FINDING MY LOCAL WRITERS COMMUNITY

Prof.Okey Ndibe with Goretti Kyomuhendo , the Director of AWT and two members of her passionate team at the opening of the Training Workshop. The photo was taken by me as one of the participants.

For a person like me who has been away for more than two decades, I find the radically changed economic, cultural and social landscape frightening and overwhelming. Since home is best, I have had to swim vigorously to find my own level.

This is happening against a back drop of a highly Digital technology- driven world which has turned the world into a global village. We are connected to each other instantaneously and an avalanche of information is accessible to anyone who wants it from anywhere in the world.

Early on, I realized that if I wanted to turn myself into an outstanding writer, I had to connect with other writers- a community of like-minded people to help me follow things through and to help me understand the joys and challenges of publishing one’s creative works.

I belong to the Online Africa Book Club, The Write Practice, Go Blog  Your Passion and  Two Drops of Ink.

Like any investment of high returns, it carries some risks.

However, I have found these communities of writers or writing cartels extremely beneficial to me .

They support and encourage me through the process of writing and publishing.

  • They read and critique my writings. They help me improve even my best piece of writing and  I become a better writer and more professional
  • They encourage me to keep walking along this mysterious journey and to be accountable.
  • They promote my work by sharing it among family and friends.
  • They are willing to offer any help that I dare to ask of them as long as it is related to my journey of becoming an outstanding writer of my time.
  • Being part of a bigger community which includes many other writers already ahead in their career, makes me more ambitious.

 Being a private person by nature, initially, I found it hard to share my writing to people unknown to me, but I have realized that the more I do it, the easier it becomes and the more I grow and develop as a writer. I consider any written story a work in progress that can be improved and refined from ideas generated from the invaluable feedback.

One of my favourite authors , Maya Angelou said: “ I believe that the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.”

Armed with great enthusiasm and anticipation plus an open mind and trusting myself enough to learn from others, I set out to find my Local Writing Community /cartel in Kampala, Uganda.

I made time to attend The African Writers Trust Professional Training Workshop For Creative Writers.

The theme was: Mastering The Challenges of Fiction. It ran from the 9th-10th September 2019 at Fairway Hotel in Kampala.

It did not disappoint; I got much more than I bargained for!

It was organized by Goretti Kyomuhendo and her team at African Writers Trust. Goretti is one of Uganda’s renown novelist, a founder member of African Writers Trust in 2009 and FEMRITE- the Association of Ugandan Women Writers. She founded AWT to coordinate and bring together African writers in the Diaspora and writers in the continent to share skills , knowledge and available opportunities. She has a number books and short stories under her belt. They include the First Daughter (1996) Secrets No More (1999) and Whispers From Vera.

 The tutor was Prof. Okey Ndibe, a natural born story teller and a journalist from Nigeria who went to USA in 1988. He perfected his art of Creative Writing at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA. Currently, he teaches African and African Diaspora Literature at Brown University in USA.

He is fiercely committed to helping African writers to tell their unique stories to the world just as Maya Angelou said: “ When you learn , teach, when you get , give.”

He has had the rare privilege of being closely associated with Africa’s best known writer and celebrated poet and professor sometimes called the father of modern African writing, Chinua Achebe(1930-2013). Chinua Achebe happens to be my own hero whose first novel, Things Fall Apart(1958) was one of my set books  for Literature in English at Ordinary Level in 1969, Gayaza High School, Uganda.The navy blue beret that Prof. Okey Ndibe wears is the symbol of the close association with the late Chinua Achebe and seals the bond between the two Nigerian writers.

This simple, down to-earth story teller and teacher seduced the participants from the onset to the end. I could take him as a consultant on the challenges faced by an Africa writer anywhere in the world for he is truly one of us. He knows it too well that African writers lack the structures that that support writers in USA or Europe. There are neither literary agents in Africa nor essential structures for editing and publishing and the readership is extremely low and yet African stories have to be told to the world by the Africans themselves. The African writers’ biggest challenge is that Africa is their audience and yet Europe and the USA is their market. As they write, they have to balance precariously these two factors.

 Reading engages our minds and if done consistently, it turns the reader into a critical thinker. All big companies are looking out to recruit great minds that will sustain the companies and make them shine in this vibrant and competitive 21st century.

Prof. Okey Ndibe is a renown novelist, having written and published his first novel Arrows of Rain in 2000, Foreign Gods Inc (2014) and his humorous Memoirs: Never Look an American in the Eye(2016)

He was humble enough to tell us that it took him seven years to write and perfect Arrows of Rain, proving Terry Pratchett’s words, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

Goretti Kyomuhendo is still perfecting her first novel, The First Daughter, written twenty two years ago!

