I remember the opening ceremony I attended for the community we worked in, Ekumfi Ekotsi, Ghana really clearly. We were riding in our vans listening to awesome Ghanian music, with our fearless Isaaka the auto-matic roman-tic driving, and I was just completely overwhelmed when we pulled up. So many people standing outside to welcome us, kids smiling, in tattered clothing, grabbing at our hands, fighting over our hands. And everyone was dancing as we walked through the community, this sea of dancing brown skin plus our sweaty and sunburned foreign selves juxtaposed against the bright blue cloudless sky, and we were dancing, too, to fit in (i.e. I was sort of hopping up and down and moving my body in awkward ways that were a semblance of a dance). And holy mess I was hot as heck–I swear I’ve never sweat that much in my life. But still I “danced” and I spoke the few words of Fante that I knew in earnest to the girl, who was rag and bones, clinging on to my hand, and I butchered them all and nobody understood me and I was frustrated but we connected with each other with our smiles, anyway. And she sat in my lap and I admired her hair in braids and her purple tattered shirt and we compared each others hands. They were so small and dark, and her wrists were so tiny and her collarbones protruded so but she had so much energy and I dug it and I was happy and so hot, but really happy. And then we prayed and listened to Asamoah’s booming voice through the speakers, amplified by the fact that it was right by my ears, oiii. We gave thanks to God and I watched as the community listened and reacted, I watched the stoic chiefs in their special section. And I smiled at the pretty British girl next to me. She had gorgeous brown curly hair, smokey eyes and really cool pants, and I told her that I liked her cool pants and she said thanks. And I watched her as she took out her iphone and took a picture of herself and the child on her lap. I watched as the child and the British girl fought for control of the phone, and I thought maybe the British girl should have tried to enjoy the moment instead of taking a picture, but then I realized that it was a mutually beneficial relationship anyhow. An assertive ten-year-old using her for access to a shiny toy, and a pretty girl using her to have a picture with a beautiful African child. Two people not really interested at all in getting to know each other or learn about each other, one a child, one a pretty girl. It seemed kind of vulgar but we all do the same everyday, treat people as the ends of transactions, as inconveniences if they’re taking too long in line or not doing their job, or as a connection to an internship.
When you move through life feeling only your feelings, thinking only your thoughts, and viewing relationships as things you get something out of–love, laughter, knowledge, whatever–it can hard to remember sometimes that other people are human beings with their very own feelings and thoughts, too.