Unpredictability - Good for your health

Our modern life is based on organising an environment free from the unexpected. The house needs to be as stable and reliable as possible. The job as safe as possible. Nothing should break down. Nothing but what we predict, should occur.
This is the life of the zoo animal. Let's explore the life of the Nomad. Let's live the life of the Nomad.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Snowdon

The failure of the engagement had left me bereft of word and aspiration.  Unlike most of the other relationship failures, I had to conclude this one was down to me - or rather, something missing within me.  Here I was - Broken.  Not fit for a relationship.

Now this does sound depressing but really it was quite liberating.  No longer a need to indulge myself in thoughts of normalcy, I was free to be whatever a man with something broken inside is supposed to be. I could do whatever I wanted whether it was healthy or not - and mostly it was not.  No need to pretend anymore that I was part of the living and thriving human community.

A teacher in primary school had displayed to us a picture of a man in a striped black and white prison outfit.  This man, she explained, was a man not fit for the community of the good.  I was no prisoner but the metaphor holds.  I could now do my own thing like the Imperial Zebra in my black and white covering.  The horses could gallop among themselves.

I started attending a Pentecostal black church.  I had always had a belief in the divine to a stronger or lesser degree.  Each Sunday the preacher, whose name was Pastor Andrew, would bellow and shout, scream and proclaim the word of the gospel.

' This church is a hospital for the spiritually sick' - he would shout.
'You are more than conquerors' - he would bellow.
'The Lord has a plan for you' - he would scream.

As bizarre as all this sounds - it began to work.  My inner strength returned.  My mental strength returned.  For instance,  I decided to achieve a Microsoft certification at the highest level.  I completed it.  I decided to exercise again - and began cycling 15 miles each day.  I could feel the Holy Spirit working through me: returning me to an equilibrium that I believe doctors call homeostasis.

And so I decided I also needed to start the blog back up again.  I needed to take another journey and write about it.  I had already climbed the three highest peaks in England, Wales and Scotland.  I had blogged about Scafell Pike in England.

Scafell Pike

I had blogged about  Ben Nevis in Scotland.

Ben Nevis

This left Snowdon in Wales.

I have hiked to the summit of Snowdon at least a dozen times in the past - and have used various routes.  The least challenging from a navigational point of view is the Llanberis path.  The path generally follows the train track that also leads to the top.  The path is easy to follow - but it is a demanding 10.5 mile hike.  The weather forecast was not ideal.  There would be rain, mist and wind. I didn't fancy a challenge with the maps and the compass.  I decided to take the Llanberis path.

Llanberis is perhaps my most favorite little village in the United Kingdom.  No matter the time of the year it is always raining; however as soon as the clouds lift the surroundings are spectacular.
View from my hotel room.

The Dolbadarn Hotel - My regular weekend residence many years ago.

Pete's Eats - popular with climbers from all over.



A mountain hike should begin with a breakfast high in calories.  The traditional English breakfast is ideal.  I was staying at the Padarn Hotel and the breakfast of sausage, egg, bacon and tomato was ordered.  On the back of the breakfast menu the proprietors had thoughtfully listed some of the interesting facts about Snowdonia.



After consuming this delicious meal I collected my backpack, exited the hotel, and began the hike. The entrance to the Llanberis path is easy to find.  You only need to locate the Snowdon Summit train station, continue along the road and turn right at the first round about.  A steep road leads to the start of the path.  It was raining and so I had to put on my weatherproof trousers and jacket.  With this additional clothing and the steep road, I felt rather hot and exhausted before even reaching the start of the trail.



The start of the path is sign posted on a triangular rock in keeping with the environment.


It is probably not easy for those who have never hiked up a mountain to understand why thousands put themselves through such a physical torture - each day of the week.  For me the activity has three positives.  Firstly it is a healthy form of exercise.  Secondly it is an escape from civilization and a connection back to a more natural, if extreme, environment.  Thirdly it is a form of meditation.  The only way to complete seven tough hours of mountain hiking is to concentrate on each step and let the trivial stresses and anxieties of everyday life dissipate from the film of your consciousness.  If this is done correctly - and it does take practice; it is possible  to achieve the summit and experience the elation of this achievement.





