Santa Bebe Came Into Town!

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Yesterday was Christmas 2015. In our household, that means, first and foremost, “Santa Comes into Town,” per Child of Mine aka COM.
Yes, He still believes in Santa, I let him play along, or he is he making me play along! I am beginning to wonder, who is fooling who?
Oh well!

As well, Christmas is a day my family, who believe that, Jesus Christ is born and comes to bless their loves. So, I honor them with the privilege of being with them in spirit. I grew up in a Christian household, and we got gifted on Christmas with new clothes, shoes, and feasted on all sorts of special foods and treats on this day!

For 2015, we spent Christmas Day at the Lakshmi Cow and Animal Sanctuary in Bangor, Pennsylvania, a 30-minute ride from where we live. We signed up to volunteer to feed the animals, and share a meatless potluck lunch. We also volunteered to carry a dish/es with us. Everybody we hung out with, we were meeting for the first time. But we did not feel like strangers.

In fact, from the time at the Animal Sanctuary, I learned two things:

  1. I am a small god; my conscious and soul is that which makes me.
    I had never thought of myself as a “small god”; I call myself “a human,” and that’s the way I live my life. I believe in the notion of communitarianism, human living, I believe in Karma, in horoscopes, zodiac signs. I believe that we are the pioneers of our own lives.

Still, I will embrace my new-found realization that, “I am a small god,” because I believe our conscious guides our every action or inaction, thoughts or pronouncements. Our conscious cannot let us rest happily, whenever we are not representing ourselves or our social relations as we should.

  1. If I refuse to smile, I refuse to see positive about myself, and deny to live the beauty of life. I get myself stuck in negativity, stress, depression and agony. [Well, I knew that, but I guess I simply refuse to practice it. That was my mantra in 2013 —time has taken its toll on me. Challenge 2016

Well, I learned a couple of more things

  1. Just because you are Hindu Indians does not mean you are not scared of cows. Quite like the common stereo type that, “Africans live in perfect harmony, with no fear of animals or bugs, because, “They are Africans, duh!” I was shocked on seeing our Hindu lunch-mates running away from cows, while COM and I got into their face, up and close, feeding and patting them!
  2. Cows eat rice, they eat watermelon, they eat carrots, they eat bananas. Cows eat the same foods at humans. They eat cookies as well! Oh! Do not feed cows, by throwing food on the ground or in the dung; it is dirty and will get them sick!
  3. When a cow grows old or dies, do not ask, if it is slaughtered for food. It is buried or cremated. I had to bite my tongue, and not talk about those yummy beef cows in Uganda, that also give us Mulokoni [soup from cow hooves], hide for mats, and accessories, horns for decoration and accessories too, and lots of milk.
  4. By the way, cows farms exercise preferential treatment of their cows! Those who specialize in beef or milk cows do not keep newborn calves, but pass them onto other farms happy to take care of them.
  5. Turns out, I do not have to schlep myself all the way to an Ashram in India for a mom-free retreat, when there is one in my neighborhood, called Aisha Vidya Gurukulam! They’ve got classes for kids, as well, on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month. Me thinks, at my convenience! I might have to check that out.

I am re-living the fact that:

  1. Children bring blessings. Plenty of COM’s Christmas gifts this year were courtesy of my BFF, and golden Aunty Jude. And thanks to Cyber Monday, if at all there was any difference in price! Yes, I contributed, but I cannot thank my BFF enough for her kindest generosity; she always comes through! Living proof, you don’t need religion to do good, if you have a human heart!
  2.  Surprises are always welcome and greatly appreciated! Child procrastinated on writing his “Dear Santa List,”Christmas and thought he was not getting any gifts. Then Christmas morning he climbs upstairs, face to face with a living room full of gifts! He loved all his gifts, so he said, when I asked him. No special preferences!
    He was animated about plenty of the gifts, “No! No way! It’s a Wii U control [from his Dad]…Now I can play with Cole!”
    “Minecraft Legos! We can build together, mommy,” immediately co-opting me.
    But then he saw The Guitar, “This is all I ever wanted!”
  3. Live Life freely, wildly and be earthy! Don’t ever be afraid to try something new. In fact, take your child to venture out with you. If it is to feed animals on a rural farm on Christmas Day, go for it. Meatless potlucks, partake, and bring a dish! Hang out with retirees, like you are one of them; there will always be commonalities — running, gym, health eating, and vegetarianism. Experience is the best teacher!
  4. Always prepared to be flexible. Allow another person to dictate your schedule, sometime. Done with the Christmas Day, I planned to pat myself on the back and pop my collar for my “Santa Hat-trick,” settle down, sip my ginger tea, and read 109 pages of #JanetHalley’s Genealogy of #FamilyLaw.

