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!

Advertisements

To belong…

Years ago when I was in High School, I envied the girls who had a group to which they belonged. Most of them went to churches which had activities for teens like camps during the holidays.
When they spoke about them in unison, I felt like I was missing out on a significant part of growing up. Later on, they would confess that they declared a longer period of the camp to their parents so that they would have some extra days to indulge in different kinds of fun. It is such declarations that made me rethink my envy. If I tried those tricks, my nose would definitely elongate akin to Pinocchio’s.
Time went by and I realised that I did not need a group. A few meaningful relationships were more than enough. Instead of being with people who shared one common interest, I could have several and each of them could represent a different world.

belonging
Without noticing it, 4040 became a hub for my teenage desires interconnected with bonds that I had not even anticipated at the time. This enigmatic mix of different characters who may have a common goal but still stand tall as separate individuals with their fears, joys and everything in between.
For the past three years, we have had an ‘overnight’ as the year comes to an end. This night starts with music,games, ordinary (or not) conversations, food and culminates into different variations of prayer and sharing.
They have become more serious over time. You can literally evaluate growth when you are there. At least I find myself doing it sub consciously. Who was here last year and is no longer with us. Why? What does this mean to us? What did we pray for last time and how far have we come since? These and other questions go through my mind even as I laugh heartily at a joke or internally sob when a member describes a traumatic incident from their past year.
Over the weekend, as we sat around, making light of difficult moments and going silent when it mattered, I was reminded of how brittle we all are as human beings. I felt the crumbling of hearts as we stripped our souls, as if oblivious that there was an audience. Once again, I saw how easy it is to meet and talk to people almost every day and still have no idea what goes on in their lives when the curtains fall.
As we gave our testimonies and shared tales, there was this young man who happened to be in the house although he is not part of the team. I shall call him Eric. He sat in a corner with the largest of headsets and a laptop in front of him. From the onset, I could tell that he was neither listening to music nor watching a movie. Despite not making any eye contact with these strangers who were now in his abode, he quietly listened.
Time went by and we wondered when he would go to bed. Time check 4.30 a.m. I was in ‘my zone’ for several reasons. On an ordinary day, I would be struggling with the hunt for some shut eye alone while the whole world is asleep. This time, I had some of my favourite people in one room and we were all wake! Ha! All I could think was *must maximise this* I digress.
We called upon Eric to share his own pain and/or testimony. He declared that he’d been going through an experience similar to one that had been mentioned by one of our very own. Like with everyone else, we offered advice or support where we could. It was now almost 5 a.m and time to pray over everything. Most people were beyond sleepy at this point. Eric declared, he had forgotten how to pray. He had not done so for years.
Sigh.
I cannot say I know much about prayer. I am as bleak as the next guy. But. I feel that the spirit sat with us and in that moment, shone upon Eric. I thought, perhaps this entire night had happened because of him <God’s mysterious ways, you know>
As we huddled for the final prayer, I felt relief wash over me. There was no bright light, rather a whisper that one could easily miss, saying “It will be okay.”

light
So, yes, I found that ‘group’ but it wouldn’t be of any importance if it wasn’t valuable too.
The older we grow, the more difficult and weird it gets for ‘just friends’ to have a ‘sleepover.’ You might find that the only times this happens is in times of anguish, at a hospital, a vigil…
If you can create the environment before any of these, by all means do. Who was it that said people are generally more honest after midnight? *wink*
I honestly find that many people need to be aided in order to admit their ‘dark side.’ I mean if we sometimes find it difficult to share our achievements, imagine how we feel about that pain that resides deep inside? No matter how you do it, it is important that you make it easy for your loved ones to admit their brokenness. Be very deliberate about it.
Age has led me to become more intentional about my relationships. Who deserves my time, who doesn’t? Who needs it but won’t say? I teach myself to procrastinate less when it comes to my loved ones. The truth is, excuses will always be in plenty but meaningful relationships won’t.
As a parting shot, regarding our parents/guardians/elders, my approach is standard, give them all the time they request no matter how inconvenient, and then do it again and again…

We came. We fell. We got up.

