What Mandela Meant to My 5-year-old Me

Can I tell you what Nelson Mandela meant to my 5-year-old me, back in the early 80s?

Once my sisters and I were shopping with our dad in the grocery store. He didn’t want to buy the apples from South Africa, asking us to choose from the other shelf instead, and we demanded to know why. And so he started to explain.

There was a country far, far away, where some people were treated differently than the others. Therefore us in other countries should not buy their things, so that they would understand what they did was wrong. This was a tricky thing to explain for three small girls with one million questions, but dad didn’t give up.

“It would be like… if Maria (their friend’s daughter) wouldn’t be allowed to sit on the same bus as you”, he explained, as he trailed us through the store with a shopping cart filled with unflavored cereal and other boring groceries that characterized Sweden in the 1980s. “Or if someone was sick, and the hospital wouldn’t let them in.”

The story haunted me. A few years later the front pages posted the news on Mandela’s was release. One of my friends’ father explained what the headlines were about, as we passed by the placards.

These stories must have affected my in a way I didn’t realize. And yes, feelings of anger and sadness followed as a result of knowledge. But I am glad adults were willing to take their time explaining things, instead of sugarcoating it. Small things like these shaped me into the person I am today. It made yesterday, to me, a special day.

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