April 23, 2009

The Heart of the Matter

heart-of-the-matter-freetown-sierra-leone

Here I am in Haiti, a country I’ve been reading about for years but have never been to before. My accommodations are as basic as advertised, and that’s just fine for a few days. If you ever find yourself in need of humility, come down here and spend the week with nuns and missionaries. That should do the trick.

As for me, I came in the other day after flying to New York, encountering three separate delays, attempting to sleep for three hours on the floor of JFK airport, and having my plane return to JFK 15 minutes after takeoff due to a medical emergency. International travel is rarely simple.

The morning I was slowly waking up in the airport after very little sleep, a profile of my travel adventures was published in the New York Times. I hung out before my flight in the American Airlines lounge, and enjoyed opening up the paper to page B6 and reading Joan’s fun article.

An hour later two of the lounge staff came over to say they had just read about me in the paper. In addition to feeling momentarily famous, I found it quite ironic that I had just talked my way into the lounge an hour earlier, and then the staff read the article where I mentioned sneaking into airline lounges.

I do live a life of unusual experiences, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

New readers (there are a lot of you, from the Times, everyone still reading 279 Days, and elsewhere), I should explain that some of my articles are longer than others. This one, for example, will be quite long. First of all, I don’t have much of an internet connection here in Port Au Prince, which isn’t good for my Inbox but is good for the actual writing I’m supposed to be doing.

Second of all, since I started writing back in February 2008, a number of people have asked me to share more about my time in West Africa from 2002-2006. It’s fair to say that those years served as the foundation for much of my worldview, but I haven’t written about them in detail.

I’m not entirely sure why I’ve waited, but I suspect it’s because I wanted to put some space in between then and now. I’m also wary of Glory Days – the habit of glamorizing or living in the past instead of focusing on the present and future. These days I’m very much living in the present with a view towards the future, and that’s the way I like it.

It’s true that our past can shape who we are, though, and it can also be helpful to go back to the beginning to make sure we’re on the right track now. This article will attempt to explain more about what I learned and what happened along the way. If you don’t care about this subject, of course, feel free to skip it.

Background

For all practical purposes, the story begins in 2001. Jolie and I were living in the U.S. and going about what I consider to be a fairly typical life. It was unconventional only in the sense that I was self-employed – here’s an early look at how that developed – but aside from that, life was pretty normal.

I felt a longing for something more, but didn’t quite know what. Then came 9/11. Like most of you, I watched the towers fall and the world change forever. Like so many others, I was in shock. It seemed to have happened so quickly – one day those people went to work in the morning, and never came back to their families.

Along with countless other Americans, and of course people all over the world who identified with the loss, I was greatly troubled for several weeks. My spiritual leaders had no good explanation for why 9/11 had happened; they just said we should pray for the families who had lost loved ones and accept that everything would somehow be alright.

My president said that Americans who wanted to help should “go shopping” to stimulate the economy. I was already going to Target and Best Buy. I didn’t see how my American Express card could make the world a better place, and buying things certainly didn’t make me feel any better.

I felt an urge to do something more, to give of myself, to find a way to make a difference and live the “real life” I had dreamed of for a long time without doing much about. I talked with Jolie and she had been feeling the same way – confused, uncertain, but also eager to do something different.

One night a few weeks after 9/11 I was surfing the internet looking for volunteer opportunities. I ended up reading about Sierra Leone, the poorest country in the world according to the U.N. Human Development Index at the time, and a country just beginning the slow process of recovery after civil war.

Even then I wasn’t interested in doing anything halfway, so I decided there had to be some way I could give of myself to help the Sierra Leonians who had managed to survive through a brutal, senseless conflict.

Then I read about a surgeon from California named Gary Parker. Countless physicians give up a couple of weeks to go on a humanitarian trip to the poorer parts of the world, but Gary had gone and stayed for 17 years. Along the way he met his wife Susan, another volunteer, and they raised their two children in the community of volunteers Gary was partially responsible for leading.

Reading his story again and again, I was inspired by the sacrifice Gary and Susan had made. What could I do to make some kind of sacrifice?

It turned out that more help was needed. Gary was part of an organization of 400+ volunteers, most of whom weren’t medical professionals. They were just regular people of all backgrounds who served in support roles.

The only catch was you needed to pay your own way, and you had to make a commitment of at least two years. Those requirements put a lot of people off, but I was strangely motivated by them. I thought, if a surgeon can devote 17 years (and more – he’s still there) to this mission, surely I can give at least two.

