Reminders

One of the greatest gifts I have allowed myself to receive in my life are the reminders that I find of things that I need to recall or remember. Sometimes a word, a conversation, a photograph. I just have to be ready to listen.

Last night I went to a celebration in Oakland in honor of Ghana’s 60th anniversary of independence. It was a wonderful night filled with reminiscing about trotro adventures, changing neighborhoods, favorite foods, and lots and lots of jollof rice. I was especially impressed with the young man sitting next to me who knew every Ghanaian song I was referencing based on a simple description of a few words or what someone was wearing in the music video.

On the way home my driver was a friendly Nigerian man, probably in his 30s. As the ride continued across the beautifully lit Bay Bridge, the driver expressed to me that people often ask him where his accent is from and that it was a way of them reminding him that he does not belong here; that this was not his home. The emotions in his voice rose as he talked about people who could never understand his sacrifices, and who had spent their whole lives in their geographic bubble. Such subtle reminders of how one views you is usually coupled with an inability to see the true nature of oneself or the other person.

In Citizen, Claudia Rankine describes this as, “For so long you thought the ambition of racist language was to denigrate and erase you as a person…you begin to understand yourself as rendered hypervisible in the face of such langauge acts. Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all thew ays that you are present.” As an immigrant, such language about accents and ‘where are you from’ are language acts that exploit a perceived difference in the way someone looks or talks. The point of such visibility being that it is necessary to paint the exact outlines of difference. My driver went on to describe how he does not pay any attention to ignorance that comes from ignorant people. The refusal to engage in those language acts creates barriers toward exploitation. And I return to the wise words of my driver, reminding me of all that has made me that so many can never catch a glimpse of or understand. Clint Smith writes in his poem “what the ocean said to the black boy”: they call me blue because they don’t understand how the sky work/they call you black because they don’t understand how god work. 

We must continue to create our armor against the exploitation of language acts bent to take that which makes us strong and use it to mark us ‘other.’

Wound Care

While I was living in Ghana after college there was a line in a book that really spoke to me (An Imperfect Offering) that said “No scars, no stories, no life.”  My body has its fair share of scars, the majority from a dog attack at a young age that left me with 32 stitches spread out along my left leg, arm, and back. But one of those scars came from that year in Ghana during an October trip to Togo and Benin with my friend Mette. While getting off a motorcycle taxi, the driver’s balance slipped and the exhaust pipe pressed against the inside of my right calf, the pain searing through me like the slice of a knife. Our tour guide put toothpaste on the burn, trying to ease the pain until we got back home to Ghana. I cried on the sidewalk as he smoothed the blue paste across my leg. I was worried it would leave a scar, and I did not want to be marked. I did not want to have to always account for this story or have a story developed for me in the face of obvious markings. So I remained hopeful that a temporary salve could permanently heal a deep wound.

When I got back to my home in Ghana, my boss George, who I was living with (he and his family) at the time, caught me fussing over my wound. I was trying to find a quick way to stop the cycle of puffy skin and pain and ugliness. I had found some ointment for cuts and bruises and burns in my emergency kit and was trying to lather it on while trying to figure out which bandage to put over it. George smiled at me and told me that we had an aloe plant growing in the backyard. He told me to take a short walk to the back and find the plant, then break off one of the leaves, cut it open, and smooth the fresh gel from the plant over my burn. Only then should I gently wrap the wound. I wanted to know how long it would take for everything to heal and if I would have a scar. He laughed and told me to just take my walk to the aloe plant each day and let time and my body do the rest of the work.

That’s not what I wanted to hear, but I diligently put the aloe on my wound each day and gently wrapped it, and eventually I forgot to count the days. I stopped trying to hide that I was hurt from others, and instead focused on the process of healing. Time was only marked by the change in the look to my leg. I had to trust that I could heal, and I had to let go of the desire to choose quick, temporary fixes. In the words of Mary Oliver, I had to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves.

In a singular moment in Togo I feared that I had been permanently and irreversibly scarred. And in many ways I am. But not in the same ways that I once thought. The scars have faded, but I know that they are still there. I cannot escape the words of the story that they tell that add to the spaces of my life. I continue to be the sum of every moment that has marked me. “No scars, no stories, no life.”Just like my time in Ghana with the aloe plant, I purposefully walk the paths toward my healing, making my own salves that I know will let me naturally heal the pain and fade the scars into beautiful lines of living.

