To England and Back Again

There’s a scene in an episode of the Simpsons where Bart & Lisa are in London and walk into a candy store. The store owner warns Bart and Lisa to be careful, saying, “Word to the wise, British candy is a bit sweeter than what you’re used to ‘cross the pond,” but not heeding his warning, the two dive into British chocolate anyway.  Thus begins a thirty-second montage referencing A Clockwork Orange, where Bart and Lisa enter into a complete daze eating their way through the rest of the candy store and through all of London, their eyes wide-open and foaming at the mouth.  This is, of course, an absolutely accurate description of British candy, and pretty well describes my last seventy-two hours verbatim.  You can watch the entire episode here, and that particular scene begins at 10:20.

So, yeah, my trip to England was fantastic.  It was cold.  It was wet at times.  It was basically everything you could ask England to be in the dead of summer, you know, monsoon season on the Island.

I spent a lot of my time with Greg, one of the engineers with Eyejusters, and it was really nice just getting to have some down time chit-chatting with him.  I, of course, paid off the boys with the grant money we owed them, took a tour of their office, and chatted a little bit with both Greg and Owen about where our project had gone and where it was going.  It was exciting to think about the information they could glean from our project and how it could help them tweak and make improvements for future generations of glasses and could also really put them on the map.  The boys have gotten a good bit of press lately, from Gizmodo to CNET to multiple foreign blogs.  Several websites have picked up a Reuters video, as well as a CBS News video that mentions the Peace Corps project.  My favorite video, though, is the one Owen through together, which Ive posted elsewhere, but have a look-see again:

I’m sure in the next few months even more news sources will start to pick up the story, which is especially good, because – inchallah – the press gives us a chance to distribute more glasses here in Morocco as more people learn about this new product.

So, yeah, actually getting to visit the Eyejusters office was something that kind of brought the project full-circle for me.  I think I mentioned in a blog about the project that I had very little sense of accomplishment.  Even though I knew that what we were doing was pretty cool, I had just become so stressed out and focused on the logistics of the project’s success, that it was as if I was incapable of appreciating what we were doing.  But being in Oxford brought it home for me again.  And I think that’s largely because of the “good” of this organization.  The guys there remind me a lot of the stories you’d hear about Google in its early days, when it was just a start-up, and a lot of their focus was on doing “good things” for the sake of doing good things.  Even Google’s motto was something like, “Do no evil,” and a lot of energy was put into making sure they helped people and weren’t just making money.

Eyejusters have a product that they could rush through the market, making God-only-knows how much money, but because they’re focused on making sure their product that’s meant to help the developing world actually makes its way into the hands of those who need it means that they have to be choosy about how they allocate their resources.  It forced me to take a step back and say, “Wow, there really are a lot of ethical decisions businesses have to make, really, on a daily basis,” and it made me feel really good to know we had partnered with an organization that wasn’t just doing it right but was deeply intentional about how right they were doing it.

Of course, it wasn’t all work and no play.  Greg and I went to a few museums, including the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, and I took a few snapshots of some Harry Potter hot-spots around the Christ Church College area.  The second night I was there, we had ourselves a little “international BBQ,” though by barbecue, I actually mean “cook out,” complete with sausages, pork chops, hamburgers, salad, and assortments of cheese.  I was the resident American, along with two Kiwis (New Zealanders), a former South African drill instructor, and a Spaniard.  To go from a place where everybody is pretty much one race to, well, the United Kingdom with people from nearly every place imaginable… let’s just say it was the break I was needing.

Our last night together, we went to a pub called the Eagle & Child, where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other members of Oxford’s literary society, the Inklings, used to gather.  Lewis actually handed out an early manuscript of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe there in the pub.  The fish & chips was pretty delicious, but the real treat was the sticky-toffee pudding for dessert.

The next morning, I caught a bus to the airport and before I knew it, I was back in Morocco getting shafted by taxi drivers and never hearing a lick of English.  The sun and a huge dust storm served as my welcoming party.

So, yeah, that’s my trip.  I’m back in site now and should be here most of the summer, minus a break for part of Ramadan.  I’m absolutely broke (having dipped into a good chunk of my own money to travel for the project), but every nickel-and-dime has been well worth it.  It’s insane to think that I only have four months left in this country – and still a lot of work ahead.  Hope everyone back home is doing swell.

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