Friday, January 9, 2009

Ghana- 1999- Seeing in the Dark

There is nothing unusual about the electricity going off in Africa; however, something special happened one night when it went off. Sometimes it takes the lights going off for me to notice important things about those I love.

Life stops for no one, it just slows down once in awhile so that I gain a proper perspective. The sad thing is I often struggle with the slowing down and want to rush on ahead. When I rush I miss the opportunity to discover priceless truths about those around me.

The electricity had been off most of the day and it hadn’t come on when it was time to go to sleep. The humidity made it so easy to feel uncomfortable. I kept tossing and turning, attempting to find a better position. When I rolled from my back to my side, my back peeled itself away from the sheets and then my side re-attached itself firmly to the bedding.

I could hear everything so clearly: the night sounds, the next door neighbors. I listened to my husband’s rhythmic breathing. He was still awake.

Listening to his breathing, my mind wandered back to a short feature film I had seen earlier that day. “Jacob's Harvest” was a simple film about a family struggling to come to terms with various problems and trials. There were two brothers featured and one always appeared to be getting the short end of the stick because he was the more responsible one. He seemed to be missing out on life because of his strong sense of duty and obligation.

At one point in the film the old farmer asked his adult son "It's not easy always being the responsible one, is it?"

Lying there in the darkness thinking about what that man had said, tears slipped down my cheeks. The farmer’s words made me think of my husband. He has always been the responsible one; never running away from what he needed to do. He had many opportunities to do easier jobs. He had chances to escape hardships, but he always chose to stick with what needed to be done. I cried for the many times that he plodded through life not getting proper recognition or praise when he actually deserved it.

Rolling over, I touched his arm lightly and he responded immediately, turning towards me.


"I saw something today that moved me."

"What was that?"

In the retelling of that particular part of the film, I told him of how it reminded me of him. I said, "I know it isn't always easy for you to be the responsible one. I just want you to know that I appreciate you and I’m proud of you. I love you for everything you have done and continue to do. You could easily give up on everything and walk away, but you don’t. Thank you."

Not saying a word, he reached over and touched my face. I couldn't see his eyes in the dark, but I could feel him looking at me. After what seemed like an eternity, he said, in his usual practical way, "Thank you so much for understanding."

No more needed to be said, except to say goodnight. More words would have cluttered the moment.

I realized I had never really seen him as I saw him right then. My heart burst at the seams with pride for him. That picture of him has stuck with me. He is absolutely the best man I have ever known. He has taught me so much just by his life and the way he lives it.

The electricity went off long enough for me to slow down and really see this man who lay next to me night after night.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ghana- What I miss

Okay, no more doom and gloom- life in Ghana was not all near death experiences and dead bodies. If the experiences were put on a scale, the good days far outweighed the bad days.

Each country is made up of people. Places are fine and things are great but ultimately it is the people who make up a place. They give the place meaning and life. Remove all the people and what is the value of the beautiful sunset or sunrise? What meaning does the historic building have anymore if you can't share it with someone? Ghana has some of the most beautiful people you will ever meet anywhere.

Of course you have your odd ducks, but what country doesn't? On the whole- the Ghanaian people are known for their hospitality- After all, where did the famous "Akwaaba" come from? A word symbolizing welcome in all the senses of the word.....welcome to my country...welcome to my city...welcome to my home.

Another trait found across the board in Ghana is their generosity. If they are eating a meal and you walk up- the instant response to your presence is, "You are invited." It doesn't matter if there is only a small portion of food on their plate or a large one..."You are invited." And it is not an empty invitation because on most occasions the invitation is accepted and the food is shared.

The most captivating aspect of a Ghanaian is their joy. Laughter rings out readily across a courtyard. Even in their disagreements, a smile will play on the edge of someone's lips and before you know it the entire group is laughing. The fight forgotten and a joke made cushioning the problems yet to be shared.

In the many years I lived in Ghana, I saw so many places. I experienced a great many things. When I left Ghana, I did not miss the beautiful beaches, the historic landmarks, the quaint shopping spots. The only thing I miss is the people.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

1998-Ghana- Dead man talking

"Mom, there is a dead man in front of our gate."

Katrina was not quite ten when she woke me up to tell me about the dead man in front of our gate. She mentioned it casually, as if she was mentioning there were flowers growing outside our window. It took me a moment to focus.

So it wasn't a really happened!

The naked man lay crumpled on the pathway in front of our house. I ran back in the house to get a blanket to cover him.

"No, no you must not put the blanket on him. This is a police case."

The police didn't come for more than 6 hours. No one was allowed to touch the body. The body cried out to all who were willing to listen, "Why did you allow this to happen?"

So it wasn't a bad really happened!

It all started the day before. We arrived back from town to find the neighborhood in an uproar. A thief broke into one of the houses but they left some of the goods behind a wall. The idea must have been to come back at dark to retrieve the loot. An impromptu neighborhood committee agreed to lay in wait for the thieves. At around 6 pm the two unsuspecting fellows crept over the wall only to be ambushed. One of the men managed to escape; his friend was not so lucky.

How does one recreate the scene? I was alerted to what was going on by shrieks and blood curdling, gleeful chanting. I ran to the gate to see what was going on outside and discovered throngs of people. There was an odd feeling in the air. I knew something wasn't right and I questioned those nearest me as to what was going on.

"We are going to beat the thief!"

That night the crowd was the judge, the jury and the executioner all rolled up in one. Daniel tried to go out and stop them but they were so 'high' on a thirst for blood that they wouldn't listen to reason. One minute Daniel was there in the midst of the people and the next minute the mob swallowed him up. Pushing through a wall of people, I found him slumped over on the ground. Someone hit him. I'm sure they didn't mean to it was just the frenzy of the moment. Dragging him back towards the gate, I thought we would never make it. We made it.

We were advised to go in our house.

"You do not understand, this is Ghana. This is our way!"

Maybe if we had a gun, or a water hose, or something to disrupt the crowd things would have turned out differently. We had nothing. We begged. We pleaded. Our voices were drowned out by the chanting and the cheering. Mob mentality took over and reason was pushed into the dark corners of the night.

This is not a really happened.

The sun rose, the birds chirped, my children skipped out the front gate stumbling over the dead man. His skull sunken in from the many rocks hurled at him. His body screamed at me, "Couldn't you have tried harder?" I had no words.

I stood vigil with my blanket in hand. The police arrived. They questioned people but no one knew what happened. The loud chanters and the screamers from the night before were silent. They had no words.

It really happened!

The body was tossed into a land rover. The police drove down the bumpy road with the body bouncing around in the back. I watched the vehicle fade away in the distance.

I will never let it happen again!

Where do I begin?

(written on March 28th 2018) For someone with so many words...words that just tumble out even when they are not wanted...words that jump h...