Slow by slow.

August 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Connections with people take time.

Recall the last time you went on a road trip with a good friend. You know, the kind of trip where you have been travelling for what seems like days. The remnants of at least three snack stops are scattered at your feet, all the water in the bottles is too hot to drink, and you know every song on the playlist.

Remember the smell of stale chips and dirty feet.

The past two days have been spent in the car, a purple RAV 4 with no shocks and a finicky blinker. I consider those hours to be productive because I am travelling with Chiko–my friend, boss, business master and of course expert at all things Zambia.

I haven’t been here long, but yesterday, on the first leg of the journey back to Northwest province, I was able to look back and remember my first trip to Mwinilunga. We were in the forest fruits van, Chiko and I.

I was new, exhausted. For Chiko this set the “travelling with Ann” standard which to him, means that I sleep pretty much the whole way. Chiko always reminds me of the first trip whenever we travel, he recalls me trying to ask questions, but not really sure what to say. We were trying to get to know each other. Like any relationship, the first part is always the most awkward–both unsure of each other. Conversation seemed forced, uncomfortable. The trip was noticeably long, all I could think about was why on earth someone one place me two days away from the capital city, or that it had been over 500 kilometers since the last proper filling station. The trees were big and there were hills, this was not the Zambia I had expected.

Three months later… I am on the same road with the same person. Yet, things are different, the conversation is unstoppable. We are both bursting with things to say, with ideas, with excitement. We stop only to sing at the top of our lungs when our favorite song comes around again. Naturally we put it on repeat at least two more times. We sing, and we laugh. We give each other a hard time about one thing or another. We remember those times when our texting or phone conversations get a little crass because we are both a bit stubborn. We laugh again, and of course apologize again.

The trip seems short, the roads less bumpy. I feel comfortable in Northwestern province and struggle to imagine living anywhere else. I recognize stops along the way, I am familiar with the route.

Chiko and I are both happy to be out of Lusaka—too much traffic, too many people, one might even say too much anonymity.

I wish I could bring everyone reading this into that RAV 4 with me. I want everyone to be in the backseat, watching as Chiko and I stop mid sentence—we know the song playing and we have to focus on being backup singers 🙂 .

It was one of those moments in my life where I realized the value of time; I realized that Chiko and I have become friends. I don’t know when it happened. Maybe the first time we disagreed, or maybe the first time I brought up a good point and he realized I wasn’t completely useless :), maybe it was when we both discovered similar interests in economics and development, maybe when we started talking about each other’s families.

We didn’t know all of this stuff about each other the first time we met; we didn’t know three months later we would be having an insightful conversation on different business cultures across the world– while eating chicken and chips for the third time that day…

It is the time we spend with people that makes these connections. It isn’t coming into a situation, isolating yourself so you can get the most work done. It isn’t sacrificing human interaction to stare at a computer screen to finish one more report. It isn’t shying away from tough conversations. Agreed, there is a time and a place for all of these things as well, but that’s not the point of this post.

The important thing to me it is treating everyone like your family. It is people buying you food just because “you are there”. It is getting frustrated with someone and both of you laughing about it ten minutes later.

It is about realize that to have the most impact you have treat this like life in Canada, you have to go out and find friends. It is like the first day of university all over again. Thrown into a situation where everyone you meet is new to you, and you know that at the end of it all, some of the people you meet the first day will be your friends, they will be your brothers and your sisters.

So it is about the work, about the reports and the meetings and all the other stuff. But it is also about being happy, being happy with the people you are traveling, hanging out, and working with.

It is making mistakes but not regretting them.

Thanks for reading!!

A work related post is coming soon! Stay tuned!

Categories: Uncategorized

“First you get the capital…..”

July 11, 2010 1 comment

I want to talk money… I want to talk capacity…I want to know your thoughts on the relationship of both these things—for I just don’t know anymore.

Working with Rent-to-Own is amazing. But, like any small business it gets confusing. It is an endless chicken and egg dilemma.  What comes first? Capital, or capacity? The business people we work with have the capacity but not the capital, and right now, from my perspective, Rent-to-Own has the access to capital but lacks the capacity.