Child of Mine had other plans, to drag me into building a Minecraft Lego City. I went in kicking and screaming, but in fact enjoyed becoming a “Minecraft Lego City Builder,” earned a “Stamp of Approval,” and very much enjoyed learning to lego- and Minecraft-away! Learning never stops!

I guess my biggest challenge is gonna be, returning to myself. Saying no to all the luring things that are not good to this body. It is gonna take 20 lbs under, to measure success — I literally need to tuck away that much! Yes, I am sick and tired of seeing this face, and have to drop it. I cannot give up on myself! Never!

And throughout all my experiences, I reconnected with the value of keeping positive, and letting positivity surround you. Yet, I still heartily believe that it is ok to share one’s sorrow and sadness, as a phase in life, a true testament of the human spirit and beacon of hope and optimism that things will always get better!

This is to hoping that everybody, near and far, had a fabulous Christmas Day. Let us continue to give, let us continue to love, and be loved. Celebrate!

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Non-Religious Celebration of Christmas

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I never thought I would willingly and consciously arrange for Child of Mine to celebrate Christmas at my own volition. Not since I quit organized religion umpteen years ago! But, that is before I became a parent.

Before I realized that parenting is a totally new era in one’s life; of undoing one’s beliefs and comfort zone. Before I realized that parenting is not about you!

This year, I am gonna let Child of Mine experience a Christmas celebration, as part of my parenting.

On one hand, parenting is scripted. There are tons of books for new parents – the indisputable What to Expect series, starts When You’re Expecting…going all the way into the Second Year. It is so influential, that it was ‘canonized’ into a movie released in 2012, starring Cameron Diaz.

The alternative new parenting scripts include lessons that mothers of the Expectant mother/parents eagerly share, either unsolicited or unwelcome. Plus, Old Wives Tales, passed on through generations to expectant mothers and the new parents. Not to forget that, if the expectant parent(s) was/were born around little children — siblings, cousins, nieces or nephews, or friends children, The Parenting Script is available through first-hand observation.

Parenting, we tend to think, is easy peezy, right? Plenty of resources —reading all the books, listening to ‘experts’ advice and watching other parents! You swear to an entire Parenting Script of NEVERS!

- You vow never to repeat the ‘mistakes’ other parents commit against their children. 
- You will not allow an unruly child in your household. 
- You will not bend your rules to accommodate your child’s needs or demands. 
- You will not introduce your child to any systems of socialization that you do not adhere to, including religion, entertainment, schooling or relationships. 
- You will not babysit a five-year old child!

And many more!

Until one day, you actually become a parent! And wonder, whatever happened to your self-avowed script, the script passed down unto you by parents before you, the script you wrote when you were expecting, and the script you re-wrote as a new parent. Some among us even wrote our own What to Expect: The Birth Plan.

We also had our post-birth parenting scripted in our heads, laid out well-tested rules and regulations to maintain order, transmit culture and ‘good moral character’ into all children in our household.  Then, one wonder why you are making so many compromises to accommodate your child’s comfort over yours!

But none of the tolerable comforts include intimacy with organized religion or becoming indolent.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not have any problem with the religious. In fact, my best friend – RIP was religious. She is one of the very few people I know, beside my mom, and my mom’s father, that practiced the humanity of religion. She was more human than religious. She was never judgmental, yet she subscribe to the new religious revivalism. The pentecostals, baptists, and the whole nine yard, who scare you and ostracize you, that if you do not convert to JC, you will go to hell fire. Or that Allah is the only true path to afterlife, and there is “Judgement Day”, when everybody is gonna be judged according to their religious practices.

