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Getting Set for Uganda
Prehistory of the Greetings Pages

Kicked out of my University

For over twenty years I had been teaching philosophy on what is now called Tilburg University, a small catholic provincial university in the South of The Netherlands. I am no catholic, neither have I ever considered myself to be a philosopher. I just had read their books, so I knew their thoughts. I was interested in that kind of people. Philosophy is largely the literature of moderately intelligent people suffering the problem of being locked up in their own brains. I concede mine was an esoteric hobby to specialize in something coming close to mental disease, but as long as I pretended to be one of them I could earn quite a nice living at a university doing what I liked. I also published "philosophical" books and papers, usually somewhat playful, defying ideas to provoke reactions. This of course kept me far from the centre of the very serious modern philosophical circles were laughs and irony are not the main dish. Moreover, my subjects were rather specialized and difficult, of the kind a philosopher is likely to invest the required large amount of hard studying work in only if the author is already dominating the discussions in the field and, though I was known by colleagues in the world, I never reached that stage. My attempts to make a bit of outsider's fun out of philosophers used to taking themselves overly seriously were, of course, not always appreciated, especially not by colleagues in my faculty's corridor, who usually could boast on nothing more than having reformulated one and a half ideas of others, and wished to cherish those in order to sustain their rise through the ranks of the local hierarchy, an ambition that the poor mental outfit of our faculty "heavyweights" never raised in me. At night I was playing saxophone in the local jazz bars.

Picture: playing at night in local Tilburg jazz bars (listen There will never be another you (Jeroen van Vliet, piano)

During this university period, I wandered through many areas of my main field, the philosophy of science (see my publications). As a result of an accidental visit to Uganda I ended up doing research into the differences between the traditional African and the traditional western attitude to science and knowledge. Once or twice a year I went to Jinja, Uganda, in order to talk with experts and local people to get the details of how exactly the ideas of acquisition and dissemination of knowledge there differed from the standard western one as canonized in western philosophical epistemology and philosophy of science.
Though my popularity in my department, especially in the leading circles, was already quite low, and some failed attempts had already been made to accuse me of fraudulent declarations, attempts to violate copyrights, sexual harassment and dereliction of duty, it was these Africa travels that finally triggered an all out battle: my applications for reimbursement of travel expenses were refused because the relevance of my Africa research to philosophy of science was judged unclear. Since my time spent on that research was not deemed of any use, an increase of my teaching load was ordered. Finally a special procedure was launched to officially evaluate my functioning in the department (through which, if negative, the university can acquire the right to fire a lecturer). I could prove that I had found a very good journal in the field ready to publish the result of my contested Africa research: Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of Science, but in the circumstances arisen such of course only made things worse.
Finally, the university filed a request at the Local Court of Justice to annul my appointment without compensation. However, to avoid the risk of a rejection, I was offered a reasonable compensation in case I would be willing to settle without verdict, which I managed to get on good conditions. I calculated that, together with my savings, this should suffice for a retirement to Africa at my age of that moment, which was 50. That was the end of the 4 year battle. The interested reader of Dutch language can click here for some details and the most interesting files of this bizarre procedural intercourse in that provincial university.
In the end, the research that was made the centre piece of the battle was published as Hamminga, B. (ed.) Knowledge Cultures. Comparative Western and African Epistemology (Poznań Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities, vol. 88) Amsterdam/New York, NY: Rodopi, 2005,  with chapters by Prof. Kwame Anthony Appiah, Princeton University, USA, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of Uganda and Prof. Leszek Nowak, Poznan University, Poland, for details click here.

