From Estero to Africa and Back Again

From Estero to Africa


It’s almost surreal: running water, electricity, grocery stores.
Did I really go to Africa?
A little more than two weeks since returning finds me still in the twilight zone between worlds. I’ve heard from my African friends several times. Some part of me hasn’t left.
I thanked the Customs agent in Miami.
“I get that about 10 times a day,” he said with a smile.
I don’t think I ever saw a Customs agent smile before. Coming home was wonderful. When I drove through my lovely community’s entrance, I pulled over to take it in.
My last few days in Accra were quiet, readjusting to a more Western-style life. Hotels there are worthy of a capital city, with Western prices to match. Cuisine is plentiful, although the breakfast “Harsh Brown Potatoes” reminded me where I was. Ghanaian dress was less obvious than polo shirts, three-piece suits and the occasional turban and flowing robes.
The ever-present contrasts: skyscrapers under construction along congested streets with head-toting traders converging on slow traffic, artfully dodging taxis and the rare SUV cutting lanes.
Lunch found me seated next to a group of American and Ghanaian businessmen engaged in spirited discussion about a business enterprise the former were clearly trying to salvage.
I chastised myself for worrying about Ghanaians holding their own on the world stage as I eavesdropped on the two very astute Ghanaian nationals giving my fellow Americans a real run. I already appreciate how good we Americans are in these matters. I felt pride, too for the Ghanaians so up to the challenge. These people are important to me now, too.
I’ve been reveling in simple pleasures: soft mattress, real shower, view from the lanai, friends, family, my cat having glued himself to me since my return. I’ve promised never to leave him again so long.
The Ewe will be a big part of “what’s next.” They are moving ahead with the long-term plan we developed. I’ll help raise funds for their short-term, urgently needed educational materials, supplies. They’re working on long-term proposals and micro-financing efforts for small businesses to help replenish supplies, scholarships.
The urgency is for those caught on the cusp of Ghana’s burgeoning growth, the kids presently suspended between past and future, 70 percent without sufficient resources to finish high school. Things are improving (per capita income went from $300 to $690 in just three years), but Kids on the Cusp are at risk of falling through the cracks; bright minds spending lives toiling on subsistence farms, selling peanuts at the market for lack of funds to finish school.
Our efforts generated hard data for funding organizations; checks and balances to insure the best, most appropriate use of funds acquired; computer-trained villagers who, with BRIDGE’s help, now capable of connecting to sources of non-governmental funding; ideas for possible micro-financed businesses to replenish necessary supplies. And a feeling of empowerment on the parts of these determined people who simply want better lives for their children.
The benefits to me are immeasurable. Words just don’t fit the feelings. I’ve always appreciated how lucky I am — never as much as now. My problem will be patience dealing with people complaining because they don’t have enough shoes. I’ve been living with, metaphorically speaking, people who have no feet. They’ve got my enduring gratitude for so graciously folding me into their midst.
What would I do differently? Not forget my hair barrettes, for sure. Seriously, not much else. The Global Volunteer Network and BRIDGE prepared me well. I’d leave about half the stuff I took with me at home next time, however.
I don’t plan to go anywhere else for a while. I am supposed to be retired and “slowing down.” Yeah, right! For the time being, however, I’m enjoying simple pleasures. And I’ll do a little fundraising. I have a photographic presentation for interested groups, in exchange for tax-deductible donations to Ewe efforts. What we spend on one dinner out would provide one Ewe child with school supplies for five years, and help insure continuing education. And I’ll publish the book and donate proceeds to the tribe.
The experience exceeded expectations, and forever changed the way I’ll think of a “developing country.” We can, and should learn from each other. I’ll never forget the Ewe. They’re part of me now. They always will be.

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