“Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
– Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013)
There was something different about watching a sunset in Africa. The sun’s slow descent from the blood hue skies quickly darkened into shades of lavender and black. The wind was a cool, crisp and gentle breeze. I remember standing there near the shoreline, quietly gazing off into the distant reflection of the lake and lost in thoughts while holding a machine gun. To my left, a village fisherman was also gazing off into the scenery.
He had spent most of the late afternoon working on his equipment and checking his nets for rips and tears. His hands were quite calloused from years of hardship and toil and his fingers were wrinkled from spending many suns and moons in the water. His appearance gave an estimated age of a man in his late thirties and his eyes were fiercely focused yet held a graceful calm to them. He spoke English quite well and told me that he learned English from humanitarian aid workers and missionaries that would travel through the area. He spoke about his family and told me a story about his children.
He has one boy and one girl, both were around ten years of age. His way of living was simple yet poor and while his way of life was fishing, his wife was a farmer who sold vegetables at the nearby villages and towns. With their combined savings over a year, they finally saved enough money to buy their children two outfits for school – a single outfit for each child. Every morning before the sun rises, he would wake up his children and helped them prepare their long day’s walk to school. The children would walk nearly six miles to attend a missionary school to learn basic English, history, science and math. Afterwards, they would return home rather late at night – walking six miles back. On top of this, the children wore only sandals and their trip was dangerous as the area they lived in was quite active for militia, civil war and carnivorous predators.
Two children – both around the ages of ten – would walk a total of twelve miles every day just to go to school and walk back home. Whenever the children would come home late at night, their father would ask them to teach him what they have learned that day in school. He chuckled, telling me how his son wanted to become a doctor and his daughter yearned to become a wildlife conservationist. The story was rather heartfelt, humbling and brought a small smile to my weary face. Shortly after, he turned to my direction and asked me, “How is life where you come from?”
I immediately knew what he meant and I was rather hesitant at responding. At first, I said nothing but stared back into the African setting sun. Here was a simple yet humble fisherman in a war-torn country in the Third World. Unfortunately, this was also a man who’s fate meant that he would never leave his home to see the world. He would never see Mount Rushmore in the United States or bear witness to the Eiffel Tower in France. His entire life revolved around the lake and fishing will forever be his keeping. I had to think long and hard about my answer because it will be his only glimpse into the rest of the world – the world I came from.
Slowly, I turned to him and said, “People from the world I come from… do not appreciate life and have forgotten how to live… unlike you and your family.” I knew it to be the most God honest answer I can muster. I wasn’t going to lie to him and with my response, he frowned and looked back to his equipment. Here in Africa, a simple fisherman and his family lives to appreciate the things we, in the First World, have taken for granted. This was a most profound sense in my life and a moment of realization. Years later, whenever I look at the sunset elsewhere in the world, all I can think about was my memory of the conversation I have had with the fisherman in Africa. The sun was beginning to disappear into the horizon and soon, the chirps of insects and distant wildlife can be heard before the sun’s reflection on the lake became no more.
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