Two weeks ago, while working from an agent level I couldn’t stop saying capacity, “first you get the capacity” at the time it was clear in my mind that we had to support our agents and that we should be investing the time into making our current team stronger. But this past week I have been working from a management level, and now I am leaning more toward the money. We need to have the capital to make the company work more efficiently, to build capacity we need capital.

But when we focus on capital we are not focusing on capacity. An endless circle of confusion!

Is this making any sense?

I know that the easy answer is a balance of both, but when there is a small team of people–all who are super busy, we have to prioritize. We have to figure out what the perfect balance is, what does it look like and how can we find it? We need to find this equilibrium. It is both, but how do you get it?

When do you stop investing your time in a person and move on to someone who is better suited for the job? When and how do you choose to grow?

Rent-to-Own can develop, it has to grow, the demand is there. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of each entrepreneur that I meet. I see Peter, who comes from his farm where he says, he works with a “group of young, strong men, we hand irrigate, with buckets from the river, everyday to make our vegetables grow larger and faster. If we can work together, bring our money together we can buy a treadle pump”  Peter knows his business, he was already talking about new markets where he can sell his product. We need capital to deal with Peter and his coworkers.  But we also need the agent in his area to be able to support and grow with Peter.

I see this demand, but I fear if we don’t have the network of agents supported we will not grow smoothly. Too many mistakes will be made, and trust is a hard thing to gain and such an easy thing to loose.

Business is tough, growth is hard and learning is important—it is the quest for the balance that eludes me, and is my greatest desire to discover.

“First you get the…uh what?”

Categories: Uncategorized

Have Sleeping Bag—will travel.

July 9, 2010 1 comment

Is it crazy that after 21 years of living the one thing that surprises me the most is simple human kindness? Is it strange that the kindness of strangers is what makes me smile harder then I have ever smiled before?

Two nights ago, I took a journey. From Solwezi to Kabompo, a seven hour trip. Most of it unpaved.

We left too late, the sun was sinking low into the sky—it sets quickly here.  We couldn’t leave earlier because the police were at a checkpoint, and we were carrying too many passengers on the back.

Don’t tell anyone, but I was one of those passengers.

The young woman with the baby took the place in the cab. Clearly.

I had my sleeping bag and every piece of clothing I was currently carrying on me. It is cold in Zambia. I am sitting beside an older man. He has nestled himself into a crevice in the back, we are sitting on his floor tiles. He has traveled this route before.

The journey is long, it is also a little scary. I understand now why Mark told me to think of my safety the last time I tried to get into the back of a canter. I understand perfectly.

But Mark, where is the adventure? I am smiling as I write this, because one day he will read this and shake his head.

I am on the edge, not so close that it is dangerous. There is Rowland, a co-worker on the right. He is suffering; it is cold at this time of night and the sleeping bag is only half covering him.

I try to play the glad game, “I am glad…it isn’t raining, I am glad…I have the sleeping bag, I am glad…I have a cozy bed to crawl into when I get back to “the ‘bomp”, I am glad…I can’t feel my toes, I am glad….to look at these stars” Rowland tires of my game pretty quickly, I don’t blame him.

I try to stay positive, I chat with the people beside me, but soon it is too cold to even interact. Everyone just wants to keep their hot air inside of them.

I am tired and frustrated, it is cold and I am wishing I wasn’t there. I am losing the happiness I try to constantly maintain.

Around hour five, into the wee hours of the morning. I wake up to find hands around my ankles and a firm grasp at my back. Everyone is lying down, in various stages of sleep. Everyone is uncomfortable, but everyone is watching out for me. Everyone is watching out for each other. We all get as close as possible to keep the heat around us. The man sitting beside me holds on to my sleeping bag tight for fear I will fall off the edge, (don’t worry mum, I was secure) If one person says “I need more room” everyone moves, every person shifts, all of those little movements make a big difference to that one person. We have become a team, a family. I can’t help but smile and think how incredibly beautiful life is. How humans care, and don’t even think twice about it.  Suddenly, I am filled with an overwhelming feeling of wonder and joy–my body feels a little warmer.

