January 25

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I, Muzungu

A new Perspective

Blog #3

As we welcome the new year and the inevitable resolutions, I find myself at the mid-point of my PULSE Assignment in East Africa.  It would be unfair not to pause, reflect and find words (and images) in an attempt to share insights of my journey to date in this amazing part of the world.

Whereas my last blog Kokkolo Atta focused on the reality of cancer in least developed countries, I now write wanting to share the simple and the beautiful, for I am grateful for the life, culture and wonderful people and landscapes I have been lucky to come across.

I have been a ‘Muzungu’ for over three months now. That word that sticks from the minute you land, following you around like a permanent echo.  I now smile as I hear it, especially when sung by children in villages as they wave and smile when they see you, even from afar: ‘Muzunguuu’.  We Muzungus are the white foreigners, literally meaning ‘aimless wanderer.

When I think about PULSE programme and its three-fold mission to Change (Change Communities, Oneself and GSK); I can already vouch for the self-transformation, for I am seeing the world through different eyes.  My ‘aimless wanderer’ eyes’ see beauty in the strangest of places, I am humbled at every sight, treasure the smallest things of human nature and admire the environment I am surrounded by.

As my mind and thoughts also wander, not only I am learning to remind myself of some core basics in life, but conscious also that it all loops back to the same anxiety that underpins my every day experiences:  What needs to change and how?

Some reality checks:

It’s the simple things that count; I discovered that cycling through villages and remote areas is one of the activities I enjoy the most, as it is the best way explore, appreciate and absorb the reality of life for many communities. Those are the moments when you see the bare simplicity of survival; one does not need much to live, other than a basic roof over your head (whether that is wooden or a mud hut), running water nearby, and a community of people around you. Possessions are a ‘nice to have’, and it’s the basic needs that matter; electricity and internet connection are a luxury in many places which I no longer take for granted.

Community feel is of a different essence as people go on about their daily routine, respecting each other as they play their role in a family or a group, young and old, whether it is selling groceries in the market or working the fields.  There is a strong sense of faith and togetherness which nearly makes you forget that some of these people have seen unimaginable suffering in recent decades.

The smiles:  Nothing beats the smile of children when you devote some of your time (not money) and exchange a few words, or play with the them.  They don’t need toys or gadgets – just one minute of one’s time makes a world of difference to them.  It often surprises me that I hardly ever hear a child cry, whether they are healthy or not.

Those moments when I look at these children – our ‘tomorrow’-  are when reality hits, as these little people are the ones we need to think about when we discuss and tackle our challenges in poverty, education and health. They are what gets me out of bed every day because I know I can and have the responsibility to do more.

As I conclude on new year resolutions, one stands out in my mind: get the engines running, accelerate and be the change we want to see…  and if and when doubts arise, I shall quote Dalai Lama as a gentle reminder: ‘If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito’