Protecting Your Melon with Safe Boda

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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This is the Safe Boda challenge, to protect your melon. To find out more about Safe Boda, visit the website.

‪#‎ProtectYourMelon‬
http://www.safeboda.com/

Download the app!

https://itunes.apple.com/app/id908613727

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.hehe.safeboda&hl=en

 

The Amazing Owse and the Amorality of Immigration

DSC00226 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. DSC00330 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? DSC01551

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.

Pillar of the Community

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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 Natural Spirit – A Sri Lankan Pilgrimage Story

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The globe spun, perched on the corner of my desk. My finger pressed down hard, bringing the spinning to an end. Hidden below my digit was the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, a small island that had recently emerged from 26 years of civil war. Maybe it was living in Egypt, playing witness to the benignity of the day-to-day during a revolution, or maybe it was my youthful incredulity that kept me from spinning again. I let the thought bubble in my head, piecing together the little of what I knew about the small country. Before I knew that my brain had organized the thought, I heard my lips say, “So what about Sri Lanka?”

Days later as we sat elbows deep in flight documents and tentative itineraries, the excitement of exploring a relatively untouched country clouded any fears of instability. Instability was a Tuesday in Cairo during 2013; by comparison Sri Lanka seemed like a Caribbean cruise destination, plotted and predictable.

When I disembarked in Colombo, I realized I had gone from dry-heat to humid-heat, and I immediately knew which I preferred. Stepping out the front doors of the small airport, sweat beaded on my forehead and trickled down my spine. My friend Jeff had arrived a few days earlier and came strolling up to us in the mid-morning sun, “Welcome to the pressure cooker!” he bellowed as we piled bags into the back of an old micro-van.

We snaked our way through the crowded city streets and onto country roads. We were headed to our first destination, a mountain shrouded in myth and, as we would later discover, mist. It was early afternoon when we pulled into the driveway of Slightly Chilled Guesthouse in Hatton, at the base of Adam’s Peak. I walked through the doors expecting Bob Marley and dreaded travellers; instead there were marginally functional air conditioners.

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In preparation for the next day’s early morning slog up 5000 steps to the summit of Adam’s Peak, we went out into the surrounding tea plantations to look around and work in our hiking boots. Within half an hour, the humidity decided to break into monsoon rains. My new hiking boots were turning into little lakes. So, with my camera stowed, we ran for cover in a curry house. What an excellent choice. It was during this downpour that I was first introduced to the possibilities of Sri Lankan cuisine, possibilities that have me salivating even now.   After hours of delight, we made our way back to Slightly Chilled and hung out our soaked gear in hopes of an overnight drying miracle.

My Nokia phone exploded to life at 2am. I bounced from bed, only to feel the gurgling curry reassert itself. With trepidation, I moved to inspect my soaked boots. Still soaked. Super. I channelled my inner MacGyver, emptied a few plastic shopping bags of underwear, put my feet inside, and pulled on my boots. All set.

I met my friends upstairs for coffee, crepes, and passionfruit. We ate what we could and funnelled out the front door. As we trudged off into the dark, we soon joined a throng of people headed in the same direction. There were families with small children and old grandparents, groups of young Buddhist monks, and foreign explorers. Together we plodded along in the dark to the foot of Adam’s Peak where a giant statue of a reclining Buddha rested. With a look back at my friends, I told them I would see them at the top. The 5,000 steps that separated me from the peak of the famed mountain, started to slip by. My 6 foot 7 frame, balanced on two exceptionally long legs, powered up the stairs. My heart started pounding harder as the air thinned and my breathing accelerated. All around me, people climbed with their own sense of purpose pushing them to the peak.

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In my own life, I’ve struggled with spirituality and what that really means. In a society that aspires to own things and acquire wealth, it can be hard to find a soul. Thankfully, I wasn’t climbing an office tower in Toronto but rather, one of those rare places on Earth that millions of people agree is important. Religious groups aren’t known for agreeing on differing doctrine but Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists alike believe that the 6 foot tall boulder sitting on the summit of Adam’s Peak is a footprint. Reaching consensus on whose footprint, however, is more difficult. For Christians and Muslims, the footprint is that of Adam, the site where he landed on Earth after being cast from the Garden of Eden by an angry God. For Buddhists, the footprint is that of the Buddha, left behind from when he visited the Buddhist deity Saman on Sri Lanka. And for Tamil Hindus, it is believed to be the footprint of Lord Shiva, the auspicious one.

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As I climbed, I wondered who the pilgrims around me believed in. Whose footprint were they hiking to see? Which God was awaiting them at the end of their climb? I wasn’t climbing in duty to a deity but rather as an observer, a student of all religions and member to none. This sense of having no defined beliefs filled me as I climbed, wondering about the faiths of those around me. I felt like I was siphoning off bits and pieces from the pilgrims, attaining my own spiritual fulfillment through the appreciation of their struggle and devotion.

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By this time, my Nike workout shirt was drenched in sweat. My grey hoodie was starting to soak up the excess, so I knew I had to stop. Along the stairs were small shops, serving tea and snacks to the weary. I hopped off the stairs and headed for the back of the shop and ordered a piping hot tea. I peeled off my soaking shirt and rung it out before putting it back on. I sipped at the boiling tea and felt my achy body warm.

