Meet Suzzy Phonecard

We started calling her that because, well, that’s where we bought our “pay-as-you-go” scratch cards that power the pay for cell phone service here. Suzzy Phonecard. Suzzy is a sweet young lady who turned 15 a few weeks ago, but had left school after the fifth grade. Suzanne and I were on a walk in the village when we ran into her, and she took us to greet her grandfather.

Suzi - Village People

We had been buying phone cards from this girl for a month or so before we learned her name was Suzzy.

Each family has a different ordering of the same elements of a welcome to my ceremony. At Suzzy’s house they found some plastic chairs, sat Suzanne and I down in them, and presented two sachets of water on a platter. “It is our tradition to first serve you water,” Dan says formally. We really were not thirsty, but felt obligated to take them. I’m actually glad it came in the plastic bag. I’ve been with our colleague Mary Kay (aka GhanaWaterLady) who has been offered a glass of water from a questionable source, and watched her pretend to drink it (she totally pulled it off, and later I asked “did you really drink that water?!”)

Now Dan begins his welcoming ceremony. He is maybe my age, or a little bit older and sees himself as Suzzy’s father, though he is actually the father of Suzzy’s mother. Suzzy’s Dad died in 2013 from complications due to diabetes. Dan’s English quite understandable, and I never have to ask him to repeat himself so is easy to follow along with the ceremony, “In Ghana here we do…”. I jump on the narration hand off saying “Perhaps, you are wondering what our mission is?” Of course he knew, but that isn’t how the script goes. I tell the story of how Suzanne and I moved to Ghana about a year ago, and met Suzzy, buying phone cards. I say a lot more than that, after all this has to be a long and elaborate story, centering how impressed we are with Suzzy, her hard work, dedication and entrepreneurial spirit. Suzzy is positively beaming as I talk about her.

Suzi

Suzzy’s phonecard stand.  She went to market and left this small boy in charge.  Yikes!

Suzi

A week later, Airtel came through town, and suddenly the MtN yellow umbrella was gone.

Maybe nine months ago, when I first met Suzzy, she asked for help with her school fees, or at least I think that is what she was asking. Sometimes my ears won’t hear what she is saying (meaning I can’t understand her English). We didn’t know Suzzy that well then, but Nora had told me she was not attending school.

“Please, I want to go to school,” she said one day after I had bought phone cards.

I was a little annoyed Suzzy had asked so quickly, it’s a gripe I have with Ghanaians. May will ask for monetary assistance moments after meeting you (when the odds of you feeling like helping are almost zero, but likes to say no?!). If they would just wait a while, let us get to know you and your situation, then I’m sure we would be happy to help, but asked so quickly, we feel forced too. Meet an Obruni, ask for help. At least Suzzy had waited a few months, and since Nora, had shared with me her worries about the phone-card business keeping her from getting an education, I knew to be expecting the ask.

Suzi - Village People

Suzzy also helps me in the garden, planting coco yam, cassava and plantain.

I told Suzanne, and we had prayed about it, and I told Dan the same in my rendition of our mission, added it felt like God was wanting us to help Suzzy with her education. Would he be OK with that? Would he give us his blessing? Next to Dan is sits Dinah, Suzzy’s mother. She isn’t feeling well, and her attention drifts in and out of the conversation, like when the light flickers, about to go off. After a while, she excuses herself, and Suzzy lets her chair sit empty, a child among the adults would not be welcome.

IMG_6501

She came out to help Beautiful Berekuso clean-up day.

I suspect, like many other young women in the village, eight years ago her family decided they needed her to carry water, cook, or help around the house, and so she was dropped out of school, even through school is compulsory, and paid for by the government.

I had talked to Margaret, the Basic School HeadMistress. Margaret is an amazing administrator of the Basic School (primary through junior high). When she was appointed two years ago, graduation to high school was maybe one or two students, and last year, 31 passed the high school entrance exam. We have several on-going projects and I think work well together. Though I suspected she would say yes, she says “Yes,” with more confidence than I feel for Suzzy. “She would be invited. Do you think she will be able to do the work?” I tell her the same story I Dan would later hear, and she asks me to bring her by for an interview.

Suzzy studying after school

Suzzy hard at work studying after school in her container.

It has been a month and Suzzy is still in school, but no longer runs a phone card business. Suzanne and I struggle to find another vendor, especially one we like so much. She is a very brave girl to be returning to 5th grade, and I’m sure towers above her classmates.

When Suzzy turned 15, we (meaning Suzanne) gave her a birthday card from the US, and it had some birthday cash, and said we wanted to take her for pizza. “Have you ever had pizza?” Suzanne asked.

“Oh yes.” Suzzy’s English is improving.

We picked her at sunset in the Rhino, and drove the Kwabenya, two towns over where our friends the Jacksons had said there was a new pizza joint that used real cheese. But it was light off, or Doom-So as it is being called, meaning light off, light on. Tonight it was light off. The pizza joint couldn’t make pizza, or burgers. They could make chicken shawarma, French fries, fried rice, and grilled chicken.

“I thought we were going to Peter O’Quay to eat” she said. Peter is our friend and Ashesi driver. Suzzy had heard us say pizza, and thought Peter. It was a menu she wasn’t ready for. Funny, because we had passed Peter driving going the other direction and she hadn’t said a word.

She orders fried rice and chicken (the Ghanaian go-to dish of choice). When we travel its our joke, “and how will you have your chicken and rice tonight?” I wondered, would she know how to eat with a fork (she did).

She eats about half of the fried rice, and a few bites of chicken, and then stops.

Suzanne and I have been able to only eat one of the shawarma and are happy to wait for Suzzy to finish but seeing us stop eating, she is now suddenly finished too, and saves the rest for her mother and grandmother.

Chicken Shawarma

Chicken Shawarma – yum!

We add our other shawarma, and an enormous plate of French fries, and she will have enough starch that even Dan, and perhaps her two brothers will get to sample this strange Obruni food.

On the drive back I wonder, not sure where this relationship with Suzzy is going. She clearly has a lot of courage to build this fragile relationship with us (and go back to school). Along the way we pick up a third year Ashesi student, and the contrast couldn’t be more different. We easily chat with Esi about all sorts of things, and Suzzy sitting next to Esi adds nothing, watching her, as if through a window, peering into this conversation, but without ears that hear (understand) what is being spoken. Is this our hope for Suzzy? Is this where its all going? Is this even what we hope for?

I don’t know. I just know we feel led to help her get an education, and maybe she will do the rest.

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