FTX (French Toast & Hugs) Namibia – FTX #18 Wrap Up
“The Finish Line”
Well here I sit in my home in Ojai. The rain is falling gently and the grey skies are peaceful to my desert scorched eyes.
It is the eve of Christmas and I finally feel ready (or as close to ready as I ever am) at writing my wrap up for our past FTX (French Toast & Hugs) event that occurred in Swakopmund, Namibia on September 30 th, 2012.
Three months ago! It’s hard for me to believe that almost three months ago I was in a children’s park located in a very small Namibian town and FTX was in full swing!!
Hundreds of children belonging to the local orphanage schools were our special guests and they formed a line in front of our tables that stretched all the way to the legendary Mad Max V8 Interceptor – a car that only existed in a 30 year old dream from my childhood until this past June.
Three months ago!!
But I’m ahead of myself. Let me go back seven months….
It was the start of June that I arrived in Africa.
Over 10,000 miles from my home on a job that I wanted since I was a young boy.
Getting hired on a Mad Max film had been my single work focus for close to ten years.
It is the reason I drive a black muscle car.
It is the reason I love open vista roads and a limitless red desert horizon.
It is proof to me that a man, with a dog, and as much guzzoline as he can muster – has everything.
The message of “The Road Warrior” to me was to be alive, truly alive, you have to make a stand for what you believe in.
And with the help of friends you could make what you believe in into a reality.
The line on the poster read – “Just one man can make a difference”.
I had waited for three decades to be standing where I was that day.
It was the first of June.
And more than anything I didn’t want to be there.
The starter’s pistol in my almost ten year run to be hired on a Max film sounded in 2003 when I first learned they were planning to make another, this one called “Fury Road”.
It was the same year that FTX was started and my very own Interceptor – a 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle named ‘Grace’ entered my life.
I don’t feel I am someone who dreams big or has a wide variety of dreams.
I find I am more someone who focuses singularly on something and pursues it relentlessly. I either run it to the ground and catch it or I run myself into the ground in the trying.
At the start of 2010 I sent an email to the Australian production company who would be making the film with a story about me renting “The Road Warrior” as a young New Jersey boy and how it inspired me. Of course, I also attached a photo of Grace. 🙂
Eleven days later I was contacted back that I was the man for the job and it was mine if I wanted it!
Many production delays ensued and in that time I married my Brandy in the late spring of 2011.
Only a handful of months after that Brandy and I learned on November 11 th, 2011 that her mom, Donn, had stage 4 stomach cancer. That same week I learned that Max was starting up again and I could be leaving within the next few months. Not for the planned Australia but for the even more remote Africa.
I lived on a ledge wondering when and if I should be leaving.
Donn lived with Brandy and myself and our golden year pups for the last two months of her physical life which ended on January 26 th, 2012.
My father passed away quickly from a heart attack when I was 20 but not until last January had I ever witnessed the cruel and inhuman way that cancer kills.
Shortly after Donn, Brandy’s wonderful cousin Carol passed from cancer as well.
From the start Carol owned a piece of my heart.
She had Downs Syndrome, like my little sister Asha, and because of that I knew that I would always love her. That and her love of music were our instant connections. (She would write on a piece of paper a single song name and for her that would be your song – the one she always associated with you. She picked KC & The Sunshine Band’s “That’s The Way (I Like It)” to be mine.
Not long after Carol and only a few days before my African flight another person deeply close to me lost someone as well.
These were the hurdles I ran towards as I approached June 1st.
And so when I found myself alone in Swakopmund, Namibia more than anything I wanted was to be home and in hiding.
I believe it was day two or three in Namibia that I learned from my friend PJ about the vast number of orphans in the area.
Without a moment’s hesitation I knew this FTX was for them.
Children who I was told not only had never had french toast before, but never had the taste of a strawberry.
Children who lived mere minutes driving from the Atlantic but who likely had never seen the ocean before.
And with my singular purpose I went forward.
Working days on my dream job and nights and rare days off on FTX.
FTX Namibia was our 18th FTX and by far the most difficult one to plan.
The hardest part was getting approval from the local government for this event.
It didn’t seem to resonate with them, the idea of an unconditional gift.
I vividly remember one day, working out in the desert, jumping off one of the Max vehicles when I had a moment to call the municipality office only to be told I would NOT be allowed to have FTX at the children’s park. They labeled me “demanding” and wanted to know exactly what I expected the public to do with these orphaned children.
The concept that I didn’t want the public to do anything except what I wanted everyone to do – to have a fun day, nothing asked from us except possibly an appetite – seemed to be lost on them.
At the end of that day I sat in the front passenger seat of our work car waiting to go home. My outside was covered in sand and dust and the sun burned my eyes as it settled pink over the endless desert. My inside was close to giving up. So very close.
