On Gratitude

One fine day, as I was flipping through channels and settled for News updates on BBC, I watched the Australian Prime Minister heckled as he visited one of the areas devastated by fires. It was a totally different reaction from the usual visits by a leader of the Government. One of the residents followed him while loudly complaining that their area was forgotten because it was not Sydney and not naturally endowed. The government rescue efforts were always late and sub-par.

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Starting Now

2019 started off as a marathon that quickly became a never-ending 100m dash each and every day. Some days I didn’t know whether I was coming or whether I was going. I didn’t think for a moment I would have time for my favorite pastime, reading.

My sister started a book club to read books by African Writers. She coopted my skeptical self. We managed to read a book each month as planned. As she was recollecting, the achievements of her year, it turned out I had read all 11 books and had teas with most of the Ugandan authors.

This wasn’t part of the sprint but yeaayyyy. I did it!

I decided to collect all the books and count them and check my e-book reader. Wow. I had read 20 books, which comes to about one book every two weeks. I am also a polygamist reader, so, I have like 8 other books at different levels of progress. I read all the syllabus material that was required for teaching as well.

I read!!!

How? By focusing on my priorities.

Habit 3 of Stephen Covey’s Put First Things First has a matrix for prioritization. These priorities are drawn from your personal mission statement. Quadrant 2 is the Quadrant of effectiveness.

Put First Things First is at the heart of effective self-management. It’s the ability to organize our time around the most important things.

7 Habits app

I wrote my personal mission statement two years ago and practiced scheduling my big rocks on a weekly basis. It was tough, it was grueling. Some days I wondered why the fuss.

The hardest part is starting. Once you get that out of the way, you’ll find the rest of the journey much easier.

— Simon Sinek

Two years later, I am reaping the benefits without flinching….ok not quite…I have fallen asleep in books. I have carried books around but didn’t open a page. I have piled books next to my bedside and not opened a page for days. I read only a paragraph on some days.

If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means, keep moving.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Set your goal, schedule time for it and start. You will get to the finish line.

Happy 2020.

Pie Jesu

How would I describe 2019? Like a whirlwind. There have been so many heart-stopping moments between short pauses. Apprehensive yet hopeful.

As hopeful as POTUS crossing the DMZ. With all the James Bond movies, I had watched, I was sure there would be a last-minute curveball. Surprisingly, there wasn’t.

This has been 2019. I set goals to blog once a week. I had all the drafts and story outlines written out in my mind. The actual blogs never saw the light of day. I was blogging. I was outlining. Very hopeful.

I started my books. Outlined all of them. I lost all the outlines and my heart with them.

I lost my temper. I lost my mind. I lost my marbles. I lost myself. In the whirlwind of life, I started to lose my essence. During a short pause, I breathed. I gulped all the air I could and began the slow path to recovery.

I find myself drawn to this meditation, this Advent season. My preferred soloist is Cecilia Bartoli.

Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem. (×2)
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem sempiternam.

Pious Lord Jesus,
Give them rest.
Pious Lord Jesus,
Give them everlasting rest.

The Latin lyrics and the English rendering of the last stanza of Dies Irae (Day of Wrath).

I have found unusual comfort in the knowledge that even on the Day of Wrath or Judgement day, it is Jesus who gives me rest. I have wrestled with the concept of rest and its application to my life this year. I set goals for rest -daily, weekly, annual- and never achieved them.

This meditation is a reminder that even when all my failures gather and conspire against me, Jesus gives me rest. Everlasting rest.

5 years

It’s been five years since I last heard your voice. What was it’s pitch? How did you inflect? How did you Intonate?

It’s been five years since I last heard you sing. Sometimes strumming an imaginary violin. Sometimes conducting an imaginary orchestra. Sometimes high pitched. Sometimes in Rukiga.

It’s been five years since I looked into your eyes. What color were they? How they popped out as you told us animated stories?