It just goes to prove that all artworks are Works in Progress. Leonardo da Vinci took more than twelve years to paint and finish the Mona Lisa which became the most famous of his works after his death.

 Prof Ndibe advised us to form networks as writers, to support and guide one another by reading, editing, critiquing and promoting each others’ work and sharing available opportunities. He encouraged us to cautiously take advantage of the Digital revolution opportunities like Online publishing.

Any good professional training workshop is made or broken by its three components: the organizing team, the tutor and the participants and for this particular one, it was a perfect blend. Goretti Kyomuhendo’s team of young, energetic and passionate organizers was superb; paying attention to detail in a tightly packed workshop that would have lasted for five days at its best.

As for the tutor, I could not have had a better one and for the participants, who were of different age groups, backgrounds but with the sole aim of becoming great writers of their own stories, were provocative and attentive. The discussions were frank, relevant and useful to all of us.

The public debate about whether Literature is useless was the real climax of the training.Among the panelists were Prof. Timothy Wangusa, a Professor of Literature  at Makerere University since 1981. He is a poet and a writer.

Mrs. Victoria Kisarale, a seasoned literature teacher and former headmistress of our school, Gayaza High school and two vibrant young women from the corporate world.

At the end of it all, it was crystal clear that Literature as an integral part of our culture, makes us who we are- values and principles and visions. It enlarges our minds and turns us into critical thinkers.

Any country that chooses to pay little attention to Literature during the formal years of education of its citizens, is doing so at its own peril.

I am a medical doctor but my obsessive fascination with books turned me into a doctor with a difference more so in the way I relate to the people around me and how I respond to the daily challenges of life.

After my unique parental upbringing and excellent formal education, my consistent reading of books shaped my values and character. This is why I am writing short stories and fiction novels to make a difference to the lives of the readers. It is my simple way of giving back to the literary world which has given me so much joy, knowledge and self-esteem all these years.

From this highly engaging two days workshop, I walked away with knowledge,skills, renewed vigour, new opportunities and new friends including Prof. Okey Ndibe and a writing cartel that will support, guide and make me accountable along my long journey of becoming an outstanding writer of my time.

As expected, I also walked away with a number of books by Ugandan writers, adding to my treasure trove of books. Among them were several anthologies of short stories by Ugandan women, an anthology of poetry and short stories by inmates in Uganda’s oldest and biggest prison at Luzira and two books by none other than Prof. Okey Ndibe: Arrows of Rain and Never Look An American In The Eye.

I cannot wait to devour them!

“Fiction comes from what is around us; our own experiences and experiences of other people.” – Prof. Okey Ndibe.

All writers, the well established and the emerging ones are supposed to be keen observers of people and their surroundings. We should consistently write and read since it is only through practice that we are turned into outstanding writers. We have to always remember that connecting with other writers brings out the best creative works within us.

QUESTION:

Has this post helped you understand the need to look out for other like-minded people of your profession in your quest to become the best person you want to be?

ME TIME

Spending time out in the wild can help you find your inner Self.
the photo is from Unsplash.com

In a world that is highly connected and apparently  never sleeps, one needs time to be alone. Spending time alone with yourself allows you to reboot, meditate, focus and be more creative and productive. Being away from it all reduces the distractions and interruptions.

Women in particular, as the natural Caregivers and nurturers in our communities, have many demands made on their time by family, friends and careers that they may fail to find time for themselves. And when they do, they tend to feel guilty about it.

The psychologists never cease to remind us that each one of us needs time to look within herself/himself to know who he/she really is.  Knowing your inner thoughts and beliefs, your gifts, talents and weaknesses and embracing them, helps you to act authentically and results in meaningful and fulfilling lives.

As children we very much want to please our parents then our teachers and later as teenagers we want to please our peers mainly because we want to belong and even fit in. We step into predetermined roles that in a large measure come to define us. Between 30and 40 years of age, we go through life being guided by our ambitions, desires and aspirations.

After 40 most of us throw away the cultural and society conditioning and embark on a journey to find our own way of expressing our uniqueness in the world. Through our identities and vocations we express who we are.

The Merriam – Webster dictionary defines Self –awareness as an awareness of one’s own personality or individuality.  The psychologists refer to this state as a state in which oneself becomes the focus of attention. It involves being aware of the different aspects of the Self including traits, behaviours and feelings. It is about understanding your own needs, desires, failings, habits, why you feel what you feel and why you behave in a particular way and everything else that makes you, you.

“ I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am , the more I will respect myself.”- Charlotte Bronte.

 Self-awareness is a challenging and a lifelong effort. Through the experiences we go through: loses and achievements, failures and successes and how we respond to them  and our interactions with other people and how we respond to them , help us to explore and understand ourselves . We find the Self- the inner you. We act on what we get to know about ourselves and use it to change ourselves for the better. The inner you has to be constantly renewed and healed by connecting to the mind, soul ,  and heart .

