Why We Celebrate Birthdays

A BBC World Service interview this week got me thinking that, perhaps, I should say something about, “Why I Celebrate Birthdays. The interviewee was a former Somali refugee, resettled to Australia, where she has since campaigned for a seat in the Australian Parliament [If I listened to that correctly.]Mas

In the course of the interview, the interviewee mentioned that on her nineteenth birthday, she found out that the Australian government had granted her resettlement to its country. She was living in a Kenya refugee camp, with her family had lived since fleeing Somalia at the age of twelve.

“I had not celebrated my birthday since fleeing to the camp because I did not have reason to, with my family not well. But that was the best birthday gift,” she said.

Her statement made perfect sense to me, given my attachment to celebrating Child of Mine’s and my birthday! Regardless of what others may say to me or think about birthdays, I will continue to celebrate our birthdays. I treat each birthday, as a very significant milestone in our lives. Plus, it is a memorable tradition I carry from my childhood, and a family tradition.

“Why do I care to explain,” you may ask?

Because within Child of Mine’s family, are religious opinions that, “Birthdays are pagan celebrations”. Recall, I have said before that, I do not pre-empt discussions about religion or politics with family. I stray very far away, to avoid antagonizing any souls, especially on subjects often very passionately, very dogmatically adhered to by the followers.

I will discuss or comment on politics and religion to “The World”, that is people within my social network, whom I do not share very close personal relationships. Folks, I am not exactly concerned would explode into eternally wounded hearts, if we were to disagree. I am comfortable on platforms, where I believe are for intellectual public discussions and interrogation of our differences and different understandings of social life, not personal attacks.

Beeks 3rdStill, I pride myself as tolerant of differences, never to dictate to others their ways of life, nor speak ill of their life choices and dogmas. I will raise concern and disagreement, but never to do harm to anybody! I am not religious, but I have family and friends across the religious divide – Protestant, Catholic, Pentecostal, Muslim, Seventhly Adventist, Mormon, Mennonite, and plenty more religions. Religious tolerance is not a cliché in my life; it is a way of life. After all, we are all humans first!
So, I take offense to anyone trying to dissuade me from celebrating a birthday using, “Because it is evil!” I do not speak ill about your religious practices, regardless of my views on religion, and I would expect the same respect. Anyway, no arrows from here, but let me give a little insight into why others, like me celebrate birthdays, and will keep doing so.

For the Somali refugee on BBC, she left behind a lavish middle class family background in Somalia, when she fled to a life of living displaced, desperate and disposable in a refugee camp in Kenya. Thus, her nineteenth birthday gave her an insurmountable reason to celebrate, yet again!Beeks 4th

In her words, she had not celebrate since she left Mogadishu at twelve years of age! Her father and brother were shot and killed in front of her mother and herself. Her family had been involved in a life-threatening accident while in the refugee camp, and had remained terribly sick; conditions had never been the same again. In fact, she turned down a scholarship opportunity to study in Canada, deciding against leaving her family without a caretaker.

So, a resettlement opportunity to Australia, to start life anew was more than enough reason to celebrate her nineteenth birthday; as a promise of living life anew and rebuilding hers and that of her family. And to smile again, in safety, away from the fear of rape and physical violence that characterize life within the refugee camp.

I am also reminded that, where I am from, children are not guaranteed to live beyond their fifth birthday. For instance, in my country of origin Uganda, under-five childhood mortality, the number of children who do not live to their fifth birthday, is 69 out of 1,000 live births. And with life expectancy at birth at 59 years, these are more than justifiable reason to celebrate every year beyond the fifth birthday, and every year beyond 59 years of age.  Beeks 6th gang

Perhaps more personal to me, celebrating birthdays was a significant part of my family tradition, growing up. Even if we ate popcorn and black tea, we still celebrated each and everyone’s birthday in my family.  Only my father did not know his exact birthday, but guesstimated from his mother’s death.Beeks 6th

My paternal grandmother died when my father was still breastfeeding. Nor did his father keep an exact record of his birthday.  Popsy finally settled for one date December 12, he would get rather excited, order whatever anyone wanted, and made all us danced the night away on our living room floor!  We partied! We enjoyed each other!

All the many ways why I love celebrating birthdays, believe in the social value of celebrating birthdays, and as I have said, will continue, until child of mine says, No More!  Beeks 7th

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What is that Holy Grail, PRINCIPLES!

Principles, like beauty are subject to the eyes and interpretation of its undresser. And obviously, we partake with varied expressions on our faces. So, when somebody recently responded to my request with, “I cannot do that as a matter of principle”, I was taken aback. Was this person implying that I had no principles, moralizing principles or telling me that we fall in different camps, regarding my request?

I am very sure that each one of us takes different approaches in our life engagements. There are certain things we welcome wholly, while cringing at others. But do we do so “as a matter of principle” or are we moralizing our actions while immoralizing the actions of those who do not believe in what we do? If you asked me to drive after I have had a drink and I choose to abstain from driving, am I doing this “as a matter of principle” or because it is morally right? Or I am protecting my life and the life of the would-be passenger? Is a doctor, who has sworn the professional code to save life terminates a life to save another, is s/he acting without principle? How about a lawyer defending high profile capital offense, whose professional oath is to pursue truth and justice through the courts of law?