By this time last week, my situation was ‘a calm state of panic.’ We were at the Uganda Museum for our third edition of croak and rhyme. While many things were going right, an almost equal number of irregularities seemed to come up every now and then.
The funny thing about being a leader is that you have to strike a fine balance between optimism, realism, patience and unwavering determination during the most demanding situations. I do not think I am even half way there. Therein lies the beauty of time, experience and the lessons that come along the way!
The concept of croak and rhyme, like many of 4040’s ideas was random and uncomplicated, during one of our many meetings over two years ago. As one of the group members suggested the name, we laughed and then fell in love. Just like that, it was adopted and here we are. When I saw the bold words ‘croak and rhyme’ in one of our dailies this week, I grinned as I reminisced. Humble beginnings can surprise you!
This year’s edition was quite taxing. We came up with a theme and then needed to figure out how to work around it. Our wish list was loooooonnng (yes for emphasis) In fact, last year we toyed with the idea of bringing Sauti Sol for the event. *mental note to review my sent items folder for good laughs years from today* The irony that this blog post is coming out when they are in Uganda already for tomorrow’s show! Eh! Perhaps I could get a word with them. No? I digress.
We contacted tonnes of artistes. Some said no, others yes, a few said maybe and some simply led us on because they did not know how to articulate their negative response. I can look back and chuckle now but when it was happening, it was far from funny. We had legends with us though :D. This madam made my waist do things, good times!

These were 'our days'

These were ‘our days’

This event comes with a lot of pressure because of the expenses involved in putting it together. It is nothing short of a gamble and I must admit some of the lessons have been learnt the hard way.

Our first edition brought in a full house at a small venue. The management expected a small crowd and gave us few chairs that they did not expect to fill. Before long, we were trying to create space for the overwhelming crowd. At the end of the event, after realising the profit from their sales that night-they were asking when our next event was and more than willing to provide the venue.
The second one was taken to a bigger venue to accommodate the growing numbers. While we paid attention to that detail, other factors came into play. The World cup quarter final fell on the same date. Additionally, both traditional and social media were awash with announcements from the police about a terror threat to the city. I cannot count the whatsapp forwards I received on D-day warning me and basically asking that we discontinue our plans. These factors worked against us but we still had a sizeable crowd. The event was well organised and raised the bar for us. Armed with these lessons we set out to do even better this year.
The rain during the day got us on our knees, some of us even started yelling at the skies (yelling at God really) and thankfully the weather behaved. The drizzles during Maddox’s performance were hardly felt as the crowd sang along. Blessings just 🙂

maddox 1

crowd 2

 

 

I realised the ‘power of alcohol’ when I was confronted by a reveller who said he could not stand to look at me, knowing beer had run out at an event I organised. Eh, I took cover immediately. We must admit the crowd overwhelmed us and found us under prepared. We take full responsibility. There were other faults that we have certainly taken note of. Be sure to see changes next time 🙂
Despite the massive turn out at the event, the figures were not as exciting as we anticipated. We found out that an unscrupulous individual stole ‘tags’ from our entrance and started selling them to attendees before they reached our team. As a result, payment was made to him and sadly, it will never reach our dormitory.
That Sunday night as we tried to count, recount and then count the proceeds some more, we silently hoped that some of the coins would morph into notes and the ‘1K’ notes would transform into ‘50K’ notes in the process. This was not to happen. BUT. It could be a lot worse! We could have made an investment and then failed to break even. We could have planned this event for months only to have 50 people attend. That did not happen. Yaay!
The artistes gave energetic performances, moreover at no cost. One of the artists’ managers on our wish list insisted that we were making stuff up. There was no way any Ugandan artists could perform completely for charity. Oh ye of little faith! I hope one day they’ll understand that- *It’s not only about the money*
So, as I type this I am over the ‘we could have done better’ and now onto the ‘we shall do better’ state of mind. Everyone who attended and supported us even when we erred, the artistes who resisted the urge to become ‘divas,’ simply offering their talent and the service providers who have stuck with us, you made it possible.
Special thanks to those individuals who could not make it buts still sent entrance fee or directly contributed to the dormitory.

