The Buchele Adventure

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

Friday, February 02, 2007

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.



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