Inspiring AfricaWade Phelps
By Hal S. Eisenberg, L.M.S.W.
There was no doubt in my mind that I was an emotional wreck over this trip. I haven’t felt this way since I was 8 years old and my parents dropped me off at sleep away camp for the first time ever. I spent the first 48 hours of that camp experience crying. All these years later I feel the same apprehension and fear of the unknown. Will I come back? Will the plane crash? Will I be kidnapped? These are the stereotypes that my friends and colleagues are innocently and jokingly planting in my mind, not knowing the effect it is having on me. There is so much to do in New York and here in the Unites States, and so many people to still work with. So many intentions left unattended to. Yet, my mind and my heart are telling me that I have to make this trip. Something special is going to happen to me and to Windows of Opportunity half way around the world… I just wasn’t sure what yet.
I am currently 41,000 feet up in the air. I woke up and the satellite map in front of me shows that our plane is over Africa. I cannot believe I am doing this. This past month has been rough on me emotionally and I have been very in tune to the fact that I am stressed. Quite possibly this month has been building up for many months, but I didn’t know how much I was struggling until these past 48 hours. I didn’t realize this trip was going to lead to an emotional breakdown, philosophically speaking that is. Despite my fears of going on this trip, I dug deep down and listened to my faith and pushed through my fears. I trust Rebecca and Half-Full, the company that gave us our first grant. The preliminary information she has shared with me about coordinating this leadership program sounds intriguing. Rebecca told me we are here to work with a company called Nagode and that their story is quite phenomenal as they have an inspiring vision while trying to break the cultural divides of the country. I always wanted to go to Africa and conduct leadership and empowerment work, and here is my dream coming true. Now that we are over Africa and I have been on this plane almost 11 hours, I feel a little bit better and less apprehensive. I miss my friends and family and keep thinking about them nonstop. Maybe this experience will refocus me. It is 3:41 pm here, 5 hours ahead of New York and it is -75 degrees outside the plane according to this map. Can it really get that cold? I wonder why that is. We are getting ready to land soon so I am going to go sit with my thoughts and prepare for this journey. I hope you will join me.
I decided not to tell anyone I am writing a journal on this trip because I wasn’t sure if I was going to share my thoughts and opinions with everyone. I am currently sitting in my hotel room at The La Cour, a gated community with 24 hour security. I feel very safe here but if it was not for Nagode, their obvious hospitality and assistance already within this short time, I would have been a bit more fearful. Touching down was an interesting experience and my eyes were already wide open. Grass fields surrounded the runway and all I saw mostly on my descent were dirt roads intertwining what appeared to be rundown shacks. There seemed to be one main concrete road but mostly dirt roads. I was taking photos left and right as I was amazed at what I was seeing. I am in total tourist mode. You can’t take the photographer out of me. A picture tells 1000 words and it is a totally different world out there. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a smile. I think Rebecca was amused at my photo taking because she could see the impact on me starting. This is her 4th year coming here. I wonder if she is used to this or if she has different perspectives coming here consistently. I will have to process this with her. Half-Full is so nice too as Rebecca said that we will have plenty of time to also work on discussing Windows of Opportunity and how we will overcome our challenges and grow as an agency. That has me very excited. Going through customs, there was a gentleman at the airport waiting for us that assisted on getting us through quicker. We were escorted through the airport, which I almost wasn’t allowed out of because they didn’t like the dates on my immunizations. Our escort talked us through this small blockade (not sure what he said – maybe he explained I am not carrying any diseases and I am a good guy – Lol) and then Patrick our driver met us. Patrick is a big tall guy and was super nice. As a matter of fact everyone I came across today has been extra nice. Security at the airport carried very large rifles and there was a mildew smell in the air when I got off the plane. It reminded me of my old basement apartment after a flood. Getting into Patrick’s car was the beginning of the real adventure. Lagos (where we landed), the airport, and the streets were totally crowded and chaotic. People outside the airport stood in a semicircle waiting for their visitors to come out the door. There seems to be no road rules, lots of speeding, tons of buses (that look like little yellow vans) with people hanging out the windows, motorcycle taxis, people walking while balancing large items on their head, run down homes and stores that are far below poverty standards, houses on stilts in the water, and just so much more. My senses and social work observation skills are on total overload. There are more people here than rush hour at Grand Central Station. New York City on a busy day pales in comparison to the amount of people all over the streets. I could see why that article I read in Bloomberg News says that there is so much crime here but with all the protection and special treatment we have I feel totally safe. It doesn’t look like anything can get through Patrick, but I hope we don’t have to put that theory to the test. I am totally immersed in learning about this culture now that I am here. There seems to be a different use of the English language here and certain words stick out to me. Instead of the phrase “my wife is pregnant”, I heard “my wife has a baby in the womb”. There are other examples but to me it seemed more civilized with no slang or cursing. Well, at least I haven’t heard any yet. It is almost 8 pm here. It is time for dinner and prepping leadership packets for tomorrow. I will process my emotions later tonight when I get back to my room. This is a good opportunity for me to get grounded again. I know in my heart I am supposed to be here, but I do miss everyone back home.
