The Buchele Adventure

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

Monday, March 31, 2008

Aburi Botanical Gardens

Last week was Spring break at Lincoln Community School, so it was time to check off another tourist attraction we've wanted to see, but have not yet. This week it was visiting the Aburi Botanical Gardens. "How civilized," Suzanne says, "having a four day Easter week-end" because of Easter Monday, which is a state holiday in Ghana. So we went to the Aburi Botanical Gardens, about an hour away via some of the best roads we've been on in Ghana.

[Road picture]

I had been through Aburi a week earlier, when I went to sit in on Rev. Michael Mozley's introduction of his research topic for his PhD. It was at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute, about 90 minutes "up the mountain," as they say. It was the first time I'd driven so far alone since the accident, and I was a little nervous, but it was great. I do really love driving around in Ghana, it is such an adventure.

[Mozley presenting]
[clip of Mozley presenting]

Akrofi-Christaller Institute is located in Akropong, right next to Akropong Christ Presbyterian Church, dedicated to the Late Very Reverend Charles Martinson. Martinson was the Presbyterian Moderator that presided over the opening of the new chapel building in 1938. Unfortunately, in the congregation's excitement to enter the new building, he was trampled and died shortly afterwards.

[Akropong Christ Presbyterian Church]

On Easter Sunday, I again preached at Asbury-Dunwell, and I must say it again was fun to preach in a place that is so welcoming. There comes a point when you stop, "boot-legging the gospel," as my Sr. Preaching professor Bob Shelton called it when you are a guest preacher, and you start preaching as a pastor of the church. I think that happened the last time I preached, and again on Easter. It is wonderful to be at home in their pulpit.

[clip of Steve preaching]

The next day we did what so many other Ghanaians do on state holidays, go to the beach, or to Aburi. The site of the Aburi Botanical Gardens was originally a sanatorium for convalescing Government officials built in 1875 by the British, and in 1890 turned into a the Botanical Gardens. I think the original idea was to create an Agricultural Station, the first of its kind in Ghana, and in the early years coffee and cocoa seedlings were given out. Later the Agricultural Station idea was abandoned because of the soil's thin and poor quality. Today this three acre site is, according to the press, filled with a "blossoming mixture of indigenous and exotic trees of global importance, aesthetics and medicinal properties." On Easter Monday it was also filled with 1000s of Ghanaians who showed up to celebrate with their church, or as an extended family outing. It was fun to see people dancing, and playing drums, singing, and eating.

[Dancing, singing and drumming]

[Audio Clip] – here a church was singing, dancing and drumming. I tried to get a clean audio recording of it, but this guy, Prosper, kept wanting me to "snap a picture." You'll hear us talking in the audio recording.

[When on a picnic, the drums are as important as the cooler]

[Boys playing football while one of them headloads a box of Cocoa, a cold drink.]

It used to be a tradition that when heads of state visited Ghana, they would be invited to Aburi to plant a tree. I wanted to see the tree that founding president of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah planted in the 1960s, but the best I could do was find the one that former president JJ Rawlings planted in 1990. Oddly it was very close to the one General Acheampong had planted when he was Head of State in 1977, on the occasion of a state visit by then Romanian President Nicolae Cheusescu (who also planted a tree). Its interesting because just 19 months after planning these trees, Acheampong would be shot before firing squad in a coup lead by Rawlings, and even stranger is that 12 years later, Cheusescu would also be shot by firing squad (one that Rawlings had nothing to do with). But in 1977 as they planted their trees at Aburi, neither knew of the fate that awaited them.

[Acheampong Tree – it is not doing so good]

[Acheampong Tree sign] [Rawlings Tree]
[Fox and Zenna looking at trees]

There was this amazing Fichus tree that none of the guide books played up. Fox climbed into, and up. Considering the play that him and Anna are doing at school, Little Shop of Horrors (he is playing the role Steve Martin played, the Dentist), it was a brave move. Turns out, the Fichus is a parasitic tree, and this one, discovered in 1906 in a fork of its host tree Afzella Africana, had by 1936 successfully strangled it. Now the hollow core shows the size of that tree. Elsewhere on the site we saw younger trees just beginning the process of killing its host.

