Mama Africa. Thank You!


A week ago yesterday, I was in Turkey, waiting for the last leg of my flight back to the US. As I sat in the lounge wafting for the flight to begin boarding, I took time to look at the hundreds of photos I had taken over the past two weeks. You see, I was returning from a multi dimensional trip to the Motherland. My time in Ghana is indescribable. I had no expectations going in, but by the time I left, a new, bolder, and very ambitious vision had taken shape. One that is set to change the course of my life!

One post cannot deliver a suitable narrative for all the things I did, the experiences I reveled in, people I met and formed instant, long-lasting bonds with, and the emotions which overtook me every day.  I spent the first week volunteering at a village orphanage, and would wrap up my two-week stay exploring the sights and sounds of Ghana! What an incredible life-changing and affirming experience.

The overcrowded village orphanage houses more than 140 children and young adults, ranging in ages from 0 to 26 years.  Frequent medical care is needed. At least 2-3 children share a single bunk bed. Children sleep outside on the veranda. School is also held outside and under a mango tree. Many orphans have experienced bullying, when they tried to attend regular schools. Basic toilet/bathroom facilities are nonexistent.  Malaria is prevalent, and some of the children have HIV. The orphanage is in dire straits in many ways, but thriving in some areas. A new facility is being built, but progress has been slow. More on that later.

First I wanted to tell you a bit about some of the children I met, and have now become my adopted 6.  As soon as we pulled up to the volunteer house, six-year-old *Shelly * (names have been changed) and three other girls ran out to meet us. She and I bonded instantly! Shelly has called the orphanage home for the past two years. You see, her mother has sickle-cell anemia, and is often hospitalized for weeks, as she battles the life threatening disease.  The father had long since abandoned her mother. Unable to care for Shelly any longer, she was handed over to the orphanage. Apparently, African men often abandon their families without a second thought.

*Jenny* is smart, beautiful, talkative, and very intelligent. She enjoyed the crossword puzzles I bought, and often asked for help finding difficult words. On my birthday, a celebration was held for me; they sang, some danced, and performed, while I sat at a table looking on. They asked for blessings on my life, health, and everything else. Good thing I had it recorded. Jenny, wrote me a beautiful letter, and by some miracle, gave me a pair of earrings. I don’t know how she did so, but that night as I read the sweet, beautifully penned words, the tears were free-flowing. I don’t know much more about her story (I did ask). Her parents are still alive, however, they don’t visit as often as they use to.

*Erika*, is from a family of 6 siblings, however, she was the only one who ended up at the Orphanage. Apparently, the house they were living in fell down on her mother, killing her. The father left, and she ended up there. The older siblings visit when they could. Erika always has a smile on her face. She is one of 5 girls who were chosen to help out at the volunteer house. Erika works tirelessly, and not once did I hear a complaint. One day, she will become a respected Dentist.

*Deborah*, is one of four siblings at the orphanage. After her father died, her mother was suspected of having a role in the death (this is unfounded). His family shunned her, and she was no longer able to take care of them. She was left to make the heart breaking decision, to turn them over to the Orphanage. *Deborah’s* dream is to one day become a banker.

Deborah’s sister *Hannah* is more quiet and reserved. She reminds me a lot of myself at her age. Still trying to figure out the world around her. I could tell she misses her family being together. I think if I had more than a week there, we would have developed a stronger bond. I could tell something was very much troubling her, and tried to get her to open up, but she held back. The sadness in her eyes broke my heart in so many pieces. She wasn’t interested in much of the activities;however, she did want to skip. So on my last day, I gifted her a pink skipping rope.

*Suzy* was one of the older girls who fixed us delicious meals, and took charge in Auntie B’s absence. She spoke with a smile, and just brought so much joy to the experience of us being there. She is in senior high school, and does a great job of keeping things running smoothly. On our last night, I wrote her and the other girl’s letters of encouragement and support. I could tell they were surprised by the gesture. They all happily returned the favor.

I decided to spend a lot of time with as many kids at the orphanage as I could; their dreams are so much bigger than I had at that time in my life! If you met them on the outside, you would never guess their plight. The stories will break your heart, BUT, the smiles, playfulness, and all around good nature, is beyond anything I have ever seen, from a people who have absolutely nothing. I bought puzzles, games, play doh, stickers etc. You CANNOT imagine how joyful they were to take part in these activities. Once they completed an activity, they were rewarded with stickers. Such a small reward, but to them, it meant so much more. I made sure that on my last day, I would have nothing left over.

