Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Homes & Hospitality (Part 1)

When it comes to my knowledge of home visits, hosting and etiquette in North America, a few thoughts come to mind -- "all thumbs" and "oblivious" competing for first place on that list.

Leisurely visits with family, neighbors and friends is at the heart of the Acadian culture that I grew up in.  I was always fascinated watching my mama visit with people, an art form that she seemed to have perfected and enjoyed so much, but as an extroverted introvert with a strong underlying current of social anxiety who moved mid-childhood between two very different cultures, I feel all thumbs when it comes to visits, social etiquette and cultural expectations.

We had people from the mission team committee for a potluck a few summers ago, and someone asked for a steak knife.  I walked over to Will and whispered "Honey, what's a steak knife?  Which ones are those?  Do we have any?"

It skips a generation, it seems.  Or, at the least, it skipped me.  My mama always had people coming and going at her house almost every day, and was a mother hen to them all.  By contrast, I could count on one hand how many times we've had people over in the past 5 years.

It was a bittersweet moment in our house when our neighbor's washing machine broke down.  I jumped right in and invited them to use ours anytime they needed to.  My heart went out to them -- I know how frustrating (and expensive) it is when something breaks down, especially a washing machine in a household with children, but in the same breath, I was admittedly excited and fascinated at the thought that they'd be dropping by often, even if only for a short while.  I love our neighbors -- they're the kind of people that would end up coming over more than once even though I'm the world's worst host -- I don't offer coffee, since I don't have any, don't drink any, and wouldn't know how to make it... and would likely forget to even offer it.  I'd be so excited someone was in our house that my mind would just go blank.  [Ritalin is my friend]  They see past my awkwardness and love me in the midst of life being real.  Have I mentioned that I love our neighbors?

In my mind, Africa was different.  After all, it's the land of Hakuna Matata.  No worries, right?  Africa, a place where I can just relax and be myself and not worry about being all thumbs.

And then God giggled.

The Ghanaian culture (including the Akan culture in the Central Region where we spend the majority of our time) is particular about the do's and don'ts when it comes to social etiquette.  While I still somehow feel very, very relaxed, content, at peace and at home here, my "all thumbs" seem to have hitched a ride with me to Ghana.

Our schedule for today was anticipated to go at a pretty hectic pace.  Normally, we would do 2, maybe 3 home visits in one day.  Since we were visiting 3 of our children, along with 3 children sponsored by friends in the same town or area, we would be doing 6 visits today.  Deborah, our host from Compassion Ghana, would help us keep on track.

Sensing those "all thumbs" from a mile away, Deborah had to stop me a few times to explain the proper visit protocol for the Akan region.  First, prayer.  Second.... I already don't remember. Something about elders (I feel old in this heat, does that count?)... third...  possibly Ritalin.

Needless to say, Deborah was a Godsend.  She guided our conversations between our group and the sponsored children's families, and made us all feel at ease, helping translate for the elders who didn't speak English, or for the younger children who had not yet mastered the language or couldn't quite decipher our Canadian accents.

After a quick stop at the Greater Grace Community Library to take a closer look without the crowd from yesterday (or the distraction of Jillian passing out), we made our way to Ato Sam's home.

We hadn't yet seen his father during our time in Enyan Abaasa.  His father had badly broken his leg last June in a car accident and was still recovering.  A few minutes after leaving the Library, we pulled up to a dirt yard with a few trees, a small market stand, a school and a partially constructed building.

As I looked up, I saw a group of four houses facing each other over a common courtyard, and I recognized it right away.  This was Ato Sam's home.

I was so excited to finally be there and see his family, and so afraid I'd forget to ask the questions I had jotted down in fear of forgetting to ask them, that all the things I'd learned that morning about etiquette once again flew out the window.  Why was this so complicated for me?  I hope it was more amusing to them than offensive, but sometimes, I really wonder.

Deborah graciously and patiently explained the order we would follow once again, and I tried hard to pay attention to each name that I was introduced to, how to pronounce it, who the name belonged to, and how they were related to Ato Sam... and did I mention he has never really answered me as to how many people are in his family because it's too many to count?  By the time the introductions were done, I had forgotten what came next.

