The Buchele Adventure

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

Friday, February 29, 2008

A Visit from Home II - Sand Castling

Safari Beach could well be our favorite place on Earth and I'm not sure why. The beach is wonderful but the ocean has often been too rough for us to do much swimming without feeling beat up. The sand is nice for building castles, though they are gone by morning. The sleeping accommodations are beautiful, but hot if the ocean breeze dies down. The food is outstanding.

A few years ago James and Angelia (the owners of Safari Beach [click here]), were on a yearlong art-safari across Africa. Originally they are from Texas, Angela went to that other great school in Texas, and grew up about 20 miles from the church I used to pastor. James is a French-trained Chef, so the food was amazing. They had come to Africa to collect historic art, masks and carvings mostly from the village elders they visited. I don't know what they planned to do with their Land Rover full of art but they never had to answer that question as they settled down in this remote strip of beach and built a wonderful beach resort. My guess is that they had been staying at The Green Turtle [click here] and fell in love with the area, and decided to build a resort that went after a different market (read: upscale). Almost a year ago they had a baby boy, Parker, as did the owners of the Green Turtle, though I don't know if they had a boy or girl. Angela & James' resort has the feel of being welcomed into someone's home, without the awkwardness. There is attention to detail, and elegant simplicity, and of course some of the best food we have ever tasted.

[Parker & Angela]

We come there with stacks of daily comics and Time Magazines saved from the packages Suzanne's mother sends us each week. We spend our time sitting on the beach reading, playing cards or Sorry!, or this time, the game of Risk. And then there is sand castle building.

[Playing RISK]
[Playing SORRY!]
[Eating Breakfast]
[Sunset Swim with Suzanne and the kids]

For some reason much of the sand in Ghana isn't all that well suited to building sand castles. Its either made of the wrong stuff, or not angular enough, or I don't know what, but castles seem to just slump when the waves come near. The sand at Safari Beach is better than most, and no matter the condition of it, Anna loves to build them. But I'm not sure if she isn't building something else.

[Girls playing in the Sand]

Right before we left with Ashley & Karl, I had received an email from a friend who was helping me process change. He wrote about his time in the army, about when his unit changed, which was about every three years. He said at first it really bugged him because returning there in three weeks it was like "you were never there. No pictures on the wall, no heralding of accomplishments etc. I always wondered," he writes, "was it worth it and did I make a difference?" Those words were echoing around in my brain this week-end as Anna, and [Peter, Fox, Maddy, and/or any of the adults] helped her build castles.

[The Castle]
[Gets hit by waves]

[And soon it has been washed away]

For those watching, a lot of the conversations centered around what we had been doing here in Ghana; what we've been involved with. For example Suzanne's research topic, One Laptop Per Child-Ghana [click here to read], is about to launch this week or next, and so there is a lot of wondering about the difference it will make in Ghana. Her work in both teaching Computer Science and as Acting Dean of Ashesi is perhaps the most interesting and rewarding work she has done in her lifetime. But if my friend is correct, in five months (one month after we are gone), it might be as if she never was there. I know that was my Dad's experience. My sister Beth writes "Dad used to say that he looked upon his teaching there as like footprints in the sand, of no lasting effects." I am not so sure. Someone once wrote: "What you do may not change the world, but it will change you," and that has been my tag line for the last few weeks and perhaps my life. I know living in Ghana in 1968-69 certainly did change me, even if it missed the rest of the world. It all reminds me of something attributed to John Wesley, "Through prayer, God changes you so that you can change the world."

But getting back to the beach, it was wonderful to have friends from home, people who have firsthand knowledge of the primary season, and how interesting it has been. Its fun to hear of the latest fads, trends, and what occupies the lives of our friends. Its especially fun to have long term friends, ones who have known us long enough to have seen the changes, and not get lost in them. And then it is fun to get to know their kids, and watch them play with ours.

[Peter is just as happy playing alone...lastborn]

Anna and Maddy became fast friends, being only one year apart and pretty much went everywhere together. Peter tagged along and was a good sport about it. When he was included it was fine, and when he wasn't, like many lastborn's, he was quite self sufficient.