The application was about a six-month process. We applied in early 2002, and in the fall of that year, we flew to Germany to join a number of other volunteers before continuing on. About a month was spent in Europe (Germany, Holland, Spain) and then in November, we sailed on a hospital ship to Freetown, Sierra Leone – the country I had spent so much time reading about in the post-9/11 research, and where we would be staying for four months before going next to Togo, a few countries away but still in the same region.

Early Days

When your resumé contains no real work experience of note, even an unconventional organization doesn’t really know what to do with you. They wanted Jolie because she was a teacher, and I was given a job carrying boxes around every day. Let me tell you — at that point in my life, carrying boxes around was the best work I had ever done. I loved it.

After I found my way around the job, I decided I would be the best box-carrier ever. I worked at night, in the early morning, and on weekends. When other people couldn’t do their jobs, I helped out any way I could.

The way you stand out in a non-profit organization isn’t that different from what you do in any group or company. You show up, give more than expected, and try to make other people look good. I hadn’t thought much about the philosophy behind this way of working in those days, I just did it because it was fun. It was what I was supposed to do.

I realize now that a great deal of my belief about life and work convergence comes from this time. I don’t necessarily think everyone should work 80 hours a week, but I do think if someone is clock-watching and likes to maintain a strict separation between life and work worlds, part of the problem is that they’re probably doing the wrong work.

Anyway, I worked hard. I also learned a lot of difficult lessons about poverty and international development, but it’s better to learn those things as early on as possible.

Later Days

After I had carried boxes around for six months, a few people started noticing that I was somewhat reliable at doing other things. I was asked to join the leadership team, putting me among the twelve most senior leaders of our 400-person operation. I was 25 years old then. My boss at the time was about twice my age, had been there for 15 years… and was not part of this group. When he heard the news, he offered me congratulations but then said, “Of course, some of us were surprised you were selected, being so young and inexperienced.”

I told him, “Thanks… I think.” I tried to see that kind of attitude as another obstacle to overcome. If you’re young and inexperienced, you just need to work harder than everyone else. That’s all.

A few months later a brand new set of circumstances enabled me to become the Programs Director for the organization, the #2 most senior leader together with our Operations Director and reporting to the CEO. Just over a year after I came over to carry boxes, I was now responsible for 120 staff. I also represented our group to all the host governments in the region, which is how I ended up meeting warlords and cabinet members.

It was a learn-as-you-go process, and all very public. When you learn in public, everyone sees you succeed and everyone sees you fail. It can be hard, but it’s usually good in the end if you stick with it. I stuck with it. I kept getting up whenever I fell down, learned more about leadership, public speaking, conflict resolution, and so on.

(On the side, I learned how to perform emergency dental repairs on myself while traveling alone in Nigeria, how to defuse bribe requests, how to drive a Land Rover through the mud during rainy season, and other useful skills. Those were the days, I like to say.)

High Points, Low Points

Each week, if not each day, brought a number of extremely high points and extremely low points. I call this the Hope and Despair dichotomy of development work – it’s an overused comparison, but hard to get past.

The high points included helping to bring Gary and the rest of the organization over for their first visit to Liberia, overseeing the security for large medical screenings in Ghana, Liberia, and Togo, and working with a large, motivated team of remarkable people that included hundreds of expats from all over the world and hundreds of West Africans in each country we worked in.

The low points were also extreme – visiting overcrowded camps of refugees and internally displaced people, realizing that a culture of corruption holds back many countries in Africa from developing, having to say no many times a day to people who asked for help, and other things I’m not able to write about now.

As I said, it was extreme – but overall, my feelings towards the experience are positive. I used to be a fairly cynical person, and frequently saw the negative side of things before I saw any positives. After four years of working with Gary and other remarkable people, I became a reformed optimist.

When to Leave the Best Job in the World

The time to leave the best job in the world is right before you get tired of it. There are some exceptions (including Gary, the reason I left home to begin with), but most people I’ve known who have stayed in post-conflict and extreme poverty situations for a long time become tired and cynical about their surroundings. I don’t necessarily blame them – there are a huge number of frustrations, and when you keep going back to the same countries that don’t change much on a macro level, it can be discouraging – but I also knew I didn’t want that to happen to me.

