Author Archives: lagotsarahodwong

Sexual Abuse- A survivor’s story

Standard

 

liz

(Photo credits: Internet stock photo)

A few years ago, a girl I went to school with faced some life altering experiences. Whereas I had heard that she was going through a rough patch, I did not fully comprehend the extent of her suffering. Now as adults and as very good friends, she narrated to me the incidents that left her a changed woman. Here is the verbatim version of her story.

You’ve probably heard the rumors and you wondered how true they were.  I feel it’s time to break my silence. Yes, it happened. In the latter half of my first year at university, I was physically, verbally and sexually abused by an acquaintance. Many of my close friends and family were drawn into the aftermath too.

I had lived with this man for just over six months because I believed that he loved me. The truth of my situation hit me like a jolt. For a long time, I was gripped with fear that was accompanied by an adrenaline high and panic attacks that I had multiple times a day. A lot happened within a very brief period of time. I couldn’t believe how much power I had given up, how uncontrollably helpless I had become, how awfully shaky and insecure I had turned out. A cloud of disappointment hovered over me. How could I  have let the boundaries that surrounded my private life collapse? How could I have exposed and involved other innocent people in a burden that should have been mine to carry? Life was dark and loaded with uncertainty. I suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), weight loss and abortion guilt (I discovered I was pregnant with the perpetrator’s child after the abuse and had the baby removed). My body couldn’t handle the stress and I found myself throwing up consecutively for nearly a fortnight. Everything I ate and drank came back up and I wilted like a dying flower feebly shedding its leaves. I continued to shrivel under the weight of it all. Another huddle was the nightmares; particularly those in which I dreamed of bottomless pits into which I was yanked by strong forces. I also dreamed of cages where I was locked up and howling for help because I could not find the exit. Those nights were rough and often they left me suicidal.

There were moments during which silence and isolation were the order of the day.  At these times I relived my experiences of rape in a world of grim quietness. I had an internal debate during which I paused questions like; “What I could have done to prevent it or what I could have done that caused it to happen?” These questions never left me peaceful. Overwhelmed by confusion and hurt, I began to look for a ‘scapegoat.’ Coming from an evangelical Christian background, I felt compelled to make God a part of my solution. I searched for Christian literature that could address issues like mine and I finally came across some that offered healing for sexual abuse survivors. I felt like a horrid sinner, though, and I noticed that many of the churches I attended failed to get an in-depth understanding of these issues, their causes and impact. I found myself feeling like I was a combo of good yet guilty, and light mixed with darkness.

Nothing I could have done would have averted the situation. I came to this realization months later. It was intentional, meant to hurt me and destroy my life for good. I began to accept this reality and to accept that I had value, that my life was priceless, regardless of how my partner had made me feel. The will to live kicked in and I put up a fight to reclaim me. This is the point at which a genuine interest in me started to develop. Suddenly my imperfections appeared oddly beautiful to me. My appreciation for humanity flourished further when I listened and watched Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged album. She uttered something profound during the performance when she said; ‘We are all in the same mess.”  These words remained with me. The song “I Gotta Find Peace Of Mind” resonated with the need for me to connect with a peaceful cosmic force. I found some relief and this album compelled me to delve into the wondrously strong and broken person I had become.

This made me scared and thrilled at my own existence. I picked a selection of India Arie’s jams to listen to such as “I am not my hair”, “Little Things” and these songs were like my therapy. There was a masterpiece record which held my pieces together and sealed the wounds so that they became scars. The song is called “I am light” and it flung open the doors of the most fulfilling source of healing to me. It unlocked a myriad of gates on my path to liberty.

I picked interest in other women’s experiences and even sought for dialogue when the need arose. I strengthened my ties with the feminist movement, and went on a search about its history, core elements, objectives and its current state. The curiosity I had once had about my identity and sexuality began to return but in a fresher light. I embraced my body and hair in its natural state. I was glowing, putting on weight and loving this. I started to feel good. I also renewed my spiritual walk.

