Hello and good day!
It was late 2007 and my brother Brian was lying in bed, depressed. The bed was in a hotel room in Lima, Peru.
We weren't in the chocolate business yet. We weren't in any business. That's what had my brother feeling so down. He'd spent the last year traveling up and down the northern Peruvian coast trying to get a business started. The northern Peruvian coast is a strange place.
Most of it is bone dry desert where it hardly ever rains. But when it does rain, the desert springs to life with green vegetation. The soil is fertile, but water is scarce.
Certain desert cities are on the banks of rivers that flow down from the Andes towards the Pacific Ocean. In other places, people have formed small towns downstream from big irrigation projects. In zones with water, there are large scale farming operations where hot weather crops grow abundantly. As you travel up the coast, you drive through these farming regions.
It is tan and empty and hot and dusty and then the landscape becomes green and fertile and then it becomes dry and barren again as you drive away from water and back into the desert.
On a hunch, throughout the year 2006, Brian researched whether any of that dry unused land had groundwater. He found that much of the desert surrounding the city of Chiclayo in the north had huge reservoirs of subterranean water.
Around that time, the United States government had passed a tax credit for gas refineries who would blend ethanol with their gas. It was presented as a move towards sustainable energy, but in reality, it was a subsidy to the corn lobby.
It occurred to Brian that sugar cane was a much cheaper source of ethanol than corn, and that sugar cane grew well on the coast. With the tax credit, the economics of pumping ground water and growing sugar cane for ethanol in the northern Peruvian desert seemed to pencil out.
Brian decided to travel out to the desert communities who owned the land and discuss the possibility of using their land and their groundwater for ethanol production.
It is hard to explain just how weird and gutsy this decision was. Nobody goes out to those desert communities. For a gringo like Brian to go out there was unbelievable. Out in the middle of the desert, residents had dug small wells and built small houses and established small settlements of 10 - 50 houses.
Kids played soccer on dry, rugged fields. Scrawny chickens pecked away at sand and gravel searching for an occasional kernel of dried corn. Goats survived on a few blades of rogue grass watered by tiny wells. All around was desert. It was on all sides, enveloping life out there.
Brian walked into that environment, from out of nowhere, to sell a dream. He visited dozens of desert communities to talk about sugar cane and ethanol and tax credits and ground water. Unbelievably, six signed memos of understanding with our company.
The deal stated that our company would raise all the capital, manage the operation, and in exchange for the use of the land and the groundwater, the communities would get a percentage of the project's revenue.
Brian was projecting hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of ethanol sales. It would have been life changing money for those communities. And it wasn't just some naive dream.
In the United States my dad had investors in a bidding war to fund the project. It was going to be huge and lucrative.
In the middle of putting this whole thing together, Brian was falling in love with the woman who is now his wife. They took long weekend getaways to beautiful and secluded northern beaches where you can stay in a cottage 30 feet from the ocean. She was dating a successful entrepreneur who was putting together a huge investment project that would make him rich.
Brian felt just about as good as a man could feel. His finances appeared to be on the upswing. He was with a fun, sweet, adventurous, beautiful woman. He was going to help a lot of people. What more could he ask for?
Then one day, he received notice that the tax credit had been revoked. Too many businesses were planning to undercut corn prices with sugar cane grown outside the US. the US corn lobby had the law rewritten.
Just like that, it was all over. Brian would have to tell the desert communities that he couldn't deliver on the dream he'd sold them. He wasn't going to be a millionaire. He was no longer the successful man his girlfriend thought he was.
After moping around Lima trying to figure out what to do next, he came back to his hotel room and plopped down in bed. He stared at the ceiling in the dark room. His thoughts were driving him crazy, and he decided to turn on the TV. He grabbed the remote and just when his thumb was on the power button, his phone started buzzing.
He answered. It was her. "Hello?" she said. Her voice made him shiver. He didn't know what to say. "I'm here," he said. There was a long pause.
Brian thought he heard her sniffling, as if she had been crying, but she was able to muffle it. The silence went on for a long time. "I'm pregnant and I'm keeping the baby. We're going to be parents."
Everything went white for Brian and his body began to buzz numbly. Her voice was coming through the buzzing as a faint speck of noise. He tried to hear her, but he couldn't.
He spoke to her, but not of his own volition. He spoke on autopilot. He didn't even know what he was saying. "I'll see you soon then, right?" she asked. "Yes," said Brian. He was becoming conscious again.
There was another long pause and then they both said goodbye. Brian was terrified. He didn't know if she would still love him once she found out his truth
He was in his late thirties and had made peace with the idea of being childless. Deep down he was scared he'd be a very bad father. He'd been such a rambling man.
Should he propose marriage? How would he support the family? He went to the bathroom and splashed water on his face in the sink and looked in the mirror. The water ran down his beige skin in thin streams while he stared at himself.
What would he do now? He had no idea. But he had to decide.
I'm running out of space for today. I will continue with this true story about free will tomorrow.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!