By Nigel Nassar
“Walking from Kabale district to Mukono? You must be out of your mind!” That’s a line that has been thrown around at me so many times lately.
It started coming around in phone calls last Saturday, following my Facebook post that I had just got off the bus at Muhanga in Kabale district, to join a man called Kenneth Edmund Mugayehwenkyi on his scheduled 400km-walk.
Not just to flag him off, but also as a walker myself, on assignment to write updates about the walk, whose aim is to raise awareness about the plight of the elderly.
As a matter of fact, that nagging inner voice in me kept considering the surmise that I might actually be out of my mind.
Not any more. After embarking on the journey, taking sober notes and nice pictures with all the people’s heads and limbs in the right places, I am so convinced now I am not out of my mind.
It just comes with the territory of journalism, crazy journalism, if you like. Although I insist on “journalism that makes a difference in people’s lives.”
And that’s my motivation behind walking with Mugayehwenkyi, a 45-year-old with the build of a 30-something brother, a heart that bleeds profusely for the suffering senior citizens of this country, and a down-to-earth demeanor of just another guy next door, yet his accomplishments are way up there.
. . . AND GO!: Mugayehwenkyi takes the lead during take-off on Saturday September 28. PHOTO/Nigel Nassar
His modesty is probably the reason just about everyone in Muhanga, the young and old alike, showed up at the Reach One Touch One Ministries (ROTOM) outreach centre, to flag him and his elderly people’s body on a mission to secure the senior citizens a dignified and fulfilling life.
Time check, 8:30am, Saturday September 28, and the ROTOM outreach centre in Muhanga was chockablock on human activity. About 130 Muhanga dwellers, the elderly outnumbering all, sang and danced in a build-up for the walk, kicking off minutes away.
And when the clock struck 9:00am, the Venerable Reverend Edward Mwesigwa, the archdeacon of Nyaburerema archdiocese, representing Kigezi Bishop George Katwesige, convened us in prayer, flanked by Muhanga Church of Uganda Parish Priest Reverend Canon Christopher Rwankutahe, and Muhanga Town Council mayor James Twijuke.
The prayer message? Journey mercies; and that let the walk help raise funds for medical equipment for the elderly people’s health centres, one at Muhanga, the other at ROTOM headquarters in Mukono, where the walk climaxes. Also that let us find Good Samaritans on the way, to give us what to eat, places to sleep, and join us in walking.
Let, after this walk, people stop writing off the elderly. Let them offer the elderly help, engage them in prayer, resuscitate their health, etc, for it is they who now bear the burden of grand children following the HIV/AIDS scourge that is claiming many children’s parents.
Let, after this walk, people stop isolating the elderly in far off places where they die of loneliness and disease. Let, after the walk, all these issues of the elderly be recognized and solved, in the mighty name – Amen!
And so the walk kicked off, the elderly in the lead, singing, dancing, praising ROTOM and its founder and executive director Mugayehwenkyi, almost all of it at a go.
Two kilometres into the walk we were joined by Nyikunama Primary School band, all playing off-key, but it didn’t matter because they offered – that was their contribution to the walk.
It didn’t especially matter to the elderly. For all they cared, it was actually mesmerizing that a children’s band was playing the same praise songs they sang as we progressed. ‘Amazing stuff just; the children of today and their gadgets,’ they probably thought.
MARCHING UNITED: Generous Kiragwire still in the lead. PHOTO/Nigel Nassar
So, off key or not (and by the way very off key), this band upped the elderly people’s singing and dancing tempo even more.
One by one, after singing and dancing themselves out of breath and energy, they kept dropping off, sitting by the roadside and catching their breath before the emergency van put in place to take back whoever got knocked out, picked them up.
At Rwahi trading centre, after keeping with the walk for about an hour, the off-key band bid us goodbye, and actually left with a good number of the walkers, who had still clang on due to the music.
And by 5km, only about 50 of them were left on the walk, including a one Generous Kiragwire, who mesmerized us all, for she stayed ahead all the while, her speed and gusto incomprehensible, for a woman approaching her 60s. Well, her knock out came at 15km, with an even bigger number of all we had left, leaving the team at 14 walkers.
Amongst these 14 are some even stronger and older grannies who insist they are doing the walk all the way to ROTOM headquarters in Mukono. They want to celebrate the organisation’s 10-year commemoration in person, on October 19, two days after the walk.
These two grandmas have all the while kept my jaw-dropping throughout the 80kms we have covered so far (as of Monday night, September 30). Why? Well, they hold me by the hand and go like, “Son, you are tired again? Don’t worry, we are going to find a tree shade in the next two miles and take a rest.”
Now, in case you didn’t know, yours truly jogs and goes to the gym twice a week. How hard-boiled can these sixty-something-olds be? Sad for a brother, huh?
Well, their story is for another day, I might consider giving you their full profiles. For now l should consider signing out after this quick five-day wrap.
Next I will break down for you the mileage, how much we have covered on which day, the composition of the 14 people still on course, who we have met so far, who has been good to us, and other dramatic bits on the walk. But you need to pray for our internet as well, for it’s hard to get a good connection at all this countryside of winding roads and sprawling hills.
WE ARE WITH YOU: "Goodbye, thank you for coming this far!" PHOTO/Nigel Nassar
We spent Monday night at Kinoni Child Development Centre, where we got a free meal, and accommodation. Kinoni is one of the towns at the periphery of Mbarara and Ntumgamo. According to our schedule, we were not meant to make it to Mbarara town just yet.
But after reading the feature that ran in New Vision on Monday September 30 about the walk, Reverend Bobs Mwesigye of All Saints Church in Mbarara has promised us some blessings in a prayer session taking place Wednesday October 2, at 6:00am.
That means we are going to have to go off-schedule and just keep walking till we make our Wednesday October 2, 6:00am appointment.
We need the prayers, right? So expect us in Mbarara town Wednesday. Feel free to bring us anything, we are in a habit of not saying no to anything given to us, for we are one hungry lot, and the people to whom this walk is dedicated are even hungrier.
Watch this space for more updates.