Activities

The Queen of Katwe

 

I’m coaching some of the child actors for a film being shot in Kampala called the Queen of Katwe. Its a success story about a Ugandan girl, Phiona Mutesi who learnt how to play chess and  has since gone on to became  the youngest African chess champion. Its a success story that we definately need because most of the people of the world still see Africa as the ‘dark continent’ full of hunger and disease. It is true we have those challenges but there are so many wonderful stories of people who have risen out of adversity to become highly successful people.

In his book David and Goliath, Martin Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point) explores when, and why, apparent disadvantages – poverty, personal setbacks, military weakness – turn out to be advantages, and when advantages, like wealth or status, aren’t what they seem. “The fact of being an underdog changes people in ways that we often fail to appreciate,” Gladwell writes. “It opens doors and creates opportunities and enlightens and permits things that might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.

Since relocating to Uganda I’ve realized how resilient Ugandans can be. I remember when I first arrived in the country I was travelling to Mubende and the taxi broke down. Nobody blinked an eye or complained about it. They patiently waited for the taxi to be repaired so we could continue on our way. I on the other hand was agitated by the delay, which took over 5 hours to repair. As I looked around me I wondered why others were not displaying the same irritation as me and how people could put up with it.

Its a catch 22 I think. We have become apathetic to for example, the poor quality of our products Chinese accepting it with the phrase ‘ah China’ but not demanding for improvements. At the same time this patience and acceptance of ‘what is’ allows us to accept things as they are and not spend too much time complaining about things we cannot change.

In relation to being the underdog which I think many Africans are because we don’t have access to the opportunities that many living in the West have, we have become more resourceful and creative. Phiona forced through circumstance went looking for food and in the process learnt how to play chess which has now made her an African champion.

Life on the continent is definately not easy. The global economic system deliberately I belief, hold people back from reaching their full potential. Whether its limited access to health or inadequate nutrition the people of Uganda are finding a way to make what they have work for them and when they do get the opportunity can challenge the more advantaged.

Growing up my mother would always remind us that we had to be 3 times better than the English because she knew we would not be ‘given’ the opportunities an English child would. That we would have to fight for everything we have because we were Black.

Its very easy then to perceive oneself as being inferior to other people. A student of mine who I am teaching as part of a leadership programme at In Movement – Art for Social Change, stated that ‘white people were better because they are more organised’. This week I asked her if this was a positive and healthy opinion to have. Her response was ‘no’. So my work is to inspire and build capacity of young people to acknowledge that even though they may not have the opportunities many other young people have they still have the potential to be successful.

The challenge we have is to harness their raw potential but as Gladwell points out in his book, just because you come from difficult circumstances doesn’t mean you can’t have the life you dream about.

 

 

 

 

Diarie, music

How to be ethical

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Since the beginning of the year I’ve been encountering issues of ethics. We talk a lot in Uganda about corruption and how it stops us from developing at a reasonable rate. But my question is what happened to the African Ethic so often spoken about by historians?

When I first started reading African history there were so many accounts of the ethics of Africans. The Ethiopians were seen as the most pious of races bringing religion to Europe with their divine stature. Kemet (now known as Egypt) had the system of Maat as its spiritual foundation and I think it did them well, because their civilization existed for over 10,000 years.

So what happened? Why have we fallen so far from grace?

I try very hard to be none judgmental when it comes to behaviour, its hard enough keeping myself in check without looking for the log in someone else’s eye, but I’m curious as to why we have now become a race of people who don’t stand for much anymore.

The other day I was relating a situation to my children, of course it was in relation to money and work, but when I had finished my daughter told me that I was wrong because ‘we need to eat and the world is not like me’, so I just have to do as others do and get paid. I felt a knot in my stomach honestly, I couldn’t understand how she couldn’t see the importance of what I was saying but i accepted it because in essence the world is so fucked up and that means I should be too.

I can see her point, the saying that ‘one should not throw pearls before swine’ resonates but i just can’t help it. I can’t go against my heart. Maybe this is something that was instilled in me during childhood, transmitted by my mother. So is the problem women? What exactly are we teaching our children? Or maybe its a case of having some life experience against which one can judge or establish a stance on certain things.

I suppose we cannot teach what we do not know or more simply we have forgotten how to be humane. In this rat race of space we call life everyone is battling for their piece of the pie, so its survival of the fittest.

Maybe I’m an Afromantic. The history I read about my origins, or maybe the past lives I have lived means I can’t turn away from injustice or perpetrate it either. Yes I want my life to be easier but who said that life was meant to be easy?I know its hard to stand for something especially when those around you don’t agree with your position.