I have since continued my journey to freedom and equality for all. I have become increasingly compassionate towards broken and marginalized people such as survivors of abuse, persons discriminated against because of their sex, orientation or other demographic attributes and persons living with HIV & AIDS. Also, I had never thought I would fearlessly profess to be feminist despite the stigma around it, but I do.  My lessons are inestimable.

***

Here are some of the responses I received when people learnt of my rape experience.

  • I have been cautioned about what I was wearing at the time of these events and even after.
  • I have been with people that shut me down shortly after I had started a conversation about my experiences.
  • I have been told by some that I should not bother speaking. After all, who will listen?
  • I have been told that after observing the good relationship my parents had I was wrong to have allowed the abuse to happen.
  • I live under constant scrutiny of people about my personal decisions especially those concerning my sexuality and relationships.
  • Many have felt that after that experience I am maybe incapable of loving.
  • I have been told to man up and not whine about my pain.
  • Some people out of ignorance have said that I couldn’t have been raped by a man I loved; let alone conceive a baby by him against my will.
  • I have been told that maybe if I fought harder the abuse wouldn’t have happened.
  • I have been accused of murder committed in cold blood because of the abortion.
  • I have been confronted with the challenge of explaining that the abuse happened and having to talk about some of these things while my wounds were still fresh.

I could go on and on, but what I would like to draw your attention to is the fact that many times attention is drawn to the victim of such crimes instead of to the perpetrator and this causes the victims unbearable pain.

What do I think should be done?

The way to go is to approach these issues with compassion, caution and wisdom. Abuse alone can be extremely alienating. It causes potential harm and real harm to victims as concerns their health, safety and image in the eyes of their loved ones as well as in the eyes of the public. They live with the traumatic effects months and years after it happens. They require real love and acceptance. Survivors need to feel normal- because they are. They need to be given platforms to speak when they feel the urge to.

Society needs to accept their decisions about matters of public concern but also respect their right to privacy. The empathy and compassion that we show them is what will give them fortitude to overcome the caustic forces that besieged them during the most difficult times of their lives. Ignorant and generalized speech directed to them must stop.

Survivors need to be helped to understand that they are worth much more than these painful experiences.

It’s been several years of being a survivor for me. Everyday I am changing and learning, trying to make life better for the next person out there that may go through or has gone through similar experiences. Are you being compassionate and empathetic? Take a moment to pause and think about your behavior!

As told by KWE; survivor of sexual, physical, verbal and mental abuse.

 

 

 

 

A letter to the parents of 20-something year olds

Standard

daily mail photo

Dear Parent,

I sit in the trenches of life as a silent observer. I see things. I hear things. I learn things. And then I speak. For your child’s sake, I must speak.

Your daughter is propped on a wooden bench. Her eyes are misty, her shoulders drooped, her hair in a slightly tumbled mess. The afternoon sun blazes down on her with gusto. She thinks long and hard. She has never been more frustrated or angry in her life. See, the previous day when she got home late from work, you assumed she had been out with men- AGAIN. In your typical fashion, you cussed and called her all sorts of names; the most polite of which was “Malaya (prostitute).” You accused her of hobnobbing with a bevy of unsavory men. You told her to leave your home with immediate effect. You muttered about what a disgrace she has become. And then you capped it off with an emphatic- GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! And that she did.

She climbs into her rickety salon car- aged from its numerous handlers and owners. Your daughter’s job cannot afford her luxuries like a new car. She can only afford this fifth hand Toyota. She clamors into the relative safety of her beaten car and drives off. Thankfully, her Masaai blanket is folded on the backseat of the little car. What a welcome relief it is for her! At least tonight, she will have respite from the cold. She drives to the middle of town. The mall is still open. She tucks the car into a corner of the parking lot. Couples holding hands pass by. Groups of friends engaged in loud conversation cackle with laughter. Loud music blares through the brisk night. She glances out of the car windows. A bright light still shines through the “Greenshop” window. She looks through her purse. 30,000 Uganda shillings. It is not enough to last even two days. Consolation; in the trunk are two loaves of bread and pints of milk that she had bought for the family. She never got a chance to get them out. These provisions will serve her well. She steps out of the car and walks to the Greenshop and later, the grocery store. After a few minutes, she emerges with a plastic bag in hand. Two second-hand wash and wear dresses, a toothbrush and toothpaste tube; she is ready for the prodigal life.

