~Written October 2015, 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 we hear

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

That I thought was






And I think about the gifts 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.