Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

When and how to say "sorry"

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011. Publication date: 2 July 2006.

I posted it in this blog in 2013, but I felt it warranted being dug up from this blog's archives for readers who have not read it.
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There are proportionally far fewer people who will commit a mistake and say, “I am sorry”, or “I made a complete fool of myself.” You are likely to hear a far greater number of people justifying their mistakes.

To err is human, but to make excuses is even more so. Humans make errors, and are experts at making excuses.

We learn from childhood that we are likely to face serious consequences when we admit mistakes. The result is that we grow into adults who instinctively make excuses for our mistakes so that blame is shifted to some other person or factor.

Considering some of the problems we may encounter by admitting mistakes, it is understandable that we do not readily accept blame. If you break the law, the consequences of admitting guilt in a court of law are known: a fine or a jail term - or a one-way ticket to heaven or hell for the serious offences. It seems that the more serious consequences of admitting fault are permanently registered in our memories from childhood and so, in adulthood, we spend a great deal of time disassociating ourselves with our mistakes.

The excuses are sometimes ingenious. The whole World except Argentina believes that footballer Diego Maradona scored with his hand, while playing for Argentina in a FIFA World Cup match against England on 22 June 1986 at Mexico City’s Aztec Stadium. His excuse: “It was the hand of God.”

The football matches we see on television show some of the players praying each time they score, or when they enter the pitch. It creates the impression that many of the players are extremely religious individuals, but Maradona’s excuse had the effect of elevating excuses to an unprecedented level. There are few who would attribute Maradona's goal to God. The more conventional justification would have been to blame it on the devil.

To be fair to Maradona, footballers have no mechanism for admitting fault on or off the pitch. Maybe FIFA, the World’s football federation, might want to add confessions to its “fair play” campaign.

By spending time in excusing ourselves we end up lengthening an extremely short story with only three words, “I am sorry” (only one word in Kiswahili, samahani) to one containing hundreds of words.

Sometimes apologies are not enough and people demand to know the reasons for committing a mistake. There are many reasons for making mistakes, which are often grouped under the heading, “reasons beyond my control”. If you are tempted to utilise this overused phrase, you might consider leaving that judgement for others to make. A reason beyond control is not a good excuse, a Tsunami is.

The simple advice is, unless you are not facing a judge, when you make a mistake just say you are sorry, don’t make excuses. However, there should be a limit to the number of times one can apologise. If you begin to sound like an old phonograph record, stuck on the same three words all the time, then you do not become believable anymore, but may only reveal that you are addicted to those words.

When you find you just have to make an excuse, try and make them believable. I failed that test years ago during a visit to Washington D.C. I phoned for a taxi and waited for an extremely long period outside the house I was staying in. When I called the company again to find out the reason for the delay, the dispatcher pointed out to me that I had provided her an erroneous house number, which did not exist on that street. The taxi driver had been driving around for a long time looking for house number 2065, when he should have been looking for house number 2056.

When after my second call the taxi driver was given the correct house number he arrived at the house furious. I was quick to apologize, but made the error of justifying my excuse. Instead of providing a three-word apology, I transformed the apology into an excuse of about ten words. I told him I was actually a visitor to Washington D.C., suggesting that was the reason why I made the error.

He told me he didn’t care where I came from because “…twenty fifty-six was twenty fifty-six, even in Chinese!” Even in Kiswahili script, 2056 was and remains 2056, and I should have not had a problem translating that into English.

To be fair to myself, I only had a few seconds in which to come up with a believable excuse.

Under normal circumstances I would have immediately laughed at myself for making such an amateurish excuse, but I had no wish to further provoke the taxi driver.
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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The benefits of rising up early

Not quite a long time ago, I would have failed to list the benefits of rising up early. Now, having tried it for a while, I find there are distinctive benefits to beginning the day when almost everyone else is asleep.

My timeless Utopia was a world where the day extends to 30 hours, and the year to 16 months, enough to accomplish all my tasks. If a day on Earth was similar to a day on Pluto, my problems would be solved.

The next best option for accomplishing my tasks was to vigorously use time management to fit in with my daily duties. That didn't work well; I still couldn't manage to actively reduce my to-do list. It kept growing.

Then I decided to wake up earlier than I was accustomed to gain a few extra hours of work every day. It worked. I now wake up at 4:45 AM, but aim to wake up 15 minutes earlier within the next few weeks.

And, already, there are huge changes to how much I manage to clear in a day. Here are more benefits to waking up early.

Faster Internet
The busier the time of day, the slower the Internet becomes. Waking up early provides me with relatively faster connection speeds, something that is quite beneficial for clearing the daily inflow of emails.

Using the Internet when most people are asleep provides a slightly higher connection speed and the ability to clear more work.

Uninterrupted workflow
An early start provides the least interruption to the workflow from others with whom I interact during the day.

Between waking up and taking the shower, I have the privilege of working without interruption during the most productive time of the day.

More energized
I have discovered that waking up early keeps me highly energized throughout the day, both physically and mentally. In my previous routine the more time I spent in bed the more tired I was during the day.

A bonus to waking up early is viewing a captivating sunrise..

