September 08, 2011

no local children wanted in the compound

we started meeting children in east legon as soon as we went to play soccer and take a walk in the neighborhood.  dyami and domani naturally attract boys through play, while ayana naturally attracts girls through fascination.  the process of getting to know the children has been gradual and focused on joy, good manners and friendliness.  we faced initial requests to come over but at first we said no.  we waited until we had seen the same kids a couple of times while hanging out.  soon we were inviting kids to come and play in the compound.  additional children sometimes came with those we had known.  at the same time we continued to meet children and would let them know they could come by and visit us.  it averaged 6-8 kids at a time.
our empty compound was buzzing with life.  the boys would play hide-and-seek, soccer or penalties.  ayana would roller blade, paint nails, play cards or teach the girls how to make a paper origami basket.  it was innocent and fun.  each time something new was learned, like how to ask politely for water or show their appreciation, or be gentle with the plants.  we talked about having Baha'i classes like Gramma Asare (who some of them know and already attend her classes) and about learning how to read.  before long they were eagerly asking when class would begin or if they could read a book.
most of the time the guards would regulate who could enter and for how long.  at this time no other families were living in the compound.  my kids would come and tell me that the other kids weren't allowed to enter so i had to come and explain that it was ok if there were a lot of them and that i didn't mind.  i argued that no one lived here yet and that they were doing no harm.  i was often compromising for how long they could stay but i insisted that all who were interested in coming in were welcome.  sometimes they were yelled at and denied entering because they weren't considered clean enough.
once one of the families began moving in, we instilled the rule that there would be no hide-and-seek or running around; all of the kids were now staying in our square lot.  the exception to this was this past weekend when this family wasn't yet moved in but stopped by to do some work on the house and observed a group of girls in the pool.  apparently they made a complaint and it was told to me that no black children from the neighborhood would be allowed in the pool, only white children.  this comment infuriated me.  i had spoken to the owner who warned against any danger around the pool, but that it was ok as long as i was there.  i wasn't sure who was complaining -- was it the neighbor, the agent who brought them, the guards or the gardener.  all i knew is that i was complying with safety in numbers and rules by the pool, and was not accepting this imposed prejudicial view on who i can invite to come swim with my children.
on monday, the kids who were regulars were calling for us outside of the compound, wanting to know if we were available -- but they also started to climb the wall and reach the point where the metal security wires are secured.  the gardener and guards came and yelled at the children saying they were not allowed in because of this unsafe act.  i had to once again come outside of the gate and try to explain that even my children make mistakes -- they need a warning to say that if they did that again, then they would not be able to visit.  it felt like the workers were finding an excuse to keep them out.  my view was that the children now know not to do that again or else they will be yelled at and made to go away, so they won't do it again.  the gardener complied and the children were let in to play.  before they left on monday i explained that tuesday was the last day of vacation for my children and that we should have a celebration, however minimal.  so they knew to come around 2pm to enjoy one last afternoon together.
on tuesday, september 6th, 2 children we are closest to came by around 1pm to hang out.  they live next to us and were let in easily.  i had baked brownies and the kids filled up some water balloons.  about 2pm my kids came running inside complaining again that our friends were not being let in and they were being told to go home.  i came outside and listened without understanding the local language while one of the guards spoke seriously to them.  there were atleast 10 of them.  after listening i asked what he said and someone said they were told to go home.  i walked outside, pulling the gate closed behind me and jammed my finger in the doorway.  i was angry.  i asked them to wait patiently while i called the owner.  the gardener was telling me that the owner said i could no longer have any local children come to visit.  i argued that this isn't true; this isn't what she and i talked about; she said i could have them stay in my area once the neighbors started moving in, which i was doing.
as i walked away to call her the gardener handed me his phone.  he had called her for me.  i walked to my backyard and said hello.  when i answered that i wasn't doing well because of what i heard from the gardener, she started yelling at me.  she said she's a business woman and i'm causing her a lot of problems.  she said i'm stressing the guards..the neighbor has complained that many kids were running around..that i shouldn't be having so many kids in the compound..that we in ghana have a standard..that i can invite kids from school over but not these poor children.  she went on and on about issues of unruliness, crime, disease, and trouble to the other families that they'll bring.  she said she wrote a letter for me and she'd like me to leave.  she doesn't want this trouble anymore.  she then stressed that if i want to educate these children i must do it somewhere else.
all of the yelling and images of those children's faces outside of the gate made me overflow with tears as she spoke.  i was being accused of many bad things; i was the person who was causing trouble instead of being of service.  i was the trouble-maker.  my heart was aching with sadness and helplessness.  i felt betrayed, imprisoned, misunderstood, and worst of all unable to serve the children by sharing our life with them.
when the owner finished telling me what she didn't like and how she'd prefer i leave, i asked her if she would please stop yelling at me.  i told her i don't want to leave and that i want to find a point of agreement.  but it only led to her bringing up everything that i was doing wrong.  i said i was willing to cooperate and abide by rules like no one coming over to swim but she insisted on wanting to bring by the letter and then we could talk.
i hung up and wasn't able to talk or look at any of the workers.  i went inside and put some brownies in a ziploc.  i walked through the gate to talk with the children.  i asked them to come around to the side of the compound where no one could see us because everyone was up in my business.  while crying i tried to explain that they weren't allowed to come today and that i didn't know what would happen but that i was very sorry.  i gave them the brownies to share and went inside.  they all looked at me with wonder, not really knowing what i was talking about and happy that i had something sweet to offer them.  a few of them were jr. youth whose mother sells the eggs i buy; it was their first time coming by.  i've seen them everytime i buy the eggs but they hadn't wanted to come for whatever reason -- i had seen them earlier that day and invited them to our 'celebration'.  it broke my heart that this was their first time coming and they were yelled at and not allowed to enter the compound.
once inside the house i really cried.  i cried out to God and with that all-encompassing beseeching for divine assistance.  i was immensely overwhelmed by sadness and helplessness.  i called mrs. asare but i couldn't speak.  she said she would come by immediately.  she and her husband's presence in our home was most comforting.  they have a lot of experience and were very loving and wise.  they said they will talk with the owner and that i shouldn't be sad, that something good will come from this.
i spent most of the day today very quiet, reflecting, praying, trying to 'instantly forgive' and purify my heart of the estrangement that crept in toward those that guard and manage the gardens.  all of my bubbly joy and energy of loving-kindness was swept away and all i was left with was that awful feeling of not being able to trust anyone.  later on in the day mrs. asare called to say she had spoken with the owner.  the owner was thankful to hear from her and her husband, prof. asare.  mrs. asare said she listened to the owner's concerns and fears, and then she invited her to visit to consult about how to find a reasonable agreement rather than have me move out.  mrs. asare explained to me that she intends to create understanding of who we are as Baha'is, how we are striving to serve humanity and contribute to peace through the spiritual education of children...

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