Reed Nelson

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I was recently walking to school, to a class that I am in fact retaking (an apathetic outlook from my freshman year has put a slight damper on my academic prowess, as well as set me back at least a year), and I noticed a dime on the ground, shining, heads up, Franklin D. Roosevelt staring at me. Normally I would cruise right on by, or I would scoop it up, drop it in my pocket and henceforth neglect its presence. But this “Lost Boys” story has got me thinking again.

When I ventured to Africa two and a half years ago, I had heard very little of the continent as a whole, and seen even less. When I arrived in Ghana, which is on the west coast (the Gold Coast) I was astounded by the living conditions, or lack thereof. The residents of Accra, however, were the picture of respect, and the genuine order by which it was run was slightly unsettling, because at first glance it reeks of anarchy among other things even less appealing.

But the biggest culture shock that I had experienced was the cost of living. I was fortunate enough, not only to see the big cities, but also the rural towns. In those I visited, you can count the number of homes with running water without taking your left hand out of your pocket.

The homes run into each other’s plots of land, but the lack of ownership keeps neighbor to neighbor relationships friendly. Two sets of clothes were the standard for each child, one for school and one for church.

So when Susan Sarandon, or whoever the celebrity of the month happens to be, tells you that for 70 cents a week you can feed a child, listen. For once they might be right. In my temporary residence of New Akrade and South Senchi, a child eats a prepared lunch at school for 1000 cedi, which converts to just over 11 cents.

It is pocket change to us, literally, but to them it is the difference between going hungry and staying healthy. Eleven cents, that is all. I am not calling for a mass coinage donation to African countries, (although that might be effective, judging by the change jars of some of my supposedly broke college friends), rather a mass reality check, because life is an entirely separate entity over there.

There are 9,000 Cedi to a dollar, and that is in our current economic state. A pack of Rothman’s cigarettes came to 13,000 cedi, just north of $1.44. A beer? 8,000 cedi, or 89 cents. Soccer Jerseys? 70,000 cedi, or $7.78, for their star player, Michael Essien. Here that same jersey is 102.44 (and that is by best price search on Google. Nobody beats Google.).

In a town that is dotted with literal mud-huts, goats, chickens, trash, children, table tennis, soccer, and pride, the one thing that they all have in common is their lack of funds. There is no animosity, but there is also no cash flow.

Their public school runs a little bit differently than it does here, because without a regimented income for a good percentage of the population, taxes become irregular as well, which facilitates the need for the kids to pay for a public education — 119,000 cedi a year at the school where I helped. In U.S. dollars, that’s $13.22, that’s it, that’s all, and a child can receive a year-round education. But only if they have it. And beyond the $13.22, for literally 11 cents a day, a child, whether in school or not, can eat the best meal available.

So I am not telling you to start ‘adopting’ a child every time you see a celebrity with sunken eyes holding a baby. I am not asking you to start the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I am merely hoping that if you have taken time to make it through this blog, that you will now at least appreciate the lowly dime on the sidewalk. That you might think of who is affected by your excess spending, and how you can help next time you feel slightly philanthropic.

And please, next time you feel sorry for yourself and your situation, remember that there is an entire continent that would give everything yet nothing to be in your situation.

Speaking of the society, I would often hear about the necessitation for an updated western culture while in Africa, but maybe it is the western culture that has placed it in such a precarious situation. The minimal time I spent in Accra was time spent in filth, chaos, poverty, and at least 10 daily repetitions of “Did you really just see that too?,” all with 2 million people (and it seemed like 500,000 homeless). But Akrade was more impoverished, more spread out, more rural, less western, and more civilized. The concept of land ownership was lost on the citizens, as well as personal property.

Head pans were municipal, so were the makeshift ping pong tables, so were the soccer balls, as well as the clothes off of their backs.

It is an entirely different culture, different way of life, more simple, yet more energized. Maybe for 11 cents we can take a step back and appreciate them, maybe envy them a little as well.

 

ABOUT ME:

I am a 20-year-old student majoring in communication and history. I would love to go into the field of journalism, preferably print. I have wanted to cover sports in particular since I could walk. Literally. My mom used the New York Times sports section to teach me to read when I was 4 years old.

I grew up in New York and Connecticut, and moved out to Utah as a freshman in high school. I am in my third year at the University of Utah. I have also been contributing on a regular, freelance basis to the Salt Lake Tribune’s sports section, dealing with mostly preps.

I am the incoming president of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, a Sportscenter addict, a Major League Baseball trivia savant, a slight cinophile, and a music junkie. When I graduate (when being the operative word) I would love to go into the field of journalism, preferably sports.