As mentioned above, my birthday was spent at the orphanage, and a celebration was held for me. There was music dancing, singing and well wishing. I sat a table, and looked on as the children and adults wished me well. It’s not often I will have the opportunity to spend my birthday in this most special way! I was asked to say a few words, and could only manage just that much, as the tears were free-flowing. As I looked over the faces of so many young ones, I tried very hard to memorize them all. It was incredibly important for me to immortalize this moment. According to tradition, the birthday person supplies the drinks and snacks, and a friend gets the cake. The guide I had been talking to for more than a year, before my trip, did just that. The pure delight at being treated to something so simple and abundant in the West, brought me to tears. We gave out seconds and thirds. My heart was heavy, and bursting with so much love for people, I had only known for a few days.

It was very difficult to say goodbye, especially to *Shelly*. As we piled into the SUV to leave for the last time, she and I started crying. We hugged for a long time, but it wasn’t enough, could never be enough. I hoped she knew how much I had come to love her, and just how much I plan on helping her for as long, as I walk this earth. I left a donation to the orphanage, and two of the girls for simple things they needed. I knew then, what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I will always have more than I will ever need. I made a choice to help change the generations that will come from these loving and gentle souls.

My British bestie, Maggie, joined me for the second part of the trip. It was a perfect way to wrap up my first visit to the motherland. We journeyed to Cape Coast; the main attraction is the slave castle, which once housed thousands of slaves, before they were shipped off to the Americas and Caribbean, bound for a life, they were certainly afraid of. We saw the room and conditions the rebellious slaves were kept in. After being publicly flogged, they were left to die in a windowless room. No food or water was given. A soldier would occasionally check in, to see if they had passed on. Once this was the case, the bodies were dumped in the ocean. For effect, the guide closed the door for less than a minute, while we were inside. Chilling.

We toured the male dungeons, where coincidentally, church services were held just above. Female slaves and children were housed together. We saw the observation rooms, where soldiers stood guard and kept on eye out for any planned rebellions. To overcome the language barrier, spies were planted among real slaves. Their sole purpose was to bring back word to the Governors.  The Door of No Return symbolized the end of one nightmare, and the beginning of another. Once the slaves passed through, they were loaded onto ships, bound for their new homes. I now understand fully, the meaning of the phrase “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, for they knew that death was better than bondage”

It was also in Cape Coast, where I was blessed with a beautiful African Naming and Welcome Home Ceremony. The proceedings were watched over, and performed by the third Queen of the one of the tribes, and a village Father. The love, warmth, welcome, and total acceptance directed at me, was indescribable. I honestly felt that I was HOME. The Queen invited me to visit her home, the next time I’m in Ghana. For now, she welcomed me back, and expressed gratitude for the visit. It was a proud moment.

Back in Accra, we got involved in so many activities; survived the infamous, and nerve-racking canopy walk at Kakum National Park, toured the magnificent Aburi Botanical Gardens, visited the Mausoleum of the country’s first prime minister, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, learned how to play drums, ate too much delicious, freshly prepared dishes. Shopping is quite the experience, as we left it up to our guide to haggle for us. We had to spend the last night at the DC 10 Restaurant. It’s housed in an old airplane, formerly belonging to Ghana Airlines. We got dressed up in matching outfits. While waiting in the lobby for our guide/driver, we attracted the attention of the male hotel guests, who began taking our photos:). The front desk clerk asked if it was okay, to place the photo on the website.  How cool is that?!

I’m back in the US now, and trying to catch up on my projects, business, and platforms. I had the most amazing time in Ghana. There is work for me to do, and a lot of newly adopted kids who to help. Working in Social Services, I know the difference it makes in the lives of my clients. However, the work I’m about to embark on, is so much bigger than anything I have ever done. I’m asking for prayers to guide my steps. My heart is full, my eyes are wet, so help me Lord, lest I forget.

A myriad of life choices led me to a small village in Ghana, where I am convinced; they were waiting to change my life, instead of the other way around. I have been given much, and now I must share with those who have nothing, in ways I’ve never dreamed of. Thank you Mama Africa, and especially to the wonderfully kind people of Ghana…till we meet again.

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

I Was The One


On my page “Think to Thank”, I find something to be grateful for each day. No matter how small. Or trivial. The going often gets rough. Often, it’s often difficult to see the blessings. Many days reviewing small daily miracles offer consolation. And hope. They serve to remind me I have so much. In this post, I wish to share some experiences which have affected me over the past few months. The times when I was the one.

