During the past 24 hours I have experienced the two extremes of this world: the wealthy and the poor. And not just the “well-off” and a middle-class type low. I’m talking the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor, all within a 10-mile radius.
It was Saturday night, and we had big plans, like a random Australian man’s birthday party. Who could say no to a gorgeous Aussie with an accent? Let me just say that he lives next to the French Embassy, if you get my drift. We pulled up and entered the gates, greeted by the birthday boy himself, whom by this point we’ve known for almost a full 48 hours. His mom and brother tagged along, helping out with the party. Lovely people.
We walked through the open, airy house with glass walls and trendy, cherry wood furniture, to the backyard. The pool lit up the night air and balloons adorned palm tree limbs. Soft lighting illuminated bamboo love seats and party tables set up for the guests. And the open bar. Wait staff traipsed throughout the leafy yard with platters full of mouth-watering appetizers. Chicken wings. Fried plantain. Bruschetta. Hello.
After being introduced to a few other guests, Ruth and I realized how out-of-place we were. Sitting there, sipping some punch, we turned to face each other. It was like a dream, we both agreed. Whose lives are we living? These are young professionals, all in their mid to late 20s. I was 19 four months ago. These people are PR agents, cosmetic company owners, lawyers. We are two college students, studying abroad. They drive BMWs and Benzes. I drive a ’97 fiberglass Saturn with a hole in the back bumper.
And I guess our immature nature was exposed when we plunged in the pool towards the end of the night. Well, several German guys dragged Ruth in. I couldn’t leave her alone, so I braced myself, looked around one last time with the last bit of dignity I had left, and… cannonballed it. In my dress. With my shoes on.
So that was Saturday. Now, flash forward to Sunday evening in Agbogbloshie- one of the largest, most impoverished slums in Accra. The organization Ruth works for wants to put on a photo expo to raise money for the community. Guess who’s the photographer? : )
We caught a tro-tro from our junction into the city, and then a two cedi (about $1.50) cab ride over to the slum. Stepping out of the car, I looked around. This place is a photographer’s dream. Between the sellers with buckets and bowls of beans, rice, fruit and vegetables, the children playing with tin cans in the dirt, women braiding each other’s hair, and the culture-rich back roads, there’s much for the eye to explore.
Yes, it was culturally beautiful, but it was equally disturbing. The “lagoon,” they called it, or the big river running through the slum to the ocean, clogged and gurgled with garbage. As I wandered closer to it, our guide, Ricky, said to me, “Be careful where you step. There are feces every where.”
And that statement doesn’t do the place justice. And it breaks my heart. At one spot on the water, the river was bubbling and fizzing. Ruth and I exchanged worried glances. It could have been anything, like the e-waste that they burn on the river, or maybe acid or oil. Maybe even a mixture of the both.
Trash seemed to line every alleyway and path. Kids played in it. Many of the children I saw had discharge pouring out of the noses, most likely a respiratory infection of some sort. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life. So useless. You can only do so much, you know?
I’ve said it in the past and I’ll say it again. I’m laying my head down on my pillow with new-found thankfulness. Just when you think you’ve seen the worst, it gets worse. I’ve never known how good I’ve had it. Running water. Electricity. A roof over my head. Screens on my windows. Medicine. It’s just not fair. It really isn’t.
I’m asking anyone who reads this to please, just, pray for these people. If you’re not spiritual, then think about them and be grateful for what you have. And enjoy life. Don’t let little things get you down. Love people, and tell them. Overlook the petty, trivial matters of life, and focus on what really matters- the people who matter. Forgive. And help others when you can.
We came to this world with nothing and we’ll leave it with nothing. The material elements will eventually fade away and all we’ll be left with are our souls. And I really think one of the best things you can do for your soul is make a positive impact on someone else.