The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Taxis, Tro Tros, and a Patrol

Last night, as we were celebrating my 47th birthday, and the one Suzanne had missed because we were in transit, it occurred to me, as we had spent considerable expense and time putting together Texas style “breakfast tacos” with fried potatoes, refried beans, bacon, eggs, and sausage, I marveled how hard we work to keep the comfort foods of home. I especially see this in the longer term expat families here. It is like there is this American bubble of life that people try to live within, or at least go to when we're all together.

I think for the more long term folks, this is understandable, because they want to never lose the uniquely American viewpoint that is their birthright. But for us short-timers, I wonder if we are squandering a once in a lifetime opportunity to interact with the local culture. I remember this same struggle when I was here as a kid, which when you think about it must have been significant to enter the radar zone of a nine year old boy. The struggle then was, as it is now, how much to we inculturate? In 1969, we had very little contact with the other Americans here.

Another thing I noticed then, and I still see here is when we run into other whites, or obrunies in the market place. I go through the market place connecting with Ghanaians, looking at them in the eyes, and smiling. It is the Ghanaian way, but I almost never can make eye contact with the other obrunies, they pretend like I don’t exist, or am ruining the self made fantasy that they are the only white person around.

At first I thought that maybe this was just how unknown elements of a subculture interact, but then I thought maybe I had just forgotten that this is just how people are in the US, or Europe. On the city streets they don’t look you in the eyes, or reach out through a smile. People go through the city avoiding each other, especially their eyes and maybe what I took to be “pretending I wasn’t there” was just a normal mode interaction, or really non-interaction. So I’ve taken to watching other obrunies hard in the eyes as they approach on the street, and saying “Hello” even when it is clearly not welcome.

Chapter Four
Today begins a fourth chapter of our life here. The first was at the resort where all our needs were taken care of, the second is when we moved to the apartment and had to negotiate taxis and walking. Chapter three began with moving into our house and adding the Tro Tros as our primary means of transport, and today begins a four month experiment with a vehicle.

[Keneshe Market Tro Tro and Bus - CENTER]

Tro Tros are best described, as “pretty much any passenger vehicle that isn’t a bus or a taxi.” These battered heavily modified mini-buses, run fixed routes within the city and throughout Ghana, and seem to be the backbone of its transportation system. I can’t think of an American equivalent, the nearest being the subway, but Tro Tros are different because they are not operated by the city or state…they are run by the owners, drivers and mates.

Tro Tro stops are easily identified as any place where a number of Ghanaians are standing by the side of the road looking expectantly. Soon a minibus will speed toward them with a young man hanging out the side, or shouting out the window something like “ACCRA, ‘CRA, ‘CRA, ‘CRA” which tells you its going to Accra Central, what we would call downtown.

The Mate – This is the man you will have the most interaction with. He’ll answer questions, make change (if you want to buy something at a traffic light), tell people where to sit, and say mostly two phrases, beside the destination: “Away” alerting the driver he may leave, and “Next Stop” except it sounds to me more like he is saying ‘blastoff” which when I think about it would be more appropriate for the word Away, as the Tro Tros, do take off quickly. The Mate also collects the fare, which changes depending on where you get on and where you say you are getting off. They seems to operate on the honor system, the Mate asks you where you are going, and then tells you the fare.

The Driver – This man is very skilled in the negotiation of traffic, and works with the Mate to announce the destination. He uses the fingers of his left hand to point. For example going into Accra central, he will point upward, in the direction they are heading. Now this is similar to sign for 37 (another route), but in the opposite direction. For my Tro Tro home, one points backward to the side of their head while facing the road. The Mate will point to the right of the road with his index finger. These signs are subtle, and took me several weeks to begin to recognize them. Announcing the destinations, should help but over time these names have taken on unique and puzzling pronunciations, for example on the Osu Tro Tro, the Mate shouts Osu, Osu, O’ sorry,” and as a Texas Longhorn, I know he is apologizing for naming a place after Oklahoma State University (OSU).

The Owner – This person owns the Tro Tro and splits the take 50/50 with driver and Mate once the cost of petrol is deducted.

Riding the Tro Tro is always an adventure. Last week I sat next to a army officer who was carrying a loaded AK-47. I asked him about in and learned all sorts of things about that assault rifle. When there is no one who feels like talking, I count how many are on board. The record is 26. I shared this number with Emmanuel, our guard, and he seemed dubious. I explained in the twin seat in front of me there were five people, a mother, a baby strapped to her back, and two elementary age children, plus a man unrelated to them. He said “Ah! We don’t count the children!” Waiting for the Tro Tro to fill later, I saw on the side of the minibus the hand painted certificate of occupancy: 19 maximum.

A friend from school of Grace’s was driving about with her parents and telling them about this new girl from Texas. “She a bit different, and quite adventuresome,” she said. “In fact there she is,” and pointing to Grace as she climbed out of Tro Tro. She had been here years and never ridden a Tro Tro.

Among the expats here, they seem to be divided by the question “Do you Tro Tro?” Some do, some don’t, and today we begin having a fourth option: to drive. We are taking care of a diesel Nissan Patrol, while missionaries Rev. Andrew and Dr. Juliana Jernigan [read their blog] or [see their webpage] head to Liverpool for a four month certification in Tropical Medicine. Andrew and Ju hope that the Lake Bosumtwe Methodist Clinic can become "a means where we can share healing and hope, physical and spiritual". Juliana needed additional training to be more effective in their mission. Andrew gave us the insiders tour of Accra a few weeks back just before we moved, and either showed us or told us about all the places to outfit a house. It is God’s “Just in Time” way, to give you the information you need, right before you need it. I wonder how God will use this vehicle in our lives, at the coincidence of it arriving on the evening of my 47th birthday. It feels like a gift, unearned, undeserved, but oh so nice to have. I look forward to discovering its purpose in our life here.

[click here to see more birthday and Tro Tro pictures]

School is cool? (Anna's entry)

School is cool? Where did that come from?

I think that going to Ghana has been a HUGE change for us. Of course, that’s just what you’d expect… You know, we’re only halfway across the world in a country we’d never heard of before this. But anyways, SCHOOL ROCKS!!!! (I know, you must be thinking, ‘the Buchele’s are going crazy. Who ever thought of liking school?!’) But the teachers are SO nice, I might be taking 8th grade math instead of 7th, the school itself is great, lots of after school activities, all this is AWESOME (quoting the Bible). I do miss my friends from Salado, though (Madison, Marcine and Luke, if you’re reading this, I MISS YOU!!!). But I also miss the church… This new international church is okay, but I really miss the Foundation United Methodist Church at Lakewood (yes, I did call it its full name). I also miss Blyth. And Hunter. And Mrs. Kaylenn. I could go through a ninty-five page list of all the people I miss, but my mom wants to type too sometime this month so I gotta cut it short with: I MISS THE CHURCH AND EVERYONE IN IT!!!!!!!!!
So don’t feel bad if your name’s not here, I still miss you. But anyways, I love the school here…. I just miss the people (some of them) from SIS. You know, I don’t miss my enimies…. Just my BEST friends. And my kinda sorta friends. But anyways, I already have ONE BEST FRIEND!!!! (which I got on the first day of school.) Her name is Alina. She is very nice, and I have made a lot of kinda friends!!! But none are as nice as Alina…. But they are all very nice, still.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


See our pictures of Ghana: [click here]

“Please, it will be twomillionninehundredandeightymillion cedis”.
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”
She sounds annoyed and this time speaks slowly two…..million……nine-hundred…..and eighty…..million cedis”. The number feels clumsy in my brain, as if I’m having to make space for it and can’t seem to fit it all in all at once.

