Schooling under Wartime, and Explaining that to my American-born child

He asked me, “Did you go to school in war?”
“Yes, until when it was no longer a wise decision to go outside the house,” I told him.
I grew up in Kampala, Uganda during the war that ushered in the current president and national government. [Please believe it; some presidents stay on for over 29 years!]
I told my son that,
“Similar to our routine, my mom loved reading to me. One day, while we were reading outside our house, two soldiers walked into our yard about six-thirty o’clock in the evening. Just as my mom was about to run away, one of the soldiers told her, “Do not run, there are several more following right behind us.” Indeed, seven more followed and casually entered our house. They took about everything we owned, including plates, curtains, blankets, beddings, kitchenware and clothing. Once they were done, they asked my mother to walk them to the neighbor’s house and ask the neighbors to open their house; to get robbed too!”
 
Visibly overwhelmed, my son asked, “Wow! Weren’t you scared?”
 
I told him that I was scared, we were all scared. But life went on. In fact we went to school the next day.
He asked again, “How did you survive? You are here!?”
I told him that we went to school until it became extremely unsafe to continue, or keep living in our hometown. I explained to him that the soldiers did not always roam our neighborhood during the day. Either because they were sleeping off the exhaustion from robbing people’s homes at night or they were out terrorizing other neighborhoods or mounting roadblocks to hijack motorists and passengers.
He was visibly shocked and scared! More so, when I told him that soldiers killed and robbed people!
     “I thought, soldiers are nice?” he said.
     “Well, the current soldiers [in Uganda] are quite different,” I told him. “They are more disciplined.”
He asked me, “What does disciplined mean?”
     “To behave well. They behave better than ones we had growing up [in Uganda],” I answered.
  “You know the soldiers were terrible! They walked into people’s homes, stole property and often shot people to death. They shot and killed people on the streets for no specific reason.”
When I was little and living under war, we could not even turn on the lights or put drapes in our house at night because we did not want the soldiers to know there were people living in the house. Most of our neighbors had abandoned their homes and moved out of the country. We ate dinner using kerosene lamps [showed him a google picture of today, the typical kerosene lamp used in plenty of Africa], sitting in the corridor, where it was hard to see the light or movements inside the house. Immediately after dinner, we went to bed. In fact I slept under the bed all the time, out of fear that soldiers would see me on the bed. Most of my family lay on the floor at night.”
              “Wow mom! That is scary! And you are still alive? You are here!
Yes, it was a terrible experience, and to anyone else reading this! Amazed, as well, how we survived through it and lived to tell our story! For us, it was “business as usual”: We went to school everyday, returned home alive, cooked and dinner and fell asleep. In fact, my brother and I walked to school, not far from home. Since I was still in elementary school, I always got back home earlier than everybody else. Then, I would climb up and sit in the tree in our yard, waiting for my mother and older siblings to return home. Interestingly, my family and I were oblivious to the possibility that anybody passer-by, could easily see me up in the tree and try to harm me. Or that the soldiers could shoot me down!
Until that near fatal morning, when soldiers went door-to-door looking for rebel fighters, and killing and raping everybody they came across. In a rush and intense fear, we forgot to lock the door leading outside, when the soldiers approached. By a strike of luck, we survived when a soldier called his friend, who was about to open our door, to a proceed to an open house in sight! Thereafter, my family decided it was too risky staying in my hometown, so we joined the trail of ‘refugees’ fleeing their homes in war-torn Uganda. One of our neighbors was not lucky to escape, fatally shot, as he was rushing to the latrine to relieve himself of diarrhea.
I can go on about growing up and schooling in war time. Even that incident, walking home from school against the advice of the school principal, two days before the current government took over, as soldiers of the old regime were retreating from the main capital. When I got home and knocked at the door, my mother thought it was the solders; she opened the door wailing. She told me that one of our neighbors was raped by a soldier.
N’way, this story was for my six-year old American child, to let him realize that, playing guns, bombs and making people dead is not fun! It is not funny fantasy, as his play circles and Growing Up American, seems to make him believe. I am glad he is able to reach deep inside and get shocked. I am glad he has proposed on his own, to avoid guns and shooting games. Instead, he will build houses, hotels and more fun meaningful stuff in Minecraft. And at “S”’ party this weekend, he is not going to play, “making people dead”; he will play something else, so he said. Hopefully, he can pass on this education about the deadly not toy weapon to his friends and future generations.

