A new year often makes me think about people who have taught me important things but who are no longer part of my daily life. I've been thinking today about a boy named Omar, whom I worked with as a Peace Corps volunteer. I wrote this poem about him while I worked with him, and I am wondering what his life is like today. Have there been people in your life and your travels who remind you of Omar?
They call you thief, problem, delinquent, nuisance, liar, threat.
These people in the echoing courtroom, in the shabby police station,
in the narrow aisles of the grocery store.
And me, in my house at night, when you steal my old blue bicycle.
We discuss you in cramped offices filled with computers and telephones, study files inches thick, and make angry gestures in the air.
You have become synonymous with sighs.
Your name is the sound of someone walking out of a room.
We say we want to help you but we are not patient teachers.
How to save you from your own destructive hands, we ask one another.
We worry about society. We wonder when to leave you alone.
You are fourteen years old and you know
too much about guns, and so little about love.
Maybe you learned this life from your father,
with his own habits of stealth and liquor, with his withering fists.
Maybe it was your mother who taught you defiance.
She wanted so badly to forget you that she bled into another country.
Or maybe you act as you do simply because your own, fine name
is hardly ever said with a smile. It has become a coat
we’d like to hang in the winter closet.
But Omar, this name you lost,
you could still take it up, live it fully.
You could stun us, thrill us,
silence our unkind chattering.
You could become to yourself everything you wish,
and to us, a hopeful story we tell.
Once there was a difficult, uncertain boy, we would say,
but one day he remembered who he was.
So Omar, let’s thread together all the meanings of your name
until they form a blanket. We’ll throw that blanket over
the wary delinquent, the crying thief, the hungry liar.
We’ll let him sleep.
Then you, Omar, you can ride far on my bicycle.
Ride to a place beyond your reputation.
You can find new parents with their gladness intact.
You will become their first son and they will teach you how to plant
and how to harvest.
In that other place, Omar, you will learn, you will grow,
you will become elevated.
People will fill rooms to hear you speak wisely;
you will be profound in your eloquence.
Sometimes you will have strange dreams of a different sort of life.
In these dreams you will know how to wield a knife
and make strangers do your bidding,
and you will find money in your pockets that is not your own.
But in your real life you will follow the prophet
who is your own insightful self.
You will look people in the eye
and they will feel blessed by your presence.
They will ask, and you will be so happy to tell them
your own, fine name.
Originally published in Double Lives, Reinvention, and Those We Leave Behind.
Ed. Heather Tosteson, Charles D. Brockett. Decatur, GA: Wising Up Press.
Hi, I'm Deidra
To me, transformative travel means traveling in a way that connects you to places and people in a profound way., being real and present with what is happening while you travel and recognizing the impact travel has on your life beyond your journeys.