Chaos on The Mediterranean

My heart breaks when I hear about all the people being trafficked from Africa to Europe. This year alone, at least 1,750 migrant lives have been lost as people from Africa attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea, many of them fleeing desperate conditions brought about by poverty and war. Many of those that do survive the high seas are then cramped into overcrowded camps mostly in Italy and Greece. The major news networks have been asking the European Union to do more to help save the lives of migrants who find themselves on the high seas, left at the mercy of the winds and the waves.

But what I want to know – what is the African Union (AU) doing to stem the flow of the tide of migrants? What is the AU saying against the madness and mayhem that African leaders cause, which forces people off their mother land to seek liAfrican-migrants-500x333fe in a ‘promised land’ via a perilous sea or through harsh desert sands of the Sahara? When I think of what is happening in Burundi right now, where the current President, Pierre Nkurunziza, wants to stand for a third term in office, in clear contravention of the Constitution – these are the kinds of actions that force people out of their motherland, smack into the hands of greedy and callous human traffickers. When I think of all the money lost through corruption, which then cripples our countries to the extent that they cannot provide jobs, living wages and quality services – then people are pushed to the edge and in order to survive, they fall smack into the hands of the traffickers. When we have country after country in Africa, being run by leaders who refuse to leave power, who amass wealth for themselves and their families, who flout the rule of law – these are the conditions that make people flee their countries and run smack into the hands of traffickers.

We cannot always rely on Europe to save African migrants. As long as conditions of indignity, human rights abuse, war and poverty continue to ravage our continent, we will constantly have migrants. We are the ones responsible for lining the pockets of the traffickers when we see things going wrong in our countries and keep quiet. We must stop the wave of bad governance and the rule of ‘big men’, if we are to restore sanity on our continent.

The issue of migrants is first and foremost ours. We are the ones to stop it in its tracks. It is our mountain. We must face it head on.

LifeLine

I spent the past two days with my team at a place called Lakeside Adventure Park in Katosi, Mukono. I highly recommend the place. It is very beautiful, spacious, very green, and is a nice retreat place not too far out of town.

The main attraction at Lakeside Adventure Park is their high wire activity, done at two levels – suspended in the air. The high wire activity combines ropes and pulleys and sections that you navigate using your upper body. The activity requires coordination, balance and concentration. We also did other exercises like building a crate tower and yesterday the fun exercise was building a shelter from leaves and tree branches, ensuring the shelter was sturdy, water and fire proof, with sufficient animal protection. We enjoyed a campfire by the lake and we watched a movie, whose screen was set up to stand in the lake!

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Securing myself to the lifeline

I found the high wire exercise quiet interesting. We were dressed up in harnesses and then the instructors explained the procedure to us of how to stay safe while doing the exercise up in the air. Critical to note was that at all times one had to clip themselves to what was called a lifeline. It was important to be clipped and stay clipped to the lifeline for safety and stability, as well as for ease of movement forward throughout the high wire activity. The exercise was scary, especially for those of us still dealing with a fear of heights. At all times, we had to trust that the life line would hold us up. And the way to tell the lifeline was to look for the wire painted with a bit of red.

Reflecting on the exercise later on, I thought about how the lifeline represents God. God is the source of life, and He is our lifeline. God sent His Son Jesus to die for us. Jesus shed his blood for us, and so it was interesting for me, that the lifeline has some red paint. But it’s also true that after giving us both physical and spiritual life, God is our lifeline every day. We have to stay clipped to Him for safety, stability and ease of movement forward, as we navigate the course called life. And sometimes our lives feel like we are being suspended way up on the air – there are lots of fears to deal with and fear can overwhelm us to the point of paralyzing us. But we always, always have to remember that we are clipped to the lifeline – God. He is with us all the time, He holds us, He shows us the way, and we are secure in Him.

Are you securely fastened to the Lifeline?

First 100 days….

100-days

I have reached my 100 day mark.

And I have often wondered what is magical about the first 100 days. I hear it  lot in the area of politics. In the US, they mark the first 100 days of the President, and often ask what he (it’s always been a he), has achieved in his first 100 days in office. Recently, in Uganda, when the new Chief Justice was appointed, one of the questions put to him by a journalist, was what he was going to do in his first 100 days in office.