In the end, Jolie and I decided to leave and start a new life in a new place. I applied to an M.A. program in International Studies at the University of Washington and somehow managed to get accepted on the basis of my overseas work. (It certainly wasn’t on the basis of my academic record – I had finished two four-year undergraduate degrees in a little over two years, but the transcript was quite random.)

In the summer of 2006 we came to Seattle and started over. In between school breaks I began traveling independently, two weeks at a time and all over the world. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know the rest. If you’re new and you care, it’s all in the archives.

The time in West Africa remains a huge part of my identity. But I want to use it as a channel that pushes me to keep going towards new adventures and other things. I’m not sure they are greater things, necessarily – but they are meaningful things that challenge me and seem to help others. That’s what I’m after, and that’s what motivates me these days.

Wrap-Up

I know this article is long and personal. Blame it on Haiti, which is eerily reminiscent of Sierra Leone, or my general sense of introspection as I begin a new trip.

As long as it is, though, there are a lot of stories I’ve left out. I haven’t written about the small business I started by working at night in my third year, and how I ended up effectively having two jobs the last six months I was overseas. I haven’t written much about how I learned to travel in challenging situations by becoming a frequent flyer on airlines like Air Ivoire, Slok, and West Coast Airways. There were also overland border crossings, U.N. helicopter rides, and crowded African ferries.

The thing is, we’re well beyond 2,000 words here, I didn’t sleep much last night, and I’ve been told I’m supposed to save some of these stories for the book that comes out next year.

If you’ve read this far, feel free to share any feedback. I do read everything that comes in, but keep in mind I have very little internet access this week and probably can’t respond for a while.

Speaking of the trip, the rain is falling hard on the roof of my guesthouse, where I just spent my second evening talking with more aid workers who impress me with their dedication and unacknowledged sacrifice. Miraculously, the internet is also back up — so I’ll take advantage of that and write some emails after posting this for the morning.

Good night from Port Au Prince. I hope all is well in your part of the world.

###

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Freetown, Sierra Leone Image by AdamCohn

Comment on this article

68 Responses to “The Heart of the Matter”

  1. April 23, 2009

    Christina

    From a new reader (as of yesterday in fact), thanks for writing this.

  2. Hey Chris, I’m new to your blog. Totally agree with your thoughts in “Hope and Despair Dichotomy”. If you liked “Mountains Beyond Mountains”, check out this new book I enjoyed called “The Blue Sweater” by Jacqueline Novogratz of the Acumen Fund.

  3. Hi Chris, Inspiring post, especially moving up from box-guy to director of operations. Also very right about the job fitting the motivation.

    Curious about how you made the full transition from cynical / pessimist to optimist.

  4. chris, you have a beautiful story. so many people go through life caring more about normality and fitting in than uniqueness for themselves and their life experiences. you are an inspiration and hope you strike a chord with countless individuals, much like gary parker struck a chord with you. you’ve come full circle, eh? thanks for sharing a little about your time in africa. would love to hear more!

  5. Hey Chris,

    Fairly new to this blog after the “Seth-effect”. After reading quite a few articles from the archives I did wonder what you did exactly at the charity in Africa, so thanks for sharing.

  6. Hi Chris,
    I would love to hear more about your ideas on “How to defuse bribe requests” That info could certainly help out your readers who are fellow travelers. Thanks and keep up the great work here. I love you, man!

  7. April 23, 2009

    Patrenia

    Thanks Chris for this article. You have shown us “again” that is your God given gifts will make room for you. Keep inspring us to live life to the fullest.

  8. Chris — just found your blog through Seth Godin’s link to your e-book. I completely understand your mindset (unconventional life…) and am really enjoying your blog….! I need to jump off the 100-mph ride of the conventional life sometime soon – just need to figure out how…

    -Dan

  9. I’m glad you shared this. I’ve been wondering for some time about how you were involved in volunteering in Africa.

    I’m curious. Do you know anything about The Girl Effect? From your experience, does this model for changing a society makes sense?

  10. Cool history, I like how it provides more insight about the value of someone who is willing to step out and do more than is required of them. We need more people like that in this world, here’s in hopes you inspire them.

  11. Keep up the awesome work! Work that motivates you isn’t work at all – it’s living life with purpose.

  12. “Long time (reader), first time caller” as some sports talk radio junkies say (and I suppose it takes one to know one…). I must say that the more I learn about you, Chris, the more I am drawn in. As someone who was introduced/intrigued by the 5 Million Frequent Flyer Mile Challenge, I continue to be impressed with your humility, worldview, and meekness.