Ashley and Karl have traveled extensively with their kids, and it shows as they didn't even blink at the third worldness of Ghana, traveling on a Trotro, eating snacks from the side of the road, or drinking water out of a plastic bag. They were easy going and easy to please, and fit right into our family as if they had always been friends. Watching them, and just hanging out with their parents, we had a feeling of being intensely blessed.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Visit from Home

I know we're still four months out from returning to the states, but already the gravity of that return has begun to be felt around our house. Perhaps it is our friends, the Cockrams who are returning to Canada next month, and all the things we had planned to do, and now won't have time to. Loreli is my favorite and Accra's most prolific blogger [click here]. They are returning to Canada for JohnMark to assume an associate pastor's position at their home church. Perhaps it is another set of Canadians who were teaching at University of Cape Coast, but who's contract to continue teaching was not renewed (read:sacked) for some of the less than positive things they had to say about Ghana and the University. Its been a hasty and bittersweet exit for a couple who had a difficult time here, or did not adjust well, or, I think, wanted Ghana to be something other than it was [click here]. Lastly its the realization that the only friends or family who will visit us here (besides my sister Beth who came last year-thanks Beth!!), have come and gone. We understand now it's a fact of living abroad, one we have experienced (and even seen with longer term missionaries). But after having such a wonderful time with Suzanne's friend from college, Ashley and her husband Karl, and their two sweet kids, Maddy(12) and Peter(9), we wish we could share what we love about Ghana with more friends, or family, but now know they will completely miss that experience because in four months we're be back in the states.

Ashley and Karl and their kids arrived late on a Thursday night from a 12 day visit to Egypt where they took many of the same pictures we had taken a year ago when we were there. In the morning we took off in a Trotro for Safari Beach Lodge [click here]. We rented a Trotro so they could experience Ghana, and by that I mean, riding in a Trotro is an experience. Eric, our driver, and his brother Dennis came along to see a part of Ghana they had never visited. After arriving Eric said, "Oh, Papa, this place is too far-o." Ghanaians add the letter "o" at the end of a word to add emphasis. Where we might say it is very far, Eric would said, its far-o, and adding a too in front of it means its so far that it is a problem. It's a pattern of speech I am sure we use among our family too much-o, but still get a tickle out of doing so. So do Ghanaians who hear us try to use it. This was our third time to stay at this wonderfully remote, and nice, but primitive resort. When I say remote, I mean you must text message them to make a reservation (no cell phone network coverage), and the last hour from Dixcove (8 km/5 miles) is an hour of hard, rough road. Once you do make the six hour trip from Accra, however, you are ready to stay. And a wonderful stay it was.

Pictures along the way:

[Kids walking home from school in Kaswa]

[Buying a DVD with 36 Harrison Ford movies on it in Cape Coast.][Sign outside the bathrooms in Cape Coast] [Taxi & Trotro repair yard]

[It was a lonely stretch of road that three other trucks had had flat tires on]
[Fox & Peter, looking like JFK & RFK]

[Roasted Plantain Seller sitting on a stool, on a fufu pounder]

[National Burn your Trash Day…or so it seemed]. We're not sure if the Haramatton came back, or just everyone in mass decided to burn their trash,. Either way, it was very hazy, and dry. [Ashley & Suzanne in Trotro]
[Sign to Sarfi Beach Lodge in Dixcove] Yeah, we're just an hour away!
[Bad Roads after the sign]

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ananse - West African Storytelling, part 4

No treatment of West African storytelling would be complete without mentioning Ananse the Spider, that Ghanaian genre of storytelling that both entertains and teaches "the young and old after a hard day's work out in the field," at least according to our local paper The Daily Graphic.

Ananse, (sometimes spelled Anansi) or as he is more formally known Kweku Ananse, is a trickster. In his stories he plays various rolls, sometimes more human than spider like, but generally ending with a with, moral advice, a wise saying or proverb. But then other times, his stories explain natural world, such as why spiders hide in the corners, or why they are bald. I gather that in years gone by, they were told more than they are today, especially in the rural environments.

