As told to shespell.com
Jacqueline Rwivanga aka Jackie is a woman on a mission. The effervescent serial entrepreneur and mother of five is embracing a second act, overcoming criticism and self-doubt choosing to live life on her own terms. I had heard of Jackie or rather read about her in the tabloids, and, after spending some time with her I figured out why she attracts all this controversy; she is a woman an average mind cannot process. She resembles the female archetype typically known to be vain and acquisitive; classically beautiful, curvy, styled, sexy, bubbly, and yet Jackie does not play by traditional rules. In fact, she doesn’t play at all. She is not out to curry favour with anyone. She won’t be intimidated by anything or anybody. She talks with flair, zest, energy, punctuating her remarks with her reassuring trademark laugh.
Determined to make a difference in the lives of the people around her, she figures sharing the wisdom learned from her seemingly glamorous but definitely adventurous life is the least she can do as long as it helps someone out there. In her own words Jackie candidly talks to Shespell.com about falling in love, her entrepreneurial ventures and coming face to face with the biggest nightmare of her life.
I have always had the conviction to reach out and do something. I am not a narcissist and have no desire to talk about myself but I hope that by sharing my own struggles and triumphs I encourage, motivate and inspire other women.
I am the fifth of the eight children born to Eliphaz and Mabel Rivanga Jones. I grew up in Kampala, Bunga to be exact where my family lived until 1994 when we moved to Kigali. I don’t remember much about my father because he died back in 1986 when I was still very young. Our mother struggled to raise us as a single parent. She opened up a grocery shop on Gaba road and later an African restaurant (West End) in Kiyovu Kigali. We might not have had much materially but we were spoiled with love. Our mother loved us, spoiled us every chance she got and we returned the favour with her and with each other.
Coming from the background I did I knew that I had to earn a living, do something, anything that would give me financial independence while contributing to the family. Much as I enjoyed my time as a stay at home mother, I felt I could contribute in a much bigger way working outside the home. Staying at home is also hard work; in fact stay at home wives work as hard as those who work outside the home. Without their efforts the world would be overrun by dust, cobwebs and stench. But I wanted both worlds.
My first foray into business was an internet café called Surfers’ World in Bugolobi. This was long before the smartphone and laptops became commonplace. I made a killing in the first years; but then as per Ugandan practice other cafes popped up all over the place overnight. To beat the competition, I added snacks to the café and eventually I decided to go with the food because it was making more money. I also opened up Jackie’s Healthy Option on Kanjokya Street and later relocated to Lumumba Avenue. I have always been a health freak; I watch what I eat and I know all these great healthy recipes. It was rewarding to see client get healthy, drop a size or two or adopt better eating habits. It was great as a business too but I needed much more.
In 2004, I took the JHO head chef Buyoma and we worked on a menu, trained staff from JHO and within months Andrew and I pulled more resources together and opened up Rwenzori Coffee shop at Shoprite Lugogo which later became Good African Coffee. The start was crazy; I was a chef, waitress, procurement agent when things needed to be restocked. It was such an amazing experience.
I still needed to expand, you see when you are doing well it is dangerous to stagnate. Luckily we got to know that Hungry Lion was closing shop in Uganda and they agreed to sell to Andrew. This is what became Mr. Tasty at Shoprite Ben Kiwanuka, the same opportunity was available at Shoprite Lugogo. I then approached my sister’s friend who worked at Bayport for a loan to finance the Lugogo branch. It was approved and I gave them monthly postdated checks. I know that most people don’t go after their dreams because they think that they need money or this and that first. What I learned from my experience is that all you need are courage, confidence, energy and resilience. Contrary to popular belief, I did not get millions from my husband to start any of my business. He probably would have given it to me if I had asked but I did not; blame me it on being raised by a single mother who taught me to be independent. I personally went down town in Kikubo to hunt for bargains. For machines, I boldly approached The Tamales and gave them my personal postdated checques.
