The Ghana Chronicles: 8

July 13, 2000

Dear Journal,

I got two letters from my mom today.  It takes exactly two weeks to get a letter.  It made me even more homesick but her encouragement is enough to keep me going.

Did I tell you I got another marriage proposal?  From a taxi driver this time.  The grossest part was that the whole time he was talking he was also picking his nose!  I had to hold myself in from laughing out loud hysterically!

Two weeks left tomorrow.  Hopefully they’ll go by quickly.  I know I’ll probably regret even writing that when I leave.  How can I think about home when I’m here in Africa!  I thought I knew what I was getting into.  I was naive. I learned so much about myself- not to judge or decide without proof.

Love,

Lauren

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The Ghana Chronicles: 7

July 11, 2000

P.S.

Another thing.

I made a comparison today.  You know those world hunger things that say one dollar will feed like 20 kids?  Well I’ve always been like, “What?! Bullshit.” Then I came over here and realized that one dollar  = 5,800 cedis which is enough money to feed that many kids!  I never would have thought that.

In the same way, holding hands with one of the children here seem so ineffective to me, but that is from a one-sided view.  I don’t know how effective it really is or how much it means to the child whose hand is in mine.  I can only make an educated guess.

Overall, I have to be more open-minded to look at all angles.  To be content with the little I do and know that that little is a lot to them.

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Me and Philli

The Ghana Chronicles: 6

July 11, 2000

Today was awesome!  You see, we’ve all been complaining that we’ve had nothing to do here at the orphanage.  All we do is try to bring organization into classrooms of chaos.  It’s nuts.  The kids all fight physically and verbally during the entire class and they take a break every two minutes.  Anyhow, we feel like we’re doing nothing to help- that our work there or just holding hands with a child isn’t getting anything accomplished.  It’s because as Americans, generally speaking, we work towards a finished goal and final product.  But holding a kid’s hand doesn’t produce a final product. You don’t feel like you’ve really made a difference.  We like to work- or at least I like to work towards a goal.  I like to challenge myself physically and be proud of what I’ve done.

So, today Britta and I went and asked the teachers whether or not we could help haul concrete blocks or carry water- and we did!  We hauled blocks of concrete, we pumped water from a well and walked at least 1/4 or 1/2 a mile to dump it into a large bin.  And Logan and I shoveled concrete that glues the blocks together.  Unlike America with our mechanical mixing machines, they mix with shovels, so that’s what we did.  I FELT SO GOOD ABOUT MYSELF AFTERWARDS.

I have definitely learned something that is easily overlooked.  Nobody is going to hand you your life and give you directions on where to go, how to do it.  Soon I will grow up and there won’t be a chaperone or houseparent to tell me where to go and when to be there.  If I want to accomplish something, I have to go out and get it.  If manual labor makes me feel like I’m contributing then I have to volunteer to find the work that needs to be done, the supplies to do it and the determination to get it done. It won’t always be handed out in front of my face.

I have to look beyond what has been laid out in front of me.  Stop bitching and start reforming if you want to change something or make a difference.  It takes the utmost determination and highest level of perseverance and strength to force yourself to find what you want.

Wow!  I feel great!

Love,

Lauren

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The Ghana Chronicles: 5

Dear Journal,

Today was my 1st day at the orphanage.  It was hard to see all [of] those children without a mom or dad.  I can’t even imagine what it must be like.  I felt/feel bad though because all I can think about is the possibility of them having HIV or any other diseases and I know that sound so horrible but I can’t help to listen to my instinct that says, “Lauren, be careful, they could get you seriously ill.” And the other part of me says, “You’re here to help them, not to think of only yourself.” They are all starving for love and attention.  They want us to hold their hand, hug them, pick them up, play with them and to talk with them.

I’m almost afraid to get close to them, because I know that I will soon have to leave them :(.

The poverty level here is astonishing.  I look around in disbelief, “This cannot be humanly possible.  It can’t be real.  This is something off [of] a movie.” Then I rub my eyes, wake up and realize that I’m here.  It’s real.  Too real.  It scares me so that I want to runaway from it all, from facing it.  Part of me wants to return home because I don’t want to have to come to terms with reality.

Why?  I have no control, I can’t “fix” this problem and that kills me.  I like to be able to work with situations and possibly better the environment but when I am confronted with a situation that I have no control over, I am easily frightened and my instinct is to quickly turn my back and runaway.

But this is how I learn, and just from writing this entry I have realized what this wall that I have been holding up stands for.  Now I have to break it down and let go of my safety rope.  I’m only here for so long and I don’t want to spend half the time being homesick.  Instead of living in fear of getting a disease or HIV, I need to still respect my instinct to be safe but I can’t deny myself the fun I should be having in helping out and living here.

