The Question of Strawberry Lemonade Cake

I have been asked before how it is that I can find such enjoyment in life while living in a country that constantly visually reminds me of the reality of human plight. Although I live in a pleasant neighborhood, I can still exit my door and walk for about five minutes and see any number of sad situations. But I believe that finding happiness is something we should all always strive towards.

It reminds me of a day this past summer when I decided to try my hand at a recipe for strawberry lemonade cupcakes. I did not have a cupcake sheet, however, so I turned it into strawberry lemonade cake. I don’t remember what the exact crises was that day, but I remember feeling a flash of guilt for waking up with strawberry lemonade cake on my mind, while so many others were facing a tragedy. How could I enjoy such frivolity when others fought for their life. And, of course, it wasn’t the first time. There’s always someone somewhere suffering while I share a smile with family and friends.

We have to enjoy life. And if joy is not so obvious, we must seek it out. We have to live within our current sixty seconds, and only until those sixty seconds are gone can we move on to the next. My friend Allie told me she was learning to do just that with her work with UNESCO Iraq, because, as she put it in such factual light, she could be blown up at any point during her work. In my book of lists to live by for simple living there is a passage that reads:

JUST FOR TODAY: I will be unafraid. Especially, I will not be afraid to be happy, to enjoy what is beautiful, to love, and to believe that those I love, love me.

Those who face tragedy are remembering to be unafraid. They too are striving to find their dandelions in winter, and holding on to those things around them that still stand for love and for beauty and for happiness.

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Delia, An American Girl Doll ©

Joining Felicity, Samantha, and all of your American Girl Doll favorites is Delia! Delia is an American girl, who is living in Africa. Delia is an optimistic and friendly girl. Follow her adventures with all of her new friends! Delia comes complete with a mosquito netting, a flashlight, six pairs of shoes, and many other great accessories!

 In Ghana, I sometimes feel like a life-size, American doll. I can sometimes close my eyes and envision people placing me where they want me, putting the accessories on me that they want, and telling me to smile, while they do the talking. I know some of this is for my own safety, so I don’t get cheated when I go to buy things or robbed by rogue taxis (always take the taxis that have the “No Weapons” signs), but most is because there is this image of a young, well-educated American girl as made of porcelain—rich and fragile. The questions all start the same, like when Kwesi, Ekua’s fiancé, asked me why a young, Harvard graduate would leave her comfort zone to come all the way to the Africa? Their thought: maybe she just doesn’t know. And it is a source of great frustration when one is trying hard every day to be taken seriously despite their age, foreign status, and gender.

I can probably best illustrate my point by this story: My old neighbor Akua came into town two Saturdays ago. On the Friday before, she called me to confirm her visit. I told her I would first do my laundry (read: scrub away with a bucket and soap and “tough” palms my clothes by hand) and then head over to Adenta. She told me to please wait and let her do it for me. I was shocked. I told her that there was no way I was going to let her travel from her village to Accra, just to do my laundry! And then she kept asking me why, as if I was keeping something from her. I just did not know what to say. So I told her that I would not bring my laundry in a tro-tro, and that seemed to finally help my cause.

What those who view me as an American girl doll do not realize, is that a true American girl doll would not have what it takes to thrive here. She would not stand the hours of work outside of normal work hours it takes to create truly great programs. She would not return to settings where she got malaria and a typhoid-esque illness. She would run far away from the numerous sanitation issues and the lack of running water. And she most certainly would not enter a beat up, old van with 20+ other people as her main source of transportation.

Oftentimes when someone does not know me well, such as George and his family or Emma and his family, they just assume I could not possibly know how to do—or want to do—the things that they have to do here. So I instead look for the openings when I can tell them that I want to learn, that I can learn, and all I need is a patient person to show me. It takes willingness on my part, but it also takes some belief and patience on theirs. It is a story that will unfold together. Just the way a world that becomes more and more intertwined should.

The Good, the Bad, and the “That’s So Delia” of Life

Tuesday night, I had my camera and my phone (Ghana phone though, not iPhone) stolen at the concert I went to. This seems like the start to a familiar story, that I know all too well.