 

Close Encounters

black women breathe

flowers, too.

just because

we are taught to grow them in the lining of our

quiet (our grandmothers secret).

does not mean

we do not swelter with

wild tenderness.

we soft swim.

we petal.

we scent limbs.

love.

we just have been too

long a garden for sharp

and deadly teeth.

so we

have

grown

ourselves

into

greenhouses.

-Greenhouses by Nayyirah Waheed from salt.

Last night I went out with a good friend of mine I have known since middle school. We decided to dress up and hit up the town, which for us is our not-so-large city of Indianapolis. The night was going really well, and I was in a great mood coming off of a good basketball game, great conversation, and a pint of my favorite beer. We were enjoying ourselves at Revel, this nice lounge spot, dancing and meeting new people, when we decided to check out a few spots before we settled in for the night at one place. We headed down the road to Bartini, which ended up being a great choice for a better DJ, and we quickly found ourselves covering the dance floor to some of our favorite jams. As we were dancing, I noticed a white man (colloquially speaking he would be deemed as “white trash” where we are from) leering at us, but I naively believed that if I just paid him zero attention he would go away. This was untrue. After a few minutes he came right up against my back and cupped then slapped my ass.

For me, the fun immediately stopped and even though the music was still playing, all I could hear as I turned around to face this man was my own anger, loud in my head. I walked right into his space and pointed my finger at him and told him if he ever laid his hand on me again I would break his hand with my index finger. While some might thing that was a violent threat, I have to pause and say something:

I have tried it all.

All of it.

The reactions have been the same which is why I so often opt now to say something in the moment–especially if there is sufficient crowd around. I have done the ‘Oh, I have a boyfriend. He’s in the bathroom’ to the fake engagement rings, to the polite smile and no, as if I was apologizing for luring them in with my potent powers, the same kind men will actually talk about when they claim that a woman was begging to be raped. I won’t apologize for being; for existence. I have never been here for any of those types of men.

And this man just shrugged and smiled at his friends who also smiled at the situation, with mirth in their eyes, amused at this girl who had dared to say something. My friend and I moved away from the location, ceding the space as women of do, as they know the  consequence of not doing so is to be punished as the perpetrator themselves. This man then followed us to the back of the bar and tried to approach me once more, and again I stepped up to him and told him to not even look in my direction. He walked out the door. At this point, I wanted to be far from this location, and we decided to leave and return to Revel. As we walked down the street, we saw the same man standing on a railing outside another bar as if he was waiting on us to pass. We quickened our steps to pass without any type of engagement, but as we passed the man loudly declared that i was “that black bitch.” I was not even surprised by this introduction of race, as I knew it was coming, and had always been at the back of his mind. I told him that if he was going to harrass me so much, that he could meet me at the end of the railing to face me (my mother would certainly admonish me for this, as she did when I went after a man who stole my phone). He started laughing and said he would tell the cops, an element he must know would not make me feel safe.

But #IfIDieInPatriarchalCustody I want you to know that ‘black women breathe flowers, too.’ That the trope of the strong black woman eclipses the truth that she is looking for water too.

We continued to walk on. I was never going to fight him. Not when the ring would have been the public spaces that are his stomping grounds. As my mother reminds me, ‘Do not enter the ring prematurely.’

Last week I wrote a piece with my friend Jesika Laster about silence when it comes to the negative treatment of black women, especially in regard to our bodies. Tonight I am reflecting on that piece once more, and what I have often written about in my pieces: the objectification of women’s bodies in public spaces (which can often run into their private spaces as well). It goes like this: a woman puts her clothes on and she walks out into the street or walks around in a public building, and suddenly becomes the property of everyone else around, especially when that relationship is so rooted in history that has been manufactured to repeat itself.

There was a post I saw several weeks ago about how when women want to get away from men who they do not like, they move away from them, create their own spaces without them. However, when men encounter women who they ‘dislike’ they often do everything to be around them, coming into the spaces they create, harrassing them, and threatening them. When I read such words, I vividly remember and am transported back to my year living in Ghana when one of my co-workers stalked and threatened me to the point that I had to move so he would no longer know my location. He would text my phone and say that I was no longer in America and no one would come help me, and he would come into my room at night and have his way with me. He would text me with threats on my life, and he had verbally assaulted me on more than one occasion. All this because I had rebuked his advances. And my boss would not fire him, even after I showed him these pieces of evidence. He was afraid that this co-worker would go hurt himself if he did. (My boss eventually felt deep regret for his inaction.) So I alone stood (with one close girl friend) at the police station filing my reports. I went to work and prayed that I had timed myself going to the office in a way that would avoid us being left alone or running into each other. My life was the one that had to be disrupted for committing no crime.

