Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Loneliness vs. Solitude

Let me write from the heart.

My natural instinct is to always consult my heart first. Whether I listen to my heart is a totally different matter. This world sometimes require us to do the total opposite of what our heart asks. 

But for now let me listen to it and write from the heart.

Nursery school are my first few memories of being in an environment where social acceptance wasn’t assured. It’s where I first learnt the concept of feeling alone, but not actually being alone, Nursery school was where I learnt that the world was bigger than home. I was dropped off  by my father every morning, and even with welcoming teachers and making new friends, I felt alone. I felt separate. I felt like I could easily be forgotten. Dismissed. Overlooked.  

Don’t worry. Eventually, I found it fun; this new world. I learnt my way around. My teacher wrote in one of my reports that I spent more time taking care of other children than playing.  I wonder what my mother and father thought when they read that. Especially, since I was the youngest in the house. Where could that have possible come from? It seems I was more concerned with giving myself a purpose in order to fit in.

 I am reflecting on that moment because I see around me a number of people who struggle with feelings of loneliness. I think sometimes we are scared to say that on some days we not comfortable in this world. Sometimes the mission of existing is tough, and the experience is rough.  But we are scared to say in case we appear ungrateful. 

Someone asked those same questions long  ago, and it even inspired them to write a poem.  Have you heard of the poem ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ by St John of the Cross?

In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my

He writes about this strange euphoria he experiences in mist of despair, when he finally realizes the purpose of his suffering. (btw... I am not saying that we are all Saints) I love his honesty in the poem. I love the fact that his journey is not always blissful. That there are moments of doubt, fear, loneliness and even dullness in the process of life. As much as we try to fill our lives with things people, places, there will always be emptiness. There will always be sharp moments of stillness. Thoughts that remind us that this is all temporary and we are mortal.  It will always catch up with us but it doesn’t have to overcome us, most likely there is a purpose to not fitting in so neatly into this world.

Years ago, I went on a catholic retreat. We visited a monastery for the weekend. I don’t even remember the name and yet it had such a monumental impact on my life. I was going through a break up and the stress of back to back assignments at University. My friends and I were also going through the tensions of renting a house together for two years. I needed a break. The Catholic Student’s society offered one, so I packed my bags and disappeared for the weekend.   

What I found interesting about this retreat is the fact that  the Monks were not allowed to talk to each other. That was one of their vows. One of their sacrifices. They spent their days in silence, with very little time in the day allocated to speaking. An hour into the retreat, we joined then, we sacrificed our voice to God and began our silence. I spent atleast 24 hours in silence. Solitude. 

In our world with 7.1 billion people, everyone must struggle in some way to be seen, to be noticed to be acknowledged. Office politics, social circles, family gatherings, daily life require us to use our voices and our words, our conversations, and body language to assert our presence. Imagine a world where you can’t. Imagine if those 7.1 billion people were told they could not speak to anyone for two days. How would we communicate with each other? Imagine if we took it further and said everyone must wear the same clothing. What would that do for egos? How would people be able to catch clues of who we are if we all dress the same, and if we could verbally express who we are? Even the graves of the former monks have no names. Just a modern cross, marking the loss of many  in a special section of the garden. At first I thought it was a modern art exhibition. We don’t know who they are. We just know that they are graves.

I'm scared of lonely
And I'm scared of being the only shadow I see along the wall
And I'm scared the only heartbeat I hear beating is my own
And I'm scared of being alone
I can't seem to breathe when I am lost in this dream, I need you to hold me
I'm scared of lonely
I'm scared of lonely...

Yes. I just quoted a Beyonce single. I thought it was interesting that she choose to put this song on her album. As a successful woman with a husband and close family, she chose to sing this single. She never promoted it that much though. Interesting. 

A lot of our masters spent time in solitude, Jesus, Buddha, etc.  So don’t worry you are in good company. A lot of great works are produced when the mind is allowed to wonder on it’s own. But it’s so nice to be with people, to connect, to laugh, to share moments, to share each others’ lives. As Brene Brown says we are hard wired to connect with each other.

