Fear is Our Biggest Impediment

For many of us, fear is our biggest impediment!

Fear grips us, cripples us, and enslaves us!being different

 

We are afraid of the dark
We are afraid of heights
We are afraid of adventure
We are afraid of the unknown

We are afraid of criticism
We are afraid of failure
We are afraid of trying
We are afraid of dreaming

We are afraid of loneliness
We are afraid of attention
We are afraid of loving
We are afraid of affection

We are afraid of being talked about
We are afraid of not being talked to
We are afraid of being ignored
We are afraid of not being priority

We are afraid of dependence
We are afraid of begging
We are afraid of giving
We are afraid sharing

We are afraid of disappointment
We are afraid of embarrassment
We are afraid of getting hurt
We are afraid of pain

We are afraid of helpers
We are afraid of solicitation
We are afraid of donations
We are afraid of alms

But, let us not be afraid of reaching out
Asking for worthy help
Love regardless

Let us embrace loneliness
Live endlessly
Life with all its uncertainties

Let us give unconditionally
Against all odds,

Let us break the encumbrance of fear!

2014 in a Wrap

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When you have to, How Do You Let Go?

I am not very good at letting go. I cling onto memories of things “I lost in the fire“-lost friends, relations and places left behind. I sob, every time I move away from a place,  even after a mere sojourner. I hate to let go. Yes, I even have separation anxiety, close to the beginning of a new school year. I cry at the thought of sending my child back to school. That’s crazy, right?

Biko and Grandpa (RIP)

Biko and Grandpa (RIP)

More confessions…I have been known to cry over relationships..not too many. I know of only two…Oh! Maybe, three.
One was a guy I was engaged to [Yes, once upon a time, I convinced myself that, “I am the marriage type!”]. Our relationship was transcontinental, but we would visit each other a couple of times a year. When I would go to his country, I preferred to stay in a hotel or temporary rental, instead of moving into his family home. He would come stay with me, while I was in-country. Once, I asked him to move back to his place, because I did not want to continue with the relationship. I ended up crying the entire night over my decision, that he caught a cab and came back to me that night.

The second is the man I fell in love with, aka “the only man I ever loved”. Our goodbyes were filled with buckets of tears. I remember crying, holding each other so tight, at the gates of “Cambridge H-Square,” on the morning of our ‘separation,’ as he was leaving town and I was heading for my final exam. Amidst the goodbye and good luck hugs, we cried so hard that we did not wanna let go..

I thought I had no more tears left to cry for guys. But there came a third. The type you cannot easily or willingly extricate from your life, no matter how hard you wish. I remember crying because of what felt like the end of a chapter, ”…leaving me out to the dogs…” A dream jettisoned…! Letting go has never been an easy test for me.

I will spare you recalling the buckets of tears, I have cried, each time I am separating from family and friends, in Uganda, or scattered around the world. The separation kills me, it is not so easy to let go….

But recent events dwarf all those trying moments. I found myself asking, When it is the only option you have, how do you really Let GO? Especially when your life depends on it, how do you let go? How does a family make the hard decision of, letting go of a loved one?

I am talking here about the loss of my son’s Grandpa, this past Sunday, after a long and shabby illness. It ate him up. He suffered through it. It was painful, especially the last five months of his life. A little bit of relief here and there, but most of it was nasty pain!

I was the perpetual optimist, that he would pull through. Perhaps because, I watched him through all the pain and suffering. The times he would literally drag himself to walk, to make a bowl of soup in the kitchen or drive to pick up grandma from The City bus, or drive across the country on family trips. Throughout it all, he kept his humility, and drive to keep going, with bouts of relief, recovery and laughter.

Grandpa delivered on his commitments, whether to family, friends or within social circles.
This one gesture particularly stands out to me, involving a family of a single mom and two girls from the grandparents’ muslim community. The mom left for work early morning before the school bus arrival time, yet the family lived away from the bus line. So, grandpa offered to drive the two girls to the bus stop on school days. Every morning, he left home shortly before seven o’clock, drove twenty minutes to pick them up from their home, to bus stop, and back home another twenty minutes. Again in the afternoon, he drove out twenty minutes, picked the girls from the bus stop and took them home, and drove back home. Even in the brutal, gruesome winter, grandpa woke up, and drove through the snow, up the windy mountain roads where they lived.

