REMAINING HOPEFUL IN A DIRE SITUATION

A Sunrise symbolises birth and rebirth. New beginnings, new challenges and new possibilities. It gives us hope for a better day.

The invention of the Internet shrank the world into a global village. On the 7th April 2021 when I read from the Johns Hopkins Corona Virus Resource centre that Brazil had suffered 4000 deaths in 24 hours, a cold shudder went down my spine. Brazil has a new more virulent strain that runs a short clinical course than the original one. It has affected the youth in big numbers. Many video clips  of elderly parents wailing after the deaths of their children are making rounds on the Social Media. Their echoes keep ringing in my ears. The crisis is compounded by the country President’s continued rejection of public health restrictions such as mask-wearing, physical distancing and lockdowns. As a health worker , I have always believed that the greatest asset for each country is its people and these people must be healthy first to engage in economic activities and the growth of their country. 

This has reminded me of the period of the peak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Botswana in the late 90s.  The president then- Festus Mogae, made this bold statement: ” Botswana was threatened with extinction.”

Thereafter, he made HIV/AIDS a national priority and launched   Botswana’s Mass Antiretroval Therapy Programme- MASA( New Dawn) in 2002.  I was working there and was very privileged to be part of this comprehensive programme. With such a committed leader and a stable democratic government, we saw a dramatic drop in AIDS-related deaths from 21,000 in 2002 to 5,800 in 2013. The decline in numbers was sustained for the following years. There were many challenges but the results fired us to work even harder to overcome them.

The COVID-19 virus is not going anywhere anytime soon. This demands that wherever we are, we have to triple our efforts to fight it. Currently, USA, Brazil, India and Mexico are the countries most hit by the virus.

From the Johns Hopkins Corona Virus Resource Centre, as of the 20th April 2021,

There were 142,965,975 global confirmed cases and 3,044,492 global deaths.

Brazil had 14,043,076 confirmed cases and 378,003 deaths.

South Africa had 1,568,366 confirmed cases and 53,887 deaths.

Some encouraging news came in from Israel last week. Israel has had half of its adult population vaccinated fully against Covid-19 disease. As a result, the number of new cases and the number of patients developing the severe form of the disease has declined. They seem to have put themselves on the path of herd immunity by this campaign of massive vaccination.

The majority of us feel that the pandemic has gone on for so long that we have started suffering from Caution fatigue or  COVID-related fatigue. The fatigue is affecting our physical and emotional wellbeing.

 However, the numerous deaths happening around us during the third wave of the pandemic, prompt us not to relax until the transmission is reduced to the lowest level possible worldwide. This echoes what Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director- General of the World Health Organisation, has been telling us all along:” We are not safe until everyone is safe.”

 The vaccine offers us hope for attaining herd immunity but the public health measures of:

  • Frequent washing of hands using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
  • Proper use of Face masks
  • Physical distancing- maintaining 2 metres between you and other people.
  • Limiting social gatherings and time spent in crowded places.
  • Avoiding close contact with other people- no hugging, no shaking of hands.

These measures are still in place to reduce the transmission of the virus in our communities. Prevention is better than cure more so with this Covid-19 infection in the 60 plus groups of any population.

Here are some inspiring quotes to keep us going in this state of confusion, caution fatigue and uncertainty.

If there is life, there is hope.’’ – Stephen Hawky

” A little hope each day can fill rivers to overflowing. ”- Unknown

” Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.’’- Christopher Reeve

And sometimes, against all odds, against all logic, we still hope.’’- Ellen Pompeo as Dr. Meredith Grey

If the rhythm of the drum beat changes, then the dancer’s steps must adapt. – Kenyan Proverb

The best way to eat an elephant in your path is to cut her up into little pieces .- African Proverb.

The sun never quits shining. Sometimes , clouds just get in the way.’’– Unknown

”The forces that are for you are greater than the forces against you.’’– Joel Osteen

For those of us who have lost loved ones to the COVID-19 disease and are grieving, find a little comfort in the following:

”We grieve because we love. The intensity of the grief often proclaims the depth of our love.’’- Gary Roe

One of my favourites over the years: FOOTPRINTS IN THE SANDS by Mary Fishback Powers

One night I dreamed a dream.

As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.

Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.

For each scene, I noticed  two sets of footprints in the sand,

One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,

I looked back at the footprints in the sand.

I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,

especially at the very lowest and saddest times,

there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.

” Lord you said once I decided to follow you,

You’d walk with me all the way.

But I noticed that during the saddest

 and most troublesome times of my life,

 there was only one set of footprints.

