‘Round about 70 degrees. 20% Humidity. Blue Skies. Pristine waves peeling and
crashing. Nice off-shore breeze. West Africa doesn’t get like this often. My blue
jeans are making only their second daytime appearance in 9 months. Out on a
morning jog, all I could think was that if there is a heaven, God would have to
make it pretty close to this. But as I continued on my run, I remembered how much
the setting alone is not necessarily what makes a place heavenly. I run back by my
house, only the half way point of lap number one. A boy steps up to me and states
he wants to talk to me, usually code for asking for money, school fees, or rice. I am
calloused. “But I am exercising. I will be back here in thirty minutes.” How can he
not understand I did not want to let my heart rate go down? Plus this would give me
adequate time to come up with my declination speech.

At the end of our campus, a man drops trou to do his morning business on the
beach. In my feeble attempt at Liberian English, I cried out, “My man, no, I beg
you. Dat nah toilet.” He replies, justifying himself, “But deh’s *&^%$ all aroun’
he-ah.” All I could think was 'How much does it cost to build a latrine?' Would it
make a difference? I’m pretty sure that stuff isn’t sitting around on the beach in
heaven. I am quite sure that as soon as I continued my jog, he continued with his
business.

I kept running, all the while working up my speech on how to turn down this young
boy waiting at my house. Or maybe he continued on to ask for help elsewhere. That
would be even better. Just in case, I had it all ready. I, and the others living on this
campus, did not come to feed Liberia or send every child to school. Certain
organizations were here to help feed. In addition, it’s his family, his Ma and Pa, his
community, and even his church, the people who he had daily relations with, who
should be supporting him in these basic needs. My thoughts might be different if I
didn’t know that, around the city at least, starvation is fairly uncommon. Did your
ma even send you here to beg? Shame on her. You would at least be better off
selling in the market with her, learning how to haggle, addition, and subtraction by
making change. Maybe I would give him a little bit of rice or bread, but I never
wanted to see him begging at anyone’s house again. My compassion was running
low, especially since this boy was interfering with my 70 degree, low humidity
heaven.

My run was finished, but I took some extra time stretching afterwards, still
rehearsing my speech in my head. I returned home, the boy was still sitting at the
edge of my yard, tattered shirt and oversized flip-flops. I shook his hand and asked
his name to act like I had some compassion. “Let’s sit over here.” I sat with him
where the grass meets the sand of the beach. Then I could at least not miss any of
the beautiful waves while I listened to his plea and gave him my life-changing talk.

He began his story, “When I was twelve, these boys hit me in the mouth and it
caused my front teeth to break.” I looked and the teeth that were once only broken
had now decayed; one of them all the way to the gum line.

“Can they hurt you? They can keep you from sleeping?” I asked. If my grammar
seems strange, it is once again my attempt at the sometimes Yoda-like Liberian
English.

“Yeah. But my ma does not have money to help me to fix them. And now, when I
go to school, everyone is always laughing at me. I want you to help me.” I saw the
corner of his left eye filling up with what would be the first of many tears that
began streaming down his cheeks. I fought mine with every ounce of testosterone
gained from my recent run.

“How old are you now?” I asked him

“Fifteen.”

“You are not in school now?” This type of problem will often cause a child not to
attend school.

“I am, but anytime I talk they can laugh at me.”

“I can help you. It would make me very happy to help you.” I put my hand on his
shoulder and squeezed it. “That is why I am here.” I was so glad I didn’t have to
use my speech.

“I will try and make you look fine. But you have to do me this one thing. When I
fix your teeth, you cannot go back to those boys and do the same thing to them.
You have to forgive them. Make new friends and move on.” He promised me he
would, wiping the tears from his face. “Please come tomorrow at 10:00 and we’ll
start the process.”

“I should bring my ma?”

“Yes, please bring your ma. I would love to meet her. See you tomorrow.”

Turns out he is friends with a young boy that does yard work for Frieda. Why he
came to my house and not the clinic, only a 10 minute walk away, I’ll never know.
Maybe it was to teach me not to dread hearing someone’s plea.


January 2009