Still, ask a Ghanaian to tell you an Ananse story, and most will know one or two. Eric, our driver, says that the elders of his village used to tell them at night when there was a full moon. For example, Ananse once decided to collect all Wisdom from the earth and hide it at the top of the tallest tree in the forest, then people would come to him for wisdom, and he would be famous for being the wisest. When he thought he had collected all the wise sayings, moral advice or proverbs in a large clay pot, he decided to climb the tallest tree. He held the pot in his right hand, and and tried climbing with his left. He kept falling. Along comes his son, Ntikuma, watches him climb, and fall, climb and fall, and then suggests to his father that he tie the "Pot of Wisdom," to his back; then he could use both hands to climb the tree. Ananse becomes furious with his son, and maybe even himself, realizing he had suggested something wise, something that didn't come from his pot of wisdom. In anger he throws the pot at his son and misses. It shatters, and wisdom is scattered everywhere, reminding us that Rain does not fall on one roof alone. (meaning:Wisdom is for everyone). For a full telling of this story [click here].

These Ananse stories also came across the Atlantic in the slave trade. In the Caribbean, they became known as Aunt Nancy stories, and in the Deep South, Brer Rabbit. It has been interesting reading the familiar story lines, having grown up on some of them in the form of Brer Rabbit. Anna is our current expert on them.

There is some element of caution about these tales now, some blaming the Ghanaian Mindset on their former use in the educational system. LoreliC writes about it in a comment on this blog [click here], quoting from this article: Playing Kwaku Ananse and the Ghanaian mindset. The author wonders if Ghanaians have missed the point of the stories, which was often to show the folly of cheating someone, "mistakenly confusing ourselves and making wit synonymous to dupery."

In one such story, Ananse and the Tree of Ripe Fruit, there is a great famine in the land and Ananse sets out on a journey to find food. Mournfully he walks for miles until he is overcome with hunger and fatigue. He lays down under a tree to pray for death when his eyes see a tall tree full of ripe fruit and hundreds of birds, eating.

With whatever strength he has left, he cries out for help. The birds have compassion for him and fly down to where he was. Each plucked one of their feathers and gave it to Ananse, who attached it to his body. Soon he had enough feathers to fly, which he did to the top of the tree, and ate his fill of the ripe fruit. Then he began to plot for a way to keep the whole tree for himself.

The birds leave, but before doing so, each ask for the feather that they had given him. He was overjoyed at the immense success of his treachery.

But that joy was short lived, because soon he is thirsty and because the birds had taken their feathers, there is no way to get down to the stream that flowed beneath the tree. He had exchanged one evil for another, hunger for thirst.

At this point the storyteller might finish off the story with some sort of moral maxim like, "If you do not wish for your neighbor to prosper, you will not prosper, or ifyou trample on another's right in order to seek your own, you will be disappointed in the end.

Famine and hardship are common themes in these stories. In another, The Victims of Kwaku Ananse, the spider learns that his father-in-law plans to visit, a visit he ordinarily he would have welcomed, but it was dry season and as they say here, "the rains had failed the crops." He had neither the head of a salted fish, nor the tail of the herring to feed his guests. Day after day his family ate yams and fufu without meat for their soup, pretending it did not matter, but in the village, his wife complained bitterly. Now with his father-in-law coming, Ananse had to find meat. He went to the ocean, but the fishermen complain about their inability to land a catch. He sat and carved, making a walking stick with a woman's head on its handle. He was a good wood carver, and the woman he carved had beautiful braids. On the way home, he passed by the home of Tortoise.

He asked Tortoise and Madame if the walking stick was a fitting present for his father-in-law. The couple greatly admired the work, and Madame asked to meet its artist. She wanted her hair braided as beautifully. Ananse told her the artist lived in a village called "Its up to You" and he could take her to the artist who was the expert in hair braiding. He warned it was a long ways away, and if she did not return by nightfall to not come searching for her, she would be home soon. In this way, Kwaku Ananse led the wives of Deer, Turkey, Sheep and Rabbit to the house of the "hairdresser" and to their same fate.

His in-laws came and enjoyed their hospitality, especially the tortoise meat soup which was his father-in-law's favorite. They went home with bundles of assorted game meat, and along the way bragged about their son-in-law, Ananse the Weaver.

