THE 100 THINGS WEBSITE HAS BEEN UPGRADED TO HTTP://100THINGS.COM.AU
FEEL FREE TO BROWSE THIS OLD BLOGGING SITE WHICH COVERS THE JOURNEY FROM JUNE 2009 TO DECEMBER 2011.
November 29th, 2011...
Camp Quality Dinner
Sometime last week I was lucky enough to be invited to a Camp Quality dinner function to be held in the city. With a guest speaker and a few canapes, I excitedly put my name down and began ironing a shirt. Fast forwarding just a little, that event occurred last night and with my Mum agreeing to play the role of my date for the evening, we pitched up ready to learn more about Camp Quality.
When I first started raising money for Camp Quality, I chose to mainly because I knew that I wanted to support a charity that helped kids. I have no close to link to cancer myself but why should that be a factor in fundraising, right?
As such, the beautiful part of this, for me anyway, is that over time I've learnt more and more about Camp Quality and after last night's function I am as proud as ever about raising funds for such a great group. I learnt such a lot. Second to that, I've also noted many similarities between the mantra of Camp Quality and my own journey.
Simon Rountree, Camp Quality CEO, and I posing for this one at the dinner
As you know, Camp Quality help kids and families affected by Cancer. This in itself is fantastic but what I'm now understanding is that in trying to achieve one certain goal, a holistic approach is often the most comprehensive and effective. Camp Quality call this the 'psycho-social' approach.
The speaker last night was called Lindy. Lindy had never had cancer but her son, Alex, had. After 5 years of treatment, he is now one year away from being free from cancer. Lindy smiled emphatically as she told me this. It's been a long road though for Lindy, Alex and their family, but one that Camp Quality has helped with incredibly.
"I'd never wish to go through this experience again but Camp Quality have added a foundation within the family that will allow our kids to build on from here."
It's this building block philosophy that can be applied to almost everything in life.
Lindy and I
After diagnosis, a child living with cancer goes through a treatment phase which hopefully is followed by a remission phase. Over time 80% of children in Australia have full recoveries. The remaining 20% sadly don't survive. Camp Quality stretch their care over all of these stages. In this sense their outreach is comprehensive. However of the 15,000 children currently battling with cancer in Australia, Camp Quality have noted they only come into contact with one third of them. This is now one of their new targets; to reach all 15,000 children.
Goals, it seems, are crucial to everyone. They offer direction and purpose.
"Even in Alex's remission stages, we gave our family goals such as having a nice dinner together. Even though they were simple goals, they acted as markers to strive for; some kind of normaility."
Focusing on 4 separate yet interlinked groups, Camp Quality aim to offer family support, recreational activities, hospital-focused care and performance & education programs. This is their holistic approach. Not only is a child and their family helped in a medical sense but they are also helped in a social and psychological capacity. Camp Quality educate, entertain, and connect these programs within schools, households and hospitals. Through a sense of community and understanding, people come together and in doing so help one another deal and better understand ways in which to cope and mend.
Time and time again it seems to me that community offers strength to people. Recently I saw this in Rwanda, Africa, as people came together as a nation to heal in the aftermath of the1994 genocides. In the fight against cancer likewise, community soothes, empowers and offers hope to all those connected to child cancer.
It's Camp Qualities goal to facilitate and encourage this. Puppet shows, 'laughter yoga' (of which we sampled at the beginning of the night by laughing loudly on demand by an instructor at the front of the room!) and 'fun therapists' all play their part in the process.
There are many other strategies of course that Camp Quality are employing to help in their wide-spanning care, but i'll share them another time. For now, I'd like to leave you with one comment that Lindy said to me whilst having a chat after the talk;
"Kids are naturally optimistic. A positive mindset is so important."
I couldn't agree more. In the words of Camp Quality; 'Laughter is the best medicine'
Best of luck to Alex for his final year of recovery!
100 Things… What's on your list?
November 28th, 2011…
Let the Games Begin…
It's always a great feeling when you begin the week having no idea how things are going to unfold. This is exactly how I feel right now; not because nothing is planned but instead because there is so much happening that I have no control over any of it!
As you'll know from last week's blogs, this Thursday marks one of my proudest achievements so far in my life when the 100 Things book is officially launched. I am not going to lie to you; I am excited. It took the first half of this year to produce this little gem and I can stand by it now and say proudly that now only have I thrown my heart and soul at this book, but also that it is my heart and soul.
With the launch comes interviews, a huge launch party (Number 50- Throw a Party) and a myriad of other things that are beyond the realms of my imagination right now.
Bizarrely over the weekend I have been receiving emails from various people all around Australia alerting me to the fact that the book is already stocked in some stores. This I had no idea about but however surprising this fact, the feedback has been unbelievable! This had caused me to grin like a schoolchild for the past 48 hours. Most of the readers have finished the book in one or two sittings (not because it's a small book either!). Feedback from people I have never met is a concept I had never considered until now and if the truth be known it's as daunting as it is enriching. I hope there's more to come! I thank everyone for their time to write so far.
On the topic of book launch, I should also mention that there are still tickets available for the December 1st launch party and anyone interested should get tickets online here.
It's shaping up to be a lot of fun!
New Website Launch
Just over 2 years ago when I first left Australia to embark on this journey, I created a simple blogging site to note down my adventures. Aimed at keeping family and friends informed as to how I was traveling, it was perfect. Over time, with a gained interest in my journey, the site slowly developed to what you see today but in light of a significant increase in website activity more recently (and a few ideas that I think you'll love) I've decided that it's time to re-create a new website that allows a greater usability and functionality for you; the user.
Now the tricky part of this has been trying to get this ready for this Thursday so that we can launch it in line with the book. However for this to happen the site needs a transfer period of roughly 24 hours to finalize. In this time, you will not be able to access the site.
What Does This Mean?
Well late today, the 100 Things site will go offline for 24 hours, and just in case you get worried, I thought I'd alert you now. Any developments with the journey can of course be tracked on the 100 Things Facebook Group link.
With this upgrade I'd also like to inform those wishing to send their lists to me to upload to hold off doing so until we are back online. The reason being is that with the new site will come the ability for you to create and control your own profile. This is something I feel will empower the user. I can't wait to see what happens!
