As I was leaving Dublin last week I knew the following week would be quite different. F.ounders is incredible but it’s a strong deviation from normal life.
As I fly away from El Salvador and watch the giant rolling clouds jockey for position, I can’t help but be mesmerized by this unpredictable dance they’re doing. Staring like a toddler at a moving train I am trying to find what to make of all this.
While I want to be focused on the message I’d love to convey the density of the clouds seems to pull my attention from everything else. This little phenomenon is something that El Salvador has presented me with many times during this escapade.
I’m just roaming to be consumed by the experience. Like you would a ballet, a train wreck, a great movie, or the words of someone you’ve waited years to hear speak. Just soaking it in.
As an American, I have the privilege of experiencing all of these things (amazing and horrific) with the knowledge that at the end of all of this… I get to go home. I get to experience these worlds through a lens that I only activate to remember something I experience.
Coming to terms with the things I’m looking at caused some argument in my head. I’m jumping between whether I’ve been subjected to a catered experience, much like I would be at Disney world, or have been allowed to see things for what they are. Trying at the same time to understand if that matters. Ultimately, I don’t think it does.
What I’ve experienced here isn’t the choreography of a non-profit meant to pull money from my pocket. It’s not a spectacle. It’s something that gave me far more insight than I bargained for when I left Des Moines last week.
I didn’t experience this because I had to. I wanted to experience this because I thought it was important to wrap my mind around something different. Knowing that at the end I get to go home and that is a luxury not everyone else has.
For the people we visited. Home is quite different.
As an American, I have the privilege of using a restroom whenever I need to and knowing that if I ever have to go… That’s taken care of. It’s clean and disease free.
For some people… This is the luxurious option.
So as I fly home in my nice comfy airplane seat where I can acquire even the things I need 10,000+ feet above the earth… And get access to a clean bathroom… And an internet connection… It’s finally sinking in a bit.
I came on this trip for some of the right reasons but mostly the wrong ones. I did it, because I needed a change of pace. I did it, because I have this itch in my brain that tells me the life we lead in tech isn’t so natural.
I’m far from successful but I’ve been afforded some experiences that I realize aren’t repeatable. You can only have these types of experiences by finding yourself in the right place at the right time.
I’m a very fortunate person.
I was treated to dinner last week in a Church in Dublin and this week at a Church in El Salvador. At the first church, I was part of a very small group who was the first to dine in the 1000+ year old church. We were then treated to an in-person concert conducted by an Emmy winning producer who I spent a large part of the evening talking to about raising kids in another country. During the whole ordeal I could use my iPhone to do just about anything I want and soak in the experience so I can remember it forever.
Even in another country I’m never without the technology to curate any experience I may have and share it with anyone I select to. A week later, I find myself outside another church for far different reasons.
For the record. That’s not the church I dined at in El Salvador. I just got a better picture of this one.
This isn’t a normal series of experiences but it is worth appreciating. As I go through these various experiences regardless of the country I have a relatively endless supply of anything I could need or want. I don’t have many boundaries except what I can put my mind into and the time it takes me to produce.
None of us really do.
The things you are doing today you can do because you select to. Not many people reading this will have to select their actions today or tomorrow so that they can eat in the next 24 hours. The food will be there and we know it.
I’m afraid we’ve all gotten used to that. As an adult I haven’t experienced a community of people who do not have that luxury.
I’m tasked with producing something of value. Only with taking the things in my head and making them real. For that, I get to experience the world and all the smartest people I can find in it.
My job and my life are built on a simple premise that I create more than I consume.
Even as I’m typing this and it all unfolds. I’m not sure how to describe that discovery except it feels somewhat surreal.
As I fly home, someone else plots to build an entire self-serving eco-system so people can stay alive. I’m not afraid to recognize who is creating the most value at the moment and I’m thankful for the perspective.
