| Nov 09, 2009
As I opened the box I knew what I was going to see, a hard boiled egg, a deep fried bun and mango juice. My lunch was always the same, although the bun alternated with a chapati or a cold pancake. It was left over breakfast. I didn’t complain, it tasted good and it filled me up.
I had come to have lunch with Joey, my translator, in the little mud canteen tucked into the corner of the medical clinics grounds. As Joey went to order his lunch I said “Bonjour” to a young man sitting under the awning. I had guessed correctly, he was a Congolese refugee and spoke French, the colonial language.
He began talking to me in French with a strong african accent. With some difficulty I caught the gist of his story. He had walked 10 kilometers to the clinic this morning. He’d seen one of the staff, given some medication and now was too tired to walk back. He asked for an ambulance ride.
As my new friend was finishing his story, Joey arrived with a plate of rice, kasava and beans. I asked Joey to ask him why the young man was too tired. Joey spoke to him for a few minutes then reached over and picked up an extra fork and gave it to the young man. The man moved next to Joey and began eating off Joey’s plate.
It was so quick and so natural. Was he a friend? Or perhaps a family member?
“Did he have breakfast?” I asked. Joey shook his head. He had left home at sunrise to come to the clinic. He had no money to buy food. He was both sick and hungry. I could now understand why he was too tired to walk home.
Joey had sized up the situation in moments and provided an immediate solution. The young man was a stranger, the only thing they had in common was that they were both refugees from the Congo. They had a shared culture and had experienced similar hardships. It was an act of selfless charity.
I felt insignificant sitting across from these two men. They sat in silence dipping their forks into the rice and beans. I could feel the solidarity between them. I reached into my lunch box and sheepishly put my second deep fried bun next to him. As he reached for it his eyes crinkled in appreciation.