The story goes on to tell of the husbands showing up at the house of Ananse, looking for their wifes. It's a case of mistaken identity, "oh, you are looking for Ananse the wood carver…" and eventually ending up with Ananse dropping a load of rocks on tortoise, shattering his shell, and by the time he recovers, he has forgotten all about his missing wife, and thus explaining why the tortoise shell looks like it was once broken in many pieces. This also seems to be a common theme in West Africa in storytelling. [read that blog entry]

On the way to pick up the kids this week, I asked Sheila, our house keeper and Eric's cousin, if she knew any Ananse stories. She told me the one "How the Spider became Bald," it's a story I've read in many different forms, some short, some long, there is even a video telling it [click here to see it on YouTube]. Riding in the car wasn't the right setting, there were too many distractions, I couldn't hear all of it, or enjoy the telling, and I wonder if that is why story telling like this is going out of style in the urban environment. I wonder what else we are losing, and what we will only realize when it is too late. What I find myself longing for is a dark night in a far away village with a full moon, and one of the elders in a Storytelling mood.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Funeral Pictures

Emmanuel's great aunt died in January and I was invited to her funeral. Here are some of the pictures at the web album.

Recovery comes in Phases

Recovery comes in phases, and I feel like a new one started last week. On Friday, Anna and I went to the beach and I swam in the ocean. We've been to the ocean a few times since the accident, but this was the first time I've done more than glorified wading. I swam, I let the waves wash over me, I got wet, and it felt great! My arm tingled in the salt water, and I felt so alive.

On Saturday, I went to youth group and played guitar, helping to lead worship (something I have not done since early October). It wasn't as easy as swimming, and I had trouble holding on to the pick—it kept slipping out of my fingers—but it was great to be able to play, even if I wasn't playing all that well.

And on Sunday, Suzanne let me drive home from Church! Wow! Life is returning to normal.

But maybe I pushed it too far. Also, on Sunday, Anna and I went to the final match of the 26th Africa Cup of Nations that Ghana has been hosting these past 21 days. It was between Egypt and Cameroon. Egypt was the reigning champs, and it was Cameroon that knocked Ghana out in the quarter finals. Overall, its been a great tournament, and we've watched more soccer these past 21 days that we have in our entire lives. Ghana took third by beating the Ivory Coast Elephants, and besides that consolation match, our Glorious Black Starts did beat Nigeria.

So on Sunday, Anna decided she wanted to go to at least one game. We had tried for tickets earlier, but discovered that Accra has a bit of a good-ole-boy-network. Trying to the games Ghana was playing in, were sold at the post office and banks but were somehow always "finished" as they say here. Tickets could be had, but you had to know someone, or know someone who knew someone, and we knew neither. So we watched the games on the Telly, and listened to the roar of our neighborhood when Ghana scored.

We took a taxi to the Stadium, and then bought tickets from a worried father who really didn't want to go to the game. Cost: $4 each. Then Anna wanted these big yellow #1 fingers that have been such a fixture of this game. As designed, they were to put on your hand to make a big "We're number 1" but people were buying two of them and then whapping them together by holding the fingers to make an amazingly loud sound. Now imagine a stadium of 30,000 people about half of them going whap, whap. The noise was thundering.

Then there were the horns. Not the compressed air horns like in the states, but these straight plastic ones that can really kick out the deciles. Anna didn't get one of those.

Around the stadium were 1000s of people, vendors, police, fans, and thieves. Walking through the crowds the feeling of people touching your pockets was a constant. Pickpockets were everywhere. We had been warned, and the stories of this or that happening were abundant. I was wearing cargo pants with almost enough zippered pockets to feel safe. Almost. I kept slapping away the hand of this one guy who kept opening the pocket and reaching in for Anna's binoculars. Then he and his buddies cut me off from her, and memories of a busy Paris train station flooded in, the last time I'd had such an encounter.

We had been on a family vacation in Europe for 25 days and successfully avoided losing anything. I'd even put my wallet in my front pocket, but here we were rushing to catch a train, going up this very crowded escalator, when suddenly the crowd lunged back, pushed into me, and I started to fall. At the time I remember being so thankful that the guy behind me caught my back. He caught my back, but at the same time caught my wallet, but I didn't know it. I smiled and thanked him. The second we got off the escalator I knew it was gone. I yelled "Hey, I've been robbed! Thief!" And the guy just turned around, he was now about 25 ft away down a stairway, and smiled, saluted me and got on a different subway car. He and my wallet were gone. In 10 minutes over $6000 would be spent on cloths and books, but that's another story.