On my part, I was always in awe of his humility, sometimes to my discomfort. Particularly this year, he was not in great shape, but still committed to help the single mother and her two girls. Nor was I a stranger to his humility, even though I turned it down sometimes. I noticed that somebody was emptying the trash basket in the bathroom, every week on “Trash Pick-Up Day”. Once I found grandpa emptying my basket, and I asked him to please not worry about it. I knew it came from a good place, but the African in me does not believe in making the elderly ‘wait on’ me. Instead, I, the child should work for them.

And there is more to grandpa’s helping hand that I partook of. When child and I returned to the US after a couple of years abroad, we decided to move in with the grandparents, closer to my job market in NYC [and the North East corridor]. Grandpa drove 850 miles down to Georgia to pick us up, and another 850 miles back to Pennsylvania. Saving us what would have cost an arm and leg, to transport the two of us and all our property on a plane ride.

He did it again, earlier this year, when I ran the Boston Marathon. Grandpa offered to drive me to Boston, though I decided to leave home with child of mine two days in advance, to allow me ample time to pick up my runner’s package and rest before marathon day. Still, he and grandma drove over five hours to Boston to cheer for me on marathon day. They arrived on Sunday night, bless their souls, but grandpa could not join grandma along the marathon route on that cold rainy Marathon day. Instead, he stayed in the hotel room, kept his eyes glued on the TV marathon screening, and waited to catch a glimpse of me. That is the true human spirit.

I think of grandpa, and I think of humility, commitment, dedication and dependability. I think back to all the times I asked him, “How are you doing grandpa?” And he would say, “Same.” Sometimes, I did not want to ask him, because there was nothing new to ask about. Or because I felt useless, asking how he felt when I was not gonna change a thing. At times I self-doubted whether to help or not. Was I undermining his ability and drive to do things on his own? Would I ably fill-in for his close family? He probably shared similar concerns.

Grandpa also had trouble letting go of — carrying large suitcases onto the car roof when preparing for a family road trip, or his daughter’s large laundry bags from the house into her car. He had trouble letting go of driving long distances. Even on our last road trip with him to Maryland, he insisted on driving the entire trip, when I offered to help drive. I was amazed at his mental stamina, driving without much to eat or drink, so he did not have to get up to use the bathroom. By then, his health had deteriorated, with excruciating pain from every part of his body. That would be his last road trip, followed by indefinite hospitalization.

Yet, he soldiered on for the love of his family. He loved his wife and children, so dearly! He even raised more than his biological children. The stories he shared with me, and the stories I heard about him in life and death attest to his true love for people. While quite reserved, he was a “Man-of-the-People”. He loved to engage with and reach out to people. Whether as a part of the “militant community patrol,” that cleaned drugs and pimps off his Brooklyn neighborhood, back when the NYPD would not venture into some neighborhoods. Or Summer Camp organizer (with grandma) for young muslim kids when they lived in NYC.

While I do not want to romanticize grandpa’s life, as I knew it, I hope to underscore that, we each live multiple lives in our lifetime. Given a chance, we would do ourselves a favor to right the wrongs, that are always part of our human experience. For most of what I knew about grandpa, he turned a new leaf, or leaves in his life. He credited his conversion to Islam for rescuing him from street life. As one of his friends said at the funeral, he was in praise of Islam for transforming his life.

I am grateful grandpa saw the good in me. I told him, “I am grateful that you always say good about me.” Whenever I met his social circles, I did not have to introduce myself because he had already done the introduction of me as a runner, highly educated, excellent mom and healthy eater. In a way, he was my cheerleader. He cheered on child of mine, or as he called him, Biko-man!

