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Ritah Namwiza November 22, 2010

Posted by Mike O in Charity, people.

In the last 25 years, I don’t think I’ve met someone who has impressed me as much as Ritah Namwiza.  Pretty, incredibly competent, articulate in ways I wish I was, and wise far beyond her years.  This young lady I met only briefly on my last trip, but have communicated with often before this trip.  I call her ‘business partner’ because, if I were to ever start a business in Uganda, she would be my first hire as manager.  But on this trip, she was more than that; she was my counselor and savior.

We met at Kiwanga in Kampala at Sister Rose’s memorial service (a later post on that); Ritah had agreed to escort me to Sabina in Rakai province (we Mzungus need to taken care of worse than small children there, I’m afraid).  The bus park area was a nightmare because of a strike against the bus park fees and our bus was two hours late starting out, turning it into a 6 hour trip.  For me, it seemed far shorter (and, for poor Ritah, probably a lot longer) because talking with Ritah about everything and anything turned out to be one of the most enjoyable intellectual experiences I’ve had in decades.  There are few subject I could not bring up that Ritah could not speak to and speak well.  I also realized how much forbearance the beautiful young lady had when two pastors sitting next to us marvelled at just how long I could talk!

Ritah had to return the next day and promised to meet me at the bus park.  That location was an even bigger nightmare on my return and that nightmare was to prove costly.  While struggling through the packed crowd, I fell a bit behind and got waylaid by a three-man pickpocket team that fortunately only got my camera (being left-handed and having most my valuables on that side kept it from being worse).  But that camera had valuable video I hasn’t had a chance to offload and I was distraught.

Ritah immediately took control.  She got me and my baggage to a safe spot behind some vendors, got on the phone to call in Esther for reinforcements, got to the police and got things underway.  They got me back to Kiwanga and Ritah continued to work the issue and- believe it or not- got the camera back intact!  Ended up essentially paying off some cops to actually do their jobs, but the $40 that cost was well worth it and considered an education expense.  FUll Story later; bottom line, Ritah is a can-do, VERY resourceful young lady that cannot be denied.  Here are my two saviors at Winnie’s graduation; good thing I’m old and pretty settled; a younger, freer man as impressed as I am with these two fine women would propose to either- or both!  🙂

Toward the end of my trip, I was carefully marshalling my money (staying at the orphanage, instead of a hotel) because I knew there was something I wanted to do.  I had promised to buy lunch for all at a meeting of the group of great people Ritah has forming into a new and exciting organization called LEAD Africa, essentially orphans working together to help the next generation get out of the cycle of dependency.  The meeting was about their constitution and I judged the group during that meeting; as I expected they were all exceptional.  At the end of that meeting, I surprised them with a personal grant- of one million schillings! (about $480).  That will be enough for the to sub-let an office, get some basic furnishings and file the paperwork to become a CBO (community-based organization).  Whether the group succeeds or not in this form is not my biggest concern; I know the PEOPLE in this group can succeed, and my investment is with them.  Ritah has an eye for the exceptional person and can bring them together.

I cannot praise Ritah enough, except to say that I have little doubt of her future success and that just a few people like her and Winnie can truly be the future of the entire country of Uganda.  Wise, worldly, but compassionate and talented to the extreme.  Ritah IS the future for an entire nation and I am proud and honored to call her dear friend.




I Don’t Want to Come Home October 16, 2010

Posted by Mike O in people.
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The title says it all.  I deal with such marvelous people here.  Rita Nyamwiza, savior an Wonder Woman, is on the way to this cafe to return my camera from a grand adventure described below:

