19 February 2013
Just by looking at his face, you can tell he has a story. One eye permanently closed, the other a little foggy; a nose strewn with scars; a scar from the middle to the left corner of his forehead; and one perfect smile.
Mehamed Gomez was nine, living in the Gode Region of Africa (near Ethiopia). He had no set language, and no real home, being of a nomadic people. There was no thought of technology, and most things in life for him were agriculturally based—whatever you needed, you either caught or created yourself. Gomez describes the land as “beautiful, wild and raw.”
However, the words that Gomez uses to describe his original home are the exact description of what changed his life drastically. His family was torn apart by a pack of wild hyenas. He was in need of serious medical attention when a few missionaries found him after the attack. The missionaries didn’t have the ability to give him the medical attention he needed so badly, so they arranged to have him come to the United States to treat him.
Gomez spoke no English, and couldn’t quite comprehend what was going on. He finally came to the conclusion that he would be here in America for a few weeks—just long enough to be treated, and then return home to Africa. However, he soon found out that there was nothing for him to go back to.
The host church of the missionaries had a family volunteer to have Gomez stay with them for the duration of his operation. After a few weeks, they asked him if he’d like to stay with them in America. He said he “felt loved and like I was meant to be there.”
From this point, Gomez’s biggest challenge was learning English so he could better adjust to American culture. He said he learned a lot from the television—a concept which in itself was completely foreign to him. He said that he found technology to be fascinating. On a trip back to Africa, he failed to describe just what “technology” was to his native people. He said, “I hate this comparison, but it’s almost like Heaven. You know how you just can’t describe it until you get there for yourself? But, you know it’s great.”
Gomez shared that because birthdays were not significant in his culture, his family estimated that he was nine years old. He later found out that he was actually about 11 years old, but he still celebrates birthdays as if he was nine when he came to America.
After living here for two years, Gomez entered the public school system, in the fourth grade. He went through the motions of not truly understanding, and by sixth grade he knew and understood what school was, and was starting to do some work. “And by work, I mean, 2+2 = 4. I was so behind,” he says, as he thinks back to his middle school days. Although he was initially extremely behind, he made it through high school and is on track to graduate from the University of West Georgia this spring.
While adjusting to the American school system originally presented itself as a challenge, making friends came easily for Gomez. The social aspect of American life, for Gomez, was easy enough to figure out. He said, “I know it was two different cultures, but I realized that all boys and girls are the same.”
The only social problem Gomez faced was the issue of being an African American from Africa. “I didn’t fit the ‘black’ stereotype. Black people would say I’m not a true Black. But I would think to myself, ‘I’m actually the truest Black.’”
Gomez used these comments to reflect on the type of person he wanted to be. He said that he concluded that he could either change who he was to conform to the ‘black’ stereotype, or he could choose to just be himself. “Who do I want to be? Do I want to fill the stereotype to make them happy, or be true to myself?” he explained.
He chose to be the person that he was born to be, and not to conform to what others expected of him. Although the answer to the question, ‘Who do I want to be?’ has not fully been answered for Gomez, he knows he wants to make a difference. When asked about his accomplishments in life, he simply said, “I know I’ve made a difference in friends’ lives, influenced them for the better. I think my real accomplishment is realizing my potential, and pursuing that.”
Gomez attends the University of West Georgia, where he studies business management. His goal is to get into graduate school as an Economics major. He wants to secure a job that will allow him the financial stability to travel back to Africa to contribute to their education system. “That’s something I am looking forward to,” he said.
Gomez said he believes that coming to America was all in God’s plan for him. Living here has given him a broad perspective of what life is about; taught him how people are the same even in different cultures; and given him an appreciation for technology, and how easy life can be. He summed up his experiences in both worlds by saying, “Even the poorest person here is richer than anyone where I was from. There was no one to give you handouts… Being born here, you are given so much. I hope to bless others as I have been blessed.”