Why are we doing this, again?
This question becomes aggravatingly common after six months of living in a rural West African village, when being outside of your comfort zone has been the norm for too long, when the little annoyances grow into gross inefficiencies that grind against your sanity. The novelty of being an oburoni has long worn off, the lack of connectivity isn’t quaint anymore, and the perennial tardiness is no longer laughable. We would be much more capable of tolerating such inconveniences and wants if we felt like people still cared.
The lead mason took over a month to fix his own, simple mistake because he was off chasing work that would pay him new money. The assemblyman went back on his word to cover certain material expenses. I haven’t heard from our structural engineer in months after he failed to show up for three work days. People keep asking us to pay for random crap. One of our favorite teachers no longer believes the literacy center will have much of an impact because the community doesn’t appreciate education. Someone in the town is defecating in school classrooms at night.
And then someone started stealing from us. It wasn’t anything valuable. My sandals disappeared a few weeks ago, and then our bottle of dish soap vanished from our front porch. These things are cheap and relatively easy to replace—nuisances really. But what it represented to us costs much more: disrespect. Just after this, we learned that the banging sound on our roof wasn’t crows: children were shooting rocks at our house with slingshots. After I shooed them away, I slumped down on the bed and stewed in the discouragement. Have we worn out our welcome? Does the community really care so little about our presence here that they stoop to swiping our stuff? Why are we even doing this if no one cares about us or our project?
With our funds effectively gone, it’s horribly tempting to throw our hands in the air and skip town back to America where we blend in, people care about us, others understand our English, the weather doesn’t oppress us, we know all the customs, and people don’t take dumps in classrooms. We could just give the village the finger and go sit in a Starbucks with frappuccinos and free WiFi. “We did our best,” we could say. “They just didn’t want us there.”
“It just wasn’t meant to happen.”
Unfortunately for my comfort levels, I’m really terrible at giving up. Unfortunately for that frappuccino, there are still people here who care.
Mary and Kumi, our librarians, are in Accra right now excitedly training in order to return to Asisiriwa and show their people the love of reading. Quist skipped a friend’s wedding and drove two hours to come help us with a fundraising video. Professor Kofi Agyekum has insisted on paying for the materials the assemblyman went back on in an email that said, “Thanks for all that YOU AND KAITLYN have done for Asisiriwa.” Nana Birago, our American Ghanaian grandmother, has publicly thanked us in front of her church. Our friend Kwasi at CIEE paid for a pickup truck to help us retrieve our boxes of books from the port, and he is bringing the CIEE students to volunteer at the literacy center every semester. Brakwasi, the committee chairman, has worked tirelessly to organize labor for the literacy center without being paid a pesewa because he believes it will give his children an “educational foundation” from which to launch the rest of their lives. Our roommate, Acheampong—a delightful alcoholic who is adorably protective of us—brought us a basket of oranges.
Aside from those people, there are kids here who do care about their education. There’s Martha (who you’ll hear about in a blog post I want to dedicate to her), a girl who had to drop out of junior high school because she got pregnant and then returned to finish her third year after giving birth. There’s Sarpong Augustine, who graduated from JHS a year early because he smashed the third year exams in his second year and is now attending Senior High School a few towns away against the odds. There are Acheampong’s three children—Ruth, Princess, and the other one—who I occasionally catch sitting in a row on our couch, reading some Twi storybooks we stockpiled for the library while they wait for their father.
When I think about these people, I am reminded that there are plenty of reasons to keep at it. I’m doing this for the locals who want opportunities, for the townsfolk who don’t steal to get by, for the fathers who slave to make sure their kids have more options than they did. I’m doing this for the Marthas and the Sarpongs and the Brakwasis of Asisiriwa—of the world.
I’m doing this for the kids who don’t throw rocks.
And you know what? They’re worth it.