S: Perspective. That’s one thing that a near-death experience almost guarantees you. Having just a few weeks ago been brought back from the brink of crossing over, the inspirational Getrude Matshe shares what she learned in the process in a frank conversation that’s sure to touch your heart and soul. Getrude has been described as a vibrant bundle of African energy whose zest and passion for life inspires everyone she meets. Her passion is to help people find their individual life purpose. Getrude is the author of Born on the Continent and her latest book is Dying in the Rice Paddies of Saba. Hi, I’m your host, Stephan Spencer and you’re listening to episode number 103 of The Optimized Geek! Welcome Getrude, it’s great to have you on the show.
G: Hey Stephan! It’s good to connect with you again. How are you?
S: I am awesome and I know you’ve been through a lot recently. I’m so glad that you’re here coming out the other end of that. Maybe we should start there. You had quite a harrowing experience and you decided to turn that into a book. Why don’t you share with our listeners what happened to you? What inspired you to make that good book?
G: I collapsed in Bali, Indonesia three weeks ago, Stephan. I had been under a lot of stress, having left New Zealand almost 24 months ago, went through a separation, divorce and moved to the US. I have been organizing a couple of international conferences while I was in the United States because I am working for the University of New Mexico. It was a stressful time and I decided to come back to New Zealand to see my kids and for my 50th birthday, they gifted me a holiday to Bali for 10 days, because Bali is my resting place. It’s a very spiritual place for me. On the 3rd day there, I collapsed in the middle of the street. I had been feeling some chest pains a few days prior to this. I have extremely high blood pressure which I thought was kind of under control but wasn’t quite and I almost died in a rice paddy in Bali. It was a life changing experience and the book is really a journal that I’ve kept for the last 24 months, about my journey through everything that I’ve gone through and then I got the title when all of this happened so it’s called Dying in the Rice Paddies of Saba.
S: The subtitle, My Journey through Sadness, Depression, Divorce, Stress and Heart Failure. You collapsed and you had a heart failure. What happened next for you? Did you actually see some light at the end of a tunnel or something? Or did you have a near death experience or did you actually get declared dead? What happened?
G: I had a near death experience, Stephan. When I was in the hospital in the middle of this rice paddy, I felt my breath leave. I don’t know how to describe it. I think the best way to describe dying is like losing your breath and you’re trying to catch it back and you can’t. I remember lying there and all I could think of was the people that I loved, the things that I hadn’t said to them. Everything else just fell away. We go through life and we get so caught up in the drama of life, the things that we are confronted with on the day to day basis. But at the end of the day, none of that matters. None of it matters. I remember thinking I have no control. This breath isn’t mine. I can’t control this. I wasn’t ready to die. You know me, I have a lot of work I’ve been doing around the world, especially around children.
G: I’ve tried to live a full life. I love life. I tried to live my life to the full. I wasn’t ready to go. My work isn’t finished. The minute that I kind of let go trying to control what it was that was taking me and just surrender, I woke up the next day and then I was still there.
S: Wow! And so you were in the hospital. How long did you end up staying in the hospital? Did you have any other near death experiences or were you pretty much heading in the recovery direction from that point forward?
G: I stayed in that hospital for five days. On the fourth day, they had to transfer me to the intensive care unit because they just couldn’t get to the bottom of why I wasn’t reacting and responding to the medication and the drugs. The test they were doing for my ECG was spanning out fine and so they transferred me to the ICU. I was in the ICU for a couple of days. When they found that they do not have enough equipment to get to the bottom of this, I was transferred to a bigger hospital in Denpasar. That’s where everything turned around. I had an angiogram and fortunately, there was no damage to my heart. It was heart failure due to the hypertension so I had a lot of fluid around my heart that was causing my heart to fail. With the right medication that helped me drained the fluid around the heart, I came right.
S: Do you feel like you’re 100% now, or 80%? Where do you think you are now?
