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 


  1. The Bibbeys and Adinkras are blessed to have you as a daughter.

  2. Hurting just reading your incredible uplifting and at the same time beautifully tragic story. You seem a lovely young woman with a lot of love and exuberance to share with the world. I'm sorry for your loss. Hollow words sometimes I confess. But I'm still sorry for your loss. I'm glad you spent quality time with the Bibbeys in Ghana. Thank you the Bibbey family for making Afia's experience a great one. I have been able to visit my host family in the US twice in 8 years, not as much as you did, but still magical to visit and see how life has moved on: my two host sisters have done incredibly well. Sister Alex finished Harvard Law School, sister Ashley finished her design course, worked for the State Department, got featured in DC design competition Finalists (you should have seen my extreme happiness when she appeared on TV, I was so proud). My host brother is now managing my host dad's office at his law firm and trying to go to law school himself. And he's got a smart beautiful little boy, oh my gosh, my host mom loves little Lee. Life goes on. It really does. Sarah Afia, I wanted to share with you my host family story to give you something uplifting as your story has affected me thus. Stay strong.
    BTW, I'm from Tamale, Ghana, spent a year in DC as a YES student.

    1. Thank you for your kind message Umar! It is a wonderful experience being part of a host family.