The Elgon Chronicles

I have not blogged in a while because three of my friends, including my little brother, and I, went to climb Mount Elgon last week. We set off for Mbale last Sunday – 24th May and started our climb on Monday 25th May. The climb took us five days – three days to get to Wagagai Peak and two days to climb down. Over the next few days, I will chronicle our journey to the top and back.

I still feel dazed. It still feels surreal. I still ask myself whether I actually climbed a mountain or whether maybe I had a dream that lasted a week long.

Here’s what happened on Sunday 24th May:

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Hannington helping us to pack up the car.

My boys and I went to church and I sat beside Michelle – one of my friends who climbed with me. We had agreed to leave church at exactly 11:00 a.m. in order to be ready by noon, which was when our transport was supposed to arrive at my place to pick me up. We left church just slightly before the sermon ended and made our way home. Michelle had to pick up her dry cleaning and I took my boys to Game store to pick up some supplies.

Hannington, our driver, arrived at my gate at 11:50 a.m. In what is a rare feat for me, I had packed all my things a day early and so was ready to go the minute the driver hooted at my gate. We loaded my luggage into the car and I bid my family farewell. The parting was emotional. First, my oldest son gave me a long, tight hug, then the younger son too. His hug was longer and tighter. I saw Harriet, our House Help, lingering near my younger son, so I decided to give her an embrace too.

I then went to bid farewell to my husband. He was walking out of his study, a limp in his step. He was clearly in pain from a wound he was nursing. I felt bad that I had to leave him like that, that I wouldn’t be there to help him get through the pain. He sat down on the chair outside his study and asked me to help him clip his nails before I set off. I willingly obliged, and then said good bye.

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We drove behind these tanks as we left Lugogo Mall

I got into the car and we drove to Michelle’s house to pick her up. After we loaded her stuff onto the car, we remembered that we had forgotten some of our snacks and medicines at my home, so we drove back there. We picked those up and proceeded to pick up Bernard from his home. We then proceeded to my office to pick up my brother, as well as our food supplies which we had stocked at my office. After we were all loaded, we decided to pass by Good African Coffee at Lugogo Mall, to pick up our last good cup of coffee before hitting the road to Mbale.

We made a stop at Namawojolo and stocked up on roadside snacks – some roasted chicken and plantain (gonja), and we ate to our fill. As we passed Mabira forest, we reminisced about the six hour walk we had done a week ago, as part of our preparation to climb the mountain. The banter in the car was light; we were all excited about the great adventure ahead.  In Mbale, we checked in at Wash and Wills Hotel and then went to Endiro for our ‘Last Supper’. I had a burger as my last meal before the climb. We then went back to the hotel and called it a night. We agreed to meet up in the hotel lobby at 6:30 a.m. the following morning to start off our journey to climbing the Elgon Mountain.

The words on my mind as I went to bed last Sunday night, were from our Boot Camp trainer, George. He sent us a message saying “I wish you all the best and do remember that as a team, you are only as strong as your weakest link. Look after each other and God bless…”

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Parenting Teens

I was delighted when a friend of mine invited me to a parenting seminar this morning. Our first son recently turned 13 and I have had my questions and fears and a few challenges, but didn’t quite know where to turn. I have asked my Mom and Dad for advice of course, but I felt like I still needed to learn all I can for the new phase of parenting that I have entered. And so, this session was a God-send. Many of the fears I have had as a parent of a teenager are more to do with the stereo-type that I have heard and internalized, about how the teen years are terrible, more so in fact, than the terrible twos. Oh my how I dreaded the terrible twos, where the stereotype was that my child would constantly be throwing tantrums, demanding his own way and forever saying the word ‘no’. Thank God I survived the twos. But I had heard that the teen years are way tougher than the terrible twos, and so I braced myself for the worst when my son turned 13. I have been living on the edge, watching my son like a hawk, waiting for that moment when he turns from my sweet little son, to a half boy-half man (a man/boy), who I have to do battle with. I’ve been armed and ready – and probably dangerous.

And so, it was good to attend this meeting and have many of my myths about the teen years, debunkedTeen seminar. A few of the things that stayed with me from this morning’s session are:

1. Parenting is as much a a responsibility as it is a privilege, and I should not take this privilege lightly. The family is a child’s first and primary learning community and parents are the primary teachers in a child’s life.

