The Welcoming Committee
A young boy about 13 years old ran top speed toward us with sweat pouring down his brow. He introduced himself as Jimmy. I shook his hand and said hello which was followed by his customary “You are welcome!” I introduced my travel mates to him and slowly worked through my own name since Paul, EDYM’s director, mistakenly told people I was called Kimberly. I said with my most gracious smile, “I’m Kim. Just K-I-M.”
“Kem? Ah, Kem! Kem! I see!” He enthusiastically shook my hand again. “You are welcome!”
I would not let Jimmy carry even one of my bags so we all climbed back in the car, Jimmy on Emily’s lap in the front seat. Driving a few hundred feet up the road, Christian parked and unloaded my things. We were met by Emmanuel who I later learned is Jimmy’s uncle and Paul’s brother. A slightly older boy, also named Christian, soon came too. As they all tried to navigate the rocky, uphill footpath, each with my 69.5 lbs (x2) of donations on duffel wheels, I said my goodbyes to the others and caught up.
As we ascended into the trees, goats and chickens eased themselves out of the way. We quickly came upon a lovely palm roof under a mango tree. There on a bench in the shade sat three older women of distinction, one of which was Mama, mother to Emmanuel and Paul. Emmanuel introduced me as Kem and asked me to spell it. When I did, the pronunciation changed completely. “Ah, Keeem! So sorry!”
The women listened intently to the conversation, although it was clear that they understood little English. Once Emmanuel spoke a few words in Ewe with my name at the end of the sentence, each offered a warm and friendly hello saying that I was welcome. I had read that it is inappropriate to hug an elder so I was pleasantly surprised when they all embraced me. I hugged them back feeling like I just received a gift far greater than the standard greeting.
Emmanuel sent the boys to show me where I’ll stay, drop my things, and bring me back down the hill to talk more with Mama. (This would be interesting with the language barrier.) Jimmy and Christian had several questions for me along our way but I can barely remember what they were having been distracted by six passing school children no older than 7 or 8 years old. They walked single file with logs six inches in diameter and 4 feet long balancing upon their heads. All I do remember is my awe at this overwhelmingly beautiful and utterly foreign place.
Turning back to the boys, I helped to grab a handle wielding some of the baggage up the winding hill past curious goats, chickens and roosters. My help was met with resistance. The boys were determined to do this on their own. Not wanting them to get hurt, I allowed them to protest and then helped anyway.
Along the way, I found that if I waved first, people would wave back from their thatched roof kitchens and clay brick buildings. Otherwise they just watched the ridiculous luggage queen stumble through their village.
Home Sweet Home
The building where I’ll stay (a palace compared to other local dwellings) looks like a mix of Spanish and modern styles with graceful arches, traditional railings and linear wall supports. We keyed into the beautifully carved front door to the main area where there was a dining room table with two plastic chairs, matching upholstery in the form of a chair, love seat and couch and a large china cabinet against the far wall. Transitioning from the curb appeal of creamy plaster and the brick colored gate with matching landscaped blooms on the outside, it was an interesting shift into the echoing space of cool blue plastered walls and fluorescent lighting within.
Through a purple curtain to the right of the entry, I unlocked my black bedroom door and entered another room of smooth plaster walls painted a deep mint green. The room also featured a cement floor, desk, fan, plastic chair, dishes, 3 hangers in an alcove and a full size bed complete with mosquito net.
Off to the side is my bathroom. I do get a toilet, which is more than I expected. It doesn’t flush but it’s better than squatting. There is no shower, which I had braced for, but 7 big, colorful plastic buckets and a plastic trash can with a lid had been filled for me to bathe, launder and flush with. I can’t imagine how anybody carried all this up here on their heads but the colors are a nice decoration in blue, orange, black, green and gray.
The boys turned on my fan and asked if I was hot. My shirt was soaked through. I would have been fine but for hiking those bags up. I stretched out my arms and invited them to join me in the breeze. They laughed and said, “No, you. Just you. Dress down and we’ll take you back to Emmanuel.” With clarification I learned that I was to change from my skirt to shorts, so I put on some capris and was ready for the next adventure.
Walking through the paths with foot tall grass caressing my calves, I landed back in Emmanuel’s courtyard and met Salomey, his beautiful and charming wife. Salomey approached me with excitement, a huge hug and a smile, all of which I couldn’t help but return. “You are welcome!” she said as she put her arm around me and led me to a chair on her bright blue porch. From the hand prints at various levels on the paint, I could tell this place had been blessed by many children.
“Sit. Sit. You are welcome!”
I took a seat looking out over the caladium, various shrubs and arborvitae to the mountain in the distance.
Salomey noted my contemplative state, nodded in approval and went back to the kitchen off the porch to make the children’s lunch. Emmanuel ate his meal explaining that Florence, the volunteers’ cook, would come with mine very soon. Until then, I was told to make myself at home, relax and “feel free.”