To the team that was behind the scenes, having pre-event nightmares and fighting then making up, then fighting again because you believe in 40-40 and what it stands for- you are invaluable.
We are now Ugx 11 million away from completing the dormitory. It seems like a little. Or a lot, depending on how you view your glass.

Nonetheless, I will be back here with pictures after we complete that building. Until then, please do not tire of answering our call. We are doing all of this, together for Uganda’s future, for a generation that will outlive us and learn from our dedication.
Till then, keep being the change, even when it hurts!
X

Be yourself. No, not like that

Do you choose your friends because of who they are, what they do or where they come from?

I get disturbed when I have a conversation whose path I can clearly tell is headed for a stereotype or two.

Some of our parents (and most of  their generation) find these conversations ‘normal’ and sadly there are many of us who have caught the bug. I will illustrate.

I met a lady I know who is  in her early 60’s and this is an excerpt from our dialogue.

Her: Where are you going?

Me: To a friend’s wedding meeting

Her: Oh, that’s nice. What tribe is her husband?

Me: I don’t know

Her: How long have they been together?

Me: About a year, I think

Her: He must be rich then

Me: I don’t know

Her: Is your friend pregnant?

Me: No

Her: What does he do?

Me: I have never asked

Her: What do you know?

Me: That they love each other and that is all I need to knoW

Even if I had answered the questions ‘correctly,’ she would have found fault if she wanted to.

What followed was a semi-fight. She lectured me on the perils of marrying someone from a different tribe and went on to give me several examples of everything that could go wrong. I told her  all the things in the world that could turn a marriage sour which trounce your spouse’ tribe.

Of course the conversation ended up being about me and why I was taking my time. “Leave that charity of yours and find a man before it is too late, people will even start to think you are the problem ” she said. “People will talk no matter what I do, at least let them talk while I do something I love,” I replied.

I know for a fact that many people think like her but they don’t always get to speak their minds. When they do, be sure to stuff a nice round object into their mouth and then give them a piece of your mind. Okay, that’s a bit much, but you get the point.

society 1

Have you ever met those people, who ask you for advice only to do the exact opposite of what you said?

Anne is just like that. She asks. “Which works better, the blue bag or the red one?” You respond with all the reasons why she should actually carry the red one. Shortly after, she walks out happily with the blue one.

A few weeks ago, Rachel called me at about 1:00 a.m. She sounded so heartbroken. She was sick and tired of her job and simply wanted to quit. Her passion has always been music and she figured now would be a good time to pursue it.

I was really excited for her because she sings beautifully and there are few things more amazing than the joy of waking up to follow your passion.

She told me about all the issues she had at work and how depressed she was.

We spoke at length but I was later quite amused by some of her worries. Even if she called me out of everyone else, (maybe because I quit my job to follow a dream with nothing. No?)it seemed her intention was to actually convince herself that her life is great and needs no alteration.

She explained that she could not face her parents whom she lives with after making such a decision (‘Oh my God Esther, how did you manage? They will kill me’) *No, they won’t but hey that is just me.*

She further told me that her ‘image’ needed to be maintained because she is smart and from a good family of professionals so ‘people’ will never understand the change (Erm…)

“My goodness, how will I survive without a monthly salary that always comes on time, on the 28th?There is no way I will miss a shopping spree or vacation because I quit my job.Also, how does an adult even live a life of uncertainty, not sure when the next big break will come? *Yes, how do those adults do it?*

This back and forth went on for almost an hour till I realised that she did not want to hear the  “Follow your dream” speech. She wanted the ‘blue bag’ that she would pick whether or not I shared my opinion.

There will always be someone who drives a better car, has a fancier job title ,makes marriage look easy,gets all the acclaim, goes to all the great vacation destinations (and takes even greater photographs)…….*insert that which you most desire*

And yet, there is a certain comfort in humble beginnings, stupid mistakes, crazy ideas coming to life because you dared them too.

I guess it is ‘okay’ to want a good life and do everything possible to get it even if it means maintaining a dead-end job as you wait for the next best thing or getting stuck in certain relationships because the other party is of the ‘right’ tribe and has the ‘right’ kind of status. Whatever it is, do it for you, not society because not only do they not really care, they also do NOT matter. (unless you let them of course)

society 3

After the dorm

“When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.”

