EMBRACING MY AGE

This photograph was taken on 24/08/1968
This photograph was taken on 24/08/2018.

Louise Hay once said, “Know that you are at the perfect age. Each year is special and precious, for you shall only live it once. Be comfortable with growing older.”

Last Wednesday, I visited my regular supermarket to stock up on my monthly grocery items. I took longer than usual not because the place was full of shoppers but just because the items I buy are imported from several countries. I spend more time checking the labels on the packaged foods than in buying them. In my commitment to eat healthier foods, I check out the fat content of the milk, yogurts, cheese and the mono-unsaturated fats in the different types of Olive oil on the shelves. I do a lot of walking between the shelves looking for wholegrain bread, brown rice, lentils, fresh tilapia fish, fresh local fruits like pineapples, mangoes, oranges, watermelon and leafy vegetables. For more than three decades, I have focused on eating to be healthy so that I can build and maintain a healthy body, stay energized and get the nutrients I need for proper body function.

 I know very well that if I want to live a good quality of life in old age, I have to engage in physical exercise every day, eat  a well- balanced healthy diet and honour the regular medical checkups  with my doctor. The old adage, “Prevention is better than cure,” holds true today, more so in this digital technology- driven and era of huge scientific advancement. 

World Health Organisation(WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. I have to maintain the enriching relationships that I have established over the years. They form an essential element of my Social Wellbeing.

Later in the day, I was required to send some old photographs to one of my childhood friends to include in the Thanksgiving Service  booklet for her mother. Long before the invention of the Digital camera and the Smartphone, I used to be a keen amateur photographer so I have a big collection of photograph albums. I spent some time scrolling through them,  I was reminded that I had been taking official photographs on my birthday since I was that little sweet sixteen girl! As you have guessed it, I have a catalogue of such photographs. Little wonder then that I got so wrapped up in these photographs that I forgot why I had opened up the albums in the first place. I looked at each photograph carefully as fond memories flooded in. I could see how my face and body had changed over the years. Having taken each photograph on my birthday , I noted that I was relaxed and calm. It turned out that they were all great photographs communicating the joy within. They went from a simple genuine smile to a wide grin, capturing moments of true joy.

The most recent one taken last year in August , showed that the once plump lower face had grown small as the jaw bone grew smaller making the forehead, the nose  become more pronounced. The lips were becoming thinner and a few permanent wrinkles had developed round the corners of the mouth. However, the eyebrows and eyelashes had not yet gone grey and the eyelids were not drooping.

I was thrilled and excited that despite the years, the eyes had remained sparkling , conveying happiness and confidence. The confidence had come with age and endowed me with more beauty!

William Wordsworth said, “The wiser mind mourns less for what age has taken away than what it leaves behind.”

Franz Kafka said that: “Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”

My experience in the supermarket and now this treasure trove of photographs got me thinking about growing old and other major life changes.

Undoubtedly, change is an integral part of life and therefore inevitable. The world around us is constantly changing though most of us prefer to cling on to the old and familiar. The psychologists tell us that most of us fear change just because we want to have control over the future. We tend to demand for certainty in a world of uncertainty. This is what creates anxiety and stress in us. Dr. Elliot D. Cohen, PhD,  a psychologist and critical thinker advises each one of us to strive to find a comfortable place between  blind fearlessness and cowardice – not being too afraid and  not being afraid enough. It is the only thing that will keep each one of us balanced and relaxed.

For the young ones, they have to be reminded that the present affects their future; today’s choices will create their tomorrows. They need to acquire more knowledge and skills to help them accept responsibility for the choices they make about the future. They still have the power to control their desires, hopes and wishes but have to be reminded that external things like approval of others and guaranteed success are not in their control. Making informed choices will give them some degree of freedom over their future.

As for the likes of us, the senior citizens, we need to keep ourselves busy doing what we love and reading  more to understand the changes going on in our bodies and in the world around us. We have to keep ourselves relevant and useful. We can do this by  using our knowledge, skills and experiences to serve others , to mentor the young and help them to achieve their goals and full potential.