Well, I wasn't going to let the same thing happen in Accra, so when the pickpocket grabbed again, I grabbed him and let him have it. OK-so when a only-one-arm-working-48-year-old-obruni says he let him have it, it isn't saying much. I yelled "STOP TRYING TO ROB ME!" I pushed him down, I threw him into a market lady stand selling water and canned minerals (sodas). I think he was as shocked at my wildness as I was with my blind rage, and then the police came and pulled me off him. He went into custody. I went to find Anna, who had thankfully missed the whole thing. Then the police found me again and I had to pay the market lady. She had been scrambling to find as much stuff as she could to say I ruined it, and acted upset. But truthfully, I was happy to reimburse her, even at twice the cost to just have stood up for myself, to not be a victim, to not give into the injury. To be a man again. It felt good, at least until about 30 minutes later when my arm started to ache as we watched the game. I don't know what I did with it in the excitement, but now it ached. But that's OK, I told myself, it's the price of manhood. Cost $5.

The psychological cost of the injury is never talked about, the having to ask your 12 year old daughter to open a jar because you can't. The not being able to drive, having to ask someone to take you, always sitting in the passenger's side, and the driver ignoring what you KNOW to be the better/faster/smoother route. The being afraid to go to the market because your arm might get bumped, the so many things that increases your dependence on others and your fear of reinjury, and that people take you less seriously (or flat out don't listen) because you're injured.

But I think the fear is the worst because as a man, we're supposed to be fearless and not stupid about things and because I got injured, it appears as if I was…stupid about things, when maybe accidents just happen. That's why we call them that.

So it's a new phase I'm entering, one about taking back the life that was mine. The one that says, can we talk about something else (besides my injury), can you just treat me as me without treating me as the injured me, the one that is not going to let this thing define me.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Church Hedgehog

Well I'm into my third week of helping teach a Leadership class at Ashesi University. I teach with Andres, an Economist from Guatemala , whom we got to know the first part of last year,[click here] who left in the spring, and now has returned to work at Ashesi for the long term. I am thrilled to have Andres back.

[Andres Teaching]

I am also beginning to see what Suzanne loves about teaching at this level, especially about teaching at Ashesi. The students are so alive, so playful, so interactive, so much to want to make a difference in Africa.

This week and last we have been talking about the Fox and the Hedgehog, that classic Greek tale that shows up from time to time in both leadership and business classes. I was teaching from Jim Collins application of that tale, and how it could help companies move from Good to Great.

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn't matter how complex the world, a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple - "indeed almost simplistic - "hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance... No, the hedgehogs aren't simpletons; they have a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns. Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest.

So, as uncovered by Collins and his team, a Hedgehog Concept is a simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of the following three circles:

[Hedgehog Concept]

What you can be the best in the world at? (and, equally important, what you cannot be the best in the world at). This discerning standard goes far beyond [Core Competence]. Just because you possess a core competence doesn't necessarily mean you can be the best in the world at it. Conversely, what you can be the best at might not even be something in which you are currently engaged.

What drives your economic engine? All the good-to-great companies attained piercing insight into how to most effectively generate sustained and robust cash flow and profitability. In particular, they discovered the single denominator - "profit per x - "that had the greatest impact on their economics. (It would be cash flow per x in the social sector.)

What you are deeply passionate about? The good-to-great companies focused on those activities that ignited their Passion. The idea here is not to stimulate passion but to discover what makes you passionate.

[Ashesi Students Picture]

So then we start talking about companies and I ask for companies and an example of what their Hedgehog Concept might be. The students bring up Apple, and Microsoft, and Starbucks. Three out of four classes bring up Starbucks. I ask them to define the Hedgehog Concept for Apple, and they nail it. Same with Microsoft, but when it comes to Starbucks, all they want to talk about is the founder coming back, to set the company straight. I'm sharing what I know, how Starbucks had a really clean Hedgehog Concept: provide a really good cup of coffee and a great place to drink it, but then they got into all these other things, like selling coffee makers, and Music compilation CDs, and somewhere along the way they, I say, "stopped roasting the coffee locally…" when I see that lost look in their eyes, and realize, you know, maybe these students have never been to a Starbucks, or even seen one.

[Ashesi Student Studying]

They are so bright, and so eager to learn, at least most students seem to be, and yet they have to make such accommodations for us who hope to teach them. Maybe that's why Jesus had to use parables to teach us about the Kingdom of Heaven.

