Sep 26, 2019

What are these freedoms?

Bible study at Kampala Pentecostal church was coveted. I sat on the last pew in the lower right section of the balcony near the door - my favorite spot. I could easily slip out and run home when it got late. He liked to sit around the same area and from time to time we would talk or smile at each other. We came in school uniform. I didn’t know we stood out until my sister approached me with concern. A friend of hers had noted us and proceeded to tell my sister that I was playing with a boy in church. I learned that people are always watching. I also learned that adulting comes with challenges and responsibilities, one begins to view situations through one’s own lens.

Aug 8, 2019

Summer flies by

Whoa!! It's been a while since I was last here.

Yes, and now I return for the heart loves familiar places :-).

I miss blogging, chillin’ out with my peeps, talking about life. I thought the summer would be quiet and relaxed but it’s been filled with work assignments and stresses.

Chobe with the view of river nile
Chobe Uganda. Photo Credit: Mary Ongwen

This picture of Chobe in Northern Uganda gives me pause – a breath of fresh air. It centers my thoughts on good things – nature, wildlife, peace, rejuvenation.

What about you? What have you been up to?

Happy Weekend!!

Oct 22, 2018

Knock knock! Do you know Joseph?

Aerial shot over the sea of Marmara in Turkey. Photo Credit: Mary Ongwen

I was making dinner one fine Saturday when the doorbell rang. Two young men dressed in white shirts and black trousers stood at my door. I smiled and nearly said “Well, well, well! What have we got here?” I squished the laughter that climbed up my throat and virtually rubbed my hands with glee. I was in the mood for a good discussion.
The younger man, probably 17 years old put on his biggest smile although I’m sure he’d secretly hoped no one was home.

Oct 7, 2018

The Last of The Tooth Fairy

It happened once, I was about seven, it was magical. I lost a tooth and showed it to my mom. The next morning I discovered that a rat had carried 5 shillings and a peculiar sweet and quietly tucked them under my pillow. I was amazed at how the little fella carried this hefty package. I imagined how he’d climbed up staircases, scurried round corners and pushed my bedroom door open or maybe squeezed in through a tiny opening to deliver my package.

I lost another tooth, put it under my pillow and didn’t tell a soul. The next morning, the tooth was still there. I turned pillows, blankets and sheets upside down - alas! There’s wasn’t a gift in sight. Lost between shock and devastation, I wondered what ever could have happened. Was he killed in the line of duty?

Years later I figured out that the conspirators. I forgave them eventually.

Fast forward to my own home. Not keen on the drama, I kept it simple. You lose a tooth, I give you something small to celebrate .
But word of the tooth fairy spread from classrooms to the dentist, to my home.
“mummy? Is the tooth fairy real? “
“No, my dear!” I shut it down or so I hoped. But as I walked away I caught a little twinkle in the eye, the hope that maybe, just maybe this magic was real.

I tried that night.

Next morning :
“Yes my dear”
“The letter? You wrote it.”
“How did you know?”
“The hearts”
“I tried.”
“Yes. That’s okay. At least you tried. Thank you. I’ll save the money.”

I got an A for effort.

Sep 17, 2018


Sunset on a Turkish air flight to Kampala

Do you ever wish for innocence again?
I do.
Do you ever wish you’d stayed young, 18, maybe 12 - free of life’s cares?
I do.
Sometimes I wish I could un-feel things, un-hear things, un-think things, un-see things.

Ah!! But life won’t let. Life grabs you like a big cuddly clawed bear, it flings you around, knocks every bone out of joint. The heart expands, emotions heighten with each new thrill, each new pain, each new pleasure, each new heartache.
You learn to trust less, you learn to forgive more, you learn to be more cautious, more committed, less patient, more forceful. You learn. You unlearn.

They say, “How are you?”
You think, “What do they want?”
They say, “I missed you”
You think, “What do I owe?”

You say, “I’m fine!”
They think, “What’s she not saying?”

It’s exhausting!

Look at the bright side.
There’s no bright side inside.
It’s dark this inside, gloomy this inside.
Longing for light - the soul source or sole source.
The sole source that rearranges, reassures, refreshes, reforms, reinvigorates, renews, restores, revives.
This little red, pulsating organ, that throbs within a cage needs to locate that soul source.

