In Praise of Teachers

I recently resumed private coaching, and it occurred to me that it is as well, I give a shout out to teachers!

The not-so-highly sang heroes! Without teachers, there would not be plenty of us! Teachers are pretty much held responsible for all things gone wrong in the school system, for students learning, poor school district performance, graduation rates, post-graduate career misfortunes and even market absorption of graduates! Too bad they do not have the fortune of economists and meteorologists, who no matter how many times their forecasts are wrong, they will never lose their job! Yet, teachers will be fired way before their welfare at school becomes a topic of concerted discussion. Nobody wants to talk about how salaries [or lack thereof] for teachers affect the classroom and school academics. Instead, many teachers are losing even the basic good of year-round employment as teachers.Thanks [again] to economists, plenty of our teachers are increasingly on “pay-per-hours worked. Never mind that teachers did not design the “summer vacation”, a fixture on the formal school calendar for generations immemorial! Do not be surprised when you run into your teacher, who is laid off in the summer, bagging groceries at Walmart, bursting tables at Red Lobster, delivering pizza from Pizza Hut or entertaining tourists in Time Square. S/he is trying to make ends meet, chasing the American Dream!

The truth is, it is not easy being a teacher! Since becoming a parent, I am now more than aware that it is not easy teaching learners, particularly early learners! So a shout out to teachers is long overdue! And I have plenty of my own – right from Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, Elementary School, Junior High, High School, College, Summer School and Graduate School, apprenticeship, lifelong, personal and home improvement and the list goes on. I love all my teachers!

To that, I add my son’s teachers – I love them all so dearly! Yes! Mommy was the first teacher, right when child was still in the womb. “What to Expect When You Are Pregnant” became my household #1 best seller, read in the car, on the train, on the couch, at the midwife’s office, in bed and in the bathroom. It was everywhere. Yes! I read it to the child too, plus many other books about “bunny in the oven”. As a bonus, I had my Birth Coach, a professional school teacher and a mother [then] of two boys, a beautiful soul and formidable friend that made “becoming a mother” seem like a walk in the park! Post-birth, child had daddy, plenty of aunties, great gran, grans, friends and strangers. They all read or wanted to read to him. They taught him a lot -all about burping, tummy time, sitting, and following objects. Moments playing with Great Grandma, and getting lessons on reaching objects afar, were priceless!

At ten months, my ‘teacher’ friends convinced me to take child to a babysitter, for a couple of days a week, to allow a smooth transition if and when I went back to work outside the home. Our babysitter [bless her soul] taught him how to survive a few moments without mom. Given that she had more little ones to tend, she also equipped him with more skills in independent living, Skills that were contagious, and taught me to let go of my son, sometimes, have some “me-time”, and take care of myself. Moreover, those lessons come in handy, when after his first birthday, we shipped off to Norway, to start my graduate research scholarship at the University in Oslo. I felt quite comfortable dropping him off to pre-school every morning, assured his ‘separation anxiety’ would have waned off, into happy moments with his classmates, by the time I picked up every afternoon. Kudos to our teachers at Kringsjå Barnehage, who took on the child with ease, taught him to eat meatballs (even after telling them Child does not eat meat), took him out for a daily stroll in the brutal winters, played in the sandpit and gave him a chance to enjoy painting and coloring! Bless their pretty souls for putting up with his constant constipation, patiently waiting, sometimes 30 minutes before Child finally released #2. Until that one time when all had failed, and they had to pick up the phone, to tell me, we needed Emergency Room intervention to get #2!

Half-a year-later, we were in South Africa, with another daycare and another group of teachers in Cape Town. I still remember the daily smiles on their faces. If they had any bad days, they did not show that to me. They were happy and excited to receive the child everyday, and always assembled the entire class to sing cheerful songs to the ever so crying child every morning! Lucky for us, we shared the adrenaline of #WorldCup2010 with them, right in Cape Town! Until we left for our next stop in Kampala, Uganda, where the most transformative experiences happened. The child grew up in age, and had the most amazing teachers! Initially doubted doubted when they told me that the child would stop crying every morning Child got to school. I had come to accept it as “part of his growing up”, perhaps until the ‘age of maturity’, whenever that would be. But, “Teachers Know Best”, and t it came to pass. They taught child to learn to learn and enjoy doing it, rather than regurgitate. They prepared him to be the unsolicited but every-so willing “Teacher of the Day” in his classes, and outside school to his little cousin in Uganda and the US! The Child learned to read, to write, to sing, to dance to Taekwondo, to cub scout, to swim, all happening at school. While Child was the youngest in all the classes, Child excelled, thrived and grew in each class, from Playgroup -Nursery-Kindergarten-Pre-Primary! Child did not just have teachers, but parents and friends.

