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For when you go whitewater rafting

Heya love; It has been a while. I did this last year and never got around to posting it, but here you go.

I do not have a bucket list. Two bucket list-like things came to me through Pearl Guide Uganda a couple of weekends ago. There had been advertisements about four travel weekends, one of which was to be spent at Murchison falls. I have been to Murchison and I was not impressed by the elusive cats and lumbering elephants. Even that buffalo that tried to run my friends and I down in Chobe, does not particularly faze me now — especially since we survived. The trips to Mburo and Queen Elizabeth; I try to avoid Masaka road as much as my powers allow.

The trip to take then was the last option scheduled for the second last weekend of October. We would be camping for a night, whitewater rafting and bungee jumping. I had no idea of the initial details. One of my girlfriends handled the logistics and corresponded with the Pearl Guide people. I needed a break and assumed this would be a much-needed reprieve from my desk job.

The day before the trip, I, along with my friends and strangers from all over Kampala were added onto a Whatsapp group. I never participate in these, so I merely watched as a few instructions were disbursed on arrival time and the activities we would be expected to partake of. Some people, clearly excitable, posted strange videos and pictures. There was a mildly alarming whitewater rafting video, complete with a rock n’ roll soundtrack and humans disappearing beneath ferocious waters. My three friends and I, in a sidebar, dismissed it as scare tactics. We had paid sh250,000, so we decided the video could not be of our dear River Nile, besides, even if it was… the dams had should have calmed some of that madness. Also, the video was of bazungu getting submerged…we are not wazungu. Aside from that video and some noise about wearing minimal clothing, no real details were given.

When we boarded the coaster that morning at about 7:00am, joining many strangers from around the city. Someone from Adrift came in to brief us. And brief he did…he said we would be having fun and that we should sign the forms. In fewer words he was saying that if we died or severed limbs…it would not be their fault.

We were just past Lugazi when your grandmother called, it seemed my father had informed her of my travels. The signal wasn’t the best but she said something about crocodiles and slippery banks. I would call her later I decided…so I hung up.

There were fast acquaintance-ships that grew in the frenzied few hours we were on the road. Immediately our four coasters arrived at the rafting base, most of us had made fast friends, imbibed Uganda Waragi in conspicuous amounts, because our hosts are alcoholics (bad, bad, bad) and but there was not further time to interact. It was: Change, pick a helmet, pick a paddle, take pictures. Separate into groups of eight. Get a guide. Get an inflatable raft. Into the water.

What happened after fifteen minutes of training is a blur. Should you decide to raft though, here are a 11 pointers….

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Everyone but me was cursing whenever this happened…I have since concluded that adrenaline and fear silence me.

  1. Lather your face and shoulders with waterproof sunscreen, even if you are Zakayo’s skin colour (Zakayo is one of the oldest chimpanzees in Uganda fyi, you will likely not meet him, he’s like navy black, if such a colour exists). Unless of course you’d rather molt like a lizard in the weeks after you survive the Nile.
  2. Do not carry anything valuable onto the raft. This seems like a no brainer, but it is amazing how much idiocy adrenaline induces. While your expensive sunglasses or fake pearl earrings will look great on Instagram, be prepared to lose them to the savagely fierce rapids.
  3. Take pictures before you get onto the raft. The water will reorganise your priorities so fast it will be visible on your face and, therefore, in a photograph, after.
  4. Wear tight bottoms (shorts preferably) without pockets. The water will try to undress you otherwise.
  5. Prepare to drink the from the source. If the pharaohs had not lived further down the River…you would have trouble convincing me that I not ingest some of their remains.
  6. Time is warped on the River Nile. And Mother nature is a relentless, powerful and seductive goddess who will concuss you into thinking you have surely traveled the length of the Nile in that hour. You will only have traveled 10kms of course. And when your raft hovers precariously over a rock for 3 seconds, those will be the longest 30 minutes of your existence. You will wish you called your mother when you had the chance.
  7. The rapids will either make you religious or silence you mum.
  8. Listen to your instructor, even if he sounds loony telling you to let go of the raft, having fallen out as you navigated a rapid. Shoulders bones have been known to slide out of sockets.
  9. While trying to keep afloat or find the breathing chamber underneath the raft, in panic, your best friend may try to drown you. Do not hold it against them.
  10. When you manage to get to the end of the line intact…you will use the word “eh” with apparent incredulity for most of the evening.
  11. When you get out of the river, the trudge up the slippery earth staircase is maddeningly excruciating. One misstep and you’ll take everyone behind you back into the river, there’s no other way out.
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I am alive…still

This is my first letter to you in a long time…almost a year. Actually, this is not entirely true. I have written some half letters and they are lying in my documents folder. I just haven’t gotten around to posting them because I edit stories for a living and I have edited myself into this situation.

Many things have prevented me from writing to you. One of them is the fact that you are not the only one going to read these letters and every once in a while we all get scared of this thing called social media. I worry about how much I am documenting and if I am preempting fate in some way. I do not know if that makes sense because I like to believe the biggest part of me is not superstitious, but I am my mother’s daughter you see.

Anyway, 2017 is supposed to be a year of greatness. I said it at the start so I could psych myself up. But there’s a part of me that wants to panic and say “Oh my Goodness!! It is nearly the middle of the year! 20 BLOODY 18 is upon us and What have I accomplished??? NOTHING!!!”

Instead here is what I will say.

  • I am alive (I have grown to appreciate this a lot more lately because death has never seemed more real).
  • I am healthy (even if I haven’t run more than 80km this year. I should have run 360km by the end of the year)
  • I have not drank alcohol in over two months (I have not quit though do not worry I just haven’t gotten around to it and I haven’t died )
  • I have read 11 of the 36 books I have challenged myself to read this year (because I need to sound lucid when I write to you).
  • I have learnt how to sew shorts (because my grandma said she never quite got around to trousers and I am trying)
  • I am excited because I think something is about to change and I do not even know what it is but it had better be good.