Kicking out my Wife

Around the time the battle in my department started, I had kicked out my wife. I met Olga ten years before, when she was 21 and I was 41. At the time, I regularly was in Moscow for research and to meet Russian jazz musicians I had come to know. She was an economics student of the University of Moscow and a guide to Dutch economics students who had asked me to go with them on an excursion to Moscow. What followed was a period in which she regularly stayed with me in Tilburg where she followed economics courses to form part of her Moscow masters degree en went to Dutch courses. Finally she moved to The Netherlands.
At first, her fiery Russian temperament fascinated me, but after having been blasted around through all the circles of its pathway, I started to attempt some recanalizing. Though she enjoyed joining me on jazz concerts, she was not at all amused by my habit in day time to sit behind a desk reading dull books. But what most notably got annoying was the way she could get hopelessly caught in completely baseless jealousy. The highly surprising fantasies she expressed in such situations about what I was thought to have been doing did not exactly boost my confidence in her own footsteps when she was in Moscow without me - rightly so, I later discovered, but I thought it wise never to raise that subject.
Finally, I convinced myself that some heavy symbolic gestures were needed to ease these eruptions, and I proposed to marry her.

Picture: My most expensive signature ever (more about Olga)

Unfortunately things only got worse. Furniture and earthenware started to fly around our living room with increasing frequency. First all I did was ducking. After a while, I started experimenting with throwing around some of her favorites as she did with mine. That was quite a surprise to her. In bitter tears she shouted: "I am getting crazy!".
My reply: if now we shift to a competition in who first gets crazy I will win that one too!
Seeing the power of her repertoire fade, she got discouraged.
Not much later I went off to Africa for two months, telling her I would not be dramatically put into inconvenience if I would not see her back on return. On return I found my house ruined and stripped, but all for myself. What followed was legal procedure in which her lawyer miraculously succeeded to have part of my savings declared to be common property of the married couple. Olga was not shy to claim her "property" accordingly. I calculated this would not block my plans to retire to Africa and happily forgot about it: not a worse nightmare than one in which I would still own my full wealth, live with Olga and teach at the University of Tilburg.

Learning to Fly

Even before I met Olga, somewhere in the 80's I once visited a hang glider training site, intrigued as I was by the idea of jumping from a mountain and freely floating around on thermals. After that weekend I decided this was a beautiful sport, but too scary for me. I refrained even from considering a training course.
Now, more than ten years later, I thought: if I can kick out my wife, I can also learn to fly. Free flying technology meanwhile had improved considerably, and I opted for the paraglider, which is a light gliding parachute without metal frame. It has tissue and cords only. It can easily be carried in a rucksack and flies at a speed of 35 km/hrs, hence it can land on a relatively small space.

Again two years later I was an independent flyer, climbing on my own up deserted mountains and flying from there over long distances:

Picture: photo's taken by fellow climbers after I took off near the Pic du Col d'Ornon
3  Videos: Bert Takes To The Sky, Bert in the Clouds, Bert Descends On Earth,      more on parasailing

As my ground station for these excursions I used, what I called "the boat", a Renault Kangoo stuffed as what I called a "microcamper": bed, kitchen, shelves, computer with GSM internet.

Picture: the "boat"

Nomadic Life

For years I had been attracted by the moveable cabins used by road workers and construction companies. Now, finally, I found a reason to buy one: to sell my house and live in it. For the time I could not yet move to Africa, I turned into a nomad.

Picture: "Boat" and "hut" in in the French Alpes, where in winter one can take off by paraglider on skis.

Picture: Cabin interior

The interior was quite comfortable (propane gas heating, hot shower, kitchen with oven, ample space, good isolation, details for Dutch readers click here). In it, even someone of my size can survive days of bad weather reading, listening radio and cooking nice meals.

Finally, after another year, all remaining business in Europe was done. I bought a single ticket Lyon-Entebbe. On July 14, 2004, I parked my car and cabin on a farmer's compound in the French Alps, saying I did not know for sure when he would see me back. The next day I took off from the airport Lyon St. ExupĂ©ry.

Two years later (early 2006), I had finished building an 18 m traditional sailing dhow on which since januari 2005 I live and roam Lake Victoria, writing about lake life and about what I read (go to greetings home).

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