What is that “holy grail principles”, anyway? You see, I started graduate school in Boston in the fall 2003, following the US government attack on Iraq. I had left my home in Atlanta, Georgia, where we paraded the streets with placards saying, “No war on Iraq!”, “Make Love Not War!”, “War is not the answer!”, against those with “Support our Troops”, “Protect our Borders”. Georgia also happens to lie within the Bible belt and (neo)conservative region of the American South.

On the contrary, my graduate school is located within that elite belt of colleges and universities in Boston, with all pomp of hosting the “intellectual liberal” population of students and professors. It is at these campuses that you will find the “anti-war lot” including the Quakers, the Mennonites, the Hippies, the humanists and the humanitarians.  So, I sort of found my lot amidst these, as we talked about how wrong Bush’s post 9/11 foreign policy of pre-emptive attack had become and was more likely to bring danger than security to America!

Yet, I found out quickly that my class also had those who believed in “we’ll smoke them out”, including those who had just dropped bombs on Iraq, as service men and women in the US military. Quickly, I found out that there was a larger group among us who believed in “The Role of Force (in International Politics)” and in fact, an oversubscribed graduate class dedicated to the topic. Enrolment for the class included the “usual suspects” –those who had dropped bombs on Iraq, as well as others whom in my thinking, “cared for humanity” and were also enrolled in my Humanitarian Assistance class! But who said they did not care for humanity? Did I have a monopoly on humanitarianism?

Since then, I have learned that different people adopt different strategies in their search for understanding and knowledge, and to participate in making this world a better place. My grad school of “liberals” was in many ways also a neo-con school, whose prestigious security studies program, won it many contracts from the US Department of Defense. I quickly learned to peek at “what those ‘crazy’  security studies people were doing”, by participating in some of their activities. I became a regular participant in the Security Studies Lunch Hour Seminars, not only for the opportunity to eat “real food” –a three course meal with proper table setting of a flower vase, cutlery, napkins and glass! Oh!  How I loved the Security Studies Lunches! You know, “real food” is extraterrestrial in the life of a US grad student.

While I kept my mouth close to my plate, I also kept my ears wide open and listen to career diplomats, security studies scholars, US military officers, defense contractors and soldiers serving in several of US military engagements. I gained entrance into “the mind of war markers or planners”, as well as the tools to confront them in negotiating humanitarian access during war.

As controversial as that might sound, I find myself, six years post-graduation utilizing those skills I gained interacting (not confronting) security studies majors in my graduate school, but to forge a livelihood for civilians caught up in over a decade of protracted conflict in Somalia. With an open mind, I am now sitting at the same table with my formerly sworn “archenemies” –the military- to mobilize support for Somali civilians under the care of the Uganda Contingent to the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). I have allowed myself to learn that AMISOM is not only bombing the shit out of Somalia, but also lending their humanitarian hand, sharing their health facilities in Mogadishu to treat the sick, malnourished and wounded Somalis. My mission is to use every opportunity of on-the ground knowledge, access, and easy transportation of donations we collect to save lives in Somalia. And I am doing this, “as a matter of principle”:)

What if you find someone who believes in your dream, but not as fast as you want to move it?

I am going through the moments. I celebrate the fact that I found somebody not hard to convince to believe in my dream. In fact, so readily, was the offer to carry my dream along. Perhaps there is a professional investment there, but this person is also humanitarian.

But that is one-and-a-half weeks ago, when I thought my dream was gonna fade away into “just another dream”. My dream co-catcher is a very credible face and profile on the “who is who” of Kampala, and the entire Uganda. Can bring in contacts both local and foreign, and has a profile of humanitarian work in the servicing of Uganda, as well as medical treatment of urban and rural Ugandans, emergency situations, dire need and where there is absence of public medical services.

The problem I am experience now is fitting into the schedule. OK, let’s cut the chase. It’s a HE! He’s a very busy man with many hats and locations –politician, humanitarian, doctor, father, husband, guardian and writer. All those he has to fulfill, alongside trying to fit in mine. He was so enthusiastic when I broke my idea to him. In fact, he did not wait for me to ask, if he would partner with me. (I actually my plan was not to ask him “if he could” but instead “how he carries out his”), Readily, he offered to give a face to my dream of launching a fundraising initiative among Ugandans.

Now, I am beginning to wonder whether he is ready to move my dream as fast as I want it? True, we met the day after he agreed to dream with me just after I thought I had hit a stalemate, when my first potential donor said –I needed “street cred” that I thought I had! To my amazement and excitement, he jumped onto my idea and when we met the next day, I found him in the company of four other potential volunteers to see through this initiative.

