The Gulu Project

When I moved to Gulu at the beginning of this year, I surprised myself. I had been ‘in between gigs’ for a while and so when an opportunity to do business presented itself, I took it. I was excited to try something new altogether, something outside my mundane freelance lifestyle. I was terrified at first because I did not have any experience in business but I was encouraged by friends and family to go a head with the plan. The plan being, to open up a nail and beauty bar to provide manicure, pedicure and facial treatment services in Gulu. (there’s no a single one out here). I had no skills in this kind of business whatsoever and so I enrolled for a short course in manicure and pedicure. Once I was done, I packed my bags and moved up north.

 

Before I moved here, I had visited a couple of times. My significant other comes from here (that explains everything huh) and so I had to see his hometown. My first time up here was amazing, I fell in love with the simplicity of this little town and I have been returning ever since. Having endured a two decade long war that nearly destroyed it, Gulu is slowly but steadily, getting back on her feet. You can get almost everything you need here. (Emphasis on ‘need’). There’s a couple of supermarkets, retail shops and a main food and clothes market. We also have cafes and bars, clubs and lots of restaurants with a variety of dishes including Indian and Ethiopian. When I do go out, I like hanging out at BJs, a quiet bar on the outskirts of town popular for it’s Thursday quiz night. The TAK youth centre is another fun hang out with lots of cultural activities, film screenings and small festivals. Also there’s always a house party being thrown somewhere by the locals and the foreigners.

On the flip side though, the electricity in Gulu is unstable with power going out every two or three days and when this happens the peace and quite is disturbed by roaring generators which can be extremely frustrating. Also it gets really hot during the dry season but right now it’s raining a lot and I like it. Besides the power situation, Gulu is a pleasant town. I like that fact that things here are not as fast paced as they are in the city. I love waking up and getting to the nail bar within  five minutes. There’s no such thing as traffic here. The only traffic I saw happened last month when the president was in town for the grand opening of the new main market and it didn’t even last that long. It cleared almost as soon as he left.

Gulu Plaza

My favourite place in Gulu is the new Gulu plaza. It’s the first of it’s kind here, with various outlets like a cafe, a crafts shop, a hair salon and also different offices for different organisations. It also happens to be the same building where the nail and beauty bar is. When I’m not busy with clients I like hanging out at Cafe Larem which is just next door. They have the best food in Gulu town and I’m not just giving them a shout out because I use their WiFi. Their food is really good. If you’re ever in Gulu, I would recommend their pork chops or sandwiches or anything on their menu, really.

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The Lush Nail Bar

Inside Cafe Larem.

Cafe Larem.

I’m also in love with the traditional Acholi dishes especially the millet posho which is called ‘Kal’. Oddly enough, it is also one of the staple foods from my home village and we call it ‘Akaro’. I also like ‘bo’ and ‘Malakwang’ though I’ve failed to eat ‘Okra’ which is almost everyone’s favourite. I’m also learning Acholi which is by far the hardest language for me to grasp. Luckily, I know enough Swahili to get me by when the Luo fails.

When I’m not working, I like to go running with my new friend Robina who also happens to be a professional trainer and is also the masseuse at the nail  bar. We normally work out at the local stadium nearby or go swimming or to the gym. It’s amazing the number of things I have gotten around to doing now that I’m not in the city. Last month Robina and I volunteered for one of the NGO’s in our building during a workshop to educate young girls on self esteem and communication skills. It was an amazing experience.

The Educate For Change 'S.P.E.A.K UP workshop.

The Educate For Change ‘S.P.E.A.K UP workshop.

I also met Ieasha Tiffany, an amazing stylist from New York who asked me to model for her African collection.  I was so nervous at first but I got comfortable as soon as the photographer started clicking away. I look forward to dressing up more ( I have zero fashion sense) and trying out different styles. That photo shoot was just the boost I needed.

 

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Modeling for Stylist Ieasha Tiffany.

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Moving up here is the best thing that has happened to me in a very long time. I feel healthier, mentally, physically and spiritually. I have more time for reading and writing and thinking. It’s also exciting meeting new people both foreign and local. It’s really amazing being out here. I really don’t miss the city that much except I miss my people. But when I do get home sick, I come down for few days and then I head back. Other times my freelance gigs come calling and I jump on the next bus to the city. I will eventually return to Kampala once the business is fully on it’s feet. But for now I’m enjoying living in Gulu, everything seems to be working out fine so far and I’m loving every minute of it!

