, he always has the last word) even when it is obvious he is wrong. (in his defence, I also drive other people mad so…)

Let me even give a ‘real’ example. This one time he knocked a policeman (poor boy was on his way to a 40-40 meeting) and as he narrated the story to us, he seemed to suggest that the policeman (who was on foot) is the one who knocked Joseph’s car 😀 <<< see?

Well, he happens to be one of the most loyal members of my team

For almost two years, he braved Entebbe road traffic and a demanding bank job-to attend our weekly meetings(in Kampala) that often end at 9.00p.m as well as having a key role at all our events.

A couple of months ago when African Hope Network offered to support me and 40-40, my opening request was that they facilitate me to hire an accountant.

The first time I mentioned it in a meeting, a few people nodded, some weren’t sure. Joseph*  on the other hand sent me a message that night saying he would quit his job and join me- full time.

What? how? why? when?

I spent the next fortnight giving him all the reasons why he should not make this drastic decision.

I needed him to be sure. I was living a precarious life and did not want to carry any ‘casualties’ with me.

He did not budge.

Well, as I speak, he is my first real ‘employee’ and we haven’t killed each other…yet.

So you can say I am a boss-ish.

Speaking of bosses…

I do not consider myself a boss, it will take some time before I get the hang of it. When I was younger, I knew I would support a cause like ours, not be at the helm of it. See the universe playing tricks again?

Even with the titles Afande, CEO/ED/KCCA/UPE etc that we joke about, I see my team as equals. Some older, some younger but nonetheless, we are all 40/40.

My friend Gloria introduces me to everyone as ‘My boss Esther.’ The most awkward one was recently when I was at her ‘actual office’ and her ‘actual boss’ walked in. “Meet my other boss, Esther,” she calmly said. The expression on his face-priceless!

It’s all about the money, money, money…NOT

For the past nine or so months I have had interviews on t.v, radio, print and several occasions where I have been invited as a speaker.

This is what always happens when the opportunity avails itself, in this order.
Me: Oh what an honour!
Me: On gosh! What am I going to say?
Me: In front of all those people? I can’t.

Me: I do not have anything to wear.

You would think I would be used by now. I shock myself too. Same nerves, same panic, same fear of falling and stuttering etc.

At the end of all this, I will look at my closet, grab something, head out (almost always on my trusted boba boda) and then present myself and my dream.

I do not like audiences or speaking to them but I do enjoy telling people about 40-40 and hoping for at least one convert.

There is always that person in the audience who asks malicious questions so the poker face must be intact (I struggle)

After one talk, this gentleman asked “So how do you keep your hair looking like that if you are saying you are still growing and thus can’t afford salaries?” Before I could respond he insinuated I had a rich man taking care of me *yawn*

I do not know why  people are so myopic. They barely ask what drives you or how you have come this far. When they do, it is after a snide remark about charity and giving too much of oneself to others. Frankly, it is exhausting, but when you want something badly- you begin to gnore even the greatest humps.

Let us think of a business. You borrow money from friends to start it. You ask your family to let you use the garage because you can’t afford rent. You let your employees know you will pay them when things are good but they may go without salaries sometimes. You also assure them that you will understand if they need to go after ‘greener pastures’ because they have to survive. One day, you catch your lucky break, and the rest is history. Does this make sense?

Okay, now replace business with 40-40 but envision it as non-profit but with possibilities for it to employ the brightest and the best and one day actually pay those salaries. To be honest, my team is already all these things, only difference is they are not doing it for the pay cheque- which makes it that much more awesome. Plus of course, they will be repaid ten fold.

So whereas one might recycle outfits and forego vacations or seemingly incredible employment opportunities, there are few ‘real’ things money can buy, if any..happiness and peace of mind do NOT make that list.

Now that I mentioned opportunities, I have remembered my ‘excruciating conundrum.’ After reaching the two year mark at my old job, I figured it was time to move on. I decided to apply for this one job. I actually did fit the part to a large extent.

During the interview the interviewer seemed impressed by the fact that I had managed to balance work and 40-40, until she turned it around. Wouldn’t I give her organisation less time because of my dream? I decided that would be the last job interview I would initiate.

 

After I started to do 40-40 full time, the calls started to come in. The weird bit was that most of them were management positions. I leave my ‘baby’ which is what made you think of hiring me in the first place, come and (hopefully) ensure yours succeeds and then what happens to mine? Best believe their response came with more 000,000’s than words. It was then that I would say thanks, but no thanks.

