The Buchele Adventure

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tour Ghana 2006 (by Fox)

Hey everyone it’s Fox. As my mom probably mentioned to you I just got back from a tour around Ghana. I got into some trouble though and so now she’s forcing me to write about it for the blog. So I guess if I’m gonna write about this I better start from the beginning.

It was Thursday and I was at school when my friend Alastair came up to me with the idea. He’s English in heritage and has partway between an English accent and an American one. He’s about 6’ 2” and he’s a senior at the school I go to, Lincoln. So he comes up to me with a big smile and says, “Hey Fox you wanna come on a tour of Ghana with me?”, “Sure” I say. “But I’m not sure if I can go, my parents already have something that they wanna do instead. Something about camping on a beach I think.” ,“Oh” He says. “Don’t worry though I’ll talk to them and see what I can do, alright?” “Alright man, you better come though, I’ll talk to you later, I got a class I’m late to.” “Cool alright talk to you then. Later.”

So I go home to my parents later on and ask them about it. Contrary to what I thought, they are actually for it, somewhat. “That sounds like a lot of fun,” my dad says. “I sure wish I could go.” My moms more realistic though. “Sure, sounds like fun but what about the trip your dad and sisters are taking?” I was prepared for this, however. Sort of. “Well, I guess I’m gonna have to skip it.” I say. Not much for preparation, but it will have to do.

“Hmmm… Well we’ll have to talk about it.” Oooh that doesn’t sound good. Well, they talked about it and they started being more and more open to the idea, mostly thanks to, in my opinion, my dad vouching for me. But still, they needed more info and stuff, so I told them about the meeting at what I have dubbed “The Mormon Compound”.

Oh yah I forgot to tell you. All the people that went on the trip besides me, (Kyle Gay, Alastair McKee, Kip Krieger) are all Mormons. L Lol. The Mormon compound is more like a big apartment complex filled to the brim with Mormons. Its got a swimming pool, two gates and guards, which isn’t unusual, except they took the time to convert the guards into Mormons.

So we all went to the Mormon compound to talk out the final details and such and luckily we had everything that the parents needed. All our parents said yes and asked how much money we needed.

You probably didn’t know this, but Jay-Z came to Ghana. All my friends went to go see them, but the tickets cost 1 million Cedes (about 100 dollars) and I didn’t want to spend all that money. But finally, after I realized that I was one of about 10 people that weren’t going, I tried to get a ticket. Unfortunately, by the time my parents were at the store to get it, they had just run out. So because none of us had gone to the concert, (they were all of the 10. They’re Mormons, after all) we decided that we would see if we could spend less in a week of traveling what others spent in one night. Our parents decided to give us all more than a mil but only enough to be able to get home if we absolutely had to or if we were robbed.

We set out the day after that meeting. I slept over in the Mormon compound and we were out of the compound and into a taxi by 7:30. We went to the STC station and waited around for an hour or so, passing the time by making fun of hippies.

Hippies are what Lincolners (people that go to my school, Lincoln International School) call people who come to Ghana by choice, be it to teach orphans or heal the sick or smoke Ghanaian drugs. Lol. They are usually white, wearing Ghanaian print clothing and showing off waist-length hair. These hippies were no exception. We got the hippies to take a picture of us and we got on the bus.

Well, I wouldn’t really describe it as what you would think of as a bus because it was more of a cross between airliner seats and a tour bus. It was kind of a boring ride down to Cape Coast, I sat next to Kyle and we swapped girl stories for a couple of hours and slept. It wasn’t comfortable sleeping but it was the best we could get.

After we got there we tried to get a taxi to the canopy walk. We finally talked the guy down to a reasonable price and we got going. However, not 30 minutes into the ride, the taxi broke down. The guy was so proud, he wouldn’t even let us push it up the hill (which we really wanted to do) so after it broke down all the way and wouldn’t move another inch, the driver called another taxi over, talked to him frantically in Twi, one of the native languages in Ghana, and we were on our way again.

Eventually, after being squished in the back of a taxi for forever we got to the walk. The canopy walk is a thing in the middle of a rainforest where you can walk 100 feet above the ground on these rope bridges. It was so much fun and we took a ton of pictures. We took our taxi to a place called London Bridge which we saw was hardly a bridge, it was just concrete over a sewer line. They probably spent more concrete making the sign that said London Bridge than on the actual bridge.

We then tried to find our hostel but it took a while. People kept asking about us and tried to sell us pot like they had never seen white people around there, so everyone took on a different name except me. I just used Wesley. My favorite memory of it was when we were near the castle and our waitress asked about us and where we were staying etc. Kip told her his name was Isaac, that we had lived in Ghana for 4 years and that we were all seniors. When she asked about our lodging, Kip said that we were going to try a bit of a role-reversal and we would sleep in the cells of the slave castle and they could stand outside and watch us. I don’t think she realized that it was a joke, she just looked at us funny and left quickly to go get our food. Lol.

On the way back to our hostel, we saw some little African boys playing soccer (about 30 to 40) and Al decided that he really wanted to play. So Al and Kyle played soccer and I played goalie (keeper) and amazed the little kids while Kip got bothered by the other kids and watched our stuff. We went to our hostel, dropped off our stuff and went to the hotel across the street to eat and watch a soccer (football) game.

On the way back from the restaurant, Kip and I were walking back to the hostel to get some Mentos for a Coke-and-Mentos experiment, when a lady came out of the darkness and said to us, “Tsssst. Abruni (White Man) Give me all your stuff.” To which Kip replied, “No! It’s mine.” and left.

After we spent the night on some scary looking mattresses with bloodstains, vomit, etc. we got up early to catch a taxi to Takaradi. We were going to take a tro-tro but it turns out it was almost as cheap to take a taxi. So we took a taxi to Takaradi and the driver had a tape from the Titanic soundtrack that he played about 5 times that skipped at the same parts every time. It was semi-annoying.

In Takaradi, we went to a restaurant that Kip swore had the best pizzas in Ghana called Captain Hooks. It had good pizza, but the service was slow and the pizzas were so small! It was also really expensive.

We left there, went to the Areeba place next door to see if we could score some free stickers. Didn’t work. L.

After that we just went outside, called a taxi over and asked how much a ride to Boushoua would cost. Argued for a while about a dollar and then agreed on it. During the ride, the highlights were that we saw our driver bribe a police officer, and we saw this white guy covered in tattoos that looked like a mercenary. Other than that, it was relatively uneventful.

When we got there we found a place that was relatively inexpensive and close to the really, really expensive hotel. It looked semi-run down and had community showers and toilets, unlike the hostel, but there were bars on the windows and it looked pretty safe. We asked the guy at the front how much for one room and he refused to give it to us! We were trying to order the suite which was about 15 USD a night but the guy refused to sell it to us because there were 2 beds for one person each and we were going to share beds. Instead, he wanted us to get two single rooms that were about 6 USD each that each had one bed made for one person. Go figure.

So we got the rooms for cheaper, set our stuff down got on our bathing suits and went to the really expensive hotel. We were dressed in such a way that Ghanaians didn’t think we were rich, and nice enough that the hotel people thought we were guests there. It worked out perfectly and we swam in the ocean for a couple of hours.

After that we went back to the hotel to get some food and watch a football (soccer) game, only to find that the hotel didn’t have the channel. So we went back to the really expensive place and watched it in their lobby. Kip and I were bored by the whole thing so we played pool.

Barcelona beat Chelsea 2-0.

After the game we decided to walk around and we saw that the W.H.O. was having a little party so Al and Kip danced with them for a while and Kyle and I laughed.

It was getting dark and Al decided that he wanted to take a walk along the beach so we grabbed a flashlight and walked. We also didn’t have reception and I heard about this magic reception place so we walked. At some point, we turned on the flashlight and saw that the beach around us was covered in crabs! We took Kip’s Flip-flops and started sliding them at them to try to hit one. We finally got one and broke it’s leg, so Kyle put it out of its misery with his knife.

We finally got to the stairs and went up them. It was about midnight and really dark so no one wanted to be last and we were almost racing up them. When we got up at the top, lo and behold, we had reception! We all sent txts to girls we liked and some called their parents to check in. After Kip and I were done, we went to go sit on the stairs while Kyle tried to get a hold of his girl.

Finally after about 10 minutes Kyle and Al come back to the stairs with grim looks on their faces. “You guys finally done?” I ask. They don’t respond and almost start running down the stairs. Kip and I look at each other and follow.

At the bottom they tell us. “Dude there were people up there!” “What?” “Yah, Kyle and I heard something that sounded like an animal for a while, when we finally realized it was two people speaking Twi.” (The stairs and the land belonged to someone besides the resort. It was about a mile away)

We started heading back to the resort at a rather quick pace, not even stopping to kill crabs. After we got there we went back to the hotel and slept, mainly because we couldn’t think of anything else to do. The next morning we argued about whether we should go up to Kumasi, and I finally won. They finally agreed, as a favor to me, and because we didn’t have anything else to do there, to go.

