THE FESTIVE SEASON

THE FESTIVE SEASON

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Caption: A sculpture depicting  the shepherds in the manger

Nothing awakens the child in me as the festive season. I only need to hear Silent Night  or  Joy To The World and the small girl in me lights up and is instantly transported back to her childhood. This is one place where I had felt loved, cared for  therefore safe and secure. I trusted my parents and myself enough to learn the basic skills  of life  from them until I grew up to take care of myself. I unashamedly admit that though I attended a church missionary- founded school, the true meaning of Christmas was lost in the festive activities until my late teens. I am sure I was not the only one to trivialize the season  among my peers.

The performance of the Christmas Nativity play at the end of the school year  would get me into the Christmas spirit. At home, the neatly trimmed hedge and manicured garden would  give the tell tale signs of the approaching Christmas. By the second week of December, the early Christmas specials would have been made available in some of the big shops like Drapers and Deacons in Kampala. One of our big cousins would take us to the city for shopping; a new shirt and trouser for the boys while the girls bought dresses and shoes. We would return to the city a number of times just to be part of the crowd of shoppers under the pretext that some of us  had not yet found what we wanted. We were always fascinated by the decorated Christmas trees in these big shops.

Later as we grew older, our favourite treat was joining in the Christmas carols and watching the Mayor turn on the lights on a giant Christmas tree in the  Mayor’s garden at the city hall around the 20th of December.

The best Christmas’  were celebrated at our village home, forty kilometers  west of Kampala. It was a big house surrounded by  rolling green hills, well maintained coffee trees and banana plantations that stretched as far as the eye could see. How we enjoyed roaming about in the wild! Our parents ensured that we learned to be useful about the house.

Decorating the Christmas tree was a ritual that was reserved for the girls. We started off  with choosing the right tree; large and tall, among the three or four overgrown ones from the hedge behind the house. This was followed by retrieving  the box of the old decorations from the store and adding them to the new ones.We would blow the balloons until our cheek muscles  hurt . The balloons would be  tied on the tree along with bells and ribbons. Many times , we would pause, step back to inspect our efforts and only when completely satisfied, would one of us  climb on a chair to place the golden star of David at the top.

Then early on the 24th, two or three cows picked from the herd will be slaughtered and the bulk of the meat would be neatly wrapped up in banana leaves and distributed in the village especially to the elderly. My father would insist that we delivered some of those parcels to the relatives in the village. The smiles and cries of immense gratitude have lived with me to this day. They taught me one of the true meanings of the Christmas season; sharing and giving with love whatever you have with the needy. This gesture always reminded me of how fortunate our family was.

On Christmas day ,we would wake up excited at the crack of dawn  and rush to the Christmas tree to check for the presents.  Always, there was a well wrapped up gift for each one of us and the helpers in the home. I remember the best present I was given was two books from the Heidi series. One of my brothers, a good swimmer, could not hide his joy when he was given a pair swimming trunks and a cap.  Many times we would wonder how our parents chose just the right present for each one. Perhaps it is true when they say that  Mother knows best.

We always attended the  8am service at the simple village church. The older ones would walk there except if it rained. Surprisingly, December was always a hot, dry month but then out of nowhere it could rain on Christmas day . The young ones would drive to the church with our father who  also loved coming to the village; away from the madding crowd of the city. It was a place of peace and quiet and it allowed him to spend  as much time as he wanted with us. He taught us to ride bicycles, how to harvest coffee and identify each head of cattle by its quirks. It was one place where he could be himself.

Christmas at this place was always busy. There would be more than thirty people in all, the family ,relatives , friends and a few invited ones from the village. The lunch itself was a real labour of love. A variety of mouthwatering dishes of  beef ,goat and chicken stews, roasts over open fires, accompanied by  bananas, rice, potatoes  and vegetables. Everything was cooked to perfection and thankfully we all ate to our heart’s content and we washed it down with Pepsi cola, the favourite drink at the time.

To amuse ourselves, we would play board games such as Ludo and Snakes and Ladders while the adults reminisced about seasons passed. Having worked in the colonial office earlier on, my father would always find time to listen to the annual Christmas message of Queen Elizabeth II to Britain and the Commonwealth.