Over a year ago when we did our research to decide which community to work with, we were rather overwhelmed by the fact that our best fit desired infrastructure worth 28 million UGX.
At the time, we did not even have a bank account. After months of relentless campaigns, we achieved our goal and put up a dormitory for 210 children.

dorm complete
I overheard someone ask on that very day when we opened the dormitory “What about beds?”
When you work for an organisation like 40-40, it is easy not only to succumb to pressure from the outside world, but also to slowly realise that almost everyone has an opinion regarding what you can do better, when and how. You may attempt to do everything and end up doing nothing at all. Striking the balance between following your heart and taking advice will often seem like rocket science until such a time when structures are stable, responsibilities are apparent, funding is stable and activities are streamlined. That day is coming soon.
I knew at the back of my mind that eventually, an ideal situation for 40-40 would be one in which; a community identifies a need. They decide on a nursery school for example. They are not in position to raise all the funds necessarily but they realise their children need a firm foundation. We ask them what they can provide. They agree to offer land and man power. We then find resources to make their dream a reality. Along the way, health workers within the area agree to visit weekly to deal with any health conditions the children may suffer. Before you know it, one of them has been employed as an in-house nurse. A single father who long since gave up on his teaching career recognises the need within his community and decided to volunteer time at the school. 40-40 partners with an organisation which focuses on early childhood care especially for disadvantaged children. They come in to give the teachers in this area skills and training specific to their situation. The list goes on. By now I believe you get the drift.
We told and retold the dormitory story. One of my favourite memories of this occurred when an article was published days after we commissioned the dorm. Evelyn was at the salon half paying attention to the music on the radio. The presenters spoke only Luganda and she didn’t even know the frequency. She would soon realise they were speaking about ‘abavubuka a’ba zimbye e’Luweero’ (youth who built in Luweero) She became attentive and contacted me immediately. I was thrilled! Brenda on the other hand stopped asking people “Have you heard of 40-40?” and started to ask “Do you know about the youth who built a dorm?” That should catch your attention! 😀
We stayed in contact with Happy Times Luweero but lent a hand to other projects we thought deserved our time and attention.
Then it started to happen!
Students who belong to AISEC, more specifically from China and Japan visited the school. They fell in love with the kids although they could barely speak any language besides their own. One 16 year old boy got malaria and his Japanese parents told him to catch the next flight home or they were coming. He was adamant. He asked to be treated at the same hospital the kids went to and stayed around for another month during which he recovered completely, feasted on posho and beans and helped with the chores.
The students then purchased beds, mattresses,bedsheets and blankets that filled the dormitory. All the children had to do was carry the other school requirements! What a beautiful sight.

Made in Uganda, in fact- in Luweero :)

Made in Uganda, in fact- in Luweero 🙂

beds
One of the reasons we built the dormitory was because the school was taking in many abandoned babies who had nowhere to go yet the space was not enough to accommodate them and the older children.
Looking at the babies’ section, it is difficult to believe that all those children were once squashed in there but then again, there is a time for everything.

Baby Harris (named after a 40/40 team member) was abandoned at 4 days. He has a home now!

Baby Harris (named after a 40/40 team member) was abandoned at 4 days.
He has a home now!

Tunyumila mu pair :D

Tunyumila mu pair 😀

When Hudani Manji Holdings Ltd (Yo Kuku) contacted Brenda about how best to partner with 40-40, we were especially excited to find out that their 64 acre factory was located close to Luweero. The natural option was for their support to be directed to Happy Times.
Since their primary product is chicken, their donation would be in kind. Fresh frozen chicken, for the kids, straight from the factory! When we informed them that the school had no fridge, they replied ‘Let there be a deep freezer that can contain 100kg!’ (not in those words but you get the drift)
Wululu! The excitement! Yes, 50kg of chicken for the children monthly. A meal they only anticipated over the Christmas holiday.
The first batch was delivered on Monday- public holiday just!

yo kuku 2

yo kuku 3

I am hungry!!

