Introduction: Lasting Lesson Learned a Long Way from Home – October 2006

My parents are the kind of people who have indulged a family tradition of saving all of the essays that my brother and I wrote for school, dating back to my hard hitting expose of the blue jay written at Emerson School.  My apartment in New York City is short on space for childhood archives, so the collected writings from K-12 are stored in a closet at their house on Breton Avenue in Sanford.   A few years ago, my mom sent me an essay that I wrote for Spanish class describing how I would one day live with the García family as an exchange student in Buenos Aires.  Having lived in Argentina in college, I realized upon reading the old essay that I had somehow followed through on my ninth grade whim.    

That essay aside, I never imaged that I would end up being much of a world traveler.  Now that I look back, I guess that I slowly taking such a path.  When I graduated from SHS in 1994, I decided to major in International Affairs at Georgetown based on a gut feeling.   Thanks to the guidance of Harland Eastman and SHS teacher Mrs. Whittaker, I was fortunate to receive a Rotary scholarship to spend my junior year of college in Argentina (I lived in my own apartment rather than with anyone named García).  This first trip outside of the United States instilled in me a desire to pursue an international career and to see as much of the world as possible. 

I graduated from college and wound up spending four years making investments in companies in Latin America.  Two years ago, I graduated from Harvard Business School and tried to make a go of a domestically-focused career.  I lasted six months – I missed the challenge of working in a global context.  Since then, I’ve been working for a fund that invests in companies located outside of the U.S.  This requires me to spend time in these counties assessing potential investments and also monitoring the operations of the companies in our portfolio.  Between personal and business travel, this year I’ve spent time in Brazil, Colombia, Turkey, China, and Pakistan.

Like many good things, such as Shaw’s cream horns, the idea for this column came from the supermarket.  A chance meeting between my parents and the editor of this paper resulted in an opportunity for me to write some accounts of my travels.  I’ve elected to take up the challenge although I can’t promise that they’ll all involve the sheer level of potential bodily harm associated with this first story.

While living in Argentina, I traveled from Bogotá, Colombia, to Buenos Aires, mostly by land.   The first leg of the trip was to be a “luxury” fourteen-hour bus ride from Bogotá to Colombia’s Caribbean coast.  Although friends had commented that fourteen hours seemed optimistic, I was certain that the luxury accommodations would make the ride pass quickly.  Shortly into the trip, however, I knew that it would not live up to its billing.  Within two hours, the television and the air conditioning broke, and the two dogs traveling on the bus began to whimper.  Overnight, the bus nearly collided with oncoming traffic and swerved into a ditch.  Wounded, the bus continued at its new maximum speed, 30 miles per hour, down the tortuous roads of the Sierra.  We proceeded without incident for almost four hours until military police informed us we were in guerilla territory, and soldiers searched all of the men at gunpoint.  I was not sure whether to be concerned or comforted by the military presence, but I’m never fond of looking up the barrel of a gun.   

After twenty-five hours we reached the outskirts of Baranquilla, a city just a few hours from our destination (and the home town of Shakira).  Suddenly, the bus ground to a halt.  A national strike had closed the road and angry strikers were attacking vehicles that attempted to cross.   Somehow, the strike ended within an hour, but the bus, wrecked from the previous night’s near collision, would not move.  As a result, the men on the bus were asked to congregate at the rear of the vehicle and push.  As I made my way down the center aisle, I muttered, “No lo puedo creer – I can’t believe it.”  A distinguished looking women, dressed in her Sunday best for the journey, lost no time in responding, “Vívalo y créalo – Live it and believe it.”   

As I stood pushing and praying the bus would restart, I contemplated the woman’s message.  It was simple and spot on.  The bus rolled into our destination after another 3 hours, but her message has stayed with me 10 years on.

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