The World Cup is the perfect Forgetfulness Therapy

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How I wish the #WorldCup came around every year! I think we would live happy ever after! What do you think?

The “World Cup” or “FifaWorldCup” is the perfect “Forgetfulness Therapy”. It helps us forget our worries, our struggles, our animosities and our differences. We all come together to enjoy, “the beautiful game”, as it is famously referred to, with friends, loved ones, family and even enemies. Bitterness is put aside in the moment of high intensity, high adrenaline and endless sweating. We cheer on our teams, react to goal scores, fuss about fouls and broken limbs, penalties denied and poor referring. But at the end, we come together and discuss the game in glee or passion, even if your team lost.

Too bad it comes around only every four years. We would be living in everlasting bliss. With all the troubles of managing our lives, careers, families, relationships and interests, we often get weighed down with worries. Sometimes a smile is too precious to come through. Our lives are preoccupied with running around to take care of business, with little tile to catch a breath or sit down for a moment of enjoyment and reflection. Those are very much precious and pricey, not affordable to us all.

And the mont-long tournament is nearing the end. The magic of #TeamUSA, and the thick hands of #TimHoward brought us too much optimism and joy. The barely known Costa Rica and Colombia toping their groups against the mighty and well-established national team, then making it to quarter finals overwhelmed everyone watching or listening with respectable surprises. The early exit of world giants, England, Italy, Portugal, and defending champion (2010) Spain, reminded us that in life we are all vulnerable to a fall. While plenty of supporters of African teams expected Ghana (and maybe Cote d’Ivoire) to make it to the “Round of 16”, it was Nigeria and Algeria that brought Africa a little window of joy. Still, we gave them our support and love that they went out with a fight. Because at some point, everyone must go. This is a tournament for one winner.

As my son reminded me what I often tell him, it is not about winning, sometimes it is about having fun. True to that, as my strong-driven French team got edged out by my beautiful mechanically endowed Germans. Costa Rica and Belgium have bowed out too, as Argentina and The Netherlands advance to semi-finals -because success does not come from begin the best per se, but from doing the best. Brazil too is there, but without two of its main players – Silva and Neymar -reminding us that success comes with a few twists and turns.

By next Saturday, we’ll be saying goodbye to the World Cup. But we will carry with us fond memories. We will be more relaxed, whether watching from our kitchen or living screens, public viewing or right down in Copacabana, Brazil. The pain of your team losing is outlived by the memories of the beautiful game that brings the world all glued to one common agenda of happiness! Even politicians have joined the world of manufacturing peace, happiness and enjoyment, away from fomenting war, attack on each other and invasion. Global business has thrived and some sparked in gains.

No wonder twitter has cashed in on sparked activity since the World Cup started, ESPN has registered overwhelming traffic both online and TV channel. Coca cola, alcohol sales, data sales, entertainment, sports and apparel are in bliss, not only in the US but around the world. So, we return to focus on our work, to our families, and our investments with renewed sense of optimism, positive thinking and stronger team work and work ethic that we have learned from the different teams that have graced 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil

Job Interviewing Taboos –

We have all been to a job interview. By the time you get there, you have done a little bit of research about the institution you are interviewing with. At the very basic, you know a lot about the job profile and requirements, whether it requires travel, and have an idea about its clientele. You are told it is taboo to ask about ‘compensation’, until the prospective employer brings up the topic. Even then, it is safer to bounce the question back to the employer, and let them tell to you how much worth they think of you. Another ‘silent taboo’ is talking about family life at a job interview. Perhaps, if you are a man, indicating  you are a family man during a job interview could present you fairly, as a good family man, who wants a career to afford a good life for his family.  More than likely, if you are a man, you are not expected to spend most of your life as CEO of Home Affairs. Even in ‘liberal’, women are the primarily child rearers and homemakers/ home managers. But how about if you are a woman and a mother?

