Tuesday, 29 December 2015

#BringOn2016




2014 and 2015 have been years of internal growth for me. I have been truly stretched. And strangely enough, I find myself grateful. Maybe because I can now, somehow, see the wisdom behind the struggle, I have gratitude.

There has been some necessary maturing of Maria; in ways the Lord deemed critical for the journey that lies ahead….. so much so that I am looking forward to seeing what the years to come bring.

I have some ideas in my head!

Concepts churning in my brain, waiting to be released. 

Collaborations born in my dreams that must come to fruition.

Colorful Post-It Notes scattered across my bedroom wall

Sleepless nights of blissful creativity

If I am going to do this then I must give 100% and bypass the fear –filled voices in my head.

I’ll see you in 2016…. #BringOn2016 #ChooseToLive

What have you learnt in 2015, and where are you going in 2016? Please Share...I'd love to know.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

CHRISTMAS EVE: Finally I am feeling the Christmas Spirit!

My digital Christmas card! you like?




I am officially feeling the Christmas spirit! It's 9.13 am Christmas eve in Kampala, Uganda. So I feel like sharing the one story that makes it feel like Christmas for me. Let's not forget its all about Jesus, tomorrow, Christmas day.


The Birth of Jesus 

(Luke, Chapter 2 v1-21, International Version)
 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  
And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  
He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  
11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  
12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  
17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  
19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Breaking The BogeyMan’s Spell!





 
He became my real life bogeyman, always waiting in corners to frighten me, and cripple me. I know am not victim though, because I gave away my power out of fear.  I believed he was more important, and stronger than me.  But it was all an illusion.

When you're a child, no one believes you when you scream out in the night after another supposed sighting of the bogeyman, but they play along. They come in, switch on the lights, check the curtains, check under the bed. They give you a hug,  offer to bring you hot chocolate, and then they start to reassure you that there is nothing there. They assure you that you are safe,  and then calmly wait for you fall asleep.  My big brother used to tell me that monsters are just Plasticine  and really good makeup. With confident assurance, all my fears would be forgotten in the morning. Until of course, it was night time then the whole drama would play out again.  My real life bogeyman made me feel frightened during the day. I thought that I was making things up in my head, letting my fear get the best of me but this MAN used the technique of “gas-lighting”, so I constantly doubted myself . 

Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.

 
Pay attention ladies and gentlemen, this  technique is used by people who like to control others.  Unaware, this is exactly how you end up falling under the spell of your own bogeyman, and this is also how domestic violence begins. Lucky enough for me, there was no physical violence. Occasionally, I find myself  I thinking back through all the moments, and how easily I doubted myself. I spent sleepless nights wondering how he would mentally attack me. I would call friends early in morning complaining that I couldn’t sleep. 

 A #selflove path is something everyone takes alone.  I read somewhere that the imaginary creatures created in our childhood, are simply the worst parts of humanity manifesting in our folktales. I imagine the journey of #selflove being about conquering those elements in ourselves. Along the way, you meet all the creatures that you were frightened of, and face them head on. The gremlin, The dragon, The goblin, The ghosts, The werewolf, etc…  Nobody can fight this mental battle except you. Your trusted family and friends can encourage you along the way but they can’t fight with you, because while you are having alterations with dragons and exercising demons, the action is all taking place in your head.   

It was a constant mind battle for weeks, to remind myself that I deserved to be treated better. I had to look myself in the mirror and begrudgingly remind myself every day. Somewhere in my childhood, I taught myself I wasn’t worthy of a healthy relationship, and I had to admit it, and address  the issue.  He (the bogeyman) enjoyed every minute of my struggle. He unashamedly marveled in it. The very reason I call him the bogeyman, is because he loves to watch people suffer.  He feeds off fear.I dodged a bullet. I was able to dodge this particular bullet, because I had such a good support system of friends and family.  I was given the opportunity to slowly and reluctantly back away and look for greener meadows.  A healthy relationship. 



