Editor’s Note: This is a two-part story, with Part I running today, to be followed with Part II on Friday, Aug. 11. After attempting for more than two months to meet with Tchicaya Missamou, I was finally able to catch him at his Santa Clarita Warrior Fitness and Wellness Center office and, boy, my persistence really paid off. After speaking with Tchicaya, I realized why it was so difficult to see him; this man is a world traveler giving inspiring and motivational speeches. Read on and you will understand why. Sickle-Cell Anemia Tchicaya Missamou was born Sept. 7, 1978 in Brazzaville, the largest city in the Republic of the Congo. Because Tchicaya was born prematurely and with sickle-cell disease, a blood disorder, his mother was unable to provide proper care for him. At a very early age, she gave him to his grandmother. The grandmother, in turn, gave him to a 12-year-old aunt to care for. Tchicaya was a scrawny child, which is very difficult to imagine now, and growing up he was constantly picked on and bullied. Africa’s population consists of people with lighter skin pigmentation and very dark skin, which is Tchicaya’s skin color, resulting in considerable discrimination in the Congo. Dark-skinned people were considered inferior and dim-witted, so Tchicaya grew up with the odds of success greatly against him. Another notion held by the Congolese was the white man was God and everything they touched was blessed. Tchicaya grew up thinking he was inferior and he wanted desperately to alter his appearance to resemble a white man. Child Soldier Tchicaya recalled at age three, his grandmother, who was blinded from diabetes, protected him from aggressive children. She frequently told him that one day he would grow up to be someone special. That message of hope was embedded into his mind and he carries the same inspiration with him to this very day. At age six, Tchicaya met his father for the very first time. His father had accumulated many wives and, altogether, Tchicaya had 20 brothers and sisters. Resulting from his parent’s absence, he was sent to other family members who lived in the city, various villages and even in the jungle. At age 11, the local militia forced Tchicaya to become a child soldier. He was subjected to participate in committing violence and crime, though he never actually killed people. When he was issued an AK47, he realized he had to cooperate to stay alive. Tchicaya stole from people not for himself but to help the poor. In Congolese, Tchicaya Missamou’s name means “healing flower.” United States Marine Remarkably, growing up in poverty, abandoned and being a child soldier, Tchicaya managed to continue his education the best that he could. At Brazzaville’s golf course, Tchicaya retrieved golf balls from a lake to earn money from golfers. He recalled several U.S. Marines had played golf and intentionally hit balls into the lake to amuse themselves as they watched the boys dive for their golf balls. Tchicaya was thoroughly impressed with the Marines’ style, specifically how they dressed and their haircuts, so he asked who they were. One of them replied, “We are United States Marines and we are saviors of the planet.” Tchicaya boldly declared he wanted to be a Marine. The men roared with laughter, saying, “You will never be a U.S. Marine!” Tchicaya was thoroughly insulted and made it a challenge, often reminding himself of his blind grandmother’s hopeful words, “Someday you will be somebody.” Phony Passport In June 1997, a civil war broke out in the Congo and Tchicaya transitioned from committing crimes to saving lives, causing his militia to turn on him. They nearly beat him to death, assaulted his mother and burned their house down. People he had saved came to their rescue and they ultimately gave him a phony passport to travel to Belgium. With his father’s support, he left the Congo. However, his dad was badly beaten and incarcerated for assisting. It was near impossible for Congolese to leave the Congo. Once in Belgium, Tchicaya became a maid for an affluent family who had given him a room. He cleaned their house, cooked meals, did their laundry, etc. Tchicaya thoroughly trusted this family and he had them save his money as he had no immigration papers. During the next winter, he was unmercifully kicked out and his savings were stolen. Tchicaya only knew hot weather, thus he had no winter clothes and yet there he was living miserably in the streets. He had never seen snow before. California Love Tchicaya was living off trash can leftovers, but he managed to call an aunt in France. She drove to Belgium and brought him to France to share her one- room apartment. Tchicaya took a tough job unloading frozen fish, but in his mind he knew a better life lay ahead and he worked very hard. Meanwhile, during a work break, he happened to see a Dr. Dre and 2Pac video on TV. The rap icons were performing “California Love.” He instantly realized that this is where he needed to be. At the fish facility, his new friends laughed when he said he was going to California and they said, “You have no papers, no money and you just got here.” But, Tchicaya knew deep down that he would go to California. Turning Night into Day Tchicaya set his sights on traveling to America on Valentine’s Day 1998, so he purchased a phony passport. On Feb. 12, he took a bus from Paris to Frankfurt, Germany, where it was less expensive to fly to America. He purchased a nice suit, got a haircut, carefully examined his passport and bought a United Airline ticket to Sacramento, Calif. He presented his passport and was immediately arrested, but he cleverly convinced authorities that he was indeed a French citizen. On Valentine’s Day, he flew to Chicago. In the skies above the Windy City, he was stunned to see its bright sky and he thought, “The white man can turn night into day.” Once he entered O’Hare’s terminal, he faced his next unexpected obstacle – the escalator. Never before had he seen such a contraption, but after carefully observing others, he put his fear aside and triumphed over the odd machine. However, at the next level up, glass doors automatically opened for him and he thought, “My God, the white man has magical doors! This is more than Congo Man can take in one day.” Part II publishes Friday, Aug. 11.