Imagine that you are living in a country where no one knows your native language. (For my American readers, this is a difficult challenge since our language follows us almost everywhere.) Imagine that you’ve grown to like this country, perhaps the landscape appeals to you, the people, the food, or the possibilities. Since you’d like to stay in this country for a while, you need to create a living. You enjoy meeting and interacting with people. You have a particular niche skill: maybe it is cabinet making, or glass blowing, or cooking. You have passion for what you do. You’re brave.
With your optimism, your abundance of energy, and your wits, you navigate the rules and regulations that govern business in this new country. The legal documents are scary and long and convoluted. It takes you hours to read them and understand them, to answer the questions intelligently. (If you are tackling this in America, half the natives would fail where you succeed.) But succeed you do. You purchase equipment. You sign contracts. You find a bank that, while holding you at a broom handle’s length and looking down its nose at you, agrees to fund your enterprise with a string of interconnected loans from which they will make a tidy profit.
You open the doors, you cough up a tiny advertising budget, customers trickle in while you scramble to pay those loans that don’t wait for your customers to find you. You work long hours, you handle the money, the accounting, the plumbing, the cleaning, the purchasing, the maintenance, the planning. You tweak your product. You learn what people want, but this all takes time. Meanwhile, the bank is there, that broom handle waving under your nose, looking for out for its interest.
Things begin to look up. People are finding you. They come back, they spread the word, some days you even close the till with enough money to pay the day’s expenses. Then BOOM. Just like that, somewhere in another office, another business, another enterprise that’s connected to yours like an umbilical cord, someone makes a mistake: a careless cigarette, an overloaded circuit, a pile of rags, an infinitesimal crack in a gas line, the culprit is irrelevant. The damage is swift and unforgiving.
You start at the angry shriek that is the fire alarm; it takes a beat for your brain to synthesize its meaning. False alarm? Shrieks and cries from outside verify reality. Quickly, calmly, your heart nearly leaping out of your chest, you usher your customers out the front door, your staff out the back door. You stand in the center of your empty establishment, jumbled thoughts playing tag in your head until the authoritative voice of a fireman yanks you outside. The eyes of your stunned flock of customers reflect the leap of hot, red flames behind you. Spinning like a top, the nightmare reveals a gusting hat of yellow, orange and red that reaches 30 feet above the building, tonguing the star-studded night. A muffled crash and thud punctuate the fear in your gut. How will you pay the loan? How will you feed your family? How will you rebuild what took so long and cost so much create?
On the night before Thanksgiving, something like this happened to my friend Raj who owns Mt. Everest Momo, a few blocks from my home. I have yet to talk with him, so the above scenario is purely conjecture. But it can’t be all that far from the truth. My heart goes out to him.
Thanksgiving morning; the aftermath