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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What do you mean the gunmen @CharlieHebdo Are Not Muslims?

Whenever a vengeful attack by a group identified as Muslims occurs, the world very quickly reverberates into “Good Muslim v Bad Muslim” echoes; thanks to Dubya Dictionary! Who would have known that a man caricatured as ‘having no brain’ during his presidency, would enrich our international lingua!  Talk about satire, right?
Once again, following the recent murders at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France, we find ourselves profiling those gunmen as bad muslims, terrible, evil, savages, inhuman, terrorists, who hate freedom, and against all the ‘good civilizing western values’. Plenty of columns have been written, arguments advanced, interviews conducted, airtime dedicated on TV, radio, internet, social media, and every news source to interrogate how people can be so evil as to carryout senseless murders!
I am one of those who have visibly extended my allegiance to #JeSuisCharlie, not because I buy into the ‘Good Muslim v Bad Muslim rhetoric, but for what I felt as disproportionate reaction to hurtful, hateful and degrading speech of the pen and ink. I condemn any form of shooting, murder or violent attack on a person, a people or a community. I wondered why, if the gunmen were terribly insulted by the Charlie Hebdo satire, they did not hit back with own satire! On second thought, a part of me realizes that a pen with print-ink can be as hateful as a sword with bullets. Violence begets violence! I recognize as well, that it is easy to apportion blame and responsibility, when it is not you that the world is repeatedly humiliating, making a caricature of, profiling or psycho-analyzing as evil and violent.
Charlie Hebdo Satire about Islam and the Prophet

Charlie Hebdo Satire about Islam and the Prophet

I am uncomfortable that, once again, in the world habitually bombarded with a smear campaign depicting Islam as a terrorist religion, we are forced to defend the validity or folly of such generalization. Even more troubling is the fact that believers in Islam, Muslims and followers of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.A.W.S), by their own responses, reactions or actions, have not done a great job defending their faith or fellow believers. Unintentionally, they are aiding the smear campaign against their faith and believers, by self-assigning themselves into the “Good and Bad Muslim” camps. Whereas the #CharlieHebdokillers seemingly validated the claim that muslims are ‘inherently violent’, other muslims who did not agree with the actions of the gunmen are claiming “those are not muslims, do not represent islam nor rightly practice the Islamic religion.”
I wonder who is to say that one is not a muslim or practicing ‘the real’ Islam? Unless one has founded a religion, who has a right to decide that one is more muslim than the other?. You either have to be Prophet Muhammad, Jesus Christ or Kibwetere in southwestern Uganda to exclude another believer from Islam, Christianity or cult worship respectively.
To claim that one is not a muslim because they do not practice religion the way you do, is to pretend that there is uniformity of understanding or in the practice of the faith, and to undermine its diversity of traditions and interpretations. Recall that Islam has many classifications, -Shia, Sunni, Sufism, Ibadi, Ahmadiyya, and many more, with different beliefs, believers, traditions and practices. Nor can Christianity claim uniformity, given its multiplicity of followers -Catholics, Protestants, Lutherans, Latter Day Saints, Methodists, Baptists, Quakers and plenty more!
Why then, should some muslims disown as ‘good believers’, those who in their reading, interpretation and dedication to the religion, seek to avenge what they see as onslaught on that which they hold dear to their livelihood, belonging and community? We may not like or think like others, but we cannot decide who has a claim to social beliefs and belonging. Like Black folks, ’good’ muslims are now buying into the dominant social pressure, distancing themselves from those within their faith, whose actions seemingly do not augur well with the public image they wish to portray of themselves and their religion. Choosing not to [publicly] interrogate this troubling and disproportionate profiling, politicized assault and humiliation of the muslim faith by some muslims and non-muslims.
Going back to “Dubya” once again, his presidency was marred by various scandals at home and abroad, when the “War on terror” turned into the “War of Terror”, with fabricated allegations about WMD in Saddam’s Iraq, assault on civil liberties and freedoms and wire tapping. While many Americans opposed Dubya’s presidency, felt humiliated at home and abroad, distanced themselves from the actions of his government, some moved or threatened to move to Canada, none questioned whether Dubya was an American or suggested he was not an American.
So, why then, should muslims dismiss the “Muslim-ness” of fellow believers they do not agree with? Why do we easily dismiss those we do not agree with as bad, savages or non-believers? Portraying ourselves as against any form of hate, violence and brutality, when among us are people who joyful celebrated the brutal murder of Osama Bin Laden and vengeful humiliation of Saddam and Gaddafi, and endorsed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We look away when drones strike entire villages in Pakistan, but scream at beheading of western nationals because acts of violence are more gruesome and inhumane when carried out by those ‘bad muslims”! Ultimately, the folks who died at #CharlieHebdo love and believe in freedom of expression as much as those who reacted to the misrepresentation and inappropriate satirization of their beliefs. The violent choice of reaction by the gunmen do not make them less or more muslim than Muslims who react with a pen, street protests or passive objection.

