Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mad (ness)

     My parents tell stories of when I was younger and how I was "full of life". I would lie on the stairs crying and yelling "It's not fair!" and was stubborn as a mule, yet you could find me aiding those family members who were sick as best I could. I truly felt each emotion as it came.
     As I grew up I think a part of that was lost. Somehow, in my mind, being mad was a bad thing. Having the guilty conscience I do, I tried not to be mad anymore. I would still get sad, upset, lonely, and hurt, but I would never get blood-boiling angry. I was in a constant state of happiness and bliss and I thought it was wonderful! I never let anything get to me too far. I soaked in all the happiness I could and spread it back out for people who weren't as happy as I was. If someone disagreed with me, hurt me, or did something I didn't like I never got "mad" - only sad or upset and never for very long. I let things slide because it never seemed worth it to get angry about. 
     I never realized what I was missing out on.
    To this day I still don't get mad or angry very often. I am really good at the whole "seeing things from their perspective" thing. Who knows if I'm right or wrong, I just come up with all the reasons they could have acted the way they did and say "They only did this because _____". Yes, sometimes we need to give the benefit of the doubt. Everyone deserves a second chance. But that's definitely not where this post is intended to go.
     I am talking about crazy, blood-boiling, pure madness. In the last 4 years I have only been that worked up probably 3 times. At most. I still remember each instance like it was yesterday-complete with the blood running through my veins getting hotter by the second and the speeding heart rate and flustered thoughts. I'm not saying I love the feeling. You feel like you could literally break out into the Hulk or Human Torch at any second and cannot control your thoughts or emotions at all. And that's the madness.
    There must be opposition in all things, yes? Yes. To feel an emotion so strongly gives light to the same emotion on the opposite end of the spectrum. Imagine your body as a meter for emotion. If you are content it's about halfway full. If you feel the complete extreme of anger than the tank is all the way full. If you feel the complete extreme of joy than the tank its all the way full. When you have filled the tank once you know what it feels like. You feel alive. The feeling is addictive. It's why people become adrenaline junkies; they know what it felt like to be on the verge of death and it made them connected to what it felt like to be alive in that moment. Same thing goes for joy and anger.
    Feeling angry is not a bad thing. It means you have passion about something, care, have a heart and motivation. It lets you know when you feel real joy because the tank will be full again. You don't know how much more happiness can fit, yet it keeps coming. Holding onto that anger is never a good thing. You can't mix anger and happiness in the same tank. Learn to let go so you can open the door to let joy fill you. I don't want to go through life never really feeling it. I want to feel complete and optimal let me feel this madness.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Ghana Part 5

      Three weeks isn't a very long time. It passes you by in the blink of an eye (I'm such a good poet). Yet so much happens in that blink. Babies are born, tears are shed, people pass from this life, a good hard rain washes everything clean. And just like that, another three weeks has started. When I made the decision to come to Ghana I knew I would change. Very rarely do these people and this culture enter your life and not touch a part of your soul, down to the deepest parts of your heart. It's comforting, natural, clean. Although I knew I would change, it wasn't at all how I expected. I'm still struggling to figure out each part.
      In three weeks, if you keep your eyes open, you can collect memories. There are certain ones that will forever be engrained in my mind: the smell of a Ghanaian thunderstorm, so unlike the ones at home with the most pure scent, thunder continuously shaking the ground, each drop stinging your burnt body; the feeling of two toddlers asleep on your lap, breathing so peacefully because they are confined in the arms of someone who loves them; the way Georgina doesn't actually like the red sauce they put on their plain white rice and gives it to her sisters Gifty and Gabby; the way Gifty and Gabby sing little songs and dance while grinning from ear to ear sitting on your lap; when Christopher finally falls asleep in your arms and rests his energetic body on your shoulders; Michel's smile when you walk in and you make eye contact and he runs up to give you a hug and kiss; the way the kids say my name; all of their laughter-each unique and individual; the smell of the little ones when they have just been bathed and put in fresh clothing; the way they smell when they have been bathed and put in not so fresh clothing; the 7 month old triplets looking up at you wondering what is in store for them; when the older kids want to cuddle with you or have you pick them up too; when they slide their heads onto your lap ever so slowly, just in case you might get mad at them for doing it (but you never do); the never empty lap; laughing till your sides hurt while walking a half mile through mud and slime and knee-deep water with the other volunteers almost falling with every step; the hot sun that doesn't quite burn as bad as you think it might; Grace coming up behind me and poking my sides as she passes by; their beautiful smiles; Georgina singing "You Are My Sunshine" with me every day; the longing and desire to go see them while they are in class during the day, or wanting to cuddle with them at night; and last but not least, I will always remember the way every single one of the kids runs up to you at the entrance to the school, climbing up your body like a tree just to get in your arms and tugging on your clothes wanting a hand to hold.
(Disclaimer: I know that was the most grammatically incorrect paragraph in the history of ever)
     Those are the moments I will cling to while I am flying home Wednesday night. They are the moments I will cling to when my life gets busier and busier and the time I can devote to others suddenly becomes nonexistent and I need to be brought back to reality. I will long for those moments again in the next few months, but I know that there will be other volunteers here looking after my 41 babies. They are my children, my brothers, my sisters, my friends. And like anyone wants for their loved ones, I want the very best for them. I wish they each had the individual and unique love that they personally deserve, but the work that these volunteers do is amazing. Giving love to each and every child is hard work. It's emotionally exhausting. It's the most rewarding thing I have done with my life yet.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ghana Part 3

