UNCONDITIONAL LOVE STORIES
Because all you need is love
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We live in a time when terrorist attacks, ethnic and religious conflicts, natural catastrophes, layoffs and the migrant crisis dominate the headlines and our sense of reality. The media prioritises stories of fear and hate over stories of love, or reduces love to sex and passion. Yet love can come in a million different forms. FRANCE 24 is celebrating February, the month of love, by publishing three love stories that appear on the website unconditionallovestories.com. The stories talk about fraternity, hope and tolerance and are sure to warm your heart. We wish you a happy Valentine’s Day!
Meftaha ♥ her little brother
“My brother and I are about two years apart. I don’t remember when he was born, but I remember the day when I tried to give him a grain of rice and he bit me. That taught me a lesson. Today, Simo is 11 years old and I’m 13. I don’t know what I would do without him.
What I love most about him is his charming way of looking at you and the smile that he gives you out of the corner of his mouth. He’s so cute! Every day when I come back from school I go and find him in his room. I sing him lullabies, I kiss him, and I tell him about my day. He’s the one person in the world who knows everything about me. And he would never ever betray me.
Sometimes I’m sad that he is the way he is because he’ll never be able to play all the games that I want to play with him, and I will always be angry with the doctors who didn’t know how to care for him properly when he was born. But we have such a special bond! Every day, there’s a different word that makes him laugh. Yesterday, for example, it was ‘cheese’. And when we sneeze he makes fun of us! He might not be able to express himself like the rest of us, but he can feel everything.
"When I grow up and I have a husband, inshallah, Simo will come and live with us. In our house we’ll make him a room so if anything happens, I’ll always be there for him."
Sometimes you can see in his eyes that his temper is changing: his eyes start to tear up and he purses his lips. I know that he’s about to reach his limits. Nothing makes him sadder than that and so I put on his favourite music, the Gnawa, and I try to make him laugh.
When people want to be mean with me, they know exactly what buttons to push. I try not to show that it hurts me when they imitate people with disabilities, for example. I don’t want to get oversensitive because of my brother – although I think you get a totally different vision of the world when you live with someone whose condition no one else can understand. But when it comes down to it, perhaps that makes me lucky?
Someday, I’d like to take over the school my parents founded to help children like Simo. I go there pretty much every day, either before or after my classes. I know the first names of all my brother’s friends, I’m friends with all of them and it feels like it’s mutual. But above all, I’ve made myself a promise that I repeat to myself every day: When I grow up and I have a husband, inshallah, Simo will come and live with me. In our house we’ll make him a room that is next to mine so if anything happens to him, whatever it might be, I’ll always be there for him. When I tell Simo that he will live with me when we grow up, he blushes and he gives me that little smile, as if he’s grateful, as if he’s a bit moved by it. The most important thing in the world for me is that he’s happy.”
Meftaha Mekour is now 14 years old and studies at Lycée Lyautey high school in Casablanca, Morocco. She’s the second-youngest of four siblings, and Mohammed (nicknamed Simo) is the youngest. Simo is severely disabled after suffering respiratory distress when he was born. In 2008, his parents, Loubna Kanouni and Rachid Mekouar, founded l’Amicale marocaine des infirmités motrices cérébrales, or the Moroccan association for cerebral palsy, a day-care centre. The centre currently cares for 80 children who receive individualised medical, paramedical and pedagogical assistance to help them achieve more autonomy and to relieve their families.
Todd ♥ his two mums
“My biological mother gave birth to me at Claremore Indian Hospital, in Oklahoma, in 1975. That same day, Veta and Bunny came to pick me up and took me home to their small house. And that was it. From then on, ’Aunt Bunny’ and ’Mom’ raised me as their own son.
Veta and Bunny met in the late 1950s, while playing shuffleboard in a dive bar not far from Tulsa University where they both studied. Bunny was Native American, outgoing and bold, a tomboy. Veta, a descendant of French-Canadian Catholic farmers, was shy and conservative. When Bunny saw Veta, she thought: ‘She’s the one.’ Soon, they moved in together, but they had to be very careful, because this was way before the Stonewall riots and Harvey Milk, which wouldn’t have mattered anyway in that part of the country. At the time, anything could happen to people who were caught being homosexual, especially in Oklahoma. So they never showed any display of affection, not in public, nor in private.
“Growing up, it never really occurred to me that Bunny and Veta could be lesbians. It was a big secret, and it was not the only one.”
As a matter of fact, growing up, it never really occurred to me that Bunny and Veta could be lesbians. It was a big secret, and it was not the only one. Early on, Bunny and Veta told me that I had been adopted from parents who were too young to keep me. However, they never told me who they were. Those two secrets – my parents’ relationship and my origins – remained fairly intact for almost 20 years.
I was 17 when I started to put things together. I knew from my Native American card that I was three-sixteenths Creek. Bunny was Creek too, three quarters. Since no one in her family had married a Creek, what if my odd blood quantum came from one of her descendants? I did the math and made some wild guesses. I had a cousin Tommy who went to Vietnam. He did two tours, and came back with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and a drug addiction. He had a wife and a son, but when his wife kicked him out, he killed himself and he killed her, leaving a son behind. I wondered: What if it was me?
Around that time, Bunny got cancer. We knew that she would likely die in a year or two. At this stage, I thought: It does not matter if we don’t speak about all this. I don’t want her to think that I am questioning her love. I didn’t bring it up again and Bunny passed away a few months later.
“I always hoped that we had a secret astronaut in the family, someone who did something badass.”
