A road map

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Some days ago the whole school was working with the same theme: our values. The motto for our school is: Safety, Responsibility, Respect. Strong words that we need to remind each other from time to time. Together we saw a film called Wonder, it is about a young boy who was born with a rare facial deformity. The boy, August, was now 10 years old. He had undergone surgery more than 25 times to fix his breathing, hearing and the shape of his face. August had been home-schooled until now, by his mother, but both his parents had decided that it was about time for him to begin school and hopefully get some friends.

August had so far spent all his time with his parents and his older sister, Olivia. He didn’t like to be out at the playground or elsewhere because people were always staring at him.
August was a very intelligent boy who loved reading books and his favourite subject was science. He dreamed about becoming an astronaut one day and his favourite toy was a space helmet that he wore every day. August even wore this helmet when he was out with his family. The helmet had a shield that wasn’t seen through from the outside so August felt safe with the helmet on his head. He pretended that he was on a mission with a space ship every time he was out with his family. He had learned from his parents that if he didn’t like the place where he was, he could pretend that he was on a place he liked instead. That was a good protection for August, it was tough for a little boy to look so different from others.

The movie was wonderful, it had a deep message but it was told in a way that it appealed to our youngsters. It was a bit different because the story was told from different angles; August himself, his sister Olivia, his friend and his mother. During the theme day with our pupils, we stopped the movie after each sequence and spoke about the movie. It was amazing to hear all these wise and insightful comments from my pupils.
Not even once we heard any stupid comments about the movie, even at the most emotional parts. This shows the inner maturity our kids have, even if they act childish from time to time. The kids in my class are not always easy to deal with. They come from mostly tough backgrounds but one thing they seem to have learned from their lives is not to back down for strong emotions.

I love to share quotes that have deep and important meanings. The first time I saw the film Wonder I have told you a little about, there was something August’s mother said that touched my heart.
August was crying because of the way he looked, he was sad because he looked so different from other kids and some had even become frightened when they saw his face. August was missing almost the whole outer part of his ears and he had a lot of scars on his face. August’s mother tried to comfort him and said that we all carry marks that life has given us. She had several wrinkles on her forehead, August touched them and asked if those were marks of his mother’s life. His mother replied, and I quote: “There are marks both on your body and in your heart. The heart is the map that shows where we are going, the face is the map that shows where we have been.”
What an amazing line, don’t you think? The change of focus goes deep and makes us to change the way we are thinking.

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There is another quote from the movie, and this time it was from the principal. He had a meeting at his office with one of the boys in August’s class and his parents. The mother of this boy, who bullied August, was complaining about August and told the principal that the school shouldn’t have a pupil who is so ugly so other kids get afraid of him. These parents, of the bullying boy, were rich and they paid a lot both for the school fee and as donations. They believed that they were above others and that they could decide who was accepted at this school or not. The principal was a wise elderly man and he didn’t accept the rich parents’ request. His reply to the parents was that we can’t change the way August is looking, but maybe we can change the way we see. Such wisdom in these words!
I have been searching for material about body language and today I found an article about what signals we send each other by the way we look, dress and behave.

There are a variety of signals and not all are interpreted the same way all over the world. People focus on different things; eye contact or not, the tone of your voice or your handshake. What we consider as beautiful also varies. In the US the main focus seems to be on how beautiful or handsome people are. The norms for beauty are almost always mixed with how sexy people are. Such shallow thinking! So many are struggling with obesity there, but you seldom see fat people in movies or TV shows. The only time they show a fat person is when they need someone clumsy and or fun. Fat men are more common in movies than fat women, fat men are more accepted and fat women get ridiculed. Why? Why are we not playing by the same rules? Why are we making fools of people who don’t look in a way some call beautiful?
Physical beauty fades but inner beauty stays forever. What if a person has got all this attention for how she or he looks and one day something happens that destroys that good look? What if that person just got…old? In the western world we don’t appreciate elderly people in the same way as in Africa. Our ”best” years are between 18-40, at least for women. People are not focused on the male beauty in the same way as on female. A man can be really ugly and fat, as long as he is rich, but the woman by his side must at least look young, she must be slender and beautiful.

Why are women so often commented for their looks when men are commented for their qualifications? Even highly educated, skilled women get more comments for their looks instead of their skills. Imagine if the newspapers in The Gambia would write articles about President Barrow and how handsome he looks in his new traditional clothes and how sweet his smile is? Well, he looks good in his clothes and has a nice smile, but that is not the point. The point is what he can do for the country, then I don’t care even if he would wear his trousers inside out.

When you look at the face of an elderly person you see wrinkles, scars and marks from a long life. When you look at an elderly person in the eye, you see wisdom compared with patience, joy as well as tears shed for all the sorrows that person has lived through. It is like looking at a beautiful landscape where the wrinkles are roads leading you to unknown treasures.

You use a road map to get from point A to point B. I remember when I was younger it was often my task to read the map and give the directions. That was really hard sometimes, the map was big and folded in smaller parts. The map must be held correctly and when I finally found the right road on the map I had to keep my finger there so I didn’t lose the sight of it. The most stressful part of the journey was when my mother, who was driving, reached a large town with fast traffic and a lot of lanes.

Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is one example that still gives me stress. It seems as every time I reach Stockholm there are new roads that have been built, or they are under construction. Nowadays I have an appliance called a GPS in my phone which is very helpful. GPS stands for Global Positioning System and you use it for navigating with the help of satellites that are circulating around the world, high up in the sky. It is amazing that it works!
What if GPS instead meant Godly Positioning System? That is the system we use every day, consciously or unconsciously. We connect to our GPS either we bend our knees or in a silent sigh when we need help to find a solution. This system works with or without wi-fi, if our phones have credit or have been lost somehow. Isn’t this truly amazing, we never lose network because God is always there. We might not always be there for God, but he is always there for us. As soon as we reach out to him, he is there. When we don’t know where our lives lead us, God is there with His road map, His GPS, to show us the right direction.

When we struggle on our own, trying to find our way without God, it is like holding the road map upside down. It is like when I was a young girl, trying to help my mum finding the way and my finger lost its position on the map.
When I was young I believed that I could manage without God. I live in a secular society where prayer and one’s belief is something private. We are shy to share it with others, God has no natural place in our society. What I had experienced from those who called themselves pious was a false picture. It was like people were parts of an act where they told the lines they had been repeating. The way they acted on Sundays, in church, was so different from every day life and it made me confused as a young girl.

I couldn’t understand why people called themselves pious and still they acted like pagans. As I didn’t have anyone to speak to about these matters I instead blamed God for it. I thought that if this is how people become when they say they believe in God, I don’t want to be a part of it. I felt that it was better to be on my own, and honest with it, instead of playing a role in the same game as the others. I gave up on God, but fortunately He never gave up on me. His GPS led me to Islam, it showed that I had been shown the wrong direction at the beginning, I had been holding my road map upside down. I know I will find my right direction now, I have my right kind of GPS and it never fails me. What an amazing technique!

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