The house that gave me a refresher course in gratitude

In a way, despite my initial shock of where I found myself in Ghana, I felt oddly at home.

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John Fountain at sunrise stands on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in Ghana. 

John Fountain at sunrise stands on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in Ghana.

John W. Fountain

ACCRA, Ghana — Farewell, Mr. Rooster — O, faithful bird who hath tormented me with 3:45 a.m. cock-a-doodle-doos that crescendo around 6, since I moved into your neighborhood. May your pre-dawn crowing be to some other poor soul’s vexing.

That was my first thought as moving day approached, and I dreamed of­­­ future days of turning over in my bed for another round of air-conditioned morning snoozing — far from roosters or chickens. Or roving goats. Or unpaved roads.

One can dream. My time here has reminded me: Be careful what you wish for.

I wished for Ghana.

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I wouldn’t exactly call it culture shock when I moved in late last fall, having rented a single-family home off the Spintex Road in Greater Accra with a lovely patio of emerald potted plants and colorful flowers, and, in the backyard, even a coconut tree.

I had been deciding between that house and another while still in America. I chose this one finally after the owner assured me that living in the area was, “like living in downtown Chicago.” (There are no roosters or goats in downtown Chicago, lol.)

She had also soothed my concerns about the house’s distance from the university, where I will begin teaching soon — about 11 miles actually. But I would quickly fully comprehend that my journey on the overcrowded Spintex could easily turn into a virtually hours-long nightmare, or into a death-defying Indiana Jones-like ride over unpaved, crater-laden side roads.

I’m a city boy. A suburban transplant. Still, I had no clue I was plopping into a more rural community, where farm life and urban life, and where poverty and wealth and the middle class intersect.

Where big houses and near-shacks stand side by side. And where the economic great divide is as jarring as the stench of an open gutter carrying sewage.

It’s not that I have no poverty — or country — in my blood. I spent a summer as a little boy in the 1960s, on a farm in Isola, Mississippi, and traveled numerous times with my stepdad over the years to the heart of the Delta.

I knew poverty as a child, abandoned by my biological father at age 4. I knew, both as a boy and as a man, the disconnection of our lights or gas in the dead of a wind-whipped Chicago winter. I remember, like yesterday, staring into the cold emptiness of our refrigerator.

In a way, despite my initial shock of where I found myself in Ghana, I felt oddly at home. Indeed the sight here of tin and wood-frame homes, of subsistence living and abject poverty does not unsettle me, only reminds me of where I come from.

It reminds me of the equality of the human life and soul, irrespective of how many cedis (Ghanaian currency) or dollars one has in their pocket.

It also reminds me that I was once a poor Black boy who delighted in being on a Mississippi farm, where I sometimes helped feed the hogs, walked barefoot with my uncle Jimmie T, over the searing blacktop, down to the creek, where we stuck our fishing poles in the water and time stood still.

It reminds me of a time when life was much less complicated. And even amid our poverty — or perhaps because of it — we came to understand the most precious things in life have absolutely nothing to do with money. That people matter, not money.

Back then, dirt roads and subsistence living were reminders to be grateful for life and for every single day. Maybe I needed to be reminded.

I don’t think it’s by accident I ended up at the house off Spintex for a refresher course in gratitude, even if an issue with the house necessitated moving after I had finally begun to get used to the rooster’s crowing.

Farewell, Mr. Rooster. I think I got the message, loud and clear. Amen.


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