My home stay experience was truly amazing. On the last day of our visit, I slyly made some audio recordings on my iPod of Auntie Giftyʼs voice, so that maybe the memory will last a bit longer and remain more vivid than it would otherwise. Auntie Gifty was truly a wonderful person and I hope I never forget her or her kindness and welcoming personality. Papa Attah had told us that Ghanaians don’t laugh at you, they only laugh with you, and that was certainly the case with Auntie Gifty.
On my last night in Cape Coast the power was out and Auntie Gifty was laying on the floor in the living room with her feet on the couch to try and ease her aching back. I was sitting on one of the chairs against the wall behind her doing some homework and we started talking. She told me about the Northern Region of Ghana, where she had lived when she went to veterinary school years ago. She said the people there are “so friendly,” especially to those who aren’t from there. She said that when she was there they treated her like a queen just because she wasn’t from that part of Ghana. She said that they’re so friendly that when they’re in public they all speak English because they know that visitors won’t understand their native tongues. Wow! Itʼs a bit of a shock coming from America, where we insist all foreigners learn our language so that we can understand them.
Auntie Gifty had told me earlier in my stay that the house she is living in with her mother is her deceased father’s house, and that her half siblings actually don’t get along with her anymore because they feel that the house should be theirs. She says that once her mother dies she will move to another house in Cape Coast to avoid confrontation with them. She only still lives there to take care of her mother, who refuses to move and is now so frail that she probably couldn’t move. After hearing her praise the friendliness of the Northern Region, I asked why she doesn’t move there. She first said that it’s because they fight too much. Tribal warfare is frequent and dangerous. She said that while she was there they actually closed her school and sent all the students home for a week due to the dangers of a tribal war that was happening in the area. She said they fight with bow and arrows and old fashioned guns that have to be reloaded after every shot. I can’t imagine it, real tribal warfare happening on and around a college campus. From my perspective it’s really something out of another world.
She then added that she couldn’t move away from Cape Coast even if they didn’t fight in the North, Cape Coast was her home, it is where she is from, how could she move away? There is such a sense of community and a sense of home here in Ghana that I think is tough to find in most of the US today. It’s especially hard for me to understand, as I haven’t lived in the same place for more than six months in the past 5 or 6 years. I’ve grown to feel at home wherever I go, and if I don’t, I know I’ll be moving again soon anyway and so I don’t have to worry about it. For her, moving is an experience she had once when she was young and moved from Accra to Cape Coast, and once when she went to school in the Northern Region. Cape Coast has been her home since she was a young girl, and moving to a new place seemed to unfathomable to her.
Earlier that same last night, I had shown Auntie Gifty some pictures on my computer of places I had been to and places I had lived. She had never heard of the Grand Canyon and didn’t know what happened if you went outside when it was snowing. She didn’t know where Maine was and she was surprised at how big the mountains in Colorado were. She puzzled as to why I came to Africa when I have so much in America. The power eventually came back but I hadn’t noticed, the light in the living room was still off. She stood up and said, “Sometimes I wish I could be like God and just make things be.” Then she raised her voice and said, “LET THERE BE LIGHT” as she flicked the light switch on. I let out a surprised “oh!” and we laughed together, with each other. The kind of long, mutual laugh you never want to end. It was a great memory to end on, to finish a too short stay with a truly awesome lady.
By John Marino