My mom who is a teacher agreed, “they mastered the art of Early Childhood Education and Development.” I had no regrets for any penny that I invested. The child learned phonics reading, which has been a great asset going forward! The child, previously scared of anyone but mom taking off his pants to potty train, finally subsequently allowed class teachers to help out, so Child would not come back home again with a bladder full of pee. The Child learned to trust others in my family taking him to school when I was not available. And child thrived in Uganda, and onto Edinburgh, Scotland where we were shortly before returning to America. The Child’s Kindergarten experience at the new US school, SEC, added to the memories of the school experience; we loved our teachers and classmates! The transition was not too bad; handwriting improved, learning to write both last name, as well, and becoming a Ninja with plenty of magic tricks. Moreover, Child now has a larger teacher network, who include cousins, who are sometimes more exciting than mama. No worries, if the learning continues with lots of playtime.  And Child has never stopped teaching; for which I say, “Thank You Bebe for all the lessons you have and keep teaching me, for all the experiences you have allowed, and allows me time to sink myself into the places we have never been. The adjustments to my life and the words you have inspired me to say or not to say because of you.”

No doubt, all this was made possible with the opportunity of walking and working close to Child. Thanks to a strong foundation of teachers who came before Child, before me and ingrained in my the value of teaching.

1) My Kindergarten Teacher, Ms. Nak; wherever you are – I do not know how you taught me to learn. For I do not remember anything about phonics, but you brought me this far.
2) My Mother was my first teacher from womb to birth to growing up. She still is, I guess, through plenty of inspirations and lessons learned, plenty I am passing on to Child. Most vividly, I remember you reading to me, including that one day when government soldiers found us sitting outside the house, led themselves into our house and robbed everything they could lay their hands on. You also taught me the love and value of healthy living: Natural is best for cooking, eating and treatment of ailments. Yes! I feed the Child Aloe Vera juice made straight-up from the plant. Ginger, lemon and honey treat coughs in our household too, combined with plenty of fruits and veggies. My foods are eaten raw, boiled, steamed, grilled or baked. Stir fry is the ‘special treatment’, sometimes! Most of all, you are my #1Super-Teacher for Mothering and Hustling for a living!
3) My Best Friends Forever, I have two. One passed on in 2012 (R.I.Eternal. Peacefulness), but left a permanent seed of forgiving and loving endlessly and unconditionally implanted in me and her ever-so jovial godchild. I still catch myself saying, “No! You are still here!” You were the epitome of humanness! The true human spirit! My living BFF in Edinburgh, SCOT, a university teacher herself, and a great writing and publishing partner. We share many fond memories spanning over fifteen years, of fights, make up, but never had a serious break-up!
4) My College Professors, most memorable is one at the School of Law’s Human Rights and Peace Center. Gave me my first career, trained me as a human rights activist, allowed me to turn my dreams into reality, as the Founder of a students human rights advocacy project for prisoners, and gave me the professional backing to solicit funding, free legal services and free media publicity and entry into national human rights programs. I was the name to reckon with, back then! All the opportunities to traveled the world free, learn to write fellowships and grants requests, meet with high-level staff at various institutions around the world, my professor passed onto me. I also learned to write and publish academically.
5) My American Employer, founder of the refugee studies center at the University of Oxford, the first refugee studies program in the world! My professor, who got me into the world of refugees, broadened my scope of understanding and engaging with human rights. Yes! Taught me and afforded me the ability to get published, as well as continue to travel and discover the world. Introduced me to people from all walks of life, that for a long time were [and some like my BFF still are] part of my “inner scholarly circle”.
6) My graduate school professors of Micro Economics, Petroleum in the Global Economy, Law & Development and International Human Rights Law, still remain memorable to this day. I should add my professor of Minority Groups & the Right to Self-Determination, who had great memorable things to say about me, high compliments! I appreciate.
7) Who could I forget my Writing Tutees, who trusted that I could teach them all about Graduate Research and Writing Methodology. They were great students! Plenty from Japan, with super mastery of the English language. All they needed was editing their essays. I learned a lot from them.
8) Facebook deserves a mention here, as my teacher of “Speak Your Truth Quietly”, “It is not about being right all the time”, “Silence is Golden”. I have learned to diffuse many fires in me, thanks to Facebook! I close my mind when opening it might injure a soul.
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And a lot of learning has come with being a mother, being a parent, and being a part of my child’s family by default. I have learned to teach the Child, learn the way Child learns, and inspire other kids to learn. I have now learned, even more, not to take for granted that children learn or mature at the same level. I should already know, right? After all, I am not at the same ranking as all my peers. I guess, being a parents makes it surreal, when you have too many expectations from your own child, and think everyone around is doing much better. Yet, interacting, exposure, homeschooling and coaching other kids has taught me that some kids require much more extra effort to perform and function. Third-graders cannot spell simple words like “pail”, when my Kindergartner was moving on to Chapter Book words! Kids his age cannot focus

