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The walker’s dilemma

The author (L) with Jackie Asiimwe

The author (L) with Jackie Asiimwe

Ah, the eternal question - why do we walk? Is it merely a means to an end, a way to maintain our physical health and wellbeing? Or is there something deeper, a profound therapeutic purpose that transcends the physical realm?

As I traversed the winding paths of the slums last week, I was forced to confront these very questions. But as I ventured beyond the Village mall, Bugolobi, a comfortable suburban enclave, the scenery began to shift. The tree-lined streets and well-manicured lawns gave way to a sprawling slum, a labyrinth of makeshift dwellings and squalid conditions that hit me like a punch to the gut.

Jackie Asiimwe and I walked through the potholed and dusty Mulwana road to the detour of Kisugu swamp. The experience was nothing short of a revelation; a stark juxtaposition that laid bare the inequalities that permeate our society.

Asimwe created the Walk. Talk. Connect; a social digital host that captures and reproduces the reflections and dilemmas of the walkers!

I remember the makeshift bridges, rickety and treacherous, that the Kisugu-Namuwongo residents had constructed to navigate the swampy terrain. The small fee required to cross the Nakivubo channel bridge – a testament to the relentless struggle for survival. And yet, amidst this backdrop of scarcity, I was struck by the limitless joy and enthusiasm emanating from the young children. They waved and smiled, their eyes alight with a pure, untainted spirit that left me in awe.

Why, then, do these children possess such boundless love, while the adults around them seem to have hardened their hearts? Who, I wondered, gives these children the affection and care they so desperately deserve?

For me, walking has always been a means of maintaining my physical health, a way to find respite from the stresses of daily life. Yet, for the slum dwellers, it is a necessity - a way to simply secure the bare essentials for survival.

This stark contrast left me deeply unsettled. It forced me to reflect on the life depicted in the poem “The Dog in Kivulu” by Ralph Bitamazire, with its haunting images of a thin, bony dog mirroring the plight of its impoverished master.

One of the slums in Kampala
One of the slums in Kampala

In that moment, I saw the reflection of my own privileged existence in the faces of those children, and I could not help but feel a profound sense of shame and guilt.

The therapeutic effect of this experience was undeniable. It shook me to the core, shattering the illusion of my own vain, glorious life. I emerged from the slums with a newfound understanding of the true meaning of walking - not just as a means of physical fitness, but as a vehicle for empathy, for connecting with the struggles and triumphs of those whose lives are so vastly different from our own.

This, then, is the walker’s dilemma - to confront the harsh realities of the world, to bear witness to the inequities that plague our societies, and to find the strength and compassion to work towards a more just and equitable future.

It is a journey of the soul, as much as it is a physical one, and it is a journey I am now determined to undertake with a renewed sense of purpose and urgency.

In times like these, when the very fabric of our assumptions about the world is rent asunder, it can be tempting to retreat into the familiar comforts of our privileged lives. To close our eyes to the suffering we have glimpsed, to return to the blissful ignorance of our daily routines.

But I implore you, do not succumb to that temptation. Our stroll in the swamp has given us a profound gift - the gift of perspective, of empathy, and of a deeper understanding of the human condition.

This is the true therapeutic power of walking, when it becomes a catalyst for self-reflection, growth, and a broadening of one’s worldview.

piuskatunzi@gmail.com

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