A while back I spotted a little boy vending colourful cloth rucksacks and shoulder bags in the environs of Kkungu, in Kira District and I bought one up with glee. I used it so hard that it got stolen at the Village Mall in Bugolobi but not before I had spread the word about his grandmother Rose Nakitto, who makes the bags (she was on 0777 460 854).
In the same breath I mentioned another discovery – a little shop called Ricci Everyday operating out of Prunes Cafe on Wampewo Avenue.
Ricci Everyday sells the same type of Kitenge or ‘African cloth’ bags of varying styles and quality levels, at vastly different prices. Nakitto’s were going for about Ushs35,000 a bag while Ricci Everyday sold theirs ranging from Ushs200,000 to more than Ushs1million!
Two weeks ago I chanced upon an article online about Ricci Everyday in Japan, and my heart applauded them. This outfit had taken Uganda to the first world whole sale and was bringing money here to pay the people, presumably women, who do the actual work stitching the bags!
And they’ve been doing so for YEARS! In 2016 they exhibited these Ugandan-made bags at a premier fashion show in London and have done so consistently ever since.
I haven’t yet stopped Chizu or her mother, Ritsue, to thank them for the great work they are doing for this country. Even when I do, my word of appreciation won’t be as valuable as a medal from a national authority or some big incentive from the Uganda Export Promotion Board, Uganda Investment Authority or one of our Ministries of Trade, Investment and so on and so forth.
I was full of wist over this many days later when an email came to me promoting a Mother’s Day online purchase.
“Win the Ultimate Mother’s Day Ethical Gift Pack – valued at more than US$1,000!” read the banner.
I love my mother more than US$1,000 but I don’t normally have that amount of money on hand to prove the point, so who were these Rose & Fitzgerald who believed this kind of email warranted an exclamation mark?
Besides, I wondered, what kind of “Ethical Gift Pack” was this and how did it link to my beloved mother?
I read the email further, past the pretty images, and one word stood out: “Mugave”. One of the gifts was described as a “Mugave Geometric Bottle Stopper from Rose & Fitzgerald”.
This isn’t the one, but I found that they have made and sold many other such pieces in the years they have been in business:
Those two are not Ugandan names but it was difficult to imagine that Mugave was a word in common use outside of Uganda.
So I headed to their base site and found that their main outfit is called ‘Thirty One Bits’ (www.31bits.com), offering many nice-looking items that I couldn’t recognise from my many years in Uganda.
So I went to read their story under ‘About Us’.
These three white women, from the photograph, included one Kallie Dovel who came to Uganda for a bit as a university student and went back with stories that blew her friends away.
“She met women who grew up in a war and had nothing. They were single moms with no education and no job, and they were our age. OUR AGE. Our lives couldn’t look more different,” they write.
And then, they continue writing with a perspective totally lacking among US – the Ugandans who live right here with and amongst our fellow Ugandans:
“The women may not have had an education, but their skills and resourcefulness were astounding. They were making incredible jewelry out of old posters. Kallie brought a box of jewelry back, and we fell in love instantly!”
These were Caucasian women from America who met Acholi women in Gulu and created an enterprise.
They sold out within a short time and voila! There a business was born selling small pieces of jewelry and decor at pops of anywhere from US$15 upwards of US$80.
The girls came to Uganda and spent time with six ladies developing products and living together in their homes as they built up Thirty One Bits. Today, they are in “hundreds of stores across the United States” and have endorsements from names such as Sophia Bush, Candace Cameron Bure, Jessica Alba, and magazines like Forbes, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle.
PLUS, they built an entrepreneurship training element into their business so that the ladies creating these jewelry and art pieces don’t rely on just being suppliers, but develop their own businesses.
The girls of Thirty One Bits have graduated 100 artisans over five years, says their website, who have started additional businesses doing poultry, tailoring, agriculture and “One woman even opened her very own restaurant, called none other than ’31 Bits’!”
Not only that – using this experience they found themselves doing the same in Indonesia (which is why I couldn’t recognise many of the items on their online store).
That Indonesia bit is what worries me now. If we don’t have more and more Chizu Nakamoto’s and Kallie Dovel’s coming in from Japan and the United States to discover highly creative and hard working women in Uganda like Rose Nakitto and those unnamed jewelry designers in Northern Uganda, are we ever going to have more superb, high quality products than the Indonesians filling up shelves in foreign countries?