It is now 11 pm here, 6 pm New York time. We just finished prepping for tomorrow’s leadership program but it seems fairly basic tomorrow. This is Rebecca’s and Half-Full’s client so I am following her lead as co-facilitator. The real marathon of workshops and trainings will be Friday through Monday which I think I will be thankful for. They say when you are busy time flies. That way I can get back to building Windows of Opportunity. I am definitely feeling homesick but excited at the same time. Is that even possible? I want to check back in with New York and see how things are at Windows of Opportunity but my phone seems to be coming in and out of service. I will wait until it charges. Thank God Rebecca had an extra converter here as the plugs here are different. The power here keeps going out as well. It goes out every so often for a few moments and then comes right back on. The first time it happened I was spooked but then I was told it was a regular thing. It had something to do with the fact that the country doesn’t have the same power output that we have in the United States. We are leaving here at 8 am tomorrow morning (3 AM New York time) so even though I slept on the plane I think I need to try and sleep again. The way this trip was planned was perfect because in my mind it feels like we lost a day traveling here and we will gain a day coming back. Either way, it is still a week, but thinking this way makes me feel a little less homesick.
I cannot sleep. There is so much on my mind – processing time for me. Why was I so emotional before I left? I am sitting here in Africa! It is so surreal. I cannot believe it. There is insanity going on outside these guarded walls. I feel like I am in a heavily guarded compound, though it is a really nice compound with very good food. This trip was courtesy of Half-Full and Nagode. To me, that means someone sees Windows of Opportunity as an asset. Someone understands that we are building something that can impact so many around the world. I know I am good at what I do but back home things are super challenging in my life. Hmmm… Maybe that is the point of me being here. Learning about this culture and this world may put that world into perspective for me. I dreamed and envisioned I would be here in Africa one day and now I am. I am so thankful for that. I truly believe this was in the cards for me and even though I had to struggle on my journey, the universe has allowed my dreams to come true. Seriously, there is $2.19 in my personal bank account and Windows of Opportunity’s available budget is at an all time low (though that won’t be for long) and what do I do? I fly 7,000 miles away from home and my loved ones to do the work I believe in, to impact others, and to help them to dream. I may be down and out but I will never give up, nor should anyone else. I am sitting here thinking about how thankful I am to all my friends and family who have been patient with me this past month. One of our clients did not pay us for our services and that put the agency in a real bind. Yet, everyone has been super supportive and patient. I am a very lucky person and extremely grateful. I have an amazing team at Windows of Opportunity and I want to be spiritually stronger – for them and for myself. My faith this month is being tested and I will not waiver. This is who I am. The work that I am doing defines me. I do not want to be a shadow of my potential, I want to surpass it. I want to reach all my goals and beyond. I want to help youth realize and reach their potential. I want to one day have a wife and family. I want to build an incredible life that my kids can be proud of and give them a world that is awesome to live in. I am going to go call the United States now and check in and then I am going to go read my notes again for tomorrow so I am fully prepared and focused.
