- Abraham Lincoln
In large part, our trip to Ghana represented a type of quest for answers. After all, it's only normal that visiting a foreign country inhabited by individuals speaking a foreign language, to meet children you've never met but that will soon become your own, lends itself to a lot of unknowns.
As with Dorothy during her stay in Oz, we too discovered our own wizard, and his name was Samuel Kofi Offong, our POA, and more importantly, the director of the boys' orphanage in Kwahu. It would be very difficult for us to adequately describe the respect and appreciation that we have for Kofi. Perhaps the greatest compliment we can convey is that as a parent, there is no question that he is the type of individual that you would pray your son or daughter would grow up to emulate.
During our final day in Ghana, we had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time with Kofi who had been accompanied by the boys' mother and baby sister. In discussing a number of events and reactions that we had observed throughout the week, Kofi provided us answers to many different circumstances, some of which we speculated correctly about, and others of which we totally missed the mark.
We thought it would be fun to share some of the clarifications, if for no other reason than to provide further reminders to us regarding our initial meeting with our two newest family members.
One of the issues that became apparent to us right away was the boys' reaction when a jet would fly over. Our hotel seemed to be fairly in line with outgoing flights and whenever a jet would pass over us, both of the boys would immediately scramble to make eye contact with the airliner, as well as begin to sing a song relative to "air-o-planes".
|Our plane after arriving in Ghana.|
We speculated that neither of them had seen many airplanes that close and Kofi confirmed that in the village, seeing planes was very rare, thus their incredible enthusiasm upon seeing even a small plane fly over.
Another incident that occurred that we didn't expect, and in this case we totally missed with our diagnosis, was Kwame's reaction to receiving a bath.
On the first night, he was very timid, but didn't really appear to be scared while receiving his bath. The only aspect we thought was a bit unusual was that he refused to sit down in the tub, and appeared to be somewhat apprehensive about what was going on.
On the second night, there was no question that he was terrified of receiving his bath. As Michele attempted to lower him into the bathtub, he shrieked, kicked, and cried hysterically as if he was suffering some sort of pain. She immediately brought him back out and attempted to console and comfort him to assure him that everything was okay. He finally relaxed enough to receive a bath, but remained very timid. The next evening Alexis suggested having Koby enter first and then giving Kwame a bath at the same time so that he would understand there was nothing to fear, and this idea seemed to work very well.
Our immediate hypothesis was that at some point Kwame had either had a bad experience with bodies of water (since at this point it was apparent he was not comfortable being in a swimming pool either), or that perhaps he had been burned by very hot water previously and wasn't comfortable enough with us yet to trust us not to do the same. It turns out that neither of our theories was even close to correct.
Kofi explained to us that the boys would not have recognized a bathtub as the village utilized streams to wash themselves with, either by standing at the stream and washing themselves by dipping their hands into the streams, or by bringing buckets of water up from the streams and washing themselves in a similar manner after reaching into the buckets.
This was extremely enlightening to us, and explained a great deal relative to Kwame's reactions. It also highlighted the degree of bravery that Koby displayed throughout the week with the swimming pool and bathtub, despite being as unfamiliar with both as his younger brother.
There was another entertaining experience with Koby while we were on one of our numerous taxi rides. It should be noted that the six of us taking taxi rides together was basically the equivalent of a clown car in a circus! Michele, Alexis, and myself would each have a child on our lap. When you see the size of the typical taxi in Ghana, and then picture the six of us in addition to the driver, the scene had to be amusing to those walking by trying to peddle things to us.
Anyway, during one particular ride, Koby was sitting on my lap in the front passenger seat and he began to sing a song that basically went:
When you go out driving there is something you should know.
Red means stop, yellow means look/ready, and green means go, go, go, and go!
He continued to sing this song in very good English over and over. We assumed that the orphanage was teaching the boys to sing songs in English to help them learn the language, and this was correct (they also sang songs such as Rain, Rain, Go Away, etc.)
What we didn't appreciate at the time, however, and what Kofi would clarify for us was why he started singing the song and then repeating it. Kofi stated that when the children learn the song about the traffic lights, they have no idea what the song is referring to because in the village, there are no traffic lights.
He explained that when they then come to visit a city such as Accra, it will suddenly dawn on them as they see the various lights and the associated colors that the traffic lights are indeed what the song they have learned is describing! Upon hearing Kofi's explanation, it provided us yet another moment where we were able to see the boys make associations with words, phrases, or songs and for us to get to truly relish in just how quickly these two were able to learn.
Foreign cultures will always require some degree of recalibration relative to what the visitors are accustomed to in their own homeland. For us, part of the adjustment necessary was getting used to the fact that many people in Ghana urinate outdoors when they need to go, many times wherever they need to go. This, of course, caught us somewhat off-guard, and in fact the first time one of the boys walked from the pool area, across the sidewalk, and to the vegetation growing on the other side to relieve themselves, we were stunned.
It was obvious from the reactions of those around us, however, that this was not abnormal, and in fact we saw adults do the same thing (we only witnessed males, but apparently it's not unheard of that females would do the same). It should be noted that it was always done discreetly and not in a manner in which inappropriate areas were exposed to others. It was just something that we weren't used to noting outdoors in public areas. Kofi did confirm that this was fairly normal there, even in Accra.
Finally, there was another custom relative to the eating habits in Ghana that left us very surprised. As we've mentioned in a previous post, the boys absolutely loved chicken and rice. As a family, we enjoy the same foods so this was not a problem for us at all, although for a few in our family, the spices were a little too spicy at times! LOL!
What floored us was when we witnessed Koby begin to eat his bone from one of his chicken legs. At first we believed he was simply gnawing the remaining meat off the bone, however when he put the bone down, it was apparent that the end was missing. Needless to say, with us not knowing the culture well enough, we stopped the bone-eating initiatives immediately.
As it turns out, that was actually normal! We explained what had happened to Kofi and he told us that in Ghana it is normal for individuals to eat the entire chicken, bones and all! Likewise, when they eat fish, they eat the bones, head, eyes, etc. While we very much wanted to conform as much as possible to the Ghanaian culture, and would like to keep as much of it alive as we possibly can when the boys join our family here in the States, this is a practice that we do not plan on maintaining!
There are some practices that are better left in their home countries.....lol!! :)
Our most sincere thanks to Kofi for explaining so much to us about life in Ghana, life for the boys and their families, stories about the orphanage, and various other pieces of insightful information that helped us understand so many things like we never would have without him. We are forever grateful.