     Ya'll are gonna hate me for blogging so much, but what else am I supposed to do in Adam Nana at 6:15 on a Sunday morning?
     This morning I wanted to share the story of how this orphanage started. Mr. Patrick, my host father, was a teacher and had a small chicken farm. He has a wife, Mama Pat, and three young sons named Arnold, Mathu, and Jaho. They are an incredible and loving family! One night Mama Pat had a dream that they took care of orphaned, sick, and crippled children. Mr. Patrick didn't believe her until he had one of his own a few months later. He had no money to start it, but received a random phone call from a friend in America a while later asking how he could help the orphaned and needy in Ghana. He donated enough money for them to rent a small living area for the kids and started the West African Children Foundation. In this one bedroom building, everyone ate and slept on the floor. It was also used as the school house, so during the day they would roll up the mats they slept on and put them away for school.
     Life was hard after Mr. Patricks donation money ran out and he and the kids went without food quite a lot. He was no longer teaching at the other school and his chicken farm was failing. He decided to lock himself in his room for 7 days to pray and fast. He knew it was God's plan for him to do this and not his own and the best way to figure out the next step was to ask God what it was, because He knew. When he finally emerged from his room, he walked to church. On his way, a woman stopped and said she felt like she needed to help him, was there anything he needed? Did he need volunteers? Patrick had never heard of volunteers before and learned more about them and was so excited when she made the phone call to IVHQ to ask for volunteers. After they came down and checked it out, they agreed to start placing volunteers here once they have beds for volunteers. Once he had enough space for volunteers, the work here progressed. May 15, 2012 was the day the first set of volunteers arrived. Since that happened, they have rented out a different, slightly bigger complex, been able to feed the kids daily, give them water, hire teachers and a few staff for the orphanage and school, and rent a bigger volunteer house so more of us could help these wonderful people.
     But it doesn't stop there. Patrick has dreams for the children. He wants to move to a bigger place so their schoolhouse isn't so crowded and the kids can actually learn. He wants to start a crop farm and small fish farm so the children have that skill and can be self-sufficient. He would keep what they need from that and sell whats left to make a profit for them. He wants to have a bigger volunteer house because his "angels" deserve better. Yes, thats right, I always knew I was an angel (I kid...)!