Savior, Goddess, CEO of Getting Things Done; whatever title Ritah Nyamwiza wants, I’d gladly try to get for her. She has really saved my bacon here.  I’ve been taking too much risk for too long and it finally caught up with me, but not nearly as bad as it could have and- because of Ritah’s tremendous efforts- all of the real damage was undone and all that was left was a little ‘education’ cost to me and three professional thieves are in prison.
I came back from Sabina on a much later bus than Ritah had realized and she was left cooling her heels for several hours waiting for me.  I was vastly overloaded on the return trip, still carrying all the stuff for Winnie (her laptop DID allow me to maintain a journal, however).  But, more importantly, I was carrying far more cash (most in safer American currency) than I should have: $3,300 in US- buried deep inside the laptop case- and about 650,000 Ugandan Shillings (nearly $300) in my left cargo pocket, as well as maybe $100 of mixed currency in my left front pocket.  NOT a good way to arrive in the nightmare of shoulder to shoulder crowding around the New bus park (which is being struck by the bus drivers to demand that the recently increased fees be rolled back).
Ritah and a young man found me at the bus with Peter, a young security guard I’d struck up with. Ritah and the young man took charge of the other bags and I retained the laptop case that I had around my neck.  Peter went his way after a bit and I followed behind Ritah.  However, I’m big and awkward and a little separation occurred- very likely deliberately generated by people in the mob scene.
Suddenly, there was a big guy blocking my path- clearly deliberately so. I hestitated, prepared defensive and barged by him.  I knew it was trouble and my passport coming flying back to me from the crowd confirmed. It.  My camera- in the small bag on my right hip- was gone.  Along with the critical pictures and video, taken to take back to Jetpay and to document the sorry condition of textbooks.  The pictures and video taken were worth far more than the camera.
I was hit by a standard 3-person team; a blocker (and obvious enforcer), a pickpocket and a ‘bag man’ who instantly takes charge of whatever gets taken, in case the pickpocket gets pegged.  Ritah took charge, got me and the baggage to a safe spot among the taxis and vendors, called in reinforcements (Esther Gray; so glad to meet her!) and set to work.  Within the hour, she had informed the police, who actually knew the names of the three person team, who were taken into custody shortly thereafter.  They confessed to taking the passport, but claimed not to have the camera.  Ritah said to let her work the issue on the angle of paying a reward for the camera as a trap to the men and it is apparent she a good part of Saturday doing just that while Winnie and I went to graduation. By evening, she had the camera (with the chip) and the three were in prison.
This whole incident was a lesson: that we Americans are not always the most observant and lack common ‘street-‘ sense, that big city criminal patters are the same worldwide (we have such three-parson teams in this country), and the one thing unique in this case: the incredible promise of this place, primarily due to phenomenally wonderful people here, from the street vendors who ‘baby-sat’ the Mzungu, to the drivers and police who helped locate the thieves, and- most of all- Ritah Nyamwiza, my resourceful, intelligent, articulate savior who I cannot possibly thank adequately for her efforts.  If my son were to find a young lady that was 1% the total package that Ritah is, I’d be proud to call her daughter-in-law.

Motivators May 16, 2008

Posted by Mike O in people, Reasons.
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Visitor’s Village and Host Emmanuel July 25, 2007

Posted by Mike O in people, places.
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Emmanuel’s bed and breakfast is called Visitor’s Village and will always be my preferred residence in Kampala. I won’t always have the resources to stay there; while not overly pricey, it requires transport to get to the office and/or the Kiwanga orphanage. When Kiwanga gets it’s visitor’s rooms squared away, that will be my normal home to save money.

But Emmanul’s is worth every penny. He is an exceptionally gracious host and a good friend. He is very accommodating to all who come; sometimes difficult, because the craziness of volunteers, their schedules, and sometimes their culture shock makes it hard on such a host. But talking to Emmanuel is always like talking to an old friend, and he has the patience of Job with zany Mzungus (some of his guests are definitely not zany, like Kristin here).

Visitor’s Village has been a labor of love for Emmanual for 15 years; it is a phenomenally peaceful refuge from the insanity that is Kampala, with lush vegetation and a vast array of beautiful birds living in the trees. The birds are your melodious 6:30am alarm clock every morning (if you are a light sleeper like I am). Breakfast (omelets, toast, fresh fruit) is normally served on the terrace of each of the small units and is a very pleasant and relaxing way to start the morning (especially if joined by some of the great guests there).

The rooms themselves are quite comfortable and I have far less problem with mosquitoes there – despite the vegetation- than anywhere else in Uganda. With the seating areas of the larger suites, along with the small terraces, Visitor’s Village has proven to be an ideal place to have small gatherings of family and friends for a quiet time of it. The only downside is that it is too far from Kiwanga and the tasks at hand.

