Essays, poems and Stories of an African-American

Friday, 12 July 2013

The America of my dreams and the Reality America

Animals in the residential homes:

I know of homes in Uganda where pigs, cats, chicken, ducks and rabbits sleep where humans are sleeping. This is discouraged by public health and the solution is to have a separate house for them. In America, I visited a friend whose attic is occupied by pythons. Another of my friends lives with her cats and dogs which sleep in her bed or anywhere, even on the dining table. The animals eat from the same plate!


The minimum wage, opportunities for engaging in a form of productive work are numerous and the industry is in need of workers. So, here I was thinking that as soon as I get to America I would walk to any work place and get a job! No! Between my dream and reality lay; work authorization and status issues (whether one is a green-card holder, citizen or alien). The industry would not even give me a second glance.

Navigation, assimilation and integration:

I thought it would be easy for one to make friends and get by. Between my dream and reality lay: the physical distance between a location where a need could be addressed; the differences in priorities that all humans have unless they have planned things through and; the exotic social/infra- structural systems.

One answer and many questions:

Once one sets foot in America all the ideas one had earlier evaporate and the questions start being posed by the mind in quick succession. In a country that Lincoln referred to as the ‘last best hope of Earth’ one realises the call to engage in efforts to improve on life, community and country. There is no relaxing, there is no giving in.

Economy and solid companies:

America is the magical and economical Aladdin’s land! The reality is that business, social and military might has had some hiccups in America as a result of one arm not performing well. I had to go through a book by Jim Collins from Good to Great, to know some of the five insidious problems that bring about crashes and recessions.

Reality and hubris born of having come to America:

All form of change will begin with changing my attitude towards earning respect, the dollar and reputation. The hubris of having come to America that my people may have is not enough and it should not get to my head!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Healthcare and other pillars that will make USA the most sustainably richest country; making the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) work for me

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. James Madison, 1822.

Three aspects rushed through my mind before I penned this article: The song ‘material girl’ by Madonna; the song ‘Alien in New York’ by the Fugees (I think so) and; the quote from the new testament by Jesus Christ ‘and again I say unto you it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.’ Matthew 19:24. My mind rushed straight to a situation in which I envisioned an ailing immigrant who is at the door steps of a clinic in any town in USA. I come from Africa originally and I the health care system from my former country is very different from that of USA. I happened to have read a book by Simon Johnson and James Kwak: White House Burning; The founding fathers, our national debt and why it matters to you, 2012, Pantheon Books, New York. In that book they put forward some ideas that USA (that is the people) need to look into in order to beat the recession (where many people lost jobs) from the 1990s to around 2004. They talk of tax cuts as incentive to boost a larger middle class; they talk of social security contributions by many; they talk of a universal health insurance plan that will set level payment rates for services and medications; reduce on national defense spending; transition from fossil fuels toward new energy sources; they talk of limiting size of financial institutions and their risk taking ventures; they talk of government directly sponsoring such small programs like education grants, housing and welfare, agriculture subsidy; they talked of reduction of tax expenditures and tax holidays; they talk of encouraging people to consume less, save money and borrow at low interests. I happened to go through eligibility criteria to get insured in USA and know about acceptance that was short lived, denial because I was not in ‘status’, acceptance again when my level of stay in USA was established and finally confirmation that I am an insured person in USA. All these aspects were communicated to me and a form was attached to my communication to be filled if I was contesting any decision. I did write back to have my names spelt correctly! I also managed to know about the appointment system of my nearest clinic and accessed the system that works on health needs of immigrants (immunization, physical check-ups, tooth, eye, ear and skin care). I am yet to get authorization to join a city-based gymnasium once my physician approves and signs a certain filled form. My first day of walking-in, is still on mind. I walked into a freshly scented building of glass and humming sounds of distant lifts (oh, sorry elevators) and in the lobby a receptionist called for me. She directed me to a corridor where there was another lobby of the ‘walk-in’ clinic. This particular health facility has 6 clinics with almost 50 medical doctors of different specialties as well as attending health workers. A receptionist nurse handled me and took my vitals. He told me to wait for one hour as they schedule an appointment to see my physician. I was told it was good I walked in before 8.30 a.m otherwise I was to wait for a day before I saw a physician because the numbers of patients is large now. So many of us are uninsured (I was still uninsured before 2013). Actually there are so many Americans who are uninsured. My physician finally saw me, the laboratory and x-rays were done and the prescriptions cost me USD 8. I had with me all my results on a CD! I also had a file and a Family Health Center ID number generated for me. I looked at the medication I was given at the pharmacy, it was to last me a month with chances of three refills! My insurance and the pharmacy discount program ensured I get these services to the fullest. I was also asked to book for dental care. That evening a call from the Dental care department got me working on details to that effect. I have since had a thorough dental check up and care as I write this. My next appointments are scheduled as follows: next immunization for Hepatitis is in August; dental in August and; physical check-ups with my physician on September. All I have to do is plan ahead and have these appointments in mind. I can call ahead and cancel/reschedule appointments. I am the kind of person who is cautious about my life. I shall make sure I fulfil my appointments. I am an alien in USA, but living in a country where life is respected it is easier for me to go through the doors of the health facilities now after getting my insurance card!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Financial and social integration literacy for a new immigrant in USA: testing the meaning of happiness and independence in American communities