I had my head in my hands as I no longer was able to keep it up.
My friend Dan came up to the window and asked what was wrong. I told him and his words of encouragement that the simple fact that FTX would happen, no matter what, lit a small fire inside me once again.
Keeping my purpose for this FTX simple, the kids, helped me keep it on track.
More questions came during the four months of planning:
Just where do you find whipped cream in Namibia?
How do you get 300 orphans to a children’s park and where do you pick them up from anyway?
How do you get the various orphanage leaders to play nice together when they seem concerned that “their” kids won’t get the same treatment as the “other” kids?
Well if you’re me, then you take a lesson learned thirty years ago from “The Road Warrior” and applied in force almost ten years ago when you co-started FTX. You rely on the kindness of others. (Yes, Jess Harrison I’m talking about you).
I have never in the history of FTX had a job and the crew on it want to help so much. I believe that like attracts like and often you will find that the people who are hiring reflect the people they hire to work for them. And this was certainly the case here. From the top to bottom, never before did I have so many people want to help before the event, during the event and after the event.
Donations poured in as people brought wide ranging items from toiletries to toys for the kids that would be attending.
The Special FX department reconfigured both my grills to work with the African propane hookups and donated all the propane.
The Sound department offered up their sound system so I could play my FTX mix in the park. There was even a public electric plug discovered on the day so that we would never run the risk of running out of music!
Boeta, one of the local workers in the Transportation department, on his own dime, even arranged to have all the children picked up and returned. Promising me not to worry, not to worry, not to worry.
PJ got approval to have what started me on this path – Mad Max’s V8 car – to be on hand for the event. It arrived on time before the event began, the driver asking me where I wanted to have it parked and if he could rev it from time to time!!
Are you kidding me?!?! You’re asking me where to park something from my dreams? And if you can rev her? YES & YES!!!!
(A week to the day after FTX I looked with approval at an oil stain on the nearby park sidewalk marking the Interceptor’s presence from where she sat at FTX.)
And so with that army of legends September 30th, arrived.
A mist hung over the Atlantic as we set up.
The Interceptor arrived and for a brief moment I was 10 again, standing in awe of a dream.
Boeta had the kids arrive on time just as he promised.
My core crew set up and more kept arriving and arriving as the day drew out into a painting of perfection.
I though was spent.
I had never run so hard or for so long in my life.
My bones were hangers holding up my body as I went into auto pilot trying to do my best in cooking each slice of french toast into a golden brown.
I looked down into that smoky grill for upwards of four hours.
My army around me.
And as I looked down I heard the sounds.
The sounds of children laughing and playing.
The sounds of people from all over the world celebrating the simple fact of being alive and being together.
I looked down and instead of seeing the park I saw a blacktop race track.
Paint marked the runner’s lanes and I saw my legs.
They were hovering over the track no longer moving, no longer having the energy to move.
But they were still moving forward!
It was no longer me but you, all of you, that held me in your arms as you carried me across this finish line.
My goal of giving these kids just one day of love would never have been reached without your love.
All of you. The ones there. The ones wanting to be there. All of you.
And I thank you because this dream, this dream of love, is so much bigger than the one I had when I was 10. And yet somehow, in this mysterious world of ours, I was able to finish both dreams – at just the same time.
But the race wasn’t over on September 30th, 2012 although at the time I thought it was.
Days after the event I got a message from Ashley, one of the orphanage workers. She wrote to tell me that she had over three carloads of donations that came from FTX. She said she would give them to the kids over the Christmas holidays.
Tomorrow your gift of unconditional love has carried on. It has gone beyond the three months since FTX. It has carried forward across a new finish line as only love can.
One last story.
When I was a small boy a friend of mine invited me to an event his church was having.
It was a day at an arcade with unlimited tokens for the video games and unlimited pizza.
Now if you know me, or even if you only have heard of me, you can picture my little ears perking up at the idea of what unlimited pizza could possibly be! What it could possibly look like!?
I still remember that day. I still remember the plastic cups filled with gold tokens. I remember the boxes and boxes of pizza.
They never brought up church or religion that day.
It was a day just for the enjoyment of being together.
A day for the taking. A day for the keeping.
A day I have never forgotten.
I don’t know how much the seed of FTX was planted into my mind from that day long ago.
But I do know that I never forgot.
I do know that the way that magical day felt is in some way a part of the man that I am now.
And maybe, just maybe, some of those 300 kids will feel the same way about our day as well.
Maybe they will remember.
And maybe they will run.
Happy Holidays everyone.
My love and heart to you always,
FTX Namibia Prep
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FTX Namibia French Toast Assembly Line