This is what I am yet to do;

  • Set specific days to write to you so that this is less sporadic (Say every second Thursday at 8 am?)
  • Learn how to sew a crop top/bodice (without cheating)
  • Change something
  • Grow

 

I still can’t wait to meet you 🙂

 

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Love me Tinder

Photo credit: Pinterest

There’s an app called Tinder on my phone. Google it. Just in case Tinder doesn’t exist anymore or Google’s archives have somehow been deleted, I will give you a basic idea. The app taps into your Facebook, (surely you know this one by now) and makes possible matches for you. I do not know what criteria it uses, because some of these people are preeeeety random. You can dictate how old you want the suggestions to be and the sex. Like I said pretty basic. If you do not like this person’s picture you, sijui swipe left then I think right if you like them…if you both liked each other, the app tells you and then you can go on to privately message each other on the app then later, or immediately, depending on how fast you bond, you can exchange your real life phone numbers and maybe even meet….blah bla bla. I am writing to tell of how this app got on my phone.

MJ is my friend. He does this adorable humming thing when he is listening to what I am saying. Sometimes he does it when he is eating too. I will give you a clue. June is his month. You will like him I think. I think the two of you will get along very well. This letter is not about him and, no, I did not meet him on Tinder. It is about what he said the other day, and my subsequent actions.

MJ said I do not go out of my way to meet people (men) and that when I do, I do not give them a chance. He didn’t say it in a mean way. He was just sating facts I guess…or his opinion. So I told him I would go on the next date I got asked to. Unfortunately, the next person to ask me on a date was someone I had a past with and just I did not want go there with again…. So technically, this was doomed from the go. Grudgingly, however, I gave this fellow my number…I had promised. Guess what this dude does? He sends me a message on WhatsApp. Total killjoy. I blocked him right away.

I have a philosophy, about guys who are not serious. (At least I do, at this point, maybe it will change.) If we chatted on Facebook and you asked for my number, why then would you go on to text me when you could have continued that way on Facebook. If you ask for a number, use it…call the person. Put some work into creating a conversation. Do not be a coward. I am not saying he should never text or whatsapp, I am saying he should call first. Texting and whatsapping comes in a little later when you are comfortable with each other. This goes for you too…call my dear. If you’re lucky, maybe he won’t pick up, because he’s busy, (not avoiding you) in which case you may leave a message to say you called.

It is a good thing I blocked him too because a few days later he calls at midnight…I had forgotten to save the number. I just answered to shut the phone up before it woke your aunties. Immediately I ascertained it was him, I asked why he was calling me at such an ungodly hour…then I hang up. I know I totally read like a snob right, but ah ah!! Those are just total pet peeves for me.

Anyway, this letter is not about him either. It is about the other half of MJ’s question. I said I did not have time to go out, but that I had heard of this dating application that people go on to meet and “hook up” (which literally means sexing it up in my generation). I had read about it here she was really dedicated though, we have to give it to her.

 

So MJ made some noise about how the app had a terrible reputation and how people are only there to find someone to have sex with. I countered that maybe some people got on Tinder genuinely looking to find a mate. Take Melissa for example…she found someone (although…eh…30 dates is …no…) And that besides, relationships lead to sex eventually so what is the fuss? I asked him what made this app different from all the other dating applications that existed before it and he said maybe that this one seemed to get people together faster. We agreed that there was only one way to find out.

 

I joked to one of your aunties that I think Jesus had given me the steering wheel to drive this relationship van and she replied, “Step on that accelerator sister!”

I downloaded the app and got to swiping. A few other people I told were scandalized. Baz just laughed so hard I ended up slapping him (total reflex)…now I live in fear that he’ll find me in the corridors at work and slap me too.

 

My aunt P was just visibly amused. She even agreed to swipe and see what she liked. “This one is no good. Clearly in love with himself,” she said of Eric, a match Tinder had suggested. She had initially liked Eric saying he looked well­dressed. In the next picture she decided otherwise; Eric was with the one, among three guys, lifting his shirt to expose a ripped torso.

 

When I checked the app four days later, I found a few matches, one of whom turned out to someone I had worked with. We chatted a bit and moved on to talk about why he was on Tinder (ati social experiment hahahaha) and what we could work on together. It was a delightful meeting, pretty candid so we exchanged numbers, (our last interactions had been via Facebook and email only) and got to chatting. I know you’re probably thinking I have double standards, but this looked different. We already had something to talk about, a previous assignment.

My assessment of Tinder is thus:

 

  1. It is just any other dating app…not website-y, so it is within reach all the time.
  2. If looks are really a thing for you, then Tinder is the perfect place. I only deleted my tinder because a) it eats up too much data and battery on my basic smartphone (hopefully Uganda will have free internet in your time and b) I am not a patient person.

 

MJ laughed really hard when I said I had deleted my profile. Then he asked if I would tell you if I met your dad on Tinder. I asked, “Why wouldn’t I?” So, I am telling you this now in case it actually happens that I find him on Tinder, having reinstated my account. It is not hard. I just need a personal assistant to handle it.

P.s. It is possible that I didn’t understand the gist of the whole Tinder thingy, I am sometimes clueless like that…or maybe I am in the wrong country.

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Of future husbands, taxis and prayers

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Many years ago, when my aunt did not know we would take as long as we are to get married, she used to say to us: “Pray for your future husband all the time and everywhere, even as you enter that Taxi, right before…he could be in there.”

