Life @ 60: A Time to be Thankful

Today, August 29th, 2023; I graduate to the ranks of Mzei, now @ 60! It’s some crazy experience to realize your are also here, after all! You see at age 3, almost accidentally, it was discovered I had been born with a “hole in the heart!” I was fortunate to have not only a mother who had medical education as an enrolled nurse but also with guts to stand up to my father and his well connected family who were apprehensive of the proposed surgery to correct this birth defect. Taata, together with Owek Bulasio Kavuma, a leading official in Buganda government and Hon Godfrey Binaisa, QC, Attorney General of Uganda, raised their hands in objection. Nonetheless she, with her elder sister, Maama Christine Musoke, a British trained Social Worker, stood ground and the open heart surgery at Mulago hospital went on successfully.

Now I know when I attained 50, and did share this story elsewhere, some fast medical person doubted that in 1966 a hospital in Uganda could carry out open heart surgery. Well, I dont know what that means for someone who since coming of age realised those scars where the needles closed up after they opened me up and stitched  that gaping hole. Truth told I have never been to India! What I know is early at school teachers would desperately hold me back from fully participating in games shocked at my scars, screaming wildly – “muleke omwana owo’mutima!” spare the child with a frail heart. Yet, for me I never felt different, and have since lived a full life. I intend to go on and on, like there was no event.

It was education which gave my mother the courage to ignore the old men in my life, since she knew what was right. If there is anything I have felt so clear about is how we need to extend education opportunities to every African child. Had my mother not been to school, courtesy of my grandparents, Adolph and Bibian Musoke, who on Buganda government salaried income took all their dozen children to school, in the 1930s and 40s, she would not have grasped at a chance that was in her hands to save a life.

The other part is the person who discovered my heart condition. He was an Indian medical student, at Mulago Medical School, who connected my laboured breathing with what used to be an incurable condition. And then there was also an expatriate white doctor I would only get to know as Dr James. Not only did he carry out this surgery expertly but knowing the opposition from the rest of the family, dilligently followed up on me, till back to full health.

So, maybe if I had been born after a fumbling autocrat, Idi Amin, summarily expelled non citizen Asians and pushed out most White expatriates labeling them as economic saboteurs, my survival would have been a figment of imagination. In life you meet hate – filled frustrated characters and you just pray they never land on the means to will the lives of those who become toys to nurse their insecurities.

I must say that life has not been rosy though. I am of the generation that popped up when most of these colonized African nations had just became independent. To be honest mine should have been the luckiest of all, since our Black African people were now in power. But wait a minute.

The boarding schools which my parents felt would give me a good start in life turned out to be nothing but mean camps that weaned us on skimpy coarse meals. We saw a war in 1979 aimed to remove a deranged dictator leave mangled bodies scattered out on blood soaked streets. Then as our hope were being lifted we were plunged into a civil war that left hundreds of thousands dead. And just as it was cooling down came the unforgiving HIV/ AIDs virus that gobbled up as many as it could, before ART drugs eased the burden. Lately, like we had not seen it all, stormed the Covid -19 pandemic, as if to maul up remnants. Guys, why shouldn’t I pinch myself that this “fluke” has scraped through all and more.

Ours has been a torpsy turvey life. Having welcomed the ragged liberators of mid 1980s, skinny disheveled gun slinging chaps, we imagined our tortured upbringing was a thing of the past. But here we are closing life, amazed and sobered up how things remain pretty much the same. Our generation of those born in the sixties has been cheated to give my country also a President. By now you know life is not a bet!

In a life of tragedies after another I once fled from my war torn country quite determined never to return to this patch of long misery. But something happened. Before, around 1985, while at university, I gave my life to Jesus Christ, as a personal Lord and Savior, and that has made all the difference. For just as with the Apostle Paul who met Christ on the road to Damascus, no one who has surrendered his life to Christ can find himself on the same path as before, or, as the world understands.

At 60, you realise you have done two third of your life, assuming you are lucky and have still steam for another third. Life takes on a sense of urgency for however much you fight, nature will eventually take its course. Suddenly it dawns on you its now time to focus on the things that count the most. Relationships are some of those, especially the people who will remain true to you to the end. You know and have seen each other through thick and thin and truly with these it’s not empty words for you’ll “never walk alone!”

And, by this time, you kind of know a bit about your gifts and abilities, together with limitations, giving you a dose of humility. Why stress yourself in things you have no aptitude? Just do and stick to what comes naturally to you. If there was anybody who needed to be impressed they should have got it by now.

Certain interpersonal conflicts with their toxicity no longer posses you. Purposeful living, creating beautiful memories, laughing a lot and chilling is the thing. You start looking at life as a gift with a divine call, for you are not here because you were the best in class but God was just gracious to you, where others did not pass. Come now, you know you have to be more thankful than spend time bitching.

Early this year I grabbed a fantastic book, titled “Half time”! The writer divided life into a first half of pursuit of one’s goals and entering the second half where some ask themselves what is life all about. You have got your dream big house but soon it will be empty, all kids gone, and  suddenly you feel the echoes scream through silent corridors. You scooped a big car, hoping to be recognized but who has not enough load of his own to just wake up and gaze at your flashing carriage. The big job titles and that chair of yours will one day be passed on to a stranger who will without waste erase your name to insert his own. You might have a fat bank account but of what use if you have no good health! Maybe you have simply stored it for some opportunist to gently show up one day with claims to have weapons to add a few more years to your mortal life. Once, growing up on an empty belly, you longed for an overflowing buffet plate of delicious foods but well- intentioned doctors have now started their predictable retort of – “watch what you eat!” And you have seen those who hopelessly worked themselves to death building empires only immediately once gone for such to crumble and fizzle away like an impatient shadow.

Perhaps you have realized all life pursuits and feel there is nothing left to accomplish. You suddenly feel empty and at the short end of the stick. In my case I have a quiet feeling I have got many of my life goals pretty under wraps, but, yet, something still burns within me. Here it is: I should know more of my Creator and serve Him faithfully, till He decides it’s time to cross the shores!

The Problem with Insecurity

There are certain early encounters in life whose true meaning only unfolds with time. Years ago while an undergraduate student at Makerere university, I happened to call upon a teacher-friend, Prof Rose Mbowa. She was a dramatist, and then Head of Department of Music, Dance, and Drama. Sometime back we had talked about staging a Shakespeare play, me acting as Macbeth. On that visit, I bumped into a famous face which would have made my day. Except something else happened.

There is a play “The Burdens” which some here may argue is the best to ever come out of the continent. On this occasion, Prof Mbowa suddenly introduced me to the author who was visiting- John Ruganda! Of course, I could hardly contain my excitement to meet a famous author. However, the playwright was in no mood to entertain strangers. He hardly took note of me as I offered to greet him, for something else was deeply troubling him.

Ruganda was one of many qualified Ugandans who had fled into exile in the wake of the atrocious Idi Amin regime, a period of blight that was followed by the anarchy of the 1980s. Out, through sheer hard work, many prospered with glittering qualifications and excelled in their professions. After the Museveni government took power in 1986, a great number finally saw an opportunity to return home and make their contribution.

Only to be greeted by a rude surprise. You see not everyone was comfortable, particularly when it came to their taking up jobs in certain coveted institutions. There was tussle of sorts between “stayees” and “returnees”, as the foster group feared the “returnees” had come to get their jobs or say, supplant them! Suddenly terms of entering certain institutions were revised; exorbitant papers were now demanded along with heaven knows! In other words for qualified “returnees” getting a job back home had become like going through the needle.

