Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Return to Enyan Abaasa - the Canadian Drama Team

All night, I tossed and turned, falling into a semi-sleep before startling awake less than an hour later and thinking to myself "Today is the day I see Ato Sam and Tahameena again!  Today we will see the library in person!"  This pattern kept repeating itself through the night.  When my alarm rang at 5:45am, I was more than ready to get up and get ready to go.  Tired, but ready.

Our van would arrive at the guest house at 7am sharp with Deborah, the Ghana Trips and Visits specialist, who would be our Compassion host for the week.

Our Compassion host, Deborah

I realized that I had slipped the 8x10 photo gifts for the Compassion Centers into one of the books so that it wouldn't bend, and that book might be in one of the 10 boxes that we would be bringing to the library.  I took a glance through each box before bringing the boxes to the entry way to load into the van.  Found 9 of the 10 books it could possibly be in, but not the 10th and final book that at that point I was sure contained the photos.

I told Jillian about the missing book, and she said "What about that book you placed in my carry-on?"

Of course.  I had packed it into her carry-on to ensure that it would reach Ghana, and then forgot that it was in her carry-on.  I'm blaming this fog mind on the heat and humidity.

We left the guesthouse shortly 7am and headed west in the direction of the Central Region. Other than Accra itself, it felt as though I was seeing the route to Enyan Abaasa for the first time .  Back in November of 2011, we drove these same roads, but straight from the airport after a 17 hour delay and no sleep.

I appreciated seeing the scenery all over again, taking the time to document it a bit through photos and videos, but seeing it through Will's eyes added another layer of perspective.  I spent more time watching him than I did looking out the window.  He had questions about the seemingly abandoned, half constructed buildings dotting the roads as we passed through.  Why were there so many empty, unfinished buildings?  Deborah explained to him that many people work in the bigger urban centers like Accra, but cannot afford to buy land in the city, so they save what they're able to save until they can afford a piece of land further out from the city.  Once they purchase the land, they start saving again until they have enough to start construction, and then over the years, little by little, they do a little more, and a little more...  until it's done.  It is common to take 15-20 years to complete a building, which can then be used as a house, or typically as a commercial property.

The roads near Accra were in surprisingly good condition.  In fact, Will, Jillian and I agreed that they were better than most of the roads back home.

About halfway between Accra and Cape Coast, we made a right turn and headed inland towards Enyan Abaasa.  I knew we were now less than 50km away.  I was getting so excited.  For me, it was as though I was a little child who had dreamt of going to Paris after years of waiting, and were not only flying over France, but could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance during the approach to Paris.

We soon came to a traffic circle indicating that Enyan Abaasa would be directly to the left.  As we turned, I could see Mando high school to my left, which I knew from his letters was the school he had recently transfered to.  The driver wasn't entirely sure we were going in the right direction, so he stopped to ask a few students nearby, and then turned around.  I kept thinking it was definitely the way we had first taken, and sure enough, after another quick stop to ask for directions, we drove back down the road passing Ato Sam's school along the way.

As we pulled up to the Compassion project, I immediately recognized it and saw the library slightly behind it to the left.  All these years, I knew what the library looked like, I just did not know where on the property they had chosen to build it.

Hundreds of people filled the church waiting for us to arrive for the durbar, a cultural and ceremonial gathering for dignitaries or honored guests.  Ghanaians are known for their warm welcome, and this was no exception.

There was a full band playing music as they waited for the ceremony to start, and just before the ceremony was to begin, someone came to me, leaned over and asked if I recognize the young man walking down the aisle towards me.  I barely had to glance, I knew.  I flew out of my seat and tackled him into a hug.  Oh, how good it was to see Ato Sam again!!!

I introduced him to Will, Jillian and Caitlin, and he proceeded to sit behind us to watoh the ceremony.

We were treated to an amazing display of dancing, both the choreographed kind, and the impromptu dances of joy and worship.  There is a reason I only dance in Africa.  I have no rhythm, no skills, and no coordination at all.  Their joy, though, was contagious.  Jillian was completely in her element, dancing with wild abandon.

I couldn't help but join in, hoping none of the evidence ever ends up public anywhere!  Wait... oops.


Even Will joined in.

Dancing.  In Africa.  With Will and people from Enyan Abaasa.  

It was the most surreal, strange thing.

We watched an amazing play prepared by the drama team, and were completely enthralled by the main character's charisma and acting skills.  This very regal, beautiful girl commanded a room with the same confidence and animation as the woman we had seen a few days earlier helping us find "bracelet man".  Amazing.

I was asked to speak to the people that had gathered, which I had also done on our previous visit, but this time, I was prepared in the event that I was somehow as incoherent as the last time I had addressed the people of this community.