[Hollow Fichus Tree]

[looking up the inside of the tree]

[Fox inside the tree]

Personally, I am not sure the "blossoming mixture of indigenous and exotic trees…" was worth the drive. Our friend Michael who took a TroTro up there about a year ago was certain it wasn't. For me, the interesting part was watching the people, and how much fun they were having, but I could have seen that any number of places. I found myself wondering what it could have looked like if maintenance was more of a priority. Still I'll remember that hollow fichus tree, and never look at one the same.

Afterwards we went to the Palm Hill Hotel for a good lunch with a great view. (Mozley had introduced me to the place) and it rained.

[Family Eating, with Zenna]

[Amazing pre-rain view]

[Post rain view] Before the rains, across the valley you could see different fires burning, but then after it, none. It always seems to rain when we get outside of Accra. According to A New Geography of Ghana, Accra and a small part of northeastern Ghana are the driest regions in the nation, at less than 100 cm (39 inches)/year. Rain is always a delight because the temperature drops, the air gets clean, and the dirt of a developing nation gets washed into its gutters.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Inflation Woes

Another round of inflation is making its way through the economy here. I'm sure that's happening back in the States, and elsewhere, but here it just feels different. When I ask Ghanaians about it, they blame the price of fuel, which has gone up about 45% since we've been here, from about 2.80/gal to 4.10/gal. I think they are right, and relieved that it is not blamed it on the re-denomination o f the Cedi, now nine months old. Before the new money came out, where they chopped 4 zeros off, opponents warned of rampant inflation. They were right, but for a different reason.

As inflation works its way through the economy, it first showed up in the lorrie fares, what used to cost 1000 old Cedis, now costs 1500, except that we're paying for it in new money, and so effectively, the price has gone from 10 cents to 15. Except that most Ghanaians still quote prices in the old currency, as for me, I'll use the new money. Our 2008 Fulbright daughter Anna S., who rides the TroTros much more than we do, says it disheartening to watch the desperation that people fight over paying the new fares. [read her blog] Its not that they oppose the increase, they just don' t have it. Eric says the same thing. He is trying to raise money for his engagement, and so drives TroTro on Sundays. Each Monday he comes back with a story about this or that fight, and sometimes a tear in his shirt.

Inflation is nothing new to Ghana. In the last 30 years, the Cedi, when compared to the dollar, has lost 834,683% or from 1:1.15 (in 1979 at the time of the 3rd Coup) to today 1:9600 (in old Cedi) or 1:0.96 (in new Cedi). Ghanaians are stoic in their suffering, but they find ways to cope.

After the lorrie fares, we next saw the increase in sachet water, or "pure water" sold pretty much at every traffic intersection with a light in Accra (even if the light isn't working). The old price was three cents, but now its five, but oddly the cost of a small bag peanuts remains unchanged at five cents. We only feel the increase when we eat out, for example my favorite dinner is chicken and rice at Papaye, which used to be 3.10, but now its 4.60. I am sure they will give this increased price a name soon, like "the Kufuor Price".

John A, Kufuor is the current president of Ghana who steps down at the end of this year, after eight in office. His name gets attached to many things that have happened during his tenure. Like the Kufuor Gallon -- a 2.5 gallon yellow plastic container that water is carried in. Various parts of Accra have been without water the whole time we have been here, or as they say, "the pipe is not flowing." So people take water from wherever the pipe is flowing, and do so in the Kufuor Gallon. Sometimes when we come home from church early we'll find out courtyard filled with Kufuor Gallons, as our "guards" have invited their family over (since we are away) to get water. That also happens with our neighbors when they leave town, and we find when we go away for a long week-end, the upper tank is completely empty on our return. I guess I should get upset, but I figure that is just the obligation of those who have water have to those who don't.

