Tougher Hands, Rougher Knees

Living in another country and a much different environment will without a doubt take its effects on one’s body. For example, the only time I have tanned more deeply than now in Ghana is the time I spent three weeks in Corsica in the scorching 110 degree sun each day on the beach. I think I have gained some arm muscle from carrying buckets of water every day. And I have my share of new scars from trotro incidents and, of course, motorcycles. But the two things that I have noticed more than the others are my tougher hands and rougher knees, because they tell two evolving stories:

“Beautiful hands are those that work.” I have heard this phrase a few times, and I always know that it means that it is not the outer appearance of a hand that makes it beautiful but in the work that those hands perform. Good hands do good work. I have never been scared of work, but it would be unfair to say that back home I find myself doing all the work that I find myself doing in Ghana. And I don’t do the things that I would at home to “pamper” myself, mainly because other things seem more important to do instead. One of the things that I do here that I don’t do back home in the U.S. is wash all of my clothes by hand. It may not sound so bad until you thing about how much laundry one person can go through in a week—not to mention the jean, towels, and sheets terrain—and add some hot sun and it becomes a chore. But there’s also an art to it. You can’t scrub fingers against fingers or the skin will peel. You have to use the bottom of your palms to scrub. You have to scrub the neckline of a shirt then the armpits, and on from there. A friend of mine came to visit last month to cook with me, and was very surprised to see that I did my own laundry. She asked me if I was not worried about the callousness that might happen to my hands after awhile. I said no because after awhile, it’s not so hard, and it needs to be done. And I can do it. As my hands get tougher, I know they are telling the continued story of good work—the kind that one does to take care of oneself—better than my words sometimes can.

“Life is fragile. Handle with prayer.” I have gotten into the habit of going down on my knees to pray. Back in college I used to pray walking to class, quickly before I took an exam or turned in a paper, and many other times that seemed set in a backdrop of constant motion. Here, however, I have the chance to take more time-outs. I find myself meditating in prayer daily about my loved ones, finding breakthroughs in my work, health, lonely days, troubled spirits, wisdom, guidance, but most of all thankfulness for all the previously answered prayers and the patches of peace I can always find. So when I rub my hands over my knees and feel the gritty roughness from worn down carpets and sand and dust that escaped the broom, I am content. I am content because on my knees I feel closer to the earth and grounded. On my knees I remember that I need a little help to stand and walk.

 

Nigeria: An Unexpected Weekend Getaway

It isn’t a secret in Africa that Nigerians have the worst reputation. Most of us have probably heard of the infamous ‘Nigerian email scams’ and if you have been to West Africa you probably have not escaped someone saying that the country was much safer until they started getting Nigerian immigrants. But my weekend trip to Nigeria with my host sister Ekua proved to me again that you don’t always find what it is you have been told you would find. My time in Lagos was nothing short of a relaxing, almost spa-like, holiday getaway weekend.

Motorcycles at sunset
Hustle and bustle of Lagos
Dense market space

The wedding in Lagos was for George’s oldest daugher’s husband’s sister, Sola. It’s okay if you have to reread that sentence. Basically, it was the daughter of the Baiden’s in-laws. Ekua and I stayed with one of her brother-in-law’s friends and that guy’s brother. They were great and picked us up from the airport, and from that moment on gave us anything and everything we wanted or needed while we stayed with them. They were some of the best hosts I have ever stayed with, and went above and beyond to make us comfortable.

