Today felt like most other days. I woke to the whirr of the air conditioner, the 14 year old cat who still wants to suck on my shirt and kneed my fleece, the dog who (once he actually got out of bed) spun in circles to be fed, and my husband, Tim, whose eyes were still no more than slits but whose smile was running at full power.
“It’s Africa Day,” he said.
Then it clicked… and I cried (again) at the thought of not being able to share my amazing experiences with the person I cherish most in the witnessing of each other’s lives…
Up and Running
There was much to do by noon but nothing motivates me more than deadlines and lists. (Deadline dependence is a sickness. Truly it is.)
First up was to print a Dewey Decimal System summary to share with the newly renovated library in Have. Once on the OCLC web site I learned that printing the four volumes of instructions would require packing a tree. Another site said “You can’t learn this in a day.” Really? Holy crow, I would think not. As luck would have it, while saving some teaching documents from the Village Volunteers site, I read that Maia, another volunteer who will be in the village at the same time, currently works with the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland as a librarian. Check.
I moved on to collect additional lesson plans at readwritethink.org. (Thanks for the tip Elliot!), and printed copies of my passport, license, credit cards and contact info for Tim. He got the address for the American Embassy and punched holes in my preprinted pages about farming, health, teaching, etc. I ran off photos of him, the pets and our home while he repacked the duffels so I wouldn’t break my back.
As the photos were stacking up in the print tray I jumped in the shower – my last for a long time – and had little time to enjoy it. Once relatively dry, we shoved the laptop, video and SLR cameras, batteries, chargers, adapter, transformer, USB and power cords, memory stick, 300 gig external hard drive, books, journal, malaria pills, typhoid vaccine, rain jacket AND a very important trial-size deodorant stick into the backpack. (I learned later that Tim also slipped in an envelope to “read on flight 166” as I was putting my own little note on his pillow.) I’m pretty sure I did half of this in a naked panic , occasionally putting on clothes between steps. At 11:15 we were done, I was fully clothed and we were on schedule.
A Last Minute Good-bye
On the way to the airport, our friend Scott called to say he was at our house. His attempt to catch me was a total miss but he told me what his card said in a genuine and compassionate voice. I was so moved that I was unable to breathe.
I just want you to know that what you’re doing in Ghana is a great, great thing. Go over there and bring a lot of love to those kids and I know you’ll bring home even more than you left with.
Scott and I have been working on the basement in tandem over the past month, designing, playing with power tools, sharing stories and building a friendship together every day. Yes, Scott has been Tim’s building contractor for years, but that’s just the smallest part of their relationship. I’m glad I got to get in on that party.
At the airport, Tim and I met up with friends Lori and Mike but I couldn’t focus too much on talking about anything other than packing or I’d cry at another good-bye. (Sorry guys!)
I made a trial run of carrying the backpack while rolling the two huge duffels behind me. Team Ghana really came through on the donations. Thank goodness all this stuff goes just one way because we thought the handle might give. I had packed to make one bag “airline fee free” at 49 lbs. but the other was a monster. The airline refuses to take anything over 100 but at the counter we learned that bags going specifically to Ghana can’t be over 70. The big guy was 94.
Tim, Lori and Mike helped me to repack, weigh, repack again, weigh. We got both bags down to 69.5 lbs each and stuffed some clothing and construction paper into a spare canvas bag making it my second carry on. The only things left behind were some runny petroleum jelly with a faulty lid (glad we caught THAT), a bag of chalk, too fat for a blackboard, my partially used spiral notebooks, and a big fat dictionary (leaving 5 others that still made the cut).
When we did the final weigh-in, we told the the woman behind the kiosk that this trip was a graduation gift. She then said to Tim, “You approve of this, Dad?” I couldn’t help but snicker as she tried to back-peddle by pointing out his premature gray.
Tim and I said our “until next times” at security. After many kisses, hugs, smiles and tears, I took off my sneakers, waved, let the men in uniform swab my water filtration system, waved, held my breath, wiped tears and waved, put everything back on and together, waved, wiped more tears, blew more kisses and walked to my gate. Tim watched me go the entire way, waving every time I turned around. Eventually I rounded the corner and sat down to begin writing a one-sided conversation to him in my journal. Perfect. I had finally figured out how to include him in everything.