Help Your Children Dream

I strongly believe in the power of dreams. They shape lives, build relations, mentor professions, restore hope and courage. They could be the keys to our personal and professional trajectories and success!

Just about every morning, my son wakes up with a dream. Either he is building a machine that will stop snow falling in winter, or he had Ninja powers or he was laughing with his cousins. Lately, he has had plenty of dreams about mommy getting married, to her [ex]boyfriend, who lives in another country. The first time, that dream made him sad and cry, because it meant, “mommy would leave him and go live with her boyfriend”. Since I told him, “I can never leave you, because I live for you, and you and I will go live with my PM when I get married,” he is now happy to dream more about mommy getting married. In fact he wants to dream about mommy getting married, as much as about mommy getting long hair! Never mind that “the dreamed for” does not exactly have marriage in her dreams or foresight. She has another dream, colored “green”. Yes! And it is part of that dream I would like to talk about.

Recently, I was coaching a fifth grader, and we were talking about traveling. I asked if she had been to her father’s country, Nigeria? She said no, and told me that she would never travel to Nigeria because there is Ebola. In fact, her father wanted to go to Nigeria, but she begged him not to go. I asked if she would go to other Africans countries, to which she responded with a vehement “No!” There are many diseases and people are poor! I asked her if my son and I looked poor, or her father. She said, No!

Yeah! That is the story about Africa, as told in America. I told her that Ebola is not everywhere in Nigeria, or every Nigerian would be dead. I told her my son and I took planes to come back to America, and while in “Africa”, we ate food everyday and did not catch or bring back any diseases. Then she told me that she would never got to place on a plane or boat or train. She will only go to places where she can drive or walk. She is not taking a plane, a boat or a train because she is afraid to die. Then I told her that one can die in their sleep or in the house or on the road. She said, “at least she would die peacefully”. I asked her, “how about in a car road accident,?” Well, she did not exactly have a response to that, but still no traveling, not to Africa and not by plane, boat or train. Life jackets do not work, planes fall in big oceans. Excuse after excuse!

I wondered, how a child of an immigrant from Nigeria could be devoid of a dream to travel and see the world? Didn’t “Tiger Mom” tell us that Nigerians are among the “Triple Package” aka  the “eight highly successful cultures”, thanks to their superiority complex! True, Tiger mom (with hubby co-author) mentioned something to do with “insecurities”, but in the sense of feeling inadequate or underaccomplished, instigating the strive to become and accomplish more. Not to shun traveling the world or getting on a plane!

I worried about this American 10-year old fifth grader, not having a dream beyond her fears. I wondered what may have shaped her fears? After all, her mom, many generations American has also traveled the world, including to Africa studying and learning about the world. Why would her daughter not wish to follow her mom’s footsteps, even if it were to board the plane to the world of California that is “without the African diseases”? Where is her curiosity about the world of her father, beyond the images and tale-tales from her news sources? Why can’t she compare herself to her parents who have been around the world?

Very often we are told that in order to be happy, we should not to compare ourselves to others. That is so cliché!  Plenty of my accomplishments are a result of comparing myself to others I have interacted with or got to know about. Watching, reading or learning about their accomplishments gives me the boost to keep going. Stories of folks who dropped out of formal schooling and built empires and lived large. Stories of people struggling worse off than myself, yet still afford a reason to smile, remind me to keep positive. Stories of my grandparents who never went to school but had the dream of educating their children. My paternal grandfather was not very wealthy, and could not afford to educate all his four children. So, him and his three older children agreed to send my father, the last born to school, with the hope that he would look after this family upon competition of his education, and got a good job. My maternal grandfather educated over 15 children while serving the church [unpaid] as a clergy, in pursuit of a dream that his children would never have to lack anything in life. They would afford to buy themselves clothes that he was never able to afford them.

