transit

Mr. Edwin handles the boxes with care

Twenty-seven

step

step

step

Twenty-seven. Ok.

Thirty-four

step

step

step

K.

Eighteen. One-eight.

step

step

step

The work is methodical, rhythmic. Mr. Edwin unhurried, steady. He moves with a grace and precision belying his relaxed manner. Carrying the boxes through the propped-open double doorway.

Music drifts, dreamlike, down a freshly-emptied hallway, echoing off the yawning shelves.

The unwelcome scent of mosquito spray, artificial, sweet, evocative of furniture polish, wafts and reinvigorates my headache. But it’s still better than mosquitoes.

Twenty-two

step

step

step

bend

lift

carry

Twenty-two. Got it.

I’m standing with a clipboard, a neatly arrayed hundreds chart of check-boxes. My red pen is poised, waiting for the next number to be called. He walks the boxes to the top of the stairs where the rest of his team travels up and down. I put a red ‘check’ next to each number he calls.

And suddenly, without notice, a lump arrives in my throat.

Tears well.

I’m flattened, for just a moment, by where we are. Where we have been.

Where we are going.

It’s cooler today, but these men still sweat.

They’ve earned it.

Do you load the heaviest boxes first or the light ones

I gather and ground myself with a question

Ah, lightest. Lightest

He responds with a smile

The large pile of boxes in the corner gradually fades to nothing.

We are, once again, faced with separation from our things, faced with sleeping in an empty shell, living out of suits, and cases.

Putting our trust in random humans and mysterious systems, all to get these boxes on a ship. Eventually, assuming all goes well, to the other side of the world.

Our apartment feels lighter. Less to transport in our baggage of emotions. We’ve crossed another hurdle, one more time, to prepare to once again make our way. To start fresh. And eventually, to make home.

It’s a deliberate choice to lead this life of transitions. For ourselves, for our boys. And so, there are comings, and goings, packings. Stowings.

Roughly a thousand days ago we found ourselves watching boxes head out the small cedar gate, under the drooping redwood branches, into the partially loaded truck.

We wondered aloud where this would take us, how it would challenge, change, and mold.

We’ve grown to love so much about this place, this space, this time in our lives. The now-familiar but never easy buildup to transition is frenetic, and pulsing, an overload of tasks and an overwhelm of feels.

But

As the packed-to-the-gills van slides around the corner and out of our sight

For now, we have a pause.

A final few days

To enjoy the stillness, revel in the cacophony.

Here, on the Gold Coast.

Share some goodbyes. And tears.

Locked inside these boxes, there is significance. There is movement. Transit.

We’re in Mr. Edwin’s hands, now.

could I thank you for this

Disclaimer; much of the information you hear here may be speculative in nature. Any discrepancies between this account and the truth should be taken up in person at 126/21 Reindolf Rd. Abelempke, Accra. Please knock during business hours only.

<FARON YOUNG>

My Dad taught me the meaning of elbow grease.

I mean, figuratively, sure. He modeled hard work, he expected it of us in return, he knew the value of a productive day.

But literally, too.

It’s a cold winter day, inside the garage the heater is on, and I find myself drawn to it, partly because it’s freezing, partly just because I want to be near my pop.

I’m not usually the one to help. That job typically falls to my brothers. I hide in my room, play hockey across the street, let the big kids help dad.

He’s putzing, farting around. Hood up on the Suburban, the smell of oil, and gas, and old baseball gloves, and hockey pads. All of it. Country 105 blasting Willie, Randy, Garth, probably all three. I’m lingering, trying to decide what to do with my day.

Clean the grease off this part

He asks, without really asking, handing over the oil-stained metal gear. I give it a half hearted try, not sure exactly how to do it. He sees me trying and failing, and encourages me to

put a little elbow grease into it!

I pause. Okay, I think.

He has a whole assortment of oils, lubricants, cleaning solutions. I begin looking around for the container.

I don’t see any elbow grease.

He comes over and realizes what I’m looking for. He sighs, exasperated, with a look that says

You don’t know what elbow grease is.

He shows me what it means with a single, greasy, silver gear.

