A Slap in the Face - And a Lesson Learned
The Christmas season is almost over here in England. A few more celebrations left perhaps but for the most part it's almost time to get on with the new year - with 2019 - and get back to work.
This year I had the great privilege of spending Christmas with - and learning from, - four generations of my family. I got to listen to - and learn from - my parents in law, my wife, my children and my grandson. And, with the exception of my wife and my youngest daughter, they all came a long way so that I could do so.
My parents in law, who are both over 82, drove over 600 km from the Netherlands. My oldest son flew in with his family from Switzerland. My youngest son traveled over seven hours from Bournemouth to visit us in Kent. Spending hundreds of pounds to spend time together.
It’s not about the hundreds pound we spend though is it? It’s about spending time together. Filling our heads and hearts with memories. Spending quality time together. Creating a precious bubble that can never be replicated, that will always be remembered and that it's very hard to leave. I'm sure you know exactly what I mean.
A Different Kind of Bubble
Those precious bubbles exist all over the world. Including in the developing countries that are so close to my heart. They just don't have the resources to travel to visit distant friends and relatives, or to pile gifts under a big Christmas tree. Or in many cases to even have a Christmas tree at all.
But I don’t want to go on about what you know already about developing countries. I want to tell you what I learned from my friends in Uganda. What it means to have next to nothing and to have the most amazing time together. To fill the air with laughter, songs and to say thank you. To be grateful and to share.
My friends create their precious bubble without all the trappings of gifts and decorations and endless marketing. So who is really poor? My friends who can have a great time with little more than one another's company or so many of us, whose 'happiness' at this time of year often revolves around buying 'stuff' we really don't need and eating WAY more than we should. Do we get poorer the more we get and get lost in all of that? I think the answer might be yes, don't you?
The Wealthy Man
The slap in the face in the title? I received that - metaphorically - two years ago during one of my earliest visits to West Uganda. I was there to talk about being an entrepreneur, about how to take a vision and start a business. And I was on a roll. But there was one man, a 'wealthy' man I'd been told, who kept challenging me. It was annoying, and I have to admit that my answers become very short and terse and my attitude rather arrogant.
After the meeting came a tour of some of the attendees houses. We started at the pastor's house and we received one of his chickens. After the pastor we went to the home of one of the leaders. And again we received again a chicken. The “wealthy” man was following us the whole time. I felt quite uncomfortable.
The “wealthy” man asked my friend and guide if we would then do us the honour of visiting his home as well. As you can imagine, I was not really motivated to do so, but we went. I was at least a little curious to see how this 'wealthy' man lived compared to his peers.
Twenty minutes later, having driven through deep, dense jungle, we stopped in front of a traditional African bush-house. A woman with a newborn kneeled down to welcome me to their house. A little bit confused, I asked if this was the wealthy man's house. And the man said, yes with the biggest proudest smile.
He showed me his four goats, a few chickens and introduced me to his other three children. Is this all? A wealthy man? With one light bulb and one room in his house. Made from clay and straw. Only his second oldest son had the privilege of going to school. But to him, and others, all of this made him wealthy.
Wow, “big – I know everything - Dino” started to shrink, and they weren't even finished yet. I was warmly welcomed and offered their best food to eat. I was given one of his four goats. Not just an ordinary goat either – one of his two female goats which are more valuable. Boom, that's where the slap came. This “wealthy” man showed me how poor I was, with my attitude and as human being. It's a day I'll never forget.
I want to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone for a moment. Step out from your bubble and experience what it means to be grateful for clean water, to have a at least a meal a day, to have the chance to wash your hands, to share time with your loved ones. To start being grateful for those little things we all take for granted. And understand what being wealthy really means.
Most of all, I’m wishing you an amazing 2019, we'll speak again soon.
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