Sunday, May 31, 2015

Important People I Would Not Know Without YES, Day 7: Nans Riffart

I mentioned, before, that a few blogposts will leave me at a loss for words. Nans Riffart, the last “obruni” (white and non-Ghanaian) person I will write about definitely captures that. By nature, Nans is one of the most caring, affectionate people I have ever known. In Kumasi, he was my best friend, and I look forward to the day we will meet again.

The first time I met Nans, I was jet-lagged and my adrenaline was crashing fast. We were in the AFS bus at the Ghanaian airport, and I had ask his name about ten times before I decided it must be something like “Naunce.” I do not speak any French, and I am honored to have a friend who was willing to speak my language to get to know me. As I spent some time with him over the next few days, I was touched by his open nature.

Nans and I were placed at the same school. I don’t think either of us could have realized the impact this would have on both of us. We weren’t in the same class (we wanted to make Ghanaian friends, after all), but we were able to meet during breaks to process our experiences with Ghanaian culture.  As time went on, we talked about many pieces of life, physical and spiritual. We shared countless laughs and I had the privilege of teaching him English words.

Before Ghana, I was a private person. Not in the sense of introversion—I am an extrovert and always will be. In high school, I kept secrets from my closest friends. I wanted no one to see my weak points or my fears. I created myself instead of just living as I was. Maybe that’s why I had so few close friends in those days.

It was Nans who changed that for me. He learned things about me I was afraid to admit to myself. Because of that, I found myself telling him things I hadn’t told people before. Perhaps, according to the laws of social interaction in America, we weren’t supposed to talk about such things. But Nans and I were not governed by rules.

He memorized my facial expressions. (I recall him saying once: “Sarah, you’re wearing the expression you do when you want me to think you’re happy, but you’re not. What’s going on?”) He was verbally affectionate in a way none of my American friends had been since we were kids.

We traveled around Ghana together, Nans and I. I especially remember our trip to the monkey sanctuary in the Brong-Ahafo region. We got stuck in a city called Techiman during a pouring rainstorm and made the best of it. Then we went out to the sanctuary, where we spent two days scrambling around the forest, reading Biblical poetry, and practicing meditation. Seeing wild monkeys up close for the first time was extraordinary. In that place, I felt close to the Earth and to God.

Nans gave me a gift from that place, which I will treasure forever. We were young, and strived to keep each other happy that year in Ghana. I won’t pretend we always succeeded. We had our misjudgments and our failures to support each other. But we tried so hard, coming from a place of love.

Nans Fabrice Riffart, Kwame Agyeman, lover of nature and humankind, you showed me how to be a friend. Whenever I find myself missing you, I remember that you want me to be happy where I am.

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