Everybody says they need to rest but nobody is getting a tent

Author, Benjamin Rukwengye. PHOTO/FILE. 

What you need to know:

  • Purpose to buy a tent this year, get on a bus to a random town – alone or with friends – and rest. You will be grateful for it.
     

The first time I slept in a tent was in 2016 when I went to Karamoja to hike Mount Kadam. It was with the Mountain Slayers. We pitched camp in a kraal, and thanks to a little inebriation, I have only vague memories of the discomfort – if any – of the sleeping bag. I have since fallen in love with camping, so much that we now carry a tent and mattress in the boot, for every out-of-town trip we take.  

On the morning of writing this week’s column, I texted the editor to be sure she was expecting a submission. Not because I wasn’t looking forward to writing, but because end of year writing gives me a lot more anxiety than I ordinarily have to deal with.

There is pressure to cram a year-ful of emotions, lessons and experiences into a short piece, while also making time to forecast. It doesn’t help that the holiday season means that there is so much happening so fast it is hard to keep track.

Consider the fact that over the last 10 days, we took a round trip that started in Kampala, through Bushenyi, down into Kanungu, turned to Kasese and then back to Kampala, through Fort Portal. How do you do justice to stories about the power and importance of community and family convening at a lumbe (funeral rites) in Kanoni to commemorate the passing of a matriarch? Or of the thriving night life – in the middle of a curfew – in Masaka? Or the discovery of hidden recreational and getaway gems in Mbarara, Rwampara, and Mitooma? 

There is not enough space to talk about the scenic rolling hills of Kanungu – and its terrible roads; or the fact that it’s possible to cover all of these distances because government continues to invest in building a great upcountry road network – while inexplicably letting Kampala city roads fall into disrepair. Outside of the mind-numbing chaos of its cities, Uganda is a beautiful country whose beauty has been grossly underutilised.

It is hard to appreciate if one spends their entire waking days in the city, negotiating the toxicity of social media, inept and befuddling government officials and politicians, a collapsed public service system and only surviving from one small payment to the next. It is hard to appreciate if the first and last things on your mind, every day, are food, transport, rent and the fact that should you need expensive medicare, you will likely opt for the afterlife.

Which makes the idea of finding time to rest even more important – especially if you consider that being Ugandan often comes with having a long and difficult year. So, how do you rest? What do you do when you take that much needed break? How do you unplug from everything to which you are yoked all-year, in order to recharge?

It is an important question to which most of us don’t have a proper answer because we never really account for rest. For the millions of unsalaried and poorly paid young people dealing with mental pressures from the exertions of life, finding rest on a budget is the go-to solution.

Going on this Christmas drive renewed the realization that travel can be therapeutic and offer an escape from the bedlam of Kampala. Along our trip, we discovered that many establishments provide for camping as an alternative accommodation offer, at very discounted rates. In fact, we did camp in Mbarara, even when we had the option of luxury accommodation available to us.

Camping is obviously not everyone’s cup of tea but you get the hang of it after the first time – I did and enjoyed it. Also, it is a great way to see the country without worrying about selling your kidney to create memories and experiences.  Kampala is a pressure cooker and you can tell from the simmering, every time a politician or moneyed person goes on the loose.

Our young people need as many outlets as they can get from all the anger, frustration and despair from the things that aren’t working in this country.  We also need them out there, seeing their country, learning about their and others’ cultures and building bonds that can’t be cultivated over the phone. Purpose to buy a tent this year, get on a bus to a random town – alone or with friends – and rest. You will be grateful for it.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. @Rukwengye

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