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.