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.”

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?

Uganda Blogging Community 21 Days Challenge

DAY 13: 20 Minutes With a Celebrity. Who and Why?

Organically-grown tomatoes

Since my return home, I have had to add many new words to my vocabulary but at the same time, I have lost the true meaning of some words like “a celebrity”. I am therefore seeking permission to tweak today’s challenge to:  One Ugandan I would want to spend half a day with and Why.

You have guessed it; it is a “she”, because I am a great supporter of female empowerment.

She is forty years old, full of energy, is driven, innovative, creative and keen to pass on her knowledge and skills to the young. She is a typical Ugandan professional woman, juggling family, motherhood and a career and yet remains a down -to -earth person. For me, she is an ordinary woman who does extraordinary things and she has come to represent the young face of a successful farmer.

Uganda is predominantly an agricultural country with 70% of the population depending on subsistence agriculture in the rural areas and struggling to earn enough to live on from it. Available information shows that the average face of the Ugandan farmer is 52 years and for many years we all believed that one needed to farm a large area to be a successful farmer.

I applaud Dr. Emma Naluyima a Veterinary doctor, Researcher and farmer, of Bwerenga village , Entebbe, Uganda,for dispelling these myths. She is married and is a mother of three. I had a chance encounter with her at a family gathering at her father’s place and I was blown away. She is practicing modern farming on just a one acre of land; the one acre of land was given to her by her father.

She cleared the bush, started a piggery with three female pigs and one boar. She is now laughing all the way to the bank! In ten years, she has grown from strength to strength. She has a piggery, poultry unit and a few dairy cows. She has a banana garden and grows a variety of fruits and vegetables on this one acre land.

What is more interesting is that she recycles almost everything on her farm as she tries to preserve and protect the environment. She allows flies to lay eggs on the fresh cow dung, covers the eggs which then hatch into maggots. She feeds the high protein maggots to her chickens. She introduced earthworms to make humus from the soil, she then uses it to nourish her banana plants and vegetable gardens. Part of the cow dung is converted to renewable, clean energy: biogas. She uses the biogas for cooking in her kitchen.

She is self-sufficient in organically- grown food, fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs and she sells the extra produce to the community. Some years back, she resigned from her well paying government job as a Vet, currently this one acre farm is the main source of her livelihood.

Being both an entrepreneur and a forward-looking person, she started MST Junior Academy close to her farm , to pass on her knowledge and skills to the young. She believes very strongly that the youth are our future.  If young minds are exposed and made to engage in farming at an early age, they will grow up wanting to be more and doing more as farmers.  They will learn to be useful to themselves and their communities.

Nana Obadie rightly said: “ Youth are the root of the world and the seed of the womb.”

Such young people will always be too busy running their small projects like Rabbits rearing to have time to engage into bad habits like alcohol and drug abuse. Like their teacher and mentor, they will start small and grow. They will make farming attractive to the young and they will appreciate the culture of earning their own money from hard work.

How I wish that the Ministry of Agriculture could start and maintain learning centres or demonstration farms like this one between five districts in the whole country. I may be wrong but I think it would reduce the migrations from villages to towns.

While growing up in the 1960s, we had two homes; one in the city centre and one right in the village beyond Mityana town, about seventy kilomtres from Kampala city. By then my father was one of the most highly paid officers but still he ran a mixed farm of coffee, bananas, fresh fruits and vegetables and kept a herd of cows and goats  and local chickens. Apart from fresh fish, bread and confectionary items, we never bought any food. The farm was the main source of income to our family. Then came the serial interruptions of the civil wars of the late 70s and early 80s and things changed for the worse. Farms could not be maintained in such a fluid environment and many young people migrated to other countries in search of better opportunities and stability.

Dr. Emma Naluyima, thank you for giving farming a new and young face, being a trail blazer in successful small scale farming, for elevating farming to its rightful place in our society and last but not least for sharing your skills and knowledge with the young and anyone who wants to be like you.

I think I would want to spend a whole day with you not just half a day because your passion , courage, innovation  and determination  are very inspirational to both the young and old. You are doing what you love and earning good money out of it.

“ All your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them. “- Walt Disney

QUESTION:

How far are you along the journey of living the life of your dreams?

Uganda Blogging Community 21 Days Challenge

A lush green soursop tree and a gooseberry plant as seen from my window

 

Day: 11   Something/ Things I miss in the Lockdown

I know myself too well to know that I thrive best when I am surrounded by people especially loved ones.

I believe that we are given to each other to be there for each other. We give to one another and enrich each other’s life. I am of the conservative type who still believe that physical interaction with people requires me to move where the people are or they move to where I am. In this lockdown I cannot do what I want when I want it. It has robbed me of some control over my own life.

I understand very well that the lockdown is for my own health and safety as well as the health and safety of others. It is also temporary but as a human being, at times I find myself thinking that this lockdown at home-cum-cage is now running my life. Yes, I can easily communicate with my loved ones and friends by calling them or talk to them on WhatsApp or Skype but these have their limitations too.