After a good night sleep, I remember enjoying the first early morning hours of the Catholic retreat. I liked this new challenge.  Five hours in and I was starting to feel it. No TV. No Movies. No Magazines. Just books. Lot’s of books on history. Lot’s of books on theology. No loud music was allowed, we had to commit to being quiet. I would pass a fellow retreat member  in the corridor, or find them in the tiny kitchen making tea, and force myself to  swallow the urge to speak. It felt rude. It felt unnatural, yet I had committed to silence. We had tea with the monks at 4.00 pm that day. Some really good scones…but no conversation. Just silence and the sound of people sipping and chewing. A few moments of eye contact and short smiles but mostly emptiness. By night time as I lay in bed the emotions hit me. I realized how much I rely on connecting with people throughout the day. Also everything that I had been bottling up, suddenly came rushing out of me. Demanding to be dealt with. Such is the nature of solitude.

Solitary confinement in prison is supposed be the worst punishment of all. Is it because the prisoners are left alone with themselves? The mind is incredible, but is it all the more unbearable if you’ve committed despicable acts, if you lived a terrible life?

Is solitude only for the strong minded like our masters?

When I asked people to write for a “welcome to womanhood” series, it was mostly because I was reaching a milestone in birthdays, and feeling extremely self reflective. I wondered whether other women had the same internal struggles that I was having. So I asked them to write their stories. I asked for moments in life when they realized they were grown women. My story is about solitude. It’s so far removed from my ideal experience of what it means to be woman. Yet it sticks out like sore thumb, it’s my experience. I see so many people dealing with loneliness but I am not quite sure why it’s there. They have families. They have children. They have partners.  They have great jobs, a social life. Yet there is the feeling staring them in the mirror. Loneliness. 

In my head solitude feels odd. In my heart in feels good.

A month ago I attended a party with a friend, where we met a kindred spirit.  Barely a few minutes into knowing each other, somehow we found ourselves talking about some of the struggles women go through when dating and when in relationships.  She told us, during a very dark period in her life, a newly single mother, and extremely heartbroken, she used to go to bars and order a drink by herself because for most of her young life she had always gone with someone. She had always ordered what she thought other people around would approve off. Forcing herself to go to the bar alone, made her figure out which drinks she liked. When she started figuring out who she was, she felt like she could be a good mother. I immediately thought she so brave, to go to a bar by herself in Kampala. Most people when they see a women by herself in bar… they assume certain things about her lifestyle. Even I was judgemental, as i listened to the story. When people see a woman alone they feel sorry for her, like she should be miserable.

In my world I’d be able to write the following sentence across my forehead:

“Stop feeling sorry for me, I am chartering my course, figuring out my destiny. ” 

Some people are like me,  innate nurtures, we feel guilty about alone time. We usually happily forget all about ourselves in other people. It’s so tempting and so easy for us. Regular solitude ensures I have no excuses. I have to work on myself. I can’t get lost in someone else’s life.

I feel like am fighting back for the woman who feels alone. It’s the experience she finds herself in. It's okay. It’s okay to have dark night of the soul too. Don’t worry, great things come from solitude.

“You are born alone. You die alone. The value of the space in between is trust and love.”

“Nourish yourself with grand and austere ideas of beauty that feed the soul… Seek solitude,” young Delacroix counseled himself in 1824

Illustrated by Chris Mugarura

Friday, 27 May 2016

Princess Dresses: The Importance of Decorating the Girl-Child

A few weeks ago I walked into a children’s clothing shop to buy a  pretty dress for a friend who gave birth to a baby girl. I didn’t have much time, because it was during my lunch break, but I marveled at how I spent 20 minutes walking back and forth between three different outfits. Yes, baby girls have outfits… . You must buy the hat , the shoes, or the hair band that comes along with the dress, or the top , or even the skirt! Funnily enough, it is always a serious mission to find a pretty dress for any lady, whether she’s still a breastfeeding baby, or a  CEO of a successful tech company. It's a REAL mission!

I have never met this baby girl, I haven’t even seen her, I will most likely not even spend that much time with her. However,  I am taking the time to pick something special for her,  because I know from the loving way her mother and father  announced her arrival that she’s important.

I like how we decorate little girls, the puffy dresses, the cute pink shoes, those adorable hats or hair bands. We dress little girls up from the day they are born and we tell them how beautiful they are even before they understand what the word beautiful means. It’s not so much in the things that we buy and decorate them with, but more so the efforts we take to make them feel special.  When my twin nieces were born, every chance my mother got she bought dresses/outfits for them, one included a pink glitter ensemble. She was so excited to do this for them. Of course, as toddlers, within  two weeks they had grown out of them, but that, like I mentioned earlier, is besides the point.

