Life’s Like That

Since I moved in the new house, one I can call my own until the end of my engagement here in Uganda I started to really enjoy my evenings.

For over a week now, I stopped going home late. One because I am done with my acting roles as head of the base and logistics support and two I lost the privilege of having a night driver at my disposal so I have to take the day driver to go home. I take offense in the beginning but that was petty. I can live with it, I mean without a driver I could ask to buy me eggs and bring me to the supermarket after work. I just have to be creative so I don’t offend people and still enjoy the bliss of being chauffeured to get my groceries once in a while.

As a result I get to enjoy my house even more. I sit in the balcony with a glass of wine or a cup of espresso and just enjoy the blue sky until the sun sets in. Or prepare dinner that cost nothing and eat in front of the tv. And sleep when ever and however I like.

It’s my no stress strategy. Looking at the positive in a negative situation because I know that my issues are nothing compared to the many that I meet every day in the settlement.

My Dear Mental Health,

I am finally alone in the guest house.

No more housemate for me until the new recruits starts coming. So I’ll take advantage of my “me time” while trying to catch up with all my backlogs.

You see the being alone thing comes with big responsibility that I didn’t ask for. But it sort of like dropped on my lap like a hot potato. The difference is I cannot throw the potato on another person lap because there’s no one else here.

You must be wondering what I am blabbering about. Well, for contexts I will tell you about my week.

For a long time, the mission is struggling to find solutions to make work easy for the program. First the support team is supposed to do that but something must be blocking them from doing a smooth job despite all the necessary supports provided.

So, before the holidays, the boss finally accepted that the problem is not the lack of capacity, but the lack of integrity of the people themselves, those that were asked to provide support to all the projects in the base. I will not go into so much into detail because I may land my ass in jail for libel or worst I’ll be sent home for this blog.

Fast forward to last week, the person handling the case ended his mission. He had no one else to hand over some of his responsibility to but me – the last one standing in the base out of three. Well, actually I knew they will leave before me, I signed a 12-month contract and theirs was just a quarter of that.

The first one left two weeks prior and it was just as good as being alone but that’s for another letter.

With my colleague leaving I grew another head to put a hat on and started to do some base management. Which I never did before because as many know I am a field person — I like to be out in the sun and shuffling from location to location visiting people.

The field person is the first head, the original head until I arrived here because I was told immediately to do project management at the same time. So the second head grew almost overnight until I hand it over the person we selected last week. I hope she checks out well so I’ll be on my merry technical way.

So back to the original thread of the story.

With the third head I was suddenly tasked to handle sensitive documents which were for the naive of me didn’t think much of it. But when the document was not well received and signed by the person I used to work with I was confused with the reaction of the higher being that be.

First, it was not my job to handle such a sensitive document when dealing with staffs. Two there was no anticipation on the part of the person responsible and of course if she hasn’t thought of it how will I know it, I am not in Human Resources for a reason. And the lady has the balls to confirm what I already know that I was tricked – bacause a crook, is a crook, is a crook, that’s all the explanation I needed to make me feel good.

The worst is not that. The person I though supports my debacle further drilled in my incompetence, and a third person did the same. Made me think … are they kidding me? Because it felt like I am the only one who doesn’t know what to do in a situation like that.

I cried a little. Self-pity crept in. And I am ready to throw in the towel because it was clear I cannot do someone else’s job.

Then I am angry. The woman which I thought has balls actually has none. The boss whose always siding with her may also have less of it and the third one is as clueless as me.

I decided to keep the third head realizing that after talking to a very dear friend – there is no one who can do this here and I am ready to take it on until the new person arrives or feel guilty if you know something worst happen. It will be a lot of work for me, but I am not new to hard work and dealing with complicated people so bring it on!

After a good night sleep, I am better.

Today is another day. For the whole morning now I am still trying to find my motivation to open my work computer and get something done, cutting down my backlogs and start fresh on Monday.

Until the next letter. Looking forward to your reply.

Ciao,

Dee

An Unusual Christmas Week

This years Christmas is low key.

