There is a saying that one needs to go out onto the balcony to look
inward from outward to reflect on their lives and surroundings. I am one
for going out to my own balcony, but I did not realize that it would
take a balcony over 8,000 miles away to appreciate truly and be thankful
for who I am and what I have.
Upon accepting an invitation to attend and present at the
University of Botswana, I did not realize that my one-week journey would
have such an impact on my own life. When returning from Botswana, I
stood on yet another balcony reflecting on the previous week. The
feelings of gratitude, appreciation, and acceptance of diversity
continually resonate in my mind as I think about my own reflections, the
people of Botswana, and the children who make their country smile.
With that said, I am reassured that my family and friends know
their place in my heart. Yet I feel the need to recognize publicly the
people of The Chief Information Group (TCIG) who have been with my
business partner Mike Green and me, for over four years. I am
appreciative of their loyalty, character, and commitment to serve our
Reflection is very important in life if we want to understand who
we are, where we are, and where we want to be. One might think
reflection is relatively easy; yet traveling halfway around the world to
a far off continent causes a different and deeper experience of
reflection. First, I obviously knew that I was no longer in a customary
environment. Different types of people, their behaviors, their native
languages: these all surrounded me. I was enveloped by a terrain of
nature that is one of the most spectacular one can see. For a brief yet
important week, I was jarred out of my regular life and catapulted into
something vastly different. This moved my native ways of reflecting on
life into new territory of its own. This altered my view on life and
thrust me into a different perspective.
My first step to authentic and meaningful reflection is to be open
and welcome all the things different around me. Living in America, I
like to believe that I have the perfect life, but by widening my lenses
during the conference, I was able to see different angles of the world.
Seeing far better places does not mean that I wish to alter my life, but
instead it changes me. Everything we do in life starts with a single
thought and I am in control of the path to which the thought leads. It
is with this thought that I was able to be open to this new-found
awareness and to digest my new surroundings; I was able to grasp the
person that I am and accept the person that I was to become.
I reflected in the hotel, as I walked a busy street en route to the
University, and in the evenings as I attended dinners with some of the
most interesting people I have ever met--some of whom only live but a
few miles from me at home.
There was one particularly interesting moment. I was challenged
with getting over jet lag when I was awakened by the most entertaining
array of birds singing. I opened my hotel patio door and listened to a
myriad of species of birds, feeling their melodies cascade over me. This
was a beautiful indication of the start of a new day. They were an alarm
clock that needed no introduction. I sometimes wonder if birds'
daybreak singing can be translated to "It is time to enter not just
another 24 hours, but the experience of another Day of Brilliance."
Indeed, such moments move one to become lost in thought, pondering
unknown desired futures for one's life.
Locating the birds in the early morning hours was an interesting
metaphor as to how picturesque and comfortable I believe my life has
become. It seems like nothing is wrong where I come from, I have
everything I need, and I have many things of beauty and convenience. Yet
the truly important things in life steal into our awareness sometimes
only with a slow and evolving dawn. The elemental things that people
need are love of others, love of one's self, friendship, and the
ability to accept diversity. Reflecting on diversity is not a matter of
race, religion or color, but the deep and abiding appreciation of our
rich and unique differences. In this light, I reflect on a popular
Setswana Proverb that I learned during the conference: Pelo e ntle ke
leswalo la motho, translated as, A good heart is the medicine of a
person. In the morning hours, the songs of birds led me to a different
place. I began slowly with an internal dawn to explore the valuable
parts of being human, of being a citizen of the world.
A few of us decided to take a tour of the city of Gaborone, the
site of the university conference, with one of the local tour guides. To
my surprise, the first visit was to the Museum of Botswana History. I
come to visit a country, to digest a new culture, and my first point of
entry was its museum! Our tour guide, who was also employed full-time as
a prison guard, was very proud of the museum. Usually I quickly glance
at museum exhibits in quick succession; however, with this experience we
spent 5-10 minutes per exhibit as the tour guide passionately taught our
group about life in Botswana. This was one of my first experiences with
a local citizen. The rest of the day included stops at other historical
landmarks of the city from a local's perspective.
During my journey, I came to focus on the people of Botswana,
discovering who they are, what is important to them, and how they might
understand me as an individual. The streets were lined with vendors
selling their wares, including prepared food from their own homes. Women
carried umbrellas to protect their skin from the overpowering sunlight
on this hot summer day. I could hear laughter and see expressions of
joy. Many times I would ask myself "Why are they all so
happy?" Living in America I am too often accustomed to comparing my
lifestyle with those of others and then judging them. What I learned
from my city tour was that the people would look forward to gathering in
the street malls and engaging in friendly conversation with one another.
As I would approach a vendor he or she would look at me as if I was the
only thing that mattered at that time. Another lesson learned: The
people focused on the "now" in life, not the past and not the
future. I was inspired by this level of living, by what seemed in
hindsight to be a deeper level of human maturity ... something I feel I
have been lacking.
As there were over 250 attendees at the conference I was able to
watch many of them as I became the unofficial, yet official
photographer. Using my new camera, I was eager to take candid shots of
the attendees. In America many people would shy away from a camera lens.
