Remembrance Day

Is observed on 11th November to honor those who died serving their countries in World War I. There are poppies everywhere you turn on any street in England. On lapels. On billboards. On hats. Everyone has a poppy to remember. The tradition was instituted by King George V, grandfather to Queen Elizabeth II. This tradition is over 100 years old but it is as real as Christmas and as Thanksgiving. There is even an order of service for the Service of Rememberance

In October, I teach a session on the History of Uganda at Harvest Institute School of Leadership. The sessions have varied over the years, because wow, we live in interesting times. So this year, we were looking for history around us. Prior to this class, I found out from a friend that her grandfather whose home is in my neighborhood was a WWI veteran and a published author! Go figure. Do you think we have Remembrance Day in Kiwanga? Not in the least. If we were living in England, there would be a whole ceremony at the St Thomas round the corner from his home. And we would leave wreaths and little notes at the gate of his home. It is such an ordinary day.

Some of the students were not in Kampala so they needed help finding historical sites in the districts where they were. And that’s how I found out that Semei Kakungulu built a synagogue in Mbale. A synagogue. How could someone not remember to teach this in school? It is such a contrast to who he was and what we were taught that it should have found its way to the books. It didn’t.

We must choose to remember. And to remember not in part but in whole. Our lives did not begin with us so taking a moment to remember is us being grateful. Grateful for choices we did not have to make. Grateful for decisions that led to us being on this planet. Grateful for all who made it possible for you to live where you live.

On this last day of November, who do you need to remember? How can you express your gratitude?

A note to my father

There was a time in our history, the history of Uganda when intellectuals were hunted down and murdered. Several went missing and I can only imagine the terror in the faculties at the University. Getting in to work to the news that your alma mater had been murdered or had disappeared without a trace. I experienced a glimpse of this with COVID-19, when every message alert caused a bit of a flutter. Even now, as I was searching for the image for this blog, there were more images of death announcements than there were of celebrations. Yet, he remained. Even with all the options, he had to leave and start afresh.

My aunt tells the story of how they had to cross the Uganda-Kenya border with eggs. (This story is for another day). But yes, he crossed the border to shop for everything we needed. From milk to soap, there was nothing in our home that did not come from Kenya. For the longest time, waay past 1986, we did not purchase anything other than fresh food stuff and bread from Uganda. I don’t know how many miles he packed into his various cars plying the border but they are in thousands. I know that when I first crossed the border alone, some Immigration officers still remembered him plying the route.

Classic Daddy

I recall meeting one of his secretaries, she was a wife to one of the ministers in the Obote II government. She was delightful and loved to have us over to play with her children. And we loved her in equal measure. One day we awoke to the news that she had killed herself and her children. We quickly run to their home, hoping it was not true. But no one would let us anywhere near. There was no funeral for us, we were too young. I think times were too perilous, but death is cloudy. The mind selects what to focus on. All I recall was not seeing her busy in her kitchen through the big windows. Later, it would be that no one played with us anymore. There was no one to accompany home after Sunday School. There were no more simsim balls and groundnut bars. My dad still went in to work, he paused to check that we were well. And back to his routine.

The next time we heard from this family, the dad was running into exile in 1986 and requested my dad to park the official cars in our compound. My dad obliged; there was a formal handover. And he stayed while the former minister fled into exile.

Didi’s World opened with loads of fanfare, our first almost theme park. The highlight of everyone was the Pirate ship but you had to wait till you were twelve years. It was the equivalent of our rollercoaster. There was the Octopus and caterpillar but nothing beat the Pirate ship! I do not recall who had turned twelve, but we were finally all able to get into the ship. Some of us has been on it before, for the rest it was a fresh experience. My dad joined us and sat, stoic as ever. Then it started to swing. A gentle sway at first, then the speed increased and so did the height. Total mayhem.. At a certain point in its swing, one could see the Sheraton, and then it was down again. We were screaming, some children were crying. My dad, he sat there very calmly.

38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

Mark 4:38 NKJV

One fine day, Jesus got into a boat on one side of the Sea of Galilee so he could cross over to the other side. It should have been a normal crossing, or maybe it was a normal crossing because such storms were common on the Sea of Galilee. I imagine it is similar to what has become common place flash flooding whenever it rains here in Kampala. Some sections of the road are cut off and crossing becomes perilous to everyone around the road. While, we tend to worry at the sight of grey clouds if caught around this section, Jesus enters the boat, finds a comfortable spot and puts a pillow under his head. He promptly falls asleep and only wakes up when roused by troubled fishermen.

Whenever I imagine this picture, I recall my dad seated in that pirate ship. In the midst of screaming and crying children, he is seated calmly taking it all in. Maybe it is the Mathematics, he might have been calculating in his mind. He shall write his story and tell all. To me, it will always be a reminder of Jesus.

You Have Authority Over Any Storm You Can Sleep In

Bill Johnson