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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Roads less travelled -- finding your own way to construction marketing success

Mark Salter, one of my African newspaper colleagues
I bore my family with tales from my two youthful journeys to Africa.  In 1976, after graduating from university in Vancouver, B.C., instead of taking the standard post-graduate trip to Europe, I ended up on an overland truck tour through the Sahara, central Africa (the Congo) and ended up in Nairobi, Kenya.  Then I made one of those decisions that reshaped my life: I carried on, independently, to southern Africa, spending a month in Rhodesia before returning home from South Africa.

In Canada, I discovered a job on the Medicine Hat News in Alberta (the managing editor said he hired me because of my trip to Africa).  There, a year later, I made the decision to return to Africa -- this time with the intent to observe the conclusion of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe war as a working journalist.

I contacted the foreign news service of the newspaper chain that had employed me, obviously saying I would be paying my own way but asking if they could use some freelance contributions while travelling.  Then I set off to Africa a second time.

The Africa correspondent for the Canadian newspaper organization told me that if I went into Rhodesia as a journalist, I would be put on the next plane out.  So I entered as a student.  Then, I realized I had a major problem -- I would run out of money before the story reached its conclusion.  So I sought work.

I ended up at the Rhodesia Herald in Salisbury seeing if they needed a copy-sub-editor (my job in Medicine Hat.)  I volunteered to work in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city (and a grimy and not terribly appealing place, at least to most outsiders.)  Soon, I had a job offer.  Then I went to the immigration department and told the officials there that I had been lucky to be offered a job as a trainee sub-editor.  Within three days (partly because my skin colour was "correct" under the then rules), I received a work permit with the occupation of "Journalist". 

This led to a rather amazing 18-month experience, where I indeed saw the conclusion of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe war, discovered my personal identity and experienced some rather amazing moments in learning about how the world works.

Now, the roads I took then in many ways were unconventional, but in many ways (as has been my entire life) followed some basic rules.  Sure, most young people don't go to Africa, but nerdy guys wishing to show the world they are not that nerdy probably should do things like traverse the Sahara or observe the conclusion of an African civil war.  I also responded situationally, separating the fears that cause us to freeze up with rational caution and prudence.  For example, I stayed away from really dangerous places.  (One of the travellers I met along the way proposed a trip to Uganda -- after checking with Canadian consular officials in Nairobi, I decided to pass on that trip.  A few days later, I found myself at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi to report my fellow traveller's journey when media reports announced that then-dictator Idi Amin had decided to arrest all Americans.  Embassy officials quickly took me into a back room and told me that indeed he had been picked up but thankfully released.)

I also realized that adventure must be rationally associated with real values and that a lifetime of this type of journeying would be very empty, indeed. 

We should not be afraid to travel, to take risks, to explore and to learn about the world.  These experiences ultimately are helpful in defining our lives and our potential for success.

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