2. God gave me children, not only so that I can parent them, but that they can teach me too, and help me to grow.

3. God divinely paired my children and I. He knew that I was the exact kind of mom they needed and that they were the exact children I needed in this journey called life.

4. My goal as a parent of a teenager should not be to survive, but to thrive through this time, as I walk with and help my child through this phase of his life.

5. The teen years are not a battle of biology, they are not a battle against raging hormones, but a battle of the heart, and it is my role as a parent to raise my child in such a way that he will have a strong heart – a heart after God, a heart that is discerning and wise, a heart for mission and community, a heart to make a difference in this world.

6. I need to get myself out of the way in order to minister to my child. His journey as a teen is not about me, it’s about him. Very often we are angry, not at the child’s wrong doing, but angry about how that wrong doing makes us look before others. An example was given of a father of a teen who, when the teen brought home a bad report, asked the child – ‘how could you do this to me?’

7. I should be focused, purposeful and have a goal for my parenting, just like I do in any other area of my life.  I should not parent aimlessly and hope that somehow, somewhere, at some time, the child will turn out OK. I should parent with a plan.

8. I should remember that just like I sin and struggle with the same issues over and over again and I am not perfect, the same goes for my son. Grace and humility are key to parenting.

9. In my parenting, I do not rely on myself, but on God. The children I have are a gift from God and He has entrusted them to me for a time, but they always are, and always will remain His. So God should be my first authority and point of reference, along with His Word, in my journey as a parent.

I am grateful for the lessons I learned. I will most probably have to learn these and many more lessons over and over. But I am willing to learn and to practice what I learn. So help me God.

Jesus and Mountains

Mountains were a very significant part of Jesus’ life here on earth. Just before he started his ministry, Jesus went into the desert to pray for 40 days and 40 nights. The devil tempted Jesus at the end of that period. One of the things the devil did was to take Jesus to a very high mountain where he showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he said he would give them to Jesus if he would fall down and worship him (Matt 4: 8-9). Jesus refused to bow down to the devil and told him that only God alone deserves our worship and praise.

Many of us know about the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus gave The Beatitudes. The Message Bible says he sat down and taught His climbing companions. I love the way the Amplified Bible expounds the word blessed in this cojesusonmountainntext: Blessed (happy, to be envied and spiritually prosperous with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward condition) are the poor in spirit (the humble, who rate themselves insignificant), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed and enviably happy (with a happiness produced by the experience of God’s favor and especially conditioned by the revelation of His matchless grace) are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt 5:3 &4), and so on.

The Bible tells us that Jesus often went up to the mountain to pray – Matthew 14:23, Mark 6:46, Luke 6:12, John 6:15. Mountains were solitary places and Jesus needed a quiet place to pray – to talk to His Father, to commune with Him, to receive strength and guidance from Him. Jesus also performed miracles on the mountain. In Matthew 15:29 to 31, we are told that on the mountain great crowds came to Him bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others and put them at His feet and He healed them and the crowd was in awe and worshiped God when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking and the blind seeing.

It was on up a high mountain that Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, where His face shone like the sun and His clothes became white like light and Moses and Elijah appeared with Him (Matthew 17: 1 to 17). And it was on the Mountain in Galilee, where Jesus gave His disciples the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that God commanded.

Mountains are places of prayer, they are places of healing, they are places of revelation and they are places of commissioning. I look forward to all these experiences and more as I climb Mount Elgon. And I know God will come through for me because He answers prayer.

Mount Elgon

Anticipation and excitement is killing me! Today I thought I should share some information about the mountain that some friends and I will climb next week. Here goes….

  • Mt Elgon (an extinct volcano) is one of Uganda’s oldest physical features believed to have first erupted 20 million years ago.
  • This mountain is capped by one of the world’s largest calderas, 40 sq.kms in size that was created after a violent eruption blew off the volcano’s magma reservoir.
  • The size of Mt Elgon National Park is 1,145 sq. Kms

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    Part of Mount Elgon

  • The slopes of this mountain are home to mainly two tribes; the Bagisu (Bamasaba), and the Sabiny. Both tribes practice a cultural ritual known as Circumcision, which traditionally initiates an adolescent boy into adult hood, although the Sabiny circumcise both boys and girls

Main Attractions on the Mountain (What is There to see?)

