The Buchele Adventure

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

Monday, February 26, 2007

Lake Bosomtwi Clinic, part 2

"So how was the mission trip?"

When a mission trip starts, I’m never sure how it is going to go, it could go well, it could go badly, and as the first day unfolds, I’m wondering which way it will go. Maybe its like a cutting down a tree, and the best you can hope for is for it to “fall well”. You can do everything right, and still with just the wrong gust of wind at the right moment, and the tree crashes into the house. I remember one mission trip, the last one I did with my youth, was supposed to be the best ever, and the last hurrah for myself and my then-to-be-former youth director, Paul. So much planning had gone into the trip. Paul had assembled best people, planned the best menus, put together the best worship services, even had the best location, and yet as fate would have it, we were paired with a church that for what ever reason, doomed it, causing the tree to not fall well, or into the house. It was a disaster, and most of the youth from that trip dropped out of youth group, families who had kids on it, left the church, and none of the adults who had volunteered for it ever volunteered for another mission trip (myself included). The tree did not fall well and we could see it happening, but couldn’t change it.

So mission trips are make or break kind of things and no amount of planning, preparation, or even repetition can insure it goes well. Afterwards, folks will ask you how it went, and they expect you to say well, or good, or great. For those going on the mission trip, the most dangerous thing is to pack in is a whole set of expectations about what it will be like. It is what it is.

[The two tired doctors]
On Wednesday morning, the free clinic opened, after we went to greet the chiefs. That morning, like the ones that would follow it, opened with prayer and singing and there were perhaps 150-200 people already waiting to see a doctor. Because this was the grand re-opening of the clinic, Andrew wanted to make a bit of a splash in the community so that everyone would know that the clinic doctor was back, and to do that, he invited Cam G. another missionary doctor from Kumasi to join Ju in seeing the patients. Together these two made a great team seeing upwards of 500 people. Ju ’s passion is children, and there were plenty to see, Cam saw everyone else. The mission team had brought “plenty, plenty” medicines but by the final day, they had run out of most of the malaria, pain, high blood pressure, and general infection meds. The first day, as I was working in the pharmacy, I watched one of the team nurses cringe as we counted out meds by hand. “I’d get fired for doing this in the states,” she said, but what else could we do? We would count out a week, or month’s supply and put them in a special zip-lock bag, writing the instructions on the outside. Then we would had the meds to the translator, and explain to him the procedure. He would explain it to the patient.

It occurs to me that the Jernigans will be living the more traditional missionary lifestyle, at least the one that most people have in their minds when they thing about missionaries. Living in a remote village with few modern conveniences. Granted their house is nice and inside it could be anywhere in the developed world, but outside and down the hill, it is still mostly mud brick homes, covered with crumbling stucco. For me it was exiting to be here for their first mission team, and second week at the lake. Even though they had just moved from Kumasi seven days before the team arrived, their home looked more “homey” than ours, and we’ve lived there eight months. It was the kind of excitement you get when you know that someday you’ll look back on this week knowing that you were there for the start of something great.

What will it be like for Lucas, or Luiza in five years? Will this be all they know or remember? Lucas is four, the same age that Grace was when we sold our house in Austin and moved into Seminary housing. It is the age Anna was I became pastor at Foundation, and so that community, especially that church is all they know and remember. What will it be like for Lucas and Luesia having so many village kids as their friends? Will God send Andrew and Ju a set of best friends to bless their lives there?

At the end of the day there were more people than time for the doctors to see them, and so some were going to disappointed. In the late afternoon, Margaret was hanging out in the “waiting room” area, really an outside porch/sidewalk and we could tell that the people were hungry and tired. Ju would comment that there was a spirit of uneasiness at that time. That first day there was only one seller, and she was selling these fried things called donuts, more like a really large donut hole. She was selling them for ¢1000, and all I had ¢12,000. So we bought all we could, prayed over them, and then began passing them out to those who were still waiting. We knew there were not going to be enough, and so some part of us was hoping for a miracle like the loaves and fishes. It certainly felt to me like a sacrament and inside I caught myself saying, “this is the body of Christ” as Margaret handed one out to every other person saying, “share, share” and the remarkable thing is that everyone did share, share.

[enjoying a 'bo-frute' , share, share]

In fact we had just enough for each person waiting to have half. I don’t know if there were just the right number of people, but I like to think God used us to do something small but really incredible. Later Ju would say that something changed in the people she was seeing, like there was hope again, I like to think we had a part of it all.

[By the second day, a whole market has appeared]
At night we ate a wonderful meal, and then gathered for worship and a time of reflection to help people process what had happened. We did this each night and I looked forward to hearing stories of what God had done that day, and where team had seen Him. Like in the 114 year old man, or the 4 month old named Grace, who was so sick with malaria, that most of the two page prescription had the words First Dosage: NOW and Leigh Anne and Brett had to administer her first dose of medication, to this very little girl. It was a different sort of sacrament I think, but just as life saving, at least in this life.

Like most of Ghana, the team got to experience “light out” both in the day, at night, and during dinner and worship. It was like I have experienced at my house, an incontinence that God uses to draw us together. I was reminded of another mission trip where there was a power failure, and how it turned out to be the most special time of worship, so much so that the last night we voluntarily worshiped in the dark.

[Even on light out, Ju studies her book on Tropical Medicine by flashlight (or torch as they say here)]

There is this point in a mission trip that you know it is going to go well, the team begins to gel, but not too quickly. People are actively engaged in their work, but still connecting to each other and to the ones they have come to serve. There is an excitement that second day, that there is still so much to do, and folks are not energized by the thought. By day two’s end, people are tired, but it is a good tired, a tired borne of fact that today, you made a difference, the world is better because God used you. It is the point that most teams start wishing they could stay longer, they see the need, they see how well they are working together, and how great it feels to be connected to something beyond themselves. Late in the day it is also the point when things start to happen because we’ve let down our guard, or started connecting more to the people we’ve come to serve than to the work of service. Its not a bad thing in itself, but how it is handled will reflect on how the mission trip ends.

