In ancient cities and villages, the marketplace was once people-based, a colorful, exciting meeting point marked by risk-taking and exposure to foreign ideas. So centrally did the marketplace once feature in human cultures that the word "ignorant" first described "one who did not go into the marketplace."
When Matt Reynolds, cofounder of Santa Rosa's Indigenous, entered the marketplace to sell clothing woven by artisans in poor countries, he was already steeped in marketplace wisdom learned from his father, a Stanford professor and progressive social economist passionate about the inequities between rich and poor.
"My father was an optimist," says Reynolds. "He believed things could be better if we had the humility and patience to listen and accept points of view of other cultures."
Not only was Reynolds' own path influenced by his father's optimism, but so was that of his cousin Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya who was slain last month in an attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi.
"Chris said my father was influential in his decision to become a diplomat," says Reynolds. "He encouraged Chris to follow his heart." In turn, Stevens influenced Reynolds by exposing him to the land of ancient marketplaces, the Middle East. Reynolds says he found his calling on a nine-month journey that concluded with a visit to Stevens, then residing in Egypt.
"That trip was a huge part of the force that got me to leave mainstream America and jump into emerging markets," says Reynolds. With fun-loving Stevens as guide, it was an action-packed visit that included snorkeling in the Red Sea and hiking up Mount Sinai under a full moon.
During the hike, Reynolds injured himself. "I cut my hand open and I was freaking out because I'd just arrived from Germany, and there I was in the middle of the desert, jet lagged and with no bandages or antiseptic," Reynolds remembers. "But Chris said, 'Don't worry.' He took out antiseptic and poured it on my hand."
Reynolds was in awe of Chris' preparedness and cool. But when the men stopped near the summit, Reynolds was taken aback to see his cousin open the antiseptic, pour it into a cup with some juice and take a big sip. "Chris said, 'Matt, vodka is the best antiseptic.'" Reynolds recalls that experience as golden, drinking vodka cocktails on Mount Sinai with the cousin who would become the U.S. diplomat to Libya.