FGCU grad student overcomes more than most
Published: Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Updated: Saturday, May 26, 2012 13:05
Narmbaye jumped out of bed and shook the neighbors.
“Did you talk to me while I was sleeping,” he asked them. “No. Are you insane?” they responded.
Perceiving the dream as a forecast to his future life, Narmbaye told no one about that night, fearful to jinx what he saw as fate.
On the way to Senegal, the Comets decided they would stop in Ivory Coast to play a harmless scrimmage.
Nappi played for the Ivory Coast that day.
Nappi saw the natural jump hook and the easy outlet passes.
Then he called Chula.
A 17-year-old Narmbaye was invited to come to the U.S. and play for the Life Center Academy in Burlington, N.J. through a missionary outreach program in 2002.
After he did his research, Chula made an honest phone call.
“You don’t have a place in Africa,” Chula told Narmbaye. “Let me give you a chance in the U.S.”
Narmbaye couldn’t commit right away.
A professional team in Angola offered him a $20,000 6-month contract that was too tempting to turn down.
While in Angola, Chula hounded Narmbaye with phone calls and emails telling him about the better life in the U.S., about how Angola couldn’t match its education and freedoms.
Chula revealed his bank account records to the U.S immigration services, confirming that Narmbaye had financial backing.
Five days before 9/11, Narmbaye picked up paperwork and a plane ticket from the post office and flew out of Chad that day, the only one out of 40-something people at the airport to get a visa.
Darryl Gladden, the basketball coach for Life Center Academy, a Christian school that fosters kids from preschool to 12th grade, drove to the airport.
Gladden thought he knew what to expect.
He had informally adopted international kids before and possessed an itinerary laying out basic information about the boy he was set to take into his home.
Gladden, his wife, Andrea, and their three daughters and one son, would house another stranger.
But when Narmbaye got off the plane, carrying a small bag containing three outfits, photographs and torn sneakers, Gladden quickly saw so much more.
“My children especially took to Roman more so than any international kid we’d housed before,” Gladden said. “He was always so appreciative but not giddy. He’d say things like ‘You didn’t have to.’ But had a demeanor where people wanted to keep giving.”
People from the local Burlington church gravitated to Narmbaye when he would come to pray, often pleading to him, “What can we do? How can we help you,” and being met with a quick smile and a “nothing at all.”
Andrea made sure to fill his dinner plate with pork, beef and chicken; mashed potatoes and mac n’ cheese; protein powder for dessert, meals that helped him gain 25 pounds in the first two months.
Narmbaye cried when he ate the meals, skipping breakfast (he still refuses to eat when he wakes up) because he was too ashamed to indulge in pleasure.
“When I eat, I think about my family,” Narmabaye said. “Why am I eating while they are over there (in Chad) with no food? I feel bad.”
Darryl spent weeks helping Narmbaye replace his old sneakers, which had holes so big his feet would poke out of them, because not every store sells size 16 shoes.
The Gladdens gave Narmbaye a tiny 9-by-9 second floor room in their three-story row home. A larger room became available later on, but Narmbaye wouldn’t budge. He was grateful.