The more I experience life, the more I appreciate the unexplainable. I’ve been trying to teach Francois some of the nuances of the love I feel for my wife. Not an easy task, especially when explaining to an 18-year-old Rwandan boy from the village that’s never experienced love.
When he asked me what it’s like to love Ilea, I said, “I could spend the whole night explaining the things I love about her, but I could not explain what I feel in my heart. It’s unexplainable, beyond my words”. This resulted in hours of conversation that has continued since.
The love I feel for my wife is not something I have the ability to articulate in its entirety. If Shakespeare struggled with it, I doubt I’m going to nail it. I don’t have the words to encapsulate it.
The feeling I get from sitting on the beach, overlooking the Indian Ocean with Africa as the backdrop is more magnificent than I could ever describe. When Francois chooses to serve someone else for no other reason than him seeing a need and wanting to help, I am overwhelmed with joy and gratitude that I am a part of his journey.
Seeing a pregnant mama, knowing that she is choosing to grow a little human inside her womb; that is unexplainable. It’s beauty at it’s purest.
The feeling I get after a hard day of work or a finishing a major project is something I value above most all other feelings. The feeling of understanding your purpose, fulfilling your calling and serving others is more profound than I can explain.
The miracle of how we were created, unique in every way. The way someone can live as profoundly and powerfully as the likes of Mandela, Maya Angelou, Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Bono; that is beyond explanation.
In my experience, the greatest things in life are the ones we have the most difficulty explaining. Francois had a hard time understanding that at first. He wanted to know why. How does that make sense? I explained that it doesn’t have to make sense at all. The true gift is when we can recognize the beauty in something that is beyond explanation.
When you can recognize the beauty in the unexplainable, you’ve found something truly extraordinary. I find it in my relationships with my wife, with Francois, my family, the ocean, Africa, the stars, the moon and in serving others.
It is no longer my desire to figure everything out or find a way for A + B to = C. I’ve learned to appreciate the unexplainable beauty in life. There is a great peace that comes from that. And from that, I find more joy than I ever did from trying to quantify and reconcile life.
There is great beauty is in the unexplainable.
As 2011 has come to a close, my mind has been dwelling more on society’s perspective and priorities. The developed world has created a completely different and unnatural reality and worked diligently to convince society that this way is the only way. And I certainly see the ripple effect even here in Kenya.
It’s fueled by man’s coping mechanisms like money, time and religion, all of which are centered on the core desire for control. People believe they have to follow a certain path in order to be a success. But it’s a lie. It’s contrary to how we were created.
Again and again I come back to the core of what I believe to be important. Relationship, with people and with my Creator, trump all. Everything I do stems from the desire to foster those relationships. Money, time, rules and the status quo are never a driving factor.
Today is January 2nd, 2012. It’s a new year. Seems like a great opportunity to share this beautiful story about an old Mexican fisherman. My father, Dan Miller shared this story with me many years ago and it’s stuck with me every since, acting as a rudder for my life. I hope it blesses you as it has me.
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 he didn’t 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 a 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.”
The American scoffed, “I’m a Harvard MBA and I 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, how long will all this take?” To which the American replied, “15-20 years.” “But what then?” 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? Then what?” the native fisherman asked.
“Then you could retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
As a direct result of the western world’s desire to monetize and control every aspect of our lives, they’ve created a completely unnecessary, divisive and destructive game that most refer to as “reality’. I just call it the status quo, or “normal”. But we weren’t created to be normal. We were created to be extraordinary individuals working together as one body. At the center is relationship.
Here’s a little reminder for the New Year. You don’t have to play the game. We are all creating our own reality every second of the day. Don’t fall into the lie that you have to do as you’re told. You set your own priorities and perspective according to what you believe. And that’s your choice.
Guess what. When it comes to life, the beginning and the end are pretty inconsequential. What matters is how you live your life today. Right now. Don’t sell your soul. Seize the day. Live more. Love more. Infuse more whimsy into your life. Take more advice from Willy Wonka and Seth Godin (the real life Willy Wonka). It’s good for your soul.
