Sunday, May 14, 2006

Tale of Two Girls

Two Christmases ago I was making a quick pit stop in a grocery store in Charlotte, NC. I just needed to pick up a few items before meeting up with my fiancée and I stopped at a store in an affluent district of town. As my eyes were searching the shelves for my desired item, my ears caught the sounds of a young girl and her mom visiting with a friend. This is how I remember the conversation going:

Friend: “Don’t you look cute today! Are you getting ready for Christmas?”

Mom: “Yes she is, she can’t wait for her presents.”

Friend: “What are you asking for this year? An IPOD?”

Mom: “No, she already has one, she couldn’t wait until Christmas so she bought it herself.”

At this point, my ears are fully attached to this conversation. I am 22 and do not have the funds to afford an IPOD music player. Here was a mom saying that that her 6-year old daughter not only already owned one, but also bought the $200 piece of electronics herself.

The mom continued: “Yeah, she just wasn’t happy without it, so we said she could spend some of her allowance to get one.”

Ok, now I was beginning to get mad. The words that jumped out at me were “wasn’t happy” and “some of her allowance.” $200 is just some of her allowance? Not happy?! I had visions of this little girl dancing around listening to her music in a room filled with once needed, now discarded toys. At that point I felt like turning around and shaking both mother and daughter. Instead, I turned around and left the store.

As I replayed that conversation in my head over and over again, I could not help but think of little Zara. Zara was a girl that I knew growing up in Eastern Chad. Life in a barren dessert wasteland is never easy, but a young girl’s lot in life seems to be extra tough. As the oldest girl of eight children she had never really had a childhood. From the moment she was strong enough to carry a pot, she was put to work helping her mother. She would go fetch water from the local well, she would chop and split firewood, and she would join in the arduous task of grinding grain for the evening meal.

Once her siblings were born, she had the chores of caring for them as well, often carrying them on her fragile back as she went about her other chores. Her father had run off to Libya to try to find a good job, leaving her mother and Zara to try to grow enough crops on their patch of desert to last another year.

Yet despite these odds against her, her lost childhood and her struggle to provide for her family – all before the age of 10 – Zara never lost her smile. Zara sang as she worked, hummed as she cleaned and laughed during the few moments she got to play with other kids.

Being Muslim, Zara’s family did not celebrate Christmas but instead, celebrated the end of the holy month of Ramadan. This once-a-year festival is a time off rejoicing and feasting and gift giving. For her celebration, Zara didn’t receive anything more than a plain, white dress – her first new clothes all year. Her eyes lit up upon receiving this humble gift and she wore it proudly until it was in tatters.

Zara’s reaction and joy is so different than the girl in the Charlotte grocery store. The girl in the store has enormous advantages in life, but she was less joyful and less content than the girl in Chad. She was being taught that the way to happiness is through money and through instant gratification, whereas Zara was learning that happiness could be found in any situation and to be content with little.

If I have the choice to raise my future daughter with all the wealth in the world or in the middle of the desert, I would be inclined to raise her like Zara – finding joy in a land of little.
Unfortunately, millions of young girls like Zara are now being starved, beaten and even raped in Eastern Chad and Darfur. The dangerous lack of security has allowed rogue militias to destroy villages, herds and lives in a brutal genocide campaign. Now Zara, and those like her, live in refugee camps and where smiles and laughs once were, now only exist blank stares and desperate cries for help. Help save Darfur now – help save my friends - help save Zara.


Anonymous said...

This is a very thought provoking story which should be expounded on in greater detail (possibly a book). This is a very important issue, something that many people need to hear and understand.
Thank you

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