Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Prayer for Deliza and Giftina

I was struck by a picture my mom sent me of my two-year-old niece, Ahree, taken at the zoo last week. I hadn’t seen her in almost six months and she looked older. When I left she was a toddler. Now she looks like a little girl. Six months isn’t a long time, but for a two-year-old, it’s one-third of a life time.

In Accra, I have made friends with a two-year-old who reminds me of my little niece. Her name is Deliza and I meet her every day as I walk to work. She lives in a small shack on a narrow dirt lane not far from our apartment that links two main roads. She lives with her mother Elizabeth and her five-year-old sister, Giftina, who is the same age as my other niece Meelahn.

Deliza has an incredible smile. We don’t speak the same language, but every time I see her, her face lights up. Together with her sister who’s in kindergarten, we recite the alphabet. She has no idea what we’re saying, but she listens carefully and utters sounds that closely resemble the sounds of the letters. Her mother, who neither reads nor writes, listens in eagerly, occasionally bursting with glee at her daughter’s academic prowess.

A few weeks ago, Mark and I returned from a week in Nigeria. I hadn’t told Elizabeth and the children that we’d be away, and they were obviously distressed by our unannounced absence. The day we returned, I went to visit. The girls came running over, and Elizabeth stood behind them looking relieved, her arms turned upwards towards the sky.

“Oh we pray for you,” she said urgently as I approached. I learned through an interpreter that she thought we’d returned to Canada. She’d spent the week praying that we’d come back.

As I approached their home she walked over to Deliza and told me that they’d all been praying for our safe return. Even Deliza. “She pray for you,” Elizabeth said pointing to her youngest daughter. “Every day she pray.”

She then tapped her daughter on the back of her head to get her attention.

“Pray,” she said.

Deliza squinted her eyes together and scrunched up her little face to show she was praying. She opened her eyes and looked for approval and I smiled. Her mother tapped her on the head again.

“Show them you pray,” she repeated.

Deliza obeyed again. She closed her eyes and her face tightened. This time she held the position for a few seconds. When she opened her eyes, she looked at me and a smile grew across her face.
At my birthday party a couple of weeks ago, Elizabeth and her children came as my guests. They were late for the grand event, and I was worried that they’d forgotten it was Saturday, the day of the party. Mark said he’d go and find them.

When Mark approached their home, he found the two girls all dressed up in beautiful little dresses. Inside their one room home they’d found the resources to outfit themselves for a party. Elizabeth was bathing and was not yet ready to go.

A while later, they arrived, and the girls filled themselves with platefuls of food and bottles of coke. After dinner we all hit the dance floor and both Giftina and Deliza moved to the music. A couple of hours later, I couldn’t find Deliza. I saw Elizabeth dancing and went over to learn the whereabouts of our little friend. As I approached her, I saw Deliza snuggled in a wrap tied to Elizabeth’s back. She was sleeping. The excitement of the day had tired her out and now in her sleep she moved to the rhythm of the music.

As I get ready to leave, I wonder about the lives of these two little girls. At 2 and 5 they are full of anticipation for their future and ready to learn. They don’t yet know the full harshness of the lives they have been born into. Without running water, a stable home and financial resources, their academic lives will likely end when they’re forced to pay school fees at the age of 10. With a mother who’s never been to school, and a father who shows up once every few months to drop off a couple of dollars to help raise the children, their future is terribly uncertain.

My active role in these two girls lives will end when I leave Accra on Thursday. I have two little girls back in Canada who are anxiously awaiting my return and are ready for me to return to my role as their Aunt. As time passes, it will be Deliza and Giftina who I will no longer recognize as they grow older. I can only hope that their lives are different than the ones I envision. Now it is my turn to pray.

- Janet


Anonymous said...

Hi Janet. I was talking with your Mom a week or so ago and heard that you were coming home. I'll miss your engaging writing style.


Anonymous said...

Janet and Mark,
What a beautiful story Janet. It must be hard for you to leave these dear children and their mother. As I have said often you and Mark have had so many experiences and touched so many lives. I will pray for them too and Love, Mummy and Daddyyour safe arrival back in Canada