[Lucas shaking hands with Louis]

For this trip it was some of the village boy being boys, and its unfortunate discovery by a tired doctor taking a break to be a mother. I don’t know if any mother could have handled it better, and maybe God will use this incident in some way, but when Ju stepped out of the clinic to take a break (or was it mother’s instinct) her first sight as she rounded the corner was Lucas, pinned by down some of the village boys he didn’t know, hurting him. Later we learned they just wanted to know if his cry was like theirs? It is. The incident could have really tainted the mission trip, and the Jernigan’s relationship with the village, but it was defused in such a graceful, yet stern way that it didn’t come to define the trip, but served more as a reminder that they have come to serve in a very different cultural. Later, Brett is on the porch of the guest house, pumping up footballs (soccer balls) and the village kids who see him doing this are in awe. They have never seen so many footballs in one place.

[Brett pumping footballs (thanks Margaret!) ]

Back at the clinic Dr. Ju started seeing patients, after Lucas was OK, but not joyfully, it was out of obligation. God sent her a old woman, whom Ju happened to think to ask, how long have did walk today? “Three hours,” she said and it broke Ju ‘s heart, to let God use her again. The woman had serious pain and other issues, and to think of her walking three hours more to go home, over God knows how many mountains, helped her put the problems of the day in perspective, and prepared Ju for the last patient, a child who had (I think) a descended hernia that required immediate treatment. So Andrew, Michael, and Father Stephen left in the Patrol, rushing off to the nearest hospital, or at least the nearest one that would admit the boy. Many hours and two hospitals later, he was admitted with the promise of surgery the next day. About 10pm they arrived back home, tired, but well used.

[football field carved out of jungle]
On Friday, the clinic was only open in the morning, and a 12 village football (or soccer) tournament had been organized by some of the clinic staff. The mission team had brought with them three large trophies to give to the winners. In the morning the coaches gathered to draw matches, but it was later that we learned that two bitter village rivals had drawn the sixth match. Even later we would learn that the rivalry was so bitter that these two villages had not played each other in ten years. We would also learn why.

[football] The plan was for six matches to be held on Friday, and the finals on Sunday, followed by awards ceremony and a film. All began well, there was even an announcer who gave the play-by-play on Andrews brand new sound system. The condition of the field was excellent, and unusual for Ghana in that it was all grass, and more or less level, carved out from the jungle that surrounded it. Most fields in Ghana are dirt. But unknown to us, about 100 miles away on Lake Volta, all seven generators at the Akosombo Dam collectively failed and the entire country lost power for 24 hours. Losing power in the remote village of Agyemen, meant sound system failure, and communication with the every growing crowd more difficult. You couldn’t just announce what was happening.

By the fifth game, it was getting really hot, the sun was overhead and tensions were high. Match five ended in tie, and so there was shoot out. I went back to clinic to rehydrate and rest. Some of the earlier teams had walked for two hours to play in this Gala, but it was the local teams, the bitter rival teams, that played in the sixth match. I wasn’t there but at some point there was a contested decision or shot that one of the villages did not like, and the crowds took to the field. Unfortunately, they also took with them clubs and machetes and began to fight. Obrunies were told to get out of there quickly, and some were taken into the bush for hiding. We are not sure how it all ended, and how no one was hurt, or at least came to the clinic for treatment. What we do know is that the Gala was suspended and then later canceled all together by its organizers, and the village elders were deeply embarrassed.

[football head shot]

For us on the team, it was another reminder that this is a very different culture, and as much as we might like to think it is similar to ours, it isn’t. Tread carefully. That night we slept behind locked doors and the drumming that had been so fun to listen to the previous nights, sounded more ominous, like the drums of war. Add to that a light out, and the team slept fitfully.

[billie, sidnie on boat]

Blessedly, Andrew had already planned Saturday as a day of rest in the schedule and so we took the boat across the Lake to its only resort where we spent most of the day (waiting for our food). That night we had a slide show, and didn’t know it at the time, but it would be our last time to gather for worship.

[Andrew, The Bishop, & a trilled Father Stephen]

On Sunday we went to two churches, the local one, and another miles away to witness the installation of a new bishop. There is nothing that can prepare you for the Ghanaian, or at least the Methodist Church of Ghana, worship experience. I can’t help but wonder what Brett, for whom this was his first experience, thought about it all. For me the most disturbing part is arriving 90 minutes late, and when the ushers see five obrunies walking up, two in clerical collars, they scramble to clear space for us. They also cleared space for the clinic staff, who sit behind us. I don’t know where the people who were sitting where we sat were moved to, or how they felt about it. Andrew and Father Stephen end up sitting up front between the two most powerful men in the room, and I wonder who was sitting there before? Where did they go? How much of the service is done for our benefit? Questions I won’t have the answers to any time soon.

[its hard to see in this picture, but there were about 500 people, michael is preaching]

Even though the Gala was canceled, the organizers still asked that we show the film in the village that night, so Michael, Sammy and I head down the hill late afternoon to hook up a portable DVD player, sound system, and projector. The location was a side of a building no one was living in, next to the road, so the overflow of the benches would be actual road through the village. Power came from a nearby shop via a very homemade extension cord. As people gathered we played Ghanaian praise music in Twi, which has a very Caribbean beat to it, so it felt like a party. When it was well dark, Michael gave an introduction, then Ebenezer, the Methodist Evangelist and clinic worker, lead the children in singing. I wouldn’t have thought of that it, but it really changed the spirit of the crowd. I wish you could hear their voices praising God, and rejoicing. Somewhere in the music the spirit of the people changed from curious, to anticipation that God was going to do something that night, and they wanted to be a part of it.

I’ve read and seen about films about missionaries who took technology into the village as a way to introduce Christ, but had always been skeptical of its effectiveness. Andrew and I have had this discussion, and he freely admits that the “wow factor” is technology driven, but when we showed the film, which told the basic Biblical story in detail, the kids, and adults heard it in their local language. Something happened. It guess it is one thing to hear about the Biblical story, but then to see it in full color, and hear the narrative in your mother tongue… the effect was profound. More and more people showed up, maybe they were just walking along the road, and decided to watch. Maybe they were in the village and curious. For me it was the people saying the Twi equivalent of WOW, when they saw something in the film. When it was over, Michael got up and gave a message, which pretty much all stayed behind to listen to, and then he prayed over them. It was a good night, God was honored, and I was wowed just to be apart of the process.

