I have been blogging about many things but in a way or in another I somehow managed to dodge the main topic that brought me to Africa in the first place. I am working on a fish farming project with a small Oregon-based development organization. The project that I am working on is a mixture of creativity, recklessness and trial and error. It came to life in one cold, Bostonian winter afternoon filled with many things to do and an unbeatable desire to stay in bed. I received a Skype call from the Executive Director of the organization and while very much unprepared for an informal interview, I sought comfort in a hand-rolled cigarette taking shape in my hands during the initial, edgy greetings that anticipate a much more profound conversation ahead. We spoke a lot about development, the role of the private sector and social business, the role of microfinance, the opportunity to link village saving groups and formal banking institutions. It was refreshing to hear of an organization that refused and even opposed a top down approach to development, in favor of one that put the beneficiaries at the centre and left any decisional power with them in the first place. The level of independency and self-management that his organization seemed to offer to their interns did much to convince me to take the chance and see if I could carve out same space for my summer internship. We had spoken about solar energy, brick making machines, training saving groups, public private partnerships…and fish farming. As the conversation wired to an end the greetings and our mutual exchanges of gratitude sounded much more natural than they did at the beginning. The initial and much needed skepticism that opens the conversation between two strangers gave in to a fledgeling trust that was building out of our shared and good-willed intentions. Amongst all that we spoke of, fish farming tickled pleasantly on childhood memories, scented with the flowers of linden trees opening to the spring by the lakeshore.
It was around the beginning of the trout fishing season and my granddad and I were up early on Sundays to travel the distance between our house and happiness. It is amazing how those fifteen miles still echo big in my mind; now that it is me driving and my granddad resting on an overlooking hill, that distance feels much shorter but still revamps that same untamed joy, encouraged by his wise and accepting smile through a pair of stubborn mustaches. I cannot recall happier moment than those drives, truly drives to freedom. And so were the walks that I took alongside the banks of the untouched river that roared relentless in the valley by a countryside hill. This time it was Enrico who brought me with him, running in the wilderness of a mountain stream that many miles down the line would spread out to reflect the lights of Florence on its silvery waters. Back up there in the mountains, Enrico and I revived the paths by the river-shore for many summers, chasing trouts and enjoying dips in the waters that were as beautiful as unintended.
Now that both granddad and Enrico left their fishing rods with me, every fish that ends its battle in my net is a twist in memories that I’m glad to call my best ones. Flying to Africa to run a fish farming project is much much more than something that will return good professional prospects, experiencing life in a developing country or helping those who own much less than I do. It is a run with granddad, Enrico, Leandro, Filippo and all those ones whose passion made sure than mine would light up and never fade. Despite all that is going wrong, this summer I wouldn’t have done anything else.