[Man head-loads a Kufuor Gallon]

Suffering named for the current president or dictator is a time honored tradition, in the early 1980s, when inflation was just starting to take off, and malnutrition was visible in the extend collar bones of the people, it was called a "Rawlings' Chain, or a Rawlings' Collar, as in "We were all sporting Rawlings' Collar." Its not unlike what one of my uncles called an outhouse that was dug by government funds during the Great Depression, he called it a "Roosevelt".

Another Kufuor-ism is the name given to the double-decker transit buses that were bought by the Kufuor administration, they too are called Kufours, and the shorter non-double decker buses are called Theresa, after his wife who is about a foot shorter than he. These buses compete with the extensive system of TroTros that stretch across Ghana. That name itself has an interesting story. When I was here before, they were called lorries, or mammy-lorry, but somewhere between then and now, people started calling them TroTros.

[Bedford Lorry from 1960s, also called "Boneshakers" because of their wooden bench seats]

It seems that in the Ga language, the word Tro meant three pence, the penny coins that were used in the colonial days. Eric tells me the fare was a Tro (a three-pence coin), but with inflation, the price became TroTro, or small change. I've been amazed to see TroTros of one sort or another all across Africa, from Cairo, to Pretoria, and it seems they are the backbone of transportation on this continent. They can be identified as the battered heavily modified mini-buses, packed full of people, that are pretty much any public transit vehicle that isn't a bus or a taxi.

So I contributed my own bit to inflation by giving to our staff a 10% pay increase to offset, what the Daily Graphic is stating is a 13.2% annual inflation rate. It could be worse, apparently in the year 2000, it was 40%. Even so the "squeeze is getting too much," I hear, meaning the hardship between water shortages, and inflation, are taking their toll. I guess we should be thankful we're not having the electricity problems like we were last year.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Beach Hunting

Its Easter week here in Accra, but you wouldn't know it. For such a Christian nation its odd that so much of the Christian Traditions are not observed here, at least in the churches I work in. Its a downside to the non-denominational traditions (if indeed there are any). There will be no seasons of the church celebrated, like Lent, or Advent for that matter, they pass by unobserved except for the Big Days, like Easter and Christmas, and they just surprise us with little preparation. At Asbury-Dunwell, every Sunday is a celebration with more energy than most Easter services I've ever been to in the States. But then on the day of Easter, its even more high energy, if you can believe that. To a traditional liturgist like myself (who has somehow ended up in the contemporary church), I can't seem to just jump into Easter, I have to prepare for it, and for me, that's Lent.

What I miss most about this season is the change, the chants, the creeds, the solemn march toward Good Friday, as the services become darker and darker. And then on that Friday, leaving the darkened church to contemplate my fate. But there will be none of that in the churches we go to. I guess I could sneak over to the Catholic church, but the other part of me wants that feeling of worship in a community in which I am known, the "Cheers," mentality if you will, where everybody knows my name.

Its been Ashesi's spring break, and so while Suzanne has been away at a Computer Science Educators conference in the States, and Fox is MUNing (Model United Nations), its been "Camp Dad," with Anna, that, and I've been grading mid-term papers. Mostly the papers are excellent, but their heavy use of cliché took some getting used to. When I was in school they taught us to avoid clichés like the plague. (a joke).

Last Sunday at Elim Church, I played with four of our youth who did the music for the early service. It was the first time our Anna has sang in a worship group, and I must say, she was wonderful. They all were. There is something about a group of young ladies (girls really) singing in unison that is so pure, so angelic. It was special for me because this was the last place I played before the accident, and the first place to do worship music since. Folks were so kind saying it was good to see me playing guitar, and all I could say was, "it was good to be seen playing guitar."

After church we were supposed to go hear Michael Mozley preach at Asbury Dunwell Church, but we instead went searching for a new beach. This time going East, to Prampram, and New Ningo and let me just say, the search was not successful. Usually we would just go to Labadi Beach, the OK in-town one five minutes away, but the recent rains in Accra have washed out the gutters, and so the ocean is polluted with three months of trash and sewage. Even in the dry season, our friend Mary Kay, who is a water specialist here, won't swim in these waters (when the water is blue because the gutters aren't getting washed out regularly).

