What a weekend. My body’s exhausted. My soul is empowered.
Let me start with this story, because most of this blog is heavy and this just has to be said as soon as possible. On our way back, I couldn’t hold my bladder. We stopped at a random gas station. They handed our driver, Kofi, the keys to the shack out back. He unlocked the door for me. As he opened it, I glanced down. A hole in the ground and no light. Okay, I can do this with no problem, honestly, I thought. Just aim and fire. It’s not a big deal. I shut the door and was immersed in complete darkness. I pulled down my pants and started to… you know, when I heard a bunch of rustling and movement coming from all around me. Because it was pitched black, I cracked the door a bit to let some light in. Cockroaches. All over. Crawling. Jumping on my feet. By this point, I’m in mid-urination, so I can’t do anything but yell. I’m basically screaming my head off and jumping around, still in mid-urination, trying to keep my cool. Obviously failing. I throw the door open, my shorts around my knees, kicking and screaming, trying make sure they are all off me, when I realize that Kofi is standing there, laughing his head off. Crazy white girl, I’m guessing?
Okay. So now I can write about all the events leading up to that one defining moment in my life.
It was our first excursion through our program and Sonny, an Aya Centre staff worker, took us to Cape Coast and the Central Region. The trip was a three-hour ride in our very own, air-conditioned tro-tro, driven by the one, the only, Archer. And Archer is… crazy. Let’s just say I’m glad I sat behind the driver’s seat so my line of vision was blocked for the majority of the time.
Anyways, we packed as much adventure as we could into one and a half days. Our first day we went to Elmina Castle, built by the Portuguese and Dutch, where they housed slaves before they departed for overseas. It was so incredible, to think about the things that happened there hundreds of years ago. It was a massive building, made of thick white walls with strong metal gates, as well as two moats.
Our guide took us through dungeons where they’d keep the women and men. The governor would often times want to sleep with a woman, so he called her out from his balcony and demanded her to visit his room so he could take advantage of her. These dungeons had little air ventilation and there were buckets on each side of the room where they could relieve themselves.
Even though they’ve been empty for years and now are well ventilated, they cells still had an odd odor. I guess that was the smell of misery. The smell of torture. The smell of death. At the end of our tour, the guide told us the mission of the castle: to remember the events of the past, but not let them inhibit our present. To not judge someone on their race. To not assume because someone is black, or because someone is white, than they are at fault for anything that has happened in history.
As soon as we stepped out of our tro-tro, I knew it’d be an awesome experience. It was both literally and figuratively, a breath of fresh air. Literally- away from the smog and pollution of Accra. Figuratively- my mind being transported to organic thought.
Just me and the trees. Well, and the other fifty or so people on the tour. Crickets. Birds. Killer ants. Yes. Killer ants.
On our way back from the canopy, down the mountain, we noticed a group of ants making a tunnel out of their own bodies, transporting themselves from one side of the pathway to the other. I stopped to bend down and get a closer look, not realizing that I stepped right on top of them. Sonny pushed me off of it and yelled for me to check myself.
They bit on to my shoes and wouldn’t let go. Some were getting ready to crawl up my leg, but Sonny saved my life. He grabbed them off with his bare hands and then proceeded to tell me that if I got bit by one of them, I’d be “burning for days.” Apparently they will detach their heads from their bodies when you try to pick them off. Thank God for him, I was thinking, as he kept explaining how awful they can be. And then I felt a stinging in my shoe. One of them managed to sneak into my sneaker and latched onto my little toe. I threw my shoe off and ripped the little guy off before he had the chance to detach his head. Thank the Lord.
So, that was all exciting. Mhmm. After a night of pure heaven in an air-conditioned room, where I actually needed a blanket, we woke up the next morning to watch the sun rise on the beach. As we headed back towards Accra, we stopped at Slave River, where slaves got their last baths before being transported to the ships.
We walked the very same path that they did all those years ago. Who knows what was going through their minds at that time. Worry? Anger? Fear? Probably a lot of everything bad. It really puts my life into perspective, I can tell you that.
And then… the most moving part of my entire weekend. There were five or six girls pumping water beside our van once we got back from our walk. After we loaded and were inside, they came up to our windows and tapped on them, asking for something, I assumed money. I slid my window open and started talking to one girl, probably around 13 years old. She was wearing a white cotton t-shirt and a long green, print skirt. She kept mumbling something to me, and I couldn’t understand her. After a few times, I realized what she was asking for. A pencil. Out of everything I had, she wanted a pencil. I reached into my bag and pulled out a blue Bic pen. I handed it to her and her face spread into a smile as wide as the ocean. She thanked me over and over, jumped up and down, and ran over to her friends. I saw their mouths drop open, and they came back asking for more. I didn’t have another, but Billy handed me his to give to the girl’s friend. I went to hold it out the window and the first girl grabbed it. They fought over it for some time and eventually I yelled out for them to stop. I grabbed it and gave it to the other girl. And she grasped on to my hand, shaking it, in complete thanks. At first I felt fulfilled. And then it hit me like a semi. Two girls fighting over… a pen. My mind flashed back to American youth, my own youth, and what we fight over. The remote control. X-Box controllers. Ipods. The newest cell phone models.
My emotions bubbled over and I was just, overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by my own selfishness. Overwhelmed by how little these people have. Overwhelmed by how much I have. Overwhelmed that a pen, of all things, could cause so much happiness for two girls in rural Africa. And I cried. A long, hard cry. Sonny came back to comfort me and reminded me how God has plans for all of us. A reason for everything. And how the world isn’t fair, but we just have to do as much as we can. How you have to take moments like that and never, ever let go of the lesson you learned.
And I won’t. I won’t ever forget that moment. Ever.
Just another day in Africa.