ABDINASIR ALI was about to discover his dream. A hydrogeologist for the last eight years at an integrated-energy multinational in the United States, Ali appeared on the surface to be a mild-mannered employee and a steady provider for his family. But Ali was a man with a plan—although it was one he’d always intended to defer until retirement.

Raised as one of twenty-five siblings in Mandera, northern Kenya, Ali had come to the United States so that he could raise his children with the benefits of better education and medical care. But once the children were grown and he had retired, he hoped to return to Kenya with his wife to educate people about water management and to help drill water wells in his village—something ...

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