When I visited Mali, I was invited to the school I had taught at as a guest speaker in the English as a Second Language classes. The
students astounded me. They asked about abortion, women’s rights, our political system, and differences between Canadians and Americans.
I decide to take Raymond to school with me as guest speaker in my French as a Second Language classes. I explain who he is, tell my students that he’s an Olympic athlete and now Olympic level referee. They can ask him any questions they like. They ask if it’s hot in Mali and what he eats. He is gracious with his replies. Okay, their limited language skills are getting in the way. I offer to translate. The questions are still banal. Disappointed with the kids, I take Raymond home at noon. No point in putting him through more of this.
It’s bloody cold. Raymond scoots into the house and parks himself in front of the fireplace, leaving it only to eat or take pictures from the window as neighbours shovel snow.
“Do you want to go out?” I ask. “I can get you a big parka.”
He shudders and shakes his head.
We do go out the next afternoon to do some shopping. Raymond would like a new pair of jeans. As we zip through the mall, he says, “You’re just like Chris. You Canadians go too fast. Vaut mieux être sage comme les Maliens. Allez doucement.”
Okay, I get the message. Chris, his wife, is originally from Saskatoon and we do rush. We could slow down a bit. Be wise like the Maliens.
Raymond buys his jeans. “Is there anything else you would like to do? No? Okay then.” Home and he’s back in front of the fireplace.
That night I drag him out to the IMAX theatre. He loves the film. Thanks me for taking him. As we return to the car, the cold, somehow more intense in the dark, snaps at our skin and makes breathing difficult. We make a run for it.
Raymond gasps for air and shivers as I start the car. “Now I know why you Canadians move so fast.” His admission is heartfelt.
I stifle a giggle and get him back home to the fireplace where he remains until it’s time to go to the airport.