Over the last eight months, the immunity game has up-armoured like never before. Expats in Uganda speaks with Rukmini Bonthala, who owns the Yoga and Wellness Studio Urban Yogi, to understand the longstanding relation between food and health
Native Japanese wisdom dictates, ‘Hara hachi bun me’, which roughly translates as, ‘eat until you are 80 percent full’. Given that the average age of the population in some villages in Japan is over 80 years, they seem to know how and what to eat, to live a long, healthy life!
The good part is, it is not that hard to understand the link between food and health.
Known to a few as a Brand Strategist for budding ‘wellpreneurs’, to many as a raw food chef, to still more as a yoga instructor, but to all as someone who truly believes in wellness and holistic living, Rukmini Bonthala’s journey to health had a bumpy start.
Ulcerative Colitis (simply put, ulcers of the colon, an inflammatory condition) is what it took for her to embark on this journey of connecting food with wellbeing.
“Growing up, we always used food as medicine. For example, as kids, we were given a mixture of honey, ginger juice and turmeric for a cough, to soothe our throat. But we were never consciously taught that food can heal us. In 2009, when I fell ill, I was told that I would need to go on steroid medication to recover. It shook me. This was not the recovery route I wanted, especially after learning the side effects that these drugs would have on my body. I decided to look for alternatives and came across Ayurveda, an ancient healing modality using herbs and foods. I decided to give it a try and without the help of any conventional medicines, I was able to have a full recovery in just a month! This is what opened my eyes to the power of what we eat and how it can impact our healing process,” explains Rukmini.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, many have now taken a myriad routes to increasing their immunity. But Rukmini says that while food is a very critical part of healing, it cannot be the sole focus.
“We should not only think about strengthening our immunity in difficult times such as now. We need to start looking at food as something that will become our blueprint. Is it beneficial for our body and cells or not? Will it strengthen or weaken our immune system? But again, I want to say that food alone is not enough for strengthening our immunity. There are many other pillars of healthy living that we need to focus on as well. Are we getting enough sunlight everyday (at least 20 minutes in the morning or evening)? Are we exercising (even just 4 hours a week is super powerful for our body)? Are we breathing fresh outdoor air or are we stuck inside a closed room? Are we drinking enough water? Are we practicing any stress management daily (something as simple as closing our eyes and focusing on our breath for 2-3 minutes)? Are we sleeping on time (It's known that the most regenerative and healing sleep happens between 10pm - 2 am)? So health / immunity is a combination of several factors. While we may be told to have this drink or that food to build immunity, we need to remember that it may be a part of the solution, but not the whole puzzle.
So what would a student of Nutrition Endocrinology consider a good meal?
“I believe healthy food is what nature provides us, is full of color, and is a good balance of cooked and raw. I don't believe in counting calories or doing portion sizes. I believe we should be mindful when eating and be aware of our own limits, and stopping when we feel full. I personally love colorful plates of food. Recently, I've been experimenting with a concept called Buddha Bowls, where we add a mix of veggies and grains, so we can eat a wide variety of nutritious foods in each meal. For example:
Main part of the meal - Something like posho, matooke, Quinoa or cooked millet grains
Vegetables (often baked): Carrots, beetroot, Pumpkin, Butternut Squash, Gonja
Protein component - a variety of beans. (I always prefer to soak my beans overnight and cook them the next day)
Leafy Greens - Often steamed or lightly sautéed or even raw as a salad- Spinach, Kale (sukumawiki), local spinach (Swiss Chard) or Dodo
Gravy / Dips - Peanut gravy (very local), hummus (made with chickpeas) or a yoghurt dressing
Nuts and Seeds - Top with nuts and seeds - Pumpkin, Sunflower, Cashew, Chia. Etc.
By having one food from each of these portions, you can build a really complete meal. The quantities can be minimal, but you will still feel full and know that you have eaten a really nourishing meal.
In this talk of immunity, one cannot ignore the whole aspect of internal upkeep.
“The mind and our thoughts play a much more critical role in terms of disease manifestation, as well as our healing journey. Unless we address this, everything we do externally will just be a bandage. I have also realized that for good food habits to stick, a fertile nourished mind is required,” asserts Rukmini.
As we are talking about food, I would like to share a recipe I came across especially when the lockdown started that was being promoted as a protection against COVID 19. While that may not exactly be true, it is something that will strengthen our body and give us a small boost in immunity.