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The taxis spoke of are not sleek yellow sedans that pop up when you type ‘taxi’ into Google and click images. (I don’t know hat will pop up in your time, maybe be even an actual taxi?) The taxis she spoke of are minivans in Kampala. They have dashes of blue around their midriff to set them apart from all the other minivans. Some of these minivans are blue and grey…but most of the ones in Kampala are white. Last week, I chanced upon a yellow one. I have never seen a yellow taxi before. They are never in exciting colors such as red or turquoise, with good reason. Taxis swing about Kampala’s landscape with the exact confidence and precision of the Knight bus in the Harry Potter series (I will have read these to you when you were younger, they are in a suitcase under one of your aunt’s beds waiting, because I haven’t decided what I want my bookshelf to look like). Taxi drivers seem to expect permanent fixtures such as pavements and fountains or even other cars, to jump out the way to accommodate them. As you stand at the ‘stage’ they literally come out of nowhere… and park within inches of your feet. And the conductor will go ahead to calmly ask you, “Ogenda? (Are you going)”. The chaos they wreak is such that adding colour would just drown this dusty city. The drab colours are, I suppose, meant to disguise and tone down the amount of drama.

These minivans also have a T painted on the driver’s door to further set them apart from other minivans, but in all honesty, there needn’t be. These vehicles bear battle wounds of all sorts, that even without the color, you’d be able to set them apart. Visitors like to call them Matatus. Ugandans refuse to call them as such. For many reasons, one of which is that Kenyans came up with the term and technically, Matatus have a more rogue personality than Taxis do…or so we like to believe.

Taxis are licensed to carry 14 passengers. That is the fine print on each of these metal boxes, next to the T on one of the front doors. This fine print has only recently become into practice over the last 10 years or so. Prior to this, a taxi could carry even 18 passengers. Of course the 14 passengers do not include the conductor, so back then, he was the 19th passenger. Each row, meant to seat three, usually sat four instead. In fact, to make sure they collected as much fare as possible, these men declined to ferry passengers who were beyond a certain size. It was a difficult time to be ‘gifted’. On some days they would even encouraged passengers to seat on the ‘kameme’. The kameme is the hot box behind the driver’s seat. There’s a handlebar for you to hold onto when you seat on this hot box. A lot of the time it was children like me, travelling with aunties (who couldn’t be bothered to let us seat on their laps) that got to seat on the kameme (because you travelled for half fare or free of charge if you sat in this spot). Many a derriere is beyond the redemption of squat exercises today because of this hot seat.

Normally a taxi ride starts out quietly. I like to wear plug my ears with my earphones. I never play the music though, I like to observe in case an interesting conversation materializes…as they are wont to do when 14 people are listening to tabloid radio in a confined space.

It was 11:30  and I was already a little miffed when the taxi ground to a halt in front of me. It had taken me 30 minutes to flag one that was going my way. The last thing on my mind was praying for “my husband”.

A metal jutting out of a cushion scratches my calf as I try to navigate my way to the back seat by the window. I can feel a line swelling in the area when two young-ish gentlemen enter and occupy the the seats in front of me. The mid-morning is already sending a lazy warm breeze through my window when I feel someone seat next to me. I do not turn to look and I eventually hear the conductor slam the door shut.

A memory of my friend telling me of his craziest taxi encounter surfaces as I examine the green algae-like substance in the window frame. Sam had got to the end of the journey, and the taxi door would not budge. The image of Sam, a young budding lawyer in his well-pressed suit and patent leather shoes hoisting himself out of the taxi window, in broad day light makes me smile.

A local radio show host is reading a letter from a listener. The lady is calling in to ask for help. Apparently she had opened her home to her divorced sister and now suspected that her husband was sleeping with this sister. There was loud banter as one of the two men in front of me says loudly, “They both asked for it.”

A woman at the front jeers loudly and the beginning of the discussion, “What women want vs why women like to trick men” ensues. An old man in the middle seat says in Luganda something I interpret to mean: “There’s something wrong with today’s generation of men.” He does not elaborate and no one counters him.

There’s fidgeting around me 15 minutes later as the taxi comes to a stop. My neighbour prepares to alight. He stands as I put my hand into my bag. My turn to fidget, I am panicking. I can’t find my wallet. Conductors are unforgiving when they realize you do not have the fare. My neighbour is half way out when something drops from his shirt. I turn to look…It is mine. My hot pink wallet. I seem to have said thant out loud because the old man whips out his cane. I watch, perplexed, as someone’s future husband gets beaten.

Of wet mattresses and map-inducing slaps

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I have a singular memory of my mother laying a hand on me. One. It was a few days before I was to report to boarding school. I was excited. I had also belatedly discovered, to my horror that my mattress was dirty. See, one of my siblings was to start boarding school as well. She had been bought a new mattress, and unlike mine, hers came unsealed from Royal Form. My mattress from the year before had not been new. Momma had recycled one of the mattresses from the ‘boy’s quarter’ (I have never understood why they call it that) and decided it was better to subject it to boarding school. In fact, whenever I got back from school, it went right back to the ‘boy’s quarter’, probably because mom was afraid I would bring bed bugs home.

Anyway, so this new mattress was not sealed like mine was. It looked clean and the form inside it was a creamy white that resembled vanilla ice cream. I liked it. I could not get a new mattress though because apparently nothing was wrong with mine. So I decided to denude my mattress and wash the cover. That way, at least I had a reasonably pretty mattress too when I arrived at school. I clipped the stitching with as much precision an 8 year old can muster. Because I was using a razor blade, which was forbidden, I had my sister ‘banging ‘Five O’’ in the corridor. We were slightly out of breath with clammy foreheads after what must have been an hour, but we had accomplished the task at hand, and in the process, I had made a startling discovery. The color of my form was not like the new mattress! Mine was a brownish color. This would not do. We carried the mattress as well as its cover outside into the courtyard. I had decided we would wash it till it was presentable. Granted I was yet to see anyone at home wash a mattress, but how difficult could it be? I managed to convince the siblings to join me. It would be fun I said. Never mind that school was in a few days. I knew it would dry in time. Things were washed everyday…they always dried. I asked the maid to help me with the soapy water when she was done washing. Because I wanted the mattress clean, I scrubbed the surface of the courtyard on which the mattress was going to lay first. I went ahead, with help, to place my mattress on this surface and poured the rest of the soapy water on it. To this day, I wonder why the maid did not stop this foolhardy endeavor. It is likely she wanted to get back at me for something I had done.

