Chapter 13 - "Home"

I am home and I don't feel relieved. I'm exhausted and sad. I thought I would look forward to sleeping in my own bed and driving my own car but it is not what I am thinking about as I drag my bags through the airport. I am thinking about all the sacrifices I would make to be holding the hand of the little kid I traveled across the world to see. How thrilled I would be to show him my world, and how absolutely happy I would be to take care of him every day.

Like him, I am very stubborn. It is a quality that, in fact, did pay off later in life - as I tell the Ghanaians it will. I go after what I want wholeheartedly. I know this is meant to be my next adventure. There will be a way and I will find it, because sometimes the things that are set to happen still require a lot of effort and hard work - something I have never been afraid of.

Sometimes my dreams torture me. Last night was one of those times. My subconscious scares me because it is so in tune with everything in my real life; how I feel and what has happened to me.

Last night I had a dream about Bishop, or the lack thereof. I was in the United States, but I’m not sure where. I was trying to find him, and I couldn’t. I went everywhere from the woods, to some creepy basement, but he was not anywhere. I was telling people about him, but they didn’t care and wouldn’t help. I could see his face, and I knew he was here, I just couldn’t get to him, but I still kept searching. I don’t know how the dream ended up, it just ended, because the end is not decided yet. This is also telling because sometimes you have to make the decision.

I woke up three different times during the night, not knowing where I was. It was the strangest feeling, because my surroundings should have been familiar, but I remember looking out the window the first time, and could not figure out my placing. I could not recognize where I was, and I think it is because part of my life is somewhere else. I don’t know where to put myself, and that is clear to my subliminal thoughts.

I reminded myself that I love a challenge, and I will move forward, because staying in the same place - whether it is sad or happy - is not what living is about.

Chapter 12.5 - I Should Stay

My last overwhelming thought as I board the plane is "i should stay," because I can only think about those big brown eyes and those slow tears that were gliding down his smooth brown cheek, and I am sad. Four years ago it was the same. But it was not a sadness that came and went, it was an underlying permanent sadness that never left. This time it has been intensified; layered, and I don't know what to do.

My heart is torn in half, and half of it is staying in Ghana with a small boy I only know by chance. But like the people of this country who much rely on faith, I will choose to believe that this will all work out. I just hope he knows how much I love him.

Chapter 12 - Goodbye

I am leaving tomorrow and it has come too soon. Last time I stayed for 3 months and leaving also came too soon. I don't know what that means. Maybe I don't like leaving, or maybe it is that strong pull.

I was supposed to leave the orphanage yesterday and have 2 days in Accra before I flew home, but it didn't seem important. (I was also trying to pick up eye glasses for one of the teenagers, but when I finally made it, after a tro tro ride and a half mile of walking back and forth in the heat to find the place, the neighboring store said, "oh they didn't come today." It's like that here.) I wanted to be in the dirt, watching these kids push each other on bikes that had no chains or pedals. I wanted to eat lunch with them and invite them over in the evening. I wanted to hear them laugh one more time so I could save it. I wanted to stay, so I did.

This morning Bishop came to my room by himself, and it was rare for a gang of kids not to be following him, which means he didn't tell anyone where he was going. He called my name through the window by my bed at 8:20am, and I got up to invite him in. I gave him the 2 new outfits I bought him at the market so he could stop wearing around the 10-sizes-too-big Andre Berto shirt I had given him. It was just the 2 of us and it was nice. He was so happy, and he has the cutest little giggle when he lets himself be excited. After I finished packing, i took my sheet and my bug net and made his bare foam pad bunk bed into something nice. "They will steal it," he whispered to me. I found the 20 year old who stays with the small boys and told him that if anyone takes the net or the sheet or any of his stuff I will find out and come back to Ghana and beat them. It makes Bishop feel special when I threaten people for him.

My other two favorites, Morris and Clement, came back with us and we hung out while I packed, giving them various things I didn't need to take with me. The big hit was my left over gatorade bottles. "God bless you," they told me, as we all left my room.

I didn't prepare myself to leave. I kept forcing myself to forget how sad it was the last time, and how sad it will be this time. I came here to live in the moment and that is what I have done this far. Only the moment when I walked through the village one last time as I headed to the street is not one I wanted to live in.

Bishop held my hand and Clement offered to carry my Jordan backpack with all of my camera equipment. "Madame ittis heavy! You are very strong!" but he still insisted on carrying it when I said I would take it back. Some other kids followed me and I said bye as I walked through all of the others. I am sad to leave them all but you know there is only one goodbye that will tear me up inside.