I don’t understand why, when I needed You

the most, You would leave me.’’

He whispered, ” My precious child, I love you and will never leave you

Never, ever, during your trials and testings.

When you saw only one set of footprints,

It was then that I carried you.’’

Other than allowing ourselves to feel overwhelmed and distressed, let us re-evaluate the meaning of life and pick valuable lessons from this Covid-19 health/economic crisis. It will help our spirits grow stronger.

QUESTION:

How often do you count your blessings during this dire situation?

Has it helped you realise that things could be worse off?

CONNECT WITH YOURSELF, WITH OTHERS AND WITH NATURE

Man is by nature a social animal, thriving best in a small group. It goes back to the ancient times when men hunted wild animals and gathered plants, seeds, berries and roots for food. Even today, the family remains as the basic unit of a nation. A family can be defined as a group of two or more persons related by birth, marriage , adoption who live together.

The Covid-19 pandemic restrictions are designed to reduce the spread of the disease in a family, community, nation and the world in general.

Physical distancing reduces human contacts- no hugs, no handshakes, no gathering together to share grief or joy. Shared common experiences help us to address our fears, worries and every day problems. This emotional support is vital for our physical and mental health.

It is almost a year since the necessary COVID-19 restrictions became the new Normal but they have left many of us in social isolation and loneliness. We are all craving for social interaction the same way hungry people crave for food.

90 years-old Margaret Keenan, could not have expressed it better the day she became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer/BioN Tech vaccine in UK on the 8th of December 2020. She received the second dose 21 days later.

She said: “Being the first in the world was the best early birthday present I could wish for. It means I can spend time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year.”

Social communication is a core psychological need essential to our health and well being. Though we feel lonely and isolated from loved ones , we have to look for ways to adapt and become more resilient during the pandemic. By the look of things, the end of the pandemic is as elusive as the flower of the local Ugandan yam plant and yet life has to go on.

I for one have found the following activities helpful as I tried to increase social contact and engagement during the pandemic.

  • Enhancing social engagement with loved ones and the community. Thanks to Digital technology that has shrunk the world to a global village. I can instantly talk to family members on the phone, send text or audio messages, arrange virtual gatherings on Zoom or WhatsApp. There are many virtual meetings or webinars that I can join to share ideas with like-mined people locally and outside Uganda. Looking through old photo albums awakens the cherished memories I have so far created with family and friends. It helps to reduce my anxiety and stress.
  • Regular physical exercise- I take long walks in the evening and do light weight lifting to tone and keep my muscles strong. It reduces the stress and uplifts my mood while keeping me healthy and strong.
  • Prayer-for any genuine religious person nothing can be as comforting as having an intimate relationship with your Father whom you can talk to about anything and everything. Just like that simple chorus we used to sing in Sunday school donkey’s years ago: Take it to the Lord in prayer.
  • Reading or listening to audio books and music. Books engage our minds and imagination, enrich us , inspire us and increase our empathy and ability to understand others. For some years, I have been a member of Online Book Clubs like the Africa Book Club, Two Drops of Ink and Yours 2-Read. I have also been an

an active member of writing cartels like The Write Practice. It  is very beneficial for an emerging writer to bond with like-minded people.

  • Spending time in Nature- the environment you live in can either increase stress on you or lower it. Pleasing environments like water, trees, plants and animals improve our moods and stimulate our immune functions to work efficiently. Walking outdoors regularly for a minimum of 30 minutes significantly lowers stress, lowers our Blood pressure and increases our heart rates. Studies have shown that exercising outdoors is the best antidote for stress. The beauty of the surroundings, the scents and smells, the sounds like birdsongs, the different people you see, the animals, insects and birds awaken all our six senses of vision, hearing, taste smell, touch and proprioception and we become fully engaged with nature. Gardening offers the greatest benefits in that you are exercising as well as being immersed in nature.

You are never alone with your thoughts. For those who cannot go outdoors , you can bring the outdoors inside by caring for potted plants or pets and if the worst came to the worst then just look through books on gardening and nature.

Nature has been scientifically- proven to delight and heal.

Here are some photographs of nature from my collection.

A lemon orchard near Cape Town, South Africa

Last week, I woke up to find a crop of these tiny button mushrooms in our backyard. I had to invite the neighbours to harvest some for themselves as the culture demands.
The calm ocean calms your soul and invites you for a swim
My mother has been planting this type of pole beans along her fence since she picked the seeds from her late sister in Nairobi in the 1970s. Its beauty is that the more you harvest the pods, the more new ones are produced.

The mixture of old trees and shrubs and young ones in a garden, remind me of the mixed generations in our communities and nation.