It’s been five years since you smiled at me. What was that curl in your lips? What was the sound of your smile?

It’s been five years since you called my name. Dora.

It’s been five years since your number rang on my phone. It’s been a long since mummy lit up my screen.

Five. 5. V.

A lifetime or a number.

A shift or a permutation.

The gap, the void it remains.

A mummy shaped hole that only you filled.

Do not be disheartened.

The Lord is with you.

I am grateful and thankful.

Thank you for being my mummy.

Thank you for teaching me compassion.

Thank you for surrounding me with virtuous women.

Thank you for watching over me like a hawk.

Thank you for good food;

Thank you for good music;

Thank you for fashion;

Thank you for keeping it real.

Thank you for good grooming.

Thank you for supporting me to the utmost.

Thank you for leading me to Jesus.

Nsiimye

28.12.2017

The day my niece passed away.

A dark day. A very dark day indeed.

So many questions with no answers. Why didn’t she wake up when her mummy called her? Why didn’t she continue breathing even after surfactant? Why didn’t she wake up after her auntie had read the entire Psalm 119? Why was she so silent?

Where are you, God? God who raised Lazarus? God who triumphed over death? God who calmed the storm? God who is Love?

The darkest moments were still loading. We were not allowed to mourn her passing. It was a thing that happened and passed on silently. You need to make this pass on quietly? You need to move on? Don’t make it a big deal?

But there was nothing quiet about Keitangaza. From her mother’s cravings for sharwamas. From her love for oranges. From her rejection of that beautiful scent of baking cookies. From her very loud entry into the world. From her beautiful wardrobe. She was a star.

Stars explode as they die.

During her funeral service, my siblings and I learned that we too had lost three siblings before I was born. I grew up as the first born. My identity had been built around being a first born. You are the first born. You are responsible for your siblings. You are to set an example.

Not any more.

I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
Benj Pasek, This is Me

Who were these three siblings? Were they male? Were they female? What would their favorite colors have been? Which subjects would they have loved? Hobbies? Favourite food?

This year, we join the rest of the World in the Global Wave of Light. On 15th October 2019. 7pm in your time zone.

The global Wave of Light is an opportunity to join with bereaved parents, families and friends around the globe to commemorate all babies who sadly died too soon.

I will remember my three siblings. The unknown ones in whose shadow I was raised.

Who do you need to remember? Who do you need to invite? Who do you need to accompany?

Rabbit holes of multinationalism

Alice discovers Wonderland after chasing a rabbit down a rabbit hole. The character, Alice, is based on a young girl, Alice Liddell. I found Lewis Carroll’s answers to her very many questions, I imagine, very intriguing. The curiosity built up in young children requires the kind of imagination in his book. His ability to blend the real with the imaginary makes a very good read.

The World Economic Forum on Africa (wef) ended on September 6th 2019. The theme led me down a rabbit hole, but unlike Alice, to a different kind of Wonderland.

#AF19 whose theme this year is “Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. The agenda will cover four key areas: innovation, sustainable development, digitalization and governance.

Inclusive. shared. sustainable. digitalization.

These words like Alice’s characters sounded fascinating. There are so many fascinating scenes in the cartoon, I shall restrict my musings to the caterpillar scene.

Data from the African Development Bank (AFD) shows Africa’s GDP growth reached roughly 3.5% last year, about the same as a year earlier, and up 1.4 percentage points from the 2.1% in 2016.The continent’s growth this year is projected to accelerate to 4% and 4.1% in 2020. While higher than other emerging and developing countries, Africa’s growth remains insufficient to make a dent on unemployment and poverty. These challenges manifest amid an imperative for Africa’s growth to be shared by everyone, particularly by providing our growing populations with good jobs and social protection. What can be done to address these challenges? Let me underscore three priorities for South Africans, and for the continent as a whole: greater cooperation, policy injection and human capital development.

The caterpillar asks Alice who she is and she does not know. She has changed so many times.