The psychologists tell us that Communication is the bedrock of all human relationships. Effective, open communication is about 30- 40% verbal and 60-70% non-verbal. I can easily get to know what is going on with any of my children by just a simple handshake- of course now thrown out by the COVID-19 pandemic safety regulations, by hands being rubbed over the chin or hands raised in the air in resignation and a simple shrug of the shoulders. Eyes can widen in fear or joy or be closed in confusion, a genuine smile with the eyes and a spring in the gait conveys their confidence to me.

The “Hullo. I’m fine,” that I hear on the phone, reveals very little about the speaker.

I spent the fourteen years of my formal education in one boarding school near Kampala. I never felt that I was caged in because the school is built on a large area that includes a big library, a farm, several sports fields, tennis courts, a chapel, a tuck shop, a sick bay and an amphitheatre. We were encouraged to know each other well , forge friendships and  to engage fully in the school activities which even included  a Visiting club to  help out the elderly in the surrounding village. There was never a dull moment from the time I woke up at 6 am to the time I slept at 10 pm. I knew exactly when the new term would end before it even started.

This unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic lockdown just happened; at the rate the virus was spreading and killing people all over the world , no country had time to prepare for the lockdown. Most people just stayed where they were. I am lucky that I am not alone at home; at least I have my mother and young helper with me. We try to turn each day into a game by entertaining ourselves and keeping ourselves busy. We exercise, spend some time in our small garden, cook meals together, listen to the Ministry of Health Safety Guidelines  and updates and the President’s speeches. We pray together and listen to great music on the radio, TV and Internet.

 However, the uncertainty still hangs over us because neither the Scientists and doctors nor the government know when the lockdown will end.

Life still goes on. Sometimes, wearing a mask, I walk down to the supermarkets to buy a few groceries but a number of items may not be in stock. This is when I miss doing what I want when I want plus the freedom of movement. I would just get into a car and buy them elsewhere. I have lost some relatives and friends during this lockdown and I feel sorry that I cannot be physically with the bereaved families to support them.

The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has shrunk my world and limited the physical interactions with loved ones but it has helped me to build a stronger relationship with my mother having  missed her for the twenty two years I was in economic exile, and my new helper. Using the fresh harvest of sweet bananas from our garden , the young lady has taught me how to make pancakes- kabalagala. I am becoming better at it each time we prepare some. My regular supplier in Wandegeya will not like to hear this at all.

I am grateful that I am not alone in the house, that I have a small garden where I can spend time connecting with nature and the best part: I can escape from it all by immersing myself in Creative writing and reading with less distractions and interruptions.

I never forget to thank God  Almighty  for the outcome  so far. As of the 28/04/2020,Uganda had tested a total of 20329 suspects of which  79  were confirmed , 52 of these  are Recoveries and no deaths among them or the attending health care workers.  I thank, cheer and commend our health care workers for their dedication and hard work at the front line while at the same time carrying their own fears and worries about the hidden enemy.

I remain hopeful that the highly infectious COVID-19 will not spread into the community to overwhelm our fragile health care system and warrant the extension of the Lockdown beyond 5th May 2020.

These two quotes should uplift and encourage us to keep walking and learning as we go.

Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tip toe if you must, but take the step.”– Unknown

When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal; you do not change your decision to get there.” – Zig Zigla

QUESTIONS :

In this unprecedented lockdown, which big obstacle have you been able to turn into an advantage or game? What motivated you to do it ?

Uganda Bogging Community 21 Days Challenge

Day 7: Best Relationship Advice

Day 7: Best Relationship Advice

I have been around for a while so I have experiences of my own,I have observed others and I know. All in all, experience is the best teacher but still the wisest among us learn from others’ mistakes. Life is essentially about relationships and the  choices we make which themselves have consequences. You have a relationship with your God, yourself, your spouse, your family, your friends and other people around you.

Man is a social animal, naturally seeking companionship of others as part of his well being. He goes about life looking for acceptance, affirmation, approval and acknowledgement. It gives us a sense of belonging.

 It takes two to tango but no two relationships are the same because each individual brings something to the relationship and contributes to its joy or misery.  It takes a lifetime to grow a rewarding, satisfying and lasting relationship. There is a very old song  : Take Time to Know Her – it’s not an overnight thing. It takes a lot of work , commitment , dedication  and sometimes some sacrifice.

What I am writing here is the best advice that I would give to my son and daughter- in –law  or my daughter and son-in-law or  any of my friends ‘children and their spouses. I would give it gladly with the intention of helping them create healthy relationship that will grow every day to enrich the two people in it.

From my own experiences, my observations of others and from what I have come to know for sure, these are the four main ingredients of a healthy,loving relationship:

  1. LOVE–  True love is the foundation of any robust relationship.

With love everything is possible because love covers everything. This love starts from each individual loving, accepting and respecting herself /himself for who he/she is- strengths and weakness, the good, the bad and ugly. Filled with such love then you can go out confidently and love your partner for who he /she is not for what you want her/him to be.

I wasted a lot of time trying to change my husband only to find out later that the only person I could change was myself. You love unconditionally and polish it up every day with small acts of kindness otherwise it withers and dies.

