(Editor's Note: Amanda Sandlin is a 20-year-old junior journalism major at Rider University, and a previous TIMES NEWS intern. A Tamaqua resident, she is studying and volunteering in Accra, Ghana, located in western Africa, for one semester. Ghana gained independence from British rule in 1957, and now is a constitutional democracy. It is classified as a third world country and a developing nation. Amanda's columns will appear periodically on Saturdays in The TIMES NEWS during her stay in Ghana. To read more about her adventures, visit her blog at http://amandasanda.wordpress.com .)
Life is made up of a jumble of occasions that mold us into the individuals we are today. Even though many of these are forgotten, there are some moments that stick with us forever. Moments that define our souls. And just one of these moments can change everything.
Last weekend our group traveled to Cape Coast, about a three hour van ride from Accra, for a two-day excursion. It was a much-needed escape from the busy city life. As we trekked farther from the noisy streets of the nation's capital, I found it surprisingly comforting.
Our first day was spent at Kakum National Park, a forest reserve just north of the coastline. The sound of crickets and the smell of lush foliage reminded me of Jim Thorpe in the summer, and for the first time in the past month I felt in my element.
The forest tree tops were lined with canopies, small bridges just wide enough to put one foot in front of the other. All it took was one person making quick movement and the entire bridge would sway back and forth not necessarily something you want to happen when you're suspended hundreds of feet in the air.
But the view was absolutely breathtaking. Under blue African skies, the trees stood tall and firm and we gladly welcomed the forest's cooler temperatures. It's funny how just a month in this climate can make 85 degrees seem a bit nippy.
We also visited several places that are staples in Ghana's history. Elmina Castle, built by the Portuguese and Dutch, was where slaves were kept before being sent to the New World. The castle was eerily beautiful, boasting thick white walls and European architecture.
The dungeons were dark and pretty large, but I'm sure they would have seemed small to the slaves. They were kept tightly condensed with little air ventilation, buckets on each side for relieving themselves.
Everything about it was haunting the smells, the damp and diseased feeling of each cell. And the most disturbing part of it was that directly above the "door of no return," where the slaves were loaded onto ships, was where the Portuguese and Dutch attended church every Sunday.
Some things in this world will just never make sense.
But the most moving part of the weekend wasn't at Elmina Castle, or even on one of those canopies. It was just one moment in the van.
Several girls were pumping water next to us. One of them came up to my window and lightly tapped on it with her finger tip. I looked over and her eyes were gaping at me, her mouth painted into a shy smile. I opened my window and said hello.
She kept asking me something, and I couldn't quite make out what it was. After a few minutes I realized what she wanted. Not money. Not food. But a pencil.
I reached into my bag, pulled out a blue Bic pen and handed it to her. Immediately her modest grin turned into full-on laughter as she ran over to her friend, showcasing her new, proud possession. They both returned and her friend asked for a pen too.
I passed another pen to the girl out the window. Just as I did, the other reached for it. They both held onto it and wrestled each other for about a minute until I yelled out the window.
"Stop!" I said. "That one is for her, so let her have it. You each get one. Don't fight over them."
One of the girls came up to me. She latched onto my elbow from the window and jumped up and down in excitement.
"Thank you. Thank you. Thank you," she said.
And that was it. Just a couple pens made their day. It was one of those moments. A moment that made me realize how fortunate I am, how much I take for granted and how much I waste. It was a moment that I will never forget.
I came back to the city with a new-found purpose. My soul has been ignited, and I'm determined not to leave this country without helping as many people as I can. But it's possible to make a difference anywhere. There are less fortunate people on every land mass, whether it be Africa or America.
God gives each of us a heart to feel. A heart with dreams, passions and a purpose.
The question is: What are we going to do with it?
Another day. Another adventure. Always.