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?
The ululations echoed back through the walls of the house. They had received the gift and so the ceremony could proceed. This is how I was introduced to the concept, ba Mama or the mothers. Among the Baganda, your mother’s sisters are your mother. All of them combined are your mother. Your mother remained invisible even during your traditional marriage ceremonies, tucked away in the house. Her voice though remains loudest, and so if she rejects the gifts from the prospective in-laws, hang their heads in shame and leave immediately.
As far back as I could remember, my mum and her sister were always together. They fondly referred to each other as, My sister. My earliest memory was her bar on DeWinton Road, Canton Bar and Restaurant. It is from this bar, that we named her, so we hear, Auntie Canton. It was later in life as teenagers that we were calmly corrected that her name was Elsie pronounced as EL-ay-see by the Bakiga. A bit too late, I think. She will always be Auntie Canton. This restaurant with it’s multi colored, multi diamond shaped mural at the front, well polished wood floors and huge orange booth chairs, became our favorite place. The bar man, PK had such an amazing speed of service. All the waiters decked out in white shirts and black well pressed trousers, operated like high speed robots. They added bow ties when there were formal occasions. The kitchen was so huge, so huge. And the backyard opened into an even larger parking lot and an entrance to flats with so many playmates. When Bimbo Ice Cream finally opened on the opposite side, we were set for life. We watched all the Kampala rallies from the verandah of Canton and crossed over to meet the Rally drivers at Bimbo when they came to rejuvenate. For those readers who were not born by then, the first rally race courses were through the streets of Kampala.
My aunt run this establishment with impeccable standards, I am yet to find a kebab that tantalises my taste buds like the ones served at Canton. The drinks were always cold, it did not matter what time of day or night. Those drinks were always chilled to exactly the same temperature. The wooden floors shone so much, that when the sunlight hit the entrance, you could make out your reflection in the floor. The door had a glass partition but never once were there finger print marks on them or single layer of dust. Her glasses were always sparkling, you did not hold a glass from the rim and you most certainly did not bring a client stained or wet glass.
She celebrated her birthday with a ball. We all dressed up, and my cousin Pamela and I were privileged to be flower girls at her party. How glamorous. We were welcomed by Uncle Rukampena, the Master of Ceremonies in his white dinner jacket. He had such a rich baritone, it was a real ball. They had dances like waltz, fox trot. Well, my feet are both left so I could not keep up. It was beautiful to watch the adults glide across the dance floor.
In 1986, this establishment was shut down and my auntie lived in Makerere with us for a while. As an adult, with hindsight, I now recognize this as a difficult season in her life. As a child, I thought this was one long conversation with her sister. Oh my, those sisters could talk. We always wondered if we would talk like them when we grew older. Because they started talking in the morning at breakfast, through lunch, through tea, after supper, they camped at the dining table and continued talking. In the morning, we would find them at the table in the same positions, we bade them good night. Her staying over in my mind, was to attempt to finish this conversation that never ended.
As difficult a season as it was, she did not bow out. She started a retail outlet for ladies’ clothes, enlisted my brothers to go and advertise in the ladies’ halls. She got a steady stream of customers, but she did not settle. Her next target was the ladies in the banks. Did I mention her ironing and sewing skills? She had this ability to turn any garment into as good as new. She leveraged this skill to turn second hand blouses into almost new, and sold them as what we now call first class.
I was privileged to share a room with her, everyone says we are alike. I don’t think so. She was so neat and orderly. She had this ability to sit on a bed and leave it neither dented nor creased.
Whenever we visited Kabale, my dad would point out her home. It looked so forlorn and abandoned for a long time. When she finally returned and we visited, what a transformation. The impeccable gardens, alive with flowers and bees. The grass was well trimmed and looked like a golf course. The wooden floors again, sparkling. The same neatness and orderliness. It became our favorite stop over.
As part of completing a bachelor’s, I needed to conduct research and submit a dissertation. I had no qualms about going to Kabale because my auntie Canton was there. True to form, she welcomed me with open arms. She spared no effort in making me very comfortable. There was a fire every evening when I returned because she knew how cold I got. The meals were ready like clockwork. She ensured my cousins sought a very trustworthy boda boda guy, she said she could not trust those Bakiga men with her niece. And indeed Sadayo proved to be very helpful and resourceful in asking the questions and finding respondents.
She spared no effort in teaching me everything she knew. Every moment was a teaching moment. She found me ironing one time, or should I say attempting to iron. She took over the iron and showed me exactly how to get a crease free ironing everytime. My mother was never too far away from her sister, she always reminded me how privileged I was and to pay attention because I was learning from the best.
On my wedding day, she was unwell but there was no missing embaga ya Kemirimo. She had given my cousin, very strict instructions about her outfit. She came to the wedding dressed like the Queen Mother but she had strained herself to come and had to go back home to rest before the official photos. I don’t have her in the pictures outside the Church.
My auntie Canton, how she loved me so. It was such a humbling gesture.
On 28th April 2011, I received a phone call and my dear Auntie Canton had passed on. On 28th August 2014, I received a phone call and my dear mum had passed on. Even in death, they remained, sisters.
