Insight in the everyday life on NABI; the evening
Now it´s time for insight number two in the everyday life on NABI in Ghana. This time it´s nothing less than my favorite time at the orphanage, the evening. The sun sets early in Ghana and the lack of electricity means that it´s pitch black already at six o’clock. At first I thought it was a bit tough, I groped around in the dark, stumbled, I found nothing, it was even so that my hand unconsciously searched after the light switch beside the door when I walked into a room. It took a while before you got used to it and after a few weeks my hand had stopped searching for the light switch and I had instead become accustomed to always remember to put the headlamp near the door before dark fall. After a while I learned to appreciate the dark because of the calmness it brought with it, a calmness that was always very welcome after a day at full speed.
The dinner at the orphanage is eaten around six o’clock, everyone is always very hungry, so if the food then is late, or in the worst case; there is no food at all or the dinner is replaced by a small dab porridge, then it will be a long night until breakfast is serves around ten o´clock the day after. Dinner consists nine out of ten cases, out of a bowl of white rice with a tiny little dab of red sauce. It doesn’t sounds very special, but when you are really hungry after a long day, it tastes delicious. However, this very restricted diet caused many problems for my body. I got vitamin and mineral deficiencies, as vegetables and fruit is luxury food at the orphanage, it´s only eaten a few times a month, on special occasions. With the lack of protein and fiber, I got a lot of problems with constipation and stomach cramps and had to eat laxative powder every morning, the food in the orphanage resulted in that I dropped 14kg during my months on NABI. These problems were something I could live with during my months at the orphanage but nothing that children who are growing should have to live with constant during their upbringing. The children were unfortunately often ill because of their vitamin deficiency, most of them are very thin with a bloated stomach, because of hard manual labor with far too little protein and a diet composed only out of white rice, makes their bellies swell up but the rest of the body remains slim. Every day, it was at least one of the children who complained about stomach pain, cramps, or that they couldn’t go to the bathroom. It was very hard to hear when I knew it was due to the lack of good food, but I couldn’t do much about it, except to try to buy vegetables, fruits and meat as often as I could afford.
The food is a building stone of life for all of us and especially when you are growing. Here in Sweden, and I´m sure in a lot of European/developed countries, we teach kids the “plate model” and many times it’s hard to get them to eat their vegetables on the plate. In Ghana there is no such thing as the “plate model”, there is only food, food that you either have or don´t have. Food that you eat because you have to, no sifting of what is healthy, just what you have- you eat. Vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs and fish, is luxury, and therefore too expensive for the orphanage to buy it for the kids, I would like to change this. My goal is for them to get vegetables, fruits and protein twice a week, if you think this is as important as I am, I hope you are with me to support this. Just imagine standing up at five o’clock in the morning, working with physical work until eight, go to school until three o’clock, work physically until six o´clock and then do homework until bedtime, this requires a lot of energy, energy that they are currently not receiving . I learned to be hungry in Ghana, I learned to work on an empty stomach, and I learned to appreciate every bit of food. This was six months, the children should not have to spend his whole life with being hungry, they should not have to learn how it is to work on an empty stomach.
As the dinner, just like all other meals, are cooked over an open fire, the “kitchen” moves around a lot in the yard as well as the dining areas. Sometimes we eat inside a classroom, sometimes out on the stairs, and sometimes on the floor of the orphanage, but usually we sit out on the ground at the wall of the orphanage. There we sit, eating our rice, talking, joking and taking it easy after a long day which usually consists of a lot of work. The dinner will build up to the homework-time. The dishes after dinner is collected and cleaned the morning after before school starts, partly because it is impossible to fetch water in the dark, and partly because it’s the only time of the day were there is time to do homework. The children at the orphanage are all between from four years up to seventeen years, so obviously their homework looks very different, so it’s always exciting to try and getter all the 28 children in the only room with electricity to try to help them with their homework and at the same time keep track on what they all are doing. The children are always very motivated to get their homework done in the best possible way and you can see the pride in their eyes when they come and show you their finished homework. So most of the time it´s not the motivation that´s the problem for getting the children to do their homework, it´s the fact that they are tired. The later it gets, the more children fall asleep on the benches, on the floor or in someone’s lap. Then the process of carrying the children to their beds begins and in the end only the older boys are left. They usually stay awake for some time longer, just to relax and talk; it’s always nice to have some time alone with them. The crickets are singing, some dogs are barking, otherwise it tends to be completely silent at nine o’clock in the evening. A nice calm that provides the time and space to breathe, think and reflect on the day and life at the orphanage. In the evenings there was always a great wave of love coming over me, I would then realized how much the orphanage and Ghana means to me and how much these children has changed my life, while my longing for my family back home always came creeping up on me. To then brush my teeth under a star filled sky to the music from the crickets, out in the in warm African evening air, it could make me shiver with pleasure. Life in its simplest, finest form. After that it was just to get tangled up in the mosquito net and wait for the dawn to come with new challenges.