stop living a life of selfish mediocrity

THIS week I caught an interview on the radio in which an Iranian-born Professor and defender of human rights used a phrase that hit me right in the gut when it landed.

I knew both words in that phrase and have used them before, but the power of the combination of those word  s was stronger than most others I encounter on a normal day.

The interviewee told his life story and explained how he got from being a fairly comfortable young immigrant in Canada to pursuing a life fighting for the rights of people suffering as a result of war crimes.

He was hanging out with his young adult peers doing the cosmopolitan things that such people do, but kept hearing about people back home in Iran being persecuted and worse.

The day he heard that one of his close childhood friends had been arrested, jailed, tortured and then executed for writing a poem that was critical of the government, he made a realisation.

“I was living a life of Selfish Mediocrity,” he told his interviewer.

Selfish Mediocrity.

He was selfishly enjoying a life of mediocrity yet his peers back in Iran were risking their lives to make life right for millions of others.

That was how he quit a life of chilling and made it to a most prestigious law school in the United States and then went into Human Rights Law rather than a large, high-paying law firm and a comfortable future.

He has spent years since working in war zones and facing up to difficult people such as the European warlords in Bosnia.

Selfish Mediocrity.

That’s a phrase that’s been in existence somewhere in my mind but that I couldn’t coin even though it tickles me daily.

Just last week I found myself in Bwaise and Kyebando visiting some projects run by and for youth and women there, and making comparisons that were uncomfortable at some level.

In one of the projects I met a young man who runs a Community Based Organisation and had to ask him at one point in his little, cramped office, why he was doing that particular job with his education tucked away in his mind.

Ronald Kavuma gave me the right answer in the right order – he grew up there and wanted to help change Bwaise, and he needed to earn a living even if the money wasn’t really great.

I applauded him and thanked him after he had shown us round the projects – where they teach Bwaise youth skills like tailoring and craft-making, and collect recyclable waste, and in which they run a savings programme that helps the youth set up their own small businesses besides learning financial skills.

After that we went to Kyebando and met some other hard working young Ugandans walking around in dusty and muddy and sludgy environs.

These young people, most of them with university degrees, were elbow deep into various substances and materials but all focused on imparting skills to their country mates from less fortunate backgrounds.

One group was learning how to make sandals, another how to bake cakes using sand-heated charcoal ovens, and a third how to make oven and stove briquettes out of organic materials and clay.

They all said the same thing about their calling, and they were serious about it. There was no parking lot with nice, sleek cars nearby and the air conditioning was all natural.

This were their day jobs – what they had chosen to do for a living in their most productive and aspirational years.

They presented a challenge for many of us out here who are living a life of mediocrity and not doing much to change the lives of the less fortunate in our society.

And in their settings most of what they consume and utilise is local material, meaning that even their meagre spending goes straight to another Ugandan – whereas the well-heeled in this society continue to consume and utilise mostly imported products and send resources right past those in this community called Uganda that need it, and to other lands.

Selfish Mediocrity. That phrase will be on my mind for a while.

we will soon have boulders thrown at us if we aren’t mindful of the disadvantaged

WhatsApp Image 2017-12-01 at 20.24.22
The smaller rocks by the roadside. Photo by Simon Kaheru

OF recent I have taken up a new daily commute down a road that presents nostalgic value that will be the subject of another tale some day.

This marram road, going through a small trading centre whose real name I am yet to establish, helps me cut my commute by about half on most days.

Sometimes, though, the strategy is confounded by external factors such as heavy rain and truck drivers who care very little about anything five metres away from their steering wheels.

One such time a couple of weeks ago, a couple of container carrying trucks got stuck into the muddy marram and blocked progress at rush hour. We found ourselves turning around and following a fellow who knew a route that went through a village called Kireku – and I still don’t know how we knew to follow that driver.

As we navigated the narrow dirt road squeezing past houses angled randomly, we got to a group of little children chanting and waving us along. I was astounded when I got close enough to hear their chants.

“Mutuviire! Mutuviire! Mutuviire!” they repeated, all smiles as if they were singing that “You are wellokam” song. (‘Mutuviire’ means, “Depart from us” or “Leave our space”!)

There are horror movies that follow this theme – using small children doing surprisingly cold things while smiling to catch you off guard. I drove home silently pondering over who could have coached those children to gather and chant like that.

Back in the day, or in most other places (I presume) little children like that would wave smilingly at you as you drove past.

Then last week, driving through the dust in the evening behind one of many reckless drivers along that road, I noticed him swerving quickly into the centre of the road. I normally drive slowly because of visibility through that thick brown dust, and I am outnumbered by the stupid, selfish people who speed right through it from one end to the other.

Those are the drivers who don’t care at all for the residents along that road, always raising piles of dust that settles quickly onto the clothes, food and wares of the people living and operating in those shacks, kiosks and houses set admittedly too close to the road.

The idiotic driver in front of me that day, who was speeding behind an equally idiotic driver, was forced to swerve quickly into the middle of the road because of the realisation  that there was a boulder in his path. I saw that boulder, about three metres high and a couple of metres thick, in good time and calmly evaded it.

In the morning, going the other way, I noticed that there was an increasing number of such rocks and boulders in the road. They were placed specifically at points designed to force drivers to slow down and raise less dust or splash less water, depending on the weather.

That was a fair enough intervention, I thought to myself, and even though I could only imagine the discomfort of the residents from the speeding  vehicles I was worried about the malice involved in placing the rocks and boulders.

Many of the small piles were positioned, like the boulder of the evening before, in such a way as to trap cars one way or another. That malice, was borne out of those residents being fed up of the mindlessly selfish manner in which drivers speed down that road raising dust or muddy water with little regard for the little people living and working right there.

Personally, I continue to drive carefully and pledge to always be mindful of those residents so that I don’t run into one of those boulders, and I hope other drivers take this into account as well.

I have a lot to say about how mindless we are as road users, and how we will fully deserve to run into massive boulders one day. Those who speed around with convoys and sirens, the ones who skip lanes and create traffic jams, the ones who drive up on our miserable pavements and push pedestrians off…the list is long.

And I fear this is not just about roads, but soon we will hear more chants of “Mutuviire” from the most unlikely sources. And if we are not well mannered enough to think of others as we do what we do, we should be scared or threatened into being mindful of the little people by the side of the road…before they pick up those boulders and actually throw them at us.