In Africa where I was born, dreams are what childhood is made of! We are not afraid to dream! As a child, we often heard people dreaming about “going to Makerere”, the main university in the country and epitome as success. It was once the “Harvard of Africa”, so you can understand why many dreams focused and stopped at Makerere. Coming from a family that afford us a livelihood and decent education, not frequent flyer miles, I would say my dreams were not too far from Makerere either. Then as a little girl I went to Nairobi, Kenya with my mom, to shop for my first-born sister who was going off to secondary school. That was a big deal, where rich Ugandans resided, including my uncle and his family. Perhaps that shaped my love for adventure and travel, I cannot say so with certainty.

But I travelled the world, including within my own country. The more people I met and interacted with, the more my dreams widened. I thought of opportunities beyond my background, and seized them at a tender age. Nothing unique to me, but it is the characteristic of the African spirit. Little children dream of an education, they dream of becoming pilots, teachers, doctors, lawyers. Yes! Including dreams of meeting the US President and themselves becoming the US Presidents. Yet, we also know of the “American Dream” of getting rich and living large. Or as 50 cents said, “Get Rich or Die Trying”. Plus the Black struggle in America was sustained by the dream of freedom. Slaves, not allowed to exist as humans, to vote or to read and write, often found ways of ‘stealing’ the resources to learn to read and write and one day free themselves. Frederick Douglas, a slave, self-taught himself to read and write and publish, and went on to have a very illustrious and influential career. Political prisoners on Robben Island with Mandela during Apartheid South Africa told stories of ‘stealing’ empty brown cement bags and creating own writing tools that they used to write out their political strategies, which they tossed to each other over the cubicles in which they were detained. They also wrote letters and poems to their families and loved ones outside prisons. They had a dream to stay alive and sane by any means, and achieved it.

So, what stifles little minds like the one I encountered here in America, the land of “Big Dreams”, from dreaming? We as parents have a huge job of helping our children dream. Help our children live their dreams beyond the fears pandered by sources around them. Undo their [un]truths, to avoid them getting suffocated. Let them live a world of adventure, or risks, or searching and imagining. The world were impossible is nothing. Were careers and personal relationships are built on dreams beyond our wildest imagination. After all, dreams can come true. Haven’t they?

Letting children learn the way they read! Lessons in Parenting and Homeschooling a Toddler

Call me a terrible mother! But I am a self-confessed Uganda-Chinese-French-America parent, and in that order! Uganda, because that is my country of birth, where I was raised. Chinese, because the parenting style  of, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”, is a lot similar to Uganda.  French has the “hand-off child. Adults and children belong to separate spaces at playtime, meal time and leisurely”, and I am a big fan of that! America, you probably figured that out already. Yes! my child is American and we live in America, my country for over fifteen years. So, we have to follow the rules about American parenting, and adopt the socio-cultural upbringing of children growing up in America or as Americans.