One year after I had left Ghana, that same co-worker wrote me to say that he forgave me for the lies I told about him, and hoped one day I would be able to confess what I had done so I could go to heaven. It is a wonder that these type of men do not choke on their own egregious views of the world. But then again, so much of it is upheld in daily practices and systems and institutions. My encounters in which I expose or confront this…those are viewed as the infractions.

The Science of Movement

“To truly understand yourself, your purpose and those around you, you must keep moving. You must move at least five times; five times to open your heart and dip your toes into something new, fresh and life changing.”

I have almost begun the single digit countdown to my next big move: Cambridge, England for (at least) the next twelve months, as I begin a Master of Philosophy in Politics, Development, and Democratic Education (PDDE). It’s a huge mouthful of a thematic route in their Education Department that basically boils down to me investigating how we can use curriculum and school design to facilitate spaces in which students from what I refer to as ‘domestic urban conflict zones,’ can use school to ‘learn to make’ and create a cycle in which what they learn in the classroom is directly translated into their lived experiences in a way that helps them create positive impact and changes in their communities. (Again, I know, a mouthful). And while my excitement about going back to school and living in a new place grows, I am reminded again of all the emotions that accompany such moves.

I would never say that I derive ‘hold fast to my heart’ wisdom from the types of articles that we have all seen that tell you 5 ways to do this, or 9 reasons you should not do that. But once in awhile, I stumble across one that has a title that catches my eye, and I give it a chance. I came across an article a few days ago that was entitled, “Staying is Settling: Why You Need to Move At Least 5 Times in Your Life.” This title piqued my interest. As I read the contents on the page, I began to take a journey over the last seven years of my life, and to the moves that have shaped me in very similar fashion to what the article described. And as I got to the very last line, I realized how much I stood by this philosophy. Maybe not so much in the words that staying in one place is ‘settling.’ I do think that some people just know where they want to build their life and sometimes life just requires such permanent roots. However, I do believe that in movement there is life, and in movement there is the type of ability to grow and change that one does not always find in one sedimentary spot. There is a form of the scientific experiment in moving; a time old positing of questions and and testing them out to see if what you thought was true, was indeed true.

1. To get away from what you know

Your first move is like taking flight for the first time. Like learning to fly, you realize the only thing stopping you from the world is yourself…You have the world in front of you, with nothing but open sky and limitless possibilities.

But first you must leave the nest. You must say goodbye to everything you grew up with, the small world you once considered enough. You must unlatch yourself from the comforts of the familiar and place yourself in the middle of chaos.

This first move is the hardest. It’s the moment you willingly decide to be uncomfortable, scared and alone. It’s making the decision to become a foreigner, an outsider, a refugee. It’s abandoning everything you once cherished for the idea that there’s something better out there.

My first big move was definitely seven years ago when I boarded a one way flight to Boston, a city (and state) that I had never been to before but I had accepted it as my home for the next four years after sending in an acceptance letter to attend Harvard. I always knew I wanted to leave my tiny, rural town of less than a thousand people and see just exactly what else was out there. I knew my opportunities were limited where I was, and I knew that if I could just get a taste of the outside world, I would find my way to the very edges of this earth. Being that far from home and feeling so different from the majority of my classmates life experiences, meant that the first semester was a hard adjustment. I had made a decision to becoming a foreigner in many different definitions of the word, but foreigners also oftentimes bring so much value to wherever they go and can accept to make a new place their home. And over the course of those four years, Harvard became a wonderful home and place of immense growth for me. It allowed me to travel the world (and on someone else’s dime), and I learned to appreciate every opportunity that came my way and drank deeply of each new experience.

2. To find new experiences

The second move you make should be one of restlessness. You should be tired of the same flavors of your now comfortable surroundings. This move is about feeling again. It’s about accepting that you can’t possibly know everything, but you are going to try.

You are going to have experiences, adventures and an unforeseen future. You don’t know who you’ll meet, what you’ll find or how you’ll get there, but you will do it. You will jump into it blindly and openly.

You will make new friends, find new flavors and reignite that passion for life that came with your first move. You will not rest until your hungry soul is placated. You will leave your old friends for new ones, your first language for another and that idea that you’re home for that invigorating feeling of homesick.

