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.