Saturday, November 13, 2010

Light Off

I was sitting outside last night journaling when suddenly -- light off, a power outage swept through Aflao.

In the blink of an eye, the world became dark and quiet.
After the initial (somewhat humorous) cry of dismay echoed throughout the entire city, everything fell eerily silent. I hadn't realized how loud the sound of a dozen different radios blaring gospel music was until it cut out. I hadn't realized how bright our house lights were until they were gone either.

It was the most breathtaking moment I have had in Africa so far.

The shock of the sudden light off jerked me out of my self-absorption. I was totally engrossed in my journal, concentrating on writing down everything so I wouldn't miss a single detail- but that moment forced my chin up and said,

"Look at what you're missing now."

There was a split second I was tempted to grab my flashlight and keep writing,  but I realized that would've been sacriligious somehow.
Instead I gave in and let myself be in the moment.
For a long time I laid back on the benches in front of our house and just soaked it all in- the dancing black silhouettes of the coconut trees, lightning flickering in the distance. As the darkness saturated the night, I watched the stars appear one by one.

My host father returned from some errand and we talked for a long time. Some of my best moments in Ghana have been simply sitting with Worfa in front of our house. There is no doubt that the relationships I have made have defined my experience here. He taught me a song in Ewe and told some old Ghanaian stories that were neither history nor legend, but something in between. My host mother Victoria returned from market and some of our neighbor women came over. We sat eating Triscuits and laughing uproariously at nothing.

After they left, my host parents and I spread our mats in the sand and laid down to marvel at the night in comfortable silence. Several airplanes flew overhead and I wondered what Aflao looked like from the air. Was it even visible without the glow of electric lights?

It was a moment of exquisite freedom.

No Nollywood movies spouting their drama on the television.
No emails to answer.
No texts buzzing in my pocket.
No Holy FM blasting hiplife on the radio.
No light to tempt me to lose myself in a book or a crossword puzzle.

Light off.

Flower Mode

After our rough week, Julia and I decided we needed some serious R&R. We headed off to Mountain Paradise, a lodge near the Tafi Atome monkey sanctuary that touted beautiful mountain views and organic coffee.

The tro-tro dropped us in the little town of Fume at the base of the mountain. A sign at the junction informed us that Mountain Paradise was "4 km -- uphill." We briefly considered walking, then came to our senses and asked some locals to call us a couple of motorbikes. While we waited, a nice pick-up drove by. I happened to notice a hand emerge from the window and, with a subtle upward flick of the wrist, make the Ghanaian gesture for "where are you going?" I pointed up the mountain. The truck stopped and we got in.

Our good luck had begun!

The hand belonged to John, a high-ranking government official from Accra who had come for a friend's mother's funeral and was on his way to spend the night in his hometown. He was with Patrick, another government official, who I came to think of simply as John's sidekick.

The road up the mountain was steep, in bad condition and full of sharp curves; I can't imagine having ridden it on a motorbike...yikes.


We spent the evening with John and Patrick. We stopped to see the tail end of the Rice Festival going on in Biakpa, one of the lower mountain villages where Mountain Paradise is. Then we stopped to check out the lodge itself. Julia said it wasn't so bad, but I was deeply disappointed with our anticipated...well, paradise. It was small, dark and only about halfway up the mountain. John must've seen my expression, and kept insisting we needed to see his cousin's hotel further up the mountain. We proceeded to John's hometown, the village of Vane. He took us to meet a bunch of relatives and friends, who fed us dinner. Then we went to the summit, where, perched on the edge of the cliff, sat the Abraerica Hotel.

If you are ever in Ghana, GO THERE.

The view is astounding, the rooms are comfortably modern, and the food is delicious. And because John's cousin owned it, he arranged for us to get free breakfast the next day and a room for ridiculously cheap. Then, without further ado, he and Patrick left.

Julia and I dropped our bags in our rooms, looked at each other and did a happy dance.

It's common to meet Ghanaians who will do nice things for you - hospitality is very highly valued here. However it is less common to meet Ghanaians (men) who will do those nice things without any romantic overtures or expectations.

Julia and I luxuriously laid in bed and watched CNN for a while (TV that isn't in French! Woohoo!) before forcing ourselves to go back to the terrace and enjoy our surroundings. It was too dark to see much, but we happened to meet two Americans. They were NYU students doing a semester abroad in Accra and invited us to see the waterfall with them the next morning.