Make 2012 the start of a more whimsical reality, full of love and beautiful relationships. Spend less time trying to DO and GET more, and a lot more time focused on BEING more. Start something that matters.
Go forth and liberate your soul.
In March 2006, I dropped everything in Nashville (TN) and moved to Kigali, Rwanda to pursue my dream of developing businesses that would foster an image of beauty and excellence for Africa. About two weeks into it, I met Francois Murengerantwari. He was an 11 year old street kid, selling some odds and ends at my office complex in order to have a little food to survive.
I appreciated his entrepreneurialism and we became fast friends. Soon I had him in school, living at my home. It’s been almost six years and he’s as tall as I am now. Through the years, we’ve struggled, laughed and learned together. Now we are family, and he is my son.
Eight months ago, my wife and I moved Mombasa, Kenya, about a 32 hour bus ride from Kigali. Last week, after much preparation, Francois joined us here for a new adventure. He turned 18 last week, so naturally, he’s ready to be a man and take control of his future.
Francois grew up in Ruhengeri, a rural village in the northwestern mountains of Rwanda. His father died before he was two, prompting his mother to send him to live with his grandparents while she found work in Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali. He lived with them for most of his early childhood, believing they were his mother and father.
Life was difficult with no water, no clothes a small home and food was sparse. At age nine, Francois followed his mother to Kigali in hopes of a better life. She got him a job as a houseboy, making $2.50 per month. However, being that he was just a small boy, the work proved to be much more than he could handle. His stepfather did not want him in the house with them, so he soon ended up out on the streets, alone at age ten. I met him about a year later.
Over the years we’ve talked much about our spiritual beliefs, character traits, relationships, perspective and future. He’s in search of significance and purpose, navigating the excitement and mystery of the unknown much the same as any other 18 year old.
When Francois arrived, he asked me “What will be my life?” I was happy to experience his wonder and desire to do more than merely exist. Whether you’re a street kid from Rwanda or a stockbroker on Wall Street, we’re all essentially searching for the same thing; purpose.
I explained that there is nothing more important than relationships, so we’ll start there. Then we will foster experiences to inspire him, expand his perspective and ultimately fulfill his purpose.
It is most important to discover who you are, and how you are bent. What do you want to contribute to? Who do you want to serve? How will you bring more love into the world? What are you passionate about?
Money and jobs will come and go, but relationships, purpose and vocation are a lifelong journey worth our full attention.
Every night we sit on our rooftop overlooking the Indian Ocean beneath the inspiration and wonder of the night sky. As we discuss Francois’ life, I am reminded again of my core beliefs, priorities and life perspective. I’m grateful for this reminder. The responsibility of leading someone else inevitably causes me to be more diligent about exemplifying my own ethos.
When a person asks, “What will be my life”, it’s necessary to review the priorities and perspective from which you will operate. Francois is discovering those elements now, and will likely be refining them for the rest of his life.
In the mean time, I’ve assured him that his life is happening right now, so he should be sure to enjoy the journey and seize the day.
This morning, Francois said, “I only want to make peace. It is most important”. I think that’s a good place to start.
When we operated in Rwanda, people were chomping at the bit to come and work with us. Why? Rwanda has been a hotbed for conflict (in the past). It’s right next to the DRC, another hot zone. These places are sexy to budding activists. Those that work in these areas are regarded as better, more caring human beings; revolutionaries.
To be a good humanitarian you must sacrifice, suffer and live in a conflict zone.
Or, you could dig a little deeper.
Over the past six years of living in East Africa, I’ve learned that more than anything, Africa wants more business, not more aid. I’ve also learned that attempting to build solid businesses with the poorest of the poor in the middle of a conflict zone is not the most logical path to business development.
Starting with entrepreneurs with the skills, determination and experience to lead thriving businesses has proven to be a much more successful method. As their businesses grow, their “success” tends to trickle down to the poorest of the poor, offering more jobs and infrastructure along the way.