Eh! But I can really be melancholic.

Aug 16, 2018

Kampala - An Intense City

A view of Arua Park in down town Kampala. Photo Credit: Mary Ongwen

I had missed Uganda and its capital. I wanted to experience the downtown markets of Nakasero and kikuubo, roll with the cool guys on SafeBoda’s, sit with the local women as they lit sigiris’ and fanned firewood. I wanted to dine in Kampala Serena, sip cappuccinos and lattes at Cafesseria. I wanted to travel to the countryside, see all things, do all things, taste, relish, embrace. I wanted to nourish a hunger that had grown over three years. See my papa and mama and siblings.

Familiar tastes, sights, sounds and people allowed for a deep-seated comfort – a return to a warm nook, a favorite place. The warm hugs, the worn paths, the happy stories, the heartaches connecting lives at the origin of life’s pulse. People finished sentences like I was never gone. Virtual friendships were sealed, the connections encompassed faith, beliefs, and life values.
After a while the cracks in the ceiling surfaced, I was reminded of the annoying humps on Ntinda stretcher. The touts who claimed the taxi was about to leave only to yo-yo in the same spot for another ten minutes. I began to dodge potholes from memory and understand the non-verbal communication of the security guards. I remembered personal space didn’t have a place here.
I was back.

I was on the road a lot so most impressions were influenced by journeys and interactions within the city.
Beyond the discomfort of dust caked in layers on my eyelashes and throat, Kampala’s growth is evident. More of everything – economic growth, private ventures, indiscipline, creativity, insecurity, wealth, agriculture and more.

Kampala’s intensity numbed and exhilarated all at once. Urban migration is real. Youth employment is of grave importance. What were once outskirts -MukonoNajjeeraKulambiro are now in-skirts and they continue to grow. Growth is good, the disorganization not so much. KCCA has its work cut out.

Kampala is an urgent city – like a continuous party or a scene in a Grand Theft Auto game: a boda accident over here, a fender bender over there. Taxi touts call for passengers, boda cyclists whizz by and assume a ride contract because of eye contact. Music blares from supermarket speakers, road side vendors loom over car windows in traffic. The car hoots and street side conversations – everybody minds their own business and others. 
A huge truck knocks down the wall to a private residence. The back of the truck remains logged between the compound and the road. The truck hangs in midair over a drainage – hard to demystify the “cool” maneuver that resulted in this situation. Traffic slogs up the Kiwatule turn off, idlers surround – each with a version of how the accident unfolded, life resumes.

The incessant traffic jams (except at 2:00am perhaps), taxi drivers with their own set of road rules and the boda-boda cyclists that skillfully made sudden appearances at blind spots were most unnerving. Good to have more traffic lights, and the bypasses that help ease traffic on the outskirts – except everyone is thinking the same thing.

Ugandan’s remain trendy. After one or two meetings with a friend who politely told me to smarten up, I begun to scan the fitted skirts, the high heels and matte lipstick painted in cafés, offices and on Kampala road. It was important to represent and not shame the diaspora. Ugandans have class.

Ugandan’s are still friendly but a little more aggressive. They still help with directions and empathize with those in need. Drivers cut into traffic mercilessly, everyone assumes right of way. After two instances of courtesy on the road one easily joins the road rage because you soon become the enemy for giving way, choice words are thrown through windows. Once immersed in the aggressive zone, one chances on a driver who’s gracious, allows you to join the road or make a turn and suddenly the trance wears off and you realize there are some sane people out there.
The traffic police? I will leave those alone – not enough time or space to delve into the details.

Uganda suffers lopsided development, but development none the less. There’s stack contrast in quality of infrastructure between eastern and western Uganda. A clear line between the haves and have not’s. Again, not enough time or space to delve into the details here.

Good food – Ugandans have not lost taste. The number of restaurants, Cafés and kafundas just go to show Ugandans like their food and they like it steamy hot. From The Lawns, to Café Java’s and all the fabulous eat outs in between the choices are endless from muchomo to muchuzi chips. We will talk customer service another day.

