Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Mama's Windchime

Ghana is a gift-giving culture, and my mom got dragged into the stressful process of trying to figure out what to bring for all my African loved ones. This involved a lot of pacing Target and Meijer from end to end, while I either harrassed her for not giving me enough ideas... or for giving me ideas I didn't like. (Unfortunately, it is well documented that sometimes you just can't win with me.)

Even so, we slowly pieced a gift roster together. Everyone essential had been checked off the list, when she stopped in front of a rack of windchimes. "Do they have these in Ghana? Maybe Worfa and Victoria would like the novelty," she suggested.

It proved to be a brilliant idea.

Worfa and Victoria had, in fact, never seen a windchime and were instantly enamored with it. It hangs outside our house in the mango tree, where it is carefully brought in each night and when no one is home to protect it. Children sneak into the yard to ring it when Victoria isn't looking. Even the adults can't resist catching my eye and then jingling it quickly as they come and go from using our well.

We used to have a winchime hanging from our porch at our house on Fourth Street, where I lived for the last two years of college. The porch was unanimously the favorite room in our house. We used to regularly eat roommate dinners there in the warm months. (Did I say months? Excuse me, it was the U.P. - I meant 'week.') A favorite house pasttime was sitting on the porch late at night and watching drunk arguments between people walking home from the bars. Many of my favorite moments with my Fourth Street family involved sitting on our porch couch on brisk mornings, drinking coffee before the day kicked off. I associate the tinkling of the windchime with all those memories - so much so that when we moved out and had to divide up the community belongings, I specifically asked if I could take the windchime.

Marquette is the only other place that has come to occupy an equal status in my heart with Aflao. They are the two cities where I became an adult, the two places that firmly shaped the person I have become and brought me many of the most important people in my life.

My mom has always seemed to understand this. Just as she collects Reader's Digests and Sunday comics to send to Worfa, she would send my roommates care packages - even if I wasn't there and she barely knew some of them. It was enough for her that these people and places were important to me. My mom loves indiscriminately, and if there is one quality of hers I try most to emulate, it is that.

My African mother is another woman I respect and love. But she is nothing like my mom.
My mom is quiet, undemanding, and instinctively knows how to let people be themselves. She is willing to let me make my own mistakes. She has always believed that the best way to be a good parent was to teach me as much as possible not to need her. She has never hesitated whenever the time comes to let me go, no matter how far away I go or how scary it is for her.
Victoria, in contrast, wants to shelter me from the world. In Worfa's words: "Victoria would be most happy if all you did was stay home and eat all day." She worries about me travelling to and from Dzodze (40 minutes away), talking to anyone she doesn't know, and not finishing every heaping plate of food she lovingly prepares for me. Victoria knows no way to love except possessively and uncompromisingly. Even knowing it comes from the right place, the unaccustomed amount of meddling can chafe on me, especially compared to the attitude of the woman who raised me.

So here I sit, listening to the windchime in the mango tree, ringing in the breeze coming off the nearby Atlantic. And as I listen, it reminds me of another windchime, hanging on the porch of a green house in Marquette, ringing in the breeze off Lake Superior. And it brings to mind my mom, studying a rack in Meijer, contemplating how to bring a little bit of joy to people she has never met, half a world away.

It was a brilliant idea.
Not just because it was something new and fun for my African parents. But that sound has come to represent all my homes in one, and hangs outside like a sort of dreamcatcher for warding off homesickness. Every time I hear it, I think about the open-handed love my mom must have - not just for me, but for everyone in this community - to send me off to Africa every couple of years without complaint. I know I am lucky to have the type of mom who loves people by letting them go. My mom's windchime reminds me of the responsibility I have to make the most of this opportunity, and to use this chance she has given me to love the people around me with that same selfless spirit.

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