A CELEBRATION OF LIFE’S HARVEST 11

My mother at 80, surrounded by some of her grandchildren and myself.

 This is a continuation of my last post. Worldwide, people are living longer and more are living into their nineties and beyond than at any other time before.

In my small family, my father died a few months close to his 90th birthday, his young sister died at 104, their niece celebrated 100 years last October and my mother is close to her 90th birthday. Since she retired as a senior midwife in 1994, she had taken up mixed farming. In the last two years, the chronic degenerative arthritis has increasingly slowed her down.

 My father and his sister had agile minds and were relatively mobile. I usually find their centurion niece planting sweet potato vines or digging in her banana garden and no one can stop her for this is what she enjoys doing. Her joy is her strength. The common traits among them is that they chose to focus on what was going right in their lives and engaged fully with what was going on around them. They could be generous to a fault too.

Warren Edward Buffett, the most successful investor in the world, the billionaire who has been giving away the majority of his wealth to charity annually since 2006, celebrated 90 years on 30th August 2020. He shows no signs of slowing down.

Now that we are living longer, it demands that we enlarge the boundaries of vital living.

This has already caught on in the advertisement field and in the slogans we see these days like:

Life begins at 60

and  90 is the new 60. They are aimed at pushing us to think about life beyond midlife, 45-65 and plan for our Second Adulthood if we are to get the most out of it.

Numerous studies and surveys about longevity have been done and continue up to today. Results from such studies  have divided Adulthood into two stages: 1St Adulthood and Second Adulthood. The second Adulthood itself has two phases.

. The 1 st Adulthood- this is the time from 30 to 45 years of age.

Generally the body is at its best. We feel young, energetic and consider the world to be at our feet. We have learned to be strong enough to take on life’s challenges and responsibilities so as to make a difference in the world. It is our time to compete, assert ourselves and collect achievements. We immerse ourselves in proving our ability and capacity to ourselves and others.

The sex roles as predetermined by our culture, demand that the women get married and become mothers while the men marry and become fathers. This is a very demanding time for the women in particular who have to juggle a career and a young family. They are so busy bringing up children, meeting financial responsibilities of a family and trying to make ends meet while at the same time building a career.

Dennis P. Kimbro said : “ Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it.

. The 2nd Adulthood.

45-65- sometimes called the middle years and the first phase of the 2nd Adulthood.

45 represents the old age of youth while 50 ushers in the youth of the 2nd childhood.

This is usually the stage of greatest well-being in the lives of most healthy people. The competing, struggling and achieving is pushed aside to make space for finding your authentic sense of self- your core values, what you hold sacred and what puts spirit into your life.

You redefine personal success, take inventory of personal strengths and skills and use them to reinvent yourself. You want to remain relevant, useful to yourself and others and you want to be more and do more. Once you get this awakening , you begin to find ways of expressing your authentic self. You begin by letting go of the belief system that has informed you as you built your first identity. Other changes have to be made too in your career, lifestyle, habits and religious commitment. This is usually called the mid-life crisis. The main purpose is to make the next two or three decades your own.

By the age of 65, we have given our gifts to the world. We have served, we have accepted leadership in our families, communities and work places. We have launched our children , have a lot of time to ourselves which we can invest into expressing our authentic self.

In Uganda , the retirement age in the formal sector is 55 years of age and if one is to live to be ninety, then you have another thirty five years to go.  You cannot therefore just go on leading your life as you always have. It has gone stale or feels confining or empty. Yes, the environment we live in controls us but the yearning for something beyond family, your job or your friends forces you to trust yourself and open up and grow.

 You leave the familiar to experience the unfamiliar. Most times it is a risk worth taking. My childhood best friend, a lawyer by profession and among the first graduates of Makerere University Business School, is now a well established dairy farmer and another friend previously a teacher is an Events Organiser. I am also getting daily awakenings through my creative writing. Doing what we love and enjoying it keeps us young at heart and we just keep growing.

65-85 or beyond- this is the 2nd phase of the 2nd Adulthood. Also known as late Adulthood or the age of Integrity. All that you have lived through and learned adds up to gift you with grace and generosity that ushers you into the age of Integrity.

You recognise your accumulated skills and inner strength and feel that you should use them to teach, mentor or sponsor the young generation. If you made good use of the mid-life transformation, it will be extremely easy for you to create a new life for yourself. Failing to do this or just leaving yourself to rest on the laurels will turn you into the walking dead- a cause of accelerated aging. You need to stay alive, active, productive and creative to be healthy.

Some studies have shown that repeated creative daily routines like emotional writing, pottery, gardening and painting boost the body’s immune response. Getting absorbed into something creative increases the number of cells that fight off infections and cancer cells in our bodies and stimulates the release of Dopamine – one of the feel- good chemicals from the brain. The excitement of getting a result at the end of the task releases the Dopamine.

You can start all over again by simply embracing your mortality and rediscovering the enthusiasm, creativity and adventurous spirit  of your youth. Therein lies your power because the possibilities and rewards are usually beyond what you have experienced before.

As you go along this new path, you drop what no longer serves you and you pick what serves your new growth. Mistakes will be made but who cares, just keep moving forward into the unknown.

After all they say: “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”

With the numerous technology innovations available to us, Mars is now the limit.

Just open yourself to new and more meaningful ways to be alive and do not forget to reach out and connect with others.

My octogenarian mother tells me that one of her biggest challenge at her age is losing loved ones and peers but she has tried to fight this by accepting her own mortality. At the same time she says that such deaths put her under the pressure of longevity and push her to do what she has to do for each day faster. She has also developed a sense of radical thankfulness that drives her to celebrate life every day.

Those who live beyond 90 have the following characteristics in common:

  1. Adaptability- at 90, they have all of them suffered big losses and setbacks but they mourn the losses and move on.
  2. Optimism- they look at life as an adventure and are willing to explore. They also have a marked sense of humour.
  3. They have a keen interest in current events.
  4. They have a good memory and would do what it takes to retain it.
  5. They take good care of their health- enjoying exercises and regular sleep of 6-7 hours during the night.
  6. They are religious- many have found their right place in a universe put together by a Creator.They all know too well that time is running out but they choose to focus on the present; savouring each moment. Time has gifted them with clarity about what they can control and what they cannot.  They live fully for one day at a time. This reduces the stress in their lives

But all these are things we should try to pick up as early as our 40th birthday.

All in all, we are in it for the long haul and if we are to harvest the rewards, we have to start planning for it in our youth.

Jim Rohn said: “You must take personal  responsibility; you cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, the wind, but you can change yourself.”

QUESTION:

How have you planned to get the most out of the next phase of your life?

A CELEBRATION OF LIFE’S HARVEST

24/08/1972- The Beauty Of Youth

On the 24th August , I celebrated my birthday following the COVID-19 prescribed health and safety guidelines. I had a hearty meal and spent some quality time with a few members of my family among them my grandchild aged almost one and half years. It turned out to be my perfect gift for the day.  I closed my eyes briefly to say a silent prayer of thanksgiving to God, the giver of all the perfect gifts in our lives. The emotional nourishment that I received will fill my tank for months! I had that satisfying feeling that I was loved, treasured, appreciated and respected. I relaxed and basked in their applause.

In my country, Uganda ,  the statistics from the  Uganda Bureau of Statistics indicate that the life expectancy  of a woman was 55.35 in 2008 and rose to 65.17 in 2018 while that of the man was 54.98 and 60.66 respectively.

According to Statista.com , in Botswana it was 58.97 for women in 2008 and 54.42 in men. Then in 2018 it had increased to 72.5 in women and 66.2 in men.

From the www.ons.gov.uk the life expectancy in UK was 82.9 in women and 79.3 in men in 2018.