Veneration of the Child Jesus

Four weeks ago I went back to work and landed myself in East Africa, Uganda to be exact. My work even took me to the north of the country, in Arua. When I arrived I knew that I will be spending the holidays away from home, that’s why I made connections to the only Ugandan friend I have … Silvester.

Sil and I worked for a year in Palestine. Living in Gaza for the whole of two thousand and sixteen, and I got to know his family. From the many stories we shared hanging around the house, for the lack of places to go that is not banned and the lack of other expats who does not have the same security restrictions as us, I got to know them as if we’ve met.

So when I arrived in Uganda, the second day, I met Martha, his beautiful wife and the latest addition to his brood of three boys – Michael. The little tot is special to me … he’s the namesake of my dad and both were born on the feast day of St. Michael September 29, eighty-three years apart.

Miguel and Michael

It has been decided much later that I will be spending the whole Christmas break in their house and with his family in Kampala.

Seguku hills

The view … sunset over Seguku hills in Kampala

In the outskirts of Kampala is where the Kasozi is raising their family. The house is exactly how he described it and from the photos he had shown when he broke ground.

Coming over though was a bit of a challenge, having driven long hours from Arua that day, I was eager to just get to their home. We set off quite late than normal be cause of some last minute paper works before office is officially closed for the holidays. We lost three hours from the usual six morning rendezvous, we set off at nine and there were near mishaps along the way plus the mandatory lunch and shopping. We reached the city center at the peak of the traffic of Kampala and being the last to be dropped off I reached Martha’s home at ten that night.

I’ve been on the road for over thirteen hours. Felt like I travelled from Manila to Doha all over again 😳.

The house is over the hills, overlooking south Kampala and across other hills. Rough road and uphill I was just happy our driver was game despite the late hours.

The morning after

Martha welcomed me despite the time and showed me where I will be sleeping in the next two weeks – I am roomies with the boys VJ and Mattie, three and two years old sleepyheads. When they woke up they wondered who is there sleeping in what used to be empty bed across their room.

Sweet boys, I woke up with being addressed as Aunty followed by “how are you?” Two sets of eyes wondering who this muzungo is … the white skinned aunty (although I am more brown than white 👩🏻‍🦱).

Riot everyday

The boys born a year apart are like twins. They worn similar clothes when we go out and copy each other all the time. But more than that they are frenemies. Always someone is crying and calling for mommy but when they are in good terms they are the image of bliss. A sweetheart if you ask me until one bites the other 🤭.

No they are not twins 😜

Good thing mom has the patience of a saint. Never saw her angry, stern yes but not angry nor frustrated. Wondering how some parents react when one and worst three are acting up together making a riot. Waiting to see what Michael is like when he turn two … it would be a noisy house over Seguku hills.

🙏🏼

I am thankful for this experience, an immersion I didn’t plan. In the Philippines, to experience 101 hospitality one needs to be invited to live in a Filipino house, rich or poor the experience will be profound. Same as I have here although I imposed my visit I am experiencing a holiday like no other.

Happy to meet Silvester and Martha’s family including their immediate extended family. It is truly wonderful to live a life like a local even though I am musungu.

It will be hard to leave but will soon do before I overstay my welcome, but actually to return to work up north.

We Take Care of the Flock

I recently moved for work.

This time I find my self waking up to the vast sky of Arua in northern Uganda.

It’s my first time here, but not in Uganda. I was here over 10 years ago in 2007 and enjoyed the country’s offer of natural parks, safaris, death defying rapids and of course glamping in the #NilePorch. The time when everything seems magical, like out of the jungle book 😊.

What am I doing here?

Not much really, at least for now. But soon work will pick up and will help out delivering rehabilitation services to people with disabilities living in the camps around here.

While work is still slow, I am enjoying my time with colleagues slash friends. We’re living as a small family away from our own.

The flock

I arrived as the third wheel in our small expat group based in Arua. Two others arrived and settled in before me. But I arrived not only to meet people but also chicken and guinea fowl.

