Essays, poems and Stories of an African-American

Friday, 25 January 2013

Thomas Rogers Muyunga Mukasa shares ; At Harvard: where small may mean grand



In the animal Kingdom, according to an African Kingdom culture, the chameleon won a race in which it was pitted against the hare (a mythical grey-brown small animal). The hare is a fast runner and is always depicted as the brightest of all animals. The chameleon is slow and smaller than the hare. In this race it managed to beat the hare. But that will be a subject of another story.
I went to this place and was greeted by red adobed brick structures and an imposing gate with metallic doors. The doors opened wide to let in or out any passers-by to their destinations.  Mine was the self-guided tour before an official one by our proctors. With so many hours before me and a cool but windy weather of January, I set out to walk all over spots that were trodden by many people before me. I was in Cambridge, passed over a bridge, I saw the tourist kiosks, I picked a large tourist map, I went by Phillip Brooks Hall and passed the Sumner statue. I joined a group in the Harvard Yard who were taking pictures. In taking the pictures they were posing before or under the great founder’s statue. I admired and continue admiring so many things at Harvard. I do think back to the times when all these grand ideas were taking shape. I am in awe at the commitment that followed word with action. The promise resplendent in structures we are using collectively, for residence, instruction and formation. I went off to read what messages I could pick from the walls. On one red-brick mural are these words:
 
AFTER GOD HAD CARRIED US SAFE TO NEW ENGLAND AND WE HAD BUILDED OUR HOUSES PROVIDED NECESSARIES FOR OUR LIVELIHOOD REARD CONVENIENT PLACES FOR GODS WORSHIP AND SETTLED THE CIVILL GOVERNMENT ONE OF THE NEXT THING WE LONGED FOR AND LOOKED AFTER WAS TO ADVANCE LEARNING AND PERPETUATE IT TO POSTERITY DREADING TO LIVE AN ILITERATE MINISTERY TO THE CHURCHES WHEN OUR PRESENT MINISTERS SHALL LIE IN THE DUST
                                                                                   NEW ENGLANDS FIRST FRUITS
 
I moved away after wrapping my brain around the words written in a very different way from what am familiar with. I looked all around me including; the structural buildings, green lawns, paved roads and pathways. I admired one of the first computer built in 1944 on display in the foyer of the Aiken Laboratory. The Harvard Mark I is one very big machine with 8 feet in height, 51 feet in length and 3 feet wide. This is a machine that only one dreams of in a very grand way and has to be executed in an equally grand way. There is no room for small undertakings. The International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) did so. It never looked at this as a small undertaking and it supported Howard Hathaway Aiken (1900-1973) in making the Harvard Mark I (aka IBM Automated Sequence Controlled Calculator. The calculator has 760,000 parts and 530 miles of wire. It is one of the first electro-mechanical-digital computers built by 1944. This particular one was unveiled in August 1944 and weighs five tons. It was able to run while programming a second problem. Today the computers run over a million commands simultaneously and are as light a quarter of a gram!
The Harvard Mark I run up to 1959 having given fifteen years of service. It now sits, quietly, at the Harvard Computation Laboratory. Aiken was a graduate of Harvard. A product of the graduate of Harvard on display has continued to crystallize the dream of our founders: create a learned populace able through their skills to live in this world and improve on the lives of their own and others. A single human being or a community can do this.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Thomas Rogers Muyunga Mukasa had a Cold Problem and a Hot Solution!