Photo credit: Pinterest

It seems like Alice that we shall show up only three inches tall rather than what we were earlier. The caterpillar on the other hand, is three inches tall and happy about it! He has the ability to metamorphose. This he does right before Alice’s own eyes. His parting remarks as a butterfly are instructions on eating a mushroom.

Shall we eat the mushroom?

In March, the African Union launched the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This landmark agreement aims to create a single market expected to generate a combined GDP of more than $3.4 trillion and benefit over 1 billion people. Alex Liu

The free trade area creates a single market and and has similar laws governing goods and services and dispute settlement. The AfCFTA was signed by 54 out of 55 countries. By the time, it was operationalized in July 2019, only 27 countries had ratified it. The requirement was 22 countries. We are not the same as we were this morning.

While we may not metamorphose, there is a mushroom that we can eat, one side will make us taller. Another side will make us shorter.

4IR is going to be the fastest revolution because it builds on existing technologies and enhances their capabilities. Like transformers, the ability to change in seconds will be achieved for most of our technologies. Take the duration from 4G to 5G, some of us are still migrating from 3G to 4G.

The speed at which we adapt to change in Africa has to increase. The speed at which we or our governments adopt changes to laws and to policies needs to increase.

Overcoming the ‘xenophobic’ attacks and never ending wars requires a mindset change. It is one thing to open our countries for exchange of goods. Services come with people. Different people. Their cultures are different. Their language is different. They do not find your jokes funny.

The notion of open borders shall indeed shift in our metrics of success and growth. Our little and sometimes shallow thinking shall be stretched. Our imagination needs to grow beyond our little safety nets. Our identity will not be based on how strong our affiliation for our nation is but how agile we are at navigating the free trade area. Diversify or die.

If our collective growth is not sufficient to overcome poverty, the gap between the rich and the poor will widen. Will the rich barricade themselves in their wealth or will the poor in true Marxist style lead a revolution?Or shall we really begin to love our neighbor?

One side will make us taller and another side will make us shorter. Tradeoffs have to be made, big ones for certain nations and smaller ones for others.

One African sky. A single African passport. Border less continent. Shift from extractive to value addition.

We shall not be the same as we were this morning.

It is my hope that like Alice at the Hatter’s party we also celebrate, with the rest of the world, our happy unbirthday!

Xenophobia

It means the fear of foreign or strange.

I found myself wondering how the attacks in South Africa are being categorized as xenophobic and yet there was nothing strange or foreign. The attackers and those attacked were all African.

A further search on the meaning in South Africa yielded this definition.

Xenophobia is generally defined as ‘the deep dislike of non-nationals by nationals of a recipient state.’ This definition is also used by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). Xenophobia is also a manifestation of racism. Racism and xenophobia support each other and they share prejudiced discourses. They both operate on the same basis of profiling people and making negative assumptions. The profiling in the case of racism is on the basis of race, in the case of xenophobia on the basis of nationality.

This description was similar to the News images and video clips on social media.

A deeper look at this definition reveals that this is not only a South African phenomenon. The entire world has xenophobia- from building a wall along the Mexican border to Italy refusing to grant migrant ships docking privileges.

It is in Idi Amin evicting Asians from Uganda. It is in Hitler pursuing and annihilating Jews. It is in Japan’s war crimes against China in World War II.

It is Darfur, Myanmar, Rwanda, Syria.

It is Boko Haram, Taliban, Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab.

It is Nigeria retaliating. It is Hong Kong deporting. It is Brexit. It is the WindRush fiasco.

It is Sierra Leone. It is Biafra. It is Caledonia.

We live in a fractured society rather than a collaborative one. We deliberately choose ‘us’ against ‘them.’

James writing to Jews scattered all over the Roman Empire teaches them not to pander to these whims.

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?
James 4:1 NKJV

He shows them the source of all conflict, ‘I’. The rifts, schisms, fractures are crafted by a lens that only allows you to see as you see.

