Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My 7.5 Month African Adventure Comes to an End

I’m sitting at a restaurant called giraffe in the Heathrow airport in London, ordering breakfast. It is 8:25 am and I am on my way home. These past few months have been the highlight of my life and I am not exactly ready for it to be over. I still can’t come to grips with the fact that I am no longer in Africa. Why do we love this commercial, materialistic world that we live in so much? Well, the truth is, I don’t.

I am sure that from reading about my experiences, and just from knowing me, you probably know that I have every hope, dream, and desire to move to Ghana after I finish my college education.

Ghana is where my heart is and I can’t deny that to you or myself. But I know how important my education is so I must complete that first. I know that I can’t just move to Ghana without a plan which is why I have local people currently helping me to research various business options. I love the orphanage and will continue to help the community and the children but I know that I too am a human and I will need money to live on and to survive.

Raymond, the director and founder of the orphanage, his family, and I have become very close. Raymond and his brothers are like my brothers now. A few weeks ago, I was asked how many siblings I had. I answered that I had one sister. Raymond was quick to correct me and explained that I have both a brother and a sister. Raymond considers me part of his family and I too consider him part of mine.

Living right next door to Raymond for these past few weeks was an amazing experience. I loved being right there, in the midst of things, with the local people and the children and not escaping to a hotel. It also helped strengthen my relationship with the local community. I could spend more time with them but if I needed a break, I always could just go into my room.

My room had a front room where I kept some toys and markers for the kids who would come over to play and draw. They loved the mini Etch-a-sketches and on the first day that they used them, they taught themselves how to write my name on it. There was a door behind a curtain connecting that front room to my bedroom. When I first arrived, the room only had a bed frame, a light hanging from the ceiling, and a new paint job. With the help of my brothers, we transformed the room. Wisdom installed a ceiling fan, Raymond helped me with the mosquito net and brought in a comfy chair from his house for me to use. The guys helped me buy a mattress and sheets, lay down linoleum carpet, had a window screen and a screen door made, and put up curtains. In addition, I put up some artwork that I had gotten in East Africa. The room is pretty simple but it became my home and I love it.

And when I return to Ghana, my room will still be there, exactly the way I left it besides the fact that Raymond will definitely use some of the room for storage while I am gone.

I have recovered from my mysterious illness and am doing much better now although it is still hard on my stomach when I eat. They did blood tests as the doctor told me it was malaria but of course, I wanted to confirm that. They found that it was not malaria nor typhoid so we don’t know what it was. What I do know though is that I had to take a break from doing anything and lay in bed for a few days, hooked up to an iv.

By Tuesday, I was pretty much all better and joined the two oldest classes at the orphanage on a trip to the waterfalls. Due to the fact that I was still recovering and did not want to get sick again, I choose not to swim in the water although I had fun just watching the children swim.

On Thursday evening, Christmas Eve, celebrations were held in Wegbe. The children were running around outside, throwing fire crackers and other things that light up. Music was blasting and people were happy, yelling out Merry Christmas to me as I walked by. I gave out glow sticks to a bunch of the kids and they loved them. The men were drumming and everyone was in such a joyful mood.

The following morning, we celebrated Christmas at the orphanage. It was such a lovely day and I was so happy to be there to celebrate this holiday with them. All of the children came to school in their best dresses and, I must say, they all looked adorable. They sang and danced to Christmas songs, put on a Christmas play, and enjoyed sodas and a delicious lunch. After lunch, we separated the children into their classes and handed out Christmas presents which Mark had brought from Ireland. The children were supposed to wait until they got home to open the presents as the teachers thought that the children might loose some of the pieces if they opened them at school. But, children will be children, and eventually the suspense got to them and they all started opening their presents. They were so happy. It was such a touching moment to see the kids ripping the wrapping paper, some of them ripping such paper to find a gift inside for the first time in their lives. The girls loved their dolls and bracelets just as much as the boys loved their cars and sunglasses.

Although Christmas Day was a very enjoyable day, it was also my last day with the children. Of course, it was a sad day for me and I cried my eyes out. My brothers tell me that I shouldn’t cry when I leave because we all know that I will be back soon but for some reason, I just can’t control the tears and somehow they magically appear in my eyes.

I spent one more night in Wegbe before leaving for Accra. On Friday evening, we had a celebration, blasted the music from speakers and danced the night away. The children who were there were surprised that I, a white girl was dancing and just stared at me for awhile before I made them dance with me. They think it is amazing anytime I actually do anything on my own. Dina, Raymond’s wife always wanted to sweep my room for me. I told her that even though their brooms are not the same as ours, I could do it. The children, Dina, and my brothers would just watch me as I swept my room and even applauded the fact that I could do it. Even though I am a guest in their community, I am not helpless and I don’t feel right letting other people do everything for me. The other thing that they thought was amazing was the fact that every once in awhile, I would shower at the house, instead of going over to Raymond’s uncle’s house. They have an outdoor shower that you take a bucket shower in and were so impressed that I actually could shower this way. The children would just stare at me as I walked across the compound to the shower with my towel and soap. It was quite funny.

On Saturday, I had to say a final good bye to my community. It was not easy for me nor for some of the children and that just made me cry even more. Raymond’s brothers packed the tro tro and we drove a few hours, past Accra, to Budaburam. Budaburam is a village about 45 minutes outside of the capital city. This village is a refugee camp but is not your typical refugee camp. There are no tents or anything like that because the refugees, the Liberians, have been there for so long that they have built homes. We visited an orphanage in the camp that was started by Raymond’s aunt, Deborah. She has turned her home into a school for 100+ children and houses only two of them because she does not have the space to house more than that. The children as well as the staff at the orphanage were happy to see me and I spent the early afternoon on Sunday and Monday morning playing and interacting with them. The oldest children, who are about seven years old, told me that they were going to come to America with me, but first they needed to paint their skin white and green. The green comes from the fact that on white people, the veins are much more viable than on darker skinned people. I tried to explain this to them but I don’t think they fully understood the concept.

Raymond’s aunt explained to me some of the challenges at the orphanage and told me that just visiting them and spending time with the children meant a lot to them. Deborah informed me that one of their goals is to start a website. I told her that I would try to help her with that task. I am now reaching out to you. I have no clue how to start a website or what starting a website even entails, but if you personally know how to start a website or know someone who can help with this and would be willing to lend their talents, please let me know. This is a simple way to really make a difference at this orphanage and to help people across the world learn about the orphaned children in Budaburam.

We moved from the orphanage to Raymond’s uncle’s house and spent the afternoon there before departing for the airport in the evening. Sammy, Raymond’s nephew who lives at his grandparent’s house was happy that I had returned and even asked to see the photos of his truck that I had taken. Now, let me tell you that Sammy is a four year old boy and these pictures that he was asking to see were from the day I arrived in Ghana, seven and a half months ago. I was so impressed by his memory that I went through my bag to pull out my computer and show him the photos.

I will leave it to you to figure out how the rest of my evening went after departing for the airport.

That’s the end of this trip. Thank you for following my adventures in Africa over the last seven and a half months.

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