Buckets, toilets, mountains

Collecting water in Kumasi.

Collecting water in Kumasi.

Listening to the complex layered JuJu music of Nigerian music supremo King Sunny Ade as I was driving to the Blue Mountains recently, I wondered if I would ever get a chance to see him perform live. 

Then I thought about the fact that I wish this almost every time I listen to his music, and realised that the desire belongs on a bucket list. As does my desire to learn how to play guitar the way he does – and/or in the style of Ali Farka Toure and other West African master guitarists.

So I started thinking about other things for my bucket list, and here it is. It’s in no particular order, although I suppose that the things I thought of first are probably the things I most want to do.

  1. See King Sunny Ade and his African Beats perform live.
  2. Go to Festival of the Desert – if it continues to exist, considering the political situation there – and/or other music festivals in Mali.
  3. Learn to play Guitar West African style – Bluesy Ali Farka Toure or as above, King Sunny Ade’s sweet melodies.
  4. Learn to play the Djembe. I started last year but this year can’t afford it so am sticking to dancing (with teacher Yacou Mbaye) until my knees give way.
  5. Learn French. So I can go to Festival of the Desert and be able to talk to people.
  6. Learn Salsa or Swing or some form of couple dancing. Maybe even Tango.
  7. Find a partner to grow old with – and hopefully Salsa or Swing dance with. My Mum’s sister and her husband were Swing dancing into their 70s – way to go!
  8. Do a walking tour of the UK. Possibly this should be higher up my list but I got distracted by thinking about music and dance.  I think I’ve wanted to do this ever since I realised that the setting of one of my favourite childhood books, Swallows and Amazons – the Lake District – was a real place.
  9. Travel around New Zealand – maybe walk [tramp] there as well. Of course if I have totally wrecked my knees by dancing I guess I will be doing a boat tour or something instead.
  10. Revisit Tasmania – I was last there in 1985, so I think it’s time to go again. For now, watching Gourmet Farmer is an acceptable substitute.
  11. Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef – this time without a 7 year old who is tired of sightseeing and just wants me to tell him stories in the cabin of the boat.
  12. Rediscover my singing voice.
  13. Be a Grandma – or at least a step-Grandma. I realise I have no control over this, but I think it would be a wonderful thing. Given that AM is only 18 I am not, however, in a hurry for this to happen.
  14. Help regenerate the eco-system around the Cooks River. My fantasy is a regular Kayaking flotilla that collects all the bottles that are polluting it and dumps them on the steps of drink manufacturers. But I should probably start by joining the Cooks River Alliance and find out what they think the priorities are.

Hmmm – can’t think of anything else right now. Maybe that’s because I’ve been lucky enough to have already done a lot of amazing things, so there’s not a lot left to wish for. So here’s a list of things I’ve done, that might well be on other people’s bucket lists – again, in no particular order:

  • Growing up on a farm with a large extended family, lots of animals and big skies all around me.
  • Learning to dance, and still dancing, even when most people my age have slowed right down and wouldn’t be attempting to dance Senegalese style. (It’s just a tad physically challenging – am I completely mad?).
  • White-water rafting on the Zambezi (a tourist thing, I wasn’t paddling or even steering, but still exhilarating).
  • Skiing in the Snowy Mountains – just the one holiday, when I was in my 20s, but also exhilarating.
  • Going on a camping safari in Serengeti National Park – and seeing cheetahs in the wild.
  • Spending time in Ghana and learning about the place, the people, the cultures. Only possible because of my precious Ghanaian-Australian family.
  • Being a mum, Aunty, step-mum, having lots of children in my life.
  • Seeing Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the rain: foaming rivers hurtle down gullies in the darkened rock, but with Uluru getting less than 4cm of rain a year, not many people are lucky enough to see it. One website said: take a photo if you do, so here it is (taken with an old point & click pre-digital, but you get the idea).
two people shivering in front of water coursing down the side of Uluru.

Feeling the cold at Uluru in the rain.

  • Working in the HIV sector for over 20 years with a bunch of smart, funny, dedicated, inspiring people.
  • Owning a share in a holiday van on the south coast, surrounded by national park and marine park. I’ve only been there 4 times and have already seen whales, dolphins, stingrays and a sea eagle close enough we could have counted its feathers.
  • Bushwalking in the Blue Mountains, as I did not long ago with my brothers and their wives, revelling in the crisp air, vibrant skies, the tiny bush flowers and spiky grasses, and the challenges of the rocky track. My sister-in-law suggested our family are related to mountain goats.

This list could go on and on for pages. And thinking about it I realise that a bucket list is all very well – it provides exciting goals to aim for – but even if none of them happened, my life is rich and full and good. I can’t believe my luck.

Sea framed by trees and bush.

Currarong – one of the places I’m lucky to have in my life.

It’s a couple of weeks now since I first drafted this post – and reflecting on it I have decided that it is also a list of great privilege. It became obvious to me that the notion of a bucket list is pretty much a first world phenomenon, and I felt reluctant to post it.

My list is dominated by travel and paid leisure activities, most of them entirely about my own individual gratification. Although I suppose ‘individual gratification’ is essentially the definition of bucket list.

Without making excuses, I think this focus is possibly because it’s only in the last six or so months that I’ve felt like I’m really coming out of the dark tunnel of family illness and bereavement (having lost a brother and both parents within less than a year in 2010/11). So at last I’m starting to really enjoy life again and can see the possibilities that lie ahead of me, which were clouded for quite a long time.

But I wonder if I were to ask my in-laws in Ghana what would be on their bucket list, what would they say?

  • Having electricity connected to their village?
  • Pipe-borne water ditto?
  • Getting a good price for this year’s cocoa crop?
  • Finding enough money to pay for the school fees / tertiary education for the kids? One of AM’s cousins wants to be a nurse, another to join the police.
  • Our old neighbours in the Ashanti capital Kumasi would probably like to have a toilet – along with 20% of Kumasi residents. They don’t even have a bucket for this purpose, let alone a bucket list! I only found out recently that they had been shitting in plastic bags which they bury in their back yard. They would not be alone in this: a recently published UN study found that globally more people have access to mobile phones (6 billion) than to toilets (4.5 bil). The good news for the neighbours is that they could be the beneficiaries of a new project by IDEO (human centred design) that is bringing affordable toilets to Kumasi.

Well obviously, this list could also go on and on, detailing the inequities in our world. But it would be wrong, I think, to focus on the hardship and thus assume that people who are poor don’t also have extravagant hopes and dreams. Maybe they too would like to snorkel the barrier reef or bushwalk in New Zealand or climb the Rwenzori mountains in Uganda (I left that off my list because I really don’t think my knees would cope). Or maybe their hopes are to make a difference for their communities, not just gratify themselves.

So I’ll end with just three examples of inspiring dreams and endeavours I’ve encountered recently that do make a difference in the world.

Four teenage girls from in Lagos have developed a generator that will run for 36 hours powered by six litres of urine. I have no doubt there are many more smart inventors like them throughout Africa.

Indigenous Community Volunteers links Aboriginal communities with ideas for their social and economic development with volunteers who have the expertise to help realise them. Note that it’s the communities that come up with the ideas, not the volunteers.

This last one is more of a ‘first world’ initiative but I can’t resist including it because it does combine – more or less – the Rwenzoris and toilets, showing that it’s completely possible to achieve a bucket list goal and make a positive impact on poverty at the same time.


Since I wrote this post I have found out that there’s a World Toilet Day, which tries to draw global attention to the issues faced by people without toilets, and increase access to sanitation. It’s on 19 November each year. Find out more here.


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