However, I should go back a bit and explain the concert. Ghana was scheduled to have a  widely popular concert, probably the biggest of the year, on Tuesday called 020 that the phone company Vodofone was sponsoring. The lead act was Trey Songz (!!!), the host was Amber Rose, and there were a ton of other popular Ghanaian acts such as Five5, R2Bees, , D. Cryme, and more. Plus it featured a really popular Nigerian artists, D’Banj, who came in second only to Trey Songz in terms of the effect on women in the audience. So, when I saw the commercials for it, and a girl from Harvard I was supposed to meet up with for the first time asked me if I wanted to go, I jumped at the chance. There’s no way I’d get tickets so cheap to be so close to popular artists. Then Renee decided she would go as well. However, Renee did not get her tickets in advance and so the day of, we had to go all the way to the mall (there is one big mall in Ghana that also host the one big movie theater) to see about getting a ticket for her and another for her friend Joan. That’s where our adventure began.

When we got to the mall, the Vodafone workers said they were sold out but a man had just bought the last tickets and were now selling them. However, this man was selling them for 20 cedis more than the original price. Renee only had 100 cedis on her, but we needed 140 cedis to purchase two from him. I started in telling him that his supply and demand was off because people would not buy the higher price from him, go elsewhere, and even if they found out the original price was nowhere to be found, they still would not come back to the mall for him—and then he would not have sold any tickets. When that line of logic did not work, we started long conversations with the Vodafone people, trying anyway to get the tickets for 50 cedis apiece. Mette, the girl I was meeting had arrived at this point and did offer monetary assistance, but it was the principle of the matter that Renee and I were trying to fight. At some point, a group of young gentlemen were trying to buy tickets from the man too. One of them made a comment about buying a ticket for us. Of course my ears picked up on that, and I put on my most winning American smile and charm and went over to them. After a few rounds of seeing if they were serious, I decided to just ask for 40 cedis, which was the extra amount we needed for the tickets. They made a huddle about it and one of them, named Dee, decided we needed a trade. I asked him what he wanted, and he said “I want the white one.” After realizing he was talking about Mette, I decided to strike the deal: for 40 cedis, you can talk to her. He repeated, “For 40 cedis I take the white one.” I told him that he could not physically take her anywhere, but would be free to approach her and try his luck. Now, I had just met Mette, but I went over and proposed the plan to her and like a good sport she laughed. And to our surprise, Dee handed me 40 cedis (not a small gesture for complete strangers) and then took all our phone numbers down. Renee could not believe that I could actually get them to agree to that. And the best part was that they never called or texted us. Maybe there are some nice guys left in this town after all? From that point we haggled taxi prices, got lost in Kaneshie, and got a ride to the concert venue from a guy in love with Renee’s friend. We didn’t have VIP tickets, but once the concert started, we pushed our way to the second row, which was only about 10 feet from the stage. We got to touch Trey Songz and some of the other artists, and Renee caught the shirt from one of the guys from VIP.

It was a great concert, filled with great music and friends. Unfortunately it did not end well, since during the confusion and madness of Trey Songz throwing his shirt into the audience, my phone and camera were stolen out of my closed purse. I cried about my camera, because of the thought of all those hundreds of memories lost because they had not been uploaded. Photos of weddings, godsons, the concert, my life here, some pictures of life from home, and more. I at first thought that maybe I was being punished for something, but then I realized I could not think like that. Man let’s us down. There are good people, but there are many bad people as well. I just happened to be the victim of one of the bad ones Tuesday night.

However, it makes me feel a bit like life is out of control when I don’t have that type of memory filter to hold me down. I couldn’t, however, help feeling a bit lost like when my passport was gone, and I could not understand why people take other people’s precious memories. There is so much of ourselves that we put inside those “memory keepers.” It’s almost as if life is happening all around me, and I have no way of slowing it down or capturing the beauty of an instant of it for safe keepings. Without a way to have images to jog my memory into the joy of the moment a photograph holds, my time here will feel fleeting. There are some forms of technology it’s too hard to live without, and for me, I think a camera is one of them. I’m putting it high on my list of things to buy as soon as possible.