The last day of a mission trip is always hard. I never know when I'll see these people again. We have shared such an intense experience, and there is this part of me that doesn't want it to end. I don’t know what to say, or how to say it, all I know is that I’m forever changed by what has happened, and it makes me look forward to the next trip. I wonder if I went on enough of these mission trips if I would lose my since of wonder, if I would no longer be awed by the experience, of seeing God blessed in the people who have come to serve, and be served. I pray I’ll never learn.

So yes, the long answer is, it was a good mission trip.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Lake Bosomtwi Medical Clinic Mission Trip, part 1

I love that feeling you get before camp starts, when you’re waiting for the kids to arrive. The feeling that God’s going to something amazing, and you get to be a part of it. It is the same feeling when I was up in Wisconsin at a kid “helping” at my brother Rod’s 4-H camp, or serving on mission teams, or even at Glen Lake Camp, serving as a dean. Maybe its because I never felt like I was a good fit for the town I grew up in, and going away to church camp, or 4-H camp, I discovered things about myself, that I was likeable, and maybe got a glimpse into the person I would grow up to be. It’s a feeling of not knowing exactly what God is going to do, but knowing that things will be forever changed by it. Summer Camp was such a wonderful thing for me as a kid, a place where time was suspended long enough to become myself, and connect with God, and even now that I have become that person, the wait for it still excites me.

So it was those feelings that I brought with me on the ride up to Lake Bosumtwi with Margaret the Missionary, and her friend Gifty. Margaret is on a two year assignment as a videographer for the Mission Society and is coming to record the first short term Mission Team to visit the Lake Bosumtwi Medical Clinic. The clinic was started in the late 1960s by a Scottish couple who, after seven good years, left to resume their lives. The sad part of the story is that no one came to replace them, and so for the last 25 years, the clinic has existed as a few long suffering nurses, and an occasional visit from the doctor.

The US Team was from First United Methodist Church in Sylacauga, Alabama, Andrew and Juliana’s home church. Leigh Anne and Brett – Brett works in the offshore oil rig industry one month on the rig, one month off. When he is gone, Leigh Anne single-handedly manages a family of five boys. Its fun to see a married couple work together as well as these two did. Billie and Sidnie are semi-retired nurses, who were such a blessing to the team with their medical experience. Billie still works with hospice, and Sidnie works at the church that employs Father Stephen, a semi-retired Anglican priest who spent 15 years at a new church pastor. He is their missions and leadership development pastor, and was such a blessing to me.
[the waiting room at the clinic]

From the time that Andrew and Juliana first stepped foot in Ghana this was their dream to host mission teams and practice medicine at Lake Bosumtwi, and now after 18 months of hard work and planning, here we are. I looked into their faces for some sign of pride or relief that it had finally begun, but saw none. I guess that is how it is with visionary people, they are always looking toward what’s next, and they both have a great vision for what God is using them to do in that place.

Greeting the Chiefs
Before the free clinic could open, the Team had to greet the chiefs. Greeting is a important part of community relations here in Ghana and everything depends on how well the elaborate protocol is followed. We learned an important lesson at the first chief greeting, and so the second greeting went much better. In Anakom, the greeting took place on the porch of the palace, really just a large mud brick building with an equally large L shaped porch. We arrived there to find three chiefs, and many village elders seated. After taking our seats, the chief’s linguist asked our Mission. Even though the chiefs all speak English, we are not allowed to speak to them directly, instead we speak to linguist. Andrew told them our story, and introduced each of us, and then we stood up and greeted each of the chiefs and village elders. Then the village elders came around and greeted us. Then we presented them with 40 kilos of Texas Star Rice, and the village elders came and greeted us again, thanking us for out gift. To greet someone means the greetee is seated, and the greater moves from right to left to shake hands and say welcome, or hello, or Akwaaba, or thank you and look them in the eyes. After the elders had thanked us, we got up and greeted the chiefs, and then all sat down. Then we were invited to greet the picture of the Asantehene, or Asante King, and so we each took turns looking at his picture and saying nice. The chiefs then stood up, and invited us to stand up, and then Andrew prayed, and then the chiefs sat down again and we left. The greeting was over, and had gone well.

The Free Clinic
Then for the next two and a half days the free clinic was open. People had started arriving at 6am, about the time we were leaving to meet the first chief. Some had walked as much as three hours to see a doctor, and spent much of the day waiting. It was loud, with as much pushing and shoving as any market. After admissions, there was the BP room, really a entryway to the consulting room where a table had been set up. All around the table people were pushing and shoving, jockeying to get into the next position. On the first day there were as many as 40 people all packed into the BP room (roughly 12x18ft), everyone trying to get inside, and there sat Billie or Sidnie at the table taking BPs, an oasis of calm amidst the pushing, shoving and shouting. Inside the consulting room Drs. Juliana and Cam saw patents. There was a deep peace and love in their faces in how they spoke to their patients. They cared. I saw Christ. I understand that a typical doctor’s visit in Ghana is less than a minute long, and the reason that people come is to get access to medications. Juliana and Cam prefer to practice differently and so took much longer, say 10 minutes. Then it was off to pharmacy, where I worked along with Andrew, Brett, Leigh Anne, Sidnie or Billie (when they weren’t in the BP room). Most of the medication was Malaria related, and sometimes we received a prescription that would say NOW, and we knew these were the worse cases. Sometimes an hour can make all the difference in the treatment of Malaria.

Village Life
In many ways life in the village of Anakom was indistinguishable from life in Accra. The children laugh and smile, and the people dressed in “brouni uawa” or dead white man cloths. I can’t get over how strange it is to see people dressed in cloths that promote American companies, or universities, cities, really anything you can imagine, polo shirts, and jeans, all cast off from Europe or the states. I assume these cloths are the product of clothing drives, or Goodwill extras but here in Ghana they are the clothing of choice. It seems that obrunies wear Ghanaian clothes, and Ghanaians where obrunie clothes, mainly because of cost. Ghanaian shirts start at ¢60,000 ($6), and brouni uawa starts at ¢2000 (20 cents).