In many ways, the last – American – is the most difficult for me to abide by. The lassez-faire attitude has just about been converted into childrearing! “Let children rule” and “Give children whatever they want”, at least looking around my most immediate examples. Obviously not all American parents treat their children as “spoilt brats”, but there is a lot of pampering, “parents play with their children”, “children rampaging the dinning table at a restaurant or throwing tantrums”. Children just about treated as ‘brainless’: all they do is wake up, eat, go out to play, come back and eat, play and go to bed. I watch some of the kids my son’s age and older, who cannot pick up their trash, cannot put their plate or cup in the dish after a meal but they can reach out into the fridge and get themselves a drink or something to eat. I remember at six years of age, already washing dishes as my house chore before going out to play. Not only did I put away my plate after eating, but all other adults plates; and nobody waited on me. I have tried to impart those skills into my son young-self. He knows to put his plate in the sink after eating, and washes dishes sometimes. He knows the bathroom sink is his to wipe clean and dry every morning after brushing his teeth. He knows to put away his clothes in the laundry basket. He knows to take off his shoes when he enters the house. He knows to say “Thank You”, “Please”, “I am sorry”. For the most part, he knows to create his own play, not expecting mommy to play with him all the time. I grew up playing with fellow kids not adults.
N’way! While I impart plenty of lessons into my son’s head, and drill him to learn and practice what he has learned, I also realize there are limits to everything. That includes reading, reviewing books and retelling stories. I have noticed, just like his K-Class teacher said, he loves to read what catches his fancy. Anything out of that, he is not too keen about. If a book is of a subject not within his interests, too wordy or cumbersome for him, he turns off immediately. I keep telling him that, “sometimes we do things we are not interested in, but because we have to do them. I give him the example of letting him eat ice cream now and then, even though I do not really like ice cream.
So, with reading comes struggles to keep the focus, especially with books not so exciting to him. I want to adopt my “Ugandan-Chinese” drill surgeon style of teaching, “read read and read, until you get it.” My mom, an Early Childhood Education and Development Trainer would disagree with my style. “Let children enjoying learning,” she will say to me. Plus, I realize working with my son that sinks the ship, wears him down and eats his ego and his little heart. He feels so intimidated and underachieved.
I decide to take him to the Library, so we can together pick out books that interest him and reflect his hobbies and desires. One is Champions! of NASCAR by K.C. Kelly (2005).
Once he is done reading, I give him time to relax and do something else. Then it is time for the book review, starting with a couple of questions:
1. Tell me about the book you read (if responses are not forthcoming),
2. What is the title of the book?
3. Who is/are the author(s)?
4. Who is/are the illustrator(s)?
5. What do you remember about the book you read? (Again, not much response)
6. What are some of the words you remember? (Nothing still)
7. What is this book about?
Then, I prompt him sentence by sentence, allowing him to recall what he learned. When it seems that he is still stuck or ‘prefers’ not to remember, I ask him to tell me some of the words that appeared in the book.
Of he goes:
1. First
2. Championship
3. Races
4. Line
5. Car
6. Competing in races
7. NASCAR
Excellent! I compliment him.
That brought a smile to his face and a feeling of accomplishment, “I think I remember something!” he said The grouchy, teary and visibly tired and check-out child is once again alive and ready to roll.
Next up, I use illustrative questions.
For instance,
1. When you race, what happens?
Ans. Champion
2. What is a champion called?
Ans. A winner
Then he begins remembering facts about the book on his own.
“Mummy, I know another word that I remember in this book, “born”.”
Then he flips through the pages, and goes straight to the sentence where the “born” is, “NASCAR was born….” And more words start coming out…..
So, I tell him, “You know why I am typing this? I am going to put it online, so that other parents can read this and read to their kids. They will learn how to teach their own children, when they are having trouble getting them to learn.” That excites him.
“I just can’t believe I am doing this!” he said
That earned me a hug and a kiss and [Ms. Bankabale’s] smizing eyes!
Then he suggests that we create steps that other people will follow.
Off he goes:
Step One: Biko writes down the words
Step Two: Mummy shows them the book
Step Three: Biko shows them the “Title”
Step Four: Mummy shows them the “Author”
“Good job! Team Work,” he said with a Hi-5!
By now, his umph is back! He feels very achieved and accomplished, and empowered to contribute and lead his learning.
Lesson for me: Allow your child to enjoy the reading experience. It is ok, if he interrupts mid-way. Put a pause and let him ‘ride the show’ for a while. If he adds something that does not relate to the reading, like when he said, “Make special things out of paper to give to people.” Ask him cleverly, “how does that relate to the reading?” He will catch his mistake.
If it seems really hard getting him to read, start the process by reading to him a couple of pages. Keep him engaged by asking him back and forth question of what you just read to him. You will notice that he starts recollecting terms and phrases. He might also ask you a couple of questions and clarifications, or interject with his own interpretations.
When it seems like he is getting really engaged, ask him to read one or two pages. Let him lead the reading, but offer to help him pronounce new and cumbersome words. With my son, I taught him a “cover-and-read” trick. He cover all letters of the word with his fingers, except the first two, reads them in syllabels , as he progressively reveals subsequent words. Once he has pronounced the entire word, he reads it all out aloud. He is super excited to hear mummy say, “good job Beeks”.
In the end, we are all Happy People! Super Readers and Co-Teachers!
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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!

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2014!

It is the New Year 2014! Hoping, everyone is happy!

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I am getting a little scared lately. I do not feel I am being very productive yet!

Well, not productive in the things I set out to do, and not at the speed I run.

Granted, I have achievements to tick off my “to-do list 2014”: bought me a new car, keeping up with my physical fitness, and eating real healthy….

But I am not running as fast as I set out – especially finding me a new paid gig. Now I need one. The “honeymoon” is over! Back to America, back to the grind…for real!

Still, there is a lot to be thankful for! 2013 was a very good year! I achieved all the plans I set out to fulfill at the start of the year. I declared 2013 a “YEAR FOR FAMILY”, and made that happen. I am still standing, with my family at full support. Spent the first part of the year in Uganda, took a one-month vacation to the UK, and back to the good ol’ America. Of course with my most precious gift – my son! I am so grateful for this five-year old. Sometimes I watch him while he sleeps, and realize how very fortunate I am to have him. I am filled with so much gratitude, thinking of his head…that works around the clock, this talk machine, he has plenty of names for himself, “Biko Speaks”, Super Biko”, Ninja Turtle Biko”, “Biko Hen”….AND I have other names for him…Le Beekster, “Biko Cha”, “Mr. B”, “Small H”…He is truly my joy and pride! May he continue to excel! 