My mom and dad were in their room, all the while, getting ready for what must have been a wedding given that it was Saturday. Also, I remember that she was wearing something either a sari or one of those ankole thingies that look like a sari when she walked into the courtyard from the house. They’d decided not to use the front door to leave.

I remember the livid look, being chased around my small onion garden and the resounding clap on my back. I was not wearing a top for the activity at hand so the lack of insulation meant that when her heavy hand met my bear wet skin, I felt the cold before the searing heat moments later. Her palm, my siblings kept assuring me was engraved in my back for eternity. At the time, it seemed plausible. I do not much remember what happened thereafter. Your aunties say I was bundled off to school with a dripping mattress though. I do not believe them.

NB: My your grandmother has never been the disciplining type, but I suspect that day, the fear of having spawned an idiot dropped her threshold of tolerance…with good reason, I would have beat me too.

The ‘D’ word

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#GUESTPOST
I believe that marriage is the most beautiful covenant and that it is of divine aetiology. Unfortunately, it has been complicated by man. Consequently, Divorce is becoming more prevalent and arguably more acceptable in the current generation. To some, it is a necessary evil, dealt with unemotionally, expeditiously and with precision. To others, it is a dirty word that should not even be mentioned.
Allow me to interject with some personal experiences. I enjoyed and cherished the institution of marriage therefore the title Divorcee has not sat easy! In fact, it has been somewhat unpalatable. I find it harder in Africa where marriage is the norm, enhances social status and in many cases financial status! Making the decision to end an 18 year old marriage to someone who had been my best friend for over 20 years was the most difficult, heart-wrenching and emotionally draining one I have had to make to date. I wrestled with the options for about 1 year mainly because I am a “Church girl” and my Almighty Father describes it as the most violent of sins! Now, most of us do not want to willingly and willfully commit sin, let alone the Born-again fraternity to which I claim allegiance! Secondly, my ex-husband was undoubtedly the centre of my Universe for 2 decades and despite my Faith, he was the ultimate authority in my life.
Following an awful period of grieving for a lost marriage, plenty of prayer and counseling, I resolved that it was time to “Take the bull by it’s horns”, in my case more like a wild buffalo! I sought out suitable lawyers and did the needful. I applied for the dissolution of my treasured marriage 3 years ago and the Decree Absolut was granted 2 years ago leaving me to assume my new status of ‘freedom’. This has been far from complete due to financial disputes and wrangles.

This brings me to one of the pearls of wisdom I would like to share on this issue. Be prepared for the long haul! Depending on your previous spouse, the process may be “short and sweet” or long and tortuous. Therefore, strength of spirit, mind and body is a prerequisite to the process. Second pearl of wisdom; be prepared for an exodus that would rival the Biblical version. Previous “close friends” and allies will depart faster than you can bat your now natural eye lashes! This is especially so if the change in status leaves you in a financially or socially diminished position which is the case for most women.

One would beg the question why a woman would decide to take such a drastic measure which appears to result in a tremendous and excruciating loss? In my case, there were a multitude of reasons. I’ll share a couple. As an adolescent, I witnessed a loved one live with an unfaithful husband. I observed parts of her personality fading on a daily basis until she was a mere shadow of her previous vivacious and vibrant self. She developed a false aura of exuberance to mask the underlying pain, humiliation and dehumanisation she felt. As I indicated earlier, I loved my ex-husband more than life itself, but I love myself too and I was not prepared to destroy the essence of my womanhood by embracing a polygamous arrangement.

Secondly, I was in a situation where my heart had been smashed into a million pieces and my life had been pulverised into an amorphous mass. I was in urgent need of emergency resuscitation and major surgery in a tertiary trauma centre. This is where my Church came in, a spirit-filled Baptist Church. My Pastor at the time, to whom I’m forever grateful, was extremely caring and supportive going far and beyond the call of duty. Further support came from my fellowship group, faithful friends and my long-suffering family. They offered spiritual, physical, financial, emotional and psychological support. For several months I was on a life-support machine, but God sent wonderful people to carry my 4 beautiful children and I. Day by day, step by step I stumbled on and dragged myself back to the land of the living. Eventually I was upright again, shook the load off my shoulders, back straight and put my best foot forward! Due to the severe trauma I had been through, a divorce was part of the healing process, it facilitated closure.

Moving on to the change of marital status; where I had happily and routinely checked ‘Married’ on application forms, I now had to check ‘Divorced’ The dreaded D-word! I often tried to look for other alternatives to no avail. I pondered on possible options; ‘Grew apart after 19 years of marriage and 4 children’?, ‘ Previously married to a covenant-breaker’?, ‘ Bleeding from the site where I was previous cleaved to someone who became selfish during his mid-life crisis’?. On reflection, my sense of disquiet and discomfort was due to a perceived sense of failure, the loss of something treasured. The finality of the closure was like a nail on a coffin, expected yet unsettling and unnerving at the same time. This too has become easier with time. As you may have already noted, I do not relish the label ‘Divorcee’. I have been trying to coin a more appropriate phrase, for instance, Secondary Single, Mature Single, Returnee Single…., as you can see, I’m in need of inspiration! Any takers?

The bottom line is that I am Fab and Forty (something) with many years ahead of me to share my life with someone who will value, treasure and cherish me for who I am and not whether I tow the line or not. I believe I have matured like a very good wine with an unbelievable aroma, depth of flavour and rich fruity tones that linger on the taste buds evoking an divine gustatory experience. I am more than certain that I will be an even better wife second time round, my latter days are better than my former! And yes, I am dating again, a wonderful, kind, loving and affectionate man who has taught me how to love again and to throw my past into the sea of forgetfulness. I am like the caterpillar who thought her world was over until she turned into a butterfly!