I did actually try to take part in gigs that could be done part time and at my convenience…Hmm, let’s just say it is not them, it’s me.

From my S.6 vacation when I volunteered as a teacher at an international school where most of the children were snobbish and it rubbed off on the teachers too ,(or is it the other way round?) to the internships I did for four months, every year during my holidays at University, to the office where I watched our pay being swindled and realised I can’t keep silent in the face of corruption to the jobs I have done for pay and the life that I live now- I can safely say that I have never before been as comfortable in my skin as I am now. In the past year, I have felt more ‘useful’ than I have my entire life and that is something that has no price tag.

 

 “I like the night. Without the dark, we’d never see the stars.”

Your script is different

I have friends whose lives have escalated quite ‘differently’ from my own. We are the same age, perhaps even come from a similar background. Our stories might be somewhat intertwined but often take different turns. Angella* is married with kids, Emily* is steadily rising up the corporate ladder and drives a car that costs the equivalent of what I spend in three years, Jane is in a new city each month and Brian* just got an international job that promises practically everything we dreamt of when growing up. Is this their story? Yes. Is it exciting? Yes. Is it mine? No

If society decides to judge you, their examples shall be simple and yet close to home. “Why can’t you be like your friend who……?”They will go on to tell you things about this friend whose story you probably shared in the first place. It is now ‘their’ story.

The truth is that everyone has their own story and there are no stories that can be identical, similar-yes, identical not a chance! For every ‘achievement’ {because this is subjective} you ‘should have’ attained by now, you are aware and possibly beating yourself up enough without any room for ‘concerned parties’ to add their voice.

The trouble is, though, that we often pay too much attention to the voices. These voices tell us everything we are NOT instead of reassuring us about everything we ARE.

In the end, we do not even remember our dreams or what we loved to do. We are stuck portraying everyone’s definition of success but our own. This is a cancer that can eat at you for the rest of your life if you let it.

Let your story be yours. No matter how dull, dramatic or painful it is-as long as it is yours, all else is secondary

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.”

lonely

Before I go

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking at our accounts and realised they could be better. You know how when you are broke and you remember all your debtors? It was a bit like that. I remembered that this organisation had made a 1,000,000 ugx pledge that wasn’t fulfilled. When I contacted them they said their boss had been out of the country (never mind that he was in the papers and on t.v (United States of Kololo perhaps?)

24 hours later, the money was miraculously ‘ready.’ All I had to do was pick it up, and give the 3 people who ‘helped process’ it their cut, take the 40-40 share and go. What is 1,000,000 divide by 4? Yeah. Exactly.

I told them to give us all of it or keep all of it because we would rather close shop than lose integrity. After all, dividing it amongst themselves without us, would mean more for them.Their response? “We’ll call you back.” That call has not come through since.

The truth is that so many organisations and people operate like this in this country and many others- from the lowest level to the top. That does not mean that we should condone this nonsense because it is the ‘done thing.’

On the other hand, we can’t use blanket statements like “That is why I will never help people, they are all crooks.” There is always an exception to the rule.

Change does not have to happen at once. No amount of change is insignificant.

We need to support each other and help those around us grow.

There are some bits of African culture that do not sit well with me.  I will illustrate.

A woman is beaten by her husband for years and never lets the children know, she is the best mother but most depressed human being. Very soon her daughter is 25 and engaged to be married. It is a huge celebration. After the ‘honeymoon phase,’ daughter returns home. She explains that her husband is a monster. He beats her up like he is trying to kill her. Mommy raises her dress and shows her scars. “My child, guma” (hang in there). She goes on to share the stories of what she went through.

We need to speak up..!! NOW not tomorrow.
This year has been an incredible experience for me mostly because it has opened my eyes. It has not been easy and I acknowledge that. That does not take the beauty from it, in fact, it makes it that much more worthwhile.

If I am blessed with children or people to mentor, I would like to tell them things as they are, no sugar coating- only facts!

I would like to illustrate that it is not always black or white, it can be grey.

I hope that I will teach them to understand that passion is a beautiful thing and whether you find it at 13, 24 or 60- the best gift you can give yourself is to harness every last inch of it.

discover you

God has been good. I have no doubt he put me here and gave me amazing people to ensure his work gets done. I will serve him for as long as I live.