When we got to the street, all of the tro-tro drivers yell at you, "WHERE ARE YOU GOING WHERE ARE YOU GOING O-BRO-NEE WHERE ARE YOU GOING" but I needed a minute so I waved them off. I hugged the kids who followed me and told them I loved them. Then I looked down to the little brown hand gripped in my left one. It was too soon to let it go. I didn't mean to, but the tears started coming. I should have parted ways at the orphanage, I thought, as i stood sobbing in the center of town, where everyone could see, and was likely looking.

I just stood and held him as I tried to pull it together. Morris, the sweetest, funniest little 7 year old said, "Madame Stephanie I do not want to see you crying, so stop." But I couldn't. Especially as I bent down to look in those big brown eyes that belonged to the kid I love so much. He is the toughest child I have ever met, but the tears got him too. They were slowly dripping down his face, like he was trying not to let them. The other kids looked shocked as they watched him wipe them away. Standing there in that moment, it felt like we had a secret no one else knew. I don't know what it is that connects the two of us but it is strong, and it was immediate, and I know it is forever. I whispered that I loved him so much, and I will come back for him. And I will.

Not everyone would love it here. It is hot and hard and it tries all of your good qualities to see which ones are still there at the end of the day. Traveling is a funny thing, because most people do it in luxury, for vacation. But if you really mean to travel for the purpose of knowing another place and another life, you won't go in luxury. You will put on a backpack and choose a destination. You will learn who you are when you are secluded from everything you know. You'll see who you can be if you push yourself to adapt and change and grow and embrace the uncomfortable. And if you are lucky enough, you will find another piece of your heart.

Chapter 11 - This Place

I didn't come here to tell them what to do. I didn't come here to push western ideals on their culture. I didn't come here to try to change anything about their way of living. I came here to immerse myself in their world and see where I can help - not on my terms, but on theirs. I think that is why I'm accepted. I always feel like no matter what the situation, when you are treading on someone else's territory you should step lightly, and maybe sit back and observe first. Some things here make no sense to me at all, but I do my best to learn - because you shouldn't travel outside your bubble if you aren't ready to be taught.

It is interesting to experience being the minority, because I usually don't walk around being reminded that I am white. I appreciate seeing things from a different vantage point. I am not often in situations where the color of my skin proceeds me, but I am the token "white friend" around here. I would be lying if I said it didn't feel weird, and kind of bad.

I remember this happened last time - in the second week my nerves are on edge. Today I went to the market in Kasoa, about 30 minutes from Ofaakor, to look for some clothes for some small children. Everything is close together so you have to weave in and out. They sell everything from dried fish, to televisions, to socks, and anything in between. The stands are occupied by sellers who will hiss at you and yell, "O-BRO-NEEE, BUY FROM MEEEEE." They will grab your hand and say, "COME, COME!" even though they have no idea what you are looking for. You will be hot and sweaty and exhausted often the moment you get there. Every single person will ask you what you want and try to point you in the right direction, usually yielding no results. It is annoying to say the least, but I get it, I stick out like a sore thumb - which is something I try to appreciate because it makes me see in a different way.

By the second week I ignore people who don't call me Stephanie. I take 14 days to correct the kids when they call me white person and remind them I have a name. After 2 weeks I have picked my favorites in this place. I have no shame in that because if I think you are special I'm going to make sure you know it. I am going to pay you extra attention, and sometimes give you things, but mostly my time. After 2 weeks I am leaving, and it is too soon.

This place will teach you patience. It will teach you gratitude. It will teach you what matters and what doesn't. It will break you down, and put you back together differently - in a way where you are still yourself but you understand much more than you ever thought you could. This place is my second home and I will look forward to coming back.

Chapter 10 - Maybe

Right now I am laying in the dark on the tile typing on my laptop while two small children are falling asleep in my bed. Tonight, I couldn't say no. A few of my favorites came to my room and we played with army men and hot wheels and drank juice boxes and ate fruit loops while we watched (weird Ghanaian) TV. It became 9:45 and Clement stepped in as the voice of reason and said its late and they should all go to bed. Immediately Bishop pretended to be sleeping. He is the most stubborn kid, but I always think that is the quality that will pay off later in life. He is one if the special ones. I tell them that he is not stubborn, he is spirited, and they make this smacking sound with their lips that means they don't like what you are saying. The youngest boy who was here, Morris (7), looked at me with his big brown eyes and I whispered to him that he could stay, too. He is such an intuitive, funny, smart little child and immediately won my heart even though I just met him this trip. The kids tease him for having a big head and I told him its for his big brain because he's so smart.