You have settled in, I would say, almost in a cosy way. USA that is meeting you on the streets, television, radio, buses, buildings, restaurants and rubbing you in form of human bodies and language is far from what you dreamt of back in say, Africa, Haiti, China, Japan, Korea, India, Bhutan or El-Salvador!
There are social systems in place that you need to familiarise yourself with: the ones that immediately come to mind are; health care, education, social services, habitation and transportation. Are you familiar with the road that leads to the nearest hospital? Are you able to negotiate your way through emergency clinics or rooms? Do you have a phone number where you can be contacted? Are you well immunised? When did you last check for say, HIV? Are you a child below 19 years? As a child below that age, do you have parents? Do you go to school? Are you a mother? Are you a father? Are you eligible to join say, the military services of the USA? Have you tried all avenues to see where you fit? Are you able to travel around or are you tied down on one street fearing you may get lost?

Get to know something about America’s politics, get to study and complete a level of qualification ( invest time, be persistent and patient), take time to explore and grow spiritually, find out how the immediate community can help you as well as how you help it. Can you/ are you authorised to work? Find out how or what you can do get work authorization. In doing this you will be improving on financial and social integration. You need to think along those lines. This is America!

Of the rhinoceros’ hide lashes ‘Kiboko’, learning English and how I occupy some of my free time: a comparison of how I was taught and how I teach

As a Harvard Scholar,I can uphold my r's or drop them at the right pitch. I can say: "the birds in the air flapped their wings so loudly. The cicadas un alarmed chirped and chirped while I parked my car in the Harvard yard!" I want to say I would have used a very different pitch, tone and pronunciation where it not for the full year I have been subjected to to improve on my enunciation!

Mr. Mugejjera was the kind of teacher who was so passionate and enjoyed teaching. In many of his admonishment-cum-in-your-face-avuncular talks given before presenting examination results, he talked to the heart of his pupils. That was how he prepared us for lashes on our behinds. He had different types of canes and in bundles! When he brought the bamboo canes, then the class knew there were not many to be beaten. When he brought the Kiboko then almost all the class members were to be caned. This English teacher was both liked and loathed, his name set off cold fear in all the pupils from Primary four to six (a year before Primary leaving exams). The fear of that lash as well as bamboo canes was enough motivation to do all practice exercises in English, including speaking it at school. I feared the stick so loathsomely that I tried harder and read wider. I turned out to be one of those who were rarely beaten. Many of my fellow pupils consulted me on various English problems. But, this is not to say I escaped the canes. One time that comes to mind was when all of us as a class failed in our compositions. We were caned for that. With this background and training I managed to go on with my student life in Uganda and Europe.
That continued to be the case until I came to USA. I admit my USA leg of life is influenced by the kind of English I talk, write and listen to. I am always corrected in pronunciation, tense and vocabulary. I have liked this moment for it is making me even better. My motivation to be better this time is not the lashes I expect but communication.
I wish the teaching of English or any other subject would include real life scenarios, combine vision and compatibility of learned language with utilisation. I do mentor students in English and mathematics for learners whose mother tongue is not ENGLISH. I do take them out of class to practice English and mathematics using cue cards. At one time my mentees are asked to name the streets of a given area on which we happen to be walking. At other time, I encourage them to count all objects around and categorize them. I can take them to the green park and ask them to describe objects around them. They do this smiling knowing that the goal is to describe what is there before them which is the component of their world (and not being caned. I know corporeal punishment is taboo in USA).

