WATER IS LIFE

I grew up in the central region of Uganda, East Africa. Up to the early 80’s, this was one place where I could randomly throw avocado seeds, mango, jack fruit and the African custard- apple seeds or the simple beans, outside the kitchen and wake up one morning to find robust saplings standing up majestically in less than two months. By then the rains and hot seasons were as regular as the Swiss clock work.

I used to take this for granted until I relocated to Botswana in Southern Africa. Botswana is three times the size of Uganda and yet two thirds of the country is covered the Kalahari Desert. 1994 -1995 was a drought year and I did not need to be told this since I never saw a drop of rain until six months after my arrival. As I went about doing my work, I was always being reminded by big posters that Water is Life. No water, no life. It was clear to me why the currency of Botswana is called the Pula which means ‘ rain’ in Setswana and rain is regarded as a blessing.

I learned to treasure water and to recycle it. I would use the clean water from the kitchen to water the vegetables in the kitchen garden. I also learned to harvest rain water and to generally use water sparingly. Due to the global climate changes, the country swings between being in a drought and having just enough water. Surprisingly, the Gaborone dam which supplies water to the capital city: Gaborone, recorded its lowest capacity of 1.3% in 2015 and then in February 2017 – due to Tropical cyclone Dineo, the dam was overflowing! This last happened ten years ago. The residents moved from water scarcity and rationing to being on alert for displacement by possible flash floods.

Back home, the global climate changes have resulted in changed weather patterns: erratic rains and prolonged dry spells. All these combine to cause crop failure. It now requires each household to harvest rain water and invest in water storage for use during the dry spells.
The September rains of 2016 failed to come in many districts in the country and as I write this now, the April rains are on in the central region and surrounding districts. Looking through the window, I can see lush green mango, orange, avocado and jack fruit trees bending in the wind. My vegetable garden is thriving too and I cannot wait to harvest my own vegetables. The trees and vegetables have all been transformed by the rains.

On the contrary, districts in the north of the country are still under the prolonged dry spell. Reports from districts like Karamoja indicate that some of the cattle keepers have already lost herds of cattle due to the drought and the rest have been forced to slaughter their cows and sun-dry the meat. The people themselves are feeding on the sun-dried meat which the Batswana call Biltong, but have no staple food to eat with it. The grasslands have dried up and there is no sign of rain yet. Drought relief programmes should have been put in place first to save the people and then their herds of cattle.
Climate change has become part of our lives and demands that we come up with locally appropriate solutions to fight it. The Batswana in the Kalahari Desert have been living under harsh conditions and yet beef is their third biggest export after the diamonds, copper and nickel. They export the beef to the European Union and South Africa. We have a lot to learn from them.
Meanwhile water remains the source of life everywhere and the human adult body is up to 65% water. This makes us extremely vulnerable to water loss through vomiting and diarrhea and drought conditions. Having become a child of two worlds: Uganda and Botswana ,has taught me not to take things for granted.

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A PORTRAIT OF GENUINE LOVE

No doubt good company makes an occasion, true friends give us a beautiful life while genuine love and trust bring out the best in each one of us. At this moment in time, I am watching my mother change before my eyes: her hair now all white getting thinner, her body becoming weaker, her movements becoming slower and cautious and her face growing more wrinkles. It is a mixed blessing and sometimes scary too. Out of this, I have come to really know and understand a mother’s genuine love. Many times she forgets her pains and aches to fuss over whether I slept well during the night, what I would have for breakfast or whether I was able to find the skimmed milk in the supermarket. It goes to show that motherhood never ends until you breathe your last. Here is a mother who has been giving, caring, helping others and making a difference through love and sacrifice for over sixty years and yet shows no signs of slowing down. Her face may be full of wrinkles but her spirit has not grown any. As she walked through her journey of life she was her parents’ daughter, someone’s sister, and someone’s friend. She became a midwife, a wife, mother and now a grandmother. All these identities have given meaning to her life and enabled her to change the world around her in some ways.

As a mother; she has loved and still continues to love unconditionally- just loving for its own sake. She still wakes up each morning to find what she can do to make others happy-putting other’s happiness before hers. It is the great love in her heart that fills her with the power to be bold , confident to care and save loved ones and be content to do it. Like all mothers of her generation, she would not think twice to walk through a storm or thick forest so as to save one of her own. It was family, friends, work and church activities that gave meaning to her life. As a midwife in an African country, she delivered thousands of babies over a period of forty years.

