Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Just One Man

About fifteen months ago, a man my age made a momentous decision: he set himself on fire.

December 2010: A twenty-six year old man named Mohamed Bouazizi had been the sole-bread winner for his family of seven in Tunisia [his mom and five siblings]. He was a fruit vendor. You know the guys, they have those little carts full of fruit and they’ll even cut a piece open for you to taste the sweetness of strawberries and melons and the like. He’s said to have been trustworthy and popular among his peers. Since he had been providing for his family since he was twelve-years old by selling fruit on the streets, he had a history of being harassed and required to pay more than his “fair share” of extralegal bribes to petty officials. “Early” in the morning on the 17th, [yes, 10am is a little early in some parts of the Arab world], he started his day, hopeful for plenty of business to not only pay back his creditors, but also to take home some money and provide food for his family that week. [He paid for food and housing, as well as his sisters’ tuition in university.]

Most accounts go that a female official wanted him to shut down his work for the day and he refused. She slapped or spat on him, cursed his deceased father’s name, confiscated his scales and discarded his cart and produce. In addition, witnesses have confirmed that he was beaten by her aides. He was irate that there was no way for him to provide for his family and for this public SHAMING and abuse that he had suffered. He ran to the mayor’s office to report the incident and ask for his scales to be returned [his only means for business]. When his request to be seen was refused, he obtained some paint thinner and returned to the government building. At 11.30am, amidst traffic and the bustle of his city, he doused himself with gasoline and set himself afire, screaming, “How do you expect me to live?”

The thing about Mohamed is that… he did live through his burns. For a little while, anyway. Most people, when they set themselves on fire, successfully commit suicide in the act, but this time it was different. He was taken to a hospital and cared for until he died on January 4, 2011. The country gathered to see his fate and waited for the government’s reaction. Mohamed wasn’t alone.

Right now, second only to sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab States have the highest percentage of youth in their population. That means that their largest age bracket is 15-24 years old. For North Africa and the Middle East, the majority of their populations are educated. And unemployed. You see, they’re doing everything their leadership is telling them to do. The Arab World has made astounding strides toward education in the last decade. Education matters. And so, these youth are hopeful when they complete high school and perhaps go to university. And then, they graduate to find that… there are no jobs. They have no livelihood. [I can’t tell you how many trained surgeons and engineers were my taxi drivers.] Their aspirations for their futures return to a dismal outlook as the reality of their lives becomes apparent to them.

They’ve done everything they were supposed to do. And now what? How can we expect them to live? Many live in near poverty, if not deep in it. Hence the heavy dependence on family for life and the emphasis put on marriage.

These last 18 months have been a volatile and pivotal time for our world, especially in this region. The day Mohamed died, the entire country rose up in rage and protest against the government. Within ten days, their president of 23 years fled the country.

Mohamed’s fire hasn’t stopped with him. With one successful overthrow, protests spread across the region into Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Libya, Jordan and Yemen. I’m hopeful because of the Arab Spring. In most cases, I’m witnessing a shift in the mindset and attitude of the youth in these countries. They want to have ownership and responsibility in their present and future lives. They’re smart. They work hard. And they want their voices heard. I don’t think they’re ridiculous. They’re only demanding what I believe are modern day human rights: jobs, reasonable food prices, education, and freedom from repression and oppression. It’s not going well for them in most cases, but it’s also not over yet.

I counted it a blessing to be in the Arab World at the time these unprecedented overthrows were being carried out. There’s something stirring in this world. People, young people, are asking questions they’ve previously been denied, as to their existence, their purpose in life, their contribution to their world. It’s a heavy door that’s being pushed open and I’ve only experienced it to be positive in my personal relationships with Arab friends. For the first time in a long time, they say, they are hopeful for the days to come. It’s my prayer that this door opens to a new opportunity to explore The Hope we have in our Father and His Son.

And really… it all started with just one, 26-year old man.

In some ways, it reminds me of a 33-year old Man.
HE made way for a new kind of Life, too.

I’d like to invite you to pick a country and pray for their people.
Lift them up and petition our Father to reveal Himself
in dreams, relationships and new governments.
We’re here for such a time as this.

Some shebab who came out for some protests in my neighborhood.
I, of course, “interviewed” them with my Flip.
They’re smart guys with high hopes for the future.


  1. This was an absolutely fascinating post. Thanks for sharing. I love the perspective you have on current events.

  2. As always, TTAH (Lisa!), thanks for reading and always dropping me a little note. We live in some powerful times. To Him be the glory.



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