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Thursday, November 08, 2012

A world of villages -- living to the edge

Recently, I reconnected with Brian Schwartz in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Brian is probably the most intelligent person in his city.  He is one of only a few members of the Omega Society, which requires intelligence at the 99.999 percentile -- that's one in a million -- to qualify.

When we were both younger, we shared a tent in an 3.5 month overland journey through Africa.  I ended up, a couple of years later, living through the conclusion of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe war as a sub-editor at the Bulawayo Chronicle.  Brian, meanwhile, went on to much more daring adventures through Africa and Asia.

When he returned to the U.S. in the mid-1980s, he wrote a couple of books.  One described how he got around China when the country had just opened to tourism.  The second reported on his human-level experiences in places few tourists would ever think of visiting, even today.  His A world of villages:  A six year journey through Africa and Asia, has been out of print for quite a while but you can easily purchase a copy through the used book market.

While our experiences directly correlate only for a few pages, I'm reminded in reading this book about the challenges, limits, and opportunities in our world, and the nature of risk-taking and intelligence in determining our fate.  Brian certainly elected to go into exceptionally dangerous places.  Notably he visited Uganda twice -- once to be jailed by Idi Amin's troops; the second to provide famine relief in a lawless part of the country after Amin's fall from power.  His ability to understand local practices, dialogues, and (most importantly) to think quickly on his feet, allowed him to escape some rather close calls.

I'm certainly nowhere near as intelligent as Brian, electing to take a safer route to human understanding and accomplishment.  Sure, I lived for 18 months in a country at war, but stayed in the city and avoided trouble.  Friends and family back home in Canada thought I had taken daring risks -- but I only pushed the limits on a few occasions in my African travels.  I learned much about the difference between perceived and real risk in these situations.

Time has passed.  Our lives are in different places.  I'm now write about construction marketing and publish regional and national publications for the architectural, engineering and construction community.  Brian, meanwhile, knows and reviews Tulsa's best restaurants.

Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to meet him again in the next few years; learning about the Oklahoma construction industry as he shows me the best places to eat in town.  Meanwhile, if you want to capture some of heart and soul of the third world, I recommend you read Brian's book.  It is moving and at times riveting.  He used his intelligence to go deeper into the world than most of us could even dream.

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