The title is taken from a poem written during World War I. It was eventually set to music by Karl Jenkins. The somber rendition in the link, would have made a great sound track for my history lesson this week as I taught my students about the death toll at Verdun (700,000 men) and the Somme (over 1 million men). As we worked through the imagery of incessant shelling, gas bombs, artillery bombardments and the trenches, the words of the poem came to mind. Those who survived must have lived it over and over and over.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
Laurence Binyon, FOR THE FALLEN
World War I seems like ages ago but not death. Each time, I receive a notification about a peer who has passed on, it’s very jarring. Jarring because I guess I was sold a lie about growing up.
When you grow up, you shall be able to do whatever you want. You can do that when you are older. Be patient, your time will come. What once seemed like sage advice now rings hollow. Hollow and shallow platitudes.
Because some do not grow old. In my senior six vacation, just before, we joined campus, to study our desired courses….I received the news that a dear friend, Gordon Mulinzi had been in an accident with his family. Some members had passed away but he was still in a coma. Even after his brave fight, he passed away. What?! After the hustle of reading for our A’levels, the discussions, the winter, the jubilation over being admitted to Makerere University on government sponsorship…he will always be a vacist, never a graduate.
‘Annet has died,’ were the few words my distraught friend managed to choke out as we packed our bags to leave at the end of our university. Annet had told me about her plans to go conclude with her fieldwork supervisor. She did not return. A boda boda knocked her down. It was Annet who held my hand when I despaired of learning, she faithfully took down her notes neatly and dropped off her books for me to copy. She made sure I was always in her discussion groups so she could ensure my name got onto the assignment. She carried me to meet lecturers, so they would put a face to my name. Annet will always be a student.
Gloria, very vibrant with such wise and subtle cracks, lay on her sick bed. A shadow of her former self. Cancer. She had a baby girl and a dotting husband. She managed to get us all to laugh again, even though she herself could only manage a weak smile. A few weeks later, I woke up to a notification, ‘Gloria has gone to be with the Lord’. There will be no reunions for her. No baptisms. No graduations. No firsts for her baby. Gloria will always be a bride.
Simon, recently succumbed to COVID-19. We were appointed as managers together to lead a new imitative. I fluked his honeymoon, cause we had to go and study and he decided to carry his young bride with him. It was fun. It was exciting. There were challenges but we always cracked solutions. He loved his work. He loved taking pictures. He loved people. Ever early. Ever reliable. I retired. Simon remained. Simon will always be working.
I remember them. We remember them. More as we age. They shall never grow old.
And maybe neither shall we, in the end we are The Fallen. Carpe diem, my friends. Carpe diem.
Butter fingers. Soft, tender and dreamily melting in the mouth butter. It started with a cabbage that literally flew like a missile out of my hands into next stall, knocked over a bowl (katasa) of tomatoes, rolled into the peppers then somersaulted into the carrots. The drama of that cabbage.🙄 The stall owner totally unamused, narrowed her eyes and gave me THE LOOK! (For shame). But Jesus took my shame. I quickly gathered my fingers and wits, apologised profusely and rescued the errant cabbage.
This morning I broke a glass. Well, I wouldn’t quite say that I broke it. That would imply malice and aforethought. It slipped out of my fingers. Well, not quite slipped either. Let’s say, it bounced on and off my fingers, danced onto my finger tips and as we were just getting the hang of this waltz, it slipped off. And slid to the floor, where it made the most earth shattering noise! What had been a very quiet morning, was rudely interrupted by the crash and subsequent splattering of glass everywhere. Ssshhhhh
Why can’t glass keep silent as it shatters? Why does it have to spread every where? Why are the pieces so tiny? How do the pieces get into all those hard to reach crevices and nooks? Why is glass transparent?
The Quiet returns. But my mind was undulated as all these thoughts and more started to race through it. I quickly run to sweep up the glass shards. I had to do it quickly and swiftly. Because my once happy go to glass, was now a danger to anyone who came near it. Like porcupine quills, it’s shards keep everyone far away.
I sweep the debris into the dustpan. Sweep again to get any remaining pieces . Sweep again, this time, further away, shards do fly! The last sweep brings no glass. We are done with the cleanup. I get back to putting away the other glasses.
In that moment, I realized I could vow to never touch a glass again. I could make it public. I could even get accountability partners. I could give away all the glasses I have and replace them with all this trendy almost but not glass things. I could even sit my children, nieces and nephews down and lecture them on the dangers of glass and implore them to stay away from glass. Why? Because glass is dangerous. It shatters.
But then who sits and wails over a broken glass. Who calls their friend for comfort over a broken glass? A broken glass is replaceable and life it goes on.
Well, my dear reader, so it is with every other failure. Yes, it may seem like the world is coming to an end. It may seem like without this opportunity, you have reached the end of your road. Shame. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. Not so.
Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it, is what makes the difference.