It is true that when a person really desires something, the entire universe conspires to help that person to realize their dream. I have always had a passion for interior décor. Whenever I would travel I would bring back something for friends or family; a throw pillow here, a stool there, a rug etc. Then I started getting orders from people referred by friends and family. This is what culminated into House of J which we opened in October 2013. Of course it didn’t open as House of J. I didn’t even have a store or the money to rent one for that matter. But I had a container of furniture from the manufacturer with an agreement to pay after selling it off. I approached the management of Forest Mall and asked them to let me have a bit of space in the store that had just been vacated by Nina Interiors. Thankfully they agreed and I put a little display. Magically, the business picked up. We made enough money to be able to afford the store formerly occupied by Mr T-shirt in the same mall where we are still located.
In 2014, I saw a shop which had equipment and started toying with the idea of taking it over. I discussed with some family members who believed I could pull it off. I went to a moneylender and got the deposit I needed and greed to pay the owner in installments for the equipment. I then met up with a pastry chef from one of my favorite restaurants in Sandton mall and he agreed to relocate from Johannesburg to Kampala and as they say the rest history
Falling in love
Love is one of those things you think is supposed to happen as a fact of life and if it doesn’t happen, you go around feeling rotten. So one day, you meet this guy and he is gorgeous. It doesn’t matter who he is, you just realize in that split second that he is the ONE. This is what happened when I met a tall, dark rakishly handsome guy named Andrew Rugasira at an Oswald show in Kampala. Oh my God I adored that man. To my little teenage self, Andrew was all worldly and sophisticated and fiercely intelligent. Everything he did had a sacred halo; it radiated brilliance. Every word out of his mouth was a pearl to be treasured; I would swoon at his smile and when he was not around I felt as if my whole world was devoid of color. Haha. I was smitten. Life was glorious it was brilliant.
As soon as we started dating, I began to transform myself. I shopped around for dresses and skirts that would make me look mature enough for him. I remember spending the whole day downtown looking for a handbag. I was crazy in love as Jay Z sung and it was beautiful. It was beautiful because the man I was in love with felt the same way about me; I know he tried to pretend as if he wasn’t as crazy as I was typically male behavior but I knew that he was wild about me. I also started transforming his typically bachelor pad which had just a fridge in the kitchen and a color TV on a chair in the sitting room. I brought my kettle from my high school so I could make him tea in the morning before he went to work. Before we knew it, I was using my school savings to buy little things that would turn his house into a home. I bought most of our first household items from batembeyi (hawkers). I would buy plates today and then realize we need forks, spoons etc. At that point we were still eating takeout because Andrew didn’t see the essence of cooking for just the two of us. This changed however when he fell sick and I needed to make for him African chicken soup which I knew would make him feel better. I went to Bugolobi market bought a “sigiri”, saucepans and set up my first kitchen.
As a girl, I had always dreamed of a grandiose proposal; you know the rose in the mouth and on one knee kind of proposal. I still laugh at how life wildly differs from our dreams when I remember the proposal I actually got: One time while hanging out Andrew asks me what my mum would think if he were to ask me to be his wife. I replied that she wouldn’t object so much because I was in love with him. And that was it. That is the proposal I got! So much for romanticism.
A few months later, Andrew and a small delegation came to Kigali for the introduction and a date was set for the wedding. Honestly I don’t remember much of my wedding day because I was high on everything that was going on around me. I know there was cake, there were flowers and guests. Haha!
Motherhood is what I was born for. My life is richer because of my children. I set out to have a big family, my dream was to have ten children but Andrew flinched at the enormity of it all. So we compromised; we have five amazing children. I loved cleaning, cooking and making a comfortable home for my children and husband. I loved fussing over my husband and kids. I had fun decorating and making fabulous Sunday lunches for the family. I loved hosting and entertaining family and friends. My mother in-law even nicknamed me Kimaranjara (she who satisfies) because of my love for cooking and feeding whoever came to my home. Nothing can ever give me the satisfaction I get from watching my babies develop from helpless toddlers to independent individuals with their own perceptions and principles. My eldest is making 18 September this year while the youngest is 10 years old. I relished my time as a housewife which I did for five years. They are my friends, we talk about everything openly especially my girls who share my clothes and shoes and makeup. It feels great.