Thank you for reading up to this point! I know just typing all this out has exhausted me.

Just remember;

winner

To dreams and more, xoxo

passion

Plan A is always…YOU

“You should not bite the hand that feeds you.’ But maybe you should, if it prevents you from feeding yourself.”

I received a call recently. The lady spoke so fast and I could barely make out what she was saying. Whatever it was, she needed it fast.I told her to slow down so I could actually listen.

She finally introduced herself and  I realised she was someone much older,Maggie,* whom I struck up an acquaintance with in the past. I also eventually managed to make out the ’emergency.’

There were some foreigners in the country who were leaving soon and needed to visit an orphanage ‘ASAP.’ She asked me to be available the next morning to pick them from their hotel, take them around and then safely return them in time for their workshop.

I explained that I had plans and it was short notice so the best I could do was offer them an hour and a half. “What could be more important?” she asked. “Well, I have a team building with the people who actually ensure work is done so yes, they are more important. I have to be on time” “No, you can be late for that, these people will get you funds.” Maggie responded, completely oblivious of the weight in her words.

Fast forward to that morning with the said ‘visitors.’ They were not only impatient and arrogant but also very unpleasant. Almost every sentence  they uttered was said to shame Ugandans oh plus a few condescending remarks.  I was quite agitated but made sure to respond as calmly as possible. There was no way I would stoop down to their level. (Although I must admit I inwardly counted to ten several times before responding)

When I returned to pick them up, they asked something that caught me off-guard. “How come the administration of the home says they do not know Maggie and have not received support from her?” I probed further. It turned out Maggie had made it seem like she had been giving aid to the children through 40-40. Never mind that she can’t even pronounce it in full.

Sadly, I have reached that point where this scenario is neither new nor shocking. My only issue now is that people have so little tact. Okay, that isn’t my only issue but, moving on…

Since when did it become anyone else’ responsibility to find solutions to our problems? Why is it exciting to hear that someone of fair skin is interested in your enterprise yet you can neither sell it to your own people nor hire them?

One in two people shall ask me”Why aren’t you targeting international organisations?” before I have even fully explained what we do.

When I mention that up till now we have achieved some milestones with limited resources from young people in Uganda who are far from wealthy, it isn’t because it is something to brag about. It is something that should be a challenge to the listener but more importantly bring a sense of pride, knowing that homegrown solutions are not simply a myth.

In the event that foreign donors come along, (as they shall), wouldn’t it be much more meaningful if they found strong structures that already exist?

If you haven’t already, please read up on Fitclique256, a women’s only gym in Bukoto that allows women to freely express themselves and love their bodies while having some fun along the way.  It offers different classes from yoga to dance to encourage a healthy lifestyle in a comfortable environment.

Before Mildred Apenyo began this gym, she had gone to gyms which were mostly filled with men who weren’t always pleasant to the fairer sex. Why not have a space free of distraction and judgement, she thought? Voila, the dream was born. It has also taken her places I might add.

The Medical Concierge Group is another great example of a company addressing local needs. They provide accessible and affordable health care using seemingly effortless methods that were hitherto not applied.

If these enterprises get international recognition, (as they have) it is obviously great. However, the onus is on us to appreciate and support them even more because we are the ‘real’ beneficiaries.

A few minutes ago,I looked at a list of all the things our office needs. Some are out of reach at the moment, others quite attainable.

Instead of looking for solutions outside, I decided to ;

1. Write this blog

2. Start finding solutions after writing this blog.

Okay bye.

“You cannot build character and courage by taking away people’s initiative and independence”

we can do it

On becoming a champion

On November 9th last year,I watched this young lad perform. His song was fairly new and not many people knew it or him for that matter. About a handful of people were singing along while the rest quietly watched or chatted with friend.

After his performance, he walked up to me and said “Thank you for the opportunity to perform here.” I do not know if he could see the shock on my face.  Whereas it wasn’t the first time 40 days over 40 smiles had been in contact with artists at our events, it was rare that they would be the ones to show gratitude and not the other way around.

He later added that he was so impressed with the work we did, he wanted to have a concert and have proceeds dedicated to the cause on May 8th 2014.

The Champion Concert was indeed held on May 8th 2014 and Benezeri fulfilled his promise.