Because you carry around a mental image of a picture perfect life, failure will rattle you to your core. Take time to mourn your broken glass. Gather up the shards so you are not bleeding on people who didn’t hurt you. Pick the lesson and dispose of the debris. Soul debris takes a while to unravel, like pieces of glass hidden in the crevices, you keep finding bits you didn’t know we’re there. Trust the process.
When you are ready, put the rest of the glasses away. Or better yet, pour your favorite drink and savor the taste of goodness.
Breonna Taylor. No-knock search warrant. No defense. her own home. Louisville, Kentucky. 26 yrs old.
Ahmaud Arbery. Jogging. Near Brunswick, Georgia. 25 years old.
George Floyd. Alleged counterfeit $20 bill. I can’t breathe. 8.46 mins on Minneapolis tarmac. 46 years old.
Young and black. Their deaths have sparked very many protests and conversations across the world on racism and prejudice.
The silencing of their voices is the echo of our very own. I write this to mourn that no matter how loud our voices have been, they have not been loud enough. Centuries after chicken George, we still hear ‘shut up boy and dribble!’
I got to school, late. The parade was in session. I rushed to greet the headmaster, curtsied, and run to join the line. One of my friends created a gap for me and my big, heavy bag. Such a kind girl. We were singing hymns, everyone had their hymn book. The prefects were walking through the line to pull out those without theirs. I thrust my hand into the front pocket of my bag, it wasn’t there! A more frantic check, still not there. Maybe the main bag, nope. I was pulled out of the line.
I was placed in another line, in front of the main gate to await the Deputy. After parade, we trudged off to her office. Heavy bags, heavy hearts. We had to wait outside her office. By this time, the first period of class was midway. She came and we shuffled in one by one. I was the last, she called me in. She asked me to apologize for forgetting the hymn book. She did not want to hear any explanation. The problem was I wanted to explain. I believed that if she heard my explanation, she would understand that it was not my intention to leave it behind but I forgot. To err is human. Not quite. She quickly changed her tone and told me to hold out my hands for a beating. Well…that is it. I put them out and she whacked them with her stick. And whacked them some more. Then she asked me to thank her. I was so angry, I could not even imagine that she would think I should be grateful. Angry tears stung my eyes. I kept blinking them away, she was unrelenting. I kept quiet. My sullen face did not go down well with her, she insisted I stay outside her office as a lesson in gratefulness.
And so it was, that towards break time, my class teacher finds me standing there. Having cried my heart out, tear soaked hankie and red swollen eyes. He asked me what I was doing out there. She answered. He managed to convince her to release me. I was free to go to class. But never free to be. She hunted me down. When I was late to school, I was sent back home. It didn’t matter that I had to walk back. One PTA, she made me the topic of the meeting to the angst of my mother. Calling me out. Yelling at me. For the rest of my life in school, she made my life a living hell.
At eleven years, minuscule. I live. I got life. For Breonna, Philando, George and Ahmaud, a lifetime. quickly snuffed out. Only a memory.
Cry, my beloved Africa. Weep for the lost sons and daughters who thought it not freedom till the motherland was free. Whose voices grow fainter while ours grow stronger.
Don’t forget that we are your beloved ones. Wrap us back into your heart again, for you chose us. You brought us out of our slavery and bondage and made us your favored ones, your Zion-people, your home on earth.
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 hebrilliantly puts Isaiah’s prophecies to song especiallyThe 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.
My husband said he was going to pick a few things, it is now seven months -since that day. ‘What shall I tell the triplets?’
Allow me to mourn.
My son did not return from the front line – his friends say, when the bomb exploded, he exploded.
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Isaiah 40:1 KJV
He promised me heaven, and bought me dozens of roses – but would have nothing to do with the baby. They scrapped my womb, and dropped the lifeless one to a bin.
Allow me to mourn.
There was no cry, the room became a frenzy but still no cry. My baby had gone. She was carried away from me, disposed of, unnamed, unmentionable, to be forgotten. I cannot forget.
Allow me to mourn.
The rains failed, the seeds did not bud. Their cries became faint, I couldn’t crawl over to comfort them, I had no comfort to give. My children, one by one, their feeble cries ceased, all seven not even one remains.
In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. Matthew 2:18 KJV
You had a silent miscarriage. ‘What?’ Your body forgot to tell you, your baby died. ‘How?’ We shall need to remove the foetus. ‘Why?’ Madam, it’s now a danger to your body. ‘I don’t want!! leave my baby !! Leave us alone.’
Allow me to mourn.
It was a group of them, they surrounded me, groped me and hit me when I screamed. I fell to the ground, they dragged me further away into the dark. One by one, till all I saw was darkness…. The doctors say I may never have my own children.
He grabbed my hands and led me away, ‘it’s a new game!’ I happily followed, giggling all the way. He had his way with me… What game is this? I had lost something, what was it? I was bleeding, he had lied, it was not a game.
Allow me to mourn.
I was never allowed to decide. They would visit my room every night, and pleasure themselves with my body. My head was covered with a pillow, no one heard my screams for help. No one taught me to say No. I am an object of pleasure, don’t ask me to feel. I don’t know how to feel.
Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.