Take this lens off for a moment. Put on the other person’s lens, walk a mile in their shoes. Do you see their colors? Do you see their hopes? Do you see their dashed dreams? Do you see their children?

Take off their lens. Where do we go from here? Will your lens work? Maybe. Will their lens work? Maybe.

If you both see ‘together’, through one lens, what would you see? The challenge of the 21st century.

To be more inclusive. To love more, to give more, to share more, to open up more.

He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8 NKJV

For the Young Black Male

You have greatness stored up in you.

Do not despair.

You are made in the image of God.

Credit: PINTREST

You are in the likeness of the first Adam; the very one who named all the animals-

be it a giraffe,

Or maybe a penguin,

Perhaps plankton.

He named them all.

God so loved the world

That He gave His Only Son.

You are beloved by God who is loved,

Redeemed,

Liberated,

Chin up, Head high,

You are loved greatly by One who knows you so well.

One acquainted with grief,

So you would persevere.

One wounded for your transgressions,

So you could have hope and a future.

One bruised for your iniquities,

So you could Speak Up, Boy!

One who took the cup of suffering,

So you could rejoice.

A Father to the Fatherless

Never abandoned,

Never forsaken,

Never alone.

He cares for the birds,

He cares about your clothes,

He cares about your hair.

He left you a Helper,

A Comforter.

Young Black Male,

Chin up,

Head up,

Speak up.

The hand you are dealt

It all started with my brother’s status. He posted a picture of the val d’orcia ,Tuscany and suddenly , I was hearing theme songs from Gladiator.

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

What a short and very poignant summary of the movie. Maximus a Roman General , a victim of greedy and wanton Commodus. Victorious from battle one minute poised to be the next Emperor, next he is nothing but the scum of the Roman Empire. Despondent, despairing.

Lately, Christmas season has been a series of disappointments. Reflectively, I have not lost as much as Maximus, incomparable even. His was the true meaning of How the Mighty have fallen. Nevertheless, the Christmas season has always been poised as a happy one, glad tidings, great joy and all that. The first thing to go was Santa, there is no 🎅. So naughty or nice, that doesn’t matter, he is not real. As a working adult, there were no holidays. So this ‘happy holidays!’, that was not real either. Lately though it has been a reminder of loved ones not present at the dinner table, their jokes no longer ring in their air. When their favorite carols are played, they are not present to sing along. Sigh, sigh. This year as I reread the Nativity story, it slowly dawned on my already fragile belief system that the Magi were not numbered, they did not visit Baby Jesus in the manger. They followed a star, the people who do that now are called astrologers. Hmm. Then there was neither stable nor inn. The Jews had an upper room like the One the disciples prepared for the Last Supper. That was the ‘inn’. So the upper room of their hosts was full, they slept downstairs with the animals. So many Christmas carols, nativity plays went with this one.

As I watched Maximus, grieve over his murdered wife and son, I wondered how does one go through the motions of life when all has been taken away? Or when you realize that the Empire whose values you upheld has destroyed it in one swift moment and you are completely undone? What happens when all your achievements are weighed and deemed irrelevant because you will not bow to the whims of wickedness? And all your dreams and aspirations are crushed because you will not believe in a lie?

The crucible.

Paul writes to the Galatians and tells me that if he were to please men, he would not be a bondservant of Christ.

In the crucible, you answer the question, whose bondservant am I ? Maximus remained the loyal servant of Marcus Aurelius. He would not bow to Commodus. He chose slavery. The drudgery, the angst over the whims of an unstable lunatic Commodus.

Christmas reminded me of the One, in whom all things consist, the One who is before all things. He chose me, He chose to love me in close proximity. We have beheld His glory, full of grace and truth. He chose pain and death so I wouldn’t die. I found myself singing Easter hymns at Christmas:

when I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died My richest gain, I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.

With the angels, I worship and sing Gloria in Excelis Deo. With the shepherds, I sing what child is this?