The summit of Snowdon is elevated to 1085 meters.  As you approach the last 200 or so meters of elevation the tangents steepen; and the weather can worsen rapidly.  There is a temptation to remove layers of clothing through sheer exhaustion - but this is a mistake.  If the wind is up and the weather is cool - you need to retain your body heat otherwise exposure will take you down very quickly.  Near the top it is also tempting to feel envious of those who took the easy way up.

The train was steam driven - and the fragrance of burning coal and steam, and the sounds of this old form of locomotion,  in the cold mountain air, were wonderful.

Nearing the summit visibility was reduced to around 15 meters.  I cannot say I enjoy hiking through the blanket of thick cloud.  It is very easy to become disorientated and there is a feeling of being deprived of a summit view - after all that hard effort.  But even so there is still the elation of success when the summit is reached.




I didn't linger long on the summit.  The extreme cold began to bite fairly quickly and my limbs were feeling numb.  And thus I commenced the long hike back down to the mountain's base.  I had purchased hiking shoes in my normal size the day before, without trying them on.  This was a silly mistake.  The shoes were slightly too big, and going down in such shoes caused me quite a bit of pain.

It was indeed a relief to make it back to the hotel.  I was completely spent and dehydrated.  All I could do was lay down and rest - there was no energy left and my head was throbbing with the day's effort.

I drove back the next day in the Suzuki.  This would be my last big trip in the little old car.  I would soon be trading in the reliable old machine for a new car - and I had a strange feeling of sadness.  As if the car had its own feelings and personality.  I think this phenomenon is called animism.


It is quite a long journey from the North of Wales back to Hayling Island - and on this day it took me seven hours.  I stopped at the Keele services on the M6 at junction 15.  I do find these services, that span across and over the motorway, fascinating. They were built at a time when motoring was glamorous.  I can imagine an era when it was a notable event: to drive out in your shining vehicle, and wearing your finest clothes, and parading the results of your labour, in such a glamorous service stop.





And so this was my journey to Wales and my hike up this famous mountain.  I hope to continue the trend with more hiking and more blogging.  And I hope you all will join me in the adventures still to come.

Peace To All


Monday, 8 August 2016

Rwanda - And Daily Life

Having lived in several different countries myself, I am aware that a couple of weeks is not really enough time to determine the measure of a daily life.  Perhaps six months might be a better period of time.  On the other hand, I was fortunate to have visited my partner's family and friends as well as Rwanda itself.  And so I did receive some insight.  And so I shall share these observances in this, my final post on Rwanda for this visit.

Rwanda and Medicine

The mattress on the bed, in the hotel, was quite firm.  I awoke the second morning with a tender cramped shoulder.  It did not improve much during the day.  Here in the UK we have the National Health Service.  It is free to the consumer, although it is paid for by everyone contributing part of their salary to a welfare tax. Rwanda is similar in that it follows a universal health care system. There are regional based health care organisation into which citizens pay insurance contributions.  This covers approximately 45% of the healthcare costs, the remainder coming from international donations and government funds.

There are a handful of national hospitals and hundreds of health centres.  I wondered about how I would get to visit one of these centres.  I decided to live with the shoulder pain.  Time was precious and the shoulder only pained when I lifted my arm.  My partner's brother however, on observing my discomfort - led me to one of the many street pharmacies in Kigali.  I described my condition to the pharmacist and he returned with some medication called diclofenac.  I thought this rather odd that I could simply purchase a medication without a Doctor's script.  I paid the fee and a couple of days later my shoulder was pain free.  I took advantage of this convenience to also purchase some asthma and indigestion medication - without the inconvenience of having to visit a doctor. Perhaps unwise - but while in Africa, might as well do it the African way.



