Thursday, March 8, 2012
THE FACE OF LIVEBIRDS: MEET BOB
Bob’s real name is Lucky. For reasons I will never completely understand, I’ve been privileged to find the true ironic beauty behind his name. At first glance, his life’s travails haven’t contained a whole lot of luck in the traditional sense of the word— meaning the stars, even as bright as they are under the African sky, have not aligned for him in the way Hollywood movies portend, and , he’s certainly not a millionaire (yet). But, I’m learning life is more about perspective in regards to luck anyway…and thanks to Bob, his perspective continues to rub off on my soul too.
I first met him when I was working on a blog entry of all things (as if the beauty of Foreshadowing sat in the room with us). My head buried behind my laptop on the end of a long wooden table in a room that is the office of ‘Hope for Aids’ in Mutare, Zimbabwe, my crazed, curly hair sticking out the sides of the monitor. I wasn’t trying to be rude. It was just that I found myself in a frenetic trance of architecting words into meaning. I was quite preoccupied as is typical when I write, much preferring to be alone and away from any distractions, but resorting to the only place that I knew had wireless internet accessible to me in the entire city. I came to the country to meet such dynamic souls such as Bob, yet in these moments, all I wanted to do was finish my first blog, so I could ‘ship’ it off to my loved ones, internet-posted, as a present to them on Thanksgiving Day, sharing with them my first week of adventures and gratitude in a land I had already come to love.
Bob came and sat in one of the wooden chairs that lined three-quarters of the naturally-lit room. To be honest, I’m not sure if I remember him entering, his lean figure somehow treading lightly past me. But then when I looked up toward the ceiling, lost in thought as if hoping to catch the ‘right’ word in the breeze that could be heard in the rustling of the trees outside coming in through the open windows of the room, my eyes spotted him out of the corner of my eye. As I introduced myself, instead of a handshake he offered me something called ‘tapenda’ the native Zimbabwean Shona term for dried anchovy that my senses immediately alerted me to. Looking back, I think he was testing me... in his subtle yet appraisingly resourceful way I think he wanted to see if I was worth talking to—the privileged white American woman adventurer I all but claimed to be, but of which I stood out like a ‘privileged white American woman’ does the same way a Zimbabwean elephant stands out in a room for us. Thankfully, I obliged even as I tried to hide my grossed-out expression as I expressly chewed and swallowed, proudly managing an awkward smile in the midst of my distasteful gastronomical experience. He nodded back as if handing me an unspoken inclusionary ticket to his world. I was in, and looking back, I covet my instinctual choice that would align our world together as friends.
I soon learned that Bob, a twenty-four year-old native Zimbabwean is Misheck’s right hand man…not only as a Livebirds' employee, but in life itself. (If you don’t already know, Misheck is the young man heading up the Livebirds' chicken business on African soil that actually made my trip possible.) If you didn’t get to meet him over this past summer when he graced our presence at the Warehouse 242/LIVEBIRDS Launch Party, you should know that Misheck is a jovial extraverted soul whose natural glow serves to light up a room in gaiety. Bob, in contrast, is the understated version of Misheck. While Misheck engages in mantras and with it exchanges the lightness of his authentic spirituality, Bob speaks to the point in plain wit, depth and meaning. The two have become both dear to my soul, but in my five-week stay in Zim, it was Bob who I communed with most. Misheck, in addition to overseeing Livebirds was at the time planning for his rapidly approaching wedding in which Bob became my dance partner in the bridal party. By default, I found myself walking beside Bob during my time in Mutare. I must say besides all the things I want to express about him, he is the best walking partner I have ever encountered. His gait is quick, and his endurance long, as if somehow kindred in step…and his feet mirror the perseverance he offered back towards the obstacles his life required. Of all the things I miss about him, I yearn for our walks the most.