I did a little research on the history and significance of the first 100 days and this is what I found: The first hundred days is a sample of the first 100 days of a first term presidency of a president of the United States. It is used to measure the successes and accomplishments of a president during the time that their power and influence is at its greatest.The term was coined in a July 24, 1933, radio address by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, although he was referring to the 100 day session of the 73rd United States Congress between March 9 and June 17, rather than the first 100 days of his administration. Ever since 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt used his first three months in office to lay the foundations of the New Deal, the First 100 Days have been seen as a unique moment–the new president’s first and perhaps best chance to reshape the nation according to his own agenda and vision.

Today, I look back at my first 100 days since I started the journey to prepare to climb the Rwenzori and these are a few of the things that I celebrate as I look back:

1. I have formed new bonds and forged new friendships with the team that I call the Rwenzorilings. We talk a lot, we laugh a lot and we work out a lot. I honor each and every member. I am glad God brought us together to walk this journey together.

2. I celebrate the lessons I have learned so far – lessons in the wisdom of preparing early and preparing long, lessons in sticking with my goal and not giving up, lessons in pushing past my limits over and over again, lessons in developing and maintaining a team, lessons in coaching as I observe our fitness coaches – they teach me lessons in leadership, in being focused, in the role of the leader as a pacesetter and as an encourager.

3. I celebrate the support of friends and family on this journey. I especially remember with the great fondness, the encouragement of my older son, who told me, about three weeks ago, that he is proud of me for all the exercise I am doing, he is proud of me for sticking to my goal, he is proud that my exercise is showing results. Oh, I could have melted!

4. I celebrate the band of brothers who walked this journey before us last year, and who have been an invaluable source of information about what to prepare and how to prepare for the climb. I am grateful for the stories and tips they have shared.

5. I celebrate that I have diligently and consistently saved 20,000/- per day for the last 100 days. Climbing costs, and I have learned that one must save early and save long, not just for the climb itself, but all the preparatory work before the climb.

6. I celebrate each work out and each long walk I have done during this time. I have enjoyed walking various parts of my city, parts I often zoom by in my car. Walking gives you another perspective on life. I celebrate each Boot Camp session, each Cheza session, each spinning session, each Torture Club session and I know there are many more to come. I celebrate the fact that each work out counts and each work out makes me stronger and takes me closer to my goal.

7. I celebrate the fact that God has been with me every step of the way. On Thursday last week, as I prepared to go for the Boot Camp session with George, I sensed God reminding me about this fact – that He is with me always – even through these grueling sessions. He is right beside me, He is rooting for me, He laughs along with me, and sometimes laughs at me – but that above all He is with me because He promised He would be – and He is a Promise Keeper.

Every journey begins with the first step, and I am celebrate each step that I have taken so far in my journey towards preparing for the climb. Even as I look back at the last 100 days, I also eagerly look forward to the next 100 days – because in that time, I will have climbed Mount Rwenzori!

I Still Wear Black

Every Monday. Without Fail. I still wear Black.

Why? I am part of the Black Monday Movement, which is a citizen protest against theft of public funds, with impunity, in Uganda. The Black Monday Movement started about three years ago. It was sparked off by reports of the theft of up to 50 billion shillings from the Office of the Prime Minister. The money stolen was meant for the rehabilitation of Northern Uganda, which had undergone a devastating civil war for over 20 years. The theft of this money was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, and the Black Monday Movement was born as a response to say ‘enough is enough’, that we could not go on with business as usual – with the press reeling off story after story of stolen public funds, without causing much of a hiccup, let alone a ripple, from civil society. We decided to gather and morn the many lives lost from the wanton theft of public funds. We decided to wear black as a symbol of our morning, but also as a symbol of our protest at Government’s lackluster response to theft of public resources.

Last week, a story that broke in the press reminded me of the callousness of corruption and the corrupt. About two years ago, 165 billion of pensioners money was stolen from Ministry of Public Service. Several high ranking officers were arrested and arraigned before court. But last week, the case against the officials was dropped. Why? Due to lack of evidence. Why? Because some people involved in the theft of that money, had bribed some policemen to write a report with contradictory evidence from a report thablack monday bandt had earlier been the basis of the charges against the officials who stole the money. With two contradictory reports, the court had nothing to do but to dismiss the case.