  • Caves like; the Kapkwai cave, Mude cave, Tutum cave and the Khaukha cave on Wanale ridge.
  • Beautiful vegetation on the mountain. There are 4 vegetation zones on Mt Elgon ie; the Natural high forest zone (1,250 – 2500m), the bamboo zone (2,500 – 3,000 m), the Heath land (3,000 – 3,500 m) and the Moorland (3,500 – 4,000 m) above sea level. In each of these zones one can notice unique plants and trees which reduce in size with the changing altitude.
  • Unique high altitude plants such as; the Lobelia, the Scenecios and the Everlasting flowers.
  • Ridges like the Wanale ridge.
  • Water falls ie; Chebonet, Dirigana falls
  • Spectacular view points from which one can see the plains of Karamoja.
  • Animals for example; the duikers (small antelopes), Baboons, Black and White Colobus Monkeys, Vervet monkeys, Blue monkeys, Forest Elephants and Buffaloes.
  • Mt Elgon is home to over 300 species of birds including; the Jackson’s Francolin, moustached green Tinker birds, black collared Apalis, bronze naped pigeon, Hartlaub’s Turaco and the endangered Lammergeyer.
  • Peaks; the highest peak – Wagagai stands at 4,321m and the lower Jackson’s summit at 4,165 m and Mubiyi peak at 4,210 m above sea level.
  • Crater pools; Jackson’s pool is at 4,050 m.
  • Crater lakes are several and can be viewed well from the Caldera or peaks.
  • Hot springs; these are found in the caldera towards Suam gorge.
  • The Suam gorge which marks the International boundary between Uganda and Kenya.
  • The Caldera at 4,000m above sea level is the largest mountain Caldera in the world.

We will do the Sasa Trail and this is what our hike will look like:

Day 1: Budadiri (1,250m) – Sasa River camp (2,900m)

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One of the falls in Mount Elgon

Drive to Budadiri visitor centre. In the office meet the clerk who will give you info on Mt Elgon and also receive money from you for the chosen activities, then the guides and porters will be introduced to you. After you have arranged and packed all your food and camping gear, you will start walking to Sasa River camp (2,900m) for dinner and over night. The distance is 11kms and takes 7 to 8 hours depending on one’s walking speed. Altitude in one day is 1,700m.

Day 2: Sasa River Camp (2,900m) – Mude Cave Camp (3,500m)

After breakfast at the camp, proceed through the forest to Mude Cave Campsite. This 5 kms walk takes about 3 – 4 hours depending on one’s walking speed. On arrival at the camp, you can have lunch then after if you are not tired can take a walk to Dirigana falls which are 2 kms away then walk back to Mude for dinner and overnight. Enjoy the beautiful volcanic landscape views and thousands of giant groundsels, occasionally spotting Duikers and Hyraxes. Altitude in one day: 600m

Day 3: Mude Cave Camp (3,500m) – Wagagai Peak (4,321m)

Start after an early breakfast. Take with you a small pack bag carrying a few basics like a camera, pair of binoculars and a snack. After a short climb, trek directly to Wagagai peak (4,321 m), the second highest in Uganda after Rwenzori’s  Margherita which is 5,109 m high. There is no steep climb and after about 3 hours the Jackson’s peak can be reached. Enjoy the beautiful view from the top, particularly of the Kenyan side of the mountain, later return back to Mude camp for dinner and overnight. Altitude in one day: 821m

Day 4: Mude Cave Camp (3,500m) – Kajeri Camp (3,383 m)

After breakfast, set off for yet another wonderful hike. Enjoy a beautiful walk through the crater rim, see the amazing landscape, Scenecios and the Everlasting flowers. The day long walk is about 37kms and takes about 7 – 8 hours.

Day 5: Kajeri camp (3,383 m) – Forest Exploration Centre (2,050 m)

After breakfast, start descending to Kapkwai through the natural forest. En route you will pass by a big cave (Tutum cave – 2,667 m) believed to house a big aircraft. However, cave exploration is possible only if you have the equipment such as; torches, extra batteries and ropes.