The famous author was one of those locked out. Here he was now crying foul when we accidentally met. I do not know what happened after. I think Prof Mbowa advised him to try elsewhere, but what options were there in such a squeezed economy. Maybe he picked up his bags and made his way back to exile, as I never met him in life again.

When a poor country that is short of manpower slams its door against its own people who are qualified, then you know you have one big problem. You would imagine that arms would be spread out for such a well-qualified person as was Ruganda, eager to be engaged, yet here he was being put to task.

Perhaps you think this is a Ugandan thing where someone qualified is denied entrance or pushed out of a job. There was this Ugandan buddy of mine in the US who after graduating with an Economics degree (Honors) applied and got a job in a leading bank in Oklahoma. Brilliant, he settled to work. Soon he found not everyone was excited about having him there. Incidentally, he was the only black in his Department. Discouraged, I urged him to stay on. But the racism was brutal. Early one morning he drove up to my door. “I can’t take it no more,” he sighed. “I have decided to quit.”

You would think that organizations exist to welcome eager and enthusiastic performers like him. After all, this is what we were taught in school- go and do your best. Well, here was someone of a wrong race, and a group had closed in and decided he didn’t belong. But I must give you some cheer, for when Enoch moved out of state, he came across a smaller financial organization down in neighboring Texas. It gave him a chance. And here, though still the only black, his skills were appreciated and he prospered.

A few years ago I happened to visit a cousin, a medic currently based in the US. He has indeed prospered in the land of honey, as we are told, and his beautiful house is nestled in a picturesque wealthy zip code where properties go for over a million dollar bucks. Throughout my visit he kept fielding consultative calls. Somewhere along I noticed a collection of his advanced degrees all stuck in an old box. Normally you would expect these raised up in someone’s office. Not so fast. “I used to hang all these qualification in my company office,” he shared “Then my supervisor started having issues with me. The day I removed them that is when peace returned.”

So, it is about insecurity! A supervisor feeling threatened by a well-qualified staff! You would expect any good supervisor to desire and boast of an excellently qualified subordinate. But man, that’s not how the world works

But am I being too mournful here? Personally, I have had three or four supervisors/mentors who took my arm and led me the way. They were characters with large hearts willing to give me a chance. You are lucky when in life you find those, as I have been. But there were also those moments I choose to forget when some small persons stood in the way and raged, blocking me all the way. Those are always there.

Just this week I noticed a newspaper story with a headline, “Kyambogo in the final push to recruit nine Cuban professors” Oh, is it so? Out there I know literally thousands of qualified Ugandans, like Enoch and my cousin, who would wish to return home and serve their country, just as the playwright Rugunda. Yet since when did you hear of “Billions of Shillings saved to welcome back qualified Ugandan diaspora.” That would be one storm. Of course, it is far easier to open up the gates to Cuban Professors, since, apparently they pose no threat and comfort our inferiority complexes. The problem with insecurity.

Who is my friend?

He was the embattled CEO of the nation’s premier pension fund, who had joined my former high school, Kings College Budo when I was just leaving in the early 1980s. We, therefore, crossed paths but I had no recollection of him till he was appointed to head a national pension savings fund and some of his classmates aptly reminded me that he had been a schoolmate! They talked of him in awe: a straight ‘A’ student, perennially at the top of his class, who after graduating with a B Com honors degree from Makerere University joined the international audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. He had been a star performer right down the line.

As a saver with the fund, long tired of scandals related to mismanagement, I welcomed his appointment with anticipation, happy for his meteoric rise and the energy he brought to the lumbering regulator. There was a new excitement in the air as his brilliance permeated the innovations he rapidly put in place.

Now, extremely brilliant people (there was no doubt about this in his case) have always the danger of moving ahead of their team. Coming from an entrepreneurial background, this CEO made certain decisions contrary to policy, but which were genuinely intended to increase company profit. Decisions always carry the risk of unintended consequences. In most corporate organizations he would at the most have suffered only caution, if any, in the light of being a bright, zealous manager. But then he was managing a government organization with many stakeholders with diverse agendas. He was promptly fired, accused of fraud, and, after a failed court appeal, found himself out of work for almost six years, having been given a new address at Luzira Maximum Security Prison!

Friends in need!

Once he lost his appeal, social media went into overdrive almost immediately. Some commenters applauded the fight against corruption that could lead to the jailing of a once big man. For others, this occurrence presented an opportunity to take on the hypocritical government, which had not apprehended other big shots who were known to be well-connected.

As I pored over all the comments, I noticed that the man was now being discussed in the abstract, or, well, in terms that would befit a roadside carcass, that had done its pitiful part and that it was no longer very relevant to discuss. It was now time to move on! It is then that a question occurred to me, rather forcefully: Where are his classmates? Surely, at this low point in one’s life, one needs friends to come over and throw their arms around one – without judging.

Today, social media platforms, which at best are businesses looking at numbers, have reconfigured – to use a cold, inanimate word – the meaning of being a friend. One person recently told me he had stopped ‘accepting new friends’ as he had ‘too many friends’ on Facebook. He needed to apply to Facebook to ‘accept more friends!

WhatsApp chat rooms have birthed a new space where ‘friends’ can chat throughout the day and wait for that positive affirming feedback in colorful emoji. A number of chat rooms I happen to be enrolled on can’t ‘accept more friends’ because they are filled to capacity. The debate is migrating to Telegram, which has features that accept more ‘friends’!

But, think of it, are these friends? What is the true meaning of a ‘friend’? If you may permit me to say, I have found that we value many of these social media platform ‘friends’ because they are not in our physical space. The comfortable thing about such ‘friendships’ is that we interact in a virtual world where we are in control. But if we find ourselves in a heated disagreement with these ‘friends’ it is time to exit. They are make-me-feel-good ‘friends’. We value them for the jokes and for forwarding self-affirming messages. However, should they raise a discussion on, say, contributing money to ‘one friend in need’, there is disquiet and a loss of interest. This will last until the jokes and self-affirming messages crowd out those ‘friends’ who disturb the peace.

The meaning of friendship

‘Who are your friends?’ I remember that question being asked whenever I was in trouble with my ever ‘complex parents’ when I was still in school. My perennially boring parents often counselled me in terms of ‘tell me your friends and I tell who you are!’ Their advice was to pick friends carefully. I thought they were stressing me.

In the Bible we find another idea of being a friend. A rich tycoon named Job once fell on hard times. It so happened that there were only three companions who took time off to visit and console him. Unfortunately, some of their advice was critical rather than uplifting. When one is down, one needs friends who make time to stand with one, not to condemn one. Jesus, as well, is recorded as having fed thousands of people at one point. But when misfortune befell him, he had only three to pray with, and one later betrayed knowledge of him in the heat of battle.

All of which brings me to a story that has stayed with me all my life. A man once had a son who always complained that he was not good because he was not popular like some kids who boasted of having a classroom of friends. The father sat the young man down and advised: ‘Son, if you can get enough pair of arms in life that you can trust to lift your casket, you would have done well, for those are all the friends you need. And six people can do a pretty good job.’

