Third Prize

Third Prize

I Had A Dream

Noeline Kirabo Mulongo (Uganda) 

The sound of loud drums coming from the trading centre in Kyaliwajjala woke me up suddenly while I still enjoying the morning breeze. It’s 9th October 2052 which marks the 90th year since Uganda got its independence from its former colonial masters.  The sound of African drum beats filled the air accompanied by the stamping of feet by the young men as they engaged in the liberation dance. The men jumped so high as if they aimed for the skies while waving spears and thumping their chests, the women swung their waists from side to side in a rhythmic and harmonious way. The landing of the men with each jump sent an earth quake effect through out the village. The mood was ecstatic and its effects could be felt as far as 10 kilometres from the scene of celebration.

The men sung in unison; “Arise and shine, for your time has come. Arise mother land and behold your beauty shine. Arise O Africa, for now is your time. Let the music rise in our hearts, as we sing and dance. Let us bond with harmony, as we lift one voice in prayer…O Uganda May God uphold thee…” The women echoed; “ulele mama” after every sentence in melodious voices.

My heart begun to race as the sound grew louder and louder. I could feel the goose bumps developing all over my body as I hurried to get a sweater to keep me from the morning cold as I stepped out to go watch this year’s independence celebration. As I shut the door behind me, two ladies were walking past my house. One shouted to the other; “Kirabo, hurry or we won’t be in time for the purity dance for all the virgin girls in the village waiting to be married off”. Kirabo quickly replied; “I shall be with you in a second, I need to pick my best sash for the virgin dance so I can stand a high chance to impress the single men in the village”. They both giggled and stepped back a little embarrassed when they saw me join the main road. “Eladde Nyabo (good day mum)” they both greeted and I returned their greetings. I quickly let them go before me because I did not want to slow them down with my sluggish walking pace. Oh I remembered how as a young lady full of life and energy I used to walk so fast that often times I was asked to slow down by my peers. Now at 70 years, all that remains is good memories and a reminiscing of dreams that have become a reality. I laughed at myself.

The sounds grew louder and louder as I came close to the celebration grounds. From a far, the people looked like a thick cloud that was slowly covering the horizons. People from all walks of life had come to take part in this annual celebration. As I approached the stadium I could hardly find a place to stand or rest my weary legs. As I finally decided to settle under a mango tree and simply listen to the beautiful sounds, a young lady called out to me; “Jaja” which means grandma, “there are seats that have been reserved for the elderly in a special tent. Come with me and I will show you where to sit”. She helped up on my feet and led me by the hand to the tent set apart for the elderly like me. By the time we got there, I had tears welling up in my eyes. She noticed a tear drop as she helped me sit down; “is everything okay? Why are you crying?” she asked. I told her all was well, it was a simple flash back that brought all these emotions to surface.

She quickly settled down in the chair next to mine eager to hear what I had to share. I told her how as a young lady in my twenties I had often struggled with the moral degeneration in my community then. Young people had no respect or concern for the elderly and treated them as they pleased. It often broke my heart when I saw an elderly person being despised or mistreated. I longed for the day when society would go back to the morals and standards that our fore fathers had nurtured in our great parents. This kindness that you have showed me today is a fulfilment of that longing that I had in my heart then. “Thank you my child, you have truly blessed me today”, she looked shocked as I turned to look into her eyes. She quickly got off her seat and knelt down with a head hanging low, “no need to thank me, it is the least I can do”. As she got up to leave, I asked; “what is your name and whose daughter are you?” she replied; “my name is Kisakye and I am a daughter to Mr and Mrs Kwagala”. “Indeed I am delighted to meet you” I responded as I let her go continue her work of ushering in the guests.

It was such a memorable event and how I wish I would be part of this revolutionary throng moving in one accord. It is the sound of the dawning of a new day and era. The day has been slowly approaching over the years and gradually unfolding like a bride from her chambers getting ready to meet the man of her destiny. It has been years since such unified sounds were heard from multitudes of young people who see themselves as one body with a common goal and no dividing walls. Times have come and times have gone and things have changed for the better.

One of the highlights for the day was a young girl by the names Esther Mukisa, a primary six pupil in kyaliwajjala public school  who testified on behalf of her fellow children in the community; “we all children have equal access to quality education in spite of our family , social, religious or cultural background. We are happy with the quality of education we are receiving in the public school and confident that the education system is laying a sure foundation for our future lives.  We have no worry of being sent away for lack of school fees or being punished for coming late. The teachers are loving and understanding as they approach each child individually and address our needs accordingly. We are not burden by heavy bags full of books because we find all the scholastic materials in our classes!” Esther shared how their teacher Anna Birungi always sits with them during the lunch breaks to ensure that they have a balanced diet and develop the appropriate table manners.

