Just as with most goodbyes, this last post will be a little bitter-sweet. I’ve given my all to this trip for the last few months, and I’m very happy I came. As I try to say goodbye today, I’m saddened by the kids because instead of saying goodbye they’re begging me for more things, looking up at me with sad faces, whining or gesturing to give them a t-shirt, a book, a ball. Intellectually, I understand that they don’t have much so they want to milk me for all I’ve got before I go (to them, I may just be holding out on more ‘stuff’…) but emotionally I just want them to be happy about the ‘toffee,’ soccer balls, Frisbees, Chinese jump ropes, books, dolls, art projects, and fieldtrip… I know the kids don’t understand that I tutored after school for months to pay for this trip, that lots of my friends donated to make it possible, that students in my class donated the balls, Frisbees, and Chinese jump ropes, and that a father in my classroom donated the computer to give to Maxwell… I’m sad that the kids are not hugging and smiling and saying goodbye. But I forgive them and I will remember all the smiles and laughter we’ve had along the way. There are risks involved in “helping,” as I’ve learned on this journey; risks of not being received the way you hoped, risks that equipment will be damaged, risks that plans will go awry, and the poor choices of others will result in accidents and danger. Helping isn’t necessarily what we think it’s going to be. Thankfully, there have been many more successes on this journey than there have been failures or mishaps. Who am I, anyway, to think that I can travel to Africa to create art projects, hand someone a computer for the first time in his 34-year-old life, and take people on a trip outside their community without things not going according to plan? What is a plan anyway? A hope, a desire, a dream? Though the end may be bitter-sweet, I’ll keep dreaming and trying…
Like a proud parent, I smiled to myself as Maxwell struggled through composing his first Facebook Post. I don’t think he understands what Facebook is, really, so I give him much credit for trusting me and proceeding with it. He’s sent me several emails and it seems he understands the power of communication through email, but as for Facebook, he has absolutely no context for it since no one in the village has a smart phone (much less a computer).
Maxwell has been an amazing learner, though I’d be lying if I didn’t share that it’s been very frustrating at times: when the internet connection fails, when he says he’ll “be right back” and doesn’t return for the rest of the evening, leaving me staring at a computer screen trying to load a photo to Facebook. We never did succeed in loading a photo, because the connection was so unstable and slow. If you’re a Facebook user, feel free to “friend” Maxwell Zutunu…who knows where this may lead…
Before I left for Ghana, I thought how amazing it would be to take a vanful of people from the village on a ‘field-trip’ to some local sites outside of their community in order to experience the richness of their country (most of the people in the village have never been farther than neighboring towns). Thanks to Robert, who communicated tirelessly with me on FB before the trip, I decided to give the trip a go. My philosophy behind spending the time and money to take a few of the 400 or so people living in the village to the Wli Waterfall and monkey sanctuary was that I really believe in the power of exposing people to possibility.
28 people ages 8-52 set out at 8am on Saturday morning in two vans for the monkey sanctuary and Wli Falls. Most of the trip-goers came dressed in their Sunday best; after all, this was their big debut and they wanted to “appear very well.” Who could blame them? I did try to spread the word that they may want to bring a dry set of clothes for after the waterfall, but many of them missed that last-minute memo. Sweet, gorgeous Victoria dressed in an ankle length Ghanaian dress. Me in shorts and a t-shirt.
Though it was a VERY long drive (the drivers got lost and took a 2-hour route to a 30 minute destination) the fieldtrip was a huge success. The monkeys came to eat the bananas, and there was shrieking, laughing, and splashing in the huge pool of the tallest waterfall in West Africa. Imagine having never experienced a shower in your whole life and you’re suddenly pelted with water from 50 feet above! Everyone except one poor, hot, tired girl got in and some even went in their underwear! Unfortunately, the water party had to end quickly because the rest of the day had taken sooooooooo long… As Oscar explained it, “Madame, we must go before dark so we don’t get lost, or else we will suffer.” And suffer we did… (story continued below–scroll past pictures).