Wow. That is all I have to say. Day Two has just come to an end. It is now 10:30 pm here (5:30 in New York). I thought today was going to be an easy day but it was jammed pack and for me silently emotional. It started by me waking up at 7 am and by the time I got to Rebecca it was 8:06 am. I was supposed to meet her at 8 am. I hate being late so much, especially on the first day. I should not have stayed up writing last night but it was so hard to sleep. I felt really bad. She didn’t say anything but we skipped breakfast so we can make sure we could get to Nagode headquarters on time. We were scheduled to do an opening session with the group and then meet with whom I think are the owners, Maneesh and Baldeep. (I later found out that Maneesh was the owner and Baldeep was the CEO). On the way to the headquarters, we drove through the poorest part of Lagos, a town called Oshoti (pronounced Oh Shoot). Despite the horrible pun within the name of the town, it was a perfect reaction to what I saw. It is so difficult to describe in words. The streets were thin in width, two imaginary lanes both heading in opposite directions, poverty stricken, and complete chaos. People were selling things on the side of the road in what we would probably call a flea market style, cars and motorcycles were beeping at each other continuously as they would try to pass one another, and cars would cut one another off while trying to not hit the many pedestrians in the road. The streets were lined with hut like structures that had business signs on them like Toyota and Hyundai, but sold random used parts. There were many motorcycle and car parts to be purchased as there seem to be a market for the many broken down vehicles on the side of the road. The dirt road leading up to Nagode was bumpy. It was just pure culture shock to me driving through these streets. When we got to Nagode, the company was behind a large gate. It was a not a fancy building at all but I got the sense from the area that it was one of the biggest and nicest buildings to work in. Completely opposite from a NYC office building built to wow a person the moment you walk in. From the second I stepped out of the car everyone was super nice and welcoming. The first question I was asked was how I slept last night. I thought that was nice and I wondered if that was the Nigerians way of saying good morning. Nath and Michael (short for Nathaniel) were the first people to greet us. They all seemed so excited to see Rebecca again. It was obvious that she has done some great work with them in the past. This got me excited to be a part of the leadership work we were about to embark on. We conducted an opening session and met many people from the management team. Afterwards we met Baldeep and Maneesh in their office. I was so impressed with them as human beings and I hope I get to know them better. Their office was not fancy at all. As a matter of fact it reminded me much of the office and rooms we use as The Hollis Woods Community Church. I was really was impressed with that. There was a sense in the air and in the conversation that as the main management team they really care about developing their team as human beings and helping them move forward in their personal and professional lives. There is no smoke and mirrors here. It is very authentic; it is all about the journey, the work and the vision of this company. Little did I know the real adventure was just about to begin…
I think I experienced the scariest moment of my life. We left for Ibadan right after our meeting with Maneesh and Baldeep. Patrick was our driver again and Nath was in the front seat. They were both awesome. We had some great conversations at 90 mph while weaving in and out of traffic on bumpy roads through extremely poverty stricken towns. Questions and emotions plagued my mind as we discussed why these towns are they way they are, the political climate in Nigeria, and thought provoking questions such as if you could have any 5 people at your dinner table, living or deceased, who would it be and why. Of course my answer included my Aunt Barbara as I wonder what she would think of me being in Africa right now. Then we came to a checkpoint and an officer with a rifle made us come to a stop while most cars just drove on past the checkpoint. Patrick rolled down the window and I felt my heart begin to beat faster. Was this the moment my fears were going to come true? The officer asked Patrick for ID. Patrick handed him a card and asked the officer what the problem was in a pretty strong tone. In my mind I wondered if it was normal to speak to an officer that way here but my heart was beating to loud to even process that question. Then the officer points directly at me and says in a loud nasty tone, “Who is he?” All I could think to myself was, “Why me? Why did have to point at me?” I totally thought I was going to die for a moment (I have the tendency to be a little dramatic in my mind sometimes). Patrick replies to the officer something that I couldn’t understand (I think he was speaking Nigerian) and the officer says “I need you to pull over to the side of the road and speak to the officer over there.” I could tell Patrick was getting angry as he exclaimed “Why!?” The officer points to the other rifle bound officer and says, “Just do it!” If I could tell you, I didn’t think my heart could beat any harder or faster until I saw what Patrick did next. He responds to the officer by slamming on the gas pedal and taking off! Two officers in rifles try to step in front of the car and Patrick just drives through them! All I could think in my head was “Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God!” There were probably some other inappropriate phrases in my mind too but all I could think was this was some crazy scene out of a movie. Rebecca I think was nervous too because she asked Patrick if we were going to get arrested and he said “For what? That was stupid. They aren’t coming after us.” Nath kept looking out the back window and he appeared to be right. They weren’t coming after us. My heart was pounding so hard for a few minutes but I did all I could to keep a professional demeanor. I was most definitely scared. I learned later on that due to the extreme poverty very often people dress up as officers or even officers themselves will carjack or rob people for their money. Patrick had the good sense to know this and was protecting us. When I learned that I realized how lucky we were to have Patrick with us and I would totally trust my life in this man’s hand any day of the week.
