Sunday, December 15, 2013
Of course, “obstacality” as I would define it (don’t press me on this haha) is an attitude.
On Sunday morning, things started looking up as I was overwhelmed by blessings. When I awoke, Madame Emma had come home three days early from Kitampo (where she is studying to get her Physician’s Assistant certification) to surprise me.
We shared a loaf of sugar bread and hot milo and talked for hours, catching up on three and a half years of our lives. How much both of us have changed, and lived. Emma, although she won’t admit it, is one of my greatest role models. She is laconic, discerning, soft spoken but severe, very tall and very elegant. She is the person in my life who first treated me as a woman. Likewise she is the woman who taught me how to be a feminist – through her compassion, strength and grace – although neither of us would have used the word.
I must say I nearly wept with joy when I woke up to her face Sunday morning. The bus had taken ten hours (starting at 9pm) so she’d gotten to Accra around 6am and was home before 8, without having slept (we didn’t quite make it to church, I confess). After breakfast we swept and cleaned the whole house (she said she couldn’t rest if it was dirty) and then headed to the kitchen to cook lunch (she also hadn’t eaten).
The kitchen is a wooden shed behind the house. First we had to clear out the flies who had gathered on some pepper and cabbage scraps, and then to make sure that the huge barrel of water was full. (There’s no sink, so we scoop the necessary water from the plastic barrel as we go.) We fried lots of ripe plantains along with boiled cabbage and chicken stew, and then brought our plates back to the house.
We talked all afternoon, she told me about Kitampo, and some research she’s starting in Tema on contraceptive use, HIV/other STI occurrence, and prevalence of abortions/pregnancies among teenagers. She’s writing a report to help identify ways to improve current sexual education – from age five and up, or “as soon as they start asking questions” – in Ghanaian schools.
When we finished talking, we sat together for a long time in silence, dribbling evaporated milk into our mugs of black tea, sipping, thinking. My inclination would have, at one time, been to force conversation, to ask her questions about herself. But it was so clear that this was a time to just enjoy the quiet beauty of another person. So we did.
That afternoon was a Community 25 Annex Resident’s Association meeting I had helped Mr. K organize, so by 5pm a few dozen men had gathered and together we had a classic Ghanaian chief’s meeting (aka town-hall style) under the flaking branches of the eucalyptus outside. We chatted about getting streetlights and drainage for the community, as we have gotten electricity and water (at least in some buildings as of 2011). I got to meet some of the leaders/bigmen of Comm. 25, which is cool because they now honk and stop to say hello when they see me jogging with the Jerry, Albert, Tetteh and Bernice (the jogging regulars). One, a pastor named Francis, even gave the five of us a ride back from the barrier last night because it had gotten dark and we were carrying heavy mangoes.
By evening a bunch of the kids had come for jogging, so I went with them, running all throughout Community 25, stopping when the smallest ones got tired or to rotate responsibility of the backpacks a few had brought. We hit the main road. When I mentioned to Jerry to take us back to the old road we used to run on, he knew what I meant immediately, sprinting ahead and leading our bedraggled pack down Blueberry Road. And there we finished, on the relieving downhill, cruising past the old cocoa factory which still smells unmistakably and humidly of blueberry bagels.
That night, after another mother-load of Emma’s mouth-watering palm oil fried plantains, I taught a French lesson for nearly two hours to the Class of JHS Three students who board at the school. I started by dividing them into teams and then pointing to things like ruler, chalk, notebook etc in the classroom and giving points to the team that got it first. Then we raised the stakes. I began saying simple sentences in French, and the teams raced to correctly translate them. Finally we learned how to conjugate the verb “avoir” (to have) and practiced doing sentences with the very useful compound verb “avoir besoin de” (to need).
The students, despite being between 14-18 years old, had lacked a French professor for a long time and were hungry to learn but still at an introductory level. I love French, so offering simple, interactive “night classes” to eager students was an east way to contribute. It pleased Mr. K greatly, and the students really enjoyed it. Tetteh, perhaps because he briefly lived with an uncle in Spain two years ago, has a marvelous accent.
So I guess Emma’s arrival catalyzed some change of spirit, or afforded me some confidence, because after Sunday it seems I have fallen in stride. Perhaps I cannot do everything. Perhaps I was initially withdrawn because “this is just a visit,” and I wanted to emotionally protect myself from really, deeply feeling here again. And feeling here again. Yet as I’ve begun to re-believe, you can facilitate remarkably beautiful things with very little if your heart is in it.