random acts of kindness this Christmas

There is a concept or phenomenon called Random Acts Of Kindness (RAK) that encourages charitable giving to people in need, by people who have plenty or even just a little.

The philosophy makes one pass on gestures and items of kindness in unexpected, unacknowledged situations that are unplanned and so random that the recipient does not have the time to work out exactly how it came about that their lives would be so deeply and positively impacted.

For instance, a few weeks ago on my work street I saw a fellow stop his car alongside a woman carrying her baby in a heavy downpour, roll down his window, and hand the woman an umbrella. She was quite taken aback, and stood there for a few seconds after thanking him, to watch him drive off. Perplexed but grateful, she unfurled the umbrella and went on her way.

He did it on the spur of the moment, quite unplanned, and demanded nothing in return – and an umbrella only costs Ushs10,000 on average, so he could certainly afford it, while the mother of the baby probably had more pressing matters to spend Ushs10,000 on. Plus, the car-driving fellow probably earns Ushs10,000 every hour where she earns that for a week’s work.

His heart, I presumed, was warmed up because of the Christmas season atmosphere of kindness and goodwill to all mankind at random. He must have reasoned quite quickly that being in a closed vehicle, he could afford to walk a couple of metres out of the car into his building without an umbrella, while she had God-knows how many kilometres to walk with her baby.

Random acts of Kindness do not cover gifts to family on Christmas Day or at the office Secret Santa party, because those are not random and in many cases deep down we compare what we are giving to what we are getting. I daresay that many relationships crash on the rocks of gift exchanges where one partner unwraps an iPhone 6 while the other finds three pieces of colourful soap in their gift box.

Last week a couple I know arrived in Kampala from the United States and on their first afternoon out on the town unsupervised they left behind a tip of Ushs50,000 – each. Some hours later, the horror of what they had done resonated through all their contacts and a recovery plan was effected that resulted in the accidental tip being returned in exchange for a more appropriate Ushs10,000 each.

I was dismayed; if they had left the Ushs100,000 tip there it would have qualified as a top-shelf RAK. As soon as I heard the story I resolved to leave behind larger tips than normal during this season, and to tip people who don’t ordinarily receive any – so nurses, teachers, mechanics and fuel pump attendants should be on standby for a stranger reaching over to hand you a couple of thousand shillings with the words, “Merry Christmas” totally out of the blue..

We don’t have enough of those unexpected little gestures that put smiles on the faces of people who frown unhappily for most of the year. Give them a little cheer during this season and at least we have the year kicking off with smiling social service providers.

So far it’s worked out fairly well with me. The one thing I haven’t yet perfected is keeping bottles of drinking water on standby in the car for when I am going through gates manned by askaris. Their happiness at being handed a surprise drink is always uplifting – especially if they get handed the bottle before they ask for it.

I’ve thought about sweeping through a hospital one day with packs of lunch for the people tending to patients, or for the nurses, but I’m a little scared of food poisoning incidents. Perhaps I could instead go over with a tin of paint for the children’s ward of the hospital – any hospital – or some toys, nicely cleaned up if not brand new.

If I were heading upcountry for Christmas I would certainly try to make an impact this way.

The thought of all the Kampala people driving down to their villages and each giving just 20% of their holiday money to a charitable cause could be revolutionary. Put aside five bottles out of every crate of beer or soda, and instead give it to the orphanage (cash equivalent of the beer, of course!) in your village; or rip off one chicken leg from each pot, one scoop of rice, and a palmful of matooke and donate it to feeding the thousands.

The legend of Christmas makes you feel it is possible for someone to mobilise every four-wheel-drive vehicle going upcountry to pack an extra kaveera with a loaf of bread, a kilo of sugar, rice, and one or two other small items, then drop it off at a random house with a shout of “Merry Christmas!”

Or maybe families could buy up a medical kit from one of those pharmacies on Nkrumah Road and donate stethoscopes, gloves, bedpans…items that we hear are unavailable in remote, rural health centres.

And if doing without these physical items is too hard, then the elite, well-heeled people could donate a couple of hours of their precious time and give the children and youth in their villages some motivational talking to. Inspiration is a currency much ignored and yet highly impactful; your little chat with a little fellow in your village could make him aspire to be more than a boda-boda man in Kampala – and THAT is very important!