And then, he doesn’t stop showing me what it means.

In fact, he always was showing each of us kids what elbow grease means, what it looks like, what it feels like. Why it matters.

Through my teen years and into college, I didn’t always exemplify the work ethic he modeled. But I’ve grown to value a day’s work, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from gettin’ ‘er done.

To be truthful, we owe that value to both our parents – mom was always hard at work – but today is Don’s day.

So today, as he enters his 9th decade, let’s pause together and look back at a few of the greasy moments.

<JOHNNY CASH>

Flash back to 1939. It’s cold, windy, wheaty where he’s born. The frosty prairies, a farm boy, cutting his teeth, learning to walk and then run through fields dotted with ice.

He was a precocious kid. Growing up alongside his three sisters. They tolerate him, just enough. He annoys them, just enough.

He brings a quick wit and a way with words to the schoolhouse. He’s a gamer, applying elbow grease wherever it’s needed.

In his middle school English class he opens the page and discovers a poem entitled

Ode to Spring

Without a second thought he pulls out his pen and scribes on the page, immediately next to the title

$1.45

And a legend in puns and terrible plays on words is born.

He moves to the big city just in time to be a teenager. In time to discover drag racing and weightlifting. He wins Mr. Regina for his great bod, or so rumor has it. He’s devastating with a pool cue, a hustler, ready for the next chump who comes along.

Until, a sweetie from Hyas sweeps him off his feet. Which is impressive because he’s a stocky guy (Winner of Mr. Regina and all). They begin a courtship that lasts 50 plus years and counting. It’s not always easy, but they stick with it. They love each other. They create home.

<MUNGO JERRY>

A move West, Cowtown calls. A place where he and Eileen plant roots. One boy, then two. They buy a house, a labor of love.

He sticks with his job, getting to know pretty much the entire oil and gas sector. Seriously, walk through Plus 15s with Don and you can’t walk three feet without bumping into an acquaintance. These greetings and hellos fuel him, even though some days his job doesn’t treat him well.

But we know why he does it, without him saying. We matter to him. Family matters to him. Home matters to him.

Elbow grease.

2116 49th Avenue becomes a gathering spot. A place full of welcome.

They make the house into a home, evolving as the family grows. A basement remodel that accommodates a third child, the glorious daughter, and the fourth, another beautiful girl. The home has just the right number of rooms for them all.

Perfect.

He said to her.

Perfect.

She replied.

4 kids.

He said to her.

2 boys and 2 girls.

She replied.

Balanced, just right. Now, our work is done and our family is com

Hi Mommy and Daddy!

I say.

They make it work, somehow. The girls share a room, the boys move downstairs.

A window is too small. So he decides to cut out a bigger one. Just big enough for a hot tub.

The yard is a labor. The hill doesn’t mow itself, so he mows it. The deck won’t build itself, so he builds it.

The sidewalk won’t wash itself.

He’s a dervish, always on the move. Readying the yard, cleaning the steps, making sure it’s all just right for a party.

<MAC DAVIS>

And so they throw parties, one or two. 30, 40, even 50 friends swing by, for no particular reason, because none is needed, apart from friendship. A few drinks, a blazing firepit, a couple guitars, and voices at the ready to belt out Amazing Grace, or Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble.

He’s the center of the action, making sure everybody’s comfortable, glasses full, jokes at the ready.

There are no complaints from neighbors. Because they’re all invited.

There are no complaints from us kids. Because we’re part of the fun.

There are no complaints from Dad, until the following morning’s fog.

But no matter how late or early the parties last, he and Lu clean up. All of it. Before hitting the sack.

See. Elbow grease.

Mom convinces him to buy a trailer. Just perfect for a trip down the California Coast. Seven of us in the Galaxie 500, trailer in tow.

We never said he was a rational fellow.

We survive the seventy-hour game of sardines. But upgrading to a Suburban was probably the right call.

If there’s one thing I recall about those nights in the trailer it was the endless debate over who was snoring.

I didn’t snore, it was your mother

Nonsense, it wasn’t me, you’re the snorer! she replies, aghast.