There is one book that I wish I had read many times over early on in my life, I would have been a better companion but the book came out in 1992. It is called  The Five Love Languages  by an American  Relationship counselor, Gary Chapman. Ironically, his marriage was almost falling apart when he came up with the ideas in that book and it saved his marriage. Chapman believes that there are 5 primary languages in which love can be expressed and be experienced in a romantic relationship. Each individual has a dominant and  special way he/she wants love expressed to her/him.  Failing to receive love in that form, he/she will feel unloved, uncared for.

The 5 primary Love languages are :

Words of Affirmation

Quality Time

Receiving Gifts

Acts of Service

Physical Touch

People give love mostly in their primary love language and expect it back in that form.

You can easily discover your spouse’s  primary Love language by observing how he/she expresses love to you and what he/ she complains about in the relationship most of the time.

I speak the  ‘ Quality Time’ language.

When you speak to the spouse in the language he/ she knows , you speak to her/his mind but when you speak to her/him in her/his own language you speak to her/his heart.

When you discover your partner’s primary Love language   and speak it to her loud and clear 24/7, she will feel loved and cared for. This great feeling will fire her/him to give love back to you in your own primary Love language.

When you predominantly give me words of affirmation and yet I am for Quality Time, you could be speaking Greek to me as far as loving me is concerned.

This book is a gem and I would recommend it to anyone, young and old who is in a relationship. Reading it together, as often as possible, will take your relationship to greater heights day by day.  Remember it saved Chapman’s marriage.

 Feeling loved and cared for is an incredible feeling. Such love trickles through everything you do. You become creative and most times you create miracles of life- children, out of that love in your heart. The Taj Mahal, a palace in India was built by a Shah in 1632 to house the tomb of his favourite wife. Most master pieces of Art are created out of great love in the artist’s heart.

2. RESPECT– Like love, trust and loyalty , respecting your spouse starts with you respecting yourself.

Respect yourself for what you are as a human being; your strengths and flaws then you can confidently respect and love your partner for who he/she is and consider her/his wishes and feelings before making decisions.  You respect your partner as an equal ; trust her/him and have faith in  her/his  judgment. You may not agree about things all the time but choose to disagree amicably.

Over time, as you get to know each other better, the respect tends to grow and you become each other’s best friend.

Oddly enough, you can love someone without respecting him/her but then that won’t be a healthy relationship and is hard to sustain.

3. TRUST- This is the faith you have in your partner that he/she will always love you and be loyal enough to stand by you. Each partner has to work to deserve to be trusted by the other. You have to mean what you say and do what you say.  As actions speak louder than words, by your actions and behavior, you prove that you are dependable and reliable. It takes time and hard work for you to build enough trust in your spouse to  feel secure and confide in you. Trusting one another brings out the best in each other thus contributing to the growth of your love for each other.The most absurd thing is that it takes long to build trust but it can be broken by one betrayal. Once trust is lost, it may take years to rebuild it.

4. Open and Honest Communication– I would say that this is what strings things together in a relationship. Social animals communicate with one another mainly for survival. We all fear what we do not know or do not understand so talking to one another, talking things through makes us secure.  When you understand you forgive and then you love and when you love you never hurt but instead you protect your loved one. We communicate to be understood. Communication is about 40%  verbal and about 60% non-verbal so observe the facial expressions, movements and gestures.  Social interaction is essential for our emotional and mental well being.

Effective communication has to be open and honest;talk about everything  and anything in your lives- no secrets.  What you do not talk about has the power to enslave you. You express your needs , wants, desires to your partner to help her/him understand what you want from her/him. Both of you have to learn to be good listeners- listening with a third ear to go beyond understanding what is being said but at the same time pick unstated needs and fears. Listening to one another is a sign of respect.  Without effective communication unwanted problems arise and small ones grow bigger.

I used to play Tennis in my youth, it taught me a lot of things about life itself.

A healthy relationship with two people in love with each other especially when united as one in marriage can be compared to a good Tennis game. A good player connects with the ball, anticipates and prepares and then hits the ball. The more you learn how to raise your partner’s game, the more you enjoy the game. In any exciting game, you are as good as a your opponent. You respond in such a way as to help your partner make it through the struggles. A good game always demands mental strength and total focus without distractions.

They say that to love is to be alive; engaging fully with life and your surroundings.

A RAINBOW OF HOPE

Colours speak to Us

  

The COVID-19  pandemic  rages on , affecting all aspects of society- health, financial, movement and getting down to our relationships and choices. All of us are longing for the world we know and yet we know that it will definitely be a new Normal.

 The majority of people in the world are under some form of lockdown to control the spread of the virus in communities and to ensure that that health care systems do not get overwhelmed by the number of patients. It happened in Italy, Spain, UK, New York right before our eyes. No  government would want to see it happen in its country.

In Uganda, as of last night, we were in day 8 of the lockdown and  a curfew from 7pm to 7am. The total number of confirmed cases was 61 of which  51 had been  treated and discharged.  Thankfully, we had not suffered any deaths among the cases or the health workers. The strict lockdown  is set to continue until the 5th May 2020. We all hope and pray that the numbers of cases will not surge to warrant an extension of the lockdown and curfew. The government has done a commendable job in adhering to the advice of WHO and  health professionals in the Ministry of Health and Uganda Virus Research Institute as well as supplying food to the most needy  around the city. Digital technology has made it easy to collect information and data which is then analysed to determine the next course of action and to keep the public well informed and part of the control plans.