The Benefits of self-awareness/Knowing yourself.

“ I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.” – Hermann Hesse

Knowing your inner self is essential for you to live a more meaningful and satisfying life. It helps you become more objective about yourself. Other benefits include:

  • Having a clear sense of purpose- you get to know your purpose and direction in life. You get to know what is important to you and what you hope to achieve.
  • Self-acceptance- you understand that you are not perfect but have strengths and weaknesses. You recognize the form of your own beauty, whether it is the beauty of your body, mind or your character. It helps you to gradually become honest and authentic.
  • You build strong relationships- the more you know and understand yourself, the more you get to understand others and the more you can influence them positively.
  • Experience greater well-being. The more you are in touch with your soul, the more you recognize the great worth within you, you begin to respect and have reverence of oneself.
  • Happiness- you align your thoughts, actions with your core values.
  • More creative and productive- When your mind, your soul and heart are in harmony, you are more focused, imaginative and creative. You create things out of who you are organically.

       How to increase Self-awareness.

The psychologists advise us to increase our self awareness by practicing the following every day:

  1. Devote time to yourself- everyday spend time with yourself by reading, writing, praying and connecting with yourself.
  2. Mindfulness practice- pay attention to your inner state and external experiences occurring in the present moment. It can be done through training or by practicing meditation.
  3. Keep a journal- Record your thoughts, feelings, ideas and important decisions. It helps you to process your thoughts and to connect with yourself at a deeper level. It helps you also to track your progress in life.
  4. Train yourself to become a good listener- Listen beyond the words. Listening to others makes you a better listener to your own inner voice and you become your own best friend.
  5. Feedbacks- have the courage to ask what others think of you- at home, at work and ask the friends you consider important to you. As you learn about yourself, you also learn about others and how they respond to you. Use the objective feed back to change yourself for the better. The more you accept yourself, the more accepting of others you become.

Researchers have proved that the best way to get to truly know yourself is to disconnect from it all; people, gadgets and be alone with yourself.

In the Bible, on several occasions, Jesus Christ would go off alone to pray and refresh himself.

A day before he chose the twelve disciples, he went up a hill to pray and spent the whole night there praying to God.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Carl Gustav Jung.

As a daughter, wife, mother, friend, medical doctor and member of my community, I used to find it difficult to make time for myself. As I grow older, I have found it easier to find time to give to myself without feeling guilty. I developed it gradually after I recognized that I was not indispensable, neither could I be available 24/7 nor do everything. I learned to prioritize to free up time to focus on the 20% most important things in my life. I learned to delegate tasks and to empower family and friends to do things for themselves. I have learned to set boundaries and limits to safeguard myself against burn out.

I regularly give to myself by reading the Bible, reading novels, listening to good music, country and  oldies tunes.  I am a keen gardener too. I tend to my vegetable garden and small orchard. Right now I have a graviola/soursop tree bent with spiky green fruits. I cannot wait to eat them and share a few with friends.

Walking about in the bush in the village is a privileged experience that enables me to connect with the beauty of nature and to find my place in the universe. It feeds my soul.

My best time with myself is when I wake up as early as 5am to write a chapter for a novel or a post for the blog for two and half hours. By that time it is peaceful and calm as most people are still in bed and the deafening noises of the boda bodas– motorcycle taxis, are also silent. I try to pack in as much as I can before the sunrise. Thankfully, the ideas flow freely. I am strongly focused as I paint on the day’s blank canvas using all the colours of the rainbow. I tend to be more productive and effective at this quiet time. At that moment in time, I am fully conscious of who I am and what I am doing.

I have come to understand that all human beings are born to be creators of things including their own lives and that the most magnificent works are created only when the mind, soul and heart are working in tandem. The works themselves are an expression of who we are at that moment in time. When the mind and soul are at odds, we live a life of struggle. Many people pass through life not knowing who truly they are and what they want out of life. Sometimes the people around us influence us to the extent of suffocating who we are or the choices available to us are limited. We miss out on expressing our wholeness- not expressing what is most unique about each one of us towards making a better world.

“ We are alive or dead according to the condition of our Souls.”- James Hillman

The Soul is the most creative and transformative part of ourselves.

And Ralph Ellison said: “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.’’ Being in touch with your Soul awakens your imagination and this drives you to find meaning and beauty in your life. Life ceases to be a struggle and instead things flow easily.

According to Wikipedia, the multilingual free online encyclopedia, One of the mottos inscribed on the 4th century BC Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece was : “ Know Thyself.’’ The ancient Greek philosophers, Socrates and Plato often referred to this motto in their works. Essentially it served to draw  the attention of the worshippers entering the temple to the fact that : When you know and understand yourself then you are able to understand other human beings better.