As the hymn goes: “Goodwill henceforth, from heaven to men, begin and never cease…”, these acts of kindness are supposed to be passed on to other people to create a domino effect of spreading happiness around the world.

The Christmas holidays provide the perfect stage for RAK because, it is argued, this is when God gave the world the gift of salvation through his son, Jesus Christ, and we are supposed to pass the gesture on.

oh, Christmas Tree!

The amount of opportunity we let go by us all the way to far-off lands like China is depressing but only if we look beyond, for instance, the flashing Christmas lights on that plastic tree you have right there in your sitting room.

I am not being predictable; you might not be aware that I am not an old man, yet within my lifetime it was commonplace for us to go out at around this time of the year to cut down our own Christmas trees.
I remember quite distinctly walking up through Nakasero and identifying potential trees, then securing permission (oba?) from the owners to chop them down for our use back home during the season. That was in the days when there were much fewer material comforts; before even those years in which we queued up for allotted crates of soda secured by connections I cannot dare ask my parents to explain today.
Until this year, for the last half-decade or so we have had a couple of those plastic artificial trees set up in our living room every Christmas, adorned with an accumulation of baubles, bells, tinsel and other shiny stuff.
It was convenient, the first year, because we were travelling upcountry and needed to pack up our tree so we could set it up where we were actually going to spend Christmas Day, to unwrap gifts from right under the tree.
As the children got older we cultured the tradition of decorating the Christmas tree together, with a family photograph at the end of the process; and at the end of the holidays, we have this take-down ceremony that we try to make just as much fun.
After a couple of years I realised I had to buy a new tree but settled for quick D-I-Y repairs on the old one, which over time have run their course so hard that this year I could no longer sustain the tree without importing a hefty amount of plastic.
But when I spotted the price of new artificial trees, sized appropriately20141211_093418 for the ages and heights of my children, I had to urgently change tack.
There are tens of thousands, if not millions, of perfectly shaped conifers trees I see by roadsides here in Kampala every day, and in places like Nakasongola en route to Masindi. Surely I could find a Christmas tree locally grown at a fraction much cheaper than the plastics imported from Asia, I reasoned, with my mind in my wallet.
And so, delaying the date of our tree decoration ceremony, I created time and drove to  a couple of plant and flower nurseries to shop. The first two were a dismal waste of time, where I was ushered by chaps who seemed to be hearing the word ‘Christmas’ for the first time in their lives.
The third gave me much hope for a full two minutes as I followed an eager twenty-year-old chap, the son of the proprietor, through the bushy nursery till he pointed me to the plant he understood me to mean when I said the words “Christmas Tree”.
As we stood there, him pointing at the “Christmas Tree” and me at a total loss of words, my heart fluttered a little bit because I had promised the children that they would be putting up and decorating a tree that very evening, but the trees I was being shown needed a year or so to grow to the requisite height.
I begged him to understand my need, describing eloquently what I believed a “Christmas Tree” should look like, until he released that phrase “Ooooh-ooooh!” that in English sounds like, “Why didn’t you say that before?!”, then led me through more bushy nursery to another corner of the business, and pointed at another batch of seedlings at knee level.
Since I was fast running out of time before evening broke, I appealed to an older chap working there, who offered his suggestion with authority that I foolishly believed till he had walked me through the bushes to another tree that had never had aspirations of being decorated, let alone picked, for Christmas.
Exasperated, I stated how improbable all their options were, and eventually googled images of Christmas trees for their visual reference.
It took me a full five minutes to realise that they were both pretending quite politely to have understood my mission, but only after they had walked me to some palm trees and, eventually, one they called Podo which looks a little bit like the one Google offers up under that name but not at all like the Christmas tree I had showed them.
It was exasperating to realise why, indeed, people were spending Ushs300,000 for a plastic tree imported from China for use during just this one month alone. A tree seedling of the type that one would need to grow a properly shaped Christmas tree could cost about Ushs500, and would take not many months (I can’t confirm how many) to grow to a respectable, sitting-room-decorate-and-show-off size.
Eventually, just as I was settling for a ‘Podo‘ and dubiously accepting its name, I spotted a misshapen young fir in the distance and headed straight for it. One clear command, Ushs60,000 and five hacks of the panga later, I made them profit from a tree they had not factored into their business model at all.
Like them, the other people who could be doing brisk business of this sort are apparently unaware and probably lamenting about their economic conditions instead of growing and selling Christmas trees. Meanwhile other equally ignorant yet more wealthy people are spending hundreds of thousands on trees imported from China into lush, tropical Uganda.
Next year, I am growing more of my own Christmas trees – on top of the ones I have already planted in my front garden. Supermarkets, importers, and Chinese manufacturers, please accept my apologies.
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congratulations on the US$18million golf course in Kihiihi, Mr. Garuga Musinguzi

