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Sofia

About 15 years ago a little girl was sitting in a rusty wheel chair outside the central hospital of Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. The girl had no legs and she was perhaps ten years old. When I passed I stopped and exchanged a few words with her. I still do not know why. Although she almost whispered I understood that her name was Sofia.

Today, many years later, Sofia is one of my closest and dearest friends. No one has taught as much as she about the conditions of being human. Nor has anyone taught me more about poor people’s unprecedented power of resistance. Those who are forced to survive at the bottom of society in a world we all share and inhabit; so unjust, brutal and unnecessary.

That last word is very important. The unnecessary. Thus, one of the hardest things about our day and age is that so much suffering is unnecessary. While writing this sentence yet another child dies unnecessarily of malaria. At the same time, millions of children will not be able to read this, for them these words will be nothing more than mysterious signs for which they simply do not have the knowledge to understand. Being a writer as I am, that is perhaps the biggest disgrace today; in the year 2008 millions and millions of children are forced to live a life where they are denied the fundamental human right to learn how to read and write.

However, back to the girl in the wheel chair.

What happened to Sofia was that she and her sister were running along a small road close to the village where she lived with her mother and her other siblings. It was early morning, the mist above the fields, the sun just rising above the horizon. Sofia knew very well that she and her sister should keep to the road. There was something she called “earth crocodiles” buried in the ground by the side of the road and they could snap at you.

The girls were running. And children play, as it is their given right. And they forget, which is also their given right.

Looking back, it is possible to reconstruct the events that followed in a very precise way.

With her right foot Sofia accidentally stepped by the side of the road. She put her foot on a land mine. However, the mine had been placed in the ground in such a manner that the major part of the explosion that followed was directed at her sister Maria, who died instantly. Sofia was brought to the hospital, drenched in her own blood.

I have since then spoken to the doctor who took care of Sofia when she arrived at the hospital.

He said:

– I will now tell you something that no doctor ever should. Nevertheless, I will do it so you will fully comprehend the remarkable strength of this young girl.

He said:

– Since she was so seriously damaged, we were hoping that Sofia would die along with her sister. Her legs torn apart, her chest blown to pieces, everything.

Yet Sofia survived. She had greater strength than the entire military industrial complex which tried to take her life, which continues to hold the poor hostage, the poor who cannot defend themselves on equal terms. Within her body and mind Sofia carried with her the strong will to resist of the poor people of the world.

And she overcame. She survived.

Today, Sofia has two children. She is a very good seamstress, she studies and she wants to become a teacher. But more than this she has become a symbol all around the world for the resistance against the usage of land mines. For many young people she has become a heroine.

And she is a heroine for me as well.

If I should mention one moment when I experienced profound happiness in my life, it was probably the time I saw Sofia walk with her new artificial legs. At that very moment I also claimed what would later be my, as well as Sofia’s, motto in life:

“It is never too late! Everything is still possible!”

At the time of the accident, Sofia was illiterate. Now she is able to write down her own experiences, her understandings and her dreams. Furthermore, she can write down what she is against.

Her two children are well cared for, her thoughts about the future are filled with hope.

Nevertheless, there are moments when I see her turn away, leaning against her crutches. Moments when she does not want to be part of what is going on.

It is when people around her dance. To a European woman that might not be such a big a deal. But to an African woman? I completely understand.

Once her life was blown apart. But she resisted, she fought back. Nothing could defeat her.

What Sofia brings me is hope, hope for the future. Her indomitable spirit cannot be broken.

Henning Mankell