On these treasured travels, along the shoddy roads of Mutare, our quick bodies making shadows on our path as the hot sun shone above, I learned a lot from my Bob. I first noticed that he would usually begin his sentences with, ‘And you know…’ Yet as I listened underneath what I now refer to as ‘Bobisms,’ I took in his story—a life of faith, perseverance, and resourcefulness that is as rare as his name.
Bob’s parents both died before he turned six of tuberculosis. He and his siblings were shuffled between the care of their grace-filled grandmothers, and Bob began to climb adversity’s rockiness with them, not as a bystander, but with active, determined, never-complaining persistence. He rationed food for his family during the drought that shocked his country as a young boy. His body got so used to the piecemeal food that he still eats little today, preferring to stay lean rather than indulge in things he does not need. He raised money for his school fees (Zimbabwe still has no publicly funded education for children) by drawing pictures and submitting them to a local hospital. He eventually paid his way bit by bit through school to become a car mechanic by trade. To prove the depth of his character, one day during my visit an unacquainted car broke down while Bob happened to be walking by. Instead of glancing down and continuing on, like the good and talented Samaritan that he is, Bob, without hesitation, walked over and offered his services, repairing their car on the spot. He laughed to say he did get a free ride out of it, but that was just extra for him.
One day he showed up at the door of my home where I was staying and asked to come with me to the orphanage where I spent my days. He couldn’t have known that I needed a friend more than anything on that day, but I think he sensed it. As we walked toward the beloved children we would spend the day with, we spotted monkeys, and talked about his hopes for the future. What was striking to me was that even in a country oppressed by dictatorship, Bob never revealed an ounce of cynicism in his words…his hopes existed because he believes in active waiting, staying loyal to all that he has, and looking to God for the rest. That day at the orphanage, he illustrated his testimony through the metaphor of a ‘Tree of Life,’ talking orphan to orphan about how to glean fruit and throw out weeds and tangles in our life. It was a message of transformation he gave away freely, and as I sat in the orphanage home, my head resting against the wall behind him, I saw the glory of Bob as he voluntarily shared truths with children that shared his plight. I smiled in wonder, and still do. What he gave them was a message of commonality in hope…as his ‘fruit’ metaphorically multiplied in the hearts of the children who sat before him.
In terms of the business, Bob’s role is to take care of the chickens. He does the dirty work, often sleeping overnight on a mattress surrounded by growing chicks, continually monitoring their food and water. He’s the one in the business that picks up the pieces, constantly staying alert to details that will keep the business alive, and quietly influencing his wisdom to Mishech and the rest of the team. Even as he agrees not to get paid until there is a profit, he gives his heart and soul to the business. He dreams of going back to school, yet he takes advantage of what he has in front of him, and waits expectantly.
On Christmas Eve, 2011, I had the privilege of meeting his grandmother, Rachael. While this is a whole other story, and other-worldly at that, I must tell you that he loves dearly the one that raised him and gives back to her every chance and with every dollar he gets. He feels torn that he is not closer in distance to her, and yet his thoughts of her are always close to his mind and heart.
This is Bob. I forgot to say that he is really funny too. He makes me laugh simply by watching his animated countenance displayed. For some reason, with all of the wishes, and hopes, and obstacles, and duties on his plate, he made room for me in his life. He accepted my ignorance of the culture, my difficulty with the language, and my inherent privileged attitude toward life. I don’t know how to thank him for this, because in this acceptance, I found intimacy with my God, finding with greater clarity that God accepts me too.
My words always fall short, but especially with Bob. He is actively working at this moment, I believe, even in his REM sleep, making Livebirds a sustaining reality. I ask you to pray for him. I ask that you will know him one day too. Pray for continued blessings on his life, and continued knowledge that He is loved and adored by our Creator. Pray for his future with Livebirds and beyond…for his continued ability to care well for his grandmother, Rachael, and for his desire for a wife that shares his eye for life. He will make a wonderful father, whose children will certainly carry on the legacy of luck in the truest sense. ‘Bright fame’ is the meaning of the name Bob, and when you throw in ‘Luck’ anything is possible.