While Harvard became home over those four years, it also became too much of a familiar. I had gotten into a routine, and in many ways I was over extending myself because I felt comfortable. I was taking classes that demanded a lot of writing and research, and I was agreeing to more leadership roles in a wide range of extracurriculars. By sophomore spring, I had entered a precursor to burn-out, and I knew I needed to shake things up in order to fall back in love with the world of not knowing what to expect. So I grabbed one of my closest friends, Scott, and we jetted across the Atlantic for a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain.

Being completely immersed in a culture so different from the American one I was used to, with the romantic Spanish language spoken all around me was the move I needed to remind myself of just how much I did not know, and had not seen. And the fact that school was a lot more relaxed than the one I had grown accustomed to, also helped me refocus on other aspects of the world around me. Every day was something new–new people, new sites, new tastes, new smells. And on the weekends, Scott and I, and others we had befriended, would oftentimes go off to another country and briefly experience yet another way of being and living. We had the world at our fingertips. It was a blessing that I was grateful for each day. I did not know what to expect when I made the decision to study abroad, but it was in not knowing that I knew it was what I was looking for and wanted. Between the summer before in Ghana and going straight into my fall semester in Spain, I had stretched myself to new heights of knowing myself and what I was capable of doing and being. I returned that winter different from how I left the previous spring.

3. To chase love

To chase love is to chase happinesses. It’s to decide that you will throw yourself into the swirling, maddening and restless chase we’re all trying to enter. Because love is the ultimate destination, is it not? It’s the reason we move, every day.

If you think you’ve found it… in a person, a city, a job, you must move for it. If your dream job awaits in Spain, you must move there. If your heart yearns for the pink beaches of Bermuda, you must go there. Chasing love is not irresponsible, it’s honest. 

Senior year of college, I remember thinking for the briefest of moments that I should be reading case study books and going to interviews with banks and consulting firms like so many of the other people that I knew who would be graduating with me that year. A brief moment. Luckily, despite a severely flawed and lacking career studies office, I had met enough incredible upperclassmen who were not on a ‘traditional’ path, who I could talk to about choosing a different course. Along my road to find that different course, I did stumble across a traditional route of sorts in the form of Teach for America. I applied, and felt very confident because of my past work in education (a field I do plan on staying in) that I would be accepted. When I was accepted, I wasn’t as excited as everyone else was for me. It didn’t feel right.

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I had been granted money to pursue work for a local child rights NGO in Accra, Ghana. My summer writing and implementing programs to help educate children on their rights and how to get help when those rights were being abused, made me feel alive in my work in a way that few things have managed to top. I was part of a community and bringing aid to an area of direct and very real need. When I left to head to Spain, I felt like my work was not done. And there’s nothing I hate more than unfinished work. So even though I got accepted to TFA, I continued to search for ways to make moving back to Ghana possible. Three weeks before I was set to move to Miami, I got word that I was being granted a postgraduate public service fellowship that would sponsor me for a year of work. I loved (and continue to deeply love) Ghana and its people, and I am so glad that I chased it that year instead of just taking the first thing that came my way. I knew it was the ‘crazier’ more ‘unpredictable’ road, but I was ready to BE there and EXPERIENCE that unpredictable road. I needed to see what post-graduate Delia was capable of doing and being, and in pushing that boundary, I would be able to finish what I had started.

That year brought me greater clarity in what mattered to me in values, more insight into my thoughts on education, made me better prepared when I transitioned back to TFA, and introduced me to my first love. It was an incredible whirlwind, that picked me up, and after it had put me back down, everything it had touched was marked deeply by the relationship I had with that space and place.

4. To escape that love

Love isn’t infinite. It can be found in a moment, a single dose or a fleeting romance. It can be a year of perfect love with someone who isn’t supposed to stay in your life. It can be in beaches that bring you peace until your heart years for something new. It can be in the first bite of pasta and over with its last.

Love isn’t defined by its length but its capacity to touch you and change you. Just because it doesn’t last doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. 

You must never settle, never give in to the idea that you can’t have another one. Because the world is full of things to throw your heart into, things to make you weep and realize (yet again) why you’re alive.

After a year of being immersed in the red dirt of Ghana, landing back in America was an uncomfortable jolt. In an instant I went from a simple existence (cooking on the floor, water from my well, no running water, etc.) to a life that seemed filled with excess. And Miami was a capital of excess, even while being home to those who had so little.