Its a complex topic and I still don’t have the answer, all I know is I want to be better. More kind, more loving, more just, more compassionate, more patient, more trusting, more forgiving and maybe the adversity I experience is the fire that will refine my character. Only time will tell.

 

Diarie

Diamonds can be found in the Ghetto

diamond

I don’t believe in coincidences, I think all things happen for a reason, even if at the time we don’t understand why. Everything has a purpose and a reason.

I realized that the other day after my bag got stolen by a boda boda rider that the events in my life are meant to encourage me to reflect on the quality of my relationships.

There is a saying that ” misery likes company”. You have those friends who seem to come around when either you or them have problems. Lamenting on the situation (often negative) but never coming up with solutions.

Then you have the “good time friends”- the ones who want to tag along to be associated with you and share the limelight or your cash.

The friend who is concerned for your welfare, rejoices in your successes without envy. The one who can speak to you with sometimes brutal honesty because of how you allow yourself to be treated. The one who comes looking for you when “you’re lost”, or gives you their last coin because you need it more than they do, are rare gems.

I told my students the other day that diamonds are just dirt, but due to time and pressure they develop into the gems, which are then cut and polished to be sold at high prices.

The year has already started and I’m feeling the pressure. I was looking forward to 2015 and it started so well. I had a wonderful birthday and spent time with people who I care about.

But maybe that’s my immaturity. The middle path is that place where whatever happens good or bad, you remain peaceful and alert because the happiness one feels is not determined by the external events but by your inner contentment.

I cried like a baby when my bag was stolen, shouted at a friend because I blamed him for not escorting me (one of the rare times he didn’t). Threw my hands to heaven to ask what the lesson was.

What keeps coming through is to improve my relationship with myself. Learning to be my own light, to give myself the love and time I so willing give to others. To spend time alone and not see it as something being wrong with me. To learn not to be so “nice” all the time for fear of people not liking me.

Events in life show you where you are at. Life will always be life. Bad things happen to good people and those who do bad things get away with it.

The true success is to modify ones reactions and attitude to the events.  To not smile and say you’re OK when obviously you are not. To accept what you are feeling but not get attached to the emotions because in time they will change.

To become the silent, non- judgemental observer of your own mentality. To find inner stillness through which inspiration and creativity come. To release guilt for not having maintained the image of the strong man or woman and just cry if you need to.  To be none attached to people, places and things.

This is done with the knowledge that “in time, this too will pass”.

To seek the kingdom of heaven within because that is where the riches truly lie.

 

Diarie

Resilience

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So now we begin again, I’m not sorry to see the back of 2014, its been a trying year for many not just me.

Resilience is the ability to overcome challenges, to fall, down but get back up again, to keep moving and learning from our mistakes.

I’ve touched and been touched by countless young people, who inspire me to be thankful, to stay strong even when it seems people are against you. I’ve learnt to listen more to my children, to receive their feedback and reflect on how I can be a better parent to them. This is not understood by a lot of people who see the youth as people ‘to be seen but not heard’. I want to hear from the youth more, I want to learn from their energy and perspective because we are living in very different times with challenges that humanity has not faced before.

In the Bible it states ‘that wisdom shall come from the mouth of babes’. I humble myself to the youth because they are the future adults and honestly I want them to be better than we are. Yes, I have experience which I think can contribute to widening their perspectives because youth can be self absorbed, misled and opinionated but ultimately my mission is to assist them in creating their own lives and not project what I think is right for them. This is tough because as a parent I want to be in control. To tell them what to do, to make them obedient to my will. No matter how many times you tell an adolescent not to do something, they do it anyway. They are testing the boundaries and creating their own, because that is how we learn.

2014 has been a lesson for me because I have begun the process of letting go. Of saying what needs to be said but allowing the young person to make the mistake in the hope that I have informed their ability to think and reflect thus, learn from the event.

I’m learning its all about clear non violent communication. If I want the world to be different then I have to speak differently. I have to listen more, judge less, but show them loving kindness and understanding. I think if my mother had done that for me I would not have made the mistakes I made in relationships and the choices I made in my life. but then again maybe not. Maybe the mistakes and the challenges are what have made me who I am today.

As a junior elder I want to reassess my role in community. To not be so concerned with the opinions of others, but to stay true and authentic to myself.

A quote I read the other day said ‘Its not about your name its about what you do with your life that determines whether your name will be remembered’.