It always surprised to us how such a day of fun would quickly pass. Such days were unforgettable. Since then I have celebrated more than fifty such days but I still treasure the memories of my childhood. Some of the rituals I carried with me when I got married . As I grow older, I have come to appreciate the true meaning of Christmas to a true believer that is the love of God  to mankind. God’s nature is love and on seeing that we had turned away from him, he sent  his only son to reconcile us to him. What greater love! It is not lost on me that as a Christian, I am God’s child  and it is my duty  to be like him, living a life controlled by love. Everything that I do should be done out of love, for love and in love.

This message should not be lost in the merry making and feasting  at Christmas time.

Merry Christmas to you all. May 2019 be a year filled with love, joy, peace, good health and prosperity.

 

 

 

A SECOND CHANCE AT LIFE

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On the 5th December 2018, I watched part of the funeral service of the 41st president of America : George Bush senior held at the Washington National Cathedral. It was a state funeral : president Trump and the four living former presidents of U.S.A and many other world leaders were in attendance. Bush senior was remembered as America’s last great soldier-statesman. I was struck by what Bush the son,the 43 rd president of U.S.A. talked about his father: “ He was the greatest father that any child would wish to have.’’ He explained away his late father’s humility, love and kindness as virtues born out of his close brush with death. His father survived a serious staphylococcal infection as a teenager and during World War 11 in 1944, as an US. Navy jet fighter pilot, his jet fighter plane was shot down by the Japanese.
“For Dad’s part, I think that his close brush with death made him cherish the gift of life.”
Cherishing life demands that you live your life fully- you wake up every day, grateful, thankful and ready to make the most of the day. You recognize that you have been given a second chance at life; you become determined to want to be more and do more with what you have for yourself and the community you live in. You want to be deserving of this gift since not everyone receives it. You start off by striving to know who you are: your strength and flaws and what is deep in your heart. Over time, you become true to yourself.

This reminded me that I for one had once been granted this rare gift. Twenty years ago, on a rainy day, my two children, a friend and I were involved in a serious car accident. I was the driver and I sustained a nearly fatal injury. I broke two of my lower neck bones. I was in coma for two days and on waking up the orthopedic surgeon explained what had happened to me. The first thing I did was to thank God for the miracle then I moved my toes. Once I realized that I could move them, my healing started there and then. I was extremely thankful and happy to be alive. Two operations on the neck and I was back on my feet.

I had cheated death by a whisker. Confronting my mortality and acknowledging it, I emptied myself of the old-letting go of what no longer served my journey and began to seek for who I was truly. I learned to be honest with myself and others and to be open to receive from others and give to them. I would say that I died to what I was and it allowed me to give birth to what I could be. I found myself in a new world while at the same time taking the trouble to grasp the meaning of my survival. I began to look for the beauty in each person I meet other than focusing on the negative. I accepted that I did not know many things and it opened me up to learn more and gain more wisdom. My main goal in life was to seek purpose and meaning then harmony and balance.

Having recognized that I could lose my life in an instant, I began to value it immensely other than take it for granted and do my best to make the most of it. This has helped me to claim my power and to express it in the world. My values in life changed completely: my faith, my family and friends became the most important things in my life. I had to redefine my relationship with people to live a life with a sense of purpose and meaning. The awakened genuine identity deep within me has made me more imaginative and creative. I do things from the heart and so far I have been creating life and things that emerge out of the truth about who I am. Knowing the truth about myself has taught me to love and respect myself and to go out and love and respect others.
I take an active role in creating a better world- serving and helping others, doing what gives my life meaning.

Looking back, my late father had a similar experience in his early 70s. He looked death in the eyes when he suddenly developed acute renal failure. A man as robust as a Muvule tree found himself lying helplessly in the Intensive Care Unit of the Teaching hospital. For over a month, he hovered between life and death while physicians battled to save his life. Miraculously he survived and thrived and was never the same again.
He accepted his mortality and from that time allowed death to guide him through life other than his ambitions and fears. He had recognized that life and death are two sides of the same coin and to enjoy life fully one had to embrace death. Accepting his mortality lead him to a new life- he took responsibility of the wrongs he had done and began looking for a balanced life where he could have success as well as spiritual development. He made the best use of all the resources available to him- people, time, money and things to create order in his life. Every day, he wore the apron of humility to serve God, people and his community. He considered the two months he had spent in the hospital as the best thing that ever happened in his life; he was empowered to find his uniqueness and mission in life. This enabled him to live out what was his own to do and make the unique contribution to the world.