- 5 garlic cloves
- 8 cloves
- 15 holy basil leaves
- 1 tsp. of carom seeds
- 5 mint leaves
- 10 black pepper seeds
Crush all ingredients and add to a pan with 6 cups of water, reduce it till only 3 cups remain, turn off the stove and add in 1 tsp. of turmeric powder and mix it. Drink it 2-3 times a day.
Hope you enjoy this healing drink.
Decomposition of plastic could span anywhere between 10 years to 1000 years. Now, wouldn’t it be productive to have this lifespan for building material, especially in Uganda, where plastic pollution is an existential bane? Enter, Eco Brixs!
Many a passionate ideas are born in pubs… but seldom do they culminate into a project that is backed by royalty in two countries, namely the Buganda Kingdom and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Queen’s Commonwealth Trust!
Save for Eco Brixs!
Andy Bownds, the founder of Eco Brixs, first arrived, from the UK, in Uganda in 2015, as part of a founding team to set up the Uganda Marathon Foundation.
“The concept of Eco Brixs was born out of a debate with friends in a pub. With two other friends that worked in development, we were debating what the biggest issues will be in our lifetime. I argued about the environment and as the debate, like it often does with your closest friends, got heated, one of my mates pulled up the Uganda Marathon project website page. Amidst the wide range of projects being supported, none had an environmental focus and they drew the conclusion, "You can't care that much". The debate may have ended, but ignited a fire in me - how could I help fight the fight against climate change,” says Andy, who continues to be Country Director for Uganda Marathon, a role that he says provided him with the skills and connections to start Eco Brixs.
He returned to Masaka, home to Uganda Marathon and Eco Brixs, and reached out to a friend to help him complete a trial of recycling plastic.
“Plastic was an obvious choice. With no formal waste collection, plastic is a very visual issue in Masaka, as in many parts of Uganda, with trash being burnt along roadsides. Together with Johnson, we started collecting plastic in my garden,” states Andy, adding that the Masaka Dioceses later signed over a land to carry out their work.
Andy and Co. have come a long way from 2 tons of plastic in a month with two staff members to today, where they have 13 full-time staff, 25 part-time staff and collect 20 tons of plastic a month!
So what exactly are Eco Brixs? Eco Brixs construction materials are made from a secret sand and plastic composite mix.
According to Andy, it took a lot of trial and error to find a mix that uses all types of plastic, has a higher compressive strength than concrete, is lighter and also cheaper than their concrete competition.
“Our product can be used for paving any surface, industrial, household, public spaces and the mix is adaptable. We are now innovating various other products for the construction industry,” he adds. The team has also developed their own closed-loop processing systems turning waste plastic into a variety of marketable items such as face masks, fence posts, chairs, bowls, to name a few.
Plastic pollution is a problem, and we all know it. According to a research in Uganda, in 2015, around 600 tons of plastic was being illegally burnt or discarded at landfill sites every day. And this number would have only increased, considering several companies are increasing their bottling capacity. “Household consumption of plastic varies hugely across the country, with the more urban settings using lots more plastic than villages. But one consistency throughout is that there are no proper waste management systems to handle even 5% of this plastic waste,” states Andy.
But all is not lost. According to Andy, since its inception, Eco Brixs has seen an increase in plastic collection.
“We have focused on two key areas. ‘Motivation’. By buying every kg of plastic we receive, we tap into the biggest motivator in the world - money. And with 80% of the youth in Uganda unemployed, the value chain economy we have created, through recycling, provides valuable income opportunities to thousands of people a month. But motivation isn't enough and that is why we also make it ‘Convenient’. We have built 25 community collection centres in markets and trading centres throughout Masaka City and the region. This allows people to recycle and earn with minimal change to their normal routines. As they shop at the market, they can recycle and earn extra income for their veggies,” he says.
So where to from here?
“In 2021, we are confident we will have finalised creating a sustainable closed-loop system that we will be able to replicate across Uganda. We want to see the five major districts outside of Kampala having an Eco Brixs closed-loop system in operation within 5 years,” chimes Andy.
The finality of death often leaves many grappling for closure, especially over the last few months. In this column, Clara Garcias, an educational Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Coach Trainer, throws some light, on what seems like the dark side.
“Our life is made by the death of others”- Leonardo da Vinci
Back home, in Catalonia, I understood, at a very early age, that death was part of life through my mother and her conscious grieving support group. It had to be honored and accompanied with respect, care and awareness. I understood that dying is as important as giving birth.