The Fantastic 4: Long-Haul Volunteers July 24, 2007

Posted by Mike O in Charity, people.
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I don’t think there are enough good things to say about the group of volunteers shown above; right to left: Sarah Cowan, Cassie and her sister Talitha, and Cassie’s boyfriend Tim. People like this, their attitude toward life and faith, and their willingness to work and sacrifice, all are reasons to really have hope for humanity. May I earn half the good deed points in my entire life that this crew will just this summer!
Talitha is the real veteran in all of this and great, but occasionally the overly practical side of me might disagree with her focus. Natural differences between the young and religious, and the seasoned (old) and secular (cynical). She’s the planner and- with the $10k they’d raised for their work- she’ll make it do great things. Cassie obviously got tired of my mouth- rightfully so- but overcame that somewhat. She is very pretty and dedicated and probably not taken to sitting by silently when she disagrees. Tim is a real champ and proved to be far more valuable as a rookie than I did; he’d done underwater construction before and pitched right in with energy I wish I still had. I’m hoping he becomes the confidant of some of the older boys like I have for some of the older girls. It is a real need there.
I think Talitha felt somewhat uncomfortable in terms of directing me to some of the work they had planned; I should have figured out a way to resolve that. I’m sure most older types would be uncomfortable taking direction or a gently (or not so gentle) prodding from somebody of her youth but I wouldn’t. And, Talitha, if you’re reading this, remember; a verbal kick to my posterior is sometimes appropriate. Do not be afraid to apply it
Sarah Cowan is a Peace Corps volunteer and there for the very long haul; absolutely wonderful young lady and I massively admire her dedication and fearlessness. She does a tremendous number of home visits, where you really find out the needs. I was able to supply her with the resources for an AIDs testing day- now put off until October, due to a snafu with the Children of Uganda office. Amazing how much good $100 will do.

Faridah, Winnie’s long-time Helper July 24, 2007

Posted by Mike O in family, people.
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Faridahs. story is interesting. All through secondary school, Faridah had made it her job to be my Winnie’s assistant and was just phenomenal at it. When I met her in 2005, she was extremely quiet and shy, though very bright. She worked with Winnie during a two-day laptop training class I had with them and Faridah was a little quicker on the uptake than even Winnie. We were together for several days and I don’t think I got 20 words out of her.

A couple days after the training, it was time to take Winnie back to school. She called to ask Faridah if we could pick her up to take her at the same time; only then did Faridah break the news to Winnie that she didn’t have enough money to return to school! He dad is a Boda-Boda driver (motorcycle taxi) and hadn’t raised quite half what was needed. All those days with the big Mzungu and she didn’t even ask for herself.

Of course, I covered the difference and we picked her up to go with us. We stopped by to meet her Dad, who was very appreciative (he wasn’t 40 yet, but looked in his 60s; a hard life). Since then, I have committed to being her Da’s ‘pertner’ in her education and I will say, he keeps coming through with what he can. He’s an honorable man.

This visit with Faridah was great. She is more outspoken and confident, with a boyfriend I didn’t get a chance to meet. She even asked for- and naturally got- one of my suitcases and one of my torches. She wants to be a nurse and would be a real natural at it; I’ll see her through secondary for another year or so. .

Muscleman Kalim (Kiwanga Kids) July 24, 2007

Posted by Mike O in kids, people.
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BTW: I am not sure of some of the spellings of these names, as I rarely see them written down. If some volunteer is reading these and knows of a correction (of names or any facts), please leave a comment and I will fix it.

I don’t know as much about Kalim as I’d like to. He was a street kid they found and brought into Kiwanga a year ago. He’s one of the nicest, most helpful kids at Kiwanga and is quite strong for his age, hence the nickname above. He was certainly more helpful in clearing out some bed frames from some rooms being converted to visitor quarters than I turned out to be (I arrived late for the work). I arm wrestled him, letting him win, though it was not as much of a stretch as I thought it would be. The kid’s already at 80% of my strength (from years in the gym); I figure in 2 more years, he may have me licked. He really enjoyed the arm-wrestling and got his buddy involved, with Bedda (who I’d nicknamed ‘Candy Mooch’ last trip) looking on.

