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Gabriel's Gripes - Someone's got it worse



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March 07, 2012 - No matter how much money you earn, especially at my age, there never seems to be enough.

I pay rent, electricity, internet, car insurance, cell phone, health care and the rest, leaving the income at the end of the month looking pretty small. I use a single credit card for nearly every purchase so I don't have to carry around cash, but despite having an above average credit rating, I have maintained a balance on the card for over a year now.

The point is I'm not very well off - I'm on the lower end of the income bracket and I feel it sometimes. But I am far from unfortunate. There are people, especially in our great state of Michigan, who are fighting every day to keep their belongings as their jobs and income fall out from underneath them.

I count myself among the lucky for simply having a job that involves stuff that I'm good at and that I enjoy. I pity those that don't have any source of income because they cannot afford the nice things I have, even if those things are not ideal. But it's important to realize there are people in the world who are even worse off than the unemployed in Michigan.

During my transition between middle school and high school I was fortunate enough to travel to Africa as the guest of Tom Knoll - better known as the man who, with his brother, created Adobe Photoshop.

But that is a tale for another time.

He decided to use the vast wealth his creation garnered to take his family around the world to see solar eclipses and after a particularly pleasant dinner party decided to invite my family along as they headed to Africa. We landed in South Africa, travelled up through Mozambique, across Zambia, down the Zambezi River, descended through Botswana and took off again from our point of origin.

During our travels we saw sights unknown to America eyes like the magnitude of Victoria Falls, vast plains of tall grass, tropical beaches complete with coconuts ripe for the picking and the pristine stillness of the Salt Flats.

The solar eclipse wasn't bad either.

But the most marked sight of the journey was the immense and crippling poverty. In Johannesburg, one of the two capitals of South Africa, it is legal to equip your car with a flamethrower to combat car-jackings and broken glass shards attached to walls are a common sight as barbed wire is more expensive. The tropical beach was the scene of a horrific crime shortly before we arrived involving a homemade shotgun and the result was policeman armed with automatic rifles patrolling the beaches. But the worst sight was easily the tribe's people we happened across in a clearing while in Mozambique.

We arrived shortly before nightfall as the arraigned camping ground was unexpectedly booked to capacity and we finished setting up the last tent in time for the first five tribe's men to emerge from the brush. More soon followed and soon the initial apprehension from both sides was dispelled and everyone began get along. We sat around the fire telling stories via the safari group's translator, shared our traditional dances (here the United States was represented by two girl scouts), and showed off our toys.

I'll never forget displaying my original Game Boy to some of the younger children, watching their faces fill with awe at the digital shapes moving about on the ancient green screen. Later in the evening I and another boy my age on the safari taught some of the boys in the tribe how to make fun of our sisters in English. The night was unforgettable, but the next morning was sobering.

We woke at 6 a.m. to clean up, but as we put the garbage bags in the truck our guide asked us to leave them on the ground. The tribe bade us Farwell as we drove off, watching them attack the bags like piranhas. To this day the idea that our discarded fruit, wrappers and other assorted items have this kind of extreme value to others of our same species haunts me.

We have it bad here in Michigan, but most of us aren't tearing through garbage bags in search of sustenance. Likely none of us know true hunger or true desperation. This tribe of people living in one of the more modernly populated areas serves as a reminder to me to preserver no matter how put-upon I may feel or how poor I may be.

Someone out there knows your pain – someone out there has it worse. Keep fighting the good fight.

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