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The Chant Of the Alphabet

The chant of the alphabet… You know how we all go through life mostly taking things for granted? Sometimes though, whenever we get out of our bubble we see the other side of things. I mostly see the other side of things when I travel outside of the United States. This world is not all roses and rainbows. I am thinking about this because of what happened a few days ago. Because I am totally paralyzed, I have to rely on caregivers to do everything for me. There is not exactly a service that I can call and hire caregivers in Paris. It is kind of by word-of-mouth, referrals and luck. So, after months of looking for a caregiver I found Fofanna. Fofanna is a beautiful African woman from Mali who is incredibly chic in her own right. She’s actually so chic that she doesn’t even realize how cool she is. She arrives at my house two days a week wearing a new headscarf every time. In the afternoons, she changes her clothes to a traditional Muslim dress, faces north and prays. She always says that she is praying for me. One day I had to ask her to help me make a call on my cell phone. She was squinting as if she could not see the numbers. I thought maybe she needed glasses. A few days after that, I asked her how she spelled her name. She went to get her passport to show me. Later on, I needed help with my computer password so I asked her to type it in. She pretended that she could not see the letters very well. I put all of these instances together and realized that she could neither read nor write. So after a long conversation in my crappy French, she explained to me that she has never once stepped inside of a school. She has never been to preschool, kindergarten, grade school, high school and certainly not college. She told me that her grandmother would not allow her to go to school because school was for boys. My heart broke. The amazing part of this story is that even being denied an education, Fofanna had the intelligence and fortitude to escape her country and seek a better life for herself. All of this without being able to read or write. Serendipitously, yesterday I happened to see a movie called Girl Rising. It is an insightful documentary exploring the outcome and plight of girls who are denied an education. The statistics are crushing. The less the education the more the child labor, AIDS infection, sexual abuse, poverty and arranged marriages. I’m going to go ahead and say it… All of this mostly lies at the hands of men. Educated girls are a threat. Currently there are 66 million girls who are not in school. Luckily, most of the time, when a girl is educated she continues to share the cycle of education with her offspring. It just takes one girl with an education to build the bridge. I encourage everyone to see the documentary and share it. I always tell my daughter that her education is her power. Power to make her own decisions. Power to sail her own ship. Power to protect herself. Power to be the master of her destiny. Sadly, in my case with ALS I might not always be here to guide her and my replacement is her education. Regarding Fofanna, I realized that as much as she gives to me I need to give back to her. I decided that I will share my education with her and teach her to read. By the time I am done with her she is going to be the chicest most literate African woman in Paris.
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  1. Thanks for this article. It's just what I was searching for. I am always interested in this subject.

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  2. Now I am completely in love with you

  3. Thank you so much for this Ellie. I think that most people just simply aren't aware of what life is like for so much of the planet, so every little bit (and there was nothing "little" about what you wrote) is so important. I am curious how Fofanna's learning is going. I did a 1000 km trip on the Nile River in Mali in 2002 and the people were some of the most genuine I have ever seen. It is so terrible that it is now too dangerous to visit and how great that she was able to start a solid life for herself in France. I am also curious if she is planning on returning home eventually...?