Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Fear of Flying





















I always know when it's time to go back to Africa - it finds a way somehow to tell me. A dried maple leaf lying on Balaclava as I walk home in my cocktail dress and a borrowed pair of shoes after a long night with friends. One friend has just come back from a Bolivian village - another from Croatia, Osoyoos and Port Simpson filming with First Nations children. We are all searching to make sense of everything, all trying to be the best we can be and laughing at our failures along the way.

Of all the fears I have - flying is not one of them. Thank god really because getting to Nairobi from Vancouver is a long haul to say the least. This time I go through Amsterdam in hopes of checking out how Holland does business with Kenya. Dutch tourism is big business and the Holland flower markets are full of flower buds that began their beautiful albeit brief life in Kenya.

Homegrown is a Kenya based business that I research often in hopes of figuring out to build something big and lucrative - enough cash flow to seriously educate some kids and spread the word on how to do business with Kenya. So this is where one of my biggest fears actually resides, in this dark unknown place I am headed towards called success, or failure I suppose if I take the wrong turn. Am I going to be able to do this in Nairobi? Can I actually harness all my passion and ideas and love for this country into a positive cash flow statement that takes care of people's lives? Something that Kenya sees walking by and smiles thinking - we make those t-shirts right here in the place of cold water.

Sometimes, on a good day I am so full of positivity that I think yes of course I will find a way to succeed - lots of other people do it and some of them aren't even that smart or interesting. But what they do works and that's what counts. There's no point at the end of the day going through all the motions in business if you can't get it working in a healthy way. And so I think of Enron and how Kenneth Lay just kinda died suddenly last week and I wonder - okay here is this amazingly successful company where everyone is happy and their work in breakthrough and then before you know it the entire company represents the height of failure and corporate greed.

On a bad day I dwell on all the things I don't know how to do - how all the details and ideas and plans confuse me in an attempt to imagine how thousands of people could interact with us and help grow what I see as the future of Kenya. And it's like standing at the bottom of a mountain looking at the bright sunny mountaintop and then you see the miles and miles of hill that separates you from getting there and it seems easier to go back to the coffee shop and wait until tomorrow. That is fear of flying.

I can get on a plane and hurl myself halfway across the world to connect with strangers in Africa and say "Let's start a business" and I can put everything ounce of everything I have into it for over two years knowing that what I am doing is important, knowing that creating more equitable systems of fair trade is a major answer to these disparaging rifts of those of us who are very very poor and the we that are choking and sick from having too much. That's really what it's about I think.

So what am I afraid of? I have always told myself since I started this in 2003 that as long as nobody killed me I was going to accomplish something. If I could just help 2 or 3 kids then I would be able to sit down and think, I did something beyond my own self and this is good. But now after 3 years my ambition has grown much bigger and my understanding of the issues that are making Africa poor is so much deeper that I believe unquestionably that what I have managed to create, if enlarged and shared with the world could not only help some kids but could seriously encourage others to get in the fair trade game.

Nobody ever says no to buying our t-shirts. I go to sleep each night wearing one that says SHINDA to remind myself whilst dreaming that African can win, it can conquer the wounds that bleed it, it can heal. This is the most important and fulfilling and human thing I have ever done with my life so much so that I can't imagine my life without it. What could I possibly do if I wasn't working to make the world better? This isn't a road on my journey anymore.

Last night I had the most amazingly fun and beautiful dinner in the sunset with my friend Richard who without fail always brings Africa to me. When he owned an airplane it crashed while he was flying and he lay in bed for a year I think while specialists put him back together again after all the burns. And he told me that he had more visitors than anyone ever had in the hospital because at the end of the day the most important thing to him is his friends. As we were leaving this great lady came by who is a big advocate for fair fish trading and we talked briefly about the cost benefit of financing a better world by using our consumption to do so. I told her the thing about fair trade I didn't expect was that once you learn it or understand how it can transform problems you really can't go back. Other ways of shopping cease to have the same meaning.

So can we transform the global economy into something that meets our needs through consumption at the just the right amount while lessening all the pressure we put on the world's resources to do so? If we wanted to make the entire economy about poetry - we could trade our way out of debt and poverty and drought and war. We could trade other things, better things that keep the cycle growing so it doesn't all come to a grinding halt.

In the USA now there is a reality show about youth obesity. This must be the climax. It can't get any worse than this.

Safari of the month - Air Transat 380 - one way ticket to Amsterdam.

2 Comments:

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