It is Monday afternoon and I am at the Ghana Electric office paying our electric bill. Actually, I’m prepaying it. One of the things about a cash economy is that there is no credit, and so things must be prepaid…in cash, or course. For us this has meant learning a whole new set of numbers, really large numbers. The kind of numbers you only hear of in terms of the federal budget deficits, and rarely have any personal dealings with. Two million nine-hundred and eighty million cedis. I remember that the average person is over 30 years old before they have a million seconds in their life but still, I can’t fit that whole number in my brain, so I break it down.

Part of the trouble is that the largest bill in Ghana is the 20,000 cedi, and so to make two million, its going to take 100 of them. Fortunately the bank gives out two-million cedi ‘bricks” which are electronically counted and bundled into “bricks.” I dig in my bag and hand her one of the bricks. “900,000 thousand, “ I think, dividing by two, that is 45 twenty-thousand notes, and so I break one of the bricks and count it out. 80,000 is just four twenty thousand notes and finally I have prepayed our electric bill and they encode this information on a smart card.

On the side of our house is an electronic meter which accepts smart cards. It looks like the pay at the pump card readers at a gas station except there is only a red LED to display the number of units left.
On Sunday afternoon, this number hit 50 and the power went off. At first we thought that it was a power failure as we had experienced the week before. So, we got out the candles, banned opening the fridge for anything but the most necessary, and listened for the sound of our neighbor’s generator to start up. They didn’t. When it got dark, we noticed that everyone else had power, or “light” as it is called here. Grace’s friend Olivia had come home after church to help take out Grace’s braids and says we should call it in, and report it. Finally, she offers to call and interestingly has the number memorized.

Olivia has lived almost her whole life in Ghana, the daughter of Jeff and Lori, our missionary friends. You wouldn’t know it, her English is perfect, the product of home schooling, and parents from North Dakota and Minnesota. On the phone she sounds completely different: “The light is off. It is no good, always, always, always the light is off, it is no good.” This is bush English. We are awestruck hearing this strange voice come out of here. “Where did that come from?”

Later, I’ve gone to taxi Olivia to the hotel where her father Jeff has gone swimming with her two younger siblings. Again I am awed as Olivia negotiates a rate that is a quarter of the rate I could have gotten. Obrunie, price. Obrunie means “white-person” and as you’re walking through the market, the little kids will shout “Hello ‘brunnie, how are you?” It is not an insult, but more of a game they play as they peak out behind a chair, smiling at you. “Fine,” I say “how are you?” They laugh and laugh.

We are taking the taxi to the hotel so that Olivia can go home. Jeff would have picked her up, but he is without his cell phone. We find Jeff walking out of the hotel as we are dropped off and now driving back, he offers to show us their house and meet the teachers living there, so we take a trip to East Legon, the part of the city that is north of us and the area I lived in the late 60s when it was just Legon. It looks nothing like I remember. While we’re driving there a plot is hatched that involves ice cream, and I say, we have a box of it melting in our freezer because “the light is off.” I love this expression. It means there is a power outage, and so when we say it, we add a heavy accent, and speak each word with equal, strong emphasis “the light is off”.

An hour later we are back at our house walking into candle lit living room with Lori and Jeff and their three kids, and our five, and it is hot. We’ve come with a task right out of the movie Jurassic Park after the dinosaurs have escaped, and “the light is off”. The developer and his grandchildren are sitting at this huge table of food eating ice cream before it melts. “I spared no expense” he tells them before going into his flee circus story of how he got started.

Suzanne tells us “the light is off” because we’ve run out of prepaid units, but the meter is still showing 50 units. Lori remembers that the prepaid meters click off at 50 units to warn you that you are about to run out of units. She tells us that by reinserting the card, we can access those last 50 units and so the men go out with the smart card, which, the landlord just happened to give us on Friday afternoon. That’s when we learned we were responsible for the “lights” It takes three men to restore power. One to open the wooden box protecting the meter, one to insert the card, and one to turn the big red switch to ON.

Inside the lights click on, the mood is festive and the table is filled with soft ice cream, and many toppings, and the goal is still to finish it all off, even though “the light is on” and we could have put it back, but now it is a celebration, like the parable of the lost coin, where the woman finds it and invites her friends over to celebrate. In my more cynical moods I wonder if the celebration didn’t cost more than the value of coin that was found, but there is none of that in this room. Everyone is happy.

Suzanne and I have a delightful evening with Jeff and Lori and together we share our stories and I am so thankful. Jeff had been the preacher that Sunday and he has an amazing gift of being able to deliver a complete well organized and thought out 30 minute sermon without notes of any kinds. One minute he is welcoming you to worship, or praying for the children and the next he has seamlessly slid into the sermon and you’re not sure where one began and the other ended. This morning he has spoken about living a life that makes God happy, and wonders what it would be like if we could just say at the end of it “I was just doing what I wanted to do.” There is a refreshing consistency between what he spoke about this morning and my impression of the life they live. It is one centered around making God happy and in the end making God happy, makes us feel happy and satisfied and living with purpose, and wouldn’t it be cool if we were just doing what we wanted to do all along.

As I fall asleep that night, I think about the grand chain of events that began that day with walking to church, and ended sharing eating ice cream and conversation with new friends who helped us with “the light is on”. I would like to think it all brought a smile to God’s face, because at the time it seemed like we were just doing what we needed and wanted to do.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Church Study (Elim International Family Church)

See our pictures of Ghana: [click here]

Elim International Family Church is what I’ll call a worship centered church, whereby the main focus of the church is the Sunday morning worship service. This is not to say it a large production, it isn’t or hasn’t seemed to be. Granted, the pastor has been away for a month, enrolling his children in University, so we have yet to meet him. It has been a lay-lead church.


On Sunday mornings, just over 200 people attend its one 10am worship service in a borrowed conference center. The room is well air conditioned, by Ghanaian standards. The youth and some adults teach a concurrent Sunday school class and the 1-5 year olds stay in worship for the first 40 minutes until they are brought forward and prayed for. Then they leave to go to Children’s Church. The worship service continues, mostly populated by adults. The order is as follows

30 minutes of Gathering Music – piano, Lead Worshipper, and back-up singers. Back-up singers stand at the stage left of the congregation and face the Lead Worshipper. So they are not on display, and could be thought of as part of the congregation, but with microphones.
Welcome & Witness – Host tells a story, or invites someone to tell a story of where they saw God in action this week. eg. Angels with grease on their fingers.
* First-time visitors are asked to stand (where they are handed a registration form to fill out and return in the offering sack)
* Long-time absent regulars stand so to be recognized.
* Time of Welcome, where by people go around and shake hands with each other.

Special (optional) Music, Interpretative signing, …
Blessing of the children – Children, age five and under are asked to come forward and be prayed for before leaving for Children’s Church.
Introduction of speaker – with possible unrelated scripture reading.
Message (30 minutes)
Post message prayers. This is a unique time for people who were touched by the message to come forward and be prayed for by the speaker. If less than 10, the speaker will pray and lay hands on them, if larger, then a ministry team joins speaker to pray and lay hands on them at the front of the church. During this time, the music team may sing a song from the Gathering Music set, or a new song. There are no words displayed on the overhead.
Offering People stand for the offering as a bag on a stick is passed around and when collected, brought forth and placed on a table to the stage right of the lecturn (which as far as I can see is not used for anything else). During the collection of the offering, people stand and sing a song from the gathering music set.
Song of Sending – often a reprise of something from the Gathering Music.

After worship about 75 people stay behind to chat, and talk. The kids connect with each other and make plans for the following week, the adults make lunch plans. It is a little awkward because the same worship space is used by a Chinese church, but they must wait for us to leave first.