    Share more…even if it is in the book. When you share your heart, you become much more than the pro-entreprenurialism, motiviational, travel-savvy writer others might be quick to brand you as.

  13. Chris, thanks for sharing your story of how and why you ended up in Sierra Leone. I had always wondered about your days and Africa and found the story more inspiring than I first imagined.

    Safe travels in Haiti and congrats on the profile in the NY Times!

  14. Thanks for sharing all of that. I know that I like hearing more about how you have come to be who you are today. It’s quite inspiring. Hope you have a great time in Haiti!

  15. One word, Chris: Amazing! You’ve reminded me yet again why I keep coming back. Kudos to you, my friend!

  16. Chris, I appreciate hearing the story of how you got here. I had similar experiences in Russia, China and East Africa, although I would never compare them to the difficulties of what you saw and experienced in Sierra Leone. While travel is so important for exposing us to more worldviews, I believe we Americans never really access our deepest gratitude and calling without seeing life outside the developed world. Yes, I had professional opportunities I’d never have gotten in the US (it was easy to stand out, as you mention), but that wasn’t even close to being the biggest benefit of my time overseas.

    I’m loving 279 BTW. A beautiful book.

  17. Great article. And well done on the Times article!

    Read Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” to get a brilliant insight into the African attitude towards “bribery”.

  18. Thanks, Chris, for taking the time to write this piece. I’m inspired by you, my friend; and your inspiration has inspired me onward!

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  20. Heya Chris,
    Been reading the blog since your second week online and been waiting for this story ever since. Well worth the wait (all you newbs need to go read the archives, yo, ’cause this is a small fraction of what Chris is).

  21. Great stuff Chris. You know SO many people feel “bad” about being “different.” In embracing and sharing it (like you have), you TRULY give encouragement to many of these people.

    Keep being/sharing YOU! :)
    -Jared

  22. thank you so much for putting into words all that you do put into words.
    i am less brave but very inspired. u rock.

  23. April 23, 2009

    Miles Free

    Hi Chris. Great post. My dad’s surgeries went off well. Thanks.
    The reason the “Spend-american express card” advice was asked for was to keep the money flowing. Like right now its not… It may not seem like spiritual work, but at the time, that spending kept people employed and prevented the 911 events from creating a worse recession than we had. I took my son to marco island for a business meeting that october that would have been cancelled, but we insisted that business would go on. The people that were still working at our hotel were SO PLEASED to have customers… virtually noone was travelling. There are 17 million americans employed in the travel and tourism business, and its folks like you and me that keep them going.

  24. A blogging friend still writes of her time in Haiti as a missionary many years ago. She fell in love with the people there.

    My husband is just back from 2 months in Nigeria. He hadn’t been there for 8 years or so. He’s also worked in Angola and Ivory Coast. He has many interesting stories. Like you, he is a world traveler!

    Take care.

  25. Hi Chris, I am now a true fan! Tyvm.

  26. Hey Chris–I spent a week in Haiti back in 2005 working with a wonderful education and medical missions group near Port Au Prince in the Leogane Plain. The group, New Missions, has built schools in over 17 villages in the Plain. It is a beautiful country and absolutely matches what you wrote when you said, “a culture of corruption holds back many countries.” I also was challenged first hand with some preconceived ideas about what success is. Though the poverty is rampant from a US PoV, I met many Haitians who were very happy and had no desire to trade their lifestyle with mine.

    Keep writing the wonderful work. I can’t wait to meet some day!

  27. Thanks.
    Sitting in my office reading this before I start work for day and having tears come to my eyes.
    Just reaffirms for me that it would be worth it for me to do something similar, even when somedays I think I have nothing useful to offer in a developing country.

    Looking forward to the book!

    Robbie

  28. I’m a new reader to your blog.glad to hear that you made it to haiti safely.excellent article.Looking forward to your next post.be safe. Peace

  29. San Francisco author Herb Gold has written eloquently about Haiti for 30 years, fyi Chris

  30. mr. chris, this is beautiful. completely reaffirms (as if I needed it!) how grateful I am to be working with you on your journey.