In 1966 the King of Buganda, Ssekabaka Edward Mutesa II, had his palace attacked by Uganda central government soldiers. He and my family were ‘close friends’ and the king had, in fact, entrusted a number of his children, of both sexes, to my uncle, who was one of his chiefs, to raise them. In order to escape, Mutesa had to scale the high palace fence and flee in the dark. The story is this: As the fallen king ran for his life he turned to his ‘close friends’ to come to his aid. So he stopped somewhere and called a certain house. But when ‘the friends’ heard that it was the embattled Mutesa calling, well, they started laughing, while sipping cognac, and jeered: ‘Mutesa is on the line.’ He heard. He hung up. He moved on. Alone in the dark.

Where were all the king’s friends, now that he was on the run? Have you ever realized that lots of ‘our friends’ are valued only while ‘the friends’ are still at the top and have the means to influence things in our favour. How we like associating ourselves with that ‘friend’ whom everyone is dying to be ‘friends’ with! And have you seen how people desert the ‘friend’ who no longer has anything they can benefit from? If you think you have friends, get into trouble one day!

True friends to the end!

A ‘friend’ of mine had a rich father who was rather prematurely diagnosed of prostate cancer and given only so many days to live. As his health worsened, the father gave up his mansion and took up a small hospital room, where he spent most days alone with his best friend. His wife would bathe him, shave, dress him in neat pajamas, and then prop up his head on snow-white pillows. Both waited for what would happen next. Almost every day, at about 2 p.m., two of his old classmates would walk into the private hospital room. There they would tease each other, laugh, crack jokes and reminisce about the good old days when they were young and full of life. And then sleep came over the patient. The friends stood up, bowed and gently walked away. ‘My Dad died with a smile on his lips,’ I was told.

May God help us find friends such as those!

Think out of the box

Dawo grew up deep in Kaduna, an arid village, where life was not just slow but there was hardly any new thing that ever went up. Your eyes could stretch far on end and all you saw were isolated homesteads. People lived in simple grass-thatched huts and life carried on normally as their ancestors had done through the ages. In fact, the whole landscape was littered with ancient stone structures, and actually, some folks hibernated in trees and caves. Throughout the day they covered themselves with simple leaves, just to hide the most essential parts.

It came as not surprising that Kaduna was one of the poorest districts in the country. But Duwa, was born with an imaginative and inventive mind. Ever restless he had the early impression that he could create new things out of the ordinary.

One day while at the village well, he noticed a long queue that was stampeding into the water, making it all muddy. Close to the well rose a giant mango tree. Suddenly, an idea gripped Duwa.  Why not get a rope and loop it around the tree and make a pulley! He figured that one person on the ground would then use the pulley to lower a pail down into the water, fill it up and, pull the pail back. Then the waiting pots would be filled, without each person getting into the streams with muddy feet.

Excited, Duwa shared this idea with those who were near him. “But it can’t work!” said one person.

“We have always fetched water one way,” insisted another quite opposed to change.

“You try it and we see,” said another skeptic, eager to see this new upstart fail.

Duwa was not the one to be easily discouraged; he took this as a test. He decided to try out his experiment. After he had assembled the pulley, with the whole village holding their breath as they watched, he let a rope loop around the tree, and then he eased the pail down to scoop up a pail of water. Once he had the pail back up he lowered it and went on to fill one pot after another. The villagers quickly realized they had got a deal. A faster and cleaner way of drawing water from the well had been born. They nodded with satisfaction. But Duwa’s father, Shehu, upon learning what his son had done was not amused. “Who told you to change things?” he confronted him later. “Didn’t I tell you not to touch things unless if you are told?”

Apparently, Shehu had never taken his son to school. Now when a newly posted chief to the village heard about this development at the well, he advised Shehu to send Duwa to school. Duwa was eager for school but Shehu saw no use.  He expected Duwa to grow up and herd cattle just as his ancestors had done. Shehu only let Duwa attend school after the chief came to his home and delivered an ultimatum.

The first thing at school the teachers discovered was that Duwa was left-handed, yet school policy had it that every child must be right-handed.  So, the first lesson the newcomer got was beating him hard to discard the use of his left hand.  No one asked him if he could write faster as a leftie.

Duwa liked to ask questions. However, school lessons involved parroting letters and numbers in a chorus. If one failed to sing back in unison as expected, a long-foot ruler would hit him. Because Duwa liked to ask questions he found himself a constant target with a foot ruler landing on every part of his body. He started hating school. Everywhere were rules, he had to obey absolutely. But Duwa’s brain did not work like that. He liked tinkering and trying new things. At school, he was told never to think out of the box, if he was to avoid trouble.

Duwa hardly scrapped through primary school and in the final exams got minimal grades. He was pushed to join a technical school close to the capital city unlike his mates who scored higher grades and were posted to prestigious secondary schools. These were expected to have a brighter future.

Duwa found the technical school different. One thing was that here he could tamper and create new things as part of his course work. “Come up with new things,” the teachers encouraged him.

Energized, Duwa got back to his old creative ways. Once after attending a function where he saw a long queue waiting for guests to wash their hands with soap before being served, he thought of something else.  He came up with a stand with a container that had a capillary linked to liquid soap. One had only to gently step on a stand below and spread his hands for the soapy water to flow.

This mobile tap water was well received not just at the technical school but in the big city. Duwa started receiving orders. In between attending to school work, he launched a small business that supplied customers with “Duwa mobile tap water washing machine.”

One thing Duwa noticed is that in the big city many people tried new things;  most failed but no one seemed to bother. Everyone was trying something novel. And if one idea caught off, copycats descended on the ground from everywhere.  They embraced the successful idea and started selling everywhere.

Encouraged, Duwa came up with another machine to thrash millet into fine flour. Years back he had seen his grandmother back home end up with a hunched back. Duwa attributed it to the fact that she grinded millet with a stone, her back bent. There must be a better way, Duwa teased.  After a while, he came up with a machine driven by a motor where you could pour grains down a gulley that thrashed them into fine flour. This new system was faster and also didn’t require one to bend down and grind grains with a stone.

Growing up Duwa had noticed how rampant tree cutting had left his village almost reduced to a desert. In the big city, he realized there was a huge demand for charcoal because the alternative was far more costly.  After a bit of research, he found d the amount of waste gathered by garbage companies was enough to gather and fire into energy-saving briquettes. These he offered on the market as an alternative to the devastating charcoal.

Duwa contracted agents around the country to sell his many products and made the lives of many people more comfortable. But he was concerned that while other regions were profiting from his trade, not his village. So, one day, he decided to go visit back home.

The first thing he noticed was that Kaduna was much as he had left. People were still strolling about barefoot, hibernating up in trees,  their bodies bare  except for the most essential parts.

Duwa recalled the pulley he had put up years back. He decided to walk down to the village well.  From far he noticed the mango tree was gone along with the pulley. Closer, he found a troupe of villagers down into the well, all scooping water with their muddy feet.

“What happened to the pulley?” he pulled aside a lad who had recognized him.

“Someone cut down the mango tree for charcoal,” he said. “After it was cut people returned to the old way of fetching water.”

Once he got back to the city, Duwa, who rarely wrote decided to share his thoughts in a newspaper article. The heading was “Why certain regions remain poor!”

“If people do not welcome new ideas,” he wrote, “then it is almost impossible to introduce anything  new. Also, if people look at failure negatively instead of seeing it as a positive step forward, few would try for fear of being put down. And if an area has no market where people can place and sell their new ideas, then few would venture, for they can’t recover their costs.  These are some of the reasons why some places are stuck in the past!”