During the visit I came across a few amazing projects pushed forward by Enlace. Talapia ponds, eco-stoves, restrooms, and water wells are the focus for building communities.
This little pond produces about 80 talapia a year. Protein that otherwise would be totally lost on the community it feeds. About 100 fish go in at a cost of $7USD per year and the inevitable outcome is more people stay alive, remain more healthy, and can even produce more than they consume.
Spawning commerce and life at the cost of $200USD and a few dozen hours of hard labor.
It’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Farming your protein is one thing. Cooking it is another.
The way these people are cooking actually kills them. I look at the world of manufacturing in certain places as a death sentence without a clear execution date. The things you have the displeasure of consuming simply through your existence will inarguably kill you if you don’t get hit by a truck first. I never thought of cooking as a slow killer the same way.
In an environment where parts of the population must cook all day (they have no way to freeze / maintain / store food) they are releasing smoke all day into the environment they live in.
Imagine living in a house where people smoked so many cigarettes the smoke was pouring out of your house. For these people it’s not a cheeky image from a Cheech and Chong movie. It’s real life.
About $200, some training, and a bit of hard work… People live longer! Changing out a stove actually keeps the family alive longer. Not a bad investment, eh?
Alas. I have a 4top stove, a really nice oven with exhaust, and an endless supply of fish+protien that is sold to me a cost far below what I could produce them for. I’m not supposed to spend my cycles concerned with staying alive…
What a wonderful gift given to me by a few generations of hard work.
“I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.” ~ John adams
It’s odd that from time to time we all exercise that gift in the form of selecting to consume a latte, a red bull, or some water.
Scott does a better job than I will ever do at telling the story of water. It’s the apex of a community. Without the water everyone spreads disease and nothing good happens. In these communities it’s obvious that water has become a cornerstone for each community.
Imagine not having water, walking miles to get some, and spending your months wages on dirty water mixed with someone else’s piss… Then drinking that, cooking with it, and doing it all over again. Some water… Does an astounding amount of good.
These communities originally surrounded their water supply with wire and locks. Why wouldn’t you lock up your most prized possession?
And what they seem to have found is that no one is stupid enough to sabotage them. They give the community life. Now, with that life, they are improving the quality of the longer life they have now been given.
While the suffering is ever present. There are moments of brevity. There are only endless opportunities and the people see it that way. Can you image, waking up for a day and not being beaten down emotionally because your neighbor got a new BMW but being to just enjoy that you’ll find food today?
A little boy flying a kite a hundred yards in the sky housed eyes that lit up like he had just won the super bowl. Simply because there was enough wind to pull it into what appeared to be an endless abyss.
I got to see a friend teach someone to use a camera. It was like a flick of his finger had the same reaction as a kid the first time they ride their bike.
And while from time to time I saw poverty.
I was greeted with smiles and hope. Endless amounts of hope. In a world where there is very little predictability I found myself drowning in people’s hope for the future.
All this hope was tied up in being responsible for the future of the communities. Where gifts didn’t create hope. The ability to build a stove did. Where water bottles didn’t bring hope. Building a well did. Where having free food available to you by standing in line might bring life for another day building a pond would bring life for a year.
Exceptionally impoverished communities betting their future on a infrastructure they’ll build with their own hands instead of standing in line waiting for a handout.
All the while. Enjoying a view in their backyard the rest of us will never be able to afford or wake up to.
As I’ve watched reserves and even Iowa towns shrivel up and explain their pain. I think we all could learn a little something from what is one of the poorest countries on earth.
I can only imagine Zimbabwe.
When you’ve got nothing. Create something. When all is lost. Start over.
A big thanks to Paul for allowing me to come along on this trip. It was an amazing eye opener.
This was a long one. If you made it this far… Thank you.
Even as I wrap this up I’m in Vegas getting a first hand look at how Tony Hsieh builds a community. How different people in the world build communities to serve their existing needs astounds me more every day.
We Americans… We’re a fortunate bunch…