Right after the report of the theft of the 165 billion shillings two years ago, The Monitor Newspaper ran several stories of pensioners, about how many of them live lives of poverty and squalor, about what many of them have endeavored to access the pension due to them – often with great trouble and little success, many of them having to bride some official here and there over several years to enable their files to be found and processed. The stories were heart breaking to say the least. One could not read those stories and stay unmoved by the plight of many senior citizens who, having served their country diligently as civil servants, then have to encounter a system that robbed them of their hard earned pension.

It was with heaviness of heart that I read that the case against those that stole pensioners money was dropped. Just like that. And to read that once again, corruption had reared it’s ugly head, as it was used to tamper with and defeat justice. It’s even sadder that there hasn’t been so much of a sneeze, let alone a huge public outcry at this travesty of justice. Maybe it’s because our population is largely made up of young people, many of them struggling to find jobs, so the story of those who stole pensions getting off the hook does not move them much. Or maybe it’s because we don’t know enough pensioners to care what happens to them, to care enough that anyone would steal their money and get away with it. Or maybe it’s we have become so accustomed to stories of stolen money and the lack of prosecution of the ‘big fish’ involved in these scandals, to care when another story ends up just like the thousands of other stories before it.

But we must watch that we do not become desensitized to the theft of public resources. This is our money, meant to serve us. We can’t afford not care. We can’t give up and let this evil win. We can’t look away and go on with business as usual. It must remain unusual that so much money is stolen and very little, if any is ever recovered, and very few, if any, of the people responsible for the theft, are made to answer.

Corruption is a mountain we all have to face and scale. It will not go away by us ignoring it. We have to deal with it head on. We must make it extremely risky and uncomfortable for anyone to steal public funds and get away with it. We must act now – for our own good, and for the good of posterity. We must not let this mountain overwhelm us.

Of Goats Against Leopards

I have wanted to write this post the whole week, but have been wondering how to explain the deep conflict I feel within myself. This conflict is about the mountain cliff we are at as we head to wards the next elections.

Uganda goes to the polls in 2016, and in preparation for that process, the Electoral Commission (EC) announced a voter update and registration exercise which started on 7th April and will end on 30th April 2015. The EC is constitutionally mandated to compile, maintain, revise and update the voters register – or so I thought. It is with this knowledge that on Saturday April 18th, I went to a parish near home, to check whether my name was on the roll. When I got there, I was told that my name was not on the roll because I had not applied for a National Identity Card. That was a shocker to me because my assumption was that in updating the voters register, the EC would collapse both it’s own data, generated at the last elections (which data collection was paid for handsomely by the tax payer), with that of the ID registration process. Instead, the EC discarded it’s own data and is now using the data from the National ID process. By doing this, the EC has clearly absconded its constitutional duty to compile the register. If the EC cannot independently compile it’s own voters register, how will it manage the actual vote? How does it rely only on data produced by another process, which was not undertaken for the purpose of compiling data for a vote?

The other issuephoto (45) is that since the last election in 2011, civil society and political actors have continuously pressed for electoral reforms drawing lessons from former elections where reforms were presented too late into the election process, to be implemented. Fast forward to 2015, the Government is still playing hide and seek, as far as presenting meaningful electoral reforms is concerned,. The Rt. Hon. Speaker and various Members of Parliament, are on record for repeatedly demanding that the Government responds to these reforms as a matter of urgency. Government keeps promising to present them, but has not yet done so to date.

This makes me wonder whether there is political will here. When our Government wants a certain law passed, it goes all out in ensuring speedy presentation and debate on the said matter. But on the issue of electoral reforms, Government has dragged it’s feet, to the point that presenting electoral reforms now, it too little, too late. Moreover, I have heard from reliable sources, that beyond changing the name of the Electoral Commission to the Independent Electoral Commission, there is not much else that Government will propose in terms of reforms. Changing the name of the EC does not go to the heart of the matter of why we repeatedly have sham elections in Uganda. Really, of all the proposals that were put forward, that’s the ‘ka’ one they pick?! Really?!

