Saturday, September 25, 2010

How Lucky am I?

There’s a trick that my Dad once taught me... well, actually, I think I learned it from comment he made to my sister. It was something like – all it takes to be in a good mood, or to be happy, is to tell yourself that you’re in a good mood. Not sure I ever really put this into practice, and fairly certain my sister didn’t either, but it stuck somehow and here I am reading a book many years later thinking about it.

Since coming to Zambia, I’ve been acutely aware of all the difficulties that I’m surrounded by. It can be hot, it can be difficult to communicate - eating, sleeping, walking, sweating, and trying to do pretty much anything is more difficult than it is in Canada. That is, unless I have a whack of cash – then it doesn’t matter where I am in the world, things get easier.

Anyway, so here I am. Where exactly? A place that isn’t on the map. In Rent-to-Own we have an agent here, and we call it “Kasempa Turn-off”. Yup, I’m at a place that is defined by a junction in the road going to somewhere else. It’s about 800 km from the capital city of Zambia. There’s no power, no running water, not even any surface water. There are people around though, and through some odd circumstances, we chose to have an agent here.

Six months ago I came here to hire this agent. I really had no idea what I was doing, but something told me that Rent-to-Own might work in other areas outside of the one community that I knew – Mwinilunga. Now that I look back, it was ridiculous and truly difficult. The trip was my first to see the entire province, and I’ve since labelled it “two guys in a RAV4”.

Today, I realized halfway through my trip to visit all 10 of our agents, that this trip is actually the culmination of 6 months of hard work. We now have a truck of our own, and we have almost $60,000 of new capital to put towards renting more equipment. We have 5 employees and are a proper registered company here in Zambia. Possibly the biggest difference to me, is that I no longer have other duties (well, of course I have some but by and large Rent-to-Own is my main priority).

Yes. Driving 3000 km for 20 days in rural Zambia might sound like a haul, like a job, or like a sacrifice even. However, the beautiful thing is that it’s a dream come true. Every day I wake up and spend it talking to business owners about how they can grow their business. We go from 6am to 6pm. In essence, we are like investors, looking for small businesses that can pay back the original capital, plus a return. Not just a financial return, but a social return. If you think about it, I’m pretty sure you’ll discover that a financial return for any business, whose annual revenues are less than $2000, is actually synonymous with social returns. Even if they’re cutting down trees, or growing tobacco. The only sustainable life I’ve seen, is a life that exists on more than $5 a day.

So here I am, under the Milky Way stars, happily reporting on how things are in a place that doesn’t exist on a map. I can easily see how my situation could be viewed as a pile of brutal work, but with trying, just like my Dad said – being happy is all in how you think about it.

Today, it’s no longer two guys in a RAV4, it’s now “3 guys in a Canter Truck”