She gets back into the car, reclines her seat and drapes the Masaai blanket over her chest. She goes to sleep. You do not call to find out where she has gone off to. In your mind, a “disrespectful child who comes home after 8 p.m.” has no place in your homestead.

It is still dark- but she reckons it is almost 6 a.m. She gets up, rubs the sleep from her eyes and drives to her workplace. Today, she has to have her A-Game on. There is a big meeting with a client. The cleaners are surprised to see her in so early. She goes to the bathroom and pulls out the toothbrush and toothpaste. She freshens up and changes clothes. A female employee comes in a few hours later and she borrows her hand lotion and deodorant spray. She tells her that she forgot her toilet bag home. It is a flimsy excuse. The men at work think she was up to naughty shenanigans the previous night. They tease her mercilessly. She ignores the jibes. As long as she is fresh and prepared for the meeting, she is okay.

A few hours later, the meeting is done. It went remarkably well. She is a hard worker. Her bosses are not entirely shocked that she managed to pull off this client heist from their competitor. It is lunch time. She does not have money to buy an expensive plate of lunch. The downsides of working in an upscale part of town have become all too real. She goes to the gardens behind the office to “get a breather.” The hunger pangs are biting- but there is nothing to do. She has to ration the milk and bread in her car to last a few days. She is not sure for how long this nomadic season will last. She sits her tired bottom on a bench in the garden.

She remembers your spat from the previous night. Her mind floods with the arguments you have been consistently having ever since she got a job and attained some level of independence. You failed to realize that she is no longer a child- or a teenager who bided by your word without any objection. She has blossomed, this one. She has an opinion. When you are wrong, she will tell you- in her own quiet way. You take this for disrespect. Your word is law and hell hath no fury when she “disobeys” one of your commands. She must not talk on phone for too long, she must not laugh for too long, she must not meet young men (and yet she works with many young men), she must not come home later than 8 p.m. (and yet the traffic jam and the nature of her job dictate otherwise).You have started demanding that she get married or at least introduce a suitor. You have become uncomfortable with the queries from your relatives and friends about when she will jump the broom.

She rocks herself on the bench so the hunger waves subside. Her phone buzzes. She flips it open. A text message has just come in. She reads it, smiles coyly and dabs her wet eyes. She looks out across the garden. Her eyes twinkle with a mischievous glint. The dubious, morally slippery Marketing Manager of the client she met earlier that morning is flirting with her. He has asked her to join him at a top city hotel that evening. The prospect seems oddly more enticing than going back home to experience high decibel, hair-raising quarrels and emotional blackmail from you. She replies his text in the affirmative. What more has she got to lose anyway? You have already labelled her as wicked, rebellious, loose and everything in between.

……………………………………………XXX………………………………………………………………..

Hers is the story of many young adults.

Your need for control over every aspect of her life has caused her heartache. She is tired and resentful. She prays to God fervently for her big break; a better paying job, so she can move out and have her personal space. Home is no longer “home” for her. And yet you have not realized that you are pushing her further away. She has her personal demons, her battles she is fighting. You ask her to share her troubles with you- but how can she, when all you do is speak negatively into her life? You have never learned to let go. You have not yet come to the place of peace where you realize that the foundations that you laid for her when she was growing up will remain her buttress root. You have not understood that the values and norms you instilled in her will guide her now more than ever. You have not allowed the caterpillar to blossom into a beautiful butterfly.

Find a common ground; establish firm ties with your 20-something year olds. Respect their independence while playing your parental role. It is easy to push your child over the edge. Learn to let go, trust them to make healthy decisions and believe that the lessons you have taught them will help them sail through this unpredictable experience called life.

Yours Sincerely,

Sarah L.O.