 I know I wouldn’t have started this journey without  the bogeyman’s actions. If we were still dating, I would have happily continued my self-destructive pattern of being nice to people who were horrible to me. I would have continued to let him and others pull me a part piece by piece, all the while thinking there was something wrong with me, that I needed to fix. I would have given and given, and never demanded my share in return.  I didn’t believe I was worth anything. Somewhere inside something erupted, and I had to fight the urge to repeat the pattern. Shockingly, painful experiences, after much refection, can be weird and wonderful. They break you apart , and cause all the negative energy to rise up in you, and it refuses to go away until you’ve dealt with it. I was forced to look inside myself. I was forced to look at the parts of me that I hated. I was forced to be alone with myself. I forced to get comfortable with the things I thought were wrong with me.Alone by myself,  I learnt to be extremely honest with God. Let’s just say our conversations got more real and candid. The  #selflove journey forces you to look at all the above negative thoughts that pop into you head and ask yourself “why?.... why are you here in my head? …..How did you get here?.... Who brought you here?”. One by one, I had to figure out their origin, and then I had ask myself  really cliche questions…





I didn’t love myself. I told people that I did but I didn’t. I have invited a lot of odd people into my life and I have accepted a lot of odd behavior towards myself. I could no longer willingly engage in such behavior without correcting myself

My nieces and nephews are officially my favourite people.  Once my nephew tried to explain to me that he was bullied for being himself, he didn’t like it and he was upset. He wished he was someone other than himself.  He disliked the fact that he couldn’t change it. He was upset that he could not fix this situation or make it perfect.   I told him that I loved him,  that he was special, and that when people were hurting  they hurt other people.  I realized months later that I could be compassionate with my nephew but I could not be compassionate with myself. 

 I now listen like a beloved aunt to my internal conversations, in the same way I watch my nephew interact with the world. There is a way to correct yourself without hating yourself. I have slowly started putting up boundaries, and I found the strength to speak up against bad behavior. To even walk away from people who will not address their  negative actions.  On this #selflove  journey you take responsibility for yourself, and though it sounds cliché, it’s no longer what happens to you, but what you allow to happen to you. How do you see yourself? How do you allow people to treat you? I had to learn to be a real friend to myself, which in turn made me question the friendships I have made in the past, and also the type of friend I was in the past.


I know there are many people who appear to have their lives together, who have never been on the #selflove journey before, and because of that they struggle to enjoy their achievements because the approval of others is too important. They especially hate those who are happy with nothing because they just can’t understand. Something happened the other day though… I looked in mirror smiled and winked, I made a joke with myself. You thinking this is extremely weird, right?… but to me it’s somehow special. Only those on this journey can understand it. I can take care of myself.  I’ll stick to that for now, until God decides otherwise.

Here's a lovely video for those of you that would like to officially start the journey

Monday, 14 December 2015

MY FIRST MEMORY (OF LIBRARIANS)

by Nikki Giovanni

This is my first memory:
A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky
wood floor
A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center
Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply
too short
For me to sit in and read
So my first book was always big

In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided
To the left side the card catalogue
On the right newspapers draped over what looked like
a quilt rack
Magazines face out from the wall
The welcoming smile of my librarian
The anticipation in my heart
All those books — another world — just waiting
At my fingertips.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

#InvestInUGchildren Media Tour: A Special Space Just for Children

 There has been a lot of talk about #refugees in the media lately, so it shouldn't really come as a big surprise to learn that we visited a refugee settlement during the #InvestInUGchildren media tour. #Uganda hosts over 130,000 refugees in the districts of #Adjumani, #Arua, #Koboko, #Yumbe and #Kiryandongo. 85% are women and children, and it is well known that these are the most vulnerable groups when it comes to conflict and war. The  #Kiryandongo refugee settlement has 45,000 refugees from South Sudan, Kenya and Rwanda. We spent some time at Panyadoli child friendly space, and although, it was pouring with rain the community showed up, excited to meet these visitors from UNICEF and share their stories with key media houses. 1215 children can access this one space. In fact some of these children learn how to read and write for the first time in this special space. It's actually the perfect place for staff to carry out psych-social assessments of the children and see whether they require any additional needs, as result of the trauma they have experienced. My favorite part was when one boy proudly stood up to show our Chief of Communications how well he could read, and all the women around him cheered him on as though all of them were his mothers. No matter what is happening in life, Children should always be allowed to be children, and it's great that spaces like this remind children to play, have fun and be curious. #InvestInUGchildren
(Photo Credit: UNICEF Uganda)