How a Genocide Starts

The drums of war had been screaming ever since news that an army primarily formed of refugees had attacked. Bosco was an Aid worker based in the capital. He frequently traveled around the country. At first, he didn’t feel threatened by the attack. He was though aware of how divided this particular country was. Led by a President from one ethnic group, who was clearly dominating, many in the minority population had been forced out as refugees. It is these who were now fighting back.

On occasion, Bosco had a moment to sit down with either ethnic group for banter. The way each group described the other would leave him numb. “Those people are cockroaches!” so labeled one against the other. “Those dirty creatures are lower than us!” The other rebutted, casually.

The war slowly sneaked its way to the capital. Bosco was based at an office and residential complex where both ethnic communities freely mixed. He felt quite protected as his was an international port. Besides, he was not aware of any serious friction between the two major tribes beyond disparaging remarks against each other. “It will all end well,” he thought.

However, as the fighting approached the capital, suddenly vicious gangs belonging to one group, armed with machete, started attacking their nemesis. Soon the gangs descended on to his office complex. When they came up they asked for his ID to prove he was not a member of the hated tribe, whose members were being targeted. And then, what completely blew his mind, was that these gangs were largely formed by teens who had grown up in the same neighborhood. These had now gathered to unleash terror on their fellow countrymen, just that they belonged to different ethnicity.

It took a while to be rescued by his international organization. On the way out to the airport back home, Bosco was shocked beyond belief on sporting bodies of victims scattered all over the streets. He saw a church with a mountain of corpses at the doorsteps. People had taken refuge in the house of  God only to be butchered there.  A genocide had taken place – and would within a space of 90 days claim over one million lives!

After he had settled back home, Bosco did a lot of soul searching. How could people who used to live next to each other turn in a moment so violently against one another? At his office, they employed nationals without asking for one’s ethnicity, and all along these people had seemed to get along. But what he was not aware of was how deep they resented each other.

Recalling the way either side used to speak of each other, Bosco concluded that it was all due to ignorance. “I suspect these people all grew up in environments where they were fed on a diet that poisoned their minds,” he reasoned. “By the time they became of age each held the other in low esteem.” Bosco, who was still single decided that when he married and started a family he would do everything to expose his children to a diversity of ethnic and racial groups. “This would kill prejudice against any other different group before it is too late.”

After marrying and once his kids started school, Bosco deliberately decided to go out of his way to look for a school with a diverse ethnic community. His wife, Anne, though found it a bit odd- especially when during one holiday Bosco asked that their son, John, goes out to live with a family in the Western part of the country.

“Why do you want to send my son to live with these people we don’t know much about!” Anne wondered. “What good have you seen  in them .!”

“It is exactly for that reason,” Bosco interjected. “You have grown up hearing a lot of negative vibe about them. Let John go out and get exposed before that poison clouds the rest of his life.”

Anne let John go reluctantly but with a warning to him. “Be careful of those greedy people!”

Next holiday Bosco sent John to live with a family based in the Northern region. Again Anne was bothered. Upon return from his holiday, Anne sat John down. “I hear those people eat babies!”

“Mom, what are you talking about!” John expressed mild disgust at the accusation. “There are people just like us and some of my best friends are from that region.”

Bosco did not stop sending John on holiday in homes of different ethnic members, but he also took every opportunity to host diverse races. Once he heard of a student from Netherlands looking for a short-term boarding, he made available a room. The young lady came fearfully with all kinds of notions she had heard about black Africans. At the end of her stay, she confessed, “My parents were very afraid of me coming to live with an African family. I too had some doubts. But now I can see we are all the same people.”

Later in life John joined politics and was appointed a Minister of Education. Over the years unlike him who had been freed of ethnic and racial prejudices early in life, John observed that many were still locked up with mythical beliefs about how special their tribes were. Occasionally he would come across comments like “those people are all thieves!”  Or, where one tribe was described as  “lazy”!  Another was written off as having “unstable women. There are all prostitutes.”

Recalling the way his father, Bosco, had raised him, John decided to push a proposal to Cabinet. “Can we  have all children after secondary school is posted to different regions nationwide!” He was asked why. “Well, this will help them become familiar with other  tribes whom they  might  be harboring prejudice before this blooms into full hatred!”

“You mean you want to force our children on other people,” scoffed one member from a bigger tribe. “Are you here to play God who created us different?”

“For us we know we are special,”  argued another aloof cabinet member. His tribe was known to forbid its daughters from intermarrying.

“The reason you say so,” John fought back, “is because your minds and attitudes were long hardened as children with myths about how special you are. Also, I know of some people who have never traveled out of their birthplace. Only exposure will make them revisit their hardened beliefs. You ought to give the generation a chance before their minds are also poisoned. You saw what happened to our neighbors and how they slaughtered each other, including  in the church.”

“But we are okay here,” came one response.

“My father who lived through a genocide told me that’s what everybody thought,” John said, folding his  papers. “Till one day when something very ugly happened!”

Gifted and Special

“Those marks can’t take him anywhere!” Nambi felt as she took the result slip of her son, Ntambi, disappointed. He was in a school where kids were forced through a regime of caning and haranguing them to excel through nonstop reading. But this trick had failed to work on her boy. She called up her trusted friend Eliza, who was a retired educationist. “Where can I find another good school that can beat Ntambi to make the right grades, particularly maths. All the beating and 24/7 reading is not getting him anywhere.”

Eliza took a while before responding. From the little she knew about Ntambi there was no doubt he was a gifted kid, but who seemed a bit demotivated for some reason. The trick might be in finding the right environment, she thought. Although most of everyone believed in the cane, there were schools she knew of that had started using other non-conventional methods, emphasizing a more holistic approach. Just then one school with a certain foreign teacher crossed her mind. “Have you heard of Booker College School,” Eliza asked.

“No,” Nambi said. “Why, would you ask, do kids there make the right score!”

“Mostly,” said Eliza. “It has a Japanese teacher from the Japanese Overseas Development Network. I hear she is doing wonders with kids like Ntambi who seem not motivated, yet not for lack of talent.”

Nambi trusted Eliza’s instincts and decided to give it a shot. Next Monday without much explaining she told Ntambi to jump in the car. “I want us to try another school that can help you get the right grades for Engineering School. Isn’t it what you said you want!”

“Hmm,” Ntambi shrugged. “So, which school are you talking about. I am happy where I am.”

“Booker College School,” his mother shared. “There are doing amazing things with kids everyone had given up on but who then pass with flying distinction.”

Ntambi shrugged and stepped into the car, not in the least keen. Eliza had warned Nambi that the school had a tight admission policy. “The point is even if the Headmaster lets you in,” she cautioned her, “It is Miss Morita, the Japanese woman, to allow you in her class.”

Indeed once they got to the school the Head Master, Mr Jack Male, after perusing through Ntambi’s grades directed Nambi to see Miss Morita. “I believe we can help him but it will all depend on what she says.”

When they got to Miss Morita’s class they had to wait as she finished seeing some of her students. They could hear her talk excitedly explaining certain numerical concepts. After the class was through she then called in the prospective parent and student. She asked for Ntambi’s last grade.

“Why have you chosen to come here?” She queried while going through his results slip.

“He wasn’t doing well but I was told you can help him here,” said his mother.

“I want him to speak!” Miss Morita cut Nambi short. “Sir, why do you want to come here?”

