November 2, 2012
It is 530 in the morning and I am awake already. I opened my eyes as soon as the slightest hint of sunlight peeped through the clouds. My eyes fell on what I have always seen first for the past 31 days: the slats supporting the mattress of the bunk bed above me, hazy through the mosquito net that surrounds me.
I know it but I can’t believe it: today is my last day in Ghana. I am so sad that I wish I had one more day, one more week, one more month —even though I know that one more than what I have, would not make it less difficult to let go. In another part of the world today, there are also people who await my return. But for us here, today was yesterday’s tomorrow, last week’s next week—the day we felt was too distant but like a seasoned thief has crept in to steal a day.
(As I write, P and D also wake up. D throws me this sad face, I throw it back and say no. P also throws me a sad face, says I wish you could have stayed longer, I throw it back and say I know. And I start crying. P squats down, wipes my tears and says we will never have someone like you again. I can continue to cry, but we have a full day ahead so I wipe my tears, try my darn best to be strong. L and U are still asleep and I don’t want to greet them with tears and puffy eyes. And this is just the beginning.)
Yesterday I was overwhelmed with generosity, the magnitude of which I felt underserving to receive. I went back to Ga-South Hospital to thank G and everyone whom I worked with, to say goodbye and thank you. After G and I had a picture together, we both went to A.M.’s office where she gave me her parting gift. I thought she was going to give me fabric as she had alluded to last week, but instead she gave me a white envelope. I thought it was a clothing pattern from which I can have a dress copied. I opened the envelope and found instead, money. I closed the envelope in disbelief, looked at her and said I can’t take this! She laughed and said I’m not bribing you, and it’s for the fabric you want to buy. Awww! She and I hugged each other tightly, thanking each other. I want to hug you tight but I don’t want to crush you, she said. I swallowed tears that were beginning to swell up.
I then went to the administrator, A.Mg, who is one of my favorite persons in the hospital, next to G. I tied up some loose ends with the HIV unit we are planning to build, thanked her for having me in their hospital. Before I left she and I exchanged the Ghanaian handshake, which consists of a firm grasp, an unhurried letting go and a flick of the middle fingers. With this I knew that we have come a long way from the day I first met her when we had the usual Western handshake. When you exchange a handshake with someone the Ghanaian way, it means I like you, we are friends. Before I left her room I said, I have been practicing to say this— nyame nhsia wo (God bless you).
G walked me to Mallam junction to board a trotro to Accra Mall where I was going to meet Tita N. G and I had one more hug and again I said, I have been practicing to say this— nyame nhsia wo. But to her I added, me fe wo papa (I will miss you very much).
I arrived at the Accra Mall much faster than I expected, having passed a different route this time (Madina-Lapaz route). Tita N called as I was crossing the street and said that she was wearing green. I didn’t think she needed to say it, because come on—there can’t be more than five Asians in one place, at the same time in a mall in Ghana. The instant I met her I knew that she was one of those. One of those kindred, fun-loving spirits with whom I just click instantaneously. We hugged, as if we have known each other for a long time. We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant in the mall, where we talked about her traipses around the world (Saudi, UK, Grenada, Malaysia, Philippines, Ghana), how she met her husband (a Ghanaian surgeon, retired now), her children’s impressive achievements, how she’s worried about them being too busy and single. She couldn’t wrap her head around how I can ride a trotro, because in her 12 years here she has not been in one. Isn’t it hot, she asked. If the traffic is at a standstill, yes.
She was so fun to be with, always giggling, always smiling. Even the taxi drivers would lighten up and go along with her jokes. After going to the craft market for last minute souvenir shopping, we went to their house in the Airport Residential Area, an area in Accra with buildings of modern architecture, gated and manned by security guards. Where homeowners talk about how difficult it is to find a trustworthy and hardworking housegirls, houseboys and guards. I just fired our boy, he was lazy! I got a new one, the son of a pastor who was able to tell me what Psalm 23 was. And on drivers: I didn’t hire this man—he was rather old, in his mid 50s; he had beads in his hand which you know what it means: he is chief. And you don’t want to have a chief driving you, you know that.
I met her husband and their two friends, both Ghanaians. The male friend was also a doctor, a neurologist who has made a home in Long Island, NY, Aburi and Accra. All of them had that same fun-loving spirit that just feels so light to be around with. Though I wanted to stay longer, I left at a quarter of 5 in the afternoon so I would be in Kasoa by sunset. Tita N walked me to the end of their street and saw me board a trotro. From that street I had two more transfers before I was finally on the trotro to Kasoa. It was during this transfer of trotrosthat I again received undeserved generosity. Unbeknownst to me, the first ride didn’t end at Nima where I thought I could take a trotro to Kasoa. Instead it dropped all of us at a market. A lady offered to go with me to Nima so she can show me how to get to Kasoa. When I handed a coin to the conductor, he refused it. The lady already gave him 40p to pay for herself and me. I looked at the lady behind me, my benefactor. She touched my shoulder and said please, it’s for the two of us. I was dumb-founded, surprised with her unexpected kindness. She didn’t have to, yet she did. It reminded me of the Bible story where the Lord says, the poor though they give less, actually give more (or something like that). I felt so very humbled with this selfless act. Her kindness did not end there however; upon reaching Nima she went down with me and brought me to the right trotro. There was only one space left, and she gave it to me. Whether she also needed to go to Kasoa or not I would never know. I thanked her, and asked that the Lord bless her heart.