In all counties of the world, women live longer than men by 4.5 years. Among the explanations given by researchers for this gap is that the female hormone : Oestrogen  lowers the Bad cholesterol – LDL while increasing the good cholesterol – HDL thus reducing the risks of chronic heart disease in women until ten years after menopause when they catch up with men .

By Uganda standards I qualify to be a senior citizen though I cannot collect the Allowance for the Elderly until  after celebrating my 80th birthday! Surprisingly the minimum age of retirement  for formal employment in Uganda is 55 . The judges of the high court do not retire until they clock 70 years of age.

Each birthday that I celebrate, I thank God for the gift of time and the power to go on, my parents as my mentors, my family and lifetime friends. I thank him for all that I have lived through and learned, the gifts and achievements and the wisdom I have acquired with the experiences. I thank God also for the tough times which challenged me and turned me into a resilient woman and for my small contribution towards making the world a better place.

Thankfully, I was an athlete during my school days, I have never smoked, I exercise daily for a minimum of thirty minutes, I enjoy my glass of red wine and healthy diet of plenty of fruits and vegetables, cereals, low-fat dairy products and more fish and chicken.

In the last fifteen years, I have suffered losses of loved ones; mourned for a season and moved on. I would call myself an optimistic person who sees the glass half -full. I strive to find a gem in each experience. I now know myself drastically well: I thrive best when connected to family and friends . I have a troop of loyal friends. Disorder and chaos derail my thinking, creativity and productivity.

 I never forget my responsibility to give back to the community I live in just as my parents taught me. I call myself a staunch Christian woman. I continue to live with a positive attitude and to live in gratitude while looking for beauty in every one and in everything. I accepted my flaws and strengths many years back and love who I have become. I am sure I now represent the deeper core attributes of survival and resilience so when I create works, they come from the depth of my soul and express whom I am at that moment in time.

For over a week, I have given myself time to reflect on my life and to read more about aging with grace and dignity.

By the time I celebrated my 45th birthday, I was a wife, a mother of three energetic and curious children , a full time medical doctor and a volunteer  at the Francistown SOS Village  in Botswana.  I had proved to myself and others that I had the capacity and ability to wear several hats and to deliver as demanded of me. Then one day it dawned on me that I had lived half of my life.  It forced me to step back and take stock of my life honestly.

 I asked myself a number of questions but 4 in particular needed urgent answers.

. Was my life all about being a good wife, a good mother and an exemplary doctor?

. Was there anything important missing in my life?

. Would I still be contented and satisfied when my children left for university and I had become an empty nest?

. Should not I start thinking of finding another way of being a winner in future?

Over the following months, my spiritual well-being suddenly became more important to me and  I was able to answer those questions honestly. I needed to allow myself to be myself and let myself have what I truly wanted. Yes, I could create myself a new identity and have new big dreams. I had nurtured others for all those years, I needed to make a conscious effort  to nurture myself and once again do something that could challenge me and joyfully keep me awake at night because I wanted it badly. I just had to look from within myself.

 I had been an avid reader of books since the age of six and at that moment in time, I felt that I had read enough books to write my own. The demands of motherhood and the medical career had repressed my creative side.The reflection pushed me into making the decision to create space for myself to write.

Three years later, I was involved in a nearly –fatal accident, I broke three bones in the neck.  After some weeks of neck traction and two open operations on the neck , I was up and about. I survived by God’s grace and because Botswana had an excellent  health care system , I had the love and support of my family and friends and I was strong and fit. The road traffic accident made me confront my mortality and directly pushed me to find out who I really was – my core values, what I held sacred and what put spirit into my life.

 After acquiring the virtue of authenticity, I started on my spiritual and creative journey. I invested more in my creative writing by attending training workshops, webinars, joined Online writing cartels and opened myself to new experiences of entering creative writing competitions. I was determined to become a remarkable writer through continued writing practice and reading.

 Since October 2016 , I have been running a personal blog: https://www.apagefrommunakusbook834350529.blog, to hone my writing skills while at the same time sharing my skills, knowledge, talents , gifts and wealth of experience to influences  the readers positively. It has given me a complete new sense of self-worth and importance.

Someone somewhere once said: “ The hunt is never over until both your heart and belly are full.”

I cannot describe the satisfying feeling I get when I read my short stories in the  Africa Book Club Anthology, Kalahari Literary Review Magazine, Yours 2 Read Platform and Two Drops of Ink, a platform for collaborative writing. My two fiction novels: The Last Lifeline  and  When The Lights came On  are available on  Amazon.com.

I consistently post a new article on my blog every ten days, beating this deadline keeps me joyfully awake at night. I approach this challenge with same youthful enthusiasm that sailed me through the medical school.  It leaves me with no doubt that I am on the right path of finding more purpose and meaning in the last part of my life.

 Maya Angelou rightly said: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

 I know it very well that to give birth to something new, you have to let go of something in you. It allows you to open yourself up to new possibilities and new growth.

 My biggest challenge has been: giving away a part of the medical career for my creativity. I am well aware that if I just keep on adding, things may get complicated for me.  I am yet to throw myself into it to lead a fulfilling and effective life of a writer.

 It is a long process but I have not done badly as a part- time writer.  I trust myself and believe that a combination of my love, passion for the written word and my inherent enthusiasm, courage and discipline, will get me on top of my new career. Thanks to the Internet and the ever increasing technology innovations, for making writing a lot easier. I research all my topics, write them out and share them globally without leaving my desk!

After reinventing myself as a writer, I feel more relaxed, fun-loving, joyful and adventurous. I feel that I have made the time after 50 my own.

24/08/2020- Mature Beauty

While researching material for this post, I read a lot about what the psychologists say about aging gracefully and with dignity.  Worldwide, we are all living longer than the majority of people in the last century.

Immunisation against the common childhood diseases like measles , access to effective health care services and  good nutrition, our increased understanding of our environment , the availability of antibiotics and essential drugs like insulin, advances in science  and technology and medicine, have combined to increase our life expectancy. However, at the same time new challenges keep cropping up like emerging new diseases like HIV/AIDS, Ebola, SARS and now COVID-19, food insecurity, environmental degradation and climate change.

The psychologists have continued to study the behavior and responses of human function in different populations and have come out with guidelines to help us live meaningful; creative and productive lives after clocking 50.

 By sheer coincidence, right here on my desk is a copy of  the UK Sunday Mirror Magazine with a radiant and confident woman of 60 advertising spectacles for Specsavers with the slogan : Life begins at 60. So does a 25% discount at Specsavers.

In the 90s the slogan was : Life begins at 40. This goes to show that we are staying alive for so long.

As many people are now living into their nineties, Adulthood  is considered to run in two phases:

1st  Adulthood and 2nd Adulthood.

TO BE CONTINUED IN THE NEXT POST.

Meanwhile strive to stay safe and keep healthy. Your health is your responsibility.

EVERY DAY IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN AND GROW

A baby learning to walk.

Life itself is about lessons learned through what we go through, what we see and hear and what we read in books. We also learn by observing others and Nature around us.

During the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic difficult and uncertain times, we are being forced to learn things quickly mainly to stay safe and healthy. We were all caught off guard and unprepared  for how to handle the pandemic so the more science we learn about the disease and the more we learn from other countries which have fared better in the pandemic, the more we shall understand and be able to protect ourselves and others.

According to the Johns Hopkins University  COVID-19 Online Dashboard on 13th August 2020,

 20,939,967 cases had been reported globally and 759,928 deaths.

 In the Africa region, South Africa had the largest number of reported cases : 572,865 and 11,270 deaths.

My second home, Botswana, had 1,214 reported cases and  03 deaths.

