Arusha – easy day

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Today had all the signs of an easy day on “vacation.”  We conducted several staff interviews on the back patio of the hotel.  Heward has taught me a lot about lighting and now I’m the Key grip (whatever that is).  After the interviews we got back in the car to film three more scenes in Arusha.  We need to reshoot a girl working a roadside stand Arusha and then two bar scenes – one a dive bar and the other in the bar of our hotel.

Albert had identified a neighbor girl who was just the right age.  We went to Albert’s house in the back streets of Arusha, picked up the girl and then drove the neighborhood looking for a stand that looked right.  We found a very small fruit & vegetable stand that looked perfect.  We stopped the car, got out and negotiated the use of the set for our movie.  We bought several bunches of bananas from a nearby stand and hung them up in our set.  Our actress looked perfect and as we set up, we were drawing a crowd.  The whole process (to film the 10 sec clip) took about an hour with lighting, sound and camera setups on the dirt streets of Arusha.  We passed out the bananas to the local kids as we loaded up the car and headed back to Albert’s house.

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Albert’s home sits on a hillside in the back alleys of Arusha.  Modest and well kept by Arusha standards.  We talked to his family for a bit, shot some photos of his 2 year old daughter and headed back to the car.  The view of Mt Meru from his front entrance was stunning (except for the cell tower built right in his line of sight.)  It’s interesting in Africa…no plumbing, episotic  power, no air conditioning, no land lines but cell coverage everywhere we have been…and I left my cell at home.

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We made our way to the Asante Africa Foundation offices in Arusha and found a local dive bar behind the business across the street.  It was outdoors with a dirt floor, plastic chairs and plastic tables with the coca-cola label on the rim.  We ordered beers for the local actor and extras (and as such we were quite popular).  As we shot we drew a big crowd to watch Heward in action.

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Heward was like a big-time movie producer putting $1.25 down for each extra (and buying them a beer).  It was just way cool the way we were treated in what might look like a very rough part of town.  Everyone was smiling and laughing and having a great time.  When we finished we grabbed our local actor and headed for the hotel for one last shot.

After setting up we asked the very beautiful head waitress at the Pepeone hotel to sit at the table and join the actors for the shoot.  She had no idea, until later, that she was going to be in our movie.  Sometimes the language barrier is helpful.  Her acting was perfect because she had no idea she was in the movie.

It was an easy day – ending at 9:30 pm.  Overnight I skyped with my family and friends at our weekly Friday Night Dinner party in Livermore.  I do miss my FND.  I’ll be home soon and I’ll miss the people of Tanzania.

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Nkwamakuu (“Qua Makoo”) Primary School at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro

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Today started like every other in Africa so far.  I’m awakened in the middle of the night typing this blog partially because I can’t sleep and partly because the emotional tugs to the kids are so strong. We gathered for breakfast (fruit, sausage, eggs and toast) and review the plan for the day and laugh about the events yesterday.  We’re right on schedule for our work and “Africa time” where things take two or three times as long as you think is not getting in our way.

The talk of the morning is about Benson and the potential paths his future might take.  Without education and opportunities he’ll grow up like any other teenager and adult in the region.  He’ll have a wife and kids of his own.  He’ll scrape together some kind of a living and his family will sell something from their roadside stand – just like everyone else.  He’ll hit up the occasional tourist on the main road and they might be impressed with his English.  His standard of living will be way below the US poverty line but, even though he is at the top of the Bell curve here, he’ll just be ok.  He’ll be no threat to anyone nor will he have any lasting impact on his community.  He’ll be an opportunity lost.  With some help he may be that pilot he dreams of. I’m not sure what the Secret Service thinks of our ideas for flying Barak Obama.  If they don’t like it – it was Heward’s idea.)

We made a quick stop at Orkolili to rerecord a sound bite from our science teacher from the night before.  While Heward and Elley re-recorded the bit in our makeshift sound studio (a remarkable replica of a Land Rover), I wandered the school looking for Mama Mcha and her teachers to shoot some portraits/candids of them in action.  Well the action was less than “action” as we must have reached the school during a teacher break.  I found one very good teacher working the blackboard and teaching the students how to conjugate English verbs.  I was impressed and could have learned something if I had stuck around.  I found two other classrooms full of students but no teacher.  Much to my surprise, the kids were all studying quietly without the spitballs, folded paper footballs and iphone texting you might see in the US.  I’m glad I didn’t have any spare paper to teach them how to fold that football and play US table football with it.  I could have brought their entire discipline system to its knees.

