SPRING 2020 is the sunniest on record. Northern Ireland has presented us with magical weather. I can’t believe it, I can’t complain.

I used to hear of the story of the infamous Michael Fish, how he got it so wrong – the weatherman predicting for  England a calm October 16th 1987 which became the hurricane nightmare of the century.

Let’s be honest, who in their right mind has ever taken the weather forecast seriously? Back home weather patterns are another day in the calendar. Everyone is gloating about the nice weather now as if they are the only people experiencing the heat.

Divis and Black Mountain are a story to behold.

I took a fellow African friend, John Mugendi, to see this remarkable place. John is from a mountain region in Kenya (Mount Kenya) which is about six times the full climbing height of Divis. You will meet people who have never been up Divis yet they were born here.

There are many reasons for that, it is not that people are too lazy to take a hike up the Divis. It was only opened to the public by the National Trust 15 years ago. This beautiful moorland was previously used for communications and other activities by various contenders in the Northern Ireland conflict. The British Army took over a huge swathe of the mountain to train their soldiers and look over the city from the Divis summit. I only found out about these bits of history from textbooks. I became more inquisitive about the mountain, even afraid to visit despite the free access. But it is not like some of our mined former conflict zones in Africa.

So, with my nerves calmed a little, I decided to visit the place last week. Breathtaking is an underestimation of what I saw.

Divis provoked in me the question of naming ceremonies – how the European explorers and masters of colonial plans used their travels to baptise physical features, as if these places did not have names. For the locals, Lake Victoria had many African names: Lolwe, Sango, and so on. 

So our hiking of Divis was also a naming ceremony. We performed a second name for Divis. We are comfortable with calling it Wangari. This name is of one of Africa’s stalwarts of environmental protection. She fought for nature and its preservation and won the Nobel peace prize. We are not renaming Divis and this should not be gazetted. It is our African ceremony for the beautiful place.

BREATHTAKING: Elly (front) with his compatriot John Mugendi.
BREATHTAKING: Elly (front) with his compatriot John Mugendi.

The temperatures are high in this spring but as you walk further up the mountain’s summit trail, you start feeling the cold blowing winds.

On the left side, the mountain’s west, we could see white smoke rising and a smell of burning. One of the ramblers up there told us this was coming from a rubbish tip below. Initially I thought we were trapped. We were not yet at the top of the mountain and could see the Mourne Mountains of Newcastle, a place 50 miles away. Beautiful. Then of course you look back as you scale the mountain every step higher.

Divis gives you an attractive Lough Neagh, the third largest fresh water lake in Europe. The climber we met told us in front of his doubtful wife that this lake was the largest of its kind in Europe. Some people will exaggerate, you think they work for the Tourism Board marketing every little dot into overdrive. Aaah, these things happen.

MANY believe that touching the NHS is synonymous to killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Suddenly, on the basis of Covid, the NHS became untouchable, whiter than snow. I enjoyed the sincerity of the clap that went on for 10 weeks, though. There were also those who were caught up in the national mass hysteria, feeling patronised by the uniformity of it. As far as many were concerned, it costs nothing to clap.

The government, the NHS, the private sector, charitable organisations all stakeholders did one unified thing, retained the status quo, paying peanuts, moving forward. Agency workers were worst hit because they couldn’t go on the furloughing scheme.

Elly Omondi Odhiambo is a writer based in Belfast.