We were invited to attend the annual Rhino Race benefitting the Uganda Rhino Fund. It was a spectacular event, and visitors had a chance to raft race, eat food, listen to great music and enjoy some great vendors. But we were there to work, as vendors. This was the first time we had to prepare for a large event, and for our top students it was a chance to learn about the “other side” of our business: dealing with customers instead of leather. I knew going in that it would be challenge for even our best students since most of them would prefer to spend hours in the workshop rather than talking to a bunch of Mzungus, but it’s a critical piece of the business.
All things said, it went really well. We spent months making leather items for the show, so I was a bit tense wondering if all the work was going to pay off, but it did. We made a bit of money selling items, but we made a lot of contacts and got a lot of commission work, which we’ll be working on for quite a while. Most importantly, the guys learned all about presentation, customer relations, networking (analog, not digital) and took a crash course in the world of retail. We also did a bit of on-site custom work, offering custom made-to-order bracelets and keychains. This was a really surprising success and when people found out we did custom work, we had lots of takers.
This might sound like a simple thing – get some measurements, stamp some letters, boom. But it’s actually relatively complex. Each order had several variables: length, width (one inch or one and a half), dye color, message and design. Once the details were in order, we had to trim the leather, edge it, stamp, carve, bevel, dye, finish and wax. After each stage of dye and wax we had to get the bracelets in the sun to dry out, and we promised to have each bracelet done within 45 minutes. Once we had ten orders in, that became a challenge, but it boiled down to organization. I had set up stations for each step, but of our three students (Johnson, Jonah and Jamil) only Johnson was familiar with all the steps. That left Johnson and I to carry to bulk of the work and it was hectic to say the least because we were still having to talk to customers, answer questions and talk through the work we were doing to satisfy their (understandable) curiosity.
In the midst of a huge run, I realized I was sweating, and a bit overwhelmed but I looked over at Johnson and realized he was feeling the same way. Then it hit me: I was having fun! Not only was I having a great time, but I was challenged and feeling fulfilled. It was a feeling I recognized from long ago. When I was doing pentesting full time, I felt like this all the time. When I first came to Africa, I felt like this pretty often. Over the years, problems started creeping in and my passions became work, just a job. I don’t often get deep insight when I’m busy, but at the leather show, I remembered how I felt during my trip to the US when joy crept up on me and I realized there was a theme here. Joy exists in every situation if we know how to look for it. God’s promises us joy when we walk with him (Prov 10:8), and I’ve found that to be true. The closer I stay to him, the more often that feeling comes, at the oddest times.
I also had a strange feeling that sometime in the far future Jen and I (and perhaps some of our students) would be retiring at a Ren Fest (I’ve thought this before) toiling away in our little leather shop making all sorts of cool tankards and armor and sheaths and fun stuff to pay for our little life. This vision occurs long before the other vision where our kids become millionaires and stick us in a nice retirement home. Or, maybe we’ll still be here. Who knows. But all that to say I had a great time despite the work, and I’m so proud of our artists. This program’s come a long way. Thanks for supporting it.
We also came up with a name for our program, but I’m not announcing that until the web site’s ready. Enjoy a few photos from the race!
We went from
Standing side by side with Johnson, our lead artist pounding through a rush of custom