We have to summon the courage to face the uncertainty of the future other than cave in to the fear of uncertainty. According to the psychologists, we can age gracefully by embracing our age then keep moving forward happily and remaining optimistic that we still have a lot to offer to the world.

Embracing the natural process of ageing has its rewards: feeling energetic and youthful internally.

Many times in the past, I have asked myself  why I should  fear what is inevitable instead of accepting death and allowing it to guide me through life  for the rest of my life . When we are still young , we tend to be guided through life by our ambitions, success and achievements.  By middle age, most of us have come to accept our mortality so we start focusing on being good, wise and generous human beings.

 Being led through life by death, has  proved extremely liberating to me; humbled and grateful and endowed with the wisdom and hindsight of old age,  I have been able to live a relatively relaxed , happier and meaningful life. I wake up each morning filled with gratitude and ready to take on the day’s adventure.

Jackie Joyner- Kersee, a 1988 American Olympic  medalist, once said,  “ Age is no barrier. It’s a limitation you put on your mind.”

Sophia Loren’s quote about ageing made me extremely comfortable with growing older. She said, ” There is a fountain of youth : it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of those you love. When you learn to tap its source, you will truly have defeated age.”

I can’t wait to celebrate my next birthday and to pause for the next official birthday photograph.

Question:  Have you yet embraced who you are?

                     Are you proud of it?

GIVING YOUR BEST

The photograph is from Unsplash.com
The onetime Professor and head of the Blue Firm left the ladder leaning against a solid wall for others to climb up.

   Last Sunday , I was among the group of medical doctors who were given the privilege to  join Mr. George Kamya, an Emeritus Professor of Surgery of Makerere University College of Health Sciences ,celebrate his 94 th birthday at his home in Kololo, Kampala.

I had not seen him for more than twenty years but I was amazed at how robust he was. He was full of life , very alert and relaxed. All you needed was to introduce yourself to him and then he would say a word or two indicating that he had recognized and remembered you. Apart from losing the use of his legs, I would say that he has changed very little in the time I have been away. He felt comfortable with his wife of many years seated beside him. It was a real celebration of his long, rich life. A worship service followed by a few speeches and the traditional African lunch of plantains, millet, rice ,chapatti, sweet potatoes, sweet plantains, yams served with beef and chicken stews, groundnut sauce, a variety of local vegetables and a variety of fresh fruits like pineapples, water melon and mangoes.

The ambient atmosphere reminded me of my teachers, mentors and sponsors .

My favourite author, Kahlil Gibran(1883-1931) , the  Lebanese- American artist, poet and philosopher said: “You give but little when you you give of your posessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

This nonagenarian has lived a professional and exemplary ethical life:  many years ago, he had mastered the art of balancing family responsibility and serving his country as a surgeon. He gave a part of himself to all of us who passed through his hands as undergraduates and post graduates. He was a pillar of strength, support and discipline. He intentionally picked those with great potential and encouraged them  and showed them how to become  noble surgeons. He invested in them and they responded because they wanted to be like him and  to make a difference in their communities.

  Among the crop was my late husband, the first Ugandan woman surgeon, Dr Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe. She later went on to become Uganda’s first woman Vice President( 1994-2003). For over fifty years, he left fingerprints on those he worked with and indelible footprints where he passed for others to follow and create their own stories.

  The Association of Surgeons of Uganda is a vibrant one where women are visible as general surgeons , neurosurgeons, urologists, plastic surgeons and pediatric surgeons. Its members are also active members of  COSECSA- the College of Surgeons of East and Central and Southern Africa.

Jim Rohn (1930-2009) an American entrepreneur and author said: ” All good men and women must take responsibility to create legacies that will take the next generation to a level we could only imagine.”

And Shannon L. Alder , an inspirational author said: “ Carve your names on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”

Most of us remember how he created his own brand, success and managed and protected it on what came to be known as his ward up to today: ward 2A, the Blue firm ,of the New Mulago Teaching Hospital .

He always acted with honour and truthfulness and his patients always came first. He paid strict attention to detail and time. He was positive, had strong self-esteem, was patient with himself and others  and kept learning. He stood up for his values and spoke against unethical behavior. He lived his values in relationships with  the co-workers and patients. He created his life out of the truth of his soul and what he was taught by his parents, teachers and life itself.

