I spent about an hour this afternoon talking to a couple who have been church members for a long time. For health reasons, they have not been able to attend church, but watch on our YouTube feed. They are both in their eighties and have been married over sixty years. I mostly asked questions and listened to stories about their lives and their life together.
The husband requires consistent care, so they have a caregiver who is at the house, and who happens to be from Ghana. I told him I had lived in Accra and we spent a few minutes connecting over our shared history, even though that was long ago for me.
I haven’t thought about Ghana in a long time.
We only lived in Accra for six months. While we were in Texas on furlough, my dad told us that the mission board had asked him to spend a year in Ghana on a special project. Instead of going back to Nairobi, where I had started high school, we moved to West Africa, leaving all our stuff at our house in Nairobi. After a year, we would go back there. Though it was still Africa, it was a different world from Kenya. The language was difficult, the heat was relentless, and the weather alternated between humid winds that blew off the ocean and the Harmattan, a dry, sandy wind that blew from the Sahara.
We did our best to settle into Accra. I began eleventh grade at Ghana International School, and was finding my way. Sometime in November, my parents greeted my brother and I with news that we were moving back to the US because my parents had decided to resign. Something had happened to cause the decision, but neither my brother nor I ever got the whole story, or even a significant part of it. We never went back to Nairobi. On December 12, 1972–my sixteenth birthday–we left Africa for good and moved to Houston, where I started my fourth high school in three years.
As I spoke to the Ghanaian man today and tried to remember life in Accra, I realized my memories are few. I can see the school building, which was walking distance from our house. I remember the intense traffic, all the drivers hitting their horns incessantly. I remember the movie theater, whose answer to not having air conditioning was to have walls but no roof. We entered the doors, but then watched under the stars. I remember the worship services and all the different rhythms as people clapped along with the singing.
My memories are murals, landscapes–not photographs like the slideshow that plays in my mind when I think of Zambia or Kenya. I didn’t stay long enough to make friends, and my parents left angry and hurt, neither of which were feelings they processed well. In our story, Ghana was more of a layover than a destination, not because it was a bad place but because we never found a way to join the story.
When we lived in Marshfield, Massachusetts, we were sitting on our front porch one morning when the recycling truck came by and I realized I had forgotten to put our bin out. I grabbed it and ran down the street after the truck. When I caught up to it, the man who emptied the bin spoke in an accent I recognized.
“Are you from Kenya,” I asked.
“Yes, from Nairobi” he said; “why do you ask?”
“I lived in Nairobi when I was a boy. It was a good place.”
He smiled and we stood and swapped stories for a few moments, long enough to figure out we had played rugby against one another while I was at Nairobi International School and he was at Nairobi School. And we both liked the chapati and keema at Iqbal’s restaurant.
That conversation opened up a host of memories; today’s made me wonder what memories I failed to pack when we left Ghana because I was carrying too much grief. I thought I was living a different story, and when it changed that chapter got lost.