Nothing Lasts Forever

Since October 2016, the 1977 graduate Class of Makerere University medical School has been planning for its 40 years Reunion of the 10th to 12th November 2017.
It came and went, leaving us asking for more just like Oliver Twist.
As youths of our time, we had dreams, hopes and ambitions and we had held onto them despite what we went through during the hostile political climate of the late 70s and early 80s. After the graduation, we were forced to look for the freedom of opportunity and choice elsewhere. Little wonder then that we gathered from more than five countries to celebrate this Reunion. We could not thank our teachers enough for adequately preparing us to work anywhere in the world. We faced many challenges like having to re-write final examinations but in the end we triumphed.

These same teachers believed in our potential so much that we also came to believe in it. The belief in our potential and the exposure to horrors in the prime of our lives liberated us to do more with our lives. Among us are several professors, physicians, paediatricians, gynaecologists, surgeons,public health specialists, Family Health Practitioners, and three of us have built and are running their own private hospitals. We realized our potential, creativity and are always grateful for living out our purpose and passion.
As expected, we have lost many colleagues during these forty years. We remember them with great respect and honour.

We have all grown and matured but still we are down- to –earth people looking fit, well groomed and looking the part of senior doctors of today and doing things in a measured way.
As mature people, we have earned the right to claim our power and express it in the world while at the same time taking the responsibility to give back to the communities that created us.
By the shores of Lake Victoria in Munyonyo, we met as old friends and equal partners, claiming and living our lives. We had taken separate journeys but here we were doing things together. It gave us a chance to love and value one another while holding on the best of what we achieved during the five years in the medical school. We listened to each other, hearts pounding with excitement and learned from each other’s experiences. We had great appreciation for our lives and courage. Well aware that nothing lasted forever, we stayed in the moment and enjoyed it for its own sake.

Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor once said: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress, working together is success.”
We talked, laughed, told stories and were happy and proud to be in each other’s company. It was an experience of renewal. Over these forty years we have had to redefine relationships to people, to work and institutions so that they are more fulfilling in the current stage of our lives.
I found it hard to believe that the youths of the 70s had turned into these sophisticated men and women who carried themselves with more confidence. Most of us are married with children and grandchildren. It was heart-warming to note that a number of us have children following into our footsteps as medical doctors. It just felt right for each one of us to be real- living out one’s great story.

A few of us had taken the trouble to collect our favourite music of the 70s and just like the 70s, we sang the choruses out loud. It ended up being a case of ‘Where were you when…….’
Such music brought back fond memories of our social lives at the university.
The luncheon we shared with our teachers left us humbled and made us commit to continue serving and helping others in our communities. We know for sure that what we do has a ripple effect in the world beyond us. The onus is on us to continue the good work of our Role Models.

Life goes on and while we still have the shared values of sincere friendship and the duty to protect and promote the health of our people, we believe that we can do much more with what we have.
The synergy created by our coming together will guide us into doing something new and better than we have ever done before. I only have great admiration and respect for each member who contributed in any way towards making this Reunion much fun and memorable. It was an opportunity for us to find a sense of high meaning and value in our lives.
All in all, it has been worth the sacrifice and it was fantastic to have been a part of it.
Sir Richard Branson’s quote sums it up : “ There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passion-in a way that serves the world and you.”

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I Felt so Happy That I Cried

It felt like dancing for its own sake to a perfect song. It started as a simple idea when a colleague of mine, a professor of Anatomy at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, Pretoria and I did all that we could to meet at  the Oliver Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, thirty minutes before I boarded a flight back to Uganda. The professor’s tight schedule could only allow us this brief encounter though we had not met since our graduation in 1977! In that hurricane of delight, we both felt this was too brief an encounter to warrant organizing the 40 years Reunion for our graduate Class where it had all begun. Thanks to the Digital era, one by one, we sold the idea to our colleagues. We consider ourselves unique in that we joined the faculty of medicine of Makerere University, Kampala on the 4th July 1972 and on the 4th August we were among the congregation of students summoned to listen to the then Life President of Uganda: General Idi Amin Dada in the City square. He narrated his dream of a few days earlier about how the Asians were sabotaging the Ugandan economy. By the time he finished, he had declared an economic war and given the non-citizen Asians 90 days to leave Uganda!

The repercussions set in a few days later when foreign lecturers and students started leaving the country. The atmosphere became terribly tense and unpredictable while we tried to stay focused and committed. In those five years we bonded, we learned to look out for one another, to have fun in our own way and finally became friends for life.
Things went from worse to the worst five days before we started writing our final examinations. On the 17th February 1977, Janani Luwum, the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda and two ministers; Oryema and Oboth Ofumbi were brutally murdered and their bodies later dumped in the City mortuary a stone’s throw away from the library where we were busy revising for the examinations.

Monday 21st February, 8am to the dot, we wrote our first paper and a week later, we undertook the practicals on the wards in a tensely charged atmosphere. We finished the examinations on the 4th of March. Immediately, the scattering began; many of us stayed behind while others found their way into neighbourng Kenya, South Africa, USA, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and Botswana. Thankfully, we were able to recover from the trauma of the five years and come into our own. We held onto our dreams, hopes and ambitions to create our lives out of the truth of our souls.
No doubt we have experienced confusion, fear, suffering and loss but through our determination and commitment we survived them. We have become more free to take risks and have made genuine contributions to the communities we have lived in.