After all, much of our lives are created collectively not individually.

QUESTION:

Do you set aside “Me Time” everyday  to get in touch with your Soul? Have you started creating beautiful things authentically from your Soul?

FINDING YOUR SENSE OF SAFETY

https://apagefrommunakusbook.wordpress.com/2018/10/07/finding-your-sense-of-safety/

I chose to repost this article of 10/07/2018 because a number of readers have found it relevant and useful. Surprisingly, it is one of my favourite posts because by the time I wrote it , I was feeling overwhelmed by the demands on me after being away from home for over two decades. It was cathartic and it set me in the right direction:value youself, give to yourself and nurture yourself before you give and nurture others.

Failing to adhere to this cardinal rule, you will be maimed in the process of giving or you will suffer burn out.

From the challenges life has thrown me, I have learned that while caring and nurturing for people, my energies should be invested in creating situations that help people to grow and develop other than simply comforting them.

QUESTION:

Do you know that if you only comfort without developing: without helping one learn from her/his mistake, you increase the chances of the same mistake being repeated?

TWO HISTORICAL FIRSTS IN ONE MONTH- PART 11

From the Archives. Pope Paul V1 being welcomed to Uganda by President Milton Obote of Uganda.

The second of the first historical events of July 1969 happened in my small country, Uganda, now known as the Land of the African Martyrs among the Christian faithful.

Exactly eleven days after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had walked on the moon, His Holiness Pope Paul V1, the 262 successor of St. Peter, visited an African country for the first time in the history of the Catholic Church! Available information online indicate that the Pope’s decision to visit Uganda, a country with poor infrastructure, had met some resistance in the Vatican. But it was the same Pope who had canonized the 22 Ugandan martyrs on the 18th October 1964. They had been beatified by the Catholic Church in 1920. These young men were pages in the royal court and were between 15 and 30 years of age.

They were burned alive in pyres under the orders of the then king of Buganda, Mwanga 11, for not denouncing their faith between 31st January 1885 and 27th January 1887. A simple structure was constructed at this site by an individual but then later the current Namugongo Martyrs’ Shrine was started in 1967 under the supervision of the late Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga and was completed in 1975.

I grew up hearing people talk of an impossible situation as : “It cannot happen even if you called the Pope”. Simply translated it meant that it was as unlikely to happen as the Pope’s visit.

On the 31st July, this phrase was dropped out of the language.

I am a Protestant but my mother is a staunch Catholic, a student of Mother Kevin, the Irish Nun of the Franciscan Sisters for Africa, who founded Uganda’s most prestigious all-girl boarding school , Mount Saint Mary’s College Namagunga  in 1942.

My father had invitation cards to attend the functions at Lubaga Cathederal and Mulago hospital while my mother preferred to attend the Mass at the Martyrs Shrine in Namugongo. Later she was in attendance at the Vatican when Pope  John Paul 11 beatified  two other Ugandan Martyrs: Daudi Okello and Jildo Irwa from Paimol in Northerthern Uganda on 20th October 2002.

Fearing the crowds, I chose to watch it all on the black and white TV at home. Ugandans of all faiths worked harmoniously together to make this historical visit of the Pope successful and memorable. The excitement was palpable in the air; welcome songs were composed and played on the radio and TV. Special stamps and coins were released to mark the occasion along with souvenirs of the Papal flags, Pope’s badges, Pope’s ties, scarves and umbrellas, mugs and trays. A special material to make shirts and traditional wear were made for the occasion.

Once again, my siblings and I were glued on the TV. Around 3:00 pm, an East African Airways Super VC10 landed at Entebbe International Airport. By then cheering crowds were assembled waving both small Ugandan and Papal flags.

When the door was opened, the Pope’s representative in Uganda entered the plane only to come out with the Holy Father dressed in a white cassock over which he wore an elbow-length red shoulder cape. He wore a beige skull cap. The Pope paused and waved to the cheering crowd then walked down the gangway . He knelt down and kissed the ground at 3:13pm then stood up to be received by President Milton Obote and his wife Miria.

President Obote introduced the Pope to four other African leaders- Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia Gregory Kayibanda of Rwanda and Michel Micombero of Burundi as the crowd cheered and waved excitedly. He received a 21 gun salute as the sovereign of the Vatican City State. He was entertained by groups of young dancers from several districts of Uganda. The crowd was delirious with joy, many of them cried tears of joy. The Pope began his crowded agenda immediately.

He drove in an open Lincoln car along the 32 kilometre journey from Entebbe to the Lubaga Cathedral, the nucleus of the three million Catholics of Uganda. The whole stretch of the road was lined with ecstatic crowds.