Its been a year since my mothers passing and even though she was not famous or rich she left a legacy of listening and laughter,

I too want to laugh more in 2015, and I want my laughter to reach my eyes.

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music

Chaos

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So yesterday I was at home, you may as well say I was idle. I had nothing to do. I didn’t feel like speaking or interacting so I stayed in my room, read, watched DVD’s and basically spaced out. But in that space I realised how undisciplined my mind is, even after many years of meditation my mind can wander erratically. Its such a shame when I realise how much time I spend on these types of thoughts. Its such a waste.

Because I am a poet I try to change my mental vibrations through writing so I wrote the poem Escape, which honestly made me feel better. Creative processes always help me to find my balance. The death I speak about is the death of unproductive thoughts.

So if my mind is like this even with meditation, how is the mind of Joe Public?

According to the Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi- ‘the normal state of the mind is chaos’. Without training and without an object in the external world that demands attention, people are unable to focus thoughts for more than a few minutes at a time……we don’t notice how little control we have over our mind, because habits channel psychic energy so well that thoughts seem to follow each other by themselves without a hitch. But when we are left alone with no demands on attention, the basic disorder of the mind reveals itself. With nothing to do, it begins to follow random patterns, usually stopping to consider something painful or disturbing’.

Oh dear, sounds like I need to go back into training! I hope I can make my mind more productive for 2015. Want to join me?

Poetry

Escape

ife scowling

Drowning in the depth of my mental

Its hard to breathe deeply

I struggle to find my peace of mind.

Its shrouded in anxiety.

I want to die

then I wouldn’t have to straddle the middle,

masquerading as a strong African woman.

How will I ever find the balance I feel at times

When surrounded by trees?

Free from the urban market flows.

Noisy, polluted confusion over takes my mind.

Mystical levels lay beyond the living.

I believe I will find my peace of mind in the darkness

Its calling me,

come home, come now.

But how will I go?

I wish to depart on a peaceful note

but there is a storm inside, I feel it raging.

Swirling and competing for my psychic energy

I’m afraid I will never find my livity.

It seems so far away and there is always a price to pay.

By Ife Piankhi 2014

music

At Ease in Musicality

I want to act from my strongest self. This is a concept a friend of mine Sheron Wray introduced to me this week.

It means I have safety within, my actions are congruent with my higher values, I’m present rather than living in regret about the past, or anticipation of the future. I focus on what can be done, rather than on self blame for lose or misfortune and I have a connection to the deeper resources of the higher self that results in EASE rather than lonely struggle.

Now this concept has been developed my modern neuroscientist who say  this can be accessed through the breath and a sigh as you exhale, which signals the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system located in the forehead.

One of my mentors Dr Llaila Africa teachers that the parasympathetic system is feminine and the sympathetic masculine. Not in gender but in energy. To be feminine is to be passive and receptive and to be masculine is to be active

I’m learning to balance my masculine and feminine energy. I think I am most at ease whilst teaching and performing.

So here’s one of my Ease moments at the Karibu Music Festival Bagamoyo 2014

 

 

Poetry

Loosing my Soulskin

soulskin

My senga was lost to me in middle passage journey’s

Motherhood and marriage defined who I was meant to be.

The Wild in me conformed to societal ideals of femininity.

My mammaries grew full, for giving but never receiving,

learning to be seen but not heard

like the children produced in close procession.

The milk flowed over my belly, giving life to all and sundry.

In time I learnt this was not right, but I had no fight

I had died inside.

But the culture is strong, it confines me within a need to belong.

So I travelled across the sea to recreate my own identity.

I made mistakes, trusted in fakes.

Made new friends who sometimes cheated me,

smiling with the teeth but never with their eyes.

I took long to recognise, because me soulskin was lost to me.

I did the outrageous, created music, song and verse.

Inspired by the inner drive to find peace of mind.

Maturity can arise in time .

Lessons learnt through adversity bring strength.

The soul speaks, if we take the time to listen.

Visions flow freely leading us to the path of self determination.

Its for me to decide what it means to be woman.

This is what my Soulskin told me.

I found it beneath the layers of patriarchy

But I’m still struggling to put it on.

Ife Piankhi 2014

 

Activities, Workshop

The Layer Beneath

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I’ve had a very hectic but inspiring week. I travelled to Lira for a Peace Camp where I facilitated and trained young people from all over Uganda and the US. Then leaving Lira by coach back to Entebbe for the ‘Layer Beneath’ Camp training young people in the Art of Facilitation.

