by James Sheldon. A “Keep Going” blog series.
And again, with feeling! Let one rip!
Congratulations. You now possess a smidgen of Swahili.
This new addition to your vocabulary translates to “crazy, insane, frenzied, madness.” It is safe to presume the word is used frequently in Swahili-speaking nations when referring to a crazy flood season, or insane governmental corruption. But for Trevor Smithson, it was offered as a term of endearment by a host of Ugandan locals.
Perhaps the word is easily applied to folks like Trevor, and his wife Kourtney, because their normal is anything and everything but… normal. However, is it crazy?
The Hero and Heroine
Kourtney and Trevor Smithson are artists, auteurs, romantics, budding diesel mechanics (by necessity), and they have no fear of working in the dark. That’s literal. That’s metaphorical. They’re explorers, adventurers, charitable with their hearts and hands, and lovers of life, God and people. If that isn’t crazy enough for you, once upon a time, Trevor was tabbed by the FBI as a teenage domestic terrorist*. Legit wazimu!
Apropos, Wazimu also serves as the name of the Stewart & Stevenson M1078 military cargo transport truck that functions as the jaw-dropping, off-grid capable home belonging to the Smithsons. At its essence, it was the answer to a query: how does one curate a life of adventure and experience, and avoid the great fade?
We’re gonna get to all of it. But first, it’s necessary to understand the genesis. Without Kourtney and Trevor Smithson, there is no Wazimu.
RVA All Day
Every great romance has its catalyst. For Trevor and Kourtney, the spark was fanned to flame in Richmond, Virginia. The RVA.
If you owned the power of omnipotence some seven’ish years ago, you could have observed the Smithson story unfold. Trevor and Kourtney going about their daily lives. Working. Wondering. Giving. And still, more working. Both busy with their hands, and deeply steeped in the creative.
Trevor: building things, creating with woods, and metals, all the while, strutting a virile, youthful strut, working on film and TV sets. Living the bachelor life.
Kourtney: working business and personal interests; refining her photographic eyes; wearing many vocational hats (as she does to this day: marketing, advertising, volunteering), and at that time, she was ending a relationship with a fiance.
Trevor and Kourtney lived their life within a stone’s throw of one another, and somehow, never crossed paths.
Things got interesting once Trevor started working for the husband of a wife for whom Kourtney was also working at the time. Yes, that sounds like a line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but it’s the simple truth.
This employer suggested Trevor must meet Kourtney. After putting up some resistance, knowing she was fresh out of a relationship, Trevor agreed to go to his boss’s house in order to “pick up a check,” where he would inevitably meet Kourtney with a K.
“So, I went to his house, and I met her in the kitchen… and I’d had fun dating, and all that kind of stuff, but this was the first time that a girl legit made me stop. I almost—I almost tripped. I just remember that. I remember it made me laugh. It took my breath away. And that’s the only time that has ever happened.
The thing a person quickly learns about Trevor: when he says yes to something, or gets an idea to do something, it materializes. There’s no half way. The seed will be cultivated.
Wishing he’d had more time to rap with Kourtney, Trevor immediately devised a plan to “happen by” the house again in the afternoon. In order to achieve this goal, he called upon his wing man, Duke. (Duke is a handsome, black and rust Doberman Pinscher.) Living just down the road, and knowing Kourtney would get off at 5:30p, Trevor ventured out on a walk with Duke, and just happened to time an intersection around 5:28ish.
“So I was walkin’ my dog, (as she was walkin’ to her car), just so I could talk with her a little bit more, and she was not interested, man.”
Trevor read the signs; the tea leaves; the looks on Kourtney’s disinterested face.
Not today, Trev. Not today.
Alas, there was nothing so disheartening about the exchange. It gave Trevor an opportunity to strategize, and he opted for the most direct methodology: he grabbed her number from his boss’s cellphone. Three weeks later he reached out to Kourtney with an invitation to sip wine on his rooftop. Great views of downtown RVA. Great conversation. In vino veritas.
Trevor and Kourtney married some nine months later. They were of like mind. They weren’t interested in the mundane, nor the daily grind with an end goal of creature comfort. Too many people, and especially marriages, are lost in that shuffle and all-too-often, it creates a downward spiral. Instead of aiming for grand adventure in their 60s, once retired, they set forth to curate a life full of those experiences in a continuous now.
Finding Their Wazimu
Owners of an orphanage in Mityana had high hopes that Kourtney and Trevor would move to Africa, and manage the daily operations of the orphanage. It was a venture to strongly consider, but it required due diligence on their behalf. For starters, the orphanage didn’t have any children present when they arrived, and this was due—for lack of better terms—to the way things work in Africa. Anyone with a shred of life savvy can imagine the red flags, red tape and anthropological learning curve in Uganda.