 

D. Cryme

 

D'Banj

 

Five5

 

Amber Rose
Trey Songz

Of Dinner Parties, Godchildren, and the Rising Temperature

This past weekend, I spent half my time in Atomic Down and the other half in Adenta. On Friday, I had invited my friend Justin Grinstead, who also lived in Currier House at Harvard, to dinner at the house. I was so proud of myself for being able to give him directions based on the amount of times I had been in the vehicle with George on the journey home. It’s a bit complicated and involves roundabouts and roads that are kind of roads, maybe once upon a time were roads and are now trying to be roads again. When I put up photos, that sentence will make sense. I did not know this at the time, but Justin is working with a man named Andrew, who also went to Harvard. He was a tutor in Lowell House and graduated from the Kennedy School not so long ago. So George, being the ever gracious host, invited Andrew to stay for dinner too, since Andrew had driven Justin the hour it took them to get there in the crazy Ghanaian traffic of a Friday evening. Mrs. Baiden had set a lovely dinner table, complete with beautiful dishware and chairs. The menu was jollof rice, fried chicken, salad, and broccoli (the Baidens love their vegetables). It was a really great time and everyone was there, including Ekua’s fiancé. There were so many good laughs that I would not even know where to begin to retell the story. I think sometimes the best memories are those that clump together into a ball of happiness in which we cannot untangle the mass bundle of joy. I do remember George being the life of the party and telling many stories of his extensive travels (George has been to close to 60 countries!). He was joking that they were making me eat tons of food because every Ghanaian woman had some layer of “chubby” on her and that she also required a “license plate.” At that, everyone could not stop laughing to hear George refer to a woman’s behind as a “license plate.” I told him I would dutifully eat and work on getting my international driver’s license. I think perhaps Justin and Andrew were a bit overwhelmed with the family setting since they live the bachelor life in Ghana, but overwhelmed in a good way. They certainly were liked, and everyone hopes they come back in the future. George wants us to make them palm soup and surprise them by dropping it off where they stay.

On Saturday my old neighbor and dear friend Akua came back to Adenta for a visit. She was pregnant when I left Ghana last time, and had told me she would name me the baby’s godmother. I was surprised when I saw her and she told me that she also gave the baby my last name as part of his name. The baby is now two months shy of his 2nd birthday and is named Kwame. He has another name, because Kwame is just his day of the week Ghanaian name, but that’s what everyone calls him. And he is quite the troublemaker. At one point, he was upset that I told him not to do something and he actually slapped me. I wasn’t even angry. I started laughing and did not stop for a long time, because I had never in my life been straight slapped by such a young person. He’s got quite the spirit. The arrangement is such that I made Akua the promise that when I am settled into a lifestyle (read: not moving around so much) that I would request for Kwame to come live with me and go to school. Essentially I would become his legal guardian. I think that’s why Akua is practicing him to call me Ma Delia and teaching him English on top of his Twi. It’s a big promise, but Akua did so much for me when I was here last time, and Kwame would have more opportunities in America. It was really great to meet him, and they plan on coming back many times while I am here.

Sunday was another day in Adenta, but this time at Emma’s house, as my Sundays have now been promised to. I’m unsure, however, if my wardrobe can survive this arrangement. Emma’s mother feeds me approximately every three hours, which is just too many times for my stomach. I can feel it expanding when I leave their house. But she’s just too nice to say ‘no’ to. No counseling sessions by his dad this time, though, since he was away at a funeral. I even had to force myself to stay awake the whole time I was there, because Emma’s friends Leo and Kwame came over for lunch and to hang out with us. Now that I’ve mastered the art of getting back via tro-tro from Adenta to Atomic Down, I can spend longer amounts of time on my visits. I’m definitely getting the hang of these routes!