I do have to say I was impressed with how calm Patrick and Nath were and it made me think that culturally they are immune to some of the shocks we would have in the United States. This made me come in tune with my feeling of being somewhat homesick again but I knew what I was experiencing and seeing was so impactful and who knows if I will see this ever again. I have this feeling I will and that there is lots of work to be done but at this moment I just want to observe and learn as much as I can. I am a little less homesick now and a little more intrigued and eager to learn. When we got to the conference center where the bulk of our trainings would take place, the scenery once changed. Once again, we were behind large compound fences with massive security. Once behind the fence all I saw were resort like conditions. It was completely beautiful, a stark contrast to what was really right up the road. Our room was also behind an additional locked door, which my understanding is like having a VIP suite. I have to be honest – I don’t think I ever felt this safe in New York – the treatment we are receiving is amazing and I am ever so grateful for it. Outside this compound and in the villages I think I would have a different feeling and experience. As a matter of fact, I cannot wait until Sunday because our security entourage (Lol – I like sounding important) is taking us to the marketplace. That should be a phenomenal experience.
Some notable sites today: A gigantic billboard that had pictures of outhouses on it that said ‘SHIT IS SERIOUS BUSINESS’… I thought it was the funniest thing I ever seen but then I realized it was so awesome because the billboard was tied into a going green campaign that was introduced in Lagos. It is a pretty awesome initiative. Kids walking barefoot through dirt and rubble, goats and rams walking in the middle of the street, garbage burning in the road, and hundreds of people, including kids, walking up to your car and trying to sell you things. It is like the people in New York City who walk up to your window and try to wash your window or sell you a water bottle, but times 1000. I am not even exaggerating. Kids as young as 7 and 8 do this. I would love to get them in our Change Campaign program. The rest of the day was spent prepping for the next 4 days of workshops. We are talking full days, probably 16 hour days by the time it is completed. This is going to be the exhausting but powerful part. I am looking forward to it. This is when I am at my best. It will be a shift for me not to be running the workshops but I am looking forward to assisting in the facilitation with Rebecca and support the work that Half Full is doing. I think time is going to fly by from this point on. I cannot believe I am actually here. This is Africa. I am 7000 miles away from home. Our life in the states is not bad at all. I always have been a person of faith but I now see more than ever that I am more blessed than I even realized. The Nigerians are all awesome people, however, the poverty, overpopulation and what comes along with that way of life is heart wrenching to me. I don’t know how much time I will have to write and reflect from this point on but if I can I will.
It is 7:22 AM and I won’t be late today. It is time to focus and be strong. It is time that Africa learns about Windows of Opportunity and we start to build ways to inspire Africa. I feel like that this is the beginning of something special for Windows. I don’t know exactly what yet, but I know it begins this morning. It is time to do the work we were created to do.