Hope floats

Proximo, the most unlikely person sees him for who he is. He picks him out and Maximus remembers who he is. I am Maximus Decimus Meridus, General of the Felix legions. He may not be advancing Rome but by winning the games for Proximo, he will be free. Free to dream again in Rome. He becomes the best gladiator. he leads the best team. He meets Commodus.

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

Now we are free (you need to listen to the sound track👌 as played by the 2 Cellos)

Paul also writes to the Galatians to stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made them free and not to be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Proximo dangles freedom to men born free. Commodus takes away freedom, chains it and throws away the key. Maximus has one thing left, vengeance. He sets himself to avenge the deaths of his beloved Marcus Aurelius, his wife and his son. Everyone rallies behind him, Cicero, Lucilla, the gladiators, his army, Proximo, the crowd. He gets vengeance. He is free.

When are we truly free? When we have all we ever wanted? When we die?

I agree with Paul. When you meet Jesus, you are free indeed. He is the resurrection and the life, though you die yet you live. All earthly freedoms are valuable, they can be traded against each other and for other trinkets. Not so the freedom in Christ, it is sealed and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. God Himself is the guarantor of my freedom.Christmas has become a symbol of a never ending freedom.

Like Maximus, Now I am free.

I stand fast in the liberty by which the babe in the manger, the lamb of God has set me free.

Lascia la spina, cogli la rosa

On Saturday, a boat capsized on Lake Victoria and with it a number of young revellers. The media focus on the contrast between Saturday morning and Sunday morning for the 30 ,whose bodies were retrieved by divers, has been disheartening. It was disenchanting to watch body after body towed to shore. Tragic. So young, too soon. Only 26 alive and accounted for, out of over 100 young Ugandans.

Grief is a painful emotion, our red flag when our soul is wounded. Thorns are tiny and their pricks cause angst first to the limb and then to the entire body. Finger pricks are easily treated, we have first aid, we have plaster, we have emergency rooms, we have medics. Salt, we have salt! How does one treat wounds to the soul? How do you know that you are healing and that grief is abating? Sometimes grief tags along with us, slowly seeping into every thing we touch like Midas’ touch or like Elsa’s frost, we recognize it after everything freezes.

Christmas season is my favorite season to binge on my favorite composers. So many concerts, so little time. George Friedric Handel’s music is always a delight to listen to because mostly it is largo. How he brilliantly puts Isaiah’s prophecies to song especially The Young Messiah. This year, I find myself drawn to an aria, (as sang by Cecilia Bartoli), and it is from this aria that my title is drawn. The phrase, translated as leave the thorn, take the rose was written by Cardinal Benedectto Pamphilli in 1707 and put to music by George Handel in his last oratorio Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (The Triumph of Time and Disillusion).

A rose is a beautiful flower with such soft petals, a sweet fragrance and brilliant colours. But it also has thorns. No one picks a rose because of its thorns, neither does one place it in a vase and admire its thorns. A rose does have thorns though. Life has thorns, leave them. Take the rose.

The Shulamite in Songs of Solomon describes herself as the rose of Sharon.

I am truly his rose, the very theme of his song. I’m overshadowed by his love, growing in the valley!
Song of Songs 2:1 TPT

The Passion Translation describes her as the embodiment of her lovers affection. She is the theme of his song, St.Paul describes this as poema in his letter to the Ephesians . We are, each one of us, God’s poem. His handiwork. A handiwork made for good work. Take the Rose.

God is Love.

Each one of us is a work of love, David says that God knit us together in our mother’s womb. Knitting is a labour of love, it takes time and the finished product is warm and cuddly. Take the Rose.

His love overshadows us. Even in the valley, we grow. Sharon is a very swampy plain, roses would not grow well in this place. David writes about a journey through the valley of the shadow of death. God’s love overshadows us in the valley, in swampy and wrong places. We grow. We bloom, we flourish even in the valley.

Leave the thorn, take the Rose.