I cannot believe that I have not written on this platform for the past 5 months. That should tell you how crazy my life has been. 2015 has been incredible. I have experienced very deep valleys and beautiful mountain peaks. Yes, life has been a roller-coaster ride, a whirlwind that many times I did not know how to navigate through. I am thankful that most of the craziness has come to an end.
Let me bring you up to speed with some of the things that greatly preoccupied me.
- I started a sandwich business. I love good food. I saw a need for good, inexpensive food at my workplace and its environs and decided I needed to fill in the gap. Being in a metropolitan area, there are majorly expensive, fast food restaurants in this area code and many employees from the nearby offices will make do on just a light snack (like a granola bar, samosa, mandazi or chapati) for lunch. Quite sad in my opinion. So anyway, I bought foil wraps, salad cream, ketchup, ham, cheese, lettuce, cranberry sauce, wholegrain bread and started my business. One cold morning in late March, I made my first orders; 3 ham sandwiches. The next day, there were 7 orders from my office. A week after, they had risen to 13 orders every morning. Quite unprepared for such fast growth, I took time off to sit down and cost my materials and to plan for the business. My friend Geraldine, who I worked and studied with, became my de facto finance person. She has great financial discipline and she never forgot client orders-EVER! I, on the other hand, have goldfish memory, so you could say she was the rope that held many things together. And she was relentless in her efforts to get debtors to pay up for sandwiches they had got on credit. Running the business changed me. I started getting up at 2am daily to grate cheese, carrots, prepare fresh vegetables, caramelize onions, wash lettuce and make fresh sandwiches. I would be done by 6am with making the day’s orders so that I could shower, dress up for work and not miss my morning ride(I used to hitch rides with my older sister). By 7.30 am most days, I would be at work and be there till 5pm. I would leave work and then go to the market to buy fresh supplies for the next day’s sandwich orders. Upon reaching home, I completed my pending work for the day, ate dinner and then went to bed. I would be up the next day at 2am. Sometimes, people did not pay up for the sandwiches (a particular young man at work has never paid to this day. I tired of asking him to! When his conscience haunts him enough, he will clear the bill). At the end of the week, I would be a fatigued hot mess. Sometimes, due to the exhaustion, my feet got numb and I had persistent migraines. Why did I not give up in spite of all the difficulties? Because I had passion and I wanted to succeed! This experience taught me the value of sacrifice, resilience, hard work. building relationships and having a positive attitude. If I was to make money to sustain myself and the business, I would have to make painful sacrifices(including forfeiting my sleep!). So I did it. I couldn’t believe myself when people started making orders from as far as the city center. Though I made many mistakes along the way (like allowing untrustworthy people to get sandwiches on credit), it was a learning experience. Due to my crazy schedule, I put the business on hold in May and plan to resume it in January 2016 when I’ve saved up enough to hire two people and to buy equipment and rent premises. Now, I am just experimenting with food; whipping up meals that I love.
2. When Marcus,a musician and a friend of mine, asked me to sing background vocals for a song he had penned, I thought he was out of his mind. I rarely sing (except in the bathroom and in my room- which makes my brother Jordan want to gag because I am usually so loud that it disrupts everything else he is doing). After a few days of thought, I decided to give it a try. I went to studio with Marcus, and rapper Nemesis and recorded the song. I was quite nervous about how it would turn out. Thankfully, it turned out alright (good enough that my siblings did not disown me!). The song was a theme track for the countrywide anti-drug campaign “Hooked” orchestrated by Butabika National Mental Referral Hospital and Wizarts Media, a media production house. I thought that was the end of it. A few weeks later, I got a phone call to the effect that we were to perform the song on the United Nations Narcotics day on June 26th at a fundraising dinner where the Prime Minister of Uganda, Ruhakana Rugunda and Information Minister Jim Muhwezi were going to be chief guests. We had three days of rehearsals with a band. I could not get myself to loosen up or to calm my nerves down. This was my first major singing gig and I did not want to embarrass myself in front of the guests, my workmates or friends that were in attendance. Somehow, on the D-Day, it turned out alright and I managed to sing, sway my hips to the beat and actually have fun. Thank goodness! Now, I know that I have the potential to sing; I just need lots of practice and a major confidence boost. You can never really know what you’re capable of until you try your hand at something.