I am hungry!!

meal 2

The P7 pupils cut and cooked their own chicken after the exam. No jokes!

The P7 pupils cut and cooked their own chicken after the exam.
No jokes!

One of our findings with people who are looking after vulnerable children in this country is that they want to remain pitiful and show no sign of development in order to attract donors both local and international. Little do they know, it simply makes them ‘less attractive’ candidates for whatever help you have to offer. Sometimes they don’t know better, most times though, they are driven by greed. Like Michael has asked before ‘Can you teach initiative?’

Changing a mindset is certainly a full time job that requires years of patience.

“And sure enough, even waiting will end…if you can just wait long enough.”

The director at Happy Times, Ms. Joyce Namigadde though, tells things as they are and makes it a joy to give. Why? You get to see the developments almost immediately.
In two weeks or so, the school shall be pumping clean water after an Australian family raised $10,000 for construction of a borehole at the school. At the beginning of this year we were working on a proposal to a corporate company whose CSR was directly for water. We soon found out about the Australians who have clearly  kept their word.

borehole
As if this News is not good enough, three of the babies from the home are going to be adopted and given a chance to grow up with a mommy and daddy *clapping incessantly* 🙂
The adoption fees have been used to purchase land near the school that will be used to build a self contained house exclusively for the babies and toddlers.
There is little else to do other than give God the glory.
Hard work, dedication and perseverance pay off. Granted, sometimes it takes a while but your patience will yield fruits.

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

What is your dream today?
#Iam4040

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

Stranger at home

Yesterday I was reading the Sunday Papers( Yeah, I am one of those people) when I turned to read http://apenyo.com/finding-tracy-tears-and-wine/ , a beautiful piece by Mildred Apenyo  that opened my mind to so many thoughts and memories. 
Growing up, it did not occur to me that I was ‘different’ in any way.
At home we spoke English, Swahili, Kinyarwanda and Luganda. None of it seemed out of the ordinary really. Some of these languages were best articulated when you did something wrong, others were for normal conversation.
 
I started school when the time for it came  and made friends. Everywhere I went I made friends and went about my business like an ordinary child, without putting much thought to where they came from.
 
When teachers made fun of the name ‘Kalenzi,’I simply smiled but later got irritated. How is it that everyone who heard my name for the first time had to say ‘Kalenzi-Ka-boy’ or ‘Kalenzi, why not Kawala?’ Were they that un-creative? I needed a new joke so I could laugh as hard as they did, but it never did come.
 
Before I even turned ten,a kid around my age walked up to me and said “You must be from Rwanda. Mum says your dead bodies are all over Lake Victoria and we can’t eat fish anymore.”
Never mind that the Rwandan genocide had ended three or so years before this conversation. I stared at him. Dumbfounded.
This was the beginning.
 
I don’t remember ever asking my parents about it, but it was the first time I started to feel like I did not belong. I didn’t know much about my ancestry but all my relatives were in Uganda. I am one of those lucky ones that did not lose any close relations in the genocide. I had something to think about.
 After a while, our body features became more pronounced as adolescents and I started to realise that my body was often given as an example.
Needless to say, there were females endowed far more than I ever would be, but I was an easier target I guess. The hips were for people from ‘that side.’ As a teen, these are not issues you want to deal with. As if the new ‘baggage’ isn’t enough, now you have teachers bringing it up too? 
Somehow, I survived this phase.
 
Before long I was in Secondary School and something incredible happened. Suddenly it was cool to have ‘Nyaru’ blood. Girls started tracing their family trees to Rwanda as far as their grand mother’s mum. They would tell me how they are sure we are ‘related.’ The only thought that crossed my mind was, “Why now?”
 After knowing only Uganda as my home, it became increasingly difficult to explain why my village was in Masaka or how come I spoke better Swahili than Kinyarwanda or French.
Like all fads, this ‘being a Munyarwanda is cool’ phase came to and end. The ‘loud whispers’ soon began like they never left.
I soon moved to an institution where teachers, matrons and even the Headteacher based their attitude towards me on my origin. I did not tell anyone. I was not about to worry my family or seek pity from friends whom I wasn’t sure shared these sentiments. I pretended it was ‘okay’ and went on about my business despite the prejudice that surrounded me almost everyday.
 
girlie
 
I was more exposed after High School. When I walked alongside other people, the taxi touts hurled insults at only me. It was ‘normal.’ Whether or not I wore the most decent of clothes to cover up my body shape, a remark would be made in my direction. I later discovered my facial features had also been classified. What was I going to do, wear a mask?
 