I have never experienced such camaraderie as I did in the back of that truck, when we finally arrive at 3 am, I say goodbye and promise to say hello next time I am in the market walking past my new friends at the tile flooring shop.

Do we experience such kindness in Canada? I know that we do, I know that I have. Where you can be in the worst of situations but all of a sudden you are reminded of the complete and utter amazingness that is human nature.

What if everyone could just shift a little closer, all of those tiny little movements making a big difference in the comfort of others?

Yikes, humans are amazing.  I hope that wherever you are reading this you think back to a time when there was so much joy radiating through your body that you could hardly stand it!

Signing off,

The luckiest girl in the world

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today I ranted

July 2, 2010 14 comments

Today I ranted. A big rant. A rant that went in whatever direction it could. The kind where you wish it had been recorded, because you are pretty sure, between the chaos, it was pure genius. Passion does that to a gal.

I have lived in countries where the divide between men and women is huge. In Bulgaria, in Guatemala, in Mexico, in Canada.

But today, in Zambia, I just didn’t want to hear it.

Everywhere I look, I see women, women working–children on their backs, maize on their heads, jugs of water in their hands, all of this simultaneously.

I see women husking maize, I see women cooking, and cleaning, I see them farming. I see them working at the hospitals and in the shops. I see them at the market. I see them walking to school. They are in the backs of trucks covered in dirt. I see them climbing, running, walking.

So when a man asks me “as a woman, you think you can do that?”

I tell him to look around. Look at his world. Open his eyes and see. “Look around” I say. As a woman, I see woman doing it all. I see a young mother with her baby on her back climbing into the back of a big truck. I see her throwing her leg over the side, and hoisting herself up, muscles strong and confident. I see the men sitting in cab, waiting.

The women I see, are doing, they are doing it all. They are the ones that make this country move. They are the backbone, the muscle, the skin, the nerves and the brain of this operation.

Women are the ones who actually talk to me, they are the ones who smile at me in the market. The women remember my name and say hello. It is the Zambia women who have opened their arms to me.

I live with Sister Jean and her niece Eliza. At nights when the dishes are washed and put away, our conversation often turns to many things, but the other night is was women. Sister Jean is the breadwinner in her family. And her family is big. She argues with men. She is feisty. We are both brought to tears when we speak of HIV/AIDS in this country and the women who have very little control over their own bodies.

I see her as a leader in her community. And as a woman she can do anything. Because she will never let a man tell her she cannot.

That was my rant, let me know your thoughts!

Categories: Uncategorized

Truck Driver Wisdom

July 2, 2010 1 comment

The sun is starting to set, I am in a town that is unknown to me. I know the next mini-bus is at least an hour away. I take my chances on a transport truck. I flag him down, typical Zambian style. My arm out, trying to look desperate. The transport slows, and I walk up to the door. I ask if they are going to Kabompo and might have room for one more. I get the knod from the driver and I am in. He asks how much I have, and I reply “not much”, with a smile. 10 pin,  which is the same as the mini bus. I agree, he agrees. We are off.

Beside me is a woman and her young child, asleep. There is also a man, he is chatty, asking me where I come from and what I am doing and of course if I am learning either Lavale or Lunda. I give him the run down of my language ability. He is mildly impressed as we laugh.

He has a plastic bag with him, I see he has his toothbrush and an old tin cup. The necessities’ of life he tells me, when he catches my eyes looking.

The road is a dangerous mixture of sand and gravel. Bumpy from overuse and big trucks– like this one. The driver is good, I feel safe.

It is always something to be so close to people, physically close. Our legs touching, her baby’s head grazing my shoulder.

I learn that the woman is 21, her birthday is September 5th, she has two children. The eldest is 5.

The sun dips lower in the sky, I am tired, and I just want to get home. The driver turns to me, he says “you must be very brave”. I laugh, “I am not sure I understand” I say.