See, I come from a family of multiple religious beliefs. My mother’s father came from a Catholic family, but converted to Protestantism, growing up with a Protestant family. He went on to become a Reverend, serving the Protestant Church. Two of my sisters are married to Muslims; one of my sister’s ex is Catholic; my paternal family has plenty of other religions that I can only relate to old school protestantism and veganism. So, religious pluralism was never an option for me, nor religious tolerance a luxury; it was the humane way of life.

Religiosity is rife in Uganda, where I come from. There is a prevailing expectation that everyone is religious, and anyone who says s/he is not religious —that is— does not subscribe to any of the Judeo-Chiristain or Islamic religions—is often frown upon. Yet, there is a laissez-faire approach to religious tolerance.

It is not uncommon to hear the Catholic church bells toll at the top of the hour, or the Muslim call for prayer every morning and evening. Yet, the loud noise from these places of worship has not caused a societal revolt, but taken for granted as part of social living. To some, like my mother, the morning call for prayer from the neighborhood mosque has served as her wake-up alarm clock, since I was a child. Similar to the morning cock crow in the villages.

But in America and other western societies that count themselves as “civilized,” such loud ‘noise’ cannot be tolerate, as part of social living! Or perhaps there is selective tolerance of noise in different parts. For instance where I live, the church bells doth toll, yet it is unfathomable to imagine a tolerance of the Muslim Call for Prayer!

Exposure is fundamental to nurturing tolerance of others. My siblings and I attended Catholic schools, even though we were raised Protestant. We went along with the Catholic rituals at school—going to mass, reciting the rosary, observing lent period, and anything catholicism required of us.IMG_3347

None of us grew larger or smaller because of practicing a religion outside our beliefs, None of us felt indoctrinated and coopted, because outside school, we were still Protestant and went to Protestant Church. Plus, to reiterate, I have catholic family, whom I love regardless of their religion, and who I do not have the luxury of discriminating against.

Coming to America changed my relationship with religion. I ran away from religion, as soon as it started confusing me. I had never imagined that one can be religious, yet pray and support dropping bombs on others.

I don’t understand religion that welcomes strangers, yet excludes those who do not profess the same religion. I do not understand a religion, that also preaches love, then practices hate and prejudice. I do not understand a religion, where “sisterhood” is built on the notion of religious belief, not family connection or our common humanity!

Although I must say that I have been embraced by some religious communities — among the Mormons, Mennonites and Catholics—whose religious convictions is informed by a sense of community and a shared humans. I have felt very comfortable among them, never felt judged, ostracized or evangelized to, but welcomed and supported as a human being.

Coupled with my upbringing, I have remained open to embrace the religious, and allow my child get a glimpse into the various religions. We participate in religious festivities with family and friends.

But, I am not about to push him into any form of religious indoctrination. I realized that his family was not willing to incorporate him into their religious festivities because of his non-religious status, and stopped trying to get him introduced to their beliefs. On the contrary, my family takes a laissez-faire approach to him or myself, recognizing that we are more than our religious proclamations!

Still, religion is not too far from Child’s mind; he is learning about various religion from school teachers. Forget about separation of church and state, in public schools! We are talking about PA, not in NYC, where a school principal recently banned Santa, The Pledge of Allegiance, replaced Thanksgiving with “Harvest Festival,” and Christmas Celebration with “Winter Celebration!

Recently, curiosity caught the best of my Child,

COM: "Mommy, what is my religion?"
Me: "You don't have a religion."
COM: "Why don't I have a religion?"
Me: "Because I do not have a religion."
COM: "Can you check my DNA and find out what my religion is?"
Me: "So, I can know your religion from your DNA?"
COM: "Yes."
Me: "Child, you are clearly a Pennsylvanian."
COM: "Noooo! I want to be Ugandan."
Me: "Ok, you are that, too!"
[Thinking to self: Oh! It gets worse...Religiosity gets worse in Uganda!"]
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Still, we will not be subscribing to any organized religious gathering or denomination soon! But, we will accept any invitations for celebration. What better time than now in December, when we welcome Santa and his the elves, Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer, al bearing gifts on Christmas Day! While we do not put up any trees, decorate or sing carols, he gets opportunities of making trees with his Cub Scout Pack and makes Christmas wreaths and talks about JC in school.

