The sun is setting in Tofo, Mozambique. The surfers catch one last wave; the fishermen count their keep; the street vendors transform their cafes into bars.
As for me, I’m floating in a lagoon, watching the night unfold, thinking: if paradise exists, this must be it.
“Papaa!” comes a little voice and a big splash. A young boy has cannonballed into the water beside me. He bursts into laughter as his dad quickly swims to us.
“Ah zut, sorry sorry!” he says in a French accent.
“No worries, c’est pas grave!”
Portuguese, not French, is the official language but this town is filled with expats.
“You’re on holiday?” I ask my new lagoon friends.
“No, we’ve been living here for a long time. This is my son Leo and I’m Mattheau. Yourself?”
I explain how I’m here on an assignment with The International Exchange – an organization that links professionals from the private sector with social initiatives. I’m a WPP Fellow working with The Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) for the month – using my advertising skills to help the organization raise funds for their ocean conservation research.
“Hmmm. Future leadership training,” says Mattheau, “that was me once too.”
I’m intrigued. “May I ask how you ended up living in Tofo?”
He smiles, “It’s a long story…”
“And a beautiful night for telling stories” I respond.
Little Leo is splashing around, creating ripples on the surface that catch the moonlight.
Looking up nostalgically Mattheau begins his tale.
“I started out, like you, on a future leaders program. I left France and moved to Silicon Valley, working in software and living the American dream. Then September 11 happened and I decided to move to Afghanistan.”
“Surprising, I know… but I thought it was the perfect time to understand a new culture.”
“You moved to Afghanistan to work in software?”
“Not quite. I went to Afghanistan to plant roses.”
“Whaaaaaat. From software to roses!?”
“I wanted to try something new, to discover scent.”
“And did you? Discover it?”
“Papaaa, look!” Leo is doing somersaults in the water oblivious to the adventures of his dad.
Hoisting Leo up on his shoulders Mattheau continues: “I discovered the sweetest Afghan scents, I wanted to sell it back in France but it didn’t work…”
“Too much Chanel number 5, huh?”
“And then??” I’m dying to hear how this all fits in to Tofo.
“Ah you know. Explored the coconut business in Morocco, coconuts lead me to Tofo where I met my future wife and the rest is history,” he smiles, looking at Leo. “The funny thing is, I now work in software again – creating software solutions for companies making organic scents.”
“Full circle!” I marvel.
“Kind of” muses Mattheau, “I’m on a very different path to Silicon Valley. And out of my entire program, I’m one of the only people who pursued something “non traditional.” It wasn’t always lucrative but it was always interesting.”
I quietly repeat this sentence to myself. “It wasn’t always lucrative but it was always interesting.” Must it always be a choice? I wonder. Why does doing something worthy have to cost you?
This month I’ve been surrounded by people who’ve quit their jobs to pursue a passion – to travel, to volunteer, to discover the world and themselves. But me? I’m actually here because of my job.
TIE believes in the power of using corporate skills for a cause, and powerful it has been. I’ve been creating a new Sales pipeline for MMF that will ultimately generate revenue to help them become self sufficient. If it wasn’t for my job in advertising, I wouldn’t know the first thing about sales.
I’m doing the same type of work I would at an agency — assessing a market, identifying gaps, coming up with a strategy and executing a plan — but it feels completely different. Instead of looking to my team for advice, this month I’m the expert people are relying on. It’s an exhilarating feeling that’s only amplified by gorgeous Tofo.
“We should move all our offices to Tofo, I want to work here forever,” I muse to Philippa on one of our calls. As the founder of TIE, she’s probably used to her participants falling in love with their assignments.
“Is that the best answer?”
“I mean…” I pause. “I just don’t want this feeling to end.”
“TIE has to end sometime but this feeling doesn’t. How can you can bring it back? There’s a power to be harnessed and the world needs more people who understand.”
She’s right of course. I think about Mattheau going off on his adventure and coming back full circle. Software-to-scents-to-software-for-scents… sometimes the world doesn’t makes sense!
But maybe discovery doesn’t have to be so drastic. Maybe it’s not about fleeing the traditional; maybe it’s about staying, breaking and rebuilding tradition. Maybe passions can be rewarded, both financially and emotionally, if we pay attention and be aware of the world around us. Maybe paradise does exist, yes in Tofo, but also in our present moment.
As I float on my back and ponder these questions, Leo and Mattheau bid me farewell. “Enjoy your time in Tofo.”
“I will” I promise.
TIE has been my equivalent of “planting roses” and now it’s time to take them back to flourish.