For the love of adventure and a smile

Nic Jooste
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The column was first published in the May issue of Produce Business magazine.

Looking back over the past year‭, ‬I realize I have covered most of the topics that I hold dear‭: ‬sustainability‭, ‬circular economy‭, ‬working with young people‭, ‬health‭, ‬retail‭ ‬‮…‬‭ ‬For this final column I did a lot of soul-searching to identify a topic for my‭ ‬‘swan song‭.‬’‭ ‬The opportunity to import fresh produce from the far corners of the world has given me many brilliant experiences beyond the business transactions that take place‭, ‬so I thought it fitting to share some of these with you‭.  ‬

In June 1996‭, ‬I was invited to Finland to talk about the opportunities that would be created by the deregulation of South African fruit exports‭. ‬Following my meeting‭, ‬I was invited on a surprise weekend trip to a rural village‭. ‬This involved the annual village hunt for 20‭ ‬moose‭, ‬starting very early‭  ‬on an icy-cold Saturday‭. ‬I was positioned at the slaughterhouse in the forest‭. ‬For‭ ‬the rest of the day‭, ‬I was surrounded by blood‭, ‬guts and moose heads‭. ‬For a‭ ‬‘fruit and vegetables guy‭,‬’‭ ‬it felt like a scene from the‭ ‬Texas Chainsaw Massacre‭. ‬On the one hand it was terrifying‭, ‬yet on the other hand it was beautiful to be part of a tradition that has been maintained for centuries‭. ‬The post-hunt party involved a variety of home-distilled vodka‭, ‬with exotic berries from the forests adding flavor‭. ‬Later that night‭, ‬I dove headfirst into the snow‭, ‬but the rest is a mystery‭. ‬To this day‭, ‬I love traveling to Finland‭. ‬

In December 1998‭, ‬I was invited to visit pineapple plantations in KwaZulu‭, ‬a South African province bordering on Mozambique‭. ‬On‭ ‬the way to my destination‭, ‬I saw giraffes‭, ‬wildebeest and a variety of antelope along the way‭. ‬It was like driving through the set of‭ ‬The Lion King‭. ‬I stayed in a lodge high up on a plateau overlooking a river‭. ‬Dinner in the evening was‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬as can be expected‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬a South African‭ ‬braai‭ (‬barbecue‭). ‬A group of Australian backpackers joined the party‭, ‬and as it often happens with Aussies‭, ‬the barbecue turned‭ ‬into an all-nighter‭. ‬Knowing my limits‭, ‬I went to bed before midnight‭. ‬The next morning I heard that the Aussies had even gone‭ ‬for an illegal skinny dip in the river‭. ‬I thought nothing more of it‭, ‬until two months later when I read in the newspapers that‭ ‬a local tribesman had been eaten by crocodiles in the same stretch of the river‭. ‬I often wonder if the Australians had read the‭ ‬newspaper too‭. ‬

In October 2005‭, ‬I visited Egypt for the first time‭. ‬The objective of this trip was to orientate myself on the amazing array of‭ ‬agricultural opportunities this ancient civilization brings‭. ‬My visit coincided with Ramadan‭, ‬the period of fasting when the religion of Islam dictates that believers do not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset‭. ‬After breakfast‭, ‬our host collected us to‭ ‬visit various remote desert farms‭. ‬The day turned into an‭ ‬‘empty stomach’‭ ‬nightmare‭. ‬The closest we got to food was bottled water‭, ‬and some unripe oranges‭. ‬By the time we got back to our hotel at 6‭ ‬p.m‭. ‬we were ravished‭. ‬That was when our host informed us that he would collect us at 2‭ ‬a.m‭. ‬for lunch‭. ‬Huh‭??? ‬I was completely ignorant of the traditions during Ramadan‭. ‬Breakfast was eaten after sunset‭, ‬lunch after midnight‭, ‬and dinner shortly before sunrise‭. ‬This was the first of many trips that I have made to Egypt during Ramadan‭, ‬and to this day I love this‭ ‬‘upside down routine’‭! ‬

‭ ‬Peru‭, ‬October 2008‭, ‬and I was traveling with a colleague to the mango and grape regions of northern Peru‭. ‬Our host had decided‭ ‬we needed to go and see a new grape plantation that he was developing‭. ‬‘It has been raining and the road is very bad‭. ‬We will all go in my off-road truck‭. ‬Don’t worry‭, ‬it will be fine’‭. ‬It was 95‭ ‬degrees‭, ‬with a relative humidity of 75‭ ‬percent‭. ‬About three bumpy miles on the back of a truck into the forest‭, ‬we‭ ‬came to a dead stop in the middle of what can only be described as a muddy swimming pool‭. ‬The sun was beating down‭, ‬and the mosquitoes were feasting on me‭. ‬Our host called a tractor to pull us out of the mud‭. ‬We waited and waited‭. ‬At one stage‭, ‬a Spanish-speaking agricultural engineer said‭: ‬‘Ah Nic‭, ‬no worry‭, ‬it is Morfilo’‭. ‬Being naturally inquisitive‭, ‬I asked who this Morfilo was‭. ‬His answer caused me to collapse in tears‭. ‬‘Morfilo‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬you know‭, ‬sheet happens’‭. ‬Aaaaaaah‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬Murphy’s Law‭. ‬

The objective of my first trip to China in 2011‭ ‬was to train our garlic suppliers in social compliance‭. ‬What happened instead is‭ ‬that I received a lesson in being‭ ‬‘lost in translation‭.‬’‭  ‬The most memorable one was at the urinal at Jinan airport‭, ‬where I was confronted by the following sign‭. ‬‘To preceding half step a civilized stride‭.‬’‭ ‬It took me quite some time to figure out that what airport authorities were actually telling visitors at the urinals is that they need to take a half step forward‭, ‬and by doing so they would be placing themselves at a more civilized distance from the urinal‭. ‬Definitely pre-Google Translate time‭. ‬

That evening‭, ‬we were invited to a traditional wedding reception‭. ‬Our host claimed that custom dictated any foreigners had to drink a toast of Chinese rice wine with every member of the newlyweds’‭ ‬families‭. ‬I was not expecting such an extended family but gallantly did my bit for Europe-China relations‭. ‬I vaguely remember making a brilliant speech in which I even quoted Chairman Mao’s words about a frog‭, ‬a well‭, ‬and our view on the world‭. ‬Really‭, ‬I did‭!!!‬

There are many more examples‭. ‬The big storm in Iceland that I experienced while sitting in a thermal pool‭. ‬The simply amazing scenery of the Faroe Islands‭, ‬where cliffs up to 700‭ ‬meters rear up out of the Atlantic Ocean‭. ‬The out-of-body experience of leaving Europe at minus 50‭ ‬degrees‭, ‬and arriving 24‭ ‬hours in Namibia at a whopping 120‭ ‬degrees‭. ‬And don’t get me started on the many amazing friendships that I have been able to forge‭. ‬‮…‬

Fresh produce‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬never dull‭, ‬always an adventure‭. ‬Love life‭! ‬‭ ‬

Nic Jooste is the head of Corporate Social Responsibility at UK-based The Jupiter Group‭. ‬

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