So what did I do for 4 July? Oh, I kept myself very busy, self firmly planted at an exhibit booth for UCC’s Office of Disability Services, at the 5th IDP Africa Forum in Accra. For that entire week, I would talk about the programme we’re building, policy development, environmental access plans, ICT training, assistive technology, advocacy and inclusive education. I would speak with fascinating people from over 40 countries about disability-related issues for persons who are blind or visually impaired, and for all persons with disabilities. And with the endless waves of people going and coming, I would learn that with the work we’ve been doing since February, UCC is pushing miles and kilometers past other universities in Ghana with its comprehensive policy and plans for services. Not that we’re close to settling down and taking it easy, but I can definitely admit to feeling good about our efforts.
And then the endless waves of people ebb away, and participants divide off to attend the Forum’s presentations. Excitement over new connections gives way to general talked-outedness, which gives way to boredom. Really, there’s only so many times you can adjust piles of flyers. I mean, yes, you would perhaps be momentarily surprised at how many different variations of flyer presentation one can invent. But once you’ve chosen your mode of presentation, your course is set. All that’s left is inconsequential straightening. Additionally, please keep in mind that probably 80% of participants are blind or visually impaired, and then imagine how much they care about the precision of your dramatic spray of brailled flyers.
What to do… Well, my best solution to boredom at a large conference when stuck in a booth is “find a kid to hang out with” and that’s exactly what happens. I meet Rita with a wave. She tells me she's in Primary 4 level at school and would keep me company for the rest of the week. Yes, she should be in school today, but instead she’s at the Forum as a guide for her mother, who is visually impaired, and other participants. I don’t know the whole situation, so I won’t speculate further. I will say that Rita tells me she wants to go to university to become a doctor.
In any case. Post-wave and introductions (which were initially shaky as I think Rita is actually called “Retha” and she thinks my name is “Karen"), Rita and I bond over origami. Paper cranes, why you would want 1000 of them, and a discussion of how to spell ‘Japan,’ and our friendship is sealed. After that, she helps me add up taxi and meal costs for the week so I can request reimbursement. And we play a game that I played in class in 4th grade, when the only thing you have to amuse yourself with is a piece of paper, a pen, and a friend – I think the situation here is similar enough – make a bunch of dots on a paper, then make boxes by taking turns drawing the lines, and your initials go inside the boxes that you finish…anybody remember this game? No?
Right around 3:45 pm, desperation grabs hold and I reach for a previously untried magic trick, and in magic, I think the rule is untried or unpractised=pathetic. My efforts to capture the street corner version of the disappearing-ball-under-the-cup trick should get some nod for creativity, and therefore gain a little credence – like using the candy given away by the exhibit next to us* instead of a ball. And I am forced to unfold the complicated maneuverings required for this trick with three seriously dinky brown plastic cups. Shockingly, I lack street corner magician speed, so I sneak a second candy in under another cup to compensate. Yes, I do say, "Hey Rita, look at that!" with a point, and sneak it under when she isn't looking. I don't think she's entirely fooled. But she humours me by laughing as I pretend to switch the candy from one cup to the other with funny noises and ridiculous gesturing.
*Let me clarify “candy.” It’s a loose term, isn’t it? In this case, I have on previous occasions had two candy options offered up for my selection by my neighbors, one booth over: one was described as “yin” and the other “yang,” and I think this was meant to communicate that one was sweet and one savory. And they are actually dates. Have you ever tried a savory date? It actually isn't that bad, just unexpected, and I can't keep it in my mouth for too long. Powerful, those savory dates. But aside the dates, their exhibit and programme is fabulous. The organization, based in South Africa, brailles the Qur-an and produces primers to promote Arabic Braille literacy within the Muslim community. If you're curious: Madrassa An-Noor For the Blind at http://www.mnblind.org/organization. The director kindly gave UCC a soft copy of the Qur-an to emboss and an audio book version.
It’s 4:30 pm. The late afternoon entertainment has arrived, and all week will feature music or dancing from groups of persons with disabilities. A musician arrives and takes his place almost directly opposite where Rita and I are sitting. He plays traditional West African instruments, and he and his instruments draw the first few participants who snuck out of conference hall early. I hear something then that I will probably never hear again: “Guantanamera,” plucked out on an instrument I (sadly) don’t know the name of. The musician doesn’t sing, but the song captivates two lovely women, one from Ghana and one from Zimbabwe, who have to stop and sing along. No one knows the words aside from the chorus, and really just the one main word of the chorus, although it is clearly internationally appreciated, but that’s ok. It’s lovely. And Rita is fascinated.
About an hour later, the only other American present at the Forum (strangely, a Californian relocated to Norway) invites my friends and I out for hamburgers, beer, and sparklers (the hotel staff kindly left them in his mailbox to enjoy). Can't pass that up, doesn't matter who you are. We gather at the Afia Beach House, a posh out of the way spot where you can hear the ocean pounding loudly against the sand in the dark, where hamburgers are way too expensive but I get one anyway (16 GH!! Imagine.). My relocated Californian friend passes sparklers around the restaurant, and we use the candles set out on the middle of the table so they all ignite at roughly the same time. Sparklers are the first “fireworks” I ever knew, and I can remember standing in my backyard, trying to write my name in the air with what seemed like a magic wand. Well, this was different. But certainly memorable. My friends and I say goodnight and go home in an overpriced taxi. And what will life will bring around next year, 4 July? Probably not Guantanamera, but surely just as interesting.