Thursday, 24 November 2016

Where Creatives Go to Recharge - My Island Getaway Part 2

The Island and Jackee made us friends

Day 3

My writing muse has no sense of time while on Bulago. It wakes me up at 3.30 am.  Don’t ask me what a muse looks like because I have no idea! That's why I haven't assigned it a specific gender, all I feel is this persistent nagging anxiety envelope me. Eventually I give up the tug of war between the thoughts in my mind and accept the fact that I won’t be drifting back to sleep for a while. My muse knows we have an important topic to deliberate. The early hours of the morning are the best times to think through such things. The generator is off so I use my trusted torch to light up the room. I decide to make my way to the toilet quietly so as not to disturb everyone’s sleep, but I somehow end up stepping on every single one of the creakiest of wooden boards along the way. So much for being quiet….

 When I return to my bedroom, I grab a stash of Jackee’s literary magazines and place them next to me on the bed. Once I’m adjusted into a sitting position, I start to flip through each one, totally amazed at all the opportunities in the writing world.

On the boat ride to the island I had asked Jackee about the possibility of doing a masters in creative writing. I was wondering whether the experience would be worth it. Anything to do with harnessing inborn creativity fuels me with energy for life and work, but a masters in creative writing? Wouldn’t it be a big risk? Masters are a necessary extravagance these days. The wrong choice can be a painful setback yet the pressure on my generation to make the right career decisions is immense. We graduated right into a global depression and every news story at the time told us that we would inevitable end up earning much less than our parents. So why am I suddenly thinking about an MFA like some rich family member with a guaranteed inheritance?

I decide that this moment of placidity in the house is a good opportunity to get down on my knees and pray. I pray for guidance and clarity of vision.

Today we will have  no classes and no assignments. It will just involve one to one sessions with Jackee and Crystal about anything we wish to discuss in regards to writing. I sent my story to them yesterday and I have no intentions of doing any work once the sun rises.

In fact here is my official To do List :

·         I intend to finish my two books (I have carried them in my bag for two months. They need to make a permanent exit. Unless a book is intellectual it should be finished a month from purchase. )

·         Frolic in the pool in my new bikini so that I can tick wearing a bikini off my bucket list.

·         Take the proposed nature walk around the island.

·         Enjoy not feeling guilty about focusing on myself.

·         And of course eat all Alex’s delicious meals.
By 5.00 am I hear the pitter patter of rain begin outside making me drowsy. After excusing myself from my conversation with God, I sleep for another hour.  

With breakfast done.  Lynn (one of the participants) and I head to the beach. She brings her laptop. I bring my books. But we get distracted and end up turning our quiet time into a spontaneous photo shoot with Zahara. All the years of watching every single episode of America’s Next Top Model have finally paid off! Tehehehe. Look at that effortless jumping. Cover Girl *wink wink*
yes that's Lynn jumping with me.

My session with Jackee and Crystal starts a bit late. It’s clear my story needs a lot of work but their comments make a lot of sense. I am learning that one can only grow in their writing with the following three things.

·         by reading good books

·         practicing

·         and good feedback from mentors, friends, family and their target audience.

It’s rare to find people who will take the time to really read and critique your work so this retreat is an opportune moment. I noticed so many holes in my story through their conscious feedback.

Once we were done, I grabbed my To-Do list and started following it…..


Did I mention that dinner was a barbecue by the beach and presents from Jackee?  
Everything tasted as good as it looked in the picture.

Day 4

I wake up rested. Last year I mourned the fact that the experience was over so quickly, this time I am not. I am at peace because I made it back and enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time. I pack my bags and make my Bulago bed for the last time this week, then I head for breakfast. There is time to stroll by the beach and have insightful conversations with some of participants about the last three days. It’s been magical.

Jackee says Seychelles next year. She had better furfill her promise because I can’t wait!
Bye Bye.

 All photo credits go to Zahara Abdul/ Success Spark Brand Ltd
If you haven't already here is where you can read part 1

  To book your place on the next retreat please send an email to


Monday, 7 November 2016

Where Creatives Go to Recharge - My Island Getaway Part 1

when your creativity needs a holiday...

Day 1

I arrive at the beach house in a Special Hire an hour before the 8.30 am departure time. I am relieved. I silently mutter a prayer of gratitude that the Kampala morning traffic did not disrupt my schedule or my mood.  The beach house is still the same as last year. My eyes are yet to see the ACTUAL beach house they refer to on the yellow dilapidated sign post at the entrance, but that’s another story for another day.