There is no dedicated “Sunday School Hour” but during the weeks “Life Groups” meet in people’s homes. Though not well explained in the announcements, I gather these are small groups that meet throughout the week in the city.

Church Structure

Staff – pastor.
Office – in pastor’s home
Leadership – a board of Elders (5). The purpose of this board is to consult with the pastor on big-ticket items, and the general leadership and direction of the church. I gather that most decisions are made by the pastor.

Property/building – none, other than sound reinforcement equipment and an overhead projector.

Congregation Demographics
30% Ghanaian
50% North American/UK (native English speakers) of which half would be missionaries.
20% other (Syria, South Africa, East African, Lebanese)

This is not a “normal” church in that 30% are missionaries, meaning they have some theological and leadership training and a call to use these gifts. The church is organized to be an oasis, where English is the primary spoken language, Western culture is followed, and one has the feeling of stepping into a different world, a taste of home. Now the irony is that the church was started as a mission church out of Singapore, some seven years ago and it has become an ExPat church.

Throughout the expat community, Elim is known for the quality of its youth group. In fact I know several families whose children attend Elim, and the parents elsewhere. Some at the local community church where they are stationed, some across town at a more traditional church. The youth in the group are almost all missionary kids who have been here most of their lives. After the worship service, on first Sunday we attended, the youth quickly attached themselves to our kids. Our kids were invited to youth group (Sat. afternoon) invited to go horse back riding (Tues, 1pm), to work at the orphanage (Sat. AM)… They were amazingly welcoming and within a few weeks my kids felt more connected to this church and its youth than any church we have been to.

As a pastor, I have known this was important, but to see it in action, and so well done, made a deep impression on me. Now granted, these are not your typical kids, not from typical families, and not in a typical place. Their parents are missionaries, and the youth see their mission as one to bring in the lost, even if the lost happened to just be new to the area.

Watching this Elim Church function, and the impact it has on people’s lives in this place makes me rethink much of what I was taught about growing a church. Things like the ratio between worship attender and staff (ratio is 100:1); the importance of organized small groups and Sunday School program and its ratio to worshipper attender (ratio is 7:10, small group:worship attender); of the 80% rule (when a room feels full), of multiple services with different music formats (attracting a diverse group); of having a building; and even a weekly bulletin and newsletter. People are pretty much going to do what they are going to do and having all this formal structure to the church program…I’m not sure it gets anyone more involved than they ordinarily would be involved. Thus, I wonder if we have spent significant amounts of time trying to get people to do what they would ordinarily want to do (read: church programs), and likewise spending an enormous amount of time failing to get people to do what they are already disinclined to do.

I joke that so much of ministry is marketing and sales, and while I believe in the product, I’m not sure I trust the approach. Donald Miller writes, in an essay “Problems: What I learned on Television” that the “greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time.”[1] And much of ministry feels just like that, marking or wasting time, but then there is the payoff, when you see a life turned around, or a marriage saved and you know that it was all worth it. Sometimes I hear people say “if only one soul has been saved by all of this then it will be a success.” I can’t help but cringe. It is not that I am big into efficiency, but there is such a thing as effectiveness and allocation of resources. Which brings me back to worship, and Elim Church. They understand that worship is the primary function of the church. They understand it to be an oasis from life and how, when done well, will lead us into longing for more, longing for each other, longing for a deeper connection, to God, and other believers. That is the great hope of worship, to satisfy the longing and leave us wanting more, which is why marketing fails so badly. The goal of marketing is to create a dissatisfaction and offer your product as the solution. In the church we often promise more than we can deliver. “This will be a life changing class,” I’ve said and for some it is true, but for most unless they are in crisis, it is just another program competing for their time and resources, and worship shouldn’t be like.

Suzanne and I are enrolled in a Marriage Improvement class offered by the same folks in the UK who created ALPHA. It isn’t that we are in crisis, we just understand that it is good to seek help, especially when you don’t need it. The thing I’ve noticed over the years is that very few people who take these Marriage seminars run into trouble later. It is the ones who are not there, or who don’t think they need to be there, who should be. So it is to those whom we market to, the ones you are disinclined to do what would help them out, and most of the time our efforts fail. They fail in either attracting the people who most need what we’re offering, or they fail in delivering the goods. The class isn’t life changing, or doesn’t make a difference, and so the disappointment runs into worship. What if worship was all a church did, and we took enough time (read more than an hour) to do the job well so that people did get connected to God and each other, and longed for more? I know it goes against all the current thinking in the church growth material, but I’ve got to wonder, is it really working all that well?

[1] Miller, Donald, Blue Like Jazz, p13

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Art of Barter and Meaning

See our pictures [click here]

“I give it to you for 25”
“That is too much, how about 10”
“No, that would not be good. Make it 25”
“10,” I say.
“What else?” she asks. I am bartering for a cheese grater, it is made in China, and the first of any quality I’ve seen since moving here. We’re bartering in 1000s of Cedis, so 25, means 25,000 cedi, or $2.50 US. I look at what else she has, mostly kitchenware, I ask of a few items, get quoted an outrageous price, and then we go back to it.
“My three children eat a lot of cheese…15,” meaning I’ll pay 15,000 cedi.
“18…let me make 2000…18”, and then looking around one last time, I say OK, and she smiles, puts it in a thin black plastic bag, and we’re both happy. I have a cheese grater, and she makes 2000 cedi.

I’ve thought about bartering a lot since moving here, I practiced it even more, wondering if it is fits with our purpose. I mean by and large Ghanaians see Americans as walking, breathing ATM machines, and so I think that on one hand, I’m spending 10 minutes haggling over 20 cents, and I’m thinking: half a postage stamp, tax on a Starbucks. “Help the ole girl out I think, throw her the a couple dimes,” and so I agree, but on those days I have the energy for it, I’ll haggle over everything.

On those days I must be careful not to cross the line. It seems to me that one can get best price, but often it comes with its own price. Sarpei, our Public affairs officer at the Embassy, tells us that vendors will never sell you something unless the deal works for them, but then I remember a story the former Carol Glanzman told me about buying a skirt in Spain. She had bargained hard…a price was agreed … money exchanged… the skirt rolled up and put in a backpack, and walking away she hears the woman say “You have a black heart,” she looks back at the woman, it feels like a curse, “nothing good will come of this.”

I’ve watched people bargain for best price with such aggression, that when it is done, there is a feeling of violation, as if we’ve broken some sacred trust, refused a gift, crossed the line. In those times, the taxi driver, or street merchant won’t even look you in the eye, they just want you to go away, to be done with you. It is then I wonder, was ever about the money?

What if the negotiation was about something more important than cost? What if the bartering was about meaning, about creating a shared story to tell later? “Story is the language of the heart,” claim John Eldridge in his book Epic. So maybe the haggling is about speaking to the heart. I know that when I come home from the crowded market, I want to tell the story of each item. Days later, when Suzanne and I are walking by the same stall, I point it out to her, and say hello to the merchant, she remembers me. I want Suzanne to share in my story. That almost never happened when we went shopping in the states. We would just go to the big box store, pick it up, pay for it and leave. There was no story, no emotional weight, no greater meaning, and I’d never see those people again.

I’ve noticed in packing up a house to move, as we’ve done five times in the last 12 years, the time consuming work comes from remembering the story. It is as if some things have an emotional weight that must be remembered, and relived and packed away so that it is not lost. I’ve noticed that when I pack up the big box store items, they have almost no memory. They are like wonder bread with all the nourishment lost in the processing, not story.

