Friday, August 19, 2011

Things to Know, Pt. 1

1. 'I'm coming' is a legitimate every-day phrase spoken to indicate one's pending arrival into any number of situations. It's also used as a polite refusal to come over at all. (... word's out on whether there are additional signals to tell one from the other.)

2. Don't feed the children; it's kind of like letting a bear into your trash = disaster.

3. Dancing is okay anywhere, any time. Also, everyone's invited - even if it's a group of strangers dancing in a circle around a cell phone ringtone on the street corner.

4. Even if you don't go to church ... you go to church. And you will be there as long as it takes.

5. You (the white person) are hilarious no matter what you're doing. "You try, oh. It's cute."

6. Gimpy is the magically, constantly pregnant cat. It's how we roll in the African wilderness.

7. Looking at certain children will always make them cry. You get extra points for making them scream in terror (because playing tag with a giant white person is kind of like being chased by hockey-mask-weilding Jason ... machete optional??) Also, whoever gets the most points wins Peace Corps.

8. Finding a second-hand shirt from your high school in the dead-obroni pile also wins Peace Corps.

9. Pito is a legitimate breakfast substitute. What?? Beer's a grain, right?!!

10. Texting is neither considered efficient or normal means of communication/information exchange. Yelling the same greeting into a phone seven times (before running out of minutes), however, is.

11. Flashing is not something you can get arrested for, it's something you do after running out of credits when you tried greeting that one dude seven times ... Call me back, yo!!

12. "Urinal? Yeah, it's the third bush to the left - careful, though, there's a kitchen window over there with a perfect view of your comically white ass."

13. "No, seriously: how white is your ass!??!"

14. Just stop. You're white. (This roughly translates to 'surely you can't know how to [insert mundane everyday activity here] and is always followed by 'WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU CAN'T SPEAK [insert Ghanaian language here]?!!! Apparently one standard doesn't apply to the other ...)

15. "Ohhhh. You didn't mean eleven when you said the meeting started at nine? ... Cause I had stuff to do ..."

16. Ghanaians never sleep. They nap. On the upside, discotechs and bars are open until four in the morning.

17. The main highways of Ghana are one continuous drive-through; top-shopping is what you do when you buy food off someone's head, it is not a British fashion boutique.

18. OCD takes on an entire new meaning in Ghana. No you may not alter the items in your dish, mix concoctions together, or rearrange something you see.

19. Speaking of menus: there's no garauntee that the item you want (listed on the menu out front) is actually available today ... or ever.

20. You're gonna have to repeat yourself ... better yet, just make sure everything you say is repeated back to you verbatim. Ghanaians are agreeable. They will nod their heads in a general agreement-fashion just to make you happy (or get you into the damn taxi).

21. Taxis are tricky. Sometimes they're a complete rip-off. Negotiate and settle on a price before you sit down; rinse and repeat.

22. It's amazing how white my neighbor's whites are ... and embarassing that mine definitely aren't. Maybe they were right when they told me to stop because I was white ....

23. Ghanaian films. There's nothing else you need to know. (Besides the fact that you should probably block a seven hour period to watch one - this allows ample time for parts one through seven.)

24. Bugs definitely bite.

25. That guy/girl you just walked down the street with? Yeah, you're going steady now; kind of like in Pleasantville. Now go run off and neck in the woods somewhere ...

26. 'Backing' a baby is much harder to do when your ass doesn't look like that (yes, Gifty, I'm talking to you).

27. Everyone has an opinion; it's especially obvious on a full bus. It's kind of like being in a room full of Italian grandmothers. And you aren't married yet.

28. Oh! You aren't married? No problem. You can have my brother/sister/cousin/son/daughter/friend. Hell, you can have me! I mean, at your age it's amazing you're still fertile! (I'm twenty-four...)

29. Africa is hot (and I don't mean like Paris Hilton).

30. Cheese is necessary for both survival and sanity. Also, strawberries are awesome.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Growing Up Ghana

I think it's safe to say I've grown a lot in Ghana - grown up, grown out, grown loud(er) - because Ghana offers me something new to learn every day (and, mostly, I learn about myself). Though the entire experience has been incredible, I think I've managed to learn the most in the last six months (every Sunday at two o'clock).