Teacher Anna was present and confirmed that this was not only happening in her school but in all the other public schools. She also brought to our attention that the government has ensured that every sub county has a fully furnished public school and encouraged parents to keep children from travelling long distances to access private schools that are often far from home and fairly expensive. She noted that all public schools were free of charge and encouraged parents to register their children early enough for the next academic year. This called for ululations that literally shock the very grounds on which we stood and sat.

In the same mood, Lillian one of the parents to a special needs child-Daniel sprung on her feet and took over the microphone. Lillian was beaming with joy and excitement as she shared how the government had passed a policy to offer free special needs education to all special needs children all over the country. She said she had kept her five year old son in the house for fear of being stigmatised and also due to lack of finances to take him to a special needs centre that was fifteen kilometres from her home. She felt empowered by the new policy to move around freely with Daniel without any fear or low esteem. She could hardly hold back her joy as she continued to explain to our amazement that the government is also working towards establishing a special needs centre in every sub country to ease the burden of moving these children to the few special needs centres that are scattered all over the country. At this point she was shedding tears of joy and had to stop for a minute to compose herself. She noted that last month she was able to access the special needs centre that has been attached to kyaliwajjala health centre where for the very first time she got a clear understanding of what type of disability Daniel has. She was heartbroken to learn that if Daniel had been diagnosed earlier, he probably would be in a much better state than the one he is in currently. There was a moment of silence as all of us bowed our heads in disappointment and some could not hold back their tears at this point.

Without any warning, she was back to bubbling with joy while standing at the edge of the podium which took all of us by surprise as she shared a few of the improvements in Daniel’s life ever since she started taking him for his weekly therapy sessions. Daniel was now beginning to do some of the things he had never done like attempting to move his lower limbs on his own, attempting to hold a cup to feed himself and being comfortable sitting outside their house to watch the other children play. Previously Daniel was only comfortable when left behind closed doors and dreaded seeing people that he was not familiar with. All this started changing when he started going for therapy and meeting other special needs children. He now looks forward to every Thursday when he has to go for therapy at the health centre. She does not have to worry about how to get Daniel to the healthy centre because the healthy centre has been provided with a van by the local government that is meant to cater for people with disabilities and the elderly. She could not hold back how grateful she was when she instant fell on her knees with arms lifted high in praise to the Al might God and the people that God has used to change her family and those of other special needs children in the community for the better. The crowd stood in unison like a mighty wave as we began to echo a chorus that filled the entire place; “To God be the glory great things He has done….” It was such a sight to behold as people from all walks of life and religious backgrounds lifted their voices and hands in praise and honour to the Almighty for such a time as this when what our hearts had always hoped for was becoming a reality right before our eyes.

Once again I could not hold back my tears of joy. I remembered how back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s parents used to struggle to educate their children. How special needs children were viewed as a curse and a burden to not only their parents but to society as a whole. How parents with special needs children lost hope and gave up the possibility of ever seeing their children live out their dreams and destinies. How our parents had to raise so much money to send us to private schools because the conditions in the public schools were not favourable to nurture proper learning for children. It crossed my mind how daily we collided with children in the taxi parks who had to travel long distances and endure several risks so as to access a good private school. How I longed for a day like this when all children would have equal opportunities to a good quality education. It was like a dream come true as I listened to this testimony from the lips of a child. It warmed my heart and gave me confidence and assurance that this and the generations to come would not struggle to attain education as we did.

At the end of the celebrations, I waited for most people to leave before I would embark on my sluggish walk back to my house. I could have gotten a lift on the village bus that was specifically set apart to transport all the elderly that had come to attend the event back to their homes but after such an eventful day, I preferred to walk home as I pondered the events of the day.

I had only walked for two hundred meters when I had some one call me from behind, “Mrs Mulongo, wait up for me!”  It was Mrs Kafero, we had been friends since childhood.”How did you find this year’s celebrations?” she asked in a thoughtful tone as she caught up with me. I shared with her some of my personal highlights for the day and was delighted to know that we shared common views on the day’s proceedings. She confessed that she too had decided to take a walk home so as to give herself time for these truths sink in before being distracted by her grand children that had come to visit her for the short mid term school break. We talked along the way about many things that we had often hoped and even dreamt about which were now realities. We laughed about some of our struggles while growing up and blessed God for allowing us to witness this dawning of a new day and era.

