Tiny hands and tiny feet. They all belonging to children who barely reach four feet off the ground. Tiny hands and tiny feet. They are banging on your window and pulling on your door handle. Pressing their little, innocent noses against the dirty windows of cars. Leaving little imprints of their presence behind. This is the scene during one of Accra's Monday evening's rush hours. Children, all under the age of 12 are running up to car door windows signing the universal sign of eating. As their brown eyes stare deep into your soul. It is just another day of the poverty you see in Ghana. Another evening of the heartbreak you feel as you force yourself not to look back, because if you do, you know you will get swept into it.
Driving in Accra is something like you have never experienced before. Horns going off, one after another, in their own melody. As cars and pedestrians dance around each other, somehow never colliding their paths. During one of my uber trips, I couldn't help but focus my attention on the children sitting on the side of the road. The oldest there must have been at least 12 and the youngest probably three. In the corner of my eye, I can see a mother. She is sitting on the side of the road bouncing her baby on her hip. Her purple scarf hides her face from the rest of the world. It is hard to know if all the children belong to her, or if they are just there, running around her.
Suddenly the passenger window of the car in front of us rolls down and you can see the green color of a cedi peak out of the window. The mother rushes over and grabs it before hurrying back to her spot of waiting. Immediately, all the other children come rushing to the door. It was like a man had pulled out a fleshy piece of meat and was dangling it in front of a pack of hungry wolves. Each child's eyes were wide open, starved with the need for that extra cedi. They scratched on the car windows. Surrounding not just the passenger's side, but also the driver's window and the front of the car as well. There must have been a swarm of 15 children. Banging on the window. Some pulling on the door handle. Swinging and pulling on it, as the car attempted to slowly continue down the congested road of traffic.
Where I lived and grew up in the States, poverty was almost like a myth. You heard about it but never saw it. You grew up knowing it was a problem, but I'll live in a small town they concept of poverty was often hidden behind closed doors. However, for someone who has traveled around the world and seen poverty right in my face before I grew up knowing it was a hard reality of the world. But still, it is easy to forget it every time you return to the clean streets of my town. The poverty you have seen in Accra is different. It is unlike the poverty I've experienced in Italy, Egypt or my other travels. It is like nothing I've ever seen before. The poverty here leaves me speechless. And if you know me, being lost of words (or quite for that matter) its pretty much impossible. It is the look of desperation in a child's eye. It is them begging at 9 am and you asking yourself, why aren't you in school? I eventually asked one boy. He was 13 going onto 14. He told me he needed to make money and that he would perhaps return to school next week.
The other day I was waiting for the crosswalk light to turn green in the middle of a busy intersection. Out of nowhere, a soft hand grabbed mine and I looked down to see a five-year-old boy holding my it. This has become my new normal with children "Hello," I asked, because….well what else are you supposed to say when a five-year-old kid just comes up and holds your hand. He signs for water and I tell him, "I'm sorry, I don't have any". Usually, this would be the end of the conversation and he would give me a few more deep stares with his brown eyes before moving on to the next person on the streets. However, he started crying. Full-on tantrum, yanking on my hand and pleading. This poverty, whether it be real, or a desperate act of adults sending children on the streets to make money for themselves is heartbreaking. Here I am, with a five-year-old crying and having a tantrum all because he wanted water.
In five weeks we are supposed to go back to the states. In America, you see five-year-olds throwing a tantrum in the cashier line because their parents won't give them a Kit Kat bar. You see a five-year-old crying because she doesn't get to go to the park that afternoon. You see people complaining about how their parents didn't get them the latest version of an iPhone for Christmas or complain how they are broke, but then go and buy an iced coffee at Starbucks. It is impossible to think that we are going to be returning to a world that is so wrapped around the idea of materialism. Just spending money on pure junk to make us happy. Its a world blinded from the truth of what is going on outside of our small community. And the sad fact is, what we see here is not even the worst of it. There are far worst situations across the globe. But at this moment, there is a child on the street corner crying because he just needs a drink of water. And in another part of the city, 15 kids are chasing after a car, the last few finally giving up moments after it merges on the freeway. Today, this is the reality we see. And it is a reality that everyone should be witnessing and agonizing.
Tiny hands, tiny feet…