When it comes to our support group (I say 'our' because believe in community ownership), I think I've felt - and more than once - that I've learned much more from them than they have from me. Perhaps that's the nature of our relationship: fifty people have a lot more to teach than one. I consider myself lucky everytime I walk into a meeting and I find that they're all still there - ready to learn.

What once seemed a tiny smudge in the distance, our positive living workshop arrived with theatrical flair and triumph - I can call it nothing less than a success. As I sat there, watching twenty-two people become more and more enthusiastic, brighter and brighter each day, - their auras, their comfort level expanding and becoming visible to the naked eye - I realized how grateful I was to have finally offered them something in return for their faith in me. It's not often one has the opportunity to impart true, life-changing knowledge onto a group of people (let alone a group of adults) and, though I only really take credit in the workshop's general organization, it was amazing to be a part of something so integral to their lives.

I, undoubtedly, had the easiest job in the room: I sat, listening with the other group members, occasionally chiming in, while our facilitators, imported from Accra, managed to do everything I'd been trying to do in the last six months in three days. It was amazing. And it gave me the chance to get to know twenty-two people in a way I couldn't have achieved with a group of fifty, even if we'd met every other day. I was finally able to hear their stories; twenty-two people opening fold by fold, like flowers in bloom that I hope will never close again.

I think they were genuinely happy, surprised even, by everything they learned - inspired by both Edem and Gifty to live loudly, proudly, and forever positive. Because, after all, having HIV is just another state of being - a fragile state of being, yes, but a state of being, nonetheless. We growled at injustice, we laughed in the face of ignorance, we cried at tragedy, and we reveled in the fact that life is always still worth living. And I'm so proud of each and every one of them, ready to go into the world and impart their knowledge - educate so that their lives and the lives of other's may improve, educate so that we may beat HIV, so that we may beat the more dangerous diseases of discrimination, hate, and miseducation.

Our meeting this Sunday will be their first challenge: a challenge to infect others with positive energy, to take responsibility as peer leaders (and to realize their potential in the face of what some would consider an end, rather than a beginning). I have so much faith in them; Sunday cannot come soon enough.

"I want you to give your virus a name," Gifty said, "and I want you to speak to it. I want to to welcome it into your body," pausing for Joe's translation, "then I want you to set some ground rules. Trust me: your virus will listen. And then," she says, smiling a secret smile, "I want you to listen. I want you to ask your virus why it came to you and I want you to listen to what it has to say. I promise you," she levels a finger at her audience, "that it will answer ... if you listen well enough. It will."
Because, she explained, that the only way to live with the virus is to be at harmony with its existence, to accept its interference, and come to a compromise. "It's not a cure," she later enforced, "there is no cure, but there is life with HIV."

She called her virus 'Little Dragon," and when she spoke to it, Little Dragon told her to go out into the world and teach, to fight, and to live. If you think, as someone not living with HIV, I have nothing to learn from this, you'd be wrong. In fact, we all have something to learn from Gifty. Though it may not be as daunting as HIV, we all have Little Dragons, demons that weigh us down, and if you sit there in dejection - if you allow your Little Dragon to possess you, steal the fire in your heart for its own - then you are letting your Little Dragon win.

And so I left with a fire in my heart, hands entwined with my own Little Dragon, waiting to unleash twenty-two newly inspired, positively loud group members onto a world that will - eventually - accept them, wholly, for who they are. And, despite having reservations about publically declaring their status, I believe that each of them walked away as PLWHA. Loud and proud. Positive in every aspect of the word.

What's not to be inspired about that?

Ruby Red

He walks into the storm with purpose - parasole, ruby red, and detailed with something I'd think to see in Saigon. He leaves with sprays like purfume in his wake. Ruby red, daintily protecting him from the rain; a stain, vibrant, in my periphery.