Let us now take a brief pause from the lovely Ghana Student Life Story Project (HUGE thanks to all the readers who are leaving encouraging comments for the students!) to talk about the concept of… ceremony.
When was the last time you took part in a ceremonial moment of reflection and ritual celebration? If you are in a couple, chances are it will be today, Valentine’s Day.
Many folks grumble, as the roses and lacy underwear emerge: “What’s the point of it all?” But I argue: there is a place and purpose for ritual!
And here’s a theory: African countries have Western countries beat on marking moments ceremonially. This seems to be one more instance of certain stereotypes about Africa, such as the prevalence of dancing, drums, and music, that is emerging as beautifully true here in Ghana.
An example? When YCC’s director, John, found out that February twelfth was the half-year anniversary of when I flew out of Boston and began to travel around the world, John sent an “urgent” message to every member of YCC to gather for an evening meeting.
Thus, in the dark of night, caressed by the warm evening breeze, ten of us settled into a circle of plastic chairs. I wore my new custom-sewn gold dress that dear Millicent had helped me order from the seamstress!
Oliver began the meeting. “We have assembled here today because this night marks the six month anniversary of our sister Lillie’s international travels. To celebrate, we would like for her to describe each part of her journey so far, ending right here at YCC, Sogakope. Then we will each say a message of thanks to her, and she will conclude with a message for all of us.”
What bliss! What satisfaction! I had a full platform to blab therapeutically to the entire YCC staff about my months through: Japan (including the practice of eating raw fish, which horrified my Ghanaian friends!), Thailand (including the madness of Bangkok and the joy of Thai massage school), Cambodia (including the largest temple on earth, Angkor Wat), Vietnam (including the wonder of Halong Bay and the disaster on a motorcycle), Laos (including drifting down the Mekong River), Italy (including the famous David statue), and finally… Ghana!
Being a good little teacher who wants to make sure her audience is awake, I forced everyone in the circle to ask questions about each country, and they asked excellent ones. What a great feeling to be able to reflect on the past half year with my new friends!
Then, bless their hearts, the YCC staff went around and said kind things about my first month and a half with them here in Ghana, and wished me well for my next month and a half here. I gave my closing speech: “Of all the places I have been in the past half-year, this time with all of you in Sogakope has been the best. I am so thankful to be working with such kind, fun, smart, hard-working people, and I really appreciate all of you coming tonight!”
Collins ended the meeting with a prayer, thus giving a feeling of closure to the evening, and we all shook hands and stacked the chairs to bring them inside. It was great!
And hence I urge you, especially if you are in a country where the practice of official ceremonies is dying out, to remember the warm, strong, unified feeling that comes from officially acknowledging, speaking, and reflecting upon a milestone moment.
Let’s go beyond Valentine’s Day. If you are a teacher, force your children to pause and look back, in writing, on what has come before and what will come to be in the final few months of the school year.
If you are a parent or friend, force your clan to sit in a circle and ceremonially speak to celebrate and take note of all you have accomplished in the recent past and what you hope to do in the near future.
Consider opening and closing your ceremony with a prayer-like statement, no matter what your level or type of religion.
Of course, if you are a teacher, this exercise will be met with cries of: “Miiiiiss, this is mad COOORNY!” But in the end, all the participants will feel happy, listened to, and centered.
And so I ceremonially say to all of you: Thank you for being part of the first half-year of around the world travel, and may there be many more great months and revelations to come! And to the single, coupled, and “it’s complicated”-ites among you, happy Valentine’s Day! Here are some pretty pink ritual V-Day flowers for you!