The local small sweet bananas have a unique taste. It is etched in my memory
Ancient cities were designed for people and reflect what was important for the people at that moment in time
The barren desert has its unique beauty too.

Just as the earth has the power to renew itself more so after a drought or a bush fire, we too have the ability to rediscover our inner selves after the unprecedented disaster of COVID-19 pandemic and go on with our lives.

QUESTION:

In this unprecedented and prolonged COVID-19 pandemic quarantine, how have you managed to re-invent yourself and bond with like-minded people?

IT NEVER RAINS BUT IT POURS

Stock Image

I could have been ten years old when our neighbours went to the village to celebrate the festive season. They had a big family but among them was a girl, Rhoda. She was of the same age as me and we were friends; playing hide and seek, tap game and skipping together. To our shock and horror, Rhoda died of a snake bite a week later. Our parents had found it terribly difficult to explain to us what dying meant. They chose to spare us the agony of the funeral. I missed Rhoda and her face is forever etched in my mind.

Fast-forward to 2021; we are in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and people are dying in big numbers in many countries of the world.

Yesterday, 10th February 2021, South Africa, the worst hit country in Africa, recorded 3159 new cases and 276 deaths in 24 hours! South Africa has a new strain of COVID -19 which is so quickly transmitted that the million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine that had been ordered for the health workers were put on hold. This is because the in vitro tests done on the approved vaccine had shown a 22% efficacy on the South African variant of COVID-19.

From the official page of the Ministry of Health-Uganda: https://covid-19.gou.go.ug, on the 10th February 2021, Uganda had reported 39,942 cumulative confirmed cases and a total of 328 deaths.

I for one have lost relatives, friends and colleagues here at home and abroad. I even fear to imagine what is next.  A combination of my being a medical doctor for four decades,  a senior citizen and having a wide network of friends is causing a big disruption in my life.

My colleagues are among the health workers on the COVID-19 frontline- they are exposed to the virus and other bacteria as a biological occupational hazard. Alex, a high school classmate, is working in the Rouder Bush VA hospital in Indianapolis, USA. Thankfully, she has not caught the virus but many times she sounds tired and overwhelmed when I talk to her. I pray every day that she continues to protect herself as she offers this vital service to her community.

She is among the exception, many have not been so lucky in South Africa. Yesterday I attended a virtual funeral service followed by a cremation of one member of our graduate class. He had worked as a paediatrician in Durban, South Africa for over 35 years! Many nurses have succumbed to the disease in the line of duty though they are invisible because not many people talk about them.

A senior citizen is by definition anyone aged 65 and above. By this age, many things conspire against us to rob us of good health:

  • Many of us are already on treatment for underlying medical conditions like High Blood Pressure and heart disease, Diabetes and cancer.
  • Our immune function diminishes with each year lived beyond 65.The immune cells known as B and T-lymphocytes, do not work as quickly as they used to.
  • We carry the highest risk of developing cancer in any given population- the immune system is fully developed and functional by the age of eight and will continue to function at its best till the age of 65. Thereafter, the immune function diminishes with advancing age. This explains why cancers and recurrent infections are common in our age group.

These factors combine to make our age group the highest at risk of catching the new virus and going on to develop the severe form of the disease which requires us to be admitted  and carry the highest risk of death.

The cdc.gov website has co-related age with the risk of hospitalization and the

risk of death:

40-49 years of age run a 3 times risk of hospitalization and 10 times the risk of death.

50-64 years of age run a 4 times risk of hospitalization and 30 times high risk for death.

65-74 years of age run a 5 times high risk of hospitalization and 90 times high risk of death.                                                                   

75-84 years of age run an 8 times high risk of hospitalization and a 220 times high risk of death.                                                                   

Senior citizens , we have to brace ourselves for the loss of loved ones; my mother who is close to 90 has just a few peers around. It is the natural progress of life except that the multiple COVID -19 – related deaths at this moment in time are almost throwing us off- balance. It is a huge disruption that has left us living on the edge fearing that any of us can fall off any time. We are living in a state of increased vulnerability but we cannot allow ourselves to be totally defeated by it. We have to take back some form of control.

George Bernard Shaw rightly said: “We don’t stop playing because we are old, we grow old because we stop playing.”

It is mandatory that we take the responsibility of reducing the risk of getting sick- first from COVID and the other common diseases in the environment like Malaria fever which could demand for hospitalization. We have to continue with our regular medical check -ups and regular cancer screening tests.

For COVID-19, we have to continue practicing the proved safety measures laid out by the Ministry of Health.

