Embracing the Unknown

My muscles ached from lugging the suitcases full of medicine into the empty rooms. When the last bottle had been logged and placed in its correct plastic bucket, the news quickly traveled. It was time. The few Ghanaian village children that had been religiously waiting outside the clinic doorway for the past few hours were soon only a face in the crowd. Young girls played with sticks, scraping images into the dirt ground. A group of boys played soccer, passing the ball back and forth between them. I took a double take through the clinic window and realized one of the boy’s little brother clung to his hip as he played. I could not make out what the children were saying, the constant buzz of laughter, talk, and commotion started to amplify; it was clear the village children’s patience was quickly dissipating.

As the first pre-med student from the University of New Hampshire stepped through the dirt doorway leading to the outside, the children screamed with sheer excitement. The guests of the party were finally ready to celebrate with them. Immediately one little boy, about four years old, tightly clung to my arm as I walked outside. Seconds later he was dragging me away from the crowd and towards an old wooden bench. Without speaking a single word to this boy I never once second guessed my decision to follow his lead. His burning desire to be my guide was apparent by his body language, more so than any conversion would have ever conveyed. The bench appeared to have been repaired for many generations with all different tiny pieces of wood woven in. On top of the bench sat a large bowl of rice and mixed meats. The little boy struggled to reach the bowl on the bench as he grabbed a Styrofoam plate, plopped on a large serving of the rice, and proudly handed it to me. Next he reached up again to take a portion for himself and led me to an old tent.

The tent marked the middle of the village. It was once yellow, but now it stood tie-died with bleached sun spots and splattered with dirt stains. Although it looked like the most worn tent I had ever seen, it also looked cherished. I pictured all the parties it had hosted in the past, providing relief from the scorching sun, and could picture many more celebrations yet to come. To the children the tent symbolized good food and dancing. To the adults, it meant everyone would finally have the medical care they desperately needed. Under the tent all the village people were conversing in Fancy. The elders sat in plastic white chairs and everyone else sat in the dirt watching my entrance. I timidly approached the villagers, but before I could worry about how to act or what to say, I was being tugged in by the little boy. I tried to follow his lead, not just to the tent, but also in his fearlessly welcoming demeanor.

A sense of relief fell over me as I finally rested on the dirt ground. Not only was I sitting down, but I also had food. Even though I could not identify the meat, and do not particularly like rice, I wanted nothing more than to devour the meal. As I went to take my first bite, the little boy jumped in my lap grabbing for my face. He started to repeatedly trace my face as if it were fake. It was uncomfortable, yet intriguing at the same time. I asked him what he is doing, but he didn’t reply. Eventually, my hunger overcame my curiosity, and I went back to eating my rice. I maneuvered my fork around the boy’s hands and took my first bite. Suddenly my mouth was burning. I was choking from the heat of the food, but I couldn’t spit out rice in a place where food is so scarce. As sweat beaded down my face I began to worry if I would even make it through the entire clinic in this village.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement from the Ghanaian elders. I watched as an elder woman got out of her chair and approached me. Suddenly, the spicy food became the least of my concerns. I began to panic, she seemed serious as if I had upset or offended her. My body tightened as questions flooded my mind. ‘Did she know I did not like the dinner? Was this boy not supposed to sit on my lap? Will she start talking to me in Fancy?’ Seconds later she was looking down at me and gestured for me to stand. I mechanically complied. She took my arms stared straight into my eyes and smiled. She held the gaze for a long moment. Although we could not speak the same language, no words could have better conveyed this gesture. I gripped her hands more tightly and smiled back. Then she nodded and walked away toward her hut.

While trying to process what had just happened the boy from the bench was now yanking on my scrubs, a plea for me to sit back down. As I took the second bite, my dinner no longer seemed so unbearable. The little boy, no longer obsessed with my face, relaxed in my arms; before helping me finish the rice. Both content from our meal, I sat there trying to take in this new environment. My immediate surroundings were so colorful and cheery, from the patterned clothes the children wore, to the rooftops sitting on each hut. But at a closer look the colors were unable to mask the poor conditions of the village. Under the beautiful yellow and green patterned shirt of the boy in my arms, was a belly swelled by malnutrition. And beneath the bright rooftops were empty huts with scarce furniture and no plumbing. Even the mysterious fog I had originally seen in the distance upon arriving here, I now realized was merely smoke from a fire, fueled by the village’s trash and recycling. It was not majestic, it was toxic, yet also their only option.

After a few minutes the elder woman was back carrying a metal pot filled with pineapple weighing down on her head. Before I could even process that she was bringing dessert, the little boy was right next to the woman to ensure he was the first person to take his dessert. He came back and handed me the bigger of the two pieces. I tried to reach for the smaller one, but he pulled it away and pushed the bigger piece into my hands. It was the freshest, most satisfying piece of fruit I had ever had. After we ate every last edible piece of pineapple, the little boy reached to be picked up in my arms. My relaxed state was soon interrupted by a loud bang that made me jump. The little boy did not even flinch by the sound. After my initial shock had subsided, I realized it was their local band playing music.

I looked up to find another boy drawing a huge circle on the ground in front of the tent. I was shocked by the size of the circle, as it was almost bigger than the tent itself. After the circle was made four Ghanaian teens walked to the center and began dancing, perfectly in sync with one another and the tribal music. Their fluid motions, perfectly in sync was mesmerizing. After the song ended and everyone applauded, the rest of the village joined them on the dance floor. The boy jumped out of my arms and eagerly dragged me to the circle. He tried to teach me basic Ghanaian dance moves. As I mimicked his motions the little boy started to laugh uncontrollably. The laughter was contagious and soon we were both hysterically laughing and dancing. The village people and village guests meshed into one body all dancing into the night. As the little boy finally succumbed to tiredness, I picked him up and we sat on a wooden stump watching the remaining dancers. I had arrived in Ghana without knowing what to expect, but this night showed that even though we did not speak the same language and did not live in similar parts of the world, we would always be connected by the compassion we had for one another.