As the temperature continues to rise in Ghana, I am promised that there will be one last heavy rainfalls before the dreaded dust storms brought in all the way from the Sahara set in. I find a lot of dust gets in my eyes now, so I’m really dreading how much dust I will be inhaling and crying out of my eyes when the dry season is upon me. I’m just glad in the heat wave that today’s weather is foretelling sets in, I am working from home since everyone else is traveling to monitor children we placed in homes throughout Ghana. I finally had that breakthrough at work and am working in earnest on brainstorming lesson plans for the program and writing them up, as well as making all the supplementary documents for them. Needless to say, it will be a gloriously busy week!

The Little Things

Every day I am…

Learning to live without running water

 Getting used to using bottled water for everything

 Sleeping more and more with ease under my mosquito netting (even without my fan on!)

 Eating new foods—some strange—but liking them

 Finding ways to reach out at my job

 Figuring out more tro-tro routes and the tro-tro culture

 Living, Loving, Learning…

Mrs. Baiden was right when she said, “The human brain is like a computer, it responds to what is put inside. You will learn.”

It’s the little things of the day that make me smile, knowing that I am beginning to mold into this life. I’ve been hanging out a lot more with the family, especially Ekua and Renee. And I’ve been learning how to help prepare a few dishes. I’ve been helping Renee with her college applications, and we have a long list of American colleges to apply to and have already completed one essay! She wants to study fashion design, and since she is American (just going to high school in Ghana because of some unfortunate life circumstances), she is excited to hopefully return for college.

Yesterday, Ekua and I were the only ones home for a long time, and she shouted to me from her room that she wanted to show me something. And she ran into the living room in a gorgeous wedding dress. It was an eggshell mermaid style dress with beautiful beading. After we gushed about how well the seamstress had done (she had it made in China and brought back from a friend who was there), she told me that I was the first to see her in the dress and very likely the only one who would see her in it until her wedding day. I was so overjoyed that she would share this special moment of joy with me that I cannot truly put it into words how accepted into the Baiden family I felt in that moment.

 

NOTE: I am so sorry for the lack of photos. I still do not have a camera chord, but hopefully this hitch will be fixed in the near future thanks to my mom and my dear friend Sara Willis.

“Stop Watching Novelas and Do Something”

I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. 

– Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

 

None other than my younger brother Jordan gave to me the above little piece of advice: “Stop watching novelas and do something.” He told me this out of his possible alarm at finding out that while I was talking to him I was currently eating popcorn and watching English dubbed Spanish soap operas…in Ghana. In my defense it was mainly those few days I was not home…and the days we come home for lunch or early…or Sunday…Apparently in Ghana, Spanish soap operas are a huge hit, and they are, quite frankly, a bit addictive. As I talked to Jordan and told him what I had been up to though, he seemed to think it was lazy. What’s interesting about what he said, though, is that it reflects sometimes how I feel when thrown into the workplace of a developing country, and especially a nonprofit in a developing country.

In the classroom of life, one of the most important lessons is Resizing Lofty Dreams 101. I like to start big—like REAL BIG when I have an idea. There’s nothing beyond my reach in my mind, though in reality there are many things that are beyond my reach (for the moment) for various reasons. So then I resize. I won’t say downgrade, because I do not change the essence of what it is that I want to do, but rather, I take a new look at it and fit it into a capacity that is more suitable for the environment and resources at hand. But that’s not the real resizing that you have to do when dealing with nonprofits in the developing world. That resizing has to do with your project or idea in general. There are so many hoops to jump through, to put it one way.

There’s no beating around the bush that getting things done in Ghana—and I will generalize out into the majority of developing African countries—takes patience, and lots of it. Things take a long time to get done. In fact, they take a long time to even be addressed. There are a variety of reasons for this. I could talk about how oftentimes you have to “know someone” to get anything done. I could talk about how party politics are at an all time stalemate in these countries in which the constant changing of all jobs government related every time someone new takes over leads to games of chicken that only have one loser: the citizens. (I know this sounds similar to America, but it’s worse here. At least our politicians would sign a deal to get roads fixed, whereas, that’s not so true here.) Or I can even talk about a culture here that is laid back to the point that sometimes at work everyone lounges about doing their personal stuff during work hours. That’s just not how I operate. But again—patience. I won’t get much done by yelling at anyone to make the most of our work hours.

