Wealth, Survival and everything in between

18

Wealth: “An abundance of valuable possessions or money.”

This journey has neither brought me money nor ‘valuable possesions’ in the sense of precious stones, assets or sports car to show off😉 but it has opened my heart to different kinds of wealth.

When I decided to leave formal employment, I will admit I didn’t really have a plan when it came to finances and how to survive. I didn’t take time to think about the next few years; about investments and anything of the sort..I just left.

I am fast approaching the 3-decade mark. I live at home with my parents. I do not have vast acres of land that my great grand parents left me and my collective wealth lies in a ridiculous number of notebooks (which Suzan already booked)

Do I think about the fact that my peers drive to the cafe when we meet up for tea and all I have are ‘boda tales?’ Yes. Have I watched them move house and gradually stock up their dream homes? Yup.
Do I celebrate them when they get a raise or purchase a piece of land? Definitely!
Am I present when they exchange their vows and bring life into this world? Me, my emotions and yet-to-be-perfected ululations represent in full swing!😊
So, what is the plan?

Am I waiting for that fine day when I will win the lottery or am I convinced that I will marry into wealth?😮

 

 

I did two interviews last week and both journalists were keen to hear how I ‘survive.’ I smiled knowingly.
I do talks and when it is ‘Q&A’ time, as sure as we are of meeting a pothole along our daily paths..that question does come up. Sometimes, I try to slip the response in before it is asked.
My favourite concern comes from my supposed loved ones; who have never so much as shown interest in the work that I do or how I got there; who neither applaud not offer positive words but when they get a chance, they pull me aside to ask “When will you get a job?
“Didn’t your parents do enough by taking you to school, why are you still burdening them by staying at home?” For some, their solution is marriage. Of course, take my burdens elsewhere, why don’t I? While we are on this, which ‘free’ forest is open for me to come and pick the poor victim of this union?😒

Is it easy to live a life in which you don’t expect a monthly pay cheque,rent from your tenants, *insert other sources of income* ? Nope
Am I blind to how fast paced the world is and all the things made easier by the presence of money and his friends? Negative
Now let me ask you?
Do people who have a stable income and the ability to provide for themselves and their families still have problems?
Back to the definition of wealth, shall any of us take our ‘money and valuable possessions’ on our trip six-feet under?

The truth is that there is probably nothing anyone with great intentions (or not) will tell me about my survival needs that I haven’t thought of; not to mention I am my biggest critic.
After their annual check up on my status, they go back to their lives and I keep living mine.
Most importantly, the person I am most answerable to here on earth is…ME.
This means I get to decide what is comfortable and enough for ME. Isn’t it just great?!

Some people receive satisfaction from seeing the number of zeroes on their bank statements, others derive it from looking at all their assets; for some, joy is in the form of their family or loved ones; the list is endless.

You find someone giving their all because they believe in a cause;it gives them purpose, fills their hearts,brings them closer to their dream and literally gets them up in the morning daily and it is legal/not affecting you in anyway but your first instinct is to poo all over because your life’s mission is to play ‘devil’s advocate.’

Quick one: Kikulumira wa? (Loosely translated; “how does it affect you?”) I am speaking to the ones who ask, not with the purpose of offering to help but so that they can ridicule or confirm that you’re better than person X. Why?
Seriously though. WHY?!

I would like to say this from my brief experience;
Take comfort in your big dream even if it is unevenly matched by small savings; sit tight in that taxi or on that boda boda knowing well that it will not always be like that; and so what if it is? You do get from point A to B, no?
Desist from comparing yourself to people even if you were raised in the same household, heck even if you’re twins! ; our paths are different and THERE IS A TIME FOR EVERYTHING. Now, this is difficult to put into practice, I can tell you that I battle with it often; especially if you feel you deserve better, you have invested too much time, your blessing is taking too long or your hard work has come to naught. I urge you, Keep at it. Talk to someone whom you know is on your team; keep learing and improving yourself as an individual; find solace in the higher power you believe in. So everything it takes!
If it helps you get up in the morning then clearly you need/want it.
AND;
If for whatever reason, you find yourself doing something which doesn’t bring you any pleasure and/or satisfaction but simply because society ‘approves.’ Stop. Re-evaluate. Look around you. Ask yourself if ‘they’ really deserve you and what you have to give.

