I turned 27 a few days ago. Most of my young life I've done birthdays with small groups of dear friends and family, but facebook has made birthdays a public affair so we go with it and why not, let's ask for support - I mean it can't hurt. In two days we're going to the Democratic Republic of Congo and we could use the funds.
My friends are mostly students and non-profiters, but we figure if three hundred friends donate ten dollars each, we've got a good little sum. Two days later the trip is paid for. Gotta love America. And the internet.
Three hours before take off, done packing, calling, emailing, plan plan planning, I suddenly remember - it's the one thing of such consequential importance, I can't believe it hasn't been more of a priority.
We're going to Africa man, you've got to have sunglasses. I bolt out the door, jump a quick six blocks to Venice beach, home to the z-boys, Dogtown, street acts, circus shows, fried fries, seas of beach cruisers, handy crafts, hemp hats and of course....sunglasses. Grab a pair for each of us and book it back. Time to go.
Jump in the car with mi compadres and we're off. This is it huh? Finally? Back to Congo? A year ago, I would never have imagined this is what the next trip would look like. So many stories in such a small amount of time. There is much to share, and all in good time I suppose. First, the team.
We call him the Supertramp. Sitting in Alabama and reading blogs from Congo, he knew something had to be done. Fast forward a few months and what the hell Dave is in LA with me and ready to tell the whole world and we don't have a plan, but we know people have to know, so off he goes. Flying to Austin spending the next four months hitchhiking to New York City. With every stop he meets and conspires. Coalition he says. We need a coalition. The problems of our world are too big and too grave. We've got to fight and never stop fighting because man, look at Congo. Look at what's happening there. We've got power there and it should be used for peace. Building, moving, growing and always sharing this small window into the war, he hitches wherever he can and meets with anyone who will listen. On the side of the highway, merchandise in hand, it begins to rain. What does he do? Stands in it. An ex-convict offers to pick him up. What does he do? Takes it. The Supertramp! We love Dav. He may well be one of our generation's most genuine players. Smart and disciplined, he comes to Congo in charge of strategic relationships. Who is who? How do they operate? How are they connected to what and in what way? A lot of money out here in Congo and a lot of players in the game. All we wanna do is help the kids - Dav will learn the channels.
We had met all of three times when I received his message - call me. I first met Jon at a makeshift wedding with a couple who had known each other for 10 full days. The wedding was a blowout and Jon, as he always does, led the charge. We saw each other again the night before he got a tattoo on his rear end and a year later, the evening before I left for Joburg 08.
Call him back, "Hey man, yea I've been thinking about something. I don't know, like maybe using the money I've made in the past year or two and, I don't know, volunteering. For something. I don't know what to do but I know I want to do something. I mean, something needs to be done right?"
What did he study? Entrepreneurial management. What did we need? An entrepreneurial manager. The next day he flies to LA, checks out the plan, flies home and puts his company up for sale. Done and done. A couple months later and I have a new roommate and we have a CFO. Hilarious and selfless, he keeps this serious crew laughing. His task in Congo is to understand the local economy - industries, markets, strategies. He is here to learn how to create jobs. Congo needs millions of them.
We've never met. Dan lives in New York and is an artist, photographer, designer, traveler, lover of all things new, foreign and fun. He studies language, despises nonsense, and I know all this simply from email and phone. My buddy Paul Steele thought we'd like each other and sent a connection email. I wrote "Look man, here's the deal. We're doing something out here that's real. You won't make money and you won't get famous, but you'll have some impact in a place few are reaching." He wrote back, "Okay, I'm down. When do we go to Congo?" Already I like this guy. He's coming, like us all, to elevate the oppressed. To ignore their plight is to deny our own. There is a mutual distrust among our small crew for the addictive narratives of modern media - this thing somewhere far away is bad, there is nothing at all now way not possible nothing good happening, its connected to you but I wont prove it wont show it don't have time, get a quote maybe two, listen quickly, run away and never, under any circumstances, offer a solution or a pathway for individual response. These stories have dominated our international news for three generations. We're over it.
We meet Dan for the first time in Amsterdam round noon. He's been there only two hours but already knows the structure of the city and a basic history. A seasoned traveler this one, and I look forward to our friendship.
Red and I met just once, at a fancy night in Dallas, too distracting for genuine conversation. He says he's a filmmaker and I smile and say cool. Everyone our age is a filmmaker. Take his card and great to meet you and that is that. One more person saying they want to help, one more who forgets the next morning. Or the next week. Or month.
Scroll forward a few weeks, camera man has to cancel and man what to do boom let's think - remember that kid Red? Yea, he was cool, let's call that one. That same day we get an email from him - this red haired former boy scout is offering to help once again. Gotta love his persistence. He has talent, can raise his own money, and has been studying DRC. So that is that. Red's in. Our five minute conversation has turned into a two week journey into the jungle.
And I'm Sean. It's my job to understand the political situation. The players here operate on a global stage and many don't want anyone to know what they're up to. I'm here to dig.
And so we are five. From Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Houston and Huntsville. We leave the comfort of home to meet the other half. So much to share...all in good time.
please feel free to pass this on to anyone and everyone. you're the only reason we exist.
photos by Dan Johnson