Monday, August 29, 11:05 p.m. Nairobi, Kenya
I fly from NYC to Europe and then from Europe to Nairobi. I arrive here exhausted, and anxious. You’d think that someone who travels as much I do would have mastered this, but I find transitions hard.
Leaving family and children behind is sad, my parents are getting older and guilt is a bitch. I know it’s how I earn my living and yes, I believe that what I’m doing is important, but I still feel torn up, especially for the first few days. Oh, maybe it’s also the jet lag. In any case, while I wish I were fearless, fear of failure is a big motivator, and World Vasectomy Day, with the stakes so high, particularly unnerving.
And if I weren’t already aware enough of the challenge that lies ahead, I stand before a Kenyan customs agent who shoots off a number of questions about our event. Having explained what we’re doing, his response is sobering, “I tell you, African men will not accept vasectomy easily. We are used to letting our ladies manage that part of our lives. Mr. Stack, you have your work cut out for you. Good luck…. and welcome to Kenya”
Within minutes I pick up my luggage, find my taxi and head off to the apartment where I will be staying the better part of the next three months. There is so much to be done and so many land mines we are facing that I can’t help but wonder, even if it’s just for a fleeting second, that perhaps, I might do well to turn around and go home, but I do what I always do when I get anxious. I open my computer and get busy.
I am reminded of my first trip here when I accompanied Dr. Doug Stein and Dr. Charles Ochieng on a vasectomy mission. It was May 9th, 2012, in Busia, a small town on the border of Uganda that I first thought up the idea to make World Vasectomy Day. Four and a half years later, with our headquarters set in Kenya, it is our homecoming.
Actually, this part of the world is a homecoming of sorts for all humanity. We are just a few hundred miles south of the East African Rift Valley where Paleoanthropologist, Dr. Donald Johanson made his famous discovery of Lucy, an early ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis who was bipedal. And it’s also where earlier this year they discovered an Ethiopian fossil that dates 2.8 million years back, making it the earliest human remains ever found. In summary, Lucy started walking, humanity picked up the habit and big brains followed from which you might infer that walking is indeed good for thinking.
East Africa is the birthplace of the earliest humans and all of us everywhere are their descendants, which means, in fact, we’re all related and having gained certain advantage from being upright (it’s good for hunting and seeing into the distance), we took full advantage and spent the better part of the last 3 million years walking the planet. Three million years later we had migrated to every continent except Antarctica. Until 10,000 years ago we traveled in bands of 75-150 people, which is how we learned the value of cooperation and empathy. In fact, the way I see things, these two qualities, cooperation, and empathy, are the foundation of human intelligence.
So now we’re heading towards 7.5 billion people and if there’s one thing most people agree about is that there’s too many of us. Actually, this translates into, too many of them, which is what makes population such a complicated issue. No one—except a few extremely progressive people in college—feels like they’re excess. It’s the ultimate NIMBY dilemma.
Now, there’s a good chance we can figure out how to feed and house the 10 billion people predicated by 2100. That said, frankly, there’s a much greater probability that we will screw it up. Yes, technology can increase the quality of life for many of us, but we still have to learn to do a better job of sharing finite resources and that is likely to prove even harder, not to mention more damaging to the environment than limiting family size.
Not surprisingly, those who have accrued a lot of “stuff” don’t like giving it up to those who haven’t. The small group species mindset, at least as lived in most modern societies doesn’t normally extend much beyond immediate family. And it doesn’t take a genius to see that as the disparity between the haves and have not’s grows, so does the kind of righteous rage that leads to violence and revenge.
I asked Paul Ehrlich, the co-author with his wife Anne, of the Population Bomb what changes he had witnessed in the 50 years since their book was released and he said, “In those days people believed in science and saw in it solutions to the major problems on the planet. Today, the opposition not only doesn’t value science, but they resent it and hate the truths that it reveals.”
Personally, I don’t know which of our two presidential candidates will win, but I do know that there are a lot of angry people who feel wronged and are more interested in “screwing over” the system than finding a solution. I myself can’t imagine a world in which the most powerful military force ever is under the command of a man who never learned the “share is fair” principle. Personally, I’m going to vote for a more progressive version of the Supreme Court, the impact of which will be felt decades into the future.
And that gets us back to World Vasectomy Day!
Do you feel optimistic about the future? Do you believe that the decisions you make can positively impact the planet your children will inherit? Do you feel that your choices affect the outcome of the life you lead? Or that sometimes, even when things feel bleak, that a nice brisk walk reminds us just how fortunate we all are. If so, then you probably believe in the principles that make WVD so unique; men who sacrifice not for what they fear, but for what they love.
So today, 24 hours into my arrival in Kenya, it may seem like I am alone, but it is in fact, far from the case. People are not yet aware of what we’re doing, but that will change shortly. Indeed, there are many people here in Nairobi who are committed to our cause, and thousands if not millions around the world who seek purpose and know that the choices they make won’t only impact the outcome of their own lives, but the lives of so many others as well.
Photo: Getty Images