I was taught to think of the “starving kids in Africa” growing up when I was too full to finish the food on my plate. I recently had an experience here to awaken me to how privileged this statement is.
Part of my efforts to be happier in Ghana (without smoking) was to get more involved. With the heat and deep humidity, I realized my laziness had every excuse in the book. I mean, by the time I had walked to class, sat for two hours, and walked back, I may as well had run a morning marathon given how much I was sweating.
So one Thursday after I had failed an exam and started my trek home, I received a text from Brenna, a friend from California who I volunteer with.
“Super last minute but we’re going to the beach if you want to come!”
Referring to her and others from Play and Learn, the organization I volunteer with teaching a group of 5 boys mathematics.
Although the last-minute rush seemed overwhelming for me, I knew it’d be good for me to make more friends, plus a beer after that exam sounded so great.
So we went to Big Milly’s, one of the nicer beach resorts. Beautiful is an understatement for the beach. We sat in a shaded area right next to the shore. Tequila was more economically smart, so I took a double shot instead of having a beer (which a Ghanaian woman gave me a weird look for saying it was ‘only 1pm’). There was a puppy there that the restaurant took care of which made everything perfect.
Needless to say I loved the puppy:
Given the trip was last minute, I hadn’t eaten all morning. I ordered a fried fish meal. The fish here are usually whole and it takes a bit of work to pick through the many little bones…of course it’s worth it because they’re delicious. The plate came with a large portion of potato fries and coleslaw also. By the time I had eaten the whole fish (excluding some scrap skin, the head and bones) along with half the fries I was stuffed. It was only me, Brenna, and Michael (a Ghanaian volunteer and friend) on the trip. Around 20 minutes after I had finished eating some naked boys run up to our table speaking to Michael in Twi, the native language for the area.
Seeing naked children around is not uncommon. Neither is seeing begging children. Brenna and I cooley watched as Michael gave the boys some cookies from his bag. They then started speaking and gesturing to my plate.
Michael hesitates to think, then translates:
“Umm…they want the rest of the food” he said.
A little surprised, I look at Brenna instantly for clarity. She had been eating some of the fries off my finished plate.
“I mean, I’m done. Did you…?” I said
“–No I’m good” she said, “they can take it”.
At this point I’m thinking the kids want the coleslaw I didn’t touch. Brenna said,
“They want the fries? I mean, it’s good that someone will eat them”
I don’t think either of us were expecting to see what we saw next.
Michael carefully moved my plate over to the edge of the table closed to the boys. There was a fence separating the restaurant from the beach, of which the boys were standing up on such that their torso’s were above the fence. They reached over and down to the plate in a clearly difficult way that looked so easy for them. At first, they quickly grabbed a fry each and shoved it in their mouth to begin chewing faster than a squirrel’s tiny jaws when eating a nut.
Then, all at once, their fists were full.
There was a bang from the pressure of a boy’s hand against the plate. One had grabbed the entire fish remnants and took off. The next grabbed the fries and coleslaw in three bangs, grabbing every drop its fist could before also taking off.
Three minutes later I saw the boys back in the water. They had eaten an entire fist full of coleslaw and vegetables…they had picked through a fish scrap…in 3 minutes.
Don’t leave food on your plate. There’s starving kids in Africa they’d tell me.
I believe this statement has become desensitized over the years in America. It appears to me as a playful guilt trip. As if Africa is something beyond America’s control.
Guess what America? Unless you’re a minority race, you’re the reason Africa is where it is. Not you, specifically, but your ancestors.
Your ancestors enslaved millions of them…setting Africa into dysphoria.
The least you could do is quit saying “There’s starving kids in Africa” as a guilt trip to nourish YOUR OWN people, and start doing something to help the kids that do indeed exist, and are actually hungry.
Some food for thought.