My intrepid band of small girls let me in on a little known secret. Right around the corner was a sports center full of delights for children. They told me they even have basketball. I was too shocked and excited to put my obroni thinking cap on and consider that it might be too good to be true.
Wednesday, after the girls decided that my kitchen needed to be scrubbed, we arranged to go play basketball the next day. I woke up extremely excited for basketball. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a sports person. I love watching American football, hockey, and eating hot dogs at a baseball game, but I wasn’t the sporty type in school. In fact, the only real game I ever did play was basketball. In grade school. I was center because I was gigantic for my age. Honestly, I should have stuck with it. I needed to learn that everyone has a role to play on a team, just because you don’t get the glory, doesn’t mean you don’t have an important part. Yeah, SHOULD have learned that. Only child syndrome I guess. Anyway. I only played basketball.
Thursday was a chilly morning. The sun never came out. The wind was blustery and the fog sat heavy on the morning. Around 9am I spotted the girls lollygagging at the house across the way. I waved and made dribbling motions with my hands. It was like throwing blood into the water, there was an immediate frenzy of action as the girls quickly finished their chores. I put on exercise clothes and we headed out. We walked together down the dirt road to the main street. I looked to my side and the three girls were chatting excitedly. They were laughing at each other and frankly giddy. As I smiled at them, I was reminded of just where I was. Hannah was wearing a pair of flats from the market. They were clearly 3 sizes too small and she couldn’t walk in them. She brought them to play basketball in. It was the first time I’d seen her in shoes.
We crossed the street and turned down a side street. We walked past massive houses with real lawns. Then we passed a sign pointing to the Techiman Municipal Library. I’d seen the sign on the street for ages, but never really thought much of it. Come on, this is Ghana! I’ve seen what happens to libraries. Someone comes in and builds one with every good intention, but after they leave some big man swoops in and shuts it down in a power play. (When will these people learn that when you are 6ft under, it doesn’t matter how much power you had. You still won’t have the power to rise from the grave.) So, when we passed by the library, I noticed it was a fairly large building. Interesting. We continued walking past it, down the paved road. We get to the end and turn into the youth center. To the left is a run down soccer field with poles for posts. There is junk lying all over the lawn. It looks dilapidated even for Ghanaian standards. I talk to the woman in charge and she says they are undergoing renovations. I ask if they will have soccer balls, basketballs, etc. when they finish. No. What will you have then for the youth? She’s not sure.
It was too good to be true. It was another disappointment in a long string of hopefulness. So I called down to my heart and told the drawbridge to pull back up again. Time to bolster the defenses. After a while, you become so jaded by the lack of well, everything – service, agencies, resources, initiative, politeness. I think it truly hinders your ability to trust anyone. I was much more open, friendly, and frankly nice when I still had that shred of hope. Now that I’ve been tossed around in the wash for almost two years, I’ve become jaded. So I build up defenses so I won’t have to be disappointed again. (This isn’t just me either, I’ve seen many volunteers experience the same thing.) But I admit I was shocked when one of the girls asked me if instead we could go to the library.
You want to go where? The library? Ummm, yeah sure! So we walked back in the same direction and came upon the Techiman Library. I was ready for disappointment. I was prepared for it to be closed and derelict. We turned the corner and the first thing I saw was a front desk with someone sitting behind it. As we stepped into the library I saw shelves. Actual shelves with books on them. Then I noticed the people. Adults and children sitting, reading, studying. My jaw dropped and I was dumbfounded. The guy running the place came up to me and explained the resources the library has. I walked the girls over to the kids section and he helped gauge their reading level and gave them books to read. I admit though, my defenses were still up, and I wasn’t incredibly friendly to the guy. I didn’t know exactly who he was until later. I thought surely he wanted something from me. I figured he would be rude to the girls. I sat down with the girls and helped them sound out some of the words on the page. The man, Frimpong, came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. Here it comes, the plea for help or money. Instead he led me to a nearby room full of brand new working computers. He told me I’m welcome to bring the girls sometime and show them things on the internet, teach them how to use Microsoft Word or Excel, whatever I wanted to do. I could have hugged the guy at that point. I suddenly felt my icy interior melt away and a little flower of hope started to bloom once again in my heart. I rejoined with the girls and grabbed a book on the arctic to show them.
We sat huddled together as I flipped through pages of penguins, polar bears, and whales. Their English isn’t the best, so I spoke slowly and made them repeat the word ‘walrus’ many times (mainly for my own amusement). I explained how the different animals live out in the cold. I don’t think they ever knew that there were things in the ocean larger than a tilapia. As we finished the book, I saw their eyes light up and suddenly their chairs were flying back. They raced to the bookshelves and grabbed local story books. They asked me to read to them. So I settled in and began reading to them about the Danso family from Namase. After we finished that book, it was another three. I had the girls trade off reading pages and they helped each other with the difficult words. They didn’t want to stop. They wanted to read and read and read. I could hear their tummies rumbling though, so I knew it was time to call it a quits, but just for today. As we got up to leave, they looked at me with puppy dog eyes and asked when could we come back again.
As we walked home, they chatted excitedly about the stories. The girls let me in on a few neighborhood secrets and we laughed the whole way home. We returned home, but I still wanted to play some sort of sport with the girls. They went running around searching for a ball. After ten minutes, there was so such luck. I knew though that there was one good way to get these girls moving – music.
Back in May, I taught the girls how to do Gangnam Style. They loved it. So I put it on and cranked the music up. The girls immediately remembered the song and started doing the dance. As we flailed around wildly, the neighbors started to notice. (If I stand outside my house, everyone within 1000ft can see me.) The neighborhood kids started running over and dancing too. The adults were laughing and dancing in their own homes. Instantly, I created a block party at noon on a Thursday. I switched the song to Azonto and watched the kids pull out their best moves. I taught them the macarena and some line dance steps. I then busted out my best MC Hammer and U Can’t Touch This wiggled across my lawn. As the kids were teaching me some more azonto moves, Uncle Sam, the Program Assistant with Peace Corps pulls up in the official car. Here I am sweating and dancing, Uncle Sam couldn’t get enough of it. He was laughing so hard. The kids were too, I may not be the best dancer, my arms might be too long and lanky to be elegant, but damnit if I’m going to look ridiculous I’m going to make the best of it. Have you ever chased kids doing Gangnam Style off a small cliff? Well I have and it is incredibly funny. (Don’t worry no children were harmed!)
Exhausted, I told the girls to go eat lunch and I slinked back into my room. I smiled at how much fun I had that morning, reading to the girls and dancing. Is this really my job? Am I allowed to have this much fun? I only have a short time left. I need to soak up these moments, because I will never have a job like this again.
And I smile because I know these moments will stay with me forever.