I have come to trust the face and words of Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, the Minister of Health  and to appreciate the dedication and heavy burden on the health workers who are at the frontline of this battle. They have energetically tapped into their experiences of managing the Ebola epidemics  of the recent past.

Citizens and professional all alike, our priority now is to protect ourselves from this invisible enemy, survive the lockup and move into the New Normal.

We are confined to our homes knowing very well that the environment always sets the rules  and we have to live by those rules. In these confined spaces, we are forced to learn to be alone ( in some cases)or be congested , to be quieter and to entertain ourselves.

These are difficult but temporary  times so we live one day at a time under a cloud of uncertainty. Under such environment, each one of us has on purpose to tap into the child in her/him to be able to make a game out of this lockdown . It is the only way to keep mentally, physically and emotional in top shape.

I remember some years back, one of my sons misbehaved and I punished him by locking him up in an empty room. He went in screaming but within a few minutes he was strikingly quiet. Like a monkey, he had climbed over the burglar proofing of the second door and was looking at the people passing  by in the road. He was enjoying it! He had turned a punishment into a game!

Children approach any situation with spontaneity and openness. We cannot allow ourselves to stagnate during this lockdown; time once lost, it cannot be recovered.

With childlike enthusiasm, we have to explore and create some laughter, fun, adventure  and colour in our confined spaces. The child in each one of us never goes away though as we grow up, we tend to be too focused on the past or the future to be fully open and spontaneous. Lockdown time should give us an opportunity to regain what is natural to each of us as children. We would all be alive if we responded creatively and anew to each new experience.

It is time to talk, laugh, play music, write, read, cook , paint,  to do gardening or a  DIY around the house or anything daring or outrageous to break the routine. Do it with childlike abandon with no sense of guilt. Take one day at a time. Do it on purpose; it will help you adjust to this temporary and difficult time. The complaining and whining will only make an already difficult time worse.

While researching for material for this post I came across some encouraging quotes that can uplift us.

  1. God put rainbows in the clouds so that each of us – in dreariest and most dreaded moments- can see a possibility of hope.” Maya Angelou
  2. Acting from  a  negative attitude attracts more negativity in your life. It’s your life; live it well.”- Judge Judy Sheindlin
  3. You may chain my hands, you may shackle my feet, you may even throw  me into a dark prison; but you shall never enslave my thinking, because it is free.’’ – Kahlil Gibran.
  4. “In life you either choose to sing a rainbow, or you don’t. Keep singing.” – Catherine Lory
  5.  “There comes a point in life when you realize that your darkest times  are your best times, too- you will see the rainbow of your life.” Roy Bennet
  6. My parents survived the Great Depression and brought me up to live within my means, save for tomorrow, share and don’t be greedy, work hard for the necessities  in life. Knowing that money does not make you better or more important than anyone else. So, extravagance has been  bred out of my DNA.”- David Suzuki
  7. The greatest generation was formed first by the Great Depression. They shared everything- meals, joy, clothing.  – Tom Brokaces
  8. “ It took capitalism half a century to come back from the Great Depression.” – Ben Shapiro
  9.  “Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.” – Raymond Lindquist
  10. “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.”– Wayne. W. Dyer

11.“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. ” – George Bernard Shaw

  12.  “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” William Arthur Ward.

  13.    “ True life is lived when tiny changes occur.” Leo Tolstoy

  14.“ All things are difficult before they are easy.” – Thomas Fuller

  15. “ Delays are valuable challenges. Stop complaining and whining instead exploit them to create a rainbow. The rainbow will show up.” –Anonymous.

As we wonder when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, how it will end and how it will change  us and our world, we have to understand that the COVID-19, Corona virus Disease, will not just disappear, instead it  will become part of our lives. We just keep hoping that the drugs to treat it and  the vaccine to control it will be discovered  sooner than later, to help us  go on with our lives.

 In 1978, I took six months of internship in the paediatric department of the New Mulago Teaching hospital . To my shock and horror, I recognised that a minimum of ten children under five years of age were dying of the viral infection , Measles, and its complications.  Each time I was on duty in the Acute Care Unit, I would leave the place shaken and crushed in  spirit.  That was one reason why I could not specialize in the care of infants, children and adolescents- Paediatrics.

WHO archives show that in 1980, before the widespread vaccination of Measles , the disease caused an estimated 2.6  million deaths each year in the world. Amazingly , by 2015, due to the widespread use of the safe  and effective vaccine, the highly infectious viral infection caused an estimated 134, 200 deaths worldwide , most of them in the under five children. The vaccine had reduced the deaths caused by measles by 79%! The Global Vaccination Action Plan targets a 90 % immunization coverage. The current Immunisation coverage of measles  in the under five years in Uganda  is about 82 % while Botswana has an Immunisation coverage of all childhood diseases  of 97 %. In the two decades I worked in the Primary Health Care department  of Botswana,  I only saw two cases of Measles and they were mild. I picked them quickly due to my haunting experience in the Paediatric department in Mulago.

Companies in USA, UK, Israel , China and other countries are working round the clock to develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. It is encouraging to hear that trials in human beings have started in USA and UK. Normally it takes years to develop any safe, effective vaccine but thanks to the new technology like genetic sequencing, the vaccine to this new vaccine may take 6 to 18 months!