Wow – (I say that a lot at the start of my journal entries). It is 18 hours later. I just walked into my room and I am so exhausted but I want to get these emotions down on paper while they are fresh in my heart. Today was so powerful. Completely inspirational. When we walked downstairs this morning (Rebecca has the room next door to me), our security, and entourage (I love saying that) were waiting for us. The hardest part of today for me as a professional was this is Rebecca’s gig and I did what I could to help her process activities with the trainees (my favorite thing to do when coordinating workshops) but it was so awesome to watch Half Full in action. I learned so much from her presentation. We have very similar styles to presenting and we teach the same material but it was inspirational to get another perspective. As a side note, corporations should book Half Full to strategize and move their companies forward. My eyes are closing so I am going to make this quick. Highlights from today that stick out in my mind: Birds flying vertically straight up out of a tree and diving back into in (quite humorous and entertaining to watch), some bug attacking me, our Gecko friend that attended our leadership conference (pictures will be on facebook), I conducted an amazing counseling session “Hal Style” with one of the staff members that was pretty cool, 2 pieces of chicken and a protein bar was all I had time to eat, watching Nigerians and Indians dancing together which I think is a great message of what Nagode is trying to do (one of their goals is to bridge the racial tension between Nigerians and Indians while developing Nigerian leadership), everyone dancing with one another, a Michael Jackson song playing (and realizing it was so cool to see his impact around the world – everyone loved when Michael came on in between some of the other cultural songs), learning about the youth and crime issues plaguing Nigeria, the lack of help, guidance, empowerment and support for their youth, watching 127 hours (Aron Ralston is added to my dinner table list), and the most major impact of the day has to be me really getting grounded again about who I am, what I stand for, and how I must put that in this world. I am so grateful for so many of my little blessings. Every single one of them. There is a contrast here between church and youth issues – there is so much faith woven throughout this country but they are plagued with these issues. Not one single issue in my life compares to this. My emotional breakdown and challenges pale in comparison to this. I will never have a breakdown again. Nagode is inspiring me. The people of Nagode and the work they do is a catalyst to me looking at Windows of Opportunity and asking some questions that we need to answer. What is the vision of Windows of Opportunity? What is our mission statement? Does everyone involved with Windows of Opportunity know our mission statement? Can they recite it? Can I recite it? Do we eat, sleep and breathe our mission? Do we buy into it or is it just fancy words? What are our agency values? Integrity, Acceptance for all, and what else? Our mission I know is to create a shift in the way we empower youth through innovative and impacting programs but what else? What is our vision? To inspire and empower youth on a local, national, and international level – to be the leaders of today. We are innovative, impacting, interactive, inspiring and inclusive… and now I want to add integrity to that. We need to improve the culture within Windows of Opportunity and empower our leaders to create more leaders and improve who they are. I realized today that even though I think Windows of Opportunity does great work and has great programs, and that is without a doubt, I have lost focus and vision, and quite possibly for many years. I am reflecting all day on who I am and what my values are. My life changed today and Windows of Opportunity is going to be what it was created to be. I am coming home reborn and refocused. There is still 3 more days to go and I am thrilled to be here and excited to get back on that plane to come home and reinforce Windows of Opportunity while bringing my new perspective to everyone. True authenticity in all we do, build, and impact. I cannot wait.
19 hours of work today but I am totally energized. This isn’t work to me. This is passion. I cannot explain the transformation that has taken place in me this week. Especially today. I feel completely opposite of what I have felt all month and what was building inside of me since probably last April. The highlights for today are simple. We discussed youth movements and Windows of Opportunity’s future in Africa. This is not just a dream or a goal. This is reality. The owner of Nagode and the CEO have a major vision and I know they want to make it happen. If any company in Africa can do it, I know it is them and I sense their true passion and authenticity in working with us. They actually offered me a job, asked us to stay on an extra day, and even extended a thank you gift to me to see Tony Robbins, one of my inspirations (and another guest at my dinner table). I had a few conversations with both Maneesh and Baldeep and they are truly inspirational and caring. I completely look up to them and I am so grateful for them taking the time to pass their wisdom to me and share their stories. I had a prayer done for me and the work I do that was like no prayer I ever heard or felt before. During the prayer the youth I worked with was called my ministry – it was so passionate and so pure. I felt the energy go through me. How can a country be so poor but so purely happy? Everyone here is so grateful to be alive. I came here for a reason. I preach faith everywhere I go and those who know me see that. It’s on my license plate, in my talks, soon to be on my tattoo, but somewhere along the way I lost the true meaning of faith along my journey. Today I found it again, truly found it. If I wasn’t so eager to get back and work on our Windows of Opportunity initiatives, I would have stayed but I am so grateful for everyone in my life back home that I want to see them and tell them personally. Today’s workshops and field day were so much fun. Rebecca navigated some challenging leadership and empowerment moments. I trust in this process and I am trying to take in the moments because I know some sort of story is being born here. It is the people, not the poverty that gets to my heart more. It is their authentic love for life. It is completely different than western culture. I am so incredibly blessed to be here. I need to get some sleep. I will be back on a plane in just 46 hours, refreshed and ready for a new start!