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!

Lost In Translation…Between Santa and Religion…

I am revisiting the discussion about parents celebrating with their children, or is it children celebrating with their parents, or parents imposing their will on their children. I am still “Lost in Translation”, not an outcome of feedback I received on my most recent piece parent-children relations, but a feeling of “unfinished business”. I still cannot understand how a parent would expect his/her children’s excitements to be about or around them, not the opposite!
I have heard that, if your message does not come out as you expected, it is most likely because you did not communicate effectively. At least that is agreed upon by those who put the interests of their audience over and above theirs, and are comfortable accepting blame for not being understood. Others would be quick to blame their audience for “not understanding them” or missing the point. I tend to belong to the former, preferably because it helps me grow as a public communicator.
N’way, I still believe that every person has a right to their beliefs, grounded in own social, economic, cultural political or religious understanding. I am comfortable tolerating different belief systems, as part of my commitment to humane social living. I lose nothing by not disagreeing with others about their beliefs. Everybody believes in some unexplained power or authority: buddha, meditation, yoga, running, deity, karma, giving, good luck, prayer, handwork, capitalism, democracy, community, social living, family, religion, or something.
I am a great observer and learner from different belief systems. Though, I steer clear of directly confronting anyone about their belief systems, unless of course they are a source of social injustice and disharmony. I will not hesitate to challenge notions or pronouncements that undermine other forms of social organization or social living, like racism, sexism, ethnocentrism or capitalism. However, I have made my peace, to never engage in arguments about politics or religion with anyone in my circles, who I do not care so much about, but I would not dare to lose. Typically, anyone I regard as an acquaintances or not very close relationship. I am comfortable engaging my family and close friends because of the relationship and trust we have cultivated overtime, which would unlikely end due to religious or politics disagreement.
And while many religious followers often emphasize that their faith embodies love, peace and hope, on the contrary, I have experienced religion as a source of high social exclusion, intolerance and self-centeredness. Many religious believers preoccupy themselves with convincing you that their way is right, righteous and loving, while implicitly judging your [alternative or non-religious] beliefs and lifestyle choices. I was once told that I would not pass the test on “Judgement Day” [whenever and wherever that would be], because I have no religious backbone to lean on, other than my belief in humanity. I have sat down with a religious family, where one stated in my face that a child born out of wedlock brings great shame to the family. I was also scolded for privileging “Santa” over “Jesus Christ”! I could not be more misunderstood than in the last incidence!
For those who know me, I do not subscribe to “organized belief system”, except perhaps my cultural affinity as a Muganda. Even then, I pick and choose what works in different situations. I do not subscribe to most fantasies either, like Santa, dead people or nativity. Put more appropriately, I ceased subscribing to such fantasies, the more I learned about the world. Then I became a mother, and my ‘mystical-free world’ made a u-Turn. Now I sit through TV or Video shows of action figures, ninjas, anime; open myself up to learn about fictional characters through books, outdoor activities or tales from my child. Sometimes I am tasked by my little one to research facts about all sorts of characters in videos, TV and children’s reading books, or listen to long and windy stories that I have no interest in, but because that’s “What’s hot in the KidZone”!
Lately, I am a victim of the expectation to honor all sorts of celebrations and holidays that were never of any interest to me in my solo world. For my son’s birthday, I have to come up with cakes of all shapes, sizes and toppings from what fascinates him at the time. I have directed the production of cakes that look like Lightning McQueen, fire-spitting dinosaur or Sonic the Hedgehog. For Halloween, I lost the right to present him with a costume of my choice, such as Curious George custome for his first year. Now, it has to be either Ben10, Captain America, Ninja Turtles or some other Ninja, in addition to coming up with a costume for myself, per his request.
For Christmas, he does not care whether I give him any presents. My presents are highly expected and appreciated any other time, except Christmas, when it is “Santa” comes down the chimney with presents from his workshop in the North Pole. While I do not worship at the altar of Christmas, I have to ensure that gifts are purchased, wrapped, and left under the chimney the night before Christmas, so that he wakes up to the magical giving for that kindhearted mysterious creature. While others might find their mystery through God, Jesus Christ, Allah, Jehovah or Messiah, to many children, it is the Tooth Fairy, Ninja Turtles, Sonic or Santa. Mysteries help children cast their imaginations far and wide, expanding their brain power to dream big, and that is why I support my son in fully experiencing them.
So, do not demand that your child’s fantastic mysteries be about you or what you believe to be the “perfect or acceptable mysteries”. Allow them to create their own mysteries, and support their ability to enjoy their mysteries. Until such a time when their world view changes, when they will learn that there is more to life than mystical characters and fantasies. Social living involves thinking beyond oneself, accommodating everyone’s belief systems and lifestyles, which might one day have to be their own children!