We got to the STC station, waited around for two hours and passed the time listening to the new Dane Cook album, Vicious Circle inside an Indian restaurant. When it finally came, we got on and got seats really close to the back. We talked with some of the Ghanaians, and they agreed to switch seats with us so we could all sit in the back row.

We left Takaradi in comfort. There was air conditioning, empty seats, and plenty of foot room. Then, for some reason, we pulled into another STC station about an hour later out of our 4 hour bus ride. When we got there, among other people that got on the bus, there were two white women and a Ghanaian man. He took what was my seat, and the girls couldn’t find a seat. Finally the driver told them just to squeeze into the back row with us (To which Kip curtly and loudly replied, “Don’t worry guys, the white people sit at the back of the bus. It’s the revenge of Rosa Parks.”) That made 6 people for 5 seats and those 6 people were the only white people on the bus.

We chatted with the girls for a while and found out about them. They were 21 and 26 and they were hippies (see above) from Ireland and Scotland. They were in Ghana to teach orphans English and math. They were pretty cool and we talked to them for a while.

We got to Kumasi, finally, and went straight to ‘the Presby’ which was a Presbyterian hostel that was pretty nice. Community showers and toilets but a nice room. So we dropped all our stuff off and went over to get something to eat.

We heard about this place in the Ghana Guide called Chopsticks which we heard had amazing Chinese food. Instead, however, we got pizzas. The pizzas were half the price that they were at Captain Hooks and a little bigger. They tasted amazing!

While we were eating, a girl came up to us and asked if we had any cigarettes. We all said no, but we invited her to sit and eat with us. She said ok and invited her friend over. They had both just come from America and had arrived in Ghana less than a week ago. She asked us if there were any good bars or clubs to go to in Kumasi. Of course, we didn’t know, but we had seen a bar on our way to go and eat and we invited to walk them to it. They said sure and we called our friend Leona, who we were going to hang out with later and asked if she would come to the bar and pick us up. She said ok but it was going to be a couple of hours, so we went with the girls and hung out playing pool for a while. We played some other people that were there and didn’t do too bad.

Eventually Leo came to pick us up and we said goodbye to the girls and went over to her house. When we got there, we hung out with Leo and some of her friends that had stayed but had their flight cancelled. They were really tired and kind of boring cause they didn’t say much. We were going to go check out a haunted house that was right next to Leona’s house, but Leo’s house keeper wouldn’t let us go because she was afraid that we would get mugged or raped or something.

We went back to the house and Al and Kip found these big bucket things and a lid so they made up a game that involved using the lid as a Frisbee and having to knock over the buckets. I played a round or two and then we decided to play hide and seek. We tried and Al hid on the roof from Kip and Kyle hid in the buckets. I wanted to talk to Leo so I walked around with her and her friends because they didn’t want to hide, so they just ran around the house from Kip.

I didn’t really get to talk to Leo, but we left anyway after a round or two of hide and seek. Leo’s dad drove us back to the Presby and when we got there I decided that I wanted to burn something so I gathered up some sticks and lit them with Kyle’s emergency stuff. As soon as Kip saw the fire, his Eagle scout instincts kicked in and he decided he wanted to make it as big as possible.

Soon, we got the attention of the guard, who came over to talk to us. He asked us what we were doing and I replied that we were burning sticks. He said ok and started talking to us.

We learned about him and he suggested that we go to the zoo the next day. He asked us if we had zoos in Accra and America. We said yes. He asked us if there were dinosaurs in them. We looked at each other and Al said that he wasn’t sure. The guard said that he really wanted to see dinosaurs before 2010. We asked what he meant. He told us that Jesus was going to come back in 2010 to resurrect the dinosaurs to destroy Ghana and that we should repent of our sins before the dinosaurs destroyed us and our homes. We looked at each other and laughed thinking he was joking, but then we looked at him and he looked decidedly serious. We said we would watch out for them.

Al talked to him for a while and Kip finally decided that it was time to put out the fire. As soon as it was out, we said goodbye and went off too our rooms. I stayed in Al and Kip’s room for a while, and then I decided to call Leona. I talked to her for a while and she said that if we wanted to go to the zoo she would come. After a while Miriam, Leo’s friend, called and I said that I should probably go.

I went back inside to the room and Kip and Al were jumping on the bed. I told them I was going back to my room, they called me a lightweight for not wanting to stay up late and I left. As soon as I got there I was tired and in a bad mood so I crashed on the bed and slept.

Al, Kip and Kyle stayed up all night, for some reason, and woke me up at 6:15 the next day. I got up and we went to the market.

In the market, we walked around and I got two shirts for 3000 cedes (about 30 cents) each. We all got shirts except for Kyle. I bought a machete and Kip and I started walking back to the room to put it in a bag while Kyle and Al bought a black light.

On our way back, a Ghanaian guy came up to Kip and I and started trying to be our friend so we would buy stuff from him. Kip took the tactic of acting like we didn’t speak English. The guy was so persistent! He followed us for blocks while we were talking gibberish to each other trying to make him go away, and he finally set up shop right outside the Presby.

We went inside and shortly after Al and Kyle showed up and we told him about the guy. Eventually we packed up, checked out and left via taxi.

We got to the STC station and waited around for an hour for our bus to come, and when it finally came, we found out that it didn’t have air conditioning. It had broken. So they called everyone with a ticket up to the front and gave us a 10,000 cede discount (about a dollar) out of our 75000 cede ride. I bought a cake with my refund and we all climbed on to the bus.

Al and I sat near the middle very close to the most annoying Ghanaian I have ever come across. This lady was elderly, about 65 or 70 and had a radio with a tape player. She played the same old, worn gospel tape the entire trip and sang along to it at the top of her lungs. She had it turned up loud and at breaks did muttering and such of “praise Jesus” and “Amen God”. She played that tape for the entirety of the 6 hours. It was so annoying! I wanted just to have my ipod and some speakers to treat her to some of my music.

About two hours through the hot, sticky bus ride our bus broke down. It had overheated. Al and I got off the bus, soon to be followed by Kyle. Kip slept through the whole thing and later told us that he thought he dreamed it. Al, of course, had to play soccer with the little kids and so he went and showed off for a while. After the driver had poured several buckets of water on the engine, it was up and running again so we all got on.

It was pretty uneventful for the rest of the ride home which was about 6 hours except that we were stuck in traffic the rest of the time.

After we got back, we all got into a taxi after a big semi blew a tire right in front of us while it was u-turning and almost flattened us.

We got back to our houses and went to sleep. The next day Kip and Al went to a walk for breast cancer at about 7 a.m. and I got there at 7:30. Kyle didn’t want to come.

We did the walk, held the sign, sang some songs and got a hat and shirt. It was pretty fun and it officially marked the end of Tour Ghana 2006. Overall, it was a fun trip and I got to know Kyle, Kip, and Al, and we have loads of stories! Lol alright, well that’s my story, now that I’m done I can go to the dance. I might write for the blog again, but I’m not sure so peace out. Lol


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Women and Poverty and Education in Ghana (by Suzanne)

Originally uploaded by Ghana Steve.
Saturday was Rural Women’s Day in Ghana. As I was reading the article in Saturday’s Daily Graphic on Monday morning, I read that 41% of Ghanaian women have never been to school, and 49% of rural Ghanaian women had never been to school. I was shocked the figure was so high, although it does make it a bit more understandable why, although Ghana is “English-speaking”, there are an enormous number of adults who do not know English well at all. When I was researching Ghana in preparation for my trip here, I read that education through Junior Secondary School (junior high) was free and mandatory. After coming here, I learned that it is “free”, except for fees that many poor families cannot pay. It reminded me of my graduate school days at The University of Texas, when I had a fellowship that paid my tuition but not the fees, and in fact discovered that the University’s fees were more than the tuition! So, the reality here is that although education is “free”, in practice it is not, and poor families may be faced with choices of who to send to school, and women are often at the bottom of the priority list. Also in my pre-departure research, I discovered that historically, parts of Ghana were a matriarchy society, and even today Ghanaian women can own land and property, unlike other African countries. But again, reality turns out to somewhat different from what is printed in the books. In a family with many children, it is reality that the boys have a higher earning potential than the girls, and by sending the boys to school the family may be improving the chances for survival of the entire family – a man might be able to earn enough to support his many sisters, whereas the chances of a woman supporting her brothers is not as high. We’re talking survival here, and it is understandable, although of course not equitable and certainly regrettable.

