During our Peace Corps pre-service training, one (what I consider to be very wise) instructor told us, “If you don’t do anything but live in your community for a couple of years, you will have done a great service.”
I took those words to heart.
There are many days when all I do is live in my community.
Today was one of those days.
A woman about my age walks from the borehole near my house with a metal bucket of water balanced on her head. She moves the bucket to the footpath. The small coiled printed cloth remains atop her head to protect her crown when she replaces the bucket.
She smiles and greets me with a friendly “Ahn-new-we!” The “good noon-time” greeting is used from about eleven in the morning until two or three in the afternoon. I respond with “Law-fee’-a-bay” which might literally mean, “I acknowledge you.” and is used as a reply to almost any greeting comment or question.
She points to her head and motions toward the bandana that’s keeping my hair away from my face and neck. She then makes an elaborate gesture with an arcing hand from me to her. Without using any words, she’s telling me, “Give me your bandana.”
The “African Friends and Money Matters” book I finished last week notes that “Compliments are frequently given indirectly in the form of requests for gifts or loans and are often formulated as questions. Examples are: ‘Why don’t you give me your blouse?’ Or ‘Give me your trousers.’ These mean that the blouse and trousers are really nice.”
I still think she really WANTS my bandana instead of telling me, “Your bandana is nice.” – especially since a dozen children have earned bandanas by completing various chores.
“The girls earn a bandana for fetching water.” I say in English, trying to explain with elaborate hand motions. She shakes her head; that’s not the answer she wants to hear. She repeats her body language which I interpret as, “Give me your bandana.” I say, “Not today.” and add a cheery “Bye. Bye.” She smiles, places the water bucket back on her head, waves, and walks on towards her home.
I make a mental note to bequeath all my bandanas to Jumbo women when I leave Ghana.
Three children play Uno on my patio while I wash clothes. The oldest boy (seven year old Dankwa) consistently wins. When I watch them, I learn his secret. Instead of taking turns by going clockwise or counterclockwise, he takes his turn between each of the other two players. I’ll have to remember that trick. They also aren’t too picky about matching colors or numbers.
As I hang up the clean clothes, Baba snaps clothespins end to end while Dorki hands me one clothespin at a time to secure the clothes to the line. Dankwa counts the Uno cards – 102.
Later I hear fast light footsteps that stop at my living room window. “Good afternoon!” sings a sweet voice. I turn from my computer to see a nine-year-old girl in her orange and brown school uniform. Both hands form a tunnel-cup near her eyes and her nose almost touches the window screen as she peers in to focus.
“Hello. How are you?” I ask.
“I am fine.” she responds. I wait a split second, expecting the next standard phrase used by younger children, but the “Thank you, Madam.” doesn’t follow.
She smiles again. “Bye-bye” she chirps before turning away. I hear her fast light footsteps trail into the distance.
“Linda” calls a man as I ride my bike past the front of a hardware store.
“Hello, James!” I say to the man who sold me chicken wire to make a burn bin and “carpet” (super-light-weight linoleum) to cover my wooden tables. We chat (in English!) for a few minutes – mentioning how we’ll both miss Nate when he finishes his Peace Corps service and returns to America – before I ride on.
I park my bike in my standard shady spot near the small shop where I buy t-roll. Behind the counter, a women sits near the aluminum cash bowl while three girls between the ages of five and nine stand around waiting to help customers. When the seven-year-old sees me she taps her siblings/cousins on the shoulder to make sure they notice the arrival of an Obruni (foreigner). We exchange hellos and I ask their names in English and Twi. “May din-day LIN-DA.” I say. Their mother/aunt helps out and says each child’s name in turn.
When the woman says her name is Afia, I say, “Me, too!” We were both born on Friday. I repeat the three girls’ names a couple of times (“Regina. Ma-may’. M’-bee-ba.”), trying to make new connections in my already-bursting brain. After I pay for the t-roll, we all say goodbye – smiling and calling each other by name.
“Good morning, Mama Tae!” I say to my favorite Kpassa cook as she pulls items from her chest refrigerator. Mama Tae reminds me of the main character in the Number One Detective Agency book series: ample size and a keen observer of human nature. I purchase lunch from her small roadside stand at least once a week. I order the same thing each time: rice and beans with a salad and hard-boiled egg. She serves me a generous portion and then adds more to a take home container so I don’t have to cook supper.
After exchanging pleasantries, she asks, “Will you cook today?” It’s only 9:30 in the morning – much too early for lunch. When I reply yes, she looks at the small head of lettuce she has in her hand. “I will dash you.” she states.
A “dash” is a “little extra” thrown in when you purchase items. After purchasing eight tomatoes, the shop owner might throw in an extra tomato or two. When selling a large basin of groundnuts, the seller throws in a couple extra handfuls. Mama Tae dashes me for stopping to say hello. She tears off a few of the wilted lettuce leaves and places the head in the shopping bag with t-roll. Then she slices a cucumber in half and adds the big half to my bag. I stammer my sincere thanks and say, “See you on Sunday.”
Maybe I’ll take her some home-made cashew candy.
Monday Joshua and Wojay brought me a couple of yams to cook. They sat on my patio to peel the yams using a large kitchen knife; they used a small paring knife to chop the yam into cooking-pot size pieces. I cooked the yam on my stove and carried the steamy yam pieces to their house. Their mother pounded fufu and made a light stew (sauce) to eat with the mashed-potato-consistency yams. The two boys brought the fufu and stew back to my house and we ate it sitting on the floor in the kitchen.
Tuesday Joshua borrowed the “small cutlass” (my green-handled paring knife). When he brought it back, he also brought GHC 2. (Two Ghana cedis is worth about one United States dollar.) He wanted to buy my knife. I told him I couldn’t sell it to him, but he could buy one in Kpassa. “You go to Kpassa.” was his response – knowing I go to Kpassa regularly and each time he “helps” me by riding my bike from my house to the road.
I took his two bills and told him I would buy a knife for him in Kpassa.
Today I buy a red-handled paring knife from our local “WalMart,” one of the larger stores in Kpassa that sells a wide variety of items. The shop is about the size of a small Seven Eleven store and the primary link to either large US chains is the eclectic collection of merchandise available. The knife only costs 70 pesewas – about 35 cents.
When Joshua, Wojay, and their mother (with her youngest son strapped to her back) return from the farm using the footpath by my house, Joshua runs to my gate. I give Joseph the knife. He’s surprised to get change and initially hands it back to me. I convince him to keep the change and he hands the change and new knife to his mother.
What else happened today?
I cooked water yams that Dankwa peeled and cut.
Two girls fetched a couple of buckets of water.
Three girls helped me repair my water sachet fence.
Solo returned the needle and thread he borrowed yesterday.
I sent a few emails.
And what’s still to come?
Ten children are giggling and playing in my front yard – waiting to add another couple pages to the books they are creating.
Nate will be here in a couple of hours – on his way from a training class back to his home. We’ll have dinner – with a lettuce salad – and probably watch a movie.
I’ll write “four words” before I crawl into bed.
I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer. If my “job” is to “live in the community,” I did a good job today.
And even if living in the community of Jumbo in Northern Volta is not my job, today was a great day.
Most days are!