I had specifically chosen to sit by Ato Sam's mother, since I wanted to connect with her on a deeper level.  He has amazing parents.  His father is patient and kind, wise and educated, disciplined and hard working.   His mother is very loving, strong, and wise.  They are all struggling since his father has been unable to work because of his injury.  They still run their subsistence farm but had to add a market stall to supplement their income.  His mother has been bearing the majority of the added work and stress.  I was glad we had brought some groceries to help ease their burden, but it seemed like so little in the face of all they had faced in the past 9 months.  They seemed to be holding up well, though.  They have a strong faith and a strong support network in this community, including the Compassion program, and that has made a tremendous difference.

I was able to go through Ato Sam's entire Compassion program file, where every letter, school report, medical record, home visit, gifts and purchases is recorded.  His file was one of the biggest we'd see on this trip, mainly due to the large volume of letters and the length of time he'd been sponsored.  I even got a chance to see an older photo of him I had not seen before.

All too soon, given the full schedule ahead of us, it was time to go.  We presented them with some textbooks for the family to use, along with some other educational books.  We also gave Ato Sam an engraved Bible with a soccer ball cover, a Bible case, a great quality soccer ball our friend Gigi purchased for him, and a sturdy backpack that should last him through his years of university.  The family provided us with fresh bananas from their family and Tahameena's.  It was in this visit that I learned that Ato Sam and Tahameena, the other child I sponsor from Enyan Abaasa, are actually cousins.  Ato Sam's father is the sibling of one of Tahameena's parents.  Her mother, I think.  Wait... her father. I will blame my foggy mind on the heat.  That should explain everything for this entire trip.

As we took a few last photos, prayed together and said goodbye, Ato Sam took my hand and walked slowly with me to the van.  We reflected on the visit, and I shared with him how much of a blessing it was to spend time with his family, how proud I was of how well he was communicating, and that I appreciated getting to know his mother a little more.  I told him he was very blessed to have two great parents.  "I'm getting to know your mother more.  I really love her.  She's so strong and wise, but also tender and compassionate too.  She's a great mother, son."

He turned to me, still holding my hand.  "...  she is just like you, mum.  She is just like you."  <3 p="">

All too soon, we reached the van, where we climbed in and started making our way to Prince's house, a child sponsored by our friend Stephanie and her family.  We had visited Prince, his older brother and his mother when we were in Enyan Abaasa in 2011, and were eager to see how Prince had grown and how his family was doing. This would be our second of the 6 visits.

We walked down a familiar small open corridor between buildings, side stepping hens and chicks pecking for scraps, and made our way to their cozy courtyard.

Prince's oldest brother has moved away for work, but we were able to spend time with Prince and his mother as well as a few relatives and neighbors.  Prince is a very charismatic boy -- which is fitting, since both of Steph's girls are equally charismatic.  These two families are a perfect fit for each other -- strong, loving, kind, hard working, beautiful and with amazing personalities.  He has grown so much since the last time I saw him, but I recognized him right away and wrapped my arms around him in a big hug.

Prince and his beautiful mama.

We found seats in the shade inside the courtyard surrounded by doors leading into various rooms/homes, and followed Deborah's lead and exchanged greetings and information in the prescribed order, much as we would attempt to do once again in the next 4 visits.  I managed to avoid awkwardness somewhat, and even got some laughs when I turned to Prince and asked if he was working very hard to help his mama now that his older brother had moved away and Prince was now the "man of the house"?  He gave me a cheeky grin, and dramatically nodded his head, affirming that he was most helpful, while the twinkle in his eye completely contradicted his every attempt to convince us.  We all burst out laughing.  He and Jillian would make GREAT friends.

After presenting our gifts of groceries and a soccer ball to Prince and his mother, we took some group photos and a few photos of him and his mama, and I asked if he would be willing to say a few words to Steph and her family on video for them, since I really wanted them to hear his voice and see how sweet a boy he really is.  He did not hesitate one bit.

As we made our way back to the van after our visit, we ran into his lively grandmother, who wanted to shake our hands and have her photo taken.  Charismatic personalities run deep in this family!

From left to right:  Prince, his grandmother, and his mama

We asked Ato Sam to take on a mentorship role for Prince, now that Prince's brother had moved on, leaving Prince without an older male influence in their home.  He would need a good role model, an older brother to watch out for him and encourage him, and with Ato Sam being a great leader, it seemed like the perfect fit.

Ato Sam (blue shirt), Prince (striped shirt)

All too soon, it was once again time to say goodbye so that we would have time to move forward to the next 4 home visits.