What Mamadou Taught Me

When Jacob and I had just begun our nomadic lifestyle in Turkey in the late winter of 2009, we didn’t know many people in Istanbul. One day Jacob struck up a conversation with one of the many African purse/watch/clothing sellers who set up on blankets in a market outside of his gym.

“Is it real?” He asked, about the watch he was looking at.

“I have to be honest. It is not real,” said the man.

And from that sprung a friendship, renewed with conversation each time Jacob went to the gym.

His name was Mamadou, which means Mohammed, and he was from Senegal, trying like many do here to make money to send back home.

Guy who cooked us dinnerHe invited us to dinner at his home, a memorably tasty chicken dish that we all ate out of together with our hands. He and other immigrants from Senegal lived in a very small apartment near their work.

After dinner, Mamadou gifted me with a beautiful Senegalese purse, and a necklace.


Jacob and Mamadou have kept in touch over the years here and there, and we have hoped to go meet him again. He was such a sweet and gentle man that we wanted to visit Senegal to meet more people like him.

We found out Mamadou died today.

It seems especially unreal because we are here in Turkey now, just having visited the old market that he used to sell his wares, meeting another lady from Senegal, telling her about him.

He was young, Jacob’s age or thereabouts. He was unmarried. And he died of some undisclosed illness.

He was an illegal immigrant in Greece, and I worry that because of that situation, whether for lack of money and a job or for lack of ability to visit the doctor legally, he wasn’t able to get the healthcare he needed. But I don’t really know those details. He never asked us for anything.

Mamadou, I only met you once. But I learned this:

friends istanbulWhen we first started traveling, Jacob made a friend with someone (you)who I probably wouldn’t have previously looked twice at. And you were one of the most gentle souls we’ve met on our travels, and one of the most sincere. I can’t look at people selling things on the street the same way ever again because of you. You humanized them for me, made me realize these are people trying to make the best of a rough situation, leaving home where there’s no money and not always finding it any better or easier once they get out.

I learned that you can meet someone just once and they can make an impact on you for a lifetime. Mamadou impacted me. He gave so freely when he had so little. He was real. And he cared about people.

I feel sorrow in my heart that this beautiful soul’s life has ended too soon. Mamadou, I shed tears for you today, and I sent a prayer in my heart that you are now happy and at peace.

me n mamadou

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 371 awesome articles for us.

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