I am not an authority at all, but as I type this. I am living my dream with the most minimal resources you can think of.
I am not wealthy by dictionary definition but I have found a way to get work done using other people’s resources. Along the way, I have learnt countless lessons and God knows I have amassed wealth in form of people and bountiful love
The mention of my surname doesn’t cause earthquakes or get work done and every other day is a new battle.
There are still so many people, including those I love who think this is a phase, a pastime that I will snap out of and my goodness there is so much I haven’t figured out!😨😥😢
Nonetheless, still I rise and I am glad to share that in all its imperfection, I would still choose this life.😊😍

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Starting Over

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

Aluta continua

Moving On

My first real encounter with young passionate Ugandans chasing a big dream came in form of the Lantern meet of Poets. Man they breathe(d) passion! I vividly remember the day Lillian told me about the group and her subsequent excitement as they planned their first recital. It was a mix of eagerness and fear. Last year she reminded me that I sat with her backstage until it was her turn. Frankly all I remember from that recital was sitting proudly in the audience and resisting the urge to whisper to all my neighbours, ‘that’s my girl.’ I marvelled at her effortless ability to command the stage, her eloquence and confidence. I watched the other poets in awe, some visibly anxious and others whose performances said to us “I was born for this!”

lantern

Lillian and I had tested our rhymes as naughty teenagers in High school. She would pass a note that read “What do you think of the colour red?” and I would reply “Let us start by looking under the bed” or something silly along those lines. Before we knew it, we would have a complete poem, mostly full of stupidity, I might add. This would go on for most of the lesson, particularly the Political Education class which was most relaxed. I caught Mr. Miwa noticing me, noticing him, noticing us a few times but he never did penalise us.  I guess he decided our grades would speak for themselves or he just let ‘children’ be children. I don’t remember us failing though, it was quite an interesting class. One of the few for me, actually. Ask me about Physics though, I’ll come at you with a pendulum clock.

Fast forward to several years later and the Lantern meet partnered with my alma mater. It brought a certain joy to my heart. I thought if they had existed in my time, I would probably have joined in. At that point in my life, words were surely my escape. Perhaps I wouldn’t have gathered the courage to hit the stage but I would have liked to be in the presence of those realities, admiring the string of words and stories woven.

Speaking of words, I have never really found myself worthy to critique writing, any art really. I feel almost as if I would be dictating how the artist should feel, how they need to express their emotions; how they should interpret their thoughts and package them for the audience. I find that a tad unjust. While the audience certainly matters, I feel like sometimes we lose ourselves, our original message, trying so hard to fit into their expectations…but that’s just me.

I can still hear the echoes of “This revolution will not be televised” and how I left that evening thinking “Woah! What a time to be alive!”

Each time I got a chance to watch the Lantern meet at the National theatre, it brought back fond memories of my relationship with the place. As a Primary school pupil in the school choir, making it to the theatre was the equivalent of the Olympics. We participated in competitions that were held in schools all over the country but only the crème de la crème made it to the finals at National theatre. I suppose it would have been even more exhilarating if we had to travel miles to get there but unfortunately, I studied only a few metres away. Nonetheless, it was a thrilling experience for my young excitable mind. We weren’t half bad either. I remember crying inconsolably when I was about 10 years old, after we emerged second, nationwide! Ha! If only I knew then what I know now, I would tell little Esther to celebrate that ‘win’ and savour it. I would assure her that life would present so many more reasons to cry and this was one of the better days. Thankfully, ‘we’ never lost the passion and we did lose that competitive gene. Now, doing our best is good enough and I wish mini- me had known that.

After almost a decade, the Lantern meet of poets has decided to bow out. I have not had the chance to get the scoop on this scoop. I know for a fact that I would have loved to have them around forever but then again I am sure they have their reasons.

I would like to salute you for dreaming, for growing, for reminding us to appreciate the power of poetry, of words of rhythm and rhymes.

You were just but University students armed with a dream and a canvass when you began, look how much beauty you left us!  You created a movement, a force to reckon with and we are indebted to you for that.

 

I started this hoping to write a short piece celebrating the Lantern meet of poets and inviting you all to the last recital but 800 words later here we are. *smh*

If you are in Kampala this Saturday, come and say goodbye to them in style. The show will begin at 7pm. Tickets go for Ugx 20,000 and are already on sale at National Theatre.

lantern-meet

 

Your stories gave us light. Thanks for the memories!

 

 

A letter to my teenage self

Last week I got two blasts from the past. I was invited to give a talk to S.3 students at the school where I studied and completed my ‘O’ level. A few days later, a friend sent me a letter I had written to her during my ‘A’ level studies. The former reminded me where I came from, the latter showed me how glad I was to be who I am today.