[We went to Comme Ci, which Anna tells me means good]

[but after we got there, she looks doubtful]

The nice beaches are West of Accra because the prevailing tides move everything East (read: all the raw sewage and trash). From the sky you can see this grey slick sweep East and eventually dissipate. So the western beaches are the nicer onces, but harder to get to because of traffic.

One of the problems of being in a place this long is that we've already found all the things we like, and so we go there, rarely go exploring anymore. But not today. We traveled East far enough to find blue water, but not to get away from the trash. And it wasn't just the trash that ruined these beaches, though there was plenty, it was our unmet obruni cultural expectations. The coast of Ghana has such potential, and in this place, it looks like someone realized that and put a lot of effort into it in 2000, but since then its gotten run down. For example there are these concrete benches, but they either sit in the full sun because the trees that shaded them died, or are mostly buried by the sand. So we sit in plastic chairs, and the one Anna sits in has a broken leg, and when she leans over to swat at me for something I've said, her chair collapses.

[Nice pink & white trees...everywhere]

[Comme Ci does get points for having bathrooms, though it just drains into the sand below the E of MALE and the F, of FEMALE]

I think we could have handled the swimming among the submerged rocks, if it weren't for the two feet of beach trash we had to walk through. I think we could have enjoyed just sitting and listening the waves crash, but we couldn't hear them over the loud local music from two enormous speakers. And then there were the pink and white painted trees. Its hard to not see the lost potential of this place if a little care and effort were put into it. Or maybe there is, but we can't see it through our obruni eyes.

[the beach at Prampram, note rusting hull of submerged merchant boat out about a 100 ft creating a "reef"]

Next, we tried the beach at Prampram, which the guide book said was as nice as any of the beaches along the coast. The trash was small, small, but it also was rocky. And then there we the fishing boats that lined it. Its clearly an impoverished fishing village, and we would be its only tourists, and for us to slip into our suits and play in the waves, well, it wouldn't be right.

On the way back I asked Anna what makes a good beach, and she listed people, but not too many, sand, water, waves, safety, atmosphere and anonymity. Maybe she didn't use those exact words, but its the last two that were missing. These places didn't feel like a beach, a place to frolic in the waves and build sandcastles. They didn't feel safe either, but then Labadi Beach never feels safe and we go there often. At Prampram, we stood out and if we had swam, people would of watched us play, that and then there is its poverty. How can we have fun when these who watch us live in such desperate situations? It almost feels like gloating, "don't you wish you were me?"

So we drive back, dry swim suits on, and know that even though we didn't go swimming, we did have an adventure, and that was enough.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Stool Shopping

Anna and I went to the Cultural Arts Center, in Accra Central this week. It's the last of the major tourist attractions that we have not been to here in Accra, mainly because of the reputation it has for aggressive sellers, a reputation well earned. But hey, we've been here 18 months, we should be able to handle it, right?

[Anna outside the Arts Center] We went to buy a stool, or more rightly order a stool to be made. Stools are an important symbols here in Ghana. Most have a story or proverb behind them, and the Ashanti believe that the stool is the receptacle of the soul, so its vitally important that you pick the right one. Generally, the ceremonial ones are carved from one massive piece of wood, but these days they have all but been replaced by the utility stood. I assume the soul doesn't end up in one of these.

[Here our Telly sits on a Utility Stool]

[Here is stool for a Queen Mother that we bought from that missionary who returned home after 40 years, note the twin sets of three holes in the seat…that means it's a "female stool"] [Here is a stool in the courtyard of Emmanuel's Mother, in Trebuom] We're looking for stools because as we prepare to leave, I think it is important that each kid get a stool from Ghana, to always remember they were once a part of this place. Maybe that's just me, since my parents got us stools before we left, and each of us kids has carried our stools with us where ever we went.