At home, we are making gingerbread cookies, dressing up in green and red, and eagerly await Santa’s gifts under the chimney. I have already taken him around our neighbor to watch Christmas decorations and musical shows stationed in yards. No religious recitals! No religious talk!

And we will spiritually join our family in celebrating Christmas, as they do every year, and the years he was in Uganda. I doubt he remembers the celebrations in Uganda when he was three and four years. I want Child to learn that some people celebrate Christmas because of their religious beliefs. I strongly believe that exposure to religion, or other social experiments/systems, breeds understanding, and breeds religious tolerance.

The religious intolerance, witnessed among some Americas, is symbolic of when religion is treated as an “exclusive club” open only to the believers. Religion in America is largely about exclusion than inclusion of those who do not profess the same faith. Those who convert from one religion to another tend to ridicule the religion they left. Some religious groups are not receptive to curious non-religious, nor encourage partaking in the celebration of customer of other religions.

Contrary to my experience growing up with religion in Uganda. Eid Christmas and Easter are all designated as public holidays. Unlike America, only Christian holidays are accorded public recognition — Christmas is conveniently scheduled as “Winter Break,” and  Easter as “Spring Break,” celebrated as days-off from work, and big shopping weekends at commercial establishments. A few establishments, employers and cities would grant “a day-off” for Muslims to celebrate Eid; in New York City, Jewish holidays and recently the Muslim Eid are designated as days-off in the school calendar. Of course the atheists and satanists aint celebrating all these religious display, in their faces!

But I want my own child growing up, with an understanding that, while mommy is non-religious, some people celebrate religious holidays. I also want him to understand that there is nothing wrong with the religious and non-religious, and none is better or more knowing than the other; they all belong to the same global society.

In fact mommy’s family is religious, and mommy friends who are religious. Mommy’s best friend who died was religious. But Auntie Jude and mommy are not religious.

I want to know that parenting involves setting goals, and exercising flexibility when raising our children as social beings. Most importantly, I want Child to know that what binds us together is our common humanity. We should be good and strive to do good to others, not because we are bound by some religious doctrine or conviction, but because it is the human thing to do.

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Perhaps Freedom of Expression is Indefensible, sometimes…?!

Perhaps, the right not be gagged is the most inalienable human right, expressed by every being from the time they are born. Mothers, doctors, courts of law, and the State can all take away the right to be born. Even idiotic militias have been known to prematurely terminate a budding life. According to tales from Uganda’s civil war in the ‘80s, government troops allegedly slit open pregnant women’s tummies, “in search of bombs they were carrying”, not babies, as common reproductive science tells us! Fanatical ‘social moral watchers’, like family members have also brutally ended lives of the unborn, when they have murdered their female relatives. Crime: becoming pregnant before marriage, thus bringing shame onto their family! True story!
Nonetheless, it is near impossible for anyone to deny any person, including a newborn child, the Freedom of Expression. A child starts expressing itself in its mommies tummy with a kick, signaling its presence or turning from  side to side. Immediately upon birth, the newbie announces its presence with a cry or scream, which can also imply it is expressing its right to eat, sleep, or pee, to a diaper change or to no more boobie time.
How then can we say that Charlie Hebdo should limit its Freedom of Expression on religious issues? By what magnitude? Under what circumstances? On which specific cases? Or with regard to which person or persons? should CH set limits or censor itself?
Recognizing that Article 19(2) of the 1997 ICCPR – International Convention on Civil and Political Rights explicitly denotes that “..Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
 
