A few weeks ago, I didn't even know Central African Republic (CAR) was a country.
My principle has been that if people live there, I can visit there. But in planning a visit to CAR, I couldn't even find a single hotel online, and none of my well-networked friends in the region had any contacts in the country.
I started wondering whether people actually lived there and if I should reconsider going. Then a friend introduced me to a lady named Jessica he found on LinkedIn.
I knew nothing about Jessica, but she was quick to insist on picking me up from the airport, which was relieving since I arrived at night and had no clue where to go. She drove me to some hotel and gave me her Wifi hotspot to stay connected.
The next morning, she brought her bi-lingual brother to help translate as her cousin drove us around. I got to learn a bit about Jessica and her work. A passionate woman who must've been in her early 30s, Jessica‘s been running and expanding the family business for the last few years.
We stopped by Jessica's house and I noticed a uniformed security detail. I asked why, and she casually explained that her father is the former Prime Minister of CAR and a current presidential candidate in the upcoming elections.
Meeting Jessica wasn't the only highlight of my time in CAR. She arranged meetings for me with other inspiring people from her community. One guy I met described his elaborate plans to establish a Tech Cafe. He had a spreadsheet for the first phase, which is building a house that’ll be used to raise 800 chickens; he'll then use the profits from the chicken business to bootstrap his project.
Another young entrepreneur talked about her fashion project that utilizes art and creativity as an outlet for youth at risk of being recruited by terrorist groups. We discovered our shared passion for sunrise as she took me on this narrow canoe to watch the sun rising over the beautiful Ubangi river.