Ghana Part 4

     You get really attached. It happens in the blink of an eye, but over time as well. You don't know what's happening till it hits you hard. My Michael is the best. He is three years old and tells you that quite proudly when asked. He has the best smile with his big lips and little baby teeth, and it's his smile that brings me back to reality when I've been home in my mind for too long. He plops his way over to me in the afternoons and hugs me with his little arms, wrapping them around my legs and says "Madame Kelly! Take Me!". So I lift him up and carry him to a spot where we sit and laugh and talk and play. Sometimes we just sit and cuddle and that's perfectly fine too. Yesterday he kept asking if I was coming tomorrow. I would kiss the top of his round head and say "Of course, Mr. Michael! I just love to spend time with you!" and tickle his belly and make him laugh with that gorgeous grin. He has a big boil on the tip top of his head and it popped yesterday, sending him into the deepest amount of pain his little body could handle and sending me back to the house with him to put toy story band aids over the hurt. With a smile and kiss, we walked back to the school hand in hand, never letting go once as he jumped over the big puddles and ditches in the dirt road. Michael likes to draw in the sand. I'm pretty sure he is left handed. I think he would make a great artist or architect. This morning I went to bathe the kids and feed them before school. Michael is really quiet in the morning and you could tell his little body was still waking up. He loves to try and wash himself, and he will be doing it in no time! Michael doesn't stray far from me. He will play with the other kids, or go and do something, but come back every few minutes to sit on my lap or give me a hug and then go play again. It was the same during lunch today as I was washing dishes. He kept just eating and walking around the dish area and looking and smiling at me. Before he left to class I gave him a hug and he told me to come to class with him. I wish I could spend all day with that little boy. It hurts to see him in pain and think of the love he is missing out on not growing up in a "real" family with a mommy and daddy to love and guide him individually and personally. If I were in the position to, I would take him back with me.
     There are other children I'm getting attached to as well. Two older boys - Albert and Prince - I just adore. Prince likes to come sit on my lap, although he is 10 I think. He comes up to me during lunch and just hugs me and rests his head on my arm and says "Hello Madame, How are you?" and we talk about school and what he wants to be when he grows up. He wants to be a banker. It took him forever to answer my question about what he wants to be. Prince has such a sweet spirit. He is protective of me and the sweetest boy ever! Albert has been with me since Day 1. He comes up to me and hugs me and takes pictures with me. He's the kind of kid who has confidence, but I think he has shallow self-esteem. He is not the leader, but what he does, he does with a sense of pride. He started to teach me Twi at the beginning of my time here, but since then we end up just playing together. Gideon is another one I have come to love more so than the others, but only more recently. We color and draw together. Today at lunch I said "Hello Gideon!" and he walked away with the biggest grin on his face. It's amazing what just some recognition can do for these kids.
     It's not just the kids here who I have become attached to - or the adults for that matter. The whole country and culture are beautiful. Get past the dirt and smells and you are in such a beautiful place. One of my favorite things is taking the tro home from Shoprite and seeing the lake (or ocean...I really have no sense of geography...) and all the green and palm trees around it. The fact that everyone here is so friendly and kind and willing to help add to the beauty of the land. It's graceful and peaceful. It captivates you and pulls you in. Once you go somewhere on your own, getting a cab and taking a tro by yourself or leading others who don't know how, it gives you a sense of pride. You feel like you are a part of the land and part of the people.
     The thought of being home in one week is unreal. I don't want to leave. I know the work I am doing here is so much more than the work I could be doing at home. It means more, is appreciated, is showing Christ-like love, and is teaching me immensely. I can't imagine going anywhere and loving it as much as I have grown to love Ghana. And the people :)

Me and My Michael


Friday, May 24, 2013

Ghana Part 2

     I have found two of my favorite things here: the sweet morning time with my babies and doing laundry. I don't know if I touched on laundry in my last post, I'm too lazy to check, but I'll recap if I did. So you get powdered soap and two buckets, pour the soap in one and wash with a bar of soap as well, rinse, and hang up to dry. For me it takes about 40 minutes and it's been one of my favorite things to do here. It's so therapeutic for me. I listen to the neighborhood sounds, smell the clean soap smell, feel the cool breeze in the middle of the hot day, and reflect on being here.
     Being here grows on you fast. Saying hello and smiling to everyone and having them do it to you first reminds me so much of the south, but so much friendlier! I love my kids so much. Being with them means the world to me. So much so that when I leave this weekend for Cape Coast I will be so sad to not spend this afternoon and tomorrow and Sunday with them. The way of life here is so laid back. Time means nothing because it's the quality of the time spent that matters. Being with family and friends takes precedent over everything else.
     My other favorite thing is the morning with my babies. I am not a morning person. Repeat: I am not a morning person. And it took me a week to finally get up at 5 and pull the morning shift. But the past two days I have and it's been wonderful! After I finally wake up and come to my senses we are at the orphanage and all the little naked kids are running around showering. We bathe the younger kids, but getting their clothes together is chaotic and sometimes they don't like taking a bath(aka this morning Michael had an episode and refused to get in the tub and we had three people holding and washing him. Come to think of it, I think Princess was the same this morning). But it's the moments where they are sleepy or quiet and come rest their head on your lap and shoulder, want to be loved and have their backs rubbed, and have their tears dried that tug at my heart.
     I also love talking to the older girls. There are 5 or 6 of them that I've gotten pretty close to the past few days. They have dreams and goals and desires and I wish I could help give them every opportunity to see them reach those goals. The kids are starting to recognize me and remember my name, and it's the best feeling in the world to have a little voice call your name or smile because they know you.
     I'm learning and growing here so much too. I don't want to go back home. Home is scary because it means I have to live where time means money and money means wealth and wealth means success. I don't want to. I want to live here where being friendly, good, and giving your all to the Lord and your family are all that matters. I'm learning that my voice needs to be heard. I have a mind that thinks just as well as the person next to me, a heart that feels deeper than I can even recognize, and every opportunity to do what I want with my life. And I want to help. I want to help these kids realize that their dreams can be reality. I'm becoming me and it's the start of a truly incredible journey in my life. It feels good!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ghana Part 1

