My Neve’r’nder… #CelebratingNevender

I am beside myself, lost in an overwhelming sense of grief. Since I heard, I’ve had brief moments of sanity that last no longer than a few minutes then disintegrate back into loss and disbelief.

All it took were three messages, three messages that propelled me from a lazy Sunday morning (debating on whether to go to Church or do homework) to a state of numbness with intermittent clouds of sanity. I rushed to the UGBloggers group and there was nothing there about this news, so perhaps these people were wrong. Patricia wasn’t among the three, so surely there had been some form of miscommunication. We had our group, the three of us. A group that was initiated by the fact that some agency would not pay us for the work we had done and we needed coordinated strategies on how to communicate with them – You were the more diplomatic of the three of us. We called it TeamReview. A group that later turned into a place where we could quickly check-in with each other. TeamReview had nothing about this news – I rushed to ask Patricia but she was only finding out herself.

You were gone.

This wasn’t a crisis that you were going to recover from. There wasn’t a message looking for volunteers to help cover the event because you were not feeling well.

This time, you were gone.

Gone for good.

I am still having a hard time processing this (whatever processing is supposed to mean). I know that 60% of my tears are selfish, in the fact that I cannot believe I will not see you when I come home, I cannot believe we are not going to have a tea date. I cannot believe that you are not going to post anything on TeamReview.

On my birthday last year, you bought me a copy of Flame and Song! You knew I would love it… You got my weird taste in literature and always encouraged it. You told me to get Kintu, and I wasn’t having it – then Jackee gifted me a copy when I started my writing journey and I fell in absolute love with that book. Tail between my legs, I returned back to you with my verdict and had that I-told-you-so look all over your face.

I usually say we met back when blogging was the dope in-thing – complete with awesome pseudonyms. Yours was Nevender but for some reason, there were those (I may have been among the ‘those’) that added the ‘r’ and boy did it irk you royally! Almost like how Rogue King would sometimes be called Rouge King, and he never liked it either. I remembered your reaction and for the gentle soul in you, I couldn’t see you being annoyed over this, so the name stuck for me.

I later found out that we were both at Nakasero Primary School, class of ’97. The ones who prided themselves in the fact that we studied with the years – Lol! I realise that this is such a Ugandan thing to say. So the truth is, we were always meant to be in each other’s radar.

I fought with you constantly in those early blogger years – Looking back, I blame the momentary disease called ‘the-twenties‘. Even still, you were steadfast in our friendship – the solid one who held onto his beliefs no matter what was going on around you. I became your review board, you shared your graphics with me and I’d give you my rather novice-biased opinion at the time. I just scrolled back to our earliest emails, there are some horrendously atrocious designs in there – from banners I made about your thoughts, to BlogBpirit banners to UBHH banners. You won’t mind if I share some, would you?

When you were changing your website template, I was once again on the review board, and the first design would always be a “hmmm… this is not working” and we would work through why together. Basic Family, when it was just starting out and you told me about it, we looked over what the logo would look like, t-shirts.

Similarly, you encouraged me on my writing journey. I remember confiding in you about taking Jackee’s class and you telling me to go for it. The book reviews I got, I was trying so hard to write like you and I was failing miserably. At one point, I sent you an IM in distress… this review thing is terrible, I lamented. You said to use my own style, not to try and mimic you. You told me to be authentic and find my own voice. And I did, and you said that you like my review-style, which for me was the highest form of praise.

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This year did not start out great for me, and I remember posting in TeamReview and you reaching out after the fact – kindda like a followup conversation, but I wasn’t ready to talk so I actively avoided you. You wouldn’t have it, because I opened my eMail and there was a message from you. So I deflected to how you are and how you are holding up. You told us you were losing strength, and we would not have it. Not our Joel, so I got even more serious about praying harder for you – because for me that is my default. Let’s pray for a miracle, let’s pray for these crisises to stop, strength – anything rather than the thought of losing you.

There was a different plan already in motion…

We’ve talked about a lot of things over the years, from faith to music to literature to relationships to the trending twitter wars. We have spurred on some of them and shared frustrations about some of them. There is so much I want to write, but I’m 1 word shy of the 1500 mark and I remember having a ‘serious’ discussion with you about the length of your posts. I know that you always read my blogs, some days you were the only comment I got (You knew about my obsession with analytics).

This is going to be the first one you will not read.

We were supposed to write my memoir together. Now who is going to help me? You were always one step ahead of me, though. I did not know about Pumpkin Soup, I am not sure why – or maybe you told me and in the story that is my life I did not hear you say it.

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You wrote that. Why would you write that? If I’d read that, I’d have berated you for writing that! I’m going to miss you so much, Joel! I should be saying RIP, I cannot believe I’m writing that, but I can’t. I cannot physically bring myself to say those words out loud.

I had a dream about you, Joel. You were so happy in this dream. So happy I could feel it, you were working with someone famous – I knew who it was in the dream, but wouldn’t figure it out when I woke up. We had each been having a crappy month, so finally something good, even if it was just a dream. I rushed to tell you guys and you both told me to remember who the person was, but I just laughed it off.