As well as this function, you'll have the ability to talk to each other, discuss topics in a forum as well as keep track on people's list progress with a 'latest news' feed and private messaging! On top of this there will be a host of other gadgets to play with as well. The change ultimately reflects the development of this journey from being about one person to now being about many. Essentially it empowers you; the campaigner.
And so as just a little teaser, here is a brief draft of the new look. With just a day until it becomes live there's a lot to still finish but we're well on the way!
So for now on what promises to be the last post from this lovely old website, I bid you farewell and ask that any queries be forwarded on via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
To say bye with a laugh, here's a little video that I've found that I'm currently uploading to the new site. I don't remember the reporter being quite so cheeky!
It's been emotional and a process that is ever evolving.
What a week ahead!
100 Things… What's on your list?
November 25th, 2011…
What a Day
Off the back of what was the most emotional interviews I've ever given on The Circle yesterday, things have picked up on a notch or two in the lead up to next week's book launch.
I'd like to thank everyone for all the supportive messages and emails I received yesterday and I'm still trying my best to reply to everyone today.
Many of you also bought invites to the official launch party and I can't wait to say hello in person!
Tickets I should say are still available and can be bought online by CLICKING HERE.
Wow- what a boring title! So over the last few months, under the darkness of night, I've been developing a new website that I have to admit I am slightly excited about. Looking amazing (I think anyway) and focusing more so on allowing you guys to start your own lists and control your profiles, the release date will also be December 1st.
Today though I learnt that there will be a 24 hour period where the transfer of the site will mean no access to www.100things.com.au for 24 hours. This is scheduled to happen on Monday. I'm not saying that this will affect the nation but I thought I'd make mention in case you were worried that I'd got scared about the book launch and decided to move to Greenland!
Watch this space.
For those of you who missed the chat that I had with the lovely girls from The Circle yesterday, here it is in it's entirety. These guys are so lovely and the feedback I've received has been overwhelming.
There are moments in life that make you stop and appreciate every single thing that surrounds you. Right now, as I type, I am having one of these moment.
I can remember the last time I had a moment like this and it was at an orphanage in Uganda, half way through what was the happiest party i'd ever witnessed. On this occasion I'll admit that I cried, and this morning when being interviewed on Channel 10's The Circle, I almost did the same thing.
I'm not sure how exactly these moments come about, but when they do I find that a warmth fills my entire body and a kind of euphoria surrounds me in what is a bizarre combination of extreme relaxation and schoolboy excitement. It's a sense of appreciation that cannot be rivaled on any level.
Halfway through the interview, as the girls were asking me about my experience of working in an orphanage in Africa, Georgie, one of the hosts, stopped mid sentence to compose herself. As she did this, we all noticed that she like everyone else was holding backs tears. Telling me before the show that she had plans to give aid and care in Africa, it was the notion of helping someone in need that sparked her emotions. She was not the only one. Very quickly we were all holding back tears.
For me I had no idea how quickly that stinging sensation at the back of the eyes would come. Only a week on from returning from Africa, it's now in the reflective period of such an intense trip overseas that I can only begin to appreciate all of what happened in that orphanage. It was the picture of 14 month old Oscar, a young baby with Hydrocephalus (a condition that swells the head) that began what was the beginning of the most emotional interview I'd ever given. At one point I felt guilty that all four hosts were crying!
With a taxi ride to the airport allowing me a moment to this about this moment a little more, I've concluded that we're all actually quite lucky. I can only speak for myself of course but not only was the content of what we were discussing moving but taking a step back from what was my reality at that moment in time, I saw myself sat on a couch with the 4 beautiful hosts of The Circle, some two years after beginning a journey that I only ever began to reach a point of happiness and purpose on a very personal and intimate level. The strange and most amazing thing though was that these guys were no longer just four random hosts who 18 months ago had invited me on their show to interview me about my then recently broken Guinness World Record for crushing the most amount of eggs in 30 seconds, instead I felt a warmth that I'd usually associate with close friends.
This feeling stretches behind the camera to Pam, Tom and all others who shake my hand when I come in to the Channel 10 studio.
I guess in the strangely emotional state that I find myself in as I sit and type at the airport, I just wanted to say thanks. I think it's a beautiful moment in life when you suddenly realize whilst in the presence of someone else that they are not just an acquaintance but a friend, and that's how I felt today. These guys have helped and added to my journey and as such have helped me grow.
That's all I want to say right now; thanks!
What a feeling.
100 Things… What's on your list?
November 24th, 2011
Full Circle & a Cheeky Little Sample Chapter
After returning from two months in Africa last week, where I was able to tick off two amazing items in Number 43- Volunteer at an Orphanage and Number 79- Live with a Tribe for 1 Week, things back in Australia are just starting to hot up once again.
Why? Well after 6 months of writing, editing and reading, the 100 Things book is just 7 days away from officially launching. As you might expect, i'm slightly excited!
This morning if you happened to catch Channel 10's The Circle, you would have seen the book for the first time but even in the knowledge that of this very fact, I still can't help but smirk every time I see my silly grin on the front cover! Regardless I am proud to introduce you today to the official book cover!
Same cheesy smile on every book sold!
Luckily it's the content that I truly care about and with some great feedback so far from a few advanced copies that were sent about (yes, including my Mum!), I'd like to offer you a glimpse into the book with a sample chapter.
For those of you unfamiliar with this 100 Things journey, this chapter might give you some insight into the reasons why I decided to drop everything in my life to pursue completing a simple list. Trust me; I'm not crazy.
I hope you enjoy (click picture below).
Number 50- Throw a Party
Now in unison with the official book launch which is happening next Thursday on December 1st, I thought there would be no better occasion to tick off item Number 50- Throw a Party.
As such you're all invited!
Details for the Sydney based event are below in previous blogs, but if you'd like to come to this charity event in which all proceeds will be donated to Camp Quality, all you have to do is click on the button below to make your onion purchase. Remember that sitting at Number 4 on the 100 Things list is to raise $100,000 for this amazing charity (more details below).