 Crowds thronged the main road to the Cathedral which was also decorated with welcoming arches made of reeds and traditional bark cloth. They sang, drummed, danced and ululated as the Pope passed by. At the cathedral, the Pope was welcomed by Cardinal  Laurean Rugambwa of Dar es Salaam Archdiocese and also the first African cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Lubaga cathedral was packed to capacity, the Pope was introduced to the African Bishops and cardinals. He officially closed the episcopical conference of Africa and later he was hosted to a state dinner at the Nakasero State lodge by President Obote.

The following day, the 1st of August, I watched the open Mass celebrated at the Kololo Airstrip in Kampala. The Pope consecrated 12 new African Bishops ,5 of whom were from Uganda. Others came from Kenya, Zambia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Burkina Faso. Fifty Bishops and more than a hundred priests assisted in giving Holy Communion to the masses. In the afternoon , he attended a special session of the Ugandan Parliament and thrilled the invited guests by expressing words of acknowledgement in Luganda, one of the local dialects.

Day 3, Sunday August 2, was the climax of the Pope’s visit. He visited and dedicated the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine, the place where the fearless, young Ugandan martyrs were burnt to death. He first visited the Anglican martyrs site in recognition of the 23 Protestant young men burnt by the Kabaka’s chief executioner, Mukajanga.

At 9:30 he was at the Catholic Martyrs Shrine to lay the foundation stone for a mini –Basilica to commemorate the 22 martyrs burnt at the site. The place was jam-packed with people who wanted to see and touch the Pope at any given opportunity. The Pope kissed the ground where St Charles Lwanga was burnt and consecrated the alter of the shrine. He celebrated Mass assisted by the African Bishops and priests. He baptized 22 young ones and confirmed 22 young men in remembrance of the 22 Catholic Martyrs.

For us the Ugandans, the visit of the Pope was a sign of great hope; something good had come out of the blood that was shed by the young martyrs. The Christian Church had continued to grow after their death and their courage continues to inspire many people worldwide.

By the end of the day, the Pope had officially donated twenty thousand US dollars towards the completion of the Namugongo Catholic Martyrs Shrine.

He left Uganda on the 2nd August close to 7:00pm after what surprised many as a well organized, historical and memorable visit.

The skeptical few at the Vatican had been surprised and won over by the African faith and hospitality!

For the faithful in Uganda, the visit deepened their spirituality and many of them found their way back into the church. It still has a deep and long-lasting effect on the senior citizens of today.

This was a first for the Vatican, Uganda, Africa and the Pope himself and remained his only visit to Africa in his 15 years of reign at the Vatican.

Since then we have welcomed two other reigning Popes. We have deleted completely that local saying: “It will never happen even if you called the Pope.”

No doubt, organizing the first Papal visit to Africa was a huge challenge to Uganda but it gave us the great opportunity to learn how to prepare for such historical visits. Each visit became a better hands-on experience.

Pope John Paul 11 visited us after the invitation of the late Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga from 5th – 10th February 1993.

Pope Francis, the smiling Pope, visited Uganda from 27th November to 29th 2015. I was in economic exile in Botswana but out of habit, I watched it all on the television.

The Popes make a pilgrimage to the land of the African Martyrs to touch and see the physical manifestations of our faith in the recent past and at the present time and to connect personally with the saints.

What Indra Ghandi once said, rings so true: “Martyrdom does not end something, it is only a beginning.”

Having two historical firsts in one month has not repeated itself in my life so far. I am thankful that the two events did not run against each other but instead deepened my marvel at the wonders of God’s creation.

 QUESTION:

Have you ever made a pilgrimage to a holy place? How did it impact your spiritual progress?

TWO HITORICAL FIRSTS IN ONE MONTH

Man’s first footprint on the Moon

 I have been around for a while and have a mountain of good things to talk about. Fifty years ago, when I was a vibrant teenager; full of hope and dreams, two unforgettable firsts happened in one month! They left me mesmerized in the wonder of God’s creation. Unexpected as they were, I had no words in either my indigenous language or English language to describe them. Looking back now, the two events left me filled with respect and admiration for humankind and they boosted my energy and hope that I could in my small way achieve what I wanted in life for my own good and for the good of others.

The year was 1969 in the month of July. The first once-in- a- lifetime event happened on the 20th July, when the Eagle Module of NASA’s Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the Moon! The historic moment was being watched live by over 660 million people. 

