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.