An unusual tribute to Nelson Mandela and his bucket

The bucket Nelson Mandela used while in prison

This may not be what most people would expect in terms of a eulogy, but it is a personal story about what impressed me about the character of a man that is sure to become legendary.

During my travels around the world on a bicycle, I visited Robben Island in South Africa where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and did hard labor breaking rocks for 27 years. The blinding light in the quarry ruined his vision and gave his eyes that milky white appearance. The island was also used in the past as a leper colony and animal quarantine station. It was a beautiful but wind-whipped place.

Pictured here is the bucket that Mandela used as a bathroom for 27 years. At the time, going to the bathroom represented one of my greater challenges. The bucket reminded me of the bottles that I often carried for such purposes. (As a funny side story, during the beginning of my journey, I needed to remind myself during cold, sick and fearful nights: “Don’t forget. The bottle on the right is for pissing. The bottle on left is for drinking.” My girlfriend said, “Don’t tell me you ever forgot! Eww! I kissed that mouth.”)

Overcoming sickness and the constant urge to find privacy or safety to relieve myself was a reminder of how we are all humans and that our first goal in life is simply to survive. So, to me, Nelson Mandela’s Bucket represented his hardship more than anything else. It’s also a tribute to how he overcame fear and survival and prejudice to literally create — not only a new life — but a new country full of hope.

One unusual thing about South Africa in contrast to most countries, especially countries like Zimbabwe, is that all the people, black and white, young and old, pats and ex-pats, had great respect for Mandela. Here’s one final quote I’d like share which was an inspiration to me during my travels and quest for happiness:

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Nelson Mandela

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