For the next hour everything was calm and good … until the delay.
I’m far less anxious now, but on the flight from Albany to JFK I felt like a track junkie betting my last dollar on a horse that was never going to come in first. I had planned for 5 hours between connections but Delta recently adjusted my itinerary and left me only an hour and a half. When you miss something by an hour you think, “That’s okay, it wasn’t even close.” Missing something by 10 minutes (like I did the only flight to Accra today) feels a whole lot different. That glimmer of hope taunts as you will this beast of a machine into motion. Each moment feel like an hour, adding to what had already become a very long day. All in all, it took six hours to travel a mere170 miles. Had we driven, I would have made it in less time.
Ah well. All was not lost. I met Maxine in Albany, a women whose friend Lauren works with US AID and is traveling to Accra for a month starting tomorrow. Maxine put us in touch via her cell and Lauren and I swapped info. I might try to meet up with her at the airport to kill some time together. My flight doesn’t leave until 5 PM so that would be a welcome connection.
Also, at JFK, I met Ghanaian woman who had missed the same flight to Accra. It was a real treat to learn that Have is pronounced Hahvay with the accent on the first syllable and that the local language, Ewe, is said “aye way.” You don’t get this information from print and now I won’t sound like a such a goober when I get there. We talked about what I’ll see in the Northern Volta Region, the monkey sanctuary, slave castles, and the Central Region where she is from. I’m not even there yet and I’m already making friends and learning a bunch. I also had it confirmed that it very well might be an 8 hour drive from Accra to Have. Wow.
My husband was worried that I’d be disappointed about losing a day in Africa, but this detour is just as exciting as getting there. The next adventure was hopping the Air Link to Jamaica Station and catching a shuttle to the Fairfield Marriott. Once here, I woke a very disoriented Gunadiish (at nearly midnight in Accra) and told him not to pick me up for another day.
More good things…
- Tim and I were able to iron out our Skype connection tonight, repairing the microphone issue and chatting over the Internet (with only a few more tears).
- Shana from Village Volunteers suggested, last minute, that I ask to see the projects going on at Kpandu, meet the Dzidefo women’s group and visit the Fesi Potters. (I have already emailed Gunadiish and Paul to see if it can be arranged.)
- We also brainstormed about Tim’s idea of initiating a proper battery disposal transport through the traveling volunteers until Shana’s solar battery program has fully taken hold.
- AND Shana shared some quick thoughts on a local village business that could shred un-recyclable plastic into packing material while creating an alternative to burying or burning such material on the side of the road. We plan to talk about that when I get back.
Overall, it has been a very full and productive day with a wealth of opportunity busting at the seams.
Jamaica… It’s not Ghana, but it’s close.
In some ways being here isn’t much different than being in Ghana. I still have to wash my underwear in the sink along with my tired shirt and tank. The only difference is that if my laundry doesn’t dry by tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be blowing it with a hair dryer. There is an odd beauty in that there is nothing else I have to do. My two 70 pound bags may still be at the airport and the only clothes I have are on my back, but hey, I have the cameras, laptop and books… enough brain food for the mind to kill many hours. Besides, the hotel has me set up with free deodorant, shampoo, cookies, Alka-Seltzer Immunity Complex, Advil, a toothbrush and toothpaste. I was tempted to say, “Wait! I have 50 toothbrushes already!” Of course not a single one was on me.
I will concede that the hotel air conditioning, king size bed, full plate of Fettuccini and Shrimp Alfredo and the sparkling, white porcelain of the toilet are a far cry from what I will experience in Have. I was reminded of this when Erin, my niece, called last night to wish me well on my journey. Erin spent last summer in Namibia. When she returned, I ate her stories and photos whole and her insight has been a gift. Last night we talked about how best to squat without peeing on your pants. It’s too late now, but I should have been practicing.