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.