By Norbert Mao
You all know that my father Dusman Okee who was in many ways also my mother died on 3rd January 2016.
His 74th birthday celebrations were planned for 5th January 2016. By the time he died he had remarried more than once. Hence the title of this tribute. So now my current mother is my father’s surviving widow.
She’s from Serere. She is the matriarch at our family home in Bukaya, cost http://continentalagra.com/wp-content/plugins/search-everything/options.php Njeru, http://crijpa.fr/wp-admin/includes/update-core.php Buikwe. I pay tribute to her today because she is the one holding fort at home and makes our family house a home. She gives warmth to the cold steel, http://curarlaimpotencia.com/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/modules/mobile-push.php brick and mortar of the house.
These days those who come to see me get surprised that I have an English-Ateso dictionary on my living room table. Though my current mother is fluent in English she is not able to speak Luo fluently.
So I want to meet her half way by learning some Ateso. After all in 2011 during my presidential campaigns the Itesot credited me for being like a burglar proof for my people in terms of defending human rights, land rights and peace. They named me Ekirigi – or something like that. Loosely translated as a strong impenetrable door.
But I am digressing. Let’s me start from the beginning. My biological mother only looked after me for eight months. Naturally that is on top of the nine months she nurtured me in her young seventeen year old womb. When I was about eight months, my father who was then in the army, returned home from work and found me all alone in the house. I must have cried, slept, cried again and slept again, soiled myself over and over. He looked around and my mother was nowhere to be seen.
My mother, Christina Bitwababo, had decided to leave. If she had carried me along perhaps I would have grown up in her home village of Ngarama in Bukanga, Isingiro. Maybe my story would have been very different from what it has been so far. Maybe I would have been a Kadogo in the NRA etc etc. Sometimes I think about all these things.
So my father cleaned up his first born son and considered his options. Given how close my father and I were, we have discussed these matters in detail including my early years and why my mother left. Both those and more will be detailed in my book which will likely come out next year if and when, God willing, I clock the half century mark next year!
The next day, my father put me in his Volkswagen Beetle and we started the journey to Gulu. One day as we talked about my early years he confessed to me that he stopped the car at Karuma Falls bridge and considered letting the torrential waters of the River Nile end what in his view was a life likely to end in a few months. In those days infant mortality rate was very high.
But he reconsidered and we continued the journey to Lacor in Gulu where my grandmother, Yunia (an anglicized Luo version of Eunice) Lakop, a widow by then lived. The year was 1967. I used to joke with my father that if it was God’s will that I live the waterfall would have lifted me instead of drowning me and depositing me safely like the Nile waters guided Moses to safety. The only difference is that unlike Moses I would not be in a basket and would be entirely at the mercy of the elements.
So from the cutting of my umbilical cord to the time my mother and I parted was about eight months. As I grew up in the care of my grandmother assisted by my uncle’s wife, Regina, the mother of Rt. Hon. Dan Kidega, I obviously wondered who my real mother was. I concluded that it was my grandmother. After all she suckled me.
I have made some inquiries as to whether an old woman’s breasts can produce milk and the answer astounded me. I used to think I was probably contented with swallowing my own baby saliva while purporting to be suckling but I have since been told that the mammary glands of a woman of advanced age can actually be stimulated to produce milk. My father and I used to joke that we were like brothers because we suckled the same breasts!
So today I pay tribute to my grandmother who in many ways was my mother. I also pay tribute to Regina Oballim Agol who used to take me to her house to feed me with porridge. The milk from my grandmother’s breasts needed to be supplemented.
When I came of school going age, I was taken to the village of Bwobo some seven miles west from Gulu. There I lived with my aunt Christine Amoo Lalela Obwona. She was a tough one, that aunt of mine. N
o nonsense in every sense. But extremely loving. She is the one woman who is responsible for looking after me in my early formative years. She taught me hard work, discipline and the value of education. Together with my grandmother, they always told me, “…education is your mother, education is your father”.
That became my mantra. I excelled so much in my primary school that the teachers used to pick me from my P3 class and take me to the P5 class to solve mathematical problems to the great embarrassment of my seniors.
I wasn’t even tall enough to reach the blackboard well so I would stand on a stool. Eventually the school saw that I was spending too much time in the P5 class and decided that I may as well join the P5 class for real. So that is how I leapfrogged to P5 from P3.
My aunt, my mother, believed in a good fight. One day a bully had clobbered me and I came home crying. She was not sympathetic at all. “Aren’t you a man?”, she exhorted me, “You have to fight back”. I gave the matter serious consideration and came up with a radical solution. In fact the solution was rather too radical. It almost got me expelled from the school. Suffice to say that the bullying stopped. I have occasionally told that story. More will be in the book.
So today I pay tribute to my aunt, my mother. She still lives in Bwobo, Gulu. A widow of great moral courage, character and intelligence.
As I grew older my father felt that I should now start spending time in Jinja where he was now working having left the army (saying he left the army is actually an understatement because the circumstances which I’ll narrate in the book are more complex). In Jinja, actually Bukaya, there was another mother. Yudaya Namiiro, daughter of Hajji Saad Kizito of Ruti, Mbarara. I don’t call her step mother because she was a real mother to me.
As I grew up my confusion about my maternal origins also mounted. In Gulu the local kids whispered that my mother was dead. Others said I was just some abandoned Munyankole kid my father picked up from a rubbish pit in Mbarara! All these confusing thoughts were boiling inside me like a volcano.