Six hours and thirty nine minutes after landing, 38-year old Neil Armstrong(1930-2012) climbed down the ladder of Eagle to walk on the Moon. Nineteen minutes later, he was followed  by Buzz Aldrin while astronaut Michael Collins piloted the Command Module Columbia above them. Armstrong and Aldrin were the first men to set foot on the Moon! I remember it vividly as if it happened only recently and thanks to the Internet; from the Archives Teaching Resource, I have been able to fill in almost all the missing pieces and enjoy the event much more. It was perfect timing for me; I was on holiday at home so my parents and siblings were that evening glued on the black and white television set. We were all seated on the edges of the chairs watching the spectacle unravel as if all our lives depended on it! An awkward silence followed but then as if on cue, we all stood up, cheered and ulululated.

I remember Neil Armstrong’s famous words as he took the first step on the dusty Moon surface: “ This is one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind.’’

Closing my eyes, I can see both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in their white, multi-layered, flexible spacesuits, space goggles and a backpack containing each one’s life support system. They had gone on to plant the American flag in the surface.

President Richard Nixon ‘s message to them said it all: “ Because of what you have done, the heavens have become part of man’s world.’’

Now I know and understand that for centuries, man had wanted to step on the moon. The Moon race was in earnest by 1957. The unmanned Luna 2 mission of the Soviet Union was the first unmanned spacecraft to reach the Moon’s surface successfully on September 13, 1959. The Soviet Union launched the unmanned Luna 15 on 13 July, 1969 to land on the Moon’s surface and collect the lunar rock and dust. It crash landed on it on the 21st July just a few hours after Armstrong , Aldrin and Collins had landed on the Moon but before their lift off from it.

The Americans had beaten the Russians to the finishing line of the lunar race. It was never really the end but it was the starting line for the second phase of the study and exploration of the Moon.

The three American astronauts in NASA’s Apollo 11 spacecraft had set off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on the 16th July with one mission: to land safely on the Moon. It took them three days to enter the Lunar Orbit. The Mission was under control of a team of NASA engineers at the Space Centre in Houston, Texas.  Making the historic landing  on 20th July at 9:32 am. EDT, turned the three men into America’s most famous astronauts during NASA’s golden era.

In not more than eight minutes, they collected the first geological samples from the Moon surface- rocks and the fine granular lunar dust. Some samples were collected thirteen centimeters below the Moon surface. Since then more Apollo missions have brought back lunar rocks, core samples, pebbles and dust from the Moon. The Moon rock is currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. Scientist claim that every sample brought back from the moon has been contaminated by the Earth’s air and humidity. Strictly adhering to the principle of Astronautical hygiene, Armstrong’s and Aldrin’s spacesuits had to be vacuum-cleaned and the inside of the lunar Module, to ensure that lunar dust and particles were not transferred to the Columbia Command Module, destined to return them to planet Earth. The Columbia Command Module splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on the 24th July 1969.

 The astronauts had spent eight days in space. They were immediately quarantined in the Mobile Quarantine Facility for twenty one days! This was a safety precaution to ensure that planet Earth was not contaminated by lunar germs in case the two astronauts had picked any from the Moon’s surface. NASA considered this as a better-safe-than- sorry operation.

It was indeed a giant step in Air and space exploration and technology!

 Between that Moon landing of July 1969 and 1972, NASA sent five other Apollo Missions to the moon and each planted an American flag at the landing site.The last American Astronauts walked on the Moon surface in December 1972 under the Apollo17 Mission.

Other countries like Japan, China, Israel and India  joined the space exploration activities. Only the United States of America, the Soviet Union and China (December 2013) have succeeded in landing safely on the Moon. China with its great power status  wants to claim its position  as a world power off planet Earth.

India wants to test and prove its advances in science and space technology. On the 22nd July 2019, India’s  ISRO launched in 1969, sent off a spacecraft scheduled to land on the Moon’s south pole by the end of August 2019. It is possible that deposits of water-ice could be hidden at this pole.

South Africa’s study and exploration and utilization of space for peaceful uses began in the 1950s. It launched its national space agency in 2010.

The celebration of the 50 years since man first walked on the Moon has opened a new lunar race for exploration and inspired a whole new generation of astronauts. The Vice President of USA, Mike Pence assured Americans that America was returning to the Moon under NASA’s Artemis Project. America would be sending men back to the Moon by 2024, four years earlier than NASA had targeted.

Indeed, the Moon has become a focus of exploration once again.

For the developing countries like mine, it is a matter of national priorities; our governments have the great task of lifting their people out of poverty, creating economic opportunities, technological empowerment and improve the quality of life for all.

Both the developed countries and the developing ones have the collective responsibility of  improving  Planet earth: the environment itself , the people and animals and plants. The effects of increasing global temperatures affect all of us and so are the effects of pollution and violence. Food insecurity, unemployment especially of the youth, lack of education and government corruption affect our security and well-being.

