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Tell it Boldly, Chapter 5: Viola

We are born into families not out of choice, none of us has a biological family that we choose. When we are born; we learn to live with everyone around us, especially people who are older than us, first our parents who mold us into beings. The human tribe is quite a large one, growing through life has so many people who come into our space, into our lives. I wake up each day thanking God for the family I was born into, as other chapters have clearly spelled out. One of the greatest gifts I have had in this lifetime, other than being born in a family that is loving, it is the love of our only sister: Viola.

 Her life philosophy
life will always throw lemons at you, squeeze out the best lemonade,
isn’t far removed from mine,
life is for the living.
Family is everything. No matter how high you climb or how independent you become, the most important thing in anyone’s life is a family. Families are flawed, all are, let no one tell you otherwise.

Having an only sister has been an added advantage; being my immediate follower, and our last born, we have been like twins, she has loved me when I am wearing my flaws like an apology, when I was breaking when I have a lot of hurt within: this love means the most. I am forever indebted.

When we were young, there are very fond memories of my sister and I, especially back then in kindergarten- and even later in life- to date. I am older than her by two years, which meant security from the bullies even way back. We walked to school together, every day, more often than not. Our mother at times had to come with her as she came to school; at that time, our mother was the kindergarten teacher and later, headmistress of the private school we attended. At school, we always looked out for each other.

For Viola, she took the ‘twinning’ next level, even were young; she felt she had to go to the same class as I was when were in the top class, she started following me to my class and my desk to sit with me. At first, my mother felt she wasn’t ready, that she was so young to join us but later, when Viola insisted by continually coming to my class, she gave her the benefit of the doubt: she let her embrace what she thought belonged to her- top class- and to study with me.

She was a sharp girl but of course being a little older, and equally sharp, I was always her model, her security, her big brother. We would have a class up to 1pm. We would be released to go for lunch in our homes. I remember, on our way home, I always had to pick milk from a certain man who had a cow from whom we bought milk every day. We didn’t have a cow at our own then. As all kids are, sometimes, I would be jumping around and I would spill the milk; that meant I would have to answer before mum later in the evening. Our mother didn’t tolerate being careless. Viola either had to be the ‘snitch’ and say things exactly as they happened or she had to lie to protect me. She did both, on different occasions, as I did too.

All people lie, sometimes we lied to dodge the punishment. She would cover for me, if she owed me, I would also cover for her, if I owed her: ours was a win-win situation. We worked for and embraced synergy even when we were kids. We knew from an early age that no one is self-reliant; that no one can do it alone. We didn’t lie all the time, we knew our mum wasn’t that stupid and we also knew for certain that if she found that we faked it, it wasn’t going to go well. This kept our lies in check; we have grown to hate foolery. I have advocated for truth and honesty all my adult life; I am wrong sometimes and I am called out. I call out people all the time; family or otherwise. My sister out there is the real life equivalent of my hate for someone lying to my face. I know a lot of people get hurt when someone believes a lie; when they hope unto a lie, I have been there, it is not a good place to be: it scars the psych.

We had a very great time in the very early years of our lives; reminiscent of those years is everything there is to bonding as siblings. I don’t know what it is about friendships forged during those formative adult years with other people, but the bonds I share with Viola run deep. We became ourselves together, and as we’ve continued to grow and change over the years, we still understand the core of one another. Being with her by my side reminds me of who I am — how far I’ve come, the hurdles I’ve cleared, and the lessons I’ve learned. She has been by my side through all of it, lending support and solidarity, inspiration and encouragement. And I’ve seen her through the same. It might have been coincidence that we shared the same class but it wasn’t and will never be a coincidence that even years later into our adult lives, we have bonded the most. I have siblings that I love so much but the truth, I love my sister the most, she has taken the time to understand me and to wear my shoes than anyone, besides dad.

I got kids earlier in life; as I wanted it, at 24 I had my first child (a boy, Shane) and about five years later, a set of twins (a girl and boy, Layla and Liam respectively). This means most of my late twenties have been very busy years of parenting and trying to make ends meet, with no particular gainful employment to my name. This is a bad time to have children but it is good when you have people who always have your back, like Viola: for that, I am thankful.

Life can be very sad and sometimes empty but when you have people who remind you everyday that you are better than you think, you forget your troubles. I have had the luxury of being told that I am a very brilliant man who gives the world the best of myself- even when I am dealing with so much myself- these words have come from my sister; someone I know for certain doesn’t have ulterior motives. Someone who speaks from a place of total honesty, not just to coddle me. When you have such a person on your side, you are blessed beyond measure.

Back then in the early years, just post kindergarten, I used to be one of the smartest kids in school, I was always number one until primary four when we changed school. I was not good at mathematics, the boy who always took the top spot had that advantage over me, he beat me to it. Viola wasn’t far from us, she too, came in the top ten, always. Better than me at mathematics. We changed school when I was 11, we joined a new school from class 5 to class 7. At the new school, I didn’t come in the usual position of mine although I stayed in the top 5, Viola in the top 10 as usual. At the end of the term, when we got home, our mother had this to say on looking at our reports. “You were doing better; what has happened? Are you getting so playful?” I didn’t know how to explain the decline but quickly I told her “it is just because we are in a new environment, the grades will get better with time.”

