musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Everyday Heroes

As the plane begins to rise over the early morning haze of what will soon be a bustling Istanbul metropolis, I thought not of my nomadic lifestyle, my favorite sports team, nor the open book in my lap stuck indefinitely on page forty-five. Amazed at how the redefinition of one simple word, heroism, had altered my perception of the world, if even just slightly, I instead thought back to a short conversation I had with a lovely elderly woman the previous day...

Sitting in her inadequately small kitchen I managed to catch Mefo for a few moments between the post-breakfast clean-up and pre-lunch preparation, a seemingly endless cycle she continues everyday with grace and utter humility. She produced a small newspaper clipping entitled “And a Southeastern Truth,” a sliver of text undoubtedly lost to a vast majority of its intended audience. The article was written by a young Turkish journalist after he received an interesting, albeit random, letter in the mail telling the short story of a one room schoolhouse in southeastern Turkey, a region torn by constant ethnic clashes, economic stagnation, and most recently the rise of religious fanaticism. It was a simple plea from a rural school teacher, not for increased funding or governmental attention, but rather for books, notebooks, and clothes for his rural students. Unfortunately, the predicament of these seventy-five village children, mostly forgotten by prospering urbanites and preoccupied politicos, is hardly uncommon.

When I asked her why she had shown me the article, Mefo quietly pointed out the teacher’s mobile phone number at the bottom. “I called him,” she said nonchalantly, getting up to pour me a glass of tea. “We have spoken several times. What a nice young man…” It turns out that not only had she called him, but after pooling a bit of money together with her Friday bridge game friends Candan and Sabiha, she had already sent them two packages of goods! “It was mostly socks and underwear,” she told me, the latter of which’s uses the teacher had to explain to many of them. The children were incredibly fond of the soap with which the ladies filled the gaps in the boxes, choosing not to use, but rather to carry the bars in their bags out of happiness. As she told the story, Mefo’s beautiful face, though a bit tired, radiated a humble hope and a sense of satisfaction that was anything but selfish. If nothing else, she understood that her efforts, no matter what the cost, put smiles on the faces of village children who have probably known little other than poverty, conflict and strife in their short lives.

People like Mefo inspire me to engage in meaningful change, no matter what the scope. Such simple acts of kindness should be a part of our everyday lives, though I don’t know many people, myself included, who go beyond good intentions most of the time. It is that extra step that ultimately makes a difference; that moment where you step out of the “box,” when you go beyond the societal norm. Like Mefo, we must all aspire to positive change, never giving in to the temptation of mediocrity. Her selfless, caring spirit is to be respected and emulated. Personally, I admire her not just because she has been my loving grandmother for over twenty-six years, but because she and her friends have become everyday heroes in the lives of village children they will probably never meet.