Africa is known for exotic animals, big game, and scary creatures. As a blend of work and play, I spent a day at Kalimba Reptile Park to see how fish are harvested, learn about other fish pond things, and have my pants scared off by crocodiles and snakes that call Zambia home. I'm boarding the next flight out of here!
"You gain courage, strength, and confidence every time you confront your fears; you must do the things you think you cannot."
Kakubo village, located in Chongwe district outside Lusaka, Zambia, is a quaint place by U.S. Standards. Nestled close to the Great East Highway, actually bisected by it, the village echoes of trucks carrying un-identifiable covered loads, cars screeching to safe speeds in order to prevent being flung into the air by speed bumps stretching several kilometers- these deter ants more deflated from asphalt heated by the mid-day sun then crushed back into the Earth by the ceaseless traffic which plods over them. Such heat can only be avoided by covering in whatever shade is accessible or a rain shower that feeds the endless maize crops
I was recently invited to give a talk to a social entrepreneurship class at Northern Illinois University. The goal was to speak about my journey beginning with college up until now, just a few days before departing for Zambia. As budding social entrepreneurs, I hoped the students would relate to my story. That we do not always know where we are heading, but by finding and following our passion, we will have an impact during this life.
This video was recorded after the fact, but is similar to the talk given at NIU.
As a neophyte in the world of social entrepreneurship, volunteerism, and in general, giving, I have been looking at ways in which donating time, money or resources affects those it is truly intended to serve and help. Just because you are giving, in whatever form it may be, does not mean the outcome will substantially elicit positive change. Often times, the responses from generous gifts may provide a superficial change. For example, travelers are frequently looking for ways to 'give back' while on the road. Commitments to orphanages for a short period of time, although provide a monumental experience for the volunteer, do not positively inspire the children that the program is designed to help. In the short term, those in institutional care may be happy to have company, but the commitment of a long term mentor is what will positively change their life. If you have always had the love and support of your parents, try to imagine what it would be like with them. Would strangers coming into your life for a short amount of time positively or negatively impact you?
During one summer afternoon in 2014 I sat outside overlooking thirty five acres of pristine animal farmland- a few pastures that house three horses and countless sheep and goats, an expansive open field where a lawn tractor is its closest intimate partner, and dozens of acres overgrown with buckthorn and downed trees, which, over time, clearing them has become my greatest domestic escape. The effort to maintain the farm’s namesake, Serenity Farm, can often be anything but. It is a daily reminder that in order to enjoy the things we love, sacrifice often looms immediately preceding.
As our world becomes increasingly interconnected through technology, seemingly, humanity is being driven apart by this giant wedge we hoped would bring all beings together. Positively leveraging this brainchild has become a task requiring as much ingenuity as it took to create the digital world. Walking through crowded afternoon streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia where people of all ages gather in order to exercise in groups, play soccer on makeshift miniature concrete fields, or gossip with your friends, one can see saffron robed young men as technologically up to date as their civilian counterparts. Why is the sight of monks talking on cell phones while relaxing at the local mall or seeing the bluish tint of their tablet radiating off their face in a darkened room awestriking to us?
In 2008, I traveled to Ecuador to fulfill a desire to see the world. That experience was the spark for a new journey the following year to over twenty countries; an experience of ebbs and flows, which ultimately was the kindling for what would become my passion. In 2010, the fire was raging, and I spent more time exploring the world. In 2012, after more sacrifices and money earnestly saved, I saw smoke signals coming from a land inhabited by infamous nomads. I followed those plumes to their source. Eventually, though, all roads lead to home.
This is the only life we will ever know. All those individuals who work extremely hard to challenge themselves daily, to push to the cusp of failure only to be surprised by the outcome should be celebrated for their bravery. Great sacrifices are made every day in order to provide for our families, to become better humans, to create a more diverse world, or to achieve our goals. If you are the type who morphed from a sheep into someone seeking exhilarating experiences or simply a path that provides genuine happiness, my ten gallon hat is tipped to you. For those who are too apprehensive about breaking free, you can do anything you believe you can do. Start small, take steps, fail intelligently, prosper enormously.
"We clean your garbage while you roam well-groomed. For the crime of cleaning, you named me scavenger. When you step into rain water, does that change your caste? We are stabbed at street corners. Our lives end in hard labor."
Imagine yourself peering at a landscape so vast that the image portrayed through your eyes is just a big mirage. As you walk toward it, its distance never seems to get closer. All you know is that two thousand sheep, goats and a handful of camels are somewhere in front of you and your job is to track them, being sure they are moving in the correct direction. Sometimes your dogs are properly escorting these animals, but whose to say they know the route? You jump off the horse, remove a monocular from beneath your deel and calmly verify the whereabouts of your lifeline. You do this repeatedly. In some cases for up to thirty days, two times a year. Your goal is to find the best grazing land for your animals because without them you cannot eat, you cannot make a living. During this month of travel across the desolate steppe you sleep on the bare ground at night. Finally, at the end of this epic journey you have traveled six hundred miles in combination of horseback and on foot delivering your livestock to mother nature's most impressive landscape, Mongolia.
We sit captivated, once again. Some of us silently wondering where we came from, how we got here, and where we are going. Others, understanding or not that "power never changed on its own you got to make it,"¹ vociferously attack the opposition. These protests stressing that their point of view is the best often times comes from a fanatical viewpoint; one unwilling to acknowledge that perhaps even bits of the counter argument may have validity.
I am often struck with inspiration in unusual ways. Watching one of my favorite shows, America's Test Kitchen, on WTTW is a great example of this when an interesting corollary between the culinary world and the world crossed me. When the segment of the show called 'Equipment Corner' aired, it was revisiting a past comparison test of the best blenders
Proponents of mainstream hip/hop may have never heard of the “the only hip-hop show to ever be peer reviewed,” as I have heard it said, let alone understand the ideas being throw at its audience so swiftly those with the proper background can hardly grasp.
Preempting nearly every conversation with someone I meet the question comes up. It is inevitable. And asking this is like chartering a plane to the sun just to ask if its surface is hot. It’s pointless, it does not matter. Nonetheless, a lull in conversation leads to, “What do you do?” The meaning is universal. Perhaps asking this is the animal instinct showcasing itself as a way to judge the opponent, to see where on the pecking order each fall.
Oppression is present throughout the world. Its occurrence might be more openly admitted in the developing world- extreme poverty, destitution, lack of resources, high prevalence of disease and premature death, but human struggle in the worst forms takes place in every crevice of our lives. Apply a little effort and you will uncover someone being exploited for sex, forced to work in horrid conditions for little or no pay, or coerced into something that turns out to be anything but the anticipated, placing them in unimaginable positions.
Traveling, the art of connecting with people of other cultures, dismantles my sense of personal awareness. Their problems, concerns, joys, and happiness create a feeling that each person is not a singular individual, rather, we stand on planet Earth together with each separate action affecting everyone else.