Some things are fine here and some things still make me sad. It breaks my heart when these kids get so excited about things that we think should be a given. I have a thick foam pad for my mattress, a white fitted sheet, and two pillows, which they stared at, and jumped to try out. I let them use my extra toothbrush with some toothpaste and they were overjoyed, and spent about five minutes each brushing their teeth. They turned the knob for the shower and giggled as the water came trickling down. "SHOWA! SHOWA!" they cheered. When I asked them if they wanted soap they looked like I'd just offered them a steak dinner, and gladly accepted. When I asked them if they had to use the toilet before bed they both smiled, looked at each other, and nodded furiously. They usually just go outside in the bushes or wherever they are. "Should I flush it?!" Morris asked, and sounded really excited. (Last time I came here flushing toilets didn't really exist around here and I used a drop toilet in the volunteer house which was the worst part of my day. This time I feel like I am living in luxury.) they got into bed, and I hugged them both and told them I loved them - something I know they won't get when I'm gone. It makes me sad, and then it makes me angry - angry that these kids might never know how awesome they are, and I pray that is not the case.

Today the head of the orphanage and school and church saw me at school with a crowd of kids following, all trying to hold my hand or my arm or any part of my body really. He usually just speaks very matter-of-factly, but this time he had emotion in his voice. "Stephanie! Mother of all the children!" and I have seriously thought about being that because again I feel like I have given them something that will leave when I do. It makes me think its not fair, and it makes me think: what if I stay? I could live this life but my ambition always gets the best of me - like there are two prominent things inside, battling for which one will prevail.

I just looked over and both kids are asleep, their black limbs sprawled across the white sheet, still clutching the hot wheels I have given them tonight. I don't know what it feels like when ambition doesn't win, but maybe it is this.

Chapter 9 - Bittersweet

At first is hard to be here, and then it gets hard to imagine leaving. The day-to-day is difficult. This doesn’t mean it is taxing, or that it is unenjoyable, it just takes effort. But all of the inconveniences become irrelevant after the first week, and your eyes are opened to a whole new world. You learn to enjoy just being.

Last night I took two teenagers to the new mall, about an hour from where we live. I always have a hard time with deciding what I should do for them and what I shouldn’t. I weigh out the consequences of showing them things they don't know and then essentially taking them away. I worry about what is fair and what is not. I decided to stop worrying and take them to have a good time. I concluded that if I think you are special, there is nothing wrong with treating you just so. They had their first taste of pizza, and I took them to see their first movie in the theatre (they picked Creed!). For a minute, I forgot where I was. I forgot that this is a place where movies and pizza are not the norm for these kids. We were just three people hanging out. At the end of the night, the younger one said to me, “I am soooooo happy, thank you. I will remember this night for my whole, whole life.” I later found out that the money we spent was nearly 1.5 months salary for the older one. It was both a heartwarming and heart wrenching moment where I felt bad for introducing them to something that they will probably never get to experience again - but isn’t that what life is all about - the experience? And if it is wonderful, and it goes away, wasn’t it still wonderful?

The small moments mean so much more here. You are stripped down to the essential part of yourself. You learn how to navigate new surroundings with new people and new practices. It is awesome to realize something completely different than what you know. It is not greater, or lesser, it is just so so different. The best thing about putting yourself somewhere totally uncomfortable is that you learn who you are, and who you can push yourself to be. To me, that is the point of it all.

I will be devastated to leave this place and these people again. I feel like I have been here for months. I walk out of the school and kids from classrooms across the way yell my name and wave. I walk to town, and the hair shop ladies call to me - not "o-bro-nee,” but , “STE-FA-NEEE!” The school teachers come to me to get their pictures snapped. The kitchen lady and older girls tease me about my “plennnnnty buttocks.” The teenage boys like to bother me until I threaten to punch them. They laugh when I speak Twi because the only things I know how to say are YOU ARE LYING! GO AWAY! and I WILL BEAT YOU! The small boys and small girls run to me because they know I will embrace them, no matter how dirt-covered they are from the day. Again I have immersed myself in this other world that no one else in my life can understand, and again when I return home, I will be sad. But I suppose it is like taking poor African teenagers to the movies. Bittersweet.