[John-Mark, Loreli & Steve]

This week we said good-bye to our friends the Cockrams, who have been here the past two years as workers in the Free Methodist Church, and are from Canada. It's the first of many good byes that we'll be making over the next few months. People that were, for a season, some of the most important people in our lives, and then they are gone, or maybe its us. Longer term Missionaries tell us that's just the way the mission field is. But how our hearts are breaking. One missionary who left last year after 40 in the field had a reputation of not learning people's names until they had been here at least five years. Maybe she felt like she had only so many good-byes left, and so rationed them. I wonder how she is doing back in Florida.

Last year about this time we watched a DVD of "The Motorcycle Diaries," the travelogue of a motorcycle trip across South America that forever changed Chi Riviera. At the end he said: "I was changed. I was no longer the me I used to be." After that movie, Suzanne asks if I think I have been changed enough to follow a practice of ministry that is sustainable. "I'm not talking about years 1,2, or even 3," she says, "but after the honeymoon is over and you are fully entrenched. What then?" she asks. "Do you think it could be sustainable?"

There is this great passage from John's telling of the Easter story that I might preach on at Asbury Dunwell on Easter. It comes right after the empty tomb has been found by the women, and now the bewildered disciples are wondering what to do. John says: "Then the disciples returned to their homes" (John 20:10). There is a lot of that kind of talk in the community these days, as another season of returning to our homes approaches. We want to return home changed, no longer the me I used to be.

I heard a preacher here say that his calling was to "work together and make God happy and famous," and that he could do that wherever he was called. I like that idea, I like that understanding, I am tired of just being the guy who runs to God for help. I want more. I want something other than that to pray about. I'm tired of asking God to change things, or asking God to help this person out or that person who is struggling. I want a relationship that is more than going to this ATM of blessing.

There is an African proverb that says "nobody teaches a child that there is God," implying that all are born with that knowledge, but somewhere along the way we learn differently. Its almost like we are speaking through someone, a Linguist they call it.

[Suzanne meeting the chief of Brekuso, where Ashesi owns 100 acres of land. Now why isn't he sitting on a stool? Note: Man sitting to left of chief is the Linguist] In the village if you are meeting a chief, you must never speak to him directly, instead you speak through the Linguist. Tradition holds that when you speak to a chief, it is as if you are speaking to God. So just to be careful, you speak through the linguist, so that if you make a mistake, or have mis-spoken, there will be an interpretation to correct it by the Linguist so the executioners, who stand ready with machete, won't have to carry it out. I don't think they really stand ready, but still its for everyone's protection, you speak to the Linguist, and the Linguist speaks for the chief, in case he makes a mistake.

[Storm Warning]
I have a cousin who years ago asked God to test her, she felt so strong in her faith and confident that she asked God for more. What followed was many years of suffering, sickness, and people dying...depression. It's a prayer she regrets praying I'm sure, and for me it serves as a warning. If God had had a Linguist, maybe he could have re-interpreted that prayer so that it didn't lead to so much suffering. Wouldn't it be cool if there was some sort of TIVO for your prayer life, one that could be rewound and replayed to see what was actually prayed before something big happened…like my accident. What was I praying, I wonder?

The injury has helped me realize how important playing guitar is to who I am, it's a side of me I've not always been comfortable with, but even so I have almost always traveled with a guitar. I could play, but what I really wanted to be known as was a thinker. I have found those two incompatible. We were at an Art Show this week with many of Accra's elite. We were invited because I was a childhood friend of the artist. He is really good, but has so little time for it. He said in passing, "I wish sometimes the gift had been given to someone else," implying that they could make full use of this artistic gift. Years ago I might have said the same thing, but being injured like I was, it helped me understand things. Playing guitar, more than anything else, was the thing that drove my recovery. It was who I saw myself to be, and with it missing in my life, I wasn't sure about my identity. So these days, as I'm relearning to play, I know I'm relearning to be who I was and who I still want to be.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

She will be his wife, but they aren’t Married.

