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It’s been almost ten years and still I can’t forget. Even on vacation at a gated golf course community in the Palm Desert, I have Africa on my mind.

Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

I feel her in the unrelenting beating sun. I smell her in diesel fumes, a freshly cut mango. Memories return: Guard holds an AK-47 to his chest, tells me, “Why don’t you go back home obroni.” Beggarwoman breastfeeds twins. Leper holds misshapen hand outstretched, seeking coins of mercy.

I remember: My colleague at the newspaper walks me to the station, sees there is no tro-tro for me to ride home tonight. “Tonight we will have to suffer,” she says.

I shake my head. No. I will not suffer the African way, not tonight. I have white skin and a first-world passport. “I have money for a taxi.”

A page from my Ghana scrapbook.

A page from my Ghana scrapbook.

She looks surprised, then hails one and negotiates a fair price for me, not the obroni price I usually pay. I ride safely back to the house I’m renting with other American students, the big house with running water, a security guard and wall to keep Africans out.

Africa, I remember you, the thin space where the very air is electrified with the presence of God and I barely even notice. I see the tin shacks and open sewers, the child beggars surrounding me. I still visit you in my dreams, always searching, never satisfied.

Roadside shop selling American soft drinks. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

Roadside shop selling American soft drinks. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

The girl who dances with shadows.

The girl who dances with shadows.

My senior year of high school began with the attack on the Twin Towers. Images of the flaming towers were fresh in all our minds that fall. This was an act of war, and even though I lived 3,000 miles away in Oregon, it still felt much too close to home. Who could do something like this? Is this the beginning of World War 3? I wondered.

That year I was part of a group called the Young Women’s Theater Collective. We wrote and performed original shows. We decided to name our fall show “Dancing with Shadows.” It was a declaration that in spite of the darkness in life, we could still find joy. Our show included comedic sketches, dancing, singing, and more somber pieces dealing with issues like substance abuse and depression. We performed to sold-out shows at the WOW Hall, and yes, even shared a promotional poster with Slick Rick.

A few years later, I found myself in Ghana, West Africa, on a study abroad program with the UO Journalism School. Wandering through an open-air market in Kumasi, I stopped at a woodcarver’s stall to browse for souvenirs. My eye was drawn to a carving of a woman, one hand balancing a jug of water on her head, her other hand resting on her hip. The carver looked at me. “That’s the girl who dances with shadows,” he said. “There are always shadows, but she is just dancing.”

My heart leapt into my throat in surprise. I had to have that carving. “How much?” I asked cautiously, fearing he might be eager to rip off an obroni. He quoted a reasonable price, so I paid him the few dollars and bought the carving.

The girl who dances with shadows now sits atop my tall bookshelf in our living room. Was this an interesting coincidence, or was it a purposeful message from God to me? I can’t say for sure, but it’s a reminder to me that in spite of whatever may come — I will dance.

“There is only the dance…” – T.S. Eliot (The Four Quartets)