He had died to his former self to be fully his own best. “It is as if I had died and was given a chance to return to the world,” he was heard saying many times.
Khalil Gibran said: “For life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one.’’
My father started preparing himself to die with grace by accepting all life’s losses including the death of his son, and disappointments. He died a happy and fully contented man twenty years after the close brush with death. He considered those twenty years as the best years of his life and believed that he could never thank God enough for giving him that 2nd chance at life.

Over the years, I have read numerous stories of survivors: survivors of the gas chambers of 1939-1945, survivors of the world wars, survivors of the Rwanda genocide, survivors of cancers, survivors of aeroplane and deadly train crashes and terrorist attacks. I have talked to my patients who at one time believed were dying only to be revived by the Antiretroviral therapy. They all consider it a miracle to have survived and are ever grateful for having been given a second chance at life. They were all stirred up to strive to achieve their inner potential. They have all gone on to live their lives in such a way as to confirm that the gift of a second chance was so deserved. Little wonder then that George Bush Senior is remembered as a man of great integrity and a loving father who put his family first after his God. He found joy in his faith and family and lived life to the fullest to the end.
As Joel Osteen the great evangelist says: “ I mean we all need a second chance sometimes.’’
And Zig Ziglar said: “ We cannot start over, but we can begin now, and make a new ending.’’
Have you or any of your closest relatives or friends ever experienced a second chance at life?
How did it affect your values and principles in life? How did it change your lifestyle?

Thank you for reading this post. Feel free to share it with family and friends.

 

BOUND TIGHT BY OUR EXPERIENCES

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This photograph was taken at the Equator, 72 kilometres along the Kampala- Masaka road, by one of us during our field trips in 1976. Among this small group are four Ugandans including myself, two Tanzanians including Vale(wearing sun glasses) and one South African.

 

Khalil Gibran, my favourite author once said : “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
My peers and I consider ourselves as part of the traumatised generation of Uganda. We joined the only national university of that time on the 2nd of July 1972 and the then Life President, Genera Idi Amin Dada expelled the Non-Ugandan Asian on the 4th August 1972. On the 17th February 1977, Janani Luwum, the then Anglican Archbishop,Erinayo Oryema, the Inspector General of Police, and Oboth Ofumbi, the Minister of internal affairs were brutally murdered by the regime. A week later we wrote our final examinations for the award of the degree of the Bachelor of Medicine And Bachelor of Surgery. In between these two events there was an explosion of violence that made Kampala and other towns incredibly stressful.

It was not surprising that our Class was the last international one by composition. The majority of us were Ugandans but we had students from Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Malawi. Time never stops so despite the political repression and killings, we developed a sense of safety, became very close and each other’s keeper. We lived our youth: we danced, partied and explored our surroundings, creating cherished memories.
On graduation day, 18th March 1977, we celebrated academic success, perseverance and comradeship. With the world at our feet, we went our separate ways to save lives and make a difference in the world around us.

Two weeks ago I happened to be in Nairobi , Kenya and took the trouble to look up Vale, one of my colleagues from Tanzania. Our surnames are alphabetically positioned close so we were always in the same group: we rotated through all the medical and surgical disciplines together, climbed down the then functional Kilembe Copper mines, under occupational health and visited the leprosy centre in Kumi , northern Uganda. We used to let off steam during the weekends by attending bachelors parties , and dancing the night away in night clubs around Kampala. During those turbulent five years at university, we had become like a brother and sister to each other.
We had not seen each other since graduation but thanks to the Internet and Social media, that continues to make the world increasingly digital. Our Class started connecting in 2016. It made it extremely easy for the two old friends to meet.

