After completing the Wilderness First Aid course at the beginning of the second term it was time for business – “business plans” and the “business of money”. Following some of the themes of Robert Kiyosaki we looked at how money can work for you if you understand the language of money – financial literacy - and take on board some fundamentals of sound investing, managing cash and avoiding debt. We started to apply these principles to the lives of Questors as they planned their “dream futures”.
At about this point our “best laid plans” went pear-shaped, as we realized that our replacement bus, following the accident with the kudu, was not going to be ready in time for the Mozambique trip, scheduled for mid-May. So plan B – postpone the Moz trip, do some more business and life orientation work and bring forward the Wild Coast trip. We have also thrown in a physical challenge here and there to keep the boys on their toes. With the month away in Mozambique it does limit our training time quite severely. I hope that the construction work we are planning in Mozambique and the other activities prove to be worthwhile, in light of other action that has had to be sacrificed – we will have to see. The Questors are no doubt looking forward to the Mozambique trip and it does have the makings of a great adventure, but it will not all be fun and games – we have a lot of building work to get done and fitness training will continue.
We talk a lot about “attitude” – it is the main driver – the mindset that underpins character. Perseverance, sense of humour, courage, patience, humility, loyalty, teamwork and ultimately leadership are all driven by attitude. It is the starting point of all that follows. It is all about attitude, and Quest is all about developing attitude. As some Questors have discovered, you can’t develop attitude by just hearing about it, you have to practice, and that means dealing with challenges and finding in yourself the right attitude to overcome obstacles when things get tough. Some Questors have developed the right habits of attitude, some are yet to fully turn the corner, but I think all are headed in the right direction.
The secret of “Wyrley-ism”. As a teenager I spent most of my school holidays and university vacs in the company of a unique individual – Alistair Wyrley-Birch, alias “Wyrley”. Acquiring our driving licences at 16, we had almost free reign to explore some of the wilder places of Zimbabwe, with an old Series 3 Land Rover or Mazda pick-up as our transport. It was a wonderful time in Zimbabwe – the war was finally over, and the exciting wild places were once again accessible, albeit on some horrendous roads that had seen little maintenance during the war years. The possibility of landmines still lurking on infrequently used roads in the border areas was often on our minds. We thought that we were the first people back into some of those areas since the outbreak of war 15 years earlier, and there was a sense of exploration and discovery that sometimes got us into trouble.
On one occasion, while exploring the Chewore hills on foot, we were arrested by a heavily armed anti-poaching unit. This rugged and isolated wilderness area along the lower middle Zambezi was apparently a hotspot for rhino and elephant poaching and they had been instructed to shoot poachers on sight. About 5 minutes prior to their arresting us we had been walking down a dry river bed towards the Zambezi heavily laden with 2 large tusks and the skull of an elephant, the carcase of which we had found on our walk. The scouts were very aggressive and were reluctant to believe that we were not poachers. Why else would we be wondering about in these remote hills? I have often wondered at the newspaper headlines that could have transpired had we been caught with the ivory in hand – “Ivory poachers shot in Chewore” or “White farmers involved in ivory trade – 2 dead”… Mugabe would have loved that one. Anyway, it was an eventful afternoon because before we reached our boat on the river, where we hoped to demonstrate that we were just fishermen taking a slightly unconventional stroll, we were charged by a rhino in the thick bush close to the river bank. I ran up the slope with one of the scouts and Wyrley retreated parallel to the river with the other scout. Wyrley was no athlete, but he put in a very competitive sprint with that game scout. When we turned round to inspect the damage we were very amused (and relieved) to see 2 humans in full flight heading up river and no angry pachyderm in pursuit. By the time they finally turned round and stopped running we were in hysterics, and the ice had been broken. We found our boat and were released but were not brave enough to go back up river to collect our booty.
Through all these adventures and mis-adventures there was normally a lot of hard work – fixing vehicles and boats and boat trailers, punctures and more punctures, camping usually without tents and often in wet weather, often extremely hot on the Zambezi and extremely cold on the Gaerezi river up at Nyanga, often getting stuck or breaking down and having to make plans with little or no hope of someone else finding us. I am sure what we did was not unique, it certainly wasn’t in Zimbabwe in those days, but Wyrley was unique, because his spirit of fun and enjoyment and humour was just unbelievable.
His secret was that somehow his enjoyment of the situation was not determined by the circumstances – you could throw anything at him and he would happily take it in his stride. Somehow he knew that he could be happy and enjoy life no matter how physically uncomfortable, cold, hot, tired, over-worked he was and no matter what went wrong. In fact, he somehow understood that things going wrong was as much a part of life as breathing, and he understood that overcoming obstacles and enduring hardship and dealing with challenging situations was usually a lot of fun. He taught me this because I know that some of the best times I had as a young man were in his company overcoming some ridiculous situations in extremely uncomfortable conditions. It is all about attitude.
Wyrley died at the age of 22, but his spirit lives on – and if I can impart a small part of his secret to the young men of Quest I will have done them a great service for their lives. As I said earlier, one cannot learn this secret just by hearing about it – you have to practice. You have to learn to enjoy the good times and also the hard times. You have to learn to make little of problems and hardship, not much of them. You have to learn that the situation is not improved or changed by whinging and complaining, but it can be radically improved, and even enjoyed, if you simply decide to make the best of it. You have to learn that physical pain and injury is part of life – don’t waste even a second of your time and energy in self pity, it is the bosom-buddy of misery and depression.
For years I have tried to understand the secret of developing Wyrley-ism – how did he learn this secret and what was the underlying attitude that drove his way of thinking? I know his parents well – they are legendary characters in the world of Zimbabwean farmers – and I am sure part of Wyrley’s indomitable spirit can be ascribed to the chaotic, fun-filled but physically tough up-brining that he enjoyed as the eldest of their four children. But as the eldest, Wyrley was always having to sort out all the younger siblings and often a range of cousins and other hangers-on, and in addition, he was usually the one who also had to run around doing various chores for the older generation as well, if they were present. Herein lay one of the keys to his secret – he simply enjoyed people and he was the most naturally un-selfish person I have ever known. From toddlers to geriatric grannies Wyrley had fun with all people and brought out the best in every one. He had no ego to protect and he just understood the simple truth that when you look outward and enjoy other people you become happier yourself.
We live in a world that is driven by massive marketing machines telling us to consume more, have more, do more for ourselves – all of it driving, and being driven by, our basic human instincts of selfishness and vanity. This is our culture and it is so destructive to our own well being.
The Bible tells us that we should live for others before ourselves – it sounds like madness in our self-obsessed culture - but the paradox is that the more we think of ourselves the more miserable we are likely to be, while the more we focus on others the happier and more fulfilled we are likely to be. I guess the Creator knows us better than we know ourselves.
Wyrley had no religious convictions, and yet somehow he was one of the few people who seemed to live instinctively for other people, and I believe this was the reason why he was such a happy and contented person, regardless of the circumstances.
Sheila and I both knew Wyrley before we knew each other and ironically it was partly due to his death that we were brought together. It was through talking about him that we grew to recognise some of his spirit and qualities in each other. He would be so amused to know that his life had brought us together and that all these years later we were using his story to inspire young people in how they should live. Long live Wyrley!!