Rwanda and Shopping

My partner's family are members of the mercantile class, owning several phone and material shops.  I spent a good amount of time in these shops observing the retail world in action in Kigali.  There are a couple of modern type shopping malls but mostly Rwandans buy their wares from independently run shops, or street vendors.  The government discourages individuals from selling goods from plate or a hat.  Officials often round them up and take them away for prosecution.

Foreign goods can be expensive.  Rwanda is land locked and thus goods from abroad need to be air lifted into the country.  Locally produced goods such as clothing are very good value.  I purchased some magnificent clothing and even some materials for my sister in the UK, who has a talent with the sewing machine.



A nomad's jewellery shop 
Shopping all hours


Be prepared when entering the shopping malls - they will usually be protected by guards and you will be required to place your metallic goods into a bowl and to step through a metal detector - not a lot different to the security in an airport. These type of things can be a bit disconcerting, however, I certainly had no reason to feel unsafe while in Kigali.

There are no regulated shopping hours.  In fact Kigali never appears to close down.  Even late at night shops can be seen doing business. And if you enjoy your shopping - don't forget to haggle for a good price.








Rwanda and Civic Pride

On every last Saturday of each month Rwandan citizens are obliged to take part in Umuganda. Each citizen participates in community work such as street cleaning and infrastructure repairs.  Rwandans are very proud of their country - and there is good reason.  It is a delight simply to drive through the streets of Kigali and observe how clean and orderly everything is.  You will not see discarded plastic bags.  They are not permitted.  I did not see any fly tipping.

I did see much development and economic activity.  Rwanda is like the Lazarus of Africa.  It is hard to believe that only 22 years ago this country was virtually destroyed by civil war.






To have visited Rwanda was indeed a great privilege.  I experienced nothing but the finest of hospitality.  I was able to witness a people blessed with an inner sanctum, in spite of the bitter past.  I hope you have enjoyed reading about my experiences of Rwanda in the last posts.  I am looking forward to a return to Rwanda, and hopefully this will not be too far away.

Peace To All

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Rwanda - And the Introduction Ceremony (Gusaba)

My partner raised the option of conducting the Introduction while in Rwanda. Initially I thought this would be a simple meet and greet type arrangement with perhaps a few speeches and exchanging of presents.  A dozen or so attendees. I was wrong.

It is the occasion where formally the bride to be presents the groom to be to her parents, friends and relatives.  The ceremony requires a presentation of a dowry.  This is normally a cow or two and is given to the bride's parents.  In our case I would gift the equivalent of a cow in liquidity.  There are presentations of gifts to the elders and food and drinks to everyone.  There would be in total over 120 attendees at this event.

The elders from both sides negotiate mischievously before agreement is reached - agreement that both families accept the new couple for a future marriage.  This is all ritualised and in fact all the representatives from my side of the family were friends and relatives of the bride and her family.  The event is coordinated by the master of ceremony and this person performs this role professionally - that is, he is paid for his services at multiple Introductions. Towards the end of the formal part of the ceremony there will be traditional dancing parties and again these are professionally paid performers.  And as with a normal wedding, the last part of the ceremony involves dancing and drinking in less formal attire.  The first part of the ceremony takes place with very traditional African attire.

The day started with a trip to a local hair dresser. I was accompanied by my partner's brother, Fred.  The barber was under quite some pressure to ensure the cut was perfect, and Fred supervised this rather important trip to the barber.

After this the representatives of my side of the family gathered at the hotel and dressed to the African standard.  My best man, Safari, instructed us on what we needed to do and how we needed to be dressed.  He even coached us in how we were to march into the location in the traditional way.  This is a slow walk with a walking stick motion not unlike seen in many military parades.  Safari would also be my translator - the ceremony would be conducted in Kinyawandan.
A quick gathering for prayer and we exited the hotel.  Onlookers were astonished as we walked to the waiting cars.  I suspect a white man in traditional African ceremony attire is a rare sight.



