Sunday, August 24, 2008

Children of a Lesser God (not about the movie)

Well, there are only two. They hang around near the Mosque or the central monument which I pass by everyday on my way to work. The children, two boys to be specific, are in the 10s or early teens if you'd count their malnourishment factor, in ragged shorts, dirt covered t-shirts and with looks of a goat that is about to be butchered. There is also the one legged man, in crutches, standing straight-up and without movement as if a statue had been planted at the entrance of the Mosque to remind something, that I yet to realize, to attendees and passersby.

This morning, as I headed towards the office, which is a ten minute walk from my hotel along a wide four lane highway of this former Soviet Republic, admiring morning rays and the beauty of Mongol descendants in colorful summer attire, who sometimes mildly startle at the sight of this brown-foreigner, I was in fact thinking of our son, who'll turn fifteen in few months, and his future to become a real man. He is a great kid with personal and physical traits of his maternal grandfather and with computer and artistic skills that'd exceed my abilities as an IT man, in time and with experience. However, we also noticed that lately he's becoming someone who keep things to himself and not expressing thoughts in a productive manner. This could be a teen thing and since he's our first child, we are also "learning the ropes while climbing the mountain".

So, we decided to find him a summer job to polish-up his soft skills and found one with a neighbor as a video/ photo editor. Mind you, this video business is run out of a basement and the only other employee is my neighbor's wife! Although my son seems to like his job, I still found the surroundings inadequate to achieve his or our objectives. While, I'm sure there are other jobs and avenues to go by, as a traveling dad who's home is mostly a hotel room somewhere in an oil-patch country, it was disheartening in my inabilities to deal with the situation.

Yet, as I was walking this morning, along the highways of Atyrau (in Kazakhstan), admiring the morning rays and Mongol beauty and about to pass the Mosque that is with a view of central monument in sight, things changed.

The one legged man didn't move as usual. But the kids, who usually mind their own, ran towards me and in a non-recognizable language (not Kazakh nor Russian) started to say something, tapped on my shirt and also touched my feet. Startled at their behavior, it took me few seconds to realize that they are asking for money. As a person who spend my early years in South Asia, I knew how to shoo away roadside beggars and instinctively, I did exactly that. Somehow, it didn't work. The kids were persistent however, very abnormal to the country's humble nature and culture. While I was dragging myself away from them, one of the kid pulled the trump card from his shorts' pocket, as if to have perfectly read my state of mind.
It was a picture of his family, a dated, crumpled black & white photo with dirty-brown crease marks all over. He pointed himself in the middle, a baby faced six year old standing amongst five siblings and his parents, with scary look and no smile. He also pointed at his parents and acted out as if they are dead. We spoke no language, no words were exchanged yet I understood his dilemma or the perception of such, and everything else didn't matter and deceased to exist. I saw my son in his eyes, a distant young person sleeping thousands of miles away in his cozy bed, computers and a play station to wake up to. I saw two children of a lesser God, one with everything to enjoy yet with a bit of challenge in getting out of his comfort cage and another one with nothing material but with competent skills, how low the objective may have been, to communicate, negotiate, use and achieve it. I fell and my heart broke thus came five hundred tenges ($4) out of my pocket!
Ones the money and the unknown languages of thank you-s were exchanged, as I continue my walk towards the trimmed lawns and beaming offices of an oil giant in this under-developed land, I thought of how important social skills are to survive this world. As globalization requires learning, accepting and working with unknown people, culture and diverse social lives - to be must-have skills, even an experience with irrelevant beggar-kid becomes important. Every task we undertake requires presentation, communication, positive negotiation and persuasion to achieve best results.

The child of a lesser God I met today doesn't seems like that anymore. He is also a child of our generous Gods, such that he's blessed with certain skills of which some of us are still facing challenges.

I decided to take my son of out his video editing job and put him in a more diverse environment where he can polish up on soft skills. A summer job at a super market comes to mind, with no regards to the pity minimum wage he'd earn. I'm not worried anymore.