I thought I should write a letter to the girl that I was, because…well, she didn’t have much of me then.

Dear me, isn’t it such a great time to be young?
Look around you. Do you see how blessed you are? You might not have everything you want but you certainly have everything you need.
Those Visiting days when some of your friends stay in class like it’s just another day, you move about anticipating the arrival of at least one representative from your family. They do not have that. I know you don’t fully comprehend it now but I have noticed that you empathize with those that lack, do not stop.

You have been picked on for the way you look, by tribalists and other judgemental people who think small= helpless. It will probably not stop soon and it isn’t like you are going to going to transform overnight. Embrace it. When you can, politely engage those often ignorant people that offend you. However, when in doubt, always choose silence. It can be a weapon in itself. Like most things, time might not necessarily heal those wound, but it does prepare you better, for the next time.

You will be undermined even when you are older. Try not to be offended. Laugh. Try to laugh each time you’re faced with conundrums from myopic people.
Laughter will take you through some seemingly unbearable situations. As difficult as it may seem, look for any angle of humour in the darkest of moments. Sometimes laughter is all you’ll have.
Oh darling, I have seen how you vex yourself trying to make everyone happy. Stop.
Those who like you will continue even when you’re dressed in rugs and those that do not, well, they’ll find fault in everything you do.
The sad reality is that there’s only about a handful of people who truly care about you. Focus on those. Everything that you do should be with reason, may that reason never be to compromise on your integrity or seek favour.
Your folks are great people, you should be thankful to have them alive, caring for you the way they do. Go out of your way to make them proud but don’t lose sight of what you truly want in the process. When they see you chasing your dream(s), they will respect you. Whether or not they agree is another thing all together. Honour them but allow yourself to be you.

Try to be comfortable with who you are because you are the one person you guaranteed you’ll spend your life with.There’s always going to be someone better than you. I know that when you compare yourself to others, you feel inadequate. That’s okay, it happens sometimes. Do not let that feeling rule you. If you must keep it, use it to build a better version of yourself. Did you hear, I said of ‘yourself’ not anyone else.
Boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them. I kid. You’ve met your fair share of spineless boys, I assure you that many more await you in the future. Thankfully, you’ve grown up with kind, respectable and all round amazing male influences in your life. That should tell you that there are others like them out there.
Do.not.settle. You’re probably too young to be hearing this but then again, you’re probably not. Many of the little injustices we that consume us begin as ignored hints of pain swept under the rug. We shall talk more about this when you exit these teenage years.
You think those migraines are the worst form of pain you have felt? I hate to tell you, ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet.’ However, I have some good News. Your high threshold for pain will be a huge plus in the coming years. You remember that time when that teacher whose name you’ve conveniently forgotten beat you up so bad you thought you were going to die? Remember how he maliciously caned you and said he wouldn’t stop till you cried, and you inwardly held all your tears with everything you had because you weren’t going to let him ‘win?’ Well, it seems that was good practice for the life ahead. You did not cry then. The more aches life gives you, the tougher your skin becomes. Keep being strong, sometimes it is all you will have. On emotional pain however, do not attempt to control it. Let your fears and tears be. I only ask that you determine what/who can get away with hurting you. They berra be worth it!

You are young and your dreams change every other day. You like to see the best in people,even when you have been disappointed.
That belief is one of your greatest strengths and weaknesses but I will not advise you on that. Your intuition will guide you,mostly. Need I add? Keep listening to that inner voice. It’ll help you through some pretty tough mazes.

Follow that which makes your heart smile, dare to be wrong, to be alone, to be different.

You are not the coolest girl or the brightest, your outfits can be pretty ancient and there’s no real talent to point at when anyone is describing you.
You argue more than you should and do not always listen..

Despite all this, you have managed to forge meaningful friendships and keep a good head on (most of the time)
You don’t spend much time in the school canteen because you’re always saving for  God knows what. I remember that Christmas circa 2003 when you bought gifts for the entire family with about 30,000 you saved throughout the year. Keep the spirit of giving and use any excuse to celebrate, life gets too complicated sometimes. You’ll need the memories.
I’ll let you in on a little secret, that saving culture will help you out when you make some crazy decisions in the future, like say quitting your job with no financial plan, or any plan for that matter.

Above all, trust God. Believe in him, glorify his name.
Do not wait for the world’s approval on anything. It is your life. Live it.