He tells me that I am in a place I have never been before, in a country where people don’t speak like me, act like me, or even look like me. He says he would never go to Canada. He would never be brave enough; he has too much fear of unknown things and places.

I say “people are kind and this is the adventure.” It isn’t bravery. I tell him he is braver then me, he is brave because he also visits places unknown, he drives across the country. Into strange lands where he knows no one. He does it because he has to, because it is his adventure. It is his bravery that brings him to places to Kabompo. His adventure has a family counting on it, his adventure will always be bigger then mine.  His bravery will always mean more.

I say these words, and he smiles, he knows this true. Our adventures do not compare, and most importantly our bravery is not even measured in the same units.

We continue to talk about adventures–bumpy roads present in each. We speak of the people we have met and the breakdowns we have had.  It is a wonderfully long way back to Kabompo.

I ask to be dropped at the market, he tells me tomorrow he is driving to Chingola. Bad roads most of the way, weighed down with a load of maize.

As I hop down from the cab, the driver smiles and me he tells me to enjoy my adventure my reply to him is to do the same.

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Heading to Kabompo

Tomorrow morning I leave for Kabompo, which is where I will spend much of the next month. It is Northwestern province. Internet access is sparse, so this might be my last blog post for a while. I will try to compose offline and then when I have internet try to download everything and get it to the world.

I have been enjoying Lusaka these past few days. I like the hustle and bustle of city life. Lots of people coming and going and there is so much to do. It will be quite a contrast to where I am going. A much more remote and smaller set of communities, it will be nice to be removed from so much of the communication that seems inescapable when it is available.

I have been spending much of my time with Mark and Chiko, I am trying to learn the ins and outs of Rent-to-Own (RTO), (see tab). Yesterday, I went to a farm equipment dealer (SARO) and spent a few hours with a mechanic, I am trying to develop manuals for each of the pieces of equiptment that RTO deals with. It is a fun side project, and I have already learned a lot about water pumps, generators, de-huskers, harrows and more. I had to ask a lot of questions but Raphael (the mechanic) was amazing. This manual will hopefully be helpful to people, like me, who have very little mechanical experience. Number one rule, if a machine is making funny noises, turn it off 🙂 That and make sure there is fuel. Ha ha.

The trip to Kabompo will take until maybe Tuesday or Wednesday. I am going to visit a few places where RTO is doing very well. It will be nice to see everything in action. I definitely learn by doing.

Well, that is kind of what has been going on where I am. Hope all is well wherever you are reading this.

Smiles,

Ann

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The flight..

May 18, 2010 1 comment

Misleading title. We actually didn’t get on the flight. But we did get to the airport, through security and on the express moving sidewalk thing. It was a sad walk back.

It was quite a pre-adventure. We will call it our dress rehearsal, and my goodness we did it well.

Currently we are at the EWB house, refusing to un-pack, so the bags stay in the living room creating a larger fire hazard then any of us would like admit.

Our heads and our hearts were ready to leave last night, it is weird feeling to say goodbye to yourself, we will change this summer. Time anywhere makes a person grow. Coming back to the house was not what we had expected to do last night, and I think we were all a little in shock when we finally got home in the wee hours of the morning.

Pre-departure training was a unique experience, it was intense. We worked hard, much of our time was spent learning about our roles in our placements.

Our homework one night was to create a value chain (see value chain tab) for anything. Jessica and I choose to do honey. A simple chain that looks at inputs, production, processing and distribution of a product. The original process was simple.

Source: Hans Hesse Intro to Agriculture Value Chains

Yet, when we presented it to Trevor, he shut us down pretty quickly 🙂 in a good way. We weren’t diving into the complexity of the AVC. we were then sent to the board with an hour to figure it all out. After a quick learning curve involving tomatoes in Ontario we went to it. Below is the result.

Check out our chalk board masterpiece

Anyway, I will post more about AVCs hopefully tomorrow. It has gotten late already, and today has been a long day figuring out how to fix the flights and get us to Southern Africa as soon as possible.

We are now leaving on Wednesday, volcano clouds permitting.

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