 

WADING THROUGH OBSTACLES

Standard

leonardo-dicaprio-oscars(Leonardo di Caprio- Photo courtesy of  Tech Insider)

That Sunday night, Leonardo’s eyes welled up. He looked down at his prize with a deep, reverent awe. Dressed in a tuxedo, almost too dapper for a 40-something-year-old man, his heavy sighs, uncalculated shrugs and misty eyes told of the emotion holed up in his chest. The flood was about to roll down his cheeks. It had been years coming; years of frustration, of anguish, of watching less deserving people get ahead, of bitterness at being overlooked for remarkable feats in his industry, of disappointment at being blatantly ignored by the voting powers that be in his trade.

But this delightful night, Leonardo was victorious. And millions of people around the world shared in his joy. From the tweetosphere (the murky space online where twitter citizens live their virtual lives), to dark alleys in Bangkok, to police stations in Pakistan (where a Police Commander hosted a lavish banquet for policemen in honor of Leo’s achievement), to a friend’s loud jubilant gasps of “Yessssssss” at 2 a.m. in Kireka, the world had waited with bated breath to see if Leo would be denied his victory again.

Over the last two decades, Leonardo di Caprio has been a prolific actor in Hollywood, taking up roles that have been raw, emotional, intense, provocative, as well as seriously intellectually engaging. He has been one of Hollywood’s less scandalous actors; keeping a low profile and letting his work speak for him. From The Aviator, Titanic, Catch Me If You Can, The Wolf of Wall Street, Blood Diamond, The Great Gatsby to other blockbusters, Leo has brought life to the characters he has played and I dare say, he has arguably been one of the top actors in the last half-century. He has been nominated 164 times for awards, winning 45 of them. Among his nods were five Oscar nominations. He lost all those five times; against sometimes seemingly less formidable and less talented actors. It was a dark cloud over his career.

The Oscars are the pinnacle of any actor’s career. They also seemed to be the Achilles’ heel, the blotted stain on Leo’s otherwise stellar career. He was trolled on the internet for being a perennial under-achiever at the Oscars. People scoffed at his ability to pick up an Oscar for his roles. Many wondered why he had never won the elusive Oscar award. Through all the shame, disappointment, anguish and bitterness I am sure Leo felt, he never wavered. He held his head high, mustered the courage to power through the disappointments and worked harder than ever with a grace and humility that I have not seen many do.

Leo’s hard work paid off a few weeks ago. On his sixth nomination, he finally won the 2016 Oscar award for an actor in a leading role for his portrayal of Hugh Glass, a 19th century American frontiersman who was left for dead by his comrades after being mauled by a bear during a winter expedition. Over twenty years later, Leo’s coveted victory came. The puffing of his chest as he walked up to give his acceptance speech spoke volumes; how sweet the victory must have tasted after countless, tearful attempts and stinging failure. Like many around the world, I was ecstatic for Leo.

You see, Leo’s victory spoke to my heart more than a thousand hours of encouragement have done. For a few months now, I have been facing monumental challenges in my life. Sometimes, I have felt like my life’s journey has been peppered with the worst kind of prickly thorns. A few times, I have felt like throwing in the towel, digging a hole in the ground and disappearing into it as I wait for the wind to blow my problems away. Leo carried himself with such humility and exhibited such immense gratitude at getting what he had worked so hard for that I could not fail to be inspired.

In as much as my problems are floating around like suffocating, obese Goliaths, I am encouraged that one day, in God’s time, my hard work and sacrifices will pay off. I am learning to take life one day at a time, to value the refiner’s fire, to take the time to appreciate tough situations, difficult people, painful sacrifices and dealing with failure. When I go through the valley and reach my peak, I will remember what grace abounded on my life to be an overcomer. And I hope to God that on that day, I will be as thankful and humble as Leonardo di Caprio was after his Oscar feat.

