June 2019 Theme: Earth, Wind and Fire!

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This month, I want to take you in a direction I haven’t taken yet. But before I tell you what it is about, take a take a deep breath, inhale and fill your lungs with this wonderful air of the early morning , mid-day or late night depending where you are. Step outside and admire the magnificent view around you. Stay silent for a moment and taking the sounds of nature, the birds, the insects, the wind.

Now, let’s wake up, leave dreamland and come back to reality. Let’s be frank, how fresh was the breath of “fresh” air in your corner of the world? How unobstructed was the view? Did you see mountains and gorgeous rainforests, or the back of your neighbours three story-house? And the sounds: did you hear the hummingbirds and the wind fluttering in the leaves or was is only pure urban cacophony?

Yes, I tricked you, it wasn’t a mediation exercise to help you start your day better. But it was for a good reason, you will forgive me when I tell you why. Earth Wind and Fire! You probably thought that I wanted to talk about the music band that we shook our bodies to back in the day (young people, if you don’t know them, google them). They were amazing.

But no, I want us to talk and think about something far more serious: the environment! What we call “ibidukikije” in my native Kinyarwanda. A beautiful word that can be translated as the “things that surrounds us”.

Many will tell you that those “white men” things, that we should not be bothered with such preoccupations. After all, they will say, doesn’t Africa have one of the lushest natures in the world? And our lakes and rivers, and our wildlife (home of the Big Five) don’t they count for something? Let’s develop first, they will add, will concern ourselves with all those western inconvenient truths when we get there.

The reality is that we are already “there”. Our world is changing, it had in fact already changed, whether we want it or not, and it is gradually impacting our surroundings for the worst.

That breath of air I asked you to take, it used to be wonderfully clean wherever you stood, in the world and on the continent. And it still is in many places, but that not in our cities. You sometimes must go far in the countryside to find some of that air you enjoyed as a child.

And the noise pollution? Who will lie to me that you’re not annoyed by the car horns, and your neighbours mill that seems to be on 24 hours a day, and the stores in town playing loud music – on cheap sound systems - to attract your business?

And the plastic bags killing our mangroves, obstructing the beaches and suffocating our livestock?

And the view. Of course, progress is good, and our landscapes and cities are changing in line with the times we live in, but green cities are not undoable. As we cut trees to replace them with beautiful paved roads and high-rises, why don’t we try replanting the same number of trees we uprooted? Who said cities can’t have green spaces in their midst?

As we are moving forward in the modern age, we lose a little of our surrounding without thinking about it. And I am not talking about the big things; sometimes it’s the little things like the traditional plants we used to medicate ourselves. Those plants from the forests, where did they go? Who still thinks of using them when sick? And remembers to pass on that knowledge to the next generation?

A few years back, I did some work in Congo Brazzaville and I love our trips to the Northern Part of the country, in the region called Sangha. My God, what amazing forests. What majesty!! Trees 20 or 30 meters high! I could not believe my eyes. And walking between the trees, to reach villages on the other side, I felt like an explorer discovering a whole new world (without the subsequent colonization of course ad destruction of first nations of course – but that’s not the subject of the day, will have to come back to that some other time!).

Though I was taken by the beautiful vista, I couldn’t but think that such places are disappearing from our continent fast and furiously as the new world of futuristic cities, polluting factories and hungry bulldozers are making their way to unprotected villages and fragile ecosystems.

What? Is Um’Khonde asking us to put on yellow jackets (or green jackets to stay in the theme) and turn into activists? Does this otherwise peace lover want us to wear boots and start marching against progress? No, none of that.

A revolution is coming your way, but it is a green one. What I want to do is invite you, or rather ivite us to think about how we can protect a little bit of our environment, with whatever means we have. It can be as simple as stopping to use plastic bags (the Rwandese in me) – even if your country hasn’t banned them yet, recycling your household trash (the Canadian in me), planting a tree or two or three in your yard and inviting your neighbours, and why not, using pharmacopeia whenever you can. No, Toto, no need to go to the witch doctor for that, traditional medicine are sold in stores now.

As for the noise pollution, I have no miracle advice. If you’re the one polluting your neighbours ears, please change your ways. If you’re the victim of it, there isn’t much you can do but accept it. If you can’t, you might consider moving to the countywide. Sorry, my solutions package doesn’t include miracles, just earthly solutions.

The portraits I have for you this month of June will showcase what different people are doing to protect “ibidukikije” or to exploit them in a way that gives us – the moder age men and women – what we want while unaltering what the world depends on for survival (the lungs of the Earth).

Ready?

Oh yes, we need a theme poem for the month. Why don’t we do a theme song instead? Nostalgy oblige, it will be September by the famed group ‘Earth Wind and Fire’!

“Do you remember the 21st night of September?

Love was changing the minds of pretenders

While chasing the clouds away

Our hearts were ringing

In the key that our souls were singing

As we danced in the night

Remember how the stars stole the night away.”

Oh my God did we once dress like that ?

Turi kumwe.

Contributor

UMURAGE