By KATHRYN A. TAUBERT
SEPT. 1, 2009
Waiting in the taxi at the crowded intersection in Accra, Ghana, I heard a raspy voice say “Give money?” I turned to look directly into the face of an old woman in a battered wheelchair sitting in the median, pushed by a boy of about 13. Our gazes held across the chasm of two disparate worlds. I think my smile surprised her as she sat up a little straighter, grinning toothlessly back. Not a word was spoken, just silent communion and a brief, yet profound connection between two people as different as day and night.
Or were we?
Against prior advice, I gave her the few coins I had, as she blessed me. Even if she were the most successful panhandler in Ghana, she wouldn’t make as much money in six months as I give in tips in a week. Her bent legs and twisted feet told me all I needed to know, admonitions against “panhandling” be damned. My coins might be all she got that day. I don’t expect she saw many smiles in her line of work either.
I’ve been back almost four weeks. It’s hard to believe I’m still so immersed in images and experiences I encountered in Ghana in my five weeks with the Ewe tribe. I expected to learn, but I didn’t expect the subtle differences in my thinking to remain so embedded. It’s as though they’ve become part of my internal wiring, irrevocably fusing with my own.
I have “slowed down” considerably. Some suggest it’s fatigue after the journey. I say there’s been a fundamental change in me as a result of the experience that I don’t want to lose.
When was the last time you sincerely wanted to know how someone was when you said “How are you?” And waited for their reply?
The very first thing I learned in the village of Kloe was the importance of greetings. “Good Morning. How is your family? How are you.” To overlook this and the resulting conversation is considered rude in the Ewe culture. My initial impatience gave way to relief, a diminution of the urgency to “get right to work.” I found it disarming, refreshing, and noted that the more I engaged in it, the better I felt. I suddenly reconnected with the real “meaning of life” and not merely the image of it.
I’ve been blessed with great opportunities and health. Leaving full-time employment opened even more doors I’ve yet to enter. I’ll continue to be active, but I also know I won’t allow myself to succumb again, to the “30-second sound bite” mentality. (I think MTV helped in the downfall of everything from common courtesy to the afternoon nap.)
I’m going to live life in the slow lane from now on. I still have a few things left on my “bucket list” and there are many things I enjoy doing. But I won’t be in such a hurry to do anything. I’m going to write about these changes, and other things, in my new blog with Naples Daily News. And next time I ask someone how they are, I’ll really want to know.