When I left Ghana, was the right time to leave. I had accomplished what I had gone back to finish, and I had made a promise of return to children I had yet to meet in Miami. I couldn’t help but have the internal struggle though that somehow I was doing the normal by going back to TFA and I was going to settle into a life devoid of the “exotic,” the ever-new. I would go from the child who was learning with each day to the adult who needed to immediately have answers because I was now in charge of other people’s children. I had so much love and peace in Ghana, and coming back did not excite me, except to see my family. But I was wrong.

I was wrong to think that one only finds the ever-new thousands of miles away. I was wrong that I would not find exactly what I was looking for within my grasp. I will always have Ghana. That red dirt is a part of my bones and who I have become. And just because I am no longer there does not mean that what was there was not the journey I felt it was when I was there. But it was always meant to be a finite journey. An affair to remember. There in Miami, was still very much a feeling of immense growth and learning. I entered a world in which I was once again the foreigner. Here I would find more things–or I should say students, my children–to throw my heart fully into. Students who made me realize you don’t get just one love, one life-shifting journey in your lifetime. Miami in all its problems and dichotomies was the imperfect-perfect transition from my temporary search for love across the ocean. And even though there are parts of that love (again, people) that are no longer part of my life, I now know that they just become something else that you take and learn from, and move forward.

 5. To begin all over again

You must resist the confines of comfort. You must defy the idea of settled. You must never resign yourself to the ordinary or the easy. You must challenge tranquility for the promise of something greater.

To live is to be born and to continually live is to be reborn, again and again. As a new person, new lover, new friend, you must willingly evolve and transform into new versions of yourself. You must never allow the new place you’ve created to become the final place. You must consistently defy the idea of comfort. 

Here I am, two years after moving to Miami, no longer living and teaching there. The summer found me easing out of my Miami life in California, and now I am spending time in The Town Where Time Does Not Reside, before being swept away in another movement, where I’ll begin journeying all over again.

Staying in Miami would have been easy. I could have taught anything I wanted to, and it would have been an entire environment that I knew the basic ins and outs of from days of tracing the same paths of work and personal life. I had a close group of friends, who defied my claim that I would not make closer friends than the ones I made in college. But it wasn’t where I saw myself long-term. And I wasn’t being developed in the ways I wished to be developed. I felt like a placeholder. I looked great where I was, but I did not have to be there. So I made the difficult decision to leave, and to go in search of, once again, that something that would help me to continue to evolve and grow. My students were growing, but I was not, except in the sense of understanding how to teach reading better, but that was not enough for me. So in a week when I leave for school, I will start to figure out what those next steps look like, but I am content in my thinking that I will feel that I am exactly where I am meant to be. 

I don’t know where my next move will be after England. It is too early to tell. I just know that whether it is to get away from what I know, find new experiences, chase or escape love, it is always a chance to begin again in some manner of the phrase. Here’s to a few more footprints in the air.

When a Piece Reads You

It has now officially been over a year since I graduated. May 26, 2011 seems like a lifetime ago on some days, and on other days I can remember distinctly the way the sun felt on me as I posed for millions of photos as if it were yesterday. For the majority of the past year my life has been shaped, often erratically and forcefully, by my time abroad. Perhaps it is better to say that so much of my daily thoughts and actions have been sprinkled with the magic of times spent on distant shore. As I type these words with a blanket wrapped around me on one of the couches in the living room of my parents’ house, I can’t help but think of how different my life is now. Not different in a bad way, but rather just another type of exploration and a calmer source of adventure. But everything I experienced I carried back with me. I would never stay within the baggage allowances of my flights if they had to measure my heart, heavy with the mixed feelings of departures, or my brain, bursting through my head with new ideas and pictures and ways of living. I have been sorting through them since I returned to America.

About a week ago I read an article online entitled “What Happens When You Live Abroad.” There were so many parts of the article that I found myself nodding along to that I felt as though the article was, in fact, reading me instead of the other way around. I wanted to pull out some of the passages I especially felt connected to:

But one thing that undoubtedly exists between all of us, something that lingers unspoken at all of our gatherings, is fear. There is a palpable fear to living in a new country, and though it is more acute in the first months, even year, of your stay, it never completely evaporates as time goes on. It simply changes. The anxiousness that was once concentrated on how you’re going to make new friends, adjust, and master the nuances of the language has become the repeated question “What am I missing?” As you settle into your new life and country, as time passes and becomes less a question of how long you’ve been here and more one of how long you’ve been gone, you realize that life back home has gone on without you. People have grown up, they’ve moved, they’ve married, they’ve become completely different people — and so have you.