With our hosts for the weekend
Ekua and I

Sola and Tolu’s wedding was very beautiful. The colors were aqua and wine, so those who came to represent the bride or the groom wore those colors, and were also given a patterned lace to make their outfit from for the day. Sola did not know I was coming, so she had only sent the lace to Ekua, but Ekua gave me a little bit of her extra lace to accent the neckline of the dress the seamstress made for me out of a wine-colored material. This was my first full traditional wedding in West Africa, so I had to have some of the actions explained to me, as there are many parts to it. For example, one part involves the groom prostrating himself in front of the bride’s parents three times, while also putting money into a basket. The money is a type of dowry that is a token amount for what has been the ‘up-keep’ of their daughter over the years. That amount cannot truly be quantified, so there is just a traditional amount established. Another example is that the groom’s family writes a letter to the bride’s family and a member of the bride’s family has to do a bit of a performance (dancing) before receiving it to read. After the traditional wedding, the bride and groom changed into more western style wedding attire and danced their way into the beautifully decorated reception hall. And there was SO MUCH FOOD at this wedding. It was like food came from a magical well that just kept pouring, and it blew my mind because there were hundreds of people at this wedding. Probably about 600 or so. There was an assortment of fried rice, soup, chicken, beef, several types of meat pastries, and a multitude of different types of drinks from sparkling wine to orange juice. Apparently weddings in Nigeria are one of the biggest events they hold and they are always quite a spectacle.

Area for the traditional ceremony
Lying prostrate before the bride's parents
The bride with her mom
Bride and Groom breaking it down
Reception hall
Me with the bride, groom, bride's mom, and Ekua

After the wedding our hosts took Ekua and I to a live taping of a show called Project Fame, which is a bit like The X-Factor. It was really great to see behind the scenes of the show and then see the show we saw live shown the next day on television. Sadly I don’t think the camera captured us. Then, because I had mentioned pizza, the guys took us for some of the best pizza I have had in a long time. I definitely devoured it fast as I have not had pizza since moving to Ghana. The next day we saw more of the city, watched football, and then went to stay with the newlyweds. I have never stayed with a new couple after their wedding, but the bride and groom wanted us to stay with them, so we spent our last day with them, seeing their new place and drinking wine and filling the room with lots of laughter.

Bridge toward Victoria Island
Project Fame
Polishing off my box of pizza

When the trip was done, we were sad to leave. My favorite part of the trip, though, was definitely how at the wedding the bride’s family made me feel like I too was part of their family and had me in their photos too. It was a really special feeling. I don’t now if I will ever be back to Nigeria, but I certainly enjoyed my time there, especially the people.

For 23: A Look Back and a Look Forward

Twenty-two was certainly a year of change. It was the age at which most of my friends and myself were birthed into the “real-world” from the safe and secure wombs of our mother colleges. Feeling naked and more than a little wide-eyed, I have been testing my walking legs ever since.

A week before my senior thesis was due, I met with my advisor, who I had not spoken to in awhile about it. The meeting was a disaster, and she told me that my second chapter was basically a mess and she wished the third one did not exist, as the second was nowhere near ready to be handed in and the third gave me extra editing work. I felt overwhelmed and frustrated. I had worked hard during the fall and especially over the January term, just to be told I did not have enough time to fix all the problems. I went back to my house and I cried my eyes out, not knowing where to begin. Then I received an email from my advisor checking to see if I was doing okay. She told me that I should not despair and that I had a wonderful voice in the paper, but that sometimes it got lost. I just needed to let my reader clearly know what was happening. She said I had my argument, I just needed to believe in it and carry it all the way through. Then, I dried my tears and did not stop working until I turned it in a week later, proud of the result.

So the greatest lesson I learned at 22 was that I have to be confident in who I am and what I want out of this life. Because my advisor was right, and what she told me was true about life too. There are always going to be people and things that try and make my life feel like it is a mess. Factors that try to mire me in the past, saying it is too problematic to move forward to the next chapter. But the reality is that I cannot lose track of my beliefs. I cannot let my voice get lost, and I have to trust in myself—all the way through. If I don’t place my feet on firm ground, something will come along and sweep them out from under me, and not in the romantic sense of the phrase. And there is always time to fix my problems, as long as I am dedicated to addressing them. There is no path I can take that I could walk too far down to turn back. As I enter the 23rd year of my life, my greatest wish is that I continue to remember that the greatest discoveries along my journeys will be about myself. I am looking forward to seeing what this new year that God has blessed me with will bring.