“I don’t know,” Ntambi confessed. “They just told me to come!”

“Come on Ntambi!” Nambi turned to her son astonished and embarrassed.

There was a moment of silence.

“I shall take him on!” Miss Morita said shocking both.

Nambi turned to her, quite incredulous. “Thank you so much,” she said after going over her surprise.

Meanwhile, Ntambi was not enthused. Once he joined the school he sat at the back of the class, quite aloof. Whenever he was asked to contribute to anything he seemed like waking out of a deep slumber. However, she noticed that Miss Morita had a rather interesting way of teaching. Her class was pinned with posters that read “I can do it!” or “Yes I can!” She always started her class with some inspirational story and for every problem, she gave a local example. “Think of yourself as a banker and you need to raise so much funds for your business,” she would relate to various aspects that caught Ntambi’s imagination. “What kind of interest rate would you afford?” This sounded so real. He would wake from his slumber and try to figure the right answer.

On certain occasions, Miss Morita would invite students to her single flat, which was a story up on one of the dormitories. Whenever Ntambi visited, he was captivated as it was filled with paintings and all kinds of artifacts. During one visit there, Ntambi was struck when he noticed a picture of a little girl doing gymnastics. “Is that you?” He asked after discerning a certain resemblance.

“Yes,” Miss Morita nodded, inviting Ntambi to sit down for a cup of tea. Ntambi was rather hesitant. He had grown up in awe of teachers, whom he generally feared because of the cane. But there was something disarming about this light-skinned petite woman from overseas. He sat and took a tea cup. “How far did you go as a gymnast?” He asked, still curious.

“Actually I made it to the national team and even went for the Olympics,” Miss Morita confessed, with a bright smile.

“Did you win?” Ntambi asked. He loved athletic competitions. “Did you get any medal?”

“No, something happened,” Miss Morita said, her voice filled with a tinge of sadness.

“What happened!” Ntambi pressed her.

“I had a coach who believed in me,” Miss Morita went on to explain. “She taught and led me through all the jumps. I had lost my parents early in life and she was everything to me. I adored her and wouldn’t think of letting her down. But during the qualifying event I woke with a fever and while leaping for a triple jump I suddenly lost concentration and faltered. I could not progress to the next round…”

“Oh!” Ntambi mumbled, quite sorry. “What did your coach do!”

“She just run over and hugged me” Miss Morita said. “She didn’t say anything, just wrapped her arms all around me. She didn’t blame or scream at me. She just held me tight! The rest of the team went on to win medals.”

“Did you compete again?” Ntambi asked. “Since it was just a bad turn!”

“No,” Miss Morita said. “I could not see myself letting her down again. After that fall I run to the locker room and cried myself out. I had let down the only person who believed in me and my team. I then decided to take a break and that is how I ended up here to help nurture gifted and special kids like you.”

Something hit Ntambi now. This teacher had said he was gifted and special. No one had ever told him that. He had already observed how Miss Morita was giving her all to all her students. She would call on her students anytime to see how they were doing. Never would she miss a class. Above all to every child she would say she believed in him, even with the worst performance. “You are gifted and special and can do better!”

That night Ntambi picked up his books, he normally ignored. He started reading with a relish that if there was anything he could not afford to, was to let down this petite woman, who believed in him. Whenever he had any problem Ntambi would call Miss Morita and she was available. In fact, she constantly came up to the classes late during Prep time to help any students with a problem. Together they would crunch out solutions.

On the eve of the final exam Miss Morita set up an extra class and took it through a number of “the most difficult problems” and how to tackle them. After she was done she put her chalk down. “My part is done,” she said with confidence. “It is all yours now.”

Next day as Ntambi started at his exam paper, he first browsed through all numbers. Initially he could not recognize any familiar. His started sweating. He could feel his knees knocking. He was going to fail. But just then he remembered Miss Morita and how she had said he was gifted and special. How could he let her down! No, he couldn’t. At that point something took over him. He went through the numbers again. Suddenly they were all familiar and with renewed confidence found he could work out the right answers. He bent, and went for each, furiously working out solutions. When the final bell rung he had completed all.

The results came out after a month of marking by the national exam body. Ntambi went to pick up his results with his mother found he had scored a distinction. Before heading back home he asked his mother to see one teacher. “Stay here while I bring her up to you.”

He sprinted off to Miss Morita’s flat. He stepped to the door and knocked. There was no response. He knocked hard again. No response.

He started walking to the staff room, hoping to find her there. But just then a car approached and soon drove past him. He thought he had seen someone inside of a familiar face. He looked back and there was Miss Morita waving back at him. She was off back to Japan, her mission done. The entire class had passed with distinction. And soon the car was gone, leaving behind a dusty trail.

“She has gone,” Ntambi shared with his mother. “Miss Morita who believed in me and has made me pass.”

“I see that!” Nambi agreed.

“Before I met her I just had no interest in school work and didn’t believe in myself,” he confessed. “But when I saw how she wanted me to succeed I knew I could not afford to let her down. I am gifted and special.”

The Power of a Name

“The Minister wants to see you!” Mr. Herbert Kiwa, the Permanent Secretary (PS), of the Ministry of Infrastructure was informed by his personal assistant, Anne, early one morning once he reported to office. Kiwa was used to these abrupt summons from his Minister. They were often concerned about him clarifying policy to Mr. Ali Abacha. But this time he was a bit apprehensive. Lately, there had been a fight in the ministry with an attempt to falsify procurement results and award a multi-billion dollar contract to a dubious firm to construct a certain expensive highway, funded by World Bank. It was rumored that the firm was connected to big shots in the government.

“I have called you about that recommendation note concerning whom to award that highway construction,” started Abacha. “I think you should ask the committee to revise the results and award this one.”

Kiwa saw that the Minister was pointing to the very suspect firm, and yet it had scored the least during evaluation. It had never proved any capacity or was it known to have the required expertise.

“Sir, I went through the criteria of the Procurement committee and there is no way we can award that one!”

“What are you saying!” the Minister swung back in his chair, visibly annoyed. “It is a directive from above.”

“But how can I falsify those results,” objected Kiwa. “I have a name to protect in this town and wouldn’t bring myself there.”

“What did you say!” The Minister snapped. “You mean for me I don’t have a name to protect. Are you looking down on me because I came from a poor district?”

“It is not what I meant, Sir,” Kiwa explained, calmly, shifting in his seat. “It has to do with something personal”

“You are dismissed,” declared the Minister, boiling. “We shall see what to do!”

As he saw his PS step out of office, the Minister, Abacha, felt all the rage at him. “What does this man Kiwa mean to say he has a name to protect as if I have none and like I am from the streets!” He fumed. A long time ago the Minister had heard there were certain families which always promoted “the name thing” to signify how special they were. He had long observed that these so-called families with names were using that as a pretext to make other people feel inferior. “Yet,” observed the Minister, “these so-called elite families were also land thieves and now use the “name thing” as a cover-up smokescreen for their past crimes!”

But for the PS, Mr. Kiwa it was a different experience through; in fact, while he was aware how certain people fronted their names like nobles, he was hardly any of that. There was a story to this. It all had started when his father, Mr Kiwa Sr, terminally sick, suddenly gathered all his three sons and two daughters around his bed. Whereas in life Sr had been very hesitant to share his life story, he had finally decided to let out all.

