The best gift
Christmas 2018 is one holiday Levi Weintraub, BSE ’06, won’t soon forget. The Silicon Valley expatriate was stranded in Angola reeling from a bout of malaria when a villager – a perfect stranger — took him in, cared for him, and “even gave [him] a present.”
“Humanity was the biggest revelation for me on this trip,” says the software engineer from South Haven, Mich.
“This trip” was an open-ended trans-African odyssey that covered more than 42,000 kilometers across 15 countries. Since graduating from Michigan, Weintraub had logged time with Intel, Apple, Microsoft, and Palm. He was working at Google when he felt the urge to make a dramatic life change. After meticulous planning and saving, he quit his job, purchased a motorcycle through Craigslist, and shipped it to Africa.
In spring 2017, the self-described adventurer/vagabond escaped the corporate grind at last. He flew to South Africa, collected his bike, and took off from Cape Town. The plan was to drive north toward Kenya’s tech sector, work for a while to finance future travels, and move on from there.
When he stopped in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Weintraub met a fellow motorcyclist who was building a tech mentoring program. Weintraub joined him and spent the next four months teaching coding and business principles to a mixed group of pupils — high school students, college graduates, and entrepreneurs, among others.
“I wanted to give back to the communities I was living in, and not just traveling as a tourist,” says Weintraub. (He writes about his exploits on his blog, RevLev.)
So as he biked across the continent, Weintraub did his best to create value wherever he stopped: He consulted with an after-school program for teaching tech to kids in Zambia, helped some small businesses and individuals with technical issues in Cameroon and Kenya, and fixed a horribly broken wifi network at a hotel in Gabon.
“Teaching is my passion, and hence my pursuit,” says Weintraub.
Turns out, he learned as much from the people he met on his travels as they did from him. He learned how to work where English is not the spoken language, bridge cultural gaps, and manage everyday challenges. Along the way, he made countless friends.
“Time and time again in different countries, when I have been down I have received kindness from strangers,” says Weintraub. “People have taken me in, fed me, and fixed my motorcycle numerous times. It’s not about how much you have, rather how you treat another person.
“Traveling in Africa is a constant lesson in the things we take for granted.”
Weintraub says he really fell in love with the minimalism of motorcycle travel a decade ago when he spanned the length of the Americas on a trip with his father. They rode all the way from Alaska to Patagonia. His father had taught him to ride in the parking lot of his junior high school when he was 15.
“I lived in a small town and my parents let me start riding that beautiful machine to high school even before I had a license. There is a deep visceral feeling, and an unpredictable unreliability of it that I love,” he says of motorcycle travel. “It’s hard. I feel like it builds character.”
In fact, looking back on his African adventure, Weintraub says, “It’s seldom the easy parts that I recall with the greatest affection.”
A new journey
Recently, Weintraub crossed the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain, officially ending his African adventure. But the end of one journey is the beginning of another. Once he returns to the U.S., Weintraub plans to apply for a doctoral program in cognitive science. He says he wants to pursue teaching, and “University of Michigan is on top of my list.”
(Top image: Levi Weintraub, BSE ’06, and friends. Image courtesy of Levi Weintraub.)