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September 22, 2012

Teenhood Today: Trip gave perspective on true problems

The Daily Star

---- — I don’t know about you, but I tend to take everything for granted. For example, I never imagined my life without access to a shower, toilet or flip-flops. Even so much as the ability to wear shorts in the summer instead of pants was never considered to be a privilege. You never realize what you have until you don’t have it. 

This summer I was given the amazing opportunity to travel overseas to Cameroon, Africa, and visit three different AIDS orphan rescue units. At these units I helped fit people with reading glasses, treat some of their medical needs, and share the Gospel with them. 

It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and wouldn’t trade it for anything. However, it was not only the Africans who benefited from this trip, I was also given an understanding that we Americans are so privileged. 

America is known as the land of opportunity, and everyone knows it. Not many white people visit the areas we did, so whenever we’d travel by a village all the kids would run out, point frantically, and scream at the top of their lungs “white men!” And of course, those “white men” could only be Americans. It was not uncommon for a mother to approach one of us and hand over her child asking us to please take her baby and give it a better life in America. We also learned the proper way to decline a marriage proposal, because everyone knows that if you marry an American they will take you home with them and give you a better life. 

This is not to say that they live horrible lives. They live great lives! The children are fun to play with and the adults have great senses of humor. Everyone is so polite that honking your car horn is actually a courtesy to let everyone else on the road know that you’re coming through. There are no “sides of the street,” so facing traffic head-on is not uncommon and you learn to appreciate the horn very quickly. 

Whenever someone talks about a third-world country, we usually imagine broken down huts with 20 or so people crammed inside, all sharing one bowl of watered-down soup and one blanket. I admit that there are some places where this is most likely the case, but from what I saw, everyone was cared for. Sure, they don’t get the ample three meals a day that we’ve come to expect, or have the privilege to open the medicine cabinet every time they get sick — they can’t even take a hot shower to feel better about the situations in life — but they have enough. 

Africans can make clothes whiter than you could imagine, and they do laundry in a bucket! There aren’t toilets, but then rest areas are unneeded and road trips become much easier. Roads aren’t usually paved and cars tend to have holes in the floors, but that means you get more exercise when you walk up the mountain than you ever would driving up it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that many pity third-world countries. But only for a moment and then we go back to complaining about our tiny little problems. I mean really, who wants pity? Instead of pitying less-fortunate people or situations, do something about it! Support a good cause, go on a missions trip, or at least stop thinking your problems are the biggest ones in the world, ‘cause let me tell you: they’re not!

Miriam A. Thurber is a sophomore at Unatego Central School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at