Now that the Moon race has been set in motion once again, I hope that the Moon and the planets will be harnessed under the Utilitarian ethical principle: with the greatest amount of good for the greatest number and at the same time be protected for the future generations too.

QUESTION:

Where were you when Neil Armstrong first stepped out onto the Moon?

The second historical first of the same month and year will be covered in Part11.

SMILE AND LAUGHTER

The Smiling Emoji

My last post on this blog was about communication, the bedrock of all human relationships and a necessity for survival. Reading around this subject led me into the physical, mental and social benefits of laughter.

We all know that smiling is the beginning of laughter and like laughter, it is contagious. Many times, we have been advised to love simply, laugh often and love deeply. The cliché of “laughter is the best medicine”, could be said to be as old as civilization. I was even reluctant to include it in this post but then I remembered one proverb in King Solomon’s Book of Proverbs: Proverb 17 verse 22 : “Being cheerful keeps you healthy. It is slow death to be gloomy all the time.”

A genuine smile is a facial expression conveying one’s deep feelings. The smile is expressed more with the mouth other than the eyes. The Americans are good at displaying their emotions and to them the smile expresses happiness and respect. The Japanese are not very open with their emotions so in a smile, they focus more on the look in the eyes other than the mouth. The Germans do not show their emotions often so they smile less often. In my country, Uganda, a smile expresses warmth and in my local area, the central region, we can laugh out loud with family and friends until we cry. The over 600 years old royal dynasty of Buganda in Uganda, has always had singers, drummers and comedians at the royal court to entertain people and make them laugh. World-wide, a good belly laugh makes each one of us feel good.

Since 1995, the unfatiguable Dr. Madan  Kataria of Mumbai, India, a country where people laugh until they hurt, has been advocating for laughing for health and happiness. He has become the world’s Laughter Yoga Teacher. He is the founder of the laughter Yoga Clubs in over sixty countries. He arranged for the first World Laughter Day in 1998 to increase awareness about laughter and its health benefits. Since then, the first Sunday in May, people gather in public places just to share laughter.

 Dr. Kataria is popularly known as the “Guru of Giggling”. As a medical doctor, he explains that a good belly laugh expels air from the lungs allowing them to take in more fresh air. The oxygen in the fresh air is made available to the cells in the body to convert biochemical energy from nutrients: sugar, amino acids, fatty acids .This energy is then used by the cells to run the essential cellular activities or processes.

Studies have proved how laughter improves our health and happiness.

  • It improves cardiac health by increasing the blood flow to the heart, lowers the Blood pressure and this reduces the risk of stroke and heart attacks.
  • It reduces the stress hormone levels thus reducing anxiety and stress on the body. Stress and anxiety have adverse effects on the body.
  • It tones the abdominal muscles that are used in a loud laugh.
  • It boosts the body’s immune system. The T-cells, the specialized cells of the immune system are activated by laughter. This improves the body’s resistance to disease and cancer.
  • It triggers the release of the endorphin hormones one of the “feel good/happy chemicals” from the brain. Endorphins improve one’s mood; adding joy and zest to life.

Endorphins are natural pain killers that temporarily relieve chronic pain, leaving you feel better.

The relief of physical tension and stress which leaves your muscles relaxed, goes on for up to 45 minutes after.

Human beings are programmed to be social creatures and laughter has been proved to have some social benefits.

Laughter connects us to other people- it attracts other people to us.

It helps to diffuse difficult situations.

It promotes group bonding.

In intimate relationships, sharing laughter strengthens the relationship and keeps it fresh and lasting.

Over the years, I have learned not to take life so seriously. I laugh at myself and at life itself.

 I make a conscious effort to laugh several times during the day. After a long day I put up my feet and watch Just for Laughs: Gags or a good comedy on the television and by the time it ends, I am enjoying a happy high.

I intentionally spend time with fun-filled, playful people like children and old friends. With such people, I find myself more relaxed, more positive and joyful.

I never forget to find my inner child- I claim the spontaneity and the ability to laugh at ordinary things.

I spend 10-15 minutes in a day, doing something that I love and that makes me laugh; like reading a funny story.

Sometimes I just decide to do something silly like making funny facial expressions in a mirror or mimicking funny voices in my past. In such situations, I focus on having fun.

And in a group I allow myself to be drawn to where the laughter is.

Sometimes all I need to do to make myself laugh is to remember a few funny experiences in my life.

Strangely, as I enjoy a happy high, I find myself admitting that Laughter is the best medicine. It is also free, can be self-administered safely and can also save you time and money at the doctor’s. It adds years to one’s life.

QUOTE:

“Trouble knocked at the door, but hearing laughter, hurried away.” – Benjamin Franklin

Simply find opportunities to have a hearty laugh every day.