A close brush with danger

Standard

It is a public secret that I have a turbulent relationship with boda-boda folks. The love and hate relationship that we have can make for a very good telenovela.
Unsurprisingly, my dislike for boda-boda riders has only intensified following an incident recently. A few days ago, I was swarmed with work, trying to beat deadlines and so I ended up staying at the office really late. Time Check: 9:00 p.m. I packed up my laptop in my gray weather-beaten back pack and walked out of the office. Nyonyi Gardens where I work, was steeped in a deathly silence. A few cars drove by the Kololo airstrip stretch. Because it was pitch dark, I needed to get a boda-boda to reach Nakawa before it got any later.
My regular boda-boda man was home already. Left with no option, I trudged down the road towards Shoprite Lugogo. A few cars sped by as I walked on the uneven pavement. My eyes were firmly fixed on the winding road from Nyonyi Gardens to Engen Lugogo that seemed to have no end. Bogged down by the weight of the laptop in the rucksack on my back and a handbag firmly clasped in my right hand, I looked like a pitiful hunchback making her way through the dark Kololo streets.
“Hoot hoot,” a vehicle honked.
I turned my gaze to the road at the sound piercing through the silent night. A boda-boda had finally shown up.
“Nyabo, where are you going?”
A boda-boda rider clad in a thick green leather jacket and a cracked helmet atop his head asked. The front lights of his bike blazed fiercely through the thick cloud of darkness, casting a yellow hue over the entire street.
“I am going to Kireka,” I replied.
A tough bargaining session over the fare to Kireka soon ensued between the boda-boda rider and myself. He wanted 6,000 shillings. I wouldn’t budge. That amount was too much. I told him I would walk the rest of the journey to Shoprite. Defeated, he rode off in the opposite direction. I continued my labored walk towards Nakawa.
I cannot tell for certain how it happened but in a split second a huge force jolted me out of my reverie.
I tried to make sense of what was happening. The boda-boda rider had suddenly turned back and attempted to snatch the handbag out of my hand. For some reason that night, I had held the bag with a deathly grip. As such it was hard for him to release it out of my hands. His engine roared as he tried to pull away my bag. He exerted so much energy pulling the bag that he dragged me into the road. I slumped face forward onto the rough, unwelcoming gravel on the tarmac surface. I felt the full force of the fall as rough stones scraped against my face. A car that was driving in my direction screeched to a halt about two metres from my bruised body. The driver had obviously noticed the chaos from afar. Putting his car headlights on, he switched off his engine and came out. The boda-boda rider, caught in the car headlights, rode off; afraid he had been seen. He dropped my bag on the tarmac.

“Are you okay? Are you okay? Madam, are you okay?” the driver of the parked car asked as he patted my forehead.

Other cars had proceeded to park behind his car. A crowd was milling around my body. They seemed worried.
I was in a daze. The adrenaline and the nauseating fear made me lapse into a stupor. My heart raced so fast. My head was spinning in circles. The driver, very worried now, scooped me in his arms and placed me with my belongings in the passenger seat of his car. He locked the door and drove to Engen Petrol station. That is when I came to.
My heart started to race again as I realized I was locked up in an unfamiliar car. I looked around to see if I could raise an alarm. The pump attendants at the petrol station were engaged in light-hearted banter. Their laughter rose through the air as they clapped their hands with glee. The overhead lights from the canopy shone through the car. A middle aged man in a pin-striped suit walked back to the car and opened it. He climbed in and started the engine.
He passed me a bottle of cold Blue-Wave mineral water.
“Drink this!” the man said in a fatherly tone.
“Who are you? Where are you taking me?” I asked on the verge of a panic attack.
“Calm down. My name is Benjamin. I picked you from near The Lawns. A boda-boda man was trying to rob you,” he replied.
The memories all came rushing back like a gust of ice cold wind chilling me to the marrow. I shuddered to think of what would have happened if Benjamin had not come to my rescue. He could have easily run over me on the road too if he had not been sober and alert.
“Thank you Benjamin,” I muttered.
In that moment, I was so grateful to be alive.
Benjamin, whose second name I never got to know, dropped me off at Shell Nakawa. I then boarded a Namugongo-Kyaliwajjala bound taxi that dropped me right outside my mother’s house.
It is true what they say. You never anticipate that your life will be taken from you any day. Like everybody else, I live with the knowledge that death will come but I never fathom how soon it will come. It seems like some far-off apparition that I only occasionally glimpse at when I hear of somebody’s demise.
However, my boda-boda incident has sobered me up to the reality that I can go to meet my creator any time. I am making certain evaluations in my life, working on relationships with people and my creator and trying to enjoy every minute of every day. Alas, last Thursday night, I could have breathed my last.
Last Thursday night also promptly ended my business relationships with boda-bodas. I will not take boda-bodas. A morbid fear of them has gripped my heart and soul. When I see a boda-boda rider, my mind races back to the man in the thick green leather jacket with the cracked helmet. A sight that terrified my soul!
As I am learning to take care and be more cautious of my surroundings, I am also making the deliberate decision to put my life, safety and health above all the material things I am working for. I have let my boss know that I will not be working late hours any more. He can always find a replacement employee in case I pass away. My mother however, would never recover from the grief of my demise. Like Toby Mac said; “you don’t want to gain the whole world and lose your soul.”