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The next stop was the Nkwamakuu primary school on the way to Mt. Kilimanjaro.  We made our way down the banana-tree-lined dirt road and came upon a “picturesque” but primitive primary school with the Tanzanian flag flying high in the incredible African sky.  On the outside wall of the school was a giant hand painted Asante Africa Foundation logo.  Asante Africa Foundation had built a building for Teachers lodging and latrine facilities.  The extreme shortage of classroom space for the 300+ kids had forced the school to repurpose the Teacher lodging building into a two room, makeshift classroom.  In the smaller of the two rooms (smaller than the size of my bathroom at home) were 10 desks each sitting 4 or 5 students (shoulder to shoulder).

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No supplies and yet – well behaved and all participating.  I watched the kids standing in line for their food.  The lunch-time meal was porridge and beans yet they all stood in line and not a drop was wasted (except that small fraction that stuck to their hands – soon to be transferred to mine.)  These school lunches are the only food some of these kids get some days.  The food is one real incentive to keep the little ones coming to school.

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Next up: Someone had a stroke of brilliance!  Heward needed to film a couple of interviews with the staff and a student and needed it quiet.  They cleared the school and sent 300 primary kids out to sit in the dirt under the tree and “be quiet.”  We called it the Timeout Hill.  They had little or no supervision so I went out under the tree and sat in the dirt with 200 kids (and my camera).  The “quiet” part of the experience lasted about an hour.  I wandered through the crowd taking candid pictures (and sharing) without the normal hustle and bustle of the students all posing and laughing at their picture on the back of the camera.  I must have shaken 2000 hands (from 200 kids).  We all started counting (in english) as a group.  They could all count together up to twenty.  Then we started counting backwards.  10, 9 ,8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 “Blastoff”.  They didn’t understand until we did it again and when we hit zero I threw a mock rocket (a corn husk) high in the air.  Some things are just simple…

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I pulled a couple of them off to the side and took more personal “portraits.”  I love those shots of kids sitting on the grass where the camera is as close to the ground as I can get it (leaving the foreground out of focus).  Well – try that in Africa where “grass” doesn’t exist.   The kids were just wonderful.  Great smiles, great eyes and warm hearts completely offset the dirty hands.

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We then found 6 older students (10-12 years old) and filmed a chalkboard scene for our project.  You’re going to have to watch the “movie” when it comes out.  Heward, Ellie and I make a great team.  Fun was had by all.

It was truly a wonderful visit – I was absolutely filthy when we were done – and I quietly cried when I got in the car to leave.  They have so little to work with and yet – these kids are no less deserving of opportunity than anyone.

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Nkwamakuu students got an excellent demonstration of the worm (as performed by Heward Jue). They also saw a real class act with superb creative skills and leadership talent. Asante Africa Foundation is proud to have Heward on Our Board. I’m proud to call him my friend.

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Our Tanzanian Asante Africa team is working with the community to build an additional classroom.  The community has already laid the foundation and the blocks are on site ready to build.  I had unknowingly used the foundation and blocks as props for my portrait studio during the timeout.  Mt. Kilimanjaro was the backdrop.  We just need to get them some resources (money) to finish the project.  A small investment will make a big difference for these kids.

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We had missed lunch again…(I wonder what African lunches taste like…) and we were starving.  We stopped at a local dive bar and ordered beer and African food.  Not the best but – who the hell cares about food?  It was a great day!

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013 The Maasai village

CO9C6338After leaving the school at Makuyuni we drove about 4 miles farther west and turned onto a small dirt path and headed off the road.  We stopped about1 km from the road in the shade of an acacia tree and ate our box lunch.  The view of the African plain was amazing.  As far as you could see in every direction was arid highlands.  Tothe west off toward the horizon were the mountains of Ngorongoro region.  To the south was the Tarangire National Park.  Scattered around the plain were hundreds (maybe thousands) of small collections of huts where Maasai families lived.  I didn’t really know what we were doing quite yet (although I think I was told) but after lunch we were going to visit the home of Asante Africa’s scholar Lepilali Nagina.  Lepilali was the wonderful young man we had interviewed at Makuyuni school in the morning.  When he was a child he had walked the 7km (each way) to Makuyuni to attend primary school.  He was now in the front of our Land Cruiser navigating our way across the plain marred only by footpaths and the occasional plot of farmed soil.  This land was probably changed very little since its state a few thousand years ago.