 

Forgetfulness.

You forgot to stop seeking perfection . Even after
all that pep talk to self about being enough and not needing
anyone’s approval, you still forgot. You forgot all the self
love mantras you had engraved on your heart and found
yourself looking for validation again.The other day, you
posted something witty and funny on your timeline, not
because you wanted to share something funny but because you
wanted your ‘friends’ to think of you as witty and funny. But
were the 11 likes and 2 shares enough? Because soon after
that you had to think up more interesting things to share and the cycle goes on.

But it is exhausting. If only you could stop
worrying about what others think of you then maybe you would
stop chasing likes and follows. If you could remember that
you are enough then maybe you will stop exhausting your brain
with comparison. But you forgot, again.

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Darling, you are enough.

You forgot and got caught up in comparison, that joy stealing
poison. You forgot and compared your progress to someone
else’s, and you were left feeling inadequate. Every where you
look there seems to be a better writer, a better blogger, a
better somebody and you are overwhelmed by envy and jealousy.
You forgot that envy and jealousy do not motivate but only
corrupt.You forgot that the only person you can be is
yourself.You forgot who you are, you forgot who you belong to.

You forgot that you must find love within self first, so
you never have to look for it on the internet or the world.
You forgot so many things but that’s okay, you’re human and
you’re bound to forget. But when you do forget, do
remember yo come here and remind self. Remember who you are
and why you do what you do and who you do it for. Remember to
only do the things that make your heart race and do them at
your own pace. Every now and then feelings of inadequacy will
creep up on you as you look around you but remember to
protect your joy. And whatever you do, stop doubting
yourself, trust your journey.

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I feel things strongly, more strongly than I would like sometimes but I feel them, anyway. And when this happens the only way for me to stop from imploding is by putting my feelings down on paper or phone in this case. How I get to feel or reflect on things has a lot to do with where I find myself and what I’m doing at the time. It could be when I’m all by myself  or when I’m in traffic or as I sip on a hot cup of tea. However, it is while I’m traveling that I enjoy letting myself wander the most. There’s something about long journeys and good music that just opens me up. Like right now, I am sitting on one of those public buses that feel like a kafunda on wheels and apart from a crying baby, a few uncomfortable stares (from the guy on the adjacent row) and the loud phone users the journey isn’t so bad. Besides I have my music and my thoughts to keep me company. My significant other ( significant other because aren’t we too grown to use those silly words ‘boyfriend’ and girlfriend’?) is lost in some book as I stare out the window. We are returning from up north where we have been for a while. I love sitting at the window and I thank God that at least we will never have to fight over the window seat.
Looking out the window, I take in everything… the blue sky, the green life, the wind, the sun, the waterfalls, the baboons, the cattle,the small towns and the country homes. Everything I see stirs something within me. I am moved by the wonder that is nature. I feel deeply about the landscape and the sky and they make me feel like I”m being held between a giant pair of  hands. The giant hands also seem to be holding everything in place. In one hand the land holds the green life, the cattle, the baboons, this bus and everything below the sky. And in the other hand, Mr. Blue Sky holds the birds, the sun and the clouds. The is sun plays hide and seek in the clouds. I see him, then I don’t, then I see him again. He laughs. I’m warm, a little hot even but I don’t mind. I like him.
Then I feel her, as she blows past me.Tingles. In hale. pause. exhale. I sit back and close my eyes and let her caress me. As she runs through the bus , the heat is lifted away and I’m cool. I try to catch her, scoop her in my hands but she slips through them. She’s running but somehow she’s still with me. I can feel her all around me. I wonder where she is going and so I ask.
‘where are you running to?’
‘anywhere and everywhere’ she whispers
‘but..but how do you do it? How are you everywhere and also here with me at the same time?’
‘because I am!’ she says smiling
‘but how?!’ ‘doesn’t anyone hold you?’ I ask, puzzled.
‘no one holds me, ‘ she says ‘instead, I hold everything’ she adds.
When she notices the confusion on my face, she laughs and touches my face.
‘child, I am the wind beneath your wings, the one who makes you soar like the eagle. I’m sure you know who I am.’ she says winking at me.
Then I recognize her. I’m overjoyed, speechless. I open my mouth to say something but nothing comes out. I look at her and my eyes fill up with tears, happy tears, and she blows them into my ears. I’m tickled. She laughs. I laugh too.
‘Yes, I know who you are’ I  manage to say smiling from ear to ear.
‘C’mon child, lets fly away’
And so I spread my wings and let her carry me away.

