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

You’re Welcome!


I found the pin below on Pinterest today. I thought I would share an answer per day on Facebook, but then, life inevitably gets in the way. It will be tackled in the near future. But fir now, I will use it for my journal entries. I hope to revisit this page in a few years. See how my outlook, and perspective have changed. The topics can also be used for journal entries. Enjoy. Some ideas are too good not to share. 85189bc557b63b856d043eebd450872c 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

IF This Was My Last Blog Post..


We never forget defining moments. Where we were. And what we were doing. The Oklahoma City bombing. Sept 11th 2001. The capture of Hussein. And Bin Laden. The minute Obama became president. The death of Michael Jackson. And now Whitney Houston. When a famous personality departs this life, shock, and sadness are expected. The entire world mourns. Understandably so. However, the devil’s advocate in me must ask, are we sad and mournful when countless children die every day from lack of food, and clean water? No. Do their stories make headline news? No. Is there a world while outpouring of grief? No.

Let me hasten to add, I loved Whitney Houston. Loved her music. The woman was a superstar. She blessed us all with a voice that beckons the soul. And stirred hearts. I danced to her songs. Following the loss of my first love, I cried waterfalls every time I heard “I Will Always Love You”. When The Bodyguard was released, I sat like a sardine, in a cinema with temps rivaling the Sahara desert. Because it was the movie everyone had to see. The point is, let us spare a thought for the children dying every day. Can we? Let us remember them in our prayers. In acts of service. Mourn for the loss of young lives. Hopes. And dreams. That will never be. They were snuffed out by starvation. Hunger. Malnutrition. Yes. I know we cannot save them all. But we can save some. Anyway, my soap box has now been placed under my bed. For now.

When the world loses a well-loved figure, naturally, it engenders feelings of your own mortality. I mulled over what I would write about if this was my last blog post. What I would want people to remember? Here are a few the things I would want my readers to be aware of.

(1) I would want you to become aware of the work of Zainab Salbi. One of my heroes. And founder of WFWI . I have pledge my full support behind this organization. WFWI helps women in war torn countries. They have been used as weapons of war. They were raped. Tortured. Abused. Suffered loss of limbs. They have survived genocide. Civil wars. Loss of spouse. And many other atrocities.  Along these lines, I would encourage my readers to choose a passion. A cause. And fight for it. Leave it better than you found it. Make your contribution. In your own way. Don’t stand by. And do nothing. So many people can use your help. The great Muhammad Ali once said: “You lose nothing when fighting for a cause … In my mind the losers are those who don’t have a cause they care about.”

(2) I did what I could with the time and resources given to me. Yes, there were many false starts. Roadblocks. Harsh learning experiences. However, using the knowledge. Experiences. And skills I had, I did what I could to stay standing. I made the majority of my decisions on my own. I took forever + 1 day to figure out everything happens for a reason. People will disappoint you. Cause you grief. Hurt you over and over (if you let them). Break your heart. Let you down. Stab you in the back. But I kept going. TBH, I had no other choice in most cases. Many watched.  Some judged. Others accepted. The rest turned away. I am who I am today, because of where I came from. What I endured. And the choices I made.  One of my favorite songs is “I did it my way” by the man. The legend. Frank Sinatra. Who remembers this quote by Judy Garland? “Always is a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.”

(3) Despite tremendously painful experiences in my love life. I chose not to give up on it. And the beautiful experience it could be. I still hope (d) to find someone who shares my passions. Drives. Hopes. Dreams. Love of laughter. The husband whose eyes I meet across a very crowded room, and the contact makes me breathless. My palms get sweaty. Heart rate increases. A man who still gives me butterflies 50 years later. He lets me make mistakes. Because he loves me enough to let me find my way. He is in it for the long haul. He makes all my ex’s look like backyard experiments. Because the search is over. It will not take an act of congress for me to love again. I was/am ready. You catch my drift. I love this quote: “When you ex says: you will never find anyone like me, reply with: that’s the point” Anonymous.

(4) Do not lose sight of your dreams. EVER. I recently published my first anthology of poems Have a Read On Me, two decades after being stung by the writing bug. As a teenager, I sat in a fifth form English class, and listened with pride as the teacher read my short story (along with a few others) to the entire class. This is how monsters are created! Is there is something you want? Go for it. No. Scrap that. Chase it. Pursue it. Relentlessly. Leave the naysayers in the dust. And proverbial wet blankets? Let the door hit them on their way out of your life. Do it. Do what makes you happy. Live your dreams. I love, love, yes love this quote: “Listen– are you breathing just a little, and calling it life?” -Mary Oliver

(5) It’s okay to apologize even though you did no wrong. Yes, you read right! “Apologizing doesn’t always mean that you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means that you value your relationship more than your ego”. Before I learnt this valuable lesson, I was there. Holding  the apology until I absolutely had to give it. That was until I saw what it was doing to my spirit. Hear me out. I am not saying to walk around apologizing to everyone. For everything. You will know when it’s needed.  It might be to settle an argument. Soothe hurt feelings. Or just be the bigger person. Try it soon. Sincerely apologize for something you did not do. Use it as a way of opening a dialogue. You will be surprised. I think it was Harriet Beecher Stowe (1865) who said “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and for deeds left undone”

(6) You have the right to forgive yourself anytime you want. Seriously.We are too hard on ourselves. Somehow, we’ve become experts at self-fulfilling prophecies. And social aggrandization. Comparing ourselves to others. Dissecting our failures. Playing host to doubts. Being our own worst enemy. Holding onto things we have done wrong. On and on. And on. Let it go. Forgive yourself. Tomorrow is another day. To start fresh. To move on from this latest failure. The very public fall from grace. It’s the day to look in the mirror. Smile. And say to yourself: “Don’t worry, I got this”. Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.Anonymous

(7) If money was not an option: I would work only 6 months out of the year. Volunteer for three. And spend the other three travelling. Life is a rat race. I believe it should also be well-balanced. We work very hard. With very little time to enjoy the benefits. I would volunteer in Africa for a month. Spend another at a shelter for abused women, and the last at a local humane society. As for travelling, I would spend a month in my favorite place. Another in the places I have only seen in my dreams. The last would be determined by closing my eyes and blindly picking a spot on the world map. Dr Kathleen Hall said: “We have overstretched our personal boundaries and forgotten that true happiness comes from living an authentic life fueled with a sense of purpose and balance.”

In closing, the list above is far from exhaustive. However, these are the things I felt impressed to share. Live. Love. Laugh. Forgive. And while you are at it remember this saying: “Life is the ticket to the greatest show on earth!”

So, if you were writing a final epistle, what are some of the things you would include?

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan