June 14th, 2012
Most people have a mentor who inspired them to follow their particular path of study, career, or other goals in life. Usually this mentor is a distinguished man or woman with years of experience and knowledge to impart upon their impressionable followers. One imagines the venerable mentor sitting in a large easy chair before a roaring fire, reading a dictionary while quoting Shakespeare, and stroking a large and fluffy cat. My mentor is, well, slightly different. When I met him he was two years old, liked to play games which involved spoon robbery, and once ran for 45 minutes straight in 90 degree heat…while wearing galoshes. My mentor is my cousin Firew, and he is the reason that I came to Bridge the Gap TV.
Firew, or Firé as his friends call him, was born in Ethiopia but came to live in America at the age of two after my aunt and uncle adopted him. When I first met him, I was as nervous as if I was meeting the President. How was I supposed to find common ground with this tiny kid who didn’t speak any English? Luckily, that problem was quickly solved by the realization that we shared the bond that unites all little boys and those who are still little boys at heart: the unquenchable desire to cause lots and lots of trouble. Let’s just say that Firé and I got along fine.
As Firé began to learn English and I got to know him better, I realized what an incredibly compassionate person he was. Sure, he’d get into wrestling matches with his cousins, but as soon as there was the indication of somebody getting hurt, he’d push everybody away, tend to the injured person with a kiss on the boo boo, and as soon as everything was ok, he’d continue the fight. He would hold the door open for our grandmother as she got out of the car or give me a hug and ask me what was wrong if I looked a little bit sad. For some adults, this may seem like second nature, but for a toddler it was incredible.
As I watched Firé learn English and adapt to American life, a thought struck me: If this amazing little man was going to go through so much effort to learn about American culture, shouldn’t I be making some effort to learn about Ethiopia, its history, and its people? It was this revelation that led me to pursue a minor in African-Area Studies at Rutgers University. As a culmination of this course of study, I completed a Capstone Project in my senior year. This project consisted of a thesis on the economic causes of food crises in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria accompanied by a 10-song CD of original music. Dedicated to Firé, the project’s inspiration, the goal of my Capstone was to raise awareness of the fact that food crises don’t happen because people aren’t modernized enough, or are bad farmers, or anything like that. Each person involved has a story, and every story deserves to be told.
My commitment to telling untold stories is what drew me to Bridge the Gap. Chris and the crew tell fascinating, beautiful stories that no one else has told to an American audience. When told, these stories have the power to change perceptions, policies, and the world. I am proud to be part of such an effort, but I never would have gotten involved had it not been for a little boy who stole my spoons and then my heart.
The writer of this piece is Dan Rauchwerk, a Marketing Fellow for Bridge the Gap TV.