I mentioned the other day that we'd be attending a funeral on Saturday. We did--but it wasn't the funeral we had planned on attending.
We were scheduled to attend the funeral of a relative of Kofi Bempong, our tour guide. But a leisurely breakfast and some incredibly busy traffic made us late for our first appointment (service-learning), which in turn made it impossible to attend the funeral.
In the unbelievable-but-true department: there was a funeral taking place in the very same village where the service-learning was, and we were invited to attend. We walked past women cooking over open fires; villagers smiled and shook our hands. Narrow dirt alleys separated simple huts; curious residents smiled as we walked by.
We were asked to greet the mourners by shaking hands, and then we sat down. Several hundred people, many in traditional funeral garb, sat on plastic chairs under simple tents. Festive music blared; children of all ages sat nearby and some climbed on our laps.
Although we had missed the presentation of the deceased, we were privy to a celebration of his life. As honored guests, we were offered the luxury of bottled soda; five or six children watched intently as I sipped on a cool drink. A few minutes later, feeling incredibly guilty, we bought soda for all the children, and ice cream too.
Then the dancing started, and those who wanted to were invited to join in. Papa J bolted out of his chair and started shimmying on the sand. The dance floor cleared and the crowd cheered for the doctor of dance. Man, that guy can cut the rug.
Sometimes the best stuff happens off the calendar.
I'm going to log off in a minute....I've been here for two hours and our taxi awaits. The photog and I are here together while the rest of the group is spending the day at the beach. Tomorrow we head home--hard to believe--and I don't know if I'll have Internet access. I'll do my best, though!
R-MC students often participate in activities that connect them with the community. They give their time, expertise and energy to a wide range of organizations, and it's the ultimate win-win situation. The givers are happy to give; the receivers are genuinely grateful. Rinse and repeat.
But sometimes the line between giving and receiving blurs a bit, and that's when things really get interesting.
Yesterday we were welcomed with the collective open arms and hearts of the residents of a small village in West Africa. Our big bus did some major pothole-dodging on a labyrinth of dusty dirt roads before landing in the Doyumu village, a community tucked away from--well, from everything, it seemed.
We walked our tired, backpacked selves a short distance and saw village life unfold before us. Goats grazed, children played, and a group of 200 or so women sat on plastic chairs arranged in a circle around a simple wooden table. The majority of the women were in traditional African clothing: brilliantly-colored dresses and skirts, and most wore sandals. Some carried babies around their waists, the Ghanaian way: the tot is papoosed to the mother's back, facing her. From the front you see two tiny brown feet flanking a mother's waist, a sight that took me aback a couple of weeks ago. Now the equation makes perfect sense.
As we approached the group and took our seats, applause. No-words-needed applause, accompanied by lots of smiling and waving. We had come to present the women with gifts: second-hand T-shirts and school supplies for their children.
It seems like a million years ago that I left Ashland, my bags packed with what I hoped would be just the right clothing (ha) plus a bag of donated clothes, toiletries and school supplies to give away. My colleagues generously contributed shampoo, crayons and T-shirts, and I squished everything into a duffel bag the night before our departure, wondering where those miniature bottles of shampoo and slivers of soap would wind up. Half the time when I travel, I haul that stuff back from hotels, only to purge it from my bathroom cabinets during a maniacal clean-a-thon. Embarrassing but true.
Rev. Eric Annan leads the Sovereign Global Mission in West Africa; his organization works to provide street children and needy families with the most basic of basics. I met Rev. Annan in Virginia a few months ago when we both wound up at an African cultural performance in Richmond. The performance was a fund-raiser for SGM, and Professors Dunkel and Jefferson arranged for our group to have three days of service-learning with Rev. Annan's charges while in Ghana.
We introduced ourselves and Rev. Annan placed a huge shopping bag full of gifts on the table. He said to the women, "As you know, there are not enough shirts for everyone, so we give them out as first-come...." He stopped, and the women chimed in, "first-served." I wished I'd brought another bag of clothes with me.
The school supplies were placed on the table, and Rev. Annan explained to us that the remaining donated items would be distributed to other villages. Then he brought out a Frisbee that my colleague Billie had donated.
So of course, you know what followed. The Frisbee made its airborne way through the hot air, trailed by an exuberant group of wide-eyed children. The flock of kids chased R-MC students, laughing and watching the mysterious disc zip around. A little boy grabbed the Frisbee off the ground and tossed it--upside-down--through the air. It was a wonderful sight.