First there is Akous. Akous lives in my compound; she is a few years older than me. She is very thin and a few inches shorter than me. She recently got braids, extremely long, thick, redish braids. She looks beautiful. She graduated college, but is now looking for a job. Everyday she cooks brunch and dinner for her family, they don’t eat lunch. She washes the family’s clothes every few days. She can wash 30 items in well under 30 minutes; she is a master launderer. Akous speaks English, but she doesn’t always understand me – but she pretends she does. I do the same in Twi. Akous looks after me like a sister. She brings me food a couple times a week. She took care of me when my legs were lobster red. Yesterday, Akous came to my door and demanded I get dressed. She was taking me to the park. As much as I wanted to stay in bed all day, I couldn’t say no to Akous. So we went with Bene to the park to watch the marching competition for Independence Day. The weather was hot so it actually did remind me of our Independence Day. We stood under a tent and watched the school children march together past a crowd of spectators. The finished their marches in front of a local chief (but not Wenchi’s). The chief was in full regalia today, including a golden headpiece, a spiky gold bracelet, and a gold cane topper. He sat under his own personal tent as the children marched in time to a local band. All the local schools in the Wenchi district participated in the competition. Prizes were awarded for the top students in certain subjects across the district. Then prizes were given out for the best marchers. A private school on the way from Wenchi to Techiman won top honors and proceeded to march around the grounds again chanting their school motto. During the competition, I stood next to Akous, asking her questions and experiencing a new tradition. It felt right. It felt like standing next to my sister. It felt like a family gathering. It felt like Independence Day.
Then there is Bene. Benedicte is her full name. Bene is 3 years old, speaks some English, and is cute as a button. Bene is the niece of Akous, but lives with our family. I have never asked for the full story, because I am sure it has some element of heartbreak. Some questions are better left unasked. Bene is like an only child. Her “brothers” are 11 and 18, so they are grown and don’t need as much attention as she does. Bene craves attention. She can burst into tears instantly for no reason at all. She can wail until someone finally calls her name and tells her to hush. She loves to watch Akous, Jackie, or me wash clothes. Sometimes she tries to participate, mainly by sticking her hands in the water. That’s when I splash her. Bene and I have a secret handshake; first it is a high five (often an air-five and even in the air it misses), followed by a fist bump, next is an air kiss, then the icing on the cake – a butt wiggle. Two days ago, Bene was wearing a High School Musical t-shirt, it was perfect for her. Bene loves to touch my painted toe nails. When I come home and I have been gone for a while, she will run up and hug my legs. I am her Auntie Jackie. We took her to the Independence Day celebration yesterday. Most children either stand in the crowd, unable to see anything, or are attached to their mom’s hip or back. I picked Bene up (she eats a lot of fufu, by the way) and hoisted her on my shoulders. She thought it was the greatest thing ever. She played with my hair, tried to choke me a few times, and rested her little chin on my head. Groups of kids would come up and stare at us, they looked so envious and just a little flabbergasted – what was this obinini doing sitting on top of the obroni? Why did this little girl get special treatment? She’s my Bene, that’s why.
Next is Patrick. Patrick is the father living in my compound. He is quiet and soft-spoken. Patrick is short and thin. He is the chief of Bui. Bui is a town about 80km from here. They are constructing a dam in Bui that will supply energy to Ghana and probably the Ivory Coast. Patrick is very knowledgeable. Patrick and I sit down for discussions sometimes, often we talk about the weather. Sometimes we discuss cashews and cashew farmers. I tell him about the new things I have learned and he listens. He isn’t a cashew farmer, but he cares about Ghana and our region. He wants the farmers to succeed. He asks me questions about America, about Oklahoma, and about my parents. We never discuss politics or religion. His family is going to take me to Bui soon, they want to show me their hometown. They want to show me the hippos.
Finally we have Ralph. Ralph is my best friend, my brother, and my Wenchi social ambassador. Ralph knows everyone. How is that possible in a town this big? Ralph is the only computer repair guy for miles and miles. You have to go to Techiman to find someone like Ralph. No one is like Ralph. Ralph just recently went back to school. He wants to be a math teacher. Sometimes I question him – Ralph do you really know math? Ralph gets my sarcastic sense of humor. On days he is back in town from lectures, we go get lunch. Ralph eats fried rice and fufu. I eat plain rice and bankou. Ralph and I will go around town, I often just tag along for his errands. His errands always involve giving back laptops, picking up parts, or going to chat with people. He introduces me to his friends. His friends are cool people. Ralph and I go to Berlin often, the local 20something hot spot in town. We grab a few drinks, sometimes I dance, Ralph laughs, and I make fun of Ralph. Berlin lets me pick the music. I get to sit behind the bar and watch all the patrons filter in and out. They tend to charge more on nights I am there. But not for me. Ralph and I will often share a bag of street meat. We shoot the breeze and gossip. Thanks to Ralph, the 20something males in town treat me with respect, almost like a sister. I never get hassled by them. Ralph is the big brother I always wanted.