“An American businessman was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?
The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked, but what do you do with the rest of your time?
The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor.”
The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution.
You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then, senor?”
The American laughed and said “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”
“Millions, senor? Then what?”
The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
On Tuesday I was feeling sick and anxious—the start of a flu I’m just now getting over. After trying all day to copy a proposal onto my computer, I decided to head home. A couple kids were being obnoxious, and the sun was pissed off at me. As I was escaping my frustrations I remembered that it was Timket, The Ethiopian celebration of the day of Epiphany. Despite the state of my body and mind, I went to the town center.
The center of Bonga is, in a word, gritty. Looking out from the town center, the rainforest falls upon rolling hills. Looking towards the center is another story. Three dusty roads converge into a makeshift roundabout. Dilapidated tin roofs and unfinished construction jobs can make the town center feel unlike the jungle oasis I imagine. It feels more like a town that belongs in a Clint Eastwood western. Poverty always rears its head in places like these. Having little in a beautiful rural setting pales to the desperation that embodies urban poverty.
So I was not in store for the transformation that was about to occur. Pictures can illustrate this better than words, so I will add some pictures soon. From the three orthodox churches, thousands had gathered in traditional clothing, and down the three roads they descended. Priests and elders dressed in ornate clothing and carrying umbrellas. Others were chanting, blowing horns, lighting candles. At the roundabout, the three tribes coalesced and headed to the river. An hour and 300 pictures later, 20,000 Ethiopians from all over the region had joined at a small clearing near the Sheta River. There, myself, Dave, and a forest of palm trees hugging the river bank were witness to traditional dancing, jumping, baptisms, and vibrant colors. It was national geographic personified.
I think of the word authentic. The most authentic American experience I’ve had was attending a presidential inauguration. The most authentic European experience I had was running with the bulls in Pamplona. I didn’t think that could be beat. But this was the most uniquely authentic event I have been a part of. On Timket, I experienced Africa.
I’ve been largely out of the loop when it comes to news, but I was finally able to read more about the tragedy in Tucson. What an ugly, ugly day. The vitriol it created can be similarly characterized. I’ve always been disgusted by the way the media can turn a tragedy into political capital, and this was just another example.Instead of further jotting down my irrelevant opinions, I’ll let someone speak for me in a way that I never could. The parallels of the third paragraph serve as an awesome reminder of my job here in Ethiopia…
“So sudden loss causes us to look backward — but it also forces us to look forward; to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us.
We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we’re doing right by our children, or our community, whether our priorities are in order…
We recognize our own mortality, and we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame — but rather, how well we have loved and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.
And that process — that process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions — that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires.”
Sick with it
I spent the better half of last week in bed, throwing up, crying, and trying to figure out if I was hot or cold. Whatever got a hold of me last week, It put a damper on my spirits. To make matters worse, I spent those four days without power, cell service or internet.
I looked disheveled and was feeling distraught. I went outside and started a fire to boil water for tea. After several minutes, I gave up. I drank lukewarm tea by candlelight while reading a book about serial killers. It was a bad day. I needed a hug.
Matters took an immediate turn for the worst. Things got nasty. I wish I knew why I am telling this story… I had a bucket by my bed that I was using during the nauseous times. As I was taking it outside to dump it, stumbling in the dark because the power was out, I tripped.
The next 2 seconds took what seemed like hours to unfold. In what I would call a feat of pure athleticism, I crumpled in a fashion that would keep me out of harms way. The bucket outstretched, I made sure it was the last thing to touch the ground. Time actually slowed down during this sequence. The landing was relatively smooth, save for a small backlash of dinner that landed on my face.
Every Peace Corps Volunteer has a moment like this. If they say otherwise, they are lying or being a jackass. Everyone has the day they doubt themselves. A day or actual moment when they look around and say to themselves something like, “why am I face down in the dirt, covered in my own vomit?”
So Friday was that day for me. If Peace Corps is an emotional tour of peaks and valleys, Friday was the Mariana Trench. I wanted my Mom’s soup, saltine crackers and a warm bath.
Several depressing hours later, I awoke out of my feverish stupor to a text message. It was from Zafu, an awesome kid who heard I was sick.
It said, “Mike-I hope you begin to feel better and have your happiness back tomorrow…
…Cherish all of your happy moments. They make a fine cushion for this hard life”
It was a perfectly timed text; awesome philosophical knowledge dropped on me when I needed it the most. I don’t know what was more impressive, the quote itself, or the translation of it into English. Regardless it was a much-needed boost after an ugly day. And today my happiness is back.