When History Happens in Your Front Yard

21 06 2010

I’m beginning to think my nephew is a real-life Forrest Gump, the original right place/right time guy.

Then again, he may be an undercover CIA operative.

(Photograph, quotations from Forrest Gump.)

When Adam was a little tyke we called him WW.   It stood for WhirlWind.  A typical afternoon?  His mother put him down for a nap during a visit to grandmommy’s house.  An hour later we discovered that he had found a lipstick and used it to cover every square inch of his face in bright pink (except possibly his lips.)  And when he finished with that he shredded a window shade into lots and lots of long skinny pieces.

“For no particular reason, I just kept on going.”

Baseball and Boy Scouts were his two main childhood interests.  His dad couldn’t see why anyone would voluntarily spend a weekend every month camping out, particularly during New England winters.  But Adam loved it; I think getting away from the day-to-day provided him with much-needed physical and mental release.

“When I got tired, I slept.  When I got hungry, I ate.  When I had to go, you know, I went.”

On the other hand, the rest of the world may think he, his dad, and his older brother are nuts in their infatuation with all things baseball, but they understand each other perfectly.  Whether played or watched, baseball continues to be not just a hobby, but an obsession.

“That’s all I have to say about that.”

Tragedy struck when Adam was a high school student.  He was a passenger in the back seat of a car.  A sharp corner, too much speed, a tree.  Three people in the vehicle died.  Adam and one other friend survived.  (Seat belts save lives!)

“Mama always said dying was a part of life.”

In the aftermath, he had to deal with the physical pain of his injuries as well as the emotional loss of three of his closest buddies.

“My Mama always said you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.”

His survival of that horrific accident may have been a clue that interesting things lay ahead for Adam.

“What’s my destiny, Mama?”  “You’re gonna have to figure that out for yourself.”

Academics didn’t come easily for Adam.  While some kids breezed through school, he learned to study.  Either in spite of, or perhaps because of, this effort he put into his lessons, he came to love his scholarly pursuits.

“You have to do the best with what God gave you.”

So it was not terribly surprising that after graduating from college with a history degree, he went on to earn a masters in religion and eventually ended up with an education degree from Columbia University.

The spark that academia lit within him worked both ways; he discovered that not only did he like to learn, but he also liked to teach.

“Have you given any thought to your future, Son?”

So now we come to the part of the story where Adam finds himself smack dab in the middle of two truly significant occurrences in recent history.  Which both involve revolutionary power shifts.

In 2004 Adam was teaching English to Ukrainians during a stint in the Peace Corps.  Living in Kiev, he had a front row seat to the Orange Revolution that was sparked by a runoff election between Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych.  Numerous news sources as well as public opinion reported that the election was marred by corruption and fraud, favoring Yanukovych.  After days of protests, a new election was held under close scrutiny and Yushchenko was declared the victor.  Adam saw it all, and lived it all.

“Well, now we ain’t strangers anymore.”

After the Peace Corps, Adam taught English to foreign students at a Boston area college for a while, and then he headed overseas again last year.  This time his destination was Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan.

“Mama always said, God is mysterious.”

In April violent protests led to the departure of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.  Provisional leaders took control.  During this unrest, Adam was briefly pulled away from his home base, but then allowed to return.

A couple of weeks ago, violence erupted again, this time centered on Osh.  Clashes between the two main ethnic groups, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz people, led to a state of emergency and fears of a civil war.  Adam packed what he could fit in his backpack and headed to a safer spot.  Now he’s out of the country and out of harm’s way, but filled with some sad stories about people in a place where education has taken a back seat to survival.

“I’m pretty tired…I think I’ll go home now.”

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