(Information from Uganda Wildlife Authority)

Peak Performers

A friend that I told about my goal to climb Mount Rwenzori shared something profound with me.  He told me not to focus on the mountain climb just for the peak itself, but also to focus on the person I would become during the process – a peak performer. I was reminded of that statement again yesterday, as I watched a dvd titled “Attaining Exceptional Performance”.

Exceptional performance (which I equate with peak performance), is about delivering results while exceeding expectations, it’s about giving 110%, it’s about going that extra mile, it’s about going beyond good to great. Exceptional performance is about stretching yourself, living beyond your limits, setting a new bar for yourself, being intentional about growth, it’s about being willing to pay the price. You don’t just wake up one morning and become exceptional, you have to work at it, long, hard and consistently.

Looking back at the journey we’ve done so far, in preparation for the climb, I can say that we have learned several lessons about being peak performers and I’ll share just a few:

  1. Peak performers know there is a price to pay and are willing to pay it: just yesterday, some of my climbing mates and I were having a conversation about how much the preparation has cost us in financial terms, and we didn’t even want to think about just how much we’ve spent so far. We’ve had to pay for exercise, we’ve had to pay for climbing equipment, and those that participated in the smoothie challenge had to buy the right gadgets to make the right kind of smoothies, and so on. To be an exceptional performer, you have to invest money.
  1. Peak performers plan well: peak performance is not accidental, it is intentional, and one way to show intentionality is to plan. Planning helps eliminate, or at least strongly minimize excuses. Planning saves time. Planning means you are thinking about what you are doing. Planning well means that you are learning the art of being organized. Being organized reduces stress.
  1. Peak performers do what it takes, no matter what: I shared the other day that we’ve done several long walks to improve our endurance and stamina. And very often we have started the walks quite early in the day – most times at 5:00 a.m. This means that at the very least – depending on where one stays in relation to the starting point for the climb – one has to get up by 3:30 a.m. forgo sleep and drive long distances in order to be there on time.
  1. Peak performers push themselves: during the physical preparation for the climb, we have pushed ourselves quite a lot. The Boot Camp sessions with George have been especially helpful in this regard. Very often, at the end of the work out, you look back and can’t believe how you got through the tough, physically challenging and grueling exercise – but we do, and with each session we get stronger, push ourselves a bit further, and grow a bit more. It’s not always fun. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.
  1. Peak performers stay the course no matter what, they are goal oriented: we have stuck to our goal despite discouragement from friends or family or even discouragement from within ourselves. At various points we have felt like giving up, but we freedom(1)_Webhave pressed on. We have found ways to encourage each other both individually and as a group.
  1. Peak performance takes as much individual effort as it does team effort: every one of us has had to put in their best for the preparation as an individual, but we have also been greatly helped by working as a team. I don’t think I could have done the 6 hour walk in Mabira if I had been alone, I don’t think I would have climbed the 23 floors of Workers House several times if I wasn’t walking with one of my team mates, I don’t think I would have stayed as consistent with exercise as I have done, if I wasn’t working out with my team mates, if I didn’t have people to encourage me on the way and keep me accountable. Team is very important in attaining peak performance.
  1. Peak performers learn to prioritize: we have had to give up things, forgo things and fit things into our schedules in such a way as to stay focused on our goal. One learns to sieve what is important or not. One learns to do away with the things that hinder the larger goal.
  1. Peak performers understand that the journey is just as important as the final destination. You cannot despise the journey and glorify the destination. You cannot be haphazard in the journey and expect to be exceptional at the top. The journey and the peak are interlinked. One helps you get to the other. How you get to the top is just as important as the top itself – if not more. Journey matters, and so we pay attention to the journey, we are serious about the journey. And we will get to the top. The peak is in sight.

An Opportunity I Thought You’d Like to Know About….

Call For Applications: AWDF’s 2015 ‘Writing For Social Change’ Workshop For African Women

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Tendai Garwe, participant from Zimbabwe, addresses other writers and audience (2014)

The African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) in collaboration with FEMRITE – Uganda Women Writers Association, invites African women writers and journalists to apply for the Writing for Social Change Workshop 2015. This 10-day writing workshop, will be taking place in Uganda from July 27 to August 5, 2015.