The Smithsons went hunting for answers, and by sheer “oops,” they landed in the office of the Ugandan Prime Minister. They were simply aiming for a meeting with the person in charge of orphan services. They got that, and then some. Simultaneously, the Ugandan Prime Minister’s office was very confused, and probably thought it was being interrogated by the CIA. At first sight, Trevor has that look: definitive badassery—kinda like he walked off the set of Sicario. And Kourtney boasts that Jessica Chastain vibe in Zero Dark Thirty. They had the office wide-eyed, and on its heels.
After the inevitable awkwardness of “Wait. What? No,” the two parties figured who was who. Smiles became easy, and the dialog began to flow. The information was candid, and presented a host of additional challenges that would make this venture exceptionally difficult. It’s not a good thing hearing words such as “bribe” and “police” in the same sentence, and especially when it’s suggested as essential for progress, and sustainability.
The bittersweet news didn’t knock the wheels completely off the wagon, but the orphanage had no desire to engage in such practices, which meant Trevor and Kourtney’s hands would be tied. They would fight an unwinnable, bureaucratic war rooted in cross-cultures, and local politics. Stripping it down to brass tacks, they couldn’t come to a working compromise in that realm; however, all was not lost.
There was another compromise on the horizon, and one that was far more lighthearted. The kids, and spirited locals had been fondly referring to Trevor as “Crazy White Man,” in a mish-mash of French, Swahili and an ancient, all but forgotten, Ugandan tongue. Trevor’s request:
“Alright! Let’s drop the ‘white’ part, and let’s just keep the crazy!”
Deal. There was no real spelling for what they were calling Trevor in Ugandan, so they opted for the next best thing: Swahili. Thus, wazimu. And it gave birth to something so much bigger: an idea—a life branding of sorts.
Coincidentally, while the opportunity in Uganda was starting to fizzle, there was a little something back home that started to spark. During their time in Mityana, a notification alerted Trevor to a new member of their family: a 1998 Stewart & Stevenson M1078, procured via auction in Daytona, Florida.
Once back in the states, a Truck Transport Stork presented them with their new baby. A giant chunk of machine. And to hear Trevor tell it with a chuckle:
“For some reason, as soon as he turned that truck off, it didn’t turn back on again for over a year. The main computer, and the alternator decided to have a tug-o-war, and both of ’em got fried.”
In a perfect world, that would be the only challenge they were dealing with in order to get the rubber on the road. Alas, the world is far from perfect, and before that vehicle would run down the road, it was essential to address something far more serious that was in need of repair.
Working In The Dark
There’s a character trait possessed by people considered to be wildly successful. Whether an elite athlete, business mogul, entrepreneur, artist, inventor, a really great parent or whatever is professed: these people have a willingness to work in the dark. That doesn’t mean working in a room with the lights off, rather going to work before and/or after the “job,” when other people have sunk into the sofa for some Netflix. It is the passion fueled “work,” in addition to all other work.
Trevor and Kourtney possess that trait. They’re DIYers. They wear many hats. Their cash flows via various creative endeavors—from commercial photography to set work on hit TV shows like The Walking Dead. They are legitimate industry pros with vast skill sets. Ready to go. Any hour. All hours.
This mindset presents as close to a guaranteed bright future as any couple could hope for, but not long into their marriage, a festering problem began eating at that potential. A different kind of darkness crept in. The kind that overshadows any work ethic, or good intent. It found its way into their work, goals and dreams. Trevor candidly admits: he had a problem with alcohol. All the while, he remained functional, but it had negatively affected, and effected their marriage. Simply put, it was unsustainable.
From The Darkness Comes A Light
Addressing the alcohol issue was never a problem. It was never something Trevor was hiding, or Kourtney wasn’t aware of, but the attempts to fix it had been “band-aids.” As a new year approached, Kourtney dropped the hammer: no more. Trevor agreed. No more. She suggested classes, or a program, but Trevor heard all he needed to hear.
“You said stop. I stop.”
So, he stopped. And Kourtney’s reaction to the cold turkey?
“Well, I mean, to be honest, I would say from the first moment I met Trevor, everything he does is very extreme, so I was not surprised… once he puts his mind to something, he goes like 110%. Was I impressed? Yes. But no. I was not surprised. I’m always pretty impressed with him.”
The following morning at 5:30a, Trevor engaged a new sobriety program: a truck named Wazimu. Three weeks to the day of beginning the build, $37,000 all-in, the truck was ready to hit the road. That included every aspect of conversion from the open-air cargo truck to an RV studio apartment: custom flooring; shower; seating; bed-crane system; kitchenette. Kourtney crafted the boho-chic design, and Trevor fabricated. Heck, there was even space for Duke the Doberman, and Louis the Bulldog. The family of five (especially Wazi) was ready for action.