Yes, they are our tribe! And we have our guards and cleaners helping out to make us understand the way of our flock.

In the beginning my friends here just want those that lay eggs and eat insects.

So we got roosters and hen. We got the eggs. It comes twice or thrice a week. Then the guinea fowl came next. The more the merrier 🤗.

The fowl we named them Jack and Rose from the infamous titanic just to make the relationship more personal 🤪. The rooster is called Lucky because he was saved from the butcher and also he has two wives. But we can’t seem to agree on the names for the hens.

Finding our little happiness

Arua is not without a fun place to be. But after a long day under the sun, or from sitting long hours inside the car 🚘 and office, a little diversion at home is not so bad.

The chickens and fowls become our after work responsibilities. In fact even before work. They become part of our lives when they start dominating our mornings calling out the sun 🌞 telling us its time to get up and get ready. And I didn’t realise Jack can be so loud anytime of the day😳.

Having them around is such good idea – to kills snakes, or eat insects and more. Plus of course we thought of the meat they can give us. But we hope we will not get to that part and feel guilty eating our pets.

Simple joy, great stress relief

The flock may seem little and odd but in the kind of work we do, all that is good is magnified and all that is not is forgotten.

If we cannot avoid to be cynical, we just have to look at our plucking flocks and we are relieved. We just start laughing 😂.

You should see us fussing about their house, their mating and their foods 🥘.

They are like one of us, they also need TLC because they give us the relief we need to break the stresses of the day, and have a restful evening until they wake us up again and again and again the next day!

I Was In An Abusive Relationship Without Me Knowing

When I was younger, I had no concept of domestic abuse or abuse in general. I didn’t know I was in an abusive relationship until after I learned about it as I grew in my chosen career. The abuse became a byword in the meetings I attended, and it became very real when I witnessed for myself what it can do to women and families.

***

It was in late 2000 when I entered into a relationship with someone I met in the country where I was working then. He’s from my country and being new in that place, getting that much attention from men, I felt very special. But this one particular person had pursued me until I said yes.

We were inseparable. He became constant in my daily life – from waking up to sleeping. I thought it was cute, sweet and very loving. Every day I get sweet messages in my email, and at some point, I was looking forward to it and felt terrible when there was no new email from him. Every hour I get a phone calls just asking me where and how I am, that was also sweet until it was not anymore. He would show up in my office if I am working in the headquarters bringing food or inviting me out or any gifts he fancies giving me.

I live in another town, so I go home to the capital every 2-weeks to spend a weekend break and work in the HQ before I go back again, so we only see each other every 2-weeks. He didn’t like it. He wants me to travel every weekend and spend time together. I found it again sweet, thinking he cannot live without me. But going for 6 hours on rough roads twice every week was not only tiresome but also costly for the organization and dangerous for my driver and me.

I get to travel when there’s approval from my coordinator, and I have to time it with something to do in the city to not waste both time and fuel, that time back then fuel was difficult to source and very expensive in the black market because of the embargo.

He was not happy with the arrangement that’s why when I am in the capital city, he never lets me out of his sight especially after work or during the weekend. He would pick me up from my house, and we would spend the whole weekend together to the point that I moved in with him because that’s what he wanted. He was so possessive he doesn’t want me to mingle with other people when I am in town – wants me all to himself. Sweet until it became too much and when I protested, without physically hurting me, I felt beaten.

Slowly I lost touch with the friends I met there. Social media was non-existent, and SMS was a luxury we don’t have. I was not allowed to mingle with my colleagues, and he doesn’t want to join me when I invite him because he doesn’t like to hang out with other people except me. If we will accept an invitation, it was from his friends, and I cannot say no because he will get angry, so I always tag along. He would also host dinners and karaoke with people I don’t know, men with their wives and gf but we never go to their houses when they invite us.

In short, he controlled my life. He showered me with gifts and sweet messages. He provided me with luxury my organization cannot provide us because we’re supposed to be frugal and not showing off – I mean we cannot afford 24/7 generator to light the house or even to use aircon during summer. He brought me to nice restaurants and decided my life for me.

