Friday, March 27, 2009

Best Laid Plans (Part 17)

What would you ask of a voodoo priest? (Part 1)

Before going to Ghana, I found out about the history of the practice of voodoo in the country. Although today, the majority of the population of Ghana is Christian, there are a number of Ghanaians that still practice Voodoo. Robert, one of our guides told me that sometimes, if something happens to someone – say something of theirs was stolen, they'll go to a Voodoo Priest to find out who did it and to exact punishment. Both Richard and Robert explained that voodoo is not all negative though – that it’s not about hurting people, but rather about empowering yourself.

My personal experience with this practice stops at those kitschy voodoo dolls that a person can buy at a gift shop. And I’ve never thought of myself as particularly superstitious – though I do often find myself knocking on wood, and if someone asks me if I’ve seen a roach in my apartment I find I’m afraid to answer so that I don’t ‘tempt fate,’ so-to-speak. But beyond that, I walk on cracks in the sidewalk (is this why I trip so much?), I don’t throw salt over my shoulder (though to be honest, that might be because I know I have terrible aim) and I don’t think that when my ears ring it means that someone is thinking about me (or whatever significance that's supposed to hold). However, who am I to say that there isn’t magic out there? People spend their lifetime studying mysticism and voodoo and little ol’ me is certainly in no position to discredit anyone’s belief system. I choose not to question it not only because I am in no position to, but also because, to put it plainly, I would be terrified to piss a practitioner of voodoo off. So, although there was some part of me that feared the unknown, I was also on a mission to experience things in spite of my fear. Therefore, when Richard offered to take me to a voodoo village just beyond our work site, I found myself agreeing without reservation.

I was going to a Voodoo Village!

It was our final day of work and after lunch, Richard and Robert told the group that I had wanted to visit the village and offered to take anyone else who wanted to go. Turns out, everyone was just as curious as I was. So off we all went into the woods. We crossed the very stream that the villagers use to do their laundry and pick up their water and headed into the tall grass. My group was told more about the settlement. It was a healing community that was built for people to stay for the duration of their illness. It seemed that the only people who lived their full-time were the Voodoo Priest and his assistant. This news made me even more curious about what I’d find there. Would there be rows of cots with people extremely ill? Along with the priest, would there be a doctor there as well as a nurse? What types of illnesses did most of the people have? Malaria? Cancer? How did voodoo come into play with a person's sickness.

As we continued walking through the forest, both Richard and Robert told me that I should tell the priest why I was in Ghana. That I should talk to him about my divorce so that he could help me. Hmmmm...
Grateful for the offer, I explained to them that, while I was devastated at the abrupt demise of my marriage, I didn’t want to go back to New York and hear that my husband’s penis randomly detached from the rest of his body (or something along those lines). Again they promised that the priest’s focus would be on helping me, but I still declined.

The dirt pathway in the woods led to an opening, which led to... A Voodoo Shrine. Robert, a believer in much of the religion, turned to me and said quietly, “don’t touch anything.” I absorbed this warning with very wide eyes and an open mouth. Quickly, I turned to Joe who was filming the figure and chided, “don’t you touch anything!” He looked at me like a kid who was wrongly accused of bad behavior by their mother. Granted, he wasn’t touching anything but I didn’t want to take any chances. The shrine was a face with its tongue out. By face, I don’t mean to suggest that it was a statue of someone being silly and jutting their tongue out because trust me, it was nothing like that. It definitely had a more serious tone to it. Adding to that heaviness were objects that I guessed were offerings.

After taking in the shrine, I headed into the village...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Best Laid Plans (Part 16)

Here's the thing... I'm in okay shape. I'm not ready to run a marathon or anything, but I'm pretty capable of carrying semi-heavy loads around. Adept in construction I'm not, but toting things around is totally feasible for me. However, I am (and was) not quite in the necessary shape to carry a freshly cut tree plank from the woods to a construction site. How do I know this, you ask?

Well, see, one day during my week in the village, our group was told to venture into the neighboring woods. We followed Robert down a narrow path and came upon a newly cut humungous tree. The tree had been cut into long planks of wood and that wood needed to get to the construction site, and we were the ones that had to do it. Looking at the longest freaking planks of wood I'd ever seen I thought of those weird health surveys you sometimes have to fill out at the gym or at a doctor's office. Like -
'how quickly do you get out of breath when exercising?'
'how fast can you run a mile?'
'how many wet tree planks can you carry from the woods?'
I had a partner with me, ready to carry the damn plank from this chopped tree to the building site, just as everyone else did. Though it did seem that nobody else's mouth was hanging as far open as mine was. There they'd go, two-by-two, a plank on their head, trudging down the overgrown path, across the dirt road and up to the computer center. Everyone was doing it. I hadn't quite experienced peer pressure like this before. Frankly, I think I would've been more comfortable if the group had taken me out to the woods, surrounded me and offered me cocaine. That, I think I'd be fully able to comprehend how to handle. This, I had no reference point for.

I looked over at my fully willing (and strong) partner. He was ready. And I said to myself - isn't this why I came all the way to Africa - to experience things I had no reference point for? Sure, I anticipated that those things would be more along the lines of new environments, new food, new sites (new bugs), but you simply can't anticipate everything. I mean, when I walk along the lanes of my local park, I'm not exactly observing the vegetation as something that I'm going to pick up and carry to my home. So there I am, in the woods, terrified that I'm going to drop this plank, thereby injuring my poor partner in labor. Of course, everyone is saying that maybe the 5'1" girl should avoid the heavy plank and do something else, but I've been presented with a challenge and I hate backing down from challenges.

They put it on my head.

The plank begins to sink into my brain.

My partner says he's ready to begin the walk back to the site.

The plank sinks further into my brain.

I adjust said plank a little.

I fear brain damage.

[Note: this is the moment in the hollywood story when the protagonist rises up and defeats the challenge. This is their moment of triumph! Success! This is not one of those stories]

I call it quits.

Afraid for, not only mine, but my partner's brain, I say I can't do it. Joe takes over and I try to film him.

Ah, failure. I feel that I'm getting to know you quite well.

The fact is, when you are facing down a failure as big as your marriage breaking down, it makes every other failure that occurs in the same timeframe seem as if it's quite massive. So, while not being able to carry the freaking wood from the forest to the center might seem like a small thing, I was quite pissed and embarrassed. I am getting a divorce AND I can't carry planks of wood. What use am I?

And you can see how the thought process degrades from there...

Joe, of course, was thrilled because it all made for better television programming. CONFLICT! YIPPEE!

Oh, and by the way, do you know who carried the remaining planks of wood? The women of the village. One by one, they carried their very own plank of fresh, wet wood (which were probably around 200lbs. each).