We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. ~Isaiah 64:8

Friday, March 6, 2009

The first seven days in Ghana, West Africa

While in Ghana, my husband kept a diary quite faithfully. Now that he is home and I'm still here, it is my turn to be the journal keeper. Here are some quick (and not so quick) thoughts on the first seven days of our journey to bring L home.

Day One
We met our traveling mates and fellow adoptive parents in the JFK airport. They are really friendly folks and I think we will get along well. We are quite different - east coast vs. west coast, southerners vs. californians, conservatives vs. liberals...but we have lots of common ground, too!

When we descend the stairwell from the plane I become aware immediately of the heat (it is barely 10am). Yep, this is Africa. We walk across the tarmac (looks like all flights do this - no "gates") and enter under a big "AKWAABA" sign. There is a little AC running as we enter....but soon we realize that will be it while we are in the airport. I guess they want to make a good impression...or they want to cool us off from our hot trudge across the tarmac? After standing in the warm and stuffy baggage claim area, I think the AC would be better appreciated there!

Outside the airport we walk a gauntlet of brown, black and tan faces. Luckily, we quickly meet our driver and we head out to the cars. Everyone looks on at us...some carry signs bearing the names of other passengers, some smile and say "hello", most just stare. Finally we see a sign for us: Branches of the Vine, Dio of Accra...our friends from Ghana are here! They've been waiting in this hot crowd for our airplane for a couple hours, I'm sure. Hugs and introductions all around then we continue out to the cars.

As we walk, there are "generous" offers of help, rides, information...we've been warned though that these always come with a hefty price tag. In fact, we ignore most of them, but they still persist in following us to the cars. They attempt to help us put bags in the car, but our driver tells them we don't need help. They try again to help by directing us out of our spot...and then comes the pitch to our driver for cash. Wow - pretty bold. I'm not sure what he says to them...but I'm sure it was along the lines of "Get Lost".

We zip through crowded, busy, bustling streets - vendors, tro-tros, street sellers all hustling to make some cash. The streets are dirty and as we drive along we get small glimpses of the life of the poor in the big city: living with no sanitation, no electricity (or what can be hobbled together), no running water, no trash pick up, no refrigeration, etc in a ramshackle lean-to. The people who live in these areas seem to have showed up, rummaged around for scrap wood and somehow put together some sort of shelter. They live and work all in the same area.

We arrive exhausted at our guest house. Dump bags, try to freshen up a bit, and head back out into the hot traffic to go meet our daughter.

We've just met these people and yet we are crammed in the back seat of a sedan - sticky, sweaty bodies smashed together for a 45 minute drive through a fumey, smokey, humid city.

Our driver entertains us with parables and proverbs...and lots of laughter. We arrive at the church/orphanage and are met with many stares from groups of people scattered around the "yard" doing various tasks (talking, washing, selling, etc). We are ushered into a low-building and seated in a large "sitting room". Two young ladies come in with bundles on their backs. I barely even realize it when the one of them approacehs me and gracefully bends down to release the baby from her wrap. The next thing I know she has placed a slightly-built, large-eyed, ill-dressed baby girl in my arms. Sister Juliette (the head of the church and orphanage) says, "This is your baby." But I knew that already...she looks just like her photo. The girls leave the room before I can even look at their faces...or maybe I was just so transfixed by my daughter's.

We spend an hour or so with Juliette learning a little about her and her church/orphanage. She shows us how she feeds them and puts them to sleep. Poor L is a bit traumatized by the feeding she is given. Seems she does not take a bottle and has to be cup fed "African style" - which involves plugging her nose so that she must take in a breath through her mouth...then the cup is quickly poured. I wonder how often babies fed this way inhale their formula and develop pneumonia? But I also know that a child that doesn't eat will die here...and that trumps a number of things in an orphanage.

Back at our guest house, both families retire to their rooms worn out and ready for sleep. I spend an hour or so with L gently introducing the bottle with silliness and games. She manages to take a couple of ounces and we are all thrilled. We have a long way to go, though.

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