  31. Hi Chris, so well written, did not feel like 2000+ words. Alot of what you say resonates with me so much. I’ve always longed and tried to do the unconventional – knowing that there must be something more meaningful than the usual rat race and self-focussed life that is the norm. But somehow, I never spring quite far enough and always fall back into the safety of ‘the normal life’. It’s a blessing to have found your blog and I will follow it to kick start the unconventional me again that really wants to make a massive contribution in some way.

    You’re a great inspiration.

    Wendy

  32. Found your blog a short while ago, via Seth Godin, I think. Right connection at the right time. After my first visit to Swaziland a year and a half ago, I decided to leave my job (I gave my boss 2 years notice), and figure out how I can build a life which includes a few months a year in Africa. I’ll be reading through your archives as I figure out what things might look like 16 months from now.

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  34. April 23, 2009

    Trish Walters

    Thank you for sharing a very personal story; parts of it must still bring pain, but I can attest that sharing even the painful will make it less so. Your energy, thoughtfulness, level of caring & willingness for involvement are what make your writing a stand-out inspiration to those of us who have not yet taken the leap. You bring encouragement every day, I look forward to your communications. Keep doing what you’re doing, it’s exactly right.

    Namaste
    Trish

  35. Chris, you are a fantastic inspiration. It’s too bad you can’t be in multiple places at that same time, but I know that there are a lot of high-school and college kids who don’t know what they don’t know about life or the world. Some are just going to “party-on” – but some are looking for the kinds of experiences, opportunities and direction that you can provide them with. I do hope that your blog and books spread to the schools and colleges – maybe we’ll end up with a world full of people, helping each other out and not putting their hand out expecting million dollar bonuses. I will continue to follow your exploits and adventures.

    Enthusiastically,
    Ed

  36. Reaffirmed.
    Insightful.
    Helpful.
    Enticed.
    Appreciating.
    Thanks.

  37. Hi Chris,

    Thank you for sharing some of your experiences in Africa. Looking forward to the book. I hope you stay safe. You travel in some dangerous places in the world.

    Thank you to you and your wife for trying to make a difference in the world.

    My nephew went to Haiti to build benches for a church. A hurricane hit a few months later and they used the benches for fire wood. Ups and downs.

  38. I lived in Ghana for 6 months, and would second the commenter who wants to hear how to defuse bribe requests!

  39. April 24, 2009

    SANJAY KUMAR SINGH

    Hi Chris,

    May be the first from a devloping country called India.I am going through your articles & find particularly this article a full of inspirations.This article will surely guide to live life to the fullest.

    Keep on writing.Also have U visited india till now or not?

    If not then please do send your program .

  40. Chris, thanks for sharing. I admire the spirit that moves you!! What makes you keep on your track without losing heart and hope?

  41. April 24, 2009

    Quilin Achat

    Dear Chris, I stumbled on your blog and onto the inspiration i needed to live a remarkable life (even though I must admit, it’s been pretty remarkable so far). I moved back to my home country Trinidad & Tobago after living in the US for 7 yrs. Since coming back I am constantly being pulled to volunteer/make a difference/create change, the problem, I don’t understand our red-tape system and I don’t have the networking that I did during and after college. So, I haven’t been doing much. Now, fueled by your own get-up-and-do i’m realizing that I need to take a leap and do what I know i’m being called to do. Any advice would be great, if not personal, i’ll take it from your own experiences. Thanks again for having the courage to be remarkable. Bless

  42. April 24, 2009

    Caroline Rodgers

    It is amazing to see how much 9/11 has changed the life of many people, people who where not directly involved in the events and were kilometers away when it happened. For me, this day was the beginning of a long chain of events that lead me to realize how much I hated my workplace and how much I should be somewhere else, doing something more meaningfull. I started to be more interested in what was happening in the world, reading a lot of books about politics and finally decided to go back to school at the age of 34, which lead me to finally let that well-paid job and all my security to visit China and then become a freelance journalist. And I really don’t regret it.

  43. re: your comment about joining the leadership team, which your boss (twice your age) wasn’t on ..

    there are people on the “bottom” of teams and organizations who feel like those “above” them tower over them, have the better view, are further ahead, etc.

    but i have led companies, organizations, and volunteer efforts, and my job was to *support the people doing the work*. so i felt *i* was at the bottom .. but not in the sense of “i have less, i am less” .. in the sense of, literally, providing support. my job was to help them do their jobs.

    i have worked with people so stymied by bitterness over perceived slights — what they didn’t *get* — benefits, salary, perks, recognition, etc.

    but the people who went to the “top” were the ones who were dug in and concentrated on doing the work .. and helping others do their work. they were providing the support, the foundation. they were knitting everyone together and helping them connect. therefore they sunk to the bottom (supporting the whole organization) and therefore rose to the top (of the management chart).

    i am still amazed by those who think that by concentrating so fiercely on their own needs, their own desires, and their own goals they can get ahead and rise to the top .. when really it’s those who are open, generous, energetic, giving, *doing* who naturally migrate into those positions.