H.A.L

The start of 2016

 

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Grandpa, Aunt Eliza, Grandma and Aunt Marj…Christmas 2015

The year 2015 ended in joy. Ours was a reunion to shame all others. Christmas was a fun affair! Christmas Eve at my mom’s, started in the kitchen, with all the women pitching in…and my mother, your grandma, making her usual classic jokes. The woman who she is named after, completely, is in her house. They are both called Kevina Asio. Momma lived with Grandma Kevina for a while when she was growing up. This lady who raised her to a point, a lady she had not seen in over 25 years was home. I felt like there were a lot of “look-ma-I-made-it” moments. Momma kept referring to Aunt Marj as “Baby Marjo”(there is another Baby Marjo now, and she is not a baby)…saying: “look at you with your own baby!” We did not take many pictures because we figured there would be plenty of time to do that…everyone was home.

There was a lot of dancing on Christmas day and so much food and drink. My aunts were punching my ginger beer with brandy and Sprite. I wanted to post a “my-aunt-is-cooler-than-yours” message but I was too busy enjoying them. There were multiple dance-offs between different generations of women. Only three men were present, Grandpa Obonyo, smiling benignly as his wife danced with her “daughters” to “Sweet Mother”, my cousins, Fernando and Allan who is 5. The other 21+ people were women. Aunt Eliza, in jubilation, remarked that she had booked the venue, my Aunt Angela’s house, for Christmas 2016. She would be back she said, this time maybe even permanently. Doro played…we danced some more, in the middle of the livingroom. Shoki played too…The children did the Nae Nae…and whipped… Allan rolled about on the floor as did Avalon…his sister. Gabbie would not be caught doing this. Anabel demonstrated some tae kwondo, cheered on by Uganda’s only 9th dan Tae Kwondo black belt, Judith, your Aunt. Bena joined. Adelia had now been strapped onto Aunt Marj’s back so she could dance better. It was time to dance to “Sura Yako” and so we did. Aunt Eliza, my Facebook Bestie chastised Fernando…saying he did not know how to take pictures. “Let me show you how it is done.” She took over the camera…that is why she barely appears in the pictures.

In the following days, I juggled work, my other guests, my business and Hope’s (My car) mood swings to go see the aunties. Bestie even said she had ordered Hope some eyelashes…the ones we talked about on Facebook. She said everyone had thought she was being ridiculous.

On Saturday, 1st, a brilliant New year, full of hope rolled out. Aunt Helen was letting us go at it…she knew all the stories. She was sleeping in… Besides, she had to go to work on Monday. And she would not be traveling, to Madi Opei that Saturday. In the livingroom Aunt Carol and I watched Aunt Marj fight to have Adelia wear a ribbon on her head. A ribbon the baby clearly couldn’t be bothered to wear. (Aunt Marj: “She has to wear it for the picture! It goes with the dress! Bena get ready with that camera.” and Bena, pausing her make-belief daughter and mother game with Gabbie, dutifully did)

Later I sat on the bedroom floor with my aunties as they tried to pry details of my love life out of me. This wasn’t the first time. Aunt Carol had started it a few days earlier. We were trying to use our inside voices like Bestie always said, only to have Aunt Marj chime in, “Start from the beginning!!! What did I miss?!” And so I started …and started again when Bestie joined. They had so much advice: on love, on business, on God, on Life and so many cheeky ideas too. That is who they are, persistent, funny, witty and loving…and full of so much laughter. Aunt Eliza, with her no-nonsense, but kind advice and Aunt Marj, ever so hopeful, ever so patient…

To Aunt Eliza’s stun advice to me, Aunt Marj said; “Not everyone can put everything in neat little boxes like you Eliza”…and we laughed. As if to prove us right, Bestie had finished neatly wrapping a present we’d all silently forgotten about.

They would be taken from us the next day, in a car accident. Along with Grandma and Grandpa… The phone call from Yvonne, my cousin, would wring my insides. I would keep asking about the babies…we would stay, glued to our phones all afternoon, dreading and  yet also anticipating each phone call from our different locations… we would then stay up all night…waiting for Anabel to wake, for Gabbie to speak, for Aunt Carol to breath better. No one would be answering their own phones for the next few days…if a phone rang, and you were near it..you answered and explained, and comforted…sometimes weeping yourself or trying very hard not to because the children were watching.

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This has never happened to me before. I have never lost anyone close to me. I have, but…usually people drift away, emotionally or through distance, before they die…not closer.
In the last week, I have had to hold, Adelia, (that is Aunt Adelia to you) throughout the night, being careful not to make any sudden movements because she would wake and cry. She could not sleep any other way. It could have been from the pain from the injuries she’d suffered but I expect it was also because, I think, in a way, babies know. And when you have an affectionate mother like my Aunt Marj, you do not miss a beat. During the day, I had to listen and try to distract her sister Bena who kept asking for her mommy. Nobody was ready to explain…to give life to those words. My first baby, Anabel, in the meantime, was fighting for her life in the ICU alongside with her sister Gabbie.
My Aunt Helen, Anabel and Gabby’s mom, who is a close confidant and friend, more a sister really, was being strong. She had lost her Pa, ma and two sisters, in one go. Her babies were in the ICU. Her other sister, Aunt Carol was also in a hospital bed, nursing injuries.
I am failing to comprehend a lot. How can so much happiness be severed by so much grief, all at once? They say God’s ways are not our own and these are the words my Aunties are holding onto, and I am glad for the little peace this is bringing. I am also happy that my aunts, prior to their deaths, seemed to be having the time of their lives, in spite of the glitches in their trip back home. I am grateful that grandma and grandpa bowed out together: I have never seen more cuteness in an elderly couple than I did this holiday.
The rug has been ripped out from under our feet. My cousins and aunts and uncles who knew the deceased a lot longer than I did are hurting a lot more than I am. And I am hurting a lot. Hurting for the children who will miss out on the abounding love my aunties and grandparents had to offer. There is beauty in support systems. I know they will not be loved less and the legacy of love their mothers left will carry on, but I am sad. I am sad that you will not get to meet these lovely women and man.

