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.