As I was reading about Rural Women’s Day, our Swedish friends who spent the night with us were sharing breakfast with us. They are assistant teachers at a private school in a village outside of Accra. We have also learned since being here that most Ghanaian children do not attend public school, even though it is “free”, since public schools are so bad. In a recent report, we heard that something like 90% of children in Accra attend private school. One of my thesis students at Ashesi (I say “my” – clearly I haven’t overseen the entire development of his project, but only the writing of his thesis since I’ve been here) developed a computerized learning tool for science content for the JSS (Junior Secondary School) level. He went to both a public and private school and put together focus groups at each to help him design and then test the product. Even he, a Ghanaian, was shocked at the results – 4 out of 5 of the public JSS students had never used a computer or held a mouse; only 1 of 5 private school students hadn’t. Furthermore, he reported the public school JSS students were completely passive and unengaged – they would offer no suggestions or ideas – everything was “fine, good”. The private school students were active with suggestions and ideas for content, display, mode of interaction, etc.

I asked Ilse and Ellen if at their private school there were more boys than girls. They did not think so, but thought that the disparity of women in education that was reported may have been from years ago, and perhaps in more modern times it was not such a problem. But then they launched into what were the problems. Even in their private school, the children in the younger grades are caned, often severely. They both started volunteering in the younger grades, but could not stomach the punishments the kids endured, so switched to the older grades where it is not so bad (with the good excuse that the younger kids did not yet know English, and they did not know Twi, so they could be more helpful in the older grades). Since the kids in the younger grades are not so competent in their lessons, they observed that the main teaching tool is caning. Although they are not in the position to contradict their teachers (they are only 17 and 19 years old respectively, and are not trained teachers in Sweden), they did ask a teacher, away from the students one day, why there was such an emphasis on caning. They told him that there was no caning or any form of corporal punishment in Sweden, and that there were alternatives. The teacher apparently responded that Ghanaians are stupid (he is Ghanaian) – they even reported that he said something like “we are like animals” and that if they did not get hit, they would not learn. Our friends surmised that he was told this at a young age, and is perpetuating the cycle. They also reported frequent humiliation of the students; for example, each month it is announced whose fathers had not yet paid the monthly tuition, and those students would be called to the front of the class and humiliated in front of everyone, and then sent home until their fees were paid. One of the things the teachers say to the students is something like, “look at what the obruni teachers think of you – they have come all this way to teach you and your father cannot even pay the fees – they are ashamed of you”, while they try to plead with their eyes to the children that no, they are not ashamed of them, while being careful not to contradict the teacher in front of the class. They say that outside the teacher’s eye, they try to be as loving and caring and accepting of the children as they are able. They are in a very difficult situation, but I for one am very thankful that they are in that place, at this time, to possibly make a difference with these children.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Tale of Two Weekends (by Suzanne)

The kids started spring break on Friday the 13th (of October) for one week. Unfortunately, my fall break is the next week, so we decided to try to do two weekend trips, and Steve would take the girls on a mid-week trip as well, since I needed to work and Fox would be traveling with friends on “Tour Ghana 2006”. The first weekend we went with friends the Kellys to Anomabo, a beach resort a few hours away. We met at the kids’ school and picked them up, and (leaving later than we had hoped) were on the road at 4pm. As you ay have gathered if you’ve been reading our blog, Friday (and Sunday) traffic is horrendous; and, it was no different on Friday the 13th. We arrived at the resort around 8pm (the return trip, on Monday morning, took 2 instead of 4 hours).

Anomabo is a neat resort – primitive by resort standards, but lovely by ours. You stay in huts, small huts sleep 1-2 people (1 bed), large huts 2-4 (2 beds). We got a large hut and a tent – the tent was complete with a mattress, linens, and pillows! So, Fox got the tent, and the girls and Steve and I got the large hut. There was electricity and a fan, but no AC and a communal bath house which had toilets and “showers” (in quotes since the water dripped somewhat but not exactly the water pressure I would call a shower). The setting was lovely. The huts were essentially on the beach – sand and palm trees were the “yard” – you could walk anywhere in barefeet and stay on sand or wood wherever you wanted to go.


In addition to the Kellys, there were several other families from the kids’ school that we knew there – three other missionary families (the Kellys are missionaries also) and one family we met for the first time at Coconut Grove a few weeks back. A collection of the kids’ teachers even arrived on Sunday! With so many friendly faces, there was no shortage of folks to chat with and things to do. Fox organized a huge Capture the Flag game on Saturday night – around 20 kids and adults played. Those that didn’t play pulled out assorted board and card games, and we had game night at the restaurant. The restaurant was a large hut overlooking the ocean, with good food (albeit you had to be patient) and a lovely atmosphere. The kids probably ate 20 “cheese toasties” (little grilled cheese sandwiches made in one of those little machines) over the course of the weekend. Everything I had was good. Assorted other games were played by various combinations of folks throughout the weekend – Bocci Ball (which is it’s Italian name, I’m told – the game we played, I forget the name, went by it’s French name, but was the same game), Pit (a card game we’ve come to enjoy here), and others. We passed around our Time magazines that my Mom sends every week, which were a huge hit.

The water was very fun – the “exciting” surf we’ve come to enjoy in Ghana. There was a very attentive lifeguard, which makes us all feel more comfortable. (I forgot to dash him – I meant to at the end of the weekend). Apparently, the day we arrived 3 Ghanaians had drowned just down the coast, near Elmina (near where Anna and I got into some bad surf a few weeks back) and so Friday no one was allowed to get in past their waist (we didn’t arrive until the evening, so it didn’t affect us). Saturday he could tell where the bad tide was, and kept calling folks back away from that area when they began to drift that way. Anomabo has boogie boards, which is the way to do rough surf! We had a blast riding the waves. After Saturday, though, my ribs were bruised from where the board hit my ribs as I has wave riding. On Sunday afternoon the tide was gentle enough that we got Anna out there with us. You may recall that Anna had a bit of a scare a few weekends before, so she has a healthy fear of the waves. Well, on Sunday the surf was the calmest I had seen in Ghana, and the lifeguard was wading right near us with a little boy, maybe 4 years old, so I coaxed Anna out with the assurance I would not let go of her hand. She did not want to duck under the waves, though, only jump over them. After some time, I convinced her to try going under on some small waves and she got the hang of it very quickly – that really is the way to take the larger waves. Pretty soon she was jumping the smaller waves and ducking the larger waves like a pro. Then, we decided to try a boogie board. It was great. We stood waist (me) / chest (her) deep and looked for the perfect wave – when it came, I would push her and she was able to ride the wave all the way to shore. She was even able to bring the board back out to me, time and time again, all by herself. She really had a blast. The lifeguard attentively watched, and would give her and me tips (take this wave, push down on the front of the board, etc.) At the end, she turned to me and said, “I can see why you guys like that so much!” While we still need to be very careful with our 70 pound skinny-winny, I think she made an important breakthrough that afternoon. She also collected a lot of shells, as she likes to do, and did her usual sand castle building extravaganza, with an assortment of other kids on the beach. At one point, a man from Serbia helped her collect shells by diving in the surf where she could not go. It was a very friendly, community atmosphere at Anomabo. We hope to go back again.

We left for home on Monday morning to avoid some of the traffic, and in less than 2 hours we were at Keneshie market, where Grace got her hair braided the first time. We stopped so she could have it re-braided there. On the way out on Friday, she and her friend Judith rode in the Kelly’s car and undid her previous braids – apparently, braids and sand don’t mix too well (or, they mix altogether too well, which is the problem – it is difficult to get the sand out). Steve stayed at the market with her for the 4 hour braiding affair and did errands around the market and had a meat pie for lunch. Unfortunately, the meat pie turned out to be a bad idea. In Ghana, if you say “I ate something”, you are met with a grave nod; everyone knows the hours in the bathroom and the can-barely-get-out-of-bed feeling that entails. Well, Steve “ate something” in the meat pie, and was sick from Monday evening and for some days thereafter. So, no mid-week trip with the girls! Fox left on his trip on Tuesday morning, so Steve and the girls hung around the house the next few days. He was better Thursday and they were going to try to embark on a trip then, but it was pouring rain, traffic was bad, and just as they were finally getting out of town they had a phone call that they needed to head back to the house for something. So, they decided to postpone a day so I could go too.

By the way, that Thursday was the day Steve recently blogged about in which we had no electricity or water (none, nada, zip, the pipes were sucking air). I had to go to work that morning, and the light did not come on at 6am as expected so the pump could not pump water to our upper water tank, and it was pouring rain outside, and I really did want a shower… so, I donned my bathing suit, used the bar of soap Steve had used in the middle of the night when he got up, and showered in the rain! It was actually… not that bad. I really have come a long way!