Furthermore, finding these entrepreneurs in the midst of conflict areas is nearly impossible. These people are struggling just to survive, and there’s no infrastructure or resources to support them. Their businesses are sabotaged daily by all sorts of outside forces.
A few years ago we decided to move to Mombasa, Kenya; not necessarily known for conflict. It’s a tourist beach town on the Indian Ocean. It’s beautiful and magical and thousands of tourists flock here annually.
It’s also ripe for business development. The business conditions are far from ideal, but compared to some of the hot zones I’ve lived in, it’s pretty optimal. When we develop a business here, it really has the opportunity to thrive and impact larger communities for the long haul.
But guess what? Many former supporters have turned their attention elsewhere. Interns are not as attracted to our work because life here doesn’t seem sacrificial enough. Nevermind the potential for impact.
When you say you live and work in Africa, people expect you should be dodging hand grenades in order to be effective. Not so. There’s a time and place for that, but it’s not very conducive for business development.
Africa wants business. Business makes the world turn, like it or not. The western/developed world isn’t perfect. But there are a lot fewer people dying of starvation and disease there. And the developed world wasn’t built on aid; it was built on solid businesses.
If you wanted to assemble a football team that would raise up a nation, you’d find the best players in the best area and go for it. Or you could pick the least qualified players in an area with insurmountable obstacles. Doing this may earn you lots of praise, but it’s not likely to produce the desired results.
If the nation is depending on this team, why not put your best foot forward…for the country?
It’s not as likely to earn you accolades, but it might be more impacting. I guess at that point you just have to question your true motivation; impact or accolades?
Giving to a charity feels good. If you were raised in America or the UK, you’re likely very comfortable and familiar with giving to various causes. It’s part of the fabric of modern developed society.
We know there is a need for charity work, especially in developing regions like Africa. We need emergency food, access to clean water, health care and better education, for sure. There is a time and a place for aid work, and I’m glad society gives so freely to support that work.
However, over the past few decades, aid organizations have gotten a little too comfortable. When I walk down the street in any East African capital, I see rows and rows of aid organizations, many of which have been there running the same programs for as many as 15 -20 years.
Donors are comfortable donating to them and the agencies are comfortable doing what they do. But is this really in line with what Africa wants and needs? Is this sustainable? If you ask any African on the street if they want more business or more charity, they will all tell you business. If you don’t believe that, I would challenge you to ask around, and truly listen.
People don’t feel comfortable fostering and supporting business development. It’s too involved. There’s a lot more evaluation and commitment needed, and most people just aren’t up for that level of involvement.
Could you imagine if America had more money coming in through aid than through business? Then why is it so easy to think that’s the way it should be for Africa? Why don’t we just focus on creating great products and great businesses in Africa?
Donors and aid agencies typically spend more time trying to keep their organizations running than they do fostering long term solutions (that are a lot more difficult to raise funds for).
Would you support an African entrepreneur that wants to start a micro enterprise like sewing or jewelry making? How about an African businesswoman that wants to start a restaurant? How about a fashion label that is creating jobs and a better image for Africa? How about a new cinema or coffee shop?
At what point in the above questioning did you completely lose interest? Why?
It’s easy to justify giving money to an organization that will help with a micro business, but it’s a lot more difficult to compel people to invest in real businesses that will ultimately serve Africa much more robustly for the long haul.
At some point, the developed world is going to have to let go of its financial dependence on the industry of aid and start fostering real businesses so Africa can rise up on her own.
Why are these celebrities using their star power to generate millions of dollars for charity and garner backing from influential political leaders when they could just keep buying Ferraris and houses in the Hamptons? It’s madness!
When was the last time you dedicated even a fraction of your time, money or influence towards a philanthropic endeavor, much less countless hours and millions of dollars?
What are you doing right now to make the world a better, more peaceful and loving place?
When was the last time you honed your musical talent, created a successful rock band and dropped $32 Billion in debt from 18 African countries or raised more money and awareness for eradicating HIV (in Africa) than any other human on the planet? Bono does that in his spare time. Literally.
