The reunion took place in the lobby of a theater in Del Mar, Calif. Twin sisters and filmmakers Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern took turns embracing Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, the 27-year-old from Ghana who is the subject of their latest film.
"I'm tired," said Yeboah, still jet-lagged from the 22-hour journey from his homeland.
"Whatever you do," said Lax, "don't fall asleep in the movie."
They were gathered, along with a hundred or so others, for a private screening of Emmanuel's Gift, the twins' documentary on the compelling journey of Yeboah, whose expression of a simple desire three years ago set in motion a series of remarkable events.
Yeboah was born without the tibia in his right leg, which curled up below the knee, withered and useless. Seeing this, his father, a truck driver, abandoned the family. In Ghana, Yeboah told me before the screening, "when you are a deformed child, people think your mother sinned." Some of his mother's friends urged her to kill him or at least abandon him.
Instead, Comfort Yeboah nurtured and encouraged her firstborn. "She gave me the idea that I could go to school and become a great man," Yeboah says. In a country whose disabled are expected to beg, Comfort's decision to send her son to primary school was, as Oprah Winfrey notes in her narration of the film, "a radical choice."
How apt. Comfort was raising, after all, a mild radical, a smiling contrarian offended by and constantly rebelling against his society's low expectations of him. She died when he was in his late teens. Emmanuel had dropped out of school by then and moved to Accra, where he shined shoes for $2 a day to help support the family, and he hatched a grand plan: He would bicycle across Ghana, proving to his countrymen that the physically challenged are capable of surprising things; that all people have value.
For his cross-country trip he would need a bike. He sent a grant request to the Del Mar, Calif.--based Challenged Athlete Foundation. Impressed with Yeboah's plan, CAF members sent him $1,000 (with which he bought a mountain bike) and some equipment, including a helmet and pads. Yeboah's 360-mile ride across Ghana in 2002 got huge play in the nation's media, which he used to gently scold the government, whose policy on the country's two million disabled was to ignore their existence.
Later that year the CAF invited him to San Diego to ride the 56-mile bike leg in its annual Triathlon Challenge. It took him seven hours to get around the course, after which he observed, in his lilting voice, "I did not know San Diego was so hilly."
While in California, Yeboah was examined by doctors from the Loma Linda Orthopaedic & Rehabilitation Institute, who judged him a candidate for a prosthesis. He returned five months later for the operation. The film follows him from the morning of his surgery to his first step with the prosthesis to his gutsy completion of a triathlon, six weeks later, to his joyous reunion in Ghana with members of his extended family.