In 51 years, I have never put anyone's needs before my own. I was 7 when war came to our farm and uprooted us. My father was killed in the first Nigerian offensive, but to be honest, I was glad that the man was dead. When I was 8, my brother contracted kwashiorkor. It wasn't long after he had been weaned that we noticed him looking like a balloon. The doctors were not allowed to help us. Red Cross did not come. I stole away into Col. Adekunle's camp and took supplies, but I never shared them with my family. I didn't want the same thing to happen to me. My brother died during our move East.
Our small family spent what seemed like a lifetime as refugees, but scraped by with our farming. Before I went to bed, my mother would tell me that I could not let anyone tell me what to do, that I had to do what was best and right for me. So, when I was 11, I left mother. She could not give me the education I knew I needed. And she was too poor. I told myself I was a drain on her, but I truthfully did not care. 4 years later, I had been accepted into a school in England as part of an exchange program. I never returned.
England had so much to offer me. I had never seen such abundance, and I loved it. Running water was not a luxury; it was ubiquitous. The first week, I left the sink on all day and night in my dorm. I'd have kept it that way had the school not shut off the water supply to it. I gladly took more food than I could eat. And I studied. I learned things I never would have known about had I stayed with my mother. When it was time to return to Eritrea, I ran away. I traveled to Scotland, to France, to Germany, and to the Americas. I was no longer a boy, but a young man. Citizenship was easy, but I never felt welcome in the States. After I earned my degrees, I realized the West had taught me all it could, and I left.
Years flew by. I was recognized as an authority in agriculture. I taught at Universities in Brazil and Guatemala, for a price, of course. With money, I could do whatever I wanted. I was still young, I was brilliant, I was foolhardy. I never took a wife, but I am sure I have turned many young women into mothers. As soon as I was done with a place, I moved on. That was how I found myself in Afghanistan.
Potato farmers had been having a difficult time with their crops. I was contacted by IFAD, the International Fund of Agricultural Development. Nearly 24 hours of travel later and I found myself standing in the dusty streets of a village off Hamun Lake. Droughts from years ago were still leaving their mark on the land and the people. The sun was hot, but the marketplace was busy beneath the faded fields of fine fabric that were hung just overhead for shade. Gunshots broke the peace, followed by screaming and an exodus. I moved with the crowd, but no matter where we went, there were the boys, still children, armed with foreign guns.
I did not want to die, so I smashed a door in and hid under a table that was covered in books. There was already a family there, cowering in fear. They must have thought I was one of them. I lifted a finger to my lips. I thought, if they are afraid of me, they might stay quiet. But their little girl just screamed. The boys heard her and ran to the doorway, shouting at the family and waving their guns. One of them came in and took hold of the girl. She was clutching a book, but the boy tore it away from her. I could not understand everything he said, but I remember hearing him shout, "no school," "girl," and a few obscenities that I will not repeat.
He did not see me under the table. No one noticed me pick up the thick book. The boy was pushing his rifle at the girl's mother when I struck him with the spine of the book in the back of his head. Before he hit the ground, I ran out the door and pushed past the other boys. They shot me in the leg and arm, but I managed to lead them away from the girl and her family before they captured me. I do not know why I did it. It is likely that I will never see freedom again.
I never believed in God. Everything I had, I took. No one ever helped me, not God or man. All I can reason is that, in that moment when the girl stared at me, I saw myself watching my father get shot in the head, watching the Red Cross vehicles leave our village. If someone helped us then, I might have had the one thing I never found on my own: happiness. Perhaps God sent me to her. I am sure I will know soon enough. If anyone sees this letter, know that what I did find was my pride, not pride in how I lived, but in how I died.