Mohamed Sanwidi: An Appreciation For Life

Mohamed describes the struggle he experienced, and the lessons he learned as a young man growing up in Burkina Faso. His story conveys the importance of humility, gratitude,and resiliency, and offers a profound perspective on how our environment can impact our opportunities. This story is part of MALA’s scholarship essay contest. To see more scholarship essays, click here.

Reflecting on my life in the sub-Saharan country of Burkina Faso brings only but humility and greatness to my American life. Burkina Faso, located in west, is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its bordering countries and virtually all of west Africa fall in the same category. Like many sub-Saharan countries, the widely unproductive soil contributes to its chronic poverty.

My grandparents, both paternal and maternal, were farmers. Agriculture was not their only source of income. My parents were the first generation to go to school and break away from the farming cycle. Until college, my father went to school while farming. After high school, he left to another providence for higher education. Unlike the United States, he did not relocate because he preferred such college, but because it was one of the only two colleges in the entire country. After a couple of years, he received a scholarship to Russia where he completed his technical college education. After five years, he returned and obtained a job as a mechanic.

A couples of years later, my father lost his job. The company suddenly went bankrupt, and just like that our sole source of income diminished. A month later, my father boldly decided to journey to the United States. He was fortunate enough to receive a visa. In the United States, He applied for multiple jobs including multiple mechanic jobs, but could only end up as a packer for a diaper company.

Approximately eight years later, my mother joined my father in the United States. My father sent my brother and I to my maternal grandparent’s house. My grandparents resided in the very end of the city, the poorest side of the city.  There, almost all family members live in one house with their families as well. Living with my grandparents for roughly a year embodies the poorest living standard I have experienced. I biked four miles to the heart of the city under the very hot sun and polluted roads just to attend middle school. The backroads were unpaved, thus very dusty. The paved roads in the other hand are full of traffic, thus very dangerous for young bike riders. With my grandparents, I ate much less and worked much harder than I have ever done at this point of my life. Soda was a holiday treat.

Although my living standards were very uncomfortable, my best friend right across the house lived worse than I did. His family were farmers, and agriculture is their sole source of income. lack of rain led to a very poor harvest and indeed tough year for his family. He worked daily with a tailor, ironing clothes in exchange for food, some tuition money, and a place to sleep. He virtually never received and saved cash money. Sometimes he will go hungry when his boss does not come to work. Often, I would share my meal with him. Nonetheless with such hardships, he still walked daily to school. He was intelligent, resilient, and understood the meaning of education. His humility towards life enlightened my mind. From such experience with him, I learned to appreciate life in itself even if my living conditions are not as comfortable as I desire.

A year later, my brother and I joined my parents in the U.S., a reunited family once again. A few months in this country, I was very comfortable with my life. In fact, I thought my lifestyle was lavish. I owned three pairs of shoes. I ate as many times as I desired. I never worried about transportation to school.  As I settled and integrated into the American life, such perception gradually diminished. Although I lived a much better lifestyle than that of Burkina Faso, I still felt poor. I allowed Americans to influence my perception of poverty. I felt poor when I could not afford a pair of Jordan’s, or an iPhone. I felt poor when my parents could not dine out, or go on vacation. I felt poor when I never received an allowance or an Xbox.

Reflecting on my life in Burkina Faso, I realized my current life is amazing even without Jordan’s, or an Xbox, or the latest iPhone. Realizing this gave me more humility and greatness towards life. Living in an underdeveloped country made me appreciate the American life and the opportunities it has to offer.