Here is my look back and a look forward in 23 ways:

5 Things I Accomplished During the Last Year

  1. Graduated from Harvard
  2. Completed my undergraduate thesis: “Because Hers Was the Hand that Rocked the Cradle, She Would Mold the Nation”: Black Women and the Domestic Campaign, 1877-1919
  3. Received a post-graduate public service fellowship
  4. Accepted to Teach for America to teach Secondary English in Miami, Florida
  5. Completed a manual for my empowerment program for children on peace education and children’s rights

5 Things I Did or Places I Went During the Last Year

  1. Deferred Teach for America to move to Accra, Ghana for 8 months
  2. Held a python around my neck at a temple in Ouidah, Benin
  3. Burnt my leg on a motorcycle exhaust pipe in Lome, Togo
  4. Had an epic senior Spring Break in San Juan, Puerto Rico with my wonderful blockmates and linkmates
  5. Made many new and close friends I wish I had known or spent more time with earlier

5 Things I Want to Accomplish Before 24

  1. Implement my program here in Ghana
  2. Significantly help my brother with his new venture
  3. Commit to a path for next year
  4. Figure out the balance between time in the States and time abroad
  5. Have something published or performed that I have written

5 Things I Want to Do or Places I Want to Go Before 24

  1. Spend time at home in Indiana
  2. Spend a wonderful Christmas with Caitlin and a wonderful New Year’s with my parents and my brother Scott in December/January
  3. Travel to East Africa
  4. Review Spanish more so it won’t slowly go away
  5. Learn more Twi

3 Things I Learned During the Last Year

  1. It might not happen in a day or even a month, but things have a way of working themselves out for the best, especially when I least expect them to
  2. It’s okay to be a little open and a little vulnerable at the right time and with the right people
  3. There is no need to constantly plan out every step of the future. The present is plenty enough to enjoy.

Helping Yourself in Order to Help Others

As you grow older you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, the other for helping others. – Audrey Hepburn

 Towards the end of last week, I started feeling ill. It started with a fever one night that ibuprofen was able to break, but then the next day it was back and stronger. And then it followed for a third day, quickly sweeping through from a head fever to a body fever. Then came headaches and muddled thoughts. Anyone who knows what I went through the last time I started developing symptoms like this in Ghana probably understands at least a fraction of the worry that took a hold of me. When I told George, at first he wanted to take me to the hospital, but then he told me that there was a bitter herb that grows in their yard that would make me feel better if I drank it for a few courses. I have grown up with a mother who believes in natural medication and prefer as well to use what nature has blessed us with before turning to medicine. So all weekend I or someone else brewed this bitter herb for me and even though it was terribly bitter, I gulped it down—because the alternative just was not a choice. And it made me sweat and sweat, but in a short period of time, I felt better and better. While I was at home I took other instructions from George on how to get better, and it made me think about how George is always so concerned about how I’m doing outside of work. He always wants to make sure I am eating right, am making friends, have time to do things that I enjoy doing, and anything else that was completely about my own personal well-being. George himself is very interested in health topics and what he puts inside his body and does. He practices what Marianne Elliot refers to in her blog as self-kindness. And I have realized that it is not selfish at all to take care of yourself because by taking care of yourself, you are doing part of your work of being kind towards others. Marianne Elliot reminded me that it is when we begin being kind to ourselves that we find out just the amount of kindness we have within ourselves for others. How else can we do work that asks of us more than just physical labor?

So there are those things that I practice or surround myself with that fulfill my commitment to self-kindness. They make me keep that peaceful balance in my life that I am always working towards and trying to maintain. They remind me that I am only human and must love myself in order to properly love others. And loving myself means practicing those things that keep my body, mind, heart, and soul well and whole.

I am kind to my body by trying to watch what I put inside it. There is an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables readily available within a short radius of where I live here, and some just right in our own garden. I drink lots of water, as it is a natural body cleanser. And I get lots of walking in during any given day.

Each morning I read words from my simple living book and share in a devotional with George and his wife. Afterwards I meditate on the words before getting ready for my day. Taking time out to block out everything else around me and just fill my mind with positive thinking has become very important to me. Those simple acts put my mind and soul at rest and give me a sense of assurance and peace as I set out on a new day’s journey.