At the conference, the delegates would pause, look at me, smile in
anticipation of a flash, and return afterward to whatever they were
doing. After looking at over 500 pictures that I so proudly took, I
realized that the delegates were very proud and happy. Not once did I
hear anyone complain about government, politics, or the person next
door. Given how life is in my own neighborhood, this was truly
My experiences at the hotel were equally powerful. I remember the
night of my arrival. A gentleman took my luggage to my room. As he was
doing this I was trying to figure out the exchange rate so that I could
tip him appropriately. Unfortunately, I got the exchange rate backwards,
and instead of giving him the equivalent of the equivalent of a few
American dollars I only gave him about five pennies. Instead of staring
at me in disappointment or anger, he simply looked and said "Thank
you, is there anything else I can do for you?" I said
"No," proudly thinking that I met the standard. After I
figured out what had actually taken place, I quickly left my room in
search of the man to tip him correctly, but he was nowhere to be found.
I told one of my conference peers about the situation and he stated,
"No problem! The people of the hotel are not worried about such
minute issues." Amazing! People in America get very indignant if
they do not receive a 20% gratuity even though the service might be
substandard. This experience taught me something valuable. Many times in
life what is valuable is not the business transaction, but the act of
human interaction and care. Such moments remind us of the real virtue of
gratitude, and the problems we have with greed and power.
Visiting outside the city limits of Gaborone many of us embarked
upon a journey similar to Dr. Livingston's along the Mirko Raner
River. We encountered local villagers who were less fortunate than
others, yet appeared happier and were more engaging. Many were walking
the flank of the river in anticipation of gathering potable water to
take back to their families. In one area we came across preparations for
a baptism. Whether it was the priest preparing for the baptism or
villagers seeking water, they all stopped to engage us in conversation.
Like everyone we met during the entire week, they shared their knowledge
of their great lands. When asked if we could take a picture, they
instantly posed proudly for our souvenir snapshot; a healthy human pride
in the act of meeting another. In a world too caught up in competition
and greed, this was another gift on which to reflect deeply.
Another enlightening experience I encountered was visiting the
Botswana Children's Clinic and a children's site known as SOS.
The lobby of the clinic was filled with parents and many children. The
majority of the patients were being treated for HIV/AIDS. It was deeply
saddening but also equally encouraging, as many healthcare clinicians
from around the world were eagerly providing assistance. I was surprised
at the number of HIV/AIDS cases, not only in Botswana but all over the
world. Education is critical to prevention, and this was a theme that
was stressed in our conversations. The facility itself was fairly new;
it was decorated with art that was created by many of the children. It
made an impact; it moved me to want to do more--much more--not just for
those close to me in my own neighborhoods, but also in lands far away.
Something again moved deep within me. Looking into the faces of those
who were ill made a difference. Realizing how much their parents looked
at me with longing--something struck strings deep inside me and created
some measure of music that will take much time to hear with sense and
The SOS children's site contained approximately 300 children,
many with HIV/ AIDS. The arrangements are similar to our foster homes in
America. However, adoption is not an immediate priority. The priority
for these children is healthcare, family and friends, education, and
love. We toured the village, finding children playing in the field,
working on computers, and producing musical sounds from instruments.
Many of them quickly came to us and wanted to play.
I came across a young child who had a remote control car but no
batteries. I took two double AA batteries from my camera and placed them
into his car. The smile on this young child's face was
breathtaking. He quickly gathered his friends and most likely spent the
remainder of the day playing with his remote control car. It was amazing
to see how such a small gift, just two little AA batteries, could
brighten someone's day. Somehow this is making a huge difference in
my life. I am not sure how, but it is. Coming to this conference has
opened up dormant feelings I never could have expressed or anticipated.
Hearing a new language, not just from lips but from hearts, made me hear
sounds and speech in new and different ways. Seeing into the eyes of
those who suffer is making me look differently at others, in fact very
differently at myself and the comforts of life that I enjoy.
From this opportunity to journey to an international ethics
conference, I gained new friendships both with individuals from home and
from Botswana. Today these friends and I continue to talk. In fact, we
talk a lot. Sometimes in emails. Other times, for those here in my
neighborhood, over a meal. But we no longer talk just about the latest
in sports, world affairs, American politics, or the latest minor
disturbances. Rather, we talk about things that mean something. We talk
about life, about helping others, and about holding close those things
that matter most to us--our families, our friends, and those we work
with. We talk now, amid laughter and closeness, about our desires and
hopes. We talk about those in need. We talk about how we want to make a
difference. And all this because, for a week too brief yet seemingly
without time, we came to a conference and entered into something so much
Another Setswana Proverb--O se tshege o oleng, mareledi a sale
pele. It translates as Do not laugh at the fallen; there are slippery
places ahead. This is what I saw in the people of Botswana. I did not
see judgment. I did not see color. I certainly did not see fear. What I
saw were some of the most beautiful and happy people in the world. As an
American I may have access to much. After my visit to Botswana, I have
much more to offer those I now touch, because I myself was touched by an
unexpected but most welcome experience.
Michael Whitecar of The Chief Information Group wrote this closing
essay. Mr. Whitecar directed the International Conference Educational
Technology Demonstration Exhibit. His expertise as a computer scientist
was instrumental in recording various sessions. His perspectives in this
closing essay are an important reminder that what can occur
educationally in a given moment only achieves its fullest potential when
it is no longer just the transfer of information. Educational depth
occurs only when one realizes that a given experience affords one with
that gift of wisdom that makes for personal and professional
Michael Whitecar, MIS
Lt Commander (ret), Medical Service Corps, United States Navy
President & CEO, The Chief Information Group, Inc.
5205 Leesburg Pike
Fails Church, VA 22041
Tel: (703) 578-824g