Adopting Ghana

Ghana: Day Two

In Journal Entries, Photography on October 19, 2009 at 1:59 am

I got up this morning to noises of children outside preparing for school.  The school is part of the orphanage compound (or is it the other way around) and the two are separated by a new set of classrooms currently being built.  Seth seemed to want to stay in my room last night, so I had let him sleep next to me. No time like the present to begin the father/son bonding by letting him pummel me with kicks all night. 🙂  Like the other kids at home, he’s a bit of a bed hog, so he’ll fit right in!

King's International School children gather for morning assembly

About 7:00am I tried to convince Seth to begin getting ready for school.  He got a scowl on his face that told me what he thought of that.  Kingsley, his wife Gloria, one of Kingsley’s kids, and Auntie Selena (one of the caregivers) finally convinced him.

I got a shower. It was exactly the same experience I had as a missionary in Guatemala.  No hot water (not that you’d actually want it at nearly 0 degrees latitude and longitude).  The trick is to hold your breath and jump under the cold water so only you can hear yourself scream. Otherwise, you can expect a gaggle of kids to come running to find out how the Obruni hurt himself this time.  Glad I have my head shaved for this trip. Makes washing my hair in cold water that much quicker.

Finally dressed (yet feeling like I needed another shower from the sweat I had already accumulated), I went out to take pictures and videos of the kids in their classes.  These are really rustic classrooms with only dirt floors and windows and doors are the only light sources.  The desks are shared, wooden, and makeshift in appearance.

Most schoolrooms in rural Ghana look like this

Dusty, unlit, and makeshift

Seth ditched class to come show me that the bandage dressing his ankle wound, one that I had discovered and treated the day before, had been removed.  It was probably during his bath.  I went back to my room and brought out some gauze, tape, and antibiotic ointment I had brought to add to the infirmary (for which I don’t yet have a key) and did my best to re-cover the wound in somewhat unsanitary conditions.  I’ll need to watch this wound closely.  It’s nasty.

The sore on Seth's ankle. Ouch.

The sore on Seth's ankle. Ouch.

Kingsley was in the house when I returned.  He said he had planned to go to the embassy in the morning at 8:30 to apply for his own visa to visit the U.S. and for Seth’s passport application.  But it was already 9:30 and he had missed his visa appointment.  He asked if I would accompany him for a second attempt at the appointment after he got cleaned up.

Meanwhile, breaktime and breakfast came.  I played soccer (football) with Abe (pronounced AH-bay), who appears to be 5 or 6, but, accounting for malnutrition, could be as old as 8 or 9.  His sidekick, Aninda, and Kingsley’s own son, Junior joined us in kicking around the plush, stuffed soccer ball in the courtyard.  At one point, Abe, who together with Aninda had just been circumcised days before, lifted up his shirt (no pants, to let it heal) and peed right there in the courtyard, then proceeded to “play through” with the soccer ball.  While the Guatemalan missionary in me was not shocked, the father of four in me was.  I started to reprimand him, but then I remembered reading in the touristy guidebook I brought that a) urine is sterile and pretty much harmless and b) all boys and men do this in Ghana.

Abe and Aninda...the Dynamic Duo

Abe and Aninda...the Dynamic Duo

Seth was again out of class (I think, anyways…hard to tell yet what “class” is and what it isn’t), this time eating a bowl of some kind of mush.  No spoon, just his fingers (okay, the “original spoon”).

Kingsley emerged wearing a white shirt and tie, making me feel rather under-dressed in my shorts and t-shirt, and  we drove first to the church building so he and the financial clerk could resolve a .10 pesewas problem with tithing records from the day before.  I was able to help a little by showing them how they had accidentally recorded C20.10 under paper currency when the .10 needed to actually be tallied under “coin”.  Guess my time as a financial clerk with dyscalculia in my home congregation wasn’t a total failure!

We dropped off the other bishopric members at their homes and finally headed for Accra to go to the embassy.  Turns out Kingsley had an appointment back in July to apply for a visa so he could attend an adoption conference in the U.S.  He had not been able to sufficiently prove, despite glowing recommendations from Church officials from the Area Office, that he had enough compelling interest to return to Ghana.  He had been so sure his investments in the school and orphanage would be a clear indicator of his intent to return and not overstay his visa, but the embassy felt differently.

