A big smile, infectious laughter, and endearing personality accurately describe Kone Sindou. The model, represented by Red, loves life and lives it to the fullest, be it in the kitchen preparing a delectable meal (he is a seasoned chef) or on the runway of a Kanye West show. Looking deep into Kone’s eyes, however, one can sense the strength of his seasoned soul, the struggles he has faced in a desperate search for a better life. The 28 year-old’s story is one about a boy, his will to survive in a war-torn Ivory Coast, and eventual move to New York at age 19. For this feature, we spoke with Kone at a coffee shop and teamed up with Brooklyn based artist Gio Scotti to present a new series of images portraying the struggles and strength of Kone Sindou.
Written by The BASTARD Child
“Many children eventually fight in the war because they are angry and sad due to the fact that their parents were killed in the war.”
How did the war witnessed during your childhood affect your life?
It made me question God. Before the war, I used to go to the village in my country and visit my grandparents. Everybody was working together and the people were very happy. It was beautiful and peaceful. War changed all of that. My country got divided into two parts, the rebel part and the government part. The rebels were in the south and the government was in the east, so it became difficult to travel. A lot of things were damaged: People lost their homes, there were no more schools, no hospitals, and no jobs. It will not be easy to replace all of this. People were killed for no reason and others died from sickness because there was no access to medicine. We couldn’t even get any for my father, who was very sick. My best friend was killed during the war. I will never forget him. I haven’t seen my parents or my siblings since 2006 and I miss them very much. The war left me lonely and angry. Many children eventually fight in the war because they are angry and sad due to the fact that their parents were killed in the war.
How did you survive such a fate?
My mom. She was afraid that if I stayed in the Ivory Coast I would be killed. She told me to go to Mali and that I would find someone to live with there until I was able to go to America. I didn’t want to go because I didn’t know anyone in Mali and I would have to start a new life. I was so scared to leave my family, but after a few weeks I went. I had to travel from one village to another with the fear of being killed. I didn’t know whom to trust. Sometimes I had to sleep on the road because the driver said, “We cannot attend the next village anymore so we must stay here on the road for the night and continue the next day.” At that point I just wanted to leave my country because I didn’t want to stay in that kind of disaster. When I finally got to Mali it was almost midnight and everything was closed so I just passed the night on the street.
How did you mother know you would find help in Mali?
Because it is a Muslim country and I am Muslim. It is part of our religion to help people in need.
What happened when you woke up?
The next day I started to roam the streets. I did not know where I was going or who I was looking for; I just remembered my mom telling me that someone will help me. I started to get hungry so I went into a store to buy something to eat. Then I saw a lady, she came with a car and was very well dressed. I thought to myself, “Oh, let me ask her, maybe she can help me.” I said hi to her and told her that I had a little money but I didn’t have enough to buy something to eat. She helped me buy some food and I was very grateful. She noticed my accent and asked me where I was from. I told her I was a refugee from the Ivory Coast and that I arrived here yesterday with no place to go. She said she had heard that it’s getting really bad there and then asked where my parents were. I told her that they told me to leave because I was the oldest and they couldn’t travel with my four siblings because they were much younger. She told me she had to speak to her husband first, but that they had a free room. Her husband agreed and I stayed with them until I got my passport and visa to come to America. I was very fortunate and grateful.
“I would think about my parents back home with no jobs and no way to support the family. I knew I had to do something to help them.”
What was it like when you arrived in America?
I came to New York and I was living with my aunt, who I had never met. I didn’t speak English, only French. My cousins had to translate everything for me whenever I left the house. It was really hard. Sometimes I would sit alone and my aunt would say, “Why don’t you join the other kids and go play?” I would say, “No I’m fine,” but inside I wasn’t fine. There was so much going on in my head. I would think about my parents back home with no jobs and no way to support the family. I knew I had to do something to help them. I went to school to learn English. My uncle worked at a restaurant and he told me that he could get me a job there. I really wanted to do something because I needed to start financially helping my family. I started working in a restaurant washing dishes. I worked seven days a week so I could make enough money to send home to my family, so they could eat and buy the basic necessities in order to survive. My parents even took in a few kids who had lost their parents to the war and had no place to go. I was a very hard and dedicated worker. I had to be; I had a lot of people depending on me. One day a sous chef told me that he liked the fact that I was always happy, never complained, and had a great vibe. He asked me to join him at his new restaurant and he would teach me how to cook. At his restaurant I started at the salad station and then moved up from there. He loved my work ethic. He said I moved quickly and was a fast learner. When he decided to close his restaurant he got me a job at Robert De Niro’s restaurant in Tribeca. The chef at that restaurant also taught me a lot and helped me to become more skilled in the kitchen.
How did you then start modeling?
I was on my way to work one day and was approached by Dave Fothergill at Red Model Management. He asked if I was a model and I said no. It was hard for us to communicate with each other because I didn’t speak much English and he didn’t speak much French. I told him that I didn’t know anything about modeling and that I was not interested. He gave me his card anyway and told me if I changed my mind to give him a call. I went into work and told the pastry chef at the restaurant what had happened and he told me to give it a try. He said he wished someone had approached him about modeling when he was younger. He told me that there might be something about my look that that they find interesting, but also to be careful because there are people that will scam you. When I got home I told my aunt about it and she told me to forget about it—“they are not serious.” I trusted her opinion so I forgot about it. Two days passed and I was watching cartoons—I watched cartoons to help me learn English—and I thought maybe I should call even though my aunt said not to. I called the agency and went in the next day. Since I didn’t know anything about modeling, he told me he would give me a month to figure out if it was something I liked. During that month, he would send me out on castings and test shoots. After the month I decided to sign a contract with them and give it a chance. After a while I really started to enjoy modeling. I used to be so shy that I couldn’t even look people in the eyes. Modeling helped me gain confidence and broke me out of my shell. Modeling also helped me make friends. I didn’t have many friends before I started modeling. Now I have a lot of different people to hang out with. I am not lonely, like I used to be.
Once you started modeling did you quit your job at the restaurant?
I love to cook. I still work in the kitchen and I could be a sous chef if I wanted to be, but right now I like the freedom of being a cook. I basically do the same job as a sous chef without the time commitment. A sous chef is a very demanding and stressful job. You have to put in long hours and you don’t have any time to do anything else. I would have to give up modeling and I am not ready to do that yet. Is cooking what you are most passionate about? Right now it is. It’s like exercise for me. Working in the kitchen feels like I’ve been to the gym. After service I feel relaxed and like I have accomplished something amazing. The more I do it, the more I fall in love with it. Cooking and plating food is like an art show. It’s my expression of love. One day I want to open my own restaurant. There are so many restaurants in New York with cuisines from all over world, but I do not know of any African restaurants. I want to open a West African restaurant so people can experience how amazing the food is from my country.
“My past has put my present into perspective.”
What have you taken away from the struggles you’ve endured?
My life has been hard, but it could have been so much worse. My past has put my present into perspective. I used to ask myself, “How am I going to overcome all of this?” I believe there is no job that is going to make me suffer more than I have already. I never thought I would be living the life I live now. I am blessed and grateful to be able to work in order to provide not only for myself but my family as well. My past pushes me toward a better tomorrow.
Kone Sindou is Being Accomplished at Selfless Tasks And Righteous Deeds by donating the proceeds raised from the sale of his fanzine to Action Against Hunger | ACF International, a humanitarian organization committed to ending world hunger. Recognized as a leader in the fight against malnutrition, Action Against Hunger | ACF International saves lives through providing communities with access to safe water and sustainable solutions to hunger.