The moment I hit down town Kampala and other crowded areas, I ceased to be Esther. I was the intruder.
 
I remember one afternoon a few years ago when I got into a taxi in the New park,I took a seat by the window and waited for it to fill as always. Hardly had the journey started when one of the passengers began “Naye abanyarwanda bano batwagaza ki?” ( Loosely translated- What do these Banyarwanda want from us?) I didn’t pay much attention till at least 9 of the passengers joined in and argued, insulted, cursed Banyarwanda in my presence. To be honest, there was no ‘real’ message being shared but they were emotional and this scared me even more.Could they hurt me in broad day light? Weren’t their words hurtful enough?
 
None of them was on ‘the other side.’ I cringed.I wanted to break down, to jump through the window, anything but be in there.
If I didn’t know better, I would think it was orchestrated for my ‘benefit.’
I was mad. Why me? What had I done to deserve it? Did they know who I really was? Would they condone such behaviour against their daughter,sister or friend? Did they care? Why couldn’t humans just get along? There were no answers.
I decided against jumping out of the taxi and waited for my stage.
 
I got home with a heavy heart  that evening and when my mum heard this story she said to me, “For as long as I am around, you shall not use a taxi ever again.”
I nodded, while suppressing tears but knew deep down, it was impossible and that it was no solution to this prejudice.
 
On my way from work last year, a guy selling apples in Wandegeya came to the car I was in amidst traffic jam. After he laid eyes on me he yelled, “I can’t sell to you, you are a Munyankole” and he stormed off. I was too shocked to react.
Speaking of traffic and cars, as soon as I learnt to drive, a can or huge colourful worms was opened!
When they noticed I was in the driver’s seat, it only emphasises how ‘we were stealing their money.’ Never mind that no car I have ever driven belongs to me.
These incidents have become so common I have grown accustomed to the ‘treatment.’
I am whoever they choose to think I am because of what I look alike and at that point, it does not matter what my beliefs are or who I am on the inside, because these people want to turn me into a victim yet I know, I am worth more than that.
 
Last year when the Lukwago madness ensued, I told the boda guy I had taken not to use the Kisekka route. I could foresee trouble. He obliged but later connected to it any way.
 
While riding through there, the not so gentlemen kept shouting how ‘my people’ had destroyed the country and how they were going to come for me. They assured me I needed to be careful.
If it wasn’t so sad, it would have been funny. I have worked for government institutions before that opened my eyes to filth I live each day trying to fight, but here I was being blamed for what, the Kampala mayor’s problems? Ha-ha.
 
Writing this is a reminder of how far we are from achieving equality.
Most nations that wage way based on ethnicity deal with at least two ethnic groups. Uganda on the other hand has over 40 tribes. The constitution recognises all of them, including Banyarwanda who like some other tribes are constantly reminded that they ‘don’t belong .’
What is even more disheartening is that some of these people who are happy to denounce certain tribes, have strong ties to them in reality. You might very well find they changed their names to avoid prejudice against them but are happy to inflict it in ‘their own.’ This reminder alone is revolting!!
 
I consider myself lucky, to be able to share some of these tales ‘lightly.’ These incidents had the power to break me but I  didn’t let them. What distresses me is that they are not over yet.
I can think of many others I left out and know other Ugandans out there who have been preyed on by their own or people who thought themselves better, more equal.
Mildred suffered for being Luo as if she had anything to do with the family she was born in.
 
Is this really the kind of example we are willing to set for our children and their children, in the 21st century? Have we learnt nothing from History? 
I remain baffled but I hope that if we begin discussions around such ‘silent evils that are crippling development, we can create a much better society for those yet to come.