The workshop will be facilitated by veteran BBC journalist and media expert Elizabeth Ohene from Ghana and award-winning writer Yewande Omotoso, from Nigeria/South Africa/Barbados.

This workshop is targeted at women writers, journalists and activists who wish to step-up their involvement in highlighting issues around women’s rights and social justice. Participants will be expected to read widely from assigned selected texts, and to complete daily writing exercises. After the workshop, the participants are expected to use the knowledge acquired to write widely about social justice issues in and beyond their communities.

This workshop is part of AWDF’s efforts to amplify African women’s voices and is aimed at creating a network that will enable participants to place their articles and stories in a range of local, regional and international media.

Priority will be given to interested women journalists who wish to actively engage in women’s activism – we are expecting at least 50% of the writers selected for this workshop to be full-time journalists. We will also include women from AWDF’s existing grantee organisations, and within our partner networks.

Full accommodation, meals and a partial travel grant will be provided to all successful applicants. All applicants will be expected to be present for the ten-day duration of the workshop. A Memorandum of Understanding will be signed by successful applicants to enable smooth running of the workshop.

Application Guidelines

  1. Deadline for submission is May 31 2015. Only those accepted to the workshop will be notified by June 5,  2015.
  2. To apply send an e-mail to; communications@awdf.org.
  3. E-mail subject should read ‘Application for Social Justice Workshop 2015’
  4. The body of the e-mail should contain the following:
    a) Your Name
    b. Your Email Address
    c. A short bio (maximum 200 words)
    d. A sample article about women’s rights or social justice -between 500 and 1000 words. The sample maybe unpublished or published on any media. This can be sent as an attachment or as part of the email body especially if it has images.
  5. AWDF will not be responsible in case of any plagiarism.

Bios of Lead Facilitators

Elizabeth.OheneElizabeth Ohene, from Ghana, is a veteran journalist, writer and broadcaster, and a  former government minister.

Her career began at Ghana’s leading newspaper group the Daily Graphic, (owned by Graphic Corporation), where for over a decade she served as a reporter, staff writer, columnist and Editor.

In London in 1983, she founded the Talking Drums, a weekly news magazine on West African affairs and served as the Publisher/Editor for the three years of the magazine’s existence.

Elizabeth joined the BBC World Service in London, UK, in 1986, first as a Producer of Radio Programmes, then served in various positions in the World Service and British Domestic Radio, and as a columnist on the Focus on African Magazine. She also served as Deputy Editor for the award winning Focus on Africa Programme. She reported regularly for the BBC from various parts of Africa and was the resident correspondent in South Africa from 1992 to 1994 during the transition from apartheid to the first democratic elections.

Miss Ohene conducted several  training programmes for journalists for the BBC in South Africa, Nigeria, Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. She also ran a network of more than 150 stringers located in all parts of Africa for the BBC Africa Service, supervising their editorial work.

Miss Ohene’s professional activities include being a member of the International Women Media Foundation which actively promotes women’s competency and leadership in the media. The foundation has established an Africa Women’s Media Centre in Dakar, Senegal, where courses are run for African women in the Media according to their needs.

She served as a board member of the International Commission of Investigative Journalists and a member of the panel of judges for the CNN Africa Journalist of the Year Competition.

She served in government as a Minister of State from 2001 to 2009.

She currently writes a weekly column in the Daily Graphic, Ghana’s largest circulating daily and a monthly Letter from Africa for the BBC.

Yewande Omotoso 4Yewande Omotoso, born in Barbados, grew up in Nigeria and currently lives in Johannesburg. Yewande trained as an architect at the University of Cape Town, to which she returned after working as an architect for several years, to complete a Masters in Creative Writing. The product of her degree is her debut novel Bomboypublished in 2011 by Cape Town publisher Modjaji Books. Bomboy was shortlisted for the 2012 Sunday Times Literary Awards, the MNet Film Award and the 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature.

It won the South African Literary Award First Time Author Prize. Her other works include short stories Two Old People in the anthologySpeaking for the Generation: Contemporary Stories from AfricaHow About The Children published in The Kalahari Review, ‘Things Are Hard’ in the 2012 Caine Prize Anthology and Fish published in The Moth Literary Journal. Yewande’s poetry is published in the Baobab Literary Journal. The Rain was shortlisted for the 2012 Sol Plaatjie European Union Poetry Awards. She was a 2013 Norman Mailer Fellow and the 2014 Etisalat Fellow at the University of East Anglia. She is a 2015 Miles Morland Scholar.