I remember before I left for Ghana, I had a conversation with my friend Roxanne, who is often on the move, about how she coped with the feeling that even though she was having her own adventures, that the lives of those she is not with are going and moving forward without her. I did not live abroad for several years, but still there was the feeling of missed connections and missed events. For me, four of my five college roommates moved to New York City and the other moved to a city where we had other friends moving there as well. They often run into other friends we made in university, and through photos and anecdotes, this fact is chronicled for me. And a small part of me worries that I will become the stranger at group gatherings. You know—the one that everyone vaguely knows what is happening to or where he or she is in the world. But I keep in touch and get better with each month at ‘being there’ even when I can’t be there.

Still, the last line of the paragraph rings truest. The greatest change that happened during my fellowship year was the changes that happened to me and not just the world around me. On a smaller scale, I recall having these thoughts when I came back from my semester in Madrid. I was back at Harvard for the spring semester of my junior year. The parties were the same, the workload was the same, and almost everything was as if I had left it in a time capsule. I had changed, but I had come back to a place that was vastly unchanged. The new and challenging environment had forced me into a new stage of my life. Those new stages can happen anywhere, but for me, it was stretching the very core of my being. I have probably only spoken to three close friends in depth about the type of living that requires you to spend hours contemplating thoughts and getting to know yourself in new ways. I have discovered much of what postgraduate me is capable of doing and being. This passage speaks to how I feel:

Walking streets alone and eating dinner at tables for one — maybe with a book, maybe not — you’re left alone for hours, days on end with nothing but your own thoughts. You start talking to yourself, asking yourself questions and answering them, and taking in the day’s activities with a slowness and an appreciation that you’ve never before even attempted. Even just going to the grocery store — when in an exciting new place, when all by yourself, when in a new language — is a thrilling activity. And having to start from zero and rebuild everything, having to re-learn how to live and carry out every day activities like a child, fundamentally alters you. Yes, the country and its people will have their own effect on who you are and what you think, but few things are more profound than just starting over with the basics and relying on yourself to build a life again. I have yet to meet a person who I didn’t find calmed by the experience. There is a certain amount of comfort and confidence that you gain with yourself when you go to this new place and start all over again, and a knowledge that — come what may in the rest of your life — you were capable of taking that leap and landing softly at least once.

It is time for a new phase of my life to begin. On Friday I leave for Miami. Another move to another new place where I will know less than a handful of people. There will be more meals alone and more building new relationships and meanings to the word ‘home.’ These two sentences in the article are probably the ones that struck a sharp chord in my heart when I read it. I cannot think of truer words to share to summarize what my mind has processed during my time in the town where time does not reside. They are the words that remind me how much potential Miami has for more journeys, more loves, and more events that remind me just how durable faith is.

It takes so much to carve out a new life for yourself somewhere new, and it can’t die simply because you’ve moved over a few time zones. The people that took you into their country and became your new family, they aren’t going to mean any less to you when you’re far away.

 

Peace Does Not Simply Mean the Absence of Conflict

While writing the program manual for my project over the last several weeks, I have been wrestling with the question of what exactly does peace—more specifically living in peace and peaceful societies—mean to me. What would it mean for the children I am here to work with to grow up in peace? Peace, I have come to believe is like love. It is a word of action, not simply emotions.

Dorothy Thompson said that, “Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict.” Martin Luther King Jr. said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” Recently I read in an article about the origins of the Hebrew word ‘Shalom,’ which is often translated as simply ‘peace.’ However, it is not simply the absence of conflict, but rather takes in the ideas of harmony and a sense of wholeness.

My mother always told us children growing up that ‘prevention is better than cure.’ When Colman McCarthy, the founder of the Centre for Teaching Peace, said that if we do not teach our children peace, someone else would teach them conflict, I believe he meant that we have to be active about pursuing peace. It does not simply come naturally after wars are over, guns are put away, or overt unrest is settled. When asked what was the most important act of peacemaking, McCarthy answered, “Your next one,” which again indicates his belief that peace means actions that we have much control over.