Eldridge wonders if that is part of the problem, the reason that life feels like a movie we’ve arrived to 45 minutes late. We’ve lost our story. Our hearts longs for their native tongue—tell me a story—and when you can big box buy it, you bring it home empty, without meaning, and could just as easily give it away, or sell it at a lost and be no poorer.

My friend Eric the taxi driver keeps asking me the same question, “You mean there are no markets in US?” We’re usually stopped in traffic, and young men are offering chocolates, fried plantain chips, towels, fresh fruit and vegetables. He looks at me and asks “There are no peoples selling tings at side of road?” He can’t believe it and wants to come to US to see for himself. “Where do you buy it?” Eric asks. “In a store?” he says answering his own question. “Yes,” I think, but it costs much more, and doesn’t come with a story.

Lori, of our missionary friends, Jeff & Lori, who have been here 11 years say “You can get best price with out the barter, but they won’t be happy about it.” What taxi drivers, or market ladies want to have is a relationship, to learn something about you, it isn’t about the money, it is about the story, yours and theirs becoming connected. And so the vehicle used is the barter, the negotiations, the haggle over 2000 cedi or twenty cents. That is the price of a story, I guess, and my heart is listens well, and longs for more.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

We've Moved In!

It is Wednesday night, the evening of our kids first day in school, and our second night in what is to become our home. We moved earlier in the week, all 13 suitcases, boxes, and plastic bags that we have been carrying around and living out of for the past seven weeks. I must admit it is a relief to finally unpack, and part of me wonders, what was I thinking when I thought I would need this book, or that sweater, or why didn’t I think to include a can opener? I guess that is the mystery of packing for the unknown, is that you pack from where you are, hoping that when you get there, you’ll have what you need.

We are glad to be here. After seven weeks of living out of suitcases in three different places in Ghana, as well as Connecticut, New Orleans and Texas. We’ve been on the move since July 1, and were promised a home by Aug. 1, but then there were complications, and by the last week we had created a lottery where each put in ¢10,000 cedi for a chance to pick the day we would really move. First it was Friday, then Saturday, then Monday, and finally Grace won with the most unlikely bet Tuesday.

Our new home is wonderful, large, and most rooms have an air conditioned. I think the Ghanaians have it right, placing an AC unit in each room, instead of cooling the whole house. As you leave the room, turn it off, and when you enter, you turn it on. AC feels like a luxury, one that we much appreciate.

Suzanne here: The house is very nice, it is an old house so it’s got old house issues – some windows don’t shut all the way, the screens are dirty and many have holes, etc. The ceilings are all interesting and very nice, and the house is quite large – 5 bedrooms and 4 ½ baths – so, there’s plenty of room for anyone to come visit us! I think the girls will enjoy each having their own rooms, and Wesley Fox has his own bathroom which is also nice. There is a downstairs guest room and bath, all ready for visitors (well, we’ll need furniture for it, but we have time for that). The kitchen is huge, with a stove (with an oven!) and a washer AND dryer! We weren’t expecting either the oven or the dryer (or necessarily the washer) so we’re quite happy about that. We do have bars on all the windows, so we’re very safe, plus a 24/7 guard. The house is on a dead-end street of just 5 houses, the street is called 3rd Dade Close (pronounced Dad-eé close).

Steve here:
This house carry’s with it one of the problems that our hotel, and then apartment had…mosquitoes. At night they come and feast on us, but tonight our hopes are upon a netting that covers our bed, and a good nights sleep. This feasting is starting to take it toll on Suzanne, who awakens to slap the insect, or insects, and the night’s sleep is lost. Suzanne here: Steve got mosquito netting on Wednesday (high priority) so Suzanne got her first long, sound night sleep in a few nights - just one or two mosquitos can bug you all night long, so you don’t sleep well. I think they bite through the sheets too. Suzanne, Steve, and Anna seem to be the sweet ones at night – Anna’s feet are covered in bites, and she wears socks and shoes during the day so they must come at night. Fox & Grace say they don’t seem to have problems with them at night. Anyway, the mosquito netting is marvelous.

The house has a study, kitchen, large general purpose family/dining room. Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, one half bath, and a guest room as well as outside servants quarters, and a guard. Mr. Manuel during the day, and Mr. Daniel during the night when we turn on the outside lights so that the only thing that is dark, is the inside of the house.

It is strange to live behind walls topped with sharpened metal, and a guard who locks the gate and unlocks it to let you in. When visitors call, he will ask them their name and purpose, and then he comes to see if master or madam is able to speak with them. The guard introduces our visitors and where there are language difficulties, he interprets, and if you need, will call a taxi. When we come home by taxi, the gate opens, and he helps us unload our bags, and it is all so strange and wonderful.

The economy has taken some getting used to for there is no middle ground. Things are either very expensive, or very cheep. For example today I hired a taxi to take me all around Accra to pick up household things, a list Suzanne thought would take two days to complete. With the help of taxi driver “Eric,” I was done by midmorning, and even had time for a cup of espresso (while I was waiting). I would tell Eric I need this, and he would call around to locate it. Eric took me to places I did not know, and at the end, the whole thing translated to 12 dollars.

It is a cash based economy, and for one who carried very little cash (and charged almost everything) this money thing has been an adjustment. The largest bill is equal to roughly $2.00, and the smallest, the ¢1000 cedi, is equal to a dime. So if you are buying something worth $100, it will take a million cedi, and you learn to count out fifty ¢20,000 cedi notes. These bills feel so clumsy in my hands, and the Ghanaians count with such speed. Coins are not use much except in the stores, where they are given as only as exact change. Other than that, the ¢20,000, ¢10,000, ¢5,000 and ¢1,000 are the bills of choice, and in negotiations, we just say, 20 or 10, and everyone knows we’re talking in one thousands. .

Negotiations, or bartering. Almost everything comes with a price that is a negotiation. Fox and Grace are masters at it, and most of the time I let them do the talking. I watched in awe today as my sweet Grace talked the taxi driver down from ¢20,000 to ¢5,000. “Oh, it is too much, … it is not that far… ¢5000 … we can walk it our self. ¢5000. (then she turns to me…”Ok Dad, we can get in”).

Our apartment was on the edge of a very busy circle. So the food store was right across the street, the internet café (where I post these blogs) right across the circle, the night life sprung to life about 8-9pm when road side cafes would come to life, with tables, charcoal grills, and blaring music. The food was spicy, and cheap, and it all looked so fun. I’d gotten to know the vendors, the ones I could trust, the ones I learned not to haggle with, like the “Grumpy Apple Lady” who had great apples but wouldn’t budge on the price. Four Tousand. (roughly .40 each) but they were worth it. The same apple inside the store was ¢29,000 (or $2.90). Here in this new place, I’ll have to find new merchants to trust.

Tonight we had our first meal cooked in this house, that comes with a full kitchen. It was beans, a sort of taco meat, pita bread, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and carrots, as well as fried plantain chips, and french fries (called chips, here). I am happy I packed a pressure cooker, a good knife, two tins of spices, and a salad spinner, as all these things work together to create the taste of home, the taste of Texas, and tonight as we prepare for bed, we have full tummies, and are happy for these things we have brought with us. It is good to be home.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Spirituality in Ghana, part 1

Ghana is a Christian nation, books tell us that 68% of Ghanaians are Christian, and as I have spoken to people, I find that almost everyone has a church, and a Christian name and a Biblical literacy that far surpasses the average church attendee in the states. Our first Sunday here we went to a local Pentecostal Church.

Our second and third Sundays began quite early as the church right outside our window began worship at 7am with very loud praise and worship music.