As of today 13th August 2020, the Ministry of health of Uganda has reported 1,353 confirmed cases of COVID-19 disease, 11 deaths and  1,141 Recovered patients.

On a personal level, the lockdown left me socially isolated, financially insecure and emotionally drained. I have come to accept my vulnerability and mortality and have been pushed to surrender control of my life to a higher power: God my creator. The Bible has always taught me that God teaches us letter by letter, line by line and lesson by lesson. Isaiah 28:10.  A combination of isolation and mind solitude plus what is going around me and the news from other countries worldwide, has forced me to   think and reflect on my life and to have a new perception of the next phase of my life.

 From March to June 2020, Italy was the epicenter of the COVID-19 disease, the shocking and troubling pictures of  elderly patients fighting for their lives in the Intensive care units are still engrained in my memory.  627 elderly people majority of them men, died in 24 hours on the 21st March, 87 percent of these were patients over 70 years of age and 99 percent had associated chronic medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease. They died alone in ICU or in nursing homes.

Other countries like USA and United Kingdom soon caught up with Italy and even went beyond.

Currently USA, Brazil, Mexico and India are grappling with the biggest number of new cases and deaths.

 I truly appreciate that life is a gift that has to be celebrated every day. Each day I wake up fit; up and about, becomes a time of possibilities and potential. My responsibility is to make the most of it.

The value of life becomes more meaningful after 50 years of age when you realize that you have already lived more than half of your life or at any age when you survive a threatening illness or accident. The reality of your age, your own place in life and your own mortality crystallize out.

This is what I am living with every day and two good things have come out of it. I have made a conscious effort to love with no regrets and to stop procrastinating.

LOVING WITH NO REGRETS

Those who died alone in ICU without anyone holding their hands had relatives but by the very nature of the disease which was even less understood by that time, they could not be by their relatives’ side. It left many of those relatives with a lot of unfinished business.

Such a situation would leave any of us wondering:

When did I last visit my relative?

When did I last talk to her/him?

When did I last tell her/him that I loved her/him and that I appreciated her for the way she touched and enriched my life?

Did I ever tell her/him that I loved her/him?

The answer to these questions is what hurts the living most in our fast –paced world. Our world is dominated by work; we tend to put off many things like calling a parent or a friend. Birthdays and Christmas still come once a year!

The regret of unfinished business is particularly oppressive, even haunting in its oppressive grief.”– Donna Lynn Hope.

I lost a relative who had worked as a nurse in USA for over twenty five years. In the latter years she had developed Diabetes but was well controlled and leading  more less a normal life. She died in June at the frontline of the COVID -19 pandemic. While in Botswana, we were in regular contact but when I relocated back home, I got wrapped up in my own survival and assimilation. The next thing I heard was that she was fighting for her life in the Intensive Care Unit. Her death left me drained emotionally; I cried out of grief but more for what I never said to her or what I would never be able to say.

I needed to immunize myself of similar regrets in future so I am training myself to learn to tell the important people in my life what they mean to me as often as it is possible. As love is more of action than words, I am focused on doing small acts of kindness whenever an opportunity presents itself.

After all genuine love enriches both the giver and the receiver and makes everything possible. Happy people make others happy too.

That is why I have decided to love with no regrets even if it means loving the difficult ones at a distance.

No regrets, just love.” – Anonymous

 STOPPING THE PROCRASTINATION GAME.

Procrastination can be simply defined as putting off things.

It is considered and rightly so as the “thief of dreams”. We are all guilty of it in one way or another.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was deliberately disciplining myself to stop procrastinating but instead do the most important things in my life as a matter of urgency. On a scale of 1 to 10, I could score a 7 ; I was working hard on it every day.

The psychologists tell us that each one of us needs both self-control and motivation to get things done in a timely manner.  Self-control allows you to push yourself to do things while motivation offers  the reward to your efforts. Most times the reward comes in the form of satisfaction of getting one thing on your  “to do list” done.  It brings  you closer to  a sense of completeness in life.

Studies on human behavior show the following as the commonest cause of procrastination:

1.Rewards that are too far in future

2. Not having a clear picture of your future self

3.Feeling unwanted.

4. Anxiety

5. Perfectionism

6. Fear of Failure

7. A perceived lack of control

8 .Lack of enjoyment

9. Lack of motivation

The commonest among these is the fear of failure, not being motivated enough and just being lazy to perform what is yours to be done.

In the recent past, I was putting off things because I had too many demands on my time. I was unnecessarily postponing decisions and actions and getting little done. I took inventory of my life just as I had done in my early thirties and recognised that that I was not “super woman’’.  I had to prioritise things by defining the 20 percent most important things in my life and give them 80 percent of my time. Once again , I was in control of my life and laughed more often.

On returning home, I found that most essential systems were hardly functional; simple things like acquiring or renewing an essential document, took long to be completed. Many people have forgotten the importance of punctuality; they seem to have an extra four hours in a day! The heavy traffic jams in the city drain my energies and emotions. All these affect my motivation and increase the likelihood of procrastination.

I am fighting to ensure that the demotivating factors do not outweigh my self-control and motivation and tip me over into a cycle of procrastination.

“Procrastination is one of the common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.” – Wayne Gretay

As a senior citizen, I am aware of the reality of my age and yet curious about the possibilities of life from midlife to the end.   I have to do what is mine to do and fulfill my highest purpose in life. I work on it every day. Death is with us all the time but I can still see a future beyond COVID-19 pandemic and this gives me hope.

The COVID-19 Lockdown made me realize that there were a number of things that I could have started and completed before the uncertainty and unpredictability of the COVID-19 catastrophe set in.  I am now left with only four months to the end of 2020! As things stand, COVID -19 is not going away anytime soon but it is my duty and responsibility to protect myself and others .  I remain hopeful that the scientists will be able to find some effective drugs to treat the disease and a safe , effective and affordable vaccine.

Gradually  we shall figure out the best way to get on with our lives amidst the COVID-19 disease and its effect on our health and economies.

.

Over time, I shall relearn to trust myself to start creating again while pushing procrastination to the back burner. I still have much to look forward to; I have new dreams for my life.

 Who knows, I may be able to catch up on the lost months of 2020. As for now, staying safe and healthy is my top priority. It should be yours too.

QUESTION:

Did the time you spent in strict lockdown force you to relearn of the urgent need to do important things in a timely manner?

THE GIFT OF KNOWING THAT YOU DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING

The Normal in this technology-driven 21 st century. Photo from dynamicbusiness.com.au

The theme of my blog is: Learning for a lifetime. I chose it mainly to encourage people to remain hungry for knowledge, new ideas and new useful and relevant information which they can use to improve the quality of their lives and those around them.

It demands that we learn the habit of emptying ourselves of what is no longer relevant and useful to be filled with what is most important at that moment in time.

During this time of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic which is threatening almost all areas of our lives, we are being exposed to an avalanche of information. I must admit that as a scientist and an avid reader, I have never been bombarded with so much information about a single subject in a short space of time! The COVID-19 respiratory disease has been with us since late December 2019!

Patricia Wentworth (1878-1961) a British fiction writer, once said : “ Too much information can be as disconcerting as too little.”

Gunther Grass(1927-2015) a German  author, said:   “ The great volume of information dissolves the information. We are unable to take it all in.”

Due to the availability of the Internet which allows us to collect data, analyse and share it instantly and freely , a lot of facts and science about the COVID -19 disease are being  generated daily from credible and helpful agencies like the World Health Organisation ( WHO) and  the Ministries of health in our countries. At the same time, individuals are churning up information and sharing it on Social Media. A lot of this is not scientifically proven information and may cause panic and hysteria in the population. Thankfully, some Online social networking websites like Facebook have risen to the challenge of availing the facts and keeping them up-to-date for its users, to stop rumours and misinformation. Wherever we are, each one of us has the great responsibility as well to learn and understand more about COVD-19 Disease with the aim of protecting oneself and others and to stop spreading rumours. The more we understand, the better the response. When you know, you act better.