I had all the paperwork already drafted out that I had emailed him to look at and give feedback. Alas! He had not read it. But it was not hard for me to explain to him what the idea was, my progress thus far, and the “to do list”. The six of us brainstormed on how to proceed, the people we need to meet, the permissions we need to secure, and the activities that would work to boost this fundraising initiative.  So, I went back home and continued with my homework, of amending the initial documents I had drafted for our initial partner to reflect our new partner. Two days of no power cut at home threw us back to nothing done. Although, there are things we could do without the documents, like, meeting some people with expertise on the kind of activities we wanted to do.

I did my part and met up with two of such people who have both worked in Somalia but also donated aid to the Uganda –AMISOM contingent, and therefore know the terrain and the nature of relationships we need to build. The challenge right now is, we cannot proceed with official fundraising, until he approves the fundraising letter, we agree on MoA and terms of operations and secure those initial donors that we need. All this need his face, but most importantly, need his approve of the guiding documents for this activity –the fundraising package is ready…but waiting for his big-self to make it happen. Mr. DREAM MAKER, PLEASE TURN MY DREAM WHEELS ROLLING!

How Do You Cultivate Trust? And Convince Others to Take the Risk in You?

My personality is that I often take things for granted, wade into waters with fears of danger sealed or should I say contained, and often come out successful. So, I refuse to be inhibited with the cult of “who are you”. BECAUSE I AM! I am Doreen Lwanga, born on the 28th Day of April in the year of the dragon.  Well, I prefer Doreen Naka, because when I introduce myself as Doreen Lwanga, everybody asks, “WHICH LWANGA”? or “Lwanga owawa”? No! not any Lwanga, just “LWANGA, period! So, to avoid the “oli mwana wani” (whose child are you) kind of questions, I would prefer to be known as NAKA. The problem though is that, America and my official life conquered me already. Because all my official documents have LWANGA as my last name. Because American could not pronounce my name –NAKA without massacring it, LWANGA seemed a better escape for me. This is not to say that LWANGA is an easy ride for them, which they would rather pronounce LA-WANGA! So, that is a mouthful of me – I AM! And I do not allow anybody to think I AM NOT!

But now I have been hit in the face again with that, “WHO ARE YOU”, that my attitude is not enough to cover my crazied up face! I am reminded that I can be a nobody in some places like Kampala, never mind that I was born here. That, I need to clothe myself in “who is who” clothes, mine are too obscure to notice and trust. How do I handle this? How do I paint myself, “I AM SOMEBODY”, and achieve the recognition and trust that I need, just for being a beautiful dream catcher?

You see, I am trying to organize a fundraiser for Somali famine relief, and I thought I could just walk up to individuals, offices and the public, using the contacts I know to say, hey! I am a dreamer, a smart dreamer with a big big heart. Give me your money and everything and trust that I will deliver it to Somalia, just like that, using my exceptional networking skills. You see, I have done things like that before, just dreaming about reaching out to something and raising money from anywhere, anything. Through my usual,

“Hi! I am Doreen Lwanga, and I am raising money for XXX organization, pse let me know where I can pick up your donation or you can send it to my paypal account no. XXX.” OR “Hi! I am Doreen Lwanga, and I am running a marathon in support of the Leukemia foundation. Pse contribute to this worthy cause by sending your donation to my account at…” OR “Hi! I am organizing a bake sale and online fundraiser to purchase books for a Women and Gender Studies Library at Makerere University, pse donate to buy a book.” OR going around to corporate entities in Uganda to fundraise, back then as a little college student for building a primary school for TOKA Farmers in Kaliiro, Iganga district of rural Uganda.

While the last initiative reminds me that I had the backing of an institutional introduction letter, I have achieved all my other fundraising initiatives  through personal trust and confidence. I am aware that we live in a gangsta’s paradise, where dogs eat dogs and other people’s dogs too! But I also recall every second of my life that, “Karma is a female dog! Its bite stings so deep, and not once! Therefore, you steal, it comes back to bite you. I would, therefore not wish to cross Karma’s path; I like to stay in her good books. That way, we nurture lifelong relationships and save lives and feel good doing it and making the world a more beautiful shared space for us all. We do not have to be too rich or too poor to help. We can all chip in, because we have different resources that we can pool together –money, hands, heads, contacts, clothes, time, you name it.

I like to taste the waters; if they are virgin, I will mature them.  I do not think Ugandans cannot give or trust “strangers”. First of all, I am not a stranger, but perhaps I can concede that I am not in the “who is who books” of Uganda. My strengths is that I am a super-fabulous networker and I run my mouth around to get into the “rich and famous”. So, I can start with that. If I cannot do this on my own, I will use my ever-revolving brains to recruit a “Face of Doreen’s Initiatives”. I will use my persuasive tongue to sell my idea –sure I can sell myself, how tough is selling an idea! I will persevere, toil to achieve this dream, make this happen and make me proud.

My dream is to break into the Ugandan corporate and public, build their trust in interfacing with a stranger, convince them to take a risk in reaching out to those in dire need in Somali and mobilize them to recall their world-renown spirit of giving and sharing as we make Africa the better place. Through my dream, Uganda is going to reach to Somalia and give to save lives. I have the trust in me, and your trust in me will have matured by the end of this venture. Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. TAKE THE RISK WITH ME!