This time, it was no different. After spending US$131, doing several rounds of fingerprinting, and waiting 2 hours– even with me being there as an American citizen to vouch for his character and commitment to return, a window clerk denied the application saying only that “nothing has changed about Kingsley’s situation or documentation since the last application.”  Well, certainly one thing had changed.  Kingsley had completely missed the adoption conference and he was now applying to visit for the LDS Church general conference in April 2010.  Still, no dice.

I asked the clerk to explain to me why, but his only response was to refer to the Web site.  I grilled him with more questions on what they needed to see from Kingsley for it to be approved until he finally gave me his full name and the name of an email list to contact for more tips and details.  Well, that’s something, at least.  When I later explained to Kingsley the condition of America’s southern border with Mexico and that he might actually have a better shot going that route (at risk of his own life), he found it quite shocking…and rather unfair…that he should be denied legitimate entry on the basis that he might be a criminal while lawbreakers enter repeatedly with impunity.

I’m with ya’, buddy.

Next on the list was to go to the market and buy two bolts of school uniform cloth. We carried them back to the car through the market, he on his shoulder and I on my head. The sight of a pasty-white Obruni trying to balance a 30 lb bolt of fabric on his head caused quite a stir of laughing, pointing, and cat-calling of “Obruni, let go with your hands and balance it like we do!”  I obliged, which made them hoot and holler even more.  One lady with a large metal bowl full of water packets on her head came up to me and wanted to do a little dance.  Kingsley had my camera and took pictures, but not before I clumsily knocked her bowl to the ground as I flailed my arms to balance the load.  Well, that whole area of the market was beyond laughter at that point.

The market in downtown Accra

The market in downtown Accra (click to zoom)

Obruni balancing act

Obruni balancing act (click to zoom)

After dropping a load of water

After dropping a load of water (click to zoom)

I gave her 5 cedis for her broken water packets, which was quite a sum for her, apparently, because she kissed me on the cheek and kept saying “Thank you! Thank you!”  Better check that exchange rate again.

From there to where we ate, and back to the car, I carried it on my shoulder.  No more of that or we’d never get home.

We ate a late lunch in a street vendor area on benches between parked cars.  Kingsley ordered up a couple of bowls of fufu with casava dough and a whole tuna fish.  It was very tasty and very spicy.  My “spoon” hand (always the right hand) was stinging for an hour afterwards. I regained confidence from my bolt balancing incident when ladies observing nearby commented how well I was doing at eating like a Ghanaian and not like a typical Obruni.  They even told me I was a true Ghanaian.  I wondered if they told that to all the Obrunis. 🙂

Yes, this is a real chair for someone to sit on.

Yes, this is a real chair for someone to sit on.

Kingsley’s brother met up with us at the parking lot. I bought everyone a Coke (real Coke! with real sugar!) and then we drove for what seemed like forever, taking the long route home to avoid traffic snarls.  We went through all kinds of neighborhoods…from rich, to commercial, to the poorest. Dummy that I was, I took a picture in one of the poorest neighborhoods, hoping to capture a glimpse of the abject poverty I was witnessing so I could show my kids that I wasn’t lying about finishing their veggies, but was reprimanded (rightly so) by Kingsley’s brother because there were criminals in the area who would not take kindly to my photography hobby. Oops.  Come on, third world sea legs. Come back to me quickly.


My oops photo moment. At least it's blurry.

My oops photo moment. At least it's blurry.

We finally arrived home at 7pm.  I had a hard time finding Seth outside in the dark because there was no contrast in skin tone…just a bunch of curious white eyes and bright smiles.  Seth found me, though. Go figure. 🙂

Seth, Junior and I went to my room to read from the scripture picture books by flashlight. Kingsley’s daughter, Marion, joined us as well.

Around 8pm, I sent Junior and Marion back to their room.  Seth was crying again and he wouldn’t tell me why.  I had already offered to let him sleep in my room again, so that wasn’t it. I gave him a second granola bar for the evening and some more water, which seemed to calm him down.  I know the kids at the orphanage are fed reasonably well for what Kingsley can provide, but at the moment there seems to be some lack of protein. We Americans forget what it’s like to not be “full”.

But, there’s still more to his cries than physical hunger. It is my goal to find out what.


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