Love more than you should, forgive even when it hurts. Dance. With or without the music, just dance.
No matter how much you achieve, remain humble and constantly remind yourself of where you have come from, who was there, who left and why you do what you do.
God will take care of the rest. I know this, because…I am you.

letter

Sincerely,

You.

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

Against all odds

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” 

 

A confident 30 something corporate lady walked into the board room at an investment firm. She was one of four short listed candidates for a top job.

She was asked several questions among which was the popular, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” She didn’t hesitate. She explained that she could not see that far and would rather discuss the ‘now’ because it is more realistic. She went ahead to add that her past five years had been filled with impulsive decisions that made her who she was today and she would rather not play the game as it should be but rather re-invent the wheel. Her job experience was impressive and her eloquence matched it. The panelists exchanged looks and promised to call her back as they parted ways.

She was the last interviewee and upon her departure, two out of the three panelists scoffed and sneered. In short, she was not traditional enough. Only one defended her ‘out of the box’ thinking.

Yesterday as I was filling an application I got into a similar mental dilemma. I was asked for my 5 year career plan and I quickly filled all the dreams I have for 40-40. I re-read the question and realised it was personal. That meant my replies needed to begin with ‘I’ instead.  As if that wasn’t enough, the next question was “What is your long term career plan?” I am sorry, 5 years was not enough? I closed the page and moved on to other things hoping I would later be inspired.

It is about 8 months since I got out of gainful employment and it seems there is no limit to what can possibly be learnt about people and life in general. I have had to ‘cram’ responses to questions like ‘What next?’ because to them what I am doing is temporary and I should soon snap out of it.

On Saturday a close relative said to me, “ Why don’t you go back to school and do something with your life, you are not Mother Theresa, you know? ” Hehe,  the comeback for that one took a little longer than usual. However, yesterday poor Mother T (rest her soul) ‘came back’ for me. A concerned well wisher asked me what I wanted to do to grow career wise. We discussed options before he remarked, “I understand if your purpose in life is to be Mother Theresa and inspire people. I shall not hold it against you.”

He must have wondered why I burst out laughing after. It was just a weird coincidence that she had come up one more time. Is it strange that I am discomforted by this ‘association’? I haven’t even sacrificed 0.000000001% of what she did for the poorest of the poor. This is not even up for discussion (shakes head), let’s move along.

Why do we have to label everything? Why can’t someone just be who they are?

You are single or married, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, a believer of God or an atheist. When are you just you, a human being?

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” 

Joy, is 36, unmarried and more independent than anyone I know. She has had a series of bad relationships, the most recent being the most peculiar seeing as guy X ran away with several household items because he was apparently broke. She has more money than she can spend so this not so wise gentleman might as well have swallowed his ego and asked. No? Theft works better? Yes? Okay.

Before that she went from one guy to another simply to ‘fit in’ wit the married lot but she has decided to take a well deserved break.

She has reached the peak of her career, takes annual vacations and has pretty much anything money can buy. Is it her fault that she isn’t ‘settled’ yet? What is settling any way?

Society does not want to know her past. This person called society is more concerned about the ring-less finger and her poor ovaries. How shall she manage? Bambi..

Eve, on the other hand, played by the book. We graduated from University at about the same time. Months later she got married to her High School sweetheart and has two adorable children. This is how it should be done, right? She is settled and ‘knows what she wants,’ yes? So how come her and Mark only appear at church and parties together but don’t share a room in their own house? Why does she want to get a divorce but is afraid she will not get custody of her children? Is it her fault? Did she not do what she was ‘supposed’ to do?

Joy and Evelyn represent a world of women and men stuck in situations that are not new or surreal. It is just life being life and male, female, millionaire or pauper, we all have a story and it is even more beautiful if it is uniquely yours!

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” 

You, dear reader, know countless stories of people that are living a life that is not theirs, heck you might be too. The decisions you make are entirely yours to deal with. God knows all the mistakes I am constantly making are copyrighted. I shall not let anyone take the blame let alone consciously blame them!

“Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”

The business executive who might not get the job because her responses weren’t conventional enough sleeps a lot better than the rest of us who walk with our heads up high because we are conforming to society’s idea of who we are or must be.

I can’t emphasise enough the value of being true to oneself.

If you find people struggling to label you, to explain where you belong or even ‘force’ you to belong somewhere because it will make them feel better, make them understand you or worse still make you just like them, that will be a good time to slowly walk away.

The road to the top is lonely and also narrow, you decide what or who gets to take it with you.

“Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.” 

be you