So, Friday noon they picked me up at school and we headed north. Our first stop was the Cedi Bead Factory (as I type the word Factory, I feel the need to explain – we’re talking some tin roofed open air structures and a hut shop that has been run by the same family for over 200 years). A nice young man who was working at the oven paused what he was doing to show us how the 5 different types of beads they make are made – some with a powder that when fired becomes a hard clay, and some with recycled glass that they pulverize with a large mortar and pestle and add tints to. Most beads they hand paint afterward, although the clay ones they add different tints in patterns to the molds and the patterns are fired in. Even the painted ones are re-fired after painting to permanently set the designs. It was interesting to watch this centuries old process to see how these were made, and amazing that each bead was handmade in this manner. We spent quite some time in the gift shop (thinking ahead toward Christmas) and then hit the road again. We continued north, but decided to leave the dam at Lake Volta for another trip – we turned we st and went to a large town called Koforidua, where we found a hotel and ate and went to bed.

The next morning we went to Boti Falls, a natural waterfall that was beautiful. Our guide (you have to hire a guide there) took us down the 250 concrete steps to the basin where the waterfall towered 30 meters above us, and the spray from the waterfall gave a nice cool down.

Boti Falls is a sacred spot to the Ghanaians and each July 1st we are told 1000s of people will gather here. We asked our guide (Mr. Samuel) about it, but all he would say was “there come many, many people.” It is such a sacred spot that even the enormous snails (about the size of a baseball) are sacred, and forbidden to touch.

At the falls they had a trash can, somewhat of a rarity here in Ghana, and something about it seemed familiar. Familiar is not a normal feeling here and when something feels that way we learn to take interest. When I got closer I realized what it was, Property of City of Austin. We used to have one just like it when we were in Seminary. Going home we took turns making up stories about how it got to Ghana, then to Boti Falls, and then down the 250 steps.

Shortly after we arrived, three obruni young women who we had seen at Cedi Beads came down as well, so we chatted briefly – two Swedes and a German - they are here for 3 (German) to 6 (Swedes) months, as teachers’ aids in a private school in a village outside of Accra, and as volunteers at an orphanage in the same town. They came through some organization that sets them up with Ghanaian host families and takes care of their paperwork and placement, etc. We told them we were going to go see the nearby cave and “Umbrella Stone”, and so they had their guide take them on that trek as well (we tried to just “release” their guide and have the 6 of us go with our guide, but neither guide would hear of it). Just as well for them, since they weren’t stuck waiting for the 40-somethings that way. The hike through the rain forest was amazing – up, DOWN, up, to the cave, then down, and UP to the umbrella stone. The umbrella stone is a natural mushroom-shaped rock formation up on a hill, with a nice breeze (which we needed after the hike!) and a beautiful view! Underneath the rock were a dozen or more villagers, who hang there with oranges, bananas, water, groundnuts, etc., that they brought there to sell to the tired obrunis who trek there to see the stone – they said 50 or so a day come there. We saw 4 other obrunis, besides the Swedes and German, in the hour or so we were there. We each got an orange, which are often served here peeled down to the white rind (for sanitation purposes) with the white rind cut at one end, forming a “bowl” of orange juice, as fresh as you can get! You squeeze and suck (impossible to do this at all daintily) until no amount of squeezing or sucking yields any more juice. And, all for about 5 cents each. The villagers had also fashioned a ladder of bamboo, that for 1000 cedis each (about 10 cents) you could use it to climb to the top of the umbrella stone. Steve and the girls did this – I was content to stay on the gr ound with our guide, who told me that they are told not to climb to the top because it is dangerous. Grace heard him say this, and immediately exclaimed, “Oh, I want to do that!”

After the long hike back we met the Swedes and German again as we enjoyed a soda back at the parking lot to Boti Falls and we offered to drive them back to Koforidua since they had arrived by taxi. We also offered to let them stay in our extra room if they ever needed a place to stay in Accra. None of us realized how soon that would be – on Sunday evening (the very next day), we received a call from Ilsa (Swede) saying that Ellen (other Swede) had gotten very ill and had to come to the hospital in Accra and it was very expensive and it was late (9pm) and could they stay the night at our house. So, we picked them up (the German had gone off toward Lake Volta that morning) and offered them a night’s haven. Ellen had gotten antibiotics at the hospital (it wad diagnosed as Typhoid) and was doing better but didn’t look great – the next morning, she looked back to her old self. We were so thankful that God had put us in a position to help them, when needed.

The drive out in the countryside north of Accra was beautiful – I would call it a cross between an English countryside and an African landscape – not at all what I was expecting. I loved the look of the tall, lonely trees on top of the ridges along the rolling hills. Just beautiful.

Monday was a national holiday (the end of Ramadan) so Fox went to a friend’s to work on a class project (ostensibly – the real reason was Xbox, I’m sure) and Steve and the girls and I went down to Accra Central to buy Anna some shoes. There is a street that is mostly shoe stalls on one side, clothing and purses and backpacks on the other. A huge Goodwill (almost all of the merchandise is used – the rest is closeouts, so you’d see the same style of new sandal over and over amongst the plethora of used ones). Although we’re much more used to it by now, and with Steve along the men generally do not try to take an arm and lead you away, after several hours we had all had enough, and Anna was the proud owner of both some white and black sandals (and, Grace got a pair as well, and I got two!). So, we headed home, watched a movie, cooked dinner, and had “family game night” – a delightful end to fall break. Unfortunately, 6am will come all too quickly tomorrow. But, my fall break is next! I will work some, and hang with Steve some – no big plans, just a time to catch up and take a break from teaching (but not from grading – I have term papers and two assignments to grade…).

Monday, October 23, 2006

Life Got Hotter

It is one thing to be hot, and quite another to be hot on a night when the light is out, and then add to that a completely breezeless night, and then discovering too late that we are completely of water. Put all that together and discomfort moves it to another level. Apparently the city water has been off for some time, but since we have a reserve tank, and a gravity fed reserve tank (like our own private water tower), we didn’t know it…until it was our load shedding night, and while we were gone, one of the guards thoughtfully turned off the pump to the water tower, so now that the light is off, there is no power to pump water into the tank and into our house, and it is really hot and I could use a shower.

Our two empty water tanks

I can’t tell you how unpleasant it is to go to bed hot and sticky, without a fan, without a breeze and without water to take a cold shower before bed. Enter the rains. Its about 1am and I’m just not sleeping, I’m hot and sticky, and under this mosquito netting, it snags any hint of breeze from reaching me. Then I hear rain, and I think: Shower, so I put on my bathing suit, grab a bar of soap, head out to the balcony and feel the rain, ahhhhh, relief.

Meanwhile, I see our night guard Daniel watching, wondering what is oburnie up to now? Actually he calls me “boss” or “master” but it comes out masser. I’m scrubbing away with the soap, wanting to hum, “singing in the rain” but don’t. I figure Daniel is about my age or maybe a few years older and clearly has been working this job for a number of years. Maybe he has seen this before. He is always professional and greets me standing at attention, with a sharp salute “Good Evening masser." It is amazing to me how connected we get to these people who guard our house. Daniel has had a hard time of it lately. About a month ago we came home he didn’t stand at attention as he greeted us. There was this distant look about him and I asked if everything was alright, and he told us “my daughter is in hospital.” He has the worried father look, and learning more details we promise to pray for them, and turn in for the night. She is one of 11 children, and a mother of two. By the next day she has been sent home, by the grace of God, but they don’t know why she was so sick. The week later he has a pronounced limp, and I ask about it. He tells me he was bathing, which he pronounces like the word is actually spelled “bath-thing”, except because the “th” is hard to say, so he uses a sort of “rf” sound in its place, so the whole word sound like he is saying barf-fing, or barfing. “I was barfing and felt small, small pain, here in my leg,” and the pain grew until he could hardly walk. But still he was out there guarding our house, and opening our gate, and closing it. Guarding has to be one of the most boring jobs in Ghana. Unemployment is high and so any job, and especially those with a uniform, are highly coveted. Here are its duties: open the gate when we arrive or leave, and close it. Chase away beggars and hawkers, introduce visitors that they allow inside, collect the newspaper, the water bill, know how the house works (ie: how to keep water pressure in the house) and record everything in a journal. It is amazing to look at this journal.

7:10 am, M. Steven leaves by car to take children to school
7:24 am, Madame leaves by foot for Ashesi.
8:00 am, examined the premises and found all secure.

This goes on 24/7 and there is a stack of books in the guard house to prove it from all the previous tenants of this house. One day, two guys followed me home from the TroTro stop shouting “Hey obrunie, we want to talk to you” or “come look at this obrunie”. I try not to panic, but it is a several block walk and I figure I have just enough time to make the distance before they catch up with me. They are about 10 ft away, when I open the gate, step inside, lock it and say: “Mr. Emmanuel, would you please deal with those two gentlemen, they followed me home.” Inside, I go upstairs, hearing a sharp exchange of words I don’t understand from the outside the compound. I am thankful, very thankful that we have guards.