Walking around in the Keneshe Market you hear a collective of different sounds, and then suddenly I think I hear the sound of Lenny LeBlanc’s song “There is None like You” and I’m shocked. The first day at the hotel, I come down for breakfast, and “Shout to the Lord” is playing in the lobby. Turns out there was a pastor’s conference at the hotel that day, and looking over their book display I see about 20 books out of maybe 40 that I have read, or own, books like The Purpose Driven Life, or one of the Rich Dad’s books.

In speaking with my missionary friend Andrew, he tells me that here, the Christian God is often just one of many gods worshipped in Ghana. There is a custom when meeting a chief to pour out a libation to the gods as a way of greeting. The libation, if I understand it correctly, is a strong drink which before sipping ceremonially, but before you sip, you pour some out on the ground. It gets tricky if you are a pastor, or missionary because while you want to respect the customs of the people you’ve come to serve, at the same time you are there as a witness to Jesus, and what does it say when you say there are no other gods but the one true God, and then at the same time, pour out a libation to honor the local gods. Andrew tells a story of meeting with a sub-chief who, before they began said, let me show our respect to our gods, and you to your God. It was, he said, an amazing moment.

Worship Services
Granted, I’ve only attended two worship churches, and so I don’t really have enough data to say really anything, but I feel duty bound to report on what I’ve experienced.
Both churches were very welcoming and very alive with people excited to be there. I will compare and contrast the two worship services, listing both their common elements, and reflect on their differences between here and the states.

Time – Both services were well over two hours long and people continued to arrive until throughout the services.

Children – Both services welcomed children, at New Life, they sat at the back of the sanctuary, and at Elim, the younger ones were brought forward and prayed for before they left, and most of the older ones left for Sunday School.

Welcoming – Both services devoted 10-15 minutes of time to greeting each other where you were expected to shake the hands of everyone there. At the Elim Church, the pastor finally cut it short and said we could do this all day, and then he began with the sermon. At the New Life Church, there was a fun song of greeting service music that seemed as if it was sung each week as people shook hands and welcomed each other. Likewise during the offering, as people walked by the box and deposited their offering, another fun song was sung. I’ve included a 30 second audio clip: Offering Song. At Elim Church, I don’t believe there was service music during the greetings.

Special Music – Elim Church had an amazing interpretive signing of “How Great is our God,” at New Life, each of the lead singers were invited up to sing a song before the first offering. I’ve included a 30 second audio clip of a beautiful rendition of Psalm 23.

The instrumentation at New Life was electric bass, trap drum set and occasional trumpet. I gathered there was a keyboard, but the morning we were there it had rained all night and so the keyboard was not used. The vocals were provided by three young women who traded off leading the worship songs. Here is a 30 second audio clip of one of the gathering songs: Gathering Song. At Elim Church, instrumentation was an electric piano, and the music was lead by the piano player one Sunday and a lead worshipper (who had a Austrian accent) along with four women who did backgrounds. I don’t have audio clips of the Elim Church because it is a basic western style of praise and worship.

At both churches the sermon was 40 minutes to an hour long and when the preacher was done, the congregation clapped enthusiastically. At the New Life Church, the preacher spoke in Ga, and that was translated into English. It was a bit confusing at times and when the preacher and the translator had an interesting dialog between them, where sometimes she would seem to ask, “did you mean …. And he would say, no, no, I meant, …” or sometimes he would translate it himself. It was a fun interplay to watch.

Elim Church is a church of mostly missionaries, in fact in the two weeks we've been attending, we've yet to meet someone who isn't a missionary. Needless to say, it has a very strong lay leadership. The youth group has been amazing, as Fox and Grace have totally connected with the missionary kids in ways I've never seen them connect to anything before. It is amazing to be on this side of the altar and see a church working like God intended them too. Welcoming, inviting, and true to the word.

This week I intend to return to New Life and check out a worship service that is not on a rainy Sunday.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Time, power outages and News holidays

It is Wednesday night, and for three days the power has been out in this section of Accra, so the night is alive with the sound of generators. Our building has a large generator outside the entrance to the courtyard, so the interruption was only noticeable by the tripped circuit breakers when the power surged. Tonight, as I was writing this, it was dark outside, and quiet for the first time in a few days. I guess the power had come on, when suddenly I hear this loud pop, and look up to see a flash of light, and then total darkness for a second followed by the sound of generators starting up. The power is out. We are fortunate to live in a building with a generator.
This morning, I realized that the alley outside our apartment is an auto shop. Looking out our window I knew there was a car graveyard in the lot next to our building. But this morning, as I watched a young boy struggle carrying a transmission through the alley, I realized it the alley an auto shop. There are about 15 cars that have not moved since we got here including a large white bus that has the words Internal Revenue Service printed on the side. Now that I’ve noticed, I see men and young boys working on cars all day long as we pass by. Were they here before and I just didn’t notice I wonder?

Since we left Texas we have been on a news holiday, meaning we’ve not heard, read or watched anything about what is going on in the world. For a family that read two newspapers, listened to two radio news shows and took several news magazines, the break has been interesting. Years ago, when I did one of my first sermon series on Stress, taking a News Holiday was one of the suggestions. I thought I would miss knowing what is happening in the news more than I do, sort of like coffee, I guess. I thought I would really miss coffee, but the few times I’ve had it here, it seemed out of place, not wrong, but Tea is the drink here, as so we adapt. So it is with the newspapers. We saw a USA today at the market, and as Fox looked at he said, “That’s a USA Yesterday” and it was, since it was already five days old.

Time is a rather fluid element here in Ghana. It seems to move differently, to have different qualities and in terms of fluid dynamics, a different rate and flow and consistency. Adjusting to the time change was easy, getting used to its passage…will take some time. It isn’t like things happen whenever, for there is a schedule, it is more like the culture never lets time get in the way of relationships. For example tonight we were eating dinner out at a place called Frankies when everyone was finished except Anna, who is our slow eater. Everyone else was itching to go down to the bakery for ice cream, and so the urge was to get Anna to finish quickly when it occurred to me, hey, we don’t have anything else better to do tonight—which is true—let her take the time she needs.

I don’t think I fully appreciated how much time and effort the church took to pastor. I’ve been amazed at the young adults my children have grown into. I didn’t have the time to see that, I’d come home from the office too tired, or have to stay for too many late night meetings, and I shutter to think what I might have missed if this sabbatical had not come along.

So right now, in the evenings we have plenty of time and so we sit around and read, or talk, or play cards, and it strikes me as funny that we had to come this far to turn into the family I hoped we would always be. God is so good, knowing just what we need to become the people we’ve always wanted to be.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Today I thought I would write about the more mundane aspects of our life here, how we spend our time, what day to day life is like.

You can see our week 2 photos

Our first eight days… were spent at the New Coco Beach Resort where the main agenda was to relax by the sea, swim in the pool and eat incredible food, while we adjusted to the six hour difference. We alternated days between going into Accra for an adventure, and relaxing by the water.

The hotel served a breakfast every morning of fresh fruits (pineapple, mango, watermelon), eggs (hard boiled, scrambled, and mixed with peppers and onions), rolls, and beans. Yes, those are port and beans (minus the port). Admittedly a little strange, but by the third day I noted the kids going back for seconds. The breads here have the taste of a memory, one I have not tasted for a long time. They have a slight sweetness and are so white, and almost cake like. Eating them brought back many memories of 1968-9.

After a week of resort life, we were ready to move. The plan was to vacation for 4 days and move into the house Ashesi provides, but these plans fell through (read Suzanne’s Ashesi Thoughts for more details). So we stayed longer until they could move us into Student Housing.