“I have long wanted to tell you how I ended up as a headteacher in a primary school” he began, “for as you know I was one of the first students to be admitted to university to study medicine. I was set on becoming one of the first medical doctors in the country. But because of a strike, I was involved in demanding a better diet the whites expelled me. I struggled to find someplace to resume my education but finally, a man who knew my father enrolled me in a teacher training Institute!”

The room was deathly quiet.

“Because of this as you know,” went on Kiwa Sr, “I have ended up training almost all the important people in this nation. As my children, you will never lack anything because of this good name I have made for you. If you meet any roadblock in life all you have to say is you are my children with the name of Kiwa. We the Kiwa are not landowners and there are no buildings you can point to us to as owners. But the name I have left you will open doors for you and make you live secure and happy lives.”

After these words, Kiwa Sr never uttered a single word again. He died three days later. Kiwa Jr succeeded him as the heir. At first, he struggled to appreciate the meaning of his father’s last deathbed message. But after a while, it sunk in. Once he got out of school he was always surprised by how quickly almost any person he met in an important office would rush to open a door for him upon discovering who his father was. “I am who I am because of your father!” This had enabled him to accelerate as a public servant with almost everyone assured he would do a good job. “We knew your father and we know you wont fail his good name.”

It is this sense of obligation to protect the family name which now governed and consumed KiwaJr all his life. Whenever his own children were found at fault his first mention was, “you are letting down the Kiwa name. People are watching you and expect you to behave in a certain manner. We have a name to protect!”

And now as PS of a ministry managing multimillion-dollar contracts, he was always being put to test, always being pulled left and right by those wanting a piece of those huge contacts. “I will give you any percentage you name” was a common offer. But Mr Kiwa Jr would never hear of it, pointing such to follow the right procedure. “I can’t do otherwise because if word was to get out how will I defend the Kiwa name”!

That night after meeting the Minister he got a call. “We understand that you are hesitant to change the scores,” the anonymous caller started. “But I have instructions to wire 1 $ million to an offshore account of yours. If you don’t have one we can help you open one and there is no way one will be able to trace this juicy offer! Mr. Kiwa Jr hung up immediately.

Things did not go well soon after. One day he came to the office and found a letter of interdiction on his desk. “There are allegations you are funding guerrillas,” read the letter signed by Minister Abacha. “You are asked to vacate your office and go on an indefinite leave of absence to pave way for investigations!”

Life was hard after the suspension of Kiwa Jr. For one thing he quickly observed that his former government colleagues no longer wanted to relate with him. He also heard from the streets that the job eventually was given to the firm he had objected to by a new Acting PS. Even when its performance proved so shoddy that the World Bank held bank funding no one attempted to call him back. He was blacklisted. Once Ann met him at a function and told him that the Minister had swore, ” as long as we are in government that man called Kiwa will never hold a job here. Let him go eat his name.”

But just as for his father after his expulsion from medical school, something beautiful came through. There was a small but influential group of friends who would give Mr. Kiwa Jr jobs, small as they were. They were not many but enough to put food on the table and see all his three kids through school.

Over time the government of Abacha fell through competitive General elections where even after massive rigging the gap was so huge, forcing it to concede. Once his government fell Abacha fled into exile, along with his family, leaving behind all the properties he had accumulated as a minister. A commission of Inquiry was put up and found he had accumulated his vast wealth through corruption. The new government decided to confiscate everything under his name. Abacha would die in exile, fearing to step back home after being convicted in absentia, as a looter.

And as for Kiwa Jr the new government was aware of the circumstances of how he had lost his job, he was recalled and appointed as Head of Public Service. The new government also compensated him for all his loss of pay with interest.

As a last twist to this story, soon after the death of Abacha his now grown-up children returned to the country. They wanted to claim back their father’s property. But everywhere they went doors were slammed right in their faces. “Your father was a terrible man who caused a lot of misery,” said one government official. “Go back to where he took all our country’s money and no one wants to see you here for you remind us of all the misery that man caused.”

The Abacha children left-back for forced exile, very saddened. They could not even find a job in their country. And that was because of a bad name left behind by their deceased father, Abacha. This was unlike Kiwa Jr, whose children once they got out of school quickly found people in town eager to give them a hand. And that was because of a good name left by their grandfather, a good man called Kiwa!

Soldiers in my face!

There are things you don’t easily forget, as in growing up in the shadow of crude men in uniform.  Soldiers of my childhood were a dark and a frightening odd bit, coarse, bullies and devilish. It didn’t take much work before I was decided not to have any affection for their trade. Moreover, that they mostly spoke Swahili, a coastal language unfamiliar closer home and more attributed to kondo (robbers), didn’t help matters.

My memory of my first face-to-face encounter with a soldier goes back to my first roadblock in life. I must have been somewhere about 5.  Heading home, my old man was driving along Gayaza road, and then we were stopped. The men in uniform hoisting rifles shoved him out of the car to do their bit. I couldn’t figure out why, but later I would piece it all together- an attempt had been made on then-President Obote’s life and there was a state of emergency. But the way they went about the search, so crude, left a sour state.

Then came this gangling soldier who finally overthrew the Obote 1 government; after all, he is the one who had helped him seize power. Amin was a towering larger than life character, seemingly genial as he moved about, often dressed in battle camouflage, a pistol visibly hoisted around his belt.  At school, we heard all sorts of stories, about how he could aim that pistol on anybody, including his own! Beneath that deceptive genial smile was a monster of epic proportions. That all came together when one day we heard the father of a classmate,  Peter, called  Ben Kiwanuka, the nation’s first Prime minister, and then Chief Justice had disappeared, never to be seen again. We all remembered that pistol.

The Amin regime was a time for soldiers. They swelled with power and they were all over. If you run into one and dared upset him, then your life was but a toss.

This became obvious once when an aunt of mine picked me up for a holiday away in Mukono.  The Amin regime was always nervous of an attack from its many enemies, especially guerrillas from Tanzania. So roadblocks were a common nuisance as an attempt to smoke out enemies.  Seated in a packed bus on the way to Mukono, just before we approached Jinja Road police station, some soldiers waved and ordered the bus to stop. Then the screening started as they shouted in coarse Swahili. “Kitambulisho  ni  wapi?” (Everyone raise your ID!)”

My primary school had not given us ID. In front of me, I  saw those found without IDs being crudely dragged out and forced on their knees.  A soldier walked up to me.  My 12-year-old knees were now knocking badly. How was I going to explain that I was but a pupil? Should I speak English! But these soldiers I had heard hated English. Then my aunt stepped forward and pleaded my case. “He is my nephew and I am taking him to  my home for the holiday.” The soldier gave me a long and hard look. Finally, with a scowl, he motioned I to resume my seat on the bus. And when the bus finally left, they were about half a dozen passengers left behind, still on their knees and crying for mercy.  I have no idea what became of them, though  I  hear  a lot would end up in nearby Namanve forest in mass graves.

The children of soldiers I studied with could be just as terrifying. One who joined us in the middle of a school term, at Savio Junior, was said to be the son of Vice President General Mustapha Adirisi.  He was a far bigger boy than most of us.  In class he seemed absent-minded, perhaps regretting the cozy life he had left behind at home. He had been allowed to come with a  long suitcase full of sweets and goodies, unlike most of us  One hungry boy made quick friends with him. But he was mostly alone, brooding.  Then one day a jeep full of soldiers came and picked him up, after an incident that seemed like an attempted kidnap. It seemed the school had been on tension with him around and there was visible relief with him gone.

