Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ghana --> Kenya

Nicole: During my stay in Ghana over the past three months, I have become very close with not only the children at Christ Orphanage but also with the children in the local community as well as with the parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends of the children. Due to this close relationship with the local people, I had a much different experience in Ghana than I think most volunteers do. My sister happily embraced the fact that I did more than just go to the orphanage and then go back to the hotel and spend the rest of the day locked away watching television or something.

The local community knew me and as soon as Melissa arrived, they welcomed her with open arms. As we became so close with the community of Wegbe, it made it very difficult to say good bye and leave. Raymond knew that we were so close with the community of Wegbe and planned a good bye celebration for us to take place on Tuesday afternoon. Raymond invited some of the local youth to the school compound to drum and sing for us. The children of the orphanage, who were at the field, were called to come to the school compound for the celebration. Other children and community members came over and joined in the festivities as well. We danced with the children and had a fun afternoon with them. We were very lucky that it stopped raining just before the celebration was to take place and it became a nice, sunny afternoon.

Raymond warned us that since there are no lights at the school compound (as there is no electricity there), the party would end when it got dark. But the Ghanaians know how to keep a party going and function just fine without lights. The sun set and the drumming, dancing, and singing continued long into the evening.

After a few hours of dancing, we took a break to eat dinner. Raymond had planned and prepared for all the children to come with us to his house to eat dinner with us. Dina, Raymond’s wife made a huge pot of rice and tomato stew for at least 50 children. She happily served the children as they kept appearing and made sure that everyone got food. Dina separated our food and placed it in the house for us. We left the children for a few minutes to go inside and eat our last dinner prepared by Dina. The children, many who had finished their food by then crowded around the screen door and watched us eat. They seem to have this huge fascination with seeing white people eat. After we finished eating, we were dragged (not against our will) by the children back to the school compound for more dancing. We danced for awhile more before getting tired and deciding to head back to the hotel.

We walked out of the school compound with about 50 children following us, some from Christ Orphanage, and others friends we had made in the community. The children followed us to our hotel, holding our hands and singing along the way. I am sure it was quite a sight for the rest of the community and those passing through Wegbe in vehicles. We arrived in front of the hotel. Some ran ahead and laid on the cement drive way while others just crowded around the gate. The hotel staff came outside to see what was going on and why there were so many children in front of the hotel. The children grabbed onto Melissa and I and we tried to comfort those who were crying. It definitely pushed me over the edge and made me cry as well. As I was hugging one of the girls whom I adore, named Jennifer, I couldn’t help but think about how much I would miss her and all the other children, as well as the entire community of Wegbe. It was heartbreaking to see the children cry. We told them multiple times that we would see them the next day and that they should go home and go to sleep, but the did not want to leave our side. Eventually, we had to go inside and finish packing. The children remained outside the hotel as we entered the gate and the staff locked it after us. I walked into the hotel crying my eyes out and told Melissa that the children do not do this for every volunteer and that we must be pretty special people to them.

After spending some time packing, we called Godwin, our taxi driver and asked him to come pick us up. We loaded some stuff into the car and drove to Raymond’s house where we presented Raymond and his wife, Dina with some gifts to show our appreciation. We gave Raymond a velvet top which is traditionally worn by kings. He loved it and Dina applauded us for ‘trying’ as she was impressed with the fact that we took notice that Raymond was a fan of these tops and that we found a beautiful one for him. He tried it on and sure did look like a king in it. We also gave him an Obama shirt as he is a huge Obama fan. He laughed and was happy to add it to his American/ Obama wardrobe. Next, we gave Dina her gifts. As she has been the one cooking for us and doing all of our filthy laundry for us, we got her gifts that she could use in the kitchen and while doing laundry. These items consisted of serving platters, spices, soap, serving utensils, a knife, and a bowl and grinder used for grinding pepper. In addition, we gave her a purse that we had got made here in Ghana and a little pouch with a necklace which our mother made, and a bracelet from Ghana. I think she was shocked that we thought of her and got her such a gift. She was very happy and extremely thankful. We also gave Raymond and Dina a bunch of random, assorted items which we no longer needed or wanted and knew that they could use.