Besides that, how many of us in our twenties (that’s how old Chizu and Kallie were when they started) and thirties and forties are out there creating businesses like this or, at the very least, supporting them by buying their products?
Sadly, not enough to change an entire economy just yet; even more sadly, so few that the Nakamoto’s and Dovel’s will deservedly continue standing out. Thankfully, they do so while putting quality Ugandan products on international shelves to great acclaim, and for that they will be greatly applauded.
I HAD three tickets to last weekend’s Blankets & Wine festival but let them go to other people who were bound to find the entertainment there more to their weekend arrangements than I could – what with three charges all below the age of eighteen and their mother all being in charge of my schedule on such days.
Instead, I chose to walk my heavy luncheon off by accompanying the crew to the ‘Azulato Children’s Festival’, organised by the Goethe-Zentrum Kampala (the Ugandan German Cultural Society).
Anne Whitehead sent me the flyer earlier in the week after we had recorded a podcast at Skyz Hotel and it agreed with me – not just because entry was free.
She described it as “a bunch of fun arts and science activities for the kids”, which she knew would make me bite.
My larger family had questions, led by my little sister Freda Agaba who was born to be an Auditor and grew into the role at a level that terrorises many.
“But what is it supposed to be?!” she asked.
I was happy to discover what it presented, even though the definition for ‘Azulato’ didn’t show up anywhere at the venue or on the internet, though @BigEyeUG on Twitter defined it for me as “an amalgamation of two words…kuzuula and abato” – which Anne explains in detail and Luganda at the Meeting In The Skies podcast.
The website read: “Expect a wide range of fun and interactive workshops and performances, hands-on activities, such as mural painting, 3-d-printing, dance and music workshops, learning about robotics, science experiments and digital animation among others. The festival aims to promote the arts and sciences as a learning experience for children to develop their talents and grow their self-confidence, meet and make new friends and have fun. Azulato Children’s Festival is an inclusive festival for all children regardless of background and differences in abilities.”
I generally say things like ‘each to his or her own’. But by the time I got to the last tent of the Azulato festival I was questioning why so many of us are more willing, eager and likely to spend vast amounts of time and money at certain other types of events and not even swing by a free-to-enter high impact one like this.
The array of amazingness (accept that word as one that now exists in your life) was stunning even though the selection seemed scant and almost random. I knew some of the offerings – like the 40 Days over 40 Smiles Foundation people (Esther Kalenzi is still upset with me but we will clear issues up soon so I get back into her good books) and Alex Twinokwesiga’sttpafrica.com (Turn The Page Africa).
The two young organisations work together to grow a reading culture in Uganda and Africa – 4040 raising funds to build literacy (and libraries) countrywide, while ttpafrica.com promotes reading – Ugandan authors – by way of an online library that served me up two books at Azulato itself.
Alex Twinokwesiga also has another project – www.somethingugandan.com – and when I spotted him I thought he was there for that.
somethingugandan.com is an online shop promoting Ugandan-made products across the board to the rest of the world.
Azulato had a large array of these – many of the kitenge and fabric type of products that people call “African” but of a markedly distinct quality. Nzuri Afrik had me gawking and gasping for their shoes but they don’t make them in my size.
Still, the young fellow there offered, I could take any of my own shoes and for a small fee they’d decorate them colourfully with bright fabrics to add a spring to my step and light up every path I walk on. I am selecting fabrics this week and have already put aside the items they will be sprucing up for me.
The children would have impoverished me if I let them linger at that particular stand, so I moved them along quickly but I know what they’ll be wanting for their birthdays, Christmas and any incentive to come.
If I had anyone to turn to for such treats I would have chosen the seats made out of used tyres – not just tyres stacked together and painted as I have done before; a young lady, Allen Nabukenya, operating under the name Njola made these extremely comfortable, wide rubber seats that go for Ushs500,000 a pop.
Besides those, she presented some handy and chunky bags that caught everybody’s eye.
What we didn’t see but you would have to probe for is her vision of training 100 young girls per month this year in how to make products out of waste materials, giving them a livelihood and cleaning up Uganda at the same time!