Yet in other ways, village life was much different. Though the clinic overlooked the main, or I should say, only road around the lake, and there was no traffic. Once or perhaps twice a day the TroTro came by, and only once did I see a taxi. There is no planes flying overhead, no meat pie guys honking, or shoe-shiner twap-twapping. It is quiet, except for the roosters, and incredibly remote. The only traffic was the clinic Patrol, and other missionary friends who came to greet us and see how things were going on the clinic’s first mission trip. I guess the Jernigans will get used to life in a fish bowl, because it seemed like people were always watching us. The clinic is built at the top of the hill between two towns, and above the clinic is their home, staff housing and the guest house. As we looked over the road below us, people were always just standing there just looking up and watching.

At night in the distance we could hear the distant sound of drumming and singing. I imagined people dancing, and wonder what it would be like. But there is something abut being white in this culture, that doesn’t allow us to observe or participate without changing it. I believe in science it is called the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which says when you observe it, the fact that you are observing it changes it. For example on the Sunday before the team arrived, we went to Anakom Methodist Church for Sunday worship. On Saturday was the funeral for caretaker for the church, and so there was an unusually large crowd. Services start at 9:30, but we arrived at 10:30, trying not to have a complete four hour worship service experience. Even though worship had been going on for an hour, the moment Andrew and I enter the sanctuary, chairs are cleared front behind the pulpit, and we are directed to sit there, in places of honor. They know Andrew, and I guess that news has spread that there is another Methodist pastor in the village. The rest, Margaret, Juliana, and the clinic staff sit on the back row. The service is mostly in Twi, and the music was great, lots of drumming, and hand clapping, and the choir singing without accompaniment.

It is so white (read: square) the way obrunies clap only on 1 and 3 in a 4/4 song, while Africans clap on 2 and 4. Now the more indigenous the music at church is, the more interesting its clap pattern. For example at Asbury-Dunwell, during the offering, they will often clap on 1, and 1&, so it is two quick claps and then none for the rest of the measure. At Anakom, there were three patterns, 1, 2, 3 (but not on 4); 2, 3, 4 (but not on 1), and the most difficult, just 1&. One hand clap per measure, and it wasn’t even on the beat! Talk about feeling white, I kept trying to clap, and kept missing until I started doing a faking a clap on 1, and then hitting the 1&. After church services, or at least after the liturgy was over, there was an offering based on the day you were born.

Birth day of the week is an important thing to know here, and each day (Monday through Sunday) has its own unique birth day. For example Kofi Annan, the former general secretary of the UN was born on Friday, because Kofi means Friday-born. Suzanne and I are both Sunday-born, so she is AC and I am Kwasi, and when we’re feeling particularly Ghanaian, that’s how we introduce ourselves, “Kwasi Steve”.

Akan Day of the Week Birth Names.

So the second offering, (the first was for tithes where people brought forth their books to record their offering) was based on day name, meaning there were seven offerings. After each offering they emptied and counted the plate. Because the funeral for caretaker of the church was the day before (and he was Sunday-born) tradition demands that his day would “win” the offering. Andrew is watching the offering tallies closely, ¢86,220, ¢57,105, ¢63,529, ¢115,034 and he knows what I have in my pocket and what he plans to give, and quickly figures out that if he gives what he feels called to give, Saturday-born (or Kwame) will win, so quietly he slips me ¢60,000 which I add to mine, and at the end Kwasi wins by ¢40,000. “Great,” Andrew will later say on our walk home, “now I’ve rigged the offering.” But before I hear that we must sit through an appeal for funds, and an auction that goes on for perhaps 45 minutes, selling off things people have brought, like yams, stalks of plantain, bread and a tin of sardines. It feels a little desperate at times, and in the end, we’re all relived to headed home at 12:45pm.

Offerings are such a contradiction because the way the Ghanaian churches do it is so right and so wrong. It is right in that the first offering (not the tithes) is actually the high point of the service and takes 20-30 minutes with people dancing and presenting their gifts on the Altar, or a nearby box. Everyone dances and laughs and there is much joy and delight in it all, completely ruined by what follows, the appeal of funds where (which feels more like exhortation). The pastor, or evangelist demands that people give in these amounts so the whole congregation can see who is giving what what. He announced ¢100,000, and those who have it come forward and put it in the box. Next is ¢50,000, ¢20,000 all the way to ¢1000. Everyone is expected to give one of the amounts. As the number decreases, the number of people increases, until finally we’re at the ¢5000 and ¢1000 and the appeal for funds as almost over. This part of the service is completely joyless, and the fact it takes another 30 minutes really feels wrong to me. Then there is the auction and then people go home, so all told in a 3 hour service, 90 minutes of it was collection of funds related, and I have yet to leave one of these services with anything but lent in my pockets.

The Lake
At night overlooking the lake you can see the lights of some of the villages that surround the lake. When the light is off (mean the power was off) all you can see is this very round lake surrounded by darkness, reflecting the full moon. Lake Bosumtwi is a crater lake, formed from a meteoroid crashing into the earth roughly a million years ago. Its only about 5 miles wide so you can see across it, and many of the 24 villages that surround it, especially at night. It is considered to be a sacred lake by the Asanti people, the first place their souls go after death. As a sacred lake, there are certain traditions:
1) There is no fishing allowed on Tuesdays (it would anger the gods).
2) The only fishing boats allowed are plank-boats.
3) No metal is allowed in the lake (somehow we got around this one).
When light off (we were blessed with a full moon) you can see the lake as it must have looked throughout history, and it was easy to understand why this lake is considered sacred.