Promising that was easy but I knew deep down in my heart that our mother would still remind me these words the next terminal report came home. My mother was someone whose words didn’t impress, actions and changed behavior did. I learned from her that words matter but actions speak more; that lip service decorum doesn’t mean a thing if it doesn’t translate into action- and where need be- changed behavior. Into our first holiday in our new school, we wouldn’t have too much time for play, we had a promise to keep and manifest the results later.

Our mother who was a teacher; not at the time we went to a new school but for about ten years earlier, knew how to help a child concentrate not just on play but also on academic work. She would emphasize to us that she can’t stop us from playing but we should learn to balance play and school work. When we were on holiday, always, she would encourage us to find time to revise our notes and have discussions from other schools, to compare notes. She would remind us, always, that education wasn’t for her, it was for us to secure a bright future for ourselves. Those are the truest and strongest words anyone has told me in my life.

Most of the time, as people of our age would, we always concentrated utmost an hour or two into in our private revision or discussions, after that we would be tired and longing for play. At the back of our mind, whether we played or not, there lay one truth: education was to shape our future. The stark contrast is that a young age doesn’t necessarily offer the true meaning of that but somewhat, it gives you a glimpse of what the future may look like, using the vivid examples in the community for case studies- as we did more often than not.

Whenever the holiday was almost done, we would prepare ‘grab’. We had just got into boarding school, our first experience the previous term was that to survive the first week happily, you had to have some ‘grab’ on you. For me, my ‘grab’ always got done in the first two days, I had so many friends who stormed the decker bed I slept on every time I was from home. That meant that I sometimes had to ask Viola to keep some of my grab to make it stay a little longer. Even if I didn’t generously give it away, some of the boys had vices of breaking into our suitcases if they smelt grab or knew it was there. There was no point in having my case broken into, I had to give it away as fast as I could, or keep with Viola: those cases were rare in the girl’s dormitory.

Two years later, into our new school, we were candidates, which meant a lot of seriousness, with pressure to be very serious with academic work. At school, we had regular tests. At home, we presented the grades we got from the tests to our parents—especially mum who only wanted us to report the first grade, always. I was still struggling with Mathematics and doing very well in the rest of the subjects, English, science, and social studies. Viola was picking up very well, now both of us were in the top five in our class.

The long-awaited time to sit the national exam that would see us into another level came; we had prepared so well. Like any other exam, we were under pressure, especially because it was a national exam this time. For me, the exams weren’t hard, even when I knew where I was weak. For Viola, she wasn’t sure what to say about them, she would say, “they weren’t bad, let us wait and see what happens.” Our holiday began with a lot of excitement, planning for schools we would go to once our results were out and plan to sleep much more than we did in the school year.

When our results came out a few months later, we both had performed very well. That was good news for us and our family; being the last batch to sit the primary leaving exam. We both excelled in first grade, priding ourselves and our parents. Viola performed even better; she had seven aggregates, I had nine, she kicked ass. She actually was among the top 3 in our class and also among the best in the district. All of us were proud of this great milestone, onward, we would talk about the schools we would go to over and over again: Viola ended up in Mary Hill High School (one of the best girl’s schools in Uganda) and myself in Kigezi High School.

In what became one of the greatest learning curves of my teenage life, I was more or less a student at the girl’s school my sister was at. We would exchange mail throughout the term. At her school, I made several pen pals. We would exchange pages of handwritten letters sharing experiences in the mixed school- and them- from the single school. I learned most of what I know about relating with women and raising a girl child from those letters; other than my mother; it was a learning curve for me, on both sides of the aisle: academically and socially. Some of those friends I made back in the day are still my friends to date.

Before we were done with the early years of our secondary school life, right into our form three, thunderstruck: we lost our dear mother. On the fateful morning of January 15th, 2007, our greatest rock as family lay dead in her bed to an attack, this became of the toughest moments for both us- being orphaned at a time when we needed her the most- especially for Viola. I didn’t know how to tell Viola it was going to be okay without mum; neither did she know how to comfort me, we chose to find comfort in ourselves and walk through this grief, we gave ourselves time to grieve the woman who meant the world to us. Viola was the most vulnerable; being the only girl and the youngest of us all, she needed soothing and comfort, I stepped into shoes that would never fit me- our mother was irreplaceable- never will be.

Ironically, while I thought Viola needed my support more than I needed hers, it turned out I needed her too; I wasn’t strong enough to transition yonder without a mother figure, I turned to her for this figure. She and I knew that if we were to survive these teenage years as sane human beings, we had to support each other, offer counsel to one another where it was necessary, call out each other in love where we had to and the most of all: always have each other’s backs.

We have grown conscious of one fundamental truth, that grief is a form of love. Personally, I had never understood what it meant to lose anyone until we lost our dear mother; more than anything, what you get from loss of a loved one is an awareness of other people’s loss, which allows you to connect with the other person, which allows you to love even more deeply and to understand what its like to be a human being. Through grief, we learn to love and are transformed in ways we have never imagined for ourselves; I can confidently say, that together, Viola and I have had that kind of growth: of empathy, personhood, and human decency.

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