I found him waiting for me in the Lavington Café Java, where he had made a reservation for two. I spotted him straight away, a classy dresser; he was wearing a grey suit. He stood up to give me the real bear’s hug usually reserved for a long lost relative. He looked me over appraisingly,“ You have n’t changed much. I could easily pick you out of this Saturday crowd.’’
“ Neither have you. You’ve looked after yourself extremely well,’’ I replied, inspecting him from head to foot.
He looked strong and robust like the Muvule tree back home.
He pulled out a chair for me to sit and helped me through ordering the meal and drinks.He spoke in that familiar gentle tone that made me feel relaxed and secure in his presence just like the old days.
Our profession follows us wherever we go so I was not surprised when he informed me that he was managing one woman in early labour at the Nairobi Private Hospital.
“ That’s one aspect of patient management that the Mobile Phone has made many times easier,’’I said, cutting through the fish fillet.

As we caught up with our lives, the forty one years rolled back, leaving two young fun-loving students in their early twenties.
Our hair was speckled with grey, our faces had grown wrinkles but we were still as free-spirited as before.
He had put on weight and looked the true image of the professor he was. I had lost weight but had made efforts to look my best in a black and white Polka Dot jacket over a black dress.
In the forty one years, he had worked in Kenya, Malawi- where he had been instrumental in setting up the medical school. After twelve years he had returned to Kenya and was now in Private practice. He hoped to retire and return home: Tanzania, in a few years’ time. Fortunately for him, a daughter had followed in his footsteps as a doctor though she specialized in Public health.
Since both of us had lived outside our home countries, we had had to work extra hard to support our children through the formal and university education including the masters degrees.
In those years I had stayed on in Uganda but later followed my husband to Botswana. Our three children had declared at an earlier age that Medicine was not their calling. They hated it for its tight schedule and unpredictable outcomes.

“Since when did you become a pastor?’’ I teased.
He laughed, “No, I’m not. I’m just a good Christian.’’
Since forming our WhatsApp group, Vale without fail starts our day with a spiritual nugget. Sometimes he sends it out as early as 4 am! It carries us through the day.
As we inquired about our colleagues, it was disheartening to learn that we had lost a number of them during the 1990s HIV/AIDS pandemic and a number from natural causes.
“We were n’t the angels in the Class, we’re just too lucky to be alive and well,” I said abruptly.
“I’d also add that we’re also very privileged to be spending some hours together after four decades!”
He paid for the meals and drinks and later dropped me home. Amazingly he was still that perfect gentleman who opened the car door for me and got me safely to my door. For the professional man he was, he drove straight to the hospital to review the patient in labour. He did not know any better.

As I lay in bed, I could not help but ponder on how it had all begun and how we had arrived at this moment in time.
At graduation, we had equal opportunities as young doctors but the fact that we still lived in patriarchal societies controlled our destiny.
Vale as a man had lived his life-climbing the professional ladder to the top, fortunately he kept his family together and friends so he is not isolated. I as a woman who had chosen to have a career have had to juggle medicine and motherhood and being a good wife. I had to follow my husband to Botswana where the career prospects were better. Looking back, I am glad I had had the wisdom to understand that I could not be superwoman- trying to do it all. I slowed down and brought up our three children. We were products of our time: naturally I the woman was the caregiver while my husband was the protector of the family . Societal conditioning had endorsed it.
“How did you escape suffering from burnout and being maimed,” I asked myself.
“ I had the love and support from both families and my children became my friends

Now that I have returned home, I have become too frugal with my time. I’m unashamedly putting myself first: doing what I love and what I enjoy. I have learned to let go and to my amazement, I have found a new identity in retirement. I am claiming the wisdom, freedom and experience that come with age.
To my amusement and amazement, Doris Day’s number 1 hit of the 1950s started playing in my head, loud and clear.
Que Sera , Sera ( whatever will be , will be)
When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother what I will be
Will I be pretty, will I be rich
Here’s what she had to say

Que Sera , Sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.
While you are reading this post, I have three questions for you:
Are you able to express your unique gifts in the world?
Are you engaging fully in the world around you ? How has cultural
conditioning and societal pressures limited you?
Remember that you have one life to live and that there is no perfect time or perfect weather so you just do what you have to do.