Before we know it, we could be walking around with a mild infection of CODIV-19.

Meanwhile , let us keep ourselves safe and others safe. We all stand to gain from this strict lockdown.


The innocent smile of a child.

QUESTION:

What is the biggest challenge that you face every day during this COVID-19 Lockdown? How have you tried to solve it ?

Please stay safe and stay healthy.

BRIGHTEN UP YOUR LIFE WITHIN YOUR LIMITATIONS

The lockdown intended to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to help in saving lives, is likely to continue in most of our countries. In my country, Uganda ,  we have 55 confirmed cases so far of whom 5 have been discharged, Thankfully, we have no associated deaths among the cases and the health care providers. The Lockdown  was extended for another 21 days  as of 15/04/20. We expected the extension which even includes a curfew from 7pm to 7am the question was : for how long?

We brace ourselves for another 21 days; confined in our homes for our own safety and for the safety of others.

  In today’s world, we want to control things to the point of predicting the outcome in a given situation but then this new virus has rendered us all: rich and poor, black and white ,powerless . No one knows when it will end or the overall social and economic effect it will have on our lives. Consequently, we are stressed , anxious and confused . Looking back at Wuhun, China, the first epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, it took 76 days of tight lockdown and testing to relax the restrictions gradually.

What can help us to go through this lockdown with relative ease, is for us not to lose hope and to remain positive. Nothing lasts forever, it will end and each day brings us closer to that eventuality. To remain hopeful and positive , each one of us has the responsibility to be kind and to spread joy other than panic and fear. Having said that, I would advise that you also pay attention to what you experience every day so that you pick the lessons you need to learn to inform the resetting of your life now and in the future. In life, no experience is ever wasted.

Do not throw a grenade, it is already messy,” I have had someone advise.

We should all be striving to brighten up our lives and other people’s lives too.

 In my own simple way, I am trying to bring colour and energy into our lives by sharing some colourful photos from my collection.

I hope they will colour your life too and keep you hopeful and enthusiastic about life.

A plate of fresh tropical fruits

Colourful and inviting to the eyes and to the palate. The yellow colour evokes warmth and comfort while red evokes love and excitement.

 Lush green shrubs and trees- the leaves glistening in the sunlight, remind me that to live is to be really alive: aware of who you are and your surroundings and engaging fully with life. Connecting with Nature helps me find my place in the universe and reminds me of my important duty of  protecting and preserving it for future generations.

The calm blue ocean

 It calms and relaxes my soul. It always reminds me that I have to be calm and peaceful to think rationally.

The iconic, rugged Table Mountains , Cape Town , South Africa.

When it rains long enough, even the desert blooms

The tall coconut tree-  able to survive hurricanes! It belongs to a family of old trees which have evolved over million of years to withstand their harsh environment. They have spongy tissues and root ball systems that spread  over a big surface area to tap nourishment and water.

I agree with the behavioural psychologists that  our true perception of colours is deeply rooted in our experiences and culture.

At the moment, the majority of us are living in confined spaces but each one can make some  effort to go out and simply create the life he/she wants under these difficult  and  unprecedented times. Like the professional artist, little by little , day by day, each one of us can create beauty and significance  in her/his life using her/his gifts, talents and imagination.  Being technology- savvy keeps you kilometers ahead.

Even in this COVID-19 – induced lockdown, the clock has not stopped and life is still an adventure . I am required to apply  some passion, perseverance, patience, a sense of adventure and discipline, to  create the life I want for myself. I have all the colours of the rainbow to choose from as I paint the canvas of my life.  Using bold, bright colours will help me to keep my enthusiasm for life. Every day, I have to motivate myself by believing that I have to go through this experience to rise to another level of mastery. Challenges and struggles make our lives interesting and overcoming them gives us more confidence and power.

Like the coconut trees which evolved to become flexible and adaptable to withstand hurricanes, during this pandemic , we are truly growing, hardening and evolving.  Many of us will still be standing when the COVID-19 pandemic  is over and we shall be stronger, wiser and more adventurous .

One famous quote by Robert H. Schuller has come to my mind: Tough times never last, but tough people do.”

QUESTION:

What kind of routine have you developed to  help you  find optimal well being physically, emotionally and mentally  during this Lockdown period?

STAY SAFE, STAY HEALTHY.

STAYING HOME TO STAY RELATIVELY SAFE

I read my Bible regularly and that Book of the Philosopher known as Ecclesiastes, verse 15 of the third chapter confirms what we all know: Whatever happens or can happen has already happened before. God makes the same things happen again and again.

While I was reading about pandemics under Medical history and Ethics , I found out that influenza pandemics had occurred regularly every 30-40 years since the 16th century and the question that was always on people’s minds was: When is the next one?

The most deadly Influenza Pandemic of modern times was the Spanish one of 1918-1920. It did not originate in Spain but the 1st World War was raging in Europe from July 28th 1914 to November 11th 1918. The influenza pandemic was spreading quickly in war- ravaged Europe and regulations did not allow journalists  to talk about the pandemic  but Spain was a neutral country in that war so its journalists could report freely about the pandemic and its economic effect on Spain. This is why it was called the Spanish Influenza. Investigative research later suggested that it could have originated in Kansas, USA in the spring of 1918. It spread quickly to Europe, North Africa, India and Australia.

