On a long, dusty road in the middle of Africa, I learned a powerful and valuable lesson.
Step by step for over eight months I had walked this street. Sweat always protruding from my body into my nice white button-up shirt, begging for the dust and dirt that I kicked up to cling to it. Heat, sweat, exhaustion, and the dust are things I try to forget as I trudge once again down this forsaken spat of road. Bustling about up and down the road, the kids go about playing, oblivious to their surroundings. African Spirituals can be heard coming from people’s yards, showing their utmost devotion to their Creator. Women with baskets on their heads would yell out like a frenzied baboon, as they were passing through in, trying to make a couple of sales for the day. Older kids would go about doing their chores, going out and finding water, and then carrying by the gallons the water back to their homes. Adults take advantage of the islands of shade that are spotted up and down the road, chugging alcohol like it was nothing.
As we pass by, all of their eyes are upon us; kids and some adults’ eyes lit with curiosity while others look on in bewilderment. “Chinesh” one of them yells, and soon after follows the chorus of kids like a wild pack of dogs yelling the words Chinesh and Amigo. It always amuses me that we are mistaken for so many nationalities, predominantly the Chinese. Their childlike innocence was always in full display on this long, dusty road. They have never had much in their lives, exhibited by their appearance and mannerisms. The ragged clothes, or lack there of give little to no protection to the merciless beating of the sun’s rays on their skin. Like a bag of bones, they would run, jump, climb, and make toys out of garbage and admire them as if they had just gotten a new Xbox. Excitement always rises when we pass by, wearing beaming smiles with their cracked lips. They would always want fist bumps with the white aliens that would come into their world everyday, and be so excited like a celebrity had touched their hands. Giving them attention was like putting them on a stage, and they wanted to show you how cool they were like they were going for first place at a talent show. Totally oblivious to the comforts of life, they go about like happy go-lucky kids in a candy store. Just happy to be alive and happy to have what little that they could call their own.
This sense of contentment and happiness rubbed and wore down on me with each step over the past eight months. How could these people be content and comfortable with such a way of living? The question ate at me each day as I turned onto that path. Observing the families and kids go about their daily lives as we walked each day on that road only amplified that question. Their tiny brick homes, that they probably laid brick for brick by themselves, was only an outward manifestation of what I thought was the state of their lives. I felt such pity for them for not being able to experience the comforts and privileges that I have lived with my whole entire life. Wasted potential is all I could think of as I stared at each person that went about their business on that road.
Finally, one more trip down this road opened up my eyes that I had already thought were open. We were walking down the street and were talking with some kids and they wanted us to film them as they did some tricks off this tire. What they would do is get a running start and then jump off this old tire like it was a trampoline and do tricks off it. These 4 kids quickly turned into 30 kids doing tricks for us, and it was so funny. One kid did a front flip and biffed it bad and landed flat on his back with a huge thud like a kid belly flopping into a pool. They had so much fun, the joy and happiness emanated off them like any other kid on this planet. It would be hard for them to trade that old tire for the next new Ipad or Frozen doll. On our way back down the road I saw a family cooking and laughing together as they sat on plastic lawn chairs in their yard, nothing out of the ordinary that I had already seen on that road. But within that family, I could see my family doing the exact same thing but under a few slight different circumstances. Their meal was nothing more than rice and beans, nothing in comparison to my family’s dinners, but they were having a special family bonding moment, like many times my family has experienced. The feelings of tenderness and love were easily exhibited between each other, forging the bonds of true affection. The companionship and unity transcended the dismal circumstances surrounding them, and they were truly happy. Their living conditions were not the shackles that held them captive, but actually liberated them.