Conflicted between Government’s lackluster position on electoral reforms and my duty as a citizen to participate in the governance of my country through, among other things, taking part in elections – do I go ahead to participate in a process that is blatantly flawed and that is clearly in breach of the Constitution, even though it may be clothed in garments of legality? (What I learned in law school is that what is legal is not always lawful.)

As one young person aptly puts it “The question that is before us is: when you are faced with an election whose process you know is rigged before it begins, what do you do? Do you take part in the hope that your vote may somehow curb the rigging, or do you do something that will prevent the rigging? Preventive action or curative action – which is the more prudent? A health professional would most likely say the former. Voting is the heart of a democratic society and dedicated voters make a strong republic – they are its immune system. However, going to church or the mosque does not make a saint of the sinner any more than an election makes a democracy of a dictatorship. What we have in Uganda today is not an environment for free and fair elections. It is a ring in which goats have been matched with leopards.”

And we know that leopards are not vegetarians!

Push!

If you have ever given birth the natural way, you have heard that word said to you (or in some cases shouted at you), as the medical staff encourage you to birth that baby.

If you are a Christian, you have probably seen the acronym P. U. S. H. Pray Until Something Happens – urging the faithful not to give up, but to persist in prayer.

If you’ve been under any form of rigorous training, it’s one word you’ve probably heard from your coach over and over again.

It’s a word I have heard often as we train for the Rwenzori climb. George from Boot Camp says it. Moses from Monday spin class says it. Andrew from dance fitness class says it.

Push!

Go beyond yourself.

Do it one more time.

Don’t give up.

Don’t give in.

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If she can do it, so can you. Push!

Feel the pain and go on.

Beat your last record.

Press on.

Press past your limit.

Go on.

Don’t think, just do.

Go the extra mile.

Do better than yesterday.

Do better than your last work out.

Outdo yourself.

You’ve got some more left in you.

Apply yourself.

Use all your strength.

Don’t slow down.

Don’t stop now.

Forward always.

Backwards never.

Push!

And so I push. Building my strength. Increasing my tenacity. Overcoming metal obstacles. Going past physical weariness. Giving my all, to attain my goal. I push.

The Stretch Zone

Often after every rigorous exercise, we do exercises that help us cool down. And then we do stretches.

Stretches are uncomfortable. They are painful. You often feel points of tension and tightness.

But stretches are necessary, for it is in stretching that we grow. It is in stretching that we reach beyond ourselves to the next level.

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The inner circle is the comfort zone, the outer circle is the stretch zone

And that’s what the rest of life is like. Most of us like to live in the comfort zone, the easy zone, the zone where we are sure of ourselves and our surroundings. The zone where we are content with who we are, where we’re at, the path we have chosen. Nothing rocks us, and we certainly don’t rock any boats in that zone. There maybe a few bumps in the comfort zone, but nothing that we cant handle with the skills and resources we have. It’s nice in the comfort zone. But in the comfort zone, it’s easy for us to become flabby, to get lazy. It’s easy for our muscles to die, because we are not challenging them (whether physical, or mental  or relational or financial or career or creative muscles). What we often forget is that our current comfort zone was once uncomfortable to us. We had to stretch and grow to get to the place we are now so comfortable in.

We always need to watch that we don’t become too comfortable or stay too long in our current comfort zone. We always need to watch that we don’t settle. That we don’t stop growing. And the only way to do this is to always be reaching for our stretch zone – that realm of our dreams, that realm of our highest potential in all areas of our lives. The stretch zone is a place of the unknown. It’s a place of fear (and sometimes of pain). It is a place of discomfort. But it is a place of growth, a place of newness, of excitement, a place where we see different things and see things differently.

In order to grow, we need to keep expanding the zone of the comfortable by doing as many uncomfortable things as possible. That’s why I went bungee jumping this year. That’s why I want to climb Rwenzori Mountain. That is why I want to go white water rafting some day soon. That’s why I keep writing this blog every day. All these represent the uncomfortable for me. But they stretch me. They help me grow. They help me learn.

