Belai tossed and turned in the old raggedy blanket. Its musty stench masked the smell of leftovers the villagers gave him only a few hours ago. Strong winds blew through the window of the decaying cabin, almost trying to break it down. Belai’s eyes shot open. Sweat rolled down his face from his terrifying dream. He thought about how much time and effort it took to get here and if it was even worth it. “Of course it was,” he whispered to himself. To get from Eritrea to Sudan, all the hiding and sneaking around from the Ethiopian guards. It couldn’t have all been for nothing. Belai looked around to see if anyone was awake. A faint sound in the distance could be heard but he didn’t think much of it. Belai tried to maneuver through the pitch black room, minding not to hit the sleeping bodies of his 11 bunkmates. The menacing wind began to die down. He stretched his arm out to balance himself. Before he could take his second step Belai felt the ground quaking. Lights flashed through the window blinking on and off. He could now clearly hear the sound of trucks coming closer and closer. Belai stood as still as a deer in headlights, trembling in his torn clothes. “So this is it,” he thought. “These 11 grueling days were for nothing, I knew I should have never done this.” Once, then twice he tried to move but it felt like rocks were piling on his back every time he tried. “BEEP! BEEP!” The trucks seemed to be never-ending, only to get closer. “It’s ok.” A hand shot out and latched onto Belai’s ankle. “They can’t hurt us.” With each word the person spoke, chills went down his spine, like a spider crawling down his back. “We are in Sudanese territory, they can’t do anything to us.” The guide emerged from the darkness. Weight lifted from Belai’s chest, so fast he felt light head. He felt a warm feeling washing over him. “I made it?” he stuttered. The trucks were long gone, and the first ray of sunshine beamed onto Belai’s face. His smile spread across his lips, ear to ear. A tear trickled down his face, a tear of triumph.
50 years later, my dad told me this story. I have always looked up to this story, I’ve admired it, and I let it control my thinking sometimes. What I mean by that is that my dad had a lot. He had his family and friends and a noticeable future. But in those 11 days, he came to understand that he might not have those things anymore. What I learned from that is, that you need to start from somewhere. No matter what the situation is, you need to begin from where you are at. Of course, other people are going to be ahead of you in whatever situation you’re in, but all of that doesn’t matter. You need to focus on yourself. I know all of us have gone through hard times. Like times when we are stuck in the past and can’t think of our future. If you want to leave a war-torn country there is a lot you have to do if you can imagine. My dad went through so much and had to persevere through a lot to get to where he is today.
I’m not sure if my dad knows how much his story impacts me. When I started my first track season there were all different kinds of people. My two buddies and I joined the team. We never really talked about who was faster nor did we care much at the time. The first day was to see how fast everyone was and where they would be placed (Varsity and Jr Varsity). Since we were all friends, we all went up against each other and started to race. It was a 200 meter sprint but it felt like a 400. My first friend took off. I’ve never seen him move that fast, to be honest. After the race, I asked him if he works out when we are not around. “No,” he said. That was when I decided I had to be faster than this guy. All track season we had this rivalry that only I participated in. I had to start somewhere to be faster than him. Even though this guy is faster than me now, I can still make it happen. And to this day I am still trying to be faster than him, and I think I’m closing the gap. I just need to work harder.
Belai now is happily retired in his late 60s. He is in contact with his family who mostly lives in Eritrea (we are going in August). He lives in his house with his son and takes late-night bike rides every so often. When my dad came to America around 1976-1977 he started a new life, built it from the ground up, and made it into a beautiful piece of architecture. Whenever you feel unmotivated or that things can’t get any worse. Just know you gotta start somewhere, so why not just start now. Don’t put it off until tomorrow, or the next week or month or year.