What I think actually. . .
I often hear people say life is what you make it; I will stretch that further and say that it is an art. It requires the delicate art of waiting, of bending without breaking which nature has abundantly bestowed on women. I feel that women should be encouraged and even acknowledged for their efforts to better themselves financially instead of undermining them. For years I have had to live with rumours of me sponging off my “rich husband”. To set the record straight I have never sponged on Andrew; yes he did take care of me during my child bearing years; but isn’t that his duty as a husband and father? I have tried to understand the origin of this accusation and I have realized that those who claim that women sponge off men are judging from the truth of their own forms of relations to their spouses. They are just confusing an essential economic situation with a moral one. These rules have been here since ancient times, the man’s basic duty is to provide for his family. While I believe this I also believe in women doing what they can to ease their men’s burden, that’s me.
Because I worked I could afford to buy myself a nice car, a family van isn’t that reducing my husband’s burdens? I pay my and the children’s tickets whenever we travel; if that isn’t easing a man’s burden I don’t know what is.
We should stop hiding under culture and give credit where it is due. Because our culture tends to favor the man, the woman loses before the battle even begins; the man is credited for everything that goes right and she is blamed for whatever goes wrong. I am not a feminist and I don’t hate men but I feel that someone needs to remind women of their own worth because one woman’s burden becomes a burden for all of us. I don’t feel separate from the abused mother or street walker because our lives are intertwined. I can never delude myself that I have escaped the burdens that women face because of the privileges I have. Every day on some level I face the same struggles they do and we need a united front to change a culture that has done its best to stifle women for 4000 years.
I truly believe that people who want to make a difference in their lives usually do it one way or another. All you need is the unshakable conviction of the extreme importance of changing your life. Start with small changes; wake up earlier to give yourself extra time, start and finish small tasks which will lead to changes in your attitude. This country needs each individual giving their best regardless of age or gender.
Addressing the elephant in the room. . .
Andrew and I divorced last year. It was one of the most trying moments of my life. I would wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat, heart pounding in panic. How would I live without the man I had loved for the last seventeen years? I was terrified. But it was the right thing. . .no the best thing to do given the circumstances. I have heard absurd rumours being given for our divorce the worst being that I had a child out of wedlock. Under normal circumstances I would not even have dignified this nonsense with a comment but for the sake of my family I want to set the record straight; I did not have any illegitimate children. I have never had any extramarital affairs; Andrew can support me on that. Infidelity was never ever a problem. We decided to divorce because when two people who loved each other and made each other happy no longer have much in common(blame it on the years) there is no reason to continue with the illusion just for appearances’ sake. We still support each other, we are happier apart and we are “killing” the co-parenting thing. Because we both love our children so much, we wanted to keep it as private as possible. So we briefed the children that we were planning to divorce but we would remain friends. They would be able to spend time with both mum and dad but not in the same house. So far I thank God for the progress.
Divorce is a horrible experience even as amicable as ours was I still felt the pain. It should be the last resort. We have witnessed unfortunate instances where a couple held on for too long only for things to end tragically. Instead of losing your life please leave the marriage; there is always life after divorce it’s not the end of the world.
What I know for sure about
Faith: You have got to believe in something. I believe in God. I believe that He knows what is best for me and He has already provided. Every day I pray that he continues to give me His favour and His wisdom.
Life: Life is a long time. Sometimes you will get a yes, sometimes you will get a no; how you process these two circumstances is what makes a difference between an okay life and a great life. You need to be passionate about life and it will return the favour.