As the ceremony was nearing the end, the choreographed dance group was asked to stay up front, and I was caught off guard (even though I should not have been) by being asked if I could identify Tahameena within the group of dancers.  It was harder than I would have thought, and feeling the pressure not to take too long, I gave up before I should have...  she was right there, beautiful as always!  I hope she didn't feel too disappointed that I hadn't been able to recognize her.

When the time came to make our way to the library for the ribbon cutting and unveiling ceremony for the library, Tahameena and Ato Sam accompanied me to the front steps of the library.  Ato Sam carrying my camera bag, and Tahameena bringing my water bottles.

I had seen the outside and a bit of the interior through photos, but the library looked even better in person than in the photos we had previously seen.  It was so much bigger!  It was great to finally be able to envision the layout, and what each section of the library would be used for.   The main area of the library was twice the size than anticipated from the photos, and to the left off a small hallway was the future office for the Compassion project, as well as the bathroom and washrooms that did not yet have plumbing or fixtures, but would eventually be finished once the funds became available.

We then stepped back outside, and into another door of the library just to the right, and entered what was by far the biggest portion of the library.  It was still in the construction stages, with rough concrete floor and concrete block walls.

Ebenezer, the Project Director, explained to us the importance of this particular room in giving the students an edge in terms of skills and academics.  To pass the national exams, the students have to complete the information technology part of the exam, but when they are compared nationally to other students, especially those in more urban areas, they score much lower.  The lower scores are due to the children's lack of access to the technology they can only study from texts.

Simply put, without access to a computer to use, it is very difficult for them to be tested on how to use one, much less learn computer skills that are very marketable in this day and age.

Just as he was answering some of our questions, Jillian came up behind me just inside the entrance and tapped me on the shoulder.  As I turned to face her, I knew something wasn't quite right before she even said anything, and that was quickly confirmed as she tried to speak.  Her words were slightly slurred, and her face was whiter than Ato Sam's teeth.

"I   uh   feel         light              headed....  "

As she began to turn around to face the door and exit, I reached out to steady her, but it was already too late.  The simple turning motion she made to head out the door gave her more momentum than she was prepared to control in her weakened state; she spun and fell against the frame as she blacked out and crashed backwards onto the ground outside the open door.

Let's just say none of us quite expected that.

I lifted her into a sitting position, and when she began responding, we poured cold water on her, then stood her upright and brought her to the library room, which was much cooler than the rest of the library thanks to the ceiling fans.  She was still a little weak, but we gave her water and some snacks, and she started feeling a little better.  The Compassion staff brought a first aid kit and helped clean up her foot, which had received some cuts when she fell.

Knowing how bad the Compassion staff felt and how concerned they were, once we knew Jillian was OK, we do what we usually do, and cracked some jokes...  Will was the first to start with "First you showed us the Ghana Drama Team, now we showed you the Canadian Drama Team!"  I quipped that we hadn't seen that on the schedule for that day.  That seemed to break the tension a little and put them at ease.  I knew Jillian was recovering well when I saw her roll her eyes (and this time, not from passing out!)

We guided Jillian back to the air conditioned van to cool down a bit more, while the rest of the group returned inside to bring the ceremony to a close.  A handful of children brought the 50lb boxes of books for the library from the van...  balancing them on their heads like they were lifting a box of feathers.  Where were they when we needed them at the airport, ha ha!

To close the ceremony, the Compassion project surprised me with a plaque bearing a Citation of Honor in recognition of the contributions to the community of Enyan Abaasa on behalf of Ato Sam, Tahameena and their families, the church leadership, and the entire community.  It was really touching to see their perspective on our partnership through the past 7 years.  They also presented our team with traditional Ghanaian footwear, jewelry and clothes.  Jillian rejoined us in time to receive hers.

More dancing ensued, more joy, more laughter, and more love than the room could contain as we proceeded towards the exit and made our way back outside so we could head out to lunch with Ato Sam and Tahameena, along with Deborah, Ebenezer and the district manager.

I sat sandwiched between Ato Sam and Tahameena at lunch, asking them questions and answering theirs, and letting Ato Sam try out my Nikon.  He enjoyed taking photos of everyone around the table, even though it's a 105mm lens, making each photo a close-up of faces.  I loved to see him laugh as I made jokes, and to get to hear him speak English.  Tahameena, as usual, was a little quieter.  Her English isn't as strong just yet, and our accents made it difficult for her to understand us.  I showed her some photos of the snowfall we had recently received back home, as well as Ginger, Jillian, and a few other photos.

All too soon, it was time to head back to Accra, so we walked back to the van, passing by a friend of Ato Sam's along the way.  I asked if I could take a photo, and they both agreed.

We drove the children back to the crossroads, and we prayed together and said the easiest goodbye, knowing we would see them again the next morning when we returned.

Not surprisingly, given the heat and the excitement of the day, all three of us dozed off in the van as we drove back to Accra.  We stopped by a grocery store in Accra to pick up groceries to bring each child's family the following day during the home visits, and then headed back to the guest house, full of memories and experiences to process and cherish.