Mayor Troubles.

Paul and I were surprised (although maybe we shouldn’t have been) when we saw Toronto’s mayor appear on the BBC news program we were watching while in Zanzibar, Tanzania a few weeks ago!  We’ve casually followed the story, and I thought it would be interesting to highlight the parallels between Rob Ford’s situation and Erias Lukwago’s situation (the recently removed mayor of Kampala).

From the information I’ve been able to gather, Lukwago was elected by the citizens of Kampala when his political party merged with another one to form an opposition coalition.  Since then he has governed with a fair amount of support from his constituents.  However, he has frustrated the agenda of President Museveni’s majority.  Therefore, although there were a number of steps to follow, Kampala’s city councilors removed Mayor Lukwago from power earlier this week.  In protest Lukwago and his supporters led a demonstration for a few hours the following day until they were all arrested!

Paul and I were in Kampala the day after the Mayor was arrested and our boda driver shed light on the situation from his perspective.  He told us that the President has forgotten that the people of Kampala voted for their mayor and he believed that Lukwago shouldn’t be removed without their consent.  He was saddened by what felt like to him, the undemocratic approach used to deal with this situation.  Finally, he said that the citizens of Kampala need solidarity to stand up for democratic procedure in their government.

As a Canadian abroad, I’m embarrassed (although somewhat amused) by Rob Ford’s behaviour and by the lack of power Toronto’s city councilors have to remove him from power.  However, contrasting this situation with the one in Kampala makes me grateful for the Toronto government’s adherence to democratic procedure, even if it can make things seem ridiculous at times!

My Week of Walking

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The road.

I recently decided to spend a week without motorized transportation. This meant that if I wanted to go anywhere I had to do so on the power of my own two legs.

I had big expectations for the week. I was hoping that my little technological fast would help me remove some of the conveniences and distractions from my life in order to better think, listen, and pray. My (naïve) hope was that this would give me a new revelation or insight into my future as Krista and I think about moving back to Canada in a little over 3 months. My intention was to pray the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”) as I walked, wanting to learn – if only a little – what it meant to pray without ceasing.

Unfortunately, I failed to learn how to pray without ceasing and few, if any, of my expectations were met. I spent over 15 hours (About 85 km, which works out to something like 12 km/day. To give context, the nearest city is about a 17km walk) walking along dusty African countryside roads, and none of those hours gave me any new or even particularly fruitful insight. It was by no means a waste of time – my week of walking is something that I am considering making into a yearly discipline – but it certainly did not fulfill my somewhat lofty expectations.

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The view.

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To begin with, the week was not as solitary as I had hoped. To be one of the only white people (muzungus) in the area is one thing, but to walk through these tiny towns and villages, past huts and houses with kids spilling out of them, is quite another. Walking is too slow to allow you to escape the onslaught of attention that excited kids and confused adults will give you when they simply want to know why this rich white person was walking through their village when he normally speeds by on his motorcycle or car.

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The storm that I had just walked through.

The locals frequently asked me if something was wrong and why I was punishing myself by walking everywhere. The easiest way for me to answer these questions was to say that I was walking for fitness – though this was probably still sufficiently confusing for the locals; they don’t walk for fitness, they are fit because they walk. Ugandans, like most Africans I presume, are a walking people. This is not out of choice, but out of necessity. Few people in the country have access to transport beyond their own two legs. Kids often walk up to 5km one way to school, and this after they have fetched water and completed their morning chores before sunrise. I was even told that one man in our village walked 17km to town to pick up wood for a bed frame which he then carried back to the village on his head. All of this was done in bare feet of course, so I was not quick to refer to my week of walking as a week punishment – I did, after all, have shoes and water to drink.

I considered of my week of walking to be more of a purge than a punishment. The purging may not look so different than ascetic self-punishment of some form, but to call my week a punishment would not give the act of walking enough credit. Walking is not merely an inconvenience that we do when all other options are lost; it is a way of seeing the world, a way of being in the world, a way of slowing down to move at the same pace that the majority of people in the world move.

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One of my entourages. No big deal.

The ironic thing about walking is that time doesn’t speed up, it slows down. Despite the fact that walking took up much more of my time, causing me to be less efficient and productive in my daily work, I never felt like the day ever got away from me. I would do what I could when I could, but I wouldn’t be overrun by the demands I and others put on myself. I could have done that of course, but it would have meant forgoing meals or walking through the night – two things I couldn’t let myself do if I wanted to get home in one piece. Ironically though, these are two things that many people in the North America do every week of their lives, they just never slow down to realize the folly of it. I am no stranger to forgotten meals and late night work, but I am aware of how our time is too often controlled by efficiency and productivity.

So if my week of walking taught me one thing it taught me this: time is to be managed, not controlled. My week began with an unacknowledged desire to control or orchestrate a new insight about my future – much in the same way that we use technology to control my time in order to increase efficiency and productivity – but the insight never came. As I am learning, this is okay; these things are not to be controlled. My time, as with my future, is not my own.

