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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My journey to a new friendship

Have you ever gotten up early in the morning because you got inspired to do something?

This is what just happened to me (it's almost 3.30 am on Boxing day)
For a while now I have been hesitating to write about this story because I am still emotional about it. I guess it was not the right time yet. But now, at 3.30 am on Boxing day, I am going to share the story (and I am selling it at half price lol).
Yes I know, it's again about my trip to Mali (I can hear you saying “get over it” as Dr. Phil always does).

My old friend Ken just read my blog and his comment was “Patrick, you are an INCREDIBLE and INSPIRING writer”; and just like that, by reading this comment, I got inspired to talk about my new friend Yacouba (and at the same time promote myself by using Ken's comment).

Yacouba is my new friend. He is just 11 years old. But what a friend!!! He is the kind of friend who reminds you of your purpose.

My trip to Mali (see previous blogs) was full of surprises which included my meeting with Yacouba. He is one of the 24 kids who participated in our project.. The ladies who designed the project had this amazing idea of working with kids in Canada and in Mali. The kids in Canada would write letters about what is important them and address them to the kids in Africa.. The African kids would then do the same in response. Once they identified what was important to them, the kids were asked to make a drawing or take a photograph that would represent what was important to them.. I thought this was brilliant.

Inspired, I got the idea to create a documentary film about the project. It was a simple project. All I had to do was follow the life of one kid in Canada, highlighting what was important to him. I would then do the same with one kid in Mali.

Collin was my guy in Toronto. For him, his family and playing hockey were the important things. I wondered how we were going to explain hockey to our African kids (I, myself, didn't know the rules). I followed Collin as the main character of my movie.

Once we got to Mali, each kid would chose a friend from Canada and read his or her letter. I waited to see who would get Collin's letter and then I would follow him as the other character of my movie. Yes, you guessed it, Yacouba got the letter and from that moment on he became my superstar. I followed him for the rest of the trip with his friends while they played soccer and had fun with the other kids in the program. It was great. I loved it.

Each kid in Mali was given a camera, which they used to take 27 pictures each. Once we got all the pictures, the kids had to choose one picture that would represent what was important to them, and say why. The kids took amazing pictures (and of course there was no hockey involved). Needless to say I was eager to see what was important to my friend Yacouba.

On the day that the kids had to choose their favourite picture, I was downtown with Papa Koné (see the blog about my new family). By the time I returned to school all the work was completed. The kids had taken amazing pictures. I went to see what Yacouba was up to. What a great suprise!!! Yacouba had chosen a picture Yes you got it right. I did not even remember him taking a picture of me.

Beneath the picture, Yacouba had written: “Patrick is important to me because he is my friend, he takes pictures of me and he plays soccer with me”. I couldn't believe it. First of all, I am not a good soccer player. Second, I could not believe how this kid could have chosen me. He only knew me for two weeks!!! How about that???

On the last day of our project, the kids performed in a show. It was a great show that even got covered by local media. At the end of the show, Yacouba came to me and introduced me to his aunt. He was proud to show me his family. I decided to do an interview with her asking her about my friend Yacouba. He is a great kid according to his aunt.

At the end of the interview, I told Yacouba that it was my last day in Mali. I had to return to Canada. He started crying. The kid cried a lot. He held my hand and wouldn't let me go. Guess what? I started crying too. All the kids watched us. I took Yacouba to a quiet spot away from the other kids. I didn't know what to say to him. I held him in my arms, and told him that he was my friend and that I would never forget him. The kid cried even more. I asked him to be a good boy, and above all to study hard and become something.

Right there, I decided to do something for this kid. I decided to pay for his education. Before leaving Mali, I made sure that I had all the contacts I needed to keep in touch with Yacouba. The Koné family would be my main contact to send money for Yacouba's education (and it doesn't cost a lot). I'd like to see this kid become the Prime Minister or become like me and writes blogs…. lol.

Moral of the story? Do you want a new friend? Just write to me and I will give you Yacouba's contacts. He will become your friend too.

