Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pep Talk: "Sunshine Before Dawn"

One of the many things cherished about travel, when taking a cab, is the ride to Denver International Airport. Usually the driver hails from a foreign land. Something drew them to America. I love to ask what attracted them, like moth to flame, to the United States of America.

It was before dawn on an early March morning with the projected big storm beginning to sputter to life in the Mile High City. A simple dude from Missouri is on the way to the airport for a flight to Paris, France. The day before, on The Odd Couple, co-host Eric Goodman had been giving - what’s new - yours truly all kinds of grief about heading to France for the first time with little knowledge of the language. The Chicago-native scoffed at my insistence that, “I’ll talk with folks and figure it out.” I was headed to the famous city of romance to hook up with darling girlfriend for a few days of fun. She had been in France on business the week before. We were meeting in Paris.

Anyway, back to the cab. “What is your name?” I queried. “Semere” was the response. “Where are your from?” came next. “Ethiopia” was provided. “Why did you come to America?” What follows is, my opinion, a story demonstrating what is great about this country. Victory Productions also hopes it reminds us of the importance of being united with others when it comes to speaking a common language - verbally, spiritually and socially.

Semere is in his early fifties, a tad younger than the aging jock writing this Pep Talk. This friendly chat escaped his war-torn native land at the age of 22. Rebels fighting the existing Ethiopian government were trying to recruit Semere to join the fray. His family encouraged him to consider something different: Refuge in America.

Semere chose the latter and thanks to a American government program applied and received refugee status. His sponsor was in the Wheaton, Illinois area. There the young man took education classes, learned to speak English and began to assimilate into the community. He committed to the American way. One day he decided to visit other Ethiopian refugees who had settled in the Portland, Oregon area. He loaded up his car and headed west, stopping in Denver along the way. The Centennial State and its beauty left an impression on the young man. He never made it to the Pacific Northwest.

Life would go on and Semere would eventually, for a bit, move to Washington, DC. There he met his bride of almost 20 years. “Was it love at first sight?” his passenger wondered. A fraction of a big smile could be scene from my vantage point in the back seat. “Oh yes” he muttered. “It was.”

The couple moved back to Denver, had a daughter and a son. The daughter is 16 years old and attends a well-respected private school nestled in one of Denver’s tony southern suburbs. Semere’s son attends a Denver public school on its southeast side. Semere’s devoted wife works for the Southland Corporation as a 7-11 convenience store manager. “What is your native tongue?” queries the passenger. “Tikrit.” Do your kids speak that language? “No,” Semere responded firmly. “They speak English. We live in America and understand the importance of speaking a common language.”

Bingo buddy!

I was overwhelmed with admiration for a man who gets it. America gave him hope when there was little. He has not forgotten the favor and realizes the importance of speaking a common language, at least when talking about successfully conducting business. Whether transporting a man on a mission to the airport or educating our kids in the classroom. And is Semere’s world there are expectations to speak a common language, not only verbally, but spiritually. “I have always been taught, and expect of my children, to care for others.”

Amen brother!

We had arrived at our destination. The moisture from the sky was beginning to transform from rain to snow. The storm was rolling in. I was lucky to have gotten out ahead of the expected blizzard. I was even more lucky to have spent 30 minutes in the back of a cab chatting with Semere. Long ago, he put fear and self doubt aside, came to a foreign land with no friends, few language skills but a lot of hope. Through hard work, healthy choices and respect for his fellow man, he’s achieving goals and overcoming challenges. A proud American.

Semere allowed courage and wonderment to win and, his words, “Has a blessed life.”

What about us? Where might it be time to speak a common language, verbally, spiritually, socially with others - home, work and elsewhere? It sure has worked for a delightful man, Semere. Three decades ago, forced to flee war in Africa, comes to America with little, except hope, yet finds success and love. He seems to attract it. This much I do know, Semere sure lit my morning with sunshine before dawn. 


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