Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An ExtraOrdianry Bus Ride

Since returning home, I have been riding in air-conditioned cars with leather seats on smooth paved roads with cross walks and traffic lights but for some reason, my mind keeps wandering back to the roads of Ghana. Back to the last day, when I rode the school bus home with the students. Sometimes, I find that experiencing an ordinary event in a life very different from my own can have an extraordinary impact on me. 

It started out as an ordinary day at the children's center. I noticed some goats napping under the bus and later saw a child on the roof cleaning it. Both sights I don't think I'd see back home.

Part of the purpose of my trip was to interview Billa for the children's book I am writing about his life and the school he started "Under the Mango Tree". I plan to illustrate the book with my oil paintings. I am hoping the book sales will help raise funds for the center as well  as enlightening children to what life is like for children in other parts of the world. Hopefully, gaining an appreciation for all the benefits we have living here in the US. There is a huge difference in being an underprivileged child in the US and being underprivileged in other parts of the world where there are no free public schools, no soup kitchens, no homeless shelters and no free lunch programs at school.

After I interviewed Billa, I wanted to see the famous Mango Tree and take some reference photos so we decided to hop in the bus with the kids and ride to Labadi where many of the children lived and where Billa started it all. This was the simple ride I will never forget.

I climbed in the back with the kids. The front was already filled with the driver, two college age volunteers, and a few other local woman. Plus, being with the kids was the best part of the ride. I felt like I was one of them. I was experiencing an ordinary ride how from school just like they were.

 The kids sat there patiently waiting in sweltering heat until every last inch was full. Some stood, some sat on laps but no one complained. I can honestly say I have never been that hot or thirsty before. 

The last in was Billa and a man I didn't know who hung off the back. At the first junction he hopped off (I think he was just catching a ride) and then we closed the door tighter. 

I wasn't the only one who was hot. I noticed little beads of sweat on the kids faces too. I couldn't stop looking at the adorable little boy standing in front of me. He looked like a doll with those big beautiful brown eyes. The roof was rusty and the seats were worn down to the foam but without this bus the kids would have no opportunity at all to go to school

Periodically, as we went along, one of the adults would hit the roof of the van to indicate for the driver to stop. We bumped up and down on a deeply rutted dirt roads, past various types of homes and stores. I saw some assembled from scrap wood and discarded sheet metal, some colorfully painted shipping containers, vibrant purple and green one room structures raised off the ground on blocks resembling a backyard playhouse or a garden shed, as well as the the occasional large cement house behind a tall wall covered in razor wire. I wondered how it felt to live in those houses or behind that wall.

The bumpy ride didn't stop this little one on my row from taking a nap.

Eventually groups of kids got off on dirt roads crowded with more closely built structures fit like a puzzle of wood, concrete and metal. Together or alone the children avoided cars, goats, trash, chickens and open sewers ditches. 

At no point did the traffic stop for the children. At this point I told Billa and the other teacher about our large yellow school buses with flashing stop signs to stop traffic and crossing guards to help the children safely cross the street. The teacher said he had seen that in a movie once. 

There were no groups of parents waiting at the stop like I often see at home. It would seem bizare to mention now that where I live mothers often wait in their air conditioned cars to drive their children home from the bus stop at the end of their street.

Children in Ghana are very independent from a very early age. Even at recess they run off  and play throughout the village with no adult supervision and all come back to class promptly when the bell is wrong.

When the bus parked here in Labadi, the last group of kids got out, waved goodbye and wandered off to their homes. Each time I travel the world and experience someone's ordinary life I come back with fresh eyes on my own world. In some ways it is better and some ways it is not. Sometimes I look at a simple little thing like turning on a tap and getting clean water just the right temperature and am grateful. Sometimes I pause at the TV and shake my head in disbelief as a show talks about the newest plastic surgery to remove the wrinkles on the back of your elbow. Really? Really? Ridiculous! There are children sleeping on the floor with no fresh water to drink and people are spending good money looking for happiness in smooth elbows.  You won't find it there. To that I say, cover up your wrinkled elbows with a flowery top and come with me to Africa. I have never been happier or had a more clear perspective on what is important. 

Umbuntu, it's better than Botox!

I will save my tour of the mango tree, another profound adventure for another day.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I'm so Inspired to paint!

I have been so inspired to paint since I returned from Africa last week (and pretty jet lagged) that I have been up at the crack of dawn many mornings painting. Ken thought it was so funny to see me with "bed head" painting in my pajamas one morning that he took this picture. You can see my dog Leo on the couch, he has been glued to my side since I returned. I missed him too.
I am working on two paintings at the same time.  When I took the reference photo for the painting below (still in progress) I knew immediately it was worth the trip to Africa. The morning after I arrived I realized that I needed to buy phone credit for Alexandra's Ghanaian phone, which I use while in Africa. Normally the hotel has everything I need but they didn't have phone credit for the particular company we use. I had to venture out on the streets alone. I put on my "brave cap" and headed out. If my daughter could manage the streets alone for the 6 months she lived here I could go out and buy something by myself.  Next to the hotel is a fruit and vegetable market that has always caught my eye as painting inspiration. I saw this woman shucking corn with her baby on her back and asked her where I could buy some phone credits. After some miming and pointing to my phone, she pointed down the road. I thanked her in Twi and asked her if I could take a picture of  her baby. She smiled ( silly white lady) and went back to work. I was able to take a photo which captured the moment and more. Her smiling at my silly request, her hands busy with her work, her baby dozing on her back and all of the other venders and customers in the background.  I couldn't wait to start.