He helped to create a culture of teamwork, inclusiveness and reward and recognition for great performance. Each member felt a sense of belonging to something bigger than herself/himself, worked with integrity and was empowered to explore. Things ran like clock –work whether the seniors were present or not. Responsibility and accountability were their badges of honour.

He retired officially in 2000 but those he mentored have been able to lead and carry on his work with enthusiasm.

Over the years, as I interacted with him, I came to respect and admire him for his wealth of knowledge, skills, experiences and his passion to share it with the young generation but more for his humility and easy demeanor. No task was either too big or too small for him to perform. He performed them all with a smile.

The psychologists always help us to understand why human beings think, feel and behave as they do .As soon as this seasoned surgeon came to know who he truly was, he became secure in it to become a professional of the world while at the same time opening himself up to learn from others. He knew who he was and appreciated that he was a human being who had strengths and flaws. He learned to tolerate others , lifted the weak up while pushing the strong ones  higher up the ladder of success. He left the ladder leaning against a solid wall for others to climb up as he did.

I pray he lives for more years to take the credit for all those whom he has created through mentoring, sponsoring along with his own family. His legacy lives on through them.

 All in all, I was glad I had been part of the celebration of  a man who did the best he could with what he had  and became all that he could be. Amazingly, he never stopped at creating himself, he helped others create themselves too. As they say, what you gladly give away comes back to you multiplied many times over.

Writing this post has challenged me whether I know for sure that each day I live, I am writing my own legacy and on how I have been able to empower others to succeed.

QUESTION:

After creating your own life , how have you facilitated the young generation to create their own lives too?

THE POWER OF THE COLLECTIVE

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Each one of us is born as an individual and dies as an individual. In between these two stages, one has to live effectively and leave the world a better place than he/she found it. None of us can produce her/his best work alone; you need others to teach you, mentor you, and sponsor you and friends to encourage you. Many old age adages, proverbs and quotations attest to this. Among them are:

Two heads are better than one.

Iron sharpens iron.

None of us is as smart as all of us. By Kenwood Blanchard

John Donne’s poem: No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main………………

One local proverb loosely translated says: You need a functional set of teeth to chew the meat.

Former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan: Yes we can.

Even the members of a cabinet in a democratic country bear collective responsibility for decisions made in the cabinet.

In this Digital era, where the internet has become an integral part of our lives, one needs to check out and belong to at least two groups of like-minded people working towards a common goal. You may call it a Tribe or a Community but your combined efforts motivate and energise  your Community to participate fully and create change in Society.

Henry Ford once said,“Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress and working together is success.”

My late father always advised me to belong to something bigger than myself if I were to realize my full potential. It was not until many years later that I understood what he had meant: It all had to do with synergy-The creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.

Now it is absolutely clear to me after reading Ash Hoehn’s They told me there is no “I” in the Team .

He says that when he became the team the team became him. The team absorbs “I”………

When the “I” is absorbed then he becomes part of something much more powerful.

 This also reminded me that in any chain link fencing, I can be as strong as the strongest and as weak as the weakest.

In a Kindergarten, children are taught to hold hands and stick together in preparation for how they will later live their lives.

In the wild, a pack of the African Wild dogs also known as the Cape dogs, are the best examples of team work or joint efforts.  A pack of twenty of them or more lives together, hunts together, eats together. They are very good communicators and among the most efficient hunters.Little wonder then that they always flourish wherever they are.

I have been around for a while and the best example of team work that comes to my mind is the organization of the Cooperative movement in my home country, Uganda.By the late 60’s this movement was at its peak and most farmers belonged to a cooperative society in their district. They grew cash crops like coffee and bought it, sold it together and bargained together with the government of the day for best price possible.

These farmers grew very rich; sent their children to the best schools in the country and some of them to universities abroad, built modern homes and bought lorries to transport the coffee and personal family cars. Farmers have never been that rich.It was all the result of the power of collective action. Later, during the 1979 Liberation War, the Wakombozi of the Tanzanian Defence Forces mistook many of those big houses for government offices where soldiers of the then Uganda Army (enemy of the people) could be hiding. Many such houses were bombed for this reason.