This will probably be my last opportunity I have a chance to reflect on paper while in Africa. I have been reflecting daily and constantly. Today started with a text message from the states that woke me up. I was so thankful to get that text message because I slept past the alarm. I must be physically and emotionally drained though I hunger for more knowledge. I guess two 19 hour days of amazing workshops and assisting an amazing company move Nigeria forward will exhaust you. It is funny how I can sleep through an alarm but instantly wake up when I hear my text message beep. It’s funny how the mind works. I had a dream about a church being built and Windows of Opportunity having an office there that had global programs. It seemed so real. This morning the workshops at the IITA conference center were amazing. I shared Charley’s story from Shortstack and how she is now running for Miss Teen New York and representing Nigeria with pride. I passed pictures around of her, Shortstack, our HIV conferences, and other events. Charley and Windows of Opportunity got an ovation and I had a sense of pride for all our youth and the work we do. I enjoyed sharing our stories and having them well received half way around the world. So many pictures were taken, contact information was exchanged, and I made so many new friends – all of whom are doing something special for their country. Then our adventure back to Lagos began. I have to admit I was nervous we would come across more potential car jackers, but that did not happen at all. This time Patrick, (our bodyguard, driver, awesome bargaining business tycoon, and most importantly our friend) was escorted by Vivian, who was our 2nd bodyguard and local fashion guru. Vivian has an amazing story as well, being that she is the only woman in an all male company – another gap Nagode is trying to shift. Anyone could see why. She holds her own, being well spoken, intelligent and passionate about developing her leadership skills. Patrick and Vivian were our tour guides through some of the poorest and poverty stricken areas I have ever seen with my own two eyes. I questioned Vivian about how young the kids are who come up to the cars, and she explained that based on the poverty the families need them to start selling as early as the age of 7. Sometimes they go to school and go straight to selling on the streets afterwards. Many families find stuff to sell in front of their homes, so the kids will get from the parents and bring it straight to the main roads to get the potential customers from ongoing traffic. Patrick bought bread from a young child who could not have been more than 9 and when the kid received the Nira (Nigerian money) his face lit up. Patrick said something to the kid in Nigerian that made him smile even more. Seeing that smile had a profound impact on my soul. I can’t explain it totally but I felt at that moment I would most definitely be back here to do some serious leadership work. I was told later on that 50% of Nigeria are children with no formal education system. There are also poor teachers, no leadership skill building what so ever, and nothing being done about it at all. Our education system in America is bad in my opinion and is damaging to youth and their self esteem, but having no education system at all has to be even worse. There were parts of our ride home that were drenched in traffic jams, but Patrick maneuvered through it in ways that you would never see in the United States. I felt like I was on a ride in Disney World – totally fun. I think he took a different way back to Lagos because I didn’t see any checkpoints on either side of the road. I wondered if it was because it was Sunday which is a very big religious day in Nigeria where many go to church, or if it was because he was protecting us. I’d like to think it was both. What I did see though were roosters, goats, rams, a man walking down the road completely nude, people urinating on the side of the road, stores made out of wood that looked like little shacks, and lots of oil trucks. Apparently there is no middle class in Nigeria – just very rich or very poor, and most of the wealthy people get their money from the oil business. It is so hard to take this all in and process it but I took so many pictures. The drive was long so Rebecca and I had a lot of time to talk, reflect, and process. This led to a conversation about creating Windows of Opportunity’s vision statement and working on our strategies, our action plan, long term/short term goals, and the time frames needed for all of the above. We talked about my personal transformation this week that I was not expecting to have happen to me. We talked about how I was going to move forward personally as a leader and empower our staff at Windows of Opportunity. I do not know the official wording for Windows of Opportunity’s vision statement yet but it will look something like “To empower youth leadership on a global scale to impact global change.” Of course global includes all of our efforts locally and nationally which can be developed simultaneously with our overseas efforts. Several of our programs have international potential for impact and in the world of technology bridging our leadership efforts will be extremely easier than we think. Nagode is already discussing having Windows of Opportunity in Nigeria and other places like Dubai. We already started our connections with the Embu Youth AIDS Advocates in Embu, Kenya and I have a very clear vision on how to make this all happen. However, I need to have meetings with all my team members and process with them my thoughts. Of course I have strengths and weaknesses, as we all do as human beings, so I need to reflect on my weaknesses and fill those gaps. I feel so confident and stronger than ever. I know this is a new dawn for Windows of Opportunity and I am so excited.