  44. Hi Chris – I’m definitely a product of the Seth Effect, and I’m so glad! This is a fantastic blog. If your latest entry is any indication for what your book might be like, I’ll probably buy three. You are a wonderful writer, and your passion and personality are evident through your posts. I’m in the middle of 279 Days, and I’ve loved every bit – thanks for sharing your spirit with us.

  45. April 24, 2009

    Patrenia

    Chris,

    Thank you so much for inspiring us with your courage. You are really a trailblazer blazing the way for those of us that want to follow our dreams….

  46. April 24, 2009

    Harold Tamayo

    Chris ahead and take care, greetings from Venezuela!

  47. Chris,

    What an amazing adventure your life has been. You epitomize Lamar Smith’s notion of, “There’s More to Life than the Corner Office.”

    Good luck, and be safe.

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  49. Chris, while my life stories pales in comparison, the insights you share sound like an echo of how I see life, and have responded to it. I have not made the best of it most of the time, but reading you is inspiring me to be awesome. Thanks.

  50. Very inspiring post, and amazing timing, as i have been considering a trip to Haiti. I am hooked.

  51. Chris-

    I spent some time in Port Au Prince back in 2004 for humanitarian relief during the Aristide rebellion. It was certainly a humbling experience. I applaud your efforts to make a difference and give back to the global community.

    I have really enjoyed reading through articles on your blog these couple weeks. I think that your messages are encouraging and inspirational.

    Keep up the great work!

  52. Awesome piece, very insightful!

  53. Chris,

    I just found your blog today and what can I say, but hallelujah – in a Jeff Buckley way :-)

    For the past 10 years, I’ve been struggling to find my way, hopping from one cube to the next, searching for more, questioning everything. I’ve yet to find my answer, but for the first time in a very long time, I finally have hope that I will break free from my 9-to-5 drudgery. That it’s o-k to take the unpaved road. That life is much too short to live an unremarkable life. That it’s o-k to want, to NEED more. So, I say thank you.

    Safe travels … Katie (Audubon, NJ)

  54. April 24, 2009

    charlotte

    New to your blog and just read my 1st email from you. Thank your courage to face embrace your dreams inspires me greatly!!!! Also thanks to fellow poster on the reccomendation to read “When Things Fall Apart”…..

  55. Great post! I’ve always wanted to ask you how your Africa stint came about, and this is the answer! If you don’t mind, can you share how you financed the trip, because you said it was self-funded? I’m asking because I really want to do something like this too. I’m supported entirely by my scholarship right now, and I’m not allowed to work in the US for more than one year after graduation (and that’s if I get a job at all). Details would be much, much appreciated!

  56. this is my first read; a friend in boston recommended your writing, and i have to say it’s straightforward, humorous at times, and a pleasant change from the usual fare one is subjected to on the internet. think it’s great what you are doing, and i urge you to go to as many places as possible while your young; odds are you won’t
    feel like it when you are older, when the instinct to “cocoon” becomes irresistible. of course you’re individual efforts count, but by sharing your experiences you are multiplying the goodwill exponentially. may you continue to inspire and entertain.

  57. hi chris,

    thanks for writing this. i had always wondered about your experiences in africa and how you got involved (and what you did); i almost emailed you just to ask. from the number of comments i guess i’m not alone.. i hope to hear more about this (even in the book)

    hope this round of traveling goes well (and safely)!

  58. Chris, I was in Sierra Leone in 1996 and have been working with Haiti for the last fifteen years. I agree that they look a lot a like. If Haiti were part of Africa, it would fit right in. It is an odd puzzle though as to why Haiti didn’t follow the path of its Caribbean neighbors.

    I loved your back story–you sound quite remarkable. I hope that we do meet as you cross through the Dominican Republic.