Seriously – I applaud you!

Garuga Injects 50bn In Golf Course

The New Vision, December 10, 2014- Page 52

And in case you can’t read it clearly in that photograph, that paragraph reads, “Musinguzi said he had invested over sh50b in the course designed by domestic engineers Charles Katambira and Gad Musasizi.”

That’s US$18million.

Hence the support of the Uganda Tourism Board, I’m sure, since a development of this nature would certainly bring in hordes of high spending golfer tourists.

Interestingly, the online version of the same story dropped mention of the Ushs50billion cost-tag (http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/662693-rugunda-to-officiate-at-garuga-course-opening.html).

Most likely because most golfing authorities available online put the cost of construction of an average golf course at about US$5million. And, as the more Cost of an average Golf Courseknowledgeable in these matters say, construction is one thing but maintenance of a golf course is quite the other bigger cost – http://www.asgca.org/frequently-asked-questions/175.

But back to the Ushs50billion, journalists could have asked questions such as those on https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080512184824AAnMjMg just to be sure that they had heard right. It is under this link that people with lugezi-gezi say things like, “A fair golf course can be built on a minimum of 65 acres.When brooks, rivers, bodies of water, rock ledges are present the acreage increases appreciably. You also require acreage for the clubhouse, parking facility, driving range and putting green which are additions.

Being sports journalists, however, perhaps their focus was more on the game itself rather than the stand-out facts – and I am sure that this weekend they will ALL be heading down to see this magnificent golf course being put to inaugural use.

Afterwards, they will file reports about the acreage, the features, the views, and so on and so forth to explain the Kampala-mall-sized cost-tag.

Garuga is not a novice in business, as many stories – even online – tell. In http://www.observer.ug/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=34518:-what-has-amama-mbabazi-done-for-kanungu-district you read about how he “quit politics and concentrated on his businesses. Since then, Garuga has engineered the launch of two tea factories (Bwindi and Rugyeyo), a maize mill, an FM radio station, a three-star hotel (Savannah Resort), an airfield and other developments that provide employment to several Kanungu locals.”

US$18million for a golf course, therefore, could be a feasible investment for a man of his means and wherewithal. Still, I began to wish Garuga had read the link below and saved perhaps US$10million for something additional to the Golf Course: http://www.usga.org/course_care/articles/construction/general/Building-And-Maintaining-The-Truly-Affordable-Golf-Course/

And as I was thinking of ways to approach him over his future investment plans, another newspaper broke the spell: http://www.monitor.co.ug/Sports/Golf/Garuga-to-unveil-Shs5b-Golf-Club-this-weekend/-/690278/2550494/-/ixep33z/-/index.html

So there was an additional, misplaced ‘0’ in the first story….mssssschewwww!

Garuga Quits FDCBut then again – US$1.8million for a golf course…thank God this particular fellow quit politics for business!

Congratulations, Garuga! Seriously.

roll out the food of love – with a Ugandan flavour to it

PURELY by coincidence, earlier today @sandorwalusimbi said most of EXACTLY what is contained below, so it’s only fair that he shares in it and therefore gets special mention or a dedication:

LIKE most of you, once again this year I couldn’t wait to launch into my Christmas playlists, and started off streaming Carols through the house well ahead of the official start of the season.

Every year I go through this and cannot get enough of each and every song – except that ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ one, by Bob Geldof and a bunch of other ignorant, supercilious chaps with more musical credentials than the intelligence required to read geography and economics in any combination.

Not long after they released the first version of that song (Yes; shockingly, they have released another one, this year, because of Ebola) Philly Bongoley Lutaaya gave us a Christmas album of our very own, my favourite ever.

