The Buchele Adventure

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

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Back in the USA - 2008

We successfully jumped the pond via Delta in a little less than 20 hours from check in to bed sheets.  It’s the little things that you appreciate first like drinking from a water fountain (wait…they have drinking fountains), like nice T-Roll (toilet paper), and the dry, clean air.  Of course there are the smells, of fresh coffee and of food long ago forgotten.  There is the loss of the natural connection you feel to other white skinned people when you are the minority, and then you see the refreshingly familiar smile from an obviously West African traveler, it reminds you—as if you needed it—that you’re not in Africa, and already missing it. And then there are the mirrors, or realizing its been a long time since I’ve really seen my face in a mirror.  OK – so we had small poorly lit mirrors in our house, but wow, do I really look like that?

Travel TwinsOddest moment in travel: being served Chicken and Gari foto, and a Voltic.  Gari foto is a starchy Ghanaian side dish made with gari (dried Cassava) and red sauce; Voltic is the largest bottled water producer in Ghana.  Second oddest moment: Anna and Suzanne dressed exactly alike and only discoverig it after all the bags were packed and loaded.

This week we will be concentrating on the four Rs, Rest, Relax, Re-stocking and Re-enculturation.  I’ll be preaching the next two Sundays trying to sum up two years in twenty minutes.  Pray that I don’t ramble too incoherently, but just enough to show our gratitude.

By the way, if you would like us to come speak to your mission committee on our work, and the on going mission to Africa, let me know [click here].  I would love to come and share our passion and begin a dialog.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Last Blog from Ghana

14 Hours to go,  yikes what a scary thought!   We’re still we’re packing, so of course I’m blogging.  Actually the packing is almost done, or should I say one last time, is coming.  As I write this its 9:15pm and Suzanne is still working at Ashesi, and my guess will be until moments before we take off. 

We had our Last Supper at Papaye for their amazing fried chicken and either fried rice or chips (french fries).  Said way too many good-byes, and I feel numb.  The nice thing is Ashesi is keeping the house and five people move in soon, so we get to leave behind a lot of our furnishings, and stuff we care about, but not enough to put in storage or ship back.

Over the week-end we took our last family vacation, even though most of us were feeling sick. It was a wise decision to take those three days off and visit Lake Bosumtwe because we all got well.  It was a grand last visit to see our wonderful friends Andrew & Ju Jernigan who just had a baby boy last Saturday.  While on the trip, something terrible happened, we turned old.  All our kids are now teenagers, as Anna had her 13th Birthday.

So we fly to Connecticut where we will stay with Suzanne’s mother Nelda, and her husband Charlie until July, then I’ll fly back to Austin to pick up a car and Grace.  Grace and I will meet the rest of the family in at DFW to go to Denton and tour the University of North Texas, where Grace will be in school next year as part of a residential high school called the Texas Academy of Math and Science (TAMS).  Fox will be returning to Ghana to finish high school and graduate from Lincoln Community School (LCS) with an International Baccalaureate degree.  Anna will be living with her parents in Georgetown and making more new friends like the wonderful ones she left in Ghana.  Her best friend Fanta, will be going to school in Toronto, so there is hope they will get to see each other.  Dress warm Fanta, and God Speed with all those crazy Canadian canucks!

Over the summer we will be attending Re-Entry Camp at MTI, thanks to the generous support of Foundation United Methodist Church, my old church.  They call it DAR (Debrief and Renewal) but what I’ve heard is its a really good idea for families returning from an intense experience to have some help with reentry.  

That said, Suzanne will resume teaching at Southwestern University, in the Math and Computer Science department, and the Bishop has appointed me to a new part-time position as Associate Pastor and Director of Music at Wellspring United Methodist Church, in Georgetown, Texas.   

Like those who have left before me, I still have many more blogs to write on Ghana, and maybe I’ll even post a few of them.  I want to say a special thank you to all who supported us these past two years to especially to Nelda & Charlie Nardone who forwarded our mail and sent us the comics, and were our launch and landing points when leaving and returning to the states.  To my dad Wes Buchele, who brought us to Ghana I the 60s, and helped us return in so many ways this time, to my sister Beth who came to my rescue in South Africa, and was the gifted healer.  To The Church at Horseshoe Bay, who’s financial support allowed us to pour more of our ourselves into ministry here than would have otherwise been possible, growing the kingdom in ways they will never see, at least this side of eternity. To our monthly contributors, the Thompsons, the Redus family, Ambra,  and the Belobrajdic’s,  your support allowed me to speak into the lives, or I should say sing into their lives of missionary kids here in Accra.  Their world is better because of you.  To Barb & Phil, your gift allowed us a year of Emergency Ambulance service, a service we only used once, but what a huge difference it made.  To all our supporters I don’t have time to name, thank you so much for believing in us, and especially to Hulda Burger, who said that even $5 dollars can make a difference here.  Hulda you were right, and thanks for trusting us!

