Sunday, September 4, 2016

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La Vida Tica

The title of this blog site is "". I made the blog for my year in Ghana, but I made the title vague so that I could continue blogging throughout college.

Well...that worked and it didn't. I've had so many experiences at CSU, Sky Ranch, and travelling the US over the past few years. But I didn't think to write about those things. I only wrote about Ghana, using the same somber tone Ghana evokes in me. Joyful, sometimes, but a somber joy indeed.

This blog is for Ghana. Ghana is life, whether I'm home or abroad.

But here's the deal folks...I am not in Ghana.

I'm in Costa Rica. And the tone of this blog doesn't fit this place. Here there are yoga studios and chicken restaurants called "Pollolandia". I am learning so much Spanish...but not only deep things like: "vale la pena."

I've learned the words for beet (remolacha), Lutheran (luterana) and tornado (tornado). Life here is fun and silly and full of relaxation and laughter.

And I think it might just cure me. Sometimes, it's good to look your grief in the face.

But I think it's equally good, sometimes, to focus on the fun and the friendship and the beauty. As you elevate these things, pain begins to fade. A little.

Thank you, Sky Ranch, for showing me that. Playing with campers, hiking through the mountains, and I felt so alive.

I am going to stop looking at Costa Rica in light of my experiences in Ghana. I will always have Ghana, and I'm not sure I'll always have this place. Of course Ghana will come's me we're talking about, after all...

But I am here. And it's time to fully be here. To laugh and play and fall in love with something, somewhere, or someone.

"Sarah," I am telling myself, "lighten up."

Since I've been here, I've met my host family, been to two parades, had an awesome hamburger with the best homemade fries ever, and realized the wisdom of the quote above my bed.

One of the best ways to stay happy is to stop going to the things that make you feel sad. (Quote hanging above my bed)

Parade with Oxen Carts

Peli's (I watched them cook my food over the counter)

Parade of Saints

La Familia Mendez

Pura vida! (Pure life, Costa Rica's tag phrase).

Chau, amiges! I'm starting a new blog. That's way more fun and so less heavy. I'll post the address when I've made it.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Vale la Pena


A veces, voy a escribir un blog en español  y traducirlo en inglés.  Bueno, esta historia empieza con mi amiga de Ghana. Ella pasa un tiempo duro en su vida ahora. No recuerde que la hora es diferente entre Ghana y Colorado (y Costa Rica también, pero ella no sabe que estoy aquí). Entonces, ella me llamó durante la noche, cuando estuve durmiendo. Dijo una historia que me molesta mucho, pero no voy a recontarlo.

Me molestaba y me molestaba. Después de clases, no pude hablar con mis compañeros porque estuve triste y nerviosa. Después de la muerte de Kofi, noticias de Ghana me da nervios con frecuencia.  Las noticias de mi amiga me molestaban, y empezaba a llorar.

Empiece una conversación con mi amigo DL. Bueno, DL me ayuda. Pero a veces, nuestras experiencias pueden ser tan similares que nos dolemos.  Entonces, tuvimos una conversación como fuego…quema mis problemas. Pero ya suelo las quemaduras.

Con todos mis problemas...mi mamá Tica, Noris, dio cuenta que estuve llorando. Y se dije todo…en más detalles en que normalmente habla de Ghana, Sakina, Kofi, DL y todo. Y ella tiene mucha sabiduría para compartir conmigo. Me dijo que cosa horribles existan en la vida, pero hacemos lo que podemos. Y a veces, amigos no se entienden, pero siguen estar amigos. Y que si algo está pesado en su corazón, es necesario que lo siga.

Finalmente, ella me recordó de la frase “vale la pena.” Significa “it’s worth it”. Pero sonido como “it’s worth the pain.”

Aprendiendo esta frase me hice recordar la placer que gano de aprehender las lenguas.  Con todos mis aplicaciones de becas y razones lógicos para estudiar español, me olvidé mi amor de este idioma. Es una cosa ver la frase “vale la pena” en un papel de vocabulario. Es otro completamente aprehender como la frase explica mi vida…con mis amigos de Ghana, y toda la pena he tenido en los meses pasados.

Mis amigos, o, mi vida valen la pena.  Siempre valdrán la pena.


Sometimes, I will write a blog in Spanish, and then translate it into English. So this story starts with my friend from Ghana. She’s going through a difficult time in her life right now. She doesn’t remember that the time is different in Ghana and Colorado (and in Costa Rica, too, but she doesn’t know I’m here). Because of this, she called me last night while I was sleeping. She told me a story that bothered me a lot. I won’t retell it here, it’s hers to tell.