Clooney just launched the Satellite Sentinel Project, designed to deter mass atrocities and crimes against humanity in Sudan/South Sudan. I’ve been volunteering and lobbying for this kind of effort in that region for almost 10 years. Clooney put this together in less than a year and it’s one of the most effective philanthropic initiatives I’ve ever witnessed. Phenomenal.
Pitt and Jolie have given Millions of dollars to philanthropy. Jolie has spent serious amounts of time in over 22 poverty stricken countries, purchased fleets of airplanes, acted as a UNHCR ambassador, flown into into extreme threat zones when others wouldn’t and on and on. Pitt and Jolie donated $8 Million in 2006 alone.
In December 2001, Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addition vocalist and creator of Lollapalooza) flew into politically-troubled Sudan with other members of Christian Solidarity International to negotiate the release of Sudanese slaves. Jane’s Addiction donated their earnings from one concert for the redemption of over 2,300 people. This is a rock star that most parents wouldn’t let their kids listen to.
I could go on and on. The list is endless. I’ve only touched on a few, largely because they are the ones most criticized.
Is there anyone that can look at this list, along with thousands of other instances, and say that this work shouldn’t have been done? Is their work irrelevant because they are famous?
Do these celebrities gain more power and money because of their good deeds? They sure do. Why shouldn’t they? It just gives them more power and money to do more good.
There are plenty of celebs out there just using their power for personal gain. If you want to gripe about celebrities, how about putting the negative focus on them?
How hypocritical and dichotomous is it for people to criticize celebs for doing good around the world? Who cares what they gain from it? All I care about is the fact that so much good is being done in such a public manner that it’s creating a new standard and trend. Can you think of a better trend to foster?
Seriously. Why would you fight a trend of famous, influential rich people donating their time and money to philanthropy? Really?
Who needs celebrity philanthropy? The world does. In fact, we could use a little philanthropy from anyone willing to do it well, don’t you think?
From the first time I saw We Are the World on MTV in 1985, I was hooked on Africa. I was 6 at the time. I dreamed of coming to Africa to “help”. I had no idea of the journey that would unfold as I followed that dream.
As the years passed, my attention was consistently focused on learning more and more about Africa. I was enthralled with the culture, the people, the stunning landscapes and deep history.
I’m also mesmerized and awed by the sea. I love the coastal culture and for me there is no greater representation of God’s power and creativity in nature than the full moon reflecting off of the sea, palm trees swaying in the wind. Utter bliss.
This love of the coast combined with my love for Africa, naturally led me to Mombasa, Kenya. It’s the culmination of everything I love about Africa, and specifically, the Swahili culture. Swahili is actually an Arabic word meaning “coastal dwellers”, and has now defined a people, region, language and rich culture.
I did not grow up in a financially well off family. However, I did grow up in a family that fostered the idea that we are to dream big and believe in our ability to make manifest those dreams. Since I was 16, my dream has been to live on the beach in Mombasa. 18 years later, here I am.
Ilea and I married on May 8th, 2010. We sat down and said “we are going to believe this Mombasa dream into fruition; we’ll make it manifest, despite all of the odds against us”. We had no money, no concrete plan and very little income. Less than one year later, we are sitting on our balcony, overlooking the sea.
This morning, I woke at 6:30 AM as usual, and stood outside as I sipped my coffee and took it all in. We live in a quaint little two bedroom, one bath condo on the third (top) floor. We have an amazing rooftop where we spend our nights stargazing with my telescope (thank you Ilea and family!). We have a beautifully landscaped common area for a front yard that leads right up to the beach.
The mornings are filled with sounds of exotic birds, geckos (yes, they make noises) and ocean waves; and nothing else. The afternoons are quiet, and the breeze flows soothingly through the house all day. In the evenings, our home is filled with the ever-present symphony of laughter, children and talking from families and visitors on the beach, only 50 meters away. I never tire of that song.