Against this backdrop of a COVID-19 disease information overload, I have chosen to repost one article that I wrote on 17th September 2018. It is entitled: The Gift of Knowing That You Do Not Know Everything.

Arguably no one is perfect and no one can know everything.
Knowledge changes fast and this demands that we keep abreast by being willing to learn every day.
We first learn things from those around us and then join the formal education in schools, colleges and universities. We also learn about the world around us through what we go through.
Knowledge is not meant to be contained but it should be used to act better: make better informed decisions in life, applied to improve our own lives and other people’s lives. In such situations, then knowledge is real power. Since new knowledge keeps coming up or old knowledge becomes outmoded, to enhance our understanding of the world around us and improve the quality of our lives; learning should be a lifelong job. When you know you act better and your confidence and self-esteem is boosted. I seek knowledge every day for both personal and professional development.

I find it extremely exciting to be alive and active during this science and technology –driven 21st century where things change often and very fast too. It demands that I remain an apprentice in how to live a full life, for life if I am to remain relevant and useful. I would be my worst enemy if I took myself to know so much that I do not need to learn anything new.


Socrates, the classical Greek philosopher and one of the founders of western philosophy said: “True Knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.’’

He also said: “I know that I am intelligent because I know that I know nothing.”

Jim Rohn an Entrepreneur also says that : “ You cannot learn until you know that you do not know and seek for the knowledge.’’

When you know that you do not know, you seek to know. You humble yourself and open up your mind and heart to learn new things. When you learn things and understand then you grow.
There are learning tasks for each stage of our lives.

I have come a long way from the naïve and inexperienced young woman to the sage – searching for the reality behind appearances, decoding clues and solving the underlying riddle of existence. It would not surprise me if soon I started speaking in riddles and parables!

Ken Keyes says: “Everyone and everything around you is your teacher.’’

In my quest for knowledge I have learned from the simple child, the youth, my peers and the elderly around me. I have also been able to learn from the plants, birds and animals around me. I am able to do this only when I open myself up and I am willing to learn. It is the only way to keep abreast of change.
It all starts by accepting that as a human being, I can never know everything. This is the actual gift which frees my mind to learn more. Depending on the situation, I can learn new things, relearn old but relevant things or unlearn outmoded and irrelevant things. The only thing that can limit me is myself.

I can never thank my parents enough for helping me to develop a passion for learning and encouraging me to do things by myself. They opened up a world of wonder for me and I am doing the same for my children and those around me.
Someone somewhere said that anyone who stops learning whatever the age, is as good as dead. I won’t allow this to happen to me; I have declared myself a student for life and would love to recruit you too.

The simplest way to start on this journey is to turn yourself into an aggressive reader of books. Books feed your mind and turn you into a sharp thinker and help you to live a balanced life; having learned and grown from other people’s disappointments, failures and triumphs.

QUESTITION:

How are you coping with the COVID-19 Disease information overload?

Are you drowning in it?  If not, how are you  able to sustain your attention?

A WORLD CHANGED FOREVER

Attending a virtual Office Meeting from home

Currently, we are living in a highly connected world  where information is shared freely and instantly, courtesy of the Internet services.  In the same world, the COVID -19 pandemic is consuming our time and attention so by now, most of us know that the first cases of pneumonia of “unknown cause” in Wuhun , China, were first reported to the World Health Organisation on the 31st December 2019. Six months later, WHO is informing us that  there have been  10 million cases and 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 pandemic  and warns us that the worst is yet to come.

Nobody saw this coming and nobody knows when it will end despite the available huge advances in medicine , science and technology compared to the times of the most deadly  pandemic of the  Spanish flue of  January 1918 to December 1920.

We are used to enjoying  some freedoms- tagged with certain responsibilities and living our lives within these freedoms. We also try to do our best  to bring order and predictability in our environment. But then  COVID -19 Corona virus has turned almost everything on its head and the majority of us if not all hate this uncertainty of things. At the most being uncertain about the next six hours or so! 

First and foremost, the COVID -19  pandemic is a health crisis and now it has also become an economic crisis worldwide.  The official World Trade Organization website : wto.org predicts double-digit decline in trade volumes in all the regions of the world this year. This is because the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted economic activity and life worldwide. All governments have been hugely focused on  managing the pandemic to reduce the spread of the virus in the communities and to save people’s lives. To some degree they were also struggling to reduce the effect of the pandemic on their economies. Four  months into the pandemic, it is still wreaking havoc and nobody has any idea when it will end or be brought under control to enable us to go on living relatively normal lives.

During the Lockdown, non-essential services were shut down, the movement of people by road, rail, air and sea were reduced to the minimum or halted. The demand for oil and gas hugely declined during this period forcing the price of oil to drop to its lowest level in thirty years! The transport disruption has had a huge impact on the movement of people and the flow of goods in the supply chain. Members of the supply chain were unable to provide products/services consistently and on time.

In my local area within the city ,the streets were almost empty, hotels and restaurants were closed and all schools and tertiary institutions and the international airport and the border immigration checkpoints  were all closed. We were forced to look for alternatives where possible.

  • People wearing face masks walked or cycled to buy food and medicines.
  • The fresh food vendors had to sleep at the markets-very inconvenient and far from the normal.
  • A few people worked Online from home, held virtual meeting.
  • Virtual Gatherings/ Virtual events: using video or audio and text to link up Online. A few people celebrated weddings, mourned death and attended virtual funerals while churches and mosques organized virtual services. I had the privilege to attend a virtual church service for a relative , a nurse who died of COVID -19 in USA in June and another in the United Kingdom. Churches and mosques in Uganda have been organizing services on the television and radio. The biggest challenge with these virtual events in Uganda, is the unstable Internet connection and its slow speed. It affects the inclusion  and the engagement of the invited participants.
  • Some big companies have partnered with some popular Kampala DJs to organize  Dance Party nights for “the young and restless”  on television  and radio on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Online shopping – Jumia Uganda was found well-positioned for this service. You can buy food and beverages, groceries, clothing, footwear, mobile phones, electronics, kitchen appliances, furniture and health beauty products from Uganda’s biggest online mall.
  • The Uganda  Electoral Commission responsible for organizing the 2021 general elections  is talking of  contestants campaigning on radios and televisions instead of holding campaign rallies in response to the Ministry of Health guidelines on physical distancing.
  • Education  has continued on radios and televisions and in newspapers for the few children whose parents have radios and televisions or can afford buying newspapers for the pull-outs.
  • Hospital ambulances have continued to transport emergency cases to the hospitals. The Ministry of health set up centres for testing, treating and following up contacts of COVID-19 Corona virus infection. It has continued to train health workers and to educate the public about the infection. The regular updates on the state of the problem in our country and elsewhere has helped us to understand the disease and how to protect ourselves and others. The health workers have done a commendable job in a tough environment.

For the majority of us, we followed the Ministry of health safety and health guidelines and stayed at home to keep safe.  Seventy five days of confinement in one place was tough on all of us and we waited with bated breath for the gradual relaxation of the restrictions. I think that the people who were hurt most by this inevitable pandemic lockdown are the ordinary men and women working in the informal sector of the city. The Uganda Bureau of Statistics 2016 statistics indicated that up to 80 percent of the working age population (14-64) is engaged in the informal business sector. These are low income groups trading and providing services on the streets of Kampala while a few work from home. We call them street vendors, others are in welding or transport people.