It has not all sunk in yet. Aunt Eliza was looking forward to coming home, to visiting Dar es salaam, her childhood home. Adelia turned one on Friday. We celebrated at the hospital and cut a cake…her mom had been looking forward to her first birthday…looking forward to seeing her walk. Adelia wouldn’t blow the candle, so Anabel, impatient, helped her…we all laughed. They are all better.

On Thursday, there will be a requiem Mass. Funerals are always daunting when one person dies. There will be four coffins in that church. Everything sucks more than a little bit right now.

P.s..I will be writing about the happy times a lot more. I promise, we just never know do we?

Olinka’s flight for the fight #pinkoctober

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“For my children Kwame, Sekou, Tengo, Desire, Lunga and Natasha to whom Africa will be a livable challenge” is the dedication in David Rubadiri’s 1967 novel, “No Bride Price”. Two children later, his last and ninth born, Olinka would be born. He could not have known how true his words could ring.

Pink Affair Gayaza 2

Olinka at Gayaza. Photo credit Shari Mwanika

The first thing that strikes you about Olinka Shalita Rubadiri is how smooth her pate is. It is hard to imagine her spotting the dreadlocks she says she wore nine years ago when she first made the decision to shave her head and keep it that way even if her hair follicles grow today. She is wearing a pink T-shirt, blue ripped jeans and studded pink ribbon earrings. Olinka’s finger nails are painted pink too, save for the white on the middle finger of each hand where a pink ribbon is painted. It is a day after the Pink Affaire, a high tea party, themed “Supporting the fighters, admiring the survivors, honouring the taken and never, ever giving up hope” organised by Olinka and her friends. The Pink Affaire, she says, which she organised for the purpose of, along with the theme, reintroducing herself into Ugandan society, is the first of many such events.
Olinka’s infectious personality and confidence is typical of people who went to Namasagali College in the 1980s, during Father Grimes’ times. Born to a Malawian father and Rwandese mother and raised in Uganda, she travelled to the US shortly after high school and lives in California today, but nonetheless calls Uganda home.
Olinka is passionate about breast cancer awareness and even more passionate about life — with good reason.
Olinka received “a death sentence” nine years ago when she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in June 2007. After a chance self-examination while lying on her bed, she discovered a lump in her left breast. During a routine check three months prior, Olinka had been given a clean bill of health. There is no history of cancer in her family as far as she is aware.
Anyway, the doctors prescribed chemotherapy to shrink the cancerous tumours.
“It was a devastating prognosis, but I had my son, Max, to live for. There was no time I felt I had the option of not fighting. It was what it was. God was going to be central to this fight.
“At the time, I had a great job as a project manager at a nutrition company and while I was allowed to work from home, I chose to get out and go. During my treatment, sometimes, I went to work and I believe it was harder for everyone around me than it was for me. I came from bubbly Olinka with dreadlocks to… no hair,” she says, twirling the pink rubber wristband that says FAITH.
“Chemo has its side effects. It was a difficult time. Some days were worse than others. There was the constant nausea and weakness. It can get depressing when you go for the treatment and the person you sit next to everyday is not there anymore and the nurses tell you the person has lost the fight.
“My mother came to nurse me. I was lucky to have her around. My siblings and I are scattered all over the place, but, bless them, there was no time I ever felt alone,” she says, smiling as her sister, Natasha, in whose house we are, sets some juice and glasses on the table.
Eight months later, the scan showed that Olinka was disease free, in remission. She had won the battle, and along the way, lost her marriage. That was 2009.
“There was so much animosity and distance. We just couldn’t get back. I have to respect that it was just hard for my spouse. So I started a whole new life with my son, my family and my Church as my centre.”
As a survivor thus far, Olinka was expected to go to the clinic every three months, then every six months, then every year, for routine checks to make sure she was disease free.
“At this point I was living as normal a life, I just had to pop into the clinic every so often.
In 2011, at 41, during these checks, having graduated to the six-month check, she was given bad news. The beast, as her doctor refers to it, was back. It had spread from her breast into her liver. Again, there had been no signs of discomfort but she admits that if she had gotten a mammogram done a little earlier, maybe they would have caught the cancer before it spread into the liver.
Unfortunately, this time it was going to be harder on her financially, with no medical insurance, having been laid off from her job in 2010, following the economic slump.
“I was blessed. I had been working for 12 years, so I could benefit from my social security fund.”
Olinka began chemotherapy yet again and after six cycles, once again she was free. The cancerous tumours had shrunk so much that she did not need surgery, but she, along with her doctors, agreed that a double mastectomy, a surgery where both breasts are removed, was the safest way to go.
“Again, I was blessed to have the choice of breast reconstruction; many women do not have that.”
In December of 2013, cancer free, healed from her surgery and in between routine checks scheduled by her doctors, Olinka was cleared to travel back home. The family held a thanksgiving. The Rubadiris and the Shalitas (maternal family) all convened in Uganda for the celebration. It would be her first time back in 20 years.
The victory was short lived. On her return in 2014, they found more cancerous cells in her lungs. Her prescription had to change since she had been found to be resistant to the chemotherapy drugs she had been using previously. Three months down the road, Olinka was cancer free gain, but her doctors concluded that her cancer was too aggressive. She would need to receive chemotherapy every three weeks, indefinitely and possibly for the rest of her life.
Olinka knows there is every possibility that her story could have been a lot different had she been in Uganda. Cancer Awareness has only started to shake the waves of Uganda over the last three years.
“I have had so many blessings, I have to share them. I do not mind being the poster child for this disease if it means one more life will be saved. I want Uganda to make so much noise about cancer we are able to get the machines to fight the disease through early detection and change the attitude towards terminal illness,” she says enthusiastically.
It is in that spirit that Olinka visited Gayaza High School recently to talk to the young ladies about the realities of the disease and the importance of hope and support.

