Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I think that which I will miss most from my time here in Ghana are my evening walks. When the sun drops down in the sky and its intensity reduces to the somewhat sane mark, I’m willing to venture out of hiding. Today, as is typical on evenings in which I walk up the road, I meet and am greeted by many people returning from farm. (After laboring in the fields all day they are making their arduous way home. After lying under my ceiling fan escaping the heat I am out strolling for pleasure).
As I journey out, the image I see is truly African. I watch the sun dripping down the horizon behind the haze of a pale dusty blue Harmattan sky. Salmon pink, bright orange and amber hues radiate from the sky’s huge glowing disc. A ridge gently rises in the distance carpeted with dry high grass, palms, and the feminine curves of tall autonomous acacia trees.
There is much to see on my little adventures. To my right on the bank of the ditch I catch a glimpse of an impressive skink. His sides mimic the pinks and blues of the sky, and other lizards of the black and yellow-orange “push up” variety scurry in response to my approach. A little further along my walk I step to one side to avoiding a giant millipede cruising along the warm black pavement. And a few steps later skip over the remains of a big black scorpion. As I try to watch my step I also keep an eye above me and on the surrounding trees. You never know when you might catch sight of a green feathered parrot, the comical beak of a hornbill, the brilliant crest of a turaco, or the fantastic elongated flight feathers of a nightjar.
In the center of this evening portrait are silhouettes of the people. The first to pass by me is a man on a bicycle, a twig pen strapped on the back of the frame contains a bewildered young goat. A distance beyond, a woman wrapped in worn but colorful cloth balances a huge aluminum bowl on her head and a baby on her back. The contents of the bowl are uncertain except for a cutlass whose handle protrudes from the top. She is flanked by four children. A medium sized boy is shrouded by an unruly bundle of leafy branches which he wrestles to keep on his head, food for the goats at home. A young girl is topped with a bucket of maize. Another boy is capped by a giant stubby-fingered tuber, (tonight’s dinner will no doubt center on this true yam). And the final young boy is topped with an unwieldy dry branch at least twice as long as he is tall, fuel for his mother’s cooking fire.
Still at a bit of a distance, I notice the small boy with the big branch zigzagging down the road in a rather odd way. A little giggle travels the distance between us, and then I see a big white smile emerge from the shadow of his mother’s face. Now I’m close enough to this little entourage to understand what’s happening and I can’t help but to smile myself. I have seen this family before.
We had crossed paths earlier in the year but that time we were walking in the same direction. As I was returning from my evening stroll I had come up on them as they were setting off after a short break from their walk towards home. They were on one side of the road and I on the other. And so we walked on together (but separate). After the usual greetings, my Twi vocabulary was pretty much exhausted. So we walked along in silence; awkward silence (at least for me). I wasn’t sure how to break free of my uncomfortable social predicament, so I took a lesson I learned from my father. I started acting goofy.
First I voiced that I was tired (a little something I was able to pull from my limited Twi) and I started walking at a slower pace. This did not solve my problem, however. The kids copied my steps and slowed down as well. So then after a little bit I picked up the pace and started walking briskly. This did not go unnoticed by the children either who also picked up their pace. So I gave in and added some animated arm movements as if I were in a fake run which went over quite well. And then something akin to Monte’ Pythons’ silly walks ensued all the way to my driveway where I graciously made my exit. They continued on down the road satisfied with their evening’s entertainment.
As I approach the group tonight the boy has spied me first and is egging me on with his antics. We share a fun little exchange and continue in our separate directions. I am thankful for this evening’s walk and this pleasant encounter especially since I was in a bit of a “mood” for most of the day.
Playing Peace Corps volunteer is not always a walk in the park (or in our case a walk in the bush). Not so long ago I was at a crossroads. Reaching the half-way mark in one’s service is a great mile stone and cause for celebration. But it is also a time for reflection and setting new goals. What have I accomplished in my first year? What do I hope to accomplish in my second? Little questions – big burdens!
There were times during the first year when I thought I would be happy to simply survive! That wasn’t really my mind set when I first started out. Sure, I knew I SHOULD keep my expectations down and I SHOULD focus on the little successes, and yeah it’s great to say “If I have affected just one person in a positive way I can consider my service successful”. Blah, blah, blah…bunk. Those things sound great, and I think they really are great – just maybe not for me. I simply could not resist the temptation to have higher aspirations.
At least I had the sense (or lack of vision) to not assign anything specific to those aspirations. In the general sense my mind was and still is open as to where this journey will take me and as to what I might achieve. But it was tough reaching the half way point and realizing that mostly what I had to show for my efforts was…well…what do I have to show?! Survival – check. Now what?
There is a pretty big gap between survival and saving the world. And I spent most of the day today thinking about that, dwelling on that. I have been riding on a pendulum since I stepped off the plane. First the upswing; a great inspiration comes to mind and I start to work. Then the downswing; Plan A falls through followed by plan B and plan C. And just when I’m about to give up…a breakthrough! Then I’m cruising along with great momentum on the upswing then– WHAM! “Whoa, where did that wall come from”?!
There are times I would like to scream, “That’s it, I’m through, I don’t have the energy to care anymore!” But for some reason I keep on keepin’ on. Maybe it’s the spark in the eye of an 8 year old orphan. Maybe it’s the initiative I see building in my young counterpart. Maybe it’s the fact that every time I’m about to throw in the towel and walk away, someone slips in just under the wire and takes up the charge.
Before arriving and during training I heard variations of the same bit of advice several times; never doubt that the work you are doing is making a difference. Since the advice came with sincerity and from people I know and respect I feel there must be some truth in it. So when one of ‘those days’ comes along I try to remind myself of this and try to believe that my efforts are not in vain.
As I continue on my walk this evening I feel that things are on the upswing again. I break from the road and make a detour on a trail that leads past the borehole, through campus, and then on toward home. As I round the bend to the bore hole I hear the voices of two young ladies and then recognize the neighbor girls as one of them pumps water and the other fills her container.
I greet them first, “Maa Jo”!
They are delighted that I’m speaking Twi and giggle “Yeh niah”!
“Mo ho tu sen”? I continue.
“Eye! No won swe”? they reply testing my toddler level Twi.
“Menso me hoye” I throw back to them.
“Nowo ko he”? They prod testing my vernacular.
“Me ko sukuu ana me ko fia” I reply in stride.
“Oh Madam! Wayah di ye!” (You have done well), they shriek in response to our volley of basic words.
Had I been in a foul mood I may have interpreted their remarks as condescending and taken offense. But I take a bow instead, which spurs their delight and I smile happily all the way down the trail toward home. Life is what we make of it.