[Daniel, our night guard in happier times]

Finally things got so bad with Daniel’s leg that I had a taxi take him to the hospital, but they could do nothing for him and that night he was back to work. Suzanne hooked him up with some Motrin, and he felt better for a few days, but was also sleepy. I’d go to the guard shack and see him passed out on the floor, out cold, and didn’t have the heart to wake him. I can open the gate, I think, and when I return he’d have that sleepy look wondering “How did you get out?” Another week goes by and the Motrin isn’t working as well and so he tries the hospital again and this time they treat him and he improves quickly.

We don’t know Daniel as well as our day guard Emmanuel, but still the connection is there. When we return from Anamambo, Daniel greets us and I see a look I’ve seen before and ask. “My daughter has died.” It seems a messenger was sent from her village tell him and he has just received the news. And here he is, I think, guarding our house. I didn’t know her, but still my heart goes out to him. I want to ask what he is doing here, why isn’t he with his wife, her mother, but already I know the answer, he needs the money.
“I can’t imagine what you are feeling,” I say as we talk about the arrangements. “The Lord give her to us,” he says, “and now he take her.” Ahh, so the stages of grief work the same way here, I think. “Was this the daughter that was sick about a month ago?”
“Yes, masser.” I wish he would stop calling me that, it makes me sound like a slave owner.

Her funeral will be December 8. I’ve heard that funerals are long drawn out affairs in Ghana, often taking months or even years to plan, and all week-end to execute well. I wonder if we will be invited.

It is the next evening and Emmanuel and I are about to go pay our respects. It is a tradition not unlike ours in the States, where you stop by to greet the grieving family at home, at least pastors are expected to do that. Just as we are about to leave, thinking someone else would come relieve Emmanuel, Daniel shows up. It seems the company has given him only one day to bury his daughter, and so he will use it later. Tonight he will be here opening our gate, and guarding the house. In return we will grieve with him, and hold him up in our prayers.

Grief is something that is best shared, not that it makes any of it easier, but somehow knowing that others are hurting with you makes it more manageable. And that’s what grief is, a process that you manage until it doesn’t hurt so bad. Godspeed Daniel.

Post-note: After some investigation, Emmanuel has determined that it was Daniel’s niece that died, not his daughter. The misunderstanding might have been mine, or as Emmanuel suspects, because the company had not paid him and he needed a short term loan. In any case, the loan has been returned.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Life Got Hot

Well the rainy season is over, and so it is hot. Rainy season

Anambo Slave Castle 1 (45)
Originally uploaded by Ghana Steve.
runs from Aug-Sept, and again for some time in the spring, and who knew it would be so punctual. Oct. 1st it got hot and stopped raining at night. When that rainy season began the water level in Lake Volta was four feet below the minimum for Akosombo Dam. Low water means energy crisis in Ghana. Energy crisis in Ghana means Load Shedding. I don’t know where the term Load Shedding comes from, I would think the word should be load sharing, like we’re sharing the energy load but whatever, it means for us that every three and a half days we are 12 hours without power , or as they say here, “The light is off”. Today the water level is three feet above the minimum, so the Load what-ever-ing should be over, except it isn’t, in fact we’re getting some “bonus” days, like today, which is not our day and yet the light is off.

When we first arrived, which was in August (the coolest month of the year), one of the professors at Ashesi asked Suzanne how we were adjusting to the heat. Suzanne gives the standard answer, “Well, we’re from Texas, so we’re used to it.”
“So did you expect it to be hotter?” he asks.
“Well, yes” Suzanne answers.
“Don’t worry,” he says with a smile, “it will.” Today we are beginning to see what he means.

We live in a section of town called Labone (La-bone-ee). I gather at one point this whole area was known as La. The village of La still exists, it is where our day guard Emmanuel lives, and he takes me there weekly for something, so I am beginning to know its streets. It is a paved Ghanaian village and very different from what it looks like from the road.

slave fort4
Originally uploaded by Ghana Steve.
The Colonial Masters (read: The British) built in this part of La, and so over the years it became known as La-Obrunie, (or La-White Man) and over the years the name was shortened to Labone. Because the colonial masters lived here, and in fact built the house we live in, the houses are large by Accra standards and come with servants quarters and, these days, air conditioners. I say large by Accra standards because there is a newer section of town called East Legon, and these houses are gigantic, even by Texas standards. I’m not kidding, they make our McMansions look like hovels, these houses can be 100,000 square feet. It isn’t that there are lots of bedrooms as much as multiple living areas and enormous entry ways, halls and kitchens, lots of servants rooms, and then there are the courtyards. But in Labone, the houses are older, smaller (O.K., we’re talking relative terms here), and have been refitted with air conditioning units, which so far we have not used much. We could use them, but the house is airy and gets good air flow (read: I’m cheap). Plus when they are running, it does not feel like we are really living in Africa (read: I’m rationalizing). But we’re still early into this hot season, so we may break down.

Because we live in Labone and because there are many air conditioners here, we’re told that the light goes out here more frequently than some other places in Accra because there is a higher load on the system. We’re also told that load shedding will end in early November, but we all know that it is just the schedule that will end – the light will still go out, we just won’t have the schedule to be able to plan for it (like mid-load of laundry and Grace really needs that soccer uniform, or mid-dinner and you made enough for good leftovers but now you can’t open the fridge to store them).

I think a lot about the American Bubble in Ghana (what I could also call the Air Conditioned Bubble). Last week I was in conversation with one of my kid’s teachers. “Well,” I say, “I bet life is quite different than what you were expecting when you were growing up.” It is the kind of almost self congratulatory conversations we get into here, but she has thought this thing through and says: “No, not really.”

Her reply surprises me. “When you look at the details of my life here, they are not all that different from the US. I live in a nice home, I teach at a good school, I shop in a supermarket, I have to commute to work, I’m a mother to two kids, and my husband works. How different is that from the US?”

“OK, so maybe its just the location that is different,” I say. But it got me thinking about this Bubble that we live on the edge of. Among more experienced African travelers, Ghana is called “Africa Lite”, because it is so much easier than really living in Africa (I’m guessing what Austin is to Texas, Ghana is to Africa). Africa 101, or Intro to Africa are its other names.

Of course things sound much more exotic than they really are. We have guards, we have household help (cleans the house daily, does dishes, and washes, folds and irons the cloths), we have a vehicle (at least for a few more months). And there are things my kids remind me that we don’t have, like cable TV and DSL internet, like bacon, and AC (at least right now).

“What is the point of living in Africa,” I say in my Father Knows Best voice “if life is indistinguishable from life in the States?” or “I mean we’re only here for a year, why not make the most of it?” This is a weekly, if not daily, conversation about AC, cable TV or home internet and so far I seem to be making my point, but still, we are in the more cool months, and they want this stuff, what is going to happen during the hot, and then hot and dusty seasons?

So this week, life got hot and so we went to the beach.

Anamombo (19)
Originally uploaded by Ghana Steve.
Actually it was the beginning of fall break for my kids, and we, along with several other missionary families, went to Anamambo Beach Resort. Now Anamombo is more primitive that the other resorts we have been to and so it doesn’t offer air conditioning in every room, and the rooms don’t come with TVs. You go to this resort to hang out at the beach, and eat great seafood. These missionary families work for many of the different societies (The Mission Society; Rafiki Foundation; Compassion International; Methodist University College of Ghana; ) and being around them makes me appreciate how hard they work, and the depth of their calling. It isn’t an easy life for them or their families (even with the occasional week-end at the beach) .

family (2)
Originally uploaded by Ghana Steve.

There is a missionary family who arrived about the same time we did here with two kids, roughly the same ages of our first and last. I have been talking with them and observing the husband and wife, who both left highly successful and demanding jobs in the states to enter the mission field. “Am I too called?” I wonder. Do I have the spiritual gift of missionary? Everything I know about spiritual gifts tells me no, I’m not called and knowing this and yet still wanting to be is a teaching moment for me to learn about one of the darker sides of Spiritual Gifts. That dark side is “gift envy” whereby you want to have a certain gift, but don’t.

“So what does that feel like to you?” I ask. One of our missionary friends has a deep desire to leave Africa Lite, to live in a restricted country. Restricted country means missionary work is illegal, I’m figuring a Muslim country. They would go there to do what they do and live not so public lives as Christ followers. They both have transferable jobs, teachers, CPA, MBA, language skills… and so finding work in the country would be easy. “But not now,” he says. “I would never take my family there.” He knows, he is the product of Missionary parents, he is an MK (or Missionary Kid).