Number 84- Face an Over from Shane Warne
It goes without saying that you'd be hard pressed to find any cricketer, no matter if they were 8 years old or 80 years old, who wouldn't dream of facing an over from the world's greatest bowler; Shane Warne. Now in reality I haven't played any cricket in a long time but the desire to face the King of Spin is something that I'm as keen as ever to achieve.
Not knowing Shane personally, this is an item that I have no clue as how to achieve but I' confident that somehow this will work out. After all I just heard that he's about to set foot yet again in the world of cricket for a few matches here in Australia!
So as silly as I feel writing this next sentence (and trust me I do), perhaps this is all I need to start the ball rolling………
If you're somehow reading this; firstly hello. How are you? Secondly; would you mind bowling me 6 of your best? I will literally travel anywhere to face you and to be honest wouldn't even mind if you bowled with tomatoes! If you're up for it, please email me on email@example.com.
Watch this space…
Follow 100 Things
To find out if I get a reply from Shane Warne, you can follow the 100 Things journey on Facebook (click here) or Twitter (click here) as well as this website.
Sometimes it's good to feel silly.
100 Things… What's on your list?
November 22nd, 2011…
Party Party Party
There's just 10 days until the official book launch and it's everything seems to be coming together nicely for what promises to be a great party.
After 1 day of promoting we've had some great feedback and with that thought there's no better time to talk about Camp Quality who all money raised will be donated to.
Number 4- Raise $100,000 for Camp Quality
As you may know, Number 4 on the list is to Raise $100,000 for Camp Quality and at last glance we're sitting on $21,920.80. This is just awesome and so with a full house on December 1st, I'm hoping to give that total a bit of a nudge!
100% of proceeds will be going towards Camp Quality!
Bang for your Buck!
Well at $80 a ticket, you'd expect a great little evening and that's just what we're organizing now.
TV personality Hamish Macdonald will be MC'ing the event and with songstress Rachelle Medley performing live along side talented DJ's 'Mustache Djz Man', the music promises to be fantastic.
At some stage we'll also be having a flash salsa lesson as taught by my own amazing Salsa coach Salseros Sharee who is adamant that she is going to transform my 2 left feet into something special in time for my salsa competition in 2012 (Number 32- learn Salsa)!
Food & Drink will be provided throughout the night of course and this will allow you to prepare for a great raffle and auction towards the end of the evening with some of the following prizes:
• A Stunt Driving experience for 2 worth $400 thanks to Sydney Stunt Driving School.
• A Bridge Climb for two worth $450
• A Nespresso Coffee machine thanks to Citiz & Co worth $699
• A Limited Edition Uncharted 3 Playstation console & game pack worth $400 thanks to Sony Playstation
• A 3-month Platinum gym membership worth $500 thanks to Fitness First
• All inclusive 6 day Surf trip for 2 people. Visit 2 private surf camps between Sydney and Byron and return to Sydney. Valued at $2000
• Magic Bus jump on/off bus passes for NZ for 2. Valued at $1828.
• Hunter Valley wine tasting day trip for 2 worth $200
In typical fashion, there's still plenty of stuff to be organized but I wouldn't have this any other way. How exciting.
Grab a Ticket!
So finally, after all is said and done, if you feel like supporting a great charitable cause and coming along to the party to help celebrate the release of my book, all you have to do is click on THIS AMAZING LINK to be taken to the purchasing page.
I really hope to see you down there and if you'd like to contribute but can't make it to Sydney on December 1st, there's also an option to donate anonymously to the cause at the SAME AMAZING LINK!
Wow, what a sell! Oh well, it's for a good cause!
100 Things… What's on your list?
November 20th, 2011…
I admit that 'Book!' is not the most creative title ever but today it's certainly the most appropriate!
This morning I received a big brown box in the post. It was from Random House. After ripping it apart in about the same time it takes a hungry dog to eat a warm meat pie, I looked inside and saw it for the first time; it was my book! I am officially excited.
I've been told that the front cover is still top secret (!) but no-one said I couldn't reveal the spine of the book....
Is it too biased of me to say that it's a beautiful looking item with a hilarious photo section? Perhaps. But however it looks, the wheels are now in motion for the upcoming book launch! Let me repeat; I am officially excited.
Number 50- Throw a Party
With the timing of the book launch coinciding with my return from Africa, I asked myself whether there ever a better time to throw a party? My answer was NO! Therefore in an attempt to tick off item number 50, we're having a book launch party on December 1st and you're all invited!
Plans thus far for the book launch are looking great. We have a venue, food & drink, live music and an amazing auction with awesome prizes (including a few holidays!). I've decided to make the event a big fundraiser for Camp Quality and so all money raised (including the tickets fee) will be donated to this amazing charity.
So at this stage I think it would be rude of me not to invite you. After this all this journey is all about community and if you're reading this you're part of the reason that this book has come to fruition in the first place.
Place- Customs House (Circular Quay, Sydney)
Date- December 1st, 6pm-9pm
Tickets- $80 per person
Dress- Smart Casual
I have now created a Facebook Events Page for all updates and so with a bit of luck we'll be able to fill the 150 person venue with plenty of smiles. The events page is here: http://www.facebook.com/events/127157377394683/
Tickets can be bought online here and 100% of proceeds will be going to Camp Quality as part of my mission to tick off item number 4- Raise $100,000 for Camp Quality.:
For now, I'm off to flick through the book and make sure it makes sense but I'd like to thanks Random House and everyone involved in this amazing process for all the support!
100 Things… What's on your list?
November 16th, 2011…
I just had a moment. I'm not sure how to explain this moment other than to write down the sporadic thoughts that are now filling my head. I'm in a plane and have been for the last 3 hours. Leaving from Singapore, it's destination is Australia. I'm heading home.
I sit here in my seat with a sense of sheer exhilaration. My heart is racing and a confused smile has made itself prominent on my face. This is probably a confusing image for anyone watching me as I type seeing as not much is happening on this flight! The TV in front of me tells me that we have 4 hours and 11 minutes until we land in Sydney and that we're traveling at 933 km/h in a south easterly direction as we cruise at 10,669 metres above the Western Australian town of Derby. The funny thing though is that although it's clear that on paper my physical location is precise, it's just dawned on me that I have no idea in reality where my life is taking me.