Who can forget the thousands of women textile workers of the Russian Empire who organized marches that ended in the overthrow of the Tsar in March 1917? They spearheaded the 1917 Revolution!

And in today’s well connected world, the youths of France organized through the Social Media, developed increased political interest. They engaged in the general election of May 2017 and ended up changing the political landscape. Later in June, the youths of Britain actively participated in the general election causing a huge upset in the results.

In December 2018, the military government of Sudan cut subsidies on basic goods like bread and fuel. The Middle-class professionals – doctors, health workers and lawyers, got together under their umbrella organisation, The Sudanese Professional Association(SPA) and organized demonstrations that culminated in the overthrow of President Omar al- Bashir on the 11th April 2019.Since then, they are struggling to work  towards forming a civilian –led transition government.

 It won’t be surprising to us if similar events occurred in other countries.

Today, worldwide, we have many challenges like extreme climatic changes, deforestation, youth unemployment and Substance Abuse, the best way we can develop locally appropriate solutions which we can own is by working together like the Cape wild dogs.

The Kenyans have a proverb that says: Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.

Working together, we can help to build and improve our communities.

QUESTION:

Are you a member of any like-minded group of people striving to give back to the community and aiming at leaving the community better than they found it?



THE POWER OF A CONVERSATION

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The Merriam- Webster dictionary defines a conversation as an oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions and ideas between two or more people. When nothing is discussed, it is simple talk.

When you hold a conversation with someone, you express your thoughts, ideas and beliefs about the matter at hand. This demonstrates the power of the mind over us. This is why we are most times warned  about being  careful   of what we think. What we think determines our actions and shapes our lives.

Mahatma Gandhi ( 1869-1948),  an Indian activist, lawyer ,and politician expressed it eloquently in this quote;

“Your beliefs become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.

Man is a social animal that craves for acceptance, affirmation, and approval to thrive. If he has to be accepted or approved , he has to communicate with other human beings and form relationships. Life is essentially  about relationships, a relationship with your God, with yourself,  with your family and friends and other people.

Communication by the spoken words, conversation or discussion is the bedrock of all our relationships. A simple conversation requires two people who talk and listen to one another. As each one communicates, he/she puts her/his needs, wants and desires across. Each one has different communication needs and style but how the two communicate to each other determines whether the relationship lives or dies. The communication has to be open and honest to benefit the two people concerned.

Without effective communication, unwanted problems arise and small ones grow bigger. When you talk about something honestly and effectively, most times you find a solution to the problem. Open and honest communication builds trust and respect.

My grandmother used to warn me during my teenage years that what I did not talk about had the power to  enslaves me. Not talking about a problem hurts me and will also hurt the relationship. It takes two to tango so the two people in the relationship contribute to its health or misery.

 You talk about the good, the bad and the weaknesses with the aim of making the relationship better for the two of you.

The other most important element of a good conversation is listening to one another. Talking and listening are two sides of the same coin. It is essential if the two people or more are to communicate effectively and understand one another. Everyone wants to be listened to, to hear her side of story.

One local proverb loosely translated says: You cannot pass judgment in an argument involving your son and daughter-in-law until you have listened to the daughter-in-law’s story.

  For doctors, psychotherapists, teachers, lawyers, journalists, listening is considered as a professional discipline. Not only do you listen to understand but you also listen to figure out what important narrative elements are being left out.

The psychologist Theodor Reik ( 1888- 1965) one of Freud’s first student in Vienna, Austria,  coined the phrase: Listening with a third ear. What he meant was that in a conversation you listen to hear and understand and then go beyond this to decipher the deeper emotional meaning being conveyed by the speaker. Listening by the third ear helps to detect unstated needs in a relationship that may have to be addressed. It helps the listener to think deeper and then give a useful response. It also teaches the listener to listen to her/his inner feelings thus awakening a deep understanding of things. Doing this consistently, makes you a better listener.I for one sometimes find myself closing  off in a conversation and then I remember  the first two lines

 of Max Ehrmann ‘s prose poem of the early 1920s entitled,  “Desiderata”- Things desired.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,

and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible , without surrender, be on

on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,

even to the dull and ignorant, they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,  they…………………………………………………….

