Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lovesickness under the Shea Nut Tree - As true today as in the 1890s

Dear world, this is an excerpt of a story set in a Ugandan village (in the late 1800’s), about a young lady 'crazy in love' but due to tradition, cannot make the first move – by Jackline Amaguru Olanya
'What is the medicine for lovesickness?' Lamara asked herself as the afternoon breeze, cooled by the shea nut tree shade kissed her cheeks.
Can someone give me a remedy? I have all the symptoms, except the cause – the man himself, who make chills run down my body whenever I think about him. He makes my heart go bugu-bugu. When I lay my tired body on the kodra at night, he is the last thing on my mind. Before the sun is up, he is already in my thoughts. As I idle between chores – the digging, the well, the pounding, the grinding, the fetching firewood, the washing…, I’m thinking about him. Isn’t this bordering on idolatry?
I always try to use the path by his homestade, so that he can notice me but he has obviously not got the hint.
 When I see toddlers running around with their wobbly feet, my thoughts overtake me to the time when I will have his babies. I simply can’t wait. The last time I checked, I wanted to join the women who trade in cloth from Ariwara to Odra- Machaku.  I even had ambitions of reaching the land of Impalas with my cloth one day. Although unprecedented, I had successfully convinced my father not to offer me in marriage to anyone for two more rainy seasons, so that I can try out my luck in this trade independently.
 I didn’t want children anytime soon. The thought of walking half a day with bales of cloth balanced on my head and a baby on my back was totally unappealing to me. I didn’t want to reach the market, put the cloth and baby down and within minutes, turn round to bales of clothe that have been wet by an innocent baby's urine. To me, business and babies just didn’t mix. I had even hatched a plan to secretly go to Kiryadongo to the medicine woman who is rumoured to have a remedy that delays pregnancy after marriage.  However, thinking about this man is making me feel rather broody and I can’t wait to pop out his babies by the dozen. J
Today as I went to the well taking the route by Mama Neriya’s granary, I saw him with Atim’ango’s brothers and I thought I saw him wink at me. Of course I smiled ear to ear from that moment on! Even my water pot is still smiling! I urgently need to talk to my friend Adong.  Maybe she can bring me down from cloud 9 and back to earth.
Someone help me here.  I’m I going crazy? How can a man so change my appetite, my metabolism, my sleep routine, my inner chemicals, my mood, overthrow my thoughts and dreams, my ambitions and alter my heart rate!? I thought that a man only changed a woman’s clan!? No one ever told me about these other changes! This man is literally turning me inside-out! You know, I’m even beginning to see things – every time I look at him, he looks more handsome than the last time. Tell me, is that naturally possible? I’m I okay? I can’t be running mad at this age, can I?  
Aunt Lila says love does not exist but I think love is happenning to me. I would have gathered courage and asked my mother about this but what does she know? She was simply given to my father as a present for his role in saving someone’s life while he was out on a hunting expedition. The story is that one minute my father rescued this guy from a crocodile on the Nile and the next minute he was given a young virgin for a wife in return for his valour! There was definitely no room for exchanging glances on the way to the well, at weddings or at village dances of Laraka raka.
Wow! Look at him! Why does God make them so fine?! What’s a girl to do? This is the embodiment of perfection. Exactly what I want in a man. Whats more, what I hear about his character, his values, his faith, his dreams – gosh, they make me want him all for myself. I know they say love is patient but Mr, this girl's patience tank is running on empty and wants you for herself right now!!! But, being a woman – tradition dictates that I play dumb, boardering on numb. Isn't that a little unfair? My mom always says that with the way I'm so bigheaded, if I were born a boy, I would have overthrown the Rwot  - the chief himself!