You probably don’t remember it, but  if you grew up in a loving home,  important moments took place between you and your loved ones.  They welcomed you into the world with such gusto! They prepared for your  birth day, your jajja (grandfather)chose a special name for you. Your grandmother told your mother some sacred life lessons on the differences of parenting a girl. And your father was nervous about whether he would be a good male role model for you, but the moment he held you in his arms, he realized you didn’t care. He realized you were just delighted he was there. 

 When you were a baby they smiled and cooed in your face telling you how gorgeous you are. They did this before you even knew how to seek out people’s approval. They planted that cliche (but crucial) seed in you that told you ‘You are worthy”.  When you put your puffy sleeved bright orange dress on ,  and your father called you 'Cinderella', you  span  around in glee!  He made your day.

During that time compliments came freely.  You learnt that you are beautiful just for being you. You did not even take that much time looking at yourself in the mirror. In those moments when  they told you how smart you are, how kind you are,  and how brave you are they were building you up to be the best you. How much time do you spend looking at yourself in the mirror now?

 There are many girls who will not have those moments. No one will rejoice on the day they are born. No one will look at them lovingly when they smile. No one will decorate them.  In fact people will use them as a punching bag for all their frustrations with life. Some of these girls will learn to look after everyone else, yet no one will look after them.  They will learn to beg for approval. They will learn to exchange parts of themselves to get compliments. They will under value their worth. Sadly they will treat other girls the same way, because that is what they have learnt about being a woman.

 We should never underestimate the importance of unconditional love in the first few years of a child’s life.  It’s vital for parents, grandparents, aunts , uncles to do their part in building  children’s confidence in those younger years. Because when she gets older…

  • All the women on TV and Social Media  will look nothing like her and comparison is part of human nature. She will start to notice the parts of her body that are not ‘perfect'
  • People will dislike her  just because she doesn’t seek their approval, yet they worked so hard to seek everybody else's.
  • People will tell her who she can and can’t be, simply because she is woman. 
  • People will gladly point out her flaws, looking for opportunities to chip at her self-esteem. 
  • People will ignore her opinion,  because she is supposed to be a meek, humble and shy. 
  • Some men will do all sorts of things  to mess with her self- esteem, and sometimes she’ll believe them when they tell her it’s her fault.

So please don’t forget to decorate her

Plant that seed

Plant that indestructible seed of worthiness in her

Tell her how wonderful she is before she can even pronounce the word

Tell her how wonderful she is in as many languages as you can

Then teach her how to spell the word in all those languages before she reaches primary school

Teach her how to play with Barbie, but  also  teach her how to build robots
And when she tells you that someone said she can’t play with robots because she’s a girl, tell her she is LIMITLESS

Tell her that when she gets older the world will tell her differently, but no matter what happens she must look deep inside herself and remember what you planted.

Tell her that what you have planted and watered needs to be kept alive even when life is hard 

Show her with your own life how to keep that seed growing and spreading into all the good that God wants her to become.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Taking Stock: May 2016

Making: In the beginning stages of making a series on tradition and culture

Drinking: #lemonade for real #BeyHive

Reading: Just finished reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Playing: Kenneth Mugabi. #Amazing!

Wishing: No wishes.

Enjoying: My new baby turtle earrings. #LovelyBirthdayPresents 

Writing: Short Stories inspired by catch-up-sessions with friends

Loving: Qwela Junction Crooners, can't wait for the next show

Looking: Pro Afro by Xenson #SOoooooAmazing.Please visit AfriArt Gallery to view the exhibition.

PRO AFRO by Xenson #hairgoals

Eating: Java House Ben's Burger with a side order of fruit salad. #TryingToBeHealthy #NotSureIfItsWorking

Needing: Where do I start, maybe first with gratitude?

Wearing: Lipstick, I even bought a dark purple colour called "Vamp"

Knowing: God and I are working on our relationship. I have learnt to listen.

Thinking: About my future

Giggling Over: Zootopia.

What have you been up to lately?#TakingStock