I invite you to join me. Do something this year that it totally uncomfortable for you. Stretch yourself.  And as Mary Oliver says in her poem ‘The Summer Day’, “Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Your Heart De Feel You Ooo

On Sunday evening (19th April), we agreed among ourselves to do Boot Camp on Tuesday and Thursday this week. Five of us confirmed that we would attend the Tuesday session, and since it is my week to coordinate, I duly informed George our trainer, that we would meet on Tuesday from 5 to 6 pm. He wrote back to say that we should be ready to ramp up the strength training, and that was the last I heard from him.

Yesterday evening, I got to Joy’s office at about 4:45 pm and George was no where in sight. I dressed uIMG_2945p in my work out gear, and started earnestly hoping and praying the he had forgotten about the Boot Camp. At the same time, in order not to miss out on the work out all together, I started planning what we old do in case George did not show up. I figured that we would do a few sprints up and down the steep drive way, and then go home after about ten minutes.

As I was still plotting the very brief workout, George arrived. He parked his car, opened his window, smiled at us and immediately said “I know you were wishing that I had forgotten to come.” Either that man is a mind reader, or something in my facial expression gave my earlier thoughts away!

This time, he didn’t pull any equipment out of his car, as is his usual practice, so I was left wondering as to what kind of strength training we were going to do. He asked my brother to hop onto his back and then he carried him up the steep drive way and back! We could not believe that was what we were going to do! I was next. He asked me to carry Penny on my back and when I was done, he asked Michelle to carry me on her back. Michelle and I laughed so hard. The exercise was totally unbelievable! We stopped there with carrying each other and went on to do other exercises.

We did 150 jumping jacks – 50 at a time, with a brief rest in between. We did ten slow jumping jacks and ten fast ones, and repeated that rhythm till we counted to fifty. By the time we were through, our hearts were racing, and that’s when George said our hearts were going to feel us. With that statement, we knew we were in for a hard workout!

We did quite a nIMG_2947umber of press ups – about 120 in all, spread across the work out. I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of it. Some times my arms give way and I collapse under my own weight, and at other times I can’t go all the way down in a proper press up. But I keep trying what I can. We then jumped logs – seven in a row. After that, we each stood facing a log, and then had to do a burpee, jump the log, then do another burpee on the other side of the log and jump back. We did this ten times. We ran and did more press ups. Then we did frog jumps. When it was my turn, I sort of half sat/half fell on my little brother’s back, and that was the end of that exercise.

We then jumped stairs – two at a time (6 stairs in all), and we did this ten times. Next did what George calls the dance. This is a quick sort of shuffle while doing a light jump on a step, and you pick up the pace. We did the dance, and did some press ups in between. And just when I thought the session was coming to an end, George made us run up and down the steep drive way five times.

By the end of the exercise we were totally exhausted, but also totally grateful that we did the session. For me, each session is a count down to the mountain climb. Each session also presents the opportunity to learn something new. Today’s big lesson for me was about trust. You cannot allow someone to carry you if you don’t trust them, and I am glad these work out sessions that we do together are slowly helping us build trust with each other, because maybe, just maybe, when we are all we have up there in the mountain, we will have to trust that we will carry each other – not physically, but in other ways – to be able to support each other fully.

The other lesson I learnt was that a lot of what limits us is in our mind. Like my leadership coach put it to mIMG_2960e so ably yesterday morning: “We use our minds to torment ourselves, we can use the same minds to free ourselves.” Very often, when George introduces a new workout routine, our first response is to say we can’t do it, because in our eyes, it seems too hard to do. But he always reminds us that our perception of inability is in the mind, and we have to overcome that mindset if we are to take on a new challenge and grow.

So the mental note I wrote to myself as we ended the session yesterday was: may I learn to trust my team mates more, and may I learn to overcome the perception of the impossible and continue to shatter my limits.

Abs

I used to have them. Long ago.

That is before my abs created a merger without telling me. When my six pack (I like to think I had a six pack once), merged into one pack. I didn’t mind the merger too much because, thanks to innovation, someone created the corset and other forms of shape-wear for women like me, to enable us tuck in our run away midriff – or our wobbly bits, as they are called in Bridget Jones Diaries.