Even as I teach, am learning too. I see in the faces of my mentees struggle, joy, deep thinking and indecision. I know at what time I can probe, prompt and cheer someone on. I learn the psychological side of my mentees and help them as they are going through their mental preparation to become better at English and mathematics. We have so far been with our mentees for almost six months in this program. I can see more spontaneity and initiative. There is eagerness in all of them to present their compositions and exercises or to engage me in conversation. Say, isn’t that positive change? In all situations I have never used the Kiboko!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Homosexuality and Africa: Pushing the frontiers of sexuality and gender of the African psyche

The typical African is one who is conventional, a faithful contributor to patriarchy and one forcefully drawn to battle anything that emasculates the men. Conventional in that they belong to an ascribed sex, gender, a family and clan. They are answerable to authority in form of a spiritual world, a clan head, a parent or elders in extended family. As a contributor to patriarchy, this African submits to the provider-beneficiary relation machinery subscribing to side with those who fight any one rocking the boat.
The typical African way promotes mutual dependence, respect, avuncular benefactorship, submission in form of filial obedience and expects one to give up independence in the name of the clan. The clan in turn submits to the tribe. Both the clan and tribe are fed by child bearing and child rearing.
The mechanisms of child bearing and rearing are celebrated, divinely worshiped and many ceremonies are enacted to propagate it. This is the engine of the African heterosexual vehicle. This is what prose, legend and cultures uphold.
But, the ground level  typology of African populations seems to defy the above status quo: African  Religion  may call for celibacy by high priests and priestesses, it looks at many supreme beings in form of all the elements and life or death are attributed to these supreme beings. All forms of existence are at the expense of appeased supreme beings. In life one is said to be at their mercy and  the dead are said to be guests of these supreme beings.
Education, urbanisation and achievements are increasingly defining the way of African life. They have become the means of analyzing what works and what does not. Disillusionment is not only vented out through a peerage system of elders but  also peers and acquired skills form a basis of promising integration in society without dejections that would be visited upon any one doing otherwise.
A family setting where a man,  woman and children exist is being juxtaposed with single parenthood. Single parenthood with financial stability is today pushing the frontier of sexuality and gender in the minds of Africans and their cultures. New emerging psyche and cultures are around the independence of an individual African be it a man or woman.
Sexuality and gender are increasingly getting infused in the African’s  conversation and  defined in their full context as a result of scientific illumination into human growth, existence, rights and development. Choice in matters of sexual intercourse, sexuality and gender are  still strongly enforced  and limited to man-male and woman-female roles.

The subject of involvement in conjugal activities is mostly led by the male spouse, it is expected to be enjoyed in that arrangement and any other form is ridiculed or discouraged through punishment. The mechanism of ridicule as opposed to dialogue is more enhanced in the mind of the African. A closer look into those who ridicule any form of divergent sexual practices shows those who are also led by intolerance  or fear of unknown.  To these divergent sexual practices include; celibacy and same sex sexual practices. To the other side of the tolerant and open minded the divergent sexual practices can be explained as a result of scientific discoveries and rights that are inalienable.
The typical African way allows arrangements such as those that give the male more leverage than that of  the female. The  arrangements have entrenched the subordination of females before males. They also tend to promote a majority-minority relation where the minority are subjects. It also questions any lack of child bearing,  it upholds silent enjoyment of subjugation and respecting the elderly. Anything outside is un African. However, this is what also fuels some forms of abuses. Abuses  in form of discrimination, stigma, inhuman acts towards the ridiculed and corrective measures that in the end cause more trauma.
The true picture of an Africa shows the belly that produced diversity in form of races, technologies, languages and beliefs. This design of history has remained a non acknowledged lesson by elders and the peer system of gate keepers bridging old culture and emerging culture. Whereas the old culture has accumulated practices and coached them in accepted lore. The emerging culture is disabled in composing similar lore that galvanizes society. This could be due to the fact that old is gold, trends today that are tied to survival and economics. Story telling requires a settled mind, prepared oration and listenership. This has been the old African way. The new way is reading; both privately or in public.  In this way information is passed on without necessarily using an orator.

