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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lessons

Gift is the first friend that I've had in my life with whom I have nothing in common. We are from different continents and hemispheres. We are not the same color, gender, religion or age. We do not have the same level of education or the same hobbies. All we have in common is that we are both human and we both came to live in South Africa from somewhere else.

A few weeks ago I took Gift to see his first movie, the latest James Bond.  If you have seen a Bond movie then you know the formula used. The movie starts with an action sequence to get your attention and then goes into the opening credits. When the opening credits began, Gift asked me if the movie was over. 

On the one year anniversary of our arrival in South Africa, I showed Gift a photo of the plane that Mr. Deep and I flew in from JFK to here. He asked me, "how can you take a photo of the plane whilst you are inside it?"

It is remarkable to meet an adult who has never been to a movie or to an airport. The reason that Gift has never done these things is not because he belongs to an Amish like religious sect (he doesn't) or because he grew up in a remote African village wearing a loin cloth (he didn't - he grew up in a city wearing regular clothes.) It's because all of his life he's been too poor to participate in much of what the world has to offer. Because he lives in modern society he's fully aware that restaurants, movie theaters and planes exist. He knows that other people are enjoying these things but he has never been behind the secret doors to see exactly what goes on inside. And because of his inability to participate, he has told me that sometimes he has felt, "that he was not a person."

Gift is amazed by experiences that I barely give thought to and upon reflection don't appreciate nearly enough. The borderline crappy movie theater that we went to he said was "lovely." When we ate fast food at Sausage Saloon (yes there's a place called Sausage Saloon and I can't believe I ate there either) he proudly announced that it was his second time ever eating in a restaurant. When we went bowling and he scored a strike he screamed with excitement and jumped up and down with unmitigated enthusiasm. He told Mr. Deep and me, "because of you guys I am now seeing the world" and also said, "I am now getting used to having fun." 

Don't assume that Gift has led a simple life because of all the things he hasn't done. Gift has had many life experiences that we cannot imagine. And sadly, a lot of what he has experienced over the years is a great deal of suffering.

Among the challenges that Gift has endured are times when he did not have enough to eat. When he lived in Zimbabwe he would try to eat the small amount of food that he did have in little bits throughout the day to stave off hunger. Sometimes he had to go to bed hungry because he ran out of food before the day was over. He told Mr. Deep and me that in Zimbabwe "there is no life" and he said that one of the reasons he is scared to go back there is because he is "afraid of starving."

The suffering and the starving have shaped Gift as a person. He talks to Mr. Deep and me about his painful past openly and freely because in order to get to know him it's important that we understand. In America it seems like people try to hide their poorness and no one wants to admit it if they are struggling. But in Africa if you ask people about their lives they will tell you and when they do, you often can hardly believe what you are hearing. 

A few times Gift mentioned to us that he was interested in learning how to play the game of pool. I have no idea how he knows about pool. Maybe he saw something about it on TV. Mr. Deep is a pretty good pool player and he agreed to teach Gift how to play. Last weekend we went to a pool hall for the lesson. I have to digress here for a moment and say that before the pool lesson I never watched Mr. Deep formally teach anyone anything before. I realized as I was watching that Mr. Deep is a really excellent teacher. He was very thorough and patient. He took the teaching seriously and showed Gift everything from how to choose a pool cue up to and including the newly learned rules of bump bump. As I watched, I thought of the many times over the years that Mr. Deep has tried to teach me things (how to play pool included) and how those lessons unfortunately usually resulted in me getting mad at him because for some reason I don't like him (or anyone else - but especially him) telling me what to do. I feel badly about this because there are many things Mr. Deep can teach me and I probably could have learned a lot over the years if I was a little more open minded and accepting. 

After pool we took Gift out for dinner at Hooters.  You probably think that is a funny choice in dining but we wanted to go somewhere casual and fun. We explained to Gift that Hooters is from America and that the food we were eating was American food. We ordered chicken wings and some other finger foods to share. At first, I thought maybe Gift didn't like the wings because he was eating very, very slowly. Meanwhile, Mr. Deep and I were busy eating our wings in a manner the opposite of slowly. When we were all finished both Mr. Deep and I noticed Gift's plate. He had eaten every part of the chicken that was possibly edible, including all of the smaller bones, the joints, the tendons, the wing tips and the cartilage.  All that remained on his plate were four individual bones each about the width of a chopstick and the length of a toothpick. Looking at the plate you could not tell that he had eaten wings as the bones no longer resembled chicken wing bones at all. Across the table, the plate that Mr. Deep and I used for our bones was piled high with portions of the wings that we considered to be inedible. I wondered if Gift noticed our plate and was shocked to see that we wasted so much food. 

After we dropped Gift off at home, Mr. Deep and I talked about the bones. Later that night, we talked about the bones. Over the weekend we talked about the bones some more. Even days later the image of the bones is embedded in our minds.

People can tell you things about themselves and you can think that you understand but sometimes it takes an illustration before you really get it. We now have a glimpse into the suffering that Gift has faced and has tried to tell us about. Right now, Gift is okay. He is not starving. But he still doesn't have an extra bit of anything to waste. In his entire life he never has.

5 comments:

  1. What a thoughtful post. And what a lesson to give us all. Now I too can't get the chicken bones out o my mind. It's actually a joke with us - my husband eats just two bites of each chicken wing, and I go back and clean it up because I can't stand leaving meat on it. Maybe it has to do with my mother who was starving in Germany after WWII and somehow conveyed that sense of not wasting any food to her children. But still, I'm sure my chicken bones still look nothing like Gift's.

    Also, I find it wonderful that you take him out to the movies and to eat and to play pool - what a wonderful "gift"!

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  2. What an exceptional post! It's a real eye-opener. I can't even think of the words to describe your open and willing attitude and all that you and Gift are learning about one another as friends. All I know is you are making the most of your experience in another country in a "deep" way.

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed this post. I am sure there will be more posts about this friendship in the future.

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.