With a heart filled with genuine love, she protected, trusted and preserved us. Secure in her love, we were able to soar like eagles. She has always been patient and humble but take it from me, she has strict limits and can be assertive. Her simple rules in the home have to be followed for the sake of both parties.
She continues to nurture, instruct and empower all those around her. Now that there is a gradual reversal of roles; she is being more influenced by us the children and grandchildren other than her influencing us.

Over the years, she has learned to listen and value other people’s opinions. She has always found immense pleasure in our success and remembers the good about people other than the worse.
Initially, she never took kindly to the reversal of roles: being helped over some things and being cared for but over time she has gradually accepted it. She has lost so many family members and friends that she has had to start seeking inner peace and to accept her mortality. She now seeks to do more of the will of God. She is no longer interested in controlling or changing the world around her. She basks in the achievement of having raised seven children, given her gifts of compassion and generosity at her work place and having been a leader at family level and at the work place. What gives meaning to her life now is spending quality time with her children and grandchildren. She struggles to remain effective and relevant and does not want to remain locked into her old ways so she has turned her grandchildren into her best friends. She tells us that she is now living her second childhood but at a higher level than the first one: being spontaneous, playful and creative more so when she is in the company of her grandchildren.

I am happy that she has found a new identity during the last years of her long life. It gives meaning to her life and keeps her going. I admire her tenacity as she chooses to live one day at a time.
I would say that her age, she has earned the freedom to wear purple or pink and make up for the sobriety of her youth. To her great credit, there is mutual respect between us.

When asked about her most treasured dividend for her investment, she replies: “Watching my children and grandchildren doing things together, looking out for one another and sustaining the bonds of friendship between the three generations.”
She is incredibly thankful that the love and concern for one another continues to grow within her ever expanding family.
“God must have guided me into doing something right for you all,’’she adds.

“Yes, Mama, you continue to give effortlessly and gladly to your own and others; nurturing our bodies, minds and souls. Like a wave washing off the shore and returning to the lake, whatever love you gave and continue to give unconditionally, comes back to you,” I remind her.
She looks up and smiles that trademark smile of hers. I see that she is crying.
The famous Jewish quote of why God created Mothers comes to my mind: “God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.’’

A TREASURE TROVE OF MEMORIES

Having been away from home for more than two decades, I am doing all that I can to fit in and be assimilated in the systems. To take the stress out of this daunting task,I have chosen to take one day at a time.
Last week, my elderly mother gave me a heavy traveller’s bag to sort through at leisure. She never told me what its contents were and I had no idea what could be in it.

Three days later , I sat in the bedroom and rummaged through this bag. Nothing had prepared me for what I was seeing: sealed plastic bags containing several yellow Kodak photograph envelopes mixed with similar green Fujifilm ones filled with a lot of old photographs. I settled down happily and started going through them. Myself as a mother holding my first child in my arms while mother looked on with delight, a similar pose with both my second and third children. Their first smiles, first push-ups, their first steps, their baptisms and their first day at the nursery school. Each one of them blowing out the candles on their birthday cakes surrounded by their friends.

There were many other photographs of family and friends taken during the 80’s and early 90’s and those taken during my travels abroad. As I leafed through them, memories of those special people and moments came flooding in. The photographs were too beautiful and too clear to make me feel alive. They reminded me of the passage of time: each person had added on twenty years to her/his life and some had even passed on. Some of the children in those pictures had got married and now have children of their own. It was a treasure trove of memories that no one could take away from me not even time itself. Lost in this happy remembrance, my heart was filled with joy.

What I loved most about those photographs is that I had taken almost all of them with my simple Kodak camera. A lot has changed since then : the Kodak company founded in 1888 in USA was declared bankrupt in 2012 and has been struggling to re-invent itself and Fujifilm (1934) had to rebrand itself by using its core photographic technology to go into medical and imaging products.
This all happened after technology changed the photography Industry. Yes, Kodak invented the Digital camera and I still have my Kodak EasyShare V 1003 somewhere in the house.I used it to take graduation photographs for the same group I had photographed at birth and as they grew and advanced.