Always a pleasure
The Journeyman

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My journey to Las Vegas

I guess everyone has heard the saying “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”. I would say it does not have to.

I am a fan of personal development stuff. Every time I get an opportunity to attend a seminar, read a book or listen to an audio recording, I just run with it. I have learned so many things in the process.

It was in late October 2008 that Gabriela,a friend of mine and life coach came to me and told me that a well known speaker and coach was conducting a 3 day intensive training in Vegas. She said that she could invite 5 people to attend for free, provided that they could pay for their own transportation and hotel accommodations. It was a great deal, because the training was a little bit expensive (I believe learning is priceless).
Needless to say I was interested, but I had not planned to travel so soon (an easy way to say that I did not have the money to do it). I told my friend that I would go with her and now I had to figure out how.

The “how” has never been my business. I just figure out what I want, and then the how will show up (what a good deal I got). That always works. Don’t ask me how it works because I don’t know (remember that the “how” is none of my business).
Around that time, I overheard people in a meeting discussing a project they wanted to do. I approached them and told them that I knew somebody who could help. They wanted to give the person a try. I called my friend and explained to him what was needed from him and he delivered. My friend was so happy about it that he offered me 10% of the deal. I did not even ask for it but I accepted it. Guess what? The trip was paid for.

What a city!! Las Vegas is so beautiful. I was so lucky because I got there a day before the training, so I had enough time to visit different places and watch a number of shows. Vegas never sleeps.

The training was great. I learned so much. One of the things the trainer talked about was setting goals. So I did. I set 5 goals of things I would like to accomplish in 2009. But after a while I forgot about these goals that I had put on paper, and it wasn’t until my move downtown (which was one of those goals) that I came across the paper again.. I was shocked to see that I had accomplished 3 of the 5 goals without even knowing it! The 2 remaining goals are within reach as I am writing this blog.

I guess what happened in Vegas did not stay there. I am glad I went there because I learned some valuable stuff. The only thing I did not commit to was giving up drinking coke (I mean coca cola….). I had stopped for a while until I went to Mali (West Africa). Their coke is amazing.

Moral of the story? Do you want to accomplish great things? Just go to Vegas, set some goals and then forget about them.

Always a pleasure
The Journeyman

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My journey to a new family

Have you ever taken a trip, not really knowing what to expect, and at the end being blown away?

That is what happened to me on my last visit to Mali (West Africa).

Being born in Africa, I was not expecting to experience a cultural shock (is there an African culture?), but having been away for a while, I had forgotten some aspects of my “roots” (yes, you can blame me if you want).

Before leaving Toronto, we were told that everything was taken care of by the Koné family in Bamako and that there was nothing to worry about. I knew some members of the Koné family (two of them taking the trip with me). “Taken care of” was really an understatement when we got there. Three cars were waiting for us (there were 5 of us on the trip ; do I hear you saying VIPs?), Abdoul Karim Koné (the one I knew before going to Mali) was waiting for us inside the airport with his usual nice smile, kids were around helping us with our luggages, and above all, there was....the nice weather (what a relief!!!)

Off we went, leaving the airport not even knowing where we were going, but trusting once again in the Konés. First trip, before doing anything else, we had to go and greet Papa Koné (the head of the family). I guess that is the tradition. I was impressed by this man. In his eighties, Papa Koné is still a strong man with incredible intellectual faculties (I wanted to take some extra French lessons from him).

Long story short, our first night was perfect. Before going to our “house” we spent the first night at Abdoulaye “Papou” Koné's villa in which he lived with Abba, a very funny guy who calls himself “Beau Gosse” (good looking guy). His stories were hilarious!!!

We had 3 weeks to accomplish the project (stay tuned for the details in a later blog; and yes I am selling it), but in the meantime I got enough time to spend with the Koné Brothers. There was Abdoul “The Businessman”, Mamadou “The Boss” (also called George only on Sundays) and Papou “The sharp banker” called Matthew on the Sundays as well. What an amazing family!!!!