July 5, 2000

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The Ghana Chronicles: 4

Dear Journal,

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!

I wish I were at a cookout eating hotdogs, burgers and french fries with my family.

My host mother is trying to fill me up with food.  I’m SOOO FULL! She thinks it’s cuz I don’t like the food but I do!  I just don’t have room.

Yvonne [house servant] wrote me a really disturbing note about how she wanted to come to America with me and how she doesn’t like it here.  I’m gonna write her back- but it’s really hard to deal with. I never realized how VALUABLE my country is.  If I’ve learned anything it’s to appreciate America for everything.  After I get out of here, I’ll have the utmost appreciation for the U.S.A.

July 4, 2000

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The Ghana Chronicles: 3

Dear Journal,

It’s so hard to walk down the streets of Accra and look at the beggars and handicapped children begging for money.  It’s the kind of stuff you see in National Geographic and I’m in the middle of it.  It’s so polluted here.  The air reeks of exhaust smoke and the land is littered with trash and human excrement.  I feel as if I ‘m walking down the street like a figment of my own imagination- sitting back behind the glass wall and thinking to myself, “This isn’t real.  People don’t really live like this!”

I’ve come to the realization that this is their way of life and my contributions to the orphanage will be greatly appreciated . . . but I can’t try to “fix” the conditions of an entire country.

Seeing and experiencing this raw adventure has opened my eyes to the harsh reality of the world.  It is not a dreamland for everyone.  For some of us, we have been blessed, still others struggle to stay alive.  The world is not easily fixed.

July 3, 2000

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The Ghana Chronicles: 2

Dear Journal,

These past 24 hours have been the hardest that I have faced in my lifetime.  I am trying to get used to the culture and ways of my host family and trying to stay sane at the same time.  Moving in with my family was the hardest transition yet.  They do not understand why I eat so little and why I am so homesick, why I cry because I miss my mom and friends or anything else for that matter.  I am hoping that as the days go by, it will get easier for me to cope with.  As for now, it is hard to keep my eyes dry and a positive attitude on the situation.  I’m scared for my safety in this neighborhood but more scared that I am or already have offended the family.

I miss my home so much.  I miss everything about it.  I miss my mom more than anything though, and I’d give ANYTHING just to have her here with me.  I’ll never let go of her again, so long as I live.  I want to spend every waking minute with her by my side.

July 1, 2000

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The Ghana Chronicles: 1

“I can’t believe Africa is to our south and that I’m headed home. Soon I will be sitting on my porch swing recalling a dream of mine that once became a reality for a small amount of time.” – July 29, 2000

20 years ago today, I boarded a plane that took me to Ghana, Africa for a month with the American Field Service. I took some time to pull out my memory box and revel in the memories of a defining moment in my life.

What I’ve written in the journal I kept every day is something that I realize now should be shared further. Not everyone has the privilege to live with a host family and experience a new culture in that way. So here’s the first of many to come!

 

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Pandemic 2020

Dear Child,

We are living through a historical event and as somewhat of a historian myself, I feel it my duty to record our current events.

Donald Trump is our current President and the divide between the two majority parties (democrats and republicans) has, to me, never been greater.  It’s difficult to experience, as someone who thrives on living along the line, considering both sides.  Citizens are passionate and polarized.  They both want change for the better and feel their cause deserves dedication. They are likely right in their own way, but when opposed, fire ignites.

I have family and friends in both parties so it is difficult to juggle. Some feel scared to rock the boat by discussing politics while others feel it is their duty.  I must admit that I fall into the first category.  I fully recognize change is not always possible with great conflict, but for me, great conflict has defined my childhood and it is what I am most afraid of.

As I admit this, I am reminded of Alexander Hamilton’s famous quote, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”  I stand for listening and for considering. I stand for standing when it relates to me and that is where I recognize the issue.  I am privileged and was ignorant, until now.

Who stands with the minority?  If only always the minority then how can they ever become the majority? Perhaps this is what the majority fears.  After all, the Native Americans and the British were once the majority . . . .

So much to consider, it’s overwhelming on a daily basis.

Speaking of which, we are living through a pandemic!  Covid-19 to be exact.  It is a coronavirus, which is a respiratory illness.  There are also a lot of divisive opinions on how to respond to this virus.  Some feel masks and the new term “social distancing” (6 ft apart) is necessary, while others feel it is excessive. Our current Virginia governor, Ralph Northam, is a former pediatrician, so, he falls in the conservative category.

Some of our friends refuse to hug while others are offended if we don’t.  It is difficult to navigate.

It is also difficult to parent.

You have been out of public school since March 13th.  Initially, for 2 weeks, then, suddenly, for the remainder of the school year.  We were left to teach using online platforms and it was challenging to keep you motivated.  Sometimes you cried and were too overwhelmed to see your former classmates on a computer, frustrated by the inability to decipher who was speaking and what they were saying.  It felt chaotic and I hated that for you.

