This piece of writing appears here because, amongst all the families that she belonged to, Julie chose to spend what would, unfortunately for many, be her last moments with the Turn The Page one.
Juliet Tumwesigye Birungi, an astro-travelling explosion of awesomeness, died on Friday, June 10, 2016.
Julie’s well stocked mind, infectious laughter, and her effectively able self are tools that she carried with her, in her wonderful bowl of positive vibes wherever she went.
When she had an important message to put across, at least to me, she always took up her favourite seat in the foyer of her offices, the one next to the entrance, and sat across me to deliver, in detail, the nature of and the effects of all matters taxation, accounting, records – the keeping of, auditing and more of the same, all done with comparative examples from the informal, foreign, and start-ups worlds.
Her work was a serious affair for and to her, one she attended to with all keenness, and paid a respectable amount of attention to detail while at it. She delivered results worth note and to do that, she had to create the time where it was not. On one weekend, a Saturday afternoon, and after a day’s trip to the Ssezibwa Falls with a couple of friends, she told us, and insisted that her weary self would be going to work that very night as she had reports to complete and hand in with immediate effect. Irrespective of the fact that she claimed that she was working for a person she described as a workaholic, her guts to proceed, especially when some of the folks in the car we were in had passed out in sleep was admirable. On another day, I had to wait for three to four hours past a normal working day’s get off time just for her to personally see to it that everyone under her ambit was sufficiently compensated for their services. In a community of generally lax people, Julie put in more effort than most people ever will.
An event with Julie and another without her could easily be distinguished. The one without her was not worth the while. When she walked into a place, or positively responded to an invitation – as effectively as she always did – she never did it alone. She always brought along with her someone, especially a new one amongst the already familiar ones.
She was coolly tolerant with everybody, and blended well with them. She had little time for the inconsistencies, insensitivities, and insecurities of the nasty world we live in. She was well aware that so many people were a big part of her life, and that she was a potential or a crystallized friend to and every one of them. Still, she was not immune to distress, especially that created by some to negatively affect the innately freely given lives of people she considered friends or family. She, for example, skipped a day at work and spent it live tweeting attempts and alarms to free Danny T from the unfathomable chains of laughable government agencies.
Her voice and its influence as relayed on her pages on the contemporary social networks was efficient at rallying people to a certain or any cause that she believed in or wanted us to draw our attention to. Julie found it hard to shake the feeling that our country and its government’s priorities had disappointingly gone awry. When she attended an African Movie Night showing of a movie about Patrice Lumumba, she said that it was awesome, and wondered why Uganda would be paying UGX 5 Billion for worldwide PR when it could just set up cinematography grants so that we can tell our stories properly.
When she finally figured out how Twitter works – she had forgotten her first password and used to tweet in French to her five followers then, who included JP, or John Paul Asiimwe – and found her online voice, she became a darling of many whom she kept engaged in conversations about a range of topics. One way or another, she appeared in your or your friends circles, and left an impression with her memorable memes and good goofs.
Both privately – she once painted her nails and her cheeks in the Uganda flag colours – and publicly, there are not so many people who made up and/or supported what could collectively be termed as Team Uganda like Julie did. We – Joryne Arigye, Marion Kyanzi, Mandela Nelson – danced together on a wet field and walked with – Brian Kyeyune, Annet Twinokwesiga and I – a couple of friends in support of Ruyonga’s rolling out. We – Julie, Patra Kigula and I – had tumblers of coffee lattes and shared platters of The Sound Cup food when Abaasa released The Rukungiri Mixtape. We braced the heat and crowds to join her Mary Hill High School girlfriends, known to each other as the squad, to celebrate Kampala in the Kampala Festival. Through her, we became friends with notable DJs like Twonjex. Through her, we started listening to and appreciating budding artists like Gravity Omutujju. Through her, we finally appreciated A-pass. Thanks to her, we had a good laugh at The Mith’s expert taxi fare haggling skills.
She appreciated local art – by attending events pertaining to and purchasing all forms of artistic expression – and made attempts at creating her own. Some of us discovered Maria Nakato’s Otakan Designs through her. We encouraged her to continue making more of her own accessories which included necklaces, chokers, bangles, and earrings. She, too, was a work of art, as was well illustrated by a painting of her by an immensely talented friend of hers Jessy Muyonjo.
Books, and foods and tales and more.
Whatever it is was that Julie chose to do or chased, she did with all the love and passion she could master and put thought into it. Her passions ranged. Notable ones rotated around taste and expression. Her tastes, in music, art, literature, and destinations were eccentric. Her expressions, in dressing, making up, hair styling, speech and its tonality and more were exquisite.
In a folder she shared with me, one containing all her music, movies, photos, documents, and more, I have learnt that she tried to fill any gaps and limits she encountered in her tastes by embracing contemporary sources and knowledge of other cultures, from learning the Spanish language to trying out Haiku Poetry to finding the love of Atesot and Kenyan men.
She loved books so much that when, on her birthday, I bought and delivered to her a cake, she threw a fit and asked me why I had not brought her a book in its stead. She always carried more than a copy for book swaps, some of which happened at Rugby events, and was the first Ugandan to contribute to the Mathare Slum’s Book Drive, a project run by friends in Nairobi, Kenya. She looked out for and shared news for book sales, and marked as to read those she saw with us and felt she wanted to.
