The Ghana Tree

My journey to Ghana. An account of what I see, learn, feel, and experience. My Story and the Stories I come across.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


From time to time I will be posting stories, parts of a story, poems, or even just simple observations. These usually just roll around in my head and they rarely make it to a piece of paper. They vary in their origins; some are based on actual events while others are simply based on a person and usually made entirely up by me. Writing them down is more of an exercise for me but since they often offer some sort of insight into what I am experiencing I thought they might be applicable to this blog. While I am in Ghana I feel this will allow me to give a unique representation of my life intersecting with the lives of people I meet as well as present information in a different manner. To get it started I will post some things I wrote based on the trip I took last spring.  

Down the Street:

Out the gate and into the night,
You were wearing shorts and your legs were white.
Riding on education's future, learning to read and learning to write.
They were walking and they were laughing,
Just returning from a day of playing and a day of washing.
The two of us out late; you were worried
We turned around, I opened the gate.
You were scared. You close the gate.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Human Connection: the story of two friends.

To raise money for this trip I have been visiting my former high school and talking to classes about Ghana and the work I will be doing. I usually start out by simply saying that I will be moving to Ghana. At my first presentation this statement was immediately met with a chorus of “where’s Ghana?” whispered between neighbors.  “How am I going to get these kids to connect to what I am saying?” flashed across my mind.

When I was getting ready to travel to Ghana last April I set out the goal of trying to connect with ordinary people; I wanted to get to know as much about regular Ghanaians as I could—to really experience their lives.  This proved incredibly difficult for a number of reasons, physical and mental; as well as emotional. I first experienced the “parachute” effect: where an outsider suddenly finds himself in a new situation and is simply not connected to what is going on.  I was simply not connected to what I saw. This was both a mental and physical ailment. Physically I was separated by the way I was travelling around the country. We named the air conditioned bus we rode on “old ivory” as a reflection of how my classmates and I felt as we dusted through poverty stricken villages in absurd comfort—in an ivory tower. I feel that I was able to eventually connect to people that I met but it was only in a few circumstances and after I made the effort to set out of the comfortable or normal. But then it was still difficult to understand what I was learning meant—I had a sort of mental block preventing me from truly understand the scope and magnitude of the problems everyday people were enduring and it took a specific moment to help me realize this.

Sitting in the front two seats of the classroom were two young girls; one of whose whispered question was just met by a giggle, but it was these two that gave me hope that maybe I could get teenagers to connect with something that I had a hard time doing on the ground when they are six thousand miles away from it. After I introduced myself I started my presentation with a story. This story centered around the two girls pictured walking with me and a discarded water bottle. In rural settings like this where water is often several miles away having your own water bottle means having your own water for the day.

While visiting the community that I will be returning to we inspected the school they had just built. Walking to it many of the village children walked with us holding our hands. I had a young girl holding on to each of my hands—their small hands wrapped around one of my fingers-- they hopped and skipped and swung my hands like any two children would. The slightly older girl had already been given a water bottle and as we walked I gave my empty water bottle to the other girl. Once we arrived at the school we sat down on the floor, as there were no chairs or desks. Then without exchanging a word the older girl—who had already filled her bottle up with the dirty village water—poured some of her water into her friend’s bottle. These two friends who only had trash and muddy water to share none the less shared it without even thinking. I can only describe this scene to you but I hope you can understand what it symbolizes; to me it means that these two friends, while having very few possessions or material goods are rich in simple goodness. And to me this means that no matter what they achieve in their lives it will still be worthwhile. My goal is that in some small way I will able to help these two overly deserving young friends achieve everything they want to.

As I was telling this story my gaze often wandered to the two girls sitting in desks and I could tell that as I shared this simple story they made that human connection to these two friends.—in some small way they understood what these two friends were going through and saw the beauty they struggled to put into their lives, that beauty being friendship.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Ghana Tree

The Ghana Tree is one of the defining events of my first trip to the country. It is a reference to a specific tree; I do not know the exact location of the tree but ever since I saw it it has been planted in my mind.

On the road from Accra to Tamale we passed countless children but there were two that made it real. A combination of culture shock and too much time spent on the bus had left me, despite my best efforts, feeling separate from what we were seeing and what was going on. As we dusted through a village time stood still for a moment—a hit of the pause button during a movie. Sitting next to each other underneath a tree were a small boy and a small girl, neither over the age of ten. While my life stood still I saw the future of these two friends played out in my mind. The first image that played was that this scene could be taking place anywhere in the world and be both completely similar and completely alien to the one that I was witnessing—these two transferred into a Norman Rockwell print. The second was that sitting underneath the tree is all those two friends had and all they had ever known. Their future was unknown to them by I had a glimpse of it; saw some of the possibilities. One or both of them could die, tomorrow, next week, six months, six years, or sixty years from now. And in their life whether short or long they had few guarantees besides sitting underneath that tree. They might or might not make it to school, primary? secondary? high school? University?—each as unlikely as the one before. And while we all dream of education for all the strong possibility is that they might or might not have food for tonight, for tomorrow night or the next. These two friends sitting underneath the tree made this trip real to me; it made the people real to me and it made their problems real and the enormity of the situation real.

I also found that this moment helped me align my thinking when it comes to what development should be. Seeing those two friends sitting underneath the tree took all romanticism out of poverty or simple living. While the picture could have been a Norman Rockwell painting the situation was anything but, and why didn’t those two deserve to be in a Rockwell print; at the hospital, at school, playing, or eating a big meal. Maybe everyone does deserve to live like Americans; could you tell those two friends sitting underneath the tree that they can’t have every opportunity, or that they could have some but not others; a primary education but not university, a health clinic but not a hospital.

I would like to say that I am returning to help these two young children that had such an impact on me but the truth is I know nothing about them. However, returning does present and interesting situation, a situation that is strongly implied in my story above; I could see the one of the outcomes I described above. While I want to be hopeful deep down I know that these two friends will likely not be in school so the best I can hope for is that they are still sitting underneath that tree sharing what they have; their friendship. It is important not to generalize about people in desperate situations. But there are millions of these scenarios around Ghana and billions around the world and this is why I am returning to Ghana—to maybe give two friends a chance to make something of their lives.