I sat at the front of Church today, I wanted to stare God in the face and ask why? Every single song sounded like you saying bye to me, Joel. So of course I cried my-way through the first half hour. After Church, I half walked half cried my way around Oakland, and walked straight into another Church. A catholic one, this time, I just sat at the back and just sat there – lost. I just needed time. Time process – there is that word again… I knew if I went home, it would be real (indeed I got home and couldn’t speak, just cried even more in Judith’s arms). After the service, I lit a candle for you. I looked for the tallest one, it looked new, I hope the flame won’t get blown out. Just like your flame will not burn out in my heart.

They say that time heals all wounds, but what they really mean is that soon, you will forget and forgetting is the band-aide to heartache. I cry because while this a reality of life, I do not want to forget you. I do not want to forget your laugh. I do not want to forget your voice.

In many ways, you were my counsel and support. Your ear was never far and your heart always attentive to what I was saying or trying not to say. You were both sensitive and attentive to those that were around you. Your wisdom and conversation always widened my perspective. Your essence always a calm wind to the turmoil that I would bring to the table.

Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa, my Neve’r’nder.
You are gone.

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Photo Credits: Mostly Facebook/Twitter.

Funeral Arrangements are in the graphic below and details on where/how to send mabugo.

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day one: green does not define murky

There was no signage outside the gate and following the car ahead of us seemed like a good idea. Why wouldn’t a Beach House put a nice big sign post outside it’s gate, why isn’t signage something that is important to people of this country.

So I hop out of the cab and go talking to the bystander, who happened to be standing in the middle of the parking just staring at people who were driving into the parking – this seems to be another thing that we are good at, staring at people – random standing around and staring… Anyway, he confirms that it is actually the beach house and I desist from asking why the management did not put signs outside the gate.

My next order of business was looking into the lavatory facilities, after the night that I had, I am hardly sure if I have any lower intestine left. I zipped open my backpack and tried to discretely roll out an acceptable amount of toilet paper without getting any raised eyebrows from staring bystanders.

The place looked a little deserted save for three gentlemen by the bar, who looked like they were attempting to recover from the forays of the previous night. I spotted a young responsible gentleman already hard at work, doing what seemed like raking soil off the ground. He pointed me to the direction of the toilets at about the same time I heard a rumble.

I quickly shuffled along in the direction, mentally ordering all muscles responsible to tighten until I get to the destination. After a quick assessment of all four stalls and quickly establishing that the locks on the doors were effective, I quickly discover that the rumble was a false alarm. No manner of mental coaxing was working either; whatever was inside was determined not to come out. The worry came back, like the floodgates that rained over Noah, how exactly was I supposed to survive a sixty-minute boat ride with a poisoned temperamental tummy? I walked out of the stall and headed to the slightly dilapidated sink thinking, I might leave this place with more than an upset stomach.

I walked back to the car pleading with my tummy to behave, praying and speaking healing over her.

‘Hi’

Sounded like Helen, my one of my close friends from high school. She is back in the country now but we haven’t met in over a year. It’s almost like when we are in the same country, communication gets so much harder.

‘Are you here for the retreat?’

The voice was coming from the car we had followed in. Would have been another story all together if they were headed home and we chose to follow them assuming that they were headed to the same place that we were.

I smiled and nodded my head. Maria was her name, and it turns out we had met before this – her name on the eMail chain did seem familiar but I was too lazy to search through the mental archive of memories. We chatted for a little bit before I got back to the car, thinking to myself – hashtag try social. For an introverted introvert, the next four days are going to be some form of interesting. I do not particularly like being social – there I said it. People are bound to let you down, irritate you or get on your nerves in ways that make your eyebrow tick involuntarily. New things, Lynn, remember New things for 2016.

Jackee rolled in shortly afterward, such a bundle of energy, passion and joy. It felt nice being around such positive energy. Young energetic man showed up, lifting our bags onto his shoulders, like Popeye would have after a can of Spinach. We followed him onto the wooden rickety platform – okay, maybe the rickety was just in my head. The air had a funny stench that surrounded it. There was a scent of fish and something else that I couldn’t really put my finger one. Something stale. The water looked green and thick, would probably have been sticky if I had been brave enough to put my fingers in it. Green and thick but not the thick thick, the thick that forms as a result of form coming together. Like in the bath tub when you are rinsing your glorious African fro and the no-sulfate shampoo form curdles around the drainage. Perhaps this is the definition of murky, I wouldn’t know.

A couple said farewell to each other and I thought to myself, ‘Goals – these are relationship goals right here’. We had found him talking to the boatman, ensuring that the lad knew his craft and that his wife was in safe hands. In a way, this worked out for all of us, since we were travelling with Catherine – his wife.

I had to switch seats with Zahara, our uber talented photographer, which put me behind the Godfrey, our boatman. I was fine with this until I realised that he wasn’t going to sit at any point of the ride. Why had I assumed that he would sit, assumptions are never good.