I was particularly amazed with the respect they had for each other. Just by listening to them talking to one another, you could see who was the big brother and who was not.

I also spent time and got to know Papa Koné. Every time he saw me, he called me “my son”. It was really an honour for me. But it was also a little bit weird for me because as long as I can remember, that was the first time I heard a man calling me “my son”, and above all, me calling him “father” (that is a long story, and please don't ask me to explain, cause you don't ever want to see my face when I cry...).

He even gave us a big hand, when we needed media coverage for our project (we were told it was almost impossible to bring the national TV reporters). But Papa Koné had connections. I went with him at the TV station head office, and all the doors were opened in a second! All I had to do was to look good behind this man (and that is a very easy job for me, as I already look good). He presented me to the reporters as his son. Man!!!

Finally, I asked to be officially part of the Koné Family. At first I thought it was a joke, but they took it seriously. There is even a ritual for this. Papou Koné went through this with me, his brother Abdoul filming everything with his camera. The ritual lasted about 15 minutes, at the end of which I was even given a new name: Abdoulay Patriki Koné. Now I have a bunch of brothers and sisters, but above all, a father. And I am so proud of it.

Moral of the story? Do you want a new family, or do you want to trade the one you have now (lol)? Just take a trip to Mali. There is still room in the Koné family

Always a pleasure


The Journeyman

Monday, December 7, 2009

My journey to Mali

Have you ever been to a place where you feel like “how in the world did I get here?”

That's how I am feeling now as I am writing this blog in the heat (I will take it anytime) of the beautiful city of Bamako, capital city of the Republic of Mali (West Africa).

The journey started 2 years ago when two of my co-workers told me that they were going to Africa, in a project that they initiated 2 years prior to our conversation. I wanted to know more about it. They told me that  it  all started while sharing a cup of coffee;they thought about going to Africa just for fun. The fun became a dream: to make a difference in kids'lives. For 2 long years they  saved money with all intentions focused on going. This time, they were ready to go. Everything was ready.

What could I say? I am the kind of guy that likes to plan things. But while planning, these people were doing. To tell  you  the truth : I was both mad and inspired. Mad because they were doing something I was planning to do for  a long  time and inspired because I could learn from them. Above all, they didn't  apply  for  grants and sponsorships, instead they used their own money!!!!

I couldn't resist. I had to be part of this.

At first, I  didn't have much to offer to them, because it was  only one week  before their trip.  Nevertheless, I did a radio show with them as my guests (that is how far I could go). The more I listened to them, the more inspired I  became. I almost had tears in my eyes. They were  also emotional .  Some of them are of African  ancestry but had never been there. What a big heart!!!!

I couldn't wait for them to  return.  And they did. They came with pictures  and  they were so excited about what they did .  I was so proud of them. I did a second radio show with them (don't ever think I have a lack of subjects in my show). This time it was too much for me. I had to be part of this. If they did not want me, I would do it anyway. Fortunately , they wanted me to be part of their journey (my charms maybe. Oh I forgot to tell you they were all ladies. So I was in good company).

I called a couple of friends and asked them to help (I have connections too). One is a movie director and the other is an expert  editor . They did a 7 minute documentary of the project for free (these ladies can inspire anybody!!!). Since then, I have been part of what ever they are doing. I am offering my talents of...(I just forgot which talents I have. I just have too many lol).

The next step of the project was to return  to Mali and  complete  the second phase of the project they had started. But before that, the ladies had to set up their own non-for-profit organization  through  which they would do all the upcoming projects. The name of the organization is “Leave your Mark /Laisse ta marque” (bilingual). What a  great  name!!

So here I am with them in Mali, at the eve of their second project. What will be my role? Whatever they ask me to do. I don't really care. I wanted to be part of this, and I am now. It's an honour to be with a group of people who will make history. I am documenting everything they are doing, maybe the Toronto film festival will have to invite me to show the movie of the project (they will have to insist though).

Moral of the story? Do you want to go to Africa? Share a cup of coffee with friends will end up there.
Always a pleasure.

The Journeyman