I recently read an article, “US Foreign Policy Gender Gap” by Sarah Kendzior writing in Al Jazeera, that perception and money affect the number of women in senior level foreign affairs positions. According to Kendzior, perception is related to the assumption that women are particularly diplomatic, or empathetic, or kind, while money dictates that one should be able to afford their way around, especially when competing for an internship in the nation’s major international affairs hubs like New York or Washington. As well, one should afford to fly to interview with The Economist in London or take up an unpaid internship with the United Nations involving temporary relocation to expensive global cities.

What we learn is that while money affects male or female alike, very few ambitious and talented young professionals or students from poor backgrounds can afford these opportunities, even worse mothers with small children. Already, Anne-Marie Slaughter, writing for The Atlantic in summer 2012 told us “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, not because they are not super-ambitious but due to a lack of structural support to juggle family and work life.

But something these two writers did not mention was the “deafening silence” to the “Don’t Talk about family life when job interviewing Taboo”. Sure, we can liberally give the prospective employer our physical address, indicate that we are an email or phone call away to “further explore our job interests with the recruiter”, and are “available to start work immediately ”. But we are not exactly at liberty to talk about our family situation, although I have encountered men who ‘comfortably sneaked” in their family life during a job interview. My assumption is they do it because, it projects “a responsible family man”, who prioritizes his family obligations as central to his career success. But for a mother seeking paid employment, it is quite taboo talking about “family life” in a job interview.

Picture this, you are a single mother, with a toddler and would like to be in his life, while equally working a 9-5 job, the standard full-time work hours. I have no doubt that plenty of single parents have had to ask themselves these questions, and many have excelled at work. But I doubt any or many ever brought up their marital status and family life in their job interview, maybe until after the job was offered.

I have been living abroad for the last four years in three different countries, working excellently at my job, with a balanced family, work and “me” life, thanks to the flexibility of my scholarly research career. While living abroad, I scooped plenty of interviews, and job offers, even when I brought out my family status at the first interview. At one job interview, I stated upfront that I am was a single parent, and wished to balance “family, work and me life”, and asked for a flexible work schedule that would allow me drop off my son at school, and pick-up him up at the end of the school day, before the typical end of work day, and also take a personal day off each week. I got the job on my terms, with my son at the center, and with me as a single mother.

Now that I am back in the United States with a richer career experience, I am having trouble articulating “my three-tier life” to any prospective employer. In typical consultancy or NGO employment, plenty of work is done offsite of the employing office – we carry office work on our mobile phones, at home, on the plane and in coffee shops. And while we sign up for a 9-5, we usually put in more hours than we are paid. For one of my employers abroad, I had agreed to a 10:00a to 3:00p from Monday to Thursday work schedule. Yet, I arrived two hours earlier every work day, and also worked on some Fridays, my weekly day off. Whenever I went out to conduct field research and training of village communities away from my office and home base, I spent three days away from my son, without compensation for the nights-out for work.

So, why is it a taboo to ask a prospective employer to factor in the life of a single parent, trying to balance work-family-and-me life? I am aware that having an international career and a degree from a US university might have reflected favorably to my employers abroad, most of whom were in the international affairs realm. But I would like to be accorded similar consideration from employers in international affairs back here in the United States. Most probably though, employers in the US have in the back of their mind concern for, “who will take care of her child while she is at work”, especially when she has to travel to sites away from home? Similar concerns exist whether one is applying for international affairs positions, as a waitress at the local Red Lobster Restaurant, or as a Sales Associate at Walmart.

But all is not lost for single “family-centralist” mothers. As Sarah Kendzior says, for women, [and for single mothers [or single fathers] one has to recreate their professional ambitions, by perhaps becoming a writer or blogger. I know plenty of [single] mothers who have quit lavishly paying and professionally rewarding careers to go on their own and have afforded the ability to put their children’s central. Handy and artistic work is another option that single mothers could pursue. If you are into academia, there are possibilities of teaching, student counseling, or organizing summer camps and student internships abroad, with a flexible schedule. However, getting your footstep in the door is the first mighty step to take. Still, that might not come easily, by telling the prospective employer that – “I am a single mother and I have a five-year old”. That is still a Taboo to Job Interviewing! Image