Big dreams

How does a 20 year old choose to have a concert on a Thursday at the MTN arena and expect people to come? There is work/school the next day and this is not the most convenient location. Also,it is Hip hop for crying out loud, it isn’t even that popular. What? You want people to donate books too, and carry them to a concert? I knew you were crazy but that is plane insane.

There were over 500 people who came out that night, they sang, danced and screamed. They watched artists who have been around for a while and then got a taste of some ‘newbies,’ they were were the first audience to listen to Benezeri’s maiden album and they were given exactly that.

Books? Oh yes, people carried books to a ‘Hip Hap’ concert, about 120 of them to be exact, in boxes even.

benezeri with gloves

There are several Ugandan artists who are comfortable with having a few hits that they are known for, which they shall perform at ‘grand events’ but the best position they can take is that of a ‘curtain raiser.’ They have no album to their name and that isn’t such a big deal because they still make money off the hits and remain popular. Other have made great videos. You look at them and can’t remember what the song was about but you know that this person invested in his product. Others shall have album launches every other day, it doesn’t matter if there are 8 songs including remixes of songs from the one before.

A couple of days ago, Benezeri decided to put his entire album online for free. That is right, all of it.

You don’t believe me? Check here Champion or here yup, FREE!

I caught up with him to find out why he decided to make such a bold move and also picked his brain a bit on music and life.

benezeri 1

 

A little over one week later,how do you feel about the show- the support the hip hop fraternity gave you and the fans that showed up for the Champion concert?





The night of May 8th seems like a dream. A recent dream.  It was such a glorious night. So many people to thank. Every musician that came through and spared a few hours to be, and perform, at the concert, I’m really grateful. I can’t remember any time I saw all those people in one place, especially just out of love and support. It was deep. Im forever grateful to the people that came through to attend the show. It was such a humbling and satisfying feeling to see each and everyone of them. The support I received after too, was special. It’s like everybody was genuinely happy for me . It’s been a rewarding experience.

 

What were some of your biggest challenges as you planned this concert?

I think the biggest challenge was finding the resources to pay for the venue, the events company and many other costs.

Lessons learnt?
I learnt so many lessons. But one of them was that if you believe and trust in God, and you back that up with persistence and a good team, nothing is impossible.

You have decided to put your album up for free download, this isn’t something you hear everyday. What drove you to make this decision? What has the reaction been so far?

As expected, I have received a lot of condemnation and criticism, but mostly from “industry” people. I have got tonnes of calls, whatsapps and messages asking me whether I’m in my normal mind frame. The consumers though, are very happy and are listening. They like the songs which is such a huge reward for me.

I put up the album for free download for many reasons. The main reason being, I really wanted people to listen to the album and share it. When I made this album, I wasn’t thinking about how much money I wanted to make. I was thinking about how much I wanted people to hear it. 


Secondly, if Kanye West or Chris Brown or even Ice Prince releases an album, I will be able to access and download it the next day.It  doesn’t matter whether or not it’s the artiste that puts it  up for download. What matters is that it is accessible and it indirectly benefits the artiste because people are able to listen and that is every musician’s greatest reward.

Next, the people that buy CD’s  don’t do so because they can’t find the song somewhere else. An avid fan will first download the songs and then if they have the money, they will purchase the CD. The 2 are not mutually exclusive. Actually, people that buy CD’s in this day and age consider the CD a souvenir or something they can look at and be proud of and keep. That’s why the “Champion” CD can also be bought at Soundcup (Garden city) for UGX 20,000.
Finally, ‘it’s not about the money, we just wanna make the world dance.’ Of course not literally, I’m not a dancehall artiste. But, I definitely will not let money cloud my judgement and decisions. As somebody said in one of the online debates that ensued after my announcement, “Open your eyes, money is not the only reward in life”

What is next for benezeri?

The next thing I’m working on is a few very nice videos for the songs I have recorded. Look out for those.

Slowly by slowly,I shall also be working on  my next album for 2016. I’m also hoping to graduate in early 2016.

What message do you have for young dreamers?

My message to young dreamers is, no one else will ever see your vision as clearly as you, so stop wasting time debating it with people and seeking their approval. Instead, get started. Also, people are fond of “advising”and discouraging. One of my favorite quotes from Kanye West is “How are you going to convince me that I will not succeed in something, by giving me an example of how you failed in another?” There’s always a first time for everything.

