NEW POSSIBILITIES

A feast for the eyes and the palate to welcome you into 2020

The New Year gives each one of us an opportunity to start afresh while at the same time aiming at doing more and doing better.

Oprah Winfrey once said: “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”

 The big picture of your life and mine comes to us piecemeal year by year. This explains why we have to look at the passing year closely before planning for the New Year. I have had to assess whether I was able to achieve the goals that I set for myself for this year and the progress I made towards advancing my overall purpose in life. I know that I should have done better in some areas and in others; things were beyond my control. I am now determined to use the lessons I have learned from my failures to improve my future, as for the achievements, they point me toward bigger goals in the years to come. They say that Experience is the best teacher.

As I write this post, a quote by an unknown author keeps coming to me: “Set your goals high enough to inspire you and low enough to encourage you.”
Unrealistic goals put you on pressure and lead to frustration.
For the last seven years, I have been a keen Follower of Michael Hyatt, the renowned American life coach and Virtual mentor. He advises each one of us to plan for the year as planning gives us clarity and helps us to make progress to achieving the goals. The three elements of the plan are:


1. The Vision- this is the big picture of your life and it should inspire and inform your plan. Each one of us is born with the power to create, transform and heal. What is most critical is that your vision conforms to who you are at a deep level and what your life, at best, should really be about. Look within yourself to identify your unique gifts, talents and skills and then use them to create your own ideal life. Having a vision of the future stretches your sense of possibilities and brings you closer to achieving your own ideal life. A positive but realistic projection of the future frees us to enjoy the present and to make our dreams come true. The vision should be very concrete so that it becomes real to us. You are free to fake it until you make it.

2.The Priorities- the most important things in your life that advance your personal development and fulfillment.
We live in a fast-paced, competitive world and many demands are made on us. It is vital that we consistently apply the 80/20 Rule of Time Management: prioritize the 20% most important things in your life and devote 80% of your time, energy, efforts and resources on them. It is the only way to stop the ‘Urgent’ from drowning out the most important activities that advance your overall purpose in life.

Life is too short. Do stuff that matters.”-  Siqi Chen

The priorities change as we grow but essentially they are: family, career, health, finances and relationships.

3. The Actions- the steps to be taken to fulfill your priorities.

Dante Alighieri rightly said: “The secret of getting things done is to act.”

 These are the goals and are better laid out using the SMART acronym:
S- Our goals should be Specific
M- should be Measurable( year-long)
A- should be Actionable
R- should be Realistic.
T- should be Time bound.

The above three elements of the year plan should be aligned together.

I have always had to remind myself that I am in control of my life. It fuels my determination to follow things through to achieve my vision and stay motivated to reach my goals. I must admit that this year my greatest weakness has been procrastination- the Thief of Dreams. I have had to fight fiercely to beat it. I had to encourage myself to stick to the deadlines and to ask my eldest son to hold me accountable.
I would urge you to believe in yourself and encourage yourself by rewarding yourself for the achievements. Be smart to let go of what no longer serves you and pick what really fits who you now are. This is the only way you can be yourself and let yourself have what you truly want.

Interestingly, I have had to take off my hat many times to Vuvu Mpofu, the newest opera singer star at the annual Glyndebourne Festival Opera of UK. She comes from a small town in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She first heard of opera at the age of fifteen when she watched a Mozart aria at a school concert. It cast such a strong spell on her that she bought two opera DVDs and taught herself to sing by mimicking singers in the DVDs. She did it over and over again until she became confident and competent to be noticed by a voice coach. Last August, she was chosen to participate in this traditional summer event. At twenty eight years of age, she became the first non-British artist to win the John Christie Award for the most promising young singer of the year.

I have watched her videos on YouTube and I have been blown away!

 With her vocal extraordinary talent, she is really going places.

This is what I call faking it until you become it.

I hope that reading this post has given you the confidence to make Smarter goals for 2020 , making it different from 2019. I wish you happiness, good health and prosperity in the New Year.