Katujaguze (“Omwana wa Ssebo Yesu azaliddwa”) reverberates for me today that feeling of more than 25 years ago that Uganda was rising out of the ashes and justified in celebrating to his melodic command.

This year we celebrated twenty five years since Philly Lutaaya passed on (may his soul Rest In Peace) and I still play his music.

Back then, most of the local music I listened to was on cassette tapes (“compacts” to some of you) and recorded by the Eschatos Brides Choir – whose music is still available at the Uganda Bookshop, as per the last time I chPhilly Bongole Lutaayaecked.

Their music was so ingrained in me, since my family is quite deeply Christian, that it was my childhood soundtrack and I didn’t consider it to be popular or hip in any way; so Philly Lutaaya’s “Sekukulu Etuuse” album awoke in me a massive realisation that we could do stuff like this in Uganda as well.

Which is why I ask myself every year at around this time why we don’t have more home-sung Christmas Carols from the fantastic musical talents and celebrities that grace stages countrywide the whole year round.

At this point I must thank Jose Chameleone for his 2013 song ‘Sekukulu’, which I only discovered last week while doing a search around this, and also Mesach Semakula for Lunaku Lukulu, released in 2012.

So what are the rest of these guys doing?

Even if it is the season to be merry, staging ‘Christmas’ concerts to earn money from dancehall and kidandali, and taking advantage of the high seasonal spirits and fairly reckless abandon to which revellers throw their wallets and purses is not really fair.

Our musicians should be singing songs that celebrate the season as well, and fit the theme of our lives at this time.

Rather than us finding good cheer from misguided types such as Band Aid, I would want Isaiah Katumwa, Brian Mugenyi and Michael Kitanda to join saxophones alongside the Watoto Children, Christ the King and Namirembe Cathedral Choirs, all having co-opted Juliana Kanyomozi, Iryn Namubiru, Jackie Chandiru, Joanita Kawalya, and Annet Nandujja as singers.

The western musicians and jazz artistes we listen to instead are simply playing back the very same old songs and Christmas Carols we’ve had and heard since time immemorial; so even our own, surely, can jazz up Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and throw in some Bakisimba or Endingidi twist.

Instead of “Chestnuts Roasting”, maybe “Nsenene Sizzling In a Frying Pan” – nanti the seasons are the same. “Winter Wonderland”? No – “Tropical Paradise”! “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?” Try “Mukasa/Byaruhanga/Okello the Boda-rider”, since he’s the one who’ll be delivering our gifts…

Something needs to be done differently for us, somewhere, somehow, and this is an easy one.

Or put a group of Ugandan musicians in a room to come up with a Christmas song that will make us kind, generous and giving; a song or album that will spur us into getting the money we would otherwise spend on food and alcohol and fuel for 4WDs to the village, and diverting it to a local health centre, or an orphanage, or a school somewhere.

If not generosity, God knows we need a spirit of forgiveness and goodwill sent to all these warring politicians, ex-lovers (Nigerian or others), errant or murderous maids, careless parents and drivers, angry workmates in public service or private employ or Kampala traffic, and social media trolls…the list is really long.

Perhaps if we had people we’ve grown up with and see every day, singing Christmas Carols in languages we properly identify with and sung by people we’ve grown up with, the message of the season might be better absorbed.

It’s time we rolled out music as the food of love so that we gorge ourselves on more than just food this holiday season, but with a Ugandan flavour to it.

tears at Ndere Centre: a tale of melody, humour and culture galore

My tears started flowing freely last Friday night just three minutes after I had taken my seat at the Ndere Centre.

I was hosting a couple of journalist friends from Finland to a night out on the town, on their first visit to East Africa, and Uganda in particular.

This should have been their first evening treat in Kampala but we had to push it to the last night because of scheduling issues since they had arrived so late the Saturday night before and immersed themselves straight into work.

Even as I was considering the idea of going to the Ndere Centre with them, I was emotionally shaky because of my links to the place; Stephen Rwangyezi, the proprietor, producer, lead performer and cultural guru, had been my primary school music teacher and made quite an influence on my life – directly and through my brothers as well.