It is essential that each one of us considers the level of risk before deciding to go out of home.

It is also vital that we keep up to date with available scientifically – proven information about COVID- 19 disease.

We have to stay healthy- a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being not merely the absence of disease of infirmity by:

  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet
  • Living a healthy lifestyle- no smoking, avoid alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Being physically active- regular exercise at least for 30 minutes every day.
  • Regular medical check- ups
  • Adequate sleep- 7-8 hours of sleep to allow the body to repair and restore itself and to allow the immune system to function at its best.
  • Mental well-being- your thoughts and feelings and how you cope with the ups and downs of everyday life. We have to learn how to reduce stress in our lives.

Writing about being in a state of good health is easier than putting it into practice. I have been moving on a rough sea, waves breaking over me and feeling as if drowning due to the many deaths of relatives, friends and colleagues in a short space of time. Many times I have been left feeling helpless since I could neither control or prevent what was going on around me.

I would receive the news of death with a stab of fear and withdrawal into myself. I just stayed where I was; isolated and cut off. The total digital black out from the 12 th January before the general elections of 14 January to the 10th February 2021 forced me to hold things in. I became less motivated to do the most important things in life

 as I became consciously aware of my own mortality. Then I remembered to read through the basic coping skills needed to manage a difficult situation:

  • Do not blame yourself for the deaths.
  • Feeling sad, fear anxiety was a completely normal response to a tragedy.

        Allow yourself to grieve, acknowledge the loss and mourn.

  • Mourn for a season and move on otherwise you lose yourself and the motivation to do important things in your life.
  • Do something positive for yourself and others- toward making a change in your community.

At my  age I have suffered many deaths of loved ones including brothers,  a sister, my father , my husband , nephews and friends but the COVID- related deaths are following one after another. It hardly gives you time to feel the hurt, pain and grief. At the same time, it drains your well of empathy and compassion without giving you enough time to refill it. This could lead to burn out. The COVID-19 guidelines about funerals have introduced new ways of mourning. For our safety, we can no longer gather, cry together or touch one another for comfort. Virtual funerals, cremations and memorial services are the new normal.

 However, one thing stands out to me with absolute clarity: I am yet to fulfill my highest potential in life. This has to continue to direct my life.

Gradually, I am willing myself not to be defeated by the virus, I have to find a lifeline through all these random deaths and events that life is throwing at me. I need to create warmth and love once again.

I can do this by making the most of what I am left with: family, friends and social support systems.

I have to reach out for help from my trusted friends and to pick up my pursuits like Creative writing, gardening and voluntary work in my community. This is what has always kept me alive and fully engaged with life. I am daring to take back some control in my life. I have started feeling safe enough to easily fall asleep and wake up at my usual time despite living on the edge.

Saltos Altos Vermeltos said: “We are all a little broken. But the last time I checked, broken crayons still colour the same.”

And Aldos Huxley said: “ The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.”

QUESTION: Are you resilient enough to brave the rain and get up for the eighth time?

THE LADY WITH AN INFECTIOUS SMILE

Dr. Sarah Namuli Mukasa Yiga(2nd from the left) with one of her sisters, Margaret Nagawa, myself and Dr. Faith Muwazi, another friend, celebrating Sarah’s sixtieth birthday in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

THE LADY WITH AN INFECTIOUS SMILE.

The COVID-19 disease started in a place that seemed so far away in Wuhan city, China in December 2020 . One year later, it has spread to all the 192 countries of the world, it is in its second wave and is right inside our houses. According to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Centre as of the 26 th January 2021, Uganda had reported 39,261 cases and 318 deaths.

In the last one month, I have lost relatives, colleagues and friends here in Uganda and abroad. I am in a state of emotional turmoil.

Two weeks ago, one of my godsons lost his mother and father  to COVID -19 disease within a space of two weeks! As if that was not enough, I lost one of my best friends to the disease on the 13th January 2021.

Dr.Sarah Namuli Mukasa Yiga had served as a medical doctor in South Africa since 1983. She was two years ahead of me in Gayaza High School. By the time I joined university in July 1972, Sarah was a third year student in the faculty of Medicine of the only University in the country, Makerere . We resided in Africa hall, the second women’s hall in the university.

Among the four first year medical students in that hall, I was the only one from my school but students from our school made up the majority of  female students in the faculty of Medicine.

This provided us a unique small family where we thrived and looked out for each other.

 We had gone through the freshers’ week but when the continuing students joined us, out of Sarah’s big  heart, she effortlessly reached out to my group to help us settle in smoothly.

