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Gratefulness in Ghana

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Written by YES Abroad Student, Avery Segal

I was jogging recently, when I came across a barren stretch of dirt. It was entirely uneven – one side a full five feet higher than the other, with large rifts and piles of broken glass on the ground. Looking further, I saw a nearly-naked toddler playing barefoot with a soccer ball. The ball was ratty – the outer patch coverings were worn out, flaking, and decrepit. It was a size five soccer ball – about half as tall as the toddler. Putting two and two together, I realized that this was a makeshift soccer field.

I jogged near the toddler and motioned for the ball. At first he had a confused look that read, “What could an Obruni want with a soccer ball?” As soon as he passed the football, I started juggling and quickly dispelled all notions that I didn’t know how to play. The toddler and I started passing, and other children soon joined in.

A crowd quickly gathered to watch the Obruni pass. Eventually I was asked, amidst much laughter, if I wanted to join a full-size soccer game with adults and miniature goals.

Their mindset was that I would surely decline their offer, since my ‘Obruni-body’ wasn’t tough enough to play with Obibinis. They thought I would surely be afraid of breaking a bone, and ending up in the hospital.

To their surprise, I agreed to play. I handed a reliable-looking Ghanaian mother my house-key to hold onto, and moved a 2 cedi bill ($1.20) from in my pocket to under the bottom of my shoe for safekeeping.

The toddler I passed with gaped at the money, staring with his mouth wide-open. With a completely straight face, he pointed at my shoe and asked me, “How did you gotten so much money?”

I paused, at a lack of words. This wasn’t a large amount of money – I brought just enough for three coconuts. But what really hit me was his tone. Unlike the begging kids on the street, he wasn’t asking for money. He was simply shocked at the idea of another kid having so much money by himself, and was puzzled as to how I attained it.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to his question. Answering, “It’s just two cedis…” would’ve only fulfilled the ‘Obrunis being rich’ stereotype. And if I told him the truth – that I brought 2 cedi to buy three coconuts, he would’ve been shocked at my gluttony and misuse of money.

I resolved the issue by telling him that my host mom sending me out to buy her cell phone credit. This white lie was ultimately the best decision – as I wasn’t seen as just another ‘rich Obruni’, and the money was well-explained. Completing my fairy-tale ending, I played a great game of soccer, scoring once on a breakaway. Ghanaians eagerly picked me up and started chanting, “Landon Donovan!”

The Point of this Post: Being grateful for all that you have. Whether you ‘hate high school’, don’t have the opportunity of spending Thanksgiving with your family, or don’t like the direction your life is headed; think about everything that you have been blessed. While I feel like I am basically reiterating the commonly known ‘theme’ of Thanksgiving, it feels different coming from Africa.

When I tell people I’m from America, most look puzzled and ask me, “Why would you come here? Everyone here wants to go there!” The United States, consists of only 4% of the earth’s population, and most of the other 96% want to become one of us. Always remember – you’re part of the lucky 4%.

I’m seeing now that America really is the ‘land of dreams.’ People in many countries across the world simply don’t have the opportunity to control their lives as Americans do. In the United States, the value of kids being able to ‘become anything they want to be,” is enshrined from youth. Kids aspire to become astronauts, actors, and even cavemen (I was an odd child…)

In countries like Ghana, many families stick to a ‘be real’ approach. Kids often follow in their family’s footsteps, or choose one of the socially acceptable careers (lawyer, scientist, teacher, etc). People don’t believe it’s possible for an ordinary person to change the world by themselves. When I told classmates that no matter what my career ends up being, I want to leave a mark on the world – they openly treated my ideas with scorn.

When people ask me for money, it’s an instant, “No,” without any thought. This is why the toddler stands out in my mind so much. By not asking for my money but rather making a statement about it, he made me realize how fortunate I am not only for my possessions, but also for the opportunities I have in life. Thanks to him I am even more grateful for all my family, friends, and mentors who helped me along the way.

Speaking of being Grateful… While Thanksgiving stands as my favorite holiday, the concept of mass-gluttony is a bit nauseating at the moment (despite the fact that I’m going to the U.S. Ambassedor’s house tomorrow for a feast). As I tell Ghanaians, poverty exists in both the United States and in Ghana. As far as excessive gorging goes, everyone knows that the first potato chip is always the best one, so why not stop when you’re at a point where somebody else would enjoy the food more than you? There’s hungry people all over the U.S. – if your situation permits, seek them out and offer a special meal this Thanksgiving.

At the very least, think about how fortunate you are in life. Not just on Thanksgiving, but during everyday of the year.