Our next stop was the marketplace. What an amazing, cultural experience. The bumpiest and dirtiest dirt back roads were taken to this market. Sellers at the market would jump out in front of me “Mister, just come here and see with your eyes. I won’t bother you for money, I just want you to see with your eyes.” Everyone in the market place was friendly, just overly anxious to get the sale. It reminded me of when I went to the marketplace in Cancun. It was the same there, just this was a lot more poorer. The craftsmanship in some of these booths were phenomenal. The prices were so cheap too! This is where Patrick became the business tycoon. He talked every single seller down in price. If Patrick didn’t like the price (and he never did) he would make us walk away. A few moments later the seller would come running, agreeing to the price, saying “Take It!” Every single time played out like that. It was pretty cool to watch but I felt bad as well. I would not have mind paying the original price, as that was cheap as well. If the sellers got too pushy, Vivian handled them and settled them down. I couldn’t get over how bumpy the back road to the marketplace was. Lots of holes and rocks forced Patrick to drive slow. Then we went back to our original hotel, La Cour. Now that I have been here a week, I see this as a luxury hotel. I jumped into the shower immediately and then met Rebecca to do another video blog. We have been video blogging all week to capture some of the work we were doing. Then we were off to dinner with Baldeep and Maneesh. We stopped at Maneesh’s home for appetizers, and met his wife and kids. They were amazing. His kids, age 8 and 12 I think, are brilliant, friendly, and well spoken. I was so impressed. His son wants to help people for a living so perhaps we will train him at Windows of Opportunity to coordinate programs as he gets older. I could see that happening easily. We had amazing conversation at dinner (a restaurant in the nice part of Lagos called Fusion) and I learned so much more about Nigeria. The crime is focused around the poverty and the need for money, but generally there is no murder. Cops will pull you over for money, internet schemes (you know like the ones you get emails for I am lost and need money to get home) bring in $2 billion a year into Nigeria (I don’t understand how gullible people are) and the car jackers will let you go as long as you give them money. It is a turbulent society that needs a lot of services. The feeling at the table was that the answer lies within our youth and in mobilizing and empowering them. Maybe somewhere on those streets and dirt roads there is a 7 year old kid running up to cars while questioning his destiny, knowing that this cannot be what his life is all about. Maybe he wants more. Maybe he is praying, dreaming of a better tomorrow. Maybe one day he will find Windows of Opportunity and together we will make that dream happen. Maybe one day when that boy finds Windows and joins our leadership training, I will share with him this blog entry – my story on Windows of Opportunity’s first trip to Africa.
It has been a phenomenal week. I went from that emotional breakdown to rejuvenation to visionary in such a short period of time. I cannot wait to get on that plane tomorrow to my loved ones. Thank you all for sharing in my journey. I love you all!