From the beginning she advised us to dress and behave as doctors, we had to learn to be punctual by being the first group of students to take our breakfast in the cafeteria when doors opened just before 7 :00am. She empasised to us that everything else was secondary to our course work. Sarah and her team gave us tips on how we could stay on top of our work, about dating and about which societies and sports teams we could join so as to make the most out of our stay at the university.

As days went by, they would spare time to quiz us on the topics we had covered, pass on past papers and notes for revision and advised on the extra text books we could buy using our book allowance apart from the standard ones recommended  for each year.

After the quick breakfast, all the medical students would walk through the Katanga slum, a place with temporary shelters teeming with children and their parents. Whether it rained or not, the lectures at the Mulago teaching hospital started at 8:00am on the dot.

We became each other’s keeper and later when the first years came in , we felt that it was our duty to show them the ropes just as Sarah and her team had done for us.

On a normal day, most of us would come back together in time for supper at 7:00pm. We did this for five years and ended up forming strong bonds of friendship for a lifetime.

Sarah and I were quickly drawn together like a duck to water. We were top students, we were voracious readers, we were from close-knit families, we loved beautiful things and were always looking for fun and something to be happy about.

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

I was impressed by Sarah’s confidence and her ability to share her feelings and tears freely, allowing her friends to see who she really was deep inside. I was later to learn that she had inherited it from her loving parents.

Sarah was the ninth child in a family of ten while I was the third born in a bigger family. She became the big sister that I never had; guiding, nurturing and caring.

Her family became mine and mine became hers and this is how it has remained.

I used to call her a “work in progress” because she was always doing self-improvement on herself- the product and the packaging!

 Two years later, she graduated and soon after got married to John, a postgraduate student in Surgery.

She had to convert to Catholicism.  I was deeply involved in all the wedding preparations and in a similar manner, she took a central role in my wedding preparations and ceremonies in 1981.

Then we got wrapped up in the raising of our young families and in the progress of our careers.

During the civil strife of the early 80’s , Sarah and her family were forced to flee to South Africa They ended up in the Orange Free State in one of the ten black homelands of Apartheid South Africa.

They left their most precious items like wedding photographs with me

and I had to send them later through their sister in Kenya.

They worked at Moroka hospital , Thaba Nchu until the apartheid system was dismantled in April 1994.

They seized the opportunity of free movement of black people in a multiracial democracy and moved to Bloemfontein city, 70 kilometres away. It remains a white –dominated city up to today.

 My grandmother could have told Sarah and I that dogs had licked our feet when we were babies;  we were both passionate about travel- visiting new places and meeting new people. In 1996 I visited them in Bloemfontein. Sarah drove me to Thaba Nchu to see all her friends and the hospital where they had worked for a decade. Open farm lands owned by Boers.

In her quest to improve herself, she took up a master’s degree course in Family Health Practice. Later, she worked with the Orange Free State University.

In 1994, when my husband and I sought for economic exile in Botswana, our visits to Bloemfontein became more frequent and Sarah’s family visited often. Our children came to know each other well.

The biggest challenge to the two of us was getting the best education for our children. Sarah ended up sending her young daughters to a boarding school in Nairobi , Kenya. Sadly the youngest , almost eleven, died in a freak accident at that school. It was an extremely traumatic experience for the family.

For university, they took their three children to University of CapeTown and mine joined her youngest ones at the same university some years later. By sheer coincidence, none of our six children chose to join our profession. They had the ability and capacity to go into medicine but mine just hated our rigorous and unpredictable schedules of work.

Among the highest moments together were:

  • The graduation and celebration of our children’s achievements. We always celebrated together.
  • Sarah’s surprise 60th Birthday party in Bloemfontein in September 2009. Her husband’s surprise birthday present was her sister and great friend, Margaret, from Uganda!
  • Our pilgrimage to Israel in April 2011- Sarah arranged for me to join a group about 60 people from her Catholic Church in Bloemfontein. I was the only protestant in the group and had I bent to their wishes, I could have converted and been baptised in River Jordan.
  • My daughter’s wedding in Uganda in November 2014- Sarah was in it from the traditional give-away of the bride to the After Party. She delightfully danced the night away.
  • During her ten day’s visit with John to Uganda in the pre-covid-19 days, January 2020. She spent an afternoon and stayed for the night with me and my octogenarian mother. Sarah cared to carry a soft scarf for my mother. We spent the night reminiscing and planning future travels together.
  • Her last birthday of 4th September 2020- I sent her an Audio message mainly thanking her for being a rock solid friend for all those years. I told her that I admired and respected her for her strong faith and spirituality, her love and concern for others- always giving and loving more than she received, her integrity , passion for life and sense of humour. She replied by sending me a photograph of herself seated among her birthday bouquets. She was as colourful as the flowers.
  • Her daily Spiritual nuggets to carry me through the day, which sometimes came in as early as 5:00am! Then later in the day she would send me the funniest clips just for the belly laughs.
  • The unbroken connection between us- She always knew where I was and I knew where she was. When she first felt unwell on the 20th December while the two of them were visiting Helen , their eldest daughter, in Johannesburg, she text me and informed me that she was going for the COVID-19 test. She text me soon after receiving the results and when she was admitted to hospital, two days later. I had even suggested that her phone should have been confiscated from her to allow her to rest- easier said than done. The last message I received from her was on the 7th January which was followed by that most dreaded call on the 13th January 2021!