G: I wouldn’t say 100%. It’s hard to walk. I still have chest pains. The most times I’ve managed to walk is 5,000 steps and that was Yesterday. That’s just getting out of bed. Trying to get some exercise has been challenging. I’m just taking it a day at a time. I just push myself as far as I can. When the pain comes, I stop and just take it easy but it’s been really hard because I’m not the kind of person who sits still. It has been challenging. It helped me dig deep and process a lot of things I was running away from. Because from the day that I left New Zealand, I have not been in one place for more than two months. Although I’m working in New Mexico, I have projects in Granada. I’ve been on a flight somewhere every two months. I’ve been going on long haul distant flights doing something. I think I kept moving because I do not want to really face where I was. I didn’t want to face the sadness. I didn’t want to accept the breakdown of my marriage because that made me feel like a real failure. Yeah, so work kept me going.
S: So you merged yourself in your work and got lost in it.
G: I’ve really been forced to be still and tune into everything that’s happened within the last 24 months, process it and reach a point of acceptance that this is the new me. That was the other thing, right? Who is the new me? I was a mother, I was a wife, I had a place in the world and now, I am just kind of free falling through the universe.
S: And yet you’re still a mother and you’re saving people’s lives and making a difference for so many people. You’ve created amazing organizations, non-profits and things and literally saving people’s lives so there’s certainly a lot left for you to do here, right?
G: I think so. It was strange because the Bali trip was very transformational on a number of levels. The first thing that happened was from my birthday, my daughter bought me this beautiful cocktail dress with a giant butterfly on the front of the dress. I remember going to a butterfly park in Bali. I went into the hatching centre where they hatch all the eggs. The guys who are working there handed me this giant mammoth butterfly and they said that it lives for five days. It hatches all of its eggs and then it dies. This butterfly jumped from my hand to the centre of my head and just laid all its eggs on me. These guys were so excited. They said, “That’s a good omen. That is a good omen.” I said, “What does it mean?” They couldn’t tell me what it meant. But this was like a few days before this all happened. I forgot about that incident and then I went and searched for a laughing Buddha. I’ve always had the laughing Buddha in my house. Of all of the 19 Buddhas, he’s a short fat little guy with the big pot belly and he laughs. I always liked the laughing Buddha because it reminded me to smile. It reminded me to laugh about life. I hadn’t done that in a very long time. I found it in a shop called The Black Hole. I literally walked into a black hole. Something happened in that shop. I’m still trying to figure things out but I don’t remember the exact details because I was in that shop for almost two hours just wandering around. They had a lot of ancient antiques, sculptures and I bought this fat little giant Buddha. I was thinking why am I buying this heavy piece of wood? I can’t even take this home. Because that thing is going to weigh me down but I bought it anyway and yeah, just reflecting back to all the funny little weird things that happened in Bali, a lot of it is starting to make sense now. A lot of it is starting to make sense. It’s like putting pieces to a jigsaw puzzle together.
S: Yes. You said you didn’t have a title for your book until you practically died. The title became clear to you and the whole, I guess, structure of it, the point of the book perhaps, and all the journaling that you’ve been doing for the last two years.
G: I guess it’s a matter of returning to love and learning to love yourself first. Not looking for love outside of yourself because that’s what we do, right?
S: Yup. Everything we need is within us.
G: It’s all inside. When you’re full, you don’t need that outside validation from other people. That’s where the emptiness came in for me. It was like my husband didn’t love me anymore. So then who was I? I didn’t feel worthy as a human being because I had centred all the love around the love that I had for him. I think that’s been my biggest lesson. It’s a return to love.
S: That’s profound. In fact, I was just at a Kabbalah class last night. This is the new month, a month of Leo. Energetically, this time is all about looking outside of your friends, family, your community, etc. to receive love, validation, approval, acceptance, respect, etc. All of that is a shadow of what you could be getting if you turn to the Creator, to the Light, for your receiving, for the love and compassion and acceptance and all that. That struck me. I was very affected by that. I believe that. It’s pretty similar to what you’re saying now. Seems like it could parallel there.