 
Though, the Right to Freedom of Expression has not been without controversy, contestation or control. Even the United States, a society that aggressively defends free speech as legally protected under the First Amendment, has imposed limits where it is has been deemed that unchecked freedom of expression may incite lawlessness, or encourage child pornography or obscenity. Limits on free speech have also been set to regulate undesirable commercial advertising -and here I am thinking of popular disclaimers by liquor companies [Do Not Drink and Drive] or cigarette manufactures [Smoking By Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury]. Of course, we have ‘dumb’ disclaimers like those found on shopping carts, “Do Not Fold Baby in shopping cart….something like that..!
Per, Article 19 of ICCPR, Clause 3 stipulates grounds for limitations on Freedom of Expression to (a) respect the rights or reputations of others, or (b) for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
It is here that we are confronted with several questions regarding 1) who is the public? 2) what is national security or public order? 3) what is public health or morals? 4) what is the rights or reputation of others? 5) who’s rights? 6) who is “others”? Should we say that the militant islamists, who shot and killed twelve people at Charlie Hebdo offices, a satirical French newspaper did so to ‘protect the rights or reputations of others’, reportedly, “to avenge the Prophet Muhammed”? After all, they too are entitled to “Freedom of Expression”, including their morals and reputation as members of the French public, right?
Could we justiciably defend their choice of expressing their right? Or are rights that disrupt public order and national security indefensible? The choice for Charlie Hebdo to allegedly harm the reputation of others through satire may as well be seen as indefensible, a cause of discomfort and anger by “The Other” who did not find it funny but offensive. Yet, the choice and course of counter-expression utilized by the gunmen appears more problematic and disproportional. I ask, had they [Avengers of Prophet Muhammad] chose own satire to respond to Charlie Hebdo,  would the outcome have been within the provisions of Article 19? Perhaps it could have been deemed less inhumane, or savagery as French President Francois Hollande described it, and not against national security? Perhaps it would be seen as “proportional expression of freedom of speech”, right? Instead of driving and dividing the world further into the anti-islam or anti-muslim backlash, currently spreading like wildfire throughout Europe and the world.
 
This reminds me of a another controversy concerning media freedom v rights and reputations of others, back in 2014 while living in Senegal. A popular print media published a personal story about President Abdoulaye Wade, then considered by many a scathing attack on “the Person of the President”, before he became the “Benevolent Dictator” that tried to unscrupulously manipulate the country’s long established constitutional rule and perpetuate himself in power. Anyway, I do not quite remember the details of the article, but I listened to a radio interview with one of his supporters, a History Professor at the nation’s largest Université Cheikh Anta Diop. The interviewed asked the professor [I guess also a Presidential Advisor], why they decided to write a response article to the press instead of taking the journalist in question to court. To my recollection, the professor responded that, “If we had chose to go to court, you, the media and the public would have complained that we are infringing on media freedom. So, we decided to respond with the same tool that utilized to attack the president – through the media.” [paraphrased].
 
How about that for ‘Prophet Muhammad’s Avengers’? After all, Senegal, is also a country with 94% Muslim population, who adore the prophet [S.A. A. W. S] as much as the muslim gunmen at Charlie Hebdo in France. In international relations, Senegal is among a few countries in the world, where a majority religion [Islam] chooses a President from another religion [christianity]; the country’s first Post-colonial President Léopold Sédar Senghor was Roman Catholic, with a white French wife! Senegal also holds a respected place globally, as one of the few long-standing democracies in post-independence Africa, which has never experienced a military coup, with each change of government via electoral democracy. On a personal note, in Senegal Islam is practiced with a human face as a community culture rather than a dogmatic religion. Even non-muslims generally feel comfortable saying As-salamu alaykum, without coercion! It let a great impression on me, relatable to my childhood in Uganda, when my muslim friends always invited me to break the fast with them during Ramadan and celebrate Eid. Just to let you in my “well-kept secret”, I was once engaged [yes, me!] to be married to a Senegalese. Thankfully for me, my Right to Freedom of Speech, allowed me to change my mind, when I expressed my change of plans in writing, without any physical harm to my fiancé or undermining public order. May we never seek to take lose the Freedom of Expression nor deny ourselves the Right to control or alter how we express our discomfort, whenever we disagree with verbal, visual or literal satire. Sometimes, violent and fatal Freedom of Expression may just be Indefensible!

America the Beautiful!

It’s been a while, since I sat down to write something thoughtful. Forget about the daily email traffic, and posts on social media. WordPress is where I share my self-inspired “non-chatty” thoughts.

