My name is Gilbert Jean Thierry Namur. I am a proud Canadian. My wife and I live on Vancouver Island surrounded by magical ancient forests and majestic snow capped mountains. Our children were born here and we share this little slice of heaven with our Chocolate Labrador Retriever named Jazz.
But … it was not always thus.
Far away from these boreal shores of the Pacific Northwest, I was born in a place called Leopoldville. At the time, Leopoldville was the capital of what was then known as The Belgian Congo. Today, it is known as Kinshasa. Situated on the Congo River, it is the capital and largest city of what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
My stay in Africa was brief. Not long after my birth, there was an awful revolution and we were forced to flee the country. Like many thousands, we just made it out alive.
I was so young when I left that my recollections of Africa are limited to shades and shadows in the very deepest recesses of my memories. Throughout my life, however, I have heard countless stories of the great beauty of that country and the many adventures experienced by my parents and sisters. My father’s eyes would always sparkle when he spoke of the Congo’s great splendor.
We left Africa and, after a short stay in Belgium, we landed on Canadian soil in 1963.
Forty years later, my wife and I were visiting my parents for dinner. Afterwards, my mother placed a file on the table that contained old black and white photographs from the Congo; she had recently re-discovered them in an old trunk. She was not sure if we had seen them before and wanted to share them with us. As we started to flip through the pile, a photo fell out — a picture of a young lion.
“What’s this picture all about, mom?” I asked curiously.
“Oh, that’s your lion, dear,” she replied as if it were old news.
“Yes, dear, your lion,” she said, smiling as my father looked on with a knowing glint in his eyes.
My father was a man of the highest integrity. Throughout his life, he treated everyone with respect and kindness irrespective of their belief systems, ethnicity or the language they spoke. My mom and my sisters have always treated people in exactly the same way. My parents had two daughters and really wanted a son. When news of my birth spread, some of the Congolese men who worked with and loved my father wanted to honor him and his first-born son with the gift of a lion.
To be presented with a lion is an honor of the highest magnitude. That a Caucasian Belgian would be honored in such a way speaks volumes of just how highly regarded and loved my father was by these Congolese people.
One of my sisters, who was 10 at the time, remembers my father beaming with pride while simultaneously wondering how he could possibly look after a lion cub already nearing adulthood! There was, of course, no way for us to keep a lion. My father asked if they would be willing to care for it until it was old enough to be returned to the wild. This was for them also a great honor. And so it was a win-win, and eventually the lion was allowed to live its life as it was meant to. Free …
My name is Gilbert Jean Thierry Namur … and for a short time, my dad and I had a lion! As I look back on my life, the many things I have done and the many things I wish I had done, the memory of that night at my mom and dad’s always makes me smile. I had a lion! Perhaps one day when it is my turn to cross the rainbow bridge, I will meet our lion and the people who gave it to us and then cared for it. I would like that very much.
All photos © Gil Namur, All Rights Reserved
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