L: A lot better than you right now.
|—||When Adam was teasing Baffour about his potentially betrothed.|
We are leaving Winneba. I am heartbroken because Manuel’s hostel feels like a second home and his family becomes our family. He has told me I will always have a home to stay at when I come to Ghana. Saying goodbye at Challenging Heights was especially hard because S had been sent to retrieve his sisters school fees and thus was not around for me to say goodbye. I had given him a letter at the afterschool program the day before we said goodbye at CH so at least he has some form of closure. I hate the idea of rushing goodbyes with these children who have been so neglected and abandoned over the period of there lives.
We had a goodbye party Friday night and I had the opportunity to speak with one of the wisest Ghanaian/American’s I have ever met. He explained:
Tro tro’s acquired their names because they used to cost three peswas to ride anywhere. Didn’t matter if it was Accra to Cape Coast (short distance) or Accra to Northern Volta (longer distance).
The difference between relationships in the US and relationships in Ghana. When people propose marriage in the US they generally want to make sure they already know everything about each other. The reason we get so many proposals in Ghana is the system is based more off of initial feelings. Ghanaians might say I know you, meaning I am willing to take the time to get to know you because I like you. He explained the decision is based off of the initial reactions of I like this person or theres something about this person I do not like.
He also explained the horrific history behind the Ghana handshake. He told me “If you knew what that meant, with what you are doing, you would never do it again.” You see back in the days of the triangle trade the elite would use the snap at the end of a handshake as a device to determine if the person they were speaking to was a slave who had escaped. A common practice was cutting the middle finger of a slave at the first knuckle. The slaves thus would have a short middle finger and be unable to complete the snap at the end of the handshake. The elite could tell by the snap whether the finger was long or short. The escaped individuals would then be returned to slavery.
“You can not be a victor if you do not have a problem to solve.”
|—||Gabriel’s t-shirt. Well they had the adorable part right. 100% Ghanaian is more accurate.|
I woke and stumbled out of bed later than intended this morning. I had hoped to go to church with my dear friend Robert however he was no where to be found last night. I realized yesterday visiting his church would not be possible unless we went today. I did not plan ahead of time and didn’t run into Robert and was worried about taking up room in the tro tro to the Hovde House service so I stayed at home today. I also semi-slept through my alarm. I was a lil bummed out in the moment but now I’m convinced I just had an appointment with fate. Thus instead of going to church I wandered to the back of the hostel to make mac and cheese for breakfast. I ran out of granola bars a few days ago and need to take my anti-malarials with food. I had noticed a few new faces around the hostel yesterday. There are no actual rooms left vacant so there are a few tents set up in the back. Nikos and Georgia met Ghis a few countries back and have continued to travel together. Nikos and Georgia are traveling via car and Ghis via motorbike throughout Africa. The three will split in Ghana and likely meet back up later in South Africa. So unexpectedly I ended up in a conversation with Chris from Britain, the Greek couple (Nikos and Georgia) Ghis from Paris, a Ghanaian french teacher, several other Ghanaian friends and a few Americans. We talked about life and adventures, we talked about our travel and our homes, we talked about history and about the current anti-trafficking movement, we talked about the carrying laws in the states. We talked and talked and I listened and learned. I was on sensory and intellectual overload. Moments like these are the reasons I love to travel. I enjoy engaging in conversation with people from different walks of life and broadening my perspective. After our conversations I am hoping within the next year to travel through Europe. Some of us ladies made a pact in one year we’ll travel for at least a two week stint through Europe. We figure if we made it through Africa and still enjoy each others company Europe will be a blast!
Side Note: One of the little girls from Manuals hostel drew a photo of me. Did you know glasses are supposed to be worn on your chin?
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.
I met a little boy the other day with a great smile and calm demeanor. He came to the after school program for the first time however I’ve noticed him around town. When I saw him for the first time at the after school program he was on the ground crying with two other boys. I don’t know what happened exactly but Scott was talking to one crying child so I rubbed the back of the other until he went to stand up. In that moment I realized I knew this little boy who had hidden his face sobbing into his arm. You see by standing I noticed his foot. This sweet boy likely suffered from Polio and his toes are curled under his foot by his heel. In order to move he has to walk on what should be the top of his foot. I’m certain the process is painful and he obviously doesn’t have shoes. Regardless I went to try and make him smile by having photos taken together. Usually this does the trick with the kids but I think he was still upset so he went right back on the ground crying. We ended up in a double this that battle and thumb war and then took some photos of our faces with the camera extended in my arm. The after school program was wrapping up so I had S holding one hand and the little boy holding the other. I walked slowly from the shed (where after school is held) to the front gate and was halfway there when out of nowhere and for no reason a little girl ran up and with a fist struck the little boy hard in the back near the shoulder. I mean it made a loud sound when she hit. He fell to the ground hurt and I turned around and gestured with my hands to back up and then raised my voice at the girl asking “what are you thinking. That is not okay.” She skipped away laughing and left me to swoop this crying, hurt child into my arms. I just walked him the rest of the way to the gate thinking about how much he has already suffered. Knowledge of modern science is not prevalent and thus many children are unaware of what causes disabilities. They are afraid of what they do not understand. I learned last year babies with physical and mental disabilities were often tossed into the bush believed to be cursed. In this case the boy is likely being targeted by the children due to his physical disability. I wish there was a way I could arrange for a surgery for this sweet boy. This week has been filled with moments that are difficult to process.
