May 30, 2017
I have many thoughts of thanks and gratitude as I wrap up my African adventure.
First of all, a huge shout out to Zack. You are only 22, but you have the spirit, stamina and talent to make your mark. I’m delighted that you are joining the iN2L family this month. Your tireless effort, perfectionism and energy inspired all of us. Once you had an idea for a particular picture or clip you moved mountains to get it done. The respect and the acknowledgement you received from every village we went to was one of my favorite parts of this journey. You were smiling through the journey as much as I was.
Sylvester, you were amazing. You drove us to every village, through every pothole and around every traffic jam. From my back seat vantage point I closed my eyes about six or seven times a day and you avoided disasters of all shapes and sizes with inches to spare. You and Michael Gardner from iN2L are driving soulmates.
Lilbert, the ultimate bodyguard! You were chartered first and foremost with keeping Zack and I safe. You did that with flying colors. What shocked us was your attentiveness. You watched where I left my bag, if we needed water and provided protocol advice at every turn. You were always one step ahead of me and that’s not easy. I’m glad I seem to have a good relationship with the divisional director, so I can insist that you are always a part of my future entourages.
To Rosie, you are the wind beneath Francis wings. Your spirit soars in and around Francis. Your kids are beautiful and they make me smile. I can’t wait for you to join Francis on our next tour.
To the tribal leaders: the honors you bestowed upon me, completely undeserved, were taken very seriously. I felt the power you all commanded – you have altered my own feelings of spirituality and of powers that exist that cannot be understood (and maybe shouldn’t be). I look forward to being back in your villages next year proudly, showing my red feathers – and I will have exceptional whiskey with me!
To the CDVTA volunteers: your spirit was the heart of the CDVTA experience. Without your passion, courage and heart I don’t think the organization would exist. I heard Francis thank you every day.
To Immaculate: what a structure you built to honor my mother and Hannah Thomas! It’s the first of many we will be a part of.
To the Cameroonian elders: wherever Zack and I went, you honored our presence. Your singing, dancing, chanting, smiling, hugging spirits stayed with Zack and I as we returned to the US. Your work effort is extraordinary. You produce so much with so little. You give so much more than you receive and I look forward to spreading the word of your hearts to kindred spirits in our country. Americans have a tendency to be paternalistic as we donate to countries with lower wages and incomes. It’s almost a “look how good we are doing, lets help those less fortunate”. My journey flipped this thinking on its head. Yes, we have solid infrastructures for energy, water, transportation and internet. But so many in the US are lost in their own frenzy, obsessed about a better life in the future that the day is lost. The people the villages were smiling, happy, living in the moment and enjoying the abundant gifts each day brings. I walked away from the journey thinking that neither country is “better” than the other, they are just different. We all have so much to learn from each other.
To the iN2L staff: you are the soul of the company – I’m just the huckster. The work you do day in and day out is why we have been successful and that success allowed this experience to happen. Tom Bang, thanks for letting me run around doing these types of shenanigans that are to explain or show any type of fiscal return.
To Front Porch and Sunnyview, especially Sally and Bill: your trust and spirit, have not only completely transformed a village so far away, but it has created a template that can be emulated by other senior living foundations.
To the GOATT Project donors: without your generous donations the Dorothy York / Hannah Thomas Center would not exist. Thanks to Western Home Foundation for being the fiscal agent for the project.
To Katie Sloan and Bob Lagoya (and all of Leading Age): the chance meeting of Francis and I in Perth would not have happened without your support. Leading Age has its fingers in many facets of this project, we would love to work together to expand the outreach. we are only just starting.
For my brother Tom and Leslie: Leslie, who woulda thunk what would become of this when you had the idea for iN2L??? And Tom, your spirit is the driving force behind what iN2L has become. You are masterfully guiding us from above. You would have loved to have a shot of whiskey with the tribal leaders!
To Dale for keeping track of me on this visit and Juliet for keeping track of the whole project. We’re only getting started so don’t think this is a one trick pony!
To my exceptional children JP, Nathan and Perrin: I don’t want to force Cameroon upon you, but I think one visit, (especially JP) and you will be hooked like I am.
And finally, and most graciously, to Francis, the most remarkable man I will ever meet. Your laughter and your spirit are what attract people to you. But underneath that jovial external persona lies the heart of a lion. You have dedicated your life, with little fanfare or financial gain, to thousands of forgotten Cameroonians in villages spread out all over the English speaking side of Cameroon. Your humility is deep, but please, for one short second, pat yourself on the back for the work you have done, work that God has blessed. You inspire everyone you come in contact with to do more, try harder, give one more hour in the day. I wish you many roller coasters in the future. You and I know we have not finished – we have just started.
So I exhale after writing so many words and sentences. A magical journey that God put his hand on allowed the GOATT Project to benefit hundreds of people far away. But there are thousands and thousands who we have not yet been able to touch. Zack and I were treated like kings with accolades and honors from the villagers and farmers to the tribal chiefs themselves. We didn’t deserve the attention that we received on this visit. There is only one way to pay back that hospitality – that is to work harder to spread the word of the beautiful people of Cameroon and how our generosity can change their whole destiny. I speak from personal experience that you will receive more than you ever give.
I will always remember – it all started with a goat …