These lines help me to collect my thoughts, refocus on what is being said and be considerate.

I have trained myself to listen to others as we talk and many times it has helped me understand clearly the issues at hand and the speaker. Understanding one another helps to change our attitude, to forgive one another and to love and trust one another better. Being considerate to one another and loving and trusting one another never allows us to hurt each other but instead we protect one another. Nobody wants problems.

We are all human therefore not perfect. Perfection is for God only. Effective communication has saved marriages, stopped unnecessary wars, brought factions back to the centre, and tamed difficult situations.

This is the power of a conversation.

Clay Shirky said, “When we change the way we communicate, we change society.”

QUESTION:

How easy is it for you to talk and listen to others?


THIS IS WHAT I HAVE BEEN READING LATELY


I have been an avid reader as far as I can remember and then six years ago I recognized that I had potential for a writer. Reading books made me a citizen of the world long before Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn invented the global free Internet. Reading nourishes my soul and helps me to develop into a better person. In my attempt to become a remarkable writer, I have found myself focusing more on writing other than reading. It is not lost on me that all good writers are avid readers. A writer has to read, read and write to stay well informed, be relevant and remain useful to herself and to her readers. The writer’s creative works are works in progress. I write short stories, fiction novels and posts for my personal blog mainly to express what is beautiful and significant in my life.

As I read and write, I strive to find the truth, seek more knowledge, let go of illusions and false hopes. The more I read and write, the better I become as a writer. I am proud to admit that reading and writing are in my DNA. Whenever I take long to read a book, I feel as if there is something as essential as a Vitamin missing and I start craving for it.
This is what I have been reading lately:

  1. BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah. This is the autobiography of Trevor Noah, the South African comedian who moved to USA in 2011 and has been hosting The Daily Show on the American network Comedy Central since September 2015.The book is a in itself a comedy.
    It is an interesting read in that it tells you what it was like to be born in Apartheid South Africa and grow up in the post-Apartheid Republic. His existence as a mixed race child was a crime since he was born to a white Swiss-German father and a Xhosa mother. He neither fitted in his grandparent’s family in Soweto nor in the school in the white suburbs of north Johannesburg that he attended.

For anyone who has never understood what Apartheid stood for, you will see it face to face and even taste it. You will also understand how the hopes and dreams that the Black Africans expected to follow in the new democratic South Africa after April 1994 were shattered. The majority of Africans in Johannesburg and elsewhere still live in abject poverty and this drives the crime and violence in the country. However, there is an oasis of “ les nouveaux riches “, the affluent blacks, right in Johannesburg itself.

I take off my hat to Trevor’s mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo,for fighting against all the odds stacked against her to give her son quality education and being his solid pillar of strength. It is because of her determination, insight and love that Trevor is the host of a popular television show in USA. Every child needs a ‘ mother Nombuyiselo” to break the vicious cycle of poverty.

2.LIFE CODE by Dr. Phil McGraw- The New Rules For Winning In The Real World.
Many of us remember this psychologist on Oprah Winfrey’s Talk Show but later he went on to host his own Show: Dr. Phil Show. In Life Code, Dr.Phil is coaching you and your children on how to survive and thrive around the negative people , he calls BAITERs. These are Backstabbers, Abusers, Imposters, Takers, Exploiters, Reckless operating in the new digital technology –driven world. Much of the conventional wisdom of the last generation is no longer applicable in this fast moving world. We all have to learn fast and move fast so as to win and even keep what we have worked hard for.

In this competitive world, we are surrounded by many bad people who are only interested in self-preservation. My greatest pick from this book is that everything in life is a negotiation and therefore I have to master the art of negotiation to thrive in the real world. I first read this book in 2016 and have endeavored to read it many times over. Since then, I have had to encourage myself to learn how to haggle, bargain and to become tough and smart.

