I recently had the opportunity to spend the day with Ugandan startup, Safe Boda. This is what I discovered.
In Kampala, innovative thinking comes in the shape of a helmet. Seeking to be a catalyst for change, local startup Safe Boda has its work cut out for it. Across Uganda, 40% of hospital visits are a result of boda boda accidents, so there is a pressing need for safety-first thinking.
Identifying this glaring need, Safe Boda has committed to working with the Ugandan Red Cross to offer comprehensive first aid and driver training to their growing community of safety conscious bodas. But at the core of Safe Boda is an ethos of community building and empowerment, to work alongside Kampalans to win hearts and most importantly, minds.
The mentality in Uganda is that helmets are an unnecessary inconvenience; they aren’t enforced like in neighbouring Rwanda. In a stunning example of the uphill battle that Safe Boda is attempting to climb, not all Safe Boda customers choose to wear a helmet, even though one is provided free of charge. Some customers think that first aid training and better driving is all the insurance they need.
In response to this kind of thinking, Safe Boda driver Geoffrey scoffs and says, “You see our heads? It’s like a watermelon. When you hold a watermelon in your hands, if it falls, do you know how it looks? That’s how your head will be!”
This is the Safe Boda challenge, to protect your melon. To find out more about Safe Boda, visit the website.
The amazing Owse is my go to guy for a delicious rolex, two fried eggs on warm chapati with fresh tomato and onion. Owse has become a fast friend, seeking to learn about Canada as much as he can. In the past couple of weeks he has expressed his desire to come to Canada to find new opportunities. He asked me to find out what I could for him. So I set myself to finding opportunities and it wasn’t long before I realized it was more than a long shot, it’s next to impossible. As it is now, our temporary foreign workers program allows workers to stay in Canada for 4 consecutive years with no chance of going home. When the 4 years are up they have to leave Canada for another 4 years. After 4 years, they could come back with some luck but still have no better chance at becoming a permanent resident. Under our current government, we offer permanent residency to economic immigrants who have a net worth of at least $10 million. It’s telling that we, in one of the world’s richest least-populated countries, accept super rich immigrants while having allowed less than 1,000 Syrian refugees fleeing a brutal civil war. Given this completely unequal system, what hope could Owse, the 18 year old rolex cook with a grade 3 education, ever have?
Why in a country like Canada do we only provide opportunity to those who can pay for it? We are a blessed society, yet we keep the benefits from those who could profit from it most. It’s not just unfair, it’s amoral.
This man’s name is Remy and he’s quite remarkable. On my daily walks, I keep stopping in to say hello and chat with him and the assortment of friends that show up at his shop.
Yesterday, I stopped in and got caught up in a conversation with his friends from topics ranging from the changing climate, revolution in Burundi, the damage of local ecosystems caused by exploitative extractive industries and the hope for something better. All the while we spoke I was dripping sweat and Remy was quick to offer me a bottle of water, yet refused to take money when I insisted.
As I left his shop, one of the regulars, a frail man named Fred, walked outside with me and asked to show me his photo album. He pulled out a small laminated book from his pocket of photos showing his wedding, his son and his family. All the while, he had tears in his eyes. The last thing he showed me was a medical certificate that said he was HIV/AIDS positive. He explained the hardship that this has caused him, from the loss of his home, his family and his job. He then explained to me that despite his misfortune, Remy stands by him, offering him a place to sleep when he has none, feeding him when he goes hungry.
This morning, I was set on paying Remy for a service, since he has been so generous with me. I walked up to get breakfast, a rolex they call it, two eggs, onion and tomato on this delicious chapati bread. After finding the cook for me, Remy invited me to come sit with him. Soon, my rolex was done and once I again I found my payment refused. Remy told me it was because I was a good man, but I had to disagree. It’s clearly he who is the good man. He is beyond generous with what he has to everyone, whether they might have a lot or a little. I’m coming to realize what the true meaning of being a pillar of your community is.
The dense and heavy fog that filled Ngorongoro was just starting to abate as we reached the crater floor. Having spent the night sleeping on the rim of the dormant volcano, we woke invigorated by the splendour of our natural surroundings. We begged our guides to make sure we were the first truck inside the crater, and we got what we asked for.
Just as I was clawing the remnants of sleep from the corners of my eyes, we spotted a pride of lions sprawled in tall grass. As we approached, they barely flinched. The stains of blood smeared across their faces left them nearly comatose, burdened with the meat of a fresh kill. Behind them, we spotted a destroyed zebra carcass, picked clean. Hard to argue with the efficiency of nature.
