FGCU grad student overcomes more than most
Published: Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Updated: Saturday, May 26, 2012 13:05
The game kept him alive.
It is 2001 and Mario Nappi watches as Roman Narmbaye, a 6’10”, 240-pound high schooler, effortlessly flicks skip passes from the post, swishing 15-foot jump shots.
A 17-year-old Narmbaye left Chad for Nigeria, a developed country that offered opportunity, to play for the Ebun Comets.
Nappi, one of Narmbaye’s older brother’s best friends who played for Ivory Coast at the time, saw what everybody else saw but what no one else could do anything about—a raw talent who could be transformed into the next Dikembe Mutombo, a former NBA star.
He couldn’t keep the giant a secret, so he called his cousin, Bernard Chula, a basketball intermediary of sorts based in Indianapolis who made a career out of funneling foreign talent to America.
Chula talked with coaches he knew in the U.S and got the kid who had no hope a way out.
Today, a 27-year-old Narmbaye attends graduate school at Florida Gulf Coast, studying criminal forensic behavior.
From 2005-08, Narmbaye played center for the FGCU basketball team.
His imposing frame, bloodshot eyes and worn face show the terror from his childhood—the weeks without food or electricity, the flimsy houses made out of clay and filled with dirt, the deaths brought on from the Muslim-Christian War and malaria.
Affectionate and gentle, Narmbaye would rather calmly settle an argument than destroy smaller foes on a basketball court, a peacefulness born from pain.
Ndoloum Charles, Narmbaye’s childhood playmate and neighbor, always talked with his friend about coming to America in between games of HORSE.
They whispered when they discussed it, afraid to incite jealous peers who didn’t have the same avenue to make it out.
“His size and skill made it easier for him (for Narmbaye to leave Chad for the U.S.),” said Charles, who now studies at Newberry College in South Carolina. “But his drive to do whatever it takes to make it and not go back is what got him here. That, and he has an ability to get along with people and connect. He’s a gentle giant.”
“You can’t succeed in Chad,” Narmbaye told himself, remembering the times he’d have to walk five to six minutes, barefoot, to a public fountain so he could pay two cents for a bucket of drinking water.
There were no sinks in his room. No water. No food.
Narmbaye, dizzy from not eating in a week, gave the bucket to his mother, Mordomti Awa, who, after setting aside some of the water to drink, used the rest to bathe her son and soothe his dry skin and frail bones.
“Back home people always called me “dry bread,” Narmbaye said. “I looked shriveled up, like I could shrink at any minute.”
While Mordomti tended to the house, her husband, Joseph, drove a truck, bringing in just enough money to provide food every few weeks, but not enough to pay for his son’s school books.
One day, Narmbaye and Charles tried to watch a DVD of their favorite musician, rapper DMX.
They sat and waited for three hours to hear DMX unleash his trademark barks and growls.
Still nothing. Their homes had no electricity.
They craved America harder now.
But the more they talked, the more doubt trickled in.
Narmbaye and Charles heard tales of pampered, greedy Americans who resisted family life, pursuing individual glory over community.
“We both understood that there’s a difference in culture (between Chad and the U.S.),” Charles said. “What’s outrageous to us may not be outrageous to them (Americans). An American can get in trouble and then get on a plane and go somewhere else. If we got kicked out of school or something, we wouldn’t even be able to get to an airport.”