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.