I have experienced visiting people before their death, sung their favorite songs, read paragraphs of their treasured books or prayers from their cults, surrounded them with their preferred colors, applied lip balms, and their favorite perfume, brought them their dearest flowers and objects of value- personal anchors as we call them in Psychology.
I understood that in transitional moments, we can interconnect with others, if we reconnect with our own spirituality, moreover, being open-minded to accompany the person with whatever their desires are. It is an act of selfless service, to be next to a person in transition and adapt to their belief system in a respectful manner. It is their right to die surrounded with what gave them life.
Religion and beliefs can separate us, but spirituality unites us. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin a Jesuit Christian Priest (1955) wrote about the difference between religion and spirituality, which, in my opinion, is the zone where we can connect in sacred moments such as the departure.
We might have family members, work colleagues and friends that follow different congregations, from different cultures and religions. Nevertheless, there is only one form of spirituality. It comes from following your inner wise conscious voice and leaves the dogmatic rules aside, to focus on the true needs and deeper aspirations of self and others.
During these last months of the pandemic, we have encountered death more often than usual, in countries detached from their spirituality, together with extraordinarily challenging situations of unavailability and inaccessibility in saying goodbye to their loved ones. This has made this process even harder to digest.
In private consultancy, I have encountered a few clients dealing with grief from the death of grandparents and parents since the pandemic started, coupled with the inability to travel, attend the ceremonies held or be able to be present during their last moments.
At any age and time, death is a difficult phase to encounter. We all have to go through it. Therefore, instead of treating it as a taboo, it should be a subject we receive education about, a topic to be discussed, dealt with, and processed as any other stage and phase we go through in life.
While on top of the topic of being treated as taboo, nowadays, the lack of access to ill people during these times has led to the rise of Risk Grieving in many countries and cultures.
When death happens without a proper period of preparation, a part of us does not fully register the fact. Therefore, writing a letter to the person that is gone is very important. In it, you can write: what has happened, how this has made you feel and how you wish things had happened in an ideal situation without the pandemic.
Creating an altar with the picture of the person, including flowers, an object that reminds us of them, a poem, prayer, book, the written letter enclosed, etc. Creating a physical space for the deceased person, allows us to give it a space within us. Thirty days is a good time to help register it in our mind. In Eastern traditions, they do not use candles 72 hours after the person has died. They are used before and during the process of transition, symbolizing the light to help guide their path to the afterlife and the lighthouse of the ancestors coming to pick them.
In ancient cultures, it is also said that the person that leaves, delivers their talents to their most loved ones and they feel inspired in doing something new they never practiced before, just a few weeks after the person is gone. In Psychology, we can only confirm that practicing and focusing on a new activity helps digest the shock.
My granny would say, “When you have lived in peace, you die in peace”, and she did. When I lost my dear grandmother, I planted 96 (the age at which she died) pink Geraniums (her favorite flower colour) to celebrate her life. I also created hanging mobiles made of beads, shells and stones during her last month in hospital. I gifted these mobiles, in my granny’s name, to everyone that showed interest in them during her last months and weeks of illness. I still believe this helped me pre-grieve her departure.
Life is condensed energy and death is dissolved energy; we are stardust experiencing life. I honor all the ones that died before us. We are their sons and daughters and have to ensure that bidding farewell is as nurtured as its first hello.
A few ways to digest the loss:
Writing a letter and creating an “altar” to honor the person’s life for a few days.
Practicing a new hobby that the person used to enjoy, e.g. gardening, knitting, collaging, also helps us register, digest and integrate, as we channel the energy we feel and process these feelings.
Planting a tree in honor of the person’s life is a beautiful activity to do for a family in nature on a family land.
Visit the places of origin, the ancestors tracing family trees/ lines, or just venues you used to visit with that person, triggers closure.
Keeping an object of the loved one with you can help make a bridge and you can hold it whenever you miss them.
Strategies for coping with Risk Grieving during and after COVID-19:
Risk Grieving: Risk Grieving is a type of grief we have encountered these last few months, where we have been unable to carry out proper ceremonies and felt invaded by rage, anger and deep sadness mixed with guilt. It is an exceptional moment that counseling assistance, expressing the feelings in a journal and sharing your memories, thoughts and feelings on a weekly basis (video calls) to all the family members or friends experiencing the same loss might help ease the process. Sharing, speaking up and exchanging emotions is crucial to the grief process and the journey towards acceptance.
