I am sitting in an airport (par for the course) thinking about someone else in an airport somewhere between Uganda and Minnesota. This will be her last ride on an aeroplane, bopping between her two worlds. Or at least her last as an employee of Sseko Designs.
Julie, our beloved Country Director, is leaving Sseko to go back to the US and continue her education. But to say she is leaving us isn’t entirely true. Because Julie will always be a part of this little dream we’ve created.
Julie came to work for Sseko when we were just a handful of women in Uganda who watched “Win a date with Tad Hamilton” during sleepovers, painted each other’s toenails, talked about our dreams…and occasionally made sub-par sandals. You know, when we weren’t busy giggling or climbing trees to shake down ripe mangos.
As sad as we are to say goodbye, it is fun to think about the legacy Julie will leave here at Sseko. Through her relationships and relentless commitment to Sseko, she has built something beautiful. She has created a culture. A culture of respect, excellence, hope — and of course a healthy dose of laughter.
We refer often to the “Sseko Way.” The unique way the universe works once you step onto the Sseko compound. If you ever have the pleasure and privilege of meeting Julie, you’ll meet one of authors of the Sseko Way. And as long as the wheels at Sseko keep turning, the fruits of her labor will be seen.
If I am the mum of Sseko, then Julie is the way cooler aunt. Julie is the one who hears about the drama first hand and puts out fires before us parents even know what’s up. (Unless said metaphorical fires are actual real-life electrical fires. In which case, she’ll just scream for Brent.)
Julie is the one that is with our incredible team day in and day out. To many in Uganda, she is the face of Sseko. The encourager. The challenger. Her voice has a unique authority with our team and yet, she can bring us to our knees in laughter faster than almost anyone else.
Some days I look back and I can’t believe Julie said Yes. Yes to walking into the unknown. Yes to working for a company that had no earthly idea about…anything, really. Yes to saying goodbye to friends and family and the comforts of a known life to take a risk and create something none of us could have dreamed up on our own. The feeling is some concoction of awe, thankfulness and a wee bit of delighted confusion.
Sometimes you need someone on the outside to buy into your dream. When everything is upside down and inside out, you need someone else to say Yes. Let’s do this. Especially when Yes means moving across the world to do something you have no idea how to do. When Yes means sharing the only free bed in the basement and sleeping under a mosquito net with your new boss.
The first night you meet her.
Jurie, we love you. You will be missed. You will go on to do great things. And we can’t wait to say we knew you way back when. Remember us and speak of us fondly when you tell the grandkids about the time you up and moved to Africa to help start that ridiculous sandal company, will you?
PS. Bonus story!
When I first met Julie in Uganda, I was talking to her about our local tannery partner. (This is a pretty important relationship, seeing that we make leather sandals.) I looked up from my notebook to see Julie looking pretty uncomfortable.
She looked at me and said, “I was going to try and gloss over the fact that I have no idea what a tannery is. But it seems you’re going to keep talking about it, so I am going to have to ask you to pause for a moment and tell me what on earth you’re talking about before we can continue this conversation.”
Fast forward two years and Julie has looked at thousands and thousands of pieces of leather. In fact, I’m almost certain, she’ll dream about leather quality checks for the rest of her life. Does workman’s comp cover such unfortunate mental side effects? Forgive us.