G: It’s just funny because when my divorce went through, people took sides with him because I’m the one who walked out of the relationship. It was very disappointing. You think you’ve developed relationships with your relatives and friends, between you and them, not you and them as a couple. I lost a lot of friends in the last 24 months. I lost a lot of family, relatives who have not spoken to me in two years. Sometimes, we live based on other people’s judgement of us and we hang in there with relationships that are not working because of the fear of the shame and the stigma that comes into walking out of a relationship. You put on a façade. You put on a show that you’re happy. Meanwhile, you are not and you’re just projecting the appearance of what you think people expect you to be. The Japanese have a saying that we have three kinds of faces. The face that we show to the public, the face that we show to our family and friends, but the face that we don’t like to look at the most is our inner selves, who we really are. I’ve had to take off all these other two layers and just look at myself for who I am and just love me. Everything else is irrelevant.
S: I went through a divorce as well, as you know. I just was so depressed at the time. I didn’t see where it was going to lead me. It just felt like I had been rejected. Everything that I knew, my whole world, was turned upside down. I was really pretty depressed for a couple of years. It was two and a half years later that I finally went to a Tony Robbins event on the urging of multiple friends of mine who said, “You need this.” Hearing that from multiple people who didn’t know each other, I’m like, “Alright, I guess that’s a sign I need to go.” It started me on this transformational journey. That’s why I have this podcast, The Optimized Geek. It’s because I went through a complete and total life reboot and it all started at that Tony Robbins event. I was just in this deep, dark place. I felt like I had failed. Actually, I had a huge block on my bookshelf for years prior to the divorce, something about the children of divorce. I remember that in the title. Because I was a child of divorce and I, under no circumstance, did I want to put my children through that even if the marriage wasn’t satisfying. I was accepting a less than fulfilling life because I didn’t want to hurt my kids. But it actually did hurt them because that was the model that I was presenting to them. Living that kind of life of dissatisfaction was not good for them.
G: That was one of my other lessons, I thought I was holding my family together. I had tried to walk out of this marriage, as you remember, four times before this last time. The last time I came back, my daughter was 21 years old and she sat me on the bed really angry, Stephan. She said to me, “Mom, why are you back?” I looked at her really angry and I said, “What do you mean?” She says, “Mom, dad doesn’t love you! He doesn’t love you. I need to tell you this.” I said to her, “Why are you saying this to me?” She said, “Mama, you’re like a monkey in a cage. The cage door is open and you don’t know how to get out.” But it took me another four years to process that and get that. I talked to my youngest son because he was just 18 and about to finish high school. It was in the middle of the school year. I left in the middle of that school year and when I sat him down to explain why I had to leave, he said to me, “Mom, I’ll live with you.” He was the last one in the house. My older two kids had left. He said, “I can see that you’re miserable. I can see your sadness.” He said, “You need to go, just go and I will come wherever you are, I will follow you.” We are our children’s role models. You’re right. We set their example of how they should live. I remember it got me to a point where I thought I’m not just doing this for myself, I’m doing this for my daughters, so that if she’s ever in a relationship and she’s unhappy, she has the courage to walk out. I’m doing this for my sons, so that they know how to treat their wives. They know how to nurture the woman in their lives. I did it for my husband because I gave him back his freedom. He didn’t want to be with me. I kept pausing it and trying to keep it together and it felt like I was holding something together with bubble gum and it just wasn’t holding anymore. We do more damage by staying. You’d rather have children with two happy parents who are separate than two miserable parents who are together.
S: I think it’s just human nature that the devil you know is better than the devil that you don’t know. Going into that space of uncertainty, it’s really scary.
G: Especially when you’ve been with one person your whole life. I was married when I was 22. This was a 31 year relationship and 27 years of marriage. It’s like stepping into the abyss of the unknown. You don’t know what’s on the other side. I think fear is the biggest thing that holds us back, the fear of the unknown.
S: Looking back, you can see that what you thought was your worst day was actually your best day. The biggest gift. For me, having my wife at that time tell me, “It’s over, we’re going to get a divorce.” Devastating at the time, but what an incredible gift because my life is 100 times better now. I am with my soul mate now.
