40 years ago

(This has nothing to do with art, but has everything to do with this artist.)

I was turning 14 that July when they walked on the moon. Our family was in Ghana, West Africa, as missionaries for the years that I was 12-15. I'd been 500 miles away from my parents for the first of two years to go to school in the capitol of the country- Accra- while they and the younger two kids lived way out in the bush to the north. We were having a rare vacation together on the coast during a school break at a house that one of the other mission denominations maintained as a rest house for their missionaries. The place was near the water and we'd been on the beach most of that day. It was now evening and Dad was glued to Voice Of America, the radio station, as the moon landing was occurring. My brothers and sister and I tired of listening after a while and went outside to look at the moon.

The man who was the caretaker for the house was outside, too, and we proudly and excitedly told him about the moon landing. He looked at us and then at the moon and back at us, perhaps trying to decide if we were lying. He tried to argue with us that the moon was too small for anyone to stand on it and seemed to have no knowledge that it was even spherical or solid. After a while I think he realized we were telling the truth and I watched him try to fit this new information into his former understanding. As we talked, we walked with him to his own home a few yards away. It was an open, three-sided concrete box, perhaps 12 feet square. His wife was sitting on the floor with one of his two small children on her lap. They had been cooking over an open fire in the center. Flat straw mats were against the wall for beds and all of their possessions could have fit in the trunk of a car.

The man had been hired to clean and take care of the rest house- three bedrooms, a kitchen, flush toilets, living room furniture, quite often empty, I'm sure- while he was given a concrete box to live in with his family. Of course, he was referred to as the "houseboy" in spite of being over 30 years old.

We'd been in Ghana for two years at that point and I certainly hadn't been oblivious to the contrasts between our lives and the lives of the people we were supposedly there to help. But the stark inequities had weighed on me and that night I went from proud and excited to embarrassed and angry and certain that America was spending its money wrongly and focusing on all the wrong stuff. I was tired of seeing that we treated the Africans differently than we treated other Americans.

When you're 13 and 14, you feel things DEEPLY. At least I did. I'm aware that a lot of who I am now is rooted in what I was feeling then. There.
I've since tempered my certainty that America had no business going to space with a wider understanding that space exploration can't wait until all inequalities on earth are erased.

But every time I hear about the Apollo missions, I remember the mixed up way I felt that night as I looked up into the African sky with a man who struggled with the idea of a moon large enough to stand on.

At 14 with little Charlie hanging on for dear life. (This is the only photo of me from that time I could find.)

16 comments:

Joanna said...

Wow. Great post.

Frank Gardner said...

I enjoyed reading that Susan.

Marsha Robinett said...

What a wonderful story, thanks for sharing Susan.

Peggy Montano & Paintings said...

Thanks Susan. Great story.

Jimmie said...

Great Reflections of the time. I really enjoyed it as it took my thoughts back in time. You are a great painter and writer as well.

God Bless You,
Jimmie Bartlett
Van Vleck, Texas

Dar Presto said...

Thank you Susan!

Carolina said...

My respects to you...

Marian Fortunati said...

A wonderful, profoundly thoughtful post.

So... Are birthday wishes in order in addition to remembering 40 years since the Moon landing???

If so HAPPY BIRTHDAY... Thanks for your multifaceted inspiration!

Regina Calton Burchett said...

Very interesting, Susan - I had no idea you had lived there. I understand being torn between the inequities that exist and reaching for more in science - or the arts. Because I've heard people say we shouldn't spend money on art until...

Dana Cooper Fine Art said...

I found this story to be very moving, thank yoo.

Rosemary said...

What a cute photo of you and Charlie! Love the story...thanks for sharing!

Gwen Bell said...

What a fantastic story. It would be a wonderful experience for any young person. You were a very deep thinker for that age, smarter than many adults.

Precious photo of you and your little pet Charlie. How cool is that...to have a pet MONKEY??? I'm so jealous. I want a monkey NOW!

Barbara M. said...

Hi Susan,

A beautiful post -- that sensitive and thoughtful teenager turned into a kind and compassionate woman. It is still true that the "have" countries blow money on so much that could be
used to help the "have not" countries.

xoxoxoxBarbara

Jo Castillo said...

Thanks for sharing. Nice story.

M. M. Harman said...

This is exactly the kind of thing you do that makes your light shine. Thank you for sharing yourself, your art, your inspiration, and your light.

We have all been so blessed to have found you over these tender threads of technology!

Thank you Susan, this was a gift!

Deborah Ross said...

Thanks for sharing this story with us, Susan. That must have been an incredibly lonely time away from your family. I can understand how confusing that must have been. And today, still....so much poverty and so much wasted money on movie stars and sports heroes.