I am glad though, that I am breaking this writing block with something dear and exciting. About America the Beautiful! There are so many reasons I have come to love America. Obviously, there is an ounce of sad news and sad people that shape this nation. But there is so much beauty in and about this country, its peoples and societal norms.
Especially today on this snowy day, I am reminded of the generosity and uniqueness of the American spirit. The huge snowstorm that started last night, with sleet and frozen ice, left some places in the North East without power. I live in The Independence State of Pennsylvania, which is among the areas caught up in these snowstorms. Exactly as I thought out loud the night before the storm, “I hope these indefatigable snowstorms do not leave us without power. It’s freezing up here!” But Lancaster, PA folks are not that fortunate;  left without power! Trees fell and damaged cars! Some colleges have asked students to return home until the weekend, when hopefully the power cuts will be sorted out. Terrible!
Yet, the American spirit is already alive and kicking. True, the State government is up and about, reassuring its peoples that help will come through as fast as possible. Good job and comforting! But the American social spirit of good neighborhoodliness is rolled out already, too! A good friend, in Lancaster posted on her public profile, an offer to any Lancastarians who need a place to warm up or charge their phone. The America Red Cross has set up soup kitchens and places to warm up and charge phones. And many more folks are coming through. This is America! This is the collective spirit that defines America, transcending individual(s) sentiments of bitterness, xenophobia, discrimination and hate. Those negative spirits do not define America!
Personally, I take moments like this to reflect on and ponder over the American Spirit of giving, reaching out, sharing and positive healthy living, both in my neighborhood and my American family. I live in a suburb in the Poconos. My neighborhood has plenty of “stay-at-home moms”, who I have met and interacted with, while waiting at the school bus stop. They are pretty much of mixed identity: Latina, Black, White and Arab. They are wonderful people. If I got to the bus stop late, after my son came back from school, I would trust that one of them would not leave him on his own. At times, I get a call from any one of them, in case were are late to the bus stop in the mornings. Plus, they usually help out anyone with kids who need a ride to the bus stop, for instance, if there is a 2-hour delay and mommy has to go off to work before the bus comes around, or when kids get off the bus and need a ride. They are sweet people.
Then, there is my American family. With all the drama of each family, there is a beautiful spirit among  my [son’s] American. We laugh, we share, and we party together. There is an openness among them that is beautiful and welcoming. They do not make me feel like “a foreigner”, typical of plenty of folks with whom I have interacted. Perhaps because, they are well traveled, or because they lived in New York for-ever, the most multicultural US city. They have met and interacted with folks from all walks of life, I assume. Of course the “open secret that, Grand dad – my son’s father’s step-dad, who raised him, is Puerto Rican.
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Perhaps a better illustration of  “America the Beautiful” is its diversity in food, clothing, languages, culture, origins, beliefs, recreation activities, tastes, fashion, interest, power, knowledge -endless list! I have endless experiences of things  deemed “archaic” by some in this country and other “modernizing geographical spaces”, making their way “back to the future” as trendsetters and ‘PC fads’. Goes to prove that, it is often the innocence of limited knowledge or the individual(s) dogmas that make that make people shun any experiences alien to them and/or pass judgement. For instance, the mothers at my son’s bus stop and I were talking about women stuff, when one recalled ‘the olden days’, when mothers delivered at home or on the road before they got to the health center. I told them, those ‘olden days’ are ‘now’  in my country of origin, Uganda. Indeed true as well, here in the United States, where “young trendy mothers and couples” now choose home births with Doula or midwives. Another friend in Georgia told me about ‘the olden days’ when people used kerosene lamps for light. I let her know that those “olden days” are still “present days” in Uganda, and I bet in rural America. Yes! Some parts of this country, folks use boreholes as a source of water, and wash their clothes from the barks of trees without access to a washer!