On the random off chance that he had had the same night that I had had, and if by some quirk of fate farting had been his portion for that morning, I would have been one unhappy camper – or rather sailor.

As we sped off into the lake, I was reminded of another time, another place, another city, where I’d used a speedboat for the first time. Sure enough, in a manner that displayed our reaction to the finer things in life, we took selfies and posed in flow with the wind, trying to create our own titanic scenes. However, that would not be the case here – here I was to reign in all form or madness and conform to the pattern of professional creativity. As I listened to the conversation around me, I noticed that there were moments when the boat wasn’t touching the water. No – seriously. The boat was in the air every couple of seconds, I have no idea if this is how a speedboat is supposed to work but all I know is that we would make waves and then no waves; waves and then no waves. Much like the ways of life, there are days when making waves is all you do and then other seasons, you are nothing but another plastic inverted jerrycan floating in the middle of the great Nalubaale.

One minute away from our destination, Go presented to us the equator. All of a sudden it made sense why there was a campus on board. Being situated directly behind him, I’d wondered why he was turning where he was or forever taking lefts – it’s not like there are signposts on the lake saying turn here or two lanes ahead.

After a brief explanation of the lands on either side of us, I was particularly shocked at how close we were to Entebbe – I kept thinking how this would make for an excellent political thriller. As we turned toward our destination, it suddenly dawned on me – My temperamental upset stomach had been kind to me. No random involuntary reactions that would have caused a smelly scene. No need to ‘park’ the boat and have everyone look one-way as nature demanded attention.

As I staggered out of the boat, breathing a prayer of thanks before I realise that my vindictive little tummy had heard me and her response was a grumble that led to the instinctive clenching of my sphincter muscles.

As my fellow travellers stretched and congratulated themselves on getting to the island without incident – a cold sweat broke on my brow as I realised, said incident was about to happen.

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All photos credited to Zahara Abdul/SuccessSparkBrand. 

For more information about the retreat, visit this website. If you are not too sure about the retreat, sign up for the one day novel writing master class (yes, I’ve attended this one as well…)

day four: the dawning of normalcy

I stood outside among the purple and pink flowers. I have seen these flowers before – when we were younger, there were shrubs and shrubs of them. I wonder about the proverbial green thumb that seems to have disappeared with my parent’s generation.

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I watched as a bumblebee hopped from one flower to the next. I wondered if the taste of morning pollen was sweeter than afternoon pollen. I wondered if flowers were early risers or if whether they dreaded the fleeting embrace of the early morning mist.

It was my last day on the Island.

Like a fearful turtle or distressed snail about to be served up in some exotic cuisine, I slowly retreated into myself. The harsh brutality of normalcy was about to hit me hard.

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I listened to the lake and heard her hurried nature: Nalubbale’s waves were crashing into each other in a desperate attempt to get to shore. Or was it the wind’s fault, acting like a worn-out mother shooing her tardy children out the door?

This was my last day on the Island.

We came to the Island to unleash our writing potential (No seriously, it was on the flyer), we came to learn and unlearn some things; we came to learn to be authentic and vulnerable. We came because we felt our stories were so intricately weaved in the depth of our souls and we were desperate to get them out.

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Did we do any of these things, you ask? Were we all not told by those adorned in black-and-white wielding bamboo sticks, that talent couldn’t be taught? We either possessed the genes of the great or only aspire to be said great. A smile pasted her self on my face as read through this – these black and whites should have met Jackee.

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Jackee Batanda – to be exact.

She is the personification that dynamite comes in small packages – A bundle of energy, passion and infectious laughter. In spite of her obvious years of experience and training, she did not belittle some of my outrageous expectations. Hashtag, my dreams are valid.

Her company, SuccessSpark Brand runs a four-day writing retreat. Four days packed with learning best practices, structure, editing with just a hint of publishing. We listened to each other’s work and marvelled at the distinct style that each of us brought to the table. We had one-on-one sessions with the facilitators – talking through our expectations and our goals beyond the retreat.

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Today was my last day on the Island.

That Alex and his team were up to it again, the sweet aroma of freshly baked cupcakes was making my waistline flatline. Team Alex saw to it that the definition of culinary delight would soon take on new meaning for each of us.

I am guilty of slightly over indulging my imagination as we went on a nature walk one evening. Yes, I imagined the ghost kings of Safari ant colonies past, terrorising us as we loudly made our way through. We laughed so uncontrollably that when we came to the next colony on our path, jumping over them was dangerously hard.

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Solitude. Therapeutic. Serenity.

These are the words that would aptly describe my experience.

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And yet like an expectant mother being handed her baby in the theatre, came the dawning realisation that my child was here. I have always loved writing and now, I didn’t have to do it alone. After all, it takes a village, doesn’t it?

Which makes me wonder, will you be part of the village? Will I see you, at the next SuccessSparkBrand Writing retreat?

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All photos credited to Zahara Abdul/SuccessSparkBrand. 

For more information about the retreat, visit this website. If you are not too sure about the retreat, sign up for the one day novel writing master class (yes, I’ve attended this one as well…)