“The best journeys are the ones that answer questions you didn’t think to ask” was the theme with which I began. Now that I’m returning to my home in San Diego, California, after the trip of a lifetime to Ghana, West Africa, it seems that the journey is actually just beginning. There is so much to be done to help the people of Africa and it can feel completely overwhelming and debilitating, but I can no longer just go about my daily life without doing something—whatever I, as one person, can do.
I have four goals after this trip. My first, and most immediate, short-term goal is to send school supplies to the Mafi Tsati and Gbokorpe School: 375 pencils, pens, erasers, and pencil sharpeners, so each child at the school can have one each. Secondly, I want to raise money for another village school. It takes $10,000 and 4 months to build a village school in Ghana. Katie, a teacher from Pennsylvania who chairs VIDA (Volunteers for International Development and Aid), has raised $10,000 and been back to help build a school each summer since she first visited five years ago, so I know I can learn from her fund-raising strategies. Thirdly, I want to raise money to bring Maxwell over to visit our school—I believe that cultural exchange is more powerful than we can measure. And to begin to close the digital divide, I want to raise money to buy Maxwell a lap-top and teach him how to use the internet while he’s visiting, so he can bring it back to the village and the school can have another source of information besides simply listening to the radio and reading the few outdated textbooks the school has access to. This project will entail getting Internet access in the village, which should be possible since they have electricity; I just need to raise the money to set up the infrastructure. Lastly, I want to return to Mafi Tsati soon to visit Maxwell, to see how the kids have grown, see how the new school building is working for the kindergarteners, and learn what else the village needs.
At the beginning of this journey, I couldn’t fathom how I, one person, could make a difference in the lives of these people, but it feels as if it’s come into crystal-clear focus through this trip. We are all called to help someone else in this life. Some of my friends and colleagues do that by starting Charter Schools in our communities, some of us help by inspiring and educating teachers, others pilot community-based writing projects for teens in urban environments… Years ago, I received help from those around me who were able and in a position to give of themselves. It is now my turn to “pay it forward.” In addition to teaching and working with the San Diego writing project and volunteering at the International Rescue Commission’s Community Farm in City Heights, I will be working to provide what I can to improve the lives of my friends in Africa. So, the journey begins…
The worst parts of our human history are the most important to not forget. The Holocaust… Slavery… As the tour guide said, we cannot change our past, but we can consciously choose how to react in the future. I had the same sickening feeling during this slave trade tour as I did at the slave trade castle in Zanzibar six years ago. The sickening realization that humans have treated other humans like animal garbage not so very long ago takes hold of my stomach and I want to vomit. Two hundred men in a dark, dank room the size of my living room with three small, high windows, for two weeks to a month at a time doing what humans do on a daily basis. I want to think that human kind has moved away from this type of treatment of each other, but then I think of the middle east, the racial tensions in classrooms in Stockholm, the guns and weapons that are drawn in the name of religion and color and belief-structure, and my hair stands on end realizing that as a human race we have actually not come very far in our evolution…
In Kakum National Park, Cape Coast, I paid the 30 GH (Cedis) it costs for a non-native to walk the 7 interconnected, suspended bridges to experience the beautiful tree canopies in the park. I kept expecting to see wild monkeys, elephants, or giraffe pop out of the trees–none of which did (giraffe are not native here, the elephants live farther north in Ghana, and the monkeys… well, we didn’t see any), but it was well worth it anyway.
The biggest blessings in life are often unexpected, as was the case with Ernest. Two days before my trip, my friend Scarrain called to invite me to join her and her family in Balboa Park for a birthday outing. I wasn’t able to join them, because–true to Margit-form–I had too much to do to prepare for my trip. When she learned I was going to Ghana, she said her daughter’s best friend’s boyfriend would be in Accra working with the UN for the summer and maybe I would like to contact him. I absolutely wanted to!
Ernest has been the best travel companion ever—a native Ghanaian who is studying at UC Berkley, speaks four local dialects, and can negotiate cabs in the city ten times better than I can. We ate our share of Red Red, braved the mass transit bus to Cape Coast, met Alex from South Africa at the canopy walk in Kukum National Park, and even petted a crocodile! It turns out Ernest was not only a huge, unexpected blessing and important travel companion, but is also my neighbor in Hillcrest! Can’t wait to learn how to make Red Red when I get home, so I can have Ernest and his girlfriend, Amberly, over for some reminiscing…
To provide announcements to everyone in the village, they have a man designated as town crier; he takes this job very seriously and is proud of the cowbell he smacks twice before calling out each announcement (many, many times around the village). For example, in the mornings, we would hear his cries announcing that it was time for available villagers to gather down at the worksite to begin the day’s activities.
(Fri. July 20th)
After taking a quick, 3-hour, late-afternoon surprise trip to “my” village (Mafi Tsati) from Abuti-Tegbleve, we returned after dark and the driver accidentally hit a “grass cutter.” The driver quickly reversed, got out, picked this creature up, and threw it in the trunk—I didn’t have time or the light to see what it was. I had to inquire. Turns out grass cutters are huge rodents (like a giant rat), and they’re considered a delicacy here. They’re actually hunted and draw a nice price as “bush meat”–a local favorite. The driver will make some locals very happy tonight with this accidental “treat.”