Existentialism at the kitchen table


This morning I sat at our kitchen table and cried.

Everyone else was asleep. The sun was coming up, and the cool winds of the night were dying down. I don’t know exactly why. I’ve been gone for months from home, and the bouts of homesickness are now fewer and farther between. When they hit me now, though, they hit me with the force of a freight train. But this was not one of those times.

I spent the evening before with a Ghanaian footballing legend who grew up in poverty and now lives in poverty in the town of Bimbilla. I have the privilege of calling him my friend now. I love our time together but, from one moment to the next, I am struck by the conditions he is forced to live in. He just turned 75 years old, and I have been around him long enough to see his physical abilities—tremendous for someone his age—starting to fail him. His eyesight is going. Seeing a light of a once vibrant life start to flicker and dim is tragic. I am sure I will one day shed tears for the loss of this man. This was not the reason I cried on this particular day.

The local children and I have become quite close. We play football together in the dirt field adjacent to our home. They climb the cashew and mango trees and bring me their spoils to trade for small money. They realize I am a sucker for the fruits, and it is easy to part me with my pesewas. They have been able to buy more candies as of late than they ever had a result. I sometimes watch them play, and I see and appreciate the youthful and carefree innocence that will, sadly, one day leave them. The thought chills me. I have never done anything except smile at their antics to amuse me, but I will leave them one day soon myself. The thought right now only brings on a melancholy mood. I know I will miss them, but I force that thought away most times. They are not why I cried this morning.

While the Humanist Action: Ghana reintegration team has managed the return of eleven women to their home villages from the sanctuary for alleged witches at Kukuo, my thoughts are still with the women left in the camp. Many have been in Kukuo for decades, if not the majority of their lives. The rainy season has ended, and we are well into the dry season now. As a result, the women now have to make the nearly hour-long, round-trip walk to the Oti River to fetch water. Many are quite aged, and it is an arduous trip for them that is filled with hazards – from large hills covered in loose rocks to potential encounters with venomous snakes. The thought of that saddens me every time, but it’s a thought I’ve had over and over. It wasn’t on my mind on this particular morning.

If I have any regrets of my time in Ghana it’s that I haven’t spent enough time with the people I’ve gotten to know and that I haven’t made as much of an effort as I should have when it comes to getting to know others. Even though I’ve made dozens of friends, the closer we get to our departure date, the more this feeling grows. It’s a strange dynamic. I’ve shifted from the thought of leaving my home and missing my family and friends to the thought of leaving Ghana and missing my friends here who have become like family to me. They are not the reason for crying this morning.

I have a gnawing fear of how my life will be when I return to the United States. I’m watching a new presidential administration make what I consider to be terrible changes in my country, the United States. I have to force my mind to focus on my work here in Ghana, but my frustration and despair are mounting. I have concerns for my friends who face real persecution in their lives because of their race, religion, or who they choose to love. In my personal life, I have many opportunities, and I really am more hopeful than anything, but still I fear for the future. Those little fears are something we all battle every day. They wear on me just like they wear on everybody else. They are, however, a very minor part of my existence at this point. And this is not the reason I cried this morning.

Or, perhaps it is.

Perhaps it’s just the combination of all of the above. If anything, there are those of us who reach a point where everything is just too much, and our emotions pour out of us in the form of tears. I’m definitely one of those people. I think it’s cleansing in a way. As a man, I have no problem embracing that, even in a society that shames men for expressing real emotions. It’s far more healthy than holding everything in.

You know sometimes you just have to sit at your kitchen table in the morning, work through things in your head, and then attack the day.