Pink Affair Gayaza
“Cancer can be a lonely disease. It can be just as hard for the family as it is for the individual. The smallest gestures make all the difference. A glass of milk or even a ride to treatments. Most of those girls have lost people to the disease. They feel hopeless and sometimes only find out after their people have been taken. I want to change this,” Olinka says with a conviction that suggests that her father was right about that challenge.“It has been a long fight, it is still is, but Olinka is strong. She has made us strong,” Olinka’s mother, Janet says, echoing Natasha. There is no question how proud they are of her.
As I leave, the old lady laughingly insists I mention that her daughter talks too much.

P.s I wrote this for the paper, but I want you to know about it too because these are some of the things I am passionate about, breast cancer awareness. My Aunt…your grandma’s sister is in remission, so cancer is no stranger to our family. We have fought…and we’ll keep winning. That is why I was initially, and by chance, drawn to her story.

The curious case of the disppearing South African Jigger

The most curious thing happened to me a few weeks ago…and it is only curious because of the events that took place between yesterday and today. But first…

I traveled to South Africa with the intention of being as touristy as I could get because I may never visit the country again. I came to this realization because South African visas have become ridiculously expensive. It seems more realistic to request a visa to the UK now, because at least you get months and not days. I do not know what it will be like when you decide to start your travels which is why I have to see these places now, so that if I am too poor to take you to them (God forbidooo!) and be your guide, at least I will be able to peak your curiosity enough for you to want to visit with your friends.

This is an old picture of the driveway to the Graaf Delaire estate during winter with stone-cast sentinels which would be in the nude were they to come alive. Their stance gave me the impression that they would remain confident on those pedestals...told yah...ethereal

This is an old picture of the driveway to the Graaf Delaire estate during winter with stone-cast sentinels. Their stance gave me the impression they would remain confident on those pedestals in their nudity were they to suddenly come alive…told yah…ethereal

On the agenda was a visit to the imposing Table Mountain with a futuristic view of the beautiful Cape Town. My first visit to the mountain was at night, so it was as romantic as it was life threatening; with sections that would make perfect locations for crimes of passion and freak accidents. When day light came we drove to the old town of Stellenbosch. I spotted five or six scantily clad black women standing by the roadside, separated by a few kilometers. They could have been hitchhikers, but I was given the impression that they were not that in the strictest sense when I asked because I got, “what do you think?” as an answer.

the blooming vegetation of spring time...and the sentinel to show it all off

the blooming vegetation of spring time…and the sentinel to show it all off while basking in the spring sunshine

The driveway into the Graaf Delaire Estate has plumage on either end so beautiful it appears each plant has a designated caretaker or maybe it has those fabled garden gnomes. There were acres and acres of what I expect make up some of the wine you are drinking in your day. We also went to the Constantia Glen, for wine tasting and took away a 2011 bottle of red. I am not a wine buff, and these posh things do not excite me much but as that saying by the wise African novelist goes, “if you are going to eat a fat juicy frog…you might as well do it in style” or something along those lines.

That's at Chapman's Peak with a foggy view of Lion's Head...yes, pay attention, you might have inherited this forehead, accept it very early, It is going no where.

That’s at Chapman’s Peak with a foggy view of Lion’s Head…yes, pay attention, you might have inherited this forehead, accept it very early, It is going no where.

The beauty of these wine routes is almost ethereal I wanted to whisper half the time but this story is not about the disgustingly vast expanse of charm. It is also not even about the creepy trip to Robben Island which I will hopefully write to you about one day.

It is about my belated trip to Sun City, the desert-turned amusement park, where I went with two new found friends and an old one. It was a belated arrangement because there are other things to do in South Africa these days and there will be a lot more or nothing in your day (it is possible that the country will regress into the stone-age, you never know).

You have not really been to the Sun City, I have been told, until you try their various water activities and especially until you swim in the Valley of the Waves __ a huge-ish swimming pool replete with its own fake sandy beach. There is a fortress-like-dam at the end of the pool and sculpted into this wall are what I assume are lions (I did not get close enough to see) which as I would later learn are designed to spit a steady stream of water each time a fake wave is about to be released. Do not ask me why lions would spit water in the first place, this is a desert, with water slides and sandy beaches…go with the flow.

Where I encountered the backpacker

Where I encountered the backpacker

When we arrived, about 300 0r 200 children and some adult were running (as fast as you can run in knee high water) or rather waddling with much haste and in the process keeling over themselves as they rushed towards the artificial shore. The true African in me almost run back towards the locker room too if it I hadn’t heard what I believe a canon blast in a river would sound like, announcing what they were running away from. A ten-foot artificial wave. They would keep doing this throughout the rest of the day, some visibly anxious and stressed about the impending arrival of the wave but giggling manically and remaining in the middle of the pool. We joined the madness, sat in the heat, ate some junk, went down the slides in spite of my fear of depth ( a tiny part of me died) and finally gambled a bit before heading back to Joburg. A day well-spent…

I got home and noticed a tiny black spot in the palm of my left hand. I figured it must be a thorn. I tried to remove it but I didn’t have anything sharp to force it out so I got impatient and fell asleep. The next day there was a bit of discomfort but I ignored it.

When I got back home, I went to the doc for a post-trip general body check, which I hardly ever do but free medical insurance does things to people…I should know, I worked at a surgery. I was given a clean bill of health.

Yesterday, a whole week later, the spot started itching. I would not have taken it for much if it weren’t for the fact that one of my workmates was doing editing a story on sand fleas. Sand fleas are what we refer to as jiggers. I immediately went to Google for an explanation and the first sentence that hit me was “The first evidence of infestation by this sand flea is a tiny black dot on the skin at the point of penetration” here and a further more hair-raising explanation here.

