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!
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
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
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
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
“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!