Like I said, we have amazing Ugandans out there but we seem not to focus on them at all.
Next to her stand was another Nabukenya – Hellen, this time – whose fabrics I will be wearing soon in their mixes of denim, cotton and kitenge. She was humble and soft-spoken maybe because her pieces spoke loudly on their own.
She has flown Uganda’s flag with success but guess how many times she has been on page one or the podium for a national medal?
Perhaps as many as the animation and graphics designers behind the Crossroads Digital projects who told me their newest project, a TV series with an edutainment objective, was targeting the continent and globe and not just Uganda.
David Masanso is the farthest one can get from being arrogant while evoking an air of self-confidence that clearly relies on the quality of his team’s animations.
Next to him were ‘A Kalabanda Ate My Homework’, a short film by Raymond and Robin Malinga that would make you think Pixel or Disney if you saw it unprepared.
The voices behind the animation, though, are all too familiar, and when you read the credits you will stop to ask yourself why there is still so much foreign media inside our TV sets.
Martha Kay Kagimba, Daniel Omara, Salvadore Patrick Idringi, Patience Logose…all household Ugandan names and all listed up on glitzy websites declaring that this Ugandan production will be at the world’s most prestigious film festival, the Festival de Cannes from May 8 to May 19, 2018!
They said nothing about this world class status they had achieved, and focused on giving the children a good time.
I couldn’t begin to compare them to the braggarts that fill up our social space in this country over ‘achievements’ like buying cars and bottles of drinks in dim lighting.
There was more to be seen and enjoyed at Azulato, by adults and children alike, including the robotics display and getting the chance to print something off a 3D printer for the first time ever!
Discovering the Social Innovation Academy and their plastic bottle recycling that includes building entire houses was even more exciting when I found that they package roasted coffee called “Kyaffe” – grown by women farmers groups.
By this time the children had dispersed to take part in activities such as art and crafts, clay pot moulding, robotics and science experiments, so I had time enough to gather contacts for later use until we all converged at the Breakdance and Rap/Lugaflow workshop.
There, the mind was blown afresh at the sights and sounds of children ad-libbing rap and lugaflow that would make you cry at how well the dedication and hard work of Abramz Tekya is paying off.
His Breakdance Project, targeting vulnerable children, has built such a confidence in his young charges that if a Kalabanda ate their homework they’d challenge their teachers to a rap-off and win deservedly!
At the end of the day, my choice of a festival that spoke to children learning and developing over one that suggested alcohol and slumber was well made.
I don’t encourage the intimidation and often find reasons to highlight the value of ordering things a certain way. My children now being old enough to get sent to my wallet, for instance, approach it with repeated warnings that the privilege will be withdrawn if they don’t order the notes therein following the pre-set rules.
Whereas we are used to seeing that predilection for disorder in ordinary places, it is particularly disturbing when it shows up where people are educated and carrying out activities for which they are paid serious money.
For instance, when the person in a shop is handing me back my change (or balance) and places the notes in any order facing different directions and upside down and with some of them folded two ways, one folded three ways and the fourth with an ear bit bent back, I show little surprise.
The habit I have of then slowly making a show of unfolding and flattening the notes, then re-organising them so they are in order from the largest to the smallest note could be considered to be “Passive Aggressiveness” but I take it to be a brief practical demonstration or orderliness the shop attendant might benefit from.
There are other instances where I can’t do this because it is impractical and because I freeze up in horror – like when a financial institution or an educational one pays tens of millions of shillings for newspaper advertising to publish lists of names and numbers.
I share this pet peeve with, among others, Paul Bagyenda, an ICT Guru with a penchant for orderliness that he hides from the general public. There was a time when we’d act as a support group for each other on the days such publications interfered with an otherwise good tropical day in the sun, because he is as avid a reader as I am.
We once called up a Kampala bank that kept doing this – publishing pages upon pages of names arranged in no specific manner even though they had the option of alphabetically using Surnames (most logical), Forenames (harder but do-able), or numerically using Account Numbers (well…).
Our wrath once got directed to another financial institution for listing defaulters alphabetically by district, but then using some randomly illogical method underneath the district title – not even attempting to list them using an ascending or descending order based on the amount by which they had defaulted.