As they put the finishing touches on Wazimu, Trevor had enjoyed six weeks of sobriety. And for the couple, their future was a blank canvas.
Turning Heads and Breaking Necks
When asked about the head-turning nature of the truck, Kourtney replied, “I had no idea how much attention Wazimu was going to get us.” So much attention, on occasions, it was borderline intrusive. They’ve had people follow them for miles to ask questions. What is it? What was it, a garbage truck? Where are they going? What are they doing?
This is the appropriate time to share: Wazimu is a dude. And it’s fair to say, he is more than a head-turner; he’s a neck-breaker. People turn so fast to see this thing they’re in danger of slipping discs in their cervical spine. If Kourtney, or Trevor ever decide to change careers, they could go into Chiropractic, and drive around town creating the whiplash that they could subsequently treat. But as mean as Wazi looks on the outside, he’s a total lover on the inside.
If you were to approach him in chill mode, you’d hear some Tundra Beats emanating from inside. And peeking in, you’d find the creature comforts a person would enjoy in any apartment, done in custom craftsmanship.
A quick rundown on the Wazimu tech-specs:
Solar equipped. Off-grid capable for days at a time. Off-road capable. Easily workable through water depth of 4 feet, in the event they would want to live on a mobile island for a day. Diesel power to the drivetrain. And still government-issue-looking enough to lend clout with law enforcement, and deter many curious lookee-loos.
To address what everyone wants to know:
How practical was all this? Could anyone do this?
Here a few variable facts to considered:
Kourtney and Trevor left their jobs/careers. Sold everything. Dumped savings into an idea. Relegated their home to less than 130 square feet. They deal with routine, as well as unexpected maintenance and rising fuel costs. And they have to garner financial resources while being on the road.
When asking Kourtney the same question:
“I haven’t seen an actual adult bill in almost three years… but I think it’s a huge, common misconception that people think this lifestyle is much cheaper. Because it’s definitely not. We may not pay rent, but last year we had a $10,000 fix.”
Like most things, the benefits of the trade-off are obvious. Adventure unfolds on the daily, but life comes with costs if you want experience. There’s no way around it. Obviously, there’s the romantic idea of what they’ve done, but in practice, engaging a life on, and off-road isn’t for everyone. They’re quick to state that it’s a niche, and privileged lifestyle, that also comes with the same real life challenges someone would experience living in the suburbs, going to work M-F, 9-5. And speaking of challenges…
Green Light, Go; Red Light, Stop
For Kourtney and Trevor, adventure is always calling their names, and they’re always ready to answer that call, but at times, other aspects of life must take priority. As for their current whereabouts, the couple is back in Richmond with Wazimu. Kourtney’s dad was recently diagnosed with cancer, and has engaged treatment. Consequently, Kourtney and Trevor have returned to help offer support, stability, and share in the love with her family.
“So many people don’t have great relationships with their families, and I do, and I know how special that is. It sucks, but the alternative is what? Not having an awesome dad that is worth sticking around for?”
So, after a few years of compiling epic content, and being on/off/creating new roads, they’ve reengaged an old familiar with renewed hearts, minds and perspective. And beyond a shadow of a doubt, they’re prepping for more wazimu down the line. But for now? “Family first.”
And getting back to that original question: the life they live… is it crazy?
Yes. Absolutely. Crazy awesome.
*The FBI. It’s true. As a teenager, Trevor was working his filmmaking skill set into an impressive lather. His available medium was MiniDV, and he would dump the movies to VHS, so more folks might enjoy his creations. Having an early interest in special effects, of course his films featured a lot of action… and PYROTECHNICS.
To build out his explosive arsenal, he repurposed old canisters, including small things like pill bottles. Then he would fill them with the guts of “disassembled fireworks.” One such pill bottle was found by local law enforcement, and it had Trevor’s name on the Rx. When they went to ask about it, they found that Trevor had “fled the states.” In reality, he had gone to England with his father (an English citizen) for a visit.
Nonetheless, law enforcement handed the lead to the local chapter of the FBI, and Trevor was red flagged. When he returned to the states, he was able to prove that his explosives were for movie-making, and the FBI was impressed. Unfortunately, they put the kibosh on his movies with too much moxie. Trevor was slapped with some stringent rules for the remainder of his teens, but avoided any time in the pokey.
To follow Trevor and Kourtney’s adventures, they’re easy to find via web, and social media:
James Sheldon is a Los Angeles based writer, and 20 year entertainment professional. A descendant of true-blue, South Louisiana and Ozarkian raconteurs, storytelling is in his blood. Considering the written word, he has done a bit of it all, from marketing to scriptwriting to sports coverage. Presently, he is focused on all forms of fiction, and fascinating, character-driven non-fiction.