In September of 2008, I had a chance to visit the country of Zambia in sub-Saharan Africa. And, while that trip still holds so many memories for me, I wouldn’t realize how one of those memories would remarkably parallel my financial state of that time, until recently.
On the last couple of days of the trip, we would make the drive from Lusaka down to Livingstone to visit Victoria Falls. It was a welcome celebration after a week of helping our African partners with their ministries around the capital city of Lusaka.
We chartered a small van that was rated for around 13 passengers, a VERY generous rating, with one of the locals. Sort of a pre-smartphone, African Uber, if you will.
Of course, traveling on the highways of Zambia was…different…than doing so in the United States. While the road was still paved for most of the way, there were some significant stretches that weren’t maintained particularly well. In some places, it seemed the “potholes” rivaled the size of the vehicle we were riding in.
For the driver’s part, he seemed to be intent on getting us to our destination in a slightly faster than timely manner. (I can remember reading about how drive times for the Lusaka to Livingstone trip could vary widely, depending on how many times the bus broke down; one estimate I found recently estimates a 7 hour drive). Of course, when we encountered some of the many pothole-laden areas, the pace of the van made for some eventful meetings between vehicle and pavement. The passengers noticed. And, the van would eventually succumb to these not so small bumps in road, as well, and show visible signs of the consequences.
On the way to Livingstone, we would have one flat tire (we would experience two more flats on our return trip), and run out of gas once. (We REALLY should have filled up in Zimba.)
But, it was the next day, on our way back to Lusaka, when things would get really interesting.
Somewhere, just outside of…well…I don’t know I’m from out of town, the van started shaking in a way that was obviously not caused by a bumpy road. Looking at the photo below, you can see that we had actually made it to a somewhat smooth section of our journey. As it turned out, the gearbox had developed a small hole, and was leaking transmission fluid.
And, just like that, we were broken down and stranded. Sort of…
Luckily, one of our leaders was a real-life MacGuyver from South Africa.
As one of the other leaders of our team would hitch a ride to the nearest town to buy transmission fluid, this man would plug the hole in the gearbox with a piece of wood broken from a twig (pictured above) and a piece of rubber cut from one of the many torn up tires that lined this Zambian landscape. The piece of rubber would be wrapped around the stick and held in place by a twisty tie from a loaf of bread, and inserted into the hole in the van’s gearbox.
So, James, what does this little story have to do with your finances?
It’s funny you should ask that question!!!
A little earlier in my life to that point, I had pushed my finances harder than I should have in an effort to get where I wanted to go (some abstract idea of “rich”, I guess. Or, at times, just the look of it.) more quickly. If I had taken a pace more approriate to my income, I probably would have gotten where I was going (and, figured out exactly where that was) just fine. It just might have taken a little longer than I really wanted.
Instead, the hole in my financial plan (debt…too much of it) would show itself, and my financial journey would have to pull off to the side of the road for repairs. I had some resources around me to help me with the repair process and it would take a little ingenuity, but my journey would be delayed nonetheless.
Today, I have my finances under much better control. But, I’m still tempted to overspend or go after that popular new investment that’s making everyone but me super-rich…just like everybody else. But, I know it’s best to know the terrain, go at an appropriate speed, and know that I may need to slow down when things get really bumpy. I’ve paid the price for doing otherwise in the past.
Lessons learned…for now.
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