By Roy Gachuhi
Except in the days that work doesn’t allow, I go to the beach every morning for a jog and a swim. The beach is ringed by a naval base, Escola de Guerra Naval.
The base’s buildings are imposing and everywhere there are signs prohibiting access. At the gates, signs demand identification.
As you approach the base, the sidewalk leaves you in no doubt that you are entering a marine facility: the pavement has images of anchors and ship’s wheel and the flowers in the garden are separated from the sidewalk by the massive chains that tow ships. The officers who work in this place mind their own business and you have no reason to make contact with them. Thankfully so, for these don’t look like the people you want to trifle with.
(On the morning of the Olympics opening ceremonies, I was at Copacabana beach for the protests highlighting the downside of the Games. Out in the near sea, a naval frigate made its forbidding presence felt. It patrolled the area with a slowness that I felt unnerving. The protesters were loud but the ship was silent. Silence can be unsettling, can’t it?)
Before you get to those steely images of anchors and wheels leading to Escola de Guerra Naval, there is one inscription on the pavement that melts my heart. It is a box framed in red. The writing is in English. It reads: “Stop here. Appreciate life for a minute and smile. #oraculo project.”
I religiously do that every time I get there. And I wonder: how can such a simple thing make me feel so profoundly different? For the one minute I am there, I don’t feel the pressure of a deadline. The only feelings I have are positive ones. I appreciate good health, love of family and friends, the fortune to make many new ones in a distant land and the ability to enjoy a good laugh.
The people who have been resisting evictions from their homes to make way for the Olympics while turning down compensation money had a rallying cry: “Not everything has a price.” I saw a woman holding a placard next to her marked home reading: “Homes are not built with money but with love.”
These are the sort of things that I think about when I am standing on that two feet by two feet red-framed box. I often find it amusing to have to be taught such a simple thing as dedicating a minute to appreciating life and smiling while at it. And yet such is the importance of the message.
Lurching from deadline to deadline, changing trains and buses, jumping into planes and changing them before jumping into cars before heading for another of these never ending missions, it can sometimes feel like work was created to enjoy you rather than the other way round.
I have sometimes asked myself in despair: Is this all there is to precious life?
Work, work, work, day in, day out, year in, year out. And then? A hospital. And then? Yes, that’s it. History! Thank you, #oraculo project. When I stood at your box today, I said to myself: “Enda uka-jienjoy!” I also silently intoned a wish for all Kenyans: “Mji-enjoy!” I decided I was not going to do any work, and I have kept the promise – except for writing this piece, of course. Sigh…
Roy Gachuhi is in Rio de Janeiro as a writer-in-residence with Agencia Publica, an independent Brazilian investigative journalism news agency.