On many occasions I felt I was in the Flow-the optimal experience of conciousness described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book of the same title.

Its been an truly amazing week, one I will never forget. It was made even more memorable because even though I was engaged mentally, physically and spiritually, I still managed to find the time to read Americanah the fantastic book by Chimamanda Adichie. I couldn’t put it down. In my real life I was moved as I witnessed the transformation of the youth I was working with, and then in my imagination I was stimulated by the characters of the book.

americanah

This week I felt truly blessed. Waking up with the sun in Lira to meditate, stretch and teach. During my breaks reading a few pages and then if unable to sleep reading a few pages more until sleep visited me at night. Its been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a book so much, it was hard to put it down. I could have easily spent my days just reading Americanah to the detriment of my work. Fortunately for me I love both my work and reading, so I was able to balance the two. I finished the book in 7 days and managed to witness and contribute to the personal transformation of over 50 people.

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The natural environment definately assisted me in finding the energy levels necessary. Its not easy getting on a bus and travelling 6 hours to Komboni College in Northern Uganda and then back again to Kampala where I had to catch a taxi to St Theresa’s in Kisubi. I realise how important it is to have a mission in life because when you do, you manage to find the energy to put in 100% effort into realising your goals. My goal is to be an inspiring educator.

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Upon returning home I caught up with my daughter who was happy to inform me that she has spoken with her father, as a result she felt the start of a healing of their relationship which was very necessary to her personal development. My youngest informed me of an audition she attended and her desire and anxieties about whether she would be successful in attaining her dream to attend music school. My son was sleeping after a very intense experience at camp (he attended the Layer Beneath), his sisters describing him as being very meditative.  10344364_10203857804104409_6908319588939565226_o

It was wonderful giving and recieving feedback to learners, challenging myself to maintain my energy when the emotional demands were so great. But it feels like I am living on purpose. My soul feels feed and I have learnt so much about myself and others. I even met a man who is experiencing a similiar situation to mine after having separated from his wife of 30 years.  I feel I’ve grown this year. I’ve made a commitment not to complain and trust that energetically, karmically the work that I am doing will benefit not only myself but humanity. It starts with me being the change I want to see.

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Its not easy being a mother, provider and creative artist. I struggle sometimes to find the space and time to feel I’m accomplishing anything. Am I doing the right thing by my children? Questioning how I earn more from my very unique skills set.

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I’m facing some opposition to my chosen life path, its unconventional at times and some don’t understand me.  But at the same time I’m receiving so much support and encouragement to keep doing the work I do: spreading the message of Creativity and Self Awareness to a new generation of young people.

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I want to say thank you to all those who participated fully this week, took creative risks, tried new things and pushed themselves to another level of self awareness. I am at peace and in gratitude for your contribution and presence in my life.

‘When we change the way we communicate we change society’ – Clay Shirky

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music

Healing nature

10376715_10152182278321782_511783444071487125_nTo be honest I’m looking forward to the closing of the year 2014. Its been a real challenging year on a number of fronts personally and globally, ‘there’s so much trouble in the world’ as spoken about by the honourable Bob Marley.

Sometimes I wonder if humanity will ever evolve beyond our ego’s and start living from the heart.

Its a scary prospect I suppose to allow ourselves to be vunerable. To give without thought of receiving, to share whether we have a little or a lot.

I know there are good stories out there but we seem to be surrounded by so much bad news it can really leave a person hopeless and depressed.

I question where we are going wrong, we have so much potential as humanity but we seem to want to continue the same patterns of war, greed and envy.

Are there good stories out there? Ones that inspire us to keep moving on and improving ourselves even though sometimes life seems like a struggle? Or is life just meant to be like this? And through the process of adversity we become better?

We have so much ancestral knowledge available to us, not just in books but in our bones and blood. We can tap into that divine spark if we just take the time to be still and quiet.

I took a group of young people to a festival in one of Ugandans most beautiful gardens. We didn’t get to do what we had planned but what I did notice was the sense of freedom they had. They played, laughed, had conversations and felt relaxed in the company of their peers. Nature is truly a healing balm for humanity.

Being in the natural world gives us so much according to Randy White when children play in the natural environment they gain the following:

Improved cognitive development by improving their awareness, reasoning and observational skills.

Helps develop powers of observation and creativity, instilling a sense of peace and being at one with the world.

Play is more diverse and imaginative, fostering language and collaborative skills

So it seems obvious……lets spend more time in nature.