It was good to be serving on a Missions Team again, and much of what we did and how we worked together reminded me of the El Carmen Mission Trip I had gone on years earlier with my family in Mexico with the Erwin’s. First of all there was the spirit of the people serving, and their willingness to work so hard for such long hours. There was the feeling of overwhelming need and that we would not be able to see or help everyone. There was the fascination of the doctors, how much they loved serving, and the feeling of God blessing it all. You could almost see childlike delight in them talking about the cases they had seen that day as they would look up things in their journal of tropical medicine. At night there was the feeling of being connected to something special as we gathered for worship and shared how that day touched us.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ghanaian Cooking 101

Contains post recipes for Jollof Rice, Basic Ghanaian Gravy, Red Red, and updated version of Groundnut Stew.

The food of Ghana is wonderful, there is a freshness about it that you don’t find in the states and I think most of that is because it is home-made, from very fresh ingredients. There is no Sysco food distribution network here, and so the food that restaurants serve here, is the food that they prepare (often minutes after you order it). So food takes a long time to get to the table, but when it get there, it is worth the wait.

Of our three kids, Grace is the once who had taken to the foods of Ghana the most Given the choice, she will pick Ghanaian always, like in the hospital when the choices for lunch was a vegetable soup, or Groundnut Stew with Fufu, and she picked the latter.

Fufu is a staple of Ghanaian food, it is a pounded food made of cassava and plantain, pounded to make a sticky smooth glob of flavorless starch. It is eaten with the fingers, dipped in a thick soup and sucked down whole (don’t chew, just swallow). This takes a bit of training not to gag, and the Ghanaians in the market get a kick out of watching obruie eat it. Though instant fufu is available in the stores, most Ghanaian homes make their own, through a process of what our German student-friends call Kitchen Athletics.

The basic process is to take Yam, Cocoyam, Cassava, or Plantain peal it and steam it until tender, and then pound it in a large mortar and pestle until it forms a mass and becomes a little bit too elastic. I’ve heard of electric fufu pounders, and even a large diesel one for the whole village, but most people just pound their own. Scoop a mass o’ fufu (about the size of a fist) onto a wet plate and smooth while shaping it into a round ball.

Fufu isn’t the only pounded food starch, there is also Kenke (corn), Banku (fermented corn), Tuto (pounded rice balls), and other starches from the north I have not tasted into yet.

[Fufu and light soup]

Fufu is served with Groundnut Stew or Light Soup. Banku is served with fish (dried, roasted, or fried) as is Kenke. When I took the trip to Emmanuel’s village, we bought 15 servings of Kenke off the side of the road, in blue plastic bags.

On the menu you will almost always see four typical Ghanaian or West African dishes:

Jollof Rice (recipe follows)
Red-Red (served with fried (called Dodo) or boiled plantain)
Palava Sauce (AKA Kontembre) (served over rice)
Groundnut Stew or Light Soup (both served with Fufu)

Vida’s Jollof Rice
Vida is our day guard Emmanuel’s Wife who has been to our house twice to teach me how to cook Ghanaian.

500 kg of rice (1 pound)
1 210g can of tomato paste
½ cup thick palm oil (you can use 100% palm oil, but not so heart healthy)
½ cup heart healthy oil (sunflower, rapeseed, canola)
1 yellow cube Maggie (flavoring cube)
2 green peppers cubed
4 roma tomatoes cubed
2 onions (sliced in crescents)
1 head cabbage chopped
1 cup mixed frozen vegetables (or 5 carrots, 4 green onions)
1 tps curry
1 tps rosemary
1 tps cyanine pepper
1 tps nutmeg
1 Tbs salt.


Heat oil in a large
heavy cooking pan (with lid) over high heat, when hot add onions, and
stir. When onions are almost translucent, add tomato paste. Add 1
one tomato paste can of water, to rinse out can. After two minutes,
add curry, and another tomato paste can of water. Continue to stir over
low heat to prevent scorching.

When mixture has come
together (about 3-5 minutes), add green pepper, cyanine pepper, and fresh
tomatoes. Stir occasionally until tomatoes skins begin to separate.
Add another tomato paste can of water, flavoring cube (Maggie) and
rosemary. Stir.

Add rice and stir until uniform
consistency. Note: At this point Vida will add a can of corned beef,
but only does so on very special occasions, we omit.

Add salt, and 2 tomato paste cans of water, stir.

Add cabbage, vegetables (either frozen vegetables, or fresh carrots & spring onions), add nutmeg. Stir until uniform consistency (this will take some effort as cabbage, and vegetables
add much bulk to the mix. If having trouble mixing, add more water. [At this point Vida will add a small can of tuna fish, we omit.]

Press and pat rice mixture down until flat in the pot, and then add water to cover rice by a depth of ½ inch. Cover dish and … you have a choice to make.

Now the traditional way to finish the rice is to cook on the stove until all water has been absorbed. I find that the rice on the bottom gets scorched, and apparently this is just an
expected part of the cooking process. However, if you don’t want or like scorched rice, then finish the cooking in an oven preheated to 300, for 30 minutes, until water absorbed, and rice cooked. Emmanuel likes the taste of the scorched or slightly burned rice, and was aghast that I would alter the recipe.

When all water is absorbed, rice is cooked and cabbage is soft. Turn off heat (or take out of oven) and let rest until read to serve.

Sometimes Jollof Rice is served with basic Ghanaian Gravy, although we will sometimes serve the Gravy with plain rice. This gravy is absolutely wonderful, and keeps well in the fridge.
Basic Ghanaian Gravy

2 medium onions, diced
8 fresh tomatoes
(usually Roma)
½ c vegetable oil (we use half palm, half something more heart healthy)
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp seasoning salt
½ tsp thyme

Optional: 1 green pepper, diced and added at the same time as the tomatoes.

Heat oil in a fry pan and sauté onions until soft, but not brown, add tomatoes, cayenne pepper, seasoning salt, and thyme.

Fry for 30 minutes until tomatoes are soft and deep red in color.

Palm Oil
You may be seeing a common theme in that much of the recipes contain the not so heart healthy Palm Oil, there is even a soup made from Palm Nuts that Vida made for us in the fall. Suzanne says that she has developed a taste for palm oil, especially in fried chicken.