QUESTION:

How often do you give yourself permission to play for fun and to laugh out loud every day?

COMMUNICATION

The photograph is from Unsplash.com

According to Aristotle, a Greek philosopher of Ancient Greece, human beings are social animals; they naturally seek the companionship of others as part of their well-being. Our ancestors were hunters and gatherers and those who worked together well survived and passed on their genes to the next generation. This explains why each one of us needs to be connected to a family, community and a nation. In these diverse groups we become more creative, diligent and hard working and thrive. Group interaction is to one’s own good and to the group as a whole. Hardwired to be social beings, each one seeks to be accepted in the group, affirmed, approved and acknowledged. It gives a sense of belonging and stirs us up to want to do more, be more and brings out the best in each one of us.

Franklin Roosevelt said: “It goes back to the basic idea of society and of a nation itself that people acting in a group accomplish things which no individual acting alone could even hope to bring about.”

 When you are rejected by the group, you feel inadequate, unlovable, you feel not nurtured, cherished or guided. You grow up yearning to be more perfect and lovable and to be more worthy. You go through life looking for a home.

Like the wild animals, our ancestors first communicated with each other by sounds and movements but as they evolved and the environment changed, they began to communicate their thoughts, ideas and feelings through the spoken word. Language, a form of complex communication, was born out of the need to how best to survive. The language helped them to communicate with each other as they hunted, helped them to depend on others thus giving them a survival advantage. As there were numerous groups of people in different areas , many languages were created and continue to change up to today. We have come a long way from hunting and gathering and yet communication still remains the bedrock of all human relationships as a necessity for survival.

Social interaction is essential for our emotional and mental wellbeing. Any interaction between two or more human beings takes the form of verbal(30-40%) and 60-70% Non-verbal communication. Verbal communication is by means of a spoken language while non-verbal is portrayed by facial expressions, gestures and postures, tone of voice and tactile stimulation such as touch and body movements. We use our five senses during the interaction: 

83% sight, 11% hearing, 3% smell, 2% touch and 1% taste. Children learn early how to communicate by mere observation of the adults around them. Psychological research in social and behavioural sciences has revealed that such non-verbal communication also conveys cultural values as well.

The English naturalist and biologist, Charles Darwin (1809-1882),

 studied the non-verbal communication as early as 1872. He observed that human beings could use facial expressions to express their emotions and attitudes about others.

One quote always reminds me that of all the things I wear, my smile is the most important.

While I was researching and writing the last post entitled: Embracing my Age,

 I read extensively about facial expressions. The common ones well known to all of us are the smile and the tears. Each facial expression communicates the emotion deep down. The movement in the mouth determines the intensity of the smile while the sparkle in the eyes conveys genuine happiness. Many of us bare our teeth in a rage.

The American anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell (1918-1994) who pioneered the study of facial expression, gestures, posture, gait and visible arm and body movements in the late 50s, collectively called them kinesics- the human body language. He estimated that humans could make and recognize around 250,000 cultural-related facial expressions conveying emotions and attitudes. While my children were growing up, they could tell what I required of them by simply interpreting my facial expression. In their cheekiness, they would say that I could ‘beat’ them with my eyes.

Fast Forward, the first SMS was sent from a computer to a phone in UK in December 1992. Since then, text messaging has become the order of the day in this Digital era. They have changed the way the world communicates in the smartphone era.

In the late 1990s, a Japanese telecommunications company created emojis-communicating in pictorial faces and symbols- info graphic. The Western world adopted this form of communication from 2010. Emoji was added as a real word in the Oxford Dictionaries in August 2013.

They have become a permanent fixture in today’s Digital communication. When I first came across it, it  reminded me of Hieroglyphics: the formal writing of pictures and symbols in Ancient Egypt.          

One linguistic professor, Professor Herring called emojis a sort of  pictorial pidgin language- the primitive tongue that emerges out of necessity between two population with no  common language that lacks plural markers and functions exclusively  in the present tense.

  It is a rudimentary language. Emojis are not universal ; different messages can be conveyed by the same image  depending on the culture. Some messages have been lost in the translation only to be clarified by text words.

The smiling Emoji. Can be said to be universal.
Praying hands for the likes of me and ‘Thank You’ for the Japanese
The tears of Joy Emoji, the most popular emoji used on Social Media.

Over time, all languages develop, more words are added and a few may be left out. Emoji as a Digital language will continue to evolve.

We all have our languages of communication, the human body language and now we have added a Digital language that we use online, I would not be surprised if we borrowed the birds’ song and calls to enhance our digital communication. Anything is possible in this technology -driven age.

QUESTION:

Have you ever tried to text a short paragraph without using words, using emoji only? Did the receiver understand your message easily?