That night I took an actual shower and had access to the third functional flush toilet I've had in two months. We watched more CNN- which incidentally ran a feature about one of the Detroit Lions. Now the Lions are nothing to get excited about...unless you're in a hotel on some remote mountain in Africa and Detroit happens to be your 'hood :) - and had the best sleep! Cool mountain air made a fan unnecssary and it was SO QUIET! Aflao wakes up before 5 am, but there- no roosters, no gospel music, no screaming children, no Keta whining for breakfast. I slept straight through to 6:45...which is impressive. I haven't slept that long without waking up since August 30.

The next morning we met up with the Americans for breakfast and went to the Amedzofe Waterfall. The hike to this waterfall is significantly shorter than that to Wli, but in its own way much more treacherous if you can believe. It's lined with ropes that you have to use to lower yourself down or pull yourself up the trail because it's so steep and slippery. I'm pretty sure I almost died at least seven times, which makes it that much more impressive that Julia made the climb in flip-flops. Thatta girl, way to be Ghanaian. The watefall was worth the near-death experiences. (Everything in Ghana so far has been worth the near-death experiences......not that there have been a lot of those, Mom...)

We waded around in the water and climbed over the slippery rocks to stand directly under the spray. The thrill of it made us all euphoric. We were just laughing and prancing around like little kids.

Thoroughly soaked, we hauled ourselves back up the ropes. At the top we split off from our new friends and Julia and I hiked to signature cross at the top of Mt. Gemi. It was an easy 20-30 minutes hike from Vane, and well worth it!

We stood at the top in awe for a long time.

It seemed like the entirety of Ghana was spread out below us. Lake Volta sparkled in the distance. Vane could've passed for a painting if it weren't for the sound of drum music floating up to us from the church. Biakpa sat nestled in a valley lower down. Beyond the lush foothills clustered below us, rust-colored dirt roads threaded through a gorgeous patchwork of farmland and scrubby African bush.

My only regret is that there aren't adequate words to convey the beauty of Ghana.

Hunger finally drove us back to the hotel. I HAD FRENCH FRIES! Legitimate french fries, salted and everything. With ketchup no less! Talk about not having adequate words, heehee. I love, love, love Ghanaian food (too much), but I enjoy the chance to eat some American food occasionally.

Almost as soon as we were done eating, a man said he would take us to Ho in his private car because he was going to pick up his sisters and didn't feel like driving alone. So for the second time in one weekend, a man did something nice for us without expecting anything in return. Forget good luck - that is nothing short of miraculous.

I wore a seatbelt for the first time since I've got here. Blech. A road accident truly is the most likely way I will get injured or killed in Ghana, but I have to admit I hate how restrictive a seatbelt is. Then again I'm also very used to riding motorbikes without a helmet now too. (Pfft, they can't be more than 250 cc anyway...)

I get endless grief over the fact that my "pouffie" camera has a setting just for taking pictures of flowers. Which is admittedly a little stupid...then again I have some glorious photos. As Julia and I sat in the tro-tro on the way home, eating genuine chocolate chip cookies that we had found for unusually cheap, we agreed that if life has a flower mode- this was it.


November 3, 2010

One of my students died suddenly yesterday morning, from sickle cell anemia complications.

I don't know how to describe death.
I don't have the right words to tell you how the grief has affected all of us.

We hear so much about orphans dying in Africa from AIDS, genocide, human trafficking - catastrophes that play on the world stage and kill by the thousands. We do what we can, but such problems are so far beyond our personal capabilities to fix that our pity remains abstract. More so than the victims, we can only grieve the concept.

But this isn't some fundraiser to support Darfur.

This isn't a campaign to stop AIDS.

This is a real little girl whose head I stroked and told to feel better soon just two days ago.

Her name was Nyamekye Hanna. It means "God's Gift."

She was nine years old. She couldn't have even been four feet tall. She struggled in school. She had adorable chubby cheeks. She wanted to be a police officer when she grew up. And she had a family waiting for her in America.

As I sat with Esther through that terrible first night, she looked at me and said everything that was on my heart in one simple sentence: "It is beyond my understanding."