Yes, that is correct, or at least that is what a local fellow paid for having sex with two very young village girls. By”very young,” I mean late elementary-school-age young. In a country where 80-percent of the residents live on about $2.00 per day, the girls’ virginity was worth nearly a month each. I was told that the fee he paid was, “rather low”, by village standards because the families had encouraged earlier visits by the guy (I mean Grandfather age, ugh!!). Once the news got out and around the village, the girls’ family convened the tribal authorities to resolve the matter (versus the legal authorities). In Ghana, traditional authority resides with the family, clan, village, and chief, although not necessarily in that or any order. Despite minor flaws, family jurisdiction is how most domestic issues are resolved here. If you want a divorce, you consult the family, make the announcement and state loudly, “I divorce you,” while sprinkling white powder on the person (the white powder is not poison, clearly it deserves a little investigation). Their system has worked for centuries and now the “modern” legal system more or less runs in tandem. I heard that the family hoped for a higher settlement because the man worked at Kakum National Park, which means that he has a job whereas most of the villagers are self-employed subsistence farmers. If the family had filed charges with the police or the social services agency, then the man would have gone to jail and possibly on to prison. I have read that Ghanaian laws are strict on juvenile rape and it is now illegal to rape your wife, although women have told me they cannot really deny their husbands “their marital rights.” (I will leave this for another day….)
I personally do not know the former virgins, but everyone else in Abrafo seems to know them. The village sentiments tend to be pro girls, con parents. Blame is slung around, oddly enough, very little toward the perpetrator. Now, I look squarely into the eyes of every girl of that cohort, believing that somehow a knowing gaze might erase the trauma. Life goes on…. I had passing-and-greeting relationship with the perpetrator, but before I could see him again, he was transferred to another village, an outlier post where the only known entertainment is chasing poachers. I hope they put a very large and conspicuous bell around his neck....
Finally, I feel like writing?! I’m a little surprised by what is coming out of my heart. As usual, I want to cry for a while and I am aware that I have not done much of that lately, despite all the very real reasons to do so. There is so much to absorb or deflect, too much and some days I forget to wear my emotional armor.
Armored or un-armored, I am critically aware that I will be leaving here in less than two months and that has me in a sort of panic. Will I get everything done? Is that possible, or even desirable? Everyday becomes so meaningful. I just read a poem by a Palestinian, Mahmoud Darwish, where he describes his last day of living after learning that he has only one day to live and my days are a little like that—both random and intentional (the poem is appended below). Mostly, I try to stay on top, not below, the tectonic shifts. Some are subtle, like the San Andreas, others resemble Mt. St. Helens. Today, I was crying while riding my bike because there were at least one hundred butterflies accompanying me along the road home. Magic can completely undo me any day.
Onto lighter notes, I am enjoying a short hiatus from teaching. The school calendar calls for a vacation from early August until late September. I miss the students, but it is nice to slow down. While on this topic, I should note the latest of my teaching wonders. Sometime last spring, I became the de facto ICT teacher (Information Communication Technology) at the village junior high school. No one was more surprised. The headmistress, Madam Kate, pleaded with me and I accepted reluctantly, after-all, I am the only one there with a computer. Even after reviewing the syllabus, I had no idea how to begin for a class of 46 students, most had never touched, let alone seen a computer. In typical Ghanaian school fashion, they all had copious notes about ICT, including detailed sketches of system units, hard drives, etc. In addition, their notes contained vivid descriptions of the inner-workings of flat-screen monitors and the differences between Pentium III’s and IV’s. With great haste, I learned the meaning of CD-ROM and the difference between data and information. Despite my years of computer use, I was surprised to discover that I knew virtually nothing about them. They say, teach and you will learn—I will heartily second that. For the first class, I took my laptop and from there it just flowed. I bought a cheap desktop and had the kids march up to my house, 10 students at a time, for hands-on time. I had never seen them so enlivened. It was my favorite four months of teaching. School resumes this week and I am curious about my next assignment. Will it be bomb-making? Crochet? (School has resumed since I wrote this and happily, I have no new subjects and one of the male teachers has asked for ICT—ugh!!)
I forgot to mention the appearance of annoying Mr. Syllabus last year. He is a young energetic fellow, who teaches English to the younger JSS students. He appeared sometime last year and while on school patrol, he would stop at my classroom to remind me to teach according to the syllabus. The Ghana Education Service has one for almost everything, but as you might imagine, the syllabus will not help my students. The kids say that Mr. Syllabus does indeed teach to the syllabus; they also say they don’t like him so much. I never did learn much from teachers I didn’t like.
Besdies the drama at school, there is the persistent drama at Kakum National Park. It is a nonstop rollercoaster of personal status management. Who has the most personal status on any given day is completely a mystery; nonetheless, it is the most important plot in the soup. Loyalty is only for the day and maybe not even that. Besides power, the future is the commodity being brokered--survival of the fittest? Here the working life demands the finesse of a debutante’s ball. I am not particularly attentive to American status behaviors, but I instantly recognize their breaches or the hateful misuse against others. Having an outsider’s status, I can view the whole daily loopy-loops with some light-hearted humor unavailable to the insiders. They are all canines and claws behind syrupy sweet smiles and kids gloves (yikes, I am suddenly confused about the Little Red Ridinghood story. What was that really about? Didn’t they discover the original Dead Sea Scroll of that story with a different version--Red killing the wolf, marrying the wolf, or running with the wolf? I cannot remember). So I can march around banging pans and pulling hair, but no one even gives me a glance. The players know each other as clearly as predators and prey know each other, each weighed to the ounce, every movement anticipated, the resumes memorized, the stakes are enormous—for the future, for the children, for the grandchildren. Luckily, I am mostly invisible, but not entirely immune. Visually, the impact is like those TV weather maps of huge hurricanes, where the circular cloud pattern blankets entire oceans, entire continents. I watch the sky warily and can only wince for those without the killer instinct.