Learning to negotiate for my best interests protects me from becoming a victim in this radically changed world. I cannot afford to be soft in a tough world. He helped me understand that I have to negotiate every day of my life so I have to stand for myself and that negotiation is not about cheating but about give-and-take. I can win when I start off by knowing what I want for myself and then what the other on wants. He has succeeded in instilling it in me that Life changes every day, demanding renegotiation in many situations.

I would recommend the young and the old to read this book many times over as you run the marathon of life while focused on getting to the end.

3.CHERIE BLAIR. Speaking for Myself. This is the autobiography of Mrs. Blair, the wife of Tony Blair, a former Prime Minister of Britain( 1997-2007 ).She rises from a childhood in working –class Liverpool, where she was abandoned by her father, to become a barrister, a mother of four and a supporter of many charities. She becomes a positive role model for many women.

By the time her husband becomes Prime Minister, she is a successful barrister in her own right, speaking for the voiceless majority. Many career women would relate to her as she juggles motherhood, a career and supporting her husband to govern.

The establishment had never had to work with a prime minister’s wife who had her own career. This created a difficult relationship between her and the media. I loved it whenever she put her foot down when she felt that she was doing the right thing for herself and her family. Over time, it dawned on her that she was not going to be Super Woman- doing everything. She chose to focus on her most important roles of being a wife, mother and the most solid pillar of support for her husband. Her religion and sense of humour saw her through many dicey situations.

Many times, her opinion or advice were disregarded just because she was a woman. She gave herself permission not to remain anonymous like the majority of wives of the civil servants in UK. She created a role for herself and made herself useful by getting involved in the work of many charities like Breast Cancer Care and Nazareth Home, an HIV/AIDS orphanage in South Africa. She was part of the team for the Olympic bid for London in 2012. She exploited her position and influence to make a difference to many lives.
She organized the wives of the former British Prime ministers to write their experiences in Number 10 Downing Street. Later,these memoirs were compiled and published as The Goldfish Bowl book.

I saluted her for acknowledging that her success with her multiple roles in Number 10 Downing Street, was the collective effort of her hands-on husband and father, her mother, those who ran the place and her law practice. As an advocate who speaks out for others to improve, influence and stir people into action, she continues to be a good role model for girls and women alike.

QUESTIONS
Which books have you been reading lately? How have they influenced your life?

THE NATURAL BORN ANIMAL LOVER

Aunt Lena with her friends.

Uganda has only one centre for the Prevention of Cruelty To Animals – USPCA. It was founded in 1996 to promote animal welfare and support animals who cannot support themselves. It depends entirely on the generosity of the people. It is located in Mbuya , Kampala. It shelters more than 200 dogs, cats and puppies and kittens awaiting adoption. You can learn more about this organisation on their website uganda-spca.org.
In a country where the majority of the population are struggling for their own survival, adopting a pet is an unlikely option. However, there is one animal lover whom I have known since the 1960s. She is a teacher by the names of Adelina Lubogo. To her family and her catalogue of friends she is simply known as Aunt Lena.

For all the time I have known her, she has never had less than five dogs and two cats in her home! Recently I learned that things have remained the same in her home in the twenty two years I have been away in economic exile.
Maya Angelou said: “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
Jesus taught us that it is always more blessing to give than to receive.

I had not seen Aunt Lena since the beginning of the year so last month I made it a point to check on her. She came down to open the metallic gate for me and there- lo and behold! – She was followed by five dogs of different breeds, size and colour and a cat. After a giving me a bear’s hug, she led me into the house. Over fresh hibiscus juice and graviola(soursop) fruit juice ; all fruits from her garden behind the kitchen, we caught up on each other’s lives. Her only son left home for university decades ago and settled in USA so Aunt Lena lives with a helper. At 82 she is still vibrant and energetic and prepares everything herself that she serves to her visitors. She finally sat down to share the juices and sweet plantains chips with me while her family of dogs watched like eagles over us.

“Aunt Lena, I’m surprised that you only have these few,” I said, smiling.
She laughed, “They could be more but now age is catching up with me, I’m learning to restrain myself. I used to find it terribly hard to say no but slowly and surely, I’m getting there.”
“There must be a Snowy among these,”I said, reaching out for more chips.
“Yes, indeed. That white one with long hairs,” she said, pointing to it. Believe or not, each dog except Snowy has a long story behind her or him.”
We exchanged knowing smiles.
I poured myself more of the rare delicious, fresh graviola fruit juice and listened intently.