High school seniors missed their precious last rites: prom and graduation to name a couple.  It was devastating for parents and students alike but perhaps they are getting a head start on learning one of the most important lessons in life: to be adaptable. If they have children one day, they will certainly be humbled with that lesson, then!

Because of Covid-19, you did not see your grandparents for months due to fear of contraction and/or unknowingly spreading the virus to the most vulnerable populations: the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. At this point, almost a half a million people have died, worldwide, from this virus and over 100K of those were in the USA, alone!  So “social distancing” measures are still very much in place.

The first time you played with your neighbors across the street, after more than a month of quarantine, we drew a chalk line in the road to separate the families.  It was devastating and yet the best we felt we could do with the situation at hand.

You have begged for your friends, your extracurricular actives including ballet, piano and gymnastics and I have attempted to substitute with painting, baking (when flour is available!) and imaginative play.

Toilet paper.  That’s another crazy thing.

That was the first thing to go, can you believe it?  Toilet paper became the hot ticket item.  Not batteries or candles like hurricane season for us, but toilet paper! Now, on social media, I have ads for bidets and some restaurants offer a roll of toilet paper with your order to try and entice your purchase.  While bidets are common in Europe, for us Americans, the suggestive advertisement is super unusual.

Gas prices are also at an all time low.  The last time I remember gas prices dropping below $2 was before September 11, 2001.  Currently, in June of 2020, I can get a gallon of gas in Virginia for $1.79 a gallon.  If only there was somewhere to go . . . .

The economy is struggling.  Small business, especially.  Unemployment is at an all-time high.  We went from a rate of 3.5% in January 2020 to over 14% of Americans unemployed in April due to social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the virus.  Playgrounds, zoos, aquariums, water parks, concert venues, salons and retail stores have been completely closed.  Restaurants were allowed to offer take-out only and even now in “phase 2”, they are only allowed to seat at 50% capacity.  We actually went out to dinner last night for the first time since February and had to order upon entry, picking our own “to go” food up from the counter to eat at an outside table.  There were no servers or anything reusable which makes you wonder about the effects on the environment.

In the beginning, the environment seemed to rebound.  Italian canals, void of gondolas and the rest, were filled with clear water and fish! Clear skies in Los Angelas could be seen! Airports are vacant, cruise-lines are cancelled.  Lord, humans were the problem all along.

But now everything is disposable.  You cannot enter a store without a mask and should not wear them twice or without washing, if reusable.  Shopping carts at grocery stores (if you aren’t having them delivered or picking them up!) are cleaned between every use and stores that were once open 24 hours are now closed for deep cleaning.  Disposables are at an all-time high and it makes me wonder what the next generations will be dealing with as a result.

I wonder all of the time.

I wonder what life will be like for you next year.  For now, I am heavily planning to homeschool for the sake of consistency.  I fear that, although currently low, Covid-19 case numbers will begin to rise with the return of school and cold/flu season.  Recent plans have called for you to attend school in-person just two days a week with social distancing protocols including 6 ft between desks and the avoidance of exposure to other students, taking away the socialization you and I both love about school.  The other three days would consist of online learning which we endured for three short months at the end of this past year.  I cannot imagine an entire year of it.  Moreover, I am a former teacher with a Masters in PreK-6 education, so if anyone should be capable of teaching you, it should be me!  Having said that, I have many friends with full-time jobs.  What are they to do?  Teach and work full time?  Like hell!  It’s impossible. It’s precisely why I quit teaching fourth grade to become your mommy.  I knew I couldn’t do both, yet here we are.

Here we are child.

We are in tumultuous times.  Full of masks in response to the pandemic and riots for the rights of African Americans in the face of police brutality (look up George Floyd, Alton Sterling, and Michael Brown among many others).  Citizens are fighting for their rights and historically, change has not come without representation.  Much remains to be seen.

2020 has been bizarre (murder hornets?!)  but in a weird way, perhaps necessary to come to terms with what really matters.

I am doing my best to consider and respond to it all while still parenting you in the process.

I have no idea of how well I am doing but I do know that we cannot know where we are going until we know where we have come from.

So this recollection is for you.

There’s not much to be sure of these days but there’s always one thing and that is that I love you.

No matter the circumstances, you can always count on that.

And don’t you ever forget it.

Love,

Mommy

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Camille Vaughan Photography

What About You?

I am someone who likes to record -through photographs, with words.

Sometimes I wonder if that means I am obsessed with looking back but then I disregard that notion because there is so much I look forward to!

I’m curious.

What do you do?

Do you record, through photographs, albums, diaries?

If not, is it for a reason or do you wish you would?

Tell me, what about you?

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Camille Vaughan Photography