Living with buckets.

I bounced across the back seat of the taxi as it hurtled through the Akuapem Hills. I had arrived in Accra the night before and after a fitful sleep swathed in a mosquito net and repellent, I was up at dawn.  After a breakfast of sweet tea, fruit and a malaria tablet, I was bundled into the taxi which now sped me through the Ghanaian countryside.

Grabbing the back of the driver’s seat as we hit another pothole, I distracted my stomach with the view. The plantation fields, damp and full, appeared endless. Women, deep in conversation, balanced baskets of beans and fresh fruit on their heads. Smiling boys waved to us with one hand, swinging small machetes from the other. 

Several stomach wrenching kilometres later, I was home. Bucket showers and bucket toilets. Neighbourhood kids yelling ‘Obruni!’  A graffitied wall advising ‘only fools urinate here.’ The fragrant smell of plantain. The dangerous art of making fu-fu, a thick yam based paste pounded with a giant mortar and pestle in a manner more apt to amputating fingers than kneading dough.  Dancing and blushing through a church procession, the choir in aging robes captivating. Lying awake to the sound of drums, a funeral, a celebration.  A marriage proposal from a generous neighbour, another the next week from his brother. 

School was a stomach flip ride away, a bare bones structure with a blackboard and no door.  No interactive whiteboard, no laptop, no cupboards overflowing with musical instruments or sports shed stacked floor to ceiling. Just me and my chalk.  And yet there was music.  Impromptu a cappella performances, the students’ voices carrying across the dusty courtyard where the children assembled each morning for prayer before marching to class, applause from the younger grades echoing through the hollow window frames.  And there was P.E, taught in the field behind the school, although twice we were forced to abandon our games when a snake was spotted (one dead, one alive).  Still, cat and mouse was unfailingly popular, gleefully declared “too good.”

The children were at once endearing and exhausting. Smiling, always, engaging.  Aware and compassionate, many wise beyond their years. Esther in tears, “she called me a village girl,” comforted by her classmates. Kwatia, offering me his handkerchief to sit on, “You shouldn’t get dirty Madam.”  Dancing on their desks, punishment for turning my back.  

At break time, they swarmed around the makeshift canteen, devouring balls of rice with sticky fingers. With chickens scratching at their feet, they played; the boys with a ball, deftly flicked from toe to naked toe, the girls clapping and clicking their way through an improvised dance routine. After the final bell the same few lingered, reluctant to begin their long journey home, a lollipop finally sending them on their way.

As I travelled back through the hills towards Accra, tongue burning from my last meal of red-red and plantain, I cast my eyes to the window. The picture was skewed.  The fields appeared dull, their colour faded. The women with their baskets carried my favourite black-eyed peas. The boys and their machetes seemed familiar, I waved back.  Camera filled with the smiling faces I’d taught, address book heavy, my step was slower, my head less full.

I fell against the door as we hit another pothole. But this time, my stomach was still.