We have travelled from those countries to celebrate our friendship, resilience, achievements and to re-dedicate ourselves to our noble calling. We did not want to be overwhelmed by the gathering so we kept it simple: we met to remember, to thank, to celebrate, to give back and to have plenty of fun.
Friday evening after the traditional welcome embraces and hugs, we allowed ourselves to become wise Fools; simply trusting the moment and savouring life in its fullness. The forty years between us quickly dissolved away, we caught up on each other’s lives and from then became as connected as we could be.
Seeing all these great women and men being fully themselves and reaching out to one another filled my heart with so much joy that I cried. We spoke and acted spontaneously as the youths of forty five years ago! We laughed loudly and wildly, we sang and teased each other for old time’s sake.

We spent Saturday morning with the Head of the Makerere University College of Health Sciences and some members of his team. They took us around the Albert Cook Medical Library. Each one of us had spent a lot of her/his time in that place. Little wonder then we decided to give back to the community that created us by giving a token to the library.
The lunch with our teachers at a restaurant in the city centre left us with a lot of joy and contentment and the feeling was mutual. Like us, they have added years to their lives but they are still going strong, caring, serving and teaching and they have remained terribly professional. They supported and guided us through those turbulent times and always emphasized to us that they were training us to work anywhere in the world. We could not have got better Role Models.
All this was taking place against a backdrop of the Doctors’ Industrial strike over poor working conditions, poor remuneration and poor recognition for the work they do. Doctors keep the population healthy so that they can be productive and are able to participate fully in the development of our country. It is a simple reminder that a country’s greatest asset is its people.

It felt so good to be among the old and familiar people whose hearts and spirits have never grown any wrinkles. The three days proved to be not enough for what we wanted and loved to be doing. We immersed ourselves into the moment and enjoyed it for its own sake and it gave us hope the future.
Having camped by the lake side in Munyonyo, we took off time to celebrate the 11 O’clock Mass at the Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine, the martyrdom place of Saint Andrew Kaggwa and Denis Ssebugwawo. It was built two years ago and was blessed by Pope Francis 27th November 2015.
After all members of this Class know that health is defined as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease.’’

Spending these three days together is not the end but it is the beginning of many more gatherings to remember, to celebrate, to thank, to give back and to give ourselves up to joy. We consider ourselves outrageously privileged to be together where it all began 45 years ago.

Thank you for visiting my Blog and reading this post. May it inspire you and stimulate you to connect with a wider circle of friends.

The Art of Balancing YES and NO

Life is essentially about relationships and the choices we make. When faced with options, we end up making a series of YES or NO and gradually build up the big picture of our lives. As I said earlier, we are social animals living interdependently. We all start by conforming to please family, friends and peers and continue to ensure success and status doing the same thing. The majority of us will struggle to do what we really want without losing our family and friends. Juggling both family and work, one can find herself taking on too many commitments and too fast. This has resulted in burnout- exhausted and overwhelmed. It is our responsibility to empower the young to avoid or to handle such situations. It goes back to teaching them and supporting them in creating emotional and spiritual balance by simply learning to balance YES and NO.

“ Until you learn how to confidently say No to so many things , you still always say Yes to many things.’’ Enest Agyemang Yeboah
This is where the 80/20 Rule of Time Management comes in handy. At any one stage in your life, you have to define what is most important to you and focus your time, energy, efforts and resources on that. What you focus on always grows.
You have to prioritise the 20% most important things to you and devote 80% of your time on them. Anything else is regarded as a distraction and should not be allowed to steal your time. We all have 24 hours in a day but the most successful among us are those who have mastered the art of using their time wisely.

Developing this 80/20 mindset will help you to use your time effectively. The ‘urgent’ will stop drowning out the most important activities that advance your overall purpose in life. You will stay focused on the key stuff in your life. You will be able to beat the stressful lifestyle that puts you under extreme pressure.
As we grow and take on more responsibilities only to retire later, the 20% most important things in life also change. You continue setting your priorities, it will lead you to make good choices about what you want to be and do. You will stop wasting time on things that do not matter to you.

I have learned to apply this 80/20 Rule on a daily basis and it has worked wonders. I have been able to do much more in a day and generally I have been able to move the most important things in my life forward. I have been able to do amazing things by reducing the distractions.
Each day throws you many options all day long and saying YES or NO to these options points you into a different direction. Over time, your personal growth comes in a series of small, incremental changes resulting from the choices you made and your commitment to follow things through.

Later in life, the strong urge to please, to fit in, to satisfy the demands of family and peer groups wears off and you want to live a life of more significance and depth. You consider what adds value to your life: what makes your heart resonate with your soul and what makes you feel good about yourself and brings fun in your life.
As learning is for life, I am still learning and trying to master the art of balancing YES and NO. As they say: Practice makes perfect.
One last quote: “When you say no to the wrong people, it opens up the space for the right people to come in.’’ Joe Calloway

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