3. Juggling school, work, mentorship leadership and a research assistant-ship: Fate has a weird way of throwing things at us. How I ended up with all those responsibilities, I cannot fathom! Somehow, they fell on my plate and I had to deliver. There were no excuses for failure in any one of them. With all the tasks I had to accomplish, my days became shorter and shorter and my workload heavier and heavier. My social life literally died. My friends failed to understand why I could not hang out with them more often, my peers from church youth group often wondered where I had disappeared off to, my mother cried foul over my inability to visit her at her house and my sweet little nephew Joshua questioned many times when aunt Lala would eventually come home to see him. Late nights typing away on the laptop, incessant phone calls, little sleep, bags under my eyes, a tired countenance, countless mugs of hot chocolate and coffee were the realities of my daily living for the past 5 months. Boy oh boy did I wish for some respite. I finally got my wish many months later(read; just a week ago!). I know I came through unscathed because of the grace of God; nothing more, nothing less. God has been my anchor, my strength, my unfailing propelling force. Without him, I would have crushed and burned.
4. Telling impactful, human interest stories has been life changing.My heart smiled when I told of a recovering addict’s triumphant attempt at kicking out their drug habit, of a young rural entrepreneur’s journey to business success, of a common Ugandan’s woes resulting from the polythene bag ban. The people I interacted with grew on me, their stories taught me patience, perseverance, forgiveness and compassion. Through them, I saw the world in a way I had never before envisioned. 26 year-old recovering alcoholic Kalanzi taught me that it’s not too late to redeem myself from bad situations I am entangled in. 27-year old recovering marijuana addict Athmani Bilali showed me that God can lift you up from your mess for you to become a message. He was in the rut; a school dropout, he was banished from his family, he spent months in jail, he lived in the squalid, dingy ghettos of Naguru- away from the comforts of his father’s house where he grew up. Forgiveness and reconciliation soon ensued and he was reunited with his family. Bilali starts law school again this month. He has been to schools, churches, universities, communities spreading awareness about the dangers of drugs. A prodigal son returned by Abba Father to a place where he belongs- a place to prosper and do well in life. Renowned East African gospel sensation Exodus opened up about his drug addiction battles while growing up impoverished in Kampala’s rough slums, of life as a destitute, a forgotten street child on Kampala’s streets and overcoming those obstacles to become a high earning East African musical powerhouse. Quite often, I was moved almost to tears as I jotted down their stories in my notepad. My notepads and pens can testify of the floods of tears that flowed over them after my interviews with people I was profiling. The stories of triumph over adversity inspired me. They made me realize how my problems pale in comparison to what other people are going through. You cannot fail to be thankful after these experiences.
Profiling Olel Emmy(far left), a young gardening entrepreneur in Gulu.
5. The old adage “never judge a book by its cover” has come to haunt me squarely. Why? Because I judged a certain someone so much(in my mind) that when I eventually got to know them deeply, I could not help but be overcome with guilt. I shall call this person Dante for the purpose of this post (I introduced him to Dan Brown’s Inferno that made reference to Dante Alighieri, a major Italian poet of the middle ages) and he loved the book. I thought Dante was aloof, knuckle-headed, egocentric, sexist and full of bluff. Turns out Dante is an ardent reader like I am and we can sit for hours on end (sometimes till 1 am) in conversation. We are friends now. The friendship would never have blossomed if I hadn’t let the walls down and purposed to not judge this person by what the entire community around thought of him. Dante is a good person. Like many smart people, he is ostracized as a jerk, know-it-all, arrogant slob. What many people(including myself) did not know is that he is a soft-hearted, nice human being. Judgment clouds our objective opinions of people and situations.
6. Most importantly, family will always be family; the strength on which we survive, the wind beneath our wings. My family has had many triumphs and tragedies in this time but together, we have come out stronger. Without mine, I think I would be lost. The mumzie turned 60, my brothers graduated and got amazing life opportunities. I saw my ill elderly uncle Abu who is bedridden for the first time in over 12 years. I would never forgive myself if he went to meet the Lord without me saying goodbye. The family are my little piece of God-sent heaven(Imperfect at times but overflowing with unconditional love to sustain me in life’s rough waters). For our trials, we have learned to gel together. For our successes, we have learned to be eternally grateful.
I do not know what life has thrown at you of late. But as I sign off on this cold, windy Kampala evening, I would like to leave you with some inspiration:
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Keep your head up high. Remember that adversity is an opportunity for learning and when you do succeed, keep an attitude of immense gratitude.
Yours truly! 🙂