They depend on this daily income to support their families.  All school children are at home with their families and on average an ordinary Ugandan woman bears six children in her life. All these street vendors have had no income for more than three months. I cannot bring myself to understand what they are going through during this COVID-19 pandemic.

I only hope that our policy makers have already started planning for the post- COVID-19 pandemic strong and socially inclusive recovery.

No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives forever- from the way we get together and relate to one another and  our work-life choices.

At this moment in time, the majority of us have accepted the COVID-19  crisis for what it is and are challenged to look for new ways of safely  co-existing with the virus.

According to Charles Darwin ‘s Origin of Species, “ It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest ; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment  in which it finds itself.”

While the health workers are busy taking care of the sick and taking measures to protect people’s lives, Medical researchers are racing  against time to develop a safe  and effective vaccine for COVID-19 Corona virus, the engineers and IT experts  are  rising to  the challenge of creating opportunities for all and safe and user-friendly options for doing ordinary things.

The engineers are using available data to design safe, reliable transport systems of the future. Some systems have to be sacrificed while others like rail transport are to be given priority. IT experts are innovating and creating technology which will advance our quality of life.

We have a local proverb when loosely translated says: There is a gem hidden in the tough challenge you are going through now, you only need to dig deeper to find it.

The uncertainty caused by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic will hang over us for a while but if the regions of the world collaborated, worked together collectively and made coordinated efforts, we can aggressively change strategies and win in this new environment.

The doctor in me is extremely happy that due to digital technology, the new information about the management of COVID-19 infection is being shared instantly worldwide and has resulted in  greater chances of survival of the infected cases.

QUESTION:

Have you identified some areas  in your life where you have to do things differently to safely exist in this new environment?

THINGS ARE CHANGING GRADUALLY

A deserted road within Kampala, Uganda, during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown .

The first confirmed cases of the COVID-19 acute infectious respiratory disease were reported in the city of Wuhun, China, by  late December 2019. From the Johns Hopkins University Corona virus website, as of 12th June 2020, the disease had spread worldwide to 188 countries, there were 7.57 million confirmed cases and 422,900 deaths. World health Organisation (WHO) officially declared the disease a global pandemic on the 11th March 2020. By the mid-April 2020, half of the world’s population was living under some form of restrictions or lockdown to control the spread of the disease and save lives.

In my country, Uganda, I have been living under strict lockdown including a curfew from 7:00pm to 6:30 am since 20th March 2020.

The Ministry of health headed by Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng has been on the frontline of this pandemic. By quickly testing suspected cases, isolating confirmed cases and treating them and then tracing their contacts and running continued educational programs for the population, they have managed to control the spread of the virus and prevented our fragile health care system from being overwhelmed by the cases.

 From the www.health.go.ug  website, as of the 13 the June 2020, the disease had already spread into the community: 33 of the 134 district of Uganda have reported confirmed cases.

Of the 148,960 samples tested:

685 were confirmed cases and 199  of these  had recovered.

And thankfully, no death has been reported.

Among the tested health workers at the frontline of this battle, 27 have tested positive and are being managed. No death has been reported among them.

We can never thank these foot soldiers enough for their commitment, dedication and resilience to the noble calling.

The biggest challenge that the Ministry of health and the health workers face every day, is educating the population in the language they understand,  by giving them the right facts and information about the disease, regularly updating it to involve them in protecting themselves and others. Having the right information empowers the communities to understand what is going on, be part of the solution and to prepare themselves for any eventuality and calms their fears. This is extremely important in this age of Social Media: delays or long lapses in updating the available information facilitates the generation and spread of false information or fake news.  This causes panic and hysteria and  can cost lives.

Since the beginning of June, a number of countries in Europe have started easing the lockdown restrictions. It had to be well planned and gradual to reduce the risks of the second wave of infections.

Looking back to the most deadly pandemic of the Spanish flue of  January 1918 to December 1920, the lockdown restrictions were lifted fast. Having been desperate to emerge from the lockdown, the people gathered in large numbers at sports venues, churches and other public places and this precipitated a second wave of the pandemic in the Fall of 1918. The second wave killed more people than the first wave. In total, the Spanish flue infected  about 500 million people worldwide and killed  about 50 million of them! The fact that the First World War was going on  during  the influenza pandemic, played a big role in the spread of the disease.

 The World Health Organisation has picked lessons from the Spanish Flue pandemic and is advising all countries to ease the restrictions gradually and in a phased manner.

Uganda started easing the restrictions on the 2nd of June 2020 but the curfew is still in place, schools and universities are still closed and no public gatherings of more than thirty people are allowed.

COVID-19  disease is still a real threat because we have no specific treatment or vaccine, we still have to follow the Ministry of health guidelines for safety and  health.

The main ones include:

1.Washing your hands with soap and water or with a sanitizer as often as possible

2. Social distancing- keeping a minimum of two metres between you and the next person to avoid crowding.

3.Wearing a facial mask in all public places for anyone aged six years and above.

This will be the New Normal in all public places for some time.

The guidelines on what to do if you suspect you have the symptoms of COVID- 19 infection are freely available.

COVID- 19 disease is a new disease so there is something new to learn every day by the scientists, medical doctors and ordinary people.

The world is watching and waiting for a breakthrough for the treatment and vaccine for COVID- 19.  Over time, COVID-19 may become a seasonal disease like influenza and less deadly but before this happens, your health remains your responsibility. After all, your health is your wealth: you have to be healthy to be fully productive.

There is an African proverb which says: You don’t know what  you’ve got until it’s gone.

There are many things I was taking for granted until I was forced into a 75 days COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. One of them was the freedom to wake up in the morning and find yourself with a lot of choices about what to do for the day, what to eat, what to wear and move from point a to B freely( after factoring in the tangled traffic in the city)

I felt great relief the day after the restrictions were eased because I had choices once again. I felt a sense of excitement. It reminded me of how I had felt decades ago when  I found myself in my own room at university  after fourteen years of protection at  a missionary school and at home. I found myself with  more freedom than I had ever imagined! It was never lost on me that any freedom or right that I enjoy is tagged with a responsibility.

I was cautious then not to rush and get things wrong. In the absence of massive quick testing and no specific treatment and no vaccine for the COVID-19 Corona virus, I do not feel safe enough to  go far. I therefore avoided the city centre  and  chose to wear the mandatory facial mask and walk about four kilometres along the nearby main road.  I badly needed to see the clear blue sky, breathe some fresh air and walk at my pace before the return of the deafening noise of taxis and cars ,the motor cycle taxis and the clogged city roads.

I felt the sweet warm mid-day sun on the back of my neck. Most shops were closed apart from the few supermarkets and pharmacies. Both the nearest primary school and big hotel were as  silent as the grave. Few people walked past me while heading to the city. The pavements were free and  few cars were travelling along the  main road. I saw some new structures for the first time!

“They say that dynamites come in small packages; it has taken the tiny COVID-19 corona virus to empty the streets and stop the noisy taxis, the loud music and the young men calling for passengers.’’ I thought to myself. No wonder the sky was also a clear blue!

QUESTION:

What was the first thing you wanted so badly to do immediately after the easing of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions?

62 Days of COVID-19 Pandemic Lockdown

The New Normal in a Public Place for now

62 DAYS OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC LOCKDOWN

Time and tide no wait for no man so goes an old adage. And for sure 20th May 2020 marked 62  days in the COVID-19 pandemic Lockdown in my country , Uganda. It started on the 20th of March 2020 and on the 21 st March, the first case was confirmed in the country , a Ugandan who had returned from Dubai.