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Lepilali himself has been a Facebook friend of mine for the last several months. Our friendship has been quite one-sided with me never really knowing what to say in response to his posts or chat questions.  It’s more than just the ten hour time difference and the fact we have never met.  It’s mostly my fear of the unknowns from his culture.  Well – welcome to his world!

After lunch under the shade of the acacia tree (in absolutely perfect weather) our driver, Albert, picked his way through the last km or so to the edge of a collection of a half dozen or so mud huts that were the home of Lepilali’s family.  We were greeted by several children and adults and soon thereafter by the elder in the group, Lepilali’s father.  He (and the other adult males) were dressed in traditional Maasai robes (with western T-shirts underneath).  The family could not have been more welcoming.  Chickens (and baby chicks) ran around the area freely.  The goats, with the exception of one larger goat with two broken front legs, were enclosed in a traditional pen made of local dead vegetation. Reminder to self:  After I pass on, when I come back to life, avoid “goat in Africa.”  There was no water in sight.  Lepilali tells me that in the dry season the nearest water can be 20 km away.  The Mama’s walk to get it.

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We were introduced to the family; Lepolili’s father and 2 wives, his grandmother, aunt and cousins.  Lepilali’s 4-year-old brother was precious, charming and unafraid of us even thought we never heard him say a word in the 4 hours we were there.  (He too loved Smarties.)

The adults spoke the traditional hybrid Maasai language, Ma’a.  So, we needed a translator to explain our needs in our filming project.  We needed one of the young women to become an actress and play two parts for us.  We scouted the area and decided to film the first two scenes inside a very small mud hut inside which there was a small wood fire cooking something in a pot.   CO9C6164

We also needed the baby.  Camera angles were tight and the lighting was challenging but the young lady was beautiful and played her role with character and charm.  As the sun was going down and the lighting edging toward perfection we scouted and selected the location for our next shoot.  Another young woman (and the same baby) would star in that scene.  It was a beautiful family in a beautiful setting with beautiful light.  We had a great story to tell and they were the people whose images would tell it.

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We ended the day right at sunset on the plain with a heartwarming session with Lepilali’s father translated 1st from Ma’a to Swahili and then Swahili to English.  He thanked us for visiting but, more importantly for representing those who had made his son’s education possible and given his son the opportunities that would have never been available without assistance.  (Never been available by a long shot.)  He spoke from the heart and was truly grateful for his son and the opportunity Asante Africa has given to him.  The future of Lepilali is very bright.

He closed by asking one of his wives to give prayer for us and our safe passage.  He apologized for having insufficient time to prepare to slaughter a goat in celebration of our visit.  (This was just fine with Elley.)  He shook each of our hands in a way you seldom feel – like he really meant it.  Two language barriers could not stop the tears from dripping down my face.  This was an amazing family in the most challenging of environments – just like they had been living in for thousands of years before their sons had Facebook accounts.

This is a crossroad in time.  As President Obama said just a month ago in his trip to Africa, “Africa is rising.”  That is true and education is the foundation of that rise.  I hope it happens without losing what’s beautiful and special in the traditional culture.

The long drive back to Arusha reminded me that education might be the foundation of Africa’s rising but peace and prosperity weren’t going to break out very far until the roads improved.  The Chinese are investing in the Africa infrastructure – it’s not obvious there are shared values in all of this.  We all must move forward carefully and thoughtfully.  If not, the African people and their culture will be the victims.

This was a very long, hard, emotional day.  We left Arusha at 7 am and returned to the hotel before we ate dinner at 9:30pm.  Heward drives a tough production crew.    As I reread my words I realize how hard these things are to capture in writing.  This was truly an amazing experience and a unique glimpse at the real world.  I will forget this only just before choosing that “African Goat option.”

