Saturday, December 5, 2009

The market children

Today in the market, the omnipotent Sun God drove us out of the jostling chaos, down a tiny grey alley called Chicken and Rice, lined with bright yellow plastic chairs, Maggi promotional thick plastic table covers… around the covered corner, where the constructed cave came to a dead end and held it’s promise of food and drink and muted lull.

The children scrambled below our plastic bags of random purchases, our drenched gritty limbs. There were five of them. Tiny, timid, they approached the counter on tippy toes, dusty little feet poking out from under long Muslim cloth dresses, the rubber of the slippers ground to nothing under their tiny heels.

Little ladies with head scarves and kohl under their deep brown eyes. They giggled as they jostled and peeked back over their shoulders at the disheveled *Obrunis.

They held up their offering to the tall counter, one small coin, and asked in turn for a miracle.

They scrambled into the seats at the plastic table, helping the tinier ones to reach. They waited, and discussed in hushed tones, while we sipped luke warm Pepsis, complaining to ourselves about the lack of proper cold Coke when you want one…

And the old man emerged from the makeshift kitchen, shuffling on his own worn down slippers. He held only one plate that held a small scoop of rice with a matchbox sized piece of meat atop the meager pile. The children exchanged glances – the moment held their hunger, desperation, excitement and fear – fear that each would not be able to carry to their mouth with their tiny little scooped fist, enough of this food to stop the aches in their belly.

The air was tight, tense, with the look you find in children’s eyes on Christmas morning in front of the unopened presents at the base of the tree. But today, like all days for these little ones is no Christmas, it is a day where they need to eat.

There the two podgy obrunis that we were, immersed, we could not look away. We were at once elated by the beauty of their impossible innocence, and humbled by the shame of the haves among the have-nots.

We called the old man and offered up a Cedi (less than a dollar) to feed the children some more. He shuffled away dutifully. His own hunger following slowly behind.

He emerged with a gruff command – shouted at the children and pointed in our direction. His finger poked the air and insisted they file over to us and hang their heads in gratitude.

Like a spectacle, we insisted loudly, awkwardly that they sit and enjoy.

The next plate arrived, this time piled far higher than the first. And we looked away as the children glanced wary at us. We nodded sheepishly. They returned to their task with fervor.

Soon the second plate was clean. The children licked and popped tiny fingers in and out of their mouths and quietly they slipped from the chairs, turned to say Thank you! And they were gone. Back out into the mayhem of the bustling market street.

Back to a life of hungry tomorrows and rough lessons. To heartache and laughter and the mysteries that held them like a dream from us.

We picked up our things and left the troubled dream, enveloped once again by the inhuman sway of the market beast.

*Obruni - white person (or any foreigner) in the Twi language
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19 comments:

Miss Footloose said...

I could just see this scene in my mind's eye. It was beautifully written.

Having lived in countries where poverty is everywhere, I often found it hard to feel generally rather helpless, and embarrassed by my own have-it-all life in the middle of it.

swan said...

Your amazing! I love your blog, the writing is awesome and full of tenderness!
swan

Poindexter said...

Holli, thank you for this view into the world, a world away from me at this moment. As I sit in the comfort of my home sipping tea and pondering what entertainment options we might pursue this evening. Humbles me into unbearable gratitude. I am grateful for things that seem to be a product of mere chance. For being born in this country. For having never known the stress or fear of not quite being sure when I would eat next or sleep in a warm dry place. My own life is obscenely rich with abundance in contrast with that which you describe. So hard to comprehend. I am grateful to you for providing these gentle reminders. - Diane

quillfeather said...

What a beautifully written post. Such sincerity and tenderness.

Michelloui said...

Really pleased to have this blog to read, another fascinating post!

Dont now if you saw my comment on your prev post: I cant email you for some reason but I wanted to let you know you;ve won the competition on my blog, Mid-Atlantic English... congratulations! Please email me to let me know where to send your tea: ml_garrett at yahoo dot co dot uk.

thatgirlblogs said...

completely transported me.

Anonymous said...

...heart wrenching, yet uplifting-such is life here in Ghana

Margo said...

you had me right there with you - like anonymous says above both heart wrenching and uplifting. Amazing writing and story :)

Amy E. Zimmer said...

How Funny! Hi Holli! I am so enjoying your son! I miss him when he is gone. I think he should be in the higher class, and yet, I selfishly haven't pushed him. I like challenging him and I think he's really built his confidence this semester. I like how he now is willing to tackle anything I throw at him--he trusts that I am leading him to either the big picture and/or a real concept for his life.

We are just back from a trip WAY east--to Beyin. Jeff, my husband is downloading the pictures now. With my head thick into school, I forgot to keep up with you! Now I have a good place to go to relax--Holli's Ramblings! Yay!

Yes, let's stay in touch and perhaps meet up after winter break. Happy Holidays to you and yours, Amy

betty said...

Holli,how are you doing? so nice to hear from you. Thanks for your comments on my blog. I loved your post, though it made sad realising the difficulties and the hanger of the 3rd world.
xx

amy E. Zimmer said...

PS Absolutely fabulous photos, esp. banner. And I did see the tree in Koala being raised, I never thought that they would leave it that way! OY!

Kajsa Hallberg Adu said...

These encounters between haves and have-nots are oh so common here in Ghana. But few are documented, especially so poetically, and shared across boarders.

How many texts have I read this month (this year? any year?) that talks about the challenges of living on "less then one dollar per day"? This should be where bloggers step in and up. Holli, I salute you! And congratulate you to the tea you seem to have won!

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Holli, a world away from Ghana, but the number of times I have reenacted this scene in markets throughout South America cannot be counted most not even remembered now. Having said that the poverty you describe, makes the poor in South America look rich, although the less-than-a-dollar-a-day survival is common.

AV

Expat mum said...

Beautiful, and bless you for doing that. I am just about to send a whole load of supplies to "my" little school in Ghana, and this sort of information reconfirms my commitment to the children.

The pale observer said...

Thanks Expat mum - as long as you really trust those in the position to distribute to the kids...

Where is the school?

Land of shimp said...

Holli, that was beautifully written, and emotionally evocative. Well done, very well done.

I have a friend who does relief work, a sort of non-religious mission of sorts, and travels to parts of Africa, occasionally China, and other places. He once told me that in most parts of the world if you own three changes of clothing, and two pairs of shoes, you are considered wealthy. That it was always deeply humbling, and rather profound when he returned home to his life with things like three TVs...but that eventually he lost that feeling of being overwhelmed by the bounty of his life. That he had to return to regain that feeling of gratitude for not merely all that he has, but the small things he is able to do to make a difference.

I'm just mentioning that because your post felt like hearing his stories. Just the concept that to some having enough chicken and rice is a form of wealth beyond imagining. An accident of birth determines so much for us all.

Gill - That British Woman said...

I suppose you get hardened to seeing so many hungry people all the time? Thank goodness you have a big heart to give back,

Gill in Canada (Toronto area)

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