The trend that questions heterosexuality is an elephant in the typical African’s chinaware. Same sex sexuality is at the forefront of powerful diversity sweeps that will re-arrange and improve our understanding of sexuality and gender. Celibacy will be a powerful eye opener of possibility of the African’s ability to keep and control sex urges. This is also pushing the African’s frontier of self perception, virility or fertility. Self perception in light of the good in every one has  been the basis of questioning discrimination, ridicule and stigma. Generational issues follow trends. That is the way of winds of change. Diversity is as much African as the rainbow crossing the African sky. Understanding diversity stems in living side by side with it. Homosexuality is part of that diversity. It is a minority characteristic that is fast holding ground. What is un African about it will be a failure to establish its enduring culture and norms.

Watch: George W. Bush Uses Bible To Say People Shouldn’t Judge Same-Sex Marriage | The New Civil Rights Movement

Watch: George W. Bush Uses Bible To Say People Shouldn’t Judge Same-Sex Marriage | The New Civil Rights Movement

Supreme Court of US (SCOTUS) Strikes down anti-prostitution pledge; Lessons for an Africa based/targeting Equality Activist

Systems that entrench marginalisation have been dealt a blow. For those of us who have invested so much time to reach out to groups most at risk of HIV infection have been empowered to address the epidemic in the most effective way possible. First and foremost the term ‘prostitution’ and ‘sex-work’ as they apply to a public health practitioner and activist will have a far larger meaning and human face to it. Secondly stigma and discrimination which have been the sands in which to hide many of the service providers’ heads have been flattened. Thirdly this decision has opened ways for many countries’ embracing policy towards sex-work. There is bound to be progress in leaps in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. A landmark ruling by the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has made it so. Love, Liberty and pursuit of happiness is been made even firmer. This landmark decision is loaded with opportunities and possibilities in defending independence and access to services by all. This means that policy and resources will be committed towards interventions in which those caught in vulnerabilities that expose one to HIV/AIDS or STIs are provided treatment, healing and managed without discrimination. It means that those in sex-work will organize, in their organizations they will create spaces for leadership and in these organizations such elements like self determination, esteem and duty will be possible. No more will sex-work be looked at with ridicule. As sexual minorities, this demography will join the system of those who demand social services and will influence service delivery. Those in service delivery will no longer have their hands tied. Sex-work has now been put on the radar. Sex-work cannot be separated from public health. According to UNAIDS, the decision would “expand and improve the global AIDS response even further”. Funds from US will go a long way in ensuring this. The US has been very instrumental since 2003, when it adopted the United States Leadership against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act in 2003, which authorised the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)-the largest health initiative undertaken by one country to address the global health epidemic. The commitment to untangle generations of patriarchal, chauvinistic, dominance-subjugation, master-slavery tendencies that seep into the way most of policy, programme and activities are done will be possible:  There will be a degree amount of and planning that targets sex-work and its effects in Africa; Issues like access, equal power, freedom of movement, access to jobs, access to jobs, ownership to property, equal treatment before the law, equal pay for equal work, access to resources, controlling dress, violence will be discouraged in the strongest terms against those in sex-work by those used to lynching; NGOs will address the HIV/AIDS epidemic with evidence-based intervention free from political agenda and discrimination and;  use of proper language will be possible. These themes will form the activist agenda. Such thematic issues like: Sexual and reproductive health and rights will be expanded upon and provided logistics. Women and girls worldwide are going to reap so much from this decision. It will fulfil their basic human right to life saving health care. Health groups will no longer be forced by the US Government to denounce prostitution as a condition of receiving federal funding to fight HIV/AIDS around the world after the Supreme Court made a free-speech ruling on June 20 (The Lancet, Volume 381, No. 9885, June 29-July 5, 2013).  Peter Piot of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and the former director of UNAIDS described this court decision as “victory of public health and scientific evidence over ideology and bigotry”. The pooled HIV prevalence among sex-workers in Sub-Saharan Africa is 36.9%. HIV must not win. Let us work towards including everyone in the fight to bring AIDS epidemic to an end.