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013 – First Contact with Asante Africa’s Impact

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I was awakenedin the middle of the night by the sounds of a vicious animal fight outside out hotel.  It’s 4pm in California so it’s either 2am or 6am here.  For the life of me I can’t remember.  PepeOne is located about 2 blocks from the main street in Arusha in a very nice neighborhood of gated compounds.  After a few hours after nightfall, the area is dark and quiet.  The sounds of a multi-animal fight to the death lasted a few minutes and then it returned to a relative peace and quiet.  No sounds of autos, horns, airplanes or trains.  Just the occasional bark of a distant dog.  I (of course) tried to log on to facebook and there was not even the sound of wifi in the air.  For the first time, I feel away from the real world.  This place is different.  I feel like I’m one power outage away from the real Africa.

Today should me my first taste of the need and the impact of Asante Africa’s work in East Africa.  I’ve seen other people’s pictures, watched their videos (those of much lesser quality than one made by Heward and Elley), heard their words describing the children, and felt the passion of Erna Grasz and her team as they work with every ounceof strength to bring quality education to this world.  Today I will sense this directly with my own eyes, ears, and hands.  No more translators, or second hand accounts thatenable emotional detachment.  After today I fear I will have no excuse to not really understand.  Today is really the reason I’m here.  After all the stories and pictures – I do not know what to expect.

Today started like any other day in Africa.  Breakfast at 7am.  They were out of eggs so the option was toast and sausage (hot dogs) or not.  I decided to skip the “not” and ordered the sausage and toast.  This was a wise choice and went very well with the eggs when they arrived.  Oh – such 1WPs.  Our driver (and Asante Scholarship Coordinator in Tanzania – Albert) was right on time with a land cruiser that we would need on the road to Makuyuni, Tanzania about 2 hours west of Arusha.  The path out of Arusha was snarled by traffic through the slums of West Arusha.  Here thousands of people live in extreme poverty.  We were asked not to take pictures.  Not safe.

I learned very quickly why the wheel wasn’t invented in Africa – because with these roads, wheels don’t help.  When we got to Makuyuni my first thought was – this is where people who live in the middle of nowhere go to “get away.”  This is the high plains of Africa in middle of Maasai country.  I kept thinking “Where’s the water?”  The area reminded me of the area between Merced and the Sierra foothills (during the summer).  There were a few more trees here but each are struggling to hang on in this arid world.  There were many herds of cows of goats being tended (frequently) by school age kids.  This is obviously a rough place to make a life but it is also just a few miles from the Rift valley – the birthplace of mankind.  Humans have been living here for millions of years.  Longer than the IU – Purdue and Ohio State – Michigan rivalries combined.

We pulled into the primary school just a few hundred yards off the road and we were immediately greeted by a few 10s of school kids.  It was a little like Lady Gaga getting off a bus. We were an instant hit with most of thekids (the shyer ones would come around later).  The school was a bit of a shock.  I knew there were many many children per classroom and the classrooms were a bit underdeveloped but the magnitude was stunning.  The physical infrastructure (floor, walls, roofs) were largely intact.  Asante AfricaFoundation had helped the community construct latrines which provide privacy (especially important for girls as they reach puberty) but it wasn’t the infrastructure that moved me.  CO9C6054

It was the hundreds and hundreds of smiling children in the classrooms and running around the schoolyard just happy to be alive!

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During the slow period (when classes were in session) I approached a group of 5 preschoolers near one of the classrooms.  CO9C5848

Took a few pictures and they giggled as I showed them the pictures on my camera – just like a 4-5 year old would do in the US.  I had stumbled on the, now obviously brilliant, thought at Target about a week ago and I had a bag of smarties with me.  I unwrapped a few and I was a hero.  My brother and I had always said “When God has a snack, he eats Smarties.”  I try to send a bag to my brother in July every year for his birthday.  This year Ed, you have just made a donation to East Africa!

The morning was wonderful!  The children were beautiful and full of life.  The fact that they didn’t have books or pencils or paper to work with didn’t stop their learning.  They were engaged and very eager to learn even though the classes were very big and crowded and the teachers were working with almost nothing except a chalkboard.