This week I found a lesson in patience when I experienced first-hand in person the time-wasting result of this lack of orderliness.
Back in November last year I made a decision to quit using the Gaz petrol station nearest to my home because the attendants refused to discourage people from driving in using the ‘Out’ side of the station – which always caused exit angst when one wanted to drive out having entered through the ‘In’ side in an orderly manner.
Worse, they had no problem using the first pump when a single car drove in, even though that blocked access to the second pump ahead – causing delays in the fueling process as one had to wait while two pumps with pump attendants in front of you stood idle.
By the time I quit I had signed up for their loyalty card service using a phone app and was accumulating points as I awaited the card itself. So for months now I’ve been getting notification messages that my card was ready for pick-up but was too pre-occupied and disinterested.
Until I had ten minutes to spare this week and had a Christian urge to forgive and forget.
I was asked to park my car and go into the office for a few minutes to sign for my card, which was fair enough so I complied knowing I would be telling a manager that day about how to improve their service.
The young man in the office had clearly had a long day and didn’t mind making this obvious to me but I kept my cool and watched as he commandeered a lackey to sift through a box of plastic cards wrapped up in bundles of 200 each.
At the start of this process I hoped to myself that these were thousands of people who had also quit the station on the same premises or principles as I had.
After many minutes of observing the process my optimism gave way to despair. They had identified my card number using the details I gave them and now needed to physically go through each stack of cards to find the individual one assigned to me.
A third person had been added to the list and, because the office was too small to hold many more people than the four of us and six other people doing similarly tiresome paper-laden tasks, nobody else could join the assignment.
To make matters worse, the fellows were ripping the rubber bands off the stacks, shuffling through the cards to identify my number, and then putting the rubber band back and placing the stack in another box – without placing the cards in better order, following their numbering.
“They are all mixed!” complained the manager, which the other two fellows echoed verbatim.
“They are all mixed!” they said.
I could believe that, watching them mixing the cards up even further as they sought my single card, and had to take matters into my own hands.
Sifting quickly through two batches of cards told me the numbering sequence of each batch of 200 within two minutes and I tested two others to confirm it, then simply checked the top card in two other batches to find the one that most probably held my own.
I found it.
The manager was somewhat astonished, because at first he had watched me and seemed to roll his eyes at how I was too lazy to go through each and every card in each batch I had held up.
By that time I didn’t feel generous enough to launch into a session of lugezi-gezi and just signed documents in a couple of places but insisted on walking him out to the forecourt to explain the reason I had left the station in November last year – hoping that at least that simple level of orderliness would one day be enforced.
He politely appreciated my issue, and promised to effect change. Right there and then, the fellow who should have taken up my first fuel purchase using the loyalty card attempted to exhibit his deep-seated disorganisation but the manager was on hand to set him right.
For the next five minutes, at least, I observed utmost organisation at play, and I kept hope alive.
One day, we will all be organised, orderly and we will all stop thinking that it is a disorder. ‘We’ being Good Ugandans!
LAST weekend I found a way of combining roast meat, drinks and a discussion about plastic recycling with an interesting fellow called Frank Morris Matovu, at Zone 7’s Shisanyama (a whole other story of its own).
Frank is an architect, an artist, an avid reader, a curator and a collector of old books.
I first came across him when one Bernard Acema wrote a piece about Kampala that I published on my blog as ‘The Racism Behind Kampala’. Frank read the piece and uploaded more than ninety (90) pages of a 1955 book titled, ‘Town Planning In Uganda; A Brief Description Of The Efforts Made By Government To Control Development Of Urban Areas From 1915 to 1955‘, by Henry Kendall OBE, F.R.I.B.A., M.T.P.I, Director of Town Planning, Uganda.
Intrigued that he had possession of such a book, I tracked him down and he told me his secret. It’s a secret, so obviously I won’t write it down here.
Suffice to say that I intend to benefit from his method as often as possible, and that last weekend was a roaring success for me.
My one caveat when we agreed to meet over meat was that he bring me a good book. I was so eager to receive it when he arrived that I breezed through a greeting and then expressed concern that he appeared to have no book on him.
He protested the lack of pleasantries (that’s the word he used, so you can see why I chose to meet with him), then like magic whipped out the book.