I’m starting with that Maltese poodle seated near the door to dare anyone coming in here.
A relative of mine brought it here almost three years ago. It was a small, unruly dog but it’s now one of the most well-behaved dogs that I ‘ve ever cared for. When the young man brought it here he had smiled and told me that he had something small for me. I had no idea about what he was talking about until he opened the spacious car boot. I peeped and saw a frightened small dog on a leash.

He had gone on to tell me that for two days he had passed by one trading centre and seen men throwing stones at the small dog. On the second day, he had stopped and asked those men why they were being unkind to the dog. They had told him that it was bothering them as it looked for food. They did not know its owner. He had driven to the nearest supermarket and bought a leash so that he could rescue the dog. He had driven straight here knowing very well that I would give the poodle a loving home. Since then it has become my best keeper and friend.

There is a black sausage dog(dachshund) that was given to me by my nephew’s eleven year-old daughter. Her dog had two puppies. She chose to keep one and bring the other one to me with a lot of love.That small black one is a recent acquisition. Three months ago I was in a queue at a supermarket talking to a friend. She was consoling me after I had lost one of my old faithfuls.

Three days later when I went back to pick some grocery items, the manager had appeared from behind and greeted me with a big smile.
“I understand you lost one of your dogs. If you don’t mind, I have a puppy for you.’’ He had disappeared behind the tills and came back with a puppy in a box. I was caught off guard but was happy to get a replacement.

This reminded me of what my other nephew, now a seasoned lawyer, had done in the early 1970s. Their neighbour had moved away but left his old cat behind. The cat made it a habit to go to their house to look for food. The mother would leave food and water for it on the veranda. The nephew had pleaded with his mother to adopt the cat. It proved difficult since the nephew suffered from bad Asthma.
“If we can’t keep it, then I know the right place for it. Let us take it to Aunt Lena,” the nephew had made the recommendation with a sense of warmth and pleasure.

Amazingly, that is how it has been to this day; my home has been a shelter for stray cats, rescued dogs and extra puppies. One time a Snowy had suckled two kittens picked from the neighbourhood. I took some good photos of this natural nurturing instinct unfortunately my camera was stolen at a party.This was long before the invention of the digital phone camera. I have many more stories to tell of my friends, it may take the whole day!”She concluded with a hearty laugh.

“What do you get out of this hands on care?” I asked.
“Ever since I can remember, caring for animals and gardening have given me a normal life outside work. I treat my pets as friends and they return love and loyalty to me.”

I felt privileged to know this amazing woman. She is loving, selfless and has a big heart. She has many caring friends, she spends one day in the week at the Centre for the Disabled teaching the children Art and bead work and she is a natural animal lover. No wonder she is still energetic and vibrant at her age.

Later at home, I read about the psychology behind loving animals and being concerned about people. It helped me understand Aunt Lena better. She must have been given so much love and care in her childhood that she learned to be kind to herself and then go out to love other people and animals.

Caring for people and animals is the highest expression of her compassion. With a deep well of love in her heart, she can give without maiming herself. She must have felt secure with her parents to develop her own identity and establish her own boundaries. She loves and accepts others without breaking her boundaries and losing her identity.

Talking to her, she indicated that she was more than willing to give and love until she breathed her last. She is an incredible woman!
Thank you, Aunt Lena, for teaching us to love and care for ourselves, other people and animals and to assert ourselves. We are the richer for knowing you.
The famous Anne Frank said: “No one has ever become poor by giving.’’
And Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Writing this post has got me thinking that if each one of us worked brilliantly at her/his small part that fits into the big picture, we would make the world a better place.

I am curious:
What are you doing in your community to make other people’s lives better or make them feel that they matter?
Are you an animal lover? Has this post stirred you into adopting a dog or cat or supporting the Uganda Society for The Protection and Care of Animals?

