By: Tressa Thompson


“Madame, something bad has happened.”

Mid-morning, I encounter my friend, Bijoux, with half a cup of palm wine in his hands and a look of mild disappointment on his face, like maybe his football team lost or he stepped in a mud puddle.

“What is it?” I inquire, half expecting the usual, playful guilt tripping of not calling to greet, or failing to bring bread from Bamenda.

“This. This morning.”

He nods down to where his right leg should be. But it’s not there. His entire leg, gone. Just like that. Something about an infection that quickly escalated.

I send him another liter of palm wine and walk back to the house, humbled and once again having things put into perspective.

A thought that often finds me, stood up like a bouncer, chest puffed and arms crossed, not allowing me to pass: This wouldn’t have happened in America.

When Winisia got kicked out of school for pregnancy, that thought found me. When Pa Petrol buried his 3-year-old son after a 2-week flu, that thought found me. I haven’t been able to sit down with this thought and reach some kind of understanding. That idea could drive a person mad, though, so I try not to dwell on it too much. I recognize, but don’t wallow. It’s just one bullet-point on a long list of things I don’t understand.

Anyways, back to Bijoux.

Bijoux is unfailingly kind and has never shown me anything but respect. He likes to brag about how bright his 5-year-old daughter is. Despite his fifth-grade education, he is well-spoken and intelligent. He had been supporting himself and his children by tapping palm wine and driving a motorbike, both of which require two legs. So, no leg meant no livelihood.

In Bijoux’s situation, I probably would have lain in bed eating Ben & Jerry’s and feeling sorry for myself. However, there’s no Ben & Jerry’s here and, quite frankly, no time for self-pity. Within a week, Bijoux managed to put up a small wooden shack on the square in village, selling phone credit, fuel, soap, tomato paste, etc.

Every morning he hobbles along the slick mud hills to reach the square and make something happen.It’s been about 2 months since Bijoux lost his leg and not once have I heard a word of woe, not the slightest dip in his simple kindness.

I’m sitting here on the square in the chop-house adjacent to Bijoux, feeling admiration, feeling inspired. I am thinking of something that we used to say on my high school soccer team: “No excuses, play like a champion.”

Good on you, Bijoux. You are a champion.


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