MKs are like PKs (Preacher’s Kids) in that they grow up in the church (or mission field). I gather MKs do not have the wild reputation that PKs have earned, but their childhood was not without its scars. “We grew up with nothing,” one MK-now parent told me. “I saw all this wealth around us and we had nothing. We were poor, and I didn’t want my kids to have to deal with all that.” There is a hint of bitterness in his voice, and so together with his wife (also an MK) they have made a choice to live just inside the American bubble. He doesn’t want his kids growing up thinking they were poor, and wanting all that stuff. This conversations makes me wonder about our choices, and they are choices. We could live in AC, and eat American food, and use up much of our savings living deeper in the American bubble, but what would we have to show for it in a year?

We joke, “kids got to have something to talk about in therapy… might as well be this,” but there is a deeper question that is wrapped around this whole calling thing. “So what is your heart’s desire?” I’m now at lunch with the pastor of the church. “To reach nominal Christians,” I hear myself say “so that maybe Jesus will become real to them.” It isn’t an answer I’ve used before, but it pretty much sums up what drove my ministry as a pastor. It is a different calling than the missionary one, which is sharing the gospel to those who do not know Jesus. When I think about doing that, I’m not sure where to even begin to share the gospel.

While we were in Anamombo, we went to a festival

Anamombo Festival (27)
Originally uploaded by Ghana Steve.
they were having there, and toured the local Slave Fort. This is the third we’ve seen and each share rather depressing common elements, like “the door of no return,” the holding cells, the “governor’s choosing balcony,” where he would pick out a female slave to pleasure himself. This castle is no different, but it had not been restored to the extent that the others had. There are two things I’ll remember about it, the first was the vultures. It was near the end of the tour and perched above the governor’s quarters were two vultures. I wondered if they are perch here out of an inherited memory of this castle, somehow knowing it used to provide much food from the slaves that didn’t make it. It reminded me of a story I once heard about the Atlantic route the slave ships sailed. Even today on that stretch of water there

Vulures (2)
Originally uploaded by Ghana Steve.
is a higher percentage of sharks than anywhere else and scientists conclude it is the inherited memory of the rich feeding grounds as slave ships tossed the dead bodies overboard. Is this just like for the vultures? The second thing I’ll remember is how the castle is used today, as a Youth Center, I gather it has been used this way for a number of years. It reminds me of the old testament story of Joseph, how he forgives his brothers saying: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.” It feels better somehow knowing that within these walls—that were built for evil—that God is doing some good in for the next generation of youth.

Sometime after returning from the week-end, I (Steve) got sick just as Suzanne had gotten sick when we went to Cape Coast. “We have to figure out how to leave town without getting sick!” Suzanne says. I must say that being sick like this changes my relationship with Ghana knowing first hand the danger that lays (or is it lies) in every bite. It makes Ghana feel less safe to me, and has taken the wind out of my adventuresome spirit.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Frederick Pictures

Frederick was our guide at St. Jago Castle, and wanted us to send him a picture.

 Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 12, 2006

St. John of the Pens

Originally uploaded by Ghana Steve.
Its one of those stories that even if it didn’t happen this way, we know that it is true.

Its one of those stories that is not so far from my mind that I won’t, in an idle moment when everything is going just right, think about it. It is a story of St. John of the Cross, the 16th century mystic who’s heart desire was for a vision of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It seems that one day, St. John was alone in his room praying, when Mary appeared to him in a vision . It was rapturous, the saint later wrote, and I don’t know what that means or feels like, to have a rapturous vision, but as soon as it began for St. John, something else happened that I am familiar with. A beggar rattling at his door for alms. We get a lot of beggars here in Ghana. Mostly they come at us on the street when we’re walking on Oxford Street, or at the stoplights, when we’re in the Patrol or in traffic, when we are trapped. They see this big Patrol, with its roof rack, and it must be like a big NEON sign saying OBRUNI INSIDE, which I’ve got to figure, loosely translates to ATM on wheels for beggars.

[Emmanuel’s Gift Movie Link]

About a month ago we saw a movie called “Emmanuel’s Gift,” [click here from the movie site] a wonderful story about a Ghanaian named Emmanuel, who wrote the Challenge Foundation, in America, asking for a bicycle so he could ride across Ghana. The thing is, he was born with only one working leg, and this is the story of his journey across Ghana, and then to the States, and then back to Ghana after an operation to give him an artificial leg. It is the story of a changed life and how he helped change the lives of handicapped people in the US, and later back in Ghana. It is a must see movie on several levels, for its beauty, for an insider’s view of Ghana, but also the story he tells is nothing short of amazing. Anyway, part of the story has him going back in to the streets of Accra and helping the handicapped, who in Ghana are mostly beggars. Emmanuel encourages them to work for money instead of beg, because even if it won’t bring in as much, it will give them dignity.

Now I think about Emmanuel Gift at a stoplight near us. Stoplight-yeah,

Originally uploaded by Ghana Steve.
its really more of a traffic flow suggestion system, and that is only when the when the power is on, and since its off every other day, its really lord of the flies at that intersection (or junction as it is called here). Its cars against the 3Ts (TTT:TroTros and Taxis). Anyway, at this one light not too far from our house, there are two handicapped men without legs. They get around on little flat scooter things, gliding from car to car. One of them begs, and the other sells pens. I think I used to give to one but not the other, I guess I thought they were the same guy, but then the other day I realized, there were two different men. Now I admire their courage. Both of them brave the traffic and slide around on these small sheets of plywood with wheels on the bottom and are maybe all together two feet high. They come to our window and stretch out their hands toward us, or show us a lot of pens. We in this huge 4-Wheel Drive diesel motor Nissan Patrol, riding a foot off the ground, half their height, and even so they are fearless.

So I realized I’d been giving to the beggar guy, but not the pen-selling guy who displays four different pen types in varying colors. I vow (I guess because of the movie Emmanuel Gift) to start buying from the guy who is out working, and stop giving to the beggar. I figure I can always use more pens. I decide I’ll call him Johnnie the pen guy.
Back to St. John of the Cross, who is in his room praying, and he begins to have a vision, the kind he has waited his whole life for, and just as soon as it begins, another more common moment interrupts, a beggar knocking at the door. I guess I think about this story a lot because there is so much poverty here, and we have so much direct contact with it. The other thing that strikes me is what Johnnie the pen-guy is selling: pens.

For those who have worked for me, or know me well, pens are my stress indicator. The more pens I’m wearing, the greater stress I am feeling. I don’t remember when this started, I just realized it about two years into it that I’d just keep putting pens on until it felt right. Sometimes when I couldn’t find enough pens, I’d unconsciously “collect” them throughout the day, “borrowing” them as I slipped them in my shirt between the buttons. Then I’d pat my chest for one, or look down, and find three or four and wonder “What is this about?” I’d come home and Suzanne would look at my shirt and comment “So it was a three pen day, huh?” Later, I learned that staff would also count the pens on Pastor Steve’s shirt to see if they should maybe wait for a better (or fewer pen) day.

[Shirt picture of a Five Pen Day]

So St. John leaves his prayers and this vision of Mary to attend to the beggar. When he returns to prayer, Mary says “that at the very moment you heard the door rattle on its hinges, your soul hung in perilous balance.” I think about this story and wonder sometimes if our souls hang in perilous balance each time we get stuck in traffic, and the beggars approach. Suzanne is the better person. She almost always has something ready to give when they ask at the car window. It makes me think that she plans for this when we are getting ready to leave the house. She must tuck something away just in case. Me, it is always a surprise, a surprise I am unprepared for, and so it costs me whatever I can dig out of my pocket before the light changes and the horns start blaring.

For example a few weeks ago, I was on Oxford Street trapped in a taxi. Usually I’ll walk Oxford Street since there is always, always, always a traffic jam and it is just faster to walk and then catch a taxi. But today I am taking our guest to buy a cell phone, and so it seems more civilized to taxi there. While we are trapped, a man comes to the window and says “

Blind guy (7)
Originally uploaded by Ghana Steve.

Sir, I respectfully ask if you are able to help me so that I may buy some food?” All I have is 20,000 notes (roughly $2.00 US), a fortune in Ghanaian beggar terms. 20,000 cedi will buy us four liters of Coke, 10 meat pies, 20 TroTro rides, or about 15 minutes of taxi time. I like how he has asked and so I dig in my pocket and out comes a 20,000 cedi note. I know Suzanne would have been ready with a 1000 note but she isn’t with us. Even the taxi driver is surprised as that is the same as the fare we have negotiated, and we have been sitting in his taxi now for 25 minutes. I ask him “Do you know this guy?” Yes, he does. He says he is highly educated but something went wrong in his head. The taxi driver taps his head, the universal sign for not right in the head. So now he begs, albeit very politely.