I took it from him carefully because even in the darkness of Zone 7 I could tell it was a delicate manuscript. It was a landscape manuscript that had come unbound and lacked a front cover, but the top page presented a black and white photograph of a familiar landmark that took me a while to recognise.
It was the Mulago Hospital in 1962. (That photograph up there at the start of this online version).
The book, detailing the plans for the construction of the 1962 Mulago Hospital, made for pleasurable reading all through – right from the lucid, well-written preface by then-Minister of Health, E.B.S. Lumu, dated 23 August, 1962.
There are many small details in that document that made me smile and also saddened me – including the fact that this Cabinet Minister didn’t feel the need to write “Hon.” in front of his name, and made no spelling or grammatical error in his three-paragraph preface.
So much has changed over the years, and it’s fun to compare and contrast right now that we are about to launch a new new Mulago Hospital.
Then, the introduction reads, Mulago Hospital was “one of the largest and most up-to-date hospitals in East and probably the whole of tropical Africa” and Kampala was described in glowing terms as “a garden city, spaciously planned, with many trees and open spaces which remain green throughout the year.”
I read that phrase standing atop Naguru Skyz Hotel overlooking most of Kampala and I felt even more sad.
I went back downstairs to read on and enjoy nostalgia and marvel at how much detail the people of the 1950s went into to build Mulago Hospital. There are drawings of how the buildings were arranged to facilitate breezy air flow for the comfort of the patients and “architectural treatments used to achieve sun protection”.
By the way, the list of people on the Committees to do this work does not include a single Ugandan.
While planning the “Patients’ Environment”, “Colour would be used to create an interesting and cheerful atmosphere.” and “Noise in a multi-storeyed hospital, especially in the tropics where windows are generally open, is a difficult problem. In Mulago it was thought that the breeze links would act as sound barriers…and noisy supply departments would be placed on the periphery of the hospital.”
Speaking of the supply departments, the planning process went so far as to study the diets of the Africans, Indians and Europeans, and design kitchens to handle them.
“The African diet…is at the present time made up principally of matoke (plantain), lumonde (sweet potatoes), beans and sauces. The diet also includes meat and fish.” reads the book, stating that the hospital would receive “gigantic” quantities of matooke – 1,250,000 pounds per year, which necessitated planning for the disposal of the peels.
THAT is paying attention to detail.
Also, you will be amazed to learn that Kampala was so pristine back then that the following statement was written: “The Kampala Township water supply, which is obtained from Lake Victoria, is one of the purest supplies gazette anywhere in the world, and no water treatment has been provided.”
The cost of construction was 2,315,000pounds sterling (1957-1962 value) of which 22% was spent in Uganda – including the portable wooden furniture manufactured by the Ministry of Works and Uganda Prisons Industries section. They were thinking straight back then, rather than importing everything.
There is a lot more in that book, and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it repeatedly, while hoping that the book on the new Mulago Hospital will be as neat, detailed and pleasurable – 56 years later.
A FEW weeks ago I met a most amazing person in Maputo, Mozambique and sat flabbergasted along with 200 other people in a large conference room as she told us her crazy, feasible and totally undesirable (to us) plan for the rest of her life.
Her plan was so unfathomable and yet so amazing that I entered into an uncomfortably nauseous mental space trying to work out whether I wanted her to meet my children and inspire them or to stay tens of thousands of miles away from them so she doesn’t spread the crazy ideas she is implementing.
She came over to a Coca-Cola Beverages Africa conference as a Guest Speaker and to be quite frank our expectations of her when she was announced were on a whole different planet from the person who jumped up onto the stage.
Most of us confessed to ourselves that when we read, “Dr. Adriana Marais” up on the electronic stage backdrop, we expected a scientific nerd-type person kitted up as Doctor-people tend to be.
In her jeans and casual shirt rolled up to expose many bangles, and a wide smile that didn’t distract us from her braids, she appeared to be the ordinary type of girl you would be happy to chat with at a bar on any evening. (There is a whole other story about THAT too!)
She stood there on stage in front of the massive screen and started talking about space travel, saying things in English that we found hard to understand for a while until we just had to accept that we didn’t want to understand or believe her.