Plan for future celebrations: Planning for an independent ceremony, if the situation finds us far away, is a very helpful option. It is as good as making plans for a congregational celebration when the situation stabilizes exactly the way the person gone would have wished for.
Self-care: For the members suffering the loss, eating healthy and practicing self-care is more important than ever before. They can be accompanied by crying, speaking and walking in nature, exercise, dancing, shaking our bodies or tap. It helps digest somatically- through the body as the emotions get released from our subconscious.
How to help a relative or friend that suffered a loss:
Listen actively, showing empathy and interest.
Offer help in concrete matters (food, shopping, chores, etc.).
Stay close to the person, even if it is not through interaction. Make yourself available, in case the person needs anything.
Hold the space in silence, avoid giving advice, just practice being present and being near. It’s enough. The person feels divided between the will to be alone and the need to be accompanied.
If the person belongs to a religious group, communicate and seek for their counsel, as their beliefs will be very similar and you will find the support wanted.
Respect the process of that person (regard, consideration, abstain from interfering).
Don’t take emotional reactions from the person personally; we are supporting- they are in pain and suffering.
Find spaces to recharge your own energy, so that you can continue being present for that person.
Avoid making assumptions and ask what the person needs at that moment.
Engage to remember beautiful memories together.
Engage and share in the ceremony needed preparations for the future celebration.
Engage in a creative activity, the focus helps process emotions.
Help the person reconnect with his/her mission and purpose.
When we are unable to be present or attend ceremonies, especially due to a sudden death, it is advised to do the following:
1) Imagine the person is standing in front of you “as if she/he was there” a strategy used in psychology called “as if”.
2) Imagine a conversation, ask questions and perceive/imagine the answers.
3) Practice the Ho'oponopono Exercise:
Express your feelings: e.g. I am angry, because you are no longer with me. I am sad, because I miss you.
Express your forgiveness for something you could not apologise for, to release any guilt left: e.g. Forgive me for…
Express your gratitude towards something the person did for you. e.g. Thank you for…
Express your love for the person. e. g. I love you because…
Digital detoxification may be a moot point in
today’s narrative. But Zarah Champeli surfs
offline to find some fun and innovative ways for
parents to engage with your child outside the
Gone are the days when we longed for trivial technology and wanted to get our hands on the newest gadget for the house, or the kids. Now, with the pandemic and the world being homebound, the dinner plate eyes don’t budge from the screen! Continuous hours on the laptop is draining and a vice.
However, a few parents have shared some winsome ways to detox with your child:
Start a creative project: A mood board on their favorite book character or a DIY jigsaw puzzle with playing cards is a great way to include creativity and consistency in their day. Making magazine collages or a scrapbook are easy too, and don’t take up too much time. So you can sit cross-legged on the rug with your child and cut out pictures with them!
Make use of their leisurely screen time: Ask them about some of the new fads and trends they’ve come across. Who are their favorite creators, and why? Children pick up on the most interesting things, and spotlighting this way will encourage them to further retain what they see, and for you to gain some insight on their exposure.
The center point of fitness: Physical activity! A cool way to engage your child in sport without risk-exposure and too much of your time is purchasing a trampoline, a pogo stick, or a basketball hoop. So many games can be invented around these toys, and jumping around would add a goofy detox to your day, just as much as theirs! It’s a good method to channelize all that energy, and revive those muscles after being seated in front of a laptop all day.
Something capricious: Get a pet! Adopting a little puppy or a kitten (less hassle!) changes the way you see life.
A cute addition to the house peppers the day with laughter and joy. Your child learns to nurture, as well as
make a best friend in quarantine- and so much of their time is spent off their phone and cuddling their furry friend. Turtles, bunnies and guinea pigs are convenient companions too!
Introduce the concept of a merit board: Lastly, harnessing the power of incentives. For every spontaneous or creative task they do without a gadget, they get a sticker or stamp on the merit board. Once that fills up, they get a reward! Anything from a pretty artwork and a Lego house to writing a short story or bak ing cookies; your child will be excited to learn a new skill and show you. An added advantage is that he/she might spend their trivial screen time now learning new skills and exploring, rather than watching a YouTube video.
These tricks and tips have worked for some parents and are happy with the balance it has brought about.
“Independent projects are great! It takes a day of shopping for stationery and poster board and it’s so nice to see my child connecting with her talents. She doesn’t even need a reminder anymore,” quips Nimisha Patel, mother of a 10-year-old. Ultimately, detoxing and getting away from the clasp of the screen is a reminder we have to give ourselves.