The movement of people and the military during the war, the poor food supplies, and the malnourished state of  the people, facilitated the spread of the virus. The Spanish Influenza Pandemic  is believed to have caused 500 million infections and killed 50 million of them. It killed people mainly between 18  and 45 years of age. The death rate of 2% caused great economic disruption and decline. It was declared a global public health problem and guidelines were put in place to contain it.

The main focus was on  Prevention and Control of the spread of the pandemic by :

  1. Identifying the classic symptoms  and alerting the public
  2. Obligatory confinement of suspected cases followed by tracing their contacts and quarantining them.
  3. Symptomatic treatment  of cases – many of the patients died of pneumonia  caused by a bacteria in lungs already weakened by the virus infection.
  4. Closure of all public places and stopping all public gatherings and congregations.
  5. Minimising travel and quarantining travelers from areas where there were outbreaks of the infection.
  6. The people were given the right information and empowered to take on their individual responsibilities of keeping themselves and others safe.

After this unprecedented pandemic, many lessons were learned from the mistakes and what was done right.  Public health was strengthened and Essential guidelines were  developed which are still being used today to fight pandemics

Coronavirus  disease – COVID-19

These are different times ; we are living in  a well-connected world ,connected through quick modes of transportation like aeroplanes, trains, marine, vehicles on connected roadways. We are living in the science and technology –driven 21st century. The Internet allows the generation, analysis  of data and transfer of it over networks. People can easily influence each other.

Since the Spanish flue pandemic, there have been many medical advances in the diagnosis , management  and  control of common diseases and new ones like SARS and Ebola.

By April 1948, the United Nations had established the World Health Organization(WHO) as the co-coordinating and authority on International Public health and one of its main functions is to fight diseases and  to stop them from spreading.

WHO declared COVID- 19 as a public health Emergency on the 30 th January 2020. The Corona virus is a new virus,  it is a respiratory virus, has no treatment or vaccine and no one has immunity to it. The first cases were reported by 27th December  2019 as  mysterious pneumonia cases in the city of Wuhan, China. Available records of last week from Wuhun showed    81,470 confirmed cases, 75,770 recovered and  3,304 deaths. Wuhan Province has been in total shut down for eight weeks in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus to mainland China and other countries of the world.

UGANDA

The first case was confirmed on 21 st March 2020 and immediately, some restrictions to movement and to public gathering and congregation were put in place for at least 32 days.

The Ministry of Health has done a commendable job in educating us about the new disease, how to protect ourselves and others and what to do if you suspect you have the main symptoms and how to boost your immunity to infections.

Daily updates on the progress of the pandemic at home and worldwide keep us on the right path and empower us to do the right things during this period of uncertainty. I only hope that we are being told the truth about the spread of this invisible killer.

As of today 30th March, 33 cases have been confirmed  at the Uganda Virus Research Institute, Entebbe. They are all imported cases- people who travelled and returned home from countries like United Arab Emirates. Thankfully, the virus has not yet spread into the Community. This must have dictatated the total lockdown declared by the president last night and  being effective from 10pm. Uganda is a developing country, has limited resources, if the virus spread into our community fast, the numbers of patients would definitely overwhelm our fragile health care system.  The fact that 78% of our population is under the age of 30, could be an advantage to us and so are the lessons learned from having lived through and controlled the Gulu Ebola epidemic of 2000, of the west  in 2007 and the Luwero outbreaks of 2011 and 2012. They say that what does not kill you makes you stronger and wiser.

 We are following the WHO guidelines to the letter: early detection by quick testing and quick isolation followed by contact tracing to limit the spread of the virus together with the provision of Protective  personal equipment to the health workers on the frontline.

The most vulnerable among us like the elderly, those in self –isolation, those on HIV /AIDS treatment will need to be supported by the government through this pandemic. No doubt, the lockdown  will shrink the economy  and family incomes but staying healthy takes the priority for now.

 Being in the high risk age group, I have not left home since the declaration of the first restrictions on 21st March.  I cannot thank God enough for giving me this opportunity to be with my octogenarian mother during this unprecedented situation. It has allayed our anxiety and fears. But as a typical Ugandan family, our close relatives are scattered as far as Australia, Canada, UK, Sweden, Italy, USA, Kenya, and Cape Town, South Africa. We are closely connected on Social Media and mobile phones. We are asking two questions: When will it end? and Will life ever be the same again?

 As a health worker, I find it extremely disheartening to see what is happening in hospitals in Italy. I pray that it does not happen elsewhere.

 South Korea is a notable example of a country which slowed down the spread of the virus without applying the strict lockdown strategies taken elsewhere.   In January, the country quickly confirmed that they had some COVID-19 cases and immediately restricted  movement  while testing widely and  aggressively. They isolated  the cases and quarantined suspects. They used digital technology like mobile phones, ATM cards to trace contacts. It reduced the spread of the virus without lockdown .

The reopening of Wuhun, a  Chinese city of 11 million people  after eight weeks of total lockdown  gives us some hope.

