As I write this note, aboard an aircraft suspended in the sky above Europe, a dominant thought persists: My father. This is a journey I never wanted to take – well, one I had hoped would be indefinitely postponed. But here we are. This is the week in which we celebrate a life fully lived, with a rollercoaster ride that would be a great story for our playwrights’ pens.
Consider this: My father was born barely a decade after the Wright Brothers attempted the first human flight. Now his son, floating above distant lands and seas, writes on a little machine through which he can communicate with people in all corners of the planet. The century between Ezra Kisigo Mulera’s birth and death has easily been humanity’s most prolifically productive.
Born to a great medicine-man in Kahondo, whose work defied scientific explanation, my father was a student at Mulago when the first supplies of penicillin, a game-changing antibiotic, arrived in the British colonies. Whereas my grandfather could “see inside the minds” of his clients’ enemies, my father lived long enough to witness and benefit from extraordinary tools that make it possible for us to see inside our own bodies. During his stay with us in Canada, my father was mesmerised by magnetic resonance images (MRI) of his own body parts.
A man born at a time and place when communication with a relative 10 kilometres away involved an oral message carried by a fast-footed lad, my father witnessed the marvel of electronic communication that made it possible for me to work with my siblings on three continents to care for him. In his last months, when the final curtain was closing on him, his caregivers were able to send me real-time videos that enabled me to suggest actions that ensured his comfort and a gentle close to a long life.
It was during his visit in Toronto that we set up an e-mail account in his name and taught him how to use a computer. I still see the smiles and laughter as his grandchildren guided him through the basics of what must have been as magical as his own fathers’ exploits in his younger days in Kahondo ka Byamarembo.
Always fascinated by advances in scientific medicine since his first introduction to the discipline more than 70 years ago, my father was incredulous when I showed him ultrasound images of unborn babies cozily swimming in their mothers’ wombs. That tiny fetuses were benefitting from surgery before birth and that extremely premature babies were being helped to survive left him shaking his head.
However, he continued to speak about the health care needs of the people of Mparo – the one place he loved more than any other that he had called home. Truth to tell, he was frustrated that I had not taken up his baton in his efforts to improve the health of our people.
He correctly argued that unless the sons and daughters of our community returned to the place as resident workers, the situation there would remain hopeless. My defensive explanations, politely received and acknowledged, never altered his belief that we had a duty to do something about the situation in Mparo.
A few years ago, my friends and I started an organisation we called Mahali Salama Uganda (Safe Place Uganda.) Our goal was to work with the people of Mparo to create a place where women would safely deliver healthy babies. Our dream was to achieve a centre of excellence, complete with education opportunities for primary maternal-child health care providers. It would be a partnership between our friends in Canada and the community in Mparo.
Our plans were very well received and supported by the leaders of Kabale District, in which Mparo was at the time. However, when Rukiga County was shaved off from Kabale District in 2017, new realities emerged, the most important being that Mparo Health Centre IV would potentially become a district hospital, under the jurisdiction of the central government in Uganda.
Our Canadian friends rightly suggested that we take a look at the new realities and adjust our plans accordingly. However, we remain resolutely determined to work with friends and like-minded people in Uganda to mobilize support for Mparo Health Centre.
Like most mothers in Uganda, the women of Mparo are still far removed from the resources and facilities that their counterparts in urban centres take for granted. As my father said, unless the sons and daughters of the place do something about it, the desperate and risky conditions in which these women carry and deliver their pregnancies will remain hopeless.
It is in honour of our father’s strong passion for better health for his people that my siblings and I have requested that, instead of flowers or wreaths, our friends who are supporting us at this time, donate the money to a fund we have set up for the sole purpose of acquiring an obstetric ultrasound machine for Mparo Health Centre.
We have planned three celebrations of his life. The first will be at All Saints’ Cathedral, Kampala this Thursday, November 21, starting at 9.30am. The second will be at his home in Mparo, Rukiga Kigyezi on Saturday, November 23, starting at 11am. The third will be at his place of birth in Kahondo ka Byamarembo, Maziba, Kigyezi on Sunday, November 24. At each of these events, we will gladly welcome support for the Mparo Health Centre Obstetric Ultrasound project.
We celebrate his life with thanksgiving to the Lord for the great things he has done for him and for us. We accept our father’s challenge to us to make a difference in other people’s lives.