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Inspired by Mr Miyagi


I had just fetched Victor’s visa from the German Consulate in Cape Town and had about an hour and a half before it was time to fetch Christopher from school.  So I decided to go to the Company Gardens and do some work on my laptop.  It is full of old trees, birds and squirrels – just the kind of inspiration I needed.  You see, I love the trees.  I often stop and take random pictures of trees, and my children – they just don’t understand why.  Trees make me smile.  I look at a tree and my heart skips a beat because of the way its arms stretch out towards me, or the way the sun kisses its leaves, or because of the beauty of its bareness, when all the leaves have fallen off.  I look at the thick trunk of an old tree and wonder, if it could talk, what stories would it tell?  Trees ground me – they give me a real sense of history, of belonging and of hope.

So I went to the Company Gardens to be inspired, and walked in to a Bonsai Exhibition!  It was like finding money in the pockets of a coat you wore last winter!  There were all sorts of bonsais and even a few that were over 100 years old!!!!  And they had not been inherited, no.

I spoke to some  people there, from the Bonsai Clubs, about growing and caring for bonsais.  I found out that sometimes a big tree is slowly ‘grown’ into a small tree.  It is taken from the wild, planted into a big basin, and as parts die they are cut off, and then it is replanted into a smaller basin, and finally into a small pot!  It is a labour of love.  The art of creating Bonsai tree from a 100-year-old tree made me think of the art of writing a poem.  I often start from a lot of rambling – sometimes even a piece of prose, that does not really sit well.  And then by slowly ‘pruning’ what I have written going from one draft to the next, sometimes leaving it untouched for years, I arrive at a poem that says exactly what it needs to say, with just enough words, and not losing the essence of what I set out to say.

As I took pictures I met a man who was gently spraying the trees with water.  Although he was not displaying any of his own trees, he has a shop that sells them, and has been teaching people how to grow them for the last 15 – 20 years! He had turned a hobby into his work.  I asked him, ‘What made you start growing Bonsai?’  And he smiled and said, ‘Mr. Miyagi – you know, in the Karate Kid.’  I laughed and said, ‘You’re not serious!’ And he said, ‘I am.  The first time I saw the Bonsai was in Karate Kid, and I decided I wanted to grow one.  So I researched them, and looked for people who could teach me, and the rest…  well, its history!”

About Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa

I am a facilitator, coach and storyteller/storyfacilitator, and use story, song, art and dialogue to facilitate change and development in individuals and organisations. Over the years I have become aware of how I have used stories to make sense of my life - and of the ways in which we all use story, consciously and unconsciously. Stories - myths, folktales and personal stories - are used to teach, to bind, to questions, to hold ambiguities, to explore, to hold up a different picture, to bring together and also to hold back, to suppress, divide and destroy. With this understanding I have built story into my work. I use it to make conscious the stories people and organisations tell themselves that either support or hinder their growth. I use them as an opening, an invitation to begin to speak about the difficult things - to name 'the elephant' in the room. I use them as an invitation to people to dream of possibilities - and I also teach people to tell and to listen to stories because without a listener there is no story. I was born in Uganda and lived there until I was in my early teens. Since then have lived in various parts of East and Southern Africa - and have been involved in development work in Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and the UK. I have also coached clients in South Africa, Namibia, the UK, Belgium, Israel and USA.

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