Monday, 7 December 2015

#InvestInUGchildren Media Tour: Teenage Pregnancy in Arua District

I wrote this on the 5th December 2015 during the UNICEF Uganda Media Tour

It's a humid Saturday morning when we arrive at Bondo Health center in our air-conditioned land rovers to have a meeting with health workers, teenage mothers and community members. I enter the stuffy metal tin roofed meeting room a little late, and find everyone settled on concrete benches. All eyes are on a young pregnant woman in the corner, I realise as the discussion is going on that she is not really a full grown adult woman, she is a pregnant teenage girl. Her hands are shaking she can barely get a word out of her mouth. Her eyes keep darting around the room looking for help. Anyone would feel nervous too, imagine sitting in a room full of strangers while they ask you, "How could you allow yourself to get pregnant?" "Will you be returning to school once you've had the baby?" It must be too overwhelming for a young girl like her, I doubt she ever considered the consequences of her pregnancy. We continue to ask our questions as though we understand (with our NGO jargon) what it means to be a girl like her. We ask our questions as though opportunities in this area are growing and falling off trees like unwanted over-ripe mangoes. At first she refuses to answer the questions and others decide to answer for her, They say "Her father died, Her mother went mad, there is nobody to guide her....." Finally my boss asks, " What happened to the man who made her pregnant?" There is some mumbling among the participants which dies down immediately and then the question is forgotten, and silence returns. Again my boss insists, "What happened to the man who made her pregnant?" To which there is silence until one brave middle-aged man stands up and says, "You see if she lived closer to me I would have advised her like a daughter to stay away from men, but the children of these days they are different. What can we do?" He shrugs his shoulders and sits down. He seems proud of himself thinking he has said what the NGOs want him to say. But they have still failed to answer the question. This man who impregnated her has quite simply and quickly been absolved of all responsibility. By now the young girl has already made her way to the back the room. Now unrecognizable among the crowd, she can relax and let them talk as though she isn't there. Eventually my boss asks another question, "What would the women in this community like to see happen so that girls are better protected from defilement?" He kindly gestures towards the women in the room as he talks to the translator. First there is silence, except for the children playing outside. My boss asks his question again and some smiles appear on the women's faces. Can you imagine a man actually ignoring what the men have said and now seeking their opinion? Then finally one among many is brave enough to stand up and say, "Here we have no voice. In our community it is the men who make all the decisions. Even if it is our hardwork that brings in the income, it makes no difference, for it is the men who decide how to spend the money, some days you can even fight with your husband to pay school fees for your children." ‪#‎Arua‬ ‪#‎InvestInUGchildren‬




#InvestInUGchildren Media Tour: 'Courtship Rape' in Moroto, Karamoja


I wrote this on the 4th December 2015, during UNICEF Uganda Media Tour

Yesterday I learnt that people can use courtship, rape and girl child in the same sentence and not flinch. Courtship rape is when a girl as young as 12 years old is chased down by a group of men and raped by the one who wants to marry her. I learnt that a girl's very own family can shame her for not being strong enough to fight off these men. A lot of good work is being done to change harmful practices against women and girls in ‪#‎Uganda‬. Through this, I hope we can be the generation that leaves a legacy of protecting the girl child. Rape should never equal marriage. No girl should ever feel ashamed for something she had no control over. ‪#‎EndChildMarriage‬ ‪#‎InvestInUGchildren‬





Thursday, 12 November 2015

Accept And Admit When You Are Broken, So That You Can Live Your Best Life


So there I was on an island with a bunch of polite strangers about to read aloud my 100 word piece on “Journey To The Island”. Although I was buzzing off the excitement of how breath-takingly beautiful the island was, I felt a bunch of strange heavy grey emotions stirring inside me too. These emotions acted as though they were very familiar with my body and my mind, but for some strange reason I felt like I was witnessing their presence for the first time. In that tiny moment of reflection as I nervously put together my 100 word piece, only one persistent sentence kept making it’s way to the surface of my mind. “WOW, It’s been a rough life-altering four years. And now we’re here in this beautiful place. Are we really here or is this just a dream!?” Every other creative idea was blocked from my mind, except for these dominate emotions claiming their territory, and fighting for their release.