Our home has a new coat of brilliant white from top to bottom. We have no furniture other than a mattress that lies on the floor, draped in a mosquito net. It’s the perfect blank canvas to paint our story and create what my mother calls “a heaven of peace”.
We keep looking at each other and saying, “hey, this is where we live”. We are constantly in awe of it all.
We do the work we love and are passionate about. We have purpose. We have a beautiful marriage. And we just landed the most lucrative (and really cool) consulting contract we’ve ever received. Our adopted Rwandan son, Francois, is moving here to live with us in a month. More on that soon…
In some ways, our lives today seem surreal. But as I contemplate it more this morning, I realize again that this is how our lives were designed to unfold. We were created to live this way.
Every step of the way, we deliberately chose to believe that we could achieve this. We choose not to let fear conquer us. We choose to believe in abundance, that we’ll always have more than what we need. We believe in each other. And we believe that the universe and our Creator are always working for us, not against us.
We chose this life. We didn’t let doubts and social norms stop us from bringing it into fruition. We got out of the way and let it come to us. And now it’s here.
We are blessed, and oh so grateful. And we’re just getting started.
I realize how blessed I am to have a happy marriage, to a wife I admire and respect, that inspires me to be a better man, and that I am madly in love with.
We have an adopted son, Francois, from Rwanda that we love dearly. He calls me “father”. I am teaching him to be a man of integrity and strength. He is teaching me patience, understanding and perspective.
After four years in Rwanda and one year back in the US, we move to Mombasa, Kenya, indefinitely. We came here with $700 in hand and some substantial debt, believing we could make it work. We had no income and no promise of work. We did not know a soul in Mombasa before we moved here. We had no relationships set up for our business (KEZA). Every bit of logic said this move would be a disaster. But we had each other, big dreams, determination and a lot of faith.
Four months later, we have a group of friends that have become family to us. Francois is moving here from Rwanda to live with us. We move into our new condo on the beach in two days. We’ve set up a partnership with an amazing artisan workshop that supports the handicapped, and I’m finally in the design room again.
We run an ethical fashion label that affords us the opportunity to work with amazing people, from Africa to New York to London. We’re showcasing the beauty and excellence of Africa, which brings us great joy. We’ve just been asked by the Mombasa Coast Tourism Association to head up the Swahili Coast Fashion Group, as an effort to bolster the fashion industry along the coast.
We started our philanthropy consulting company (Angaza) in January, hoping we could figure out a way to make a living by helping others bring their altruistic endeavors into fruition. It worked. We’ve got business coming in regularly and it’s afforded us the opportunity to play a vital role in so many beautiful projects that foster a more peaceful and just world.
We have purpose, love, passion, beautiful relationships and we live exactly where we want to live. We love the rawness and beauty of the Swahili Coast culture. And the landscape is breathtaking.
We have many people that have supported us along the way; that have invested in our lives and specifically in our character. We are grateful for all of you that believe in us and encourage us daily.
There is nothing logical or academic about how we’ve achieved this lifestyle that we love so much. We literally chose the life we wanted and believed in it until it manifested before us. We are still shocked sometimes at how things continue to come together, despite the odds.
By most people’s standards, the way we live seems like complete lunacy. But we love it. It is a commitment to love and faith that the universe is always working to bless us that has gotten us here. It’s a minute by minute decision to believe this way. And God has blessed us beyond what we were even able to cook up in our dreams.
Love manifests love. It’s as simple as that.
Prior to the 1492 invasion, American Indians lived rather peacefully, and without money. They lived communally, taking care of one another. People did not act so much as individuals, but as one unit.
Then we moved into the trading era, where American Indians began to trade with one another and the Europeans. Soon, society began to crave more, faster, bigger and better. So we skip ahead to the Industrial Revolution of the 1800 and 1900s. Then in 1913 Henry Ford created the assembly line and production methods leapt forward once again.
The growing demand for mass production created a dynamic whereby society turned a blind eye to sweat shop labor and slavery. We’ve seen this evolution time and time again throughout history.
