This was my team in Mali. These two young men had more wisdom than I’d ever thought possible with the adolescent mind. Perhaps it wasn’t so much wisdom as it was highly-evolved reason. They lived in the house just down the road from me in Bamako. 12 and 9 years of age. They each spoke 3 languages, French, Arabic, and an additional language I still can’t manage to pronounce. Technically the fellas spoke 4 languages if I count their developing English. They routinely kicked my ass in street soccer. I lack the lower body coordination. I kicked their asses in push-ups, and sprinting. They were fascinated by my tattoos.
They taught me to properly eat rice and meat, which I still refuse to do with my fingers. They laughed at my knife and fork. Little bullies. I even learned a few dance moves. Most importantly, I was taught whom and what to avoid in town. I suppose having to behave as if your age was 39 as opposed to 9, and 42 as opposed to 12 demands a much more elevated caliber of thinking. Their parents weren’t around much. They got on well by themselves, not that they should have had to. They always had food, and they were bathed.
I wouldn’t dare label these two poor, nor would I insult them with the title of starving-children in Africa. Besides, that would only offer another tablespoon of misconception to the Western notions of “Africa.” No, I refuse.
In fact these boys, these young men, were resilient. They were smart, and they were driven. They knew that they “had to go to school,” as they’d say, to be able to go to “Les Etats-Unis” (The United States in French). They knew that if they could go to school “we can learn things to make money and buy the better foods, and the better medicines” (rough translation). They recognized education as being a vehicle to some form of success. They also thought the U.S. had a better selection of “wives“…that’s another story for another blog entry. Lawd ha’ mercy. LOL. They were able to recognize opportunity, legitimate opportunity.
While their immediate realities were indeed a challenge, somehow, these two young warriors were convinced the present reality would not be their future. I learned a valuable philosophy through our interactions; how I see myself determines my destiny, not how someone else sees me. When we consider the brief expanse of time that is our lives, in many cases people see only one aspect of who we are, from one vantage point, through lenses either tainted, fractured, or blurred by their own experiences. It’s impossible for them to conceive of our potential, especially when they doubt their own. For these reasons we must interrogate our own hearts, and journey the path most commensurate with our deepest convictions. Courage. The young warriors taught me courage.