Towards the end of 2015, when Turn The Page was taking shape, she laughed at me when I asked her if she was up to joining a WhatsApp chat group dedicated to our cause, and, when she did, came along with six like thinking members we had not anticipated, including one, Penny Mapula, from Botswana. Her last formal, so to say, event or public engagement was our book club meeting.
Julie and good food were best friends. She knew where to find the best, and recommended it to the interested. Our and her very last moment was shared over generous platters of Wandegeya’s TV Chicken which we – Conrad Kuzooka, Marvin Tumwine, Annet Twinokwesiga, Julie and I – commented should have made it to the ongoing Kampala’s Restaurant Week. On the way there, she had asked Lillian Opio, who had been sickly, to not worry about the chicken and “just take tabs”, before supplanting it with; “that is like living the moment today”. That is who Julie was. She did not compromise when it came to food. Sometime in 2014, she shared with an idea of a majorly fresh fruits canteen she had brand named Katunda Bar. I encouraged her to proceed with it. I hope that, someday, we will construct it in her memory.
Her love for good food was informed by contemporary sources as well. She had collected, and probably got excited by simply reading recipes for salads, soups, pizzeria, Mexican, Italian, and better foods and cook books from the Food And Cooking Network.
On Thursday, June 2, 2016, Julie and I shared a seat in a taxi bound to Kisementi. We had just finished with a meeting which had been held in her offices on Kampala Road. In the traffic jam, we talked, slept, and failed to agree, from a range of pictures she had in her phone, on a dress she wanted for a forthcoming party, and whether to proceed to Yasigi’s for the Uganda Bloggers Happy Hour or Iguana to meet up with Mashoo Aichi and Sharon Kukunda. We eventually chose Iguana because she felt that she was not ready to mingle and confer with renowned bloggers as she had most of her writings, including all the tales I had persistently asked her to share, in draft form. In 2014, her and I shared more about the same over a lunch of what she was later to term as “dry Sound Cup rolexes”. She wanted to write and more often than not ran her drafts by me. I encouraged her, and tried all my best to raise her confidence. I am certain that she has gone away with several undocumented moments which, to borrow from the link to her blog, had not yet screamed out.
One of Julie’s favourite quotations about family was an unaccredited one which read; “Family isn’t always blood. It is the people in your life who want you in their; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.” Julie was one of the scanty few people who lived life as opposed to being alive. Her passing lessens that number. She lived by every word in that quotation. She was a member of many families.
As the black shirts which have been prepared to remind us her will reveal, Julie will be remembered by some as a rasta who signed out of Iguana’s Jamrock Thursdays by saying the words; “it was real”. She will also be remembered by members of her rap duo, which included Prize Joy Magezi, as a rapper, who made part of the group named The Antibiotics.
However, one of the families that Julie belonged to was what would rather pass as goons worth nothing better than scorning. On the path to her residence was a group of ever irie Rastafarians. To her, they meant no harm, as they had both – Julie and the gang – recognised each other by a style of hair dressing which they both agreed upon.
Whenever she approached them, irrespective of the time of the day or night, all she had to do was bow her chin, and place it on her fastened fists while saying the words “big up ‘pon yaself” or “large up ‘pon yaself”. On hearing those words, they would put on hold whatever it is that they were doing, and line up behind her to escort her all the way to her final destination, and keeping her safe from any possible danger. That is a family that will most certainly miss her. All they knew her as was as their Queen.
By extension, Iguana, which hosts a reggae theme night that Julie attended religiously, should get a Julie hologram to help enliven the inevitable somberness in the future. On realising that it is a hologram, it would not be a bad option to turn to it to say “large up ‘pon yaself” or “big up ‘pon yaself” in honour of the Queen. At the very least, they can hang – and never remove or replace – a large painting or picture of Julie on one of their walls.
Of unending conclusions and painful goodbyes.
There are not enough apt words that can describe how much anyone who discovered Julie will miss her. The loss of Julie should anger everybody. Not just her family – who has lost someone so young, someone of a tender age, someone who was in the prime of their life, but individuals she met and influenced – for they have lost a bond that no one will ever provide or replace; and institutions – like the police, which, apparently, did not offer the best of responses and her workmates who have lost a selfless, resourceful, and hardworking person who was by no means a spoke in the wheel of their day to day operations. The death of Julie is the kind that should start revolutions anywhere and everywhere. What form those will take, I know not, but I am certain at least something positive, something that can help stop robbing us of our dear ones will be done frequently in honour of Julie.
Julie was well aware that life moves on after your or anyone’s death. She acknowledged that it was sad thing. Her death has taught us that it takes a genuinely happy person like herself to cause so much unbearable sadness.
It is our fervent hope that Julie’s family, and especially her Mother, will find more of God, that their pain will gradually ease, and that they will be comforted by knowing that they sired, nurtured, and shared one of the best people ever with the world. It is rather quite unfortunate that someone who was full of life suddenly has none left in them. She stopped when she still had a long way to go. She meant so much to so many of us. We will never be the same without her. We will always miss and celebrate her.