It is amazing that plenty of stuff often deemed traditional, archaic or rudimentary are now en-vogue! Picture this, folks are paying more money for membership to co-ops instead of shopping in large chain stores, for the love of easier access to more“farm fresh” or local farmers produce. Others are spending extra monies for organic produce at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Earthlight, and other large chain store that have an “organic foods section”. Ironically,  American food producers, large funders and their intellectuals activists are pushing GMO into countries of Africa in the name of “creating food security”, without issuing the same caution to consumers that is availed to the American public.  While more Americans are embracing “small [eating or shopping] is beautiful [from organic section or co-ops], plenty of Africa is moving toward mass quick production and large chain stores, including in Uganda.  Some of us have taken trouble to concern and inform ourselves of “what we eat or where we shop, and are carefully and consciously picking what we eat, so we can live longer cleaner lives, sans health disasters that have befell America, especially, high obesity and high heart diseases. Though, it is still a challenge to communicate the dangers of fast food eating and colored juices to many in Uganda. Last year, 2013, Kentucky Fried Chicken open its first franchise in Uganda to divided opinions: screams of “hell no” from plenty of Ugandans in the Diaspora vis-a-vis “bring it on” by plenty in Uganda. In South Africa, I noticed a huge consumption of deep friend fast food and colored and sugary goods, especially in the “most affordable” Shoprite supermarket, which has also set up shop in Uganda. While McDonalds and Coca Cola, two of the largest brands of quick and fast food/beverage addiction are losing market share in America, they are reaping huge sales outside the United States.
Fortunately, America the Beautiful, one can get a wide net of fresh, health, conscious and fairly-traded products. Almond, hemp or flax milk is available, so is Tofurky in place of real Turkey meat. We have access to gluten free pizza, meatless anything for the meat lovers with real meat problems. It is possible to eat food not fried in oil, but if one wants to, there are plenty of options of non-animal oil – canola, coconut, olive, sunflower, vegetable and more. We can fill our refrigerators with a variety of fruits and vegetables, and our shelves with plenty of nuts – almond, cashew, pistachios, walnuts, groundnuts, to feast on daily. We can stay gluten-free forever, and feed on raw food effortlessly!
And if you heard that “traditional marriage and family is out of vogue” in America the Beautiful, don’t believe the hype! No! Marriage is not about two people coming together, making a decision to love one another through sickness and health! Marriage is a family affair, and family as a community and clan affair. I recently witnessed a beautiful moment of two families of their soon-to-be married children coming together to review the marital contract that their two children were about to enter. The families went over what is expected of children to each other as a married couple, and to their families;  how to conduct each other once married, and what each owes to the other and to their families.  It was beautiful! It reminded me of what marriage was always about in Uganda, where I am from. Not about “blissful everyday moments”; in fact plenty of folks found themselves and found love after they were married, and stayed together as lovers not for convenience till death separated them. It was about, the meanings of marriage to the family the newly-wed were to form, and to their families of origin. It was also about their belonging in society, not “behind self-gazetted closed doors”.
At heart, I am a traditionalist, when it comes to culture and community. But then again, I am only human after all. We all pick and choose what appeals to us, and how to make it work for us….And, that’s what defines America the Beautiful!