Mom, Dad, I’m here to answer this decades-long debate.

I know, because I was there.

It was both of you.

<BLUE BOY>

The Eighties bleed into Nineties, the family grows. Weddings, remodels, farewells to green shag carpets. Blowouts, stress. Yes, these happen, because real life is real life. And emotions are emotional. We welcome new siblings, new babies. Don and Lu become Grandpa Don and Grandma Lu.

It looks good on them.

Sleepovers, no-fart forts, plenty of fun. Kids move out, building their own lives. Branching out. Moving away. The home in Altadore, the city itself becomes too big, too much, too many.

So they pack it up, pack it in. Break camp to the north.

There are tears. and leavings. and beginnings.

And it’s only a matter of time until they know the entire town. A new home and a new garden.

He slows down. His ticker does too, fighting with him, scaring us all.

But he fights back. Survives. Keeps on ticking.

Elbow grease.

He finds himself reaching milestones. 50 years with his sweetie. 70 years on this earth. And suddenly, 80.

He’s officially a snowbird. Leaving the cold behind but never his email, his games, his CKUA. And most important, his Grandma Lu. To whom he owes all the patience and all the gratitude, because she’s still here. And through her he’s always tethered to home, no matter how far away he treks.

His legacy is here in the world. Many in this room, some nearby, others far. This little farmboy from Flintoft has made a difference in the world.

<NIGHTMARES ON WAX>

And so, birthday boy. You need to know some things.

Your kids, and your family, and you.

Your kids are not perfect, and neither is your family, and neither are you.

But that’s ok. Because we work hard.

Just like you.

We value one another.

Just like you.

We make time for friends, and family.

Just like you.

We are passionate.

Just like you.

We apply elbow grease to our problems.

Just like you.

We mess stuff up.

Just like you.

We get cranky.

Just like you.

But we care about the world, we love our children, we do our best to make the most of the days we have.

And we are loved.

Just like you.

Happy Birthday, Pop. Here’s to a few more together. Thanks for all the elbow grease.

<LEFTY FRIZZELL>

slow down

A boy steadily moves toward becoming a man, and time is hurtling by.

We decide to slow down.

So today our trip is on foot. He’s planned the route with our retro GPS. We call it a map.

We have a goal in mind, his favorite restaurant for a lunch date. Just me and Rhino, and a couple thousand Accra commuters.

We set out and take it all in. Taxis, trotros, transport trucks. All pass by, all noise, horns, and fury. Intersections require vigilance, usually a quick jog, head on a swivel.

The local bike shop is closed today, burlap strewn over the half-built wheels and frames, the dirtied wood slats shuttered but damp from last night’s deluge. Our friends at the shop are conspicuously absent. They must delay their opening when the rains come.

We cross the bridge over what is now an irrigation canal but once might have been a pristine creek. It’s littered with plastic but flowing strong today, seemingly grateful for the midnight burst.

Rhino waves a quick hello to everyone we pass. It’s his way. Some are delighted, others indifferent. Some give a shout.

Ay! Obroni!

We continue on our way, resolute. We pass by Oscar, the Liberian. Who stops us, beseeches us to

Hear me out. Please hear me out.

He’s done this before, we think. And yet, there’s something in the way he speaks that causes us to stop.

My daughter, she’s not well. I have her insulin needle here but I’m running short. Please. Here. Look at my bank statement from this morning.

I glance at the ATM card and statement in his hand. It says the balance is 2.42. He attempted to get money out at 1:42am. The receipt is legit, the story a bit sketchy.

Rhino the newborn arrived in my arms at 1:42. I wonder if this is a sign.

So I ask him a few questions to get at truth. His responses are unsatisfying. And then I explain.

My son is turning 13 tomorrow and I’m trying to set an example of the kind of man I want him to become. What do you think I should do and say in this case?

He seems taken aback.

I just need some help. Just 36.

I pull Rhino aside and we confer. He agrees that there are holes in the man’s story, but makes the point that if it’s legit and we don’t help him, we’ll wish we had. And even if it’s not,

we’re in a position to help.

So we do.

He shakes our hand, we bid goodbye.

