The Love of Ghana
Little children sat obediently at their desks while sweat rolled down their backs and insects swarmed inside the small, one room schoolhouse. The heat was oppressive and staggering. I could feel the drip, drip, drip of sweat falling from my ponytail. I squirmed in my chair as I tried to pay attention to the teacher’s lesson. I was here as a volunteer, but felt like I was incapable of doing much more than providing mild amusement for the children. I felt superfluous in this strange, foreign environment but I was trying to give as much as I could. Tomorrow, I would teach my first lesson about where I came from and what the world beyond these walls could possibly offer these children.
But as I sat there, I wondered if I was really doing anyone any good besides myself. I was in Ghana to escape my own demons, and I had given little thought to what I wanted to accomplish here. Were all the volunteers here to appease some sense of obligation that they felt, or were they here running from their lives like I was? Maybe most were here just so they could say they were good people and when they stood at the Gates to Heaven they could brag about the help they had given little ones in Africa. Would angels be standing there tallying scores to see who had enough good deeds to pass through?
I closed my eyes and thought of home. My home wasn’t really home anymore. Not since my fiancé had moved his stuff out a few months before. I pictured him, with the tight smirk he wore on his face the day he left. I was never good enough in his eyes, and even here I could hear his voice in my head, taunting me with my failures. Where did I belong? I had a nice house, and all the luxuries that I could ever possibly need, but what did my heart need in order to survive?
I opened my eyes as the children began chanting “Chicka, chicka boom boom.” This was only my second day here but I had quickly learned that the children were obsessed with this saying that came from a book read to them by a previous volunteer. I felt even smaller. Other volunteers had engaged them, and been able to break through their shells. Would I be able to?
Some of the children gaped at me with open curiosity. My pale skin marked me as different, and they had enough experience with volunteers to know that we were mostly easy marks. The “obruni” as they called us were always willing to hug them and take pictures of them. The cameras that we wore around our necks were used to snap smiling pictures of the children and they would chant “Camera, camera!” when I went outside with them during play time.
As the teacher ended her lesson, and the few kids who had pencils and paper stopped writing, I stood and began to walk towards the other schoolhouse where the volunteers would gather to walk home. I immediately felt tugs on my shirt as the kids tried to get my attention. One little girl named Vanessa tugged hard on my shirt and said,”Madame Becca, madame Becca, hug, please?” I leaned down and obliged.
I began to straighten again, but looked into Vanessa’s eyes and small round face and felt a warmth begin to spread through me. Her hair was cut closely to her head like all of the other girls in the small village. Girls here were not allowed to grow their hair until they were at least 15 in order to dispel any thoughts of jealousy between them. Vanessa’s large brown eyes were luminous in her sweet face, and dimples in her cheeks deepened as she smiled up at me. The tug at my heart grew until I thought my heart would burst. The unconditional love that emanated from her was so apparent that I felt something blossom in me.
Her faith in a stranger, in someone with so many faults like me, made me feel whole again. I took her small hand in mine and felt my own smile begin to grow. Maybe the healing that I needed was here in these small children, and perhaps I could give them something of myself in return. Here, I thought, I had no one’s expectations to meet. These children simply wanted love and that I could easily give.