But time came, when grandpa could not hang onto his strength, when life was draining out of him, and the family had to take the toughest decision to “Let Go…”
I felt like a denialist. I thought he would pull through. He suffered too much not to live to celebrate beating the illness. I watched the surge and slumps in his health. When he could not sit and eat, and when a smile returned to his face. He tried scientific and religious medicines. He tried homeopathy, and chiropractic treatment. He tried staying positive, looking forward to returning home, and eating my health food. He asked me to cook for him. I obliged a couple of times; Not anymore…

So, the lesson for me, from this experience is, even when we have to Let Go, we do not entirely lose out. We keep fond memories, always close to our hearts. Because those memories never fade. So, may we always see the good in people, and hang on to the beauty they possess. Because even when we have to LET GO, we can still keep them close to us, in our memory.

The Joys and Pangs of Being a Single Parent and Black…..

Time and again, reality check strikes me that I am Black and a single parent, in a sea of Whites and Marrieds. I have felt both the joys, and pangs of being Black or a single parent, even when I am the ‘token’ in the group. It happens where I reside, in my travels, social engagements and networks, and at community events.

Not that I am blaming anybody for my “black-single parent status”; it is the story of my life! Particularly now that I am a parent of a child – a single parent. That reality set in during the recent Child of Mine (COM)’s Cub Scout Pack #85 2015 Annual Weekend Camping at Knoebels Amusement Resort and Campground in Elysburg, PA.

I love social living, I love involving my child in social activities, taking him places and engaging him in educational experiences. Joining the Cub Scout was my way of introducing him to civic responsibility and good citizenship at a young age. Moreover, as a woman and a single parent, I cannot give him all the lessons on “Becoming a Man”; so I need the help that the Boy Scouts of America can provide him. Plus, as the only child, he benefits greatly from broadening his social networks, meeting new friends and interacting with little boys his age. Plus, mommy gets a break from being the “sole playmate”.

In most cases, I do not let “being the only black family or single parent” keep us away from partaking of the many fun activities Pack#85 organizes. I take him to as many activities that his Cub Scout Pack organizes, hiking, Day Camp, baseball games, Veterans Day and Flag Day celebrations, and most recently, the annual Pack Weekend Camping Trip. I am very aware of my single parenthood at most of his Pack events, where I am visibly the only single parent. Most non-custodial parents of other cubs show up to Pack meetings, and not many single parents participate in Pack outings. At least at Pack meetings, I do not stand out alone because there are usually two or three Black families in addition to us.

This past weekend Camping at Knoebels was an “In Your Face, You’re Black Moment”. Walking through campsites to the bathroom, that strange feeling of “Blackness in a sea of Whiteness” engulfed me. I wondered whether anybody was looking over their shoulder seeing me going through their campsite. While I love to wear my hood sometimes, I could not risk being mistaken for a “dangerous trespasser” and getting shot at in “self-defense”. The simple things others may take for granted, I was self-aware and highly cautious.

Because I barely saw any full Black families on campground. The ones I saw had white spouses and mixed race children. In a sea of whiteness I wondered, where are all the Black people that love to do “white people stuff” – Don’t say you have not heard that saying before, that “Black people don’t hike, don’t camp, don’t do crazy adventures.” I wondered, is it really true? I bet there were some Black families, but there are over 500 campsites, and I was only exposed to a small section.

In my camping group, I was the only single parent among seven other families, in addition to being the only black family I saw on ground. Don’t get me wrong, I have my joys of being a single parent – that I can make decisions without the encumbrance of a disagreeing non-supportive other parent, in my case. But there are also pangs of single parenting, especially the absence of an extra helpful hand, a male figure for this male COM, or a companion for myself. I am always making these lonesome trips and activities with COM.

The pangs of single parenthood struck me for a minute over Scout Camping Weekend, among couples and their children. While I was solely responsible for COM – preparing him meals, making the bed, taking him to shower and bathroom and taking him onto weekend entertainment, none of the other parents! I watched with longing the unspoken/automated division of responsibilities between husband and wife or father and mother, as well as the children.

Time for dinner or breakfast, the women/wives/mothers in our group dived into the kitchen, prepared pancakes, eggs, sausage, toast, and all for their families/husbands/fathers of their children. Time to erect or put down tents, the men, unquestioningly took on their responsibilities like pros, ensuring everyone had a place to sleep. Yours truly benefited from the Camp organizers’ teenage son, a Boy Scout, who offered to erect and bring down our tent. Fathers and sons also worked together to carry the heavy stuff and stepped up as men should.