Soon after, I dropped out of college and decided to join the Coast Guard. However, in order to do so, I needed a copy of my Social Security card. So I went to the Social Security office, and when the clerk asked me for my mother and father’s name, I said: ‘Mother: Veta Germain. Father: unknown.’ ‘It doesn’t match our records,’ answered the clerk.
She turned the computer screen towards me and I read: ‘Nancy XXX.’ This is how I discovered my biological mother’s identity. I knew her a bit. When Nancy was in college, she dated Skip, but got pregnant with another man. Skip wanted to marry her, but not take care of the kid. That’s why Nancy gave me up to her aunt Bunny.
I was disappointed to learn that it was her. While searching for my biological parents, I always hoped that we had a secret astronaut in the family, someone who did something really badass. But what did Nancy ever do? She had two kids with Skip before she divorced and got pregnant again with a trucker. Some of her children have lots of issues and one of them doesn’t even talk to his parents anymore. As far as my biological father is concerned, all I know is that his name was Jerry. I never tried to dig any further.
“Sometimes I wonder: Am I a sociopath?”
The second secret came to light shortly afterward. We were having Christmas Eve dinner and, in front of me and my mother, one of my cousins talked about how Bunny and Veta were ‘lesbians’. It was the first time anyone said that out loud to me. It irritated me, because I thought this was Veta and Bunny’s secret and it belonged to them. Once we were back home, I asked my mum: ‘Why didn’t you ever tell me?’ She said she was worried I would reject her. I told her I accept her for who she is and we never really talked about it again.
Sometimes I wonder: Am I a sociopath? I really don’t care for Nancy, her kids or my biological father. But I love my mum and Bunny. They were able to raise a family with love and by any measure do much better than many dysfunctional families with a mother and a father.
Bunny and Veta had a loving relationship, whatever its true nature. They taught me respect and trust. They really loved me. I wouldn’t trade Bunny and Veta for anything in the world.”
Todd Germain grew up in Oklahoma. After serving for eight years in the US Coast Guard, he moved to Washington, D.C., in 2009 to study law. He earned a doctorate and a master’s degree in law from American University. He currently lives in Istanbul, Turkey, where he lectures in commercial law at Istanbul Kemerburgaz University. He also provides consulting services to Turkish clients on international law.
Romi ♥ the street kids of Phnom Penh
“When I was 34, and living in Melbourne, I got offered a position to act as the general manager of Tiny Toones, a hip hop centre for disadvantaged kids in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. I was a drug and alcohol counsellor and really wanted to work in a developing country, so I happily said yes. I didn’t know yet that my heart would get broken into a thousand pieces and put back together over and over again by the slum’s most precious street kids.
“Those kids had virtually nothing, and they were ready to give me everything.”
Every month, Tiny Toones welcomes up to 500 boys and girls aged between 4 and 25 years old. Most of them come from a background of family violence, drug use, sex slavery, labour exploitation or extreme poverty. The centre provides them with dance, music, English, Khmer and computer skills, as well as hygiene, HIV, drug and sex education. Above all, it allows them to form friendships and learn trust, something they have missed out on so much.
At the beginning, they were afraid of me because I was a white female and could leave anytime. But once they realized I lived there and I would not abandon them, we became very close. I got to love them more than I loved myself, more than anyone else in the world. They had virtually nothing, and yet, they were ready to give me everything: their food, their space, their hearts, their help. At times, that feeling was overwhelming. I wondered if I truly deserved it. I got used to sleeping with my phone under my pillow, terrified that I would miss a call when they needed me. It hurt me deeply when they were in pain or trouble. But Cambodia is hard, and you can’t expect everything to be okay with kids who have been through so much hardship.
“For me, unconditional love means being there for the other, no matter what.”
Having worked in mental health, I know that people are most at risk when they feel that they have no one to turn up to. So I made a point of letting them know that they had me, even if they screwed up badly. Would they relapse into drugs, engage in a fight or end up in jail, we would sit down and I would start all conversations by saying: ‘I love you’. For me, this is what unconditional love truly is: being there for the other, no matter what. And I feel like I’ve learned this from the kids of Phnom Penh.
When you volunteer in developing countries, it’s not sustainable to stay. You need to transfer your skills and work on an exit plan so other people – ideally locals – can do it all themselves. After four years in Cambodia, I was heartbroken to leave, but I knew I had to. As a farewell gift, the kids wrote a song for me called ‘Beautiful girl Romi from Australia’ and danced to it. It was the most beautiful gift they could give me. Now, I’ve been outside of Cambodia for three years, but I still talk to some kids on Facebook or Skype. Sometimes they say: “Come back.” And I answer: “No, you’re doing great by yourselves.”
I don’t know if you can have unconditional love with a partner. As adults, we always add restrictions, saying: “I love you, but.” You always compromise. However, with the kids in Cambodia, I felt I never compromised. I wanted the best for them. They wanted me to be around. It was as simple as that.”
Romi is from Australia. After having spent four years in Cambodia as the general manager of the Tiny Toones centre for disadvantaged children, she moved to the Thai island of Koh Phangan in 2013. She is a writer and a writing therapist. In 2016 she published her first book, “The 5-Minute Guide to Emotional Intelligence”. Her second book, “Hip Hop & Hope: From the Slums of Phnom Penh”, will be published in 2017. The book talks about her experience of working with the street kids of Phnom Penh, an experience she has also talked about in a TEDx talk. To read more about Romi, you can visit her blog.