The ceremony was organised at my partner's sisters house and in the garden. There were three tents. One for the bride's family, one for the groom's family and one for the bride and groom to seat after the formal ceremonial negotiations are completed, and the engagement ring given to the bride.

On entering the garden I was amazed.  The tents and flower arrangements, the costumes and the tables and the chairs.  A huge effort by many people had gone into this and the presentation was incredible.  I sat down with my best man and the rituals began.  Safari did a great job of translating everything into English for me.

Once the negotiations were completed I stood up and waited for the bride to enter the garden. Olivia and her entourage looked amazing. We were all rather self conscious and nervous with so many eyes on us - thankfully the ceremony's formal aspect went without mishap.




This was followed by the traditional dancing, after which there was much pressure to change as quickly as possible out of our African outfits and into more western clothes.  The eating could then begin for everyone after my partner and I had our plates piled up with the foods of Africa.  There were quite a few Muslims at the party, and it was the period of Ramadan.  As you can imagine - many empty stomachs were craving the food.



The sun had set by the time the food was consumed.  The display at night was equally impressive. I rather self-consciously danced in the way I know how to: clumsily.  A celebrity Rwandan hip hop rapper put in a great performance for us. His singing name is Jay Pol and we were all thankful for the live show.

This was a Sunday and so the event finished around eight in the evening.  I felt humbled by all the efforts put in by everyone to make this ceremony special and unforgettable.

Peace to All

Monday, 25 July 2016

Rwanda - And the Beach

I wanted to visit somewhere a Rwandan family might go to for their annual holiday. We had the Toyota four wheel drive to get us there.  And so we decided to complete the two hour trip to Lake Muhazi which is east of Kigali.  On this lake there is the Muhazi Beach hotel.  We would spend a pleasant afternoon at this resort.

Driving there itself was an unforgettable experience. There is a life of itself along the edges of the highway.  Elegant ladies with bright hand crafted dresses sliding along with fruit and vegetables balanced up their heads.  Bicycles loaded up with huge bunches of green cooking bananas called ma-toke.  In one village dozens of children and teenagers surrounded a pedestal.  On this pedestal was a laptop. I wasn't sure whether it was the laptop itself that attracted the crowd, or something running on the laptop itself.

Not far from the lake, the vehicle turned off the tarmac and onto a dusty red trail leading to the resort itself.  Children playing their games, whether it be football or catch or hide and seek - these vibrant children would stop and gift us with their huge smiles and round eyes. They would wave and hop back into their world of rags, dust and make-play. My mind was was back to my younger years.  A time without electronic gadgetry and predatory fear; and a place with wide open spaces, parks, rivers and sand banks.  A time when children were able to play outside. These young Rwandan children would probably desire an Xbox console and a smart phone - but they seemed happy playing with their friends in the old fashioned way.

The resort itself, the Muhazi Beach Hotel, looked a little run down from the outside. But it was not without tourist appeal.  I am told it is owned by Rwanda's president - Paul Kagame.  And the service provided by staff was indeed presidential.  Prompt and courteous.

Passing through the entrance and you are greeted with a stunning vista of lake, forest and farm land. The view would not be out of place in Switzerland.  We climbed down to the lake's beach.  My partner's brother, who had driven the vehicle, stripped down to his bathers and spent the afternoon in the water itself.



I was happy to sit at a table under the shade of an old acacia tree and read my book.  The weather was hot and I gave some thought of a swim myself but decided against it for some reason.  It was only recently I discovered that 10,000 victims of the genocide were dumped or drowned in this lake.  At that time onlookers noted the water was a mixture of water and blood.  Also, in 2014, a boat was attacked by a hippopotamus and four people were killed.  I am sure it would have been quite safe to go for a swim on that afternoon: but there are no regrets for staying dry.