When I get back to Sydney, my Mum is picking me up (how cute!). She will then drop me at my rented unit in Manly where I'll then get a good nights sleep (hopefully). Tomorrow I'll wake up and begin a new day. Apart from my book launch that is set for December 1st, I have no plan at all. There is no path I'm following, no guide book to reference and no indication that there will ever be. Things like financial security, life strategy and long term goals are all just terms that I once learnt about at school. They have no place in my life at present. I am completely by myself. My toes are wriggling with energy.
This lifestyle is one that is not new to me, I've been on a journey now for over 2 years but for some reason, perhaps due to no sleep since leaving Nairobi yesterday, I feel very alone right now. I often get asked whether I ever second guess myself or whether there are times when I allow doubt to enter my life? Am I doing the right thing and am I happy doing what it is that I have chosen to do with my life? It's moments of introspection, such as right now, where I get a chance to truly find out my answer. Checking-in with myself is crucial.
At the age of thirty, most of my friends are well into their careers, thankfully doing very well in their chosen fields. Houses, babies and possessions are all things that are entering their lives. It's great to see! For me, other than a backpack full of dirty clothes and of course my ukulele that both have travelled with me on my recent trip to Africa, I don't have too much to my name. Should this worry me? Well I'm sure that mainstream thinking would tell me that the answer is a definitive YES! but I am not lying to you now when I say that my confused smile has now turned into a huge grin! In fact I'm now laughing. I'm not sure why, but all I can say is that it feels good.
I've just realized that I feel amazing. This is what I base my decisions on life on now; feelings. These I can trust. I can't influence my emotions, but I do hold complete responsibility for them. I am where I am now because I have chosen to be here. I am not sure where here is exactly (the answer is not Derby), but I can say with complete confidence that it feels like the right place to be.
I am not anti-societal and I am certainly not doing this to prove a point. To some this journey may seem stupid while to others it may seem brave, but to me it only seems right. My heart tells me that I'm doing well. This is what matters. I couldn't be more excited about a book coming out that I have written about my recent journey. This fills my mind everyday at the moment, and when this day comes and goes in just a few weeks, I'll have to just wait and see what happens afterwards. As I said, there is no plan; I just trust my instincts. The only thing that I can definitely feel is that this journey is building momentum. It has from day 1. The only difference between then and now is that it's no longer just about me, it's somehow affecting others.
After December I can't tell you where I'll be or what I'll be doing. All I know is that I'll be working towards ticking an item from my list or helping someone else to tick off an item from theirs. This gives me no better feeling in the world. I can't tell you why exactly; it just does. I wish I had more of an educated explanation for you!
The funny part right now is that although this piece of writing may make no sense at all to those who read it, because of it, my head is clear once again. I have absolute clarity now. Do I have doubt over what I'm doing? No. Am I doing the right thing with my life? Yes. And most importantly; am I happy? I can answer this last question by telling you that I have only just stopped laughing. My only concern is that I might be going crazy!
So as this plane flys across this great country, taking me home, I'm just going to sit here and enjoy my smile. I couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing right now.
I can't wait to see what happens- whatever it is. How exciting!
I just hope my Mum picks me up when we land!
100 Things… What's on your list?
November 14th, 2011…
Goodbye Africa- G'day Australia
On the eve of my flight home to Australia, I find myself with a moment to spare. With this rare moment of relaxation, I see no better time to sit down and try and put down some of my thoughts from the last 7 weeks. It's been quite the adventure.
My thoughts at the moment are in no particular order and I'll warn you that they may not make sense, but I'm fine with this so I can only hope you are too!
On paper my African adventure has allowed me to tick off two items; Number 43- Volunteer at an Orphanage and Number 79- Live with a Tribe. These items were huge for me and something I looked forward to for a long time, but as I've found out time and time again on this trip, these items are simply part of a bigger picture; one I'm still trying to find the answer to.
As I type here right now, I see a prominent link between not only the these two items but also all the bits in-between that have linked the journey to Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.
Number 43- Volunteer at an Orphanage
In Uganda Mandy and the lovely staff at the Welcome Home Orphanage (WHO) allowed us to help within their orphanage for almost a month. An experience that left me in tears on the last day, this place was simply incredible and I stick by my statement of calling it the 'happiest place on earth'. In a place where child trauma and neglect is a part of every child's background, the care and love offered at WHO reinforced to me that it's the power of people that allows us as humans to develop and move forward. Unconditional love, selfless aid and a tight community bring these kids together and this is the thought that stays with me today.
To read the whole adventure at the Welcome Home Orphanage please check out the diary HERE.
Number 79- Live with a Tribe
Whilst living with Samson and his Maasai tribe high in the volcanic landscape of Mount Suswa, we were able to see the traditions of a culture that proves that respect, openness and honesty directly translate to harmony. Respecting not only yourself but also others fosters an environment of growth. Combining this with trust (through honesty) and shared understanding leads to a greater good that can be seen through the smiles and gracefulness on the faces of all whom abide by the Maasai way. The ability to be versatile whilst embracing new ideas, when added to the desire to work hard, builds a solid foundation to any group, no matter if you live on a volcano or in the middle of a city. A week on from this experience I'm still digesting all then events and trying to take on board the things that I learnt.
To read more about the week long experience with the Maasai of Mount Suswa, click HERE.
The Journey of 100 Things
About a year ago I began to feel that this trip of 100 Things had changed course some what from what I originally thought. Initially when taking my first step on this journey I thought it was all about me and my own list. In a way it was my attempt of finding happiness. Quickly the items started to be ticked and as they were I felt a huge sense of accomplishment; for the first time in my life I felt like I was achieving something of true value to me. This though was just the beginning. This sense of achievement gave me an feeling of happiness that previously I'd only had glimpses of and as such I continued on a journey that had no path. It was all unknown.
After a while though, I started to notice that the items from the list was only the tip of the iceberg and in fact these items were linking up to make a framework for a journey that is still ongoing today. Sure I have ticked off 53 items to date and before the year is over there will be a lot more activity of a nature I've never experienced before (including the excitement of having a book launch) but in the excitement is accentuated by the fact that I am still trying to uncover the true meaning of this journey. It's certainly grown way beyond a story about just me and a list. It's about something so much bigger and something that i think affects us all; the ability to think, do, learn and achieve. Something like that anyway, as I said I'm still learning myself.
