My grandpa and grandma served as hosts to a farmer from Africa one summer while I was in junior high school. "Kip" was here to learn about our agricultural methods and then bring the best applicable methods back home. Over the course of his stay, Kip talked about his country and his life, usually over Sunday meals with the extended family. Kip was one of those happy optimistic people that always had a smile to brighten your day. He always made your day better for having smiled and said hello.
Kip had learned English in a colonial school while growing up and so spoke with a very refined British accent. The accent was coupled with occasional charming lapses into his native tongue when he couldn't find the equivalent word in English. (His native langue sounded to my untutored ears a lot like a woodchuck running amok in a snare drum shop.) All this was absolutely captivating to the teenage me who had never been more than 150 miles from our location in the mid-western US.
Kip was shy at first, but he was a born story teller once you got him going. Kip told stories of his farm, of his wife, of his dreams and his hopes for his children. He told of his tribal mythology and of the natural wonders of his country. He talked of how he missed his wife and family dearly, but felt he needed to learn different farming methods if they were to have a better life. His fellow villagers could only afford to send one person on the program and Kip was it. He would share his new knowledge with his neighbors when he got home as part of the trade for their support. Kip and the other farmers from around his country came here and learned, supported in part under a department of agriculture program for developing nations. Keep in mind this was before cell phones and the breakup of the AT&T monopoly, so there was no way for Kip and the others to phone home. An international call like that would have cost more than Kip's annual income. So we became the family he couldn't talk to.
Kip felt like a part of the extended family for that summer stay. I hated to see him get ready to go. I knew I would miss the tales of far away Africa, the stiff British accent, and the beaming smile that Kip always seemed to wear. But it was time for him to return home to his real family and life. We made sure to exchange postal addresses and he invited us to come and stay with him if we were ever to journey to his country. That Sunday he met up with several of his countrymen and headed to Denver to begin the journey home. The whole group gathered in New York City and then boarded a plane for home.
During the time of their flight home, fate altered their lives forever. A coup occurred in their country, changing the accepted ideology of the leadership. When the airplane Kip and his fellow farmers were on landed, they were ordered off the plane, marched to the edge of the tarmac, accused of being "tainted" by their exposure to capitalism, and executed. Of course we didn't learn all of this immediately. It took a certain amount of time for what had really happened to leak out of the country. Eventually there were news photos of the executions, many by being hacked to death with a machete, smuggled out of the country. Definitely not pretty. There is nothing quite like the experience of looking at newspaper photos of an atrocity like that, hoping against hope that Kip wasn't one of the victims, and yet expecting to see him in every new picture.
When we finally learned for sure what had happened to Kip, I struggled to understand how any group of 'human' beings could do that to another person. How could anyone let ideology control them to the point that they could murder a person like Kip. It was this cold-blooded killing of an innocent man, a man with dreams so like my own, that killed my childhood innocence. If the universe would let a person as nice as Kip be killed over something as unimportant as ideology, it clearly wasn't a nice place. It wasn't the innocent place that I had basked in as I grew up, safe with my family. Never again would I have that trust and faith in the fundamental goodness of the universe.
This has been a response to Mama Kat's writer's challenge. Go visit her for the prompts and links to the other writers.