Note to self: Don’t believe the “equality hype” western white feminists preached, that men and women in marital relations equally share family and household chores. Equality is not Sameness. True, fathers and husbands have stepped up from the days when they did not babysit. However, the gendered division of labor still exists, even here in America, my America.

Men are still the predominant breadwinners, and women nurture the children and take care of the household [expectedly]. Husbands do the heavy lifting, repairs and chores around the house, women produce the food out of the kitchen, feed the children, put them to sleep, prepare them for school, attend PTO meetings and chauffeur them from school to after-school programs.

Before you start claiming such couples are ’traditionalist in their marital relations’, without [advanced] formal education, plenty of the women I know, as mothers and wives, have graduate degrees. They simply quit working away from their homes, or quit paid work all together to focus on running their families and homes. Such decisions are as much a luxury, as they are a sacrifice, for the best interests of their children. After all, employers are not making it so attractive for mothers to stay at work and ably raise their young children, without offering great benefits packages for maternity leave, vacation, personal days off, child care or health insurance packages.

The kind of security and harmonious relationship I watch among Cub Scout couples gives me a kind of nostalgia for finding a good committed relationship for myself, which may not necessarily lead to marriage. I am not saying this kind of harmonious, secure relationship is only found among white couples; I am simply citing the white couples who predominate my Cub Scout’s Pack. It feels good to see couples providing unconditional and unsolicited support to each other, in the traditional way. In such moments, it is hard being the strong Black woman and single parents I have to be each day. I just wish to be loved and pampered. But the work continues!