QUESTION:

Were you able to accomplish the goals you set for yourself for 2019?

What was your biggest hurdle? How did you overcome it?

I THOUGHT I NEEDED LESS TO BE HAPPY AND CONTENT UNTIL………..

Being surrounded by loved ones often, gives long term fulfillment.


I thought that as I grew older, I needed less to be more happy and content. I had come to believe like Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that less is more: less decoration properly deployed , has more impact than a lot of it. The same way a makeup artist  believes that light make up makes the individual features more prominent. I have been reading widely about happiness and life satisfaction and to my shock and amazement,the psychologists are telling me that I am wrong: what makes one happy and content does not vary much with age but some of the contributing factors to life satisfaction may change with age.

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

According to the psychologists, happiness is  a state of living an enjoyable, meaningful , rewarding and exciting life. It is born out of a deep satisfaction with one’s relationships with others, surroundings, accomplishments and oneself.

Some psychologists like Martin Seligman of USA think that happiness has 3 distinct elements:

  1. The pleasant life- having fun, joy and excitement in life. Having as many as 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. You cannot engage fully with life until you find out who you are- your strengths and flaws. You then apply this knowledge to find the great story of your life.Secure in this knowledge you are less likely to be confused by the inessentials or be pulled down or 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 around you.Living your genuine story makes you feel deeply satisfied  and gives meaning to your life. No life no matter how successful and exciting it might be, will make you happy , if it is not really your life. No life will make you miserable if it is genuinely your own.

The happiest people tend to pursue a full life encompassing these 3 elements.

It should be noted that each of our individual journeys is  intimately interwoven with the journeys of family members, friends and co-workers. The steps I take toward becoming truly myself affect them in the same way the steps they take affect me.

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

Extensive research done over the years has shown that age is related to happiness but  happiness is not related to gender. Life satisfaction tends to increase as people get older.

A growing child needs to feel safe and secure in a home, loved and valued by the parents. He/she needs to be surrounded by happy loving parents and people. As emotions are contagious, children who are given much love and care in their childhood learn to be kind to  themselves and then go out to love other people and animals.They grow up very optimistic ; resilient and can face life’s bigger challenges better.

The teenagers in any given population, are going through a period of rapid changes and transformation towards becoming  adults. During this transitional period, the part of the brain that controls emotions and motivation  and directs behavior to meet the challenges of their environment or weigh risks and rewards is not yet fully developed. Therefore, the teenagers cannot  direct and control their behavior and they feel happy if they are able to fit in with their peers and be accepted by them. Any rejection by their peers can push a teenager into terrible misery or even mental illness. Available scientific reports show that 50% of all mental illnesses in the USA begin by the age of 14 and 75% occur by mid 20s. Teenagers need affirmation , approval and acknowledgement. They need to feel loved and valued. If a child is good at something, he/she needs appreciation. This demands that parents, teachers should assist children to develop positive emotions.

The psychologists  who have studied positive psychology- the study of happiness and well being have identified a number of factors that consistently relate to happiness and fulfillment  in young adults and and older adults. They include:

  • Positive affect-  focusing on your individual positive traits: your strengths and virtues.

Optimism- expecting the best outcome in any situation. This positive frame of mind helps you see new opportunities, learn from different situations and keep  moving forward.

  •   Flow-  A mental state of well being achieved by being involved in an activity to the point where you feel you lose yourself in the activity, effortlessly maintain concentration and focus and feel in complete control of your action and time seems to pass more quickly than usual. 

No one is completely happy all the time, encouraging one to experience these three contributes to life satisfaction.

For the older adults,the psychologists have identified  six main factors related to happiness and contentment:

  1. Strong healthy relationships with loved ones- you learn relationship skills that help you make responsible decision making.
  2. Fulfillment from work- It pushes you to want to be more and do much more.
  3. Satisfaction with physical health- exercises optimises your brain’s ability to learn. It helps you  regulate your emotions.
  4.  Happiness with your romantic life
  5. Content with your personal growth
  6.  6. Secure in spirituality or religion

Greater life satisfaction makes us feel happier and helps us to enjoy life more. All in all, it has a positive impact on our health and well-being.

