Before joining the Brains on Fire team I spent a year building houses at a small Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Pittsboro, North Carolina. The construction skills and lingo I gleaned were serendipitous preparation for becoming the community manager for the awesome tinkering DIYers that make up the Liquid Wrench community. However, at Habitat, I learned infinitely more than how to keep things plumb, square, and level. Many of those lessons came from a human who has more wisdom and grace than anyone I’ve known- my construction supervisor Harvey Harman.
Harvey and his wife spent 5 years doing development work in a small village in South Africa during Apartheid. In that time, his wife gave birth to two of their children, Harvey learned to speak a rare click language, and he met a man named Abayoli, whose story he shared with me one morning on site, and I’m privileged pass on to you.
Abayoli lives in a remote part of South Africa, a few days journey from the village where Harvey lived. Harvey came upon Abayoli’s land while traveling to another village and was awestruck.
Two giant pits—approximately the size of a modest home in the American suburbs—had been dug into otherwise stubborn and infertile ground. A lush variety of food crops filled the pits, those requiring little water growing around the pit’s rim and those requiring the most water nestled at its base. Harvey had never seen or heard of anything like it, quite impressive if you know just how much Harvey knows about farming.
Abayoli explained that with little money, he had no hope of purchasing fertile land. His parcel—now booming with more than enough food to feed his community—had been nutrient stripped by mining and deemed completely useless.
Like most great innovators, Abayoli saw possibility where others saw obstacles.
With access to neither heavy machinery nor the money to pay for help, Harvey asked the fundamental question, “How did you dig the holes?”
Abayoli responded, “I moved ten wheel barrows of earth a day.” The process took him seven years. He said that it worked so well, he decided to dig another one.
Here at Brains on Fire, we believe that great work grows from the tenacity to keep asking questions about the problem that seems unsolvable and the courage to try the seemingly impossible. In other words, with courageous insight, we take big leaps.
For me, Abayoli’s story brings two questions to mind: (1) What do you envision for the world? And perhaps more importantly, (2) What are your ten wheel barrows a day?