In awe of the Mona Lisas of Ghana

Serenity. The women I saw in Accra, Ghana, all seemed to possess this elusive quality. Each time I traveled with my sister, my nephew, or his wife, I admired the local women. Whether they were selling the region's delicious produce - fresh pineapples, mangoes, papayas, bananas, and coconuts - from a roadside stand, unrolling a length of cloth from a brightly-colored bolt, weaving sturdy baskets, or offering the region's unique kente cloth for sale, they appeared relaxed and composed.

Outside the city, women shod only with simple thong sandals walked through deep dust alongside the road. Nestling babies in front slings that matched their mothers' bright cotton dresses and balancing large, bulky items on their heads, they moved with a fluid calm.

Their backs were straight and their heads held high. Not even wilting heat and drenching humidity seemed to change that.

Where had they learned it? The children I saw in Accra were anything but subdued! They were lively, laughing, and energetic.

"Akwaaba!" (Welcome!) A jumping, hooting mass of brown-uniformed children called outthis greeting to my sister and me when we took her young grandson to the local zoo.

"Akwaaba!" I shouted back.

This set the children to hooting even more loudly!

True to my guidebook's prediction, the boisterous children darted into every photo my sister and I took that day. Their irrepressible spirits and ready laughter made it impossible to keep them out. The zookeeper, who insisted on showing us around, managed to shoo them away - but only temporarily. Full of giggles, they came creeping back as soon as his attention was elsewhere.

So I regarded Ghanaian children as friendly and rambunctious. That is, until my nephew took his family, my sister, and me north to the city of Kumasi, home of the Ashanti people.

As we approached a small clothing shop, I noticed a young girl of 9 or 10 sitting quietly on a woven mat. Behind her hung other mats, apparently for sale. This barefoot girl - clad in a simple, cotton-print dress with her hair done up in cornrows - had an air of calm serenity.

Was it because she was the only child there? Perhaps.

"Would it be OK to take her picture?" I asked my nephew's wife.

"Ask her first," she replied, "then give her some money afterwards."

I held my camera toward the girl in a questioning manner. When she nodded acceptance, I snapped her photo. Then I placed a large coin into her smooth brown hand and was rewarded with a smile. Now, from a frame on my computer desk, the Ghanaian child gazes calmly out at me.

Where is this quiet serenity learned? I asked that question of a young Ghanaian woman now living in the United States. "I don't know," she replied, "but my mother is visiting me now. I will ask her why she loves who she is and loves her country."

She reported back, "It is their motherland. They work very hard just to survive and they are proud of their parents' homeland."

That's all I could uncover. The origin of their serenity remained as elusive as the quality itself. But, to love who you are and love your country? Surely that, in itself, is serenity.

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