The value of a drop
The lush, verdant trees created a frame enclosing the pastel landscape. I took it all in, trying to remember every inch of the beauty just outside the van window.
Before I knew it, we were pulling into a dusty driveway, rocking as the van made its way over the many potholes. We laughed. Some screamed. We had arrived at the orphanage.
As we all emerged from the van, little faces and smiles radiated everywhere. A sea of tiny, smooth hands were touching my arms and hands, urging me to take them.
Two tiny palms nestled their way into mine, and soon I was led all over the orphanage. At every stop, the children would point and tell me what it was they were showing me. One boy showed me the tire swing. He smiled as if he was showing me the crown jewels.
We were quickly thrown into everyday life in Ghana. Chores at 6 a.m. Helping children with bath time at 6:15. Doing dishes at 6:30. Getting water at 6:45. Helping make breakfast at 7:15.
I’m neither a breakfast person nor a morning person. Yet in Ghana, mornings and sharing breakfast with my group was my favorite part of the day.
Sitting on the front porch passing out mugs that would later be filled with coffee, I became family with those strangers. Gushing about our favorite child at the orphanage or chitchatting about our life at home over a cup of joe, we quickly became a tribe.
At first, I was surprised we would have no running water during our stay at the orphanage. How was I supposed to shower?
I quickly became accustomed to “bucket showers” and, dare I say, started to enjoy them. Though the water was cold, washing the day’s dust and grime off with its iciness quickly became a welcomed feeling. Hand sanitizer became one of my most coveted possessions.
With no air conditioning, our rooms were saunas. The initial shock of the heat was a sensation we soon all became used to.
It wasn’t long before we all noticed we each had a shadow following our every move and claiming us as their own. My shadow was just under 3 years old. Her name was Charity.
The children under 5 years old did not speak much English. They learn English when they are of school age. This applied to Charity as well.
Yet, there did not seem to be a language barrier. Charity and I communicated through song and smiles. I had never felt a stronger connection to a child.
Charity sang or hummed softly wherever she went. She particularly loved teaching me Ghanaian songs, her face lighting up when I finally mastered the correct lyrics.
No matter where I was, Charity was right beside me, her hand in mine. We spent our days going to the river to enjoy the breeze, swinging on the swingset, reading books, and of course, singing.
Right after lunchtime, like clockwork, my shadow would crawl into my lap and take a long afternoon snooze. Her little body added additional warmth to mine, but I did not care. During these slumbers, I urged myself to remember these moments, as I knew they were fleeting.
During the days when we were not playing soccer under the blazing sun or pushing the children tirelessly on the tire swing, we went on excursions to explore the beautiful culture Ghana had to offer.
We were taken to nearby towns to seamstress shops, where we watched the seamstresses’ worn fingers sew rhythmically, guiding the thread with intention in and out of the garment, creating their own symphony of sorts.
The seamstress program allowed women to become seamstresses in three years. This trade would allow the women to make money on their own and provide for themselves as well as their families.
On another stop, we were taken to the schools that were being built with the help of the donations we had given as trip participants. The walls were painted a vivid pink, with a map of the world splattered behind the desks.
Everywhere we gazed there was a place that begged for our attention. Trains, boats, airplanes, and everything in between covered the walls. I thought about the little shadows, sitting in class looking at these paintings, and how I could help inspire them that there is a vast, exciting world out there.
Our last adventure was a trip to the coast, an overnight stay at Cape Coast, a charming town on the western coast of Ghana. The town was full of vendors selling colorful items and hand-painted canvases.
Our hostel was right on the Atlantic Ocean, so close we could hear the roaring waves from our beds at night.
The outside of our bungalow was paradise. Bright flowers at every corner, begging to be picked. The smell of the ocean lingering in the salt-filled air.
Our overnight stay on the coast came to end, and before we knew it, we were making our way back to the orphanage. We were greeted by beaming smiles and endless hugs. They had missed us.
The next day and a half was spent celebrating. We all began to feel a pit in our stomachs. We knew this adventure would be ending soon.
The dreaded day had finally come. We were going home. Each of us clung onto our little shadows until the van pulled down the dirt path. I held Charity close, soaking in those final moments.
We were all surrounded by the children, each one hanging onto us. With a single tear streaming down a little girl’s face, we all began crying too.
As the van pulled in, I grabbed Charity’s hand one last time and squeezed it, urging myself to remember the feeling of her palms. I hugged her one last time.
The final ride to the airport was silent.
The journey home was a blur. After nearly 32 hours of travel, only one thing was on my mind: a shower.
As I went to turn on the water to let it warm up, I had a sudden thought: “How wasteful.” My days of letting water warm up before I hopped into the shower were over.
It’s like the old proverb says: “Once you carry your own water, only then you will learn the value of every drop."
(Emily Beal is a senior in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership.)