And keep walking.

It’s hot, but we’re prepared. Hats, sunscreen, a towel to mop the sweat. A trotro slides by and the Mate sees our fatigue and sweat,and smiles.

Where to? Let’s go!

But riding in a car is not in the cards for us today. Too fast for our plan.

We ramble down the hill, past the chaotic yet ordered intersection of four-lane thruways. The lights are operational (not always the case), so we go with the flow and cross safely, following the lead of locals who’ve navigated this crossing before.

The minarets and central dome of the stunning National Mosque aspire to heaven, a stark contrast against today’s blue sky. The mosque has been a labor of love, in progress since before our arrival.

Things in Ghana often take their time. Like us, today.

Finally nearing completion, the mosque meditates, a paradox across from the shacks of Nima, framed by huge Turkish Airlines billboards, apt signs of the times.

We continue on.

The car wash is bustling. A group of men stand behind a rusted-out white van, two doors fewer than full. The men begin to push, and because it seems right, we dive in behind to help. Rhino on the driver side, struggling to gain hold. I roll at the back with four other men. We heave and struggle. The van lurches. I encourage the other men to push faster. 20 meters later and it appears we’ve reached our destination. A parking stall, readying for a bath.

High fives all around and a big hug of gratitude for Rhino, and we’re off again.

Next stop, 37 hospital. Weigh station for bats. Rest stop for us.

Rhino slides the towel across his glistening brow, sips his water.

How you doing, bud?

Okay. It’s hot.

Yeah.

We look up.

Thousands of bats. Most slumbering. This can’t be real. We’re in the heart of a city of over a million people, but there are probably double that in bats, living here, at one of the busiest intersections in West Africa. Thank god for trees. The bats snicker and pop, most snoozing but a few stretching their wings, briefly. They’re hard to spot, unless you look closely, unless you take your time.

Rhino takes his time.

It’s been his trademark from day one. He arrived two weeks late. Decided to finally sleep through the night after we’d given up. Learned to take care of his business on his own terms.

I’m going to take my time, thank you very much

He still takes his time. Pausing to observe, mind in the cosmos, always deep in thought.

And so this trek fits. We’ve slowed down, observed, pondered, grown. There’s magic here, in light, in people, in sound, in heat. There is nothing like it in the world.

We’re so glad we’ve come.

We arrive at our restaurant. Hot, sticky, sweaty, but changed. Full of gratitude for where we are and what we have a choice to be able to do.

We finish our lunch and step out into the sunshine. We amble around the corner, still content to take our time.

A rusted, green 16-seat van that must be 45 years old idles in the gravel parking lot, spewing black smoke, adjacent to the Indomie shack peddling fruit. I approach the driver, ask if he can get us home. He says it’s possible but there are a couple transfers involved.

We can take you to 37 but first you must ride to Danqua. Come!

he cajoles with a laugh.

We look at each other and smile. Rhino nods, reassuring, confident. A young man.

We know we’ve found our way home.

orbit

Our mother earth, steadfast, rhythmic, makes her way around the sun.

Roughly 23 of those orbits ago, I stepped onto a ferry bound for an island in the Japan Sea, to a celebration of the earth, of art, music, dance.

But especially, of drums.

I found Kodo. Taiko drum warriors, gods among men. I listened, danced, and was hooked. Their drums still boom, inside me, today.

An intimate event, a few hundred souls, this tiny gathering had a special guest from Ghana. Of course.

His drum could talk.

And what stories it told.

Partnering the booming odaiko on the big stage, or soloing in front of the shrine. His drum spoke beats, rhymes, life from across the globe.

Aja Addy was a master of his craft, and an amazing human being. Quick to smile, packed with goodness and light, he drew you to him. Present, awake, beautiful.

In other words, Ghanaian.

Between the godlike drummers and the legend from Accra, I was transfixed, transformed, transported. Inspired, I started a journey to becoming a better human being.

.

It is said that time is a flat circle.

We make our way, bumbling, awkward, in orbit around the edge of this circle.