Christmas for the non-religous

I stopped celebrating Christmas as a religious event, about ten or more years ago. I cannot exactly recall. But I still observe it as communion with my family, friends and the community of love and friendships that I am fortunate to receive.

My fall out with religion happened after I came to the United States years ago, once I slowly realized that the religions that were taught to me growing up  – Protestant and Pentecostal – and the words of the Bible taught to me, were in fact, not exactly universal.
See, plenty of us in Africa met Christianity through the words, eyes and color of a white man, who was also the color of the savior (JC), the preachers (colonial missionaries), and the doer (political administrator) and giver of good things, blessings and alms (the humanitarian worker). So, we believed all the words the whiteman said that the bible said, and saw only goodness of the white man. Stories claimed that the white preachers and missionaries in Africa drank beer while reprimanding their African followers for committing sin by drinking alcohol. But we thought the Africans who spread such stories were haters of the white man, who would burn in hell on judgement day. Well, Christianity is all about Heaven v Hell or JC v the world. So, there are only two options for us all.  The preachings I consumed enjoined us not to associate with people who did not believe in JC because they were evil and would lead us astray. We listened and lived by that, sacrilegiously. So, as a keen and active follower of JC, I stayed away from drinking alcohol or smoking, except for the years I fell out of god’s path and sinned.Once I fell back onto the right path of christian living, I resumed the “godly” ways. No alcohol, no smoking, no talking terrible about others, no fornication, no supporting war.
Then, when I came to America, I was confused when I met preachers and others who confessed Christianity drinking, smoking, engaging in adultery, fornication, and supporting, blessed and fighting wars. My christian heart was broken! Still, I kept my Christian friends, and went to their gatherings whenever invited, although with growing skepticism. The more I began to identify with the black experience in America, read about the history of black folks in America, and how the white man dehumanized, humiliated, murdered, tortured them, simply for the color of their skin, I became disgusted with all things white. Moreover, because Christianity is closely associated with the white man, whose white skin is the pervasive color of god and JC, and who brought it to the lands of my origin, the white man and his inventions brought a sour taste in my mouth. Notice I am using whiteman, because “the man” not “woman” was indeed purveyor of colonialism and its relatives – Christianity, European education.
Thankfully, the many years of traveling and living around the world and here in America, have allowed me to transcend that hatred and bitterness  for the white man. I have made friends and great relationships with plenty of white men, who come in multiple layers, some without a religion of practice. They identify either as atheists, scientologists, muslims, yogis or nothing at all. They are humans and believe in a world fair to others. In any case, there is no black struggle that has not involved everyday white folks, using their position and privilege to support a movement for justice and human dignity.
Still, I have developed a great disdain for organized religion, and prefer not to label myself anything. “Humanity” would pass as my religion, since we were humans before we were any religion. While I have completely dropped religion, I still allow myself the opportunity to accept others who believe and associate with religion. I strongly believe it is not my job to judge whether one is right or wrong, as long as their actions do not infringe upon my right to be. I am an out-of-the-box person – the way I dress, speak, think and live my life. I like to challenge myself, without being boxed into “normalcy” or anybody else’s expectations. While my female friends were signed onto the epidural even before they got pregnant, I practiced kegels, did meditation, squats, walking and all natural stretches during my pregnancy, so I could deliver my baby natural with no drugs administered. In my running group, I was the only “SHE” who went for the 42.2 KM full marathon. So, I live the life of dare to dream; dare to be different; dare to excel.
So, I will not stop or condemn everyone I do not agree with. Everyone has a right to be here!
In the words of Vanessa Williams……
You think you own wherever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name
My early years in America, it was possible to skip Christmas day because I live on my own without my family or partner. Simple, I stayed  at home, did not switch on TV or radio, watch movies, ate popcorn, typed away on my laptop, went jogging and slept. But in my post-home internet and Facebook age, how can I run away from that inconvenient truth? Especially now that I am with a toddler who loves and strongly believes in everything PBS for Kids? True, I have let him watch PBS, ever since l found out that he learns from it. How can I keep him away from the joys of waiting for Santa to down the chimney, when all his classmates talk about Santa, his class projects including drawing and coloring a christmas tree and Curious George talks about Santa.
Whereas I am not going to celebrate Christmas as a religion, I am still going to honor my son, my family and friends who have over the years invited me to be in their midst to partake of their joy with them, without pushing me to go to church or say prayers. I am sure they are still uncomfortable with my nonreligious stand, but they have come to grips with it. And I have no problem contributing to communal celebrations with food, drinks and gifts. It is a family tradition.
Last night, before my son went to bed, I showed him the chimney where Santa climbs down and delivers gifts. I have not said much more…or that, “only kids on good behavior receive gifts from santa”, because I do not want to “bribe” him nor program his good behavior to being rewarded with gifts.
In response to a FB friend, who wrote that those who celebrate Christmas are honoring a pagan event, promoting consumerism, believe in the falsehood of the Christmas tree, are cosmetizing their sins, and buying into the illusionary santa. I wrote this. response:
“Lol! I thought you spared me from this list….since I:
1) worship at only my altar; 
2) think about my family 365/366 days; 
3) I am without sin; 
4) have no green thumb - trees don't want me to plant them; 
5) my religion is humanity!
 
But then, i kinda fell short on consumerism and sharing"... Lol..and here's my excuseYes, I have a chimney, and I am that "fat man"...I am slim and slender and fit perfectly through my 
chimney ....I make no mention nor explanation of Xmas whatsoever! In fact, he does not remember 
celebrating Xmas with my family in Uganda last year! So, I want to give my son a chance to keep 
imagining and fantasizing. To keep dreaming.. So, he can form innovations in his head...and can become an inventor at 6 years old...make toys, make that machine that he has promised me, that stops the 
snow from falling...and so, I let him imagine tooth fairy exists, as does Halloween...lol again"
For that reason, I let santa down the chimney last night, and left a package. Once my son wakes up, he will be thrilled to check and find something for him.
Dream on Babe, dream on! Santa came to your chimney! And when you wake up, go re-invent the world, as you promised.. It is your Wonderland! 
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