Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Lessons from dust

Travel can be fraught with peril or challenges. One prepares with preparation, research, packing, and the hope that such will enable a successful journey whether for business or pleasure. One also asks for blessing from the almighty. Trepidation about the potential for peril brings to mind: “All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust.”

While we ultimately go to one place, the modern airport is a mixer. Folks arriving, going to their destination; others arrive to transfer to their destination, or take the next step to their destination. Walking through this airport, I notice my shoes are still colored with the red road dust we picked up on our travels. Only 4% of the roads in Uganda are paved hence our accumulation of dust. “All are from the dust, and all return to dust.”

How big is Uganda? As a native Rhode Islander, I always find it interesting to put things in perspective. How big is Uganda compared to RI? 100, yes, one more than 99, and not just a round number. 100 RIs would fit within Uganda. 11 Massachusetts would fit. So that may help explain how we spent 20 days there and really did not see it all, no matter how much dust we collected. “All are from the dust, and all return to dust.”

Uganda is one of the poorest countries in Africa. The country has been struggling to properly utilize their resources. 60% of the population live on an average $1.25/day. When one finds out that there is also 40% unemployment, that helps to explain. Each community has a street market. Street vendors sell many of the same items; mattresses, food & produce, hand crafted wooden furniture, welded steel gates & doors. All of these are also cleaned daily to wipe away the dust. “All are from the dust, and all return to dust.”

Uganda is referred to as the “pearl of Africa.” Interesting image. Oysters make pearls. I quote: “The formation of a natural pearl inside an oyster begins when a foreign substance slips into the oyster between the mantle and the shell, which irritates the mantle. It's kind of like the oyster getting a splinter. The oyster's natural reaction is to cover up that irritant by encapsulating the interloper, thereby protecting itself. The mantle covers the irritant with layers of the same nacre substance that is used to create the shell, and these concentric layers of nacre will eventually form a pearl”. To continue the analogy, the continent has provided Uganda with a varied landscape, from the savanna, across rivers and valleys to mountains. With resources (minerals in the ground), and wild animals (in natural environments). A speck of sand (or dust) can not create a pearl. That item can be expelled by the oyster. Dust however is accumulated by all visitors. “All are from the dust, and all return to dust.”

One of the key resources available are the wildlife; giraffe, elephant, water buffalo, warthogs, chimpanzees, the mountain gorilla and a variety of antelope to name only a few. Viewing these majestic animals in their habitat is an amazing experience. They live off the land, or each other, that most of the time is pleasant and peaceful. They have life's basic needs to be busy about; food, shelter, caring for each other, and their young. Fortunate to be only a few feet away from a rather large alpha male silverback gorilla, we both took a deep breath, and listened to the jungle. “All are from the dust, and all return to dust.”

Our travels, approximately 1800 miles over 20 days, provided me with a deeper understanding of how Uganda is “the pearl of Africa.” The people are so much like us. They desire similar things, a good home, opportunity for their children, they enjoy dancing, and singing, etc. Their opportunity by being born in Uganda rather than elsewhere presents a challenge for them. However, their spirit is good. They take things in due course. The sun will rise tomorrow. “All are from the dust, and all return to dust.”

While traveling, I was surprised to find internet access much more prevalent than I expected. In a lull moment catching up on world news, an article in The Guardian caught my attention. It talked of the art curator who cleans Michelangelo’s David and who is quoted as saying about her work: “You know when you clean a bathroom, you clean and clean and think you’ve done a great job but then you spot some dust and wonder ‘where did that come from?’,” Cecilie Hollberg said on Monday. “This is what it’s like. Dust is everywhere.” “All are from the dust, and all return to dust.”

In summary, when you happen to travel, prepare & prepare, trust the process, look out for one another, there will be bumps in the road, this too shall pass, be watchful, the world around us is a wonderful thing. Be curious. Take some time to process it all. Approach life with the dust pan, gathering dust, and then moving to catch the next line, now smaller, then the next line, still smaller. Repeat and repeat. “All are from the dust, and all return to dust.”