Oh, I can’t stand the fact that I can't open my mouth to let out these my heart’s secrets. The love in the pot of my heart is boiling wildly and madly – like the river Nile at the falls of Bujagali. The steam and pressure is building up like at the misty Murchison falls, further up the Nile river. I feel I’m about to explode like the ancient volcano of Merapi. I’ll explode if I keep this to myself any longer. I can only confide in you, my favourite shea nut tree because I know you can't talk and reveal the secrets on my heart to any soul.
My gallant Elephant in human form, why don’t you rescue me before the lid of my pot is blown off by the pressure? Why do you walk past me and open not your mouth yet your eyes say you can’t get enough of me? What are you waiting for? Do you need to gather enough cows and goats for the oku jeza?  Do you think that the olupi’s son has already stolen my heart? Do you fear that I will say “no” like Odipio’s daughter did? I think she had eaten some poisonous roots that froze her thinking abilities because I don’t know how any girl can be so senseless! Mcheew! My Elephant, give me that chance that she wasted and I will say "yes" a hundred times before you even finish asking.
Come to my father’s house and ask my brothers for my hand in marriage! I’m ready to be a proper wife – and mother but you would have to promise to make me happy as well. I must warn you - I still want to trade cloth.  We would have fun, I promise.  Our love will be different – not like the old fashioned one of my father and his many wives. Ours would be passionate; fuelled by the firewood from Lokiragodo forest. Like the Kabaka’s fire at the tombs of Kasubi, it would burn day and night, till only death intervenes. However, you have to make the first move because you are the man.

I'm waiting here by my Shea nut tree.

* * *
Come on, dont be a silent reader :(      leave a comment :-)

Monday, March 07, 2011

My Grand Parents Embraced this year's Women's Day Theme over 50 years ago!

Hello World,

Happy 100th Women's day!!

This year's 100th anniversary will be uniquely marked by women uniting on bridges in many cities. I look forward to being at London's Millennium Bridge with my classmates and wonder if Ugandan ladies will celebrate on Jinja, Pakwach or Karuma bridge, all on the river Nile.

The theme for International Women's Day this year is "Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women".

My grandparents put this theme into practice over 50 years ago, against all odds. That was obviously long before think-tanks, researchers and top policy makers zeroed in on it. My grandad, as the household head, saw to that. He is one reason I believe that elders need to be consulted more in development and men are our best allies and assets in advancing the cause of women. Ignoring men or 'hating on men' is a recipe for disaster.

If you are a girl or a woman and are reading this blog, the fact that you can read (online moreover), is a BIG, BIG DEAL. Sadly, many women and girls are still shut out of the world of words and information and the opportunities they bring.

My late maternal grandmother, one of the most astute, loyal and strong women I have ever known, went to school only until primary 2 (second year of elementary school). The fact that when she was a girl loooong ago, she went to school a bit, is no mean feat. In fact, in society's eyes back then, that was not only bordering luxury but also an outright wastage of resources and time. We often joke that she 'stole' the rare opportunity to go to school not to study but simply to see what goes on in school, since school was not for little girls in her time. I actually still can't believe how she got away with attending school for a bit. Well, didn't I just describe her as having been 'astute'!?

Like many societies world over, in my late grand mom's village, a woman's ultimate career was to become a wife and mother. Nothing more, nothing less. Although that is noble in itself, women were robbed of choice and school was not seen to contribute to the aforementioned roles. Nonetheless, my grand mom's brief stint at school made a big difference in her life. It made it easier for her to then teach herself how to write the basics and she was able to read the Bible and hymn books -that was just about all that was published in Lugbara-ti otherwise I'm sure she would have read newspapers as well!

Anyway, despite the fact that six soldiers thought she would make a fantastic wife (soldiers were a BIG catch), she said "no" to them and chose to marry a geometry and carpentry teacher who later become a Reverend. That was my grandad, Baba. He was an orphan boy who worked day and night to pay his school fees and walked miles for education. No surprise that to date, he still deeply values education. Together, they made a power couple.

When my maternal grand-parents eventually had children, they had five girls in a raw. OMG!!! That was literally a nightmare, in a time, place and society where boy children are considered 'more valuable', due to the patriarchal nature of inheritance and societal leadership structure. The logic is that a girl marries and gets a new family. Her children belong to her husband's clan - just like she does too. That is why some families consider (ed) investment in girls as investment into another family and preferred to invest in the boys who will stay put and perpetuate the family and clan.