There is quite a bit I’d say to that young human on the island, dancing, laughing, clowning. 

pay attention, slow down

be present

listen

trust in others

put yourself out there

don’t be afraid to fail

and

you’ve got a lot to learn, punk

So fast forward.

I’m here, coming around to what feels like could be the same spot on that flat circle. I’m still traveling, still discovering, still hearing drums every day.

But it’s different, too. A few more orbits under my belt.

I find myself, wandering between dusty containers and navigating tiny corridors to visit a cozy market stall.

The mosquitoes are stirring, but the market is quiet. It is a day of rest for most. A couple bright faces bid us welcome.

They have drums here. Of course.

Mr. Ali’s friend directs me to his shop, his bright green tank top adorned with the best phrase.

this is my party shirt

We greet our storekeeper with a handshake and snap, and he leads us through the maze. Three small chicks peep their way at our heels. He strides ahead and folds up his prayer mat. I hope we aren’t in the way.

As I bargain with Mr. Ali, he reminds me.

we are friends now

And I believe him.

I wonder if, on my next orbit around that larger circle, I’ll still have much to say to the younger human I am today.

But, regardless of what passes between us

I know I’ll still hear the drums

evelyn’s

It’s been a while since I journeyed over to Tro Tro street. Evelyn knows this, and greets me in kind.

Long time!

How are you? All good?

Yes, good to see you!

I do my business and exchange cedis with her. She’s always happy to see her customers. And we’re happy to see her. I’m here for a 10-pack (okay, that’s not an actual thing, but 10 beers) of green cans, for tonight’s poker game.

Four loose, chilled and sweaty cans, into my backpack

Six warm ones secured, on my bike’s back rack

She seems impressed with my bungee technique. I feel proud.

I flash back to our first weeks after hitting the ground. A trip on foot to Evelyn’s was a real-life adventure. Out the gate, down to the corner. A bustling street, notable for having a sidewalk. In our house, it’s forever referred to as ‘the one with the sidewalk’.

Because no sidewalks, people here walk on the road. A bit of nimble footwork, head on a swivel, and trust in driver awareness. It’s not always safe. Roads are narrow, and on streets without speed humps (rare) or potholes (rarer), cars have full license to fly. This is one of those rare streets, so I’m grateful for the sidewalk.

Even if it’s only 25 meters long. Which, as sidewalks go, is not particularly long. Like, what? Uh, guess it ends here then.

So, anyway. At once I’m both on and immediately off the sidewalk and back to walk on the road. And crossing at this intersection is a bit harrowing. It’s a T, which in theory should make it a simple cross. Unfortunately this T doesn’t seem to have a set traffic plan, and the huge drainage trench making its way right into the middle of the street makes any intended pattern a challenge. Cars swerve and dance to avoid the drain and each other, always flowing here and there. Keeping things moving.

So, head on a swivel, ready for all comers, I dodge waddle sprint across exhale. Piece of cake.

The side street is lined with container shops. Not shops that sell containers, sorry. Shops that live inside converted shipping containers. A cornucopia is at your feet here (no sidewalks, sorry again). Plumbing supplies, hardware, nail and hair salons (Esty’s seems like a go-to), convenience stores.

And Evelyn’s, too.

Today’s trip is less adventure, more comfort.

And a chance to remember how far I’ve come.

where there’s a wheel

Cart one wobbles by. Empty, the operator imagining a load he’s yet to find.

Cart two follows. Centimeter-thick metal wire interlaced on top. Scraps or treasures, depending on your preference, destined to find repurpose.

Three men accompany these wheels. Trousers, and untucked sweaty tee-shirts, they are working today. I wonder about their destination, where the carts are headed.

Each cart with four wheels, too big for a bicycle, too small for a car. But just right for these rounders. Flat and sturdy wood tops, made for carrying loads both light and heavy. A handle, much like you’d see on a Radio Flyer – the rudder to pilot this land-based ship. The weather-damaged platform, a sturdy 3 by 4. Wheels, all tough rubber, ready and willing to take on any potholes.

There are many potholes.

People move things around here. In a city of millions, there’s plenty of stuff that needs to move. Somehow, some way.

