~Written October 2015 at age 16~

 

My friend is

A pretty girl with

A shiny car.

It is

The perfect 16th birthday present.

 

She jingles her keys and beams and

Tells me all about it.

I can’t help but feel

A little jealous

 

Because

My parents can’t afford to buy me

A nice car or the newest phone or

The latest fashions.

At first it seems unfair

But then

 

I think of my mother

Boiling a pot of water over

Hot coals outside

In our quiet African village

So we could take warm showers that night

 

The dried mud on my father’s feet

When the Toyota got stuck

On the way home from a faraway village because

After months of nothing but

Burning sunshine,

The roads embrace the rains.

 

I close my eyes and see

My mother

Treating burns, bandaging wounds,

Placing a cool cloth

On the head of a feverish child.

 

I see my father

Lifting the weathered body of an old man

Into the bed of our truck

A man whose soul slipped out

Along with his last breath.

I remember I watched

The clouds of red dust behind the tires

Rolling to the cemetery.

 

I see my sisters and I

Playing under laundry lines and mango trees

While the wind blows sand in the air

And sheep wander around the yard.

 

I think about loud nights on rooftops in the city

Laughing with my friends

Until mosquitoes eat us alive

Forcing us to crawl into our tent

Where we whisper until

The morning call to prayer.

 

The mosque fills our ears with Arabic

And my sleepy mind is jumbled

With French and English

And little bits of Wolof because

 

My parents gave me

The gift of another language.

A chance to have friends who come from

All over the world.

 

My parents taught me

Compassion and selflessness

To always value people more

Than time and money and things.

They filled my life with learning

And opportunity

 

And because of them

I am not afraid

To push through

The walls of my comfort zone

I am not afraid

Of change

To grow in ways I could never imagine.

I am not afraid

To feel

To love others deeply

The way I have been loved

 

I don’t have the keys to a Prius in my purse.

I have a bus pass tucked in my wallet

And I realize

I’m okay with that.

 

So I smile

At the birthday story

Of the pretty girl

And the fancy car

Her parents gave her.

 

That is not the gift my parents gave me.

 

My parents gave me

A legacy of faith and

A childhood in Africa

 

And I realize that

My parents gave me

The best gifts

I have ever been given

 

And I realize that

My parents are

The best gifts

I have ever been given

 

And I’m thankful.

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