A Mirror Of My Feelings Lately

There are times when I just can’t put my feelings into words and it’s during these times that I employ music or photographs or poems to help me try and capture at least an iota of what I feel. I am always grateful when I come across a piece of writing that mirrors my exact sentiments. This poem by Ernest Holmes is one of those writings. I stumbled upon in it in one of my old journals from back when I used to collect different poems and writings that caught my eye. However, It is the first time I am fully understanding this poem. In the past I liked it because it was beautifully written and also because deep down I envied the woman in this poem that was able to let go so effortlessly but I would forget about her as soon as I turned over to the next poem. But here I am nearly three years later and I have finally come to understand what it means to let go. I am letting go of the control freak and the ‘miss fix-it’  within. I can only control too much. I can finally feel myself become that woman, the woman who is letting go and letting God.

SHE LET GO

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Without a thought or a word, she let go

She let go of fear. She let go of judgements.

She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.

She let go of the committee of indecision within her

She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.

Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go

She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go

She didn’t search for the scriptures. She just let go.

She let go of all the memories that held her back

She let go of all the anxiety that kept her from moving forward

She let go of the planning and all the calculations about how to do it just right

She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it.

She didn’t write the projected date in her day-timer.

She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper

She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope

She just let go

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go.

She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter

She didn’t do a five step spiritual mind treatment

She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.

No one was around when it happened

There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her

No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort, there was no struggle. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t bad.

It was what it was and it was just that. In the space of letting go, she let it all be.

A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her.

And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.

– Ernest Holmes

jasmine mans – ‘dear ex lover’

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Jasmine Mans

Jasmine Mans

http://soundcloud.com/amy-chen-13/dear-ex-lover?utm_source=soundcloud&utm_campaign=mshare&utm_medium=email&utm_content=http://soundcloud.com/amy-chen-13/dear-ex-lover

As read by Amy Chen

Dear Ex Lover, 

I promise I’ll stop chasing your memory in my dreams.
I’ll stop bringing your name up over cups of coffee, muffins, and loneliness.
I will marry a man and I will lay my heart on his chest
like red roses on Mahogany caskets
and I’ll have his daughter
and she’ll have eyes reminding me that God still believes in second chances.
and if she ever decided to love a woman, i will love bravery down her spine.
I will be reminded of all the times that we loved,
like there were expiration dates tattooed on our inner thighs.
If she ever comes home with eyelids like cracking Levis
and bruised kneecaps
and a heart filled with question marks
I will hold her like my mother never held me.
I will clasp her face in my palms like the new…

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Say Yes ( 4 minutes )

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‘See I’ve been watching you for a while your smile and stuff
and I don’t know if I can be with you for tonight alright,
is that alright baby, baby’

I still remember the first time I heard Natalie say these words like it was yesterday. I was 16 and in high school. Her words, a poem, her voice in my ears, an eargasm  and my heart skipped a beat with each second. I became so anxious, my ears were hot, hungry for every word she said. She spoke to me, like no one had ever spoken to me before and I listened careful not miss a single syllable.

I didn’t know who she was but I knew she speaking to me, I wanted to know who she was. Who was this girl who made me feel this way? Why hadn’t I ever heard of her before? I wanted to know everything about her but before I could get my head around her, Marsha was in my other ear…

‘There is only one for me
You have made that possibility
We can take that step to see
If this is really gonna be
All you gotta do is say yes’

Yes, they were two girls I hardly knew and they were both asking me to say yes. Natalie spoke and Marsha sang, her voice  laid back and sensual, like love-making. She made it so easy, so easy for me to let her in. Natalie on the other hand was humming in the background of my head, her words turning me on and I slowly drifted letting her inside the corners of my mind.

Was this really happening? How could it even be possible that I was falling in love so fast, and with two girls! It now makes sense why some boys can’t choose between two girls they like, it really does.

But lucky for me it wasn’t hard cause they didn’t mind, yes they were those kind of girls who didn’t mind sharing as long as you loved them both and I did. And so I said yes to Natalie Stewart and Marsha Ambrosius within the four minutes I first heard their song ‘Say Yes’ on radio and *Floetry was born in my heart.

*Floetry was a British Neo Soul and Hip Hop duo that was made up of Natalie Stewart (The Floacist) and Marsha Ambrosius ( The Songstress). They recorded 3 successful albums before Marsha left the group to start a Solo Career in 2007.