( Advanced level )
At the young age of seventeen, Akpan had more weight on his shoulders than any other in his village. He was the eldest son of the tribal leader.
When he was younger he hated not having a normal childhood. When his friends went out to play, his father had other ideas for him. He was being groomed for his future responsibilities.
Akpan knew his future was clear. This year, on his eighteenth birthday he would take over the responsibilities for his father and the people. He would become the next leader. Was he ready? Would he make his father and his villagers proud?
On a hot and dusty afternoon, as Akpan sat under a tree, he thought of what the villagers needed the most. Something that could change their future and generations to come. His official duties would begin in less than three months and he wanted to prove, not only to himself but to the people, he was ready.
The people were able to provide enough food to sustain them. Growing vegetables and raising animals. They were able to build basic housing to shelter them from the elements. The only thing they were needing was the opportunity for a proper education.
Most, in his village, were unable to have any type of a formal education. They would use outdated material and books that were donated by different organizations from around the world. Most of Akpan’s own education was from reading. Any chance he had he would read.
His father, too, received his education through life itself. Not having the proverbial brick and mortar schoolhouse did not stop him nor will it stop Akpan.
Once in a while, groups from the western world would come, staying for short periods of time. They helped in any way they could. Mostly, helping the young to learn to read and write.
During this time, Akpan would take the opportunity to ask many questions. Wanting to know as much as he could about the western world, as it seemed so far away.
The latest group, a missionary group from America, had taught them to play baseball using a crude stick and anything they could find that was round and resembled a ball. To this day, they continue to play this game. One day they hope to have a real bat and ball.
When the missionaries left they said they would return, in late summer, when the temperatures cooled. They would return with more donations of clothing, treats, school supplies and non-perishable food.
Akpan remembered them saying, “If they needed anything special, send word to us. We will try to have the supplies when we return.”
Somehow, Akpan had to get word to them. He could write, not eloquently, but they must hear his plea. His mind was filled with what he wanted to say.
The next day he tore a page out of a school book. Most of the pages were filled but he managed to find one page that had one blank side.
And so he began his letter…..
On my eighteenth birthday, I will become leader of our tribe. I am ready for this responsibility and welcome any challenges. One thing I want, most of all, is for my people to have the opportunity for a real education.
I want them to have a school. An actual building with new books, desks and a teacher. I want them to have the opportunity that I , nor my father, or my grandfather never had.
I know this is quite a lot to ask from you. Our people have always appreciated everything you have done. You once told us if we needed anything to get word to you, so now I write this letter in hopes that you can help.
We shared stories and ate together. You are considered honorary members of our tribe.
Until we meet again,
He folded the letter and tied a piece of twine around it. His way of sealing it like an official letter. He was proud of his letter. When he was unsure of the spelling of a word, he would thumb through the old school books until he found the word he wanted to use.
He sent it with a runner to the next, much larger, village. From there it would go onto the next village and so on.
He knew it could take up to a month or more to get to its destination. He just hoped it would arrive in time, for them to read, before his special day.
Akpan’s special day had come. His birthday. Moreover, the day in which he would become the new leader. Even though this was the day Akpan waited in anticipation for all his life, his spirits were low. He was hoping the missionaries would have arrived by now, but they hadn’t. He wanted to surprise his father and his village.
The ceremony was simple but beautiful. His father stepped out of their home, with a long bright yellow and red cloth wrapped around one shoulder flowing down to what seemed to be like a long skirt.
On his head was a simple matching yellow and red headpiece. In his left hand he held a small wooden ceremonial club. The club was carved with ornate birds and nestled at the top were beautiful blue feathers of the shoebill stork, cascading downward.
Akpan turned to face his father, as the villagers chanted to the cadence of the drums. His father bowed his head down as if he was giving a nod. He then passed the ceremonial club to Akpan, signifying the transfer of leadership to him.
As the summer came to an end, Akpan had settled into his new role. Making sure enough dry food was stored for the cooler months ahead. Fish were sun dried and stored . Meat was cured and salted.
He would often look down the long dusty road that led into his village. He wondered if his letter had made it to its destination. With the passing of many months, he felt it had not.
The cooler months had come and gone and new life was springing up. The trees, that lay dormant, began to show green. The wild grass had started to pry its way through the dry earth. The rains will come soon. He knew it would be time to plant this year’s crops.
Many of the wild animals would be giving birth within the next few months and this meant he would have to make sure the fencing around the crops would keep them out. The young were always inquisitive and the smells of the new vegetables were enticing. Cute as they are, the crops would be destroyed within hours.
A few months had passed and summer was approaching. The villagers would be harvesting the first crops and replanting for the next. Usually two harvests would suffice the village until the next spring.
Early one morning, the villagers were busy getting their day started. The men were tending to the animals as the women were preparing the morning meal. Life was going like clockwork.
The men had finished with the animals just about the time breakfast was ready. The women were busy gathering up the children so they, too, could have their breakfast.
One young boy came running yelling, “Akpan, Akpan…look!” as he pointed down the road. In the distance, Akpan could see not one, not two but three large trucks headed their way.
Akpan walked to the edge of the road and began to smile. Could this be what he asked for? He had given up all hope on his letter and his wish.
As the trucks drew closer, all of the people had gathered around Akpan. They, too, were watching and confused about what they saw.
The first truck came to a complete stop just a few feet from the group. Out of the passenger side jumped a small framed woman, who the villagers had recognized. She ran up to Akpan, with a huge smile across her face, she extended her arms out for an embrace.
“It has been a long time, my friend. I received your letter and it took me a while to organize such a feat, but here we are! We have enough materials to build your schoolhouse. We have new school books and desks. And we have arranged for teachers, from all over the world, to come and teach 3 months at a time.”
Akpan just stood there. Gazing at the trucks filled with what would change the future of his village. The village children squealed with delight.
Akpan’s father had been standing behind him and heard the whole conversation. He was so proud of his son. He had grown into a strong , confident man and what a great leader he had become.
Written by : Angel
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weight on his shoulders – idiom: many problems or responsibilities
groomed – verb: prepare
sustain – verb: supply and nourish
elements – noun: weather or conditions
formal – adjective: official
outdated – adjective: out of date
proverbial – adjective: well known, traditional
brick and mortar – adjective: physical presence of a building
missionary group – noun: group of people sent into an area to promote education, literacy, health care, and economic development
crude – adjective: makeshift
resembled – verb: features of the real object or person
non-perishable – adjective: used to describe an item, usually food, that can be stored for a long time without spoiling.
eloquently – adverb: fluent or persuasive
plea – noun: request
honorary-adjective: an honor or distinction
twine – noun: strong thread or rope usually several twisted together
anticipation – noun: expect or predict
ceremonial – adjective: formal or ritual
ornate – adjective: decorated with patterns, objects or symbols
nestled – verb: settle comfortably within or against something
cascading – verb: to flow or fall
cadence – adjective: rhythm, tempo , beat
dormant- adjective : deep sleep or inactive
inquisitive – adjective: curious
enticing – adjective: tempting
suffice – verb: enough
tending – verb: to take care of
clockwork – adjective: very routine *note: clockwork can be a noun if describing a particular mechanism or gears in a clock*
embrace – verb: hold closely
feat – noun: achievement
Do you think everyone deserves an opportunity to receive an education?
Have you ever known of anyone who had not finished their education? Had to drop out of school?
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