 I took a roll of canvas and tacked it to a large board. I started my market scene on the top and another I had been planning to paint from one of Alexandra's market pictures on the bottom.

As financially poor as Ghana may be, it is REAL, it is Beautiful, it is Colorful and it Inspires Me!
Inspires me to Paint and Inspires me to Help.
Adrienne Wyman Kralick

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Donations Delivered!

 Today I want to thank all of the generous people who gave donations to my special little friends in Ghana. I hope these pictures make you as happy as you have made these children.

 Sunshine has a new home!

Billa chose Mary to receive the bunny from Marin in America because Mary has been such a good student and had the highest scores on her exams of any of the students in her grade. Billa believes that if the other children see Mary receive an award for her hard work it will encourage them to do the same.

  On the left is Marin, in her neighborhood in the suburbs of Washington DC. She is wearing her lacrosse uniform and holding Sunshine, the bunny she plans to give to Mary in Ghana. On the right is Mary, in her neighborhood outside of Accra, the capitol of Ghana. Mary is wearing her new lacrosse uniform and holding Sunshine, both gifts from Marin. Both are beautiful, sweet girls who lead very different lives. Marin attends a wonderful public school near her home. Mary's family cannot afford the minimal fees (approximately $50 a year) for her to attend her local public school so she takes classes at Future Leaders Underprivileged Children's Center. The goal of the center is to teach her basic reading and math until funds can be raised to send her on to public school.

Twins Melina and Teddy of Great Falls, Virginia went shopping with their mother to buy clothes and toys for Christabelle and Felix also 4 years old twins who attend school at Future Leaders.

Christabelle and Felix were a bit confused when I gave them these gifts. It took them a few minutes for them to realize that they were not just holding these things for a picture but they were theirs to keep. They live in the poorest of conditions and there is no money to buy a luxuries such as a doll. You can tell by the look on her face how much she loves the little doll that Melina named Rainbow.

I turned around after taking this picture to see an audience of other children probably wondering why the twins were getting these special things. This was a good time to pull out the fruit snacks and everyone else was happy.

More gifts in grateful hands. Asana got a backpack and Juliana got some new shoes.

The children learning with  the Leapsters and Leappads. I was so impressed with how quickly they learned because they had never used anything like this before. They were mesmerized. This will make learning to read while also learning English so much easier and more fun.

I have included the following pictures to give perspective on how helpful these supplies will be for the children. Future Leaders was started by one man, Billa Mahmud, who grew up like these children in this same community. The school is funded only by private donations, students use very basic learning materials like chalk tablets and notebooks that have been used by many other students before them. I will keep collecting used lap tops and learning games so don't throw anything away.

Thank you!!

Friday, May 10, 2013

What I love about Going to Ghana

Looking over to see little friends like Gifftie and Abigail running over to give me a hug. 
Or looking down to see their smiling faces,
or arms outstretched just wanting to be held,
or hugged,

or to walk by my side
I love these children and I feel blessed that they love me too.

Just a quick post tonight because I am still having some problems with the way Blooger works in Dubai.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I am trying to work on my blog entries here in Dubai but all of the words are in Arabic including the "change language"feature." g

Monday, May 6, 2013

Madame is back!

What an eventful day I had today. I am back at the Golden Tulip sitting outside by the pool tonight, the band is playing and the pool lights have been rotating between turquoise, royal blue and kelly green. I think the royal blue is my favorite. It is a very romantic spot but since I am alone without my sweet heart I will recap my amazing day. Ahhh, a cool breeze just blew in, this is the best office, ever!

Sunshine and I began our day with a quick but delicious breakfast of fresh African fruits and juices. Fruit really is tasty here. Then we were off to the Future Leaders. My regular driver, Haruna no longer works here but it ends up that my new driver, Kwame, is his best friend! Haruna and I had made a lot of mistakes in the past finding the center so I thought I could talk Kwame through it. We turned left at the Kofi Anan center and started down the dirt road passing all sorts of shack houses made of various materials, looking for the broken down Land Rover, our land mark for the next turn. I could tell he was getting concerned so I second guessed myself and said " I think this is the left" which brought us to Future "Graduates" school not "Leaders". No wonder it looked familiar Haruna and I made the same mistake before. So back to the original dirt road until be did find the broken down Land Rover. It is still there! Kwame suggested I use the green building as a land mark because they can move a car but not a building but I pointed out that they could also paint the building, neither scenario is probable - road signs would be nice.

I actually got a picture of Sunshine with the left turn landmark.