Rwanda and the Strength of Community
A few days ago after visiting Dan, the man who helped organise my time with the remote Maasai tribe, in Rwanda, I took a taxi en route for Kigalia airport, the nation's capital. The driver was a friendly man with a story that made me stop and think. Talking about the horrific time of the Rwandan genocide that took place in 1994, he told me his story.
The events of the genocide are many and varied but in short it was an event based on a division of Rwandan people into two groups called the Tootsis and the Hutus. The man-made division, based purely on physical appearance, was heightened by an ongoing propaganda campaign that discriminated against the minority Tootsis and with a lack of any international support to dispel the inhumane rift that had been created, the assassination of the then president sparked a mass and unjust nation-wide slaughter of the minority group- the Tootsis. The genocide was in motion.
In what is an event rarely spoken about by Rwandans nowadays, the Hutus took to the streets with machetes and any other weapons available at the time and literally culled an estimated 1,000,000 Tootsis; men, women and children. Friends turned on friends and families killed their own. Lasting 100 days, the effects of the genocide were nationally, as well as internationally, devastating. The effects are still seen to this day in and around Rwanda. The genocide ended after the rebel army eventually fought off the brunt of the Hutus attack.
I'll be honest, my knowledge of the genocide was minimal before setting foot in Rwanda but the process of learning of these atrocities left me with my mouth wide open and my head shaking in disbelief. Without a doubt, in my eyes it was an event that highlighted the weaknesses of the human mind. People killing people without reason.
"We no longer mention the two groups here in Rwanda" continued on my taxi driver, "We are now one nation. One Rwanda"
These words, as I was about to find out, could not be more true and for me sent a message that is just as important and impacting as the events of 1994.
In what was a situation of international tragedy, whereby two third of the nation had been displaced, 300,000 children had become orphaned and hundreds of thousands of women widowed, the Rwandan people decided that the only way to rebuild the nation was through forgiveness and unity. And so in the aftermath of the genocide, Rwanda imprisoned murderers and set-up what resembled a people's court. This process forced the convicted to confess their sins to the families of those they had killed. Once confessed, a process of understanding began whereby the greater good was prioritized. Parties at fault confessed their wrong doings (including western countries who should have stood up earlier and thwarted the mass killings) and served their penalties before then throwing themselves into the process of rebuilding. Forgiveness and healing then ensued.
Seventeen years on there is no mention of Hutus or Tootsis in Rwanda. It was long ago realized that the people had to come together to heal. As any Rwandan will now tell you;
"We are one nation. One of my colleagues who I work with now is a friend of mine. He killed my sister and my Grandma. I have forgiven him now. That is how we are rebuilding."
This genocide affected everybody in some way.
I'm not entirely sure why I chose to write about this conversation in this blog. It is a sad topic which not only conjures up disturbing images but holds many dark memories for Rwandans on a subconscious level. I think though that in the same way that the genocide came about through the weakness of the human mind, the rehabilitation of this nation since 1994 highlights the strength of people and more so community. With a shared understanding of a greater good, humanity in this pocket of the world prevails and the Rwandans have built on this. They have harmony which is as good a result as you could hope for. Aren't we all after a little bit of this?
Rwanda truly is wonderful but it's the people who make this place so special. People can be amazing.
I truly believe in the power of community.
What a trip. Life is incredible. Bring on the next chapter!
100 Things… What's on your list?
November 13th, 2011...
Number 79- Live with a Tribe for 1 Week- Final Part
For all of the cleaning of that morning, Samson’s plan of walking me to the top of Mount Suswa seemed to work against keeping me refreshed and so soon after a cup of tea a casual bit of goat herding, we left on foot for the summit, some 2356 metres above ground level. Passing villages at the foot of the climb, our hydration was kept up thanks to some warm cups of cows milk offered by friendly locals. In the heat of a blistering sunny day, this did nothing for me other than create a fantastically painfully feeling in my guts. Regardless, we continued walking and as we did, I asked Samson a question that I ask most people I meet; what’s on your list?
Without a pause, Samson stopped me and made me look back down the mountain towards his village. Casting his arm across the horizon, he smiled as he answered;
“I would want to empower the Maasai people through education. I want to create schools for young and old.”
This was a great answer.
“I have already started a youth program that enables children to learn about our history and I want to us to acknowledge both our positive traditions as well as our disabling traditions.”
Samson was of course referring to the highly controversial practice of female circumcision within Maasai tribes.
“We respect our traditions very much but in the same way that we have learnt that we can source nutrition from other sources than just the cow, we must learn that female circumcision is not right.”
This point I couldn’t agree with more and only a few days before when in church, Samson lectured the crowd about this very topic.
“The hard thing is though that it is a slow practice. I am also planning to create a system that will attract NGO’s to help us develop here in Mount Suswa.”
Climbing higher up into the volcano, surrounding views of distant mountain ranges and tiny villages became more and more beautiful. There was something special about this place.
Mount Suswa, the believed home of the once worshiped Supreme God of the Maasai, was not only physically challenging but also mentally stimulating. Listening to Samson continue to talk about his dreams of making a positive change made each step easier. Yet again I was finding out that I wasn’t the only one with a list of goals; this time I’d found out that even those living in small huts made of manure half way up a volcano had the ability to dream. Even more special than this though was the fact that Samons’ list exemplified what I’ve always thought to be even more special; his list directly influenced others in a positive way. In this sense Samson purpose was one of making the world a better place.
Three hours after beginning our journey, we finally reached the peak. Samson was not exaggerating; it was truly was stunning. On one side of us huge flat plains stretched long across the Maasai Mara National Park and on into numerous mountain ranges that together shaped the horizon, while on the other loomed the inner crater of the dormant volcano and the ‘Virgin Island’. Millions of years ago boiling hot magma churned in the crater but presently it is filled with dense green vegetation and of course a small island never set foot on by human; a true wonder of nature.