For instance S has told me that his mother is away. His father is a fisherman out trying to make catch and his brother is refusing to feed him. As a principle I do not believe in Aid. I believe in Development. However there are moments when my belief structure crumbles. For instance the moment a child tells you he is hungry and has not eaten because his parents aren’t around to look after him because they are too far away and busy trying to make money to provide for him. And in those moments I just spend the US 15 cents for a package of biscuits. S and I have been friends long enough where I know when he is lying. He’s not lying.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Hovde House. The Hovde House is Challenging Heights rehabilitation and reintegration shelter for children recently enslaved in the fishing industry. Last year I took several tours of the facilities while construction was underway however for various reasons I not been able to visit the now functional facility until this week. The house is absolutely beautiful and the staff are what I would consider earth angels.
My first impression was the children are a lot quieter than those at Challenging Heights. Not the good kid of quiet (like kids with coloring books) the almost eerie quiet. I had to be careful not to wave or high five because due to their past these arm movements can scare the children. Many of the kids are suffering from psychological trauma and might interpret those actions as an attempt to hit them. I glimpsed over students blog posts before I went and after observing a classroom for an hour or so I thought they might be a bit extreme. I mean it was rough to see children with the physical injuries but the students are now safe, they have classes, they are learning. It didn’t take long for me to realize how spot on our students observations are regarding the children’s traumatic pasts. I witnessed 17 year old boys who look as if they are 14 due to stunted growth. Children who should be taking geometry are learning how to add 30 and 6 together. I thought that would be the hardest part of the day and then things got even more real.
Kate had been tutoring one of the students. In the States he would be the equivalent of a highschool junior or senior however due to his former enslavement he was struggling to learn his numbers. Some children were making fun of him and he got upset. Reasonable because his past is so intrically linked to his lack of education. Kate managed to re-focus his attention and then the other kids started in on him again. He was so upset and went tearing out of the classroom after a little girl in the courtyard. Kate sent a teacher after him because she was scared he could seriously hurt someone. We followed behind and watched as the boy ran up the stairs trying to get into a room. He then ran back down the stairs grabed a plank of wood about 6 feet wide and was trying to take it up the stairs likely to beat the other child. The teacher and several other students jumped in to pull the plank away from the boy. He jumped down and the teacher managed to catch him. The teacher was in the middle of bear hugging him trying to restrain the child from hurting himself or others when James walked in and told the teacher to let go. The Australian ambassador who was visiting stood with Jessica watching as the child tore back up the stairs with James in tow until James got him backed into a corner and the rest of the kids began filing back down to class. I tried to help by clearing the courtyard sending kids back to class but my efforts felt feeble. I talked to the teacher who explained the boy has such immense psychological trauma and anger issues that he has been in the shelter for 6 months and as of Wednesday they were trying to prepare his family for his return. The teacher explained the children break out in fights on almost a daily basis. The teachers speak English however some of the kids do not speak the same local language as the teachers. Can you imagine trying to sit through a class as a child without being able to communicate in a common language? The life they have experienced has been so violent it is so difficult to break the patterns. You can’t get mad at the boy for losing his temper. His youth was stripped from him, his opportunity for a proper education was taken, his entire knowledge is of the lake and the violence that he has endured. On Tuesday the boy graduated from the program and returned home.
I have the greatest respect for the staff and social workers at the Hovde House. They are providing both love and support to these children. I was only at the shelter for 6 hours and in that time realized how emotionally and physically exhausting their work must be with the children. Linda the shelter manager is a dear friend from last summer. I ran into her at a wedding last weekend and she was so excited for the opportunity to show me her work. I am so impressed by her passion to help these children.
I thought I would be over the whole culture shock thing by this point in my travels but occasionally moments occur that stop me in my tracks and make me wonder why in the world this is all still happening. I toured the Slave Trade Castle in Ghana this summer and our guide made a point to let us know slavery still exists. The form of slavery might not be the triangle trade but the effects are just as real, just as heartbreaking, just as unexplainable and unimaginable and this form of slavery is targeting and impacting children. I feel like the world likes to pretend slavery is over but I want to scream from the mountain tops “its not. I know!” I’ve seen children on the lake. I’ve seen children scarred not only physically but emotionally. The youngest child at the Hovde House is 5 and some of the older children were trafficked at the age of three. I struggle with the idea of leaving here, leaving these children whom I love so much. How do you go home when you’ve held children who have been broken by the world. I don’t know how to not help. I remember struggling with my return to the states until the moment I signed on to help with this years trip. I’m not sure how to do this all over again. My heart is heavy because we only have one more week left and its just not enough time.