Well we found the place and as soon as I got out of the car Asana recognized me. I was so happy to see that. Asana is a 14 year old orphan who lives there. She also works at the school sewing center. Last November my friend Lorraine went shopping just for her and bought her a whole pile of new clothes. I know it made both of them very happy. Lorraine is an expert shopper.

Immediately I was greeted with hugs, love and "Madame, Madame's". The girls were thrilled that I remembered their names. I was thrilled that they remembered me.

One of the teachers helped me unpack and organize the donations, remember I had to fill shoes with toothpaste and pencils.

Billa was so happy with the laptops and Leapsters. I was so happy that he was happy. These will really help because there just aren't enough teachers for all of the kids. Billa has 150 kids coming to the center with 60 more on the waiting list. As I drove around I can't tell you how many school age children I saw who cannot attend school.
I love break time because I can play with the kids. Each time I visit there is a different child who is glued to me. This time it is the little girl in yellow. I think her name is Giftie, I better check tomorrow.

The volunteers invited me to join them for a rice lunch at Auntie Lydia's. I never would have known that you could enter that shack and order a delicious bowl of rice with spicy sauce for 1 cedi = 50cents. I started to eat and saw all of these hungry faces looking at me so I gave them my bowl and order another one for them. I know that would be unheard of in America but when you are truly hungry you will finish someone else's rice with your hands and be really happy about it.

So this blog has gotten you caught up to about noon today, so much more to come. Later I will fill you in on how I almost got my driver arrested.

Tomorrow is my last day in Ghana before I fly to Dubai. I should have plenty of layovers to work on blogs. I should even have internet access and

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Grateful in Ghana

Tonight I am sitting in the beautiful poolside lounge of the Golden Tulip Hotel, my home away from home while in Ghana, the band has just started to play outside, I've got my computer charged, internet access and I am appreciating Normal, Expected, Everything Status Quo.  Normal is Good, Relative but Good. This may be my most uneventful trip to Ghana yet. I am, however, grateful for all of the missed connections, canceled flights, delayed planes, crying babies sitting next to me, customs officers demanding bribes and all of the other things that taught me to prepare for the worst and be grateful when it doesn't happen.. None of these things have happened on this trip and I am so grateful for that.  Nothing special has happened but nothing has gone terribly wrong either. I am grateful for it and grateful for the adversities that have made me appreciate it.  
On this trip I decided to journal the journey of "Sunshine", the bunny that my neighbor Marin, 8 years old, decided to send to a little girl in Ghana named Mary also 8 years old.
 This is Sunshine with Marin at her home outside of Washington, DC. Tomorrow, I plan to take pictures of Mary with Sunshine in her home outside of the capitol of Ghana.

 This is Sunshine in the Dulles International Airport sitting on my carry on bag. (which later got Gate Checked for being "too fat for carry on", really?) The huge bags on the cart are the donations. I am so grateful to Lufthansa for letting me take the third bag for free. If not, the nice lady you see in the background, on the phone, a judge from Nigeria, offered to pay the $200 bag fee. There are kind people everywhere who love what I am doing.
Anticipating all sort of unanticipated problems, Sunshine and I arrived early with plenty of time to buy a new book and have a leisurely lunch at Chipotle before boarding our first flight, which left on time, unbelievable.
The 8 hours to Frankfurt went by quickly, Sunshine took a nap while I caught up on a few movies and started my new book.

With 9 hours to kill before our next flight, we had breakfast at our favorite spot in the Frankfurt airport.........found our gate with 7 hours to spare.....went for a walk walked and even had time to paint and write.


Another non eventful, "Normal", 6 1/2 hour flight to Accra; we napped, watched movies and Viola, we were in Ghana. Walking down the steps of the plane I was immediately warmed up, sauna style, from the chill I had felt in the Frankfurt airport, my sweater was under the plane in my "non-carry on".
Once we arrived I was prepared for anything: I had rolled up small bills of Ghanaian Cedi in my pocket for quick access for tips and/or bribes, I had Billa's number on speed dial with my Ghanaian phone charged and had learn a few necessary words of Twi, Dabi Dabi = No, No. None of this was needed, except one tip to a nice porter who took all of my bags out the door to Billa who was there waiting for me! Life is good, very, very good and "Normal'.

Billa and his friends even posed with Sunshine.
 The airport parking lot is not paved and Billa and the guys had to keep lifting the cart over each concrete divider while trying not to spill the bags.
We filled the back of the Trotro(African term for that type of van) with the bags and I hopped in the front with Billa and the driver. The drive to the hotel was actually pretty short, nothing broke down, the van's lights worked, no traffic jam, just "Normal". Again, I am grateful for Normal.

Sunshine and I checked in and they had our reservations and the room was ready, can you believe that, "Normal".
After I put Sunshine to bed, she had a long trip (about 27 hours in total) I went downstairs to practice my Twi by ordering a night cap of my favorite South African wine. All is good with my world tonight. I will see my kids at the children's center tomorrow. 
 Normal is relative but Normal is Good tonight.