So I wrote. I wrote about how I felt and how I couldn’t believe that life had given me such a lucky break. Here I was in this beautiful house; this house that looked like the ones in the movies where the main character whisks themselves off to a secluded place for a much needed break from life. Everyone else in the writing group, stuck to what they saw along the boat journey to the island, but I wrote about how I felt free to feel for the first time. I allowed them to see that I was broken.


Each day of the retreat, I found myself delighted with every writing assignment I was given. It felt like a precious opportunity to hold up my broken pieces in the light, so that I could figure out how to glue them back together again. The relief that came flooding though after each session of reading aloud, gave my mind and body space to relax and have fun on the island. At night while listening to the waves, I would think of more ways to visualize and express what I was going through. I accepted that I was emotional wounded. I had been ashamed to admit it because I feared people would think I was weak and too sensitive. In the last five years, I had moved back to my home country, watched my parents relationship fully deteriorate, experienced two years of passive aggressive and aggressive bullying, and then my mother died before anything in our family was resolved. All that time I was trying to act strong when in reality I was emotional crippled. Some days I was angry, some days I was sad, but what annoyed me the most is that I lacked the motivation to do anything. For a whole year and a half, I faked it. People could tell something was not right, but I refused to allow them to acknowledge it publically. I told myself to buckle up, and that other people were going through worse, but it didn’t change the fact that I was hurting.


The best bit of the retreat is that I spent my first Monday morning not in the office, but by the beach watching the waves lap at my feet. During the four days, I ate. I ate unashamedly during breakfast, lunch and dinner because I had let go of the idea that I needed to be perfect. I accepted that I was sensitive and flawed and that is the bonus of being human. It’s was from this place of truth that I was able to write and most importantly watch other people enjoy my writing. I gave my emotions faces, I gave them their own personalities, and where possible I gave them their own life stories too. I accepted and befriended them while making them daring, adventurous and funny to my audience. It’s from my brokenness that I learnt to make lemonade.

Originally published on I Made Lemonade

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

“Is Your Attention on Your Intention?” Says Oprah.

I wrote this a year ago.....




I’ve finally picked up the pen to write. It’s 2.41am. This nagging inspiration is back again and it’s not going away. I’m choosing to write about life. My life specifically.  
Since I’m awake at 2.41am in the morning because of my life, let's make a list of all the things churning around in my head....

  •  I’m learning that my childhood heroes are flawed. 
  • That most people who interact with me judge me based on what they see, and not who I am inside.
  • That I’m tired. Very tired. 
  • That I will fail to sleep some nights and the only person who understands this is my father, because coincidentally, he is also awake at the same time too!
  • That I have this crazy notion in my head that I was born to write and no matter how much I ignore or discourage this thought my creativity will spew out in other areas of my life. 
  • That I am a creative person who just happens to be an introvert. I don't quite understand how this will work, but I shall play along with God and see what happens...
  • That I must keep my mother’s legacy alive. 
  • That if you don’t love yourself it will play out in other areas of your life. For example, I spend my money recklessly and I dated a not-so-nice-guy #NoSwearingButIwishIcould .
  • Thankfully, I forgive myself for dating him because I now understand the grieving process.
  • Unfortunately, I haven’t forgiven myself for spending my own hard earned money on frivolous things.
  • That there are awkward, painful and regretful  moments in life and yet  I’ve survived all this and woken up to sunny mornings to start the process of life all over again.
  • That I love watching the bliss and wonder in the eyes of my nieces and nephews as they discover the world. I enjoy seeing how parenthood has changed my brothers and my sister for the better. 
  • Now that I understand loss, I take the time to appreciate small moments of God’s grace.
  •  I take time for quietness, prayer and meditation, because as an introvert I need that time to myself after a long day. Very few people understand this but that's okay. 
  • Oh and I also take time to laugh with my closest friends. And by the way, sometimes, yes… sometimes someone catches that bliss and wonder in my eyes too and it engulfs them and then they have to smile too!
Okay now I can finally go to bed!

