The World's Most Beautiful Woman

Dear Sendero,

In today’s edition, I’ll share the story of my encounter with the most beautiful woman in the world.

It took place in 1993 in the countryside outside of Accra, the capital city of Ghana.

I was in Accra as a guest of the local polo club. Interestingly, it is the oldest continuously operating polo club in the world.

Following a long-standing tradition, each year the club invites an overseas team, all expenses paid, to play in a charity tournament.

By “all expenses,” I mean first-class airfare, all hotel costs, and all the meals during our stay. And not just any sort of grub, but lavish spreads, topped off each night with a lively party with the posh set from the local community, usually in a beautiful setting under the African stars.

That our team was invited was a lucky accident and came about thanks to a young woman who helped with our horses. Unbeknownst to us at the time, her father was a high official with the Accra Polo Club, and he took her suggestion that we should be the team to be invited.

The team was made up of yours truly, a local hotel owner, and an Argentine professional named Juan Liprandi (an amazing player). As the fourth player, I invited Doug Casey, whom I had introduced to the game a few years prior.

That was the basic setup.

In a moment, I’ll get to the most beautiful woman in the world, but since we’re on the topic of playing polo in Ghana, a quick detour is in order as I think it says much about why Africa is, well, Africa.

Musically accompanying me on this section of the trail is Crazy by Seal. This is the song I always used to listen to just prior to playing polo, as the beat is smooth and rhythmic, very much in sync with galloping on a horse. Plus, the lyrics always seemed appropriate for the sport.

“Ho, Ho! You Don’t Understand”

The polo tournament involved four matches spread out over six days and was quite the affair. In fact, the wife of the then-president was the guest of honor for the finale, joined by Stevie Wonder, who was in town recording an album. Though it escapes me what pleasure a blind man might get from watching a polo match, there he was, along with pretty much everyone who was anyone in the Ghanaian smart set.

Before getting to the grand finale, we first had to play three preliminary matches against the Accra Polo Club. Given the distance, our hosts also provided the horses, saddles, and other equipment. All we had to bring were our helmets and uniforms.

The horses were quite small because, we were told, larger horses quickly succumbed to the rigors of the African environment. Thus the horses we were given were just a bit larger than burros, but not by much. And because of some long-standing custom, they were almost all uncastrated stallions. As it is relevant, I’ll also mention that the horses were not shod.

Rather than traditional stables or pastures, the horses were ensconced in a small village abutting the polo fields. When it came time to play, we would walk into the village, and shortly thereafter, egged on by the village headman, raggedly clad Africans would materialize leading our horses from within the small but bustling village.

A moment ago, I mentioned the horses were stallions. The equestrians among you will know that means the horses were rather temperamental and prone to kicking and biting at the slightest provocation.

Adding to the fun, the polo field was really just an expanse of loosely packed dirt, meaning the game took place in a choking cloud of thick, red dust. A second consequence was that the unshod horses tended to slip when turning at speed.

Polo is dangerous under even ideal conditions, and these were the exact opposite of ideal. Fortunately, because the horses were so small, when they fell on you, the damage was usually minor.

And so it was that we arrived on the field for the first of our four games, well fed and eager for a bit of action. But then something unexpected happened.

Specifically, it appeared that no one on the opposing team had ever been informed of the fundamental rules of polo. Or, if they had, they paid them no heed. As a consequence, shortly after the referee threw the first ball in, all hell broke loose.

In polo, the most fundamental of all rules is that once a player on the offense hits the ball, it creates an imaginary line straight down the field on the trajectory of the ball. A defending player cannot cross over in front of that line in an attempt to steal away the ball, as it would expose the players and their horses to the risk of colliding at great speed.

Yet, almost immediately it became apparent to our team that the Accra team paid little or no attention to the line, quickly causing several near-accidents.

Considering the generosity with which our hosts had treated us, we didn’t want to appear churlish. Yet as the mayhem was actively putting lives in danger, it behooved us to point out the infractions to the referee and to the opposing team, none of whom seemed to care very much.

It was about this time—probably no more than a third of the way into the first match, as one of our team was leading the pack in a charge down the field—when a member of the Accra team came across the field ahead of us at a 90-degree angle, riding as fast as his little horse could muster.

Picture a four-way intersection where you and the rest of the players are speeding toward the green light, and a single player is approaching the same intersection, full speed, at a right angle with no intention at all of stopping for the red light.

In order to avoid being T-boned by the kamikaze player, the pack hit the brakes in a dust-obscured cloud of chaos while the offending player, oblivious to the danger his suicidal foul had created, clumsily struck the ball and turned down field toward the Accra goal.

Adding to the outrage, the referee was sitting his horse not 20 feet away, a smile on his face and his whistle hanging useless on his shirt, watching as the offender chunked and slapped the ball down the field while the rest of us untangled our horses.

Enough being enough, I extricated myself from the calamity and rode angrily up to the umpire.

“HOW COULD YOU NOT CALL A FOUL!!! YOU WERE RIGHT THERE! HE ALMOST KILLED SOMEONE!!” I said, the last vestiges of patience trampled back in the dust.

“Ho Ho!” The umpire answered with a good-natured laugh and a jolly shake of the head. “You don’t understand!”

“What do you mean, I don’t understand!?! That was the worst foul I have ever seen committed on a polo field. What is there to understand?”