Our temporary apartment…
is a three bedroom apartment is just off Danquar Circle, which is the beginning of Oxford Street. Oxford Street is the open-air market that overwhelmed us so much that fourth day and now living so close to it, and going there daily to buy whatever we need, it makes me smile to see how quickly we’ve adapted. I like having certain vendors to go to for bananas, bread, tomatoes, and the grumpy apple lady (who won’t bargain).

Our 20th Anniversary…
was on Aug. 2 where we went to a highly regarded beach restaurant called “The Next Door”. We has spent the day in town with the kids and had the taxi drop us off. We were the first people there, and so they sat us at the edge of this enormous outside eating area overlooking the beach. We went there for the food, but turned out we were the food. Apparently, we had arrived just before the nightly wave of mosquitoes. Sure, we had bug repellant, and kept reapplying it, but it hardly slowed them down. Even the waiter danced, trying to take our order and swat the mosquitoes away. At one point he brought out bug coils, one for our legs under the table, one for the table. Finally the wave of mosquitoes passed, just as he said they would, and we could enjoy our food, I say could because it wasn’t very good. Looking around we saw that we were the only people there (see picture for details).

Church on Sunday
was at Elim International Family Church, which meets in the well air conditioned conference room of the Kama Industries Building. This five-year-old church serves a large mostly expat. congregation and was recommended by a colleague at Ashesi, and interestingly enough by Andrew Jernigan, one of the Methodist Missionaries here in Ghana. Andrew and I have been in email contact for several months and when he learned that we arrived, he suggested we worship there. I have to laugh at how we got there. We took a taxi, because we didn’t know where it was, and when he asked again where do you want to go? The price he quoted was as if it was clear across town. We got in, he drove a block, and then let us out. You’ve got to admire someone who knows when to make a quick buck (or cedi).

Elim was by far the largest congregation we have worshipped in since we left, and we felt right at home singing praise and worship songs like Ancient of Days, God is Good, and a rather interesting version of Tradin’ My Sorrows. The people were warm and friendly, and we must have stayed a good 45 minutes after the service talking to people, mostly missionaries of one sort or another. Their pastor is away enrolling his children in University, and won’t be back until September.

It was fun to be on the other side the church, and my kids remarked how wonderful it was to be at a church where I wasn’t the pastor. “Dad sitting with us, how strange was that?” It was fun to see a church working the way it is supposed to, where we were greeted at the door, introduced around and after the service watching the youth of the church flock around our kids, inviting them to Youth, to the stables, to the zoo.

Our kids loved the attention, and wanted to decide right then and there that this would be our church. When Suzanne learned that the pastor was away, she nudged me, the sort of way she does when she is suggesting something. Later, when talking to some of the people after worship, Suzanne told them I was a pastor, but quickly added, “This may sound strange, but I’m not sure he is really interested in doing any of the pastor things…” and they said “Oh, we completely understand. This is a church full of missionaries, and believe me, we understand!”

After Church we went to one of the hotels for brunch and a swim at the beach. This was a much nicer beach that the one a Coco Beach, mainly because of the trash. Coco Beach had so much trash in the water, mainly black plastic bags and used water sachets. When the water pulled out, they bags would wrap around your legs, and it felt like something attaching you. The water was clear, mostly, but when sunlight shown through the waves as they were breaking, you saw the bags. From the shore you might think it is seaweed, but in the water, you learn they are not. Still the waves were amazing and so fun to ride as long as you didn’t think about what you were swimming in. After about an hour, I usually had had enough.

At the Market
On Monday we spent the day at Keneshi Market where Grace’s got her hair braided. There are shops that specialize in braiding hair, a room full of women (Suzanne counted 35) waiting to braid. After Grace has selected her style, and they had found the right supplemental hair, five of them descended on Grace, braiding furiously for three hours. Grace was a real trooper. You could tell that it hurt, all these ladies pulling at her hair, tugging it into place. They say that in exchange for a day of pain you’ll have three months of not having to wash or take care of your hair. While they were working on Grace, Fox (AKA Wesley) and Steve explored the market.

Keneshi Market, is the smaller of the really large markets in Accra. There is a crush of people at these places and everyone seems to be selling something, and at times it feels like we’re the only ones buying. The very young kids are so fun, they point at us and say “Hello abruni” or “abruni bye-bye” and laugh at us. It is a family business, and at these markets you can buy most anything you want, but the prices are not as negotiable as we’ve come to expect in other parts of the city and what they lack in variety, they certainly make up for in quantity and the number of shops offering it.

We had come to research bed sheets for the house. Turns out that bed sheets are quite expensive ($35-50/sheet) and so we’ve turned to having them made for us. The materials about $4, the labor, $2, and for less than $10 we have a sheet. This is what you do in Ghana, we’ve learned.

Traffic, driving in Accra and mosquitoes (Suzanne)

The road rules here seem to be dictated by the fact that Accra is a city of 3 million, with densely crowded roads, and almost no traffic lights (I’ve seen maybe 3). Intersections are either traffic circles, or just an intersection with no stop signs, no posted rules, etc.

However, I haven’t seen any accidents or fender benders, and really very few dents in cars. So, it seems to work pretty well. The rules seem to be:
- Keep right on a two lane road, unless the road is in better condition on the left and you’re there first, then you can drive on the left.
- On a more than two lane road, you must stay to the right of oncoming traffic
- You don’t have to keep to marked lanes; in fact, making three lanes out of two is normal.
- Assume that you and others will keep going on their current trajectory, unless they need to do otherwise in which case they might signal or wave their hand out the window or just gradually merge into the new direction.
- Don’t run into other cars, no matter how fast or slow you or they are going
- If you are coming up on a car or pedestrian who will come dangerously close to you, then honk your horn
That’s about it. People just pull in front of people all the time, and no one gets angry or unhappy, it’s just how it is. If they’re bigger or faster or you don’t have room to move over, then you let them in. Otherwise, you hold your own or shift over (sometimes inches, sometimes feet, if possible a whole lane) and assume they will watch out for you. It’s pretty amazing.

I noticed walking around Kaneshie Market, a very large market in Accra, that the rules for walking in crowded places are very similar. Except instead of honking, they say “Tssss” (which in addition to warning people you’re coming through, is also used to more discreetly call people over to your stall, instead of shouting ‘Obruni!’ which means white person, or more generally, foreigner).

The mosquitoes here are fierce. They are big, but fast (Texas mosquitoes are small and fast; Connecticut mosquitoes are big and slow). Of course, they carry malaria and so are worrisome for that reason alone. The guidebooks say that the only sure way not to get malaria is to not get a single mosquito bite. Ha. I have been putting on repellant pretty much every day, and no matter, they can find a spot I missed. Like right at the edge of the sole of my foot. Or on my elbow. Or on my face near my eye.

They’re not swarms of them, usually. At dusk and if it’s not windy, then yes there can be swarms. But during the day and evening, they’re just there, one or two at a time, but they’re there. And they’re persistent. And, they don’t sting so much like the mosquitoes at home – I often don’t notice one on me until I feel it flitter away and then later feel the itch of the bite. Sometimes I feel the bite, but not always.

I’m also happy to report that I am not the tastiest person around, at least to a mosquito. During the first break during faculty orientation, outside on the porch there were quite a few mosquitoes and I thought, “oh, great, I didn’t put on repellant. I’m going to get munched.” But, I only got a few bites – they seemed to find the other people just as tasty, which is a new phenomenon to me. I’m used to being the one person who gets all the bites. So, that’s good news for me. I do hope we don’t get malaria, though. It can be horrible, people tell me, and life threatening, which would be scary. We’re all taking Doxycycline, which is approximately 80% effective. Being a numbers person, that means, odds are, one of the five of us may get it anyhow…

Second Week Thoughts (Suzanne)

So far, so good! Although I must say it is very different here. Steve and the kids have adapted and are taking things in stride more easily than I am, I think. Although, I’m doing fine and having fun, certainly. Every morning is an adventure. I’ll give you a quick run-down on things so far.