Dear Parents, Your Kids Celebrations Are Not About You…!

I typically do not write about family affairs. I have a self-censored rule that “I shall NOT wash my family dirty linen in public. Even with all my multiple identities: as a humanist, a Pan African, a Black person, a woman, a cosmopolitan, an internationalist, I still believe in the “private-public dichotomy. Yes, in my world, there is still a “public” and a “private”, and the private should be spared and jealously safe-guarded from public eyes and ears, and scrutiny. The more I have come of age, the more I realize that I do not have to say everything I feel or think. I am grateful that the heart is hidden inside our bodies; nobody can claim to know my feelings. Although, those who seek to find fault, will always claim knowledge of your sentiments, feelings and intentions. Nor, do I need to offer an opinion on everything that I read, observe or hear of. I am grateful that my fingers, mouth and head allow me to excuse myself from uncomfortable situations, until such a time when I am ready to resurface. As my mother always told me, who can claim that you hurt them when you did not say a thing? [Apparently some still take it personal, mommy].
N’way, allow me a minute to break my Code of Silence about “The Private”, and say,
“Dear Parents, your child or your children’s celebrations are not about you. Nor are their intrigues, their excitements, or their dreams. It is their moment. Please do not feel offended if they would like to play with their toys, friends or cousins instead of sitting around chatting with you. If you are on a phone call with them, please do not expect them to maintain a long attention span, unless of course they are talking to you about something that excites them, like their favorite fictional characters. When you give them presents, please let them enjoy the occasion for receiving your gifts: perhaps it is their birthday, they lost a tooth, Easter Bunny visited, it is Halloween or Santa came into town. That is what kids talk about; please allow them to enjoy their childhood. Sometimes they might offend you by saying that they wished for “Pokémon” instead of the “Spiderman” you got them. Please find a constructive way of reminding them the importance of being grateful, and hopefully they will receive what they had wished for next time. Although, as we all know, our children’s interests change as quickly as their attention span. The next time you think of gifting them, or another celebrations comes around, they might wish for snow or white sand from the forest!”
Why I am saying all of this? I presume that if you are a parent, you probably already know all these facts about your children. Though, I have learned that not all absentee parents have these facts at their finger tips. Some want their children’s excitements, beliefs, celebrations and interests to be centered around them. They want their children to follow their own trajectories, as scripted from their childhood, even when they have never spent an equivalent of a month per year, since their children were born! When the kids do not respond per their expectations, the custodial parent is to blame!
Perhaps the same is true that custodial parents also want our children to ‘be like us’. I must say though, I have learned to “let my son be”, allow him to dream as wildly, explore as wide, and seek as far and beyond. I have put on hold my needs and comfort for the sake of my son until that time when he comes of age, or says he does not desire me anymore. I have opened up my son to venture into territories I had abandoned long ago or had excluded from my lifestyle. For instance, I was never a cheese-easter, but I started eating cheese regularly while pregnant with my son, because my OB/GYN said I needed to eat more protein, particular cheese and eggs. I had vowed myself as a cosmo girl, who would never fit or be caught living in suburbia away from the bright city lights, until that all changed in pursuit of “the school district”. I abandoned my geographical place of comfort, in the name of “raising my child around his family”. I have even learned to make, and sometimes taste pancakes, pizza, muffins and donuts, for the sake of my son, although I ensure to make them as healthy as it comes. If you had told me six years ago, that I would be spending my Xmas morning googling, discovering and reading about action figures/fictional characters: Sonic the Hedgehog, Ninja Turtles, Pokémon, Spider-Man, …. Thank You Santa! Or that I would be consciously celebrating Christmas, again!
