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.