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From Ghana to Yale University

In 2011 I was traveling to Accra, Ghana, a city that I had never explored before, and was very much so looking forward to what adventures and stories would come from my travels there. While in country, I planned to meet a mutual friend for the first time; his name was William. Knowing very little about each other, William and his friends (also from Ghana) decided to take me to the Accra Mall. A place they presumed that I, as a “typical European,” would feel right at home in, but they quickly realized that this was not the case. I came to the conclusion that William and his friends were trying to cater to my “upscale” needs, and just assumed that shopping at fancy malls is what all people in Europe do…this was the first time they had ever met anyone from Europe. While traveling back to my hotel I explained to William and his friends that I would like to visit the places that they usually go to, and get a chance to see how and where the locals spend their time. And that I would also prefer to get to these destinations via bus, and not taxi. Although they had a look of pure surprise on their faces, I could feel that they were all tremendously relived by my request. This is the moment that truly shape the course of not only this visit, but future visits to come. The level of hospitality and kindness William and his friends shared with me from thereon was truly heartwarming. Involving me with their daily life made me feel as if I was visiting long‐lost cousins, more than three strangers. I visited Ghana three more times after that first trip. With each trip we created new memories; and the more things I learned about their country and culture, the more I felt connected to them. My last trip to Ghana was two days after my twenty‐seventh birthday. William and his friends decided to cook me some traditional Ghanaian food. And although I can’t remember which dishes they prepared, as we dined, sitting on a mattress in the middle of the living room, I still fondly recall the feeling of appreciation, laughter, and love shared under that roof. As an avid reader and someone who at this point in time had never traveled outside of Ghana, William was very curious about my travels and stories. Always asking questions as if trying to reconstruct the image of the world that he had created from his reading, combined with the stories of my travels. His attitude and pure enjoyment of my stories made me reflect on how fortunate and blessed many of us are to come from “First World” economies and cultural surroundings. I never thought with the crossing of our paths that my presence would have any real significant impact on William, until I received this email from him saying…
„This is my personal word of appreciation for the invaluable gestures you’ve served towards my friends and I right from your first visit to Ghana till this recent one of which I am most grateful. Indeed nothing can compare to the lot I acquired from your visitation, from what you shared with us from you extensive travels in the Orients, India and Japan, to the true nature of the untold side of what’s going on in America….
You sent my friends and I to the movies for the first time. I got into an elevator the first time thanks to you. I had the best breakfast in a lifetime all because of you. Yet I learned SO MUCH other non-material things so that I can hardly remember to put them in writing now…I am consistently awed at how you take considerable attention in the future and present welfare of my friends and I. Just imagine how great this world would be if all people were like you!
…. My promise to go to school and become a successful person( a professor probably), would never escape my head.“

I remember I started to cry as I was reading his words of warmth and thoughtfulness. I was just being myself. I never thought that it was anything special. As time passed William and I continued to remain in contact with the help of Facebook. William would typically write me when he needed advice about women. I was starting to feel more like his mom or older sister. And then one day I got a message that he had made it…William finally got on a plane for the first time in his life. There was still more to
celebrate though. William was also accepted by Yale University. I was so proud! When I finally made the decision to actually create “Colors of Footprints,” I couldn’t think of a more inspirational travel story to tell than William’s. Six years later and a lot has changed. During my visit with William at Yale before graduation, I realized that standing before me now was a grown ass man. Words can’t express how excited I was at all his academic accomplishments and personal growth. While showing me around the campus grounds we talked about school, life, love, and how our lives had changed in those six years. It was just an afternoon, but I enjoyed every second of it. I was inspired by my friend who came all this way to the United States of America, all because he was a curious guy who loved books. That day I asked him if he had any advice for people who like him, grew up not having a lot. And this is what he said:
“My advice is…pick a book and read. There is a whole limitless world out there, stuff that people write. I think reading changed my life. Everything that I have said today, no matter how nice or creative it sounds, it’s all because I try to read and know what is going on in other people’s minds. That is what changed my life. Reading changed my life. Whatever you feel is limiting you, it’s all in your head. You pick something to read that challenges your mind and that’s it. There is just a limitless world of opportunities. Whatever thing you feel you don’t have or whatever lack you might have. You are not really lacking anything, there is something out there for you, but you gotta start reading to discover that thing.“


William and I, 2017 in New Haven, Connecticut, USA