What made Sarah’s death most painful is having to grieve alone due to the COVID-19 restrictions. I felt safe not to tell mother; she knows Sarah as one of my best friends. I could not be near John and our children in their greatest time of need. Due to the Internet blackout during the general election in Uganda, I was among the few who listened in to the funeral service of the 16th January in Bloemfontein. I had to be connected through a niece’s phone in Nairobi, Kenya!

I have picked a few lessons from this huge loss: Life is the greatest gift that comes with each dawn and should therefore be celebrated and lived fully every day. I am only here for a while and I should consistently learn to love with no regrets- telling your loved ones every day how much you love and care for them and then strive to give of your best.

Last but not least, let each one of us go through the day knowing that COVID-19 disease is real, it has changed our lives forever. It is my responsibility to protect myself and others by masking up, hand- sanitizing often, physical distancing and keeping abreast with new information that becomes available from the Ministry of Health. While we await the new vaccine, let us stay at home and ensure that we stay safe and healthy.

Sarah Namuli, the amazing African multitasking woman, the unique human being, you touched and enriched our lives abundantly. You will live on in your children, in our hearts and in the treasure trove of memories that we created together.

May God Rest Her Soul in Eternal Peace.

A YEAR LIKE NO OTHER

YEAR 2020

Seven days to go to the celebration of Christmas to be followed a week later by the New year,2021.

The Christmas carols being played on the radio and in the streets have never sounded so distant!

This has never happened to me before even during the most difficult Christmas of 1985 when Kampala was swarmed with army men while the Peace talks –later referred to as “peace jokes” were going on in Nairobi , Kenya. They were between the Ugandan government of the day headed by Tito Okello and the National Resistance Army (NRA), a rebel group led by Yoweri Museveni.

My husband and our two young children made arrangements for celebrating Christmas at home joined by my young sister, Gladys who arrived from London on Christmas eve.

 Feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, disbelief and confusion have weighed on all of us since 11 th March 2020 when the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 Respiratory disease a global pandemic. This new virus has since proved to be the biggest threat to our lives and has changed all the rules about everything- how we do things, how we move, how we socialize.

It is more scary now that like most countries in the world, Uganda is experiencing the second wave of the spread of the virus in its communities. The disease that sounded so far away in Wuhan , China , in December 2019, is right here in our midst.

In the last two weeks, I have lost some relatives, friends, colleagues and the numbers continue to increase. Many others are fighting it in self- isolation at home . Kampala and its suburbs are the epicenter of the disease. Under such a situation the best thing to do is to stay at home while practicing the standard health guidelines to the letter and taking efforts to boost your body’s immunity.

 No wonder the Christmas carols sound that distant!

But then life never stops so we just have to find a way of moving forward with the new virus in our midst. Probably the launching of the mass vaccine campaigns in some countries like  Britain, USA, Canada and Russia may give us some sense of renewed hope but then I happen to live in one of the least developed countries of the world and may have to wait patiently for some months to receive the vaccine doses.

From March 21 st to date, our movements have been restricted in our attempt to slow down the spread of the disease in our communities. Failing to do this, our health care workers will be overstretched and our weak health care institutions will be overwhelmed. As the disease progresses in all countries of the world, a healthy crisis has turned into an economic one. No country was prepared for these crises.

Life is essentially about learning and each experience I encounter has a lesson in it which I have to pick and learn from it , grow and become a better human being.

Most psychologists agree on the five basic approaches to handling a crisis in one’s life.