Nobody is Ever in a Permanent State of Being

We grow, we age
We age, we experience
We experience, we learn
We learn, we rethink
We rethink, we enlarge
We enlarge, we seek
We seek, we traverse, we travel
We travel, we encounter
We encounter we fall in love
We fall in love, we fall out unfulfilling
We fall out, we hurt 
We hurt, degenerate
We degenerate, we rejuvenate
We rejuvenate, we strive for peace
We strive for peace, we make peace
We make peace, we give peace
We give peace, We live Life
Lately, I have been going through the emotions. Various emotions. Why we fall in love? Why we let people into our lives? Why our hearts long for what has left us? Why we let others play with our hearts? Why we let our hearts long for the unavailable? Why we let the unavailable, unbothered and under-fulfilling and incompetent ruin our happiness? Why we pay attention, we weep, we sulk, we anger, we grope for those who should not have been in or enjoy our lives? Those who do not qualify to partake of our love?
Then I realize, it is human nature. Nothing is more human than to love, to err and to learn. Nothing is more human than to forgive, to dust off, to try again. Nothing is more human than optimism. If for nothing else, hope is all we should desire to recreate ourselves. To find the inner peace, to live life anew.
That comes with forgiving, Forgiving starts with ourselves. We cannot forgive others unless we forgive ourselves. Forgiving does not mean forgetting, it never will. But it is so worthy, in order to move on. In my experience, I have found beauty in two of the most hard-hitting life experiences: to forgive and to fall in love.
First, I unexpectedly forgave my father in 2013, extricating myself from deep wounds accumulated since. My father and I never had a relationship; except the biological attachment. I credit the death of my best friend in 2013 for opening up my heart to living life anew. I do not know, if it was her beautiful soul speaking to me. She always told me, “I pray that you will one day have a good relationship with your father.” I guess I had lost the only true soulmate [beside my mother], I knew understood me [more than my mother – I say], guarded my innermost secrets and cheered me on. And it happened. I completely forgave my father from the bottom of my heart, without coercion, mediation or cajoling. Now! I miss my father, many times! I have not forgotten all the wrong, pain and suffering he caused me. But I forgave him. At least I am now able to experience his happiness, and gratitude that I forgave him. He calls me from time to time, something that had never happened before. We sit down, talk and laugh, like time does not hold any painful memories between us!
Second, I have partook of the beauty of falling in love, and out. The “out” is most painful, but does not last forever. The “in” lasts forever. It is joyous reminiscing from time to time,  “falling in love”, a feeling distinctively apart from all other love relationships. The “out-lived love” prepares you to let go of any others, without succumbing to the same slow excruciating pain of love. It is equally intriguing pondering over why your heart fell for “that person” and not the other(s)! Especially, when the one you fall in love with and got away may never come clean to you how s/he really felt about you. Again, we make peace with the lost love, forgive, and live life.
Indeed “Love” and Forgiveness” epitomize my belief that Nobody is Ever in a Permanent State of Being. If we can love, we can forgive, and if we can forgive, we can love. Love for an inner peace; for goodness for ourselves and in others; for respect for self and others; for joy for self and others; for honor, success, celebration and understanding for self and others.
We, go through phases in life; hopefully we all do. Nobody is so evil without a glint of goodness! Even the mighty fall, soften and loosen up to different people and in different circumstances. We all love; we might not all know how to express our joys. Perhaps, our life circumstances might not allow us all, to smile or “make nice”, even when our hearts desire. Or we might not know or feel comfortable communicating our story. Maybe I might never hear my father tell his story from his mouth. At least I knew, he expressed his commitment to his family by providing an education to all his children, and a permanent roof for all his marital relationships. That fills me up! To his friends, he partied with them and made them party with him. He was a very trustworthy “kitty keeper” for plenty of his friends, and managed budding investments to fruition for many. Hopefully, they too, will remember him for that.
We, each have our insecurities, which are questioned, challenged and teased out as we progress in life. Sometimes our insecurities make us arrogant, introverted, aggressive, puppets, trigger-happy, or adventurous. At some point in life, it is all about “me”. Until we progress into “lovers of the earth” or “tree-huggers”. Or “fight for the rainforest” as a “survival for the fitness”. Finally, [or perhaps not] we [re]create goodness in ourselves and see goodness in others, and just agree to be, and let others be.
Whatever it is, we live and learn. We learn and let live. Hopefully, each one of us has a chance to life, to live longer to experience, to open ourselves up to learn, to love, to forgive, to give of ourselves, and to partake of what life offers us. And, to appreciate those who bring so much joy and pain in our lives, for they bring us great challenges, lessons and opportunities to become better and re-emphasize that we can never have a Permanent State of Being. Nor should we expect anybody else to stay permanently stagnant!

Know the One You’re With

Taking a break from my predominant running theme about “Education”, I chose to blog about relationships. Recent events have prompted me to write about why it is important to Know the One You’re With. Whether it is a sibling, child, spouse, lover, family or social network.

Plenty of us are guilty of passing judgment on others without fully knowing them. We think we can know a person merely through observing or interacting with their character, actions, interests, beliefs or experiences. If one is burbly, funny and entertaining, that person would be most likely considered happy and an extrovert, as opposed to a person with a calm demeanor. That, we did with one renown actor and comedian, till his mind boggling death revealed the cosmeticized pain and suffering he lived with from a childhood of unhappy family relations and feelings of neglect. The same is said of funny man “Nutty Professor”, who makes the world laugh, yet an introverted and gloomy around his closest family, as we learned through his divorce from ex-wife N. Mitchell.

Or perhaps we should not blame others for what they think they know about us based on our outward projections? Then again, should we really care what others think about us? Or perhaps we should expect that each on around us concerns her/himself more with getting to know those around them. I strongly believe in the value of “knowing everyone through their spoken truths”, in our quest for honest and humane relationships with those most close to us. Perhaps to spare us the resultant shock and denial that our neighbor, who grew up as an altar boy, volunteered at all community events, graduate from high school with straight  ‘As’, is the notorious village serial killer! Or the much-beloved school principal, who met and greeted kids as they entered the schoolyard every morning, was convicted of murdering his entire family of six, including his seven-month old baby and mother’s in-law! What about the shock after knowing that the dull girl from the corner shack, who never said a word in public or answered a question in class, always kept to himself, went on to win the nobel prize in literature! After all, we never expected anything profound to come from her; she was not among the popular girls, and no boy in her class wanted to date her! Right?