After our lunch and after the swimming we headed back to Kigali.  I made a promise to myself - next time a hotel room would be booked and more time spent at the resort. There was not a lot of free time on this visit to Rwanda.  There were many people to visit and there was preparation for the ceremony that is called The Introduction.  The Introduction is a formal engagement ceremony: being the shy chap I am there was more than a little nervousness concerning this coming celebration.

Peace to All

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Rwanda - And Genocide. Warning: this post is upsetting.

On the day of arrival into Rwanda my partner and her niece took me to a church service. It was the Christian Life Assembly church in Kigali. The building was huge and there must have been at least five hundred in the congregation. Five hundred mostly Rwandese but also many other nationalities, all singing together in praise of the Infinite Spirit.

I couldn't help but give some thought to the Rwanda that was - twenty two years in the past. Where had God gone then? When every day at least 8000 Rwandans had the life literally ripped out ot their beings with machetes, clubs and axes. Innocents - women, men, boys and girls and infants and babies.

And the social fractures that brought about these atrocities: the anger between so called Tutsi and Hutu ethnicities; this was largely the result of meddling by colonial powers. And what did these foreign powers do when the killings began?  For the most part completely nothing.  They evacuated their expatriate communities and abandoned the Rwandan people. They left behind a country whose everyday life must have been so hellish, every other complaint in my life I can think about seems almost pathetic in comparison.

The United Nations had a small peace keeping force in place in Rwanda at the time. It was so small that in fact any real peace keeping was impossible.  Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire lead this force - a force that could do little else but stand witness to this monumental tragedy. He wrote about in in his book titled 'Shake Hands with the Devil - The failure of Humanity in Rwanda.'

Dallaire describes the daily horrors of life in Rwanda at the time and it is upsetting reading to be sure. He describes a journey through an unnamed village.

"We continued along lanes and paths that often took us through the middle of villages that did not appear on any map. In one village, we stopped to wait for all the vehicles to catch up to us. The path we were on had been one of the exit trails used by people fleeing Kigali. There were remnants of a barrier here, and many people had been killed and thrown in the ditches and on the sides of the road. Just as I glimpsed the body of a child, it moved. I wasn't sure if it was my imagination, but I saw the twitching of the child and I wanted to help. I leaned down to pick the child up, and suddenly I was holding a little body that was both tingling and mushy in my hands. In a second I realised that the movement was not the child but the action of maggots. I was frozen, not wanting to fling the child away from me but also not wanting to hold it for a second longer. I managed to set the body down and then stood there, shaky, not wanting to think about what was on my hands."


Dallaire later would try to commit suicide. He failed and went on to write this book as way of exorcising the scars.



We visited the Genocide memorial in Kigali. As expected it was a sombre experience. You can purchase a book here called "We Survived Genocide in Rwanda". This book contains the testimonies of 28 survivors.  It is a shocking book to read.  The horrors of the time are described by those that experienced them. But the horrors remain even today in Rwanda. For instance one poor lady describes her experience of being raped multiple times. And to survive. And to be diagnosed with HIV resulting from the sexual violence.



As we were walking through the exhibitions I heard a wailing from another room. This wailing will never leave me. The cries came from a lady who appeared about my age.   She was on the floor. Counselors were at her assistance. Her screams chillingly venting the trauma of her past experience.








During my stay in Rwanda we visited a family member of my partner. She also was a survivor of the Genocide.  This young lady took us into her house and I asked her how she had survived the slaughtering that was surrounding her. In perfect English she told me her story.

'Whether you survived or not', she said, 'it was a simply down to God's will'.

And the lady said of her escape:

'My mother told me that I must go away and that she will take my six month old brother. It would be too hard for me, she said, too look after the baby by myself.  I was only twelve years old. So I went away and this is how I survived .  But my mother and my little brother, they were killed'

I listened to this with stunned silence. Even now my brain has not digested the horror of this testimony - given to me with grace that I do not deserve.

Peace To All