I wondered what to believe. So when I reached Jinja, I thought finally I had been reunited with my biological mother. But soon I knew that she was not the one. I could also overhear her telling her relatives who I really was. The relatives treated me adoringly. “He’s a beautiful child”, they would tell my mother.
From this I realized that my biological mother was still somewhere out there. Still, this mother of mine was a real mother in every respect. She spoke Luo fluently, of course with the accent of her mother tongue. One day she came to visit in Gulu and saw my condition in the village. It was normal for the village kids to have lice in their hair.
She found it abhorrent and told my father that I should immediately be placed under her care. She started the care immediately by giving my head a clean shave leaving the lice with no sanctuary. Then we boarded the train to Jinja and then the Victoria Nile Bus Town Service to Njeru.
She was a bundle of energy. She demanded that we worked hard. No loafing in bed in the morning. Many as we were in our double decker beds, she ensured that beds were made properly and bed wetters reprimanded and punished. We nicknamed her “Inspector”. We thought she was behaving like the Marine Corps Drill Sergeants in the movie “Full Metal Jacket”, but now we credit her for making us who we are.
She seemed to have eyes in the back of her head. Nothing escaped her eagle eyed vigilance. She taught us housework. Indeed she had no choice. We the older children were all boys. We mopped the floor, washed dishes, washed clothes and ensured the food did not get burnt. At an early age we learnt how to make porridge.
But she was also a community person. She would frequently send food to others in the neighborhood. She would gather young people and they would dance traditional dances. Those were the days I first encountered the Kiganda dances and the language. One day I overhead her sending one of the kids to go and bring Gitta.
I thought she meant a guitar! So I waited to see the traditional dancing metamorphose into a jazz festival but nothing changed. The Kiganda dance continued. Later I asked my younger brother Jimmy about the guitar that was supposed to be brought and what had happened to it. He burst into laughter and told me that Gitta is a Kiganda name. Talk about learning the hard way. I had lost sleep waiting for a guitar that never came.
So today I pay tribute to Yudaya Namiro. I learnt Luganda thanks to her. She disciplined me and taught me self reliance. I remember during Amin’s time, when sometimes our father would be taken away for days and weeks. She would ensure that at least we had one hearty meal. Things would become clear when she would say during a late lunch “muliire ddala”, meaning this is a once and for all meal for the day.
Eventually our father would return and normalcy would return in terms of regular meals. We had our arguments with my mother but never did I answer her back disrespectfully. As the urge to rebel, which is a characteristic of adolescence, took over there were tense moments. One time I even fled home for two weeks and became a full time gambler playing cards in a bid to raise money and buy a train ticket to Gulu. Of course that episode ended in an interesting way but the details have to wait.
When I became Makerere Guild President in 1990, she prevailed upon my father to host my entire cabinet and core campaign team members to a massive feast at home. She sent a coaster to ferry us to Jinja. Upon graduating with a law degree she threw me the mother of all parties at Crested Cranes Hotel.
The cake must have had about two dozen tiers shaped like law books with the subjects written on. It was big. An all night affair. In her speech she said my siblings now had no excuse to say they don’t have a role model. They had to excel in whatever field they choose.
Her death saddened me extremely. By then I was in parliament. I did all I could to keep her alive but eventually she succumbed. I made sure she had a befitting send off. She lies at Lacor next to her husband, my father. To date she is the mother I talk about most.
Now back to the tale of my biological mother. Through twists and turns and the pressure I mounted on my father eventually he was persuaded to take me to see my mother. We got into his Land Rover Defender 110 and headed to Isingiro. I was eighteen and a student of Namilyango.
We got lost a number of times, taking wrong turns in the hills of Isingiro but men never forget the paths they tread in the heat of young love. They know where the women who once quickened their pulses reside. We reached my grandparents home. It was very different from Gulu, Bukaya, Bwobo.
The language was also different. My mother hugged me. She broke down in tears saying she thought I was dead! I felt awkward. Here was the woman who carried me in her womb for nine months and later walked away. I could have crawled to the fireplace getting fatally burnt, I could have crawled outside and been overran by a vehicle, anything could have happened.
My heart and mind were in turmoil. But like one of my professors used to say, ‘text without context is pretext’. Who was I to judge my mother! What would I have done in her shoes? I found the grace, courage and compassion to tell my mother how grateful I was to see her finally and that I was doing fine thanks to the kindness of so many mothers and other people. I told her I understood.
She looked relieved. Fear and guilt was drowned by forgiveness and the joy around us. She introduced me to everyone as her long lost son. Then she sat down and symbolically carried me on her lap rocking me like a baby. Tears flowed freely from her eyes. That is how I found the courage to forgive my mother and make meaning of a phase in my life that had been a puzzle.
I gave my mother one last hug because we had to leave. As we left Isingiro late afternoon, I tried to make sense of it all. I had met my biological mother. What disturbed me was that there was no real glue between us beyond the fact that she had carried me in her womb, delivered me and cared for me for eight months.
Today I pay tribute to my mother. My biological mother. My real mother. She was only seventeen when she met my father. She remarried and had other children. I have so far managed to trace three of the children from my mother’s womb. I traced one of them all the way in Baghdad, Iraq and finally got to see him when he returned from his tour of duty. I encourage them to come home whenever they can. I love them because they are the only link I have with my mother who died about thirteen years ago. God bless your soul mother.
So, again, Happy Mothers Day! I mean it. All men are a work in progress. Ask your mother, or sister or wife. Every calendar day should be Mothers Day.