I say all this from personal observations, as much as from experiences. That we might not really know even those closest to us, including within our families. Perhaps we have never bothered to ask to hear their story from them; we have confidence in what we see and hear about them. We profile them according to our interpretations of their most glaring behavior, all the while ignoring the value of their own truths and subtle personality traits in making the whole person. Suddenly, we are shocked when they make life choices that do not auger with our understanding of them! Or they excel, ‘unexpectedly’!

One such person I know closely. He was the quintessential calm and quite child in his family. Nobody in his family thought he uttered a word out of his mouth, or that he could sustain a conversation! Around the family table he was the perfect listener to ever conversation, while his lips remained sealed! As a child, he was even scared of his own shadow, often bursted into screaming frenzies whenever a power outage occurred at their home at brought pitch-darkness! Incidentally, his schoolmates said he was a very entertaining and active person. At school, he and his best friend would adorn their ‘signature’ rubber-boots, stage ‘impromptu’ performances for other students, break it down to Marvin Gaye renditions, in exchange for money or something to eat.

Still at home, he was the quite kid that everyone granted his quiet amidst the noise. Until that shocking time when he fell sick with malaria, and started ‘mouthing off loud’. Initially, his family got excited about his parroting, assuming he was in recovery mood. Then his words became more rapid, signaling hallucination. Found out, when they rushed him to hospital that his fever was closing in to cerebral.

Fast forward, he goes off to college, but suddenly drops out and joined the military! His family were shell-shocked, that their quiet, timid child, scared of his own shadow was daring the hard knock military bootcamp, charged with that dreaded AK-47, spending cold nights in trenches waiting for the enemy, chasing after rebel fighters, and shooting known enemies of the state! The details of his military engagement are still scanty, but let’s just say, he was also part of the internal military intelligence!

The major details we found out about his life and interests are what he shared with us from his mouth. He proved to us that it is not enough to profile a person based on our observations and hear-say. We deserve to give each ‘horse’ a chance to tell its own his-/her-story, in order to have an informed opinion about and know him/her  truly well.

Many people put on a facade of strength, when in fact they have so many vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Growing up, I passed plenty of judgement on my mother for the decisions she made that I did not consider very sound and protective of her children, or even loving of herself. Later in life, through conversations with her where I heard her story from her mouth, I understood the choices she made. Now as a parent, I understand much more the decisions parent make, and the meaning of happiness to different people. Happiness is very relative! To a female parent, happiness might be for her child growing up close to the father, in the same geographical space with father or in the same home with the father. None of these are about her instant and personal gratification, which we have very much come to associate with happiness. Yet observers who have never walked the walk or are on the outside-looking-in might question why anyone would sacrifice happiness for the ‘harsh” uncertain conditions?

I reiterate that it is of paramount importance to know the person you are with!  We need to give people the benefit of doubt, allowing them to tell us their story from their mouths, and listening openly with no pre-judgement. Short of that, we are pandering half-truths about others, and perhaps missing a chance to develop honest relationships with people we are with by judging them based on our own conceptions of who we think they are.

Ramadan 2013: We are ALL Africans

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Ramadan Kareem to all my Muslim friends and family!

I find myself actively taking part in Ramadan 2013, with 14 days of fast. This is not a conscious decision; it is totally by coincidence. And it is not so easy, since I am surrounded by all the foods I like -fruits and vegetables- that I cannot touch until after the 14 days (my fast is coming with a twist). Moreover I am babysitting two little kids…whom I have to feed during the day…without touching or tasting their food.

But  I am glad it is happening, and I can share this special moment with my friends and family. Those who know me have had that, if I were to attach myself to any [dis]organized religions we are bombarded with in this world, I would be a muslim. I know you might be thrown off with surprise that I DO NOT subscribe to any religion. You are not the first; my family cannot believe it either! Nor my friends!

“How can you not have a religion?”

Well, it is possible, I often say

“So, you do not believe in God?,” the questions continue

“Well, maybe I do not believe in God as you think of him/her. But that does not mean I have no faith or belief system. My religion 

is humanity.

