By Dr. Ian Clarke
Thus spoke Robert Louis Stevenson in a proverb that has come to mean different things for different people. As I sit in yet another Kampala traffic jam in which we have hardly moved for an hour, I ponder these words and wonder if Robert Louis Stevenson had ever experienced anything like this when he was travelling hopefully.
I am also travelling hopefully, hoping desperately to get out of this traffic jam before I go mad. But I think this is not what he had in mind, and if I was travelling hopefully in the way he meant it I would be able to enjoy this journey, enjoy the moment, without being so bothered and frustrated by other stupid drivers. Instead I would be serene and content like a Hindu monk who has gained enlightenment. Sadly I still have a long way to go in that particular journey.
For many people the art of travelling hopefully is to live in a state of hope and anticipation of how things are going to be in the future, not to live in the actual bleak reality of the present, because real life is too depressing, too dull or too hopeless.
Some people spend the present living in the hope of eternal life, living for that time when we will reach eternal happiness. Such hope is enshrined in many religions and for most people it is simply a belief, but there are those who take their belief to the extreme. These are usually people who are the most dissatisfied with their miserable lives, and seek a way out because they dream of eternal bliss.
The suicide bomber who believes that by the act of Jihad he will claim eternity in the arms of 72 virgins, is so unhappy with living in the present that he not only kills himself, he wipes out the lives of others, because he thinks that their present lives are also worthless.
There is obviously a balance between living in the present moment and living for the future, and while we may live in hope for a better future, this will not come through dreaming. It will come through making the most of the present. There are also those who live in the past; they remember the former glories, and relive the memories of the great times they experienced, while squandering the present and waiting to die.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who look forward, not to eternity, but to the week-end so they can go out and party. Many young people are of this mindset and who could blame them. While most Ugandans will go out and party on a Friday evening there are those who don’t bother to stop the weekend and just keep on partying throughout the week. Kampala is not called the social capital of East Africa for nothing.
Someone read the proverb ‘It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive’ and commented that the good thing about a Ugandan road trip is that the party does not start when you reach the destination the party starts on the trip.
This may be the reason why Ugandans sometimes don’t actually make it to the destination at all, or perhaps this could be why the saying arose ‘I am on my way coming’ but they never actually arrive.
Such Ugandans really do understand that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive, which is in contrast to most Europeans who are so task orientated that even when it comes to enjoyment, it must be defined – when, where and how. Where is the event, what time should I arrive, and what is the party about, while Ugandans don’t need any of these reasons to enjoy themselves.
Another meaning of living in the present is enjoying the moment, going with the flow. Long long ago, far far away, when I was a teenager, we had the ‘Hippie Movement’, where the motto was ‘peace and love’, or ‘just chill’, or ‘make love not war’.
We had the ‘Flower Children’ who wore tie-dye T shirts and travelled across the world in VW Microbuses pained in psychedelic colours. I even had a tie-dye T shirt myself and travelled overland from Ireland to Afghanistan, but I was much more up tight and grappled with such big questions as the meaning of life.
The proverb means that we should enjoy the process of the journey of life, rather than fixating on the end, and in my experience Ugandans are incredibly good at doing this. Many Ugandans live on the poverty line, and yet they manage to enjoy life. But perhaps some dissatisfaction, which drives people on, not to dream, but to create a better future for themselves and their children, might not be a bad thing.
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