This global pandemic is reminding us of how interconnected we are to each other and that we can only defeat the virus if we engaged and worked collectively. Each one of us has a small role to play that fits in the big picture.The reality is that drugs have to be developed, tested and approved  for use in human beings. A vaccine is likely to take 6-18 months to be developed but life has somehow to go on.

I for one have been reminded of not taking life and loved ones for granted and that I can only live a bigger life if I am connected to others. And that my health is my greatest wealth!

 Life never ceases to surprise; on the 29th March 2020, BBC World service featured Bob Weighton of UK as the oldest man in the world. He was celebrating 112 years on that day. What was most interesting about him is that he had lived through the great Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1919 and was now locked down in his home due to the current CODIV-19 Pandemic!

As they say, it always gets worse before it gets better, we all need to prepare ourselves for the worst and to do everything possible to support each other through the pandemic.

“ May you see sunshine where others see shadows and opportunities where  others see obstacles.- Unknown

QUESTION:

Are you playing your role seriously in protecting yourself and others from this infectious virus?

MY UNSUNG HEROINE

Uganda’s ultimate multitasker

 

In many countries of the world, women  are poorer and are marginalized compared to the men. The earliest Women’s Day was observed in New York in February 1909. On March 8th 1917, a demonstration of the women working in the textile factories  in the then Russian Empire, over food shortages and a weak economy  sparked off the Russian Revolution. A week later, Tsar Nicholas 11 of Russia abdicated and the women won their rights to vote.

At the first UN women’s conference  held in Mexico in 1975, the United Nations declared  1975-1985 as the Women’s decade. It  was to draw attention to the plight of women and  to focus on policies and issues that would  improve their status  in the world. It also adopted 8th March as the International Women’s Day.

The day serves to recognise the women and girls contribution towards the development and progress of society. It also serves to acknowledge the achievements made and how far women still have to go in the battle of equal rights. In Uganda, the day was first officially celebrated in 1984, a year before the end of the UN Decade for women. The conference to mark the end of the UN Women’s Decade and to chart the way forward was held in Nairobi, Kenya July 1985. Women delegations from 160 countries in the world converged in Nairobi. Surprisingly, I was included in the Uganda delegation as a medical doctor at the eleventh hour. Women have been graduating as medical doctors in Uganda, since 1959!

I was the youngest member of our delegation. A military coup occurred in Uganda during the three weeks we were away. The Obote 11 government was overthrown by a faction of the army headed by  Brig Bazilio Okello and six months later, the National Resistance Army commanded by Yoweri Museveni toppled  Okello’s government.

When the dust settled, a few of us lobbied the new National Resistance Movement government for a Ministry of Women in Development to drive the agenda of empowering women to actively participate in the development of Uganda and to fight for their rights. Since women’s health and development feed each other, I organized a group of Women doctors around Kampala to establish the Association of Uganda Women Doctors .Our main objective was  to promote and protect the health of women and children and the general population. We strongly believed that  women had to be healthy to participate fully in development.

I celebrated the International Women’s Day, 8th March 2020 ,  a day early with the young medical students at Makerere University Teaching Hospital, Mulago. The students organized some activities to mark the day under the theme: The Woman Within. The activities included aerobics and Salsa and a panel discussion about the Women Doctors’ Association, etiquette, entrepreneurship and relationships.

Then on Sunday , I chose to attend the Old girls-led worship service at my old school, Gayaza High school. The singing, the praise and thanksgiving was comforting to all of us after last Friday’s fire that gutted Corby house . The Lord of the storm was in our midst.

At home, my octogenarian mother celebrated the day watching the official government celebrations in Mbale,  about 225 kilometres northeast of  Kampala. The activities organized under the theme:  Celebrating 25 years of the 1995 Constitution, were to celebrate the women and their contribution to the development of our country. The 1995 constitution made women and men equal before and under the law and entitled to all the rights and freedoms in it. All in all, some achievements have been made but still there is a huge gap between policy and practice.

 My mother watched in fascination, pausing only to pick water or fresh fruits from the refrigerator or use the bathroom. The degenerative arthritis has slowed down her movements but she still has the will to struggle against it. Currently, among the things she looks out for on the television  are: the consecration of a Catholic bishop,  the church services celebrating the Kabaka’s  coronation anniversary and birthday and the Women’s Day Celebration.  She is one woman who struggled to find her sense of autonomy by committing to her children, work and belief system but still remained feminine.

At 12 noon, I found her glued to the television watching the march -past parade led by the women in the Army and Police. A number of speeches followed while I went in and out of the sitting room doing my usual chores. It did not end until twenty minutes to 4pm! She called me out loud to watch the grand finale of the celebrations: the presentation of medals to honour  82 women for their distinguished service to our nation.

“ Do you know any of these women being recognised today?”she asked.

I laughed, “Mama, I’ve been away for more than two decades, I ‘d not know any of the young officers who have come up through   ranks.’’

I listened more carefully. At least I knew Angelina  Wapakhabulo, Lydia Wanyoto, Tsekooko and Beatrice Namukabya.

A Message  alert signal  led me to check my phone. It was from Faith, a classmate in Gayaza High School. She is an engineer married in Kenya. She was informing me that her mother was among those being honoured .