As of 19th May 2020, 264 cases had been confirmed  and only two of these were from our community; one in Kyambogo, within Kampala City and one in Buikwe, located about sixty kilometres east of Kampala. Sixty eight cases have been treated and recovered and thankfully, no deaths among the patients or the Foot soldiers taking care of them.

Since the 20th March 2020, many of us have remained at home in the interest of keeping ourselves and others   safe. Health has been the biggest focus but the economic consequence on the livelihood of the ordinary people  who depend on a daily income are biting hard.

The faces of the President surrounded by officials of the Ministry of Health led by Dr. Jane Aceng, the minister, are now familiar to all plus the faces of the officials from the Prime minister’s office led by himself. COVID -19 is a new virus and new findings keep coming out every day to help us understand the virus and to apply the best  scientific  methods to minimize its spread in our communities. We  watched in horror how countries like Italy, Spain, USA, Brazil that have better healthcare systems than ours were overwhelmed by new cases and daily deaths.

Thankfully, our numbers have remained small  to be contained by a fragile health care system. But if the numbers were to go beyond 3000, the number of beds in the country set aside to effectively handle COVID -19 cases, then our system would collapse. I thank, applaud and honour all our heath care workers  at the frontline of this war against an invisible enemy. They have done a commendable job.  This is no mean achievement, they deserve more than gratitude; because  for years they have been overworked and underpaid! Their demonstrations towards decent pay have been frustrated on many occasions.

 World-wide,Covid-19 has hammered all of us and changed the way we do things.

Regular hand washing with soap and water or with alcohol-based sanitiser, pyhisical distasincing of two metres or more , no hugging ,  and the use of facial masks have become the order of the day and will remain as part of us for a while.

The race is now on to find quick testing Applications, effective treatment and  a safe and effective vaccine because COVID-19 will not just go away and yet life has to go on. Thanks for the advances in science and technology that enable us to collect , analyse and share data and come up with ways of controlling the spread of the highly infectious new virus.

Technology will also help Biomedicine scientists to develop safe , effective vaccines  in the shortest  time than ever before.

The  regular updates  form the Ministry of Health continue to educate us about the disease and how to stay safe, the officials build their trust with us and help to dispel the  myths and an avalanche of fake information and news circulating on the Social Media. Their consistent, scientific message gives them credibility and authority about COVID-19 in Uganda.

Since, Saturday May 16th we were being made aware of the President’s update on the 18th May 2020 at 8pm.

We waited with great expectations expecting a gradual phasing out and easing of the restrictions to avoid surges or second waves that could overwhelm  our fragile health care system.

The update did not come on until after 9pm and continued close to 11pm in the night!

What I did not feel comfortable about was that my freedom to move was  being tagged to wearing a mask in public places  and the masks were to be made by  one company. How is it possible for one company to make masks for all the 40 million Ugandans from age of six years and have them ready by 2nd June 2020! Even in Europe and America masks had to be imported from countries like China. Judging by the food distribution to most needy, the mask will keep imprisoning me where I was! That is the irony of things. Thankfully, I have always kept some surgical- single use, in my house  so I may be able to move out of the house earlier than 2nd June 2020. How many ordinary people can afford such?

Apart from the two new cases confirmed from the community on the 19th May 2020, the new cases that kept cropping up were from truck drivers bringing in our essential imports like oil, medicines, machinery to manufacture some of the needed items like sanitizers and masks and taking out our exports like coffee, tea, sugar, steel  and cocoa for we are a landlocked country. Yet the 40 million people were locked down in their homes. This faulty line in the control of the infection, demands collaborative and coopearive efforts with our neighbouring countries, to handle this mobile group of people providing an essential service without spreading the COVID-19 infection in our community.

The disease caught us unprepared: no country had time to prepare for the pandemic , we are all learning as we go along, learning from those countries who experienced the pandemic before us. The wisest among any social group learn from the experiences  of others.

As an individual , I learn something new every day and I have had to read thoroughly the pathology- the science of the causes  and effects of diseases and public health  – the science and art of preventing diseases.

When I have too much time on me, I can best use it to reflect on my life , be thankful for the goodness and to reset or adjust the priorities for my future. It is never lost on me that my health: physical, mental and social well-being, is my greatest asset and needs to be protected and promoted. In that case then I would wait patiently for the 6th June 2020.

Family level- the 62 days in lockdown have emphasized to me what is most important in my life. The family as the basic unit of the nation gives us identity and anchors us but at the same time gives us wings to fly away and beckons us back as the need arises. For the majority , home is a place of joy where they are accepted for who they are. Strong families build strong nations. In this current pandemic, nothing fills our emotional tanks to overflowing as talking with loved ones or seeing their faces!

Community- families build up communities where we support each other through thick and thin and give us an opportunity to give back for their growth and development. Our communities shape and mould us into who we are.

National level- the pandemic has brought us together to fight it with what we have. It has brought to the surface our weaknesses like planning and prioritizing the most important sectors like health , education and agriculture  and shown that the majority of our population in the rural areas are yet to be empowered to demand more from their government and hold  it accountable.

Global- What unites us is more than what divides us. Countries grew closer after the second World War in 1945. The World War 11 meeting of the heads of state of  USA,UK and the Soviet Union met in November 1945  at Yalta  to reorganize a peaceful  Europe and Germany and world in general. They facilitated the newly formed United Nations body by then it had 51 members but currently it has 193 member states. Its main purpose was to maintain worldwide peace and security and foster cooperation on vital fronts  like health, that advance human development and social progress.

 When computer scientist Tim Berners –Lee invented the World Wide Web and made it available to the public in August 1991, it shrank these countries into a global village. Information and data can easily be collected, analysed  , stored and shared freely by the simple touch of a button.

That is why world-wide, people are calling for collective, collaborative and cooperative responsibility to fight this declared global health emergency.

It starts with each one of us in our homes, to do our small role that fits in the big picture perfectly. We can succeed or fail together.

One African proverb can inspire each one us to play her /his role in the control of this COVID-19 Pademic:

“ If you think you are too small to make a difference, you have not spent the night with a mosquito.”

TAPPING INTO THE FOOL WITHIN

Dondo a fool in a Zambian folklore

I have for a long time been interested in understanding why  I do what I do in a given environment or why people react as they do and I have read many  books and theories  by psychologists who have studied human behavior.  One theory that keeps coming up is that each one of us is born with twelve inner guides: the Innocent, the Orphan, the Warrior, the Caregiver, the Seeker, the Destroyer, the Lover, the Creator, the Ruler, the Magician, the Sage and the Fool. Each Inner guide has a lesson to teach us and each presides over a stage of our journey through life. They are within our unconscious psychological life. This explains why you are told many times over that all you need to grow into the best ‘you’ is found within you. Many books have been written about awakening the heroes within or the giants within.

It should be remembered that as we walk through life, the environment determines our behavior, actions and motivation. It can facilitate or discourage interactions among people. Those who adapt well to their environment will survive and thrive.

Currently, the majority of the world’s population is confined in their homes: one room, a big house,  a flat or a small space in the open market for the market women and men in Kampala. This has been forced on us by the COVID-19 Pandemic. In December 2019, it spread fast from Wuhun, China to almost all the 195 countries in the world, creating and leaving great havoc in its path.  Its spread had to be controlled aggressively and its damage on our health, well being and economy had to be minimized.  Here in Uganda, I have not left my home since the President declared the first restrictions on 20th March 2020.The Lockdown has now been extended to 20th May 2020. For anyone used to waking up in the morning, going out to work, moving  about freely and returning home when you want , staying  at home for almost two months is a very limiting situation. It affects our physical, mental and spiritual well being.

It is associated with mood changes in the twenty four hours of the day:  from enthusiasm and expectation in the morning to confusion and uncertainty and anxiety, stress and frustration in the evening. This is a normal response to living in a confining environment and one can only take comfort by reminding herself/himself that it is temporary.