For several months I tried to develop a recipe for a dish called “Red Red,” which could be made from brown lentils, red black-eyed peas, or small red beans. They serve a very delicious “Red Red” at the Ashesi canteen, and so I wanted to develop my own recipe. No matter what I did, my Red Red tasted like plain old beans, or refried beans, until I added palm oil. That’s the Ghanaian flavor I had been missing.

Red Red

1 lb Black-eyed Peas, brown lentils, or small red beans
½ cup palm oil
2 onions, minced.
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 head garlic, minced (optional)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 tsp curry powder

Boil or pressure cook the (black-eyed peas, lentils or small red beans) until almost tender. Meanwhile sauté the onions, garlic and green peppers in palm oil until almost soft but not brown. Add tomatoes and cook until soft. When beans are almost
tender drain and add to onion-garlic-tomato mixture. Palm Oil is essential
to the authentic taste of Red Red.

[this Red Red made with Lentils]

Red Red is always served with Fried Plaintain (DoDo). Plaintain is like a
really large starchy banana, and you wait until the peals are half black before
slicing in long 3/8 inch slices thick and cooked in Palm Oil, which is where the
name comes from. Palm Oil, when it is cooked takes on a slightly red
color, and as it seeps from both the beans and the fried plaintan, there is Red Red on your plate.

[Palm Oil seepage gives it the name Red Red]

Adapted from Authentic African Cuisine from Ghana, by David & Tamminay Otoo

As you can see there are two types of Palm Oil, refined and not. It is the not refined palm oil that gives it the wonderful flavor. I’m guessing there are laws against this kind of Palm Oil in the states, or should be because it is anything but heart friendly, but oh is it tasty.

Earlier in the blog I posted Groundnut Stew. I’ve continued to adapt it to make it taste more authentic.
Groundnut Stew
(Chicken Peanut Soup)

8-12 chicken pieces (we used 1 pound or a ½ kilo of cut up chicken quarters)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 t salt
1 t pepper
1 T curry powder
1 t cayenne pepper
1 cup smooth peanut butter (natural, never jiffy or skippy)
10 cups hot water
2 medium-ripe tomatoes, pealed. We used about a cup of salsa

Season chicken with onions and all dry ingredients. Moisten with a little water and cook over medium heat in a large saucepan for 15
minutes. Stir as needed.

While chicken is cooking, mix peanut butter with boiling water in a bowl until smooth (Ghanaians will use their fingers) Add peanut butter mixture to chicken when it is ready. Bring to a boil at once and continue boiling for about 30 minutes.

Grind tomatoes in a blender until smooth, and add to soup. Simmer until chicken becomes tender and a dark oil begins to form in soup. Stir often.

Empty soup into individual bowls and serve hot with rice or fufu.
Adapted from The Art of West African Cooking, by Dinah Ameley Ayensu 1972

Finally, there is an ingredient that you won’t be able to find in the states, at least not until it undergoes a name change. Its called Shito, and is available in bottles. It has an oily, fishy, spicy taste that really fills out whatever it added to. While Shito, is not necessary to make things taste Ghanaian, it sure makes it easier.

[1] From Authentic African Cuisine from Ghana, by David and Tamminay Otoo, 1997

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Light is Out – AGAIN (by Suzanne)

OK - there is a theme to our blogging these days.

So, I’m not one to complain too much. But… in the past 9 days, we’ve not had power almost as much as we’ve had it – and in the last 4 days, hands down, no power wins, with no power at all during daylight hours, and often the evening too. I’d happily go back to the no power for 12 hours every 3 days schedule – when there is no schedule, you never know when it will go off, and when it does, if it will be a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days. It’s not the end of the world; we’re managing. BUT… it’s hot! And sticky! And one of the evenings with no light, we had no water too (that whole electric pump thing). Several days in a row of no light frankly makes a person cranky (this person especially – just ask Steve). On Thursday, it was HOT at work (we have power but no air conditioning when the light is out at work) and I had drinking water but it was low and warm and it was late in the day and I thought, “I’ll get some nice cold water at one of the stands nearby”. A glorious thought! THAT would cool me down. But guess what – no bottled water there. They did have sachets (they are little sealed plastic bags of water), which would be fine, but warm. (Of course they were warm – the light is out!). So, my hopes were dashed. I actually ended up overheating that day, with a huge headache and all, so I didn’t get my grading done that evening. Productivity in other ways has suffered too – I sure understand the “mañana” culture a lot more now! But, I have also learned from it – the fridge at Ashesi works, so I bring plenty of water and put it in the fridge (duh!). I wear only very cool clothes. I don’t walk too fast, so I’m not SO hot when I arrive to an un-airconditioned office. I sometimes leave work early and sit on our screened in porch and work a little there. And, I try to keep a positive attitude (I really am trying!).

Steve has the much harder job, figuring out meals that don’t require much fridge access, and making just enough so there’s no leftovers (we are very used to cooking for leftovers – we like leftovers!). Laundry was a huge issue this week, as Fox and Grace went to Togo for a school tournament Friday morning and needed clean clothes, and most of what they needed was dirty and soaked with sweat from the week. We had power from midnight to 7am Thursday (whoo-hoo) and so at 6:55am I started one of the three loads of laundry they needed, and then power went out 5 minutes later (and it’s a front-loading machine that locks after it starts). There are no laundromats here – people hand wash mostly. Steve problem-solved the whole Togo-trip-laundry-problem, though, and our guard’s wife Vida came over and spent the whole day Thursday doing our laundry by hand and then hung it all out to dry, although the heavy things and the later things she washed were not dry by evening. Steve also figured out how to get the washing machine drained and opened and she washed those too. Luckily, the power came on Thursday night (for 12 whole hours this time!) so I was able to get everything dried in time for them to pack and be out the door at 7:30am Friday. Whew. We were all sweating that one (excuse the pun).

So, our noble no-generator days may be coming to an end. I need to not be cranky. Kids need to do their homework. We need to have a functioning refrigerator. We need to be able to do laundry. In many respects, it seems silly to buy a generator when we’ll only be here a few more months, but… the situation is only getting worse and it’s only getting hotter. Because Ghana’s power is almost 100% hydro-electric, there won’t be more power until there’s more rain – in May, at the end of the really hot season. So, we could keep going without a generator, but… I’m guessing you’ll be reading about the new generator in a few weeks (maybe days??).

