Timonene (hello...in Chitonga!:)
 
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Ah, the power of fresh air. Last week's run took place late Sunday evening as some storm cells moved East over a threatening Chicago sky. Nothing gets you out the door for a run like the charge of an ensuing thunderstorm. Adding to the visceral effect of much warmer temperatures, were the welcomed signs of spring: green buds on trees, heavy and humid air, and the tall cumulus thunderheads above. Welcome back summer.

Knowing that just a few weeks ago we were still struggling through remnants of our historic winter, Sunday evening's swim had only one inkling of concern, getting in and out of the water before the storm.  Running on the Lake Front Path with the storm's tail wind, my rushed sense of time stopped dead in its tracks as my feet  hit water. In a single moment of frigid lake water, humid hot air and an exacerbated sweating-self, I took one of my final weekly plunges for RIPPLE Africa. In that singular divine instant, I was at my best.

This moment of clarity poses a question we can all ask ourselves: When are you at your best? This simple question has an enormity of value in shaping how we conduct ourselves, whether in business, socially, personally or even unconsciously. Different for us all, I recently found mine in Malawi. I suppose I knew the make-up of what I needed, but it was the composition of the details that led me to this fundamental individual need. Recognizing it was half the battle, the other half being the actions you take to proactively achieve what you seek.

In a general sense, this could manifest itself in a litany of ways: your social interactions, your work space, your routine, priorities, what you eat, etc. For me, part of that equation is tied to running. For example, the very idea of Reflections for RIPPLE came to me last October on an evening run with my brother. Since that silly thought of jumping in the lake, we've raised a sizable amount of money and awareness for RIPPLE Africa's projects in Malawi.

All of this through the power of knowing where you work best. This type of recognition will reach far beyond
these weekly updates, and even past RIPPLE Africa itself. Because when we're at our best, dots begin to connect: between people and places: between ideas and problem solving. It's this web of inertia that can help propel us to make connections that solve global problems. How about this one for kicks, Lake Michigan to Malawi. In all its complexity this web is an entanglement of 'good' that defines us as individuals. Connect your dots and be the change you want to see in the world. So ask yourself, when are you at your best? Find it, live it and apply it.


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Here we are in May, only a few weeks away from Reflections for RIPPLE's official ending on May 17th. It's hard to believe this endeavor started 6 months ago in November 2013. Who knew our weekly winter swims would coincide with one of Chicago's snowiest and coldest winters. At any rate, the added chill and snowfall added to quite an elaborate planning schedule. We've got a swim in every gosh-darn week! And thanks to the dozens of contributions we are very close to achieving our target of raising $5000 for RIPPLE Africa. A sincere thank you to all who have donated.
This past weekend, Gardner and I took off on our run/swim early Sunday afternoon. Though a slightly cooler lake breeze wasn't quite up to the 70+ Saturday temperatures, 55 degrees and a cool on-shore breeze made for a very welcome change to our usual 20-40 degree norms. Perhaps it is the small green buds, reawakening of chirping birds or the fragrant floral scents that have lead to a more energized feel around Chicago's lakefront. I for one am beaming at the fact Spring is in full bloom. Hasta la vista winter!

Our afternoon jaunt toward Lake Michigan began by running through Oz Park, South into Old Town and past a...wait for it, Buddhist Temple! Who knew? Over the river and through the woods we ran, bypassing grandma's house for the sheer sake of storytelling: We had a mission, get in the water and stay in! Warmer air and water temperatures, 55 and 48 respectively, meant a few extra strokes could be had while stiff calves and hamstrings cooled in the shallower depths.

We even happened upon one Douglas Baker and Andy Hoffman, the latter who had dog sitting duties for a colleague. Alas, my Frisbee chasing, food hoovering, water swimming-self finally came full circle in thinking sometimes I really am part dog.

Sharing this afternoon sun and fresh lakefront breeze was a welcome reminder of simple, present-minded living so often found in Malawi. It's a simple observation and definitive difference in cultures, unconsciously having a more in-the-moment awareness.

This mentality shouldn't be solely connected to cheery, sunset-watching carelessness though; the present minded state rears itself to challenges and struggles alike. We could argue that they poorly prepare for the future, whereas their argument would be we're too far-forward thinking. In my opinion this is the root challenge faced in 3rd world cultures around the world, and a general problem of acceptance in the western world mentality. That sounds harsh, though only to emphasize the vast stereotypes between these two mindsets.

So, how do you find a balance both mutually beneficial and respectful to each side? This was the question that surfaced during my stay in Malawi, and became more poignant upon my return. It was because I had come full-circle in knowing my own environment, seeing the value of RIPPLE Africa's operations, and returning home. Three years later, it is a question still often pondered, hopelessly vexing in its enormity.

I would argue that the basis of this paradigm in culture and development revolves around education: An education that isn't simply classroom antics and pencil-meet-paper exams. Education needs to occur at every age, for every person. It needs to be farming and parenting education: It needs to be trade schools and sex education: And it sure as heck needs our western influenced 'best practices' being added to the mix. 
Yet, too many times cultures like Malawi are overrun by a desire to emulate Western world ideology, and then inundated with culture'less containers full of, for lack of a better word, crap. It's cross-border capitalism with flagrant disregard to the people on the ground. It becomes a state awash with an alien culture, and misunderstanding of lives lived elsewhere.

So many people in 3rd world countries will never get that to chance to understand 'our' other side . It is our duty, as observers to both sides, to strike that harmonic balance: A chord strummed amiss. And perhaps what has resonated so deeply with me in this mediation of thought, is that Malawi and other impoverished countries across the globe shine bright in so many walks of life. The adaptation of improved living standards, family values and environmental impact should be shared in all countries. We can learn so much of from each other. Education being the root factor in environmentally conscious, economic- balanced growth. Best of both worlds. It exists.

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