Happy life-day, ma.

It’s been two years and I have made progress, ma. We all have.

I no longer think obsessively of death.

I care more.

My mind no longer serves up those cruel, cruel dreams where I am hanging out with you and a voice keeps saying you’re dead.

I do wish you’d come back to my dreams though.

Praise talks more. He actually laughs. He cares about things again.

Jero and I have rallied all of the min-ot-ness that we can and are no longer so scared.

Jero’s personality has exploded in the craziest of ways. You must be so proud.

Jero and I keep each other strong.

She is in campus now!!!!

Gabby and I have a special connection. It makes me sad because that was you and her. It makes me happy because that was you and her.

Daniella is healthy, happy and such a source of joy, my god.

Joshua has blossomed even more. Everything about him has changed, except for his hands that remain yours.

Daddy is the same as ever, thank god.


It is a hopeless, a crazily, craz-ingly painful thing to lose the blanket of love, certainty that is your mother.

But we’re making progress.

“To lose your mother, well, that is like losing the sun above you. It is like losing–I’m sorry, I would rather not go on.” 

Yann Martel gets it.


Happy life-day, Ma.


Don’t donate yourself, your nearest, your dearest to death

September is the month that my mother slipped through the doors at the other end of this waiting room that we so politely call life.

Her departure was aided by the staff of one of the popular private hospitals in Kampala (namely Kadic) who, using negligence, gave her an almighty shove into the arms of death. I suppose it all began when her doctor, a man who had performed multiple cesareans over a long career, somehow forgot that people who’d just undergone major operations were susceptible to blood clots.

When that nurse with a thin, brown face and stunned expression held my shoulders and said, “You are going to have to grow up now” I was sure my mother’s conscious was still in the hospital, perhaps in its walls, trying to steady itself, to gather gravity so that it would become weighty enough to slip back into her body.

And I called for her to do so in the only ways I knew how: noise, violence, chaos.

The first thing I failed to accept was that we had lost her after doing everything right, at least by movie standards: rushing to the best hospital we knew, delivering her into a pristine waiting room, being  reassured by a young doctor whose accent made you think “clean, sure”.

How could such a logical system fail, I asked? How could they betray my trust in the competence of musawos? What kind of doctor only remembers to administer oxygen to a patient who has been failing to breathe for an hour, after they have taken their last struggling breath? I suppose I had expected things to play out like an episode of House.

The second thing I failed to accept was that we could have saved her life had we had basic knowledge of the plants, spices and herbs around us. They could at least have mitigated the irregularities her body was facing. A small clove of garlic ingested regularly, ginger, cayenne pepper, vanilla leaf, all which thin your blood and lessen the likelihood if you developing atherosclerosis, a condition that causes blood clots to form in our vessels.

Two years later and I still remember so clearly, the helplessness I felt that Wednesday night. It is a strong force behind my desire to become an herbalist, a true daughter, sister and wife to the soil and her extensions.   

On the night of 9th September, Chris Ocamringa was reporting about a mysterious disease that is making the throats of the afflicted in Ntungamo burn and then produce snail like creatures, mbu. I balked at his use of air quotes as he referred to the medicine men and women who were,  according to all accounts, treating this disease successfully. Shya.

We have been poisoned by the idea that medicine is only worth appreciating when approval flows down from overseas. We are both suspicious and dismissive of the wise men and women who have been healing our sick for centuries, who have retained their knowledge in the face of globalization, colonialism and self-racism that came as a direct result; who have protected their knowledge against the stealing and repackaging by foreign elements. As a reporter whose responsibility it is to bring us the news, it was silly of him to flaunt his bias towards the medicine men and women.

Unless we intend to continue to donate our nearest and dearest to death while paying for death spaces in the fancy little hospitals that keep mushrooming all over the hills of Kampala, we had better wake up to the healing elements around us. It doesn’t take much. At the very least, google. Pay attention to what you eat, hydrate and move.

 Ma, Mary Jessica Opwonya, you are loved and sorely missed by we, your seven.


My maids and I (nobody dies).

I’ve had the good but inconveniencing fortune of running a home (more accurately, being the oldest female in it- which means the same thing in our society). I say good fortune because time will come for me to leave the nest and I’ll possess some very essential homemaking skills like: changing a diaper, tricking a feisty 11 month old into falling asleep (using lighting + Florence and The Machine) and trying to maintain a delicate balance between amicability and toughness in my interaction with the maids, these strangers we let into our lives basing entirely on the recommendation of a friend or a relative.