Good music! Ugandan’s love to have a good time. I met a friend in Ntinda, the location had no signage – those who know it, know it. Those who do not probably don’t belong. The music was cool, the ambience just right!  An old tymers kind of thing. Highly recommended as a wind down zone after a day’s hustle. One travels back in time to life’s good moments – you literally forget the guy who nyigged you, the missed promotion that was rightfully yours, the business deal that fell through. Yah!

A lot has changed and yet so much remains the same. I was glad to fit in and yet study the country from a distance.

Subsequent articles will be short stories, interesting events and encounters along the way.

Soon moving to WordPress: 

Feb 23, 2018

Black Panther Written with Ugandan-American Son in Mind

“Baba tell me a story”
“Which one?”
“The story of home”
Ryan Coogler’s script had me at “Baba”.

An adventure story loomed in the air, framed not by a fire place but cinema surround sound. Like magic I escaped the building and travelled on a journey far far away from Washington D.C to Teso and Kigezi via Kampala. First off, I’m not familiar with anything “Marvel” – Justice League, Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy – clueless! I endured the winding line of excited theater goers determined to break the box office because of hype. The Black Panther movie had just been released. The 40 minutes I stood in line eased on like a breeze thanks to Zadie Smith’s novel “White Teeth”. What was this #WakandaForever business? I had to find out.

Now, back to the story. T’Challa’s (Black Panther) eager pre-teen voice makes a request – simple yet profound and multifaceted – “The Story of home”. It took me back in time to an evening two years ago when seated at the family dining table in an obscure corner of Maryland my 12-year-old son asked “Daddy, where did we come from?” My quick, short answer would have been “Uganda!” but my son in his wisdom knew the source of satisfactory answers, answers that quenched his thirst for belonging, for identity – his father. As he is wont to do, his father with undivided attention begun at the beginning – the Luo migration into East Africa. The journey of Nilotic ethnic groups along the Nile river from lower Egypt, Sudan, Congo to the places they settled in East Africa. While he explained his linage up to his father and mother who originated from Tororo and Kisoro respectively, I spoke of my parent’s linage from Usuk and Kumi finally settling in Serere. My son listened with eager attention, he sat up and pushed his chest forward. The building blocks for this discussion rested on our faith. His father explained that more than people and places his identity should be rooted in Jesus Christ. Our personal relationship under the Lordship of Jesus informs our value systems.

Black Panther alludes to historic events; the bronze artifacts looted in 1897 from the kingdom of Benin (now southern Nigeria) exhibited in a London museum and current issues; the Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. But at its core the movie settles around personal identity, family and exile, politics and power struggles. Personal identity – the purpose of one’s existence in relation to their surroundings. An issue my father handled with deliberate effort; the dusty road trips up to Usuk and Agaria, visiting home after home, the chicken slaughtered, the millet bread mingled, now make sense. While the elders sat around a pot of ajono, we were left to stare at children who were introduced as relatives. The barriers of discomfort soon melted and we became life-long friends. Now, tracing actual bloodlines is like splitting hairs – we are siblings to all intents and purposes and we have a sense of belonging.

Growing up in the American culture my son’s concerns are complex. As his parents, born and bred in Uganda, our reference points differ and he struggles to understand our views. His dark skin connects him with a racial history with which he doesn’t necessarily identify. As teenagers on a quest for self, a discussion brewed among friends at school – where was he from if he wasn’t Black American? There were so many layers. As a result, their growing minds begun to question the differences and similarities between black with American roots and black with African roots. He needed to curve out his niche with the knowledge that one thread run deep – he was a young black male in America.

As memories of his experience in Uganda and his life in America were juxtaposed: feeding goats in grandpa’s back yard, being chased by a rooster in Serere’s afternoon sun. His numerous uncles and aunts who send him birthday wishes every year. Playing video games, attending school with friends who look as different as they come, the claustrophobic space he occupies with his sister and Ugandan parents, an awareness of his skin color – all inform his identity. As he grows up in a different time and place he is reminded that all these experiences shape his unique but centered definition of self.

The question at the end of the Black Panther movie is “WHO ARE YOU?” I should hope my son will embrace and define his unique identity as a Christian, born in Uganda and bred in America. When asked his favorite character in Black Panther he said the villain – Killmonger. A partial reflection of himself perhaps?

Good movie – thought provoking. #WakandaForever
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