I recently found out about Michael Moore’s “virtual walks” when a friend shared a link to his website. Apparently, the acclaimed documentary filmmaker found out that there are more people in the US now on anti-depressants than those going to movies. So he challenged them to take walks.
I had just posted on social media that I was looking for running buddies with whom to run 100 kilometre per month. Yeah! When replies suggested that the distance was ridiculously impracticable, I said, “Okay, maybe let’s also add walking, for those that want to.”
There was no motive or cause, beyond the fact that the exercise makes you feel good about yourself. That, and the growing discussion about mental health and depression among young people. The fact that therapy is expensive.
The need for time out. To not feel alone.
Between the walking and running, from January to now, I have clocked up 92 kilometres. Still off the 100 kilometers target I had set (for myself and others). I have also tried to encourage others to walk and I am happy to say together with my team of about six, we walk to our respective homes on Thursdays.
It has also been quite humbling to know how many others are walking. How many others had always wanted to but failed, for want of a walk buddy. It hasn’t mattered the time or distance covered. The only objective has been to walk.
For 30 minutes. An hour. One kilometre. Five kilometre. From office back home. Or to the Kafunda. Or to whatever next meeting.
Once in a while, you will get asked, “why are you walking?” Impudent people might have the temerity to remark how your tummy doesn’t seem to be reducing, in spite of this walking thing you keep doing.
On all but one Thursday, since January, I have taken a boda boda to work and walked back home. I have wondered if maybe this might be a good “Why?” to the maddening traffic on our roads. How much time would we save and transfer to productive use, if more of us left our old jalopies at home and walked.
I have discovered from anecdotes shared by others, that walking in Kampala is not for the faint-hearted. For a city with more walkers than motorists, it is inexplicable why pedestrians are at the bottom of the roads design chain.
The women have to deal with ogling and catcalling from uncouth lowlifes while also risking the loss of their handbags to muggers. And just because they are women, there are times beyond which outdoors exercise is literally a matter of life and death.
If they survive that, there is the risk of being run over by imps riding their boda bodas or matatus on pavements. You could also be sent to the creator by a dum-dum with a lead car or in a government vehicle driving on the wrong side of the road. Vagabonds in Power!
Survive that and you might fall in an open manhole or sprain your ankle trying to avoid a pothole. The dust. Oh the dust! It’s kind of funny, because that’s not what you should even worry about, if your bank balance can’t cover things like asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia.
Kampala’s air quality is said to be six times more polluted than global standards. It is baffling how our air is worse than industrialised cities like Beijing or Zurich. And yet, cleaner, safer cities make for healthier, happier citizens. Which is why we must take walks, even for no reason.
The Kampala Capital City Authority is already piloting and non-motorised transport corridor, which must be lauded. The only way to get them to do more, is if more of us are walking and sharing our experiences. It is harder to champion well-being when you spend four hours of your day sitting in an old car, like furniture.
According to the WHO, more than 33 per cent of countries allocate less than 1 per cent of their health budgets to mental health. There is only one psychiatrist per 100,000 people in over half of the countries in the world, and 40 per cent of countries have less than one hospital bed reserved for mental disorders per 10,000 people. The poorest have the highest risk and lowest access to treatment.
I don’t need to explain Uganda’s standing in these things. Whatever your reason, I hope you will take a walk this week. Your mind and soul will be grateful for it.
Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. email@example.com