All the above require energy that I just don’t have after a long day in the office which is where the inconvenience comes in. I’m not allowed to just enter the house and sleep. I have to make an inspection, order the doing of this and that, pick up a broom and sweep a corner to show that I am a good mistress and not a slave driver, e and t and c.

Because no maid is perfect and some can be terrible devils that make you want to be single forever so that you’ll never have need of one, I complain about them a lot. My gchat is always on fire. She left the baby’s bottle under the chair! She’s always on the phone! She’s behaving weirdly around my male relatives! She’s stealing my stuff! and the list goes on.

It must be hard for the maids, especially untrained ones who come from a normal life in the village to a place where they have duties that can’t be shirked because they’re being well paid to perform them. You can’t whine about your dislike of doing the dishes when you’re a maid. That’s your job.

At the crux of my disappointment with the ones at home, when I was prepared to withdraw the last of my money to send them packing (consequences be damned), it occurred to me that the dynamic between them and I is exactly the same as the one between my employer and I. I was spending so much time complaining about their incompetence, but just how similar to them was I being at work? I hated this question but it calmed my nerves and made me (think about being) a better employee.

I hate it when they slack off, lie around in their bedrooms when the house is a mess probably as much as my boss hates my spending half the day on gchat.

I hate it when they cook or clean just to get it done, with no interest whatsoever because that means supper tastes like old socks, just like my boss must hate it when I present work I did just to beat a deadline, or to shut him up.

I hate it when they act resentful of direction and advice, but I’ve been a pouting, defiant employee many times.

Finding similarities between their behavior and mine hasn’t made me perfect yet but I’m a bit more patient and less likely to explode all over them. The assholes.

My aunt Sherry says, “When you’re at work, you have to behave like a child living with a moody guardian. Be humble and hardworking, generally eager to please. Don’t feel awkward about performing better than the rest. Life is not easy in Kampala.”

In the words of Khalil Gibran, “if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.”

On obsessions *(not the dead band)

Obsession. Definition: The unhealthy immersion of one’s mind, soul and (where applicable) body into something or somebody. Or even somewhere. It is possible for a creature to be madly obsessed with a patch of grass outside their house, but this creature is more likely to be a ruminant, than, you know, a person.

Was it Louis de Benieres who said a man is only as good as his last obsession? I have several, which hopefully means that I’ve got a vast personality and not something that can be diagnosed.

People/ things I’m crazy for:

Enygma: This perpetually masked MC who sounds like a serial killer that’s a male stripper on the side has got me good. He says ayayaya, I swoon. He talks about ten reasons to date MCees, I buy yet another def.i.ni.tion shirt with his name on it. If you haven’t, for minutes, stared at his mouth through his balaclava and tried to place it/ attach it to one of the Ugandan males you have met, you can’t possibly be as obsessed as I am.

Matooke: My mother is a matooke fiend. She’s the only other person I know who can comfortably eat pressed matooke and fried matooke together as a meal. Boiled, pressed, stewed, flash fried; it is my favorite ever. I haven’t gone a week in my life without stuffing my face with this exciting nyamsockable, so it qualifies as an obsession.

Damp Squid: There’s a blog on the interwebs called Damp Squid and it is the world’s true source of happiness. It is where all smiley faces are manufactured, where laughter is tested for authenticity. Dampsquid is fabulously funny and everybody deserves to visit it. Feel free to read all the posts twice (thrice, four times. Who’s counting?).

Kimbra: There’s a space in every girl’s life for Kate Nash and Lily Allen type music; cute, feely, sweet and slightly bleedy. I thought I’d stuffed that space to capacity until I met Kimbra. Her music is fabulous, her videos are adorable and she grooves like drunken cat. I’m in love.

Mac lipstick: Finding a brand of lipstick that works for you is the hardest thing. You’ll suffer rashes, cracks, actual rips, lip pimples, itchiness, etc. So when you chance upon a wonderful tube that produces sweet smelling, nicely colored grease with which you can accentuate your fabulous lips, bright red joy fills your heart and makes you do weird things like buying a whole box of the stuff.