Fast forward today. Digital photography has become the order of the day: all Smart phones have Digital cameras within them. Anyone with a Smart phone be it a child , can take photographs,share them instantly, print them or store them in files on the Personal Computer. It has never been as easy as it is today to create memories of happy occasions and store them.
Yahoo’s Flickr and Google’s Picasa services can be used to store and create albums which you can share with friends. I think I will have to turn my treasure trove of photographs into an online storage form.

I had to thank my mother for having kept my photographs incredibly well . I learned from her that she had kept them wrapped up in that bag and kept it high in the ceiling for all these years! At first I was shocked but then I reminded myself that our country had gone through enough years of civil strife to demand people like my mother, to come out with ways of preserving their valuables.

I continue to be mystified by a picture that is well taken. Such a picture can speak lots of words, add flavour and richness to our lives.
I am encouraging all of you to keep taking good photographs and sharing them with family and friends.Organise them to build a lifetime collection. A few years from now , you will be proud and happy to live the treasured memories.
The English idiom that says: “A picture is worth a thousand words,” remains as relevant today as it did before technology changed the photography industry.

NEVER LOSE YOUR SENSE OF HUMOUR

HUMOUR IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF LIFE.

In today’s world where many demands are made on each one of us, where we tend to feel overwhelmed and where you may not be appreciated for the work you do, several times during the day , you need to allow the Fool in you to emerge.
The Fool in each one of us delights in breaking the rules to live in freedom and have fun. Most of the day we live under the control of the mind: we are serious ,we reason out everything, we follow customs and conventions and we badly need to fit in where we are. There are times when you have to let go: not take everything so seriously and see humour in life’s absurdities. You look on the brighter side of life by laughing at the world around you and at what happens to you. The Fool in you is revealed and links you to your childhood spontaneity and creativity. You are alive, spontaneous and you live in the moment and you experience great fun. You enjoy life for its own sake no longer acting to fit in and please others. This is your true self you do things that you would not do when the mind is in full control. Many of us find ourselves admitting : ” I did things I would never have done in my right mind.” Those around us takes us to be crazy. You laugh wildly and loudly, you joke with even strangers and safely get away from violating the conventions of your time by lacing your words and actions with humour. Laughter releases the ‘feel good’ factors in your blood explaining why you feel so good after a belly laugh. They say that : ” Laughter is the best medicine.”  Those who take a daily dose of good belly laughs add some years to their lives. The doctors even advise us to fake a good laugh for the brain cannot tell the difference between genuine laughter and fake laughter. The brain just releases the natural ‘feel good ‘ factors into your blood. These feel good factors reduce both stress and anxiety,strengthen our immune systems thus keeping us healthy.
We all have strengths and flaws and we make mistakes therefore we should not take ourselves too seriously all the time.
You need time to yourself to learn to laugh at yourself and when others laugh at you , you laugh with them. Finding drama in the most negative parts of your life keeps you hopeful in the gloom and darkness. After laughing at yourself, you begin at a new level and you accept life as a gift that has to be enjoyed. A good sense of humor can help you diffuse arguments or overcome boredom.
A good laugh and a genuine smile are both contagious and can turn many nasty situations around irrespective of where you are .
You allow yourself to be teased by others and you tease them without hurting their feelings.
Over time, we all learn to find humour in both the positive and negative situations around us. We learn to use humour in a careful and caring way to lighten the tensions. It helps people feel happier. No doubt , humour is an important part of life. I have tried to go back in my past to look for a day when I smiled at someone and he /she never smiled back. It has never happened.
Billy Graham, the renown American evangelist had this to say about Humour:
” A keen sense of humour helps us to unlock the unbecoming, understand the unconventional, tolerate the unpleasant, overcome the unexpected and outlast the unbearable.”
Frank .A. Clark said, ” I think the next best thing to solving a problem, is finding some humour in it.”
I think we should all join Keshulam Patel of Alarsin Phamaceuticals of Bombay , India, in his crusade for promoting Yogic Laughter as part of healthy living. He has been at it since the early 1990’s. It will help us all to see the lighter side of things and we will live healthier lives.
By sheer coincidence I wrote and posted this article on April Fools’ Day!