ANECDOTES. Entry Number One: Jonas

He was buzzing all over the reception hall. This young, dark man in a baby blue short sleeved dress shirt tucked neatly in to chocolate brown slacks cinched tight around his narrow waist. From the kitchen to the tables and back again, he moved with purpose and precision. Expressionless except for a sweet smile flashed at those whom he passed on his short, repeated routes. In a room full of old familiar faces, his was new. I heard the event coordinator mumble something to him in French to which he nodded acceptingly and continued his busy motion.

Dinner time arrived and the assigned seating placed this stranger to the right of my wife and me. A few introductory words were delivered over the public address system by the event coordinator as to why we were here (a thirtieth anniversary celebration for a couple we know) and what was being served for dinner (lasagna, salad, ciabatta bread with olive oil for dipping, Sangiovese wine). As the food was dished up I turned to the young stranger and asked his name.

“Jo-NAS,” he answered in a deep French accent.

I gave my name, my wife’s name, as well as my mother and father’s names who were sitting across the long table from us.

“Where are you from Jonas?” I asked.

“Benin. In West Africa.”

“How old are you?”


“What brings you to the United States?”

“I move to Cincinnati. For good,” he replied in just slightly broken English.

We tried to impress Jonas with what little French we knew. After four years of French in High School my father can only remember how to say, "Shut your mouth." Our French vocabulary being what is was, we returned to asking him questions of general nature. Each of his replies were met with the angled head nods and eyebrow raises of genuine and eager interest from those at the table.

I could not help but notice the distinct characteristics of Jonas’ face. Bright, almond shaped eyes; a vibrant white smile; smooth skin the color of a coffee bean. One feature stood out from all the rest though. On the apples of Jonas’ cheeks were a series of scars. The scars numbered three to each cheek, perfectly spaced from right to left, about one inch in vertical length. I couldn’t pinpoint why, but these scars gave this otherwise reserved and quiet young man a sense of depth and wisdom.

After busying ourselves with eating for a few minutes I presented Jonas with another question.

“What did you do for work in Benin?”

“I was a Youth Advisor.”

“Is that a government assigned job or something?”

“No, it is NGO job.”

I showed a look of confusion.

Jonas picked up on this and elaborated, “S-O-S – N-G-O.”

“Oh, OK I understand,” I lied.

“What was your responsibility there?” questioned my mother from across the table.

“In Benin I help children. Girls from age of twelve, boys from age of fourteen. From this ages children becoming adults. They have changes in mind and body. I help them learn about next steps in life. ‘You try this job. You learn to do this skill. This is what to expect next.’”

“I see,” I said as his role became clearer. “Do you work with their parents on this?”

“You see, the children and the parents do not…discuss…communicate about these things.”

“Is that a part of the general culture?”

“Yes. The parents and children do not talk close about things. Most of children at that age leave home and come to live in small…it is like a small village. It is job of Youth Advisor to listen to the children and help them from then on.”

I could tell that my mother was taking this information in, processing it, and allowing it to hit her emotionally. She and I have always had an open dialogue, especially through my teenage years and she was having trouble grasping the idea of a parent sending their child off to gain a close relationship with a total stranger who would then help release them in to adulthood. Then, Jonas delivered this:

“Sometime though, the parent drop off baby to us,” he said as he made the gesture of laying an infant down to rest. Both arms stayed extended, hands turned up as he continued, “One, two weeks old. They have baby and they are scared. They don’t know what to do. They just leave it outside of door for us to find.”

My mother gasped as her face saddened. “Oh no! Just a little baby?! Does this happen often?”

Jonas lowered his eyes and softly whispered, “Yes.”

Jonas’ expression showed that no matter how many times he had seen a baby abandoned, he never got accustomed to it.

He continued to open up with confidence. “As a boy, my parents were separated. I am the oldest child. I had to raise my three sisters.”

“How old were you?” asked my mother, almost breathless with emotion.

“Eight years old,” stated Jonas with a proud smile, a smile so big that his scars almost disappeared.

Loudly, my mother exclaimed, “YOU WERE ONLY EIGHT YEARS OLD AND YOU RAISED THREE LITTLE GIRLS! I am going to have to hug you!”

Jonas was surprised and laughed out loud.

I leaned over and told him, “She’s serious. You had better get ready.”

With that, Jonas stood up and walked to the end of the table with outstretched arms to meet my mother half way. He stood about a foot taller than her and as she wrapped both arms around his core and buried her head in his chest, he turned back and looked at me with that big, beautiful smile. He patted my mother’s back as she squeezed him tight and then returned to his seat next to me. I put my arm around his shoulder. Jonas was now my brother.


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