I am kind to my heart by allowing myself to acknowledge the flood of emotions I often feel. I try to identify the emotions, where they are coming from, and how I can approach them in the healthiest way possible. I have also started to be kind to my heart in the way of trying more to let myself not hide when I am hurt, disappointed, or angry, recognizing that they are also part of human nature.

But probably most importantly, my heart especially feels my practice of self-kindness when I allow those who care about me in my life, both near and far, to be kind to it too. I am doubly blessed to not only have a loving family who I am close to back home in Indiana, but also the Baiden family here in Ghana, who have made me feel like a loved member of their family in a short period of time. I am even blessed moreover with second families too, like Emma and his family, and Evans and his mom.

My friends have been integral parts of my support system. I want to take the time to point out some people who especially have helped me at this particular time, without sounding too much like an awards show: Roxanne for being an inspirational mentor and friend in the field; Melissa and Allie, for always encouraging me to find those things that compel me to move in this world; Teeny, Alyssa, and Denny, for going down this new path of blog writing and post-graduation journeys of discovery with me; Sara and Caitlin, for waking up very early or staying on late on countless days with always ready to listen ears; Becky, for our long email tradition; Aley, for her passion and ease of friendship; and, a special someone whose emails and texts always seem to find the right words to place a smile upon my face or ease the worries in my life.

It is easier to practice self-kindness when these people and so many others remind me to with their kindness towards me.

Reply and share some of your ways of practicing self-kindness. How are you taking that concept into your own field of work or applying it in your life?

 

Some Promised Photos

Several posts ago I promised to post a few photos from the wedding in the mountain region that I went to. And although I no longer have a camera still, I wanted to be true to my promise. I have plans to go to a wedding in Nigeria two weekends from now, and will be sure to get a lot of photos to post!

Me, Ekua, and Renee
The girls + Ekua's fiance, Kwasi
Leaving for the reception
Full length photo
The happy couple
leaving the reception for home

 

The Principle Behind Taking a Deep Breath

My good friend Sara Willis knows exactly how to handle me when I come to her in a lightning blur of gchats or Skype messages about my life—things I am worried about, overly excited about, or confused about. Her first reaction is always to tell me to first stop whatever I am doing and take a deep breath. She will even refuse to go on with the conversation until I have promised that the deep breath has been taken. It is the principle behind these deep breaths that help me through my Waiting Place.

During our regular morning devotional and meditation at my home yesterday, we read a verse that says: “Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me” (Micah 7:7). We talked about the three steps in the verse being 1) communication with God, 2) waiting on God’s response, and 3) belief in God’s capabilities. Each part is important, but it is the second part that is so hard for most people. And it is true for almost any situation we face in life, regardless of personal beliefs. We often identify our problem and know that it can be solved, but find it hard to be in the middle—the wait. We want things NOW. But we also have to learn how to identify a necessary wait from an unnecessary wait.

A necessary wait is one I would identify as requiring us to change something in our own life or around us before what we want to occur can take place. Perhaps the timing is wrong for how things are in our present situation. The unnecessary waits are the ones that are like quicksand, slowly taking us down while we try our best to remain patience. It is important to wait, but there are times when we are waiting and waiting for something to come along and hurtle us towards our goals. That is nice in thought, but in reality, sometimes the only person wearing the superhero cape is standing right in front of us when we look in the mirror.

In either situation, however, filling the wait with our own content moments is important. And that’s the principle behind taking deep breaths. I believe that when Sara insists that I take those breaths, it is so that she can remind me that if I take this moment to just inhale life, I am still exhaling life. I should still enjoy what is immediately at hand, while I am wading in the middle of the journey. I attempt to put this into practice each day as I learn to patiently wait on things to come together for my program to begin.

So, I will wait. And I will be ready when things start happening because I am that kind of girl, as Dr. Seuss so kindly reminded me this week.

From Oh! The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss

You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.

The Waiting Place…for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. Everyone is just waiting.

No! That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying. You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing. With banner flip-flapping, once more you’ll ride high! Ready for anything under the sky. Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!

The Waiting Place