It bothered me and bothered me. After classes, I couldn’t talk with my fellow international students because I was sad and anxious. After Kofi’s death, news from Ghana frequently makes me nervous. My friends’ news shook me up, and I started to cry.

I started a conversation with my friend DL. I mean, DL helps me. But sometimes our experiences can be so similar that we hurt each other. Today, we had a conversation like fire…it burned my problems away. And I still feel those burns.

In the middle of all my problems, my Tica (Costa Rican) mama noticed I was crying. And I told her everything…in more detail that I usually talk about Sakina, Ghana, Kofi, DL and everyone. She had a lot of wisdom to share with me. She told me how, in spite of the horrible things in the world, we do what we can. And how sometimes, we can disagree and still be friends. And if something weighs on your heart, it is absolutely necessary to follow it.

Finally, Noris reminded me of the phrase “vale la pena.” It means “it’s worth it” but it sounds like “it’s worth the pain.”

Learning this phrase reminded me how much pleasure I get from learning languages. Somehow, with all the scholarship applications, all my logical reasons for studying Spanish, I forgot my deep love for this language. It’s one thing to see the phrase “vale la pena” on a vocabulary sheet. It’s a completely different thing to learn how the phrase explains my life…with my friends in Ghana and all the pain I’ve endured throughout the past few months.

My friends, or my life, "vale la pena". They will always be worth the pain.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Once Again

I received the notification that I have been placed with a host family in San Ramon, Costa Rica. I am overwhelmed by so many emotions. I’m excited because, well, I get to form new relationships with people so alike and so different from me. I can’t wait to learn from my host family.

However…I am also full of memories of my Ghanaian host family. Around this time four years ago, I learned that I would be placed with John and Agnes Adinkra in Kumasi. I knew they had three sons, Derek, Seth, and Caleb. I didn’t know my brothers’ ages, or understand the reality that Ghanaian households are full of additional relatives, so I got a few sisters in the mix.

Wow. Four years ago, John and Aggie were strangers to me. Now the Adinkra family is a part of me. I am defined by them in the way I am defined by my own parents and brothers.

Me, Maa Aggie, and Daddy, Christmas 2012
They took such good care of me! I was so young then. So unsure of myself and the world. And they knew things about me I didn’t even have to tell them. When Maa Aggie came to visit me in Colorado, she nodded knowingly upon finding out that I was an RA. “You’re always taking care of other people,” she said. “Half of your year in Ghana was spent taking care of the other exchange students.”

Maa Aggie and Me at Poudre Canyon in Colorado, May 2015
That was the same year I took what I now consider “my best trip to Ghana.” My second time back after my exchange year, I knew who I was and what I was doing there. Kofi didn’t let go of me all summer. I didn’t even realize how much joy my simple presence brought him, until then. He wanted to be a part of everything…my friendships, Enliven Mama Africa, and my silly activities.
Now that the shock is fading, I can look at things a bit better from his perspective. To me, he was one part in my story of Ghana. A big part…an essential part…but just one part. I was everything he’d ever know about Colorado. I was the most interesting thing that had happened to him in the past three years.

Kofi Painting the Enliven Logo, July 2015

Since my last post, I’ve gone to see my host family in Atlanta. That was a wild experience. It was fun. I got to meet my brother Derek and niece Abby for the first time, and we visited a lot of interesting places in downtown Atlanta.

Kwame and Me at the Georgia Aquarium, May 2016
Me, Abby, and Maa Aggie in Atlanta, May 2016

And it was also challenging. Because now I know…

The details. Which don’t belong here.

Oh, Kofi. In January, I was seriously considering dropping out of my college study abroad. Because I didn’t think I could risk getting so close to someone in such unexpected ways…not if I could lose them.

But no. I will do it again. I want to. I deeply want to. I think about the Adinkras every single day.
Sometimes I believe that my relationship with them is a fluke, something that cannot happen again.
But I think that’s wrong. I am capable of creating awesome relationships wherever I go.

Mendez family, here I come! Baggage and all… 

Monday, February 8, 2016

It Goes On

Sarah, Kofi, and Uncle at Bridget's Wedding (2015)
When exchange students leave our host families, life does not stop for them. It is tempting to think that it does, that when you come to visit, everything will be just as you left it during your incredible year. A relationship is not a book. When you read a book, you interact with the characters for a while, then the book ends. The characters don't live beyond the two covers, and that's kind of beautiful. Harry Potter will never have to grow old and die.