Peace is finally returning to the household. Eric, our driver, was planning to get engaged a few weeks ago. Now people don't just get married in the Ga or maybe Ewe tradition, it is a series of steps. The first step is called Knocking. Knocking is where the groom-to-be and his father's side of the family go "knock" at the door of the bride-to-be's father's house. It begins weeks or months before with a negation between the families agreeing on what the groom-to-be will bring when he knocks. Usually, it a standard set of gifts for these type of events, and the amount gets negotiated between the families. For example in Eric's case her father requested 100 cedis, but would have said one million in the vocabulary of the old money. That amount was negotiated down to 80 cedis ($85), along with two bottles of schnapps (one foreign), three cases of minerals, two bolts of cloth (18 yards), and food for all who come to the Knocking.

[Emmanuel's Mother & Husband, with his grand son tied to her back]

The point of Knocking is to introduce himself to the family, though in practice it seems an excuse for a big party. Afterwards, both families will investigate the other to see if there are any reasons they should not get married. Emanuel's mother cares for a second family these days because of a couple's indiscretion in bypassing this important step. Seems the son of the man who is her husband now had taken a common-law wife, and together they had children . The couple was under great pressure to adhere to their traditions and get married, so he began the process, and came knocking.

In the investigation phase, it was learned that these two were first cousins, and by law and tradition, marriage was prohibited. In truth, Emmanuel tells me, nobody would have cared, but it freaked the man out and he abandoned the kids and their mother. The mother took off shortly afterwards, and so even though Eric's mother is 53 and not even kin to these kids, and already having raised seven of her, she now has two more. "So you see Mr. Steve, it is a good tradition," Emmanuel says.

[Picture of boy hiding at gate is one of the kids]

Eric has been saving for this for the past six months, putting a little aside, including in a Susu (or investment club) with one of the guards and a couple of friends [read about Susu]. When he was down to just needing to the money for the Schnapps and the Minerals, I said, "let Suzanne and I add those," hoping I'd get to go along and experience the whole thing. It almost happened a few weeks ago, but then there were some funerals, and it was delayed to Sunday last, when I was preaching at Asbury-Dunwell Church and I couldn't come.

Eric borrowed the same TroTro that had taken us to the coast with Karl & Ashley [read about it here], and off he went with his father's side of the family to knock. All week he had been so excited, but on Monday, I could tell it had not gone well.

[Eric & Trotro]

There is much I don't understand about the process, but it seems that Eric had not been treated well. Usually it is the bride's father's family who provides the food, but somehow Eric had been tagged with that expense. So he had sent money ahead, and at the last minute added some more. After knocking, Beatrice's father sent around a sheet of paper for people to write down whatever drinks they wanted. It felt like a celebration, Eric figured, like this was their way of saying thanks since up to this point they had contributed nothing. Wrong, he was given that bill too.

Eric was embarrassed because he did not bring enough to cover this, and then add to that, they demanded a cash gift of 100 cedis, instead of the agreed upon 80. In protest he didn't eat or drink anything, and came away broke, embarrassed, and not able to go to the next step. "I will not marry," he says, "but she is my wife."

It seems that when Eric went to knock, news had reached the bride's father, that she was knocked up, pregnant, with child, whatever and when you add that to the fact that they learned that Eric worked for and Obruni, he said "Even if I had all the gold of Accra, Mr. Steve, it would not be enough."

So they did not talk until Wednesday, when he told her it was off, and she asked "why did you go forward with it if you did not have enough?"

I've seen a change in Eric these past few weeks, like he is realizing how much his life is changing. For as long as I've known him he has been saving for this day, and its not at all how he hoped it would turn out. I think about this three step process that leads to marriage here, its a good idea. As he told me the story, and told it again, I kept thinking that at least he knows this about them now before their families are forever connected. Here more than in the states, a marriage is a connection of two families, two clans, two tribes, two villages, there is a lot of people involved.

The next step would have been another party, and more gifts and in greater number for Eric to supply. He would have, as all the families watched, asked for her hand, and then another six months or year would pass (for him to raise even more money for gifts). Then there would be a traditional wedding, a church wedding (or blessing by the reverend minister) and lastly a state marriage, to be recorded by the Republic of Ghana. But now it seems the, well I don't know. I guess he will record the marriage with the state, and then officially she will be his wife, but they won't be married.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Visit from Home IV - lasting impact

In the morning I take Ashely & Maddy to buy fabric, get hair braided, get dresses measured, and later Karl & Peter to buy fabric, sightsee and have shirts made, then we all go to Osu's Oxford Street. It's clear to me that I'm dealing with a family well seasoned by travel. They take the press of hawkers in stride, and after a few transactions are getting best price in the bargaining. Amazing.