I sat tight and waited . Mrs. Miriam Lumonya ‘s name  was read out , unfortunately I  did not see her join the group. As the Coronavirus has taken over our lives, there were no handshakes with the President or among the women themselves.

“ Does anyone ever remember to honour in some way the women in the villages? They ‘re the architects of our communities. They give until they can give no more.”

“ I ‘ve no idea but I ‘d think that each district would honour its own heroines.”

I understood my mother’s concern for the women deep in the rural areas of Uganda. 70% of Ugandan women live in the rural areas, starting their day at 5am and ending it 11pm!

Our patriarchal society has preordained them  to being the primary caregivers- they take care of their husbands, children, the elderly and the sick. They  are so consumed by this role that they forget to take care of themselves. They have little power, authority and they undervalue themselves. They tend to sacrifice their autonomy to relationships.

In this state , they can never find their unique rhythm, their wisdom or their sense of what is uniquely theirs to give. They cannot factor their own needs into the network of caring relationships. They badly need help to find the balance between responsibility for others and responsibility to oneself.

To me, these are the unsung heroines  of the Women’s Day and the best one known to me is my mother!

My mother lost her father at a very tender age , she had one big sister and a younger brother. They grew up with their mother who refused to remarry into the husband’s family as the culture dictated. She instead committed to her children. The elder sister walked about three kilometres to the nearest Catholic school of the area. Recognizing that my mother was too small to walk that journey, my grandmother pleaded with the headmaster of the nearby Protestant school  to take on her daughter. It was done but it was unheard of at that time!

A Catholic priest from the Lugazi Diocese  was on his routine tour of the parish when he was told of a Catholic girl attending a Protestant school. Father Bohn talked to my grandmother( through an interpreter) and persuaded her to allow her daughter to join the Catholic boarding primary school of Mt. Saint Mary’s Namagunga.  The Irish missionary nun , Mother Mary Kevin Kearney ( 1875- 1957)had in February 1942, opened the school to promote the education of girls. She wanted to increase the opportunities and  help them lead better lives in our patriarchal society.  She also believed that if these educated girls grew up and married educated Catholic men , they would bring up Catholic children.

My mother spent six years in Mother Kevin’s school then joined Nsambya Catholic  Nursing and Midwifery school for three years. The school had also been started by Mother Mary Kevin since she believed that  Uganda needed its own teachers and nurses. The midwives would reduce the maternal and infant deaths.

My mother completed midwifery and was planning to take up Nursing after two years but then my father appeared on the scene. Recognizing that my father was much older than my mother,  my grandmother  was reluctant to give away her daughter.

” My daughter needs a cushion to fall back on. No one knows what the future holds.”

My mother worked for three years then out of my father’s persistence, grandmother blessed their union. They had six of us and we were what I would call a happy family.

Then thirteen years later, without any warning, my mother left home and went back to work as a midwife.That is what she wanted for her life. Probably she found her identity in work. My father never understood why she had traded-off her easy life for a working one!

For thirty years she worked in several maternity centres in the central region. She worked with passion, took opportunities to train and grow. She rose through the ranks. She worked for more than ten years at her last station, Nakifuma, 26 kilometres  northeast of Mukono.

At one time , she had delivered most of the children of the village. It earned her a new name :Omuzaalisa we Nakifuma ( the midwife of Nakifuma) and it earned her a lot of respect and free gifts. Her Maternity unit became a teaching centre for the Lugazi area.

Two weeks ago, I met Dr. Adam Kimala, one of her supervisors , he was full of praise for her.

My happiest moment was in 1982 when I was a first  year Postgraduate student in Obstetrics & Gynaecology  at  the  University Teaching hospital, Mulago. A young woman was referred to us  from Nakifuma maternity centre because she was bleeding  in her late pregnancy. We quickly operated on her, delivered a normal baby and saved the mother. I recognised my mother’s handwriting on the referral  form! By then things were operating relatively well,  there was a functional referral system; one ambulance served four clinics in the district. My mother  was extremely proud of being a member of a functional health care system.

I asked her about her concerns at the present time.

She lives near the Kawempe  Referral Women’s hospital and  her niece  works there as a senior midwife. The niece has told her that the patients overwhelm the number of staff.

My mother wonders why many women are being delivered by Caesarian section  and that a number of these mothers and the babies die. The fact that a number of women still deliver unassisted by health workers and  that every day, 16 women die in Uganda from pregnancy  and childbirth –related causes  , nags her conscience.

The teenage pregnancies also concern her. She begs the adults to allow these girls to become adults before they become mothers.

The last time she visited Nakifuma maternity centre, it was a rundown place. She is not likely to go back.

She has a great sense of radical thankfulness and celebration of her life; she mothered seven children, committed to midwifery, saving women’s lives over thirty years and was able to be both true to herself and to commit to the things and people she loves. She has remained a staunch Catholic  and feels that she has in her own way played a role in raising the status of women in society like her teacher:Mother Mary Kevin.                                              

She remains my unsung heroine.

A woman becomes better at multitasking when she becomes a mother.”– Anonymous

QUESTION:

Has this post helped you to see how in your own way you can assist the  woman in the rural area balance her responsibility to others with her responsibility to herself?