If one were to ask me, I would say that in my heart I believe humans were and are meant to live together in peace. I believe that love is a natural feeling, while hatred is learned over the years. Love has a better soil to sow itself in when there are no forces putting up walls, pointing out differences, but instead has the natural forces that draw us together in companionship and community, as ‘no man is an island.’ But for so long, and arguably more than ever today, those forces that put up the walls, point out differences and whisper in ears the language of hate and destruction have been at work. We, as human beings, cause the most pain and the most suffering to each other. Yet we also have the power to say something about it. In An Imperfect Offering, James Orbinski states: “Over the last twenty years, I have struggled to understand how to respond to the suffering of others. I have come to know perhaps too well that only humans can be rationally cruel. Only humans can choose to sacrifice life in the name of some political end, and only humans can call such sacrifices into question.” Anything is possible in human nature.

Ghanaians often tell me that I made the right choice in African country to reside in because their country is peaceful. “Ghana is peaceful, no?” is the rhetorical question I hear often. I smile and give a slight nod because Ghanaians are proud that they do not have the type of problems that are seen in their neighbors, such as the Ivory Coast or Liberia. But what I have become to think and to witness is that Ghana is a country that knows how to handle its issues without blowing something up or picking up weapons—a country free of war or chaos—but, it is also a country that bubbling, under the surface unrest. And if peace is an active state of existence, in which one is attuned to the needs of themselves as well as linked to the needs and lives of those around them, then perhaps peace is something even a country with a relatively stable democracy needs to find time to talk about too.

In Ghana, I have heard and felt the unrest of the growing youth population about the older generation. The older generation still holds fast to their beliefs that the younger generation must hold their tongues. They don’t often respect the younger generation’s opinions and one sometimes finds it hard to be recognized for a job well done if you are young. The culture does not easily make a platform for the young to gain respect or bring their own innovative ideas to the table. And on the other side, the older generation is frustrated with a younger one they believe have forgotten to respect all matters in which their elders speak on and idealize the West too much. Sometimes old traditions are so embedded that people don’t even realize it. Before George became my boss, my first boss at AMPCAN in 2009 told me that I would probably never get married because I asked too many questions and was too educated, all the while heading an organization that works in part to empower young girls. Furthermore, many in Ghana are tired of the games that politicians play that stall the building of infrastructure in the country. I feel the pain of politicians at each other’s throats, but here in Ghana it reaches different heights; ones in which roads don’t get built and buildings go unfinished because of political party games. Ghana has the passion for peace, but still searches for the right actions to make it a complete reality.

Winner of the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education in 2000, Swee-Hin Toh lists what he views as the components of peace education as the following:

  1. Educating for human rights and responsibilities
  2. Educating for personal peace
  3. Educating for environmental care
  4. Educating for inter-cultural solidarity
  5. Educating for living with justice and compassion
  6. Educating for dismantling a culture of war

These components emphasize that peace education is not just about building peace with oneself, but also interconnecting and relating that to everything else. Bringing in the ideas behind peace and peace education to my project was very important to me. This program is not just about teaching children about the rights that they have, but also about helping them find a voice concerning the issues, as well as a vision concerning their community and their place in this world. It involves the components I believe that every child needs to grow up with a foundation for peace, from my own experience and research. First, they need to feel a sense of worth and love themselves, finding peace with who they are and want to be. Second, they need to realize that there is no “Superman” complex in which someone will fly in and radically bring sustainable change to their lives. They need to take responsibility for their own community and environment and bring about the changes themselves, although they can always look to the greater communities around them for assistance. And third, they should be given the tools, ability, and knowledge to express themselves in the globally interconnected world that is becoming closer and closer around us. This makes them think more about their rights and responsibilities as a citizen of the world, and not just a citizen of their community.

I believe that teaching children the actions of peace means taking care of them. And if we care for them today, and teach them to love and care about one another, there is no doubt in my mind that those seeds that are planted today will one day be watered enough to bring about a better future. We fight in wars for numerous years, yet try peace for only days, weeks, or months. All good things take time. Gradually the healing takes place, and the more things change.

Perhaps, though, peace itself is scary. The idea of living in harmony with one another, with the reality before us that we were not all that different after all. Who would exercise control? Who would we blame when things go wrong? Who would we hate? Who would be ‘the Other’?

A week and a half ago, I finished the program manual. It is 75-pages of teaching resources, handouts, surveys, worksheets, lesson outlines, but most importantly, it is 75-pages of what I hope to be the start of such conversations as this one in Ghana. This is just the beginnings of my own such conversations and wonderings about peace. We have to keep having these conversations.

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.