So I'm at a Leadership Department meeting on Saturday, a gathering of 40 of Asbury-Dunwell leaders, who gathered from 3 to 7pm to set goals for leading the church, and we break into specific departments to plan the year. I'm paired with John Azu, on Preaching and Teaching Department. "The way I see it," John says, "the church has three circles." All week I'd been wondering how much I can share about what goes on in the classroom when I'm teaching, especially about Starbucks, and here John starts telling me about these three circles.

[Asbury Dunwell Picture]

John says, "The first circles is the mission of the church, and he draws a circle. "The Second is the capabilities of the church, and its people. " He draws a second circle, which ever so slightly overlaps with the first. "And the last circle is the needs of the people," and he draws a third that intersects with the previous two.

I'm flabbergasted, he looks at me worried, and I stutter, "Y Y You know what this is?" I explain about Collins, and teaching at Ashesi, about the circles, the Fox the Hedgehog, and all the work Collins and his team put into uncovering it, and I think, how cool is that, there is a Hedgehog concept for the Church, and that a Ghanaian pastor already has this figured out.

So yes, this maps cleanly into Collins Hedgehog Concept, where the

  • The Capabilities of the Church = Collins:What can you be best in the world at? (and, equally important, what you cannot be the best in the world at). This discerning standard points to the innate abilities of that make up the body of the church. It points to the Spiritual Gift mix that God has assembled in that particular ministry setting. It goes far beyond competence of staff it and points to the people of the church. How has God gifted them? It might even force a church to consider something in which it is not currently engaged, but could through its gift mix, be the best in the world, or at least in that part of the world.
  • Needs of the People = Collins: What drives your economic engine? It seems to me that a church needs to examine the needs of its people, and its ministry setting, to determine their needs. And then develop a single denominator, in Collins words, a "profit per x – or in our case an X per church member, or X/child, or X/worship attender, something that could give the church a benchmark on how they are approaching their mission objectives.
  • Mission of the Church = Collins: What ignites your passion? Each Church has a God given reason for being, and a God placed set of people to achieve it. This mission can be uncovered by discovering what ignited the Passion of the Church. “The idea here,” in Collins words,” is not to stimulate passion but to discover what makes you passionate,” or what the church can get passionate about.

[Church Hedgehog]

Collins says that after you have the right people on the bus (or in church terms, in leadership) it will take four years to discover a clear Hedgehog Concept. I wonder if our church leadership spent the next four years figuring out their Church hedgehog, how different the landscape would be as they used it to focus the efforts of their church in this world. Collins says it is as important to know what to focus on, as it is to what NOT to focus on. I wonder what the apostle Paul would say? Clearly his all things to all people wasn't a very good hedgehog, even if we complete the sentence, so that we might reach some.

I think Mr. John Azu is on to something, and to paraphrase Collins, "To have a fully developed Church Hedgehog Concept, you need all three circles. If you could fulfill all the needs of your people but it was not within the capabilities of the church you would have a successful one, but not great. If you could use all the capabilities of the church, but it was not within the mission of the church, it would not be sustainable. Finally, if you could succeed in doing the Mission of the Church, but it was outside the capabilities of the church, or it didn't fit with the needs of the people, you might have a lot of fun, but it won't produce great results, or lead people to Christ.

What do you think?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Tema, the parable of the lost Containers

The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a container of medical equipment that having been shipped across the ocean and having arrived in Tema then became lost.

n Thursday I went to Tema on a quest for a missing container of medical supplies. The search actually began about 14 months ago when Andrew Jernigan asked me to accept delivery of a container that had been shipped about a year earlier and was rumored to be in the Tema Harbor.

It must have been November 2006 when I got a call, Andrew was away at a medical conference with his wife and family. The caller was asking what the container was, and what it would be used for. “Medical supplies,” I said, “for a Methodist Clinic” and I didn’t hear a word from him until maybe April 07, when we exchanged a few emails but then he wrote back saying everything had been picked up, and thanked me for checking in with him. BUT NOTHING HAD BEEN PICKED UP, I tried to reason with him via email, but without a phone number, or physical address, I couldn’t get his attention.