Rose, The Dancer July 24, 2007

Posted by Mike O in family, people.
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Rose Kokokumbya is another of my ‘girls’ that I support more from a communication standpoint than financially. She has been an active member of the Tour (a music and dance fund-raiser that comes to the U.S. for Children of Uganda) for years. She is an exceptional dancer and singer and a real joy to just hang around with. When the Tour was here, I treated them to lunch at Chipotles and some time at our local park; they needed to unwind at the end of the Tour. Rose was the only kid who has seen my home; she and the Sabine director Debra went with me to pick something up there. I talk to Rose on the phone frequently; cell phones are not allowed at her school, but she sneaks me calls at night. Rose is having to adjust to some degree to some organizational changes; in the past, the Tour kids were given resources and privileges significantly above those of the other orphans and the Children of Uganda can no longer do that to the same degree. She has put on a bit of weight since the last Tour; she wasn’t much of a fan of American food and maybe over compensated when she got home.
We went to see Rose at her school; when she came to the office from the call, she stood right beside me not recognizing me (beard and 80 less pounds). I almost didn’t recognize her with the hood of her sweatshirt up, plus the extra bit of weight. She joined us for the weekend; Winnie and she did a ‘sleepover’ at Visitor’s Village, the Bed and Breakfast I stay at when I can afford to. The girls yakked until 2am; typical. She came down with a bad case of malaria and I saw her the next weekend at the orphanages; very sick, as much from the medication as the disease. She scared me a bit that way; I’m glad she recovered quickly. She took to wearing my watch, so I ended up leaving it with her of something of a birthday present (I was pretty broke by then).

Sir Charles July 24, 2007

Posted by Mike O in family, kids, people.
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Charles Mugarura I met on my first trip to Sabine, A nice young man, very interested in music; he ended up with my MP3 player most of the time. He always went out of his way to be helpful; I nicknamed him ‘Sir Charles’.
Charles was a surprise on my second visit after 2 years; he’d gained at least 9 inches in height and was by far one of the biggest kids. Still very much a ‘country boy’, though, and that’s part of his charm. He seems to have done very well; he’s the school’s librarian. Like Irene, I didn’t get to spend enough time with him. Next time I go back (it definitely will be for a school break), I’ll get him to come to Kampala and let him stay at Visitor’s village for a weekend. That would be a real treat for him. I need to make sure his school is covered, even though I can’t help. I specifically brought a cheap MP3 player so I could leave it with him; he was very touched.

Irene Birungi July 23, 2007

Posted by Mike O in family, people.
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Irene is another one of my nieces that has, over the past couple of years, gone through and passed out of the ‘teenage ornery’ phase. She’s the only one of my girls I have yelled at both on the phone and via email for being a troublemaker. Irene is the probably the brightest of the lot academically, but with a stubborn and impulsive streak. But I gather she is getting the latter attributes under control and will go far with her brainpower, if given the opportunity.

Irene certainly shocked me this last trip and I wish I’d had more time to spend with her. But she was in school and I only got about an hour. They called the whole group of Sabine girls to the office, not letting them know about our visit. Irene was the first and only one of my kids to recognize the slimmer, bearded version of me; she hit me with a solid tackle of a hug, nearly taking me off my feet. When I got out of that, I noticed her name on her school uniform; ‘Irene Openshaw’. She had no idea when I’d be coming by, so it was not done solely for my benefit. Very touching, especially since- while being a moral supporter of hers- I am not her sponsor. But her sponsor does not communicate with her and my ‘personal touch’ (including an occasional verbal swat on the behind) apparently meant a lot to her.

She is currently ranked second at a very tough Catholic school and I am very proud, though undeserving, of her carrying the Openshaw name. I got her a little cash and arranged art supplies for her; and met her art teachers who were impressed with her natural ability. She switched over to being interested in business and seems to have settled down; I really think she’s going places and will help when I can.

Sandra, my Favorite Niece July 22, 2007

Posted by Mike O in family, people.

Sandra Karagirwa, Gordon Nicol’s marvelous daughter and my favorite niece: where to even begin. She is beautiful, graceful, talented (with a voice to charm angels) and sweet; Gordon has himself one fantastic girl. Her horrific past, as a young survivor of the Rwandan genocide, also tempered her character; but it did not slay the stunningly beautiful butterfly that is her soul.

