Today Mark and I walked up to the top of Lewesdon Hill – the highest point in Dorset with views down to the sea in the South and across to the Somerset levels and Glastonbury Tor to the North.
Sitting here we were reflecting on our morning’s meditation which had been on Ubuntu. We were struck by how the concept of Ubuntu resonates with our personal journeys, our beliefs, the experience of Covid 19 and funnily enough our experience of building our house.
So what is Ubuntu? A word of Southern African origin, from the Nguni language, Ubuntu refers to behaving well towards others or acting in ways that benefit the community. Such acts could be as simple as helping a stranger in need, or much more complex ways of relating with others. Ubuntu in this sense is a way of thinking about what it means to be human, and how we, as humans, should behave towards others. A person who behaves in these ways has ubuntu. He or she is a full person.
So how do Mark and I connect with the spirit of Ubuntu?
Let’s start with my journey. When I was seven years old some missionaries came and gave a slide show to my primary school class on their work in Africa. When I got home that day I announced to my parents: “When I grow up I am going to go help poor people in Africa”. A somewhat paternalistic concept I appreciate, but that event set me on a path of working with diverse communities internationally and the development of my commitment to humanitarianism which has been the moral compass of my life.
Turning to Mark and my journey together, as we sat on top of Lewesdon Hill talking we realised that Southern Africa was the catalyst for our relationship. We met at Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday party in Hyde Park; our “first date” was going to the first day of the South Africa/England Test Match at the Oval. And our relationship was cemented through our experience of deciding to go and live in North and subsequently West Africa. Mark also has close connections to East Africa having good friends in Kenya that he visits often and being Godfather to one of their daughters.
Africa as a continent is diverse and multi-faceted and no single word can capture its richness. Ubuntu as a concept is firmly routed in Southern Africa but the spirit of humanity it celebrates was something we experienced in many different forms as we came to know some of the unique countries and peoples of the African continent.
Sitting on Lewesdon Hill our thoughts then turned to our experience of building our house. For us it has been a journey primarily of laughter, joy and learning. Every obstacle we have encountered has thrown up a new opportunity, everybody who has engaged with the project has found pleasure in working in such a beautiful location and everyone who has visited the site has commented on the almost spiritual sense of peace, tranquility and renewal that emanates from it. Unlike many of the fraught experiences of self build projects epitomised in numerous episodes of programmes like Grand Designs our build has flowed, like it was meant to be and we were meant to do it.
Even when Covid 19 struck our builders decided to keep our site open, with a reduced workforce and new ways of working – yes the timetable has slipped but the house continues to evolve despite the challenges. And throughout it all we have been supported by a community of colleagues, neighbours and friends in the spirit of Ubuntu.
All of this has taken place against the background of Covid 19 the most fundamental event in our history. As has been documented so often in recent months one positive aspects of Covid 19 is the way in which neighbours and communities have reached out to help each other. How strangers passed have become people to know and how ordinary individuals have shown such courage, resilience and bravery in all aspects of daily life as they reach out to help others. This is the spirit of Ubuntu.
So what on earth has this to do with the name of our new house?
When some months ago I ran a short poll on ideas for a name for the house I focused on linking to the existing name. However a dear friend said to me: you and Mark have created this home it deserves a name that reflects your lives together and your beliefs.
So as we sat there on the highest point in Dorset we realised that what we want is for the spirit of Ubuntu, which has been a part of our history, and is so much the context we live in today, to forever run through and live in our new home. This is why we are thinking of calling it Ubuntu House. What do you think….?