Since we’re in Tema, I decided to stop by the fish market. I love going to the market, the smells, the interesting fish, the people, and of course the smells, and the flies. Its weird, but the ladies remember me each time I go, which isn’t that often. They want me to know that they remember me, and will say, “Last time you buy from me,” and then to prove it, tell me exactly what I bought, and how they cleaned the fish. The last time I was at market was before the accident, and the time before that was last May, and still they remember. What I remember is going to Tema 40 years ago and getting extremely large lobsters, and then back at our house in Legon, listening to them scream after we dropped them in a pot of boiling water. You could actually hear them scream, just the kind of thing a 9 year old boy remembers as cool. But this time we don’t see the big “bugs” as my wife’s family calls them. We’ll see the rock lobster, which are small, crayfish sized, and the only part you eat are the tails. Mostly its just fish: red snapper, grouper, sole, tuna, eel (is that even a fish), or shrimps, and prawn. Today I saw fresh water fish from the Volta, and after buying 1.5 kilo of shrimp, the lady talked me into a kilo of squid. Its interesting watching them clean it, in these large vats of purple water which I guess is the dye. I really didn’t want to buy the shrimps, and really didn’t need the squid, but the market seller was so persistent, that and Anna loves shrimp. So I asked what do you do with it?

“You cook it…its nice,” she tells me except its and nice are run together into one word, and the t drops out isnice. Ghanaians use the word nice in interesting ways. To me it means agreeable, pleasant, friendly, congenial, but to them, it’s the way you describe something that is tasty. So apparently you cook it the same way as fried chicken, by first steaming it with garlic, onions, ginger and salt, and then hard frying it in palm oil. “O.K., I’ll try some,” I say.

“Ah! You go and come, you like, isnice.”

Back at the house, I ask Sheila, our house help, if she could cook the squid up like her fried chicken, which is fantastic, and the house fills with the smell..of..octopus. I had to call Suzanne and ask if squid was the same as octopus…it is (right?!). Sheila had never cooked or tasted squid before, so after she had done about a half kilo (one pound) we sampled it and guess what, it tastes just like chicken, fried chicken. Well really like fried chicken jerky, it was tough, but tasty, and I can see next time I’m going to cook it differently, like calamari.

[watch out for this lady, she cleans fish with a machete]

I come away from Tema with seven kilos of red snapper, 1.5 kilos of enormous shrimp, and a kilo of squid all for about 50 bucks.

I like Tema, it’s the large port town of Ghana that was designed and built in the 1960s. It should be a well organized town, and by the map, it looks that way, being organized into communities. So today we’re going to Community #5 to find the container, and hopefully the medical equipment. Last time I’d been to Tema, it had been to hand deliver a letter that a Ghanaian family had given me while I was in Japan to bring back to Ghana.

So one morning last fall, Eric and I take off for Community #1 with only the address on the envelope and lots of time. Understand that house numbers and for that matter, street names are not really all that useful here. You can always tell someone who is new to Accra, that or just doesn’t get it, by the way they will give directions to their house, by using a street address. Directions are given in relation to landmarks, go to a certain place, and then ask someone. For example we live near the New American Embassy, but giving that type of landmark to a taxi driver doubles the price. So we say Kofi Bakoo, but only an older taxi driver might remember that once a radio personality of that same name lived in our neighborhood. So we say Metro TV, which isn’t all that close, but everyone knows where it is, and we can get there from here.

So back in Tema with the letter, we start asking people where a certain address is. We’re in community#1, so it shouldn’t be all that hard. We ended up asking nine different people: two said they didn’t know, three got us to the next landmark where we could ask someone and four didn’t know, but wouldn’t tell us they didn’t know. Instead we got this long set of complicated directions that sometimes involved walking through a backyard or two and led us nowhere.
[Issac gets a letter, notice there is no house number]
Finally, we gave up asking and used dead reckoning and it turns out we had been down the street a few time, but the house had been repainted last year, and they painted over the house number. Eric tries to chew the guy out, but he seems more bewildered by the fact that an obrunie would show up with a letter from his sister in Japan.

So it was with these expectations that we set out to find the container of medical supplies. Turns out in two phone calls and a short drive we we’re in a large warehouse looking at six dusty large boxes that had been open a long time, wondering how am I going to get all this stuff out to the Lake, six hours away?

When news reached the owner that the containers had been found he dropped everything to emaiil his friend to go seek that which had been missing and now was found. And I tell you that when those containers are broght before the medical clinic in that far away place, there will be much rejoicing, for I there is more joy in Heaven over these six containers that are now found than there will be over the 1000s of containers that were never lost.

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