Omotoso, for whom writing is a means to make sense of the world, is interested in the complexity of human experiences as well as the incongruities of life.

Loneliness is a recurring theme. Omotoso views her writing as a tool for compassion and evoking self-examination. For her talent and the intent to tell stories, she credits her parents and a childhood steeped in reading and the sharing of ideas.

Mock Exams

This week I feel like a student who is going to sit their mock exams. You know that feeling when you’ve studied diligently, tried as much as possible to do all the class and homework assignments, followed the tips taught by the teacher, when you know that you have done all that is within your means to prepare for the exam? And now, the week just before the exams is a week to take it easy, to rest and relax your brain as you wait to take the exam – that’s how I feel.

Next week on Monday, a few of my friends and I are going to climb Mount Elgon. Mount Elgon is the mock exam before the final exam; the final exam being the Rwenzori climb, which we will do in July. We have prepared long and we have prepared hard. We have done all manner of exercise routines with all manner of coaches in all manner of venues at all manner of times. I have worked out harder than at any other time in my life. I have pushed my body further than I ever thought possible, given my couch potato status for the last twenty years of my life. I have stayed more consistent with exercise than at any other time in my life. I have sweated more this time than I ever thought humanly possible for me. I have done all I can. I have done the best I can. Now the first test, the mock exam, is next week.

Climbing Mount Elgon is a way to break our climbing virginity, since none of us has ever climbed a mountain. The Elgon climb will also enable us experience high altitude and how to deal with itmountain. The climb will test our endurance since we will have to walk for four days in a row – three going up the mountain and one day coming down. We have done long walks, but we do them bi-weekly so we get to rest. But now, doing the mountain climb means we have to walk every day.

I feel anxious and excited all at the same time. I have traveled to Mbale many times before and once in a while I contemplated climbing Mount Elgon, but only as a very remote possibility. But now, to think it’s actually going to happen in a week’s time feels surreal! As I thought about our impending climb, this is what I wrote in my journal yesterday:

“Thank you Lord for bringing me this far. I could not have done this without You. Thank you for enabling me get through the crazy drills. Thank you for enabling me walk long distances. I give this climb to you. I don’t even know what to expect because I have no frame of reference. The world of mountain climbing is totally alien to me. Yes I have read about other people’s experiences of climbing, but it’s still foreign to me experientially. And so I am grateful for the opportunity to climb because I know that despite there being so many mountains in Uganda, not many people get the chance to climb them. So I do not take this opportunity for granted.

Thank you for all the lessons along the road of preparation. Thank you for all the experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly. Thank you for the opportunity to share my experiences. Thank you for the opportunity to grow. Is not been easy, but I can’t imagine my life any other way. It’s all You and I give You all the glory and honor. I am looking forward to experiencing a moment with You on the mountain top. Lord I can’t thank you enough for bringing me this far. And I know I have further still, because Your plans for my life are great. I look forward to a life lived to the fullest.

Amen!”

Of Village Meetings That Almost Turn Native!

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Self-defense tactics on display at the meeting.

One of the unofficial parts of my ‘job description’ as a wife is attending our village council meetings, when my husband is unable to attend. I don’t really mind that role since I passionately believe in the notion of active citizenship, which starts with being part of decision making right from the village all the way to the national level. And so yesterday afternoon, after enjoying a sumptuous lunch with my family, I went to attend our local council meeting.

The agenda was very clear – we were going to discuss the issue of house numbering, a project recently launched by the Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA). We were also going to talk about security in our area, as well as assess the performance of our representatives in Makindye Division and those that represent us in in the city council. The meeting, which was called at for 3:00 p.m. started at 3:38 p.m., which, going by Ugandan standards, was an early start!