Neglected outdoor furniture is randomly scattered across the unkempt lawn. The familiar naked headless lady statue is plonked right in middle of the garden. Seeing that statue always makes me wonder what the owner was thinking when he bought it. I mean how many Ugandans actually own a naked headless lady statue?

If my Jajja was here she would say,

“Did they not have enough money to put clothes on it?”

To which my aunt would reply with a twisted face and elaborate hand gestures,

“Her stuff is just there… hanging out for all to see!”

Wow! Woooooow, I can’t believe I am attending the Success Spark Writing Retreat again. This annual writing retreat is run by Jackee Batanda a Ugandan journalist, author, speaker and entrepreneur. Her company  Success Spark Brand Ltd is a communications and educational company. 
Jackee Batanda
Bulago is a 500-acre island, located in Lake Victoria with a Villa called One Minute South offering seven bedrooms. Can you imagine dedicating four whole days on an island to exercise those creativity muscles and hone those writing skills? This is my second time attending; I am a returning student.  
One Minute South Villa, Bulago Island
Last year, I used the retreat as an opportunity to temporarily absolve myself of all my responsibilities as a daughter, a sibling, and a colleague; my creative juices flourished as a result. This blog is evidence of that, it was conceived while on the retreat.  My experience a year ago was so good I had to make it a permanent fixture in my 2016 calendar.  However, on this occasion I have failed to absolve my personal obligations tactfully. Unfortunately, as I eagerly await for the rest of the retreat participants to arrive, I am carrying an invisible bag of guilt in my chest.

Yesterday between 8-10pm, I received seven missed calls, two Whatsapp messages, two Facebook direct messages and one missed Whatstapp call from my big brother. When I say I ‘missed’ them, what I really mean is I simply watched my phone buzzing and decided not to respond. My older brother says he ‘can’t find his ATM card’ and needs some money, but I am leaving behind two other siblings and a parent in the country, so I feel I have the right to ignore him.

Today, I have hatched a plan.  I have decided to befriend my Guilt. We shall travel together to the island and my theory is that once we get there, my Guilt will instantly fall madly in love with it and leave me alone for four whole days. Why? Because the island is so marvellous that he will completely understand why I ignored my continuously buzzing phone last night.

So, together, we patiently wait for the other writing participants.

Everyone arrives on time except for our award winning photographer Zahara Abdul. As soon as she arrives and all our luggage is quickly and tightly strapped to the black rubber speed boat. We zooooooooom across the lake to the island, with two or three brief stops. I don’t even care about the brief stops; I am elated that I made it to the boat without having to give my brother a single shilling! Even more elated as Jackee tells me there are plans to have the next one in Seychelles next year. Literally BURSTING with elation as we get further and further away from Uganda and all my responsibilities. I don’t have time to glance at the scenery, because I am catching up with Jackee, where has she been? How are the classes going? What are her other writing students like? She fills me in on all her latest antidotes with her elaborate facial and voice impressions, and dramatic pauses. I love natural born storytellers. 
Just arrived on the island!
Freshly made lemonade greets us at the entrance to the villa on the island, we empty our sand filled shoes and just pause. We are mesmerised by our surroundings. The welcoming swimming pool shimmering in the morning light, the antique filled house and creaky wooden floor boards. Each piece is unique, it’s impossible to identify which shop or country the furniture was acquired. All one can establish is that a lot of passion went into creating the ambience. Everything, and I mean everything including the wood carved man on a bicycle with a Nile perch strapped to the back, makes it a home, not a hotel.

At 12.00pm the second batch of participants arrive, here we are all together.

The whole group!

After a sumptuous lunch made by Alex the chef (whom we are plotting to kidnap this time around) we head straight into Character Development with Jackee and Plot Development with the detail orientated and ever articulate Crystal Rutangye.  Crystal is an Editor, published writer and a blogger (her website is on hiatus). She is the ONLY Ugandan to graduate with a MLitt in Publishing Studies. After 15 minutes, I realize she is a fabulous addition to the Success Park Brand, her commitment to helping writers produce good work is evident, in fact I decide to become her official cheerleader on the island.  
Crystal Rutangye

By evening Guilt has detached himself from me, he found some abandoned wooden boat and sailed off into the orange yellow sunset but before he left he said,

“Put your phone on silent for the next four days, it will stop that dreadful buzzing. See you on Monday Darling!”


Day 2


The Glorious view!