Our bus rumbled across the Aswan High Dam, filled with Egyptian teenagers taking in their country’s history. I was accompanying my Cairene kids as their history teacher and chaperone but in truth, I was the most excited. I had dreamt of exploring the ancient cities and temples of the confusingly coined Upper Egypt ever since my older sister had won first place at the science fair, for her project on hieroglyphics. So, when the bus doors swung open, I was the first to rush out and explore.
I was immediately lured toward a giant towering structure off to the side by the sounds of laughter and music. A large commemorative plaque stood in front of the monument, lauding the cooperation of the Soviet Union and Egypt in their construction of the High Dam.
In the heart of the monument a large dance circle was developing, driven by drums and the sounds of song. Local field trippers and their dedicated teachers performed number after number as each kid had their moment at the centre of the circle. It struck me as an odd juxtaposition, the colourfully clad Egyptian revellers in the heart of a Soviet monument.
When the sun finally set on our first day on safari, I knew I had made the right decision. To me, going on safari seemed like one of those things only rich old white people did, not young stinky adventurers. But in this case, I think I was duped by the khaki fashion designers and I was happy to be wrong.
After sourcing a budget version, which switched lodge accommodations for camping (exactly what I wanted), it became feasible. After researching the sights on our itinerary, it became impossible to stop dreaming about.
The glowing orange sun was disappearing when our guide announced it was time to head back to camp. We arrived at tent city, stuffed our faces with delicious fresh food and curled up into our sleeping bags. As I drifted off into an exhausted sleep, I was lost to the wailings of hyenas, the snorts of water buffalo, and the trumpeting of elephants. Perfect.
It was nearing the end of the day when we climbed back into the Landcruiser. We had been driving for hours through the open plains of the Serengeti National Park. We had seen cheetahs sprinting and playing in tall grass, giraffes picking the choicest leaves off the tallest trees, and elephants bathing in fresh springs.
I got in the truck and climbed onto my seat to poke my head out through the open roof. As our driver threw the engine into life, we shot off down the baked dirt road. There I was. In the middle of the Serengeti, surrounded by some of the most exotic animals here on Earth. The wind rushed through my hair and dust burrowed into the crevices of my skin. I looked around in every direction as golden light fell, cascaded across the tall water starved grass.
In my mind, I zoomed out on where I was. I floated high up into the sky, looking down at myself as I became a speck upon a great continent. We all became specks. Specks, all connected through the same flowing energy of our home planet.
I came to, just as a truck further ahead shot dust into the still air, leaving it to hang suspended in the setting sun. Best day ever.
Rumbling over the rock and sand of Egypt’s White Desert, named so for its giant chalk rock formations, we came across some local men. They were taking a break from leading a group of camels from one town to another to be sold.
In true Egyptian fashion, we were invited to join them for tea. As our guide, Ahmed, (pictured on left) hunkered down beside the small fire to share in the tea, I went off to seek the company of camels.
At first, the camels were cute and fun, but as I got close, a low rumble of half-digested camel food emanated from their slack jawed mouths. I decided I preferred the human interaction.
Dust shot into the air as my feet touched down. Stepping out of an old Landcruiser, I took of my old ball cap and wiped an engrained line of dust and sweat from my brow. I was nearing the end of my time in northern Tanzania, but had one more experience to check off the list, to visit the famous Maasai people.
Even as I sit here and write about it, I still feel conflicted. To enter the village, we paid for access. In return for our payment, we had a stunning dance and song performed for us and were welcomed inside the village. Generally, this is not how I like to meet people. I want to connect on a human level, not an economic one. I understand that we all want to make money, but when we sell out our heritage and culture, what does it say as to what we value? And it isn’t hard to guess where the Maasai learned this trick.
Bouncing along the seldomly smooth roads of northern Tanzania, I kept my camera in hand. Alongside the packed dirt roads were young children running around chasing sheep and goats. I learned that kids were often put in charge of a flock and it was their responsibility to find new grasses to graze. To some it may seem unfair that these children are put to work so young, but they are receiving an education for the life they will know. They will learn to care for animals, the value of responsibility and where to find the greenest grass in a country often ravaged by drought.
I spent a couple of years living in Egypt, where I made a point of visiting some of the poorest regions. At first, the poverty seemed almost absurd, so unbelievable in its difference from my own life in Canada. An Egyptian friend, who shared a small apartment with three dogs and no furnishings taught me a valuable lesson, he told me “We don’t feel poor, this is a normal life.”
People don’t often realize that despite their own life feeling “normal”, it isn’t. There is no norm for how humans live. We are born into different environments and adapt accordingly, a blend of nature and nurture. The “poverty” in Egypt felt overwhelmingly surreal to me, but now as I walk down the snow covered sidewalks of Toronto, the affluence and excess feels just as surreal and doubly as absurd. After all, it’s all relative.