G: That’s incredible.
S: I just needed to trust. The universe is going to send you feathers, little clues that you need to make the leap. You can ignore the feathers and those feathers will eventually turn into bricks. Those bricks hurt and you can still ignore the bricks, but they will eventually turn into the mac truck.
G: Yeah. it’s true. I felt like I’ve been hit by a truck literally because the pain in my chest feels like something hit me hard, it’s physical not just internal.
S: An analogy that I thought of when you were talking about the monkey was the way that you can catch a monkey. Apparently, I don’t know if this is true, maybe you can confirm this or not if you’ve heard this too. You put a banana into a hole that will barely fit their hand and then when they form a fist to grab the banana by putting it in a hole in this tree. Let’s say there is a hole there, they stick their hand in and they grasp the banana and then they try and pull it out. They can’t pull it out because now their hand’s in a fist and it doesn’t fit. They will refuse to let go of the banana and get their hand out and go run off so then they get caught by the villagers.
G: Oh wow. You keep holding onto stuff. That was the other lesson for the last 24 months. I had to let go of so much. Material things in the end just didn’t matter. We didn’t even split the furniture. I just left. I just gave him everything we had. I didn’t want it. It was just stuff. In the end, that was weighing me down. I remember my sister getting really angry that we should’ve gone through courts and split all the property between the two of us. I kept saying to her, “You know what, there is no point in us fighting over a chimney or a couch.” My kids live in New Zealand, they have to go back home to see their dad. I just want to leave the house intact so that it’s still home for them. It was just stuff, material things that if I had the money, it wouldn’t give me any joy either. We had a very amicable divorce. We spent $200, went to the magistrate court, signed some forms, and that was it. There’s a lot of people who wait until you get to a point where you hate each other so much. This is a man that I spent my whole life with, literally. I met him when I was 17. Why would I hurt my best friend? When I got ill, he was very helpful in sending the children to Bali to be there with me. Even when I came back to New Zealand, he’s been really supportive. Although we’re not together, I’ve got my best friend back.
S: That’s nice because most divorces are pretty acrimonious and it’s all about bickering, fighting, posturing, and making sure that you’re right and they’re wrong, and that you get your fair share and treated fairly and everything instead of just seeing this as something that you can get through without harming the other person and without harming the people around you. I think it’s got a name for it like conscious divorce or something like that, where you do it in a very conscious way. Do you know what I‘m talking about?
G: Yes. I know what you’re talking about because I remember thinking to myself the people who will benefit from all divorce are the lawyers. They are the ones who benefit. The two of us will end up hating each other. We are joined to the hips because we have three beautiful kids together, why would I do that to somebody I spent most of my life with? I even said to him when I was leaving that, “You know, one day you’re going to find the woman of your dreams and you will thank me.” I said to him, “This might not make any sense right now but you will thank me someday when you find that person who makes you happy, that person just wasn’t me.” I’m never going to change. I’m never not going to be me. I tried, believe me I tried and that’s the other thing.
S: To be not yourself.
G: No, it’s not. It’s not. I am now a full expression of me and whoever I end up with will have to just have to take it or leave it. This is who I am and I will not change or compromise myself for another person again.
S: I think that the book or the whole area of conscious divorce is called Conscious Uncoupling. I’ll drop into the show notes a link to that book. Speaking of books, let’s talk about your book Dying in the Rice Paddies of Saba. Is that out yet? If not, when is it coming out? Is this like a memoir or is it a nonfiction book? Tell us a bit more about the book itself.