So how do you keep going? You have to remain hopeful that it will end though you are not sure when or how and then you turn within yourself to look for the Inner guides that can help you break the boredom. These are : the Innocent and the Fool. Last week I concentrated on how you can tap into the Innocent or Inner child in you to create a game out of the confinement, this week I am concentrating on the Fool within. The Fool in us looks for enjoyment, pleasure and aliveness and her/his worst fear is not to be in the moment. The Fool lives one day at a time with little concern for tomorrow. He is interested in freedom and fun irrespective of the space.

In case you have been so serious with life or become so rigid and locked into old ways that you have forgotten how activating the Fool within you can change your world, go back to the time you were an adolescent. Your actions were motivated by curiosity and want to explore and experiment with life. You had little interest in being responsible. What you wanted most was to have freedom and fun. You wanted to be free from what demanded things from you that were not fun. You were perfectly happy to appear ridiculous, to try unconventional styles and could stretch it to being outrageous.  Because of your age, you were naïve, inexperienced and therefore more open to imagination and new ideas.

 When the Fool is dominant in your life, you have the desire to try everything and do everything, even when forbidden.

As you grew up, you began accepting responsibilities, deadlines and relationships and other Inner guides like the Lover, the Ruler and Creator took over , leaving the Fool to emerge only in recreation. Once in a while the Fool could emerge to spice up your work and private life only if you allowed it. Naturally, the Fool may reemerge in the mid-life crisis allowing us to give up living life in terms of achievements , goals, and “making a difference” and enjoy life for its own sake.  This is another opportunity in life to be hungry for experience and adventure.

Like the Joker in a deck of playing cards, the Fool can turn up anywhere. It often emerges in our lives at the moments that seem most painful like this COVID-19 Lockdown which was not planned. It caught many people in the wrong places, away from loved ones and away from the old and familiar.

At times like this, each one of us should willingly tap into the Fool within to be enlivened and invigorated. The Fool will allow us to laugh at ourselves, life itself and what is going on around us and even joke about the messages from the Ministry of Health.

 The Fool is infinitely inventive and entertaining: it becomes too busy enjoying the reality of life in the moment to waste energy grieving for order or meaning.

Some of you must have seen the funny videos circulating on You Tube and  WhatsApp. There was one video by the US- based South African comedian, Trevor Noah, comparing President Trump and President Amin Dada of Uganda in their own words. There was also another video by an American lady comedian making fun of President Trump’s idea of injecting patients with disinfectant to kill the COVID-19 Virus.

Such things help us to deal with the absurdities of this modern world especially during this first modern pandemic. The Fool tradition often provides a means to violate social norms in humourous ways and hence to avoid provoking undue hostility.  The Fool in us reminds us that life is sweet even at its worst moments. The Fool gives us resilience – the capacity to get up and try again. When there is too little Fool in our lives, we may become repressed, uptight, tired, bored, depressed or lacking in curiosity.

Well established cultural institutions like the Bugada Kingdom , have always kept a court jester or Fool to entertain the king and his guests. He had to be a keen observer,  had to have insight – to have the capacity to to make fun of the king or queen under the cover of humour and getting away with it.

 During this unprecedented period of uncertainty, let us all activate the Fool in our lives to sustain our zest for life, for sensual pleasures, ideas, experiences, even spiritual bliss. Do not worry much about breaking the rules ad getting in trouble for at this stage in your life; you have other experiences to keep you in check so you cannot be too “irresponsible”. You can safely play tricks on those around you as you explore the world around you out of innate curiosity, creating for the simple joy of creation and living life for its own sake.

Henry Ford once said: “Too many men are afraid of being fools.”

And Epictetus, the Greek philosopher said : “ If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

It is the Fool in us who gives us the space to express our  selves  in the world, not so much to transform as simply to give expression to who we are.

Question:

Has this post stimulated you into playing tricks on those around you and getting into mischief without provoking undue hostility? Then just do it for the fun of it.

DAY 21: WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY?

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines being happy as a state  of well-being and contentment.

Others define it as a state of being mentally and emotionally healthy.

In my late fifties, I thought that I needed less to be happy as compared to the period of 30-45 years so I began reading extensively about the science of happiness. I wanted to understand things better and then act better. The psychologists like Martin Seligan of USA who had done extensive work on this subject proved me wrong. He helped me understand that what makes one happy and content does not vary much with age but some of the contributing factors to life satisfaction may change over time. By this he meant that the value that one attaches to the three distinct elements of happiness changes over time.

The three distinct elements of happiness are:

  1. The pleasant life- having fun, joy and excitement in life. Having as many positive emotions as you can as you go through your day-to-day activities.
  2. The good life- achieved by identifying your unique skills and abilities and applying them to enhance your life and others. First and foremost, you have to know at a deeper level who you really are- your strengths and flaws, accept yourself and apply that knowledge to find the great story of your life. Secure in that knowledge, you are less likely to be confused  by the inessentials or be pulled down or be manipulated by others.
  3. The meaningful life- involves a deep sense of fulfillment that comes from using your talents to make a difference in the world. Living your genuine story makes you feel deeply satisfied and gives meaning to your life. No life no matter how successful and exciting might be will make you happy if it is not really your life and no life will make you miserable if it is genuinely your own.

The happiest people in the world tend to pursue a full life encompassing these three elements. They throw in a positive effect-focusing on their identified positive traits and virtues, optimism and being in the flow.

As a child, I found my happiness by being surrounded by loving and caring parents and people. I felt secure in their love and caring. I believed that they had the capacity to protect me from any harm or hurt.

As a teenager, that transitional period in one’s life when hormones  are raging through your body and yet the part of the brain that controls your emotions and  motivations is not fully developed. Like any other normal teenager, I had very little capacity to control my behavior, what mattered most to me was being accepted by my peers and having freedom and fun.

From 25 years of age, my brain had fully developed to direct my behavior to meet the challenges created by the environment.  Supported by my parents and teachers, I started taking on my adult responsibilities and found my satisfaction in:

  1.  Having strong healthy relationships with loved ones.
  2. Finding fulfillment from work- it pushed me to be more and do more.
  3. Satisfaction with physical health- exercises optimizes our brains ability to learn. It helps  you regulate your emotions.
  4. Happiness with my romantic relationship.
  5.  Content  with my personal growth
  6. Secure in spirituality or religion

Greater life satisfaction makes us feel happier and helps us to enjoy life more. It has a positive impact on our health and well being.

By the time I was 60, I had weathered many storms in life. I had come to fully understand that I was ‘No man on an Island’, I was interdependent on others. My journey through life is interwoven with the lives of my family members, friends and colleagues at work. What I do affects their lives and what they do affects mine too.

  Right now, I feel deeply satisfied with my life and continue to find more meaning to it. I no longer place much value on things and status like the young. Since life is essentially about relationships- the relationship with your God,  with yourself, with your family and with your friends and the other people around you, I place more value on God, family relationships and other genuine relationships  which give me  long term fulfillment.  They enrich myself and make me happier and content.

Kahlil Gibran, one of my favourite authors said: “To be able to look  back  upon one’s life  in satisfaction, is to live twice.”

This is what makes me happy :

1. I derive more joy and fulfillment by spending time with close family members and friends. I get a high and laugh like a child when I am in the company of friends whom I have known since the school days. We know each other so well that we can anticipate each other needs. I consider myself very blessed to have such high quality social relationships and strong social support networks.

In the two months of the COVID-19 pandemic Lockdown, I have not been able to see and touch my family and friends; I feel  as if a part of me is missing. During these two months my grandchild has started talking and walking. I have missed these important milestones.

