Teddy Bear

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Barrett Nash couchsurfing at his own home; photo by Miha Logar
Barrett Nash couchsurfing at his own home; photo by Miha Logar

“Too good to be true,” recently said Barrett Nash when we discussed a fascinating woman. He meant it literally; he had been shaken up by the realities of life one too many times.

Paradoxically, Nash* is the very definition of too good to be true in its more common, less fatalist version. It is hard to believe Nash exists because he is so exceedingly nice. Him being Canadian does not explain it fully…

Last morning I was touched when I found him on the couch in a spacious living room in Kigali’s Remera. Yet again he had given out his own bed so that a friend—or an unknown visitor!—could sleep in peace and comfort.

When I try to describe Nash to people, I often call him a “teddy bear”. He is cuddly and bubbly. Yet I neglect to mention that if anything, he is a teddy bear from the future … You know, one of those toys you see in science fiction movies: cute but with some super-powered chip in-built for an extra, sometimes scary, intelligence.

Nash is smart. He is one of the few people in Rwanda and Uganda who intellectually stimulate me, I am drawn to him because of his brain even more than his kindness.

I discovered his abilities when he joined me as a director’s assistant a couple of years ago. You could throw anything at Nash. For example, without too much prior experience he would bravely tackle the Gorilla Highlands Video Map, becoming its pioneering editor.

He still cheekily blames me for turning the Christmas period of 2013 into a recording trip to Kisoro, but to me that was one of the best Christmases ever. We were babysitting Enya and Maani, carrying a tripod around a pleasant town and laughing a lot. You cannot not laugh when you are with Nash.

At that time, my assistant was at the crossroads. He knew he wanted to build a life in Rwanda. He first came there in 2010 to work on the One Laptop Per Child initiative, he had friends and connections there, and the country’s friction-less business environment was enticing. Yet my Uganda was also becoming an option as his networks and opportunities grew…

I selfishly wished Nash would stay around. But his eventual decision for Rwanda was a huge blessing in disguise. We got an essential base in Kigali.

And by “we” I mean countless friends and visitors whom I sent to Nash over the years. It is not beyond Nash to entertain anyone, he would collect total strangers from the airport and ease them into Africa, with genuine pleasure. Really, he would do anything for me as long as it doesn’t clash with his SafeMotos duties.

SafeMotos is a company he has formed with Peter Kariuki, a software developer from Kenya. It makes the experience of using passenger motorcycles both more safe and more convenient—you call them up with an app that has been featured in the Guardian and the Economist.

SafeMotos is the last of his three Rwandan startups left standing. Nash also attempted to make tablet-based internet cafes (the scale needed to make them viable was too big) and a global solution for more transparency in clothing supply (no founder was committed enough to make it happen).

That last idea was linked to the profession of his dad, clothing wholesale. His mum was a teacher until she gave birth to a set triplets 29 years ago. (Yes, two semi-successful copies of Nash exist in the wild!). The Nashes were born in Vancouver and grew up on Vancouver Island. But Barrett would go global, including a one year trip through Asia and South America during which he wrote an interesting book.

He says being an author wasn’t his calling, that it felt too narcissistic, too self-indulging. Thank the Gods! Because Nash naturally, logically, truly belongs to all of us.

* He does not want to be called Barrett!

text: Miha Logar