G: When I started writing this journal, I called it The Love Vibration because I set out on a quest to tap into the vibration of love. I wanted to find love. It’s not fiction, it’s my story. The things that happened from when I left until now, the lessons I learned along the way, the people that I met and also just learning that love comes in so many different forms, Stephan. It could come with you just bumping into a friend who buys you a cup of coffee. It could come with you going to dinner with somebody and they pay for the bill. It could be somebody who says hello when you’re standing at a bus stop or in an airport and you strike a conversation and two hours go by and you look back and think wow, that was nice. Love was all around us. I actually started keeping a love coincidence diary, if you like, because I wanted to capture it. So that when I saw it, I could see more of it. The book is going to be a guide for anybody who is going into a relationship, anybody who’s thinking about marriage, anybody who’s at a crossroads in a marriage and trying to make up their minds to stay or to go. Just understanding that marriage is a full time job, it comes with no guidebook. We make up the things as we go along. If somebody had told me that we could’ve been so distracted with having our children, having the businesses and the company, and forgetting to nurture our one on one relationship and that’s what happened to us, I would have done things completely differently. It’s a guidebook. I think it will be a gift to anybody who’s thinking of going into a serious relationship. As to the pitfalls and what to look out for and how to learn to nurture the other person and just let them be themselves, because people try and change you when you’re in a relationship. When you don’t fit into the boxes that they’ve laid out for you to fit, that’s where a lot of problems start showing up. I’m hoping that through what was my experience, I can guide, I can share what have been my insights, and help the next person do it smarter, do it wiser, do it with consciousness. I love the word that you used there, “Conscious Uncoupling.” Imagine if we had conscious coupling where people were seriously thinking about how they are being while they are in a relationship. I think that makes a big difference.
S: Yes, I agree.
G: That makes a massive difference. It’s all about just being aware of where you’re at, at any given time, and I’m hoping that it does become a guidebook, it does become a way of being for any couples. Just to go back to allowing each other to be each other and remember that you loved that person for who they were in the first place and nothing else.
S: Is the Principle of Ubuntu in the book?
G: Yes, it’s very much in the book. As you know, Ubuntu is what I live by, it’s what I teach. Let me just explain it to your listeners because a lot of people might not have come across the word.
S: Or maybe they did but only in the context of the Linux operating system, if they’re geeks.
G: If they’re geeks. I know there’s Linux software out there but the software was based on an African Philosophy. It’s a Zulu word which literally translated is Ubuntu umuntu ngabantu, which says a person is only a person through other people. In Southern Africa, we believe that we do not exist as individuals. There’s only we. There is no you, there is no me, there is only we. When one person hurts, we all hurt. My grandmother used to describe the philosophy in a very simple way. She would say that the human race is like the human body. If you cut your finger and you start to bleed, your white blood cells will rush to that point to heal it. In a week’s time, you can’t even see the scar and that’s how we should be reacting and responding to each other in the world. We should be responding with love and with empathy so that if we hear that there’s an earthquake in Haiti, if the 7 billion people on the planet gave $1 to Haiti, we could restore that country in a day. But we’re all living in a sense of not enoughness, in a sense of me, not we, and a lot of the world’s problem can be solved. Going back to that philosophy and relationships and marriage, if we could just remember that how we treat somebody else impacts on us, I think some magical things can happen. I’m really going to try and find a way to simplify it as I write this next book. It’s going to be ready in September. It’s gone through the first edit and it’s come back, but the first of September, this book will be available on Amazon and Kindle.
S: Is it going to be available to pre-order?
G: Yes, yes. People can actually start to pre-order and I will send you the link.
S: Awesome. I’ll include that in the show notes so people can go ahead and pre-order that book.
G: Thank you, Stephan.
S: Yeah. Let’s talk about how you ended up in New Zealand from Zimbabwe and you created nonprofits and were responsible for things like orphanages getting built and so forth. Let’s hear more about that story because I don’t know that people are very aware of what it’s like to grow up in Africa and the amount of poverty and suffering and disease and orphans and everything. It’s a whole other world.