Anyway, back to the year 2014! I think I need to add a “wearing eye glasses” to my “list of surprise acquisitions 2014”. Yes, computer glasses, maybe, and I guess driving glasses. First, I need to get my eyes checked out. For real, I have been procrastinating on this way too long because I have not wanted to have an eye exam for donkey years, out of fear of the truth -that I will be found wanting of eye glasses. But the last time I took a reading examination, while applying to change my Driver’s License to PA in the summer of 2013, I did not exactly pass the reading test. I literally could not see, especially those minuscule characters on “Line 4”! Just yesterday, my eyes were super-painful! I could barely see! It felt like a film covering my pupil! Understandably, I spend the life on my “apple air toy”….and a couple of more gadgets. Yes, I eat plenty of carrots and veggies, but too much time spent on the computer…can never be too good for eyes! So, off I go, to get my final verdict stamped [or not] this Thursday – with my first-ever real eye exam!  

Meanwhile, I continue waking up at 02:00 in the morning, to get some work done. Yes, I finally parted with my second longest job….as Scribe for Kampala Hash House Harrier! I had to let that go. I spent the last half of last year as a “Scribe by International Correspondence”. It worked out great, but too much blood, sweat and cursing went into getting folks to work across a seven to eight hours difference. Especially when communication the Ugandan style is already too cumbersome, deadlines not honored, phone calls ignored, emails returned a day later, and meetings abused and ignored. Yet, they Ugandan style of “urgent” rules the days. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all the work I did as Scribe, grew and transformed the portfolio, and withstood all “rotten tomatoes” and “shoes thrown at me”. Still, I am also glad I let go and did not offer to take on another year. I am glad another person came on board. I hope all will go well! Nobody will say, I did not put in two-and-a-half years of volunteer service to promote, health, wellness and fitness, and of course boost the beer economy in Uganda…plus Misters, Johnnie Walker’s and Jameson global dynasties:)

In the meantime, I need to get back to where I started, find me a paid, convenient and satisfying job and grow my non-profit – Wholesome Communitarians….which is pretty much my plate for 2014. Thereafter, we can toss to a HAPPY 2014! 

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT AMERICA

I have been writing this piece for over a month now; both in my head and on my laptop!
why I love America

I really should get it off the laptop and out-to-print because everyday, I find another reason to add to my initial intent of writing this piece on What I love About America.

Trust me, I will be the first to admit that I don’t take so kindly to that “American Exceptionalism” hullabaloo. I growled all throughout Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s so Great About America (2012), yet I read it till the end. Nothing against this Mumbia, Indian-born naturalized American; I simply could not take down easily his blind ululations of America, louder than the natives. The fact that he celebrates some of America’s bigotry against its own populations; blaming African Americans for passing off racism as Black cultural problem; and endorsing a war against muslim populations in America and around the globe, did not sit too comfortably with me. Nor that old tired cliché of America, “the freest, greatest, most decent society in the world…an oasis of goodness in a desert of cynicism and barbarism” . C’mon! Give me a break on that as well!

