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Defiance and Endurance

My last days in the village were so sweet. Most of the cooking occurs behind my bedroom. I listen quietly as women sing songs while they were preparing our food. I will always remember the sounds of the village, like women humming while working, wind rustling through corn and bleating goats and clucking chickens. The village elders come to formally welcome me and say goodbye. Fortunately, two other volunteers have arrived and will carry on my work and the elders greet them as well. They present us with beads and tie them onto our wrists, reminding me of the Baci ceremony in Laos.

I head north with a friend to Mole National Park. The journey takes us two days, and I receive various wedding proposals along the way. Most of the proposals are made before men even know my name. But one proposal has stuck with me. Everywhere I go, children and girls are laughing at me. I don’t think walking along the streets is very humorous, but my presence is somehow hysterical to people in Ghana. A group of girls start talking to me at the bus station.  Later, they signal for me to join them, I thought it was to meet their mother. Instead, it is another suitor who asks my name, where I’m from and immediately proposes. I take these proposals lightly, and laugh telling him he is too young for me. He shows me his ID and we are actually the same age. So I tell him I would make a very bad wife since I’m so independent and want to do my own thing. He doesn’t mind my protests. Finally, I tell him I live in Vietnam, not the United States and don’t think he would like to live in Asia. He tells me he wants to be wherever I am.  Wherever I am sleeping, he will crawl up beside me and be very happy. Somehow, I find him to be very earnest and totally authentic. Although I refuse to give him my phone number.

Everyone always asks for my phone number! Girls I meet on the road, shopkeepers, students on tro-tros, men selling paintings. They ask where I’m volunteering or which hotel I’m staying in and promise to visit me later. I really don’t understand the culture and wonder if they really would call or visit me? I don’t know but think it’s very sweet to even make these promises.

The final leg of our two-day journey to Mole National Park is the most expensive and the absolute worst. Our tro-tro is late, so we miss the last bus to the park. We haggle for 30 minutes to take a 3-hour taxi for $70. The rear window is totally shattered, and once we hit the dirt road it starts to fall apart. Every few minutes, I have to delicately brush dozens of shards of glass from my seat. I can’t believe we’ve paid so much money for glass in my ass! It is so comical that we laugh most of the ride to the park.

The next morning, we go on a safari walk. Our guide has a rifle and I ask him why. He says it’s for eminent danger but doesn’t expand. Could be animals or poachers? We walk for hours and see so much vegetation and wildlife, including warthogs, waterbucks, bushbucks, baboons and elephants. I’ve seen elephants before, but never outside of captivity. It is absolutely awesome to watch the elephants eat, as we crouch low in the bushes. Later, we see another herd of 11 elephants bathing in the pond.

In the afternoon, we take a canoe ride. The river is a still and brown, but there are women with buckets to carry water. Our guide tells us the village uses the water for drinking and cooking, and they don’t boil the water, just strain it with cloth. Every day in Ghana, I see women carrying buckets of water and I’m just awestruck by the lack of infrastructure. I feel so lucky in the United States.

The sexism in Northern Ghana is more apparent. I’d noticed that women tend to sit in the back of tro-tro’s and men occupy the front which is more comfortable. Yesterday, I asked if the front seats of a tro-tro were occupied and was immediately dismissed with a brusque, “The front seats are only for men.” I was frankly  shocked he was so direct. So we pile into the very back seat for the 7-hour journey. And underneath our seat are five goats. They are constantly scuttling around our feet and it’s another humorous ride!

Today, we are in Kumasi, the heart of the Ashanti people. We visit the National Cultural Center and there are artisans everywhere. We talk with textile weavers, woodworkers, metalworkers, basket weavers and painters. My favorite purchase is a painting by Joel, a 32-year old wheelchair-bound man that paints with his mouth. The painting is the Ashanti symbol for the fern. It is the symbol for defiance and endurance and means, “I am not afraid of you.”

Tomorrow, my friend returns to her volunteer work and I start my solo travels. I have been travelling with friends or become friends with locals and haven’t travelled alone for many months. It feels good to have some time for more reflection. And I am not afraid.

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