Ironically, those of us who had brought dry clothes to change into did so, only to be caught in a huge rainstorm on the way back (approximately a 45 min walk to the vans). The rainstorm itself wasn’t a big deal at all (after all, hadn’t we come to get wet?).
But, unfortunately on the very long drive home in the dark, the drivers had decided to take a steep trek over a mountain, and on the way down, a drunk driver smashed into the front end of our van. Thank God no one was hurt, especially since Maxwell’s son was sitting in his lap in the front seat by the windshield. Thankfully, thankfully no one was injured. We were, however, tired, thirsty and cold. COLD! I’d spent the last several days not able to get away from the heat and humidity and now we were standing on the side of the road shivering in the dark with no dry clothes to change into.
Remember the rainstorm? We’d all piled into the two vans soaking wet as we embarked on the 4-hour journey home. Now 28 wet, cold, and very tired people piled out of the vans as the drivers began to scream at each other. Bystanders and other drivers quickly got involved and mayhem ensued. My main concern was looking after the young kids (Raffael and Alisha), while the teenagers looked on in stunned amazement. Fortunately for everyone, Ghana does have an effective police force that arrived within 30 minutes to calm down the gathered crowd of arguing men to sort things out. It was quite obvious to everyone that the driver of the on-coming car was drunk and we hope that he looses his license, as he should not be behind the wheel.
Though it was a tough situation to stand on the side of the road in the dark–cold, hungry and thirsty–we all survived without a scratch, and huge thanks to Robert and Richard for rescuing us in the DIVOG truck (one of the vans was fine, so lots of the kids piled in there), and we finally returned to the village at 11:30pm. There were some very tired kids in the village the following morning…
In more bad news, my camera didn’t survive the rainstorm. I had stashed it in my cloth bag, without conceiving of the notion that we might have a downpour (I’d been sweating for days on end without a drop from the sky). So, not only had I sponsored a fieldtrip where the van was smashed in the dark, but also the trip cost me my most prized possession.
Of course, I’m hoping the camera shop can do a miracle on a ‘sleeping’ camera, and if nothing else I hope the moisture hasn’t affected the memory-card. So stay tuned for photos and videos from our village field trip… Finger’s crossed, please.
Though I’ve taken some nice photos up to this point, it’s by far the times when the camera is tucked away in the safety of my room that the pricelss photo-ops occur. Tonight after Maxwell and I finished our 2 hours of waiting for things to spin on the computer, starting over because something got erased, or reviewing what we’ve learned thus far, my favorite kids (my neighborhood kids) and I sat down with my computer to sift through photos of the last few days. I brought “toffee” of course… What’s a movie without popcorn? Skittles work as popcorn… Hot, sweaty, dirty bodies piled on top of each other, all leaning on me in order to see the screen. A glorious end to the day. I would have loved to capture Portia’s little naked body with her perfect little belly sticking out while she’s picking half-eaten skittles out from a plastic toy with a lid looking at the computer screen. But I’m content with this moment, the camera stowed away, there is no way it could convey how much I love these times. So, as it should be, the best and most precious moments remain uncaptured.
Against the advice of friends, I brought a baby-doll for Portia. It was a huge success in the neighborhood; moms, dads, sisters, brothers, grandmothers all came to admire it. Because it’s an African-American doll-baby, the short cap of hair was a definite favorite. At first, whenever someone would take it away from Portia to admire it, she’d cry big alligator sobs, but she eventually learned that it was a hot commodity in her neighborhood and learned to adjust to everyone’s admiration, knowing she’d eventually get her treasure back.
As is the tradition at Mafi Tsati/Gborkope School, the student council played a match and invited me to play. Such an honor, especially since I’m a terrible player. After the first half, I gracefully allowed another teammate to take my place (not much arm-twisting needed there since I was asked to wear thick knee-high socks and a polyester jersey in the 90 degree heat). Our team lost and I’m sure some of them felt jinxed by the yevoo. Sorry guys!