-- Stephanie Trapp | Photographer* | T R A P P F O T O S http://www.trappfotos.com | *415.806.6782

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Chapter 8 - Temporary Happiness

“Have you ever tasted pizza?” is what Romeo (almost 15) asked me the other night. The way he phrased it was so innocent I couldn’t help but be sad.

The main thing I have gathered from this place is that they rely on temporary happiness. I decided quickly last time that I want to be that temporary happiness.

There are a lot of people who come and go from these kids’ lives, so they are used to it. They have been conditioned to accept (white) people coming into their lives, and then disappearing, for any given amount of time. When you arrive, instead of asking how long you are saying, they ask, “When will you leave?” Perhaps this is so they can decide whether to get invested in you, or maybe it is just their reality that there is an end to everything they know.

Temporary happiness is being stolen away to go to the road to get a FanYogo and dance to the music they are playing at the food stands. Temporary happiness is getting your own bag of pure water and a sucker while you’re doing your homework. Temporary happiness is getting to use something you will never, ever own. Temporary happiness is a reading book or a piece of paper and crayons. Temporary happiness is a new soccer ball that will likely be stolen or destroyed by the end of the week. Temporary happiness is feeling special that someone sought you out to hold your hand while you leave school. Temporary happiness is having someone tell you your drawing is so nice, or that you are so smart, or that you have great talent, or that your dress is beautiful.

My favorite part of being here is when I go into the 2 rooms of the small girls and the small boys (about 12 years and younger) to say goodnight. I give them each a hug and sometimes a kiss on the cheek and tell them that I love them. Their faces light up like they just won the lottery. Some of them squeeze you so tight, and some of them just sit content in your embrace. Tonight in the girls room after this was done, one of them said to me, “God bless you, for everything you have done for us,” and I held back tears and just smiled.

I am here to treat these kids like they are worthy, and hopefully as they grow, they will remember those little moments when they felt like a million dollars.

Chapter 7 - Outsider, In

I forgot but now I remember. It takes a while.

Everyone says, “You are welcome,” because that is what they are supposed to say. After fifty times of hearing it, it begins to have an adverse effect and you wonder if you are really welcome. It is only when they switch from calling you the standard “O-BRO-NEE” to your actual name, that you know you are really welcome.

The school is on the same compound as the orphanage, but I have only really been hanging out with the orphans and the boarders. Today I went to school. I remember every single kid I saw last time - not necessarily their names, but definitely their faces. When I see them, I look at them for a minute to see if they recognize me before I say anything. They usually do and it is awesome. This boy came up to me, probably about 12 now, which means he would have been 8 when I was here before. I looked at him and he looked at me and his face lit up as he exclaimed, “MADAME STEPHANIE?!” And I smiled. Then he turned around to all of his friends and said something that made me laugh so hard, “I TOLD YOU I KNEW THAT O-BRO-NEE,” and then, "MADAM STEPHANIE, YOU ARE WELCOME!” And I know he meant it.

Some of the kids don’t go to school. The main reason is because there is no money for school fees. There are 2 boys that sit with their mom in a shop right by the school. The last time I came, they were probably 5 or 6. I would see them every time I walked from the school to town, and back. I soon got to know them, and they would say hi to me every single time I went back and forth. I started inviting them to play barefoot dirt soccer with me and the orphans and the boarders. I would buy them all treats every so often, and sometimes bring them things back from the street - mostly FanYogo (frozen yogurt in a bag). When I got here this time, the first time I walked back from town, the boy looked at me, pointed to his friend, and yelled, “MADAME STEPHANIE!!” as they both ran to hug me. I know they get many many (white) volunteers in and out all of the time, so it was such a crazy feeling to think that a kid that small remembered me after all this time, just because I was nice to him.

The school sponsors a soccer team called the Shepherd Stars. I photographed at some of their games and practices last time I was here. Some of them live on the compound, so we saw each other all of the time. I saw Clement yesterday, now he is probably about 22 or 23 or 24 or 25, I don’t actually know. As he was escorting me to the kitchen to help the kids with their homework, he started telling me that he sees a lot of white volunteers here all of the time, but he doesn’t care about knowing them. He will say hi in passing, but that is it. It is nice when I am made to feel different than the color of my skin here.

