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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Rain

And then the people said,

Rain! Rain!

What we need is more rain.

After pandemics, murder hornets and riots,

What we need is more rain.

Rain to trap us inside.

Rain to make us feel sad.

Rain to flood our streets.

Rain to remember what we once had.

Rain! Rain!

What we need is more rain.

Rain to grow our flowers.

Rain to make us think.

Rain to wash it away

Rain to begin again.

For when the sun shines once more

We will soak in its sweet rays

Remembering what we’ve endured.

Appreciating what we’ve gained.

Let it rain. Let it rain.  Let it rain.

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Character Flaw

Oh, my!

The labels.

The reasons.

The excuses why we aren’t already who we aren’t meant to be.

What does it take?

Truly.

What is it going to take?

To be true.  To be real about who. we. are?

When will our “character flaw” stop becoming our excuse?

When will our excuse stop being our character flaw?

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Camille Vaughan Photography

Stories

101.

The age of my Aunt Mary who passed away just yesterday.

She was the first-born child of my grandmother, born in 1897 in the town of Licodia Eubia, a part of Catalia, Sicily.

In 2001, I stood in the house my grandmother was born and remember how my dad and I found the very spot: word-of-mouth.

I had just graduated high school and wanted more than anything else to know where I had come from.

We arrived in Rome, traveled through Naples and over east to Calabria where we feasted on my grandfather’s olive tree farms.  He was born in 1884.

There, I experienced authentic, homemade lasagna laid upon a table set for over a dozen relatives who spoke nothing but Italian.  The roads elevated and bumpy so much so that when a cousin took me on a fast-paced moped ride, I learned to scream “Ayyyy-ya!!!”

My dad, who spoke broken Italian at the time, did his best to gather contact information and on we went to Sicily.

It was there that we were robbed.

We had read about the risk, ahead of time, and our blue Mercedes Benz rental (an economic option there) didn’t help our cause.

We were lost in an alley in Sicily when a man on a moped jackknifed in front of our car, stopping us dead while a man on foot opened our back doors and grabbed my book bag and my father’s brief case.

They gained nothing aside from my diary, my camera (and nine rolls of film), and the notebook of my family’s contact information, as my passport and my dad’s wallet were safely in the front seats with us.

In other words, they stole our recorded history.

But on we ventured.

We spoke to locals in Catalia, sharing names and dates until finally, we had arrived:  The room my grandmother who later would give birth to my aunt entered this world.

I don’t have photographs but I have stories.

Stories that should be told.

And don’t we all?

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Comfort

Could you get any closer?

That is what I wonder aloud to my almost 2 year-old.

We have been home for 30 days straight.

No gym. No school. No dance. No book club.

So why, when I walk out of the room, does she run after me like I’m leaving for Africa?

As much as I’ve wanted to, I haven’t left!

Today, I heard her calling, “Where are you, Mommy?”

“In my bedroom!” I replied.

She arrived face forlorn, until she saw me.

And then, she came running, a broad grin enveloping her face.

 

Who knew you could ever be so loved?

Who knew you could be the calm amidst the storm ?

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Camille Vaughan Photography

Ain’t it Funny

I should be losing. my. mind.

Homeschooling four kids ages 2, 4, 6 and 8 with governor stay-at-home orders.  No access to outside enrichment including the aquarium, playgrounds, or museums.  No playdates.

But ain’t it funny?

I lost my mind a long time ago!

Ha!

Take that coronavirus!

I gave up on the illusion of control back when I had my second.

I surrendered to the life-unexpected when my third arrived.

And I hit rock bottom when our fourth surprised us with a chronic, rare syndrome.

I should be losing. my. mind.

But ain’t it funny?

I embraced chaos a long way back.

And thanks to that,

I’m having the time. of. my. life.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

New Waters

Oh, my.

New waters.

And yet haven’t we been here before?

I see it in my youngest as her brain explodes with new information.  New vocabulary.  New abilities.  New resolve to not ever do once she once did.

Our desire to be in control is ever fervent.

And yet ever not fully ours to control.

We are humbled,

as much as we allow ourselves to be.

As. Much. As. We. Allow. Ourselves. To. Be.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

 

Identity

Around the circle we went.

Name, address, kids’ names and ages and finally, career.

I was anxious and excited for my friends to share with one another what I already knew about each of them.

And yet felt wholly unprepared when asked to answer the question myself.

Career?

I spent the first part of my childhood dreaming of becoming a teacher.  It evolved to aspirations of becoming a National Geographic Photographer and later, a writer.  But all along, the desire of becoming a mother and staying at home to tend to them was as constant as the ocean currents.

I taught fourth grade throughout my pregnancy and am writing now.  I’ve never become a National Geographic Photographer, but I’ve taken some pretty striking photos over the years.

So why do I feel embarrassed to report my dream status?  Stay-at-home-mother.

I suppose it all comes down to identity.

How do we define ourself?

What are we proud to report and what do we have left to achieve?

Who are you or perhaps more importantly,

who do you have yet to become?

It’s your identity.

And it’s yours to create.

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Chapters

Today, I discovered a college friend of mine passed away, suddenly, of complications from the flu.

I am shocked.

Death from flu is supposed to happen to newborns, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems, not a healthy mom of two young boys.

Or, so I thought.

She and her husband, whom she had dated since her early teens, were my college neighbors.  I took a cruise with her, and two other girlfriends, to Mexico in our senior year.  It was a momentous occasion for me.  The time after an abusive relationship.  A new beginning.  A rebirth.  And she was a part of it.

I haven’t spoken to her in years and yet, it feels like yesterday.

Why is that?

I searched through old photos and realized,

our lifetime is one big story.

And you cannot possibly have the same ending without each and every chapter.

So often, others have wondered why I hang on to letters, photos, and contacts.

And the answer is, because I never want to forget.

Without it, my story would never be the same.

Pam, thank you for the memories. You were an important chapter in my life and you will never be forgotten.

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In Loving Memory of Pamela Leon