This morning, we awoke and finished packing up all of our belongings. Alex, the driver who would be driving us to Accra in the Christ Orphanage tro tro arrived to pick up our bags. We decided that we wanted to walk to the orphanage so that we could say good bye to all of our friends along the way. We said good bye to the hotel staff and turned in our room key. It was so sad to see the room that I had been living in for the past three months so bare and empty.

As soon as we walked outside of the hotel, we were met by some of the children of the orphanage who were walking to school. They crossed the road and walked to the school with us. We stopped along the way to say our final good byes to our Wegbe community/ family.

A night or two earlier I had asked Raymond if there was any way that I could inform the entire community of Wegbe that Melissa and I would be leaving on Wednesday. I felt like this community had been so welcoming to me and had embraced me as one of their own. They truly became my community. I became a normal part of their lives just as they became a normal part of my life. While I was closer with some more than others, I still felt that they all played an important role in making me feel so at home in Wegbe. I knew that I would not be able to say good bye to everyone but felt bad just disappearing with notifying them. Raymond told me that the community knew that I was American and that I would eventually need to leave and go back home. That wasn’t good enough for me though. We agreed that Raymond would ask the town crier to announce my departure the following morning. The town crier is the person who goes around the village in a car with speakers on top and announces important information and other announcements to the community.

Melissa: Although Nicole and I both knew that Wednesday the 19th would come, we were both dreading it. I didn’t realize how much leaving would impact me. I am so sad still that we are not in Ghana anymore and that we can not just walk outside and see “our children.” I miss the orphanage and all the kids so much and I think about their precious faces all the time. On Wednesday morning, Nicole and I finished packing and gathered all of our belongings. The hotel room that I called home for 3 ½ weeks was now bare and lacked all sense of life. It was so surreal that we were actually leaving. I think this happens for me every time I leave to go somewhere new. It doesn’t really hit me until I actually leave and soak up a new environment. We started our last walk to the orphanage. Right when we walked outside our hotel, we saw some students walking to school as well. We called them over and they ran to us, embracing and hugging us. I picked up one of the girls named Jenet and carried her to school. I didn’t want to let go of her because I knew that it would probably be the last time I got to spend time with her. Jenet is one of the most adorable little girls at the orphanage. She has the cutest laugh and when Nicole asks her if she is beautiful, she replies with a loud yes! It is sweet. Every time I play with her it reminds me of my Aunt Lori. She had bought her picture at the fundraiser we had for The Ghana Project and thought that her little ears and face were just too cute. I think about how much she would just adore and love this little girl and I wish that she along with everyone could come to Ghana and see how amazing the people and kids are here.

As we arrived at Christ, the students were singing and doing their morning routine. In my head all I could think was this is the last time I will see this for a year and it seriously made me want to break down. I think I truly fell in love with Christ and the children here. Nicole and I were both embraced by our “babies” as we walked in. We call them that because they are attached to us and we are to them as well. Our babies, Happy and Atsufe, get jealous of the other kids when we hold them and like to hit the other students until we put them down and pick them up. It is pretty funny. I think Happy is one of the students I miss them most. He loved my elephant necklace and would take the elephant and make it gallop around my neck while he made elephant sounds. Whenever I tried to put him down, he would wrap his legs around me so tightly that it was physically impossible to let him go. Also whenever I hurt myself or tripped he would say “Sorry, Okaaaaay,” in the cutest little voice ever. Whenever I hear someone say sorry now, I hear myself saying Okaaaay in my head. It brings a smile to my face.