I never take photos of the adults here, because I learned last time that they usually don’t like it. It makes you look like a dumb white tourist, and I don’t prefer that. Today the kitchen lady, Gloria, was standing by the hair shop and I was in the school yard. To my surprise, someone yelled, STE-FAAA-NEEEEE,” and it wasn’t Gloria. I looked over to see a woman I’d never met, calling me to come over. I made my way to her shop, and she got really excited. She sat down to cook, and said, “PLEASE! SNAP ME!” It felt like she was accepting me into her world, and I much appreciated it. I spent the next 10 minutes taking photos of her cooking and pretending to eat (lol), and then we went next door in her hair shop with a bunch of ladies doing another lady’s braids, where I took some photos and a video. They all seemed so excited as I showed them the back of the camera after I snapped. Then I explained that I was surprised when someone over here yelled my name, because no one over here knows me. The lady replied, “STEPHANIE - EVERYONE KNOWS YOU!” which made me feel like I was not anymore just the color of my skin, but a member of a village.

I am a member of a village where some people are very concerned for me. “Madame Stephanie - why are you not married? Don’t you want to give birth to children?” is the 2 part question I’ve gotten about seventeen times since I have been here. Gloria asked me as soon as I arrived. No beating around the bush - they want to know all the gossip here! Last night when I was taking the small boys to bed, the guy who helps look after them questioned me for about 20 minutes on the topic. He ended it with, “Don’t waste all that,” and I laughed at him. Tonight, the teenage boys and Nu-Nu, the 20 year old, came over and started asking me where my boyfriend was. They said they saw me kissing him on Facebook and I yelled, “OBUUUUA!” which is Twi for “YOU ARE LYING!” which made them laugh, and then they said Nu-Nu wants to be my boyfriend and I said “FIIII-YA!” which is Twi for “Go away,” which also made them laugh. Later tonight, Mavis, an outspoken older girl who uses the name “Stephanie Traps” on Facebook because she “LOVES IT SO MUCH!” told me she would give me her brother. She told me I need to find a nice big strong Ghanaian man to take care of me and stay here forever. Then she explained to me for about 20 minutes, while her friend agreed, that I am so good and so beautiful and so nice and I shouldn’t adopt kids I should birth my own and she will come to the US and take care of them for me while I work, but only if they are my own kids. I laughed at her and told her not to worry, but she is worried. They are getting all in my business here, but I don’t mind it because it makes me feel like part of something so different than anything I should belong to.

To be accepted (in such a short time) back into a community of people I haven’t seen in four years feels really special. I knew when I came and met these kids and this country, that it would not be a one-time deal. I feel connected to something I chose on a whim, and it just goes back to my belief that my life will lead me to the people and places I need. I will keep living by the seat of my pants, because I think thats exactly how you find what you are looking for, even if you don’t know what it is.

Chapter 6 - The Reality

The reality is that it smells here. There’s goats and chickens and dirt and flies and cockroaches and poop everywhere. I eat my meals surrounded by flies.The reality is this place is littered with trash, and when there is too much trash, they set it on fire to get rid of it. The reality is that everything I eat here passes quickly, if you know what I mean. The reality is that they cane the children when they misbehave, and some walk around with permanent scars. They ask for “pure wata” because otherwise (and often) they have to drink unclean water from the faucet in the ground. The reality is that I am stared at everywhere I go, and you can never tell if the adults are shunning you for your skin color, or how they feel when you are holding the hands of their children. The reality is that to some, you look like a walking dollar sign, and they think you can give them everything. The reality is that strangers talk about you in Twi right in front of you, and then sometimes they laugh. The reality is that you are a clear outsider, even if you know how to live here.

The reality is also that it is simple and beautiful here. There's children and music and laughter and nicely dressed people everywhere. The food is different but mostly good. The reality is also that this place is littered with hope, and they are the most religiously dedicated people. You can take everything away from them, but they will always have their belief, and that makes them strong. The reality is also that even if they are hungry, they will say, “you are invited,” and share their food. The reality is that also these children get fed 3 meals a day, and have a (mostly) happy existence. They have never known anything else, so it is not a struggle for them to be content, and that is one of the many things that makes them so wonderful. The reality is also that it is not hard to get anywhere, because wherever you are going, people want to help you get there. The reality is also that it feels really nice to be able to help improve somebody’s life. The reality is also that you are greeted wherever you go, because they know white means visitor. The reality is also that besides “white lady,” your other most often heard phrase will likely be “You are welcome.”