She reminded me of how my life seemingly came to an end in the year 2000 when I was unable to enrol for University because I could not afford the tuition as a private university student. “I cried my lungs out but that did not solve the problem. I had worked so hard in my high school only to miss government sponsorship by one mark” I interjected. Those days we all aimed for government sponsorship because the tuition fees were on a constant rise and only a few could afford to pay for private sponsorship at the university. This was truly one of the hardest moments of my life. Thankfully I was able to pick myself up and look on the positive side of life. This is quite unheard of in this day and age. Every young person has equal opportunities to attain the highest level of education desired and to be all that they can be.

I also reminded her of how IIGL saved my life in those days. She laughed so hard like I had not seen her laugh in such a long time. She had tears in her eyes as she recollected the first time I told her I was far much better than all of them that had gone through university. She re-quoted her response then; “you look like one of the biggest fools I have every come across. How can you compare an on-line course to a university degree?!” she paused to catch her breath. “I guess I was wrong because you kept going further than many of us had dreamt of going. It was amazing and I should admit that at some point I was a bit jealous but did not have the guts to admit it then” we both laughed so hard and loud. It was interesting to note that university education was the only certain path to success in the early 2000’s because academic papers were more valued than competence.

She went on to share an experience that still amazed her; after her granddaughter Liza Muwanguzi  graduated from Mukono University, the Ugandan government started paying her a monthly allowance until she got a full time job. It was like a dream when she told her the news while asking her about her plans now that she had graduated. Apparently it had been passed as a national policy but due to poor eye sight we have stopped reading newspapers. I could not believe it until I saw a copy of her grand daughter’s first pay cheque that Mrs Kafero had kept as a souvenir; it was real and when she took it to the bank she was paid across the counter. I could hardly believe that all this was happening in the same country where we had both grown up and lived much of our lives. What a contrast to the days when we used to walk up and down the streets of Kampala in search for jobs. We were both so caught up in this thoughtful mood that Mrs Kafero almost missed the turn off that leads to her home. We exchanged pleasantries and we both proceeded to our homes.

I still had a distance to my home and I could not help but keep musing about all the things that had changed for the better. How what we had considered being impossible and a sure miracle was happening right before our eyes. How we had hoped and advocated for such changes in the days of our youth but did not achieve much success. How our hearts ached with all the social and moral evils that were prevailing at the cost of young and innocent generations that had been forced to pay the price for the sins of their fore fathers. I remembered a time in 2010 when I had gone to visit my sister who had just given birth from the private wing in the Mulago- the main referral hospital in Uganda. I was shocked and almost traumatised when I decided to pass by the general maternity ward on my way out. The images are still very vivid in mind as if it was yesterday; I watched women wriggle in labour pains with no medical personnel to attend to them. I was filled with agony for all the mothers and children that had to be born under such circumstances.

One of the women who happened to be a teenage mother screamed in horror as she felt her waters break but no one seemed bothered except for me who seemed to be the only ‘visitor in Jerusalem’. I held my breath not knowing what to do or how to be of help. My flash back was cut short by a lady crossing my path; “hello mum” she said as she made her way past me, “hello my daughter” I responded.  It was Mirembe-the community nurse who comes by every day to check on Mrs Egwang who gave birth a week ago. Mirembe moves around the community checking on expectant and new mothers to ensure that they are in good condition and that neither the babies nor mothers develop complications that could put their lives in danger.

This was never heard of when I gave birth to my Gladys my first born and Giovani my second and last born. They were born in 2014 and 2016 respectively. I remember how as a new mother I had to struggle on my own with the help of George my husband. They was not much help offered save for scanty information here and there from friends and relatives. Much of the things we did; we had to learn on the job, it was tough. In those days, the mortality rate was so high with many children dying before reaching the age of five years. George and I invested in many parenting books to help us gather the information we needed to help our children grow up healthy and well nurtured. We thank God that they survived and moved on to start their own families. It is a relief to know that many children can now survive and live to be all that God intended them to be because the social services and workers are there to help their parents during pregnancy and after giving birth.

As I turned off to my house, I was reminded of Tagore Rabindranath one of India’s greatest men; he wrote…

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary sand of dead habits

Where the mind is led forward into ever widening thought and action.

Suddenly the alarm clock goes for and I am forced to awaken from this great dream that has all the potential for reality. It is the dream of my heart as I sit on my desk in November 2009 pondering about the possibilities of this reality in the years of my earthly life. It is the heart beat of every revolutionist that is not content with the current state of affairs. It is the ideal destiny of all humanity and the freedom that our hearts desire; each day as we stretch forth in hope of bringing our earthly lives closer to the divine orchestration of our destinies and those of the communities in which we live. It is the heart cry of every child, adult, parent and agent for change, prosperity and peace. The rhythm of our lives reflected in how we live each day. It is a dream come alive by the choices we make on a daily basis.