Although pain has been his constant companion, Shikali’s solution has been to reach out to and carry the weight of others.
Having lost his left leg as a teenager when a car bomb exploded next to him while on his way to school in Afghanistan, Ali painfully walked using an old, abandoned prosthetic leg. When local militants attacked his village, Shikali helped identify and bury 355 friends and neighbors in a mass grave. He and a few remaining family members felt compelled to leave. This meant making the grueling climb over two mountain ranges, during which he sometimes carryed his five young nieces and nephews on his back.
His plastic leg broke several times, but he resourcefully repaired it with sticks and duct tape.
Once settled into a camp in Greece, Shikali made himself useful to others he recognized were in need. As one of our team members described him:
“Ali was friendly, calm, and loved by all in the camp. He is a natural leader, a mature and noble man with the wisdom of someone five times his age. He is a survivor and a leader. He is calm in the face of peril, compassionate in times of tragedy.”
In Athens, for instance, at the end of the first phase of his exhausting journey to safety, he befriended a suicidal fellow refugee — a young mother — who owes her survival to his willingness to bear the weight of her anguish.
When tragedy struck him again—when his best friend in the camp drowned off the shores of Greece—Shikali set off alone for freedom. He could no longer risk remaining behind European borders that were closing quickly and definitively.
One afternoon, our team got word that Shikali had made his way to France smuggled on the cross beam of a tractor trailer. In Paris, for a time, he lived in a tent under a bridge or otherwise roamed the city streets, destitute. However, TSOS volunteers and their Parisian contacts found Shikali a safe place to stay and provided him with a new, state-of-the-art prosthetic leg. Today, Shikali lives in the heart of Paris, masters French well enough to speak publicly alongside our team members about his experience integrating in France, and has many friends whom he helps to understand complex French asylum laws. His latest passion gives “carrying weight” a literal meaning: Shikali trains regularly with weights and encourages other refugee friends to do the same to remain vigorous and healthy as they find their way forward.