   The first few days I told myself it was extended extreme summer camp. After my first night in Ghana and driving through the crazy and crowded streets to stay at the volunteer house it shook me up a little bit. I had 28 hours of traveling down and was on a completely different continent than everyone I know, with no one that I knew. But I had made some pretty cool friends and had a good time at orientation and such the next morning and next thing I knew I was put into the silver program of IVHQ working in Adom Nana at the West African Children Foundation here. It's dusty, not too pretty when you are looking just up the road. But in the distance are mountains and the beach is just 40 minutes away. You don't really go to Ghana for the neat Safari or the beautiful rainforest. You go to Ghana for the people - and man, the people are amazing. Everyone is beyond friendly and so willing to help you out.
    After the second day of getting into the routine, it's not summer camp. It's a life changing experience where time means nothing and what you have is great, but who you are is better. It's knowing the God gave you everything and loves you. It's giving all your love to these sweet children who are begging for just a bit of it.
     I guess most of you wonder what it's like here. Well it's not glamorous! I have a layer of sweat and dirt that is stained on me to look like a tan, despite the fact that we have showers here. Don't worry, I shower. But the water doesn't work half the time so we use buckets for showering instead. And we have a toilet! Awesome! And electricity! But sometimes it just randomly goes out. Our orphanage has 40-50 beautiful kids! A regular day will go like this:
  • Around 5:30 some of us will go bathe and feed the kids before school
  • We come home for breakfast of toast, eggs, or a combo of both!
  • Some volunteers go back to the school to teach, while others get chores done around the volunteer house or go into the market place. We read and relax and nap (it's time to gear up energy cause the kids suck it out of you!)
  • Around 11:30 we go back to the school to help get ready for lunch. Despite only 50 kids being at the orphanage, 200 come for school. Lunch is crazy and hectic and you better hope it's not something that requires the use of spoons (they only have about 40 ish spoons to go around). We need at least 7 volunteers to make lunch time run smoothly.
  • Then we come home and eat our lunch. It's a lot of carbs, so we will get ramen-type spiced up noodles, chicken and rice, or noodles in general with lots of fruit. It's pretty delicious most of the time. 
  • After lunch we have about an hour and a half before their school gets out so we talk and play games or read books and journal. 
  • We go back to the orphanage after their school and play with the kids for the next 3 hours before dinner. And those three hours are amazing, exhausting, and happy!
  • Then we come back for dinner and then hang out the rest of the night with our host family! Pretty great!

     So it looks like we have lots of down time, and I guess we do, but I've been pretty busy going to the grocery store(when you need a snickers, you need a snickers) and getting fabric, visiting the tailor, going into Accra or Kasoa, etc. It's so amazing here though. The kids are fantastic. They need so much love that you have to be willing to give your all to them the three hours you are with them in the afternoon. It's amazing and beautiful. Today it hit me though how hard it is for these kids to accomplish their dreams and feel the love and belonging we all need. I wish I could give them more than what I can and have to offer, but it's just not possible. It hurts, but it's such a blessing to be able to be with them for this short amount of time anyways!
     It's getting late here and I have to be up at 5 to bathe the kids, goodnight blogging world!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Blogging On A Plane

I could come up with all sorts of creative and adventurist titles for this post, but really life is the biggest adventure of all and this is just a blip in it. But a very deep blip. Yes, children, today - right now in fact- I am on a plane headed to Accra, Ghana, Africa (okay, you caught me, technically I'm on my way to London and THEN Accra. But it's just a technicality). I've dreamed of this for so long and it's here. This vague idea that has been crowding my head for years is turning tangible, although the biggest part will not be tangible.

Here's the Stitch: I am going to Ghana through a program called IVHQ (International Volunteer Headquarters). They partner with local nonprofits and place volunteers in the areas they are needed. So the exact locations of where I will be living for the next three weeks are pretty murky until Wednesday. I have asked to be placed in an orphanage with one of these nonprofits. I'll be living in either a volunteer house or a home stay with a local family and get the whole African experience.