And of course we have all seen those ads that promise you tight abs and a bikini body in five days flat through doing certain ab exercises for five minutes a day. Who does that? Not even the best magician can help you pull that one off! And usually the models in those ads already have flat tummies, so of course they can get fab looking abs in less than five minutes flat!

Anyhow, the toughest part of all the routines we have done in preparation for the Rwenzori climb, are the ab workouts. The ones we do especially after spin class, are the deadliest. Usually, after one hour of spinning on a stationary bike, the instructor will announce, rather loudly, that we are going downstairs to do 500 abs. And the look on our faces as we cringe is enough to tell you that the ab work out is not the most exciting part of the exercise.

Yesterday, I walked up to the instructor and tried to convince him that someone my age surely doesn’t need all that ab work really, because even if I ever get my flat tummy back, I’m not about to squeeze myself into a bikini, nor am I about to become some sort of super hero who needs to dress up in a tight fitting body suit, so if I can’t show off my abs, what do I need them for? He would have none of that. He told me the ab workout is good for my health. Ya right. I still have a hard time believing his logic, but I went anyway.

I find ab work really hard because my tummy hurts a lot during the exercise. If my tummy could detach itself from my body, I am sure it would hold a protest march against all the ab work I take it through. But it is not detachable, so it has to stick with me. And I have to stick with the ab exercise, as I talk myself through the benefits of having a strong core – of which the muscles in tummy is an integral part.

And even if I never wear a bikini, I want my body to be strong and healthy, both inside and out.

Naked

To bear all. Stripped. Unclothed. To have nothing on.

That image and word kept swirling in my mind the whole weekend. It was prompted by a story I read in the Saturday Monitor (18th May 2015), under the heading: “Women Undress Before Migereko, Gen Aronda”. These are two male ministers in the Uganda Government, and they had gone to a District in Northern Uganda, called Amuru, to help settle a land boundary dispute. The duo arrived at the sight of naked elderly women sitting on Apaa junction and yelling out traditional slogans condemning the boundary demarcations. The women said the demarcation is a move to push them out of their ancestral land.

Two things caught my eye in that story – one was the action of the women and the other was the reaction of the men (the two male ministers). The picture of the elderly women made me think of my grandmother. We know that in a country like ours, covering of the body is taken very seriously, especially by the elderly. The elderly are known to be extremely modest, and the most you will see of their uncovered body parts are probably their legs (most times the ankles and below, as elderly women tend to wear long clothes), or their arms. And sometimes, depending on how close you are to an elderly woman (grandmother or mother), you may see her bare chest, if you bump into her as she is dressing up. But it is rare to see a stark naked elderly woman. And because it is such a rarity, from a people who are generally revered for their age and modesty, you know that once an elderly woman decides to undress in in full view of the public, her anguish is much more than her shame. You know that the thing for which she has decided to strip bare hurts her more than her public image.

The elderly women were baring all for what they saw as a grave injustice, not just against them, but against their people  – past, present and future. In that moment, they were communicating that there was no longer anything to hiTutu Quotede, that they had nothing to lose in going all the way to bare their heart and soul for all to see.

The reactions by the ministers was also interesting. As reported by the press – the sight of the naked elderly women caused Migereko to break down in tears, while General Aronda looked on (seemingly unmoved), though avoiding looking at the women. I wondered what must have gone on in the minds of those two gentlemen. What did they really think in their heart of hearts? Would they brush these women off as ‘shameless saboteurs’ of Government programs or would they take to heart, the message of  the injustice that the women were trying to relay?

We encounter injustice everyday, everywhere around the world, and because it is everywhere all the time, it is very easy for us not to see it, or to ignore it, or not to see it for what it really is. Can we dare look at injustice in it’s naked form, in it’s rawness, not covered up with pretty words, and slogans on T-Shirts and UN Conventions and the endless streams of meetings and symposiums that discuss injustice? Can we stare at it’s nakedness, feel the anguish and hopelessness that people feel, when injustice robs even the elderly of their dignity, robs them of their humanity? And when we face the nakedness of injustice, how do we react?

Do we cry? Do we look away? Or do we act?