We arrived uneventfully – in fact, the flight was almost delightful. American to London which was cramped, but we left at 11:30pm so we just slept anyway. 3 hours in London, then British Air (which is MUCH nicer than American) to Accra, another 8 hour flight. That flight was mostly during the day, so we could see the sights – very interesting! The Sahara is HUGE – I swear we were over it for 3 hours, at least. Light brown sand, the occasional road, but no sign of people otherwise. Wow. I'm so glad the terrorist stuff hadn't happened yet - we would have had a hard time with no hand luggage and no liquids (bug spray, suntan lotion)!

We arrived uneventfully but of course things are different here. We got our 12 (!) pieces of luggage, were met by embassy folks (the first time I’ve been met at the airport with someone holding my name on a card – yea for me!), and went to our hotel out of town. The sights along the road were pretty culture-shockish for me – a lot like Mexico really, but I kept thinking “I live here now!”

The hotel was O.K. – the grounds were nice – good pool, good restaurant, right on the beach with nice little covered tables overlooking the water where we could play cards, or eat, etc. You could also go outside the gate to the beach, which we did quite a bit (Anna is addicted to building sand castles), but it was VERY dirty. We learned to wait until after 10am for them to have cleared the garbage that washed up the night before – but, always there was new garbage rolling in. After some investigation we learned the dump was right next door – but, that just made it a little worse – mostly you have to travel about an hour West of Accra to get away from the garbage on the beach – we hope to do that sometime soon. Steve and Wes & Grace did do a little wave jumping, but you’re really amongst floating plastic bags, etc., and the undertow is fierce – we’re told not to go in over the waist anywhere along the coast – but even that allows good wave-jumping and body surfing. I didn’t brave the floating garbage (another reason I’m anxious to explore the cleaner beaches farther down the coast). On the beach people are very friendly, some a little too, some wanting to sell you things or take you on a “tour”, but often people just want to chat. At the beach outside the hotel we met Enuk and his two little cousins – Enuk is 15 (Wesley’s age) and his Dad is a pastor. We went to their church the first Sunday in Ghana, a fun and interesting experience – lots of singing and line-dancing– a little hard to understand as Enuk’s Dad does not speak English well – both the accent and the fact that many adults don’t speak English well is surprising to me – it can be hard to communicate, but, we’re getting used to it. After church they invited us to their home, which was very nice of them. Although clearly they didn’t have much money, they went across the way to buy us cokes and meat pies. Hospitality is big here. We had a nice visit - Enuk’s Mom and youngest sibling (Steve, who was 3) stayed outside in the “kitchen”. So we chatted with Enuk’s Dad, his younger sister, a friend who was visiting from Nigeria, and Enuk’s little cousins from the beach were there as well. Enuk came to visit us at the hotel several times, to swim or play soccer (football) on the beach. Our first Ghanaian friends.

We stayed at the hotel until last Friday – a few days longer than expected since our apartment was not ready. In fact, it fell through. The Ashesi folks were very embarrassed about the whole thing – even more so because Ashesi is trying to create a different sort of Ghana, not the ‘business as usual’ which results in agreements not being met. Anyway, they contracted the apartment last April, as soon as they knew for sure I was coming (I think the building was to house other faculty and staff as well), signed the agreement, paid a full years’ rent (which is how it’s done here). As they were going by to check on it in preparation for us moving in just a few weeks ago, they found someone else living there – turns out the guy leased it to someone else out from under us, someone who paid two years in advance! I guess this is business as usual here (see my note on my initial thoughts on Ashesi on the blog). Ashesi should be getting their money back – lawyers are working on that – but in the meantime, no apartment. They want us to be in walking distance (so do we!), but all that are available at this later date are very large houses, so, oh well, we’ll be taking one of those. I saw it briefly - 5 bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths. It’s larger than our Texas house (which I think is pretty large). It was not intended to be this way, but it’s how it has worked out. In general, though, if you have money (which means at least one decent salary) you live pretty well here (we think, but we’ll see how it all settles out). In fact, if you have money you are expected to hire those who don’t – there is no welfare system or social security, so those with money hire or give money to those who don’t. It has been suggested that it is not only O.K., it is your duty, to give money to the infirmed/maimed beggars – they have no other means.

The money is unusual for us. The largest note is 20,000 cedis (“see-dees”) which is worth a little over 2 dollars. So, for example when Steve goes to cash a several hundred dollar check this morning, he will have a backpack full of money (cedis). It’s disconcerting for us, but we’re told that the city is quite safe – muggings are very unusual, typically only at night at the bar areas, and even then very unusual – one of the safest cities in the world, they say. Credit cards are generally not accepted – if they are, then they tack on a 5% fee, and even if they say they do, if their machine isn’t working then they don’t.

Last Friday we moved to the Ashesi student apartments, to save some money for the University (they were paying our hotel bill after Aug 1). It is nice to have more space – it is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath apartment on the 4th (top) floor of what is now the only student apartment building. They are getting another building ready as well – they will have almost 100 new students this term, 300 total. They used to have faculty and staff on the 4th floor of this building permanently, but now they need all the space for students. But right now the building is largely empty since school is not in session. It’s nice to be closer into Accra – the hotel was a $6 and 30-60 min taxi ride in or out of Accra – the traffic could be horrendous. Traffic – that’s another topic.

Maybe I’ll blog on traffic, and mosquitos, later. The apartment is fine – probably closer to what we were expecting than the large house we’ll be getting. But, problematic in several ways – the noise for one – car horns (they honk all the time), music and partying, roosters – an interesting (and loud, did I mention that?) mix of noises. We’re on a busy circle. We’d get used to it, certainly, if this was to be our final destination, but it will be nice to be in a somewhat quieter and less smoggy/smoky area (the street vendors cook on wood fires at their little stands, so that and the car exhaust together with the heat can be a bit much). We’re also just ready to settle – I’m tired of not knowing where something is – we’re mostly just each still living out of one suitcase, although we’ve dipped into others now and again to find things we really needed.

Last week was professor and teaching assistant orientation at Ashesi. I met lots of folks, all very nice – it will be a great place to work! I met another American who has been in Accra for 5 years, at Ashesi 2. She is the school psychologist and also teaches org behavior and another class. She has a 14 year old boy, although he goes to a different school than our kids will go to. She told us about the American church and we went there on Sunday – the kids LOVED it. They were bombarded afterward with kids their approximate ages, wanting to make friends. Wesley (going by Fox these days) and Grace will go to their youth group on Saturday – they are starved for friends. In fact, Steve and kids just came by to drop off my last 2 boxes of books that arrived at the Embassy, and then are on their way to horseback riding with some of the kids they met at church – at the same place Steve learned to ride when he was here in 1968/9!

Ashesi University will be a good place to work, I am sure. I haven’t yet met my office mate, with whom I will co-teach one of the courses. I also need to figure out exactly what is expected of me – it appears that in the syllabus they want all assignments and due dates up front, which is not how I’m used to doing things, since I typically assign weekly homework and it can depend on how far we’ve gotten. I also don’t know the level of the students (although both classes will be juniors I think 2008’s they call them), but am assured that I should make my classes as tough here as in at Southwestern – they are really wanting to be as rigorous as the top US schools. Not hard for me! Another different thing here – final exams will be evaluated by an outside expert – typically in the UK or US. When I questioned it they say it’s a system left over from colonial days. But, seriously, at the end of each term I have to submit the syllabus for the class, a copy of the exam, and then the University samples some of the graded finals and an outside evaluator determines if I have fairly assessed the students in the class. Wow.

