Sometimes I really hate that word. Today, it was a horrible thing to have to say. These kids have really messed me up so I wonder if perhaps I’m not cut out for this sort of thing. At the same time that my heart is all wrapped around the kids, my brain is frantically trying to come up with solutions. I am reminding myself that I don’t have to find the answers for all of the world’s problems. I am reading Richard Stearns Hole in the Gospel, and he says this: “It is not our fault that people are poor, but it is our responsibility to do something about it. God says that we are guilty if we allow people to remain deprived when we have the means to help them.”
Okay, so I don’t have to find answers for all of the world’s problems, but I didn’t come face to face with the entire world over the course of this week. I came face to face with five children (okay, I know I started with one, but now it’s five). So that’s how we leave Kumasi – with children in our hearts and a commitment to do something to make life better for them. I think I have a t-shirt with those words printed on it. I don’t want that to be just a slogan. I want to feel it and find a way to make it happen.
So enough of sad goodbyes. I want to finish out my blog posts here in this amazing country with a few observations about Ghanaian culture:
#1. Ghanaians do not smoke. At least not in public. In Ghanaian movies (we watched three on the bus ride from Accra to Kumasi), the villains smoke. They’re always lighting up and and then producing a sinister laugh as they walk around with the cigarette dangling from their lips in the most unappealing way. And in the movies, to the extent I could understand what was happening, there seemed to be several breaks in the plot so the good guy could lecture the bad guy on the dangers of smoking. Fact: I haven’t seen a single person smoking since we’ve been in Ghana.
#2. Ghanaians do not eat dessert, nor do they celebrate birthdays with cake. In fact, rarely do they celebrate birthdays because they aren’t really sure when they were born. So when the meal is over, it is over. No sweets to top it off. Restaurants do not have dessert offerings, although those that cater to folks like us do. The Miklin has ice cream and fruit on the dessert menu. Chocolate is a big staple here, but it’s a snack and you can buy a bar from one of the many vendors that sell their items in the middle of “go slow traffic.” Which brings me to my next observation…
#3. You can sit in your car and buy any of the following items: toilet paper, mobile phone chargers, fried plantains, sim cards, fruit, shoes, and sardines. Many of these items are in crates or large bowls that sit securely on the head of the sellers. They can’t bend over to peer into the window of the car, but they can stand at the window and wait for you to acknowledge them – which they do. You only need to shake your head slightly and they will slowly walk to the car behind you. They have no need to stand and plead with you to buy something from them. An endless string of traffic supplies them with customers day and night.
#4. Almost every business has a catchy, spiritual name. I suppose it’s the equivalent of having a fish on your yellow pages ad. Here is a sampling:
Hope of Glory Beauty Salon
In Thee Hotel (love that one!)
Seek Jesus Key-cutting Service
Trust in Jesus Special Pork
Nearer My God Construction Company
Lord’s Winners Investment Services
#5. Every Ghanaian realizes the value of education, but not everyone has the means to educate their child. That’s a problem. It’s election season in Ghana, and for two hours in the Kia cab a few days ago I listened to a presidential candidate make a speech in Twi. No, I didn’t understand most of it, but he did use the word “education” over and over. I assume he was making promises that just might not be kept. Politics is politics everywhere. I love this quote that I heard on the radio yesterday (we spend a lot of time in the Kia cab): “As Ghanaians, we live as if we are going to die tomorrow, and we learn as if we are going to live forever.” I wish the second part of that quote could be a reality for every child here. In the lobby tonight, I saw a guy who sold me some paintings over the weekend. He had walked in from the center of Kumasi to sell his art to a big group from America that has descended on the Miklin. “I wanted to be a lawyer,” he told me as we sat on the steps together, “but there was no money for that, so I taught myself art and now I try to make every day better than the day before. I did well in school and learned what I needed to know. Now I’m just trying to survive.” It’s the same story everywhere. Just surviving.
Two weeks ago, before we left, a friend wrote me a note and said, “I’m so excited to see how Africa soaks into you.” How has Africa soaked into us? In a hundred different ways, with a hundred different faces and voices. I will carry with me the smiles and the beautiful lilting accents. They are a part of me now. We were given a gift today from the headmaster of the village school. It is a carving that’s purpose is to remind us to look back on our time here, and then someday to return. I accepted the gift and told him that we very much want to return. And we want to do our part to make life better for the people we have met here. As we say goodbye, Erin and I feel blessed beyond words and soaked with the beauty of the people of Ghana.
So, for the last time, I wish you goodnight from Kumasi.