Ecclesiastes: With the possible exception of Revelations, this is the only book in the Bible that was written with the attention span of the average youth in mind. Content- spot on. Delivery- fantastic. Length- short.  It tackles angst, despair and dispenses advice in an open, honest way. King Solomon is basically saying, “Cut the bullshit. Life is hard and pointless, but you need to enjoy it, especially when you’re young. Take care and spare a thought for God.” I don’t read it as often as I used to, but this list wouldn’t be complete without it.

And just so that I can stop judging myself, I’m going to mention my library. Those are my obsessions. Tell me about yours in the comment section.


What you feel right after the overwhelming horror, the hopelessness, the pain, the madness of grief is gratefulness. You’re grateful to the people who have come around, who’ve lent their ears and cheeks and shoulders to you and your barely coherent ranting; who’ve dragged you away from the brink of self destruction and have held you and wept along and let you ruin their smart clothes with drool and snot and pain.

You’re grateful most of all to your enemies, the ones you had closed your life off to. Those people you’d killed off in your mind and heart and soul, who you had cut off completely. When they, after hearing of your pain come around and hold you regardless of the ugliness that passed between the two of you, there’s nothing stronger than the gratefulness that you feel towards them.

My mom died on 21-09-2011. She left. She vacated her body. She broke up with the world. This has left me devastated. This has left my family devastated. What I can’t stop asking is, does this happen to everybody? Is this what everybody goes through? Is this what we’re all destined to experience? TWICE? Life is a beautiful thing. Death is a horrible thing. Don’t let any make-a-quick-buck rock band tell you any different.

R.I.P, my ma

Mummy was a really cool person. Mummy was extremely funny. She had an opinion on everything under the sun (the president, nibiru, the ozone, catfish, even the lengths of my sundresses).

She was really happy. In general. Of course, it was general knowledge at my house that when mummy got angry or even slightly irritated, the person who didn’t make it out of the room fast enough would have to sit through a yearlong lecture that would start, stop, start again; her scoldings had lives and personalities of their own. She always made rabbit-y face right before one of those lectures, so we all had plenty of warning.

Mummy was playful and funny and naughty. She used to play Sankarai with us. She used to tickle and giggle and run. She was always game. For anything.

She was really beautiful. In school, people would ask me, ‘What happened to you?’ and I’d say, “Give me time” or I’d poke them in the eye, depending on my mood. Mom was a beautiful but oh so modest woman.

She loved God so much and always told us to stay close to God, not to forget God, even in our happiest, most contented times because he’s the author of everything. She always urged us to pray. She could pray for hours.

She loved daddy.

She loved flowers. There was this flower that used to grow in the front yard. None of us knew its name, so it became the mummy-flower. This flower would bloom red, but with one white petal. Or pure white with one red petal.

Exactly. This one. What is it called oba?

These flowers used to make mummy so happy.

She loved color. Her wardrobe was full of life and color and beauty.

She loved her garden. Her plants. Her house.

She loved matooke. We were the matooke duo, ma and I. Mummy never ever cooked matooke without thinking of me. I never fried matooke without thinking of her. That was what she cooked for the last meal I had with her, that Wednesday. Matooke and liver and peas and greens.

She loved pretty things but was always willing to make ridiculously big sacrifices for her babies.

Mummy loved fish. We ate fish almost every day for 9 months when she was pregnant with our baby, our precious, our beautiful Daniela.

Mummy lived aggressively. I don’t think she ever once put hand to brow and complained about ‘depression’ or ‘hopelessness’. This is maybe because she was big on prayer, but also because she believed in doing things. In getting up and finding solutions. She loved life and always prayed for long life.

She called herself her children’s’ champion. Our number one defender. Our refuge. Mummy was like a mother chicken when it came to us. Her love. Her love was almost smothering. She did nothing half half. When she loved, laughed, yelled. When she teased. It was always in great measure, running over. There was too much life in ma. Too much.

The only reason I know and love words, the only reason I’m interested in stories, the only reason I’m a writer is mummy. From before I could understand, I remember her voice steadily weaving story after story after story. She even created dances to go with these stories.

She showed her love as often as she professed it.

It’s going to be a hard life in which I cannot call ma up after a bad dream and have her lull me to sleep with a looooong prayer. It’s going to take some getting used to, not having her to talk and talk and talk to after a hard day at work, a heart break, a quarrel. Her stories. It’s going to be empty without her many many stories.

I want, need, hope to be like my mom. I want to be her.

Mummy knew laughter. She knew dedication. She knew extremes. She knew love. She understood it all. May mummy, Mary Jessica Opwonya Rest In Peace.