See, as I grew up, I made a conscious decision NOT to subscribe to any religious group, after my experiences with, especially Christianity and all its relatives. I grew up around three main religions – Protestant, Catholicism and Islam – within my family and among friends. My mother is of a double religion in a way – father’s immediate family is predominantly Catholic, although her father was Protestant. Apparently, her father grew up with a Protestant family, and went on to become a Protestant Reverend (Preacher). So  my mother and her family took after he daddy. Of course, within my own family are inter-religious marriages, bringing us a variety. As I grew up, I went in and out of the revivalist evangelist religions imported into Uganda from, especially North America – Baptist, Pentecostal, methodist, ….

Talking about friends, my best friend in elementary school was muslim. During Ramadan, she would invite myself and a couple of her other friends to break the day’s fast at her family home. I remember us feasting on rice (the origin of my LOVE for rice) with beef, fresh fruits and juices! It did not matter that we were not muslim, we were allowed to eat to our fill. Similarly, area mosques would feed anyone who came to eat at the mosque during the “break of the fast” every evening at seven O’clock.

That and other experiences have shaped my outlook on Islam. Plus, I was once engaged to be married to a Senegalese, and I lived and conducted graduate research in Senegal.

Senegalese are one of the best people the world has ever blessed us with, that I wonder if it is the African in them or the religion. In 2007, family and friends still eat together on one large plate, like we did as kids at my grandmother’s place. If one’s family brought him/her lunch food at work, they would park for more mouths to feed, and five or more of us would  eat together. Senegalese also have this level of contentment with who they are and what they have. I do not know if that is derived from or shapes their belief system? Perhaps that explains why they have NEVER changed political power through a military coup!

Now I have a moslem family, not only among my sister’s marriages, but my son’s grandparents who are practicing muslims. I respect that and I enjoy watching as they commune together, in food, worship and sharing. To me, Islam manifests itself as a communitarian bond not a religion, contrary to the Christian religions I grew up with. The way they were pushed to me was exclusionist, “if you do not believe in JC, you go to Hell.”

Why I am saying all this? Well, because as I was reflecting on Ramadan 2013, it appeared to me as the opportune tagline for “We are ‘ALL] Africans, the name of my blog. The communitarianism that comes with Ramadan, when we are all invited to feast and share in

the celebration is a key branding of the African spirit of Ubuntu or humaness. That we, Africans care and lookout for one another more than any other grouping in the world. Although I have strong reservations about that.

First, if human origin is in Africa, then all humans are Africans with the spirit of Ubuntu. Secondly, do we Africans really have a monopoly of Ubuntu, when we are branded the world over as the center of senseless killings, human sacrifice, wars, hunger, famine and mal-government? How is it possible for all that to exist with Ubuntu?

After spending about a month (May 21 to June 20) visiting Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen), I am inclined to say that, perhaps Scotts have a thing to teach Africans and the world about Ubuntu. They, like Senegalese are some of the most POSITIVE spirited people I have EVER encountered. and YES! they live almost their entire calendar year wearing sweaters because of the cold (similar to northern America and European), which is often an excuse for “why people are cold to one another”. But they are pure spirited, positive, kind and loving. They voluntarily offer to be good, to speak to strangers, to help out a stranger and to talk to one another. It was odd  (though shocking to “the American” in me) to hear my best friend, we had gone to visit, strike up a conversation the cab driver, even in a city like Edinburgh. In New York City, you sit in the cab, shut your mouth until you are paying to disembark. No conversation, no contact with the cab driver.

While plenty of restaurants are bars where kids are not allowed, once you find one, sitting is not allocated based on “color of your skin” -at least it appeared to me. If a seat is available, anyone will take it. We talk to one another at the bus stop, in a shopping or grocery store and on the streets. A stranger will waive down a taxi for you because he overheard you talking about finding one. The spirit of the Scotts is absolutely golden and beautiful that it makes me wonder, if our focus should not be on humanity in our midst, rather than subscribing to those religions whose home is NOT here…but in some imagined place! Perhaps the Scotts are the true Africans and home to our promised land – of free giving and Ubuntu!

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