Too Old for This Kind of Thing?

Learning from Africa: Courage and gratitude help

The bus puts me down in the dark at an isolated gas station near Jinga, a town in Uganda. There’s just me and four local guys: boda-bodas, motorbike taxis. Can I trust one of them to get me and my suitcase to my destination? I choose Martin, who claims to know where Adrift Rafting are located. After a brief but heated haggle on price, we set off.

It’s a very bumpy dirt road, but I find myself enjoying the novelty, riding pillion on a warm tropical night, with exotic birds alternating with chattering villages. After several miles, we arrive at the wrong place. A few more miles and we’re at Adrift: he expects more money for a longer trip, I tell him he should have checked how to find it before we started.

All this illustrates one of my dilemmas in getting older: should I push myself into adventures like those of twenty years ago, or should I ease up because I’m getting too old for this kind of thing? It’s a sad phrase, isn’t it? I’m trying to be sensible about the scale of my adventures, but sometimes you mis-estimate. I would not have taken a motorbike taxi at night in Nairobi: at least in the country, I felt little risk of being robbed or attacked.

Buda buda taxi, Nairobi

Some of the places I stayed on my African trip were adventures, or just irritations: like the Royal City Hotel in Kisumu, Western Kenya. Within an hour of arriving I was furious: the food was amazingly slow, the lights didn’t work in my bedroom, it was noisy.

Then I remembered one of the reasons I come back to Africa: to be reminded of how much we take for granted in the West. When I chose to be grateful, the anger faded. I had a bed for the night, and food – eventually. How fortunate. Things in Africa often feel slow and chaotic, and gratitude helps in handling this.

I believe courage is a vital quality as we grow older. Ageing means we are more vulnerable, less in control, more dependent on others – and we need courage to keep going, to keep having suitable adventures, instead of retreating and narrowing.

On this trip to Uganda I’ve stayed in two-star hotels and backpacker hostels. I’ve travelled by bus, taxi – and motorbike. Most of the tourists around me are less than half my age. I could afford the cocooned luxury of a 4 x 4 safari tour, where most of the punters would be over 50, but I’d have minimal contact with local people, and it wouldn’t really be an adventure: not one that’s stretching and character building!

One reason I keep coming back to Africa is to reconnect with basic qualities which are still normal in much of society here, and much harder to find in Europe: real contact, eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart in meeting people, a more relaxed and human sense of time, and the earth connection.

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