Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Homes & Hospitality (Part 2)

...  continued from Homes & Hospitality (Part 1)

All I remember from visiting Tahameena's home in 2011 was the rustic outdoor kitchen, how beautiful these people were, giving our meager offerings to them while surrounded by a crowd of relatives -- standing room only.

Tahameena's yard -- 2011

Although Ato Sam and Prince's homes were somewhat similar in both structure and placement, Tahameena's home seemed a little more rustic and rural, with mud walls and a handmade roof.  The cooking was done outdoors, and the well-kept yard was fenced to keep their small herd of goats from wandering and destroying crops.  Nearby, a crop of palm nuts were drying in the sun.

The tall coconut trees overhead offered welcomed shade as we sat together and began the social rituals.  I could have picked the yard of Tahameena's home in a photo lineup, even though I could barely pick her out of a group of girls just yesterday.  Seems somewhat cruel to have a heart for people and a calling to reach them, and have a photographic memory for places but not faces.  It certainly added an interesting element to my feelings of inadequacy and social awkwardness.

As the introductions began, I noticed a familiar face in the crowd -- but couldn't quite place him, until I saw his foot....  Ato Sam's father!  He had made his way here somehow as he did the last time we were at Tahameena's, and extended his visit with us by joining in.  Yes, I can pick out Ato Sam in a crowd with his back to me, but cannot recognize his father after having sat across from him for an hour....  a mere hour ago.  Keeping it real, folks, keeping it real.

In Akan culture, it is common for children to be given names based on the day of the week they were born, as well as birth order and family names.  For example, Ato means "male born on a Saturday", while Sam is a family name that nearly everyone in his family carries.  When Jillian introduced herself, she also shared that she had been given a Ghanian name shortly after arriving in Ghana.  "Ama" was her new Ghanaian name.  The group told Jillian that Ama means "Born on a Thursday".  I laughed and explained that Jillian was born on a Sunday, but that the person who had named Jillian "Ama" said it also meant "daughter of the queen", which meant that really, they named Jillian "Princess".  They wondered which days Will and I were born, so I shared that Will was also born on a Sunday, and they said his name might have ended up being Kwesi or other variants.  Mine, having been born on a Wednesday, would have likely been Akua or Akuba.

As our introductions wrapped up, once again with too many names and faces to memorize, we were served fresh coconuts from their yard, which we got to see them prepare for us.  They're quite skilled with machetes.

The coconut milk was so fresh and so refreshing in the rising heat, but given that we're used to eating hardened coconut back home, I couldn't quite get into the soft, almost rubbery coconut once I had finished the coconut milk.  The texture isn't anything like we're used to.  Given that our stomachs were still adjusting to the new foods and experiences, I didn't want to take a chance, especially without guaranteeing that my hands were clean enough.  I hope that wasn't yet another faux pax for the Canadian team.  The bananas, though, were absolutely perfect.  Just the right size for a sweet snack, and oh-so-fresh!

I felt a stronger connection to Tahameena's family on this visit, perhaps because we were following proper Akan social protocol, and the entire visit felt more relaxed and at ease.  Or was it more at ease and relaxed for me because I was distracted by the goats and cats (my own Ghanaian version of "Squirrel!!!") that were gallivanting about while we talked, which in hindsight isn't the most efficient way to maintain eye contact with the people we were there to spend time with...  have I mentioned.........  I did?  Ok.  Just didn't want you to get the wrong impression about my social grace.  #orlackthereof

Tahameena's family grew by one since we last saw her.  She is no longer the only girl in a family with 3 boys -- she now has a little sister, who is now 4, and is well surrounded by extended family, including Ato Sam's family.  Her older brothers really enjoyed getting to meet Jillian, and all insisted on having individual "selfies" taken with her as we prepared to leave.

We lingered over our goodbyes and a few more photos as we headed towards the van.  We must have hugged everyone at least once or twice.  Hadn't we just arrived?  Our goodbyes were eased knowing that we would see Tahameena again the next day in Accra.

Climbing into the van once more, we made our way to a house I'd never been to before.  A young boy named Isaac lives there with his family, and he is sponsored by my co-worker named Nathan, a sweet bear of a man with a heart as big as Texas.  This was his first sponsored child, and he chose Isaac knowing Isaac lived in the same community as the library and that there would be a personal connection since we had been involved with this community for years.

I wasn't sure what to expect, since I did not know much about Isaac or his family, but I immediately felt welcomed when we arrived and made our way down the steep path to their shaded yard.  Waiting for us was Isaac and his family, including many uncles and grandchildren.  The grandchildren were quietly observing all of us "obrunis" from a distance, not quite sure what to think.  It's quite probable that we were the first obruni people they'd seen, or at least the first ones who had visited them at their home.

For the first few minutes, while we exchanged introductions and explained who we were and why we were there, Isaac sat quietly staring at the photos of Nathan I had brought for him, in awe and wonder.  His sponsor!!!  Yes, we were there, in person, on behalf of Nathan, but to young Isaac, the world stood still when he looked at the pictures of Nathan.  It was the first time he'd seen a photo of his sponsor, since it had only been a few months since Nathan began sponsoring Isaac.

Looking through Isaac's file, I was surprised to see he had been sponsored by someone else the month before Nathan began sponsoring him, and by yet another sponsor a few months prior to that.  It seemed as though Isaac had been chosen and let go several times, certainly causing confusion and disappointment for this precious boy.  I told them that Nathan was a very committed sponsor, that he loved Isaac very much, and that God willing, they'd have a long time to get to know each other.

Given how new this experience is for Nathan, and how common it is for people from North America to wonder if these kids are real, I wanted to get a video of Isaac so that Nathan could see him on a more personal level and in a whole new dimension.  It would also be sweet to have a video recording of his voice for Nathan to hear.

Since Isaac is still learning English, we had to help him a bit, but in just two takes, he was able to deliver his message to Nathan.

Isn't he sweet?  His entire family was watching intently.  I can't help but wonder what went through their minds.   It had to be somewhat surreal.  One day you get the news your child has been chosen for sponsorship, and before you get the chance to wonder if this sponsor will also "unchoose" this child, someone arrives representing that sponsor and carrying a message that this sponsor cares VERY much about this child and is committed to being the sponsor to this child.  It really was an honor to be there on Nathan's behalf, being a messenger of his love for this child and the family.

We asked Isaac's family to share their hopes and dreams for Isaac's future, and they shared their desire for him to get a full education.  They expressed their gratitude many times for our visit and encouragement, their demeanor so kind, gentle and good natured.

We had brought groceries and a soccer ball for them, much as we did for Prince and his family, and we presented these to them.  The ball was not inflated, since we needed to pack it for travel and had forgotten to bring along the pump, but we knew they'd find a pump easily and get the ball inflated and ready for the kids to play with.  The older kids used it as a hat in the meantime, making us all chuckle.

Isaac followed us as we made our way back to the van, and stood in wonder as we waved goodbye.

I'm sure that, like us, he's still trying to process the experience.  We wouldn't get the time to process much for a while, as we were about to leave Enyan Abaasa for the last time on this leg of the journey, en route to our 5th home visit.