Well, its time to get back to packing, take off is 12 hours away (and Suzanne did finally finish at Ashesi at 9:45pm).

Oh and one more thing, thanks for reading our blog! God Bless!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Last Adventure, part III - The Cult of Kwame Nkrumah

In the morning I check out of the guest house, and look at the slip Emmanuel has given me days before detailing the money he has spent.  Lodging is listed at $75, which at $10/night for two nights is a bit inflated.  I speak with the owner, and she assures me, the bill was $20, ten dollars for two nights, but your friends already paid for it.  While waiting for the shared Taxi, THe BillI mention it to Emmanuel, how nice the room was, and what a bargain at $10/night.  Busted, he does not say anything, finally I ask him why he would list the rate at $75, when really it was $20? He tells me I misunderstood, and I tell him what the owner says, and he offers several other excuses.  When I say, lets go talk to the owner and clear this up, he pleads with me, “if a white man reports this problem, he will be sacked,” which I take as a sort of confession, but think about until I get back to Accra.

The programme for today is to visit the birthplace of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s founding father and first president.  He is Ghana’s George Washington.  During his presidency, this childhood home in Nkroful, had been Rubble from 1966built up, but during the 1966 coup when even saying the word Nkrumah could get you arrested,  the military had it leveled.  Today the site, it a mixed grill of rubble, restored buildings, and river. 

The rubble is what was left after 1966, the guide points at marble capstones still laying in dirt 42 years later, and tells how the troops came and brought down the buildings.  He talks about the complexThe empty tomb of Nkrumah then, the library, the swimming pool, and the lecture hall, and points to an area where squatter’s homes have taken residence, implying this is where it all was, and look what has happened to it today.

The restored buildings, a two-room house and a detached kitchen, are the only new ones and are built on the foundation of their originals.  Inside is unfinished.  Between the two is the mausoleum  where his body rested between its first burial in Guinea, and where it rests today in Accra.  Looking at the empty tomb, and his bust above it, the one our guide kisses and clearly adores, I begin to see what I’ve heard about before, The Cult of Nkrumah.

Subre River

The guide had taken us to the River Subre, where the miracle of the fish occurred.  “Nkrumah was just two,” the guide explained, “and on his mother’s back as she crossed the river.  Kwame told her she had stepped on a fish.”  I get it, but the guide goes into a lot more detail than helps the story and by its end, I’m thinking the miracle wasn’t that Kwame saw the large tilapia under his mother’s foot, but that she listened to her two year old.  Nkrumah used to visit his home, offer libation to the gods, and bath in the river.  He believed in its power, but one time, when he was still president, he came to meet a dry river Emman with wet headThe guide explains, “He pored libation, and then took his staff and struck the dry riverbed, and the water flowed.  “Even to this day it has never been dry.”  In fact we learn that Ghana’s current president, John A. Kuffour bathed in this river before he won the election.  The guide encourages us to also bathe, and Emmanuel completely covers his head with water.  Me, I am content to just wet my face.

I think about how Biblical these stories are, like Moses striking the rock and water gushing forth, or the fish miracles of Jesus, a multitude, feeding 5000, the coin in its mouth, but then I also think about our own stories of George Washington, how he can never tell a lie, or the one about chopping down the cherry tree, and maybe they are not so different. We need to believe a little bit of the divine was responsible for the creation of our country.

From Nkroful, we head to the border town Elubo on the Ghana side of the Ivorian border.  Along the way I am introduced to Rice Kenke.  Kenke is street food that is unique as the region it comes from.  Perhaps the most famous is the Fante Kenke that comes from the Cape Coast area.  We usually pick up 10-20 blue bags of it to give out to our guards and house help when we see it.

