Africa Through My Eyes

Too often we allow our happiness be affected by petty material desires. Learn how the people of East Africa brought joy to my life.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments
that take our breath away.

If that saying is true, I believe I can finally get out my yardstick. I recently returned from a trip to East Africa where I experienced no less than three dozen breathtaking moments. Prior to this trip, my understanding of Africa was primarily limited to a few specials I had watched on the Discovery Channel and the contents of a few National Geographic magazines at my doctor's office. Wow, was I surprised! This was no trip to the San Diego Zoo.

If someday I am stricken with Alzheimer's disease, I believe the last memories to fade will be those of the people of Africa. Many of them have literally nothing and yet they have everything because they are happy. The average person has to travel 2.5 miles each day just to get fresh water for their family. The vast majority have no electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, trash removal, or telephone service. They live in mud, straw, stick, or concrete block huts. The average person lives on less than $200 per year. That's just $4 a week. Yet, I'll say it again, they are happy. Their smiles are contagious and I was always greeted with a friendly "jambo"—a universal greeting similar to hello—by everyone I met or even passed on a street.

Most families in Tanzania own a single cow for milk and some have chickens for eggs as well. The area is tropical and the soil is rich, so bananas, pineapples, and other fresh fruit are readily available to those willing to do a little work to find them. Their homes are built by hand and there are no mortgages, real estate taxes, or utility bills. The $4 per week is typically used for luxury items like soap, meat, spices, or an item of clothing. Nobody had a television, iPod, DVD player, or even a dishwasher, much less a car. The people are happy because there is no jealousy over who has better "stuff," and without that jealousy, there is little hate. I found myself humbled by their simple lifestyle and their pure love of life.

You see, I went to Africa in search of animals, but I found something much more important: myself. I suddenly realized how happy I should really be and that most of my unhappiness came from petty material desires or simple misunderstandings with other human beings. I learned more about myself in two weeks than I had in the last five years. In a single moment in Africa, I believe I even learned the meaning of my life, which is simply to give.

That moment came while I was traveling with a guide in a jeep when we happened upon a rest stop that actually sold cold sodas. I surprised my guide with a bottle of pop and he almost came to tears and asked if I minded if he could bring it home to his family to share. He explained that this was something they shared on special occasions like a birthday. I suddenly realized that the $2 Fanta Orange was nearly a half of a week's salary to him. I asked if he celebrated Christmas and he shared that he did. He proudly related that he acquired three Lego building blocks as a gift to his son to add to the one block he already had. His son would soon be building things with the four blocks and would be entertained by that for many months.

I gave each guide a $100 tip from that point forward and they all wept. Giving feels good. It is especially rewarding when we do it randomly, anonymously, and with zero expectation of thanks or reciprocation. As the president of ABC, that is my commitment to you: to give. I will give the best possible product at the lowest price. In return, I only ask that you give as well. When you become a member, you are helping thousands of other current and future members of ABC.

Unfortunately, I have seen members cancel because they claimed to have received few benefits. First, I am certain that they did not contact our discount partners in areas such as office supplies and insurance since their savings with those companies alone should offset their dues. Second, I am certain that many did not understand the functions and goals of ABC. We will gain real power through numbers. Power to make change and offer better information and benefits will only come from continued growth. People give money to politicians or charities and organizations like scouting, churches and schools for the same reason: They want the world to be a better place. Paying your dues to ABC will help us give more to small business owners and small businesses make America a better place.

Jambo!

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