Since her childhood (five years of age) she has been excited and enthusiastic about space and space travel. Plus, along the way, she was so disturbed by our poor resource utilisation on earth she figured we would one day run out and became determined to be part of the solution.
Hence her mission to leave Planet Earth and go to discover new life forms elsewhere.
She was not talking about a bus trip or a plane ride.
Dr. Adriana Marais is “an aspiring Martian”. She is one of six Africans who are part of a group of 100 candidates to join the ‘Mars One’ project – to establish a human colony on Planet Mars by 2025.
They will go to Mars and live there, NEVER TO RETURN.
You need to sit down to try to understand this properly – just to try – but for the longer story one has to go to the online edition of this (www.skaheru.com).
She described the trip to Mars, and their planned mission, and said many other things that made us all wonder how crazy her and her mates were – which she always considers a compliment.
“The ones crazy enough to think that they can change the world, or create a new one, are the ones who do,” she told me. In any case, she told our audience, space travel on its own spurs innovation here on earth; in the year Apollo 13 happened, so more children in the United States were inspired to do Engineering and the results govern some of our lives today – from the mobile phone and computers we use to the power of the internet.
The training for living on Mars is long and intense, and the trip there alone takes seven (7) months. As she said this, all the people in the room who had complained about the long, two-leg five-hour journey to Mozambique felt quite silly.
And on that trip, she casually told us, “your muscles degrade over the seven months, but since we are not coming back to earth so…it’s okay!”
And when they get to Mars, they will embark on creating water and food and even breathable air. Their disciplines are different – hers being Physics and then Quantum Mechanics – and the selection will be done so they can start a new life and population and world on Planet Mars from almost nothing.
They will send certain machinery and equipment months before they go, which will be assembled by robots when they land there (this is not a lie or a dream – people are seriously doing this while here we have friends who can’t scan a document straight the right way up…).
“We all have resources of life and resources of time. Be careful with them!” she told us, and got my skin tingling.
Travel, mind you, is embedded in her very DNA. Her family left France at some point hundreds of years ago and arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on Voorschuten in 1688 – a trip of very many months to a place where the availability of resources and was very uncertain.
I made the determination to one day get my children to meet her or read a lot about her, so they are as motivated by her very existence as I was.
When I asked her, later on, if she had ever disadvantaged as a girl or woman, she told me she hadn’t.
“In the morning before my first day of school, my mother told me never to let anyone tell me I couldn’t do anything because I was a girl. I remember thinking that was strange and wondering why she had said it. Then lo and behold, on the first day of school the (female) teacher asked the ‘strong boys’ to help move the desks. Remembering what my mom had said, I jumped up and said ‘I am strong’ and helped to move the desks. And this is the spirit in which I live. We need to avoid judging others or allowing ourselves to be judged on the basis of race, gender, culture or background,” she said.
This is what I want my children to be like – but I don’t want them to go all the way to Mars never to return. Not yet.
Here’s the interview in full:
Have any of the first 100 of you been taken through psychiatric tests? Most sci-fi films we watch (our experience – the majority of us lay people – with outer space) contain people who engage in terrifying criminal acts because of mental health issues, and most people would ask how sure you are this won’t happen to your group.
“Are you crazy?!” is a common question I am asked as a volunteer to move permanently to Mars. Perhaps. But I take this as a compliment. As we’ve heard, the ones crazy enough to think that they can change the world, or create a new one, are the ones who do. A good Martian settler will have showed an impressive level of sanity and purpose by having trained for decades before leaving Earth in STEM, medicine, counseling, team work, fitness, growing food, working in isolation, telling jokes when things go wrong, and much more, to ensure the survival of the team in the harsh conditions there.
When did your love for space travel and such extreme exploration actually begin? At what age or stage, considering that you made your decision as soon as you read the headline about MarsOne?
When I read in the paper for the first time about the possibility of applying to go to Mars on a one-way mission, I froze. Suddenly a strange early childhood memory rushed back to me so clearly: We were riding plastic scooters up and down the driveway where I played after school some days, and when we stopped I asked my two friends, “If you could go into space on a spaceship to see what was there, further than we’ve been before, but you knew that you wouldn’t come back, would you go? Just to see what was there…”
They wrinkled their noses and scooted off, not understanding what I meant, while I said determinedly, “I would!”. We must have been five or six.
