Monday, November 19, 2012

Be Careful What You Pray For (Eternity in a Day)

Maybe you’ve had those mornings. You wake up early and you wake up wired. You could have an amazing revelation that carries you to the clouds…or a demonic thought that eats at you all day long.
On September 24, I woke up at 4:30 am. I had some really awful thought, and ended up praying hard for a sign that God was with me.  It was a matter of some celestial importance...but I was also really nervous for my first day of Ghanaian school.

I could here my family milling around getting ready for the day. I went ahead and dressed in a nice black skirt, and flats with no socks. I wanted to make a good impression, even if I had no uniform.
I also pictured God laughing at me, saying signs were for little girls, and didn’t I know he was here.  But when I came to the living room, my host parents and brother had their hands clasped and ready to pray.  My host father is a minister, and I’ve had some incredible experiences with faith already. I joined in, as I usually do when I find them in prayer. Daddy prayed for Kofi to be healed, and for me to have a good day at school.

By 6:00, we were at the Boko station, and by 6:30, we were at my school, KSTS. I spoke to one of the girls wandering around, and discovered that class began at 7:30, and the headmistress would be in around 8:00.

I decided to wait quietly for Prince (my host brother, as well as one of the heads of AFS in Kumasi). I sat on a chair outside the office, watching the students.

But after a few minutes of this, I got restless.  The adventurous Sarah said: “Come on, you’ll be going to school with those kids soon. Go talk to them.”  The practical Sarah said: “Relax, you’ve got all year. Besides, they’re all speaking Twi, and you can’t tell one word from another.”

Well, as is often the case with me, neither one won out. I walked near the students, looking, not talking. I’d already gotten a few strange glances, being white and all. Now people were staring curiously at me.
The girl I talked to earlier (I really like her, but her name is difficult, and I can’t remember it) came up to me and said: “You look like you’re feeling lonely. Would you like to take a walk around the school?”
I agreed and followed her. We’d only been walking a little while when the speakers blasted a little jingle. “It’s assembly time,” my friend said. Curious to see just what that might be, I followed her.  Everyone began singing a hymn, but I knew neither the tune nor the words. That didn’t bother me. I was worshipping with a glad spirit.

Then, however, the students began to line up. This did bother me a little, because I didn’t understand the organization of it. Everyone had prim school uniforms on. Not only did I not know how to line up, but I was white and ununiformed.

Then a man with a stick came to be sure the lines were straight. He didn’t even lift the stick, but when I saw it, I bolted. (YES friends, I think Allen Evans and capital punishment were in the back of my mind). 
The problem with this was I was in the front of the crowd. As I ran away, everyone turned to stare at me. Humiliated, I saw that I’d interrupted a highly organized function.
The man with the stick walked towards me and hissed for my attention. (Hissing is a polite way to get people’s attention in Ghana, but it still feels very rude to me, and reminds me of villains in melodramas). I went to him, nervous and embarrassed. He asked what I was doing at the school, and I told him. He asked me what grade I was in…I told him I didn’t know. He looked at me like I was a little crazy and told me to continue to wait for Prince.

Oh, if only I’d listened to the practical Sarah I wouldn’t have showed them how ignorant I really am.  I basked in my stupidity for a while. Then I had a conversation with a strange man who wanted me to set him up with a white girl.

Finally, Prince arrived (circa 9:30 am), accompanied, to my delight, by Nans, the French boy who will be in my school.

Nans and I spent some time catching up while Prince and Nans’ host father talked to the headmistress. When they’d finished, I asked when we could go to class.

“Not today,” Prince said. I burst out laughing with both relief and disappointment.

In a few minutes, I was in the car with Nans and his host dad. We would drive around town for a few hours, and when Prince was finished with Lydia’s school, he would find me a tro-tro home.

Those few hours turned into many, many hours. They were joyful hours, as no one can keep a straight face around Nans. By the time Prince had finished with Lydia, it was 3:00. We tried to meet, but both of us were stuck in traffic. We finally did meet around 4:30. Prince took me to the bus station, but we found the line for the Boko tro was endless. He did some negotiations and got me on a run down tro-tro that would hopefully get there before dark. Everyone on it was shouting, and I was squeezed between two big, sweating ladies.
The ancient machine broke down not even a mile from the station. The driver started it again, and it puttered along.

It began to rain, and the traffic only got worse. The bus turned down a small street, and the thing died again. I knew it wouldn’t start this time. It was pouring and getting dark. I had no idea where I was.

God, I prayed, See to it that I get to Boko alive, please.
I called my host dad, and through all the noise, he said something about finding a taxi.
I sat in the tro long after most everyone had left. A girl in a school uniform came and sat beside me. “I’m Mariam. Don’t be scared,” she said. 

It’s alarming how wrong first impressions can be. I assumed she was young, and trying to offer comfort, but she would prove no real help.

When we left the tro, she led me to help find a taxi. I was lost, terrified, and didn’t want to go far. I was about to walk back and refuse her help when…

I tripped, and my left leg fell in gutter. (A note to everyone at home: African gutters are waist deep, and contain the things sewer pipes do in America. It’s a miracle I didn’t break a bone.) Mariam pulled me up, swift as can be. That’s when I changed, realizing how helpless I truly was. To refuse her help would not be impolite. It would be downright stupid. 

If I hadn’t tripped, I don’t know what would have happened.  I decided to follow her. A girl ran out of a nearby house, and told Mariam she would get a rag for my muddy left leg and bleeding right. She led us to her porch, which was crowded with family members. They all fussed over me, saying: “Sorry, obruni. Oh, sorry, sorry.” 

They gave me a rag, and some bagged water to wash. I’ll never know who they were, but I will never forget the help they gave to me when I was such a needy stranger.

We found a taxi, and I called my host dad to talk to the driver. (When I said “host dad” Mariam thought I said “husband”. She seriously thought I was married for a moment!)
The ride home was pleasant; Mariam rode with me because she lives near Boko. She, the driver, and I chatted like old friends.

All day, I’d been a little worried about what my host family would think. Was I too late coming home? Should I have been clearer about my plan? And Ma and Kofi were supposed to go to Accra for medical testing. Had I missed them? Had I messed up their plan?

At Boko station, Daddy hopped in the taxi. “What a good experience for you, Sarah,” he said, not in the least worried.

When we pulled up to the house, the family greeted me with such zeal; you would have thought I was the prodigal son. Or better yet, Moses, rescued from the water by a girl called Mariam. (I know that's not especially accurate, but it was irresistible!)

“Oh, I missed you today!” exclaimed Marta, who spent many long hours with me while Ma was visiting Kofi in the hospital.

Ma and Kofi loaded into the taxi with overnight things, sitting next to Miriam. So, by arriving by taxi, I’d actually helped their plan to go to Accra. They thanked her warmly, and invited her to visit anytime. “Bye, Sarah,” Ma called.

“I’ll miss you!” shouted Kofi. This was especially poignant, as Kofi and I had not spent much time together.  We were still essentially strangers. And yet brother and sister.
I think this day was packed with signs and small miracles, but I’ll let you identify them on your own.
I stayed up until 11:00 recording everything in my journal. Some days do last forever!

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