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We filmed a few interviews with Asante Scholars: Lepolili and Kelvini.  (I like Kelvini’s name – named after the great scientist?)  Watched them queue up for lunch.  The were all excited about the food cooked right there on a wood fire: porridge for the pre-schoolers and boiled beans for the older ones.  There were so many needs here it’s hard to describe.

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Several times I’d find myself out in the schoolyard taking snapshots, sharing the images on the back of the camera and getting giggles and shaking hands.  I’d look around and I’d realize I was shaking hands with 50-100 kids.  I felt like Barak Obama on the campaign trail while the secret service was on lunch break!  It was amazing!

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I had also purchased a soccer ball to give to the headmaster for the kids to play with. We worked a filming opportunity that you will have to watch our video to see (no spoilers here).  We left the ball with the headmaster and we go into the car at about 2:30 pm.  We had been there about 5 hours but it seemed like it went by so fast.  I will also never forget it.  As we drove off I thought about how I would ever write about this….and the day wasn’t close to over!  It would get better and even harder to find words.

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Monday July 22 – Day 1 in Arusha

I’m up at 4am – not quite on Africa time yet. I have no watch and I can’t remember if I’m supposed to add 10 hours to the California time on my laptop (my son’s laptop) or subtract 10 hours. I decide to download a desktop app (clock) and remove the confusion. It’s add 10 hours and subtract 1 day. I can do this. Back up at 7am and down for a very relaxed breakfast. Being on “Africa time” means more than sleeping at night and being awake during the day. “Africa time” also means earning “Applewood points” (translation – relax, take it easy, bepatient and thoughtful). When I do that in the States (which is apparently rare) I earn points toward dinner at the Applewood Inn in Guerneville. When I get home, I’m going to Applewood for the first time!

After breakfast we met with the Tanzania Asante Africa delegation to discuss plans for the week ahead. They are a wonderful set of leaders with great smiles, passion, and spirit for what Asante is doing in Tanzania.

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Heward explained the vision and showed clips we have shot from Kenya. We’re working plans for the rest of the week including shot lists of kids, adults, schools and villages. The cultural differences emerge in language and customs. Heward is a wonderful leader with strong vision and ideas but with the real ability to listen to feedback, alternatives and enhancements and fully embrace the ideas of the larger team. He needs no Applewood points!

Planning for video shooting is complex. We need a script, actors, shooting location, costumes. The best line of the morning: Heward: “We need a baby. Can someone get us one?” We have the luxury of a few segments filmed in Kenya to explain the vision to the Tanzanians. The in country support team works the late morning and early afternoon on the detailed implementation plan with schedule and logistics defined my mid afternoon. Very organized and impressive. (I’m not sure what they were really saying in Swahili but their English summary sounded like they really have their shit together. Tomorrow we head about 2 hours out of town to an Asante School that I still can’t spell even after they spelled it for me. Even the letters can get lost in translation. I know it has a “k” where I thought there should be a “q” from the pronunciation.

We caught a ride to town with a gentleman from Atlanta. He’s been here since May. We did a little shopping. It is a very interesting experience to walk a shopping district of a city in the developing world dressed as a cash register. After buying a few things that Laura will call “stupid” I finally shook the last guy by giving him $2 for a bracelet that is now worth two dollars.

I mistakenly took a quick nap (dreaming of a Peet’s whole milk latte). We then met up with our Driver (Albert) and he took us to a hillside to watch the sunset and moonrise.

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Not the best view and not the best weather but we work with what we get. After being dropped back at our hotel we walked to town for dinner at the Africacafe. (American food).

Tomorrow is my first trip to a school, about 2 hours out of Arusha. I know what to expect – the unexpected!

I’m honored to be here with two such talented people – Heward and Elley. We have a plan. Life is good.

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The Bus to Arusha

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We work our way across the street from the Comfort Hotel and our Driver, David, negotiates 3 seats on the bus to Arusha with an arbitrary man standing somewhat near the bus.  It’s not obvious to us that this man is any different than the 30 or so adult males standing near the bus – all looking equally unofficial.  The Riverside Bus Service company needs some sort of uniform or logo shirt or hat – or maybe a sign saying – “The guy in charge stands here.”  This is not a high end tourist route.  This is a bus service that locals with money, other Africans, or travelers looking for the “Authentic Africa” experience are likely to engage in.  This might be why they don’t need no stinkin logo shirts or “I’m in charge” signs. Everything in Africa is a negotiation with someone.  The challenge is to find out who to negotiate with.