This trip started forming back in March and it just so happens that at that point I became so busy that Africa felt like a far distant concept in my mind. Even the week before I left it still felt like a dream and I was merely going through the motions of obtaining a VISA, shopping, and packing. Just being excited because I knew it was going to happen, but not feeling the reality of it all. And then it hit. Saturday night. I was lying in bed, just thinking about what it would be like and it was overwhelming. I kid you not all the tears started flowing. The pictures I had seen became real. The stories, the people, the environment - it was real. I realized that I would be there. Me. There. In Africa. First the excitement jitters hit hard. And then the rest of that sentence kicked in - Next Week. And all the fears I had about the environment, people, culture, food, planes, and anything under the sun flooded my mind. "What am I even doing? Why am I going? I know nothing about these people! I hate bugs. What if the kids don't like me? Or the other volunteers?" and don't even get me started about the safety issue concerns that rose to my mind.

I felt weak, not suited for the job I had promised to do, and all out of courage. Although the thought of Africa was a distant one for the longest time, as people asked what I would do in certain situations and about different problems, these big concerns were brushed off and the shelf in my mind was cleared for memories and happy things about my trip. But all of a sudden the shelf was filled with the harsh ideas that could be my reality. And the shelf broke. Down came the blocks that held it up - my confidence and faith. And I struggled.

I struggled up until this morning. Sunday at church and my fathers blessing last night were the highlights of the weekend. I kept a happy face while talking about the exciting adventure I would embark on while masking the insecurities I felt about my ability to serve these children in a capacity in which they needed. But Sunday School held a very important lesson for me. Talking about spiritual gifts always makes me excited. It makes us all different and unique and I absolutely love it! I realized that the gifts I have that will be useful to these children will be mainly my love and faith. Having a Christ-like love for all is definitely a spiritual gift I desire to have. I really do have a Christ-like love for all, but sometimes my selfishness and desires creep in, allowing that gift to be blocked. Actually, a lot of times that is blocked. This trip will shake me to my bones. I am going to be giving these children my all. Because they deserve to have that given to them at least once in their lives. They don't have mothers and fathers to show them love and what being unselfish really means. They don't have parents to help them realize their potential and help bring them to the knowledge that they are so important in this world as unique children of God. They rely on the caretaker of the orphanage, who has sometimes up to 80 children to look after. Although I am only there for 3 weeks and they will forget my name and my face, I want them to remember that they felt Christ's love for them at some point in their lives. And I want to be the means through which they can plant that seed of love in their hearts.

I have always known I have been blessed with great Faith. I don't doubt that when I pray it is listened to by the Lord and will be answered in the best way possible according to His plan. I know that I am a daughter of God and I have been designed in His image and given the gifts and abilities that make me unique to helping His plan go through. I want these kids to know that. I want them to know that no matter what, it will all be okay; that even though they were born into these harsh circumstances, it always works out for the best.

To let these things happen and the Lord to work through me, I needed to remember the real reason I wanted to come. Yes, part of it was selfish. I wanted to get out and explore the world and see and do things people don't see and do on a regular basis. I wanted to be different and do something exciting with life. I wanted to learn and grow and know about myself. But if I just wanted to do that I could study abroad. I wanted to serve. I wanted to get down on my hands and knees and be put in these harsh circumstances because I've been so blessed in my life, I wanted to share my blessings with others. I wanted these children to realize they are amazing and capable of doing the impossible. I wanted them to have a good time and taste love from another person. I cannot replace their parents. No one can. But while they are living in these impoverished circumstances, I can help them be happy and learn. I can help expand their minds and nurture them with Christ's love. I know that He already shows them He loves them through so many ways I cannot wait to see, but the physical hug and physical person being there to listen and to talk to is a blessing I have been blessed with through my own family and very dear friends I consider family. These children are already blessed by being the most important thought the Lord has. I'm just selfish and want to feel like I have made the slightest difference. And apparently, going to Africa was the only way to do that in my mind.

I've learned that we can make a difference wherever we are. We don't need to fly to Accra and stay in an orphanage for three weeks. We can start in our own homes and give love to our family members who rely on us. We can start at our school by smiling, holding the door open, or going the extra mile and befriending those in need and being loyal friends to all the people we associate with as friends. We can start in our communities by volunteering and giving our time and efforts to organizations and churches that need our help. Africa just happened to be part of my big life adventure. And it's going to change me and the way I look at service from now on. It's going to change my view of the world from now on. Although I feel inadequate because of my lack of certain traits, I feel strong and brave because my Father in Heaven wants the best for these children more. I feel blessed that He trusts me enough to use me as His hands in this country and small village to help touch the lives of His precious children. I feel honored that He would allow me the ability to grow and learn and progress in life.

Please keep me and the children I am serving in your prayers for the next three weeks! Thank you for all the support and love and guidance! Three weeks is such a short amount of time and I will be back home before you even knew I left!

Also, sorry this post was deathly long. I guess a 9 hour flight after not talking to anyone for 7 hours really takes its toll...If you made it this far, congrats!