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My Child is Named For an African Man


As well as being a foster parent, Canadian Journeywoman, Karen Elliot is a web designer and freelance artist. She and her husband live in a small hamlet in rural Canada with their two biological children and a continual stream of others who pass through on their childhood journey.

When I think of Africa, I don't often think about my trip drifting in a dugout canoe among hippos and crocodiles through a remote place in Botswana. I don't often think of sitting by a secluded watering hole watching wild animals drink and play, or the once-in-a-lifetime experience viewing the spectacular Victoria Falls. When I think of Africa, I remember a man I called Niki.

A man on a deserted road...

I arrived in Africa with a backpack and a desire to see and experience the continent. Two months later I came home emotionally drained and affected in ways I never anticipated. I did all the touristy things - climbed Table Mountain, went on safari, hiked Fish River Canyon - but that in no way compared to the man I met on a deserted road on the way to South Africa.

"Niki" stood by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. He sat, squatting by a pile of wood in a posture I would never be able to mimic for more than two minutes. I walked up to him and a huge grin split his face. We introduced ourselves in the language of hands and broken English. I found out he had family nearby and was selling wood. His name was something so complex that he laughed when I tried to pronounce it - and he seemed pleased when I shortened it to "Niki". I pointed to the Canadian flag on my backpack and his eyes lit up and he said "CaNAaada" as if he was talking about a mystical place that existed in his dreams.


No money please food...

He dug into his pile of wood and pulled out the most beautiful carving I had ever seen. It was the face of an elephant - ears flared; trunk gracefully curved - carved from a solid piece of wood. It was truly the work of an artist - and was a stark contrast to the desolation and barrenness of the land around us. I asked him how much it cost – prepared to haggle down from some ridiculous amount I expected him to quote - and he smiled wanly and said "No money."

I opened up my bag of food and gave it all to him. The size of his smile must have broken world records. He kept saying "come, come" so I ended up following Niki away from the road (a bit concerned as to where I was being taken) but soon noticed a small hut in the distance, and realized he was taking me to his home.


The family clapped...

There were so many children everywhere - too many to count. He introduced me to his family and showed them the food. His wife grabbed my hand crying - hugging a day-old loaf of bread over her pregnant belly. I was pulled to their communal pot where children were scooping up food with their hands and eating hungrily. They backed away at a word from their mother - still hungry - so a white-faced stranger could eat their meal. I tried to refuse, but they were adamant that I eat. So I crouched by their cooking pot, eating, while this desperately hungry family watched. And smiled. And clapped.

Loathe to leave, I spent the afternoon playing foot-ball with the children. When it was time to go, I found "Niki" in his hut and tried to offer him some money. He refused even after countless attempts to persuade him. He pointed to his wife, to his children, and to all the food I had brought - which wasn't that much in my eyes - and said "I am blessed."


I gave birth to my first child...

After visiting other poor villages - with people demanding, clutching, and begging for anything I owned or possessed – I was truly amazed that this man asked me for nothing but food. In his eyes, he had everything he could possibly want and was satisfied with so little. And that made me want to give him everything I had.

So I left Niki - this blessed man - in his tiny hut in the desert - with a pregnant wife, countless children, and food for maybe one more day. And I got on a plane and came home to the mystical place that existed in Niki's dreams.

The following year I gave birth to my first child. We named her Nicole. We call her Niki. One day she will know the story behind her name and that carved elephant that sits on top of her dresser.

I am blessed.


Women's words on love...

'Everyone admits that love is wonderful and
necessary, yet no one can agree on what it is.'
(Diane Ackerman, 1994)

'Love is the extremely difficult realization that
something other than oneself is real.'
(Iris Murdoch, 1959)

'Love is a fruit in season at all times.'
(Mother Teresa, 1975)

'Love is like a card trick. After you know how it
works, it's no fun anymore.'
(Fanny Brice, 1952)

'I love you more than my own skin.'
(Frida Kahlo, 1935)

'It is easier to win love than to keep it.'
(Diane de Poitiers, 1910)

'In real love you want the other person's good.
In romantic love you want the other person.'
(Margaret Anderson, 1953)

When love comes it comes without effort, like
perfect weather.'
(Helen Yglesias, 1976)

'Love is like the measles. The older you get it,
the worse the attack.'
(Mary Rinehart, 1909)

'There is nothing better for the spirit or body than
a love affair. It elevates thoughts and flattens stomachs.'
(Barbara Howar, 1973)


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