And then in secondary, at St Henry’s College Kitovu, there was this son of a General, with some of Amin looks, clearly from his region.  He walked swelling with power.  One day he found us kids in the dining mess not respecting the queue. Suddenly without warning, he pulled out his belt. He started whipping us kids into line, as helpless teachers looked on.  He was the son of a General.

There is a scene I would never forget. Once the Amin regime fell, I jumped up and rushed to the city center to join in the looting, against the protestation of my parents.  On the way to the Industrial area,  where  I was told cartons of goodies reserved for soldiers lay waiting, I  saw a mountain of corpses of soldiers killed in the fighting.  Their dark and mangled bodies were piled all over each other, covering the lush green of the Kampala golf course.  I eyed there once and something hit me. The power of soldiers was gone.

That fleeting joy did not last long. There is an episode that shook me to the core in the days that followed,  now under  Obote 2  regime.  Once I picked up a ride in a pickup of an officer, for reasons I vaguely recall. I was at the back enjoying the breeze with the officer’s armed guard. As we drove up towards Makerere hill, past the  Law Development Center, a matatu taxi in front of us lost control,  forcing our pickup to run into it. It screeched to a stop.

All passengers jumped out, glad we all had luckily survived. But not the armed soldier. Simply, he cocked his gun and went straight for the driver of the matatu. He aimed and shot. To this day I still see the poor driver fighting for his life, blood spurting everywhere, like a chicken with a slit neck.

When I joined Budo for A’level there was a case of a son of a General, linked to Oyite Ojok, the Army Chief of Staff. He looked a bit moody, just like the Mustapha Adirisi chap. Once he run into a classmate, he assumed was from Amin’s region, and suspected had had a hand in once causing the misery of his benefactor. Feeling the power, the soldier’s boy tried to settle matters in school with savage blows. But the genteel Budo community around calmed him. You could see how disappointed he was.

Under Obote 2 regime soldiers ruled the streets. Occasionally they would descend upon us in a truck dubbed as panda gari. They were scouting around to pick up any young man suspected of supporting guerrilas, the site of which would be followed with gunshots, if one dared flee.  All I know is young men who unfortunately got on panda gari,  that was the last sight of them.

One time my old man drove us to Kiboga, for a family wedding party, down in the epicenter of the Museveni-led bush war. We got back to Kampala late, and it was getting dark. Approaching Nankulabye we run into a roadblock with soldiers scattered everywhere looking out for guerrillas. I saw a parked panda gari truck, which made my heart leap.  Finally, for Dad, to get through, he passed on a wand of cash and a soldier grimly waved us off.

Soldiers were so terrifying as I grew up that the last thing  I  could ever think of was a career as one. So, when the other day a friend challenged a number of us in a career talk to consider our children having a military career, as he had, all that dread came back.

I  must say the soldier of today is not as crude as of the past. He has a human face. During the last national general elections, I saw a column of them saunter through my neighborhood without terrorizing anybody. But for all the progress, I am also aware that behind scenes, somewhere in a dark cell in a barrack, the old soldier looms with his club. These days it is also very clear soldiers run the police. I hear all government construction contracts will now be managed by soldiers. The soldier has never left us here.

All this brings me to wonder how long will the soldier’s apparent return to civility last, before his old nature surfaces back in public? The power of the soldier is the gun. Once the soldier knows he has that full power against a defenseless population impunity kicks in. Perhaps the greatest boon of the Museveni regime was to neutralize the gun by making citizens access it. But how it will all end, whether back to the old soldier, where even soldiers’ children terrorize, or the new one, who respects the law and lets civilians run the show, that, my friend, only time will tell!

The first collection of “Turning Point” is finally out, titled “Who is my Friend?” You can order a copy at only UGX 30,000 ( extra costs for delivery). Send/ Call Whatsup message 0772401774/ 0752921386.

A visit to the doctor

For some time Kikomeko hadn’t been feeling like himself. There was a numbing pain he felt piercing inside his belly. In spite of the pain Kikomeko whose life was all about work had pushed off visiting his doctor. One reason was he run a company, an insurance outfit, now involved in negotiations for a merger with an outsized competitor. He was so absorbed in this multimillion-dollar negotiation, that he chose to ignore it, hoping the pain would subside.

Apart from being ever lost in work, there was another reason he kept putting off doctor’s visits. Kikomeko had an intense dislike of anything to do with visiting hospitals and taking their medicine. A long time ago as a little child, suffering from typhoid he had been assigned to a closed-off ward, and that experience of being isolated in a sanatorium left him with such a sour test of, “Never again!” Fortunately, now soaring at midlife, his health had generally been super limiting his doctor visit, if ever.

Then one day he felt a lightning pain hit him so hard inside the belly. It felt like a hot spear cutting him to pieces. He noticed the day was open, and so why not make a quick doctor visit, he thought. He called his doctor’s clinic, explained his situation and was booked right away for an appointment. Getting there, he quickly told the nurse he was in a hurry, for there was a lot of work waiting on him and he wanted to see the doctor immediately. Hopefully, he thought, after a quick inquiry, he would be given some tablets, and then he would get back to his desk covered with important paperwork.

“Sir, we need to first take several tests before you see the doctor!” the nurse at the receptionist desk advised.

“How long!”

“For all the important results to come out you will need about two hours!”

Kikomeko pulled out his phone and checked his next appointment. It was five hours away. Inside his backpack briefcase was his laptop and with his iphone in hand, he could as well take the tests, sit and wait, for the results. Then he would fly off with some relief medicine. He obliged.

Once the results came out they were passed on to the doctor. The doctor did not get back to him immediately. When he stepped out of his office he ignored Kikokomeko’s who tried to show him he was delayed by pointing to the wall clock. Instead, he called for another doctor. Kikomeko wondered if there was an urgent case that had come up. But supposing it was his being discussed, a thought crossed his mind. He shifted uneasily.

Finally, the doctor came back and motioned him to enter his office. Kikomeko, gladly walked to his office. He found the other doctor seated and looking quite glum. Kikomeko attempted some light-hearted humor about the weather and how climate change had come to Africa with a recent hard rain pour that had left supposedly some snow behind. But it didn’t have much effect. Then without much ado, his doctor raised his hand, “Our tests strongly suggest that you have cancer of the colon, but we shall need to undertake more tests to prove conclusively.”

“What!” Kikomeko slumped back in his chair. The much he knew of this disease was that it was terminal. Clearly, he had not just dropped by to be read a death sentence. The doctors observing his disturbed face, took to comforting him. “Even if the results come out confirming what we suspect the situation can be managed. There is no need for panic.”

Not panic! Easy to say, but Kikomeko was really terrified. He stood up to leave with the understanding that his results would be sent to an overseas facility for further analysis. “If the results confirm, how long might you give me to live.” He asked while loosening his necktie.

“For these cases, possibly six months!”

Just before all this Kikomeko’s life had but been rosy, glittering, and flying. The company he was just about to acquire would make him the leading insurer of oil and gas in the country, a multimillion-dollar investment. A few months back he had bought land up a hill, and the architecture had just given him 3D drawing of his dream house. But now in a moment all those plans had been rendered meaningless. The magical life he thought he was in full control of, was clearly not his.

When he got home Kikomeko decided not to tell his wife, Mary, for fear of upsetting her and causing tension at home. But then even without venturing Mary could easily notice the anxiety written all over his face. “What must be bothering you?” she probed.