To Louise, the owner of Passionate about Flowers on Lower Bristol Road in Bath. I thank you. A few weeks ago, I was invited for a job assessment in Bath. If I was successful, it would mean returning the next day for a face to face interview. Upon arrival at the station, I went against my better judgment and decided to walk the 15 minute journey to the destination. Well, after getting hopelessly lost and asking for and receiving wrong directions more than once, I was about to give up. However, I decided to try one last business.  I walked into Passionate About Flowers  and explained what I was about. Louise immediately got online in an attempt to pinpoint the location. Taking it a step further, she asked if I wanted her to give me a lift there! And she did. This one simple act of kindness derailed all the bad luck I had moments before. Louise left her business, to help a stranger she might never, ever see again. I will never forget her act of kindness. Thanks Louise.

In another instance, while waiting for my BRP to be finalized, I was hired on a temp basis for a local health and social services organization. I relied heavily on public transportation. One day, I changed handbags, and to my chagrin discovered I somehow forgot my money purse on the bus. I am person who has never forgotten her keys. Run out of gas. Or locked herself out of her car! To make matters worse I did not discover my purse was missing for more than 8 hours. To my utter amazement, when it was in my possession again, everything was as I left it. Down to the 1.50 pence I had received as change that morning. I called the bank and made the necessary cancellations, but no one had tried to use it or withdraw funds. I was stunned. The chances of this happening in the USA are nil. To the unknown person who turned my purse into the driver, I thank you.

Once last experience. I got the job in Bath. It meant relocating. Bath is a lovely city! I was helped in unimaginable ways. Perhaps the one-act of kindness which has left an indelible impression on my mind, is the moving process itself. Paul, a kind bloke drove 500 miles round trip to do just that. To be ready for the return trip on Saturday, he spent Friday night at a local hotel. All on his own dime. Moving company fees would have cost me approx 250 pounds. I contributed to his petrol cost. He was not done. Yet. Going the extra mile, he took me around to find items for the new place. Cheered me up during challenging times when I could not see perspective. Checked up on me often. Reminded me over and over that even though things were not what I expected, greater things were happening around me. Paul, I wont ever forget this. Thank you.

Amidst all the ills in the world and the people who perpetrate them, it’s gratifying to know good people still walk the earth. I am acquainted with them. I am grateful for people who make the world a better place for the rest of us. If you are one of those people: NEVER cease to do good. NEVER underestimate the power of your actions upon the lives of others. NEVER think that your contribution does not matter. Because it does. I have been on the receiving end. The one whose life was affected. The one who, because of your kindness, my struggles were easier. Thank you.

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

1 yr l8tr


A year ago today, I returned to the blogging world. What a literary adventure!We are here. First, some housekeeping. As of today, chindeepinlife have been viewed 912 times. I blogged 24 times.There are 29 comments. Not too shabby. Roll on next year. The freedom of self expression continues. Please know your views and comments are welcomed. And encouraged. Always. Furthermore, do you have a topic/issue you would like me to address? Want to write a guest post? In box me at jstarr2600@aol.co.uk. Come along for the ride.

So, here is my year. In a paragraph. Since March, I travelled back to the USA. Returned to my homeland (SVG), after more than a decade. Visited New York, Boston, Ireland, Italy,Tenerife, and other parts of the UK for the first time. I filed for and received USA permanent residency for my mother. I visited the birthplace of JFK. I was awarded my MSc in Psychology degree. Published my first anthology of poems. You can read a sample, purchase, or win a free copy here Bookbuzzr. One of my pieces,”Too Little Too Late was selected and included in Outskirtspress Fandemoniun Volume 1. For the first time in my life, I lost my wallet. Fortunately, everything was returned. I marched in a worldwide event to celebrate International Women’s Day. I was humbled to write a piece in celebration of it, aptly titled Meet Us on the Bridge. Received my UK residency permit. And oh yeah, I dated. After more than 8 yrs. One day it will happen for me. This mysterious, and elusive enigma. Called love.

Back to finding my voice.I started this blog to keep in touch with friends and family.It has evolved.Taken on a life of its own.Really.Being able to share some of my experiences, has enabled me to see the bigger picture.I am eternally grateful. I wish to thank those who return faithfully. Time after time. The ones following by email. The kind comments. The friends who mentioned me in their blogs. I appreciate every contribution. Every acknowledgement. Word of encouragement. Act of kindness. Help. And thought.

For my next post, I will share something of a very personal nature. A lifetime burden. One I can no longer carry. I have to get rid of it. If I hope to be truly free. To find any real happiness in this life. It’s the beginning of a healing process, that is decades late. A revelation which will surprise those who know me best. I am ready. Of course I could give a hint.But I prefer you to conjure up your own ideas. Some will never guess. However, I can no longer hide behind smiles. Or the stiff upper lip. Not when it comes to this.

Until the next post, let me finish with the quote from my first post: “Life is a ticket to the greatest show on earth”

Best,

Juan