But to hell with D’Souzza! True, I am an immigrant just like him. Yet, I have my own humble significant way of confessing the love I have for this country, without going overboard with labeling all other oases out there as barbaric. There is beauty in many places…even in the dry desert -there is an oasis!
Here are a couple of things  that particularly stand out for me, and give me cause to celebrate this, my country by immigration, from my country of birth – Uganda
1. As an avid runner, I can do so along the highways [well that was until I got ‘accosted by a traffic cop] and street roads, without a fear that a motorist would run me over. And while listening to music plugged into my ears. Granted, there are a couple of obnoxious drivers who would not move into the middle lane to let you navigate on the “barely-there” side walk/runs. Though, I often excuse those as perhaps absent-minded drivers or just not that into runners
2. As a food-conscious/health-conscious, I love having plenty of options of non-meat products, non-wheat products and non-diary, all consciously prepared and packaged. True, perhaps that this is possible in Uganda, but the invasion of foreign consumption is killing all things healthy about eating in Uganda. Monsanto is spreading its GMO seed deep into the rural-most farming areas of the country, thanks to “researchers eager for “The green Benjamins at the top academic institutions in the country”. And now healthy eating is as expensive as it is here in America. I would not be able to get almond milk, either!
3. The opportunity for Free K-12 Education, however abysmal it might fare in comparison to other industrialized countries. I love the interactive, open and explorative nature of learning here in America. I hope the new Dept of Ed strategic plans do not kill America’s experimental learning style, in the name of competing with other industrialized countries. Clearly, rote learning and standardized testing is NOT all there is about learning.
4. The availability of free wi-fi everywhere, including on Greyhound! I found out recently while traveling on the “GoTo Bus”[a franchise of Greyhound, maybe?] from Boston to New York that I do not fade away if I step away from my reliable internet connection. I was connected till my final destination.
5. The “every excuse to have a BIG Sale each month”: January is New Years; February is Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day; March is St Patrick’s Day; April is Easter Eggs and Bunny Rabbit; May is Mothers Day and Memorial Day; June is Fathers Day; July is July 4th; August is Back to School Weekend; September is Labor Day; October is Halloween; November is Veterans Day and Thanksgiving Weekend; and December Christmas. I know “Sale” sounds so cliché and consumerist….but as long as I can get 60% off $200.00 Calvin Klein boots, with a $25 coupon for $50 or more spent, I will take it!
6. For the endless festivities, each celebrated in a style that gives one a true sense of what it means to belong to a nation (July 4), a culture (Thanksgiving) or a legend (Halloween). Until I became a mother of a little America, I never fully appreciated the joy of taking a toddler in a “Captain America” suit, on a trick-or-treat around the neighborhood with other kids picking up candy door-to-door that he did not even, once ask for the morning after!
7. For the spirit of voluntarism and giving that brings people together, reaching out to strangers far and near, whether serving up meals at soup kitchens, bake sales fundraisers for a child’s school library project, running for cancer or just lining the streets to show love and appreciation for the veterans.
8. The migration of cultures into this geographical space from different backgrounds, each fusing their identity with the American experience, while retaining and celebrating each one’s origin. We enjoy being proved wrong about the “melting pot” concept.
9. The “Fast-lane” American life. Everything can be picked up quick: Get rich quick, drive-through pharmacy, drive-through movie, drive-through food, drive-through liquor, drive through all and everything. Now, you can sit comfortably at your home computer, order on-line, and pick up at your neighborhood store, without getting troubled with searching in-store. Did I say, America invented “home delivery too”?
10. Oh! Did I mention the celebreality of America? Anybody can become a celebrity tomorrow, in this country, with no hereditary kings and queens. They are made on TV. Even the dull and dumb can have a TV show…and make plenty of money from it. While this might sound ‘unintelligent”, it is the reason why Americans are always creative and inventing. As I always say, you can be ANYTHING you want in America…and there is a job for everyone in America: a dog walker, a rail truck artist, a tattoo artist…anything you like.

You Bet, culture does REALLY Matter!

ImageIt might be hard to define my culture…but I think I can lay a claim to culture, as the belief in and love for humanity far and near.

And I strongly believe that “Culture Matters“, the title of a book by a professor from my graduate school, something Harrison (well, he had some kuku colonial ideas, so I did not give him too much attention. That was before I met “Bil[E] The Riler” aka “Bill O’Reily”, who taught me to accept crazies…

Back to my culture. I define myself as a Black, African Muganda. All these three elements are dear to my being…

Black makes me a borderless citizen

African identifies me with Ubuntu  or “global communitarianism”

Muganda defines my origin (…well, my father’s origin is a different story..but the Baganda are known to be accepting of anyone who “comes among them” you become:)

Now, I hope you are not saying that I am beginning to box myself into places because I do not see it that way. I tend to believe that each one of us has an identity. We belong to something or someone -be it a football club, a running club, a mother, a sorority, you name it. We are something.

Yet, I also think that my culture easily traverses borders and wades across waters with ease. It is all encompassing, too. 

Being a black person is universal —since we are all scattered across the universe, and our hands have blessed, supported and nurtured the lives of every living creature. We know of stories in apartheid South Africa where the Boers/Afrikaans resented any black person (Yes! still true today), yet still used them as maids, shamba boys, cooks, nannies and had them breastfeed their children -so the white women’s breasts would not sag. Same is true in Slavery America where all the resentment and sub-humanization of black people did not deter white folks from sleeping with black women and making babies with them.  Food for thought

The Hendersons of Scotland

The African lives among us all

To evolutionists, THE AFRICAN is anyone who traces the origin of human existence and civilization from “The Africa

To me, THE AFRICAN is anyone who identifies themselves with the notion of “Ubuntu”, wherever on this globe or extraterrestrial you might be located. 

Of course, this is a loaded notion and one that is both highly contested and aggressively guarded. In fact, there are two loaded notions that I perpetuate here: That THE AFRICAN is synonymous with or symbolic of UBUNTU. 

