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Where Creatives Go to Recharge - My Island Getaway Part 1

Day 1

I arrive at the beach house in a Special Hire an hour before the 8.30 am departure time. I am relieved. I silently mutter a prayer of gratitude that the Kampala morning traffic did not disrupt my schedule or my mood.  The beach house is still the same as last year. My eyes are yet to see the ACTUAL beach house they refer to on the yellow dilapidated sign post at the entrance, but that’s another story for another day.

Neglected outdoor furniture is randomly scattered across the unkempt lawn. The familiar naked headless lady statue is plonked right in middle of the garden. Seeing that statue always makes me wonder what the owner was thinking when he bought it. I mean how many Ugandans actually own a naked headless lady statue?

If my Jajja was here she would say,

“Did they not have enough money to put clothes on it?”

To which my aunt would reply with a twisted face and elaborate hand gestures,

“Her stuff is just there… hanging out for all to see!”

Wow! Woooooow, I can’t believe I am attending the Success Spark Writing Retreat again. This annual writing retreat is run by Jackee Batanda a Ugandan journalist, author, speaker and entrepreneur. Her company  Success Spark Brand Ltd is a communications and educational company.

 Bulago is a 500-acre island, located in Lake Victoria with a Villa called One Minute South offering seven bedrooms. Can you imagine dedicating four whole days on an island to exercise those creativity muscles and hone those writing skills? This is my second time attending; I am a returning student. 
One Minute South Villa, Bulago Island
Last year, I used the retreat as an opportunity to temporarily absolve myself of all my responsibilities as a daughter, a sibling, and a colleague; my creative juices flourished as a result. This blog is evidence of that, it was conceived while on the retreat.  My experience a year ago was so good I had to make it a permanent fixture in my 2016 calendar.  However, on this occasion I have failed to absolve my personal obligations tactfully. Unfortunately, as I eagerly await for the rest of the retreat participants to arrive, I am carrying an invisible bag of guilt in my chest.

Yesterday between 8-10pm, I received seven missed calls, two Whatsapp messages, two Facebook direct messages and one missed Whatstapp call from my big brother. When I say I ‘missed’ them, what I really mean is I simply watched my phone buzzing and decided not to respond. My older brother says he ‘can’t find his ATM card’ and needs some money, but I am leaving behind two other siblings and a parent in the country, so I feel I have the right to ignore him.

Today, I have hatched a plan.  I have decided to befriend my Guilt. We shall travel together to the island and my theory is that once we get there, my Guilt will instantly fall madly in love with it and leave me alone for four whole days. Why? Because the island is so marvellous that he will completely understand why I ignored my continuously buzzing phone last night.

So, together, we patiently wait for the other writing participants.

Everyone arrives on time except for our award winning photographer Zahara Abdul. As soon as she arrives and all our luggage is quickly and tightly strapped to the black rubber speed boat. We zooooooooom across the lake to the island, with two or three brief stops. I don’t even care about the brief stops; I am elated that I made it to the boat without having to give my brother a single shilling! Even more elated as Jackee tells me there are plans to have the next one in Seychelles next year. Literally BURSTING with elation as we get further and further away from Uganda and all my responsibilities. I don’t have time to glance at the scenery, because I am catching up with Jackee, where has she been? How are the classes going? What are her other writing students like? She fills me in on all her latest antidotes with her elaborate facial and voice impressions, and dramatic pauses. I love natural born storytellers.
Just arrived on the island!
Freshly made lemonade greets us at the entrance to the villa on the island, we empty our sand filled shoes and just pause. We are mesmerised by our surroundings. The welcoming swimming pool shimmering in the morning light, the antique filled house and creaky wooden floor boards. Each piece is unique, it’s impossible to identify which shop or country the furniture was acquired. All one can establish is that a lot of passion went into creating the ambience. Everything, and I mean everything including the wood carved man on a bicycle with a Nile perch strapped to the back, makes it a home, not a hotel.