Talking about Christmas, I ceased celebrations when I parted ways with Christianity umpteen years ago. In my entire stay in America, I had never celebrated Halloween until after my child was born, and I partook in Thanksgiving fetes because friends or family invited me to share with their families. Generally, my personal politics and convictions determined my response to many celebrations and traditions, even though I respect the choices of those who follow these traditions. Halloween to me was a “ghostly blood sucking ‘orgy”, which I always skipped because I hate blood and was fear dead people. Thanksgiving robbed Native Americans of their lands and culture by invading colonialists, whom I did not wish to honor. Christmas and Easter were channels of institutionalized control, miseducation and European colonization of the black mind and erosion and denigrating African culture and traditions. I could say the same about Eid, but since I was not born into Islam [like Christianity], I embraced it, whenever it welcomed me to partake, until my recent departure from consciously seeking to enjoy it or any other inklings of organized religion. [Did I say that I was once engaged to be married to a Muslim African man? Uhm! Story for another day!] I believe the stronger basis for our existence is the fact that we are all humans first born onto this planet in human flesh, with one life to live, before we vanish, or perhaps re-incarnate or hang around our loved ones as spirits.
So, I have learned to let my son live his dream. I do not force him to adopt my own beliefs or confine him to my desires. Well, there are a few exceptions; to protect him or encourage him to learn, or teach him to be a strong and respectful man. I often tell my son that it is important to be polite, respectful and appreciative, than to have high academic grades. As a member of society, there are certain requirements I am gonna impose on him, to learn, to live and excel in human society. As a single mother raising a man, when I have never been a man, moreover a young American man, I am gonna go beyond his wishes to ensure that he becomes a man he, myself and well-wishers will be proud of.
I emphasize to him the importance of “Please”, “Sorry” and “Thank You”, drinking water with his meals, at least between meals, eating vegetables and fruits, getting his homework done and doing his weekly chores of cleaning the bathroom sink, toilet and wiping dressing mirror. I offer no apologies for that!
Still, I let my son dream his dreams. To him, Christmas is about “Santa coming down the Chimney to bring presents to kids who behave well.”  Who I am to tell him otherwise? The “Tooth Fairy” rewards kids who lose their teeth, Halloween is a “Trick-Or-Treat” moment for little kids, the only passport to going out very late at night, on Thanksgiving, it is time to eat turkey, even when mom would rather we ate “Tofurky”, and a Birthday is a very special day to eat cake and receive as many presents. It does not matter that I do not celebrate Christmas, which according to me it is a Christian holiday, my son will celebrate it for as long as he wants, and because I have plenty of family who are Christians. The same way I let him celebrate Eid with his muslim paternal family, [I too have muslim family and friends].
I am not gonna bombard him with the religious symbolism of Christianity or Eid; I parted ways and have no interest in exploring that with my son at this age. In fact, I tried to let him share his paternal families Islamic culture, until grandma gave us the ultimatum, “If he cannot attend Sunday School regularly, he should not come at all.” My intention was to give her an opportunity to spend some quality time with her grandson, since she did not see him a lot in his five years, and she does not ask to spend one-on-one time or take him out, until her other grandkids are visiting.
For as long as I am expected to be the sole parent for this child, I will continue allowing him to believe as he imagines, that Santa came down the chimney and dropped off all the presents, including any entrusted with me to ‘secretly’ give to him. I remain protective of my child’s excitements and wildest dreams, from unnecessary scrutiny and criticism, especially coming from anyone who offers no help or support in parenting him. I know and believe it takes a village to raise a child, but let the village not only come in to condemn.
Hopefully, we as parents will learn to support our children’s dreams and fantasies in their imagination, rather than stifling or suffocating them with our mystical convictions derived from religious dogmas that do not unite but divide us as humans. After all, I am learning that most of what my child is fascinated and get hysterical about is from interacting with age mates, exposure through reading, visual and digital images, his classroom teacher interaction, and lastly from myself as a parent [I know some might disagree]. Perhaps our children’s excitements will enable us to look back eighteen or twenty-one years later and say, “Job Well Done!”

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! 
Image

Of COURSE! SSENGA’s Have a Place in Modernity!

Funny how plenty of folks are quick to dismiss traditions in many cultures as “archaic”, “barbaric” and without a place in “modern society”. By modern society, most are often referring to anything deemed western, specially European and North American, and unmodern as particularly African or Asian (outside Japan maybe). Such people include Africans I know…and Africa-exposed Westerners. It is often a talk of “us v. them”, which for the most part divides into two camps of “dismissive v. defensive”.