“Should I have helped?” I ask.

“It is good,” the taxi driver says. He is Muslim, I think, and so one of his mandates or pillars of the faith is to help the poor. Me, I’m thinking, “Today, my soul does not hang in the balance, at least not because of this beggar.” But then are those other beggars, the blind ones. They have a young boy to lead them from car to car to beg. They work the other side of the corner that Johnnie the pen guy works. A few weeks ago I saw a blind guy wearing a wrist watch and thought something doesn’t seem quite right. As I’m thinking this, I see him snap his wrist sideways, the way you do when you want to read the time, and then I know what didn’t seem quite right. He is reading the time on his watch. I feel conned, but then wonder: must our obligation to give be matched with a receiver’s need to receive, or put another way, if the beggar at St. John’s door had not been truly needy, was St. John still required to attend to him to see the Virgin Mary again? Maybe there is no connection between our need to give and a beggar’s need to receive. Maybe giving is enough. Maybe we need to give so that our hearts are never hardened to the point that we do not see, or are not affected by poverty. Maybe giving is enough because it breaks the addiction to hoarding. Now, I have not knowingly faced the quandary that faced St. John so I don’t know. When Mary appeared in his prayers the second time, she told him if he not “gone to the beggar's aid, she could never have appeared to him again." I think about how close he came to losing his heart’s desire and I wonder if I’ve missed a blessing at those times that I looked at their need, and decided to roll up the windows, crank the AC, turn up the BBC and say to myself, they don’t need it bad enough. But it isn’t about them, now is it? Its about me, about my need to give, and I’ve missed that blessing.

“What if the Ghanaian Methodist Churches took a special offering to help the Texas Methodist Churches,” I’m at Awaken to the World III, an eight week pastor’s conference in Accra and today’s speaker is the Bishop of the Methodist Church of Ghana, he continues. “What do you suppose would happen?”. I’ve met the Bishop on break and now he is using me as an example. “The Texas churches would say no, I tell you, they would not accept our money,” he says. “They know how poor our Ghanaian Churches are, they know we can not pay our pastors.” He is right, the rural churches are poor, and not because people don’t give freely like in the states, but because the people are very poor and though they give sacrificially, there just isn’t much to give from. Then he tells us—and I’m only now getting this three weeks later—it is about the need to give. “The Texas churches must accept this gift of the Ghanaian churches even though they don’t need this money, because it is about our Ghanaian need to give, not based on what the Texans need.

[Pictures of St John of the Cross]

Ouch. So the answer is yes. Even if St. John’s beggar was not poor, he still needed to attend to him. Even if the blind guy isn’t blind, if he is the only one begging, then I still need to give to him. Even if I can’t find Johnnie the pen guy, I must give, but given the choice, I’ll buy more pens. One can always use more pens, but thankfully I’m not needing to wear them on my shirt these days.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

When you're not the Pastor...

“So what is life like?” Well, it is nothing like we imagined it to be, or at least what we prepared for. I think our preparations were much more geared for people living in the bush, and Accra is a somewhat modern city. It actually exists on several levels: there is the local level, the foreigner level, and finally the embassy & governmental level. There may be higher levels, we don’t know.

I think one of the biggest surprises for me was how active we would be in church. I had read about pastors who, when they left the church, didn’t darken its doors (like some of the kids I knew in seminary, who never went to church unless they were preaching at it), and wondered, would I be that kind of person? I had thought that I would spend each Sunday going to different indigenous churches, studying their worship patterns, songs, and styles. But what I find is that, as each Sunday approaches, my soul longs to return to one or two particular churches to worship. The bigger surprise is how quickly my kids connected to the youth group, and how this has become an important part of their life. It is a huge set of friends, and each week they spend most of Saturday together, either going to the orphanage (or Zoo), eating lunch and then staying for prayer and youth group until at least 5pm.

When I have gone to the indigenous different churches it feels more like an anthropological study than a worship experience, and what my souls long for at the end of the week is a time to connect with God and other believers. It isn’t that I don’t feel God’s presence in the local churches, it just is so different from my worship traditions, and I don’t know where I fit in.

For example, last Sunday we visited Bethel Methodist Church in Dzuwurlu. It was our friend’s stepfather’s retirement service, and they were honoring him with a five hour worship service. Really. We arrived just before 9am and the service let out a quarter past 2pm. Now in all honesty the actual worship service was over by 12:30, that’s when the liturgist got up and said: “And now for the second part” which was mostly tributes and gifts, music by a special choir, and a word of thanks.

There were three memorable parts to this service:
First was when we sang “The Church is one Foundation” near the beginning of the service. During it I felt the Holy Spirit move. Now I must confess traditional hymns do not usually do this to me, but there was something about being half way across the world, the only three white people in a large church of 600 people, surrounded by a different culture, different traditions, and people, and not knowing our place in it all, but when that opening line came out, and I heard the congregation sing “the Church is one foundation and Jesus Christ her Lord…” I felt chills, I felt I belonged here, I was part of this greater church. I thought about all the other churches and people worldwide who might be singing that hymn right now, or would be later, or had already, and I was struck by what it must be like for God to hear this hymn come from all over the world in different places, and languages, and how thankful I was to be a part of God’s church.

The second thing that was memorable, happened at about 12:45 when they passed out cold bottles of Coke and these great Chinese crackers. Think about it, they were ready with, I am guessing, a thousand bottles of Coke, Fanta and Sprite, straws and these great crackers. The congregation was most wilted at this point having been at it for almost four hours, and then we got our Cokes without the worship service skipping a beat, and it felt like communion. OK I know, it is a little strange, but the feeling was the same, like a sacrament that refreshed us so we could finish the worship service well.

About an hour before we got the Cokes, and this is the third thing I’ll remember, there was a time for prayer, maybe 10 minutes. I expected it to be an extended period for silent prayer or meditation, but the church erupted into the sound of people praying out loud. Now I don’t know if they were praying in their local language, or in tongues, but I remember my own prayers going something like “God, you know that this isn’t how I am used to praying, but if you are here, I honor and praise you” and again I felt the spirit move. Maybe it was like Paul recorded in his letter to the Corinthians,

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;
and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

And though things were very different, it was the same spirit, the same Lord, the same God and I was thankful to be there.

It is this feeling or sentiment that we in the church try to celebrate on World Communion Sunday, observed on the first Sunday in October. World Communion Sunday was this past Sunday. I always love the way the service starts, with the telling of “as you were sleeping and the sun was rising over the Africa, people outside of Monrovia, Liberia were gathering in village churches to do this in remembrance of him, and as the sun began to break on the eastern seaboard believers on the island of Newfoundland were shaking off the snow to enter into church and remember, through the bread and wine, and as we were drinking our coffee this morning, people in churches such as…” and I would name a particular historic church on the East Coast…, and I loved telling how all over the world today we would remember that we were One Church.

I am not sure if Elim Church, the church our kids have connected to and we know so many missionaries at, celebrated World Communion Sunday (Suzanne says they did serve communion but there was no mention of World Communion Sunday). I was teaching Sunday School for the 9-11 age group, known as the Blue Eagles. Sunday School happens concurrently with worship. I signed up for the month of October as a sort of penance for all the years I was too busy doing the pastor thing to teach. All those years of hearing Kaylenn, my church’s children’s minister, express the need for teachers, and now that I have the time, and no other responsibilities to the church, I can. This was the first Sunday that I missed being a pastor, I had wondered when and if that day would come and it wasn’t because I was teaching this international group of 25 kids for 90 minutes. It was something more simple. We were setting up the sound equipment and having some trouble doing it. I have been playing in the worship band about once a month, and so while we warm up, they set up the sound system. Reminds me of the days when Foundation worshiped at Lakewood Elementary and we had to set up every morning (but we had better sound equipment). So I’m tuning my guitar, or arranging my music, and someone says “Pastor,” and involuntarily I look up and realize they are not talking to me. It is like when you have young kids and you’re at the store and someone else’s child says “daddy” or “mommy” and you turn, thinking it was your child…and it isn’t.

Five minutes later another thing reinforced that realization. We are going over the worship music for that Sunday, and one of the arrangements has changed from the way that we had practiced it the day earlier. I try to play the song as I thought we had practiced it, but clearly it isn’t working. There is a clash of styles and I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, because I see the leader for that Sunday wants to do them a certain way. That way wasn’t good or bad, it was just different, and it was a new experience for me, not having people bend to my way because I think things ought to be this way or that. That’s when it struck me, “Buch., you have no executive power in this situation.”