Trucks cruise, loaded beyond capacity, piles upon piles of burlap sacks intricately laid out and packed to maximize carrying capacity. It’s a 20-car freeway pileup perched and ready to go.

But thanks to the two or three brave riders perched atop the 20-foot load, it holds.

Even smaller trucks find a way to maximize payload and push straining shocks to their limits.

Carts are everywhere, moving, rolling, meandering. Usually loaded, sometimes hijacked and ridden downhill.

And of course, the merchants, mostly women, but men too, displaying seemingly impossible balance to carry all manner of goods to market. Bananas, gum, plantains, drinks. It’s all available, resting on their heads. Impeccable posture a prerequisite for this line of work.

The men with the carts roll off around the corner. And I am amazed what the wheels have done.

The city is on the move.

Student Led

Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one running this race

The sunlight trickles in as the ceiling fan keeps things moving

D leans her ear into the crook of her elbow as she retells her story

A and mum spar playfully, not sure which piece to feature

S and mum are quiet. Too quiet

L peeks out the window, composing herself or lost in thought, as she pulls out her next selection to share

Joburg, Delhi, Accra, Kanagawa, Amsterdam, Beirut, Barranquilla

Hindi, Dutch, Japanese, Arabic, Urdu, Spanish

They all make an appearance, and I’m struck by what has come together, here

I sit, removed. Present, but not. Equal parts confident and tense. Reminding myself

It’s not a sprint

It’s a marathon

First and foremost, student led conferences are an opportunity to reflect, celebrate, and look forward together. Portfolios are a work in progress that will be added to as the year moves forward. They are meant to show off examples of effort and areas of growth, not perfection. After a quick hello to your teachers, your child will take the lead. Thanks, see you at your child’s conference!

I chuckle at this paragraph, rewriting it in my mind.

First and foremost, these conferences are an opportunity for your teacher to question his competence. Portfolios are unmercifully imperfect, like teaching. Your teacher will be in the room for these conferences, nervously attempting to overhear your conversations. Please be sure to share any concerns about your child’s teachers with the parents around you and the greater community. Thanks, see you at your child’s conference!

Ok, sometimes I find myself running to irrational places.

It’s tough to imagine a career choice laced with more self-doubt than teaching.

But I know self-doubt will come, and go. And it makes its appearance less frequently, with time, and experience. So, I make a choice. To focus on what’s good. To put my faith in good little human beings, who come from good bigger human beings.

I soak up the smiles, the great energy. The partnerships in front of me that provide clear proof

I’m not running this race alone

quiet

Accra is a city of sound

Singing, always beautiful. Lively conversations. Shouting, always good natured. Calls to prayer carry the wind. Taxis beep, into forever. Music wins.

Tropical, so the birds have their say. They fill the void both early in the morning and at dusk, reminding us it’s time to get moving. And time to settle down. Even bats proclaim, I am here.

Even at 3am

Things are still, until one dog picks up a scent, wakes from slumber, decides it’s time for the alarm to sound. One starts, a chorus follows, a cacophony of dogsong, to light up the neighborhood and wake up the kids.

Plus, the toads. (what must be) Hundreds of toads, serenading one another a rolling, rhythmic rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, wrapping, rapping, and overlapping.

.

And so.

Today was a special day, bookended with that rare commodity.

The morning sun brilliant. It’s not hot, not yet. Elephant and I wait. We’re early, and our friend is late. So that gives us gifts. Of time, of together.

Of silence.

I resist the urge to start my day. Laptop stays in bag and phone stays in pocket. It’s just me, and him, and quiet.

Elephant observes, eyes dancing and lively. He’s eternally curious about the world. He stalks an ant, ponders its route, marvels at its steady pace. I marvel at his.

It’s a breath, a moment, together, before the day, before the million things that will happen.

And so then, of course, a million things happen. You can imagine.

After the million things

I return home. It’s dusk. Football complete. A sweaty mess. The rest of the family off to drum. The door closes gently with a thud behind me, I step into the dark room, and hear

nothing

heroic

The yellow kickball sits, tantalizingly close to the Four Square court, yet just out of reach. It teases the 9-year olds as they try to somehow coax it down. The red corrugated roof flashes heat, each indentation creating a perfect track for just such a ball, and, perfectly spaced places for it to get stuck.