“Ho, ho, ho!” The referee continued, all but tearing up at the hilarity of the situation. “You see, that was Mr. Udame. Mr. Udame owns the largest bank in Accra. And I, I own one of the largest insurance companies here. If I were to call a foul on Mr. Udame, then what do you think he might say the next time I need a loan? That’s right, he might say no!”

Again, he shook his head, rolled his eyes, and chuckled at the mere idea of calling a foul on Mr. Udame.

“Wait, let me get this straight. You mean that…” I started to restate my protest, but the referee’s good humor and ludicrous yet honest explanation broke my foul mood. In a moment, I too was laughing.

“That’s the funniest damn thing I may have ever heard,” I said between laughs.

“Ho ho!” agreed the referee.

After that, I returned to my fellow team members and announced that this wasn’t going to be a typical polo match or tournament. Specifically, that there was no way the referee was (a) going to call any fouls on the Accra team, and (b) we had a snowball’s chance on a hot African day of winning, so we might as well just go along to get along.

Thereafter, we settled into a friendly groove, playing the game as best we could, but cautiously, and every time Mr. Udame, or another member of the team, came tearing across the line, we pulled up, winning a happy nod from the referee.

In the end, we lost—but it wasn’t much of a loss, as we had a truly amazing, all-expenses paid holiday in one of the most beautiful and interesting countries in Africa. Plus, we each got nice silver mugs for coming in second place.

The Most Beautiful Woman in the World

The polo tournament was held to raise money for a leper colony outside of Accra. On the second or third day, already tiring of the near continuous festivities, I asked one of our hosts when we were going to visit the colony.

“Why would you want to do that?” he asked, genuinely confused. “There’s lepers there.”

“Yes, I understand that. But isn’t that kind of the point? I mean, we travel all this way to help raise money for them, so it seems like we should make an effort to visit the place. Yes?”

Somewhat reluctantly, he agreed to make the arrangements for us to visit, and so it was that at the appointed hour the following morning, we set off.

It took about two hours of driving through the verdant countryside to reach the site of the leper colony. To visualize the place, let your imagination take you to a setting out of an old Tarzan movie. In a dirt clearing cut out of the lush jungle sat three dilapidated wooden barracks with rusty tin roofs. Each of the barracks was set high on stilts against the rainy season, with the verandas reached by 20 or more wooden stairs.

As our trucks pulled into the compound in the midday heat, there wasn’t a soul in sight.

“At this time of day,” one of our two drivers explained, “the residents will have eaten and are resting. I’ll go find the headman.”

He set off, leaving us standing near the well with the other driver.

As we waited in the quietude, the air stiflingly humid and hot, our attention was caught by movement under the veranda of the barracks on the far right. The barrack was about 50 yards away, making it hard to see the source of the movement in the shadows.

A few moments later, as a shape emerged and began to work itself down the stairs, we realized it was a person.

I won’t drag this part out, but after five long minutes of first struggling down the stairs and dragging herself across the dirt yard on hands and knees, a young woman in her late twenties or early thirties joined us at the well.

As she was drawing closer, we saw she had lost her nose to the disease, as well as all of her toes and the use of her feet. She had also lost almost all of her fingers and so carried her water bucket in her mouth.

Yet when she reached us at the well, her hands and legs covered in the dirt she had just dragged herself through, she set the bucket down and looked up at us with the most beautiful smile I have ever seen.

The driver who had stayed with us knew her and told us that when her family realized she had contracted the disease, they left her to die in the jungle. Somehow, she made it to the colony and would spend her entire life there.

Then he added, “She didn’t really need to get water just now, she was just curious about you.”

Using the driver as our translator, we answered her many questions about where we had come from and what we were doing there, enjoying a lively conversation while waiting for the headman to show up. She laughed readily and smiled constantly.

Eventually the headman showed up, and we said our goodbyes to continue the tour. After shaking hands (once treated, the disease is no longer communicable), she returned to her quarters and to her life as an outcast from society.

Rather than pity, I felt an odd sense of elation. I had just come face to face with the indomitable human spirit in its purest form, and it was a thing of wonder.

It is easy to get caught up in our daily worries or feel overwhelmed by the challenges that periodically appear in every life. But I’m here to tell you, in 99% of those cases, the challenges are but specks in the dirt compared to what we humans can deal with when put to the test.

That’s the lesson I learned from the most beautiful woman in the world that day under the African sun—a lesson I’ll never forget.

Worthy Reads

Parallels to China’s Cultural Revolution. Writing in The Federalist, Helen Raleigh draws a compelling comparison between the Antifa movement and Mao’s devastating cultural revolution in China. In a world dominated by poor reportage and even worse analysis, Raleigh’s essay shines brightly.

Problems in the Auto Industry. While one can’t predict the future with any certainty, it seems likely that the next decades are going to be particularly challenging for the automobile industry. In addition to dealing with negative demographic trends and the glut of cars, it will have to navigate the integration of automobiles with increasingly desirable automation features.

At some tipping point in the not-so-distant future, consumers are going to decide they want the latest and greatest and will close their wallets to the soon-to-be technologically stupid cars that now dominate the landscape.

In the latest sign of trouble ahead, Ford recently announced it was going to abandon “traditional credit scores” when making decisions on whom to lend to. What’s next, NINJA auto loans?

And with that, I’ll sign off for now. We’ll be doing some traveling for the next 10 days, and then we’ll rush to finalize our affairs before heading back to Argentina. So it might be a bit before I find the time to write again.

Until then…


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