Many months later…resurgence!

Standard

20150824_135745[1]20150824_135737[1]

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.

  1. 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.

20150425_100839 20150408_072043 20150403_183324 20150403_183255 20150725_205535[1]

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.

11539007_667064293400075_5226113187526763372_o

11416357_667064210066750_1785792457588913626_o 11109171_667064110066760_6271215615428285477_o

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.

20150424_170339

IMG_398564444339858 IMG_398629723811723

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.

20150507_170225Exodus(left) and yours truly(right); his is a true story of grass to grace.

20150409_141722Kalanzi(left); making the strides to kick out an alcohol addiction.

20150226_112908

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.

20150306_203625 20150226_074100 20150306_203647

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.”– Hellen Keller

Keep your head up high. Remember that adversity is an opportunity for learning and when you do succeed, keep an attitude of immense gratitude.

Blessings!

Yours truly! 🙂

Unmasking Charles Odongtho

Standard

charles 2

Charles Odongtho sits hunched over his small laptop computer, scratching his head in deep thought as he occasionally glances into his notebook and proceeds to type, or to scribble quick notes. He is a sturdy and well-built gentleman. Born on 12th December 1974 at Lacor hospital in Gulu, he is the third child in a family of eight children. With a soldier for a father, it was not surprising that as a little boy, Odongtho was very inquisitive. He was always seeking to learn something new. He was particularly close to his father. At the tender age of five, life as he knew it was no more. There was a change of regime and his father was forced to flee to exile with his young family. The mistreatment meted on his father by virtue of his position left an indelible mark on the youngster. The few months he spent in exile shaped his perception of the world around him. Initially, he was very close to his father but he soon developed a strong bond with his mother as well.

Odongtho started his early education at Parombo Primary School in Nebbi, West Nile. He later joined Angal Secondary School, a Catholic school established by the Verona Sisters. After completing Senior Four, Odongtho immersed himself into business. Diligent in his trade, at the age of 17, he became a millionaire. With this influx of money, he decided that he did not want to go back to school. The allure of business was irresistible and the sum of money he was raking in was insane, especially for one so young. 2 to 3 years later, he was still in the trading business and a bonafide school drop-out. This did not bode well with his parents. They had several verbal altercations with him in this regard. They intimated to him the need to attain an education- at least up to a diploma level. Heeding their advice, he left business after those two years and went back to school. Odongtho thoughtfully points out that most of his peers with whom he joined the business world are now billionaires. Many of them, he says, are some of the richest men in Northern Uganda. In spite of the bitter sweet emotions he endured from watching his colleagues progress on financially as he ventured back into the world of academia, Odongtho braved the disappointments and soldiered on as an A-Level student. He enrolled first at Arua Academy where he studied briefly before transferring to Alliance High School in Kampala from where he sat for his Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education exams. After his A-Levels, Odongtho contemplated his next career move. His dream was to become a lawyer, soldier or journalist. He joined the army briefly but his mother was in such a furore about it that she came for him after only two weeks. Thus, his dream of being a soldier was abruptly nipped in the bud. He applied for and was admitted into the journalism program at UMCAT. Upon graduation, he was employed at Radio Paidha where he was a news reporter.