For some reason, exchange students think of our host families that way. We picture them as they were during our story.

But that is not reality. If you scroll down, and read my old posts, you will see Ghana through my "magic glasses." The sheer wonder that a teachers' daughter from small-town Colorado made it all the way to Ghana colored what I saw, what I perceived. I wanted to make a story. I assure you, though, I have not told you the whole story.

I wrote about my brother, Kofi, on here, a bit. I even wrote about those scary first days with the family, when he was so sick. (I didn't express the depth of my concern and fear. I was afraid to.)

In September, 2012 I wrote: "We were lucky. Kofi will be all right. He’ll come home from the hospital soon. (UPDATE: he came home Friday, September 20. He has to have some scans done, but he’s recovering well.) But, I wonder, how many Ghanaians weren’t so blessed? How many taxis didn’t get there on time, caught in that infamous Ghanaian traffic?...In a decade or so, I believe Ghana will have the infrastructure to support emergency  services. But how many lives will be lost in that decade?" (see my post 9-1-1).

There is a trace of my fear there. And, as I discovered a month ago, my fear wasn't unfounded. Kofi is gone now. He was twenty-four, and he was my brother.

Daddy, Kofi, and Maa Cook Banku (2014)

I am lucky. Most exchange students are not able to visit their host families within a year. I have visited mine twice within two. I am so glad I did. My goofy Kofi memories are abundant. And I got to watch him grow up. At least a little. (He may have been twenty-four, but he was an overgrown kid, trust me. The number of times he got us lost in Kumasi...I can't even!)

I know I've said I go back to work on Enliven Mama Africa. It's true, but only part of the story. If I didn't have this family, the Adinkras, I would not be back half as often. Maa Aggie has even been to the United States.

Everyday, I wonder how it happened that I was put in a family like my own. A family that revolves around a quirky twenty something boy. A family willing to give everything to strangers.

I told my biological brother Tyler, "The reason I would have brought you to Ghana is gone." I wish my boys could have met. I wish Kofi could have seen snow. I wish...

It's useless to wish these things. I remember, and I laugh. Kofi was strange, artistic, and offbeat. He made me laugh all the time. (He also made me pull my hair sometimes, like when we'd watch movies and he'd talk over them).

Joe, Kofi, and Sarah at the Milo Games (2012)
I know I am not the only one who has seen something like this happen in my host family. Life goes on after your exchange year. Not always for the better.

The name Afia (my Ghanaian name, it's the female "Kofi") means more to me than it ever has. I am grateful that it is a part of me.

Maybe on the other side of this tragedy, I'll be able to explain why I love and am loved by this family. For now, I will keep moving forward, and keep looking back. The layers of love and brother/sisterhood between Kofi and I are beautiful.

I wish I could sum up what I'm trying to say, but I just can't. Loving Kofi hurts, and I'm so glad I had the opportunity to love him.

To other exchange alumni out there: stick with your host families when it gets tough. It's worth it. I know it is.

Thanks for reading,

Sarah Afia Bibbey 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Important People I Would Not Know Without YES, Day 9: Sakina


It is not easy to go to school in a new culture. Any exchange student could tell you that what we do is not possible without support from our peers.

When I showed up in KSTS, I was intimidated by the new place. I didn’t show it, but oh, I felt it. I didn’t understand anything, not where to buy food, not where to go to the bathroom, not how to behave in class. On top of that, everyone was staring at me. I don’t blame them—I would have stared at me, too. Still, it drained my energy.

Sakina sat beside me on the first day of school. She approached me with boldness and compassion. Sakina thought of my every need. At break, she marched me down to the canteen and bought me kenkey. I would have been satisfied with her showing me how to buy kenkey, but before I could say anything, she’d paid. I asked her where the toilet was, and she dropped everything she was doing and walked me over there. I tried to ask the class how to take a taxi to “Owhimasi,” (a mother of a word for an American to pronounce) but no one understood what place I meant. Except Sakina. She figured it out and took me to the station I needed.

I followed Sakina around like a puppy at school, watching what she did. I must have seemed like such a baby at first. I couldn’t eat with my hand properly, and I’d get food all over my face. Sakina would wipe it with a washcloth.

Only a few weeks in to school, I asked her to come home and meet my host family. She agreed, and made fast friends with my brother Kofi and my sister Martha. Kofi and I went to her house the following weekend. Her family was so kind. They had me laughing. Sakina and I would talk on the phone after school almost every day. It’s common for friends in Ghana to spend so much time on the phone.

