It was a very bright sunny pre-summer evening. It was just a few minutes past six and we’ve been allowed our usual 10 minutes recess. We still had one hour to end lectures for the day.
Unlike the others, I could not go to the super market or a nearby fast food joint to grab a sandwich and some fruit juice. My ‘ecomini’ placed a lot of limitations on what I can and cannot do, so I decided to take a slow walk on the pavement of the street in front of the school building. I wasn’t going to any place in particular, or at least I had not thought of where to go.
I turned right on to the pavement that led to the fire service station and further still to the Champs de Mars; the home of the epic Eiffel Tower. The warmth of the rays of the sun caressed my dry skin and sent feelings of nostalgia of a late April afternoon’s sunshine on the beaches of Keta and Aflao through my bowels. I smiled at the prospect of returning to Ghana sometime soon.
I was removing the cap I was wearing so that my bald head could also take in some of the rare sunshine, when all of a sudden my eyes riveted on this pale-looking man, pulling a shopping bag across the street.
He must have been walking for a while. He was sweating and looked quite emaciated.. I kept a respectable distance between us and watched him as he dragged his bag. He stopped by the refuse container in front of the fire station and ravaged it. Whatever he was looking for, I had no idea. But surely, he didn’t find it. So he moved on.
A few steps further, he stopped to open another refuse container. This time, I walked close enough to see what it was that he was searching for. I pretended to speak on my phone as I inched closer. He brought out a packet that looked like a biscuit container. He opened it and I saw a flash of smile across his weary face. He opened his shopping bag and placed it in carefully.
Now I was beginning to form my own deductions about the kind of shopping he was doing. I got interested and followed him; walking on the opposite side of the street; to three more containers where he repeated the ritual of combing through and through just for anything he could find, anything edible. Then I remembered we had only 10 minutes break so I had to go back. I was sad my adventure was coming to such an abrupt end.
So as I walked back to class, it dawned on me that poverty actually does not respect geographical barriers, at least not the physical ones. This man was walking on the streets of Paris. Not just any street, but in the 7th Arrondissement, touted to be one of the most expensive areas to live in Paris. This place houses most of the important places in France. It is here that I saw hunger on two feet, trying to survive in the mist of affluence and opulence. This world, my brother!