Tonight I went to prep, which is 7pm-9pm gathering of all the kids in the kitchen. They sit and study and do homework. It is really nice how they all help each other, the older ones writing small assignments for the younger ones if they have no homework, and the general conversing. It is quite a change from their usual run-around-and-beat-each-other-and-laugh routine. I showed up with the paper, crayons, books, and suckers I bought today at the mall. If you could have seen these faces light up over those 4 simple things, the osmosis of happiness in the room would overwhelm you. I got multiple thank yous and a handful of hand drawn, i love yous. At 8 o’clock, I noticed some of the kids asking for “pure wata,” so I took Bishop to the street with me and we bought 25 of them for the kids to share. “God bless you,” was repeated throughout the room. For giving them a square plastic bag filled with clean water to drink. Think about that. I know I still am.

The reality is, it took me a little while to get back into the mindset that this life requires. It is hard to transition to a life where you have access to everything you want or need or can imagine. A life where you are the majority, and do not have to worry about being singled out or fitting in. This life has a different offering, and one I wish everyone could know. It teaches you to live in the moment, like the kids I wrote about in the last chapter. It teaches you that to appreciate everything, and that you can get by with much less. It teaches you hardship, and also that it is not that hard. It makes me reflect on every single thing about my other life, and that is priceless.

Chapter 5 - They Just Live

It is fascinating to watch the way things work here. To me, there seems to be no sense of time or organization, and everything is confusing, and sometimes chaotic. It is the opposite for them. They all seem to work in tandem, and everyone just knows. I have stopped trying to understand it, but I think it is kind of beautiful how they just live.

On Friday night, I asked the kids what time (all-night) church was starting. They said “nine o’clock.” It became nine o’clock and no one was at the church, and I was still sitting around with all of the children. In the next thirty minutes, I asked them probably seven or eight times if they had to go to church. They kept saying, “not yet.” I wanted to ask: "why, how do you know, are you sure?" but I just kept playing. About an hour later, they got up and said, “We must go to church now.” And they went.

When you ask someone here directions, they always know. In a busy tro-tro* station, if people see you looking confused, they will ask what you are looking for. No matter which of the tons of places you are going, they say, “Oh it is that way,” and point you in the right direction. When I am standing there, it just looks like a parking lot full of these old vans with no rhyme or reason to how or where they are parked and when they are coming or going. There is no schedule. Sometimes there are signs in the window, but not always. They will leave when they are full, no matter how long it takes. When you get going, there are 2 operators - the driver and the guy who mans the sliding door. He sits right by it with his hand out the window and lets people on and off. He signals out the window and shouts the destination to other people on the side of the road.Sometimes he bangs on the outside, signaling the driver to stop or go or something else (I don’t really know). He will snap at you when it is time to give him money. Even if he doesn’t give you your change until the end, and even if there is 20 people packed in, he will remember how much change he owes you. It is pretty impressive.

Today (Sunday) was all-day church. All day, I saw people coming and going, dressed in their nice church clothes. All of the ladies out on nice long dresses, and some of them even wear heels. The men also look very nice, usually in long sleeves and long pants and many of them wear white. I have no idea how they make it look so graceful in the heat and the dirt, but they do. There are no signs of the brown dirt on their clothes, and they don’t look like they are sweating. All day, people seemed to just be coming and going; showing up when they get there, and leaving when they have to go. There seems to be no real stress for time or place or anything else. It is refreshing but also agitating. “African time” is a real thing.

Earlier in the week when I came back to the guesthouse I am staying at, it was the afternoon and particularly hot. I came back to find the lady who helps run it, Messi, sprawled on the tile. She looked up, smiled, and greeted me as she kept laying there. It was awesome. It was hot, and she felt like laying on the tile for that moment in time, so she did.

Everyone knows where everyone is, especially the kids. It is a thing here that when one of the adults needs something from someone else, they just send a kid to do it, and the kid always knows. All of these children are so competent and obedient in that way. They have so much freedom, but are also very disciplined. If I am at my room when Gloria cooks food, the kids come outside my window. If the computer teacher needs credit for the internet, he just picks some kid, gives him money, and the kid goes to the street and returns with it.

I am with these kids almost all day every day, and I just watch them. They have a funny balance of both looking out for each other and beating on each other that I don’t exactly understand, but I know I am not supposed to. There seems to be no worry about the next minute, they are just in the moment. It is inspiring. They just do what they do until they have to do something else. There seems to be no sense of urgency, and no worries about plans, or what is happening next. They just live.

*tro-tro: Ghana version of public transportation. They are old sliding door vans, usually on their last leg. They have 5 or 6 or 7 rows of seats. The “station” is just a word I use to describe an open dirt area where they stop to pick people up or drop them off.