For dinner it is Groundnut Soup, the national dish of Ghana [click here for recipe at end of post]. Eric pounds some fufu, and the kids are fascinated by the process. We also serve Omu Tuto, or rice balls, which we think they will prefer, but when we sit down to eat, everyone prefers fufu, and the kids eat it in the traditional way, (with their hands). Amazing.

Then it was off to the airport, and sad good-byes, but happy memories of sandcastling together.

I've been thinking a lot about something that George Whitefield wrote near the end of his life, comparing his ministry with John Wesley's. In many ways Whitefield was the better preacher, drawing larger crowds, getting more prestigious preaching invitations, and doing it in more churches, but in the end he realized, Wesley's work would be the more remembered. What would be remembered is the product of his organizational skills, which we now call as The Methodist Church. I've been thinking a lot about it because of what I've learned in this two year hiatus. The biggest surprise for me was watching, admittedly from a great distance, what endured and what didn't in the church I once pastored. It's maybe the same feeling that George Whitefield had as he watched much of what he had worked on wash away as time and the tides took their toll. I am glad to have this chance now, to learn this lesson, to see how so much of what I spent so much time on, didn't last. They were sandcastles, or as my dad called them footprints in the sand. It's not that sandcastles are a waste of time as much as they are a means to and end, and that end is the relationships that develop while building them. I thought the castles were the end, and spent more time on them than on the relationships. I didn't see that then, and was too arrogant to learn, because much of the work I did building my castles, I did alone.

I should have known this, after all the church I worked in while in seminary experienced a pastor change while I was on staff, and I watched as much of the ministry of the former pastor, who I loved, wash away. There was no one to rebuild his sandcastles. What remained then, and does to this day, at least to me, was the mentoring he did for me in my preparation for the ordained ministry.

I've been forced to think about my lasting impact here in Ghana, and it calls to mind the words the interim pastor spoke when he was appointed. "I'm not here for a long time," he said, "but I am here for a good time." Maybe that's not what he said, and I just remember it that way, but those could be my words about my time in Ghana, at least the part about having a good time. What has forced me to look at my lasting impact here is the request from Hyde Park United Methodist [click here], in Austin, that joins First Baptist Church of Pendelton Hill (Connecticut), and The Church at Horseshoe Bay (Texas) [click here] in partnering with our ministry. They asked for a presentation, and I see how difficult it is to sum up 18 months of ministry in just six minutes. Nonetheless, its forced me to take a hard look at how we have spent our time, and doing so calls to mind a Ghanaian proverb, "The beautiful cloth does not wear itself." It means that no matter how good we are, or intend to be, our goodness must make a difference to others, it must be "worn" like a cloth. The proverb councils us to take a sober estimation of ourselves, and nothing does that like putting together a seven minute video of our life. But it starts me wondering, how does this part fit in with the parts that came before it? And what difference did it all make, or to get back to my tag line of the last few weeks, "What you do may not change the world, but it will change you." Is that enough? I mean I feel changed, and have come to realize that much of the change has come as a result of this injury, creating in me precisely the type of change that had to be made in my life. I was such a do-er, and not always to the betterment of humankind. Now I'm forced to be more of a be-er, at least that's what it feels like in our eight minute video.

Well, to view the video, [click here].

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Visit from Home III – The Door of No Return

[Peter & Maddy on boogie boards...don't they know how dangerous they are?!!!]

I used to feel funny about blogging when we went to the beach, like maybe there wasn't enough interesting stuff to write about, or that maybe I was breaking some missionary/ex-pat code by disclosing the fact that when we need a break from the culture, we head to the beach. It's not that Ghanaian culture is bad, it is in fact wonderful and full of surprises, but sometimes, it's just overwhelming, and exhausting, and we want to take a break from having to think about it every time we interact with it.