As I was taking my seat I marvelled at the way his personal energy was projecting from the centre of the arena through the open amphitheatre that guests occupy at this place.

The first time I had visited this place, in Kisaasi, the road there was dusty and the trip a little taxing, but the passion he expressed as he walked us round the venue back then made it look as neat and flowery exactly as it did last Friday, and the comparison unnerved me considerably.

In my mind, the first real home of the Ndere Troupe was in my childhood neighbourhood in Lugala, at the very top of the hill where my parents now live and that we all lovingly call home, where the dancers had (maybe still do) dormitories and practice areas whose drums sounded every so often without irritation and complaint from those of us in the surrounding area.

So when Rwangyezi began the move to Kisaasi it was natural for us to pay a courtesy call, and again a couple more times thereafter, noting on each visit how much closer he was to achieving the dream he had set out for back when I was still an impressionable, wet-behind-the-ears child, wide-eyed at his wealth of culture, melody and humour.

Photo Courtesy of www.dw.de

Photo Courtesy of http://www.dw.de

Last Friday, I was an adult again wide-eyed at this wealth of culture, melody and humour, and wet in the eyes at how well this man has done for himself and for his country.

In fact, I was a little ashamed that I had gone so many years without coming back here.

This year Ndere is celebrating thirty years in existence – Rwangyezi launched his group back when he was my music and drama teacher, and I remember the temptation of joining him but I but had far superior rivals who didn’t take up the opportunities either. Two of them – Peter Kagwa and my young brother Paul – now run their own events management firms, no little thanks to his personal tutelage back then.

Watching the performances, I realised that many of us cherish weekends because we get to attend traditional ceremonies where the highlight, let’s be honest for a minute, is the dancing and singing by hired troupes such as Ndere and the many branches that have sprouted from Rwangyezi’s brave move starting a cultural troupe.

Some of you only watch national ceremonies on television because of those traditional dances.

That night, Rwangyezi introduced an old Munyankore man who he said had left his home comforts to join Ndere so that the cultural knowledge he had in his head could be shared with the next generation.

Later, he had us learning how to respond to akarimojong – with “Maatta” – and went through a volley of greetings led by a nubile ngakarimojong who enquired after the weather, cows, crops, rain, soil, furniture…everything. And all was “Maatta“.

And after the akarimojong greeting tutorial, he announced: “In our cultures when we greet we don’t just say ‘Hi-Hi!’ …I mean who is low?!” triggering another burst of laughter at the unexpected flippancy.

The entire Ndere production is amazingly creative, maintaining the authenticity of our cultures while mixing in modernity in movement and choreography, punctuated by Rwangyezi’s humorous narrative that makes you feel, in those muscles at the top of your shoulders, as if you could have spent the evening at a stand-up comedy show but are getting much more value for your shillings.

And for me, the flow of the dancers brought fresh tears with each successive dance.

Photo courtesy of www.planwego.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.planwego.com

When the Rwandese Warriors broke out with Nyaruguru I remembered many a night with my father-in-law smiling in appreciation and a couple of times joining in the dance to this very song, performed live by Jean Paul Samputu himself.

Some of you may never have heard of the trumpets of West Nile, even though you do know names like Louis Satchmo Armstrong and fork out ten times the Ndere entrance fee for the annual Jazz Safari.

The Agwarra and Adungu sounded fantastic and led to a humorous lesson in geography and history narrated by Rwangyezi in full and embellished as, “The Agwarra and Adungu played by Adiku of the Alur, whose neighbours are Arua and Adjumani and produced a President called Amin…”!

The thundering Barundi drums heralded in the climax of the night but could themselves have allowed us to leave on a justifiable high.

But that was the job of the Larakaraka, erupting in Ndere’s signature pot-balancing dance  – high tempo, technicolour, upbeat, vibrant, vibrating, throbbing, promising, pulsing, pulsating, undulating, ululating, mellifluously causing us to draw in breath while cautiously applauding with an irrational fear that out movement might topple the pots the girls had stacked on their heads….Two,  three, four…seven, eight!

NINE pots stacked on the heads of girls with different hairstyles, of different height, all gyrating and swinging and smiling and weaving in and about each other in the choreographed beauty that Uganda always presents if you visit the right places and meet the right people – as my Finnish friends did last week.