My wristwatch said 3:50am. The sun was meant to rise just before 6. I still had a long way to go and the foot traffic was intensifying. As I left the shop and rejoined the pilgrims, I saw my friends marching up behind me. We reunited and prepared to push up the final flights of stairs. We spun around a snake in the stairs and come face to face with a queue a few thousand pilgrims deep. The lineup was barely moving. We stood shoulder to shoulder as people began to sit down, crowding the stairs even more than before. By this point, we were racing the sun and it wouldn’t be long before it splashed into the sky. From where we were, there was no end to the line, so we decided to act.

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Bouncing over a barrier, we raced up alongside the staircase, crashing through bushes and bumping bystanders in our final assault on Adam’s Peak. We constantly had to pick up new trails, dodging people resigned to waiting inconveniently on the narrow stairs. Just as the first shards of sunlight broke the night sky, we arrived at the gates, filtering pilgrims towards the peak. Surrounded on all sides we waded through the crowd using my tall frame as a marker to stay together. We pushed towards an overhanging ledge with an uninterrupted view of the valleys below and mountains beyond. The ledge teased my fingertips as I extended out of the crowd and onto the ledge. Perched above the pilgrims, I wrapped myself in my damp grey hoodie to stave off the chill spreading from my sweat soaked clothes. Standing stoically behind me, a Buddhist monk garbed in glowing orange gazed out over the mass of bodies. The sun began to break over the horizon, slowly reeled in from the nothingness of night.  Heavy clouds filled with dense humidity hung low in the valleys, lending itself perfectly to the sensation of being perched on a peak above the world. Slow, methodical drumbeats and ringing bells filled the morning air as a steady stream of pilgrims pushed on for their moment at the top. Sun shot streaks of pink, yellow, orange and red splashed wildly across the sky.

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Time must have continued to tick by because soon the sun was high in the morning sky. In my transfixed state, I was a captive in the eye of a spiritual storm swirling around me, stemming from several religious rites. My adventure to the peak was not intended to earn favour with the recipient of my faith. I was there to observe, take photos and consider the lives of those around me. But what I found was a myriad of perspectives, exercising their own truths on the shared summit. It didn’t matter why you were there or which God you were trying to please. The pull of Adam’s Peak is the shared human experience. Climbing, sweating, struggling, and remaining determined in the face of adversity is how we measure our spirit. Driving yourself to be better and your life to be fuller than it was the day before is the path to personal progress. When we continue to seek out the unknown and to challenge the untested, we uncover our hardwired drive to live, our natural spirituality.

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Kids of Cairo

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Kids of Cairo

The workers of Cairo’s Garbage City run one of the most efficient recycling depots in the world. The section of the city is littered with garbage, some that is about to be broken down and repurposed and some that won’t. Living amidst all the garbage are bright-eyed smiling Egyptians. It’s still a perfectly good place to go for a stroll with your best bud.

A Boy, and a Ball out of Bounds

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A Boy, and a Ball out of Bounds

Perched in the towering minaret of Qaitbay mosque in Cairo’s City of the Dead, I witnessed one of those “Oh man!” moments. Far below me, a young boy threw his hands to the air in desperation as his red ball went flying over a tall fence. The desperation didn’t last long as moments later, a man emerged in the blocked off courtyard to throw the ball back. Game on.

Rain Hits The Train

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Rain Hits The Train

Rumbling through the countryside of southern Sri Lanka, monsoon rains came pummelling down to soak the countryside. Sitting in an open doorway, snacking on samosas, I caught the splashing spectacle.

Beirut’s Rue Gouraud

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Beirut's Rue Gouraud

Beirut brims with life. I spent a week exploring the city and all of its fantastic bars, cafes and restaurants. During my last few days, I ventured out of Hamra Street and discovered Rue Gouraud. I was in culinary heaven.

One evening after eating too much zaatar, I walked up the Rue Gouraud towards the Mohamed Al Amin mosque, where I found the sun, caught between two buildings.

Above The Clouds Before The Sun

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Above The Clouds Before The Sun

Four hours later and I was standing on top of Adam’s Peak in southern Sri Lanka. I had woken up just before 2 AM to get ready for the climb to the top. My belly was still adjusting to the curry diet and the first few kilometres were a challenge. As I picked up the pace and powered ahead of my friends, the curry induced cramping subsided and my legs sprang forth on autopilot. Before long, I was reunited with my friends, standing immobilized in a lineup of thousands of pilgrims, all eager to make the peak before the sun. We waded through the crowds towards an overhanging ledge that we were able to hoist ourselves onto, a perfect viewing platform. We sat in huddled silence, snacking on shortbread and listening to the rhythmic banging of drums by Buddhist monks. The heavy clouds clung to the valleys as the sun prepared to break the blackness.

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Seldom Seen Signage

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Penguin Crossing

I found myself on a two week roadtrip from Auckland to Queenstown, accompanied by two great friends. Zig-zagging our way down through the north island, we arrived in Wellington to catch the ferry headed south. After a night of illegal roadside camping and cards with a group of female Israeli ex-soldiers, we set off down the west coast, stopping at what seemed like every turn to soak in the natural beauty of New Zealand. A particular sign portraying a penguin caught my eye and I requested a pit-stop to document the seldom seen signage.