Stir it up: Mulenga and the mountain 

"Welcome to Detroit 2018," Mulenga Harenga greeted me with open arms.

I was at the same place that recently had a sign out front calling it a political theater. That sign was gone and it was replaced with one that read "Happiness Village."

"You know it's still 2017," I reminded him.

"Oh, such backward thinking," Mulenga exclaimed. "I'm thinking forward. I'm making myself the change. Change won't catch me with my guard down because I'm thinking ahead and making things happen myself. See, I'm thinking about how things are going to be in the future and putting them in to effect today."

Mulenga turned and gestured toward the sign, "See, I'm all about happiness now," as we walked around the building to the open fields out back.

"Why this sudden flirtation with happiness?" I had to ask.

"Because the people of Detroit are happy," Mulenga exclaimed while executing a pirouette.

"What are you talking about?" I was all questions. "In fact, I saw a report just the other day listing the 25 happiest cities in the nation and Detroit was nowhere to be seen. We didn't even get an honorable mention or anything."

"I saw that too, which is what got me to thinking," Mulenga said. "I think Detroiters are happy about the way things are going around here. They just re-elected the mayor and practically the entire city council. They even re-elected Janice Winfrey to city clerk. Everybody is happy around here, but our happiness is not complete. That's why I have established Happiness Village, to complete our happiness."

"What? Are you building an amusement park?" I couldn't help the inquiry.

We arrived in the back and I could see several young people engaged in various tasks. A woman seemed to be assembling a bicycle out of a mélange of parts piled in the shade of a tree. Across a field, a half block away, I noticed a mound of debris and a couple of guys tossing more stuff onto it.

"What is going on, Mulenga?" I was in a demanding mood. "You got other people here. This is just crazy!"

Mulenga guards his privacy more tightly than any human being I've ever met. Seeing other people around one of his endeavors was mind-boggling.

"Relax," Mulenga said. "It's part of this happiness thing. I'm happy around people — well, the right people at the right time." Then he leaned into my ear to whisper, "and most of my hideouts are still hidden. This is just a tryout for this happiness thing. I still got to protect myself."

"How is this place going to make Detroit happiness complete?" I asked, still feeling really confused with Mulenga.

"I looked at that list of the happiest cities," Mulenga said. "Boulder, Colorado, is the No. 1 happiest city in the country. I was in Boulder once. They got mountains there."

Mulenga pointed at the pile of debris across the field. "I'm gonna build us a mountain!"

The folks around the field seemed to chant as one: "Build the mountain, build the mountain, build the mountain."

Mulenga smiled, "See, they love it."

"You know you can't build a mountain with that pitiful pile of stuff," I admonished him.

"Well maybe it won't be a very big mountain, but even a good hill helps," Mulenga seemed to be equivocating. "But Ann Arbor has hills and they came in as No. 16 on the happiness list. So I figure a hill or two will advance the happiness of people around here."

"Build the mountain, build the mountain, build the mountain... "

I glanced over at the mound. It seemed to have grown bigger in just the last few moments. I rubbed my eyes to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing.

"See, this happiness thing fits in with some other things going on with the city," Mulenga went on. "You know that Detroit Climate Action Plan that came out a few weeks ago?"

"Uh, no," I said.

"Well it didn't make that big a splash, but it's a long-term approach to a lot of environmental issues around here, like waste management and water issues and stuff," Mulenga said.

"How does this," I waved my arm toward his pastures of happiness, "fit in with the climate action plan?"

"The action plan talks about more recycling and a 'zero waste stream' instead of the trash incinerator," Mulenga said. "Building my mountain fits into that. Zero waste, pile it up here. See, after I get a really big pile, a lot of that is yard waste, leaves and branches and stuff. I'm gonna let all that stuff compost out in the open. Then trees and bushes and stuff are gonna grow on it. Every year those leaves are gonna fall, creating an even bigger pile. And eventually, we got a mountain to promote happiness."

"Oh, I see, you're taking the long view of things," I said.

"You've got to take the long view when you are a forward thinker," Mulenga beamed. "Another thing I'm going to do is promote bicycling. There is going to be a bicycle path right through here. Boulder has 300 miles of bicycles paths. The environmental action plan calls for more bicycling in order to cut back on car use and greenhouse gasses. That's why we're assembling bikes here too."

This was pretty unusual for Mulenga to be doing all this stuff out in the open, but I thought the Happiness Village was a good idea. "Mulenga, this is really against your tendencies to be dealing with all these people," I said.

"I want to do something big," Mulenga said. "You can't build a mountain by yourself. That's change, that's big change. You know, that was another thing from the happiest cities report. This Dan Buettner from National Geographic who helped figure out this happiness thing mentioned that, 'My findings indicate that if you want to get happy, don't try to change your belief system. Change your environment.' Which is what I'm trying to do. Building a mountain is a mighty big change to the environment around here."

"So you're coming in from the cold," I said. "Making the big change, becoming a public citizen."

Then Mulenga looked at me like I was crazy. "Oh, hell no, after I do this I'm disappearing."

I guess the happiness thing won't change everything.

Best Things to Do In Detroit

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.