In November, I took a trip to the Northern Region of Ghana, and so I missed school for a few days. When I came back, Sakina threw her arms around me, held me tight, let go, jumped and shouted for joy. I remember feeling at a loss. What had I done to convince Sakina to love me that way?

As the year went on, I learned the answer. I did nothing to convince her. Sakina took one look at me on the first day of school and decided she was going to love me.

If you were to zoom out from the Earth and look down at all the people, you would not find two young women more different than Sakina and I. I am tall and pale (even for a white person); Sakina is short and dark (even for a black person). I speak one language, Sakina speaks at least three. I am a Christian, Sakina is a Muslim. I am well-off; Sakina’s family has seen hard times.

But if you looked inside us, if you put our hearts under microscopes, I wonder if you wouldn’t find two people more similar. Our differences are not trivial. It has not always been easy to navigate them. However, Sakina and I both go out of our way to help others. The way she welcomed me and incorporated me into our class was awesome. In high school, I always reached out to the outcasts, trying to find what made them special.

Sakina told me recently that she admires my work with Enliven Mama Africa. When I remember the way she made everyone in our class feel valued (especially me, the outsider of all outsiders), I admire the way she gives people her all.

Sakina, continue blessing people with your determination to love.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Important People I Would Not Know Without YES, Day 8: The Adinkras

This post deserves an entire series. My host family is the best host family in Ghana. (This is not my bias speaking; they won the AFS award for “Best Host Family.” The American president of AFS came to meet them).

Maa Aggie and Me
The first day I arrived in Kumasi, sick and jet-lagged, my host mom gave me a hug and said: “Sarah my daughter.” She didn’t wait to get to know me, she just decided to love me however I was. My host dad gave me a tour of the house that first night. They showered me with love, filled me with food, and did everything in their power to help me adjust to living in Ghana.

I don’t know how to say thank you, because saying it once won’t do it. My host mom, Aggie, and my host dad, John made me feel safe amid the confusion of a new lifestyle. Martha and Bridget gave me the experience of having sisters for the first time. The youngest son, Kofi, showed interesting similarities to my brothers at home. Kwame, the middle son, has hosted me in Accra several times.

Kwame and Me
Joe (a school friend), Kofi, and Me
The relationship I share with each member of my host family is unique and precious in its own way. The Adinkra parents are so giving. My host dad and I shared many conversations during my exchange year, and we still talk on the phone often. He can make me smile whenever. Daddy is the best breakfast chef in Kumasi, no doubt about it. My host mom is one of the kindest people I have ever met. She cooked so many meals for me. She cared for me when I was sick.
When I arrived in Ghana, my host brother, Kofi, was ill and had to be taken to the hospital. I remember being afraid that my family would have to give me up because of it. However, they called their cousin, Martha, and she spent hours with me, laughing and listening to music. Martha spent time with me before I had started school and before I had the confidence to go out on my own. The Adinkra family was tough and kept me through all kinds of times.
Bridget, Me, and Martha

Kofi and spent countless hours walking through Boko and greeting friends. Kofi has similar quirks to my brother Tyler, and that was interesting to see. Bridget and I shared a good many laughs. Kwame impressed me with his hospitality even when he lived on his own. He also introduced me to the Big Bang Theory. (I love Sheldon!)

My parents came to meet the Adinkras at the end of my exchange year. It blew me away to see both my moms laughing and both my dads talking. That was a picture of unity.

Dad (John Adinkra and Jeff Bibbey)
I am immeasurably lucky. Not only was I placed with the “best host family in Ghana,” I was placed with a family that fit me like a glove. Because of Enliven Mama Africa, I have seen most of my host family again. I returned to Ghana in 2014 and stayed with Maa Aggie, Daddy, and Kofi. Kwame picked me up at the airport. It was a beautiful homecoming. I had been afraid it would never come. To think, I only had to wait a year…

And I only had to wait two years for something even bigger to happen. Just last week, I welcomed my Ghanaian mother into my own home. She's been in Georgia for a few months, and was able to make it out to Colorado. Maa Aggie is an American lady now, just as I am a Ghanaian lady. I am so honored to be the daughter of Agnes Adinkra, a woman who goes out of her way to be a mother. We had such a wonderful time exploring Colorado. Maa met my brothers for the first time. She was teasing Tyler and dancing with Griff. In such moments, I am aware of the heart of what it is to be an exchange student.

I did not gain a second family from the YES Program. My own family just got bigger.

Maa Aggie, Me, and Mom IN THE USA!!!
PS: Please look for a blog post all about Maa's visit...after I finish the series.