Humans are explorers by nature and now for the first time the possibility to expand our society beyond Earth has arisen. I can think of no greater purpose than being a part of this adventure, whether going in person or creating awareness that enables future generations to go.
What did you study, exactly, and why?
I studied physics initially because of thoughts of becoming an astronaut, but soon became interested in quantum mechanics after learning about the impossibility of observing something without interacting with it, and therefore disturbing it in some way. I have been fascinated with the implication ever since – that the observer is always inextricably part of the system under observation, and that the way a question is posed can influence the answer, from the level of human interaction all the way down to measurements performed on single particles.
I began to study photosynthesis on a molecule by molecule, photon by photon level as a part of a field called quantum biology. This led me to the famous question, “What is Life?”
In my opinion, if life can exist on Earth, in an unimaginably large universe, it must also exist or have existed elsewhere. The study of living systems on Earth, and the mystery of how life emerged here, is always going to be severely limited by a lack of precise knowledge of the conditions under which it emerged around four (4) billion years ago, in a possibly singular event.
Billions of years of evolution of life on Earth have culminated in the possibility of us calling another planet home for the very first time. Untold discoveries lie in wait, including the possibility of finding evidence of life there. The reason I want to go to Mars is simple: The allure of the unknown is far more powerful than the comfort of the known. And the possibility to contribute to the first off-Earth settlement, and potentially find evidence of life on another planet, is something I would give up almost anything to do.
What did your parents say when you told them you were applying for MarsOne and would never return?
They are worried about the logistical feasibility of the mission, and that they would miss me, but they are also proud and fascinated by this proposed adventure.
They likened the mission to that of our ancestors, refugees who escaped religious persecution and all the people they had ever known in Europe to come to South Africa in the 1600s, with no idea of what challenges lay ahead and no chance of affording a return trip. I must have this inclination to explore in my blood.
They know me best of all, and have said it is totally in line with my character to have volunteered for this mission.
What did your bank and landlord (separately) say, whether you have a mortgage or not?
Well, apparently plans to leave the planet doesn’t effect one’s credit rating, so I plan to keep paying my bond in cryptocurrency from Mars if I haven’t done so by the time I leave 🙂
Did your parents support your choice of education or study course all through or did they ever try to push you in another direction?
My parents have always encouraged me in everything I have done. I wouldn’t be the courageous person I am today without my parents having always allowed me to ask an exhausting amount of questions and to make my own decisions.
Imposing your ideas on how another human should live based on your personal experiences can restrict that person from achieving their full potential. Love is accepting and supporting! I am grateful for having such wonderful parents!
When you leave Planet Earth and get to Mars never to return, what do you think (at this time) you will miss the most?
Things I won’t miss include: Inequality. Advertising. Pollution. Long queues. two-minute showers in drought-stricken Cape Town (Jokes – our showers on Mars will probably be shorter) 🙂
What I will miss is life – all the people I love who have meant so much to me, all the animals we share our habitat with, all the plants with which we have been living side-by-side for so many eras… I’ll miss being able to breathe and smell the air, the feeling of the wind, sea and sun, the feeling of the ground on bare feet. I’ll miss good steak, and good wine, which I understand after my time with several winemakers, may be hard to produce on Mars… (The oak barrel is an issue).
Did you ever feel disadvantaged as a girl or a woman at any point in your life? When was that and why? (I ask this because I am a father of girls, brother to my sisters, son to my mother(s) and husband to my wife, and I want them to emulate you but NEVER to leave me so absolutely!)
No I have not, but I do have unstoppable determination and a thick skin when I need it.
In the morning before my first day of school, my mother told me never to let anyone tell me I couldn’t do anything because I was a girl. I remember thinking that was strange and wondering why she had said it. Then lo and behold, on the first day of school the (female) teacher asked the ‘strong boys’ to help move the desks.
Remembering what my mom had said, I jumped up and said ‘I am strong’ and helped to move the desks. And this is the spirit in which I live. We need to avoid judging others or allowing ourselves to be judged on the basis of race, gender, culture or background.
In order to create a future of which we can be proud, we need all of our contributions, and for this we need to view each and every human as the unique, precious resource of intelligence and life that they are.