One Swallow Does Not a Summer Make!
Moses and I were sitting on a bench in Alougbas compound. We were waiting for her to finish making gari. I filled the time by explaining to Moses that I needed to find more people who wanted to be involved in the community. Alougba and Tou-sain and Moses are great, but I need input from more people. Moses in all of his infinite sixteen years of wisdom looked at me and said “One swallow does not a summer make.” “Huh?” I said, thinking I had lost him in translation. He repeated the sentence, and then proceeded to tell me that this was an African proverb and it meant one persons advice is not enough. One needs to get advice from many people. I just stared at him speechless at his insight. He smiled and said, “We will find more people!” “D’accord,” I said. Ok!
The Dichotomy of Moses
He is sixteen, the youngest of eight brothers and two sisters. His father died two years ago, which forced his mother to move from Ghana to Tcheckpo so that she could live closer to and have help from relatives. So Moses left his friends and the only home he had ever known at the tender and sensitive age of 14. Culturally the difference between Ghana and Tchekpo is stark. It would be like moving from inner city, New York City to rural Kansas.
Moses is a leader in his Catholic Church Youth Group, “for orphans,” he explained to me. By orphans he meant that these children have lost one or both parents. By my count, there were at least twenty kids. When the group gets together on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons, they have variety of projects. They sing and dance, and play the African drums, and put on sketches. They invited me to attend their group last Sunday. It was a lot of fun, and it was fascinating to see how Moses leads the group, and assures that everyone is involved and happy. The children’s ages range from three to twenty.
Moses likes to come to my house. He likes to listen to my iPod and drink my crystal lite and eat my snacks. Occasionally while I’m working at my desk he asks if he can stay and listen to my iPod while I’m working. He’ll sit in a chair, closes his eyes, and remains perfectly still for as long as I will allow. At times I will hear him humming a little or swaying a little to the music, but for the most part he is perfectly still until I tell him it’s time for him to go.
Good friends from home have sent me a variety of materials for art projects with the children. I keep everything in a big basket in my living room. Word has spread among the children in my neighborhood about the basket of wonderful things they’ve never seen before. They filter in and shyly go through the basket asking what this is, and what that is. I have stickers, and Crayolas, construction paper, magic markers, glue sticks, stencils, etc.
Moses found my basket one day. He brought each item out and asked me to explain. He was interested in the stencils and magic markers. I showed him how the stencils worked. He asked me if he could sit and work with the stencils for a while. He sat and colored the stencils meticulously for at least two hours. This brilliant boy, who speaks three languages fluently, sat coloring and was completely content and happy. He wanted to give the piece of art he made to me as a gift, but I told him to give it to his mother. He told me later that she loved it, and that it made her happy.
Voodoo has omnipresence in Tchekpo and in Africa. You hear, feel or see little signs of it everywhere. You get so used to the voodoo drums beating in the background at all hours of the day and night that the sound becomes almost part of the landscape.
The beat of the voodoo drums provides my African day or night with a musical score. Just as in a film that is well produced and edited, you rarely notice the musical score in the background. In a film musical score you shouldn’t notice when the music stops or starts. The music sets the tone, prepares you for what might happen next, builds tension, or fear or enhances humor and sorrow. I think the voodoo drums work in the same way.
I’m intrigued with the Voodooese (Moses said that’s what their ethnic group is called). They are everywhere, yet you feel rather than see their presence. One day as I was walking to Alougba’s house I ran into a Voodoo parade/celebration. It was around 4pm on a Sunday. I heard the drums first; they seemed louder and closer than usual. Then I saw a procession of maybe fifty people. Most of the people in the procession had streaks of white painted on their faces, arms and legs. The drums were loud and constant. The procession appeared to be surrounding five or six people who were wearing masks and bright colored clothes. These five or six people were also wearing brightly colored hats with brims all the way around, with strings hanging from the brims, down around their faces. All of the people in the procession were moving to their own beat of the drums. Villagers came out of their compounds and lined the road, watching respectfully and as curiously as I, as the Voodoo procession marched by.
I saw Moses later in the day, and asked him about the procession. He explained that he thought it was similar to a coming of age celebration for the five or six central figures. That made sense. Neither Moses nor anyone else who is not Voodooese understands more than the very basics of Voodoo. From what I’ve seen there is a tolerance, respect and maybe a certain amount of awe of the Voodoo ways and customs. There is certainly a reverent acceptance.
I’ve noticed a few times little children carrying around very strange looking little dolls. They are carved out of wood, with painted hair, and they have bright colored clothes on. These are the only dolls I’ve seen, and really one of the few “toys” I’ve seen, so I always noticed them. The dolls bodies look a little like totem poles, by that I mean the bodies are somewhat distorted - short, and wide. They are wearing colorful African ponjas. The children who are carrying them look as if this doll is their most prized possession, and several have walked up to show me. One little girl, Adele, who has become a particular favorite of mine, has one of these dolls. She’s three or four with huge eyes and dimples, and a fearless, playful really happy personality. I've never seen Adele without her doll.
Alougba noticed my curiosity about the dolls. She explained that when twins are born, and one of them dies, which apparently happens often, the Voodooese make a doll for the surviving twin to keep with them forever to remind them of their sister or brother.