“The company purchase has hit a rock,” he lied and moved outside. A lot was on his mind. Kikomeko had never even written a will, for being in good health, death was the last thing on his mind. He had undertaken a number of bank overdrafts for his various personal businesses which would fall due in a short time. There were issues in the village calling upon him to resolve- land matters left behind by his late father. Being a fighter he knew whatever the results, he would use all his resources to fight this terrible disease, including perhaps selling some of his property. But then he also needed to leave as much means behind for his family, just in case the disease was not arrested and it took him in the six months!

Eventually, he decided to come clean and share with Mary what was eating him all up. At night he kept tossing in bed, shivering with sweat. However, far from what he had feared, Mary on hearing told him she already knew. “Matter of fact I had a dream that the enemy was attacking us and all we need is to pray.”

Kikomeko normally considered his wife one of those religious fanatics, and would never cease to shake his head, as she kept linking every aspect of their life to God and prayer. He often mocked her, “Why to keep your God on 24/7 watch with all those frantic prayers like he has no other business!” But then, this time, something in all she said struck him, and unlike in the past, the two joined hands in prayer.

A week after Kikokomeko was called back by his doctor for the final results. He drove over sweating, fearing the worst. But when he got to the clinic, the doctor was smiling with relief. “I have some good news,” he shared. “We have just got a report from overseas and it is an ulcer bothering you and causing all this pain. It is not the cancer we feared.”

Delighted, Kikomeko called up Mary and shared the good news. “Hallelujah!” she cried with joy. “Amen!” Kikomeko roared back.

As he drove back home he reflected on this recent experience. Before all, he had been preoccupied with his work, thinking everything was under his control. He had not even had time for his family. Then in one moment, his life had been tossed upside down with a devastating medical report.

What a relief that it had all worked out fine. But for now he knew something. He needed to change the priorities of his life. Instead of work and work; it would now be God, family, and then work. Kikomeko felt like a man given another chance at life. Whatever he would be doing now was the knowledge,that he was not fully controlled. There was someone else!

Everybody is Somebody!

To manage his vast household of seven children, Achebe, a CEO of a multinational bank headquartered in the city, knew he needed an extra pair of hands since Ngozi his wife had also an official government job. In particular, he relied on the services of a shamba boy, Wole, and a housemaid, Eke. The Achebe family had since recognized how vital the two were to them and hated it most during the Christmas holiday season when they had to send them back home to enjoy the festive season along with their relatives. It was one way of saying “thank you!”

Once these jumped on the bus and left for their villages, the house felt empty, and their usefulness was quickly noticed. Suddenly the once well-manicured compound was overgrown with shrubs, while the house chores normally well handled by Eke, piled up. They could not wait to have them back.

Achebe and Ngozi always counted on their workers returning because they treated them well. Not only were they well paid above the market and, ever on time, but their conduct to them was also always civil. On all occasions, they greet both with utmost courtesy.  Achebe liked to tease Wole by often referring to him as “Chief” since he always carried himself around in a regal manner. For the housemaid, he gently called her “Maama Eke” for she came from his mother’s clan.  Needless to say, there was mutual respect on either side.

Sending them back to their upcountry homes for holidays was one of the job bonuses. This time as Achebe bade Wole bye, after Eke, he suddenly recalled he was due to travel to his home district soon.  “There is a classmate who invited me for a family function not far from your place,” he shared. “I could run into you!”

“Sir, why then not visit us on your way back,” urged Wole, once he knew of the day.

“Okay!”  Achebe agreed.  “I have long been curious to see where “Chief” comes from.

Achebe and  Ngozi traveled upcountry to attend their old friend’s function,  who was celebrating his mother’s ninetieth birthday.  Because of the distance, they slept over and early in the morning set off back for the city. As agreed they made a stopover at  Wole’s place,  who was also holding a family function.

Upon arrival at Wole’s place, they found it teeming with festive activities.  A tent had been erected and it is where they spotted Wole who sat right in front.  He was well attired in agbada along with his wife, neat in a darra. Once Wole saw his visitors, his wife rose and led them to a front seat. The pair was seated next to Wole.

Achebe and Ngozi now noticed that Wole was the center of attraction.  Speeches were being delivered one after another for him to acknowledge. From his big seat in the tent, Wole would nod with approval once one speaker was done, then waving him off for another. He looked stately, quite royal, and everyone was eager for his attention.

Throughout both Achebe and Ngozi were dazed, not comprehending why every person here was fawning around someone they knew as their shamba boy. Although they always knew he had some duties back home, none had figured out he was this important. Was Wole a clan elder or some other chief, they kept looking at each other, puzzled.  After all the speeches were done, Wole, stood up finally to speak.  He started by pointing to both Achebe and Ngozi. “These are my employers in the city,” he said, with pride. “They treat me well and I invited them over to see all my people.” At that point a  party set upon the drums,  banging them hard to their honor.

After  Achebe’s speech was done in which he thanked the villagers for the work done while he was away in the city, he invited his visitors to the main house for a  meal. Achebe and Ngozi rose and could see the house had just received the final touches with a fresh paint coat and had new iron sheets. They didn’t need any more guessing why Wole was living so humbly in the city. He was saving and investing back home. Once seated inside the house everyone waited on Wole to bless the meal.  Wole made sure that his visitors were served first and the best portion.

It was getting late and Achebe motioned to Wole that it was time to leave. “We shall not delay our visitors anymore but let them go,”  Wole stood up to see them off.  “We thank you for honoring us with your visit.”

As they got back on the highway and accelerated towards the city, Achebe and Ngozi reflected on what had just transpired.  Their shamba boy, was surely some big person back home, no doubt.  While in the big city it was so easy to take him for granted, dressed in his overalls, back here everyone saluted him as a dignified noble. Achebe and Ngozi were happy that they had all the time treated Wole with the utmost respect. Had they been treating him anything less, how embarrassed would they have been!

It is well known that many international students who travel far from their homes often take on odd jobs to make ends meet while far away.  Many go out when already well qualified in their fields but are simply looking for some extra qualification.  They often leave behind handsome and thriving families. Out, to earn an extra buck, they take on jobs like dishwashing, cargo lifting, elderly nursing care;  and one may be tempted to imagine that is as far as they can go, and possibly count them off. Yet many of these “poor students”  once done with their studies hand in their resignation and quickly board planes back home where now with better qualifications, take on new dignified roles, including rising to become Prime Ministers, Justices, and CEOs of big corporations,  in their nations!

Years back during holidays my old man loved to drive the family upcountry to our home in Bulemezi where we had a big lusuku plantation.  It was tended to by migrant workers lazily called bapakasi. Once on the ground, I would rush to their small huts and they were pleasant company. However, during the Christmas season, I knew the bapakasi tended to buy all sorts of modern luxuries and head back to their home.  I would miss them. And after some time a number ceased returning back from the long holidays. I would later understand they had earned enough from these plantation jobs,  saved and invested, and were now back home coasting as some big landed officials.

When they say you have to treat every person you meet with respect it is perhaps for this very reason.  One may look at someone performing a seemingly low role in society and dismiss him as if that is all he’s worth.  Then come a  time and you discover that the man you thought all his worth was centered around your little compound,  elsewhere, back in his own turf, the whole village of hundreds waits on his words.  You may want the earth to swallow you there if you had been despising him all along and treating him harshly! It pays to treat all people with respect! For everybody is somebody.