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At the end of my week of walking, somewhat frustrated by the lack of success my week of walking had given me, I traveled roughly 5km to a neighboring village for a football (soccer) practice. I was told on multiple occasions that the practice was at 4pm so I left my village at 3pm in order to be there in good time. I arrived at the field shortly after 4pm only to find that the other football players were nowhere to be seen. This was not entirely unexpected, so I just sat and tried to read as I waited. The problem was that the local school kids were out for recess and solitude was nowhere to be found. I was quickly surrounded by more than 20 kids who tried to read what I was reading (they couldn’t) and who stared at me only feet away as if I was some sort of zoo creature (which, in a way, I was) and continually yelled muzungu at me to get me to look at them. The kids who do this are always adorable and their excitement over a white person always endearing (I try to tell myself that they are actually excited to see me, but any white person will produce the desired effect), but after 9 months of living in rural Uganda and a week of walking where solitude was desired by surprisingly hard to come by, the attention got tiresome very quickly.

So, I did what I was doing all week: I went for a walk. The football practice eventually started 2 hours after I was told it would (this is not an uncommon occurrence) and we played until the sun went down. When the practice was finished and I turned to make my way home, slightly annoyed that I had to do so in the dark, I did what I thought any African in my situation would do: run.

I put my running shoes on my tired and blister-ridden feet and started running along the dirt road that was lit up just enough by the full moon to see the potholes and puddles and rocks that littered the road. The full moons here are so bright that flashlights are hardly necessary.

About half-way home, tired and sore from the week and the practice I had just come from, I met two other guys on the road who were also running to the village. They did not have bikes or motorcycles too get them to town, so like me, they ran. Shortly after the 3 of us started running together, we were joined by a teammate of mine who was also coming from the football practice in the other village. Now there were 4 of us, a real running group, so naturally, we picked up the pace. I was tired, but was buoyed by the presence of other guys who wanted to do the most simple of things with me – get from one point to another on their own two legs. We exchanged leads with each of us taking a turn as if we were actually racing and jockeying for position. Whether this was out of a subtle competitiveness or a desire for camaraderie, I am not sure, but the result was all too clear – no one wanted to let the others out of their reach.

We ran along the winding dirt road until we reached the tiny yet bustling candle lit village. The two guys who first joined me were the first to break off. I said farewell, but kept running. Then the other football player peeled off the main road too. Again, I said farewell but did not stop running. Before I knew it I was through the village, past the light of the flickering candles that lit up the food stands in the village, and alone. I had the solitude that I sought all week, but this time it was different. Instead of feeling relieved or even happy to be alone, I felt a tinge of sadness. It was strange feeling because it was more of a joyful sadness than a sorrowful sadness, but it was sadness nonetheless. I think I knew that I would probably never run with those guys under the light of the full moon in the African countryside again.

Those running mates of mine did not give me the solitude or insight that I was hoping for, but they gave me one of my most cherished moments of the week – maybe even the year – and that moment was definitely worth a week of walking.

– Paul

Zanzibar

We recently took a trip to Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania.  It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been!  The turquoise sea with its white beaches was a definite highlight.

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But before we reached the East coast of the island with its stunning portion of the Indian Ocean, we spent a bit of time in Stone Town, the port city on West coast of the island closest to Dar Es Salaam on the mainland of Tanzania.  The history of Stone Town as a port is evident through the continued presence of fishermen (yes, they are typically men) selling their daily catch at markets and the prevalence of merchants selling spices, textiles, and other treasures.  The main part of the city consists of on old fort and narrow alleyways filled with shops that are entered through heavy wooden doors detailed with Indian and Arab designs.  The people of Stone Town are an eclectic mix of strict Muslims, laid back Rastas, and what you would think of as more typical Africans.  Moreover, the city is constantly flooded with Italian resort owners and tourists from all over the globe.  It is a unique confluence of cultures if ever I’ve experienced one!

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I think the photos of our time on the East Coast, near the small town of Jambiani, speak for themselves.  We really enjoyed spending time together, relaxing in this tropical paradise.

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I wish we could have taken photos of the explosion of life we witnessed below the water while snorkeling near another island off the coast of Zanzibar called Mnemba Atol.  The island is privately owned and it costs about $2,000 per night to stay there.  Stepping on the beach results in a $1,000 fine; hence we stayed in the water just off-shore!  The way that the incredible variety of coral, fish, and other sea life coexist together amazed me.  The coral, at times veiled by the beauty of this fish around it, was nonetheless magnificent.  The fish were painted with an unbelievable combination of colours and patterns.  Some sported bold patterns of neon colours while others were decorated in pastels and shimmers woven in intricate detail.  It was like swimming in a bountiful tropical aquarium – a truly magical experience!

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With love,
Krista Joy