Three years ago today, I celebrated Thanksgiving while backpacking along West Africa’s Gold Coast. As part of Calvin’s Ghana semester, Thanksgiving fell during our ten days of free leisure time between final exams and our flights home, and some friends and I decided to spend it by covering as many geographical points of interest as possible. After summiting Mt. Afadjato, the highest peak in Ghana, we set our sights on the coast, where we would camp out on Cape Three Points, the nearest point of land to 0° latitude, 0° longitude—the geographic center of the world.

It was a most unusual Thanksgiving. En route to the Cape, we received rock-climbing advice from a naked, seventy-year-old fisherman, who helped us navigate the ragged crags leading up to the point. Because he forbade us from coming back the same way on the return journey, we walked inland, tiptoeing gingerly down gravelly two-tracks in bare feet. The rest of the afternoon I read Chinua Achebe in a hammock. For dinner, we went out on a boat and caught lobster. At night we made a bonfire and sang “Pirates of the Caribbean” songs. I slept on the beach under the stars.

It being Thanksgiving, I took special care to reflect on all that had happened that semester and all that I was thankful for. Living in Ghana was not easy. I showered once a week, did laundry once a month, and shaved once—well, just once, actually. In my dorm bathroom was a single bucket of tepid water, and each week my roommate and I had a sober discussion over whether to flush the toilet or to take a shower, the winner usually being whichever smelled worse.

Backpacking during this free time, I stretched my simplified lifestyle even further. I spent the entire week living out of a thirty-liter backpack. I didn’t wear a shirt for four of those days, just a salty swimsuit and a pair of flip-flops. I slept in my hammock between palm trees, never checked the time, and ate one meal each day. We didn’t bring enough money with us for more than that.

And yet it remains my most treasured experience of the semester. By necessity, Cape Three Points was where I learned the serenity to accept the things I could not change; when I was hungry, cold, sunburnt, and sick, the only answer was “oh well.” I dealt with it. It made me thankful for all of my comforts back home, like a house and a bedroom filled with all of my books and maps and notepads, a space to call my own. I was thankful for options—having the luxury to choose between thousands of options for dinner, all available at the swipe of a card. I was thankful for communication, the ability to call, text, email, or visit loved ones in seconds on a whim.

And of course, as a seasoned traveler, I was also thankful for the experience, for the created situation in which we needed to live so deliberately. “Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry,” is the mantra of Jack Kerouac, and backpacking the jungles of the Gold Coast truly made me feel like him. Without the usual liberties, options, and conveniences of normal life, there was so much more room for spontaneity, adventure, and indeed, a stronger cognizance of my blessings.

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