There’s another important quality other than patience that one must find within themselves, and that is endurance. I remember during the service on Sunday the pastor talked about how the bigger your dream is, the more you are sometimes tested to find out your dedication and worth to complete the dream. Delay does not mean denial. Just because I have not gotten a rapid start to building my project the way I would have liked (but ultimately always knew would not happen because of the system) does not mean that it will not happen. It will happen. The one great thing about George, and something I learned from him last time, is that he would always tell me that if there is something I want to do, I need to do two things. One, I need to make it a feasible goal for the time I have. And two, I need to just do it. Sounds a lot like my advice to stop watching novelas and do something. Because doing something is always better than nothing.

I had an acquaintance, however, who told me that he thought what I was doing in Ghana just wasn’t enough. And there’s always a debate about what is not enough versus what is too much in development work. But what I could not shake from that conversation is the fact that he told me that he believed that the impact was too low. The impact was too low. I’m not sure what to make of that type of viewpoint, besides disagreeing with it. What type of impact is too low? Perhaps you can have an impact that is not the right type of impact, but the word “impact” still indicates that someone or some thing has been changed by what you have done or will do. At the risk of sounding too optimistic and too idealistic (both things that I’m always at risk of sounding or feeling), I must say that change has to begin somewhere. I’m thinking of calling my program APEG (The AMPCAN Program for Empowering Girls) and having the sort of tagline of the program be, “Place a peg in the right place, and watch as minds grow and change.” Nothing is too small, especially when placed in the right area, to grow and cover a wide area.

So I will smile and recall my tranquil lessons from Psalms and my simple living book for patience, and I will diligently work on writing the lesson plan manual to my program for endurance. And because of the two, I know that this will happen. I will make it happen. Then again, TIA—this is Africa. I won’t be in the midst of an easy story, and I’m going to have to keep paddling, too far from the shore and not yet at my destination. Even when I can’t see the destination, though, I can always envision it. Because even though TIA, I know as well, that TID—this is Delia.

Sundays at Emma’s

On Sunday I had promised Emma that I would attend church with him. My body felt extra worn down when he told me I had to meet him at 7:30 in morning at Atomic Junction, which would require me to board a tro-tro at about 7:10 to get there on time, which required me to get up even earlier than that to shower (well, bucket shower), dress, eat, and walk to the roundabout. I am proud when I get to the meeting point without any directions by 7:20, but that joy quickly subsides. I ended up waiting for 50 minutes in the dust and hot sun waiting for Emma and his cousin. It was probably one of the most unpleasant 50 minutes I’ve spent in a long time, as there was no place to sit and I’m fairly certain the boy selling phone credits thought I was a bit crazy and lost. But it was Sunday, so I was in a forgiving mood when they finally arrived. And I basically forgot how hot and dusty I was by the end of church, as it was a really great service, all about having dreams and how those dreams are often tested, the bigger they are. Afterwards, they had all the first time visitors meet in a room and gave them drinks and food and chatted with us, and I felt very welcome at Agape. It was also a very familiar feeling service to me, as the pastor was American and I could understand him perfectly, and the music was a lot of songs I knew. Agape holds services in a hotel right now, which was new to me, but they are currently building a mini cathedral. When I saw the numbers they needed to complete the church, my eyes bulged a little and immediately reminded myself to never again think that my church back home was always asking for funds. Then, Emma convinced me that it was a tradition that the first time visitor buys everyone meat pies. Now, I’m fairly certain this is not a tradition, but it probably also won’t be the first time I’m tricked by something like this. So I bought all six of us meat pies. I’ll be sure to watch, however, the next time we take someone new to church. Emma swears he bought eight when he first came. Our party consisted of me, Emma, his cousin, two of his cousin’s friends who are siblings, and a younger boy who lives behind Emma, and I liked all of them a lot.