We had several fights, but I never win. We had big fights out of nothing. He will accuse me of wanting other men than him if I admire a car parked by the beach with a cute driver. Or when I was in an official party and laughing with some male guest, he thinks I was flirting with them. He almost drove off the cliff when we decided to have a romantic dinner in one of the few beautiful and expensive restaurants in the city, and we found there some of my friends from where I live that was also in town having their breaks and relaxing. He accused me of agreeing to his invitation because I knew my boyfriends (yes that’s how he called my friends) are there. When I stopped talking to him, he will woo me and say sorry, and everything will be okay until it happens again.

It didn’t help that the country where we were at that time have both development and peacekeeping action. When you’re based in the center of the country and surrounded by bushes, you’re bound to meet people from different military and country contingent with a mix of other humanitarian aid workers, and you immediately become part of the group. You form a bond because you rely on each other in case a problem arises or just to keep the boredom at bay you make impromptu events and own places to be the “place to be” (like a gasoline station because they have fuel became an impromptu bar to keep beers cold and have light) because that’s just how it was in the bush and that is what my then boyfriend didn’t understand. For him, it’s flirting, and that was a pure evil accusation.

Despite that, I stayed in the relationship. Eventually, he moved to another country but before he did that he offered marriage but with a catch! I am to become a stay-at-home mother to the family that we will raise. He converted to Islam when he was stationed in the Middle East for seven years, and he started quoting the Qoran on why I should submit to him being a woman.

I remember vividly the answer I gave him. I said

my parents worked hard to send my siblings and me to school, to good private Catholic schools so we can pursue our dreams and be better in life. Now that I am enjoying the fruits of that, why stop now to raise a family? Because I know I can be a career woman at the same time a good mother and a wife if you choose to find a family mission

He didn’t like my answer, and he didn’t like working in countries with no action. He’s one of those adrenaline junkies who like working in countries where there is always a danger of getting killed or just in the midst of it. He didn’t repeat the proposal.

I moved out of the first country myself. My contract finished, and I moved to another difficult country. We continued the long-distance relationship and spent a lot of money talking to each other over the phone even though we knew we would not end up together until we called it quit three years after we started the relationship.

We drifted apart, and myself had grown to be my own person more and more. I started to see myself as someone that can be alone, that I don’t need a man to complete me. I reached a point in my life where I stopped altogether dreaming of getting married and having kids especially when you know that by the time my kids start walking I will need an assistive device to follow them around. Not fair to them and not very healthy for me but I am sure many will disagree, and that’s fine.

On hindsight, I already survived my vicious cycle of abuse and came out victorious. I still slip up from time to time, still finding the wrong men for me to hang out with but I have no more illusions and when I feel trap I know I can always open the door and leave and stop being the victim of my stupidity.

But my relationships are not always negative, I guess in my 40ish life I’ve met the men I can say “love of my life” and could have ended up with them, but they all got away.

The first one from my country left me to marry the woman he got pregnant and had a son before I met him because the woman stalked me and threatened my life, use the kid as a pawn to guilt trip my boyfriend then. The one from Canada was diagnosed with hepatitis C, and because he loves me so much, he let go of me even though I told him I would be with him until the end. He said it was not fair to me to look after him while I am still young, I can find someone healthy and can provide for my needs – it was noble and I kept his letters. I have no information whether he survived or already moved to the next realm, and I tried to search online but no luck. And the last person I said “I love you” to was taken from me by the bad guys in 2016; he was ambushed trying to fight off criminality in El Salvador the first day he returned to work from a month-long holiday in the US. Maybe it was time for him to leave all of us he loves.

***

Writing this post I realized no one is insulated from abuse, but what is important is how one rise above it. I am incredibly grateful to the stories I’ve read in World Pulse it enlightened me and made me feel that my experience in relationships made me the strong woman I am today!

I believe and you should too that WE ARE STRONGER TOGETHER!