Friday, 16 July 2010

Decisions, decisions

It's been a while since I last blogged. That's not because I have had nothing to say or tell you about. It's had more to do with my internal processes and thinking.

I've been looking back on where I've been, the people I've met, the experiences I've had and most of all the two amazing countries, India and Uganda that I've been to.

It's a continuing wonder to me that human beings from different cultures are so similar and so very very different. We all started from the same place, just a few hundred miles from where I'm sitting right now, yet Nature and evolution has worked on us to create different skin colours, facial differences and physiques to enable us to survive in different places around the world. But on top of Nature's work lies layer upon layer of humanity's own development work, religions, colonial domination and most recently, the money driven Western culture-based economic model that shapes us now.

The similarities and differences between Uganda and India are many. The superficial differences like the lack of continual honking of car horns in Uganda that dominate the roads and cities of India, the more laid back attitude of the Ugandans and the open, Western dress of the women as opposed to the more traditional dress of Indian women are what immediately show up.

The roads in both countries are full of potholes. In the cities of both countries, the roads are dominated by cars, motorbikes and public transport, auto-rickshaws in India and 15 seat mini-buses in Uganda. Both are developing their infrastructure and roads. India's economy is growing faster because of its size and influence and its world markets. Uganda's economy is more reliant on Africa and Europe. Somehow this seems more inclusive whereas India's economic boom seems to me to be devisive amongst its people.

Both countries share a history of British colonialism and have kept the education and administrative systems imposed upon them. Both are democracies. But in Uganda, western Christianity has become the dominant religion whereas in India it never really took hold. This seems to me to be the reason for the fundamental cultural differences between the two countries.

The bombings in Kampala have had the same reactions as happened in London. People are very wary, phoning the police if they see a lonely pastic bag. Security in the city centre is highly visible. The papers carry warnings of more bombings to come. There is a lot of criticism of the security services failing to pick up many warnings of potential bombings because of corruption and internal jealousies. Most of the warnings have been aimed at the African Union Conference that starts in Kampala next week.

The bombings shook me up mainly because I am a stranger in this country, don't know my way around and how people will react.

But what binds both India and Uganda is the extraordinary kindness, friendliness, understanding and willingness to discuss and talk that I have experienced from people in both countries. I will never forget Alex who helped me find a seat in the stadium in Kampala to watch the World Cup Final and who insisted on coming back with me to my guest house to ensure I was safe after the bombings. And the woman in the local shop who reminded me not to flash the money in my wallet. 'I want you safe!' she said.

I set out on this trip to give myself some time to review what I was going to do next, to get to know India and Africa better, to find out more about organic farming and the effects of the 'Green Revolutions' and to have time just for me. I gave myself six months to do this but after two and a half months I feel I've discovered enough to want to review my thoughts in the comparative cold light of the UK. So, I've booked a flight home on Sunday to do that just with family and friends and will take whatever time and space I need to ensure I have it right.

Small steps before the big ones.

Thank you to everyone who has followed the blog. This may or may not be the last post. Watch this space!

Monday, 12 July 2010

Kampala bomb blasts

A quick note to let you know that I'm ok.

One of the bombs has gone off close to my guesthouse. Sadly a friend has lost two of her colleagues in the blasts. It really brings it home.

I'm watching the FCO travel advice.

I'll resume the blogs again soon.

Friday, 2 July 2010


I'm having lunch today in a small, basic restaurant on one of Mysore's main streets. Sitting outside, cross-legged on the pavement is an elderly white-haired woman. She is dressed in a simple orange and fawn coloured kurta. In front of her is a large, round, shallow wicker basket from which she takes jasmine flowers and, knitting with her fingers, creates garlands for other women to put in their hair.

People walk past her. Some stop by her to chat with each other. With nothing more than an occasional glance, she lives her gentle life, earning a few rupees a day. I have no idea if she has a family, a husband. But the aspirations of the new India are passing her by.

And I wonder if it matters.

She gets on with her work, her life and others around her, me included, get on with ours. She does not appear to strive for success or power or money. She sits, present in the moment, focused on stringing her flowers, surrounded by the scent of jasmine.

What could make her happier? The chances are she doesn't read or write. Does she miss great literature and music? If she could read would she be more content? Quite likely. If she had a new sari would she feel better about herself? Possibly. If she had the money to buy the new iPod, would that complete her life? No way.

I'm making a huge assumption here but I reckon she's content as she is.

And I wonder what makes her content, happy even? Certainly not striving for bigger and better. The same things as me? To live in the moment, to love and be loved, to trust and be trusted, to give and be given, to hold and be held, to respect and be respected, to share a good wine, a cheese, bread, to share a life with family and friends and to love with physical and mental connections, to talk and laugh and cry together? I suspect she needs little else herself except perhaps a better education.

Someone is buying the garland she has just woven. She smiles.

And just what is this great economic miracle providing that is passing her by? Great art, music and literature? No. That bottle of wine, cheese and bread? No. Love and loving, friendship and laughter? No. They all exist without it.

So, what is it really for? To enable those who want to push the boundaries of humankind's need to know, to control, to discover, striving for the next frontier? And when that is found, what next? Do we just go on and on until our planet and ourselves are worn out, burnt out? Why?

Someone has bought another garland. She smiles again. She has enough. And so do I.