Usually when volunteers leave, Raymond comes to Christ and does a little goodbye ceremony for them. But this morning he was at his house along with some other men apparently busy. I was kind of confused and hoped he didn’t forget to do the goodbye ceremony for us. Nicole reassured me that he didn’t and that he said he would be coming soon. This of course meant like 2 hours. I decided to soak up the last bit of the children in my last hours at Christ and went into my class which now consisted of KG1 and KG2, along with Happy and Jenet. Nicholas, the teacher who is also our close friend and member of the Cash Money Niggas, decided to make the children put on a little show for me. He pretended he was a TV announcer and told the students that one by one they would come up to the front of the room and sing to me. He called one of the students up to be the video camera and he walked around the room pretending to film the whole thing. A couple of students came up and sang and it was just precious. They held a marker like it was a microphone and sang their hearts out to me. One of the students sang a song called Goodbye To You, which makes Nicole and I both cry, and it hit me again that these were my final hours at Christ. I would look at the kids and try to memorize everything about them so I would never forget.

After the little show was over, we handed out some stickers to the children and put them on their foreheads. Happy was just in love with the stickers along with everyone else. The other students were getting a bit out of hand and starting attacking me for more stickers. Nicholas told them to sit down while Happy, who is younger than all of the children in these classes, told them if they didn’t sit down and be quite that they wouldn’t get any stickers. It was so funny to see a younger student actually control some students who were older then him.

Another student, Israel, who is in the eldest class at Christ had become my little boyfriend. I called him this because he wrote me about three love letters. He informed me that I should write back to him before I left to go back to America. So I wrote him a little letter, drew him a picture, along with one penny and folded it into a heart. He was so happy when I gave him the letter and all of his friends crowded around him while he opened it and read it aloud.

Eventually Raymond made it to school and everyone gathered in the front classroom. Raymond said some touching remarks about Nicole and I that brought tears to our eyes. He explained that there is no need for us or the children to cry because we are coming back and we are not leaving them forever. He also explained to everyone how much we had helped and benefited the orphanage and how grateful he was of us. He then presented each of us with gifts. He gave me a Kente cloth which said Thank You Melissa and a necklace and bracelet. I was crying my eyes out while he put the necklace on me and I embraced him tightly after he had given me the gifts. Raymond has become like my brother here. I feel like he is my real family and I am so grateful to have him in my life.

The students then sang a few songs, but it was hard for them to concentrate as Nicole and I were crying and most of the students joined in, gathering around our legs. Israel was crying so hard and trying to hide it from me. I found him, hugged him and informed him that I would be coming back in one year and not to forget me. Godwin, the orphan that lives in Raymond, was also breaking down. He came to me and we just hugged. It was so hard to stop crying because every time I looked at a crying child, it made my tears continue. This whole time I was holding Happy who was sobbing on my shoulder as well. I didn’t want to let go of him. Eventually Nicole and I had to be dragged out of the orphanage and away from the kids as we had to begin our journey to the airport. We both cried the whole way to the tro tro and when we saw the local children come to watch us depart, it reassured us that we wouldn’t stop crying anytime soon. We headed out of Wegbe and started on our trip to Accra.

After about 4 hours, we arrived in Accra. We made a short pit stop at Raymond’s old school and went to say goodbye to some of Raymond’s family. We wanted to make sure we were not on Raymond time because we didn’t want to miss our flight so we only stayed at his Uncle’s house for a short time. They informed Nicole that they would be happy if she missed her flight so that she could stay in Ghana. I know that Nicole secretly wished for that too but she knew it was unrealistic. We arrived at the airport early enough to have dinner with Raymond and our driver Alex for the last time. It was a pretty quiet meal as Nicole and I were both reminiscing on what we were leaving behind. We finally had to say bye to Raymond, which resulted in another emotional moment and then headed into the airport to check in.

After a 5 ½ hour flight, we have now safely arrived in Kenya. Nyambura picked us up from the airport along with her nephew, Jimmy, and we headed over to her car. In Kenya they drive on the other side of the street and their steering wheel is on the other side as well. Nicole and I found this very strange and were not expecting it. Nyambura told us that she was not completely used to driving like this either, as she has been living in LA for the last 5 years. She told us that she was not entirely used to driving stick shift either so we constantly dodged people as we drove to her house. She made us some tea and then Nicole and I went up to our room to get some rest. I slept for about 7 hours and Nicole is still sleeping as I type this right now. I am sure that this is really going to mess up our sleeping patterns but I think we needed the rest.

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