I am of an ideal age to deal with her: old enough to keep the brain functioning and the relationship proper, but still not so that I cannot appreciate her beauty and truly innocent affection she so readily gives. I spent quite a bit of time with her; I am very concerned, because she is trying to hang onto her morals in a music industry that will do everything it can to strip those morals away.   But the young lady is very strong and she assures us she can handle it.  She is in college, studying journalism and I expect to see her on TV some day. 

 Update: Welcome, Gatewaypundit readers (one of my favorite reads).. Sandra was nominated for a PAM Award (the East Africa equivelent of a Grammy) as Best Rwandan Artist.  While she did not win, it is still a great honor for someone so new to the music industry (and I don’t doubt her high moral character might have been an issue.)   Pretty good revenge on those monsters responsible for the Rwandan geneocide.  They not only failed to kill her, she has flourished despite their atrocities.

Update: Some of her videos: NDISHUSHU YAWE , nyina wumuntu

Update2: 12/19/07  The cause of Sandra’s recurring severe headaches, which she’s had for several months after she was stuck as a pedestrian in a traffic accident, has finally be found.  A blood clot in her brain; they surgically removed it yesterday.  Gordon and I (as well of her many friends) are all spending a bunch of time talking to God these days on her behalf. 

Here is a picture for the males in Sandra’s world.  Those that don’t know Africa don’t realize how male dominated it is in certain regards and dangerous for women alone. If giving some male with the wrong intentions a moment of pause that a crazed Mzungu may come looking for him, all well and good. Because this is the Mzungu they could end up meeting if they do any of my girls real harm.

Introducing my daughter Winnie July 22, 2007

Posted by Mike O in family, people.

Describing my daughter Winnie would take too long to make for a readable posting. Much of her story you can read at her old site (recently moved), but I’ll just stay with the bare facts for a start.

Nazziwa Winnifred was born November 28, 1986 to a farmer mother and a fishmonger father. She developed polio early in life, resulting in the loss of her ability to walk. Her father also passed on when she was young and her family (one sister, three brothers) lived in extreme poverty. Such conditions break the spirit and the will of all but a few; for those few, it tempers them into nearly unbreakable steel. My Winnie is one of those few.

I was introduced to Winnie in 2003 by Gordon Nicol, who had a brief interview he had videotaped with her on his trip in December ’02. She had ‘fallen through the cracks’ as it were and was unsupported for school. One brief viewing of this young outspoken girl in her chair and I was hooked. I am honored that she thinks of me as Dad; I tell her a fishmonger watching from above made sure I got sent in as a ‘sub’. I will say that it is of more benefit to me than I could ever be to Winnie. I cannot be more proud of her will, accomplishments, leadership, practicality, strength, and kindness than if they were my own. I will just leave you with my notes from my latest (June, ’07) visit with her:

My time with my daughter Winnie was far greater this time and very enjoyable. Other than the practical stuff of getting things underway to get her in college and get her a new wheelchair, the rest was a lot of father-daughter bonding. She spent several nights at Visitor’s Village (one night with Rose) and we just generally had more time for yakking. She is remarkable and I am very proud to be her Dad.

The big surprise was here boyfriend Joel; I wasn’t even supposed to know about him, but Farida ratted him out. I did the ‘Dad thing’ of meeting the potential son-in-law (and I am convinced that there are some real, if distant intentions on the part of both Joel and Winnie in that regard). I give my tentative approval to Joel; Winnie has been dating him for nearly a year and is very picky, so I’m not surprised anyone she puts up with for a year is a winner. My one disappointment is that I got only a single picture of Joel, though it’s a pretty good one with a smug-looking Winnie.

(July 17th, ’07)
Just got word from Uganda; Winnie’s older sister just passed on; meningitis and other things. Really sad; Joel called and I talked briefly with both her and him; how I wish I could be there! Winnie could barely talk; Lord, let her feel the hug I send her and know I’m with her now in her moments of sorrow.
I never met her sister, but I believe she has 3 kids and was a widow.

Later, I found out Winnie essentially cried for a solid day over her sister; Joel stuck it out all the way through. He’s a real champ; I guess I can figure on him as presumptive son-in-law and glad of it. Wish I had resources to help him financially (he once asked about help with books). Winnie has settled down now; her sister left a will and the daughter (15) is WInnie’s charge. Good choice; the boys went to the father’s family, as is right. I’ll be sure Winnie can handle this.