Light Out...its not fun anymore!

I think Suzanne put it best this morning, “its officially not fun anymore.” She is talking about light out (what we would call a “power failure” in the States), which has been more off than on this week. Usually its not so much of a problem, but with it being in the middle of the dry season, dry being a relative term, because the humidity is near 100% always, and the temperature climbs to the upper 90s each day, and maybe cools to the mid 80s and it is just not that comfortable.
[Anna doing homework by candlelight]

How we long for the cool dusty bone-dry nights of the harmaton, or the rainy season rains that cool things down. Instead it is hot, outside everything is dusty (it hasn’t rained since November). The sky is clear again, the dust in the air is gone, and the winds blow from the south (off the ocean), and it is hot.

This week-end Fox and Grace head to Togo, the next country to the east of Ghana for a school tournament, about a six hour drive away. Grace is representing Lincoln in varsity soccer, basketball and chess, and Fox in varsity basketball. They are very excited to go, but as of right now, won’t be bringing many clean cloths. No light, no washing machine, and so Emmanuel has invited his wife Vida over to hand wash our cloths and dry them on the line. Line drying is OK, but there is a butterfly that can lay eggs on your cloths, and hatch in your skin. It is said to be painful, so people iron their cloths, or use a dryer to kill the eggs.

We have been having the discussion here lately, car vs. generator. Until last night, car had been the clear winner, really second place to both, but as another hot candlelit dinner was leading toward another hot night of no power, with a fridge full of spoiling food, laundry piling up, and water running low, generator pulled ahead. In fact, generator was looking pretty good. One by one we have listened to the sound of our neighbors getting generators, and seeing their lights burn all night while our house is dark and hot. So officially, it isn’t fun anymore.

It is a national embarrassment for Ghana, that it can’t provide reliable power for its people here in the 50th year since independence. People are very worried that the huge celebration will end up being in the dark. All over Accra, you see signs of a city sprucing itself up for a celebration. There are different ideas of what this might look like.

Plant a tree day & Ghana declares war on Trees
Nearby our house is a roundabout that had about 10-20 huge trees. These trees were planted by the first British High Commissioner in the 1870s. They were huge trees, that provided a some wonderful shade over the roundabout, and those that lunched there. This week they were all cut down. They join the trees along the nearby roads leading to the military hospital, the new American Embassy, and past the “Mormon Compound”. Now the irony was that last Saturday was national “Religious Organization Plant a Tree Day,” but few if any trees were planted, there was a big funeral here and so the city was shut down.[1]

[Before and after at Cantonments Roundabout]

Funerals are important community events here, often lasting three days or more, and sometimes, taking months or years to plan. Take for example the funeral held last week-end that completely closed down the capital city of Accra on Saturday. This funeral took over two years to plan, but then again, it was a King who had been enstooled before Ghana had had its first coup, during the presidency of Dr. Kwami Nkrumah.

In Ghana there are perhaps 30 different people groups (what we used to call tribes). The largest people groups are Ashanti-Akin, and Ga. This funeral was for the Ga Mentse, or Ga Traditional Chief, who died three years ago. This Chief was enstooled (or crowned) 41 years ago dies, and has been the Ga Chief for every president, dictator, junta, or military court that has ruled over Ghana. About three months ago the funeral notices began showing up in the Daily Graphic. I had thought it was a typo, in these full page notices, saying he died in 2004, or maybe this was the one or two year anniversary celebrations of his death, but no, this was his actual funeral. Last week notices began showing up mid week all over Accra that things would be closed, every store, shop, gas station, hospital, even the morgue was not accepting bodies.

Lesser people take less time to plan for. For example, Emmanuel’s great Aunt who died six weeks ago. I had met her five months ago when I was researching Ako Adjei, one of Ghana’s Big Six (or Ghana’s founding fathers). Ako Adjei happens to be Emmanuel’s grandfather, and when I discovered this, I asked to see his family compound and to meet Ako’s sister. One morning we drove The Patrol over to La, and I was introduced to her, along with all the other “old ladies” of the family, and it is one of these that has gone home.

Emmanuel invited me to the Adjei family compound for the first day of the funeral and it was clear to me why it took six weeks to plan. Imagine a city block with maybe fifteen houses built in it, all at random angles to each other, but still preserving a fair amount of open space. This open space is either covered with concrete or dirt, well swept dirt. There is no grass or shrubbery anywhere. Ghanaians believe ground coverings hide the snakes. In fact when you see a house that either has grass, or shrubbery, you can be assured, obrunie lives there, a non-westernized Ghanaian just wouldn’t do it.

So in this series of courtyards, I count maybe 10 large tent, and each tent holds 50 plastic chairs, and these tents are scattered about the Adjei family compound. Having been there on several occasions, I recognized the house that Nkrumah lived in when he first returned from the UK, I see the community house, where the Adjei family holds an officers meeting each Sunday at 7am. Emmanuel, is the Adjei family treasurer, so it is his responsibility to see that funds are collected, and well spent. On Thursday night, he asked to leave his post early to buy drinks, or mirrass, as they are call here. He spent over 8 million cedis, or roughly $850 on cokes and beer for the funeral. The tents were set up last week, and all this week, different family groups have been bringing in their chairs, and setting up. I ask him, “So there are about 500 chairs here?” He says, 507, and inside I smile, I still got it.[2]

At this point, it isn’t one large family that has joined together, but rather many sub-group of the family setting up outside their own family houses. In front of his great Aunt’s house there is no tent, but many chairs set up under the tree, in the shade of the house, and on the porch.

I am the only obrunie there. I dress in my brown up & down (a sort of pressed linen pant suit) and sit under the Adjei tent. We sit the third row back. In the front row are the family elders whom all come to greet. The elders will sit there all week-end long. Some are dressed in traditional red and black funeral cloths, others in ill fitting western suits. They are all men, well in to their 60s. In the second row, a woman (not as old as the old ladies) sits right behind the row of elders and right most. I gather she is also a one of the elders but sits behind them. It is tradition that you greet people from right to left in Ghana. If there is a chief, then you greet the chief first, and then start from right to left.