There you have it, follow the links for Benezeri’s free music and purchase a copy of the CD ‘for free’ at only 20,000 UGX. Sound Cup (Third floor,Garden City Mall)

Happy Listening!

Writer’s Note: If we look close enough,we shall realise that all the role models we are looking for are right here, at home-doing extraordinary things with the least resources. If we support them, their limitless potential shall have limitless results-

 

 

The Price of a dream

“Your dream is not big enough if it does not scare you.”

Last year I met someone who said he was interested in hearing more about 40-40. During our conversation he said something that startled me. “Sorry you lost your parents,it must have been difficult.” I was confused. “Did I say I lost my parents?,” I asked, trying to find a polite way of getting to the bottom of it. “No, but I figured the only reason you would be interested in helping orphans is because you are one yourself.” he replied matter-of-factly.

I politely explained what I was driven by and could feel the ‘dissatisfaction’ from across the table. He thought he had cracked the code but now needed to know what my ‘real’ reasons were. He kept probing. I kept cringing.

It is unfortunate, sad actually that society has led us to believe there must be ulterior motives for good deeds. Worse still is the fact that when people fail to find this motive, they will make up one for you.

I will try to ‘briefly’ (because I can’t exhaust this topic) use real life examples of incidents that ‘dreamers’ have experienced and why you have to keep paying the price to see the finish line.

 

When a NO will suffice but….

“I am thankful to all those who said no to me. It’s because of them that I did it myself.”

A musician who is starting out and needs airplay in order for the world to hear her music. She takes her music to a radio station and asks a DJ to play it. After a quick listen, he looks up and says “This is rubbish! The fact that you even thought I could play this on my radio is disrespectful. I suggest you  concentrate on something else because music is clearly not for you.”

Lies often have to be followed up with more lies so I understand why this DJ couldn’t promise to play the song then later bin it, but why not just politely say no instead of using ‘colourful’ language? Well this ‘rubbish’ musician is actually doing quite well, with several hit songs that have been played on several radio stations including the one that was once too good.

Philanthropy on the other hand is probably twice as difficult. You are forced to ‘sell’ feelings like love and empathy and then mix it up with the business angle so that the entrepreneur feels like he too is benefiting. Unfortunately, honesty is a trait that is heavily lacking among several players within and outside the corporate sector.

I was once scheduled to meet a brand manager of this company. He had made promises to support us at one of our events and verbally, the deal was as good as signed and delivered. That is until he constantly made his phone busy, sent messages that read ‘In meeting, will call back’ and generally ignored all my attempts. It is not surprising that when I used a different number, he picked up. I eventually gave up, which is what he wanted.Months later, I met some individuals who had work with him complaining about his behaviour and the scenarios were almost ‘copy and paste’.  When I gave them a brief, they told me to find comfort in the fact that he does this to ‘everyone.’ This was actually not comforting at all! Hope is good but false hope is harmful. Imagine how much time he would save himself and everyone else if he just said ‘NO.’ The brand. He is messing up a brand that he is hired to protect. He knows what budget his company has for particular projects and can explain this in one sentence but no, that isn’t as fun as sending people on a wild goose chase.

“People who lack the clarity, courage, or determination to follow their own dreams will often find ways to discourage yours. Live your truth and don’t EVER stop!” 

Oh, another offer? Yaaayyyy- Right?

Several people shall come up with incredible offers, promises and pave paths for you. They will sound pretty great and you may even start drawing your budget based on these promises. They may even go so far as to put it in writing. Hold on to that champagne. If you don’t, you may have to pop several ’empty’ bottles.

At the beginning of this year, we struggled to complete the dormitory we were constructing. We had had several campaigns and had decided if by December we didn’t have the full amount, we would just have to find other ways to raise it. So behind the scenes,I started to tell everyone I could and on this random day I got a call. A friend of mine wanted me to write a letter requesting his boss for the balance, which at the time was 5,000,000 UGX. He said he had a ‘very good’ feeling because the boss had been impressed by our work. I made sure to follow the instructions. The problem with being ‘in need’ is that you are not sure what is too much or just enough so I tried not to push too hard but still remain in his mind. Each time we spoke, it seemed like the cheque to ’40 days over 40 smiles Foundation’ would be signed that day. I only told one other person (thankfully) and then prayed and waited. Last month this friend told me the boss had been out of the country and was now back.” He approved it,” I was assured. Well, four months and a complete dormitory later, I am still waiting. Champagne does not expire, right?

