What We Have Seen

It’s been three days since we’ve been home from Ghana and this time, post-trip, I’ve done something new and different.

I’ve let down.

After previous trips, my routine has been to spring out of bed the morning after and start working. There always seems to be more to do than time to get it done, and this weighs on me. “If I could afford to let down, I would,” was my response to my family’s plea for me to rest after the trip. Despite a bit of exhaustion and a touch of jet lag, I would fill my days with work, morning to evening, as if I was saving the world.

Each day that passes I realize with startling clarity that I am not saving the world. Sometimes let’s-save-the-world, let’s-change-the-world can be effective rally cries if you find the proper audience, but it can also be a dangerous mentality. As we entered each village where we work in Ghana, I once again reminded myself that I have far more to learn than to teach, far more to absorb than to dispense. And on this trip, I tried to clear my vision and really see what was in front of me. Unfortunately, we Westerners glide into different parts of Africa with too many opinions, ideas, images, and solutions blocking our vision. We think that we already know how it should be, and so we come ready to fix things and save people. I only know this because that’s me: fixing and saving.

But that’s all wrong. I can’t fix my own life and I sure didn’t save myself, so I’m not sure why I think I can do this for anyone else. I want to enter into the lives of our friends in Ghana in a way that allows me to see their world and learn from it. If I strip away what I think I know about the people in Ghana – or anywhere in the world – this just might be possible.

So over the past four days – starting with the 36-hour airport/airline festivities – I’ve been closing my eyes and seeing, once again, all that we were privileged to see in Ghana. I’ve been reliving moments and asking myself what I have learned from them. I’ve been dragging my vision across the landscape of a village, a mud and thatch house, a dark room, a contagious smile, and a hand-crank sewing machine. What does it mean that this is one young woman’s life day in and day out? Maybe it means nothing. Or maybe it holds answers to questions I ask every day.

I could come home and only bury myself in tasks (tasks, by the way, will commence tomorrow), but our work with families in Ghana demands more than a trite let’s-change-the-world mentality. So I’m settling in and thinking about what I have seen. We can never un-see what we have seen. We should never shut our eyes and try make it go away, nor should we attempt to shape it to a reality of our choosing. I want what I have seen to teach me, shape me, and cause me to think about the world and our work in wider, deeper ways

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Ghana in June, Day One

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The Wi-fi and I are having it out tonight. But, more importantly, we are here in Ghana and the luggage and our team made it fine with no excess baggage fees or delays. We’re calling it a miracle. It’s so good to be back and although I can’t say that I have missed the slow Wi-fi,  it is another familiar part of my time in Ghana. So is visiting the slave castles that dot the coastline of what was once known as the Gold Coast. After over 26 hours of flying, we stumbled into our hotel rooms in Accra last night and woke up this morning to drive to Elmira Castle. Last spring, Erin and I visited Cape Coast, so it was good to see a different castle, but the story is the same. We walked through the dungeons where male and female slaves were kept. There were hundreds of captured West Africans who were huddled in these rooms with little ventilation or sanitation. Diseases like typhoid, malaria, and yellow fever were rampant. We saw the dungeon, complete with skull and crossbones, where the slaves who tried to escape were kept without food and water until they died there. And we saw the Door of No Return, the last walkway before the slaves were boarded onto ships bound for Europe or the United States. But in this castle, we were also able to stand in the large room where church services were held each Sunday, above the dungeons and the Door of No Return. And we asked the question that we will never answer: “How?”

Despite a morose beginning to our trip (and to my blog posting about it), it seemed like the right place to be today to put things in perspective. There are so many “why?” and “how?” questions that we can’t answer. I’m a person who likes to know these answers, but sometimes all we can do is look ahead and say, “We’ll do things different and better.” Maybe we can never make up for the wrongs of those who came before us, but we can be people who don’t repeat injustice, causing generations that come after us to ask these same questions.

Tomorrow morning we leave Accra for our destination, Ankaase. I’m so privileged to be traveling with Peter and Anna, ACEF founder and his wife; Colin, my son; Shannon, my best childhood friend; and Melissa, a dear friend I’ve known for over 20 years.

Tomorrow, we will board a plane for Kumasi and hit the ground sprinting as soon as we make the drive to Ankaase. It is midnight here and this is my third lost and recovered draft of this post, so I’m hitting publish, saying a prayer of thanks, and then falling into bed. Once again, you’ll have to forgive the typos. If I fix them, I’m afraid this night will never end.

So, finally, goodnight from Accra, Ghana.

Ghana in October, Day Three: The Bungalow and Ankaase SDA School

This is the bungalow where we are staying. It’s a mission house that was the residence of an amazing family that served here in Ankaase for many years. Not exactly a mud hut with mosquito nets, eh? The electricity goes out about every two or three days throughout the village, but I can’t say that I’m roughing it too much. I did keep company with a few interesting insects and critters the first day, but I think I’ve scared them all off.

The teachers at SDA School were gracious to let me sit in on a few classes today and here is what I learned: children are required to do lots of memorization and writing; discipline is taken very seriously; teachers go through a lot of chalk; the government funds nothing except teacher salaries (they don’t even provide the buildings); there are more boys in the upper grades than girls; it’s very hot in the classroom by 10 a.m..; the cows and goats graze on the school property throughout the day; it’s best not to drink too much water because the bathrooms are basically a few low walls and a hole in the ground; children here do not take for granted the opportunity to go to school.

Sometimes the more we feel entitled to something, the more ambivalent we are toward it. I made my way through school and did well, but I had little concept of what a privilege it was to have the opportunity to be in the classroom. I can say the same for our children. The children in Ankaase only have to look around the village to see what happens when you have to leave school, or are unable to attend because your family does not have the funds to pay for it. That reality is all around them. Many of them see it in their own homes, especially the girls. Women in developing countries rarely make it past primary school. If you don’t believe me, read the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof. It’s a fascinating reality check about the rest of the world.  

That is one of the reasons I am so thankful that, as of today, Kamariatu has a sponsor! This little girl, who is just beginning school in Primary 1 class, has the opportunity to become an educated Ghanaian woman. I’m pulling for her and so are her new sponsors.

All of our ACEF children are working hard in school and I couldn’t be prouder of them. So if you’re tempted to complain about some aspect of our the American education system, you’re probably exactly right that it needs a lot of improvement, but say a prayer of thanks for it as well.

I’m off to bed. Tomorrow is a big day of celebration for the new computer lab!

Goodnight from the bungalow in Ankaase.