In the elderly, the need for life satisfaction remains relatively high though the illnesses associated with old age; aches and pains may reduce one’s engagement in life. Older adults  have weathered many storms of life and tend not to place more value on things and status like the young people. Instead, they place more value on family relationships and other genuine relationships which give them long-term fulfillment in their lives. It has been observed that happy people tend to have more friends, more high -quality social relationships and strong social support networks than less happy people.

 The illusion that I needed less to be happy and content developed after my sixtieth birthday. I had observed that I derived more joy and fulfillment by just spending time with family and genuine , old friends. I also observed that I could get a natural high by simply immersing myself into creative writing. I could effortlessly maintain my concentration and focus, felt in control of the action and time seemed to be passing quickly. It is a pleasant experience which requires me to use my skills, knowledge and passion. At that moment in time, I feel happy and fulfilled.

Digging deeper into the psychology of happiness and contentment  has helped me understand that the main factors contributing to my happiness and contentment have more or less remained the same but it is the value that I attach to each of those factors that have changed as I grew older!

I have to admit that it has indeed been a rude awakening! It has helped me to appreciate more that learning is a lifelong process. The more I learn the more I get to understand myself , the people around me and my environment. The wisdom of old age is pushing me to search for the reality behind appearances and  is opening me to the deeper truth about life.

QUESTION:

What activity is giving you the flow experience at this moment in time? How has this experience changed over the years?

FINDING MY LOCAL WRITERS COMMUNITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I cannot wait to devour them!

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

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

QUESTION:

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

ME TIME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Benefits of self-awareness/Knowing yourself.

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

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

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

       How to increase Self-awareness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:

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

SMILE AND LAUGHTER

The Smiling Emoji

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

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

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

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

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

Studies have proved how laughter improves our health and happiness.

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

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

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

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

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

It helps to diffuse difficult situations.

It promotes group bonding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUOTE:

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

Simply find opportunities to have a hearty laugh every day.

QUESTION:

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

GIVING YOUR BEST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:

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

THE POWER OF THE COLLECTIVE

This photograph is from Unsplash.com

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

Two heads are better than one.

Iron sharpens iron.

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

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

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main………………

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:

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



THIS IS WHAT I HAVE BEEN READING LATELY


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NATURAL BORN ANIMAL LOVER

Aunt Lena with her friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN TUNE WITH NATURE

Nature is said to be the art of God. It is also said to be cheaper than therapy.

I am a confessed outdoor fanatic . I have a few quotes about Nature that will force you to go outdoors to start the adventure of the lifetime:

“Take a quiet walk with mother nature. It will nurture your mind, body and soul.” A.D Williams

” It is hard not to stand in awe and enchantment with the beauty in which nature expresses herself.” Steve Maraboli

” Within nature lies the cure for humanity.” Anonymous

” If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” Vincent van Gogh

” Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein

” In every walk with nature, we receive far more than we seek.” John Muir

” We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts.” William Hazlett

” And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” Anonymous

Here are a few more photographs from my collection. They will help you appreciate the beauty of nature and talk you into protecting and conserving it.

An orange tree in bloom in my garden in the Botswana desert
The pristine beaches of Cape Town, South Africa
Arusha city in Tanzania has a longstanding policy of keeping the city green. The last time I visited the city , I was green with envy.
The oldest olive trees in the garden of Gethsemane, Israel.
I floated effortlessly in the Dead Sea-the salt sea, while a few others painted themselves with the Dead Sea black mud. The mud has therapeutic values.

QUESTION

Are you lonely, afraid, unhappy or do you need to unwind?

Just go outdoors, nature will awaken all your senses.