When,

To some, THE AFRICAN is anyone who lays a claim to anyone of the 56 countries that make up the geographical landmark called Africa.

With the latter,  folks like myself who have since resettled outside the 56 (adding Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and de facto Somaliland) that make up the area considered continental Africa, are easily excluded from belonging, by the guardians of “authentic Africa”, who are scattered in anyone of these 56 countries. 

But I guess what encompasses my culture, as I define it for myself is the belief in humanity in any sizes, shapes, looks, locations, orientation, identity. This comes first to me, and is vital in my human existence and interaction. Perhaps this explains quite clearly my choice of relationships. My best friend is Scott -white Scott –perhaps no way close to the  “typical African”…often defined as black…No! she was not born in any of the 56 countries…but Aberdeen….and she is all things black to me….and more…she is very human! She is my best friend!!

Now before I become confused with bigotry…this is NOT a story about “Black superiority”….But I am playing around with all “commonly dispensed wisdom”….about the: 1) origins of humankind; 2) the geographical existence of blacks around the world; and 3) the tags to Black people as ‘traditional’ and ‘communitarian’ aka Ubuntu. I trust, many other people who might not think of themselves as “Black” could identify with all three notions I list here…Keep reading ahead how I sort-of dismantle my own thesis:)

My son is America of black origin. Yes, my son’s daddy is African American, not a Muganda….Yes! It matters in America that your identity is tagged onto your “origin”. Perhaps my son might grow up to see himself differently, but that is secondary to how society sees him and what they think of him. Which then brings me to the real issues I set out to deal with here. 

I would have imagined that, “the blackness of color and origin” that joins us as continental and Diaspora America, would imply an ease of cultural navigation and understanding. Not true! African Americans are as American as “Joe the Plumber”. They love their big cars, big lawns, big space, the “paper-chase”, and they too believe in the might of America around the globe. They also enjoy dining at “Friendly’s” or Waffle House, going on road-trips across the country, in the comfort of their SUVs, munching on Pringles or sipping Coca Cola. Of course this is a broad-brush….because plenty do not do all the “mainstreamed American culture”. Some, like me love vegetables and fruit, no fries and no frying. Like Africans, they love big celebrations and family reunions (but so do Greeks and Greek Americans and Jewish).

So, when my son and I got reinserted into America mid this year, and back to my son’s paternal family, it hit us much more that, “culture still does matter”. We became more cognizant that, for instance, life is not all about screaming on top of our voices when others are enjoying their sleep. We also realized that childhood is celebrated and accepted, mostly when it is your own child…Not “the village’s child”…You know the African saying that, “It takes a village to raise a child”?

Interesting, my son’s American family -whom btw he looks like more than I think he does me or my family, see my son as strange, and say he “has a lot to learn”! [I wonder what that implies?!] Never mind that they have not mentioned a thing they are learning from him! Of course, he is bubbly, carefree and “mama’s boy”. Yes! He might be spoiled…but he is also used to a society that is too open..and “in your face”, where life is not a rush or a fine line —laiser faire

Resultantly, my son is beginning to resent being back to America, even though he pushed me repeatedly to move our departure date closer from Edinburgh where we were vacationing.

“Mummy, when are we going to America?”, became his daily question till we jetted into the US of A

He has already made him father and his grandma know that he does not like none of them….because “they are always tell him to do something”….I don’t wanna sound like a defender of my son’s “not wanting to obey”, but I get it.

Something equivalent to being lectured to all the time, without listening to him or letting him “just be”, I think. Back in Uganda, at home, school and among mom’s friends, he was let to just be. I agree, he can definitely use some learning of new environment and new people. Yes! including his own family. Though, I know very well that, even as adults, we do not take very kindly anyone who is always pointing out our shortcomings. It does not work for us, it should not work for kids.

So, I have decided to change gears. I am adopting what my sister in England shared with me from her teen son’s school teacher. Apparently, the school administration normally gives new immigrant children a break, a time to “live and let be” or “act out”, on the understanding that they are coming from different cultures and different societies, and getting immersed into a new and strange culture.

I am letting my son get acquainted with his American family on his terms, with very little lecturing. Kinda a montessori style of learning. He is a great and quick learner! And I know, once he starts school, it will be much easier for him to understand this world. Remind me to tell you what he is like, around this time next year. Bet he will be theAmerican boy, struggling to keep up to his Ugandan culture. And I will work hard to make sure he keeps up my cultural origin as much as we can. Because, culture does indeed matter!The penguin pose