We left the hotel at 7:30 am to go to Nagode’s corporate office to run workshops all day for the staff that missed this weekend. We have 8 hours to get 41 hours worth of training completed. Patrick was there waiting as always and I knew this was the start of a long 2 days. Driving to the office I absorbed all the sites I could, never wanting to forget the impact this trip has had on me. For some reason, I actually can see myself coming back here on a regular basis. When we got to the office we began to set up Rebecca’s daunting task of cramming all this empowerment into a short period of time. This was not going to be easy at all. It was here that my weariness began to set in. We didn’t eat much at all today, which is our usual mantra as we are fully engaged in getting our job done. We said our goodbyes to all the staff and I realized I was going to miss them. Their courage, drive, and determination as human beings and individuals truly inspires me. Patrick took part in today’s trainings and I thought it was amazing to watch him blindfolded in our team building leadership relay race. I thought since he was so good at weaving in and out of traffic that he would find being blindfolded a severe handicap, but he embraced it and performed amazingly. The team came into the room at the end of the day and gave us more gifts, which was unexpected. They gave us an African Statue and picture that are beautiful. I can’t wait to put it up in my apartment to have that daily reminder of strength and courage, along with my entire experience here. Empowerment, Embracing and Executing were the themes of this leadership weekend and I experienced all 3 themes on a deep spiritual level. Then Patrick whisked us away to the airport. We had a scare there as Rebecca lost her phone while our bags were being searched in customs but she found it on the floor 15 minutes later. Thank God! It had fallen and slipped under one of the search tables. We then had to go through 3 check points before we could board the plane but during this time I had the opportunity to reflect and discuss more of my leadership skills and vision with Rebecca. She helped me flush out some great strategical possibilities for Windows of Opportunity and myself. Very exciting!
The flight home was smooth. I watched Fast Five (awesome movie!) and then slept most of the way. 4 people got sick on the plane. One of them passed out in the aisle and grabbed onto Rebecca’s arm on the way down and the other was a boy to my left throwing up in a bag. This is something that I think would have bothered me a week ago but now I just prayed for them to get better. I don’t think anything can get to me anymore. Opening my eyes to realizing we were in the United States was such an amazing feeling but I am apprehensive on how I tell this story so that people can realize and feel the profound impact this week has had on me. I don’t know if my words here, or the pictures on our facebook (www.facebook.com/wooinc) or the video blogs will capture it. I hope you will comment on all of the above and share your thoughts and feelings. After we went through 2 more check points in Atlanta and seeing that “Welcome to the United States of America” banner, I was excited to get home and continue restructuring Windows of Opportunity to do the work it is going to do.
Rebecca’s husband was so nice to drive me home. Seeing New York was a thrill but also a little sad for me. We truly have so much abundance here and we take so much for granted. There is so much over abundance here, but I guess as Maneesh shared with me, overabundance is okay, but it is what you do with that overabundance that truly matters. Just like he is doing, he is inspiring a company to shift the perception of a country and inspire all of Africa. This is truly an amazing story. Inspiring Africa through global success is Nagode’s vision and it is already coming true as they have also inspired me to inspire those in the United States.
Exhausted, I gave everyone hugs upon my arrival and began to share my experience. I can already tell that this impact on me is going to extend to Windows of Opportunity, my friends, and my family as I give them all of who I am. Our home page and program page will soon have add-ons and changes. Please continue to join us on our journey. The globe is our workplace.
The Day After
I am sitting on a rock wall in a beautiful serene scenery in Alley Pond Park, Queens, New York. I come here often for quick walks, to reflect, and to think through challenges in my life. This is something I plan on doing on an ongoing basis to keep my mind and body healthy and focused. Rebecca from Half Full just text me to check in on how my first night was back in New York and to see how my reflection is going. “The world seems so different now” is what I told her. Queens is different. This park is different. Hmmm… maybe it is just my outlook on life that is different. I have a very clear vision for Windows of Opportunity now, more so than ever before. I have an incredible team that is going to expand and join me on this journey, as I will join them on theirs. Our agency has a staff with incredible passion, with strong core values that include integrity, acceptance, respect, and the drive to make a difference. I want to empower youth on an international level to impact global change. I have a very clear strategy on how to do this. The culture, the language, and the philosophy of Windows of Opportunity is evolving and we are ready for the next steps. We have 7 years of incredible accomplishments and successes that I am so very proud of. There is much work to do here in New York, in the United States, and around the globe, which does seem small to me now. I feel so overwhelmingly blessed that I have been given this opportunity to do the work that we do – to open up windows around the globe, to create opportunities for youth, and to shift our planet. Windows of Opportunity is going to survive much longer than the days of our lives and I am grateful to be at the helm in the beginning of its birth. It takes a village to raise a child and with Windows of Opportunity being our child, I thank you all, here in New York and around the globe for being our village.