Even in a minor state of exhaustion I was able to smile along with Samson who no longer was just a Maasai guide; instead he was a friend. A journey is always sweeter when you leave having made a friend.
Over my week in Samsons Maasai manyata I had begun to understand a whole new world and culture that previously I had no idea about. Although still knowing only a very limited amount about the Maasai, the respect, openness and industriousness of this culture are only but a few things that left me with a feeling of thankfulness for being able to experience what I did in my week on Mount Suswa. Our walk back down towards Samsons manyata left me feeling happy but also sad. The notion of being picked up by a 4 wheel drive from the hut the next morning seemed to go against everything that I’d be shown by Samson. Driving all the way back to the bottom was cheating. There was only one solution;
“Samson, I was just wondering whether instead of being picked up tomorrow, you and I could just walk down to the bottom of the mountain?”
His smile beamed as he nodded his head. The three hour drive up to his village that only a week ago seemed so long and treacherous was now something that seemed so important to walk.
“If you are ready for a two hour walk, it would be my pleasure.”
And this is just what we did the next morning. Typically, it took four and a half hours. Using a direct Maasai track and a donkey to carry our gear, it was my favourite walk of the whole week.
With the looming shadow of Mount Suswa behind us as we crossed the final mountainous plain, my time with the Maasai could not have finished any more appropriately- that was until I noticed two figures slightly further down the mountain jumping up and down on the spot. In one of their hands was a long object that glistened in the suns reflection. I couldn’t quite make out what it was though. As I pointed towards the figures in curiosity, Samson stopped and smiled.
“Sebastian, this is your lucky day. These are the warriors of the Maasai.”
The glistening object that I couldn’t quite make out was a spear. We had stumbled upon the rarest of all Maasais; the Morans.
In a move that at the time I felt I had no control of, but now look back on whilst scratching my head, I immediately began to run towards the two lonely Morans, desperate to see them face-to-face. With one kilometre separating us, I whistled loudly so that they could hear me approach and sure enough they stopped in curiosity of a white man running towards them. By the time I got within twenty metres I noticed that I was by myself, Samson was still a long was behind me. Second guessing my choice to boldly approach the two Morans who stood waiting with spears in front of me, a nervous smile was all I could offer as I made contact with them. These guys were serious.
With a reddish tinge to their perfectly sculpted bodies, a loin cloth was the only piece of clothing covering them. Their hair, unlike everyone else who I’d met that week, was long and decorative. Jewelery adorned their neck, arms and ankles whilst knives and wooden sticks hung off their hips. A steely glare in their eye, so direct that I felt as though I was about to be taken to, left me in awe. All I could do was stare. They were magnificent.
After a silent stand-off, a smile from one of the two Mornas comforted me. Until that moment I still wasn’t sure that they weren’t about to attack me. I think he saw my ukulele in my backpack. A moment later, after realsing that I could not keep my eyes off his spear, he then handed me his spear. I was safe.
In the middle of absolutely nowhere, I had made contact with the Maasai. I will never forget this week for as long as I live.
The Maasai culture still exists. It is wonderful.
Number 79- Live with a Tribe- TICK!
November 11th, 2011...
Number 79- Live with a Tribe- Part 3 Write-Up
Without any other modes of transport, the Maasai are well renowned for walking great distances. Armed with a 50 cc scooter back in Australia, my walking is generally reserved for shorter distances and so for me I was learning not to be lazy.
So in tune with his land was Samson that no matter where he had to go, he knew exactly how to get there, even in the darkness of a moonless night. Quite logically as he explained to me, the quickest way to one point is in a straight line and so this is the way in which the Maasai walk; directly. Only deviating for natural obstructions such as mountains, ravines and cups of tea, it wasn’t uncommon to cross paths with other Maasai walking on a slightly different line to us. After a brief chat and an introduction, we’d soon bid farewell and continue our route as if nothing had happened. Looking back I found it strange to watch a local dressed in a bright red shuka wander off through a bush and onwards in a direction that seemed unplanned yet so specific. After a while this sight became quite common and soon I began to notice flashes of red off in the distance all around us.
It was like a series of invisible roads only seen by those people holding a stick and wearing shukas. I just followed.
On the Sunday we woke up early for church. After a short one hour walk further up into the mountain, we finally arrived at wide open plateau on which stood a tidily made building with a wooden cross constructed on the top. Local fundraising through livestock markets had paid for the church and with music booming from within it was lucky that it had a well constructed tin roof.
With mountain tops surrounding us on a clear and sunny day, I convinced myself that this was the church that God would chose to go to. Simply beautiful.
Respect is something that runs deep throughout the Maasai culture, both for oneself and for others, and once again as we stepped through the doorway at the back of the church we were met with a bouquet of colour as vivid and fresh as the baby ceremony. Ladies sat on one side along with dozens of children all of whom were dressed in traditional attire. Large looping ear lobes were adorned with locally made earrings while bracelets dangled off the wrists of everyone present. On the other side of the room sat the men who, also dressed immaculately, bobbed their heads up and down to the beat of the music that was being created from the female choir at the front of the room. The scene was amazing and I felt like a fly on the wall of a very special meeting. The only thing that even slightly dampened the mood was the input of the inept piano player who beat down ferociously on the brand new keyboard that sat just off to the right of the stage. I could only assume that the volume button was stuck on the highest level. However even this in some way added to the vibe.
Without any form of jewelry, I was yet again the odd one out but the thoughtful Samson quickly pulled me aside and handed me what appeared to be a beautifully made necklace comprised of brightly coloured beads, tiny mirrors and a string to tie it together at the rear. Fearing that it was indeed a necklace made solely for females, I admit that I was slightly hesitant as I put it on but in light of my current situation it didn’t matter in the slightest; I was embracing all that was being thrown at me.
Amongst the crowd were a few familiar faces from the baby ceremony a few days before hand and so as word silently spread about the room that the white person was again present, a few people stood up and came back to shake my hand before returning to their seats. Before long my arm hair was yet again the focus of a few sets of hands belonging to the youngsters surrounding me and as soon as the first singing intermission took place I was summonsed to the front stage to introduce myself. In the lead up to church Samson, my trusty translator, had suggested that I would most likely be asked to say a few words and so as a cheeky little surprise I’d packed my ukulele on the off chance that music was encouraged. I’m not particularly talented on the ukulele but it certainly puts smiles on people faces! After a few minutes of thanking the locals for making me feel so welcomed I asked if they’d mind a quick song and at their own peril they obliged.