We all know how directions in Uganda are given. There is the famous one of “You go, you go, you beat a corner, you go, you go, you beat another, after the mango tree, there is our house.” For those not familiar with the expression, ‘beating’ a corner means taking the turn at the corner. The fact that many of our roads have no signposts and the houses have no numbers, means that one has to look out for landmarks that enable one give directions to their home. So in that regard, the house numbering project by KCCA is a welcome venture. The project is in its pilot phase and was recently unveiled in Muyenga, by KCCA. But not without glitches, and hence that was part of what we discussed in the meeting. There were concerns about the fee to be paid by owners in order to get house numbers (set at 55,000/-) and issues around what exactly should be displayed apart from the house number. The one that KCCA unveiled had a plot number and block number, information usually provided on a title deed. The residents of my village were of the view that that level of detail is not necessary and that as long as the street name is clear, all one needs is a house number.

In our midst, to explain the rational behind the detail of the house numbering project was the Makindye Town Clerk and his team. The meeting turned rowdy as they were explaining themselves because there was a feeling that some parts of the project were not clear or transparent. The Town Clerk and the village chairman exchanged a few hot remarks, the chairman expressed his points while banging his fist on the table, the Town Clerk threatened to walk out of the meeting, the mummers from the participants were getting louder and at some point, the chairman suddenly declared the project closed for discussion. But we prevailed on the chairman to let the technical team explain their side. After they were done, we came to a conclusion that only basic information be displayed on a house – i.e. the house number.

After that we discussed security. We had a demonstration of self defense skills done by two young men. The demonstration was quite interesting, though I am not too sure that in a situation of danger, I would remember exactly what to do. The chairman though, told us that there are self defense classes given at a small fee, at our community  center. Maybe after climbing Rwenzori, I should sign up for the self defense classes.

We didn’t get to the item that I was really looking forward to – that of assessing the performance of our representatives at our division and city council. This was because these leaders didn’t bother to show up! Only one came, but he left in the middle of the discussion about house numbering. I was quite disappointed to say the least. With elections around the corner, one would think that leaders would be eager to come and defend their record over the last five years, especially if they are looking to be re-elected by us. Their failure to show up certainly made my job easy. I now know who I won’t be voting for in the next election!

That said, despite the rancor in the meeting, it was good to sit with my village mates and deliberate on matters of local importance. It’s a habit I hope to inculcate in my children. We get active citizens by being active citizens.

A lovely week to you all!

We’ve Come a Long Way!

As part of the preparation to do the Rwenzori climb, my friends and I have done several long walks once every two weeks since the end of January 2015. The idea for the long walks was on advice from a friend of mine who climbed the Rwenzori last year. He said that in ordphoto (61)er to build our stamina and endurance, we would have to get used to walking long distances.

Our first walk on January 31st 2015 was a four and a half hour walk, and most of us that walked that day had aches and pains in our legs for the whole weekend – and this was despite the fact that we went for massages after the walk. Looking back now, it’s amazing how many of these we’ve done so far – we’ve walked to Kisubi, a town along Entebbe Road, we’ve walked the whole length of the Northern Bypass, we did the seven hills walk in Kampala, we walked from Nsambya all the way round to Salaama Road, to Munyonyo, then back through Kabalagala to Nsambya again and so on. What I notice is that with each long walk, the pain in the legs decreased (at least for me), from two days, to one day, to half a day, to one hour. We have generally acclimatized our bodies to walking for four to four and a half hours non-stop.

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Onesmus – our Guide for the day

So this weekend, given that we are going to climb Mount Elgon in a week’s time (as part of our preparation for Rwenzori), we decided to up our game and walk for six hours. Two weekends ago, we did a two and a half hour walk in Mabira forest and while there, we learned that there is a six hour walk. We then promised to go back to Mabira and do the longer trail.

Our D-Day for the six hour walk was yesterday and we reported to Mabira Forest bright and early. We were at the NFA office by 7 am, we paid the trail fee (30,000/- for East Africans), we were introduced to our guide Onesmus, and then we started the walk. Even though we had done a forest walk two weeks ago, this one felt quite different and more challenging. Apart from being much longer, we walked through slightly more difficult terrain. There was quite a lot of mud on the trail, and try as we might, there was no way of avoiding walking right through the mud. We walked through a section that still had dew and our legs got wet. We also had to be on the look out for the dreaded red ants! You don’t want one of those getting into the inside of your trousers, walking up your thigh and biting you in you nether regions!

