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.
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.