Taking a giant leap, not across an ocean, but across a sea, the Mediterranean Sea to be exact, while on the subject of watching the sky, I can report on the beautiful Italian skies I saw last month with pal Jen. I did not know I needed beauty the same way I need exercise and roughage, but that is exactly what Italy gave me—beauty, the memory of beauty and the expectation of beauty in the future. You know the proverbial “don’t know what you need until you get it” idea? Well, beauty is what I needed and what I got in Italy. The people, the art, the architecture, the shops, the food, the wine, the people, the sidewalks, the Vatican, the little cafes—all so beautiful (this is in direct contrast to Ghana). I could only weep. Even the Italian language seems to explode with beauty, it is “bella” this, that and everything. I enjoyed every moment there. I do not think I can describe even one thing with any justice, but if I could, I would describe the perfect crunchy thin-crusted pizzas, the earthy and ethereal Chiantis and the mesmerizing hills surrounding Florence, just for starters.
The Italians built upon the ancient Romans love of everything. And the Romans, well they make most other cultures seem a little tame--recall the coliseum, chariot races, gods and goddesses—what a marvelous bunch. Jen and I stumbled upon the equivalent of our dollar-store and inside alongside the normal stuff we found a Latin-English dictionary, yup, for a dollar (well a Euro). For some reason we did not buy it, but we lamented that lapse for the rest of the trip. It would have helped with the dates—MXCCI (I have no idea!!). I wish I could remember more of those miserable Latin classes I endured in high school—amo, amas, amat—is about all that remains.
Somehow, the entire trip boils down to the Pantheon. What a marvel, for 1400 years it has stood, proudly, beautifully. Besides a different form of transportation, they used to have chariot races outside, now just little European Smart cars race around—really, the big difference is only the current roster of deities. The old Roman gods were replaced by the Christians and the old statues left sprinkled across the Italian landscape, some even at the Pope’s house. And the Pope’s house? Well it is the grandest house of all. The last note on Italy comes from one of Jen’s countless tour books, it said you should not miss the opportunity to gape at anything, and we did just that with gusto. We needed an adjustment just for gaping (like warbler neck, or peregrine neck). In every picture from Italy, there is at least one if not a dozen people gaping somewhere. One last gape from that trip occurred at the Tripoli airport, where an eight-story tall life-like portrait of President Kaddafi (sp?) was muted only by the wind-whipped desert sands in the hot white air. Yes, I flew on Libyan Air and I survived—I do not know why I was not scared.
As for my peeps here in Ghana, they are all fine. My gal Alice is doing well in Senior Secondary School. All the usual suspects are doing well in the village and beyond. Most of my Peace Corps pals have left and I have not bothered to know their replacements. Another cat has “gone missing” as they say here and the two dogs, Panther and Sammo, are still making my life here brighter. This Thursday, I'm going to the Ambassador's house for Thanksgiving dinner. He is inviting staff and Peace Corps volunteers. I'm personally hoping to see what's in his wine cellar--American, International, African wines?? Anyone's guess!!
According to my calendar, I have 60 days left in Peace Corps. Officially, January 20, 2010 is my final day. There is about a week’s worth of paperwork before I am “free.” Then, I am heading south, to Eastern and Southern Africa for some spontaneous touring. In February, I will meet pal Paula for a 21-day walking tour of southwest Africa—Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and South Africa. Look for me in Indiana with the spring wildflowers, around the Ides of March. In time for your birthday Martha!! Et tu Martha??
Know that you are all missed. Until I see your lovely faces, I send you blessings and prayers from the oldest continent on the planet.
Happy Holidays--all of them!
ps. sorry to the birders, I meant to note my most recent finds, but the computer won't allow my pen drive...another day....
REMAINDER OF A LIFE
If I were told:
By evening you will die,
so what will you do until then?
I would look at my wristwatch,
I’d drink a glass of juice,
bite an apple,
contemplate at length an ant that has found its food,
then look at my wristwatch.
There’d be time left to shave my beard
and dive in a bath, obsess:
“there must be an adornment for writing, so let it be a blue garment.”
I’d sit until noon alive at my desk
but wouldn’t see the trace of color in the words,
white, white, white…
I’d prepare my last lunch,
pour wine in two glasses; one for me
and the other for the one who will come without appointment,
then I’d take a nap between two dreams.
But my snoring would wake me…
so I’d look at my wristwatch:
and there’d be time left for reading.
I’d read a chapter in Dante and half of a mu’allaqah
and see how my life goes from me
to the others, but I wouldn’t ask who
would fill what’s missing in it.
That’s it, then?
That’s it, that’s it.
Then I’d throw away the poem…
this poem, in the trash,
and put on the latest fashion in Italian shirts,
parade myself in an entourage of Spanish violins,
and walk to the grave!
Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian, is one of the most prominent poets writing in Arabic today.