“So, how was Africa?”
We are back.
America… land of the free, home of the brave, and also soft pillows, real French fries, and toilet seats…we are glad to be home.
However, we are also mourning for Ghana, and the wonderful people we met there, and thus the simple question all of our friends and family ask becomes a loaded query, with answers still too raw and emotions too complex to express past the basic “Really good.”
Jetlagged, yelling “AKPETESHI!!!” at random people and not getting an answering laugh and echo in return, we ask a little immunity as the realization starts to sink in that we are truly not in Africa any more.
The last days in Ghana were relaxed, spending much time on the beach, or grabbing the last few opportunities to be tourists by hitting some of the renowned sights of Ghana. The team screamed and laughed (some even bounded) across the treetops of the African jungle at the canopy walk. Many expressed their artistic side by creating beautiful batik fabric with lessons at a local shop. The group watched an impressive display of traditional dancing and music from a local Ghanain group, complete with an impromptu drumming lesson.
We haggled enthusiastically at the art market, returning laden with souvenirs. We reflected large-group for the last time under the somber roof of Elmina Castle, an old slaving castle on the coast of Ghana. Students and professors alike talked and reminisced on the sand, clambered up giant rocks in the sea, or sat under the breeze with unforgettable bruschetta, letting the experience soak in.
We were forced to say goodbye to some of our new friends; the team gathered in hearty support of our fearless driver, Samuel, and waved farewell to the “party bus” as we were dropped off in Accra. We stayed in the Accra hotel (newly christened the “Western Sun”) relishing the air conditioning and pool under the African sun one last time before loading up and heading to the airport. There we said our final goodbyes to John and Tori, our leaders, and Emmanuel, our guide and fellow teacher at Bakpa-Avedo. Then, with many promises to return soon, we flew off towards America and home.
It was nice to have that time off, to think and savor our experiences before being thrust into the hectic rush of “real life.” Our very last reflection displayed much of the fruit of our growth; vastly different than our first night, we drove deeper into the issues, and were open and honest with each other in new ways. The reaction to the slaving castle varied—some looking more at the future and hope surrounding the castle, and some looking sadly at the past, at the horror permeating those walls. As one person said, the castle felt “heavy.” The thick, unrelenting stone walls were heavy, but the atmosphere weighed low as well as we were guided through torture chambers, holding pens, and finally, the “Point of No Return.”
The conversation that ensued reflected this heavy tone. We discussed the history of Ghana; how that millions-strong tragedy has affected it even unto the present. We connected our experience at Elmina Castle with our time in Avedo, and started to explore together the connections between this remote slaving castle and the every day lives of our dear students. We discussed different ideals and reactions to such atrocities, and together looked at different ways people seek to fix something like this. While it is so easy to become overwhelmed with the terrible things that have happened and are everyday occurring in this world, the team was able to openly express very different viewpoints, and I think the team left with an appreciation that it truly does take all kinds, all personalities and approaches, to work and improve this world.
If our trip could be summarized into one idea, than I think that might be it—the appreciation of people as people all over the world. We came to Ghana not really knowing what to expect, but maybe imagining impoverished Africans of TV commercials, or little angel students just desperate to learn, or perhaps adults embittered at our apparent wealth. Instead, after about one day, we realized that these people are just humans, just like us, with daily issues, different opinions, and a myriad of personalities, just like anywhere we might call home.
That idea—the community of working with people, children who punch each other, teachers who might have flaws, smiling faces that might actually be unhappy upon occasion—wove through all of our reflections. We are tied to the lives of the people in Avedo. Now that we are aware, it is impossible not to care about their lives. In one of our reflections, someone noted that “once you start caring about someone, you care about what matters to them as well.” And it’s true. As the pictures begin to flood facebook, and the statuses ache for Africa, the lesson becomes even clearer: we are changed, grown a little more, with a deep love for the people of Ghana, and a connection to the lives and livelihoods of Africa that can never die.