What do your late night ramblings consist of? Please share by commenting below.

Friday, 30 October 2015

10 Reasons Why You Need to Attend Jackee batanda’s Success Spark Brand Writing Retreat



I recently had the pleasure of attending Jackee Batanda’s Success Spark Brand Writing Retreat on Bulago Island, and here are the top 10 reasons why I think you should be a part of  the next one:


  1. They will accept you at whatever level of writing you find yourself. You don’t have to be published, or be an active blogger. You just need to have a passion for writing, and be willing to share and learn.
  2. You will spend five days with people who are natural born storytellers like yourself. For four nights, you will no longer be the outcast in the family who has decided to pursue a writing profession. Apart from the resourceful workshops, breakfast, lunch and dinner conversations will surprisingly become the highlight of your day. You will probably laugh like you have never laughed before, but remember Jackee has one rule, “what is spoken on the island stays on the island.” 
  3.  It’s a safe place to share your writing. Take it as a great opportunity to gain insights on your work from experienced facilitators like Nyana Kakoma of ‘Sooo Many Stories’, and other budding writers like yourself.  The constructive criticism from the facilitators will help you start to polish your own unique style and voice.
  4. Jackee’s goal is to make sure that you actually get published.  The facilitators will help you think through your writing goals, and consider publishing platforms that are relevant to your work. Rejoice! Your one-on-one mentoring session will occur on the beach and not some dingy classroom that was built in the 1970’s. 
  5.  You will most likely gain weight, but don’t panic because it is totally guilt free. Not once in the five days will you ever set foot in the kitchen to prepare a meal or to wash the dishes.  The food cooked by the resident chef is so mouth-wateringly good, that it would be considered RUDE of you and the other participants not to gain weight. The chef makes fresh orange muffins for breakfast from scratch; no Nakumatt-bought cake mix is involved in the process at all! Take a minute to pause, smile, and fully grasp the meaning of the last few sentences, because during the retreat Jackee’s only task for you will be to focus on honing your writing skills. Alas, gaining weight is the only way you will be able to show your appreciation and gratitude to the chef who is working so hard in the kitchen to prepare your delicious meals. 
  6. Prepare yourself to be mesmerized by the majestic sunrises and sunsets. Every day you’ll find yourself either standing by the window, or outside watching the sun like a zombie.  I have a whole new kind of adoration and respect for God, and the first two chapters of the book of Genesis. In my head, I’d like to think that this island is the spot where God first told the sun to rise. 
  7. For all you social media junkies, let me confirm that the internet does work on the island. We were not totally cut off from civilization. You can still access all your accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and share your wonderful experience with the friends and family members who told you not to come *wink wink*.
  8. Imagine falling asleep to the sound of waves at night, instead of the sound of the mosquitoes you usually fight with, or the prayer shouts from the local church, or even the road-side disco and bar. Just relax to the melodic sound of the waves as they entice you into dreamland, because it’s a well known fact that writers need their beauty sleep too. 
  9. This is not a drug or alcohol fueled retreat!  You should definitely leave behind in Kampala, the belief that you will find your muse while using illegal substances.  We are all upstanding citizens, who just happen to be writers. So tell your Dad, Mum, your hubby and your wifey, that they can stop hyperventilating, you are not being abducted or brainwashed. All you need to do, is come prepared to take writing and storytelling seriously.
  10. You will return to your normal life and anxiously await for Jackee to announce the dates of the next writing retreat.  You’ll have had so much fun, that these retreats will just have to become a permanent fixture on your annual calendar. 


I’ve already booked my place at the next writing retreat, so make sure you contact Jackee and book yours. You can reach Jackee  via e-mail at jbatanda@gmail.com. I am looking forward to meeting you, and hearing your stories.