I do not know much about sand fleas but insects in general freak me out. I was, however, more amused than terrified. I found it far more intriguing that I had gotten bitten by a sand flea…IN SOUTH AFRICA! AT SUN CITY! ON AN ARTIFICIAL BEACH! AFTER DRINKING THAT MUCH WINE AND VODKA. Clearly there are no rules.

I texted my cousin’s wife to tell her that the tiny thorn that had tried to mar my experience had metamorphosed into a jigger and she laughed and texted back “so olina envuza?” (yes, this is your family)

My aunty Helen, the doctor, said to suffocate it with petroleum jelly. I had none at work.

It is not there anymore...or maybe it is. I will find out tonight

It is not there anymore…or maybe it is. I will find out tonight. Look away from the black spot, that has been there a while, there was another tiny black spot next to it…that’s what turned into the little bump you see

I promised the old friend with whom I had gone to Sun City that I would go to the doc and have what he called “the host/ wiggly” removed the next day since it was already late. He said he would be writing a complaint to the resort too and I laughed. He said I was not taking this seriously enough.

That was yesterday. I woke up today and the tiny itchy swelling had gone down. I suspect I could have suffocated whatever was in there by washing my hands too much (I go to the bathroom quite a bit) and adding moisturizer. There’s still a tiny invisible bump I can only feel if I touch now. I do not want to go to the doctor and look like an idiot saying…”I swear! It was there!” So I am going to try and open my hand myself. Wish me luck.
P.s I should not visit the East of Uganda anytime soon. If I managed to get beaten by one that far away…imagine what will happen if I go EAST!!

rEsT iN pEaCe SoNia NaBEta…To GlITz and PizZazz

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I remember when we met. Not the exact day, you’ll understand why…but I remember it was five years ago. We were at Sanyu FM, I was interning and you were sitting-in on the Love Zone. You said you were 21. I did not believe you. I envied you. You were taller than I was, a seemingly confident bubble of glee, as tall as a bubble can get anyway. I wore a lot of greys, blues and blacks at the time. You, my dear were all color! Everything from your handbag, to your notebook, to your phone and your shoes screamed color! You wore purples, pinks, greens and reds like flags. You drew flowers everywhere! You loved color and wore these different colored contact lenses everyday…if it wasn’t the contact lenses it was the spectacles…and yet I suspect you had 20-20 vision.

There was nothing pastel about you…you gave all. In the first weeks, just watching you seemed to exhaust me. You had so much energy, I wondered if maybe you were on some sort of sugar high. You told me about the diabetes, but even as we grew closer and I continued to see the scars, you seemed to transcend it, to the point that it was hard to imagine you had a harbored a life-threatening monster all your life. I mean, girl!! You hard a tattoo, multiple piercings …and there would be more tattoos! And then Zaabu came…and literally turned your life upside down! They say mothers straddle two realms when they’re giving birth. You never talked about it but I know there’s every possibility you’d never have made it out…but you did…and he turned your life topside once again. He was your everything…you centre…your anchor, it seemed to me.

You giggled a lot and succeeded in scaring me Sonia…you took to me too fast. I was suspicious. You called me dollface and darling and wanted to hear all my stories. You were so bubbly, so passionate… about everything. You designed your own jackets. In truth they were just jackets onto which you added pizzazz by bedazzling or layering. You learnt crochet! On Youtube! You cut your hair and rocked that crop. Then rocked the Mohawk that you wore immediately after. I was in awe. How did you manage to hold your own throughout all the changes? I got whiplash if my hairdresser suggested a new type or color of extensions!

Then you brought banana muffins to our Thursday meetings, you never asked for a cent, we could never get them anywhere you said. It was your treat, and only on Thursday. I found them Sonia!!! They are JAVAS! You sneaky girl!

You can understand my suspicion. I hope you can. I couldn’t imagine why you would want to be friends with me, me, the perennially damaged soul.

I have not really lost anyone close to me. This is how…leading up to their deaths, I drift away from them unintentionally. Sometimes I do not even notice. We are usually very close at some point but at the time of the death…sometimes I haven’t seen them for months. This is what happened with you. I do not know if the cosmos is trying to protect me from pain, but that’s the most sensible excuse I can come up with. I just thought how I couldn’t have possibly been able to handle your death had we been as close as we were two years ago. Before Sierra Leone. Before I let the distance get in the way.

I am sad Sonia. I am really sad. And I am really sorry. I was selfish…I let everything get in the way of our friendship God knows you tried. I have a knack of chasing the people who do not want me and running from those that do. Maybe that is where we got each other because for someone who was so happy…it saddened me that you also seemed very sad. Underneath the color, the giggles and flamboyance, there was poignancy. Some days, when we chatted or spoke it was almost tangible. Maybe that is what scared me, because I saw me.

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The camera I used to take these pictures, I had just received as an early birthday present from my aunt. You looked so lovely in each of them. We took more. You looked confident and different in every shot…we took some more on that camera.

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When I saw you last, it was at another 4040 charity fundraising game (at the last one you passed by to bring chocolate fudge cake from Javas for my birthday), we bumped into each other. No, technically, I didn’t bump into you…I found you. Seated at the entrance… you were wearing maroon I think. You looked…pensive. Like something wasn’t quite right. I was minding my cousins that day ( 9 and 3) …a little stressed out because nothing had worked out in the order I’d wanted. I was also rushing to a bridal shower of someone I barely knew. I said I would call. I should have. I should have stayed a little longer but no matter…these things work out the way they should.

Thank you for the color you brought into my life….

Rest dollface…

You will be missed…dearly.

P.S…24 hours after I received the news of your passing. I sat at my desk at work to write this…and there was a torrent of pain searing through me. I had not thought I would cry…but there I was, chest heaving…trying not to attract attention, not looking up and using my braids as a curtain. I woke with puffy eyes today. This has only happened once before…I had swallowed something I was allergic to. I shouldn’t mourn you it seems…so I will celebrate you Sonia, Peppa, Pepper, MamaZaabu…