Now I'm not giong to claim that my rendition of "Don't worry, be happy" was the best version ever performed but considering the joy and celebration in the room, it was certainly appropriate. At some point even the pianist chimed in with some aggressively hit chords but thankfully the generator that was running all of the power to the church ran out of fuel hence cutting him off. A lack of a second tank of petrol also meant that Sunday church was officially over.
Samson was a man who loved to learn. He was smart. In an area where there is no running electricity though, he had somehow managed to acquire a transistor radio to fuel his quest for knowledge. This was his most valued item. BBC World News was his favourite channel. He knew a lot for someone who seemed quite young and one day I asked him his age;
"Samson, how are you mate?"
"I am not sure." he replied
Taken back from such an odd answer, I asked him to explain this to me.
"There is no way to tell the specific date here. All we know is seasons. Not everybody has a radio to tell them the date, you know."
He made perfect sense. I felt stupid for asking.
"My Mother told me that I was born in a dry seaosn where many people were hungry. In this season everybody had to eat yellow corn. That is what she remembers and so I asked my brother if he could remember a dry season like this."
Samsons brother went on to tell him that he remembered that in 1979 there were many people without food and so this is what he claims to be his year of birth.
"I guess you don't have a specific date then, Samson?"
"Well maybe we can make today your birthday?"
And just like that Samson had a birth-date to call his own, October 30, 1979. We celebrated with a cup of tea.
Days after arriving in the village I’d still not showered out of want of living exactly like Samson but one morning I noticed him drying off after an early shower. By this stage we were getting to know each other quite well and so after yelling over to ask if he could tell me where he was hiding the shower, he pointed at a bucket of water sitting outside of the third hut that held a few baby goats.
"Go in there with the water and just wash yourself as you need"
The third of the huts was basically a storage hut made from sticks. With rogue chickens and various bits and pieces scattered within, it only stood at about 5 feet tall and so after entering and finding an area to place my bucket down, my crouched stance made this shower one of the more awkward I’d ever had. This was confirmed when half way through my wash my head an object hanging from the roof which upon looking up turned out to be a goats carcass being left to dry. Next to this hung its head. I think I left the hut dirtier than when I entered.
November 8th, 2011...
Number 79- Live with a Tribe- Part 2 Write-Up
My initial reaction of laughter was quickly halted as I realized that Samson was not joking.
“We have to get all the livestock in their pen by 7pm every night or else they will be hunted”
“By what?” I asked, almost scared to find out more.
“Hyena’s, cheetahs and sometimes crafty leopards”
With darkness now upon us as we ate quietly in his Mother’s hut, I looked around anxiously as if there was a chance that we were currently being circled by a group of dangerous carnivores. I had never until this point considered anything other than livestock would lurk in up in the mountains, but then again I’ve been known to overlook the obvious before! There was a lot I needed to learn about this place.
Crucial to this learning process was finding my way back to my hut after dinner, and although I’d rather not admit this, I’ll share with you that I have never run fifty metres so fast in my life. So would you if you heard the howling of hyenas from a stone-throw away (seriously)!
Mount Suswa is a place you’re likely to hear more about in time to come. With seventy-nine unexplored caves, hundreds if not thousands of volcanic jet steams and a dormant volcano which once scaled leaves you with a breath taking view of the ‘Virgin Island’, a piece of land within the crater never before touched by human kind, it’s no wonder that this place is touted to become Africa’s first heritage listed Geo Park.
Untouched by modern fittings of any sort, the potential of becoming heritage listed lends itself to a future Mount Suswa embracing tourism, luxury accommodation and tours. The Maasai realise that tourist dollars are crucial to development; the key of course though is balance. With tourist dollars meaning improved education and infrastructure in Mount Suswa, things are looking good for the future, but in honesty, I feel lucky to have caught it before the influence of Western society.
By chance, my arrival to Samson’s village coincided with the birth of the village pastor’s first child. As such, a large ceremony had been organized at the new parent’s manyata and before I knew it Samson had began walking in it’s direction. With fears of leopards still hungry from the previous night’s hunting, I quickly followed. According to Samson the ceremony was not far.
One hour later, after walking in a straight line through thick bushland and up steep inclines, we had reached our destination; just to the front of a small manyata located again in the middle of nowhere. Amongst the greens and browns of its surrounds, a huge gathering of Maasai dressed in colourful shukas, bright jewellery and intricate headwear encircled a proud couple holding a baby. Red’s, yellows, blues and purples exploded in celebration through song, dance and gifts. One colour though that was unaccounted for until I arrived of course was white and so the attention cast my way as I tried somewhat disastrously to blend into the circle was more than a little nerve racking.
“Most of these people have never seen a white person before” grinned Samson as my eyes darted around nervously. “You’re the first to live with us!”
Although incredible to learn, this I believed as small children present stared at me as if seeing a ghost for the first time. At one point a sudden pinch on my arm made me jump in shock and when I looked down I saw a young boy gripping onto a clump of blonde arm hair that he’d managed to rip from it’s owner’s forearm. A freak was in town.
Located miles from any form of development and further again from perceived safety, this scene had the potential to become quite worrying but in the same way that the group had come together to celebrate a special occasion, I too was greeted with smiles all round. Not only this but those whose English was good enough began to approach me and welcome me to their village. There was a real buzz that a white person had chosen to experience the culture. There were of course also a few people still scared to look at someone with blue eyes but I figured we’d be able to bridge that gap in the week to come.
After a few hours of speeches celebrating the village pastor’s first son in native Maasai tongue, it at some stage dawned on me that I was sat high up on the side of a volcano rejoicing the birth of a tribal boy- life was already becoming very interesting. So embraced was the white man that I was soon invited into the hut of the new parents to drink some tea and eat some food in honour of the child. This I obliged to quite happily.
