In the beginning
In the beginning, when Maria came to Sankpala, the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered Maria’s soul was engulfed in total darkness, and the Spirit of God was moving over the water. Then God commanded, “Let there be Azara.” – and she appeared. When God saw Azara, he said, “It is good.” So did Maria. But with a little more oomph.
“Hello? Maria. Akeem’s father came tonight to take him. And I’m going to Accra tomorrow.” I know, I’ll come in the morning to say goodbye. “Are you sleeping?” Yes. Sorry, I’m really tired tonight. “Ok, bring that picture of you I like.” OK. Goodnight. "Nawuni ti beow." Ami, Ami.
I didn’t even know Azara had a son for about a month, he blended in with all of her sister's children. And he doesn’t call her mom, he calls her Azara. More like Azaaarrrrraaaa, because he is always begging her for something. A few weeks ago she told me that his father decided to take Akeem to Accra so he could attend a better school. Azara was thrilled. Almost too thrilled. “I know Akeem’s grandparents will take care of him well. It will better for him. And then maybe I can do something with my life.” Teenage pregnancy is no easier for Ghanaians then it is for Americans. Coincidentally, the father came to get Akeem the day before Azara was off to Accra for her sisters wedding.
I mosey my way over to see Azara after teaching. She looks terrible. “I didn’t sleep last night. I kept thinking of Akeem.” It was harder to let him go then she expected. “I thought he would be crying. He didn’t cry when he left. He was just in the back of the car playing.” She looks up at me and doesn’t know what more to say. I thought you would have left for Accra by now, I say as I hand her the requested picture. “I’m leaving in a few hours.” I’ll miss you. When will you be back? This weekend? Azara bites her lip. “Maria, I think I’m going longer. I think I will be gone for a long time.”
Complete panic. What does she mean? What am I going to do with myself? I, I, I, I can’t do this without Azara. Who will translate what the sleazy old men are saying to me? Who will stay up watching terrible romance movies with me? Who will I sit with for hours at market and gossip with? I spend my afternoons with her and her family, will I be able to do that with her gone? Suddenly my day-to-day activities seemed impossible. I was paralyzed.
“I’m moving in with my sister. I need to go to school or learn a trade.” When did you decide this? I ask, with a hint of felt betrayal in my voice. “Last night. When Akeem left, I realized I have to start living for myself. I have to do something with my life.” So how long is long? “A few years.”
Azara is like my training wheels. When I first met her, I promised I would help her get out of Sankpala. I would help her live a better life. Our friendship was new, but I knew she was going to be unlike anyone I had met. Azara carried me through the hardest three months of my Ghanaian life. I would have done anything necessary to return the favor, one day. In Azara fashion, she helped herself. She didn’t want or need anything from me. And now it is was time to ride on my own without her. I was horrified.
Azara, you can’t leave me. You can’t leave me here. And I couldn’t cry. Because in Ghana, even when your best friend leaves you to make a better life for herself, you don’t cry.
I helped her pack and we went to market to buy the last few things she needed. I could suddenly relate to my best friends at home who spent weeks helping me get ready for the Peace Corps. That lump in my throat because I was so happy for her but desperately wanted her to change her mind so I could have her a little longer. A slight tinge of jealousy that she was off to do something so new and exciting and I was going to be here in Sankpala going on with my life. (Sarah, Krista, my Rocco girls, Tara, Krystin, mom, dad. Thank you.)
“Oh, the time! I have to go, I’m going to miss the bus.” This is really happening. Will you visit? “Yes Maria, I will visit.” She wraps her arm around me and kisses my cheek. Her brother slings her bag over his shoulders, which is really a purple guitar case. Azara. Azara, I am so happy for you. I want you to know that I wish you could stay, but I am so happy that you are doing this. You are so smart… you deserve this. Ugh! The tro is here! Mohammed runs ahead to get her a seat.
People come and go. Saying goodbye to all that is home killed me. Saying goodbye to my Ghanaian family was dreadful, I still think of them almost daily. One of the best parts of moving to Sankpala was knowing that I would have two years to develop relationships with people. Two years of mistakes and memories. Life here is just so mundane and yet so unpredictable. I was supposed to have Azara to share two years of Sankpala with. Things change. Over night.
I stuck my head in the tro as the mate tried to close the door. I really love you, you know that? “I love you too, Maria.”
I'll be fine without Azara. I actually get along in Sankpala all right without her. Life goes on, mine is still intact. What it all comes down to, quite frankly, is that I'm really going to miss her.