I went back to Adenta after church with Emma to eat lunch, since I was promised banku. I had met his mother before on several occasions, and she calls me “American lady,” but I had never met his father before. I had heard a lot about his father, how he is a counselor and a minister, so I was eager to meet him since Emma thought we’d have “long conversations together.” Sure enough, he was right. I was at their house from about 11:30 until almost 5 in the afternoon, and talked to his father the majority of the time I was not eating. These conversations, however, were more on the lines of a counselor session, where sometimes I felt like I should be sitting on a couch with my feet up in the air, or clutching to my Bible. To give a better idea of what I mean, I will share my very first encounter with him. He is a tall man and has a strong presence when he walks into the room. He sat on the couch, and Emma left to buy me some bottled water at the market. I was left alone with him, and suddenly felt as though I should smooth my clothes down. He asked me what I was doing in Ghana and I excitedly told him about my fellowship. His reaction: Why do you think a child can help children when you are so young and do not have children of your own? BAM.

I had never had a reaction like that when I described my work to anyone before! But I’m always up for questions that push me to think hard, so I sat silent for some time, collecting my thoughts before I carefully answered. I told him how I knew I was young, but I had also had a lot of experience in my life. I told him life was not always smooth sailing, and I worked hard and had seen a lot, and traveled far to get new experiences. I told him how I always tried to listen to those who had more experience in the areas in which I worked, which is why I’m not trying to just start on my own in Ghana, but rather am working with someone I greatly respect, in order to build a firm foundation for my project, where I will get the advice of those who know the children of Ghana better than myself. He seemed pleased with that answer, and continued to shoot one hard question after the other at me. Then he let me leave so I could eat the banku and okro his wife had prepared for lunch.

It was such a big meal that I embarrassingly fell asleep for half an hour on Emma’s couch, apparently having fell asleep while Emma was talking to me, so he just let me sleep. When I woke up, I was again left alone with his father, and this time the lecture side came out. He told me how I should learn Twi in earnest and he would get me a book. Then, he told me about how he does not like making friends but he loves people (still unsure how that works). But my favorite conversation was the one that started, “You need to stop traveling and make babies.” I nervously laughed and told him I was very young (in fact, I’m young in Ghana, so I was surprised at his comment) and had lots of time to build my career now, and settle down with a family later. He told me that what he meant was that I needed to start planning now. According to him, I needed to know exactly what it is I wanted out of life, and then find someone to complement that, meaning if I like to travel, I need to marry someone who would not tell me I could not go on a trip somewhere. At this comment, I heard a slight covered laugh from Emma and I had to force myself not to look at him, because he knows me, and knows that I would never marry someone who thought he could control my moves so easily. But it was my first time meeting Emma’s dad and there would be lots of time once he liked me in the future to have debates on male-female interactions in Ghana. As Emma’s dad went on he informed me that I should write this list down of the man I hope to find and even wear it around my neck if I thought it would help me memorize it better, and then I needed to look for that man so God could bless our relationship. He made me promise I would start planning now, so that when I am settled into my career, I will not suddenly jump out of my seat and think “Oh, no! Now I must find a husband and have children before it’s too late!” In effect, it was not bad advice. As long as the need to stop traveling and make babies was, indeed, a metaphor. And I’m glad he was not actually referencing his son, which would have made the conversation all the more awkward.

Although he asked hard questions and gave interesting advice, I felt like Emma’s dad was one of the most honest and open person I had met, and immediately liked him for that. And I think he liked me to. Emma said he never shows that much interest in anyone, and he asks questions about me when I’m not around. Emma and I have a running joke that I will just move into their house so I can live in Adenta again instead of moving into my own apartment in January, but, of course, it’s a joke. It’ll be a nice real-world feel to have my own place once I feel settled and familiar with the area. For now, I’ll just be coming to their house every Sunday for lunch and sometimes dinner too like this Sunday before heading back to my own home.