With no windows and only one small door, I was beginning to learn that the huts in these parts were pitch-black 24-7. After sitting down therefore in a room that I thought was empty, I got the fright of my life when I was greeted in the darkness by some close relatives of the Pastor’s who immediately handed me a plate of food and a cup of tea.
“Tea is a tradition within Maasai culture and you must always have enough tea leaves, sugar and cow’s milk to be able to offer any passer by a refreshment”
It’s customs like this that I think should be embraced around the world. As it happened, the tea was delicious, as was the food and after chatting to a few people who I still couldn’t see for the darkness, I asked what type of meet we were enjoying.
“This is the sacrificial lamb” came a reply from someone in the room
“Yes, it was killed this morning!” a proud voice followed.
In light of this special occasion, a sacrifice was allowed. With my bowl licked clean, I decided not to think about this too much.
November 6th, 2011...
Number 79- Live with a Tribe- TICK!
Let me start by apologising for a week without writing. I feel terrible but I have a good excuse; I was living on top of a volcano with a tribe of Maasai Warriors! Honestly!
This African experience has been nothing short of mind-blowing and after a 32 hour bus trip from Kenya to Rwanda (where I'm currently typing from) I've only just got the energy now to share the story of my tribal experience.
Over the next few days I'll be compiling a few stories of my time with the Maasai and so for now, with huge bags under my eyes and finally some internet connection, I can share with you Part 1.
Ever since deciding that I wanted to live with a tribe I remember harboring thoughts of donning facepaint and chasing bush-pigs all whilst wearing a grass skirt. As it eventuated though, I couldn' have been more wrong. That though is the beauty of this journey; everything is a surprise.
Part 1- Meeting Samson
How did I end up living on top of a volcano somewhere in Kenya with a clan of Maasai Warriors for 1 week? Well a Canadian man by the name of Dan contacted me and told me he knew someone who knew someone who could help. Somehow he had a connection to a clan of Maasai warriors who lived in a crater at the top of the volcanic Mount Suswa in Kenya. This as I found out was not a lie, and before I knew it I was waiting at the base of this picturesque mountain, ready to be picked up by a Maasai tribesman who was to escort me to his village high up in the volcanic crater. This was just the beginning.
The Maasai Warriors are a tribe of people who although quite well known globally are a clan of whom little is really understood. Red capes (shukas), spears and springy legs are about the most commonly conjured images. This too was the extent of my perceived knowledge and so for me this journey was about learning more about their culture.
“Sebastian, how far can you walk in a day?”
Samson’s first question to me as he picked me up took me by surprise. In Australia the first question after meeting someone for the first time usually pertains to occupation. His question though, as I was to find out was extremely important. I was intrigued.
Twenty years ago a small group of missionaries made contact with what was then a very primitive tribe. Introducing Christianity and a set of life principles that the Maasai slowly took on board, a society of respect, openness and fairness began to develop.
Three hours into our car ride up towards the inner crater of Mount Suswa, I’d let slip all of the questions that my child-like curiosity was unable to contain. Had Samson ever fought a lion; had he ever drank cow’s blood and was it hot living on the rim of a volcano. His answers all correlated; yes, yes and yes. He laughed as he answered, telling me though that it was all in context. There was much I needed to learn.
After a pointing out a few of the local landmarks on the mountain, including the place of his father's death many years ago, our car soon made a B-line for a cluster of three huts located in the middle of a huge earth-coloured plain. Occasional trees dotted the plain, as did a mixed herd of livestock who grazed in the nearby scrub as we approached. We were in the middle of nowhere.
We had arrived.
Samson was a specimen of a man; tall, dark and slender. His skin glistened under the sun as he stood proudly in front of his home. Wrapped in his red shuka, he leant to one side on his stick that his left hand extended into the ground. A big smile adorned his face. Probably because one item that I had chosen to bring along was my ukulele.
Living with a tribe meant exactly that; living with a tribe, and so after getting our belongings from the back of the four wheel drive, we waved goodbye to the driver and watched as he disappeared in the direction that we’d just come from. Turning around I focused on my living quarters for the first time; a hut made of manure, rock and sticks! This was awesome!
A Manyata is essentially a small cluster huts that form the living arrangement of a family and it’s animals. Typically circular in shape, siblings, parents and goats all live in harmony here. The livestock are the lifeblood for Maasai people and although myth may have it that cows are regularly slaughtered so that their blood, flesh and milk may be consumed, this is in fact a ritual far less practiced nowadays. Instead animal slaughtering in general only happens for special occasions such as the circumcision of a young boy or perhaps the birth of a new child in a village.
Similarly, thoughts of warriors roaming the plains and killing lions as a test of manhood are mostly reflections of the past. Although there are still the very rare Morans, the nomadic warriors of the Maasai who live off the land and fight lions as they roam, times have changed. The Maasai are a developing tribe embracing a sensible and more practical way of living.
“If you see a Moran here, you’d be very lucky. They are the warriors of the tribe and still very dangerous. They are highly respected.”
Once inside Samson’s hut, the reality that this man actually lived here took me a moment to digest. Two metres by three metres in dimension, inside lay a small bed constructed by sticks from nearby trees and a chair of similar ilk.
“You will have my house for your time here while I sleep at my Mother’s place.”
Wrongfully labeled as aggressive, the Maasai are in fact incredibly friendly and open. Their society is based on respect and honesty. It was these assets in fact that led to their healthy stance on agricultural harmony and land conservation policies. Taking note from a near-by tribe who harvested their land for crops and practiced trade within their own community, the Maasai now have adopted a similar outlook where by no longer are their nutritional needs entirely sourced from a cow! Maze, rice, vegetables and herbs are all utilized and complimented by meat produced through responsible and measured means.
“This goat will die today” stated Samson as he showed around his modest Manyata. The goat in question was a young one that was laying on the ground next to his Mother’s hut. Sprawled out in an awkward position, the goats fate was a foregone conclusion, Samson knew exactly what was wrong without having to bend down.
“He has a disease that affects the spinal column causing him to lose his balance and fall over. The disease is too far embedded now to cure.”
That evening goat meat was served with dinner. This is the way the Maasai live, practically.
Part 2 coming tomorrow... or as soon as I have internet access!
100 Things… What's on your list?
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