Less Stressful
Because there is ample time between waking up and leaving for office, there is also ample time to plan the day ahead instead of rushing from one task to the next. It provides a less stressful work day.

More time to exercise
I wont lie and say I have begun to exercise regularly. When I begin to exercise, I can use that extra time slot in the morning for a healthy dose of exercise.

These are a few of the benefits of rising up early. Not long ago, I worked late and rose late. The transformation and the fact that I am enjoying the change could be a sign that I am growing old.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Things that black people don't do

Things that black people don't do is not a subject that I write with the intention of perpetuating a racial stereotype. It is a subject that arises out of some observations I have made over time.

It is prompted by a remark I heard from my friend and Idi Amin's son, Jaffar Amin.

When I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with him for the second time in 2011, he told me that while leaving Uganda to join me for the climb in Moshi, his relatives wondered why he liked so much to take part in activities that white people like to do.

To me that was a telling categorisation of one activity that black people don't expect other black people to be seen doing. Black people don't torture themselves by trudging up a mountain for seven days, spending uncomfortable nights in a tent, battling sub-freezing temperatures, mountain sickness, and surviving the entire trek without taking a shower. And these are just a few of the unpleasant aspects of climbing a mountain. And paying handsomely for the entire experience!

I have direct experience of not being expected to be on Mount Kilimanjaro. I have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro many times since 2008, but before I became a familiar face to the guides and porters on the mountain's routes, I was invariably mistaken to be a porter, or a guide. Others recognized me as a hiker, but assumed I was a foreigner, not a Tanzanian.

Black people normally don't jump off cliffs, or airplanes and then parachute down to earth just for the fun of it. In Africa those jumping off aircraft would certainly be military personnel, but not your average individual seeking the thrill and danger of skydiving.
Skydivers seeking the thrill of jumping off a plane.
Black people don't willingly decide to ride a bicycle across the African continent. So, when Ross Methven passed through Butiama and I decided to ride along with him for several days to Dodoma on his bicycle ride from Edinburgh to Cape Town, less than an hour after we set off and stopped to buy bottled water at a shop people assumed we were both foreigners.

As I approached the shop to pay for the water one onlooker said to another in Swahili: "this must be the bodyguard." When I surprised them by speaking in the local dialect they still would not believe I was Tanzanian and told me I had learnt to speak the language.

I was the foreign bodyguard; that was the only explanation that made sense to what they observed. Further along our trip to Dodoma those who accepted that I was a Tanzanian asked: "Why don't you take the bus?" Why would a black man ride a bicycle for 877 kilometres instead of traveling on a bus?

Saturday, 8 July 2017

"Only a fool would take 1.2 billion shillings to a village"

Only a fool would take 1.2 billion shillings to a village. These are words quoted from an interview with Kenya's Deputy President, William Ruto.

For some of us who have chosen to move back to the village, they are words that are, at the very least, disappointing, and at worst, offensive.
File:William Ruto at WTO Public Forum 2014.jpg
Deputy President of Kenya, William Ruto (Photo: World Trade Organization)
I normally avoid commenting on what politicians of other countries say, but given the road map laid out towards an East African political federation, it is fair for a citizen of East Africa to comment on East Africa's leaders. William Ruto could very well become a future president of the East African federation but, apparently, his opinion of villages is rather low.

How would a leader who thinks it is unwise to invest his own money in a village decide it is important for government to invest in rural communities?

Kenya's rural residents account for 74 percent of the country's population. The proportion for other East African Community member countries is 68 for Tanzania, 88 for Burundi, 70 for Rwanda, 81 for South Sudan, and 84 for Uganda. That's a significant proportion of East Africans.

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Here's the link to the quoted article by Willim Ruto:
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Given the context of his response, it is evident he is speaking of a choice between spending that much money building a personal home in his village, or spending the same amount in 100-bed hotel in a city, and concluding from an investor's viewpoint that a village cannot provide the best returns.

A leader speaks for every citizen. He may have pleased his fellow investors by his comments, but he most certainly could not have pleased the majority of rural people living in rural areas who may have fooled themselves into believing that their interests coincide with their leader's interests.

Monday, 20 March 2017

This is my greatest fear of traveling

This is my greatest fear of traveling. To sit next to someone who talks endlessly.

I am not anti-social; I just lack the ability to constantly come up with topics of conversation.

And when I have exhausted what I have to say, which rarely takes long, I find the quite moments, referred to in the Swahili language by the expression: shetani kapita (the devil has just passed by), rather awkward and unsettling, especially when I am also expected to contribute to the conversation.

It is easier when I am sitting next to someone I know, but a huge challenge when sitting next to a stranger.
You can stay away from a conversation on a ship, but not in the confined space of an aircraft.
When I travel it's the only time that I find convenient to have a period of quiet and reflection away from the office, from the daily routine which constantly keeps me in touch with people I work with, with constant contact with clients who ask questions and demand answers to the work I do.

It would be misleading to say that I do not enjoy my work and the interaction it provides me with other people. But I also cherish the opportunity to get away from all that once in a while. And I get that when I travel.

What is your greatest fear of travel? Apart from flying in planes?