The ‘feel good factors’ like oxytocin, the bonding hormone, are not flowing as they usually do. No wonder I often find myself stressed and feeling some body aches

2.Doing what I love and enjoy- It is relaxing to immerse myself in an interesting novel. It is also incredibly thrilling to lose myself into my creative writing. As I am doing what I love and enjoy, I effortlessly maintain concentration and focus, feel in control of the activity and time seems to be passing quickly. This what the psychologists call being in the flow.

Gardening also relaxes me. It challenges my brain as I figure out what to do with a stunted plant.

3.Spending time with myself- My “Me” time. It is part of my continuing quest to know and understand myself better. During this time , I endeavour to  nourish and care for my body, mind, heart and spirit.

         Mahatma Ghandi  once said : “Happiness is when  what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.”

Last but not least, we have always to remember that no one is completely happy all the time and that each one of us is responsible for creating her/his own happiness.  Every day, one has to make the choice of working towards being happy as one carries on the day-to day activities. It is lifetime work. Those around you can help to enhance that happiness. It is never lost on me that money is a tool to make your life comfortable but will not necessarily make you happy.

DAY 20: A CHILDHOOD MEMORY

Photo : courtesy of thetimesweekly.com

Carl Segan said: “ One of the greatest gifts adults can give to their offspring and to society is to read to children.”

As far as I can remember, we used to spend our long Christmas holidays  at our home in the village,  75 kilometres along the Kampala / Fort portal road.  Our home was built on a hundred acre mixed farm surrounded by rolling green hills. It was a big house, had a concrete tank at  each of the four corners, to harvest rain water, there were fruit trees everywhere; mangoes, avocado,  pawpaws, soursop, jack fruits, oranges and lemons.

We used a gas cooker to cook in the house and firewood in the outside kitchen. My young siblings and I and my mother enjoyed helping on the farm in the mornings, harvesting ripe coffee , cotton and maize. We could never have enough of the fresh passion fruits, pineapples and gooseberries. In the evenings we could go to the kraal watch the milking of the cows and carry some milk to the house.

The best part of our day was the time just before supper. Without any reminder, each one would quickly shower , change into clean clothing and gather in the sitting room.  We would sit closely together with our father- dressed simply in a white tunic and slippers, under the bright light of a spirit lamp.

Eyes wide with expectation and ears as long as dogs’ ears , we would listen attentively and intensely to our father as he told us numerous  Ganda  folklores. He would use stories to explain why maize was called Kasooli, a goat  – embuzi  and many other items. With simple, spellbinding eloquence, he would explain to us how Nambi, the first Ganda woman, brought sickness – Olumbe  to her own people. I would be fascinated by these stories and I would ask many questions for clarification. Some days we would read the Ladybird series of  books together. We also had a big, well illustrated book entitled The Holy Bible and You. He taught each one of us to read stories aloud to the others and to retell them after reading books . It was great fun that was only interrupted by the BBC World Service News at 8pm.

On other days, he would just teach us to recite our lineage in the Leopard-Ngo  clan and our specific jobs in the Kabaka’s palace. Those of the Ngo clan are the grandfathers of the Buganda kingdom so they never  do any manual labour. We just decorate the place where the Kabaka holds court and weave the traditional crown that is worn by the new Kabaka at his Coronation.

I have known this since the age of six and I do not think that it has changed in any way. Actually, I remember in July 1993 just before the coronation of  Ssabataka  Ronald Muwenda  Mutebi 11 as the 36th Kabaka of Buganda at the traditional site at Naggalabi near Buddo, my cousin, Robert, who was by then the Katikkiro of our clan was on tenterhooks until  some old men had hunted a leopard whose skin was to be used with the throne. A new Kabaka has to use a new leopard skin as a carpet.

My father also taught us to write legibly but writing Luganda has never been easy for me.When I close my eyes now, I can see my father and us engaged fully in a conversation about a book or a story. Later in adulthood, we would discuss the news and books written  by African Writers like Chinua Achebe, Ngugi  wa Thiong’o , David Rubadiri and short stories written by Ugandan writers  like Erisa Kironde.

The most interesting story that our father told us was about him- how for five years he walked barefooted to the most prestigious boys’ school of the time: Kings College Buddo.  This school was opened  in 1906 by the Church Missionary Society of Britain to educate the princes and sons of the chiefs in Buganda. It is located about eighty kilometres from my father’s parents’ home.

My father would take three days to get  to the school. Before setting off, his father and mother and him would meticulously plan for the three days journey. Each night he would stay with a known relative along the road. His mother would pack roasted sweet plantains and groundnuts as a snack to be eaten along the way. He was expected to be where he had to be on a particular night. He was doing all that in the quest for knowledge. We would excitedly ask many questions about his journey and beg him to tell the story over and over again. He enjoyed himself in our company and used it as an opportunity to motivate us to work hard and smart at school for a better future.

By then I was in a boarding school at Gayaza High School. My father’s story taught me to value education and admire its power to change one’s life. After Kings College Buddo, my father had gone on to get a top job as a clerk in the Resident’s  office  of the British Protectorate in Kampala. Later, he held positions of great responsibility in both Buganda and Uganda government.

By hearing and understanding his unique story, I shed off the sense of entitlement, I stopped getting irritated when the driver came late to pick us at the end of each term. I willed myself to become an all round student academics, sports, just as my father had done. He had been the top student at the entrance interview and the best at graduation. The white headmaster had selected him to stay and teach at Kings College Buddo  as part of the staff development programme but he did not want to become a teacher.

Later , when I read the story of some of the pioneer students who attended Kings College Buddo  from the Kyigezi region about 430 kilometres  southwest of Kampala, my father’s three days trek to Buddo hill seemed like a walk in the park. They took a minimum of two weeks to walk to Buddo!

They had also gone on to become the architects and managers of Uganda’s expanding civil service. They also educated their children at Kings College Buddo  and Gayaza High school.

About forty years after the regular story telling by the spirit lamp, my daughter would fly from Botswana through Johannesburg  to the University of Cape Town, South Africa. On many occasions, I could hear my father telling us his story. I would always appreciate how education had changed his life and later ours and now those of his grandchildren. Each generation has gone on to stretch the limits as they try to offer the best available education to their children.

We are because our father was.

Nelson Mandela, the first president of a free South Africa and one of the great icons of the 20th century, never underestimated the power of education. He said : “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

The time I spent helping on the farm , reading and story-telling in the evenings,  taught me how to work with  my hands and brain and have the heart to be human- compassionate , engaging  in the world around me fully. I was given a priceless gift.

I became a voracious reader; reading for pleasure, reading to study and reading to explore things. By the age of twenty five years, I had become a global citizen at the price of a novel! This was long before the invention of the Internet – which shrank the world to a global village!

I can never thank my father enough, for starting me on this adventurous journey of a lifetime.  My school which had a big library always made me feel like a kid in a candy store. They say that a book is a gift you can open again and again.

By writing short stories and fiction novels , I am continuing the tradition that my father started in my childhood. Yes, I told stories to my own children and have continued to this day. I cannot wait to tell them to my grandchildren.

As a medical doctor I use facts and information to answer many people’s questions and through my own experiences I help people improve their own lives.

During this almost two months COVID-19 pandemic Lockdown,  I entertain myself and keep going strong without falling into despair by devouring novels , writing short stories and polishing some manuscripts.

“There is no substitute for books  in the life of a child.”-  May Ellen Chase

“The greatest gift is a passion for reading.”– Elizabeth Hardwick

QUESTION: Did you develop the culture of reading early on in your childhood?

How has it contributed to who you are today?

Are you passing on this useful culture to your children and other members of your community?