We don’t get to pick where we’re born. Some of us get lucky but mistakenly think their random chance is skill. Recently events brought home just how lucky we are.
We have some friends, a couple who are both teachers with two kids, one the same age as mine. Four years ago, they went off on an adventure–moving to the Republic of Congo (this is the Congo whose capital is Brazzaville, not the bigger neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which used to be called Zaire). They lived in the oil center of Pointe-Noire and liked it very much.
When their contract was up, they weren’t ready to move back to France and got a new teaching gig in Bamako, the capital of Mali. This was very different; Mali is at war with Tuareg separatists in the north as well as Islamist terrorists. There’s a ceasefire with the separatists, but our friends aren’t allowed to leave the capital. Their children go to school and come straight home. They can’t go anywhere else–no shopping, no movies, no parks, no sports clubs.
It’s really sad; I visited Mali in 1999 (solo–it was before I met the Carnivore) and loved it. I went to Ségou, Djenné (home of the world’s largest mosque built from mud, a true marvel), Mopti (a city of 114,000 that I’d never heard of but loved), the Dogon country (home to animists who live in houses built into the sides of cliffs) and, of course, Timbuktu, which was as spectacular as its name suggests. In two weeks, I saw more of Mali than my friends, who have lived there for a year.The friends were back this summer to visit friends and family and we caught up. I drove the wife to say hi to some mutual friends. The conversations were interesting–everybody knew somebody who had worked in this country or that country. I also have many friends who think nothing of living in another country, usually sent for work. Even me–France is the fourth country I’ve lived in. We are citizens of the world. Not only can we pick up and move almost anywhere we want, but we actually get welcomed by other countries.This is not the case for everybody. Some people want to move because they’re ambitious and seek a better life somewhere else. Other people don’t want to move but are forced to by war or other problems.Our kid did a photography class recently. It started last year, after I decreed that the summer would not be whiled away on YouTube and Snapchat. This was met with a very negative reaction. “I won’t know anybody!” But I unleashed my inner drill sergeant, and my kid went to photography class. And loved it. And made a bunch of friends–many of the others in the class were refugees from Chechnya.This year, my kid eagerly signed up for summer photography, hoping to see the guys from Chechnya. However, they weren’t in the class. Other refugees, though, were. Two from Guinea (under military dictatorship) and two from Mali. Yup. While French people go to Mali for work, Malians flee to France for peace. It must blow these kids’ minds to be handed cameras that cost more than their families probably earned in a year.My kid said one of the boys would sit in a fetal position and cry at lunch. I learned they were all unaccompanied. They are housed in small groups around Carcassonne, and looked after by counselors. The government covers their expenses. Let me say, I find this an excellent use of the taxes I pay and I am more than happy to pay it.I cannot imagine what they must have gone through to travel to France. Alone. You must be desperate to send your child off to a strange land alone. But they’re boys, and the alternative is to risk seeing them kidnapped into an armed group or drafted into the army to fight. War either way. They chose life. At great risk, but everything about life comes at great risk in those countries, where they did not ask to be born.My grandmother’s family left her home country when World War I started. I had heard stories about how they were on the wrong side of the political fence, and my great-uncle was about to reach the age to have to fight. Instead, they fled to the U.S., and my great-uncle fought in the U.S. Army. It wasn’t a question of fighting or not, but of fighting for what.The photography class is built around a changing theme of historical heritage. This year, it was about the influx of Spanish refugees fleeing Franco’s regime. The class went around town to interview people who had fled Franco’s Spain. Imagine these refugee boys meeting others who also had been refugees. I wonder what was going on in their heads. The elderly people spoke of how it was hard to move to a new land, that they missed Spain, but that eventually they became integrated. I hope that these boys can look out to the day when they, too, will be integrated in the fabric of French life. If I can integrate, why not them?