However, my grandad was one of the few exceptions; a man well beyond his era. Despite calls for him to get another wife who can give him boys, he stuck to the woman he loved -my grand mom and his girls. Moreover, the scientific information that shows that it is actually a man who determines the sex of a baby was not known in the village by then.

It is no wonder that over 50 years ago, he and Aya, had already embraced this year's Women's Day theme to the fullest, regardless of the fact that it was against social norms. There was no Universal Primary Education then so as he sometimes tells me when I ask questions about his youth, 'My wife and I sacrificed everything to take our children to school'.

Baba also told me that people in the village would scorn him and go on and on about how he was wasting his money by taking girls to school. He did not let that bog him down - neither did my late mom and her sisters. If anything, it made them more determined to excel. They not only went to primary school but they excelled and were offered admission at the prestigious missionary-founded, colonial secondary schools in central Uganda, like Gayaza High school, where my late mom and aunt Jane and aunt Lillian attended (I went Gayaza as well). Aunt Grace went to Nabisunsa Girls School. They went on to University as well and became shining examples of women's contribution to society.

I'll share one example that people haven't stopped talking about... We're such an oral culture btw! Anyway, during the turbulent 1980s, when people were fleeing civil unrest in many parts of Uganda many people could not till their land. Because the communities largely depended on subsistance farming, despite the fertile land and adequate rain, that spelled a food crisis. My late mom was employed by the United Nations in a major relief operation in the West Nile region - her home area, to respond to that unfolding humanitarian disaster. Her degree-level education, experience with the UN in South Sudan and knowledge 3 local languages in addition to English enabled her to take up a top position that made those who had earlier scorned girl child education take back their words and almost choke in the process.

According to the women villagers, mommy was literally in-charge of the relief aid and the humanitarian relief effort was a success. To this day, women still stop me, comment about how much I resemble my mom (oh, I'm so proud of that!!!), how much weight i have gained or lost (and urge me to big-en up even if it is a gain because big is beautiful) then add how if it had not been for my mom, their families would have died of hunger during the crisis.
Of course, they do not give me a chance to explain that it was not mommy who single-handedly made the UN descend upon West Nile but if they believe that, what can I do? They are convinced that they benefited because of her. They were proud to see her at the forefront. It was quite a sight to see her occasionally driving a green hard body UN Land-Rover. Anyway, mommy was evidence that girls too can be 'useful' beyond the household level. Thankfully nowadays, girl-child education is more popular although many girls and boys are still missing out not just in terms of enrollment but quality.

Research shows that when you educate a woman, the ripple effect can be mind-bogglingly amazing. Educated women are more like to have fully immunised children and there is a positive correlation between maternal education and child survival - that means that children of educated women are less likely die before the age of 5. Furthermore, educated mothers are also more likely to attend ante-natal clinics and give birth assisted by a skilled birth attendant - a factor that significantly reduces infant and maternal mortality. Therefore, by simply educating a girl child or woman, almost all the MDGs can be guaranteed in one go!

My grand dad and grand mom realised this long ago and educated their girls, and thus improving their lives and the family's fortune. That also had a ripple effect on the extended family and there were even bigger benefits for the third generation. My cousins and I will certainly not let the standards slip when the fourth generation comes through.

One late afternoon last year in Arua, I sat under a tree with with my grandad for a long chat as usual. I asked him a question that has been perturbing me for long.

"Baba, what made you send your girls to school at that time despite knowing that people would laugh at you?" I asked.

"I was looking ahead to the future; I knew it would be important," he replied.

Maybe, I should get a hold on him and let him predict what will be the next big thing. We could patent it, you know! Oh, in case my uncles feel left out, my grandparents went on to have 3 boys.

