On Friday, I was invited to attend a Busta Rhymes concert in Accra the next night by the hiplife group whose music video I was in (which is a long story for another blog post). They would purchase my ticket for me, I would sit in the V.I.P. section, and I was invited to attend the exclusive after-party. It sounded like a good time… but I declined. I had plans to spend the weekend at the Liberian Buduburam Refugee Camp.
And so, early Saturday morning, I set off alone on the two hour trip to the camp. Of course, as I am extremely directionally challenged, I got lost a number of times. Much to my surprise, the Ghanaians were incredibly helpful. When I quietly asked someone what stop I should get off at to catch my next tro-tro, the entire car overheard and began collaborating to figure out the best route. Twice, someone even got off the tro-tro to escort me to my next car. Their only motivation was to help me get to my destination. It was a refreshing courtesy that I appreciated, since this was the first time I had attempted to travel alone and I was feeling anxious about the situation.
The two-hour journey turned into a three-hour journey after all my blunders and trips on wrong tro-tros. Finally, I arrived at Buduburam. I called the woman who I believed to be the “executive director” of the camp, as stated on the camp’s Web site. The person actually turned out to be a young woman, a Liberian refugee named Mercy.
Mercy has lived at the refugee camp since the age of 7, when she came to Ghana as an orphan seeking refuge. She told me about her life and the battles she faced as a young woman in the refugee camps. Without going into great detail, I will note that she endured serious battles with sexual assault and issues of trying to make a living as a young woman with limited options. Eventually, she met an American man online who decided to help her. He came to Ghana, married her, and helped to turn her life around. She is now an educated computer programmer and television addict… and my new, as she says it, “Black Sister” (although I told her that I prefer the more P.C. term, “African Sister.”).
Mercy introduced me to a woman who cares for a group of 10 children aged 3-16. The children, mostly Liberians, have all been orphaned or abandoned by their families.
They recently lost their previous place of residence but have since been offered refuge at the home of a kind, older couple. However, the living units in the refugee camp are small and the couple is only able to offer a single, tiny bedroom. Every night, the woman and the 10 children pile into that miniscule shared space.
The children are all quite lively. Their caretaker, who Mercy referred to as their “Mama,” insists that they are also all quite bright. They attend the nearby Catholic school that was set up by the UNCHR. However, this year, they don’t have enough money to afford their tuition–35 cedi (roughly $23 dollars) each for the younger ones and 150 cedi for those entering the 9th grade, who also need to pay for a special exam. They also don’t have enough money to afford to move into their “dream home,” a space that “Mama” showed to me that is still under construction but has much more room for the children.
She explained to me that her dream is to have a facility large enough to house 30 to 40 children that she can care for. She doesn’t do any of her work for money. She only makes enough for her and the kids to barely get by.
After seeing the children, I spent most of my time with Mercy. We cooked on the stovetop in her small, two-room unit and watched West African movies together. She showed me how to make vegetable stew and how to strip and chew sugar cane. I went with her to see where she grew up as a young girl in the camps and to meet some of her friends. Children’s cries of, “Obruni! Obruni!” followed me everywhere I went. Mercy was kind enough to let me stay overnight at her home and, after watching a Nigerian film with her, I crawled off to bed and slept like a rock.
On Sunday, I was invited to attend Christian services with Mercy. Although I consider myself to be a more spiritual rather than religious person, I’m always open to experiencing other forms of prayer and worship. It was interesting to observe Christianity in the camp, as religion seems to be so integral to life as a West African and as a refugee.
I did not want to get caught in late-afternoon traffic (it is truly horrendous) and so, soon after the service, I said goodbye to Mercy, promised I would be back soon, and boarded a tro-tro.
As I think back about the time I spent at the camp this weekend, I can remember a distinct thought go through my head as I peered into the small room shared by a giving woman and her 10 foster children: My life is about to change forever. I don’t know what I can do for these children, but I know that I can’t stand idly by. I’m determined to make a change in their lives, whatever that may mean.
One of the things that really blew me away was the kindness I experienced on my journey. I already mentioned the help I received when I was lost on Saturday morning. In addition to that, Mercy took me – a strange girl – in, fed me, lent me clothes to wear to church, entertained me, let me sleep at her home, and showed me around the camp all day. A young girl whom I had never spoken to before paid for my tro-tro fare on the way to Circle for no apparent reason. As experienced on the way to the camps, people were also fantastic with giving me directions on the way home. Traveling alone was something I dreaded, but I received so much love and assistance that my fears totally melted away.
This weekend really renewed my faith in people. I can only hope that I can, somehow, give others that same feeling.