It was a sweltering afternoon in Ankaase Village and the temperature in the schoolroom was even hotter, but at least we were shaded. The sun in Africa is like a different star than it is here: closer, brighter, with the kind of heat that reminds you how small and vulnerable you really are. I grabbed a bottle of Coke (not Diet Coke, not Coke Zero, but sugar-ladden Coke) and drank it like water. It was a gift, brought to us as part of a goodbye ceremony. We were spending our last day with the children in the SDA school – giving and receiving parting gifts, taking photos, giving short speeches, and drinking our Cokes. At the end of the ceremony, Daniel, the school headmaster and our new friend, handed Erin and I a gift: a carved bird with it’s head turned back toward it’s tail.
“It’s Sankofa,” Daniel said as he handed it to me with both hands. “It means we wish you will always remember us and come back to us.” I accepted the gift, but didn’t fully understand what I had been given. I carefully packed my carved bird, brought it back to the U.S., and put it on a shelf that housed my knick-knacks. And I kind of forgot about it.
Several months ago, I began considering a return to this small village. As I continued to learn more of the children’s stories and hear of the needs that existed there, I realized that there was something else for me to do in Ankaase. Maybe more than one something. There are those seasons of life when you feel that things are completely out of your control and I am right in the middle of one of those. Everything that has happened in the past four months feels carefully orchestrated, placed, and planned. And not by me, thank you God.
Most of the time, I have difficulty discerning what is God’s idea and what is mine. I have so many good ideas, or so I think. I have so many plans that make sense to me. I work hard to orchestrate events to put these great ideas and plans into place. And I think God sits back on most days and watches with a bit of amusement. “If you want to make God laugh,” says Anne Lamott, “tell her your plans.” Whether you like the gender switch of God or not, there is truth in this. We spend a lot of time and energy working out our own deals.
I can say with no small amount of certainty that the events propelling me back to Ghana have not been planned by me. I couldn’t have put any of this together in a hundred years. Here is an example: My friend Peter, who I am working with in this small village, brought me a beaded bracelet from Ghana. I had never seen beads like this, so I got online to research them. They are called Krobo beads and they have been made in Ghana for hundreds of years. The process of crafting these beads is extensive and requires hours of crushing glass, mixing it with dye, placing it in molds, firing the molds in homemade ovens, painting the designs by hand, more firing. A simple cassava stalk inserted in the center during the molding process gives the bead a center hole. I was mesmerized as I watched the process online. It’s an art that is handed down through the generations.
I love bracelets, especially culturally unique bracelets, so I pulled Alison into a project with me: “We’ll find these beads and make Krobo bracelets to sell and raise money for the village.” And because children understand the beauty of a crazy idea, she was on board from the first word. And we did it. We bought our Krobo beads from two women who head up sustainability projects in two Ghanaian villages. The beads are authentic and fair trade. We’ve made 43 bracelets and sold 28. And we haven’t even begun to market them yet.
So in the midst of doing even more research on the beads, I ran across a YouTube video that included an interview with a bead seller in Ghana. “For a while, we shunned the beads,” she said in the interview. “People thought they were archaic, or unfashionable. But we have a culture of Sankofa – go back and retrieve what you have left behind – and now people are returning to the beads.”
Sankofa. Where had I heard that before? Suddenly I remembered my carved bird. I jumped up and pulled it from the knick-knack shelf. “Go back and retrieve what you have left behind,” or the literal translation: “It is not wrong to go back for what is at risk of being left behind.”
I got the message.
So I’m going back to Ghana on October 17. This time, Erin will stay here and I will travel with our friends Peter and Anna Osei-Kwame. I’ll be staying in the village in a cool little African bungalow with a cat named Tooles (forgive me kitty if I have the spelling wrong). I’ll be blogging here and praying that my cable modem will work in the village. I hope you’ll join me as I go back for what is at risk of being left behind.
I’m keeping my Sankofa bird in a more prominent place these days to continually remind me of all that is unfolding and how it is so out of my hands. I stand amazed, but why should I be? I’ve known all along that God loves a good story.