 

“If you want to be comfortable, don’t try to live your dreams.”

You are no longer just an individual, you are also your product,your dream.

You have to accept that you are now Ashley the fashionista, if you are into selling clothes. People who haven’t spoken to you in years will call when they have a hot date and ‘nothing to wear.’ Never mind that they ignored all your pleas to come check out the new shop.

If you are in the entertainment industry, be sure to anticipate the ‘Can you get me a free ticket’ messages even from that guy who drives past you in his BMW on a rainy day as you walk to the taxi stage.

I can’t count the number of times I have met someone or called just to check on them only to be invaded with ‘Sorry I didn’t come to see the kids with you guys’ or ‘I know I haven’t been contributing but I follow 40-40’s progress..’ and other related disclaimers. When I can, I re emphasise that it is okay for us to just talk about ‘normal’ topics but sometimes I just listen and let it go. Speaking of normal topics, the 40-40 team which is made up of friends often diverts from fun to ‘work’ without intending to. We are at a birthday party and the food is good, music even better then suddenly you hear “I have an idea we can use to improve our data collection.” and just like that, the next few minutes shall be spent dissecting this idea and coming up with many more. *See why I always need a notebook 🙂 *

“Don’t you find it odd that when you’re a kid, everyone, all the world, encourages you to follow your dreams. But when you’re older, somehow they act offended if you even try?”

If you are doing something that isn’t conventional, then you have to get used to people telling you it can’t happen and asking you when you will grow out of it..

Once you are done with school, people don’t expect you to come and say “I have decided to make art pieces by recycling rubbish.” Your parents expect you to get value for the money they invested. Next on the agenda, is the climb on the corporate ladder. When the dreamer in you decides to make the announcement that you believe your calling is to dance and teach people to love their bodies trough dance, do not expect a round of applause. In fact, keep your armour close by just in case. Aisha (not real name) got 24 points at ‘A’ level and got a Government scholarship to study engineering. After graduation, she got a job but also  started to write more and more. She got to recite her poetry and even came out number one at some competitions which she entered. She listened to her heart and tried out contemporary dance which she loved and decided to do part time. To earn a living, she began making jewellery that she sells to friends and through her networks. All this while, her father was flabbergasted while her mom was supportive, or so she thought. Before long, her siblings called her for an intervention and explained that her parents were worried. “Not my mom, she interjected.” It turned out her mom was just not bold enough to tell Aisha to her face that she didn’t support her life choices. Aisha isn’t driving a sports car or working for a top engineering firm but she is happy. This is what should be important to her parents and everyone who loves her , but it isn’t.

Of course they mean well. Their expectations are high and they feel like she is ‘wasting’ her brain away. I am biased, for obvious reasons. I believe if you are tired  of that office that has constant  AC,scrumptious lunch and crazy benefits 😮 and want to trade it in for a life of ‘hustling,’ you should, if only to now what it feels like. If the hustle fails, you can always come back.

“I believe ardently that you should drop everything and run toward your true self.”

I have interacted with many dreamers and they have experienced all this and more. Here are a few truths that I have learnt along the way.

 

You are going to starve so you can feed your dream.

You will forego several luxuries

It is great if your passion can sustain you

If it can’t, work until it can-

You will often stand alone

Sometimes you will cry tears, seen and unseen

You will lose friends and make new ones

You will also make false friends-

The world will give you many reasons to give up, they might even be more than the ones to keep trying

Truth is there are many great ideas, but not enough people willing to risk

The fact is the world needs you

It needs more eccentric, crazy, passionate and genuine dreamers

It aches for faith, hope,strength and dedication that only dreamers have

You need to know that what you seek is seeking you too

You have to keep telling everyone who cares to listen so the dream keeps alive

But also remind your heart, for it hears you speak-

You were born to honour your calling and if it is the only thing you ever do, you will have done enough.

Don’t find faults when you can find remedies

Allow yourself to be in the dark as you wait for the light

Share your sparkle and be so bright you can’t be ignored

At the end of the day, you are on you own.You answer to only you and the one answer I hope that you can give after it is all said and done is “Yes, I dreamed and I lived!”

sky 2