G: The thing that drove me away from home, Stephan, was the AIDS pandemic. HIV and AIDS was rampant in Zimbabwe in the 80’s and 90’s. I was married to an obstetrician and the reason I decided to finally leave home was in 1999, when our medicine men started spreading the rumour that if you rape a virgin, it cures AIDS. The incidence of child abuse in Southern Africa went up overnight. I remember my youngest child was 2, his sister was 8, and my oldest son was 10. We were hearing stories of little boys, little girls being raped. One night, my husband come home in tears because he had to do hysterectomy on a 9 month old baby who had been gang raped by three men. I say to him, “We’ve got to leave. I want to live long enough to be a grandmother. I want my children to be safe.” I actually came to America and I spent four months on the Greyhound bus travelling all the way from New York down to New Orleans, to Detroit, selling my arts in the Black Arts Festivals. My artworks sold, in another line I’m an artist, I do batik using corn meal. I went back to Africa with enough money for air tickets for the whole family to leave. It was at a time when Zimbabwe was on the brink of a civil war. Our dictator president started killing all the white farmers who owned 90% of arable land in Zimbabwe. There was bloodshed. It was one of the worst times in Zimbabwe’s history. I got on a flight. We had enough money for air tickets for me and the children. I was stopped in transit in Johannesburg because they picked up a small typographic error on my daughter’s visa. The US embassy misprinted the passport number on her visa sticker and they said, “You have to go back. You have to go back to Zimbabwe, to the US embassy to get this corrected.” I went back to the US embassy who apologized and said that there were too many people leaving the country and they had changed their rules. I had applied for these visas six months before. Just to get the money for the air tickets, Stephan, we had sold our house, our car, our furniture. We have sold everything that we owned. I had left my husband in a one room apartment with a single bed and a small TV. That was all we owned and we were back in that room with three kids. The US embassy’s new rule was I had to come back with a bank statement with $6 million before they would correct a typographic error that they made on my daughter’s visa. We didn’t have that kind of money. We lost everything. We couldn’t even get a refund on the air tickets. But that incident saved my life because it happened two weeks before September 11. I was heading to New York. I had workshops near the Trade Center. I look back now, when I was sent back, it felt like God has sent be back to hell, but it was the biggest blessing. I was only spending two weeks in New York. My end destination was New Orleans. I had a paid a deposit to rent a house in New Orleans that disappeared two years later with Hurricane Katrina. I missed two major world disasters by missing that flight. I think it was at that point when I started feeling that my life was guided, guarded. I don’t know what the right word is. I’d had a lot of similar incidents since I was 18. Living in London, ending up in Norway. I had these strange little synchronicities, coincidences that made no sense why I found myself in certain places. That was the first time I really woke up to the fact that I am spirit-lead. Spirit leads me to places and leads me to certain people. I had a cousin who was living in New Zealand who says she was on the Hotmail address book one day, randomly looking at people’s names and she found my name on the Hotmail address book and sent me this one line email saying, “Where the hell are you? You need to leave Zimbabwe.” I told her what had happened. She said, “If you have faith, come to New Zealand. You will not regret it.” The last asset we had was a house we had bought in Cape Town in South Africa. I went to Cape Town, sold that house and ended up in New Zealand on the 1st of November 2001. From the day I landed in this country, my life has been magical, absolutely magical. I got a job straight away. It took me three months to make enough money for my husband to come. He came to New Zealand. I ended up opening five successful businesses, ended up taking part in the makings of King Kong off to Avatar with Peter Jackson and with James Cameron. I took parts in the making of Avatar and that just inspired me to follow what had always been my dream as a storyteller, to be a filmmaker. I went back to college at the age of 37. I started working on my first feature film and I wanted to tell the story of the AIDS pandemic and the impact it’s had on us as a people. I made a decision that I wanted to be the first African person to write, direct, produce an Oscar Award Winning screenplay. Had no idea how I was going to do it, Stephan. It came to me in a dream, which is the last chapter of my first book called Born on the Continent. In that dream, I woke up two weeks before the book was going to be published. I was inside this dream, I could taste. I could touch. I could feel. I could smell. All my senses were alive. It was almost like I had left into the future. The dream was of my funeral. They were lowering my body into the ground. Somebody was reading my eulogy and saying everything I was going to achieve in this life until I