People come to pay their respects, and want to start with the right most elder sitting in the front row. So when they reach out their hand, the right most elder takes it and directs it to the woman sitting in the second row, who is actually the most right elder. After greeting her, then he shakes their hand. I see this played out over and over and wonder why she does not move to the front row. She even pushes the chairs to the side, so she is almost in the front row, but not quite.

People mill around, greeting each other, and talking. I think what a great tradition. To have Friday as a time when the extended family comes together, and get acquainted and become one. There is a DJ who plays up tempo fun Ghanaian music, and it really has the feeling of an outdoor festival. At a larger event, it would be a live band.

The Aunt’s nieces live in the UK, the funeral date had to be set far out so they could attended. When they arrive, I am introduced and for some reason, we exchange eye contact throughout the afternoon.

Later we move from the Adjei tent, to chairs set up outside Emmanuel’s house. Here people are a little more relaxed, some are drinking beer, and telling stories, and feeding me cokes. At one point, one of the UK nieces walks by and asks: “Why are you sitting with the old ladies?” She says this in a beautiful British accent and it cuts through all the local languages that are being spoke around me. Even thought there is a buzz of local languages, I can hear her. “Do you even know what they are saying?” she asks. “No, so I just smile.” I say. “That is a good thing,” she says and as she has passed out of conversation range I wonder if she means it is a good thing I don’t know what they are saying, or a good thing I like to smile.

I’m sit where Emmanuel has directed me to sit, and it happens to be with his Aunt, whom I have greeted several times these last few months. She happens to be sitting with her aunts, and when I sit there one of the young girls objects saying “Why do you sit with old ladies who have menopause, when there are so many young girls?”

[The courtyard of Emmanuel's family]

They are just making fun, of course, and everyone laughs, and I think, what a great tradition, having the time for everybody to get together and just get to know each another again. Anna and Ruth, Emmanuel’s daughters arrive, and give me great hugs. I pawn off my coke on Anna, who is grateful.

We’re sorry, but Accra is closed today
I don’t remember seeing a funeral notice in the Daily Graphic for Emmanuel’s great Aunt, but I do remember the funeral notices for the Ga Traditional Chief showing up last fall. I thought it was a typo. They said he died in 2004, and thought maybe they meant his one or two year anniversary celebrations of his death (quite common), but no, this was his actual funeral. So last week all over Accra notices began showing up mid week that everything would be closed, every store, shop, gas station, hospital, even the morgue was not accepting bodies.

In Ghana, funerals last all week-end, beginning with a family gathering on Friday. For Nii Amugi, the Ga Mantse, the public part began Saturday at 6am when the WarLords (known locally as Asafoatesmei) began marching to Ga palace grounds and firing their muskets. There was the first of several church services, and gathering of all the sub-chiefs chiefs, and time for mourners to greet the family and pass by the casket. Among the mourners were Ghana’s President and First Lady, the former President, and his VP (now flag bearer of his political party), and numerous Bishops, Very and Most Reverends of the Accra religious community. I am not sure I understand all that went on, with ladies fanning the casket to keep it cool, the multiple church services that followed, and dignitaries who came to speak and listen to the drumming and watch the dancing.

The Daily Graphic reports that the climax of the service came when:

“A huge cow was brought close to the casket bearing the mortal remains of the
King and slaughtered. Its blood, as per tradition, was then smeared on it
before it was lifted and paraded in circles around the then where it was placed
for several minutes.”

Then the (blood smeared) casket was placed in a special hearse and lead through the streets by the “fierce-looking” WarLords who fired their muskets. Then it was brought to various houses of the Ga chiefs, all the while the streets were lined with people seeking to catch a glimpse, and say good-bye.

But we saw none of this. We were warned to stay at home, or at least to stay away from central Accra where the 10,000s of Ga gathered to pay their last respects. The big kids went to the orphanage east of Accra to volunteer, and Suzanne and I had a delightfully quiet morning home with Anna. No meat pie guys honking, no shoe shine whapping, no taxis beeping, and the light was on, and that meant fans. Saturday night the light did go off, and so Fox and Grace set off for the local internet café, only to learn that even at 8pm, everything is still closed up. No street vendors, no street food, no chop bars, nothing. Accra was completely shut down (though they did manage to snag a taxi, somehow).

Vida hand washed our cloths and hung them out to dry from 10:30a to 5:30p. Though she would not accept payment, I did manage to slip Emmanuel ¢140000 (roughly $15) and at 7:15p, as we were preparing to sit down with a friend for dinner, the light returned. Immediately you could hear our fridge kick in, the water pump going, and the scramble to get cloths off the line and into the drier to kill the really nasty butterfly-worm eggs. We can feel the floor fans circulating air, and a since of well being comes over the house as we sit down for home made from scratch in the dark spaghettis. Anna again takes great delight in telling the story she has read in her history book here about the time when New York City was thrown into darkness for 14 hours, and it was considered a disaster (at least as she tell the story). All told this week we have had power roughly 30% of the time, and sometimes losing it for a stretch of 24 hours. We’re never sure when light off, nor when light on, and how we long for the days when at least there was a schedule and every three days we knew light off. Then we could plan for it. So officially, it became not fun anymore, and so we’re talking about a generator.

Our mission friends tell us to ask the folks back home to pitch in and buy one for us, I mean after all most people have generators, but so far we’ve resisted. Part of it is a point of pride (and maybe God is breaking me of that), part of it is the fear of the slippery slope. If we get a generator, what is next? A car, cable TV, at home internet, full-time aircon, Corn Flakes at $10-12/box, bacon, potato chips? We can’t afford to live in the American Bubble. Still, it would have been nice to wash cloths this week, and yet for the cost of a box of Corn Flakes from the states, Vida had washed all our cloths.

So welcome to the dilemma of our lives.

[1] I think there should have been a funeral for all these trees, but maybe that’s just me, an old tree hugger.
[2] As pastor, Friday afternoons always spent counting chairs and setting up more to sure we had enough.