Chapter 4 - Too Many Things

There are too many things to write about. Here, a day feels like 2 or 3. Which is the amount of showers I take in a 24 hour period. And I am still dirty. But the humor these kids provide trumps all of the aforementioned, here and in the other chapters. Never a dull moment with these awesome Ghanaian children.

There is this small boy, no more than 2 feet tall, who lives by the trail to the park where the kids play futbol. I passed yesterday and I said HI! and I don’t think he knew what that meant. He ran towards me, got in a sumo wrestler position, got an evil smile on his face, and yelled back, HI! while he stomped his feet. It was hilarious. We kept doing that back and forth about 10 times, and everyone around us - including his mom - was cracking up. It is the hardest I have laughed in a while. We passed today and he did the same thing, it is so funny because he is so small and I think he has no idea that HI! means Hello! I hope I see him tomorrow again.

Diana used to tell me, MADAM STE-FA-NIEEE, YOUR BUTTOCKS IS PLLLLENTY. And she still does. Except this time she said, “TOO PLENTYYYYYY. Side eye. Last time I was here, we had an epic (friendly) battle out in front of the volunteer house that ended with me having smashed banana in my hair, and missing a toe nail. When I walked to the kitchen today, the front door was closed so I had to go around the side. I walked halfway in, and Diana stuck out her fist at me and was holding a live (struggling) bird. It got into the kitchen so she caught it. And then she put it in my backpack. Side eye. But I appreciate that she is still the same, and I laughed.

Today one of the kids asked how old I was, and I asked him how old he thought I was. He said, “ fifty-nine.” I didn’t correct him, but I did give him an open mouth wide eye face. Tonight in the kitchen another kids asked, and I replied the same, and he said, “twenty-two.” I didn’t coronet him either, and I didn’t give him any kind of face. LOL.

At dinner tonight, I got out my camera, and the kids started jumping around. When I told them I wanted to take a video, it was all over. I ended up getting my own private Ghanaian rap show, so that was an awesome way to kick off the night.

After dinner when it was a little bit cooler out, (82 degrees), I challenged the kids outside of the kitchen to keep-away dirt soccer. Morris, the 7 year old, said, “WOW, DO YOU KNOW HOW TO PLAY SOCCER IN US?!” Haha. I remember last time I came, they were amazed that a white girl knew how to kick a ball. I don’t think I won, but I don’t think I lost, either. Romeo is the best, and Clemens is also very good. It ended with me dripping sweat and surrendering before I passed out. So I guess maybe I did lose.

To end the night, a few of my favorite kids came over to my room, and I gave them hot wheels, and we ate suckers and watched Ghanaian television and they went through all of my stuff.

It is both hard and easy to be here. Once you get over being constantly thirsty and constantly sweaty and constantly dirty and constantly pointed out for being white, it is another kind of wonderful you would never realize unless you are in it.

Lastly, this post was brought to you by Sir Richard, my friend and the computer teacher who let me take the router to my room for the weekend so I could get internet on my laptop. Thank you, Sir Richard!

 

Chapter 3 - I Am Not Sure

I am not sure what I love about it here so much. Maybe it is the risk of Malaria, or the trash thrown wherever someone finishes it, or the sweat that beads on my face the minute I walk outside. It could be the way everyone yells “OH-BRO-NEE” at me when I walk by because that means “white person,” and then they laugh because they don’t know if I know. It might be the fact that every time I get in a tro-tro, I cross my fingers I don’t barf because of the potholes or the closeness or the heat, and also that we don't crash. Maybe it is the way I kind of know what is going on, but not really, in any given situation. It could be the ice cold showers, or the roosters crowing at 4am, 

But it is not any of those things.

At the end of the day, I am covered in dirt, and sweat, and happiness.

And that is why.

Chapter 2 - Feels Like Home

I have always said I want to live a hundred different lives. This is one of them.

Last time I traveled to Ghana, I didn't know anything. I got off the airplane and looked for someone to be holding a sign that said "IVHQ." I found him and we walked along a dirt road while he talked to taxis passing by in their local language - Twi - which means I had no clue what they were saying to each other. The worst case, I imagined, "Hey let's kidnap this girl and steal all her stuff." But I had decided when I stepped foot off that plane, to trust a country.

Yesterday I strapped all of my stuff to my back (in my giant travel pack), and all of my camera equipment to my front (in my Andre-Ward-given Jordan backpack). Easily carrying 50 lbs of stuff, I took 3 hot, packed tro-tros to a small village called Ofaakor. When I was dropped at the entrance, it all came back to me. Everything was familiar. I had lived here for 3 months, but it felt like a year, and a significant part of my life. Last time, everything was new and different and unlike anything I'd ever known or seen. I loved that. This time the excitement was matched, but it felt like coming home.