died in 2067. I remember waking up and writing it down. It became the last chapter of my book. It talked about my creating a foundation that was going to raise the 1.1 million orphan children in Zimbabwe and the 17 million orphan kids on the continent. There is something that happens when we trust our visions and our dreams. The minute you see the end pictures of things, you can make things happen. I attracted Peter Jackson’s wife and her business partner to be my mentors in the writing of my first script. When they read the first script, they said, “Getrude, this is too big of story to do as one film. So it’s now a trilogy. Starting the movie with the middle film, from when I left Africa 15 years ago until now. The next film will be my back story, childhood story. The third is a futuristic film of the prophecy and the vision that I’ve been shown of Africa 100 years from now. This film is really an expensive commercial for my work in Africa. It is a call to action to people like me, who have left Africa, to go back to their villages, to go back to their homes and help the children because I can’t reach 17 million children on my own. The insights I’ve had over the last 15 years is that people of African descent who have been scattered throughout the world are time travellers. I was flung to New Zealand to learn new skills, skills that I can take back home and help take Africa on a quantum leap in the 22nd century. There are millions of us. We’ve been scattered through slavery. We’ve been scattered through wars. I’m an economic refugee. If I can just spark in each of those people’s hearts a calling to go back to the continent and help, we come from the richest continent on the planet. There is nothing Africa doesn’t have. From gold, to oil, to diamonds, you name it but there is a missing piece and the missing piece is the knowledge on how to use our resources effectively. That’s what my work is about.
S: Amazing. There’s a name for this movie, the trilogy?
G: The trilogy is called The Ubuntu Prophecies. The first film is called The Voice of the Keepers.
S: Wow. I like the names. Amazing.
G: There are three films. The first one is called The Keepers, the second one is called The Voice of the Keepers, and the third one is called The Calling.
S: Got it. Okay. These have been screen written already or you’re in the process of doing the screen writing?
G: I’m in the process of doing the screen writing. I’m just about finished with the first one.
S: Wow. Do you have a director, or a producer, or anything like that set up?
G: Oprah is my producer. Oprah is the producer of this film. She just doesn’t know it yet. Oprah is the producer.
S: I love your certainty. Aim higher, you’ll do better. I remember that from a Karrass Negotiating Seminar I took in 1995 or 1996, it really stuck with me. “Aim higher, you’ll do better.” My hat’s off to you for that. You’re working on these films. You have your book coming out. The Born on the Continent book which is your previous book, chronicles a story of setting up this charity and doing all this amazing work in Africa. What’s the charity that you had set up or the foundation?
G: The foundation, it’s called the Africa Thrive.
S: Africa Thrive. Is that something that you’re involved in still or did you hand that over to other people to run?
G: No, no. I’m still actively involved in that. This year we’re actually building the first clinic and the first public library in the village that’s going to service about 3,000 kids.
S: Wow, that’s amazing. I remember you telling me a story about how you would take shipping containers and turn those into clinics or something like that.
G: The Zimbabwean government has blocked me from working in health care because health care in Zimbabwe is a form of political manipulation and control. We did not vote for the regime in the last elections. People are still dying in 2017 of AIDS because they don’t have access to the free drug that have been distributed by the government. Drugs are available 40km away from our village. It costs $2 to get on the bus at the end of each month to go and get the medication. But because we’re the third poorest country in the world, the average person in my community lives on $.30 a month. People can’t afford to get on that bus to get the free drugs. What I did is the first clinic is being set up using a container. I bought a 40ft container here in New Zealand and stocked it with books. I went and gave presentations and talks in primary schools all over Wellington. When I got to the school, the principal would tell the children to bring any books they don’t want. Literally, in 90 days, I collected 65,000 books. That first container has about 200 computers. It has books. It’s being shipped to Zimbabwe in December. It will get into the village and the community as a container of books for me to build a library. Once we empty out the books, we refurbish the container and turn it into a clinic. We’ve negotiated with the hospital that has the drugs 40km away that we will stock the clinic with generic drugs, we will hire a nurse, we will buy her a car and once a month she will go and pick up the health workers from that hospital and bring them to the community once a month to run the HIV clinics. They’ve agreed. That’s how we get around creating this clinic and giving people access to the free drugs.