Heward heads off to buy 3 pizzas for us for lunch before we get on the bus.  The pizza is absolutely delicious – and I swear – not because I was hungry!  We each share a few slices with a group of kids who approach us asking for a bite.  The kids were very nice and polite – each saying thank you.  The adults nearby were not as pleased with our sharing.  Apparently sets up a bad situation in the future.

We’re finally on the bus.  The 2pm bus departed at 1:58pm with a load full (3 high-end DSLRs, 18 passengers: 2 white guys (me and a dutch guy that refused to utter a single word), 2 asians (Elley and Heward), 12 Africans, and a roof top full of non-camera luggage.    After emerging from the cluster contest of Nairobi traffic we headed south along the highway that runs from Cairo to Cape Town South Africa.

For some reason I was worried that I might not return with the iconic African acacia tree at sunset picture.  Unlikely: The acacia trees are everywhere and their shapes are just like they are in the pictures – only better.

The border crossing at Namanga was very interesting.  Screw filling out the forms accurately – they want the $$.  The road leading to and from Namanga was actually pretty good except for a few dirt detours around bridges over seasonal creekbeds.  The road at the border was a disaster.  We made it through Kenya outbound and Tanzania inbound checks and were only $100 poorer.  I now have more complete and accurate fingerprints on file with the Tanzania government (and thus the NSA) that I do with the FBI.  Maybe NSA should share more…(maybe I should take a break from political commentary and focus on the Africa experience).

I watched out the window for a giraffe.  No luck.  As we approach the western edge of Arusha National Park, the sun is setting to the west (just like in the US) and the nearly full moon is rising over the faint outline of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  It was a beautiful site and a challenge to capture from a bumpily moving bus even with a great DSLR.  I caught the sunset – the moonrise will have to wait until tomorrow night.

We pull into Arusha at 7pm after 5 grueling hours on the bus and we’re greeted by Albert – our guide and driver for the next 8 days.  He takes us to the Hotel Pepeone in Arusha and it’s fantastic…more on that tomorrow.  I caught an early glimpse of the people and the communities outside Arusha and Nairobi.  Too early to write about but – I;m going to learn something on this trip!  I think I’m on Africa time so – I had better get to sleep.  It’s almost 2 in the afternoon in California.  Life is good.

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Sunday in Nairobi – this is going to be GREAT!

I’m up at 8:30 am listening to Heward knock on the door of someone’s room (room 201).  I’m in room 210…moved last night into a bigger room with a double bed.  I did manage to get a couple of hours sleep.  I made it down to my first African breakfast consisting of Fried Chicken gizzards, eggs, fruit and toast.  I have a lot to learn here.  My Mom used to make fried chicken livers and gizzards.  I recall passing on that.

 

It sounds like Heward and Ellie got a lot done in their week in Kenya.  Apart from an encounter with a student protest in Narak, things went pretty well.  The driver last night (David) called Heward “the perfect man”.  When I relayed that to Heward this morning he wandered if they meant “Perfect man” (a good thing) or “Prefectionist” (not always so good.).  If they are cutting in on my worship of Heward they better be careful.

 

After my shower, shave and a bit of rest, I’m feeling like I might already be in Africa time.  We’ll see tonight if I’ve made the 10 hour switch.  Life is good.  It’s 12:07am on Sunday morning back home in California.  10:07am on Sunday here.  Without a watch it will be hard to keep time…maybe that’s why the Swiss invented the watch…huh…it messes up my vibrato.

 

Elley and I ran a quick trip to the grocery just down from our Nairobi hotel to buy water (and Pringles) for the 6 hour bus trip to Arusha.  It almost resembled a small grocery in the US (except the eggs were not stored in the refrigerator section).  Bought some water and a soccer ball for a school in Tanzania (which one is TBD – I think they all need one.).

 

Elley showed me a quick pilot video that she put together from their shoots to date in Kenya and it brought me to tears. The subject matter, the lighting, the camera work, the people were out of the world.  If this is any sign of how great this project will go (and it is), it’s going to exceed everyone’s expectations.

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