Afterwards, he applied and was admitted for a diploma program at Uganda Management Institute (UMI). UMI had the best journalism school in the region. The school would only admit people that were already working. Admitted into UMI in 2000, he completed the course in 2001 and joined The New Vision newspaper. He started off in the New Vision newsroom as an intern and then ended up working there for a year. In 2003, he went to the Netherlands to study a diploma in International Broadcast training where he learnt newspaper reporting, online reporting and broadcast reporting. Upon his return, Radio Paidha called him to be manager from June 2003 to August 2004. He then enrolled at Makerere University for a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication degree. During this time, he got a job with Uganda Radio Network as he concurrently pursued his studies. He completed in 2007 and graduated in 2008 with a second class upper degree. Although his dream was to attain a first class degree, balancing work and study had been a tough call thus making that dream unattainable.

After graduation, he was employed as the first news editor at Vision Voice radio. Later, he became the features Editor.  Thereafter, he was engaged in political programming for “Vision Parliament.” In 2008, while at The New Vision, he was the only journalist chosen from Uganda to cover the U.S presidential elections in which the incumbent President Barack Obama was contesting. He did this for a period of two months. Out of the more than 60 people who applied for the opportunity, he was the sole victor. This has arguably been the highlight of his career.

charles odongtho

He continued working with Vision Group until 2010. When he left Vision Group, he went to Ethiopia for a training of one and a half months. In the same year, he got a call for a job at Panos as Commissioning Editor for Rural Radio debate. Panos is an organisation that carries out research and publishes books. While there, he received another invitation to join Uganda Radio Network in late 2011. At his new workplace, he was at the helm of the National Perspective Program. This program focused on development, reproductive health, infrastructural development and social life issues. He was the Commissioning Editor.

In 2011 after the elections, he partnered with Paul Kavuma and started the program “Our Parliament.” It was an idea he had pitched to his colleagues at Vision Group but they had not grasped the concept well in its entirety. However with Kavuma, he was able to bring it to life. Our Parliament is a show that brings topical issues discussed on the floor of Parliament into the public arena. At Wizarts Media, Odongtho is the Content Manager. He is responsible for coming up with ideas and what angles of stories should be followed. He comes up with topics, discusses the angles it should take in editorial meetings and he gets the news sources. A veteran journalist, he is involved in a number of discussion fora especially on NTV as a panellist and on KFM on Fridays from 7-8 p.m. On top of his heavy workload, he is back at school again. Now a third year student of law at Makerere University, Odongtho made the move to spruce up his academic credentials in 2012. His major highlight at Wizarts Media has been turning an idea into a monumental program that has stirred up national conversation. He is also ecstatic that it has been able to create employment for many journalists. Odongtho reiterates that he is proud to generate debate across the country.

His lowest points emanate from situations when he is seeing the potential of an idea or concept and the people he is working with are taking long to see it. Another snag for him is corruption. By virtue of his involvement in the program, he has discovered that there is more widespread corruption in Uganda than people actually believe it to be. Odongtho is disappointed that Ugandans don’t realize that corruption is causing them huge problems. Health care systems, infrastructural development, poverty reduction, education and many other necessary activities are hampered due to this vice. This greatly perturbs Odongtho. Furthermore, he is saddened by the fact that indigenous companies do not see “Our Parliament” as a program that they should fund. It is usually donors that fund the program and when financial resources dry up, the program folds.

In spite of the challenges he experiences in his day-to-day work, Odongtho relishes his time outside of work. He refers to himself as “double faced.” He says that he is a consummate people person who loves debate and engages people in issues of development. He loves making friends. Interestingly, when he is at home, he is a very quiet individual. While in his personal space at home, he loves watching news, documentaries, international debates, and having quiet time. He reads anything-from articles on traffic to technology to fashion fads- whatever literary material catches his eye is wont to be gobbled up in a spate of fervent reading. Sadly, he hardly has time to indulge himself in his passions. He does not have a family yet. As much as it is something he has thought about, he has decided not to rush into anything. He says that God’s timing is best. However, he hopes to be married in the near future. Currently, he supports his younger siblings as he pays for their tuition at university. A devout Catholic, he has been a regular youth leader at his church. He has served on the building committee of his church from April 2009 till now. He has published three magazines for the church to get publicity for their fundraising efforts. Usually, he organizes career talks for the church youth. To add to his already weighty portfolio, Odongtho is engaged on the CARITAS justice and peace committee. They reach out to poor, needy people afflicted by problems. They teach people to know their rights, to stand up against corruption; basically they provide platforms for empowerment. His committee is also tasked with mobilizing resources to help the less fortunate.