I finally understand the meaning of praise hymns.  I could happily praise God all morning today. I want to run across the beach in mismatched pyjamas singing-shouting this word. But you know it’s not a good idea to frighten people when you are alone with them on an island. In our group we have dancers, editors, engineers, lawyers, presidential advisors, and a conservationist. These are the types of people who regularly frequent overseas countries for work or study purposes. They cross oceans on planes as part of their job descriptions!

 Therefore these people might appear in my professional life at some point and I wouldn’t want them to say,

“Oh yes she was that mad case who ran across the beach at 5am in morning, possessed by some kind of spirit…”

To avoid inspiring such future conversations and maintain our cordial relations, I resist the urge go outside by opening the curtains to revel in my ocean view. Yes I have an Ocean view*! Bambi… did I forget to mention it earlier? Sorry not sorry. I stare at the harmonious waves and let my breathing fall into rhythm with them. What I adore about this place as I said earlier is it’s a home, there is nothing beige like and boring. The owner poured love into every piece, this villa is full of the fun filled experiences of all previous inhabitants. Each one of them left a little piece of their happiness here, creating an invisible bubble of contagious positive energy. I can’t help but smile.
can you see the man in the back?
Breakfast is fresh Ugandan coffee or tea, our choice of eggs, with sausages, bacon and sliced avocado and tomatoes. The staff are always pleasant, from the minute we set foot on the dock they have remained consistently accessible. It is only day two and the participants are already discussing how best to tip them.  Did I mention I love this place? I red heart emoji this place.

We shy away from each other in the morning, so that we can take time to write our assigments from yesterday. Around 9.00am we nervously come together to read our pieces out loud to each other.  The fear of rejection is laced in all our deliveries, but it soon disappears with the escape of snort covered giggles or with each peal of laughter at the end. The process of revealing our inner thoughts and struggles about the journey to this island is self-healing. Just like that we are friends, no longer acquaintances, that’s what the island and Jackee’s personality does for us. We share our deepest worries about this journey and it subtly unwraps our restrictive layers and barriers to successful creative writing. Jackee and Crystal ensure that through our sharing we are learning the technical skills of good writing. “Taking you from good to great.” She calls it.  It’s effortless, my mind is not bogged down with theory, and the bonding continues to build right through each session of Self Editing and Settings with Crystal, and Point of View and Dramatic Tension with Jackee.
The delicious three course lunch slows us down. It stalls our thinking process during afternoon sessions even after ten cups of coffee. Despite this discomfort nobody dares miss any of Alex’s meals. Nobody says they have overeaten or that they are on a special diet. I think even if one of us was allergic to nuts we would have gleefully eaten groundnut sauce and died at the table just because dear Alex has taken the time to prepare it.  When was the last time you had zucchini soup? Have you ever eaten Pork Luwombo with baked matooke before?  In fact, Jackee prepared a special drink to boost her metabolism during the four days. We had a shared Ugandan mentality.
We paid in D. O. L. L. A.R.S, for this experience....

We shall eat and we shall enjoy every single meal placed before us. And we shall threaten our bodies if they dare appear ungrateful!
All photo credits go to Zahara Abdul/ Success Spark Brand Ltd

If you'd like to book your place on the next retreat please send an email to

* It's not an ocean its lake Victoria but 'Ocean view' sounded better...

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Taking Stock : November 2016

Making: Our 1st anniversary of this blog. Actually we made it on the 30th October 2016. Wooooo Hoooooo! ( Should I write about it? No. Shall celebrate privately.)

Drinking: Celery Juice. I love it (surprisingly)

Reading: Just finished reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (look this lady up and thank me later)

Playing: I need to get Nintendo Wii. Super Mario needs to return to my life (feeling unashamed)

Wishing: Still No wishes.

Writing: Non fiction for my blog.

Loving: This decade of my life. Women do get better with age.

Looking: House Stuff. Every time I go to the super market I get stuck in that section. I drool over cake tins, tea sets and table mats... (how!?!)
Eating: Ribs. When I am not eating ribs I am trying to eat healthy. All this information on the Sugar Conspiracy has really made me stop and think about my eating habits. Oh and also the fear of dying early...

Needing: I am good. God is Good all the time! Amen

Wearing: Smiley face earrings. Thanks J's Accessories

Knowing: Time heals all things. It really does.

Thinking: Still pondering on how to best shape my future/life

Giggling Over: Remembering my first crush. Thanks for writing this blog post Kullein