Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pediatorkope: Morning at Last

I woke up the next morning tired, but extremely glad for a new day. The roosters were crowing outside, the frogs were dying down, and I could hear the little birds in the palm trees starting to chatter. I got up, changed out of my sweat-drenched clothes, and left the hut.
People were already hard at work outside. They used bundles of reeds to sweep the yard and gather up the trash (I still haven't figured out what they do with it. I never detected that "burning trash" smell.) A pot of water was boiling on the fire.
My new father greeted me. His name, by the way, is Joseph Quality Agamah. He decided to name me Agudi, which means "First born." Each family chooses a set of names to give their children, and that identifies you personally and as part of a specific family. It beats facial scarring, like they do in Mali...
He asked me if I would take my bath. I said sure, not knowing exactly what that entailed, and he signaled to his daughter to get it ready. The bathing area is a 10'x10' enclosure. They stick stakes in the ground that eventually sprout into trees. They weave palm fronds into a mat and wrap that around the posts to make a little wall. I looked inside and saw a bucket full of clear water. I decided that I wasn't ready to bathe in the buff, so I changed into my swimming shorts and took my bath.
It was great! A little awkward, though. You slather soap all over yourself, do your best to rinse off by cupping water in your hands, and finally dump the bucket over your self (that was the best part).
I got dressed and quickly ate some bread and cheese that I had brought to the island. We had been told that they would provide dinner, but we would need to take care of the other meals. Well, when I left the hut there was a little table set outside with a bowl of bread and a cup of coffee. She motioned for me to sit and eat. I ate some bread, but didn't know what to do with the coffee (1: I don't drink coffee, and 2: it was made with river water). I eventually was able to communicate to her that my stomach was too weak for coffee and gave it to the kids.
I played with the kids awhile, teaching them tic tac toe in the sand, until Papa Joseph took me out to see the sugar cane fields. We left the village and winded through the bush on a narrow sandy path through mangroves. The mosquitos were pretty thick in places, but it was beautiful. The sugarcane grows everywhere. All you have to do is hack it down with a machete and bundle it up. They take it by boat to Big Ada across the river and sell it in the market. Some of it is processed locally into rum. They also tap the palm trees, which provides an instant supply of cheap alcohol. The liquid ferments within a few hours after tapping. After hearing that I expected to see drunk people everywhere, but never noticed much drinking at all while on the island.
While I waited for Papa Joseph to take his bath the kids taught me Dangbe: goat, rooster, chicken, tree, coconut, crab--you know, all the basics. I found out that many people in Accra speak Ga, which is almost identical to Dangbe, but I quickly realized that most of the words I was learning would be useless in the city. "The crab bit me." "I want to drink coconut." "I like your goat." These were the kind of sentences I used most frequently on the island.
We hiked two miles back to the school to meet my friends. Isaac had brought some green and blue paint for the playground. I guess I never provided any background information: my uncle Ben Markham founded Empower Playgrounds after living in Ghana as an LDS missionary. He builds playground equipment that generates electricity for village schools. The kids play on merry go rounds and swings, and that charges LED lanterns that they can take home and use inside their homes. Ben graciously arranged our visit to the island, the host families, and even our travel to and from Accra. We are very thankful for his generosity.
Isaac thinned the paint with gasoline, something I had never thought about but I guess it works fine--it does evaporate. We put a new coat on the merry go round and then went down to the river to swim. Looking back, it probably wasn't a good idea to swim in the Volta River. It does contain the pollution of two African countries. But we were hot and had a rough night, so we decided to brave the water. Isaac took us out in a canoe past the marshy reeds and we jumped in. It was so nice to see my friends again, and to speak English for awhile. We tread water in a circle and talked about our crazy experiences from the night before.
It started to rain as we were getting out of the river, so we just stayed in our swimsuits and walked around. A guy named Tete took us crab hunting, which basically meant laying the little tin-can traps next to a crab hole. The rain was pouring down in buckets, and it was the most wonderful thing in the world. Tete climbed up a coconut tree and knocked down a dozen for us. We all guzzled coconut juice and Isaac taught us how to get the meat out. You stick you thumb in between the meat and the shell, and work your way around. It comes out in one big piece.
It was a magical experience. Standing in the cool, drenching rain, playing with my friends, and eating coconuts. Most of us had experienced similar things the night before, and we compared notes. The whole village experience was more difficult an adjustment than we had thought (looking back, that's a no brainer. We were in Africa.) We were reluctant to separate and go back to our families, but it was almost time for dinner again.

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