The Brain Function: Use It Or Lose It

This is a sequel to my last post entitled: Use It Or Lose It. Brain function is one of those things that deteriorate as one grows old. Watching my octogenarian mother struggle to play with the Rubik cube box , requiring skill and determination, made me think more about the age-related deterioration of brain function.

One renown expert , Dr. Michael Merzenich Ph.D. of Scientific Learning Corporation in Oakland , California has made numerous studies in brain function. He tells us that this age-related functional decline can be reversed or be slowed down by engaging into mentally demanding activities. The mentally demanding activities include reading, solving hard crossword puzzles and playing brain games. They stimulate and challenge the brain unlike the simple mundane ones like walking to the neighbour’s or performing any task routinely.

He also informs us that by the age of 40, most of us are largely using the abilities we acquired early in life. We could be said to be operating in ‘automated pilot’ mode. We are doing things without being consciously engaged in what we are doing. As a result, gradually the brain function begins to slowly deteriorate. We become slow in action and slow in making decisions.

He reassures that we can reverse this functional decline by appropriate stimulation of the brain with new challenges. He therefore recommends that each one of us should engage in new learning all our lives by picking new hobbies or learning new skills altogether. After the age of fifty, it is essential that we maintain and improve brain function simply by keeping it mentally active. An active brain is a healthy brain. We do not have to wait to grow old to start playing the recommended mentally demanding activities; the earlier we start the better.
Proverbs 19 verse 27 warns us that : If you stop learning, you will forget what you already know.

I for one have started seeing the changes in bits and pieces: how fast I remember names, how fast I make decisions but have found the following activities extremely useful:
• Reading- I have been a voracious reader since the age of six. I read for fun then read for knowledge.
As a medical doctor I read a lot to acquire new knowledge, to remember what I already know but in my leisure time I read for fun. The Internet has increased access to reading materials to many of us.

I also make time to read my Bible every morning.
I can say that this is the best time to be an avid reader. Reading helps me to concentrate, and engages my brain fully as I follow the characters through the story. It also improves my fluency in the language.

• Writing- I would have cheated the literary world if I just read others’ books or blogs all this long.
I had to contribute to something which has given me so much joy and knowledge. I have published two fiction novels, several short stories and I am working on several of them at the moment. I have been running a personal blog since October 2016. I wanted to share my wealth of experiences and impact other people’s lives for the better.

I always research what I write about so this opens me up for more reading and acquisition of knowledge. I have made lifelong learning a priority.Posting articles regularly on my personal blog teaches me the discipline of remaining consistent.
As I write, I am fully engaged and my mind is taken off everyday worries. I am alone with myself so it helps me to decompress and unwind too.

• Crossword Puzzles- I usually solve the crossword puzzles in the daily newspapers that I read and those in the magazines I buy regularly. I have been doing this for a long time but while researching about crosswords I noted with great interest that the first crossword puzzle was published in the New York World newspaper in December 1913!

As I try to solve the puzzle, I am fully engaged and focused on what I am doing. The hardest puzzles are the most engaging and challenging. Completing such a crossword puzzle gives me a sense of satisfaction. The feeling causes the brain to release the ‘feel good factor’ known as Dopamine , in several areas in the brain. It is the Dopamine which makes us happy and motivated as we go through life. Small jobs and achievements throughout the week naturally keep up my Dopamine levels. Low levels of Dopamine are associated with feelings of apathy, depression and low energy.

Of late I am trying to solve the number game called SUDOKU. It is hard but it exercises my brain immensely and has improved my memory and my number skills.

Dr. Merzenich‘s team of top scientists has developed some brain games to improve the brain function. You can look them up at BrainHQ. Playing them regularly sharpens the brain and as a result you think faster, focus better and remember more. Who would not want to remember more? I am at the beginner’s level but just like any learned skill, the more you practice, the better you become.

Next time I have a full house, I will dust off Chess , the board game. It is an engaging game that demands total concentration and intense focus. It tests your memory too.
Mark Twain said: “When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not.’’
And Thomas Fuller said: “We all forget, more than we remember.”

QUESTIONS:
How fast are you at making decisions or remembering things?

Has this post fired you up to pick some mentally challenging games like Chess?