Odongtho is a man who has witnessed the passing of times and seasons in Uganda’s media landscape. As such, he offers invaluable advice to young people. He states that young people should focus, read a lot, read widely and almost about anything, develop an enduring spirit and be patient. He also stresses the need for people to be consistent. He asserts that one should develop credibility and trust. Let people believe in you. He continues by adding that the media is not there for journalists to amass wealth. It is a public service. The money will eventually come but one has to make sure they earn money in the journalism field in a clean, honest way. Odongtho advises aspiring journalists to create as many potential sources as possible. “They are your gateway to greatness,” he concludes.

charles 3

The High Cost of Character

Standard

sarah

This is an excerpt from Kirk Franklin’s blog on Patheos.

“In a recent meeting with several leaders in different fields of entertainment [tv, music, film, even sports], we started discussing people you don’t remember.

These people are legends, even though the everyday public wouldn’t know them if they came up to them and slapped them in the face.

In that meeting, it began with a “hey, whatever happened to…” And then, a “man, if — wouldn’t have messed up.”

These are people that could’ve been the biggest names in their field — individuals whose names come up in locker rooms, recording studios, and in boardrooms when the thought of how big “so and so” could have been… if only.

“Jordan was great,” the conversation goes. “but there was a guy named—that got caught with drugs that would’ve made Jordan look like your P.E teacher.”

You may even know people like that. The high school football star that everyone just knew would be on ESPN one day soon. Or the girl who sang your favorite song in the choir when you were a kid…what happened to her? You hear singers on the radio who cant even come close to her. Her, the high school quarterback, the guy in your theatre class, the smart dude whose GPA made yours look like a slow heart rate.

There are ghosts in every family, school, corporation, and audition lines that haunt the thoughts of those who had a chance to be amazed at their talent, charisma, or possibility… no matter how brief.

What happened to the “almost, not quite, back then, who-so-nevers..?”

Most of the time…it was character.

Talent can take you, but character keeps you.

What separates you from the others who may be better, prettier, taller [that was for me!] and faster may just be the type of heart you choose to have. See the incredible thing about character is that it doesn’t come automatically with the gift. It’s an addition that you have to pay for.. literally.

Character may make you miss out sometimes. There are some that have what they have, but they have paid dearly for it…  and not in positive ways. Some people really do sleep their way to the top. Some will sell what they know to be right just for a spot in the front line. Character may force you to say no to what’s “quick,” and cause you to wait for years until the “long term” comes back around.

Family, if it doesn’t cost you something, be leery of it.  Free is a word that is there just to fill up space, because nothing is. The “great ones that never became” often suffocated in their own greatness. You can’t agree with what the people say, only with what God says. The praise of the people will cause you to build your life on that and not the building blocks of character.

It’s found in the low parts of the king, the hidden parts of the individual who can quiet a room with their voice, their song, or their dream.

To die with untapped greatness inside of you is a sin. To miss the moment you were created for (outside of knowing God and being known by Him) is a travesty. The evening news is filled with headlines of scandals because character was not the main agenda. I agree you cannot legislate morality in our culture, but you cannot avoid holding people accountable.  You can’t let people slide by just because they are charismatic and can “kill” a room.

We don’t have a shortage of greatness, we have a shortage of character.

When a pastor wants people to buy him a private plane while a missionary in Somalia bathes children with sores, that’s a shortage of character. When I camouflage my “greeds” to look like “needs,” that’s a shortage of character. When young students are comfortable enough to sing racial slurs on a bus while furthering their education to someday lead a corporation that may have minorities apply for jobs, that’s a shortage of character…

And it’s something you can’t teach in school.

To all of those legends who are closet stars, to the ones that stand in awe of how they made it and you didn’t, spread the word. What’s killing our country, our churches and our children is a lack of character.”