Fante Kenke for sale on Cape Coast Highway

Around Accra, its Ga Kenke, which I prefer over the Fante, Ga and Fante being tribal names, but of the three I now prefer Rice Kenke.

Cooking Ga Kenke

Aunties making Ga Kenke Balls in corn husks

Meal of Ga Kenke (balls on left)

Fante Kenke is wrapped in banana leaves and fermented, Ga, in corn husks, and rice in banana leaves, but then roasted, giving it a slightly smoky flavor. 

Rice Kenke Headload

This Rice Kenke is for YOU

This stuff is GREAT, on my 2nd already!

Elubo feels much like any other border town I’ve been in, money changers, liquor stores, and plenty of unsavory people.  Its raining the whole time we are there, so the dirt roads of the town turn to mud, serious mud.  We go to the Ivorian border and try to bluff our way across, but I failed to bring my passport, so we are turned away.  I see a FORD, which is the name given to the 15 passenger vans that race between major cities.  Though Emmanuel wants to spend more time with me, I am ready to go, and so for $13 I squeeze in with 15 other passengers, and off we go.  It is then, when I am trapped between two really large Ivorian women, the kind you could say “I admire your structure” to, in a seat made for three holding four, that I remember the FORD’s other name, “Flying Coffin.” It goes fast but the time doesn’t an for five and a half hours, I am smashed between these women, sweating hip on hip, arm on arm, shoulder to shoulder. I see only two vehicles pass us, and they both had embassy plates.  Because the FORD is more expensive than TroTro or shared taxi, it attracts a more affluent clientele, and here affluence often translates to size, weight and in this case girth.  It’s a FORD filled with really, really large people.   On a TroTro I’m usually the fattest, but not here, not by a long shot.  It is also air conditioned which is nice, and there are no goats under my seat, though my feet rest on two 70 lbs bags of rice.  Its Uncle Sam Rice from Thailand, or at least that is what the bag says.  

I have plenty of time to think about Emmanuel, and choices he is making.  We see the remains of accidents, and in the paper the next morning, I see 21 people died along this road and the one I was traveling just a week before. 

No wonder that the leading cause of non-infant death in Ghana is traffic fatality.  Usually its TroTros, but this time it was STC bus (STC – State Transport Company, the Greyhound of Ghana), and by the roadside, I count the remains of three buses. Travel is just dangerous, and so are friendships.  I feel like I ought to be furious with Emmanuel, and Suzanne is when I tell her the details our adventure.   I can’t stay angry, disappointed yes, upset no, and in a few days, after we have texted back and forth, I text back,

As God has forgiven me, so I forgive you.  Now go and leave that town and return to your wife and children and be the man God made you to be.  

As I write this, he is still thinking about it, and as for me, D-Day is just 7 days away.  D-Day being our Delta Day, when we fly out.  So, there is unfinished business between us, but I will continue to pray for my lost friend, that he finds his way home in time.

Pray for us too, as we ready to return home, to resume a life we have changed from.

The Last Adventure, part II - Cape Three Point

The next morning we were joined by ”Grace,” a friend of Emmanuel’s from Takoradi. It was an awkward paring, adding her to our adventures.  For one thing she wore 3” platform heals, which really never make since, but considering how much hiking was a part of the programme, I’m sure she was regretting that choice by mid morning.  Steve at Cape Three Point

We went by shared taxi, then TroTro, then private TroTro, to Cape Three Point. Shared taxi is one that runs a regular route, in this case from Busia to Agona for about 60 cents.  These taxis are small five passenger cars, which often hold seven uncomfortably.  All day long he drives between these two towns and waits until the taxi fills up before leaving.  If you are in a hurry, you can buy the empty seats, but that is no guarantee of a more comfortable or spacious ride. 

Bridge across lagoon in Akwidda

The TroTro drops us at Akwidda, the town where the old witch cursed me [click here to read about that].  Now there is a derelict TroTro sitting where the curse happened, one that looks like it has not moved in years. Maybe the old witch cursed it too, I think. It is good to have a second chance at this place, an opportunity to pray over it and release the power it had over me.  I looked for Stephen, the town drunk who had been our guide, but didn’t see him.  Maybe just as well, as we picked up a different guide, who lead us across the bridge and up the hill to arranged for a private TroTro, one that just happened to fill with about 10 other people (who I am guessing rode for free). 