I was more intrigued recently by a member in this fb group which calls itself “Freethought Uganda”, posting a link about a Belgian electing to die by euthanasia after blocked sex change: 
 
He then added, “Everybody has the right to decide on their own life. I admire my, government to have put such laws in place. In other countries they cane the corpse of someone who committed suicide
 
For that, he got 5 *LIKES*, including this comment from a person with Uganda sounding names, “I to agree with a person’s right to choose” [sic].
 
Grrrrr! Cut this crap…I wanted to add, “And in other countries, the law denies the right to choose.” 
 
But I chose not engage this lot–and instead do what I know best…blog about it…
I am trying not to engage this lot in any discussion ever again, even though I am still a member of the group. I am even tempted to follow their founder to quit the group…but hanging there as looking in…Because I know for sure, my style is anti-freethought Kampala.  Unlike them, I am not deluded by the fallacy of liberalism. I am intolerant of intolerance of others that do not think, act or are “not like us”. That’s pretty much my summation of the attitude of FTK – Free Thought Kampala
 
ImageThis bunch of FTK is intolerant! They do not like anything outside their “little mindset of what is acceptable”. They have not exercise their “freethought” to create “original thinking”.  Among them, “free thought” is not a “free-for-all”. Instead, “FTK is equated to “thinking and adhering to mainstreamed western thinkers and what is “politically correct in the west”. For instance, you have to be “pro-abortion”, “pro-gay”, anti-female genital exercises”, “anti-religion” [and anti-anti gods], pro-Darwism, pro-population control by contraceptives, pro-English…or whatever is along those lines….They dismiss the need to learn the predominant language within Uganda where they live and grow up, but will proudly brag about speaking multiple languages of the west – English, French, Spanish [and now Chinese]. They will jump onto any rhetoric about population control because “Africa is overpopulated and we need to stop everyone from having more babies.” They applaud “single unmarried life” as “an epitome of freedom and sound judgement”. They justify their profiling of all muslims as terrorists with shallow nonsensical regurgitation of western media failings to recognize that the roots of evil are not devoid of political suffering. Mmany dismiss racism as pity parties, victimhood mentality and sour grapes by blacks who have failed to “move on” or “pull themselves up by their own boot strips. OR as “naturally acceptable not to like everyone based on their ethnicity,” one said. Anything at par…
 
..They will shut you down as a “bigoted black nationalist”, because you replied to a thread in defense of Native American culture. Ironically, these “freethoughts” have pre-determined that anybody who defends traditional or nation-groups cultures, and has a “black-sounding name…is a “bigoted black racist who hates white people”. You will not get too much support for thinking about the box OR for trying to point out the there is no perfect world, and no country without pockets of thugs, street beggars, poor. You are wrong to suggest that the west is not “rich”, that English is not a superior culture, and should not be promoted as a “must learn/must speak language of the world. They do not see a place for multiple languages or minority languages to be nurtured to international status.  That formal education is not for everyone, is an oxymoron. And you are more wrong to suggest that we should hang onto our cultures and not allow to get swallowed into the “globalizing world”. You are archaic, barbaric and an abomination to identify as a proud Muganda who loves her Kabaka and heritage, because that is divisive and archaic. 
 
They will dismiss Ssengas, paternal aunts in Buganda, for instance, who passed down wisdom to their brothers daughters when coming of age as teenage girls and in preparation for marriage. These, apparently area  “violation of the right to individual freewill.” Yet, even in “the modern west”, Ssengas are still important and highly paid as “relationship counselors”. Did they know that, yes, western men also love “traditional women”, who are willing to stay at home, while putting their brains and independent thinking to run the family and fulfill their exciting and ambitious life goals. Why do you think American men, keep skipping their  “my mechanic is a woman” and run to Eastern Europe and Asia for marriage? 
 
True, dating might fetch you a one night stand, but even if you belong to the Millionaires Club, abstinence and cupid have more chances of hooking you up to a longterm relationship. And no! courting is not old fashioned! Go ahead and “go dutch”, but be prepared to go home alone and enjoy your big a$%e mansion. Why do you care looking around anyway, if you have and would rather keep all you have? Even Simon Cowell has left “fantasy land”, to accept that he needs someone who will hold his walking stick when the time comes around, and make him feel human.
 
So, go on, talk to yourselves, applaud each one of your same mind. But do not call yourselves “Freethought”…unless of course you meant “Freethought devoid of critical thinking and intolerant of religion, culture and traditions”.