I walked further into the village, scanning the passersby for faces I have been waiting 4 years to see again. As I got closer to the kitchen building, a short woman with short hair came running out shouting, "STE-FA-NEEE, STE-FAAA-NEEEE!!!" It was awesome. It was Gloria - the lady who cooks the food for the orphans, plus the kids who live on the compound, plus the volunteers. Since she sees a million (mostly) white people come in and out, she is selective, careful who she is nice to. Last time I was tested, but when a few kids got Malaria and I took them to the hospital and kept them in my room until they were better, I passed. Then she knew I wasn't here to just hang out - as was the case of some other volunteers I'd seen come and go.

Back to the scene.

She ran out and sweaty (of course), I dropped my bags onto the dirt and she hugged me while she said, "I DIDN'T KNOW YOU WERE COMING!!!!!" Then immediately she ordered, "BISHOP! SOMEONE GO GET BISHOP!"

The main reason I came back.

I was going to leave this out because it's pretty personal, but I'm trying to keep it real and this is important to the story.

If ever there was a kid meant to be mine, it is this one, and I knew it the moment I saw him. He was the first kid I met when I came in 2012. I found him loitering outside the kitchen shortly after I'd arrived, while the other kids had gone off to school. He was so skinny and looked so sad. I asked him if he had eaten breakfast and he shook his head. I took his hand and we walked into the kitchen to eat breakfast together. They told me he didn't get food because he was a bad boy and didn't follow the rules and wasn't there when he was supposed to be. I don't like rules and I didn't care. I got us food and we sat down and ate and didn't talk much. I held his hand to school when they said, "take him," promised I would be here after, and from then on we were inseparable. I treated him like my favorite because he was. All of the villagers started calling him my "first born" because he was always attached to my hip. I didn't let the other kids be mean to him, and I didn't let the adults either. I am convinced he made himself sick because he was jealous I took care of the other kids with Malaria. He threw rocks at my door when I locked myself in my room so he would go to class instead of try to follow me around school. I was trying to show him some tough love but he showed me tougher. Which made me love him even more. When I traveled the coast of Ghana for almost 2 weeks, he hid from me when I came back because he was so mad. Which made me love him even more. His spirit was unbreakable and that is something I value in anyone. When I left for good, I held him, and we both just cried for a long time.

His name is Bishop and now he is 10 (even though he looks like he could easily be 7). He looked at me from a distance. I smiled and his eyes got wide. He did a back flip and ran into my arms. My heart broke into a million pieces, then fused back together just so it could break again.

Sent from my iPhone

Chapter 1 - A Strong Pull

Maybe I have fabricated this, maybe it is all in my head. This strong pull to a place I had no prior association with; no reason to be drawn to. But maybe it was all planned out before I got here - before I existed. What allows me to live by the seat of my pants is the faith that my life knows exactly what it is doing: luring me to the experiences I am supposed to have, the people I am supposed to meet, and the stuff I am supposed to learn. I breathe to feel something. And then no matter what it is - happiness, sadness, pain, joy, disappointment, relief - how can it not be lovely if it is exactly what was meant for me?

Here I am for the second time, craving all of those feelings again because the more intense the more genuine, I think. Some people miss this because they are afraid of the intensity. It is easier to feel nothing than to feel something; to stay still and content instead of unsteady and uncomfortable. But comfortable is not what I am interested in, and to me unsteadiness translates to adventure. It is easy to collect experiences and people and things that are regular. But that is not what I'm in it for.

My best advice is to do the things you want to do, and do them like you mean it. 

Preface

In 2012 I quit my jobs and moved out of my SF apartment on a whim. I had googled the words "volunteer orphanage africa." I still am not sure of the reason why, but the best way I can explain it to myself is that it is just something I felt. 

My last blog is HERE.

I decided to keep another one because so many things happen, internally and externally, and this forces me to keep track of them. 

I had the most insane and wonderful adventure when I lived here for 3 months in a small village called Ofaakor and volunteered in the orphanage on the compound. The kids I met were incredible, and I told them I would be back. I am ashamed it took me this long to get it together to come back because when I promised my return, one of the teenagers looked at me and said, "All the white ladies say that and we never see them again."

Well, it took a while, but not this white lady. 

I can't wait to see them all. Especially one of them in particular.