S: That’s so creative. It’s just amazing. Wow, you’re going to save so many people’s lives.
G: It’s a matter of using guerilla warfare tactics. I read Mao Zedong’s book when I was in highschool, of how he won the revolution. You can’t face a government like the Zimbabwean government head on. You have to work around it. You have to dance around the issues that you face. As an organization, we don’t exist in Zimbabwe. When I go home to my community, I’m just supplying what I supplied to my family and friends. The organization exists out of Africa. I can’t have a formally registered charity in Zimbabwe. Otherwise, I have to bribe government officials and I treasure every single cent that people donate towards this foundation. No funds are wasted. It should hit the ground the way it’s given.
S: Yup. Amazing. You’re in New Zealand right now?
S: That’s actually where we met. I was in New Zealand. You were doing a book talk in Christchurch and that was well over a decade ago now.
G: I remember that. I remember that distinctly. It was in Christchurch. It’s amazing.
S: On the other side of Christchurch, on Governors Bay. Beautiful, beautiful part of the world. You know what they say, there are no coincidences. I moved back to the US in 2007 and then I got my divorce, sold my business and everything and we lost touch. But then, I saw you on Facebook. It was random. You had posted something about a Safari trip that you’d gone on or something and I’d just come back from Zambia.
G: I remember that. Yes. I created the tourism business, as a way to fund the project. I take people on a 15 day trip to Zimbabwe where you spend the first 10 days living in the community, living at $.30 a month. This comes with a warning and a fear factor experience but it is a life changing trip. In the last five days, we do a Safari to the Victoria Falls. I remember you saw my postings of that trip and that’s how we reconnected.
S: Yes. I’d just been to Victoria Falls and was doing the microlight above the falls. That’s like a hang glider with a motor attached. I did that with a pilot. I was kayaking on the Zambezi River and that was the first time I’ve ever been on a kayak or canoe of any sort because I was terrified of the water my whole life. That was a big accomplishment to go and do that and conquer my fear of water. That was actually quite dangerous, apparently. I had no idea. The crocodiles are dangerous enough but the hippos are even worse.
G: Hippos are worse, yes. It took a lot of courage. Did you bungee jump off the Victoria Falls Bridge?
S: No, I didn’t do that but I was very proud of myself for doing the microlight. It seemed random at the time but again, there are no coincidences. We were meant to reconnect. That was one of the most profound uses of Facebook and almost all people are using Facebook to just compare themselves with their “friends” who are making more money than them or going on fancier vacations, etc. I had this great experience of reconnecting with you. We’ve met up multiple times and we stayed in contact. It all came about because of that Facebook post and me reaching out. Pretty cool.
G: Facebook is powerful. It has flattened the world, it really has.
S: It’s just a matter of using it with intention instead of just mindless distraction, which is what most people are doing. It’s like Netflix.
G: Very true.
S: We’re out of time but it was a wonderful reconnecting and sharing of your experience that I really cherish. I’m sure that our listeners enjoyed as well. If you could impart one piece of advice, one action for listeners to take, to make a difference in the world, what would that one piece of advice be?
G: I would say live each day like it was your last. Pay attention to every single person who crosses you path because you don’t bump into people by accidents.
S: Yes, so true.
G: We live and borrow time and we don’t realize it.
S: Every day matters, every day counts. Beautiful. Thank you, Getrude. It was wonderful having this conversation with you and having you share your incredible, incredible experiences with us and being so open and vulnerable in sharing and real. It was refreshing, so thank you.
G: Thank you so much, Stephan. Thanks for this opportunity and hopefully, I’ll see you when I come back to California.
S: Wonderful. Listeners, I would invite you to donate to Africa Thrive. I’d invite you to pick up a copy of Getrude’s new book, pre-order it. You can do that now through the link I’ll provide on theoptimizedgeek.com. Follow what she’s up to because she’s doing some incredible things in the world, as you could tell from this episode. Thank you listeners, we’ll catch you on the next episode of The Optimized Geek. This is Stephan Spencer, signing off.