The addition of engaging activities takes away the burden of eliminating one of them! A few parents have weighed in on their experiences with Leslie Velez says her 7-year-old familiarized herself well with the detox, because she set a strong example herself! While talking about the internet trends or scrapbooking, it’s important that nobody around grabs a phone either. The detox doesn’t have to be punishment! Bhavya Kalsi feels that the dogs at home are a elight, “Especially in the current situation, it’s been hard on the kids to not be able to see their friends as much. The furry
companions are a constant reminder that we’re not so lonely, and there’s no chance to drift to a screen when you’re running around with them outside.” A little bit goes a long way, especially for parents with demanding schedules. Try
some of these approaches at home and experiment with the interests of your child. Watch as you welcome a rewarding experience for the whole family, especially in these uncertain times.
Uganda has been touted as the birthplace of
Robusta, according to some coffee experts.
So the next time you are looking at gifting a
hamper full of goodies from Uganda, make sure
it contains a bag of this deliciousness
Coffee is that aroma that can nudge you back from a stupor, carry you on its wings of nostalgia, or just give you that dopamine lift that you need. A lot can happen over coffee, and yet, it is the least consumed beverage in Africa. At least that’s what statistics state.
Uganda is estimated to produce approximately 282,000 tonnes of coffee, annually. While the actual coffee consumption is pegged at about 3% of the total production. Now, if you swiped right to see what our neighbors are doing, you might find the above statistics quite abysmal.
Ethiopia not only enjoys the crown of being the birthplace of coffee, but their consumption is also fairly healthy, at 50% of their production. In our quest to discover the magic of these beans and its lackluster reception, we met Gail Mawocha from Zimbabwe, one of the few Q Graders in Africa.
What is a Q Grader, you ask?
This special tribe of people are trained to identify and differentiate coffees against a grading system, so that you can enjoy that unique cuppa! Speaking of the economics, Gail says that Uganda is amongst the top ten coffee growing countries in the world, yet coffee consumption remains low. “As consumption remains low, earnings for coffee farmers continue to diminish. This has to change for the benefit of African farmers and also for the health benefits that can be derived. There are many myths which prevent Africans from consuming coffee, and this is a tragedy. Coffee is underrated in Africa and not many realize the potential that this crop has. Coffee is our heritage and Africa has to focus on value adds and develop strategies to increase consumption locally, as well as to pass on this skill to the youth to ensure sustainability and profitability,” she says. After receiving her Barista Qualification with Africa Coffee Academy in 2018, Gail had an opportunity to open the Endiro Coffee Shop on Muyenga Tank Hill.
Thereafter, she interned at Uganda Coffee Development Authority and learnt to grade commercial coffee. This is where she took a shine to Q Grading. In 2019, after what she says was the ‘toughest exam’ she has undertaken,
she joined the league of Q Graders in Africa So what are her views on coffee found in Uganda?.
“In Uganda, one is spoilt for choice,” says Gail. “It is advisable to buy a medium roast coffee to enable the consumer to experience all the attributes. Dark roasts tend to minimize the full attributes of a good coffee. The coffee can be either natural or washed processed Arabica, or a blend of both. A blend of Robusta can also be agood choice, for those who prefer strong coffee.” While speaking of coffee attributes, one tends to assume that ‘acidity’ is not favorable! Au contraire, acidity in coffee is a good attribute and should not be confused with acid. Acidity is the brightness or zest in a coffee. It can be described as the lemony, citrus experience one gets when drinking certain coffees, particularly the washed processed Arabica coffees that fetch a premium. Other attributes that Graders assess include Fragrance/ Aroma, Body and Sweetness.
Espresso love, anyone?
Robusta might be your cup of coffee. According to Gail, Uganda is the birthplace of Robusta and as a result the country had the honor of developing the Robusta protocols, which is an international standard used for assessing
and grading Robusta coffee. “I believe the finest Robustas in the world can be found in Uganda. Robusta is often referred to as the ugly sister of Arabica, but the Robustas in Uganda, particularly the washed processed ones are of exceptional quality. Robusta is great for making espressos and the crema (thick silky froth in an espresso) makes a great cappuccino.
It has almost double the amount of caffeine which makes it the perfect pre-workout beverage, as it will result in more energy for exercising. Robusta is also great for creating blends in coffees, as it adds to the body and the rich nutty flavors add the depth of the coffee,” gushes Gail. To play her part, towards increasing domestic consumption of coffee, Gail has started Coffee