Sunday, July 21, 2013


Karina and I took five of the kids to Denu beach yesterday. I wanted to do something special for Sonia's recent 13th birthday, and give the boys a break. Kids work HARD in Ghana. Christian, Sampson and Sylvanus (approximately 13, 10 and 9 respectively)- the three nephews that live with us- help wash clothes and dishes, prepare food, run errands, sweep the compound, etc. When they're not helping out, they're expected to stay quiet and out of the way, but on hand for when they're needed. I'm not trying to suggest that the boys are mistreated in any way. They have clothing, food, shelter and a safe home where they are treated kindly. The tough expectations put on children are part of Ghanaian culture and part of living in a place without many of the modern conveniences we Americans are generally used to. Still, I thought they deserved an afternoon off.

At the appointed time, Karina and I emerged from our Constitution-writing huddle in my room to find five children (our neighbor Felix joined us too) dressed in their Sunday best and ready to go. Hesitantly, I went up to Worfa and tried to explain, "You know, they don't have to dress up. I want them to be able to run and play in the water..." So they were sent back to put on shorts under their stiff, swanky blue jeans. Getting them to ditch the jeans completely was probably a little much to expect, and the kids probably enjoyed the chance to dress up anyway.

Sampson and Sylva in their Sunday best
We arrived at the beach and set up camp...and then they just stood there. Five kids, dressed to the nines, trying desperately to figure out how to behave in this situation. For many parents in Ghana, something as simple as taking their children to play at the beach is not a realistic option. The kids in Awakorme are very comfortable with me; they know I am a playmate and a pushover and don't generally mind being poked or prodded or climbed on. But suddenly these five were trying very hard to act grown up and well-mannered for me in public. As if I could ever be ashamed of them.


Karina and I realized we needed to set an example, so we took off whooping and hollering towards the water and made a big show of kicking our feet in the surf.

The kids crept closer.

Another wave came and Karina and I pranced around ankle-deep in the water, motioning for them to join us.

With a lot of encouragement, they shed their fancy clothes slowly to reveal shorts and undershirts.

At first they wouldn't even come close enough to actually let the waves touch their toes.

Then they got brave enough to join us and dunk their feet.

I swear you could see their uncertainty cracking off of them in pieces like a visible shell. Slowly, laughter started breaking out. Then Felix darted out farther and got caught in a wave up to his knees. Then Sampson had the bright idea of throwing Sonia on the ground right as a wave came so that she got completely soaked. Then Christian figured out he could dive right as a wave came and belly surf for a couple of feet. Then all hell broke loose.

Just as I'd hoped it would. 

Digging for crabs
Karina and I relaxed nearby like watchful parents while the kids spent the next couple hours playing, splashing, digging and chasing crabs. They were soaked and covered in sand head-to-toe by the time we left the beach. Those five, quiet, well-groomed kids I showed up with?
                                                                                          No where to be found.

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