My brother Rod, who is a leadership expert in the Kansas area, tells me that there are two types of power in leadership: executive and legislative. Executive power comes with the office. This type of power is granted by those whom see you in authority over them, like staff. For example, as pastor, I had the executive power to organize worship, and make certain decisions because I was the pastor, and when I was serving as the music director, I had the executive power to select songs and say how we were going to do them. The other type of power is legislative, that is the kind of power you earn with people. It is your power of influence, and trust, and it takes time to build up. This is the kind of power you have with volunteers and volunteer leaders. They will follow you because they like you, or believe in you, or trust you, but not because “you’re the pastor.” Because this was the first time I had played with this set of musicians, and they didn’t know me that well, I didn’t have much legislative power, and certainly no executive power and it was a new feeling for me… You’re not the pastor.

I remember Bill, who had a powerful conference job after having served as a pastor for 30 years. We are at a big church conference in Kansas City and I’m opening my heart to him about new church problems. Bill offers some wonderful advice and then to pray for me, and I say, off handedly, “Thanks Pastor,” and Bill begins to tear up. We’re walking to the next meeting so I don’t notice this right off, but the next day he says, “I didn’t realize how much I missed being a pastor, and when you called me that yesterday, I realized how much I had longed to hear it.”

I don’t think I am to the point that Bill was, but it was an awakening, that I actually missed some aspects of being a pastor (besides the people). For these last three months I have really enjoyed living a normal life, if you can call living in West Africa normal. It feels great to take naps in the middle of the day, to have time to do whatever for my kids, to cook each night, and to have time to chat with the neighborhood vegetable stand lady or our guard without feeling like I was stealing time from something more important. I admit that in the States, when I was in conversation, my mind was usually 10 minutes to an hour ahead and I didn’t have time to listen to whatever I needed to be listening to because I had this next big thing. I don’t have conversations like that here, I actually have time to listen, and teach and serve in the church, and I think it is good.

I think it will be good for me to serve in the church—not as pastor—but as a volunteer. I have already seen how what the pastor does affects those who work or volunteer on the other side of the altar. I’m sure this is just the tip of the emotional iceberg, but I’m already seeing how things I did, or decisions that I as the pastor made, affected the larger circle of the church in ways I didn’t really appreciate. I am sorry, and ask for your forgiveness.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Life Got Hard

Life got hard last week. It wasn’t so much that anything bad happened to us, life just wore us down. Maybe it was the wonderful week-end at Elmina (near Cape Coast) at the Coconut Grove Resort, or maybe the car trip back where we spent two hours in traffic just a few miles from our home. It was one of those times when you pass bicycles an hour earlier and they pass you and hour later. You’re trapped and everyone is trying to cut you off. Then Suzanne got sick, at first thinking it was motion sickness, and later figuring out it was a bad cup of tea. Then we had a house guest from the US, and then Anna was sick all the next night. Add to this our already complex life, and we were pretty much overwhelmed.

It is the problem with the highly connected lives we live here. When one thing goes, the whole of life is affected by it. One of the things that I’ve heard people say about Bill Clinton is how they admired his ability to compartmentalize. Even when his personal life was falling apart he was still able to govern effectively. Bill Clinton is well thought of in Ghana. I have seen pictures of his visit, he is dressed in local garb, as a chief, and I think it makes Ghanaians proud he visited. Seeing his picture makes me wonder if I was better able to compartmentalize my life, could I be more effective? What would life be like if I was able to stop the leakage from one part of my life clouding another?

It is like traffic here. Some say, it is crazy, but I think there is an elegance to it, at least most of the time. People drive in relationship to each other, and use the law as a guideline, where as in the States, we tend to drive in relationship to the law, and oblivious to how it affects each other. The other thing I’ve noticed is that people don’t get their egos wrapped around their vehicle. Getting cutting off is not an insult or affront, and when that happens, people don’t get mad at each other. I’ve had to calm myself a few times when I’ve been outmaneuvered or cut off, and it feels personal. It isn’t, and I struggle to keep my American car-ego in check.

I remember how segmented my life felt in the States: I had my work time, my family time, my staff time, and went so far as to assign Tuesdays as “staff day,” when my office door was open for staff, assuming that problems would only pop-up on Tuesdays, or that they would wait until the next Tuesday to speak to me about it. It didn’t work that well.

Last week-end, before we got sick, the family toured Elmina Castle, the oldest sub-Saharan European building that dates from 1482 (10 years before Columbus). Historically, it was built by the Portuguese, captured by the Dutch, sold to the British and turned over to the Ghanaians. Over the years, it served as gold trade fort, slave trade fort, prison, and regional house of government.

The tour at Elmina Castle starts with the museum, which is housed in a building the Portuguese built for a Catholic Church. It is a two story affair that stands as the focal point of the castle courtyard, but only served as a church until the Dutch captured the fort in 1637. Then it became the officers mess, and slave auction hall, and under the British rule, a school house for half-white children who seemed to be popping up in the village.

Being protestant, the Dutch built a non-catholic church in a different part of the castle and worshiped there. This protestant sanctuary, which has part of the Dutch text to Psalm 132 above its door, was build directly above slave holding cells which led to the door of no return. Alex, our tour guide stops to ask the question: “What kind of men could do these things, and then worship God here?” He asked this question standing in the protestant sanctuary, and involuntarily we looked down at the floor imagining the horrors that occurred beneath us.

On Monday, we woke to the news of a coup in Thailand, and it served as a reminder of Ghana’s tenuous changes of government. In its 49 year history, Ghana has had no less than five successful coups, and at least that many unsuccessful ones. Actually, I had been thinking about its history before the news of Thailand reached us. I had been thinking about the Robert Redford movie, Havana [movie link]. I guess it is the radio broadcasts I hear at night around the city. In the movie, a radio is playing in the background and the voices are getting more angry. There is this one scene when Redford hears something on it, and says something like, “My Spanish is not so good…did he just say revolution?” He is trying to understand the angry voice, yelling out of the radio in Spanish, and I hear those same sorts of voices from the radios here at night. I hadn’t really given it much thought until we were at the resort, and I heard that same angry voice on the radio there coming out of the kitchen, and then later at the pool, and then later back in Accra. These broadcasts are in Twi, I think (the majority local language), so I don’t understand it, but I do recognize the tone. The night we return, I hear the same angry voice coming out of the guard shack, and I’m thinking of the movie Havana, about Ghana’s five coups, and our safety in a place where we don’t speak the language of the angry voice, and in the morning I hear on the BBC of a coup in Thailand, and Suzanne is sick and we have a guest coming that afternoon, and there are these angry voices on the radio in our guard shack.

“It sounds political to me.” I say to Emmanuel, our day guard. It is his day off and we are walking around town picking up household items. I see a poster celebrating the fact that Ghana is in its 4th Republic. “It is a very angry voice, and I want to know, what is he saying?” Emmanuel does not know what I am talking about, but says he will look into it. Several days goes by and he has no answer. More details of the coup in Thailand come in, and I wonder, how long we will be safe. Why do we live in a house with a guard behind windows with strong bars?

Then it is Thursday night, and Emmanuel is at work, waiting for his relief. It is dark, and I hear the angry voice coming from his radio. “That is what I’m talking about!” I say. “What is he saying?”
“That?” he asks astonishingly
“Yes, what is he angry about?”
“Mr. Steve, that is football.” Soccer for all you Americans. It isn’t an angry political speech trying to stir the nation into revolution, it is sports, and this is the broadcast of the Black Stars, Ghana’s national team, the one that beat the US at the world cup.
“Football?” I say, and feel foolish. “Football? No revolution?”

As I’ve said, it has been a long week, made longer by sickness, worry over revolution, and things not always working out perfectly, which in turn affects all the other parts of our lives. Our lives are not so complicated, or for that matter compartmentalized, and I think that is good, at least for the long run. Compartmentalization is OK for emergencies, but when it gets to be a way of life, I think the soul develops stress fractures, and there is leakage. Our lives long to be connected, to be whole.

I think about Bill Clinton, and how parts of his life got so disjoint. I know people who admire him for his ability to handle that kind of stress in his life, but I think that even his soul longed to reconnect. When events spun out of control, and there was compartmental leakage, it clouded his final years in office and legacy, and made a lot of people like myself lose hope. I wonder if he behaved that way because his life was too compartmentalized - he didn’t see how the dishonorable aspects of his life affected the other.

Walking through slave castles, it is hard to imagine that people like us could be capable of such evil, but today, at least in the tours we went on, the focus was not on slavery so much as it was on education, to hope that it would never happened again. At the beginning of the Elmina Castle tour, we paused as the guide read these words:

of the anguish of our ancestors.
May those who died, rest in peace.
May those who return, find their roots.
May humanity never again perpetuate such injustice against humanity.
We the living vow to uphold this.