This was when I again grasp that when we give, we get so much more in return. I thought of the time I paid for the fare of the boy who accompanied us to Kasoa from Ada Foah. When I did it I had no expectation of a reward, and yet— see how much more I received in just one day. Last night upon reaching home, I opened the envelope that G gave me. It was more than enough for a fabric. So now I had a dilemma: do I buy fabric as G intended, or do I donate the money to P’s church that is soliciting funds for construction? Inasmuch as I want to give things forward, I also don’t want to leave Ghana without a reminder of G’s generosity.
So today I can say: last night was my last trotro ride. And it was a long one too. Traffic everywhere. I was getting impatient, and I had to remind myself over and over again to change my perspective and just enjoy the moment. I still found it amusing that before the toll booth where tens of hawkers abound, is a sign that says:
Back to Sender
Tilapia for sale
I have passed by this sign at least ten times and I still can’t understand what ‘back to sender’ means.
Switching my mindset worked at times, but when the heat inside the trotro irrefutably transformed into beads of sweat, the frustration came again in a wave. I must have cursed in at least three different languages, a hundred times in a span of two and a half hours. Upon reaching the Kasoa signage, I decided that I have had enough. I went down and walked for about a mile and a half, meandering my way into the strolling night crowd.
The old market at the junction, though still bursting with energy had a subdued tone to it now it was dark. One step here, one step there, a twist of the body here another twist there. With each step I take there was always something being sold.
One step to the left: toothpastes (layers of them)
One step to the right: rechargeable lights
One step to the left: black shoes, bright shoes
One step to the right: loaves of bread (only 2 cedis)
One step to the left: dried fish
One step to the right: CDs, DVDs (I always see Dingdong Dantes)
One step to the left: phone credits
One step to the right: roasted plantains
One step to the left: cellphone chargers
One step to the right: lotions shampoos soaps
One step to the left: keychains posters balloons
It was almost a rhythmical dance, made complete with scattered music and pungent smell, the inevitable human interaction: a bump on the side as we simultaneously twist, sweat on sweat, skin to skin.
I walked until I was too tired, and at that point luck fell down on me and a trotro unloaded one passenger, which made space for me. As I was boarding though the driver sped on almost knocking me off. I and the other passengers cried, EYYY! If Ludo was around, this would have been the perfect time for him to say, action movie.
Upon mentioning Kasoa to Tita N, her face distorts with mixed disbelief, mild repulsion and vicarious fright. We only pass by Kasoa on the way to Cape Coast, and…oh my god. How is it there?
Well, it has been home. It is where I have lived with 7 other people (Laura, Una, Portia, Doris, Josephine, Franklin and Wisdom) in the last 30 days, sharing the same food, under the same conditions of intermittent power and water, exchanging life stories, dancing and laughing, drinking, merrymaking under the bright moon and inside the candle-lit home.
I recall the first night I was here and how disgruntled I was at the dim light, the mattress, the toilet, the shower. Everything just dissatisfied me. And yet as the days went by my eyes have grown accustomed to the light (although I did change them eventually), my back has started to like the foamy mattress. And the toilet and shower? Luxuries compared to others.
And with this I grasp that our ability to adapt and accept things as they are and live within them can be a two-edged sword. While it can certainly help us thrive in a new environment, it can also blind us and desensitize us. Numb us even. The HIV/AIDS patients and staff at Ga-South come to mind. They have been, for the past years now, making do with what little they have: a table, a chair, a hall, a room sometimes. But is this how they should remain? The enemy of good is better. And the challenge, I think, is for us to be able to oscillate readily between these two vital capacities so that we can accept things with peace without being too anesthetized to some realities that need to be transformed.
This trip is what you make of it. A previous volunteer inscribed this on the wall at the back of our house. I saw it on my first week and has been the one gentle reminder that has stayed with me throughout my stay here.
I think, I hope, that I spawned love. Love for the work that I do, love for people, love for discovery, love for the kind of travel that transforms you inside and out. I hope I did, because that is what I certainly received. That is what I will bring home with me.
Shortly after P sees me cry this morning, she sends me a text message:
Hi love, you are amazing! You are so much fun to be around! You are so fun and adorable you were like a big sister to me but I can’t believe that you are leaving, I’m so sad, Portia.
When I woke up this morning and saw for the first time the sun rise from beyond, a song emanates from me. It is the song that the Ateneo College Glee Club used to always sing when we leave a place and move on to the next.
Morning comes and I must go; day is breaking yonder
After all the places I have been, now I’m going home.
I have been to seek the sky, to travel on the highway
And the time has come, I don’t know why
I am going home.
Where is the answer to so many questions
I don’t know, so I begin another journey
Where is the meaning for my world
I see the answer now.
Though we came by different roads, now we walk together
Stay beside me all our days, strangers never more.
Through the cool of summer rains; by the heart-side fire
Here I’ll be with you when nothing remains
I am home to stay.
Love is the answer to so many questions
Now I know, and I can stop my endless wand’ring
Love gives the meaning to my world
I see the answer now.
Love is the Answer. . . Love!
(by Raymond Hannisian)
Love is the answer. It gives the meaning to my world.
|The sunrise this morning