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Going to Ghana: Why My Brother Doesn’t Trust Me As Far as He Can Throw Me

January 20, 2011

One of the truths about being a big sibling is that you have inadvertent and awesome power.  You are imbued with authority; if you tell your little brother or sister something, they will believe it is true without reflection or doubt.  Your word is beyond reproach.  You are their older sibling and you look out for them, coach them through this dangerous world, teach them how to play Calvinball, feed the cat subtly under the table and type in cheat codes on their online games (“power overwhelming” is two words, dear).    But with great power comes great responsibility, or so Spider-man always told me.

I guess what I am trying to say is, that I probably shouldn’t have let my brother believe for over a decade that I travelled to Ghana when I was in third-grade.

In my defense, I still maintain I didn’t mean to lie to him.

In third grade, one of our awesome assignments was to make postcards as if we all were travelling in Ghana.  Each postcard was supposed to discuss some major facet of the culture, whether that be the currency (the cedi), the language (officially English and French) or the types of clothes and patterns they produce (kente cloth anyone?).  The project was fun, it was artsy, and it was easy.  What’s not to love?  But I did the entire project while stuck in good ol’ USA.

Fast forward two years.  I was now in fifth grade.  Mom was picking me and James up from school.  At this point, I was a worldly ten-year old, and he was but seven and in second grade.  Mom and I got to talking about school assignments and I casually said something like, “But none of these assignments are as cool as my trip to Ghana.”

Mom’s clunky cell phone rang and she began a rapid conversation in the front seat.  James looked at me solemnly, the way he did back then when thinking hard.  Finally he asked,  “I don’t remember you going to Ghana.  I guess I was too little back then.  Did you have to get many shots?  You hate getting shots.”

See what I mean?  He lied to himself.  There I was, innocently talking about a school project, and he took it literally.  It was a golden opportunity.  What was an older sister supposed to do?

I nodded seriously.  “Yeah!  I had to get a yellow fever shot, and a polio shot, and a malaria shot, and a chicken pox shot…”

He smiled.  “Maybe when I get to third grade, I’ll get to visit too.”

“I think they stopped going,” I covered hastily.

“OK.  Wanna play Lego’s with me when we get home?”  And that was that.   Faster than a goldfish, I promptly forgot about the conversation in the thrill of making Lego zoos with my brother.  I thought he had too.

Fast forward a decade.

I am at university, and getting ready to go on a study abroad trip to South Africa.  I am telling my family about my preparations: the research, the packing, the asking friends who have been there before what’s cool, etc.  And I mention how I got a shot to protect me against yellow fever.

James pipes up, “Oh, so what’s the inoculation length on those then?  I thought because you’ve had one before, you might not need to get the shot a second time.”

Everyone stares.  I might have raised one judgmental eyebrow.  “What are you talking about?” I finally ask.

He seems nonplussed.  “You know, when you went to Ghana back in Ms. Holmes class.  Didn’t you get that shot then?”

“I never went to Ghana.  That was a school project!  Why on earth would you believe-”

“You told me you went.”

Oops.  Busted.

The point of this story isn’t that I was an evil older sister.  It isn’t that he is a stupid little brother.  No, the moral of this tale, boys and girls, is that James, an intelligent seventeen-year old, hadn’t critically examined his belief that I went to Ghana for a moment.  If he had, he would have instantly recognized the story didn’t hold water.  But it was canon to him, it was a TRUTH.  And when he found out that this truth he had was false, he was surprisingly hurt.  He was actually shocked.  The phrase “I trusted you.  You lied to me!” might have been thrown around a bit.  He felt betrayed.  And after I had apologized profusely, it struck me.

How many beliefs do I have, how many truths have I based my world view on, sculpted my actions around, that are, fundamentally flawed?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Nathaniel permalink
    January 20, 2011 2:11 PM

    Huh. Interesting segue in terms of ideas.

    One thing. I don’t think I was 17 when I discovered the falsity of the trip. I remember being quite a bit younger than that. Otherwise, seems accurate.

  2. Philip permalink
    January 22, 2011 7:14 PM

    How far can he throw you? Because my guess is he trusts you at least that far, if only because it’s probably only a few feet.

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