The Fair Trade movement began in Europe in the 1960s, as a movement towards more ethical production methods. In 1989 the World Fair Trade Organization was launched, solidifying a worldwide movement. It became sort of an international minimum wage standard. Certainly a step in the right direction.
The Internet has fostered transparency like we’ve never seen before. The veil has been dropped and the movement towards higher standard for ethics and ecologically sound production methods are growing exponentially. There is certainly nothing that would indicate that society would ever allow for a movement back in the other direction.
In short, we went from taking care of one another (essentially for free), to trading, to mass production, to sweat shops and slavery (again) and finally on to a more pervasive expectation of ethical and eco-friendly production standards (Fair Trade).
I believe the next progression will be towards a more personal connection between the consumer and the producer of the goods. When it comes to art and creativity, there is no substitute for humanity.
If we’re producing technological devices, for sure, let the robots do that. But when it comes to artful creations such as fashion, painting, sculpting and music, we want as much humanity infused as possible.
There was a time when society wanted everyone to have the same cool purse or shirt. Now we want to be individual. We want something unique hat expresses our own individuality, with a human touch. The closer we can get to the producer, the better. We want to know the story of the hands that created what we’re wearing. Where did they come from? What inspired them? What life experience compelled them to design this way? Why did they use these materials?
As an ethical fashion label, we know that the more we can connect someone to the artisan that created the product, the higher the perceived value of the product. The more value we give to the human story behind a product, the more that dynamic will be fostered by the masses.
In an age of the rise of the machines, this is certainly a trend we can get behind, and one that is here to stay.
Just after writing this, I discovered a brilliant organization called IOWEYOU. They exemplify the concept I just described in this post.
It’s those little things in life that sometimes do wonders to give us perspective. All of our housemates where in the kitchen the other night talking about the fact that we just got a nice (and much needed) tax return.
I jokingly said, “Yeah, I actually almost splurged and bought some Nutella! But I didn’t.”
Nutella is an Italian chocolaty spread made from hazelnuts. It’s admittedly odd that we hold it in such high regard. It costs $5.75 at the grocery (Nakumatt).
It was interesting to analyze the reality that four financially independent, early 30s, world travelers were all in agreement that:
A) Nutella was a suitable splurge to celebrate a financial victory.
B) Spending $5.75 to celebrate is a bit excessive.
That led me to realizing some other similar realities. In Mombasa, in our group of friends, we expect that a meal should not exceed 200 Shillings ($2.30). If it does, it’s “too expensive”. For the most part, we shoot for about $1.00 per meal each.
It’s interesting how your perspective changes when the money you make has true purpose. We don’t view money merely as a way to buy things for ourselves. It’s a tool used to obtain food, clean water, freedom of oppression and cures for diseases. Contributing to those solutions is what brings us joy.
If money exists to bring us joy, you have to ask yourself, “what brings me joy?” Is it buying stuff for myself, or ensuring that the 18 Glue Kids on my street have food in their bellies tonight?
When you’re living in that setting, the answer is pretty clear. It’s when you’ve completely removed yourself from that level of humanity that things become cloudy. And eventually it becomes easier to justify selfish desires over serving others.
Most money conversations that are had in developed nations such as the United States revolve around house mortgages, new cars, designer clothes, cosmetic surgery, makeup and other personal things.
We need money to survive. And life is more than just surviving. But the things I care about most have nothing to do with money. My happiness comes from relationships and serving others. I’m not a martyr. I’m not suffering. And I’m not saying you’re a bad person when you buy a pair of nice jeans.
I believe money can bring us joy when we use it wisely. I believe it is to be used to buy things that that bring us closer to humanity, as well as put clothes on our own backs.
Money only has the power that we give it.
If I have the choice to spend $20 on a meal for myself, or $20 on a meal that will feed 5 kids, and myself, I’ll pick the latter. Why? Because it brings me joy.
Much like Nutella, money is better when shared.