Whenever I call Baba, he always assures me of his prayers and urges me to study hard and get a PhD. Baba, I don't know about that PhD but I do know that you are a hero. The world needs more men like you, who can spot the gold in little girls and women and give them the opportunity, push and encouragement to bloom.

Happy Women's day to all you princesses and kudos to the men out there who support us!!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Gadaffi Smitten in Uganda?

The end of a Ugandan-Gaddafi love affair ?

Hello world,

Please click the link above to read what I wrote about Gadaffi's close concern for the Child King in Tooro kingdom, Western Uganda and how the Ugandan press and public could not help but speculate that the Colonel of Libya was smitten by the pretty Queen Mother.

Regards, Jackie*

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Ugandan Saturday in London

Dear World,

Oh, how I love Saturdays! It's only on some Saturday mornings that I really feel a connection to home. That is because I can sometimes spend my saturdays in London, almost how I spend them in Kampala - as long as I stay indoors!

In Kampala, on a lazy Saturday morning, I start by treating myself to an extra doze of sleep - catching up on beauty sleep - they call it. Today, it wasn't difficult to do just that, especially after attending a Kuwait Liberation day party last night, thrown by Ahmed, my jolly Kutwaiti neighbour.

I had brunch at about midday. On the menue was boiled cassava (manioc) with beans fried in palm oil. As I cooked brunch, my German housemate looked on and asked questions about the food and somehow, we went way 'off-topic'.

I ended up telling her how at my grandad's place, we re-did the front compund and now everyone is falling overthemselves to plant a tree there - I planted 3 shade trees. The trees are little - about 6 feet at most but at this rate, in 5 years time, we'll have an impenetrable forest if every member of the family wants to leave their mark by planting about three or more of their favourite trees wherever they want and too close to the next tree - my little cousins especially.

Anyway, I told her about how we have a total of about 5 papaya (pawpaw) trees in the front and
back compound and that there is one whose shade my grandad loves, as he often sits there in the late afternoons. Moreover, the fruit of that pawpaw tree is reserved for only him. The rest of us eat from the other trees. Why? Well, I hate to burst your bubble but it is for no particular reason. One day, someone just said that pawpaws from that tree are for Baba and that was it.

Besides, there are so many other trees, we couldn't be bothered if one tree is exclusively for him. Hmmm, I doubt he even knows that the pawpaw he is served is from an exclusive tree!
That conversation made me nostalgic. That - talking over food - is what I would have be doing if I were at my grandad's home in Arua on a Saturday morning.

After branch, I was 'transported' back to London. I tried to 'remain' in Uganda so I called my aunt back at home in Arua and talked for almost an hour, catching up on especially the election gossip - she even told me who in the village cast an invalid vote (I wonder how they know such things lol)!

After talking to my aunt , I decided to catch the official news from Ugandan and international online newspapers and listen to my favourite - BBC's Focus on Africa - I needed to know what was new in especially Lybia and Cote d'Ivoire.

After that, number 1 out of 8 on my 'to do' list was to write my column for The Beaver.
I normally get inspiration from the news or salient personal events of the previous week. Yes, I loved the Kuwaiti party and thought I would write about it but with the killings in Lybia, and the protection issues for the the stranded sub- Suharan Africans in Libya whose countries have not organised any evacuation plans for them yet some Lybians are targeting and accusing them of being mercenaries just knocked the festive mood of last night out of me.

There was just so much going on in the world and in my mind, I didnt know what to focus on for the column! My therapy in such situations is to relax. Nothing does it better than music. Music? check. Headphones? Check. Since I was still feeling the need to be close to home, I played some Ugandan hits and found myself moving in my chair. Oh - Saturday indeed . The food, the music, the converstation, no hurry... oh, so typical of a lazy Saturday at home in Uganda!

Oh boy! With the music, I got so much inspiration that I exceeded my word limit by 250 words. Those extra words were soooo hot, I couldnt decide which to strike out so I sent the story to my editor and appologised concurently- there is always room for one more - I mean, 200-ish more words - just reduce the size of the picture that normally also graces the Social page and every word will fit. :)