So we took our friends Karl & Ashley to the beach. But after two full days of sand castling and great food, its time to head back. Along the way we stop off at the slave castle in Elmina, St. George Castle. I'm excited for our friends to learn more about this, Ashley's father was part of a group that rebuilt a replica of the Amistad at the Mystic Seaport, where it now resides. (to read about the La Amistad incident, [click here]).

It's been 18 months and four other castles/forts since we've been to this castle, so I'm wondering how differently my eyes will see it this time (read about our visit in Sept. 06, [Steve's thoughts] [Suzanne's thoughts]). The tour is shorter, less well organized, and the guide not engaged. I feel like I know the castle, even though we're taking a different route through it. Last time there had been much construction on, getting it ready for Ghana's 50th, and now there is a fresh coat of paint, and all the scaffolding is gone. About half way through I get that weary feeling and remember, "oh that is how these places of great evil make me feel." Afterwards, I ask Maddie how she liked it and she says, in a way too perky voice, "I really liked it, it was great." Who can really say how you're supposed to feel after visiting a slaving castle, what I know is I feel weary, and sad, and want to apologize to someone. Again.

[last time-Oct. 2006]

[this time]

The highlight, if you can call it that, of the tour is the "Door of No Return." It's an eerie room, with a small entrance and even smaller exit. As I understand it, in Ghana there were three castles, one British, one Danish, and the one we're touring, Portuguese-Dutch. There were also 45 smaller forts which served as collection points for the slaves that were bought and sold. From the smaller forts, the slaves were transferred to the one of the three Castles, and there, loaded on the slaving ships which were docked there in the deeper harbors, readying for the transatlantic journey. This "Door of no Return" was the last one they went through before they board the ship, never to return to West Africa.

Last time I took a photo of Anna in that room, it too was eerie, and I was wondering if I could recreate that shot to show how much Anna had grown. Days later, as I was reflecting on it, I realized that she too has passed through a door of no return. Not into slavery, but womanhood, she came as a child and returns to the states, a teenager.

[Anna 18 months ago]

[Anna, last month] I don't think we appreciate how many doors of no return we pass through. Life is pretty continuous, and then we do something to break the continuity, and then never can we return to life the way it was. Sure we can come back, but never return. I think about a friend of mine who helped manage Lebh Shomea, that Catholic House of Prayer and silence and solitude in deep south-coastal Texas I used to go to each year (thanks Alison!). After years of being welcomed by this white haired rascal of a woman (who reminded me of my sister Sheron), the last time I was there, she wasn't. This was the trip where mid-week Suzanne learned that she had been named a Fulbright Scholar, and texted me the news. Little did I know then how much texting would become a way of life in Africa. Anyway, when I asked the Father what had happened to Janet, he said, "she resumed her life in Port Lavaca." I was struck by his choice of words, resumed her life. At the time I accepted it fully, but now I wonder, was she really able to hit the play button on her life, and resume it? It's the thing they warn you about on one of the Walk to Emmaus, that you may go back changed, but the world you were a part of hasn't, you can't go back, you can't resume it, its one of those doors of no return.

Another thing that was different about revisiting St. George's Castle was that Dennis, Eric's brother, came along for the tour. I remember this same funny feeling when Emmanuel and I toured Fort Metal Cross last year [read about it]. Dennis, like Emmanuel was stoic in his reaction, or non-reaction to it all. Dennis seems unmoved, and I wonder if he has just grown up with the reality of what happened here, or now misses its significance. It is unnerving.

[Dennis, wondering if there is another way out]

[The view out the door, at a passing fishing boat]

After a quick lunch (ordered before the castle tour, as food often takes an hour to prepare once ordered) we're off on a futile trip into the rainforest to do the canopy walk. When we get there, we find it closed at 3:30, and we got there 3:45. Considering the way things mostly run on African Time, it is a shock to us that they are enforcing the closing time and won't let us in.

So it's back to Accra, so they can fly out the next evening.

[Yes...its the Family Christmas Card shot inside a Slaving Castle]