The roof provides shade for lunchgoers and a cool venue for study. It also happens to be the perfect spot for a wayward four square ball to land. And then sit. And stay.

I hear a ruckus and shade my eyes as I step into the sun. A group of kids crowding, watching G do something rash. He does that, sometimes.

He’s on a chair, on top of a table, banging on the slotted roof. Which might not be a problem normally, except the chair has four skinny legs, precariously balanced atop the blue, slotted table.

And as a teacher, the automatic question comes to mind

what could go wrong?

Years into this gig, the question has become second nature. I envision a sprint across the playground to alert the nurse, the uncomfortable waiting for the paramedics, the dramatic phone call to parents. The tears.

Sometimes this job turns you into a hero.

I tell him to get down.

But my heroics don’t stop there. I wander into my room, grab my hockey stick. It’s not used much here. It feels foreign, weighted, unwieldy today.

I gotta get a regular game going

Today is not for hockey. It’s for four square. And for the kids. And being a hero, I do heroic things.

I sneak under the canopy and begin wiggling the metal. It responds with a satisfying choooooom, chooom. A crowd gathers.

And with gentle coaxing the ball begins to move. The kids are transfixed, providing a detailed play by play and guidance.

to the left! over! keep going! to the right! it’s rolling!

As I tap, they get louder, The ball is coming.

And, finally, a roar of triumph and the ball is back on the playground.

You did it!

They high five and rush off to get the game restarted.

And today, for a brief moment, to these kids,

I’m a hero.

dive bombers

ksssssssssht ksssssssht ksssssssht kssssssssht

ksssssssssht ksssssssht ksssssssht kssssssssht

The sprinklers are melodic and consistent, beating a rhythm and keeping time as the afternoon sun passes overhead. We’re at the field, launching bottle rockets. And we have company.

4.41 seconds

I shout to Rhino after the launch and subsequent grounding of his San Pellegrino bottle, decked out with red fin stabilizers, ballasted by four coins.

The black laces suspending the stopwatch chafe my neck as it swings, a metronome keeping time with the sprinklers. Watering the field, as it turns out, wakes up some old friends.

The mosquitoes are stirring.

Growing up on the prairies, mosquitoes were annoying, big, plentiful, relentless. But loud. And slow. We could see them coming, and we could smack ’em when we needed to.

We did a lot of smacking.

But mosquitoes in Canada are just annoying, not life-threatening. Not a vector for disease.

West African mosquitoes are cunning, sneaky. Silent darts, they dive bomb to take their gram of flesh. You never know they’re around until you feel the itch, the telltale bump. You see one bite, more follow.

I look up from rocket data and scratch my ankle without thinking.

Why didn’t we pack our bug spray

Malaria is part of life here. If you’re Ghanaian, you deal with it, you’ve probably had it. It’s treatable, not necessarily life threatening – depending on your circumstances. When you’re feeling achy, feverish, unwell, you test for it. You get treated.

But if you’re not used to it, if you haven’t grown up with it, it kicks your butt six ways from Sunday.

Hold your arm still please, sorry, this might hurt. Sorry, sorry

I recall the self-assured, quiet nurse who rechecked vitals, inserted the IV, and helped me sit up, bones creaking louder than bedsprings.

Severe Malaria came upon me quickly. It was brutal, unmerciful. Admitted to the local clinic for two nights of IV drugs and space to recover. Shakes, aches, unstoppable fatigue, a spiking temperature, cold sweats. Eating, usually a source of comfort, was temporarily forgotten.

As I lay shaking on the bed I wondered.

is this what dying feels like

you’re not dying, you just can’t think of anything fun to do

Ferris Bueller’s voice replied. Strange things happen when you’re on malaria meds. I laughed to myself, a pathetic chuckle flowering into yet more shakes.

But that was the worst day. Slowly, steadily, over a period of weeks, I recovered. To dance, to eat, and to write.

With a newfound respect for dive bombers.