  1. Live One day at a Time- when you feel uncertain about your future, the best way to remain functional and keep going forward is to take one step focusing on the next one.
  2. Reduce the stress to make you feel in control- You do this by dealing with what is most important in your life at that moment in time. Our major priority now is to stay safe and healthy.
  3. Communicate your needs to loved ones and friends- talk, share and be open about your concerns.
  4. Reach out and Ask for Help- no one has ever handled a crisis successfully alone. Two heads are better than one. You can get help from family and friends but if you feel overwhelmed, do not hesitate to ask for professional help.
  5. Get Proper sleep- the future looks uncertain, you have suffered losses- loss of loved ones or even lost a job. You need to rest a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep regularly at night to restore your physical, mental and emotional well- being. It is the only way you can  make decisions, to take good care of yourself and loved ones and to adapt to new changes- becoming more creative and innovative.

One of my favourite quotes says: “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; but the species that survives is the one that that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” – Charles Darwin.

In life, no experience is ever wasted. The COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions on my life has had unintended good consequence on me.

Having too much time to myself has allowed me to reflect on my whole life and forced me to make some adjustments. I have had to develop:

An attitude of Gratitude- I have stopped takings things for granted. I recognise that the most important gift to me is waking up strong and mobile.

 Real Connectedness – Despite the changes and losses, I am grateful that I am in constant communication with my children, my sibling and friends and I am having some quality time with my mother. I am grateful that I have been able to maintain and gain new friendships in the pandemic.

I have regularly been sharing what I know including scientifically proven information about COVID-19 disease to help people understand the disease and persuade them to become part of the SOLUTION other than the confusion.

Creating an adventure in my home- The kid inside me has been woken up- to be spontaneously  creative and innovative.

Combining the innocence and spontaneity of childhood with the maturity, skill and wisdom of my age, I have been able to write several short stories that have been published Online platforms like: Stories to Connect us on commonwealthwriters.org, Yours 2Read based in London and Kalahari Review Literary Magazine.

In October, I attended the Femrite’s  week of Literary activities on Zoom and several medical virtual meetings. I have also participated in Bloggers challenges in Uganda and USA. It has kept me fully alive, useful and relevant in this COVID crisis. I have learned the technique of living and working with style and grace, making me contribute to the greater good in an effective way.

I have also been able to polish up two manuscripts that I wrote some years back.

My passion for gardening and reading has been at its best. Doing what I love and enjoy keeps me fully engaged with life.

Taking good care of myself and others- the majority of adults have to fulfill this responsibility. I have to be strong physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to take care of others in a weaker state.

 As 2020 draws to its end, I am grateful that I still have the great desire to stay engaged in life- to stay active and grow mentally and spiritually. I have the opportunity to plan for 2021 and set out a few clear and inspiring goals to light my way. I have to create possibilities for 2021 and beyond.

After a tough 2020, which left the majority of us tired, feeling wrung out, stressed and unsure about what the future might bring, the greatest virtue that I now need is hope in capital letters.

The online Oxford dictionary defines hope as: a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.

I need a deep well of hope to expect something good with confidence in 2021 and beyond.

As a devout Christian, I trust God the Father and the Restorer , will in his own way gradually restore all of us.

Why I feel that I badly need hope:

  • Without hope, I cannot think of a future beyond where I am.
  • Hope is critical if I am to reclaim my enthusiasm for life- armed with hope, I can anticipate the outcome with excitement. It stirs me up to open my mind and heart for new possibilities. Once again I will trust myself and others to learn from them.
  • If I keep losing hope in the future, I shall sink in despair and a final state of powerlessness and become dysfunctional.
  • With hope I can lift my eyes to the horizon and truly believe that nothing lasts forever. Change always occurs. Some patience, discipline and responsibility to myself will keep me functioning.
  • I can easily accept 2020 as an incredibly challenging year and understand that it is only one year in my long life- not to allow it to define me. Once I understand this with absolute clarity, then I can find the wings to fly high in 2021 and beyond.

Alexandre Dumas said:  “All human wisdom is summed up in two words; wait and hope.”

The most uplifting words that I have heard during this pandemic so far were from the close to 91 years of age Margaret Keenan of UK who was the first person in the world to receive the approved Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on the 8th December 2020.

“It’s the best birthday present I could wish for because it means that I can fully look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the new year after being on my own for most of the year.”

Herein lies our hope for the future; protecting the people against the disease, reopening economies and gradually returning to a New Normal.

My best present for this year will be making it to the end of the year and being given the opportunity to display a great generosity of mind and soul in 2021 and beyond.

QUESTION:

 Among your traditional rituals for the festive season, which one will you be missing most  this year? Why?

Thank you all readers and followers for walking with me through this unprecedented year.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and New Year filled with new possibilities.

 Please take the personal choice to stay safe and healthy.