The trail we did takes you from the NFA office in Mabira, all the way to Griffin Falls. The falls were small but beautiful. They are only spoiled by the foul smelling water, which is on account of the waste that is dumped into the water by one of the sugar making factories in Uganda. After walking to the falls, we then walked back though the forest to the clearing and walked for 10 kilometers on one of the roads that passes through the forest. The walk from the NFA office to the Griffin Falls is about three and a half hours long, and the walk on the main road is two and a half hours long.

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Our muddy footwear

By the last hour of the walk our feet were aching and we were walking by auto pilot. One of our friends had to take a Boda Boda ride back to the NFA office when her boots became too uncomfortable to walk in. By then she had done about five hours of the walk. I too wanted to take a Boda Boda back. My feet were killing me and I felt like they were blistering. What kept me from taking the bike was that as a leader, I never want to ask my team to do something that I will not do myself. And since the rest of my team mates were walking, I decided that I too needed to finish the walk. In order to get through the walk, I had to talk myself through it. I reminded myself to focus on the finish line, I told myself that the day was going to end, and this walk too, would be over,  and so on. It was by grace that I made it to the end.

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At Griffin Falls in Mabira

Our guide, Onesmus, behaved like the classic Mukiga he is. Not wanting to discourage us about the long journey ahead, every time we asked him how far we still had to walk, he would say that we were near the end, that we didn’t have far to go. About an hour later, we would then ask him how much longer we had left, and he would repeat the same words. Many people that are used to walking long distances, often give directions that make it seem like the end point is quite near. For them it often is, but not for those that are not used to walking such distances.

All in all, the walk was fun, we laughed a lot, shared snacks along the way, sang songs to keep our morale up, and told stories. The whole walk for me was a major lesson in not giving up – and it’s not always easy not to give up. I am grateful to the team that we looked out for each other, we encouraged each other, waited for each other when we had to take breaks, and generally supported each other to get to the finish line.

Thinking back to the time we first started preparing for the Rwenzori climb, we’ve come a long, long way. We still have about two more months to go, but the mountain is nearer than when we first began. We are taking one step at a time towards our goal, and it feels good.

Presidential Chairs are Africa’s Problem, Not the Presidents Themselves!

If your President is like mine, he probably carries around his own special chair when he attends public functions. Thinking about the ongoing turmoil in Burundi, it suddenly hit me that the problem of Africa is not Presidents who overstay in power, like my President once penned in a book he authored, called “What is Africa’s Problem”, rather it is those chairs that are the problem!

And my solution? I am going to institute a Commission of Inquiry into the makers of Presidential chairs in Africa. I mean, for so long, we have blamed these poor men for clinging onto power, for declaring themselves life presidents, for tinkering and tampering with Constitutions to remove term limits, for reading Constitutions wrongly when there are term limits, so that the Presidents read the Constitutions as though there were no term limits. I mean really, how can men, who are not related, who are not born of the same mother, behave so alike across most of the continent?Prez Chair

Then I got an epiphany. It’s not them. It’s the makers of the Presidential chairs that are to blame for all our havoc! Given our penchant for the spiritual in Africa, I am sure the makers of these Presidential chairs put some potent potion that makes most African leaders cling to their seats. I mean, what explains these men sticking around long past their sell-by date? What explains why these men insist on staying in the presidential seat when it’s clear that their citizens no longer have need of them? I have come to the conclusion, these men; these Presidents of ours are not the ones to blame. It’s the makers of the chairs that have a problem!

The Terms of Reference for the Commission of Inquiry are very simple and I will ensure that the Commission is a standing committee with no sitting allowances, lest we members of the commission get affected by the same potion that afflicts our Presidents. If the makers deny compromising the Presidential chairs, then we shall inquire into the people who supply the wood and other materials that make these chairs. If the wood suppliers deny knowledge of the potion, we shall dig deeper and call the tree growers. If the tree growers cannot give us answers, we shall go to those that supplied the seedlings for the trees for the wood for the Presidential chairs. If that still yields nothing, we shall inquire into who gave birth to the people who supplied the seeds that grew the trees that gave the wood that made the chairs, and so on. We shall work very hard and leave no stone un-turned. We must get to the bottom of the root of the shoot that makes our Presidents stick to their seats and stick to power.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be conducting interviews for possible commissioners. Please send in your applications and CVs.

We must save Mother Africa!