Ms. Luchenco Anna-Maria of about 55 years is a very dedicated female bus driver. She has been in the transport industry for over 10 years where she has served diligently. In a few years she is destined to retire with her husband to Orlando Florida (a warmer climate). All this information is shared with the familiar passengers who sit at the front section and who happen to know her well. She and her husband will leave their Worcester home to their two sons and one daughter. Luchenco’s blue bus is clean inside and the upholstery is not stained. She seems to know all the people who get on the bus. There is a ‘good-morning’ here, a ‘how-is-the-baby’ there and quick chit-chats that end as soon as one has paid for or checked in a valid pass. The bus cabin is so warm and on a day like this that registered 3 degrees Fahrenheit she cannot tell the difference outside. The normal bodily temperature is between 98-100 degrees (F). The lowest recorded temperatures where a body survived was 55.4 degrees (F). The body gets so cold that one’s bones, especially behind the ear get to be painful. This is the path to hypothermia. If there is persistent exposure it gets to the point when one is disoriented. It can lead to death in extreme cases. Coldness itself is so uncomfortable!
On this day (January 22nd 2013), Worcester averaged 3 degrees (F); a very cold wind blew leaves and light debris that could be air-borne. The street joining Main Street and Major Taylor Boulevard was where a gust of wind almost threw me down! The bottle of water I had got so cold. The cap was frozen hard and fast. The jacket was a very cold garment. It became a strait-jacket that held me in very cold chains which only got broken once I got into a warm building.
My experience started at Tatnuck Brook Bridge. Tatnuck Brook Bridge has a bus stop where drivers have a well-deserved short lunch break. Now, ‘this bus stop is not a pedestrian stop’. I got a condescending lecture by Ms. Luchenco on the meaning of a bus stop and pedestrian stop. I wanted to go to some business downtown.. I use a bus as my means of travel. It has always been routine and not objective. It was a ‘get-to-bus-stop-wait-for-sometime-bus-arrives-door-opens-say-hullo-to-driver-while-paying-quickly-get-to-your-sit’ subjectivity. That is all the effort I had tuned my body to execute and no more! I do read books on the bus, so I reserve energy for the books I carry with me. I choose places where am able to pull out my book while the bus moves. This day provided me a different opportunity into the experiences of riding a bus.
There is a universal language in all cities. A bus stop is not hard to see. It may be a clearing on the road-side or a stop area with a metal sign having a bus and a word stop. An idling bus on wheels at a stop area is so re-assuring on a 3 degrees (F) cold day. I walked from the ‘pedestrian stop’ towards the ‘bus stop’ which was 20 meters away from me. I wanted to keep warm.
“No one boards from here, just you stay at the pedestrian stop,” yelled this Ms. Luchenco behind thick windows in a warm bus cabin. I looked askance. Did Ms. Know it was a very cold day out here? “You better hurry, in the next minute I may pass that stop,” she continued pointing repeatedly at the stop 20 meters away.
I walked back and the bus picked me up. I thanked Ms. Luchenco and paid for a full day fare. I also told her it was very cold outside, three times. She did not seem to realise why I kept saying it was so cold outside the bus. She started the bus as she continued asking me whether I was new to the City and the bus. I did not answer her but pointed at the notice that said: ‘stand away from a yellow line while bus is moving’. I went and sat down. I pulled out a book and as I was opening it she asked again. “Have you ever been on a bus?” I said yes. I also told her to not yell at pedestrians. I told her she is in an industry calling for humane hospitality. Then I got back to my book.
At the next Congregational Church stop on Pleasant Street we picked up Emeralda Gomez with whom they chatted about the Obama-Biden Inauguration and later bed-bugs! At Christ the King Church stop we picked up Gregory Barnes an African-American. Ms. Luchenco asked if she had ever yelled at him. He was surprised at the question but said no. “What would be the reason anyway?” he replied. I got in at that point when she told him “the gentleman in yellow has just said so about me”. “I don’t yell at people,” she reassured herself loudly. I emphasized she yelled at me. When Gregory Barnes realized I could speak eloquently about the issue, he came and sat next to me. He talked to me while pointing at the back of the palm (a sign for me to ignore everything but to also know that in my position, as a black man, it should not come as a surprise). I did not say any word after. Gregory (An African American) told me of his experience too.  He said it loudly so that Ms. Luchenco would hear too. The bus that went before ours had just passed the stop! He, because of the cold, had to go to the near-by Church to stay warm. The janitor had refused to let him in at first until he produced a Bible. We moved on up to the stop next to Becker College and picked Reginald Brown (African American from New York and a substance abuse withdrawal counselor). Reginald Brown on a supervisory visit to Worcester City, also shared his experience of that bus that did not stop to pick him up and two colleagues. The other two colleagues were Dally Matthew and Rodriguez Jesus. Dally is Hispanic and attends the drug-addiction/withdrawal support group on Pleasant Street before the Worcester Commons. Jesus is a Latino from Tacoma Worcester Housing Authority, sector 8 units.
The driver was sharing her story with Emeralda. She had just heard from her family. They were reminding her to buy anti-pest sprays. Reginald Brown from New York remarked he had pests and bed-bugs in his neighbourhood and it was a daily occurrence there! As soon as the bus moved Dally fell asleep! I did not get to hear him talk, except when he acknowledged his names as they were introduce to me. Rodriguez went to a corner by himself! We moved on up to the Commons and when I got out I thanked Ms. Luchenco for driving us up this destination and off I went! It was an experience for me.  Reginald Brown is the drug-withdrawal support case manager for these two.
My conclusion is that, our drivers in the public transport sector need to be constantly reminded that in a hospitality-based industry human needs are vast. These needs most of the times cause us to open doors for people to get warm and cosy in our buses, even if it may not be a normal procedure!