SOME QUOTES ABOUT THE SIGNIFICANCE OF USING TIME EFFECTIVELY AND EFFICIENTLY

Nature provides us a constant reminder of the Seasons of Life

           

                             This is a follow up on my last post about the importance of Time Management in our lives.

                             

                              “Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” – Theopbrast

                               “Time comes to us one second at a time.” Author unknown

                                 Generally, up to our mid- thirties, most of us feel that we have all the time in the

                                 the world to be what we want  to be and to do what want to do.

           When we hit our forties , it dawns  on us that we have lived more than half of        our lives and we start to face our mortality. By the fifties, many of us are feeling emotionally and socially liberated and  have accepted our mortality. We are no longer driven by titles or status, ambition and fears ,  but instead, we allow death to guide us  through life.

You get yourself ready for death but at the same time get into the habit of

  living for today-living life to the fullest.  You live life on purpose and use the time left well.                   

                                                                                         

 You endeavour to create something that will touch people’s lives and outlast you.

   Reaching the Age of Mastery(45 to 65)

     and the Age of Integrity  (65to 85+) where I happen to be , endows you with deep

    friendships,  satisfaction for mentoring the young and to explore your innate creativity.

   You have the freedom to awaken a “dormant self” that was left behind as you worked  for status and titles in society. This “new self” gives you a sense of aliveness like a fourteen years old. You write, you paint and dare to do new things. The psychologist call it passing the Time

Flies Test– immersing yourself into some pursuit or pleasure with such passion that

   time flies without you knowing it. At peace with your mortality, you try to be more

    efficient and more effective with your time; you want to conquer and savour more

    out of life. At the same time, you pay more attention and time to maintaining

     an adequately functioning body with an agile mind. You open yourself to new

      learning every day and you become  quick to absorb new experiences.

     I would say that you look at life as the most priceless gift you have  and you open your heart, mind and soul to receive it and enjoy it fully.

                                   

   Reflecting on my life at this moment in time has helped me to understand

   the real meaning and true purpose of life.

                            

     I am hopeful that these quotations about time and life would help you appreciate

  the true meaning of life and to recognise that life is short but you can get it right.

  1. Time is the school in which we learn, time is the fire in which we burn.”

                                                                                                            –Delmore Schwartz.

2. Never let yesterday use up today.”- Richard .H. Nelson

3. You cannot build a house for last year’s summer. – Ethiopian proverb

4. “ Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of. One man gets only a weeks’ value out of a year while another

man gets a full year’s value out of a week.” – Charles Richards.

5 . Not everyone who chased the zebra caught it, but he who caught it, chased it.- African proverb

                                                                                                                                             

6.“Ordinary people think merely of spending time. Great people think of

Using it.” – Authour  Unknown

7.“ This time , like all times , is a very  good one , if we know what to do with it.”

                                                                                                  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

8. “Take care of the minutes and the hours will take care of themselves.”- Henry David Thoreau

9. “ You’re writing the story of your life  one moment at a time.”

                                                                               – Doc Childre and Howard Martin

10. He who rests grows rusty. –   German Proverb

11. An inch of time is an inch of gold but you can’t buy the inch of time with

     an inch of gold.  – Chinese Proverb.  

12. “The way we spend our time depends on who we are.” – Jonathan  Estrin

13. “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” – Leo Tolstoy

14.  “Time is the best teacher.”

15. “The common man is not concerned about the passage of time, the man of

          talent is driven by it.” – Shoppenhauer 

16. “They say that time heals everything but I would say that after losing a loved one, time just makes it comfortable to live with the loss.” – Jane Nannono

        

17. “At this moment in time, nothing fascinates me as watching my grandchild

          blossom into an independent human being more so during the times we do not see each other.” – Jane Nannono

18. “If you love life, don’t waste time for time is what life is.” Japanese quote

Last but not least :  Harry Emerson Fosdick’s Definition of a Successful Life:

                                      To laugh often and much;

                                       to win the respect of intelligent people

                                       and the affection of children;

                                       to earn the appreciation of honest critics

                                        and endure the betrayal of false friends;

                                        to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;

                                        to leave the world a bit better,

                                         whether by a healthy child,               

                                           a garden patch or redeemed social condition;

                                         to know even one life has breathed                             easier because you have lived.

– HARRY EMERSON FOSDICK

                              QUESTION :  Are you busy just being busy or are you devoting 80%

                               of your time on the 20% most important things in your life?

A CELEBRATION OF LIFE’S HARVEST 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life begins at 60

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

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

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

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

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

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

. The 2nd Adulthood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:

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

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?