School for the kids looks good – Steve took them to tour the place and register last week. Unfortunately I was at orientation at Ashesi and couldn’t attend. They seem very happy, and are anxious for school to start (next week). But, Wesley and Grace still have summer homework/reports to finish! They are getting bored, and beg to go to the internet café every day. We’re doing a lot of waundering and exporing which can be fun and exciting dotted with boring (grocery shopping, or towel shopping, or just walking around) and overwhelming (we went to the public market Saturday – probably 100’s of thousands of people – I saw one other white couple – so we stand out, to say the least, and some large percentage of the people, vendors and just other shoppers, would call out to us or stop us to say hi, etc). Grace got her hair braided yesterday, you can see more photos at our Yahoo Photos Page

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Initial Thougths on Ashesi University (Suzanne)

I’m starting to get the real vision of Ashesi University College. I knew that the vision was for a liberal arts college in Ghana. I knew that they wanted to be the Swarthmore of Africa. But I didn’t understand how radical that was for this place.

There has been a lot of discussion among the faculty and teaching assistants during this faculty orientation week on issues of integrity – integrity amongst college students, and in the Ghanaian society in general. For example, it has been frequently pointed out that in secondary schools, students are often encouraged to cheat – teachers give the answers to students, teachers encourage students to work together on exams, etc. At the (“typical”) University, it is more of the same, much more. Some teaching assistants described situations, that they witnessed, of exams in which one person wrote the exam, and other students crowded around and simply copied what was on the paper – sometimes forgetting to even change references to the person’s name. Or of a photocopied paper turned in with one name marked out and another name written in. Or of professors giving grades for sexual favours. Recently in the paper was a story in which a person received a “B” in a class they were not even enrolled in. So, this is business as usual, in academe, in Ghana.

And, to some extent, to some large extent apparently, it is business as usual in the society as well. For example, our housing, in which the University paid one year’s rent in advance, but it was leased out from under them, although both parties signed a legal contract and money was paid. Or, of a business that was leased space for a certain term, but as soon as the business was successful the occupant is kicked out and the owner’s brother comes in to run the business in place of the tenant. Etc. Bribes are also expected, at many levels. But, it’s not just “corruption” as we know it, or understand it. It’s often more difficult, more complicated than that. Take, for example, the student who is at Ashesi on scholarship, their grade point average has dipped, and they are in fear of being asked to leave the University. They are in a class that they believe they will fail, and leaving the University will bring disgrace on themselves and their entire family. They ask their friend, also in the class, for help. Not much help; just sit next to me in the exam, and don’t cover your paper. It will help me. It will help my family. There is a real ethic to help each other here. There is no welfare, no social security. We depend on each other. Help. Who would say no to a very reasonable request?

Well, Ashesi University students, that’s who. At least, if they want to stay Ashesi students. After the first semester there is a zero tolerance for cheating, and in the first semester, there is clemency for non-blatant plagiarism only. They say there has to be this initial tolerance, or they would have no students! This truly is a radically different practice that the norm here. It’s not that they are bad people, bad students. They simply don’t know another system. It’s the system they have been brought up with, the one in which they know how to operate; you help me, I help you. But here at Ashesi, there is a lot of emphasis during freshman orientation, and in individual classes, on issues of academic honesty and integrity, to help students become successful in the Ashesi way. In fact, I’ve been asked (we all are requested) to devote the whole first hour of every course to discuss what is expected in the class, with emphasis on academic integrity. What is allowed, what isn’t, what constitutes cheating, what is plagiarism, etc. They are pounded with this from day one, and, unfortunately, they see friends who are expelled for violations, or see their own grade lowered for less blatant incursions. There are classes in leadership and ethics. And, hopefully the students who eventually graduate are changed, and, it is hoped, will work to change society. That is the real vision of Ashesi University.

Bt the way, I recently learned that Ashesi has purchased 100 acres outside of Accra and plans to build a proper campus as resources become available. How blessed I am to be part of this ground-breaking university now, in it’s earlier stages. I can only imagine returning in 20 years and seeing what it has become. Find out more about Ashesi University College at or

Friday, August 04, 2006

Welcome to Ghana

From here to there.
After a week at Nonnie & Popa's, where we ate lobster, fresh clams, and grinders and enjoyed the beach, Boston, and the hospitality of friends and family. Worship on Sunday was in the church Suzanne and I got married in 20 years ago. By chance, Suzanne's best friend from High School was there also with her family of five and husband. They had been married a month before us, and so it was fun to see what our families have become. Again this was a church, First Baptist of Pendleton Hill with less that 50 people in worship, and so much like a family reunion, I could feel the love these people had for each other through the open air church from the late 1700s.

Ghana, finally!
We arrived in Accra, Ghana on July 27 for a week long family vacation at the New Coco Beach Resort . At the airport we were met by Embassy staff, and escorted to our hotel, which was about an hour away. Coco Beach is located on a popular beach, which we very much enjoyed the hospitality, and the chance to slowly change time zones without much expectations on us. When we finally got settled it was about midnight (Accra time) and Grace was asleep, but Wesley and Anna, Steve and Suzanne just sat on the bed eating snacks and talking about how excited we were to finally begin this adventure.

It has been 38 years since I was here and much has changed. I think the biggest change is in the currency and food. When we were here in 1968-69 the cedi and the dollar were trading close to 1:1, now it is 1:9000. So today, the largest bill is the 20,000 note (roughly worth US 2.20) and so every large purchase is a large stack of bills and coins are almost unheard of. Food is the second change. I don't remember pizza, burgers, and all this other western food being available. Now it is everywhere. Granted we have enjoyed the amazing Ghanaian food, Groundnut Stew (peanut soup), Fish and Banku, Fufu... but today we had our first burgers and they were Texas style: mayo, tomato and lettuce...and they were great.

The people here are some of the happiest people I've ever seen. Everywhere people are smiling, and saying "You're Welcome" as a greeting. People look you straight in the eye and watch if you look at them back. If I remember correctly, in the 1982 movie a "Catpeople" there was this part Nastassja Kinski had discovered she was different, and this old woman explained that there are some people who different in that they are "watchers", meaning they look into your eyes, and see perhaps the state of your soul. I've always felt like a watcher among people who are not. Here I feel, I've found a like people who are unafraid to look into your eyes, and perhaps reveal their own soul.

Went to worship on Sunday at a New Life Zion Ministries, a local Pentecostal congregation. It was amazing like Foundation's worship service. One lead worshipper, and two singers, backed by an electric bass and trap drumset. They did 20 minutes of gathering music, and then worship started. Altogether it was fun, and the people were so welcoming. I wondered, when we entered the service, why there was this large space between where the people set and the pulpit. It was for dancing. Right in the middle, after the first offering, the singers took the stage and first the ladies formed a type of line dancing. After about 10 minutes of dancing, the men slowly took ever, and did the same, waving a white cloth. It was so fun, and I found myself wishing I wasn't so white, and could dance like that. Then there was the speaking in tongues, and at the end of the service the introductions of anyone who was visiting the worship service.

Ghana is amazing, the people are so welcoming, friendly, and smilingest people I've ever seen. After church, the pastor invited us to his house (actually his son, Wesley's age did). It was a little strange, but wonderful cross cultural experience, sitting in their livingroom, drinking coke, and watching Don Moen sing on the TV (which was on). Don wrote "God is Good" and "Mighty is our God" and said to be the Barry Manalowe of the Christian music world.

Let me finish by saying that we are well and tanned, and having a wonderful time.