  59. I was with a particular organization that had a stop-over in Haiti for 3 or 4 days to do a quick ‘advance team’ to get a better idea of the needs there (mmm probably 2003) …the views were both breath-taking and heart breaking…then when we moved on to Puerto Plato Dominican Republic it was sad to see the Haitians overworked and underpaid in the sugarcane fields of the DR…

    It keeps good perspective on world views, cultural differences, and self humility(or ones own feeling of appreciating life and why).

    On a side note to another comment – Haiti’s Voodoo transcended from Benin in West Africa. So it wouldn’t be a far cry to see other traits that came as well, or to attach them to West Africa.

    Chris your travels and experiences are an education in itself…best money or travel miles you ever spent?!

  60. April 25, 2009

    Keith Legg

    I am impressed with how you are living your life. Your compassion for people is commendable, but your willingness to take action, to put yourself in the middle of people lives, is wonderful and quite frankly, unusual. The world is brimming over with all kinds of human suffering, all sorts of injustice and madness that just doesn’t seem real to people who live comfortable lives. That’s why what you are doing, and what you are saying is important.

  61. Dear Everyone,

    Thanks so much for your comments. I have read them all and wish I could be more responsive, but I haven’t had much internet access lately. I’ll try to answer some of the questions in future updates.

    All the best from Guyana,

    CG

  62. You know how you never laugh out loud much if your by yourself? After pausing mid essay to read how you really got into business, and your story about your last real job was moving boxes at fedex, I couldnt help but laugh out loud at the irony when you ended up beeing the box carrier in Sierra Leone. Your stories never cease to amaze me.

    Your site has been my homepage for a month or two now thanks!

  63. Hey, Chris, thank you for this post. Actually, I just got referred from some blog. But this blog entry (well, also the first one) really impresses me a lot. I am a student from China. Though have traveled a lot between several continents, I am still wondering why I haven’t found my point of passion and career. You article invokes my deepest feeling of pursuit of happiness. Your article is calm but encouraging. Thanks.

  64. Hi Chris,

    I really liked that post and want to thank you for it. It shows your personnal progress through time, long time in fact. As LEI, I’m also wondering why I haven’t found my point of passion and career yet. One thing for sure is that my current situation is temporary until I found something else I feel better about. Thoses recent years have been very deep at the point of introspection and deep feelings of happiness. Even if I got the sense of making progress in my head, I haven’t found what I really want yet and feel I’m turning in circle. One thing for sure, sitting in that cubicle won’t help that! But man…. what is holding us back from making the progress we would like to…. is it only because we’re not patient or it is insecurity, money?

    Keep rocking our mind,

    Pascal

  65. May 4, 2009

    Megan Kelly

    I can’t wait to hear more about your time in Haiti. My Bahamian students and I just studied Haitian immigration and fundraised the money to send 16 students to school for a year. I am eager to go to Haiti someday and volunteer as well.

    Safe journey!

  66. May 25, 2009

    Dawn McCaslin

    Hi Chris!

    Over the last few weeks I’ve taken the time to read almost all of your blog posts. I’ve purchased a few of your eBooks and I’m a huge fan.

    One burning question I have is how do you handle tax issues? I’ve taken classes on small business taxes and done some research but nothing that I’ve found seems to support a blog-ebook-business.

    I’m in the process of researching and building up a big repository of posts for my soon-to-be blog. My goal is to become a digital nomad and location independent like you and Lea Woodard.

    But, I have no idea how to deal with or track for tax filings.

    I hope you’ll either address this in a future post or in one of your eBooks. I’d love to hear about your experiences with this matter.

    Best and keep up the awesome work! You are a true inspiration…

    Dawn

  67. June 17, 2009

    Rachel Byrum

    Haiti! I want to go to Haiti so bad one day! Wow! I have looked at going several times. One day…

    Meanwhile, I am not surprised that you made it into the New York Times. That makes me smile, but does not surprise me AT ALL. Wow, you have and are continuing to really DO things. You are my friend, but also as your life develops and evolves, you are growing into this bigger-then-life person that I am just blown away by. You are very real, and watching you do these things encourages me to be extraordinary as well.

    Thanks for defying the norm.

    Rachel

  68. Chris, thanks for the link to this article in today’s blog. I had figured out that you must have worked with Mercy Ships, but did not realize it was in Sierra Leone. My three trips to that country (2004, 2005, and 2006) radically impacted me. I am glad I finally got this piece of your story. I have read your blog for a while, but missed this one somehow.