At 12.00pm the second batch of participants arrive, here we are all together.

The whole group!

After a sumptuous lunch made by Alex the chef (whom we are plotting to kidnap this time around) we head straight into Character Development with Jackee and Plot Development with the detail orientated and ever articulate Crystal Rutangye.  Crystal is an Editor, published writer and a blogger (her website is on hiatus). She is the ONLY Ugandan to graduate with a MLitt in Publishing Studies. After 15 minutes, I realize she is a fabulous addition to the Success Park Brand, her commitment to helping writers produce good work is evident, in fact I decide to become her official cheerleader on the island. 
Crystal Rutangye
By evening Guilt has detached himself from me, he found some abandoned wooden boat and sailed off into the orange yellow sunset but before he left he said,

“Put your phone on silent for the next four days, it will stop that dreadful buzzing. See you on Monday Darling!”
Day 2
The Glorious view!

I finally understand the meaning of praise hymns.  I could happily praise God all morning today. I want to run across the beach in mismatched pyjamas singing-shouting this word. But you know it’s not a good idea to frighten people when you are alone with them on an island. In our group we have dancers, editors, engineers, lawyers, presidential advisors, and a conservationist. These are the types of people who regularly frequent overseas countries for work or study purposes. They cross oceans on planes as part of their job descriptions!

 Therefore these people might appear in my professional life at some point and I wouldn’t want them to say,

“Oh yes she was that mad case who ran across the beach at 5am in morning, possessed by some kind of spirit…”

To avoid inspiring such future conversations and maintain our cordial relations, I resist the urge go outside by opening the curtains to revel in my ocean view. Yes I have an Ocean view*! Bambi… did I forget to mention it earlier? Sorry not sorry. I stare at the harmonious waves and let my breathing fall into rhythm with them. What I adore about this place as I said earlier is it’s a home, there is nothing beige like and boring. The owner poured love into every piece, this villa is full of the fun filled experiences of all previous inhabitants. Each one of them left a little piece of their happiness here, creating an invisible bubble of contagious positive energy. I can’t help but smile.
can you see the man in the back?
Breakfast is fresh Ugandan coffee or tea, our choice of eggs, with sausages, bacon and sliced avocado and tomatoes. The staff are always pleasant, from the minute we set foot on the dock they have remained consistently accessible. It is only day two and the participants are already discussing how best to tip them.  Did I mention I love this place? I red heart emoji this place.

We shy away from each other in the morning, so that we can take time to write our assigments from yesterday. Around 9.00am we nervously come together to read our pieces out loud to each other.  The fear of rejection is laced in all our deliveries, but it soon disappears with the escape of snort covered giggles or with each peal of laughter at the end. The process of revealing our inner thoughts and struggles about the journey to this island is self-healing. Just like that we are friends, no longer acquaintances, that’s what the island and Jackee’s personality does for us. We share our deepest worries about this journey and it subtly unwraps our restrictive layers and barriers to successful creative writing. Jackee and Crystal ensure that through our sharing we are learning the technical skills of good writing. “Taking you from good to great.” She calls it.  It’s effortless, my mind is not bogged down with theory, and the bonding continues to build right through each session of Self Editing and Settings with Crystal, and Point of View and Dramatic Tension with Jackee.
The delicious three course lunch slows us down. It stalls our thinking process during afternoon sessions even after ten cups of coffee. Despite this discomfort nobody dares miss any of Alex’s meals. Nobody says they have overeaten or that they are on a special diet. I think even if one of us was allergic to nuts we would have gleefully eaten groundnut sauce and died at the table just because dear Alex has taken the time to prepare it.  When was the last time you had zucchini soup? Have you ever eaten Pork Luwombo with baked matooke before?  In fact, Jackee prepared a special drink to boost her metabolism during the four days. We had a shared Ugandan mentality.
We paid in D. O. L. L. A.R.S, for this experience....
We shall eat and we shall enjoy every single meal placed before us. And we shall threaten our bodies if they dare appear ungrateful!