Fishing boat in Akwidda

All along that walk the kids shouted my friend, my friend, instead of the usual obruni.  The people are friendly enough, they seem used to strangers walking through the intimate parts of their town, or to me it feels that way. 

seeing inside Church in Akwidda

We were not comfortable at first, that feeling we had invaded their privacy, as the huts are so close together, and the doors and windows all open, it feels more like walking through hallways of a strange house.


Cape Three Point is the most southern point in Ghana and unique among the world’s capes.  A cape is a pointed land formation that extends out into the sea, and as you can guess by the name, in this part of Ghana, there are three such capes, pointing into the sea, like three fingers, the middle one being the longest. 

Old light house at Cape Three Point built in 1875

A lighthouse was built on it in 1875, and replaced 50 years later when the harbor of Takoradi was expanded by the British.  In fact when I was in Agona, instead of being called obruni, the children called out to me Takoradi Obrouni, a remnant from that time when the British were building the harbor.  In 2005, an NGO replaced the diesel generators that powered the lighthouse with six solar panels. 

Cape Three Point Lighthouse

I can’t say enough about the beauty of this place is.  I wish we could have spent hours there, just listening to the rage of the ocean as it threw itself against the base of the cape.   I watch the waves crash, and wonder about what Emmanuel told me last night. We take pictures of him and Grace, and of me and her;  there is a normality to what we are doing, that hides the evil he has planned.  Denial is powerful ally, and yet I wonder, what is she doing here?

Oil Rig off coast from myjoyonlineIt seems oil has been discovered off Cape Three Point.  Actually, it was discovered in 1982, so this is a re-discovery, but in 1982 they were not able to capitalize on it, our guide explains, there was a coup, Ghana’s fourth.  Because it is so remote, Cape Three Point has been spared much of the over development that has plagued so much of the country.  Development is not really the right word, more the devastation that a large population can inflict.  But that all is about to change as they are planning to stretch a cable car from Kukum National Forest [click here] to this place, and soon the last remaining virgin ocean side rain forests will be opened up, and the protection of its remoteness, lost.  I already feel that loss for this place, and how soon it will all change.  Our guide doesn’t however, and speaks excitedly, and urges us to return in a few years. 

Kids playing near fishing boatWe walk back to the private trotro that has been waiting for us, and it loads with a different set of people riding for free.  Back in Akwidaa, walk back to where the first TroTro had dropped us, and I see the derelict TroTro, but there are goats playing in it.  

Emmanuel explains that is our TroTro, and though I don’t believe him, I christen it the SS Derelict.  He also says we have to wait for The Derelict to fill, so we have several hours to observe village life.  I watch kids playing with stick tops, a fisherman repair his nets, and many men sitting under the large mango tree talking.  This feels like the center of town, even though it’s the edge.  The large tree defines the place, and you can understand why westerners mistakenly think Africans worship trees.  On Sunday, Kwame-Michael Mozley asked the question in church “Do you know what happens under that tree?”  I think back to the witch’s curse near the tree, to the men sitting under it and talking wildly, to the school age children drawing their letters on slateboard, or to the market. “Do you know what happens under that tree?”  he asks again…”Everything.”  What may seem like acts of worship are really just the living of life under the only good shade in town.

See the goats in the SS Derelict

Emmanuel goes around trying to hurry the Derelict, but its a large one, so it is taking plenty, plenty time to fill.  Grace is hungry, I give her some plantain chips I’ve carried from Accra, and my emergency water bottle.  I look at Emmanuel walking around and think back to one of our earliest conversations, one where he told me it was his prayer that he would never do anything to lose my trust.  “I know how you obruni are,” he said, “you value your money, and if you think you are cheated, you finished with us.”   I’ve tried hard not to be one of those people he described, especially when I later discover he has added something to the bill, or kept the change, or quoted me one price, and next time when I do the deal myself, am quoted a much better price. I figure he must have added something to it and kept the difference.  Suzanne thinks I am crazy to keep on doing things with him, but I figure it was just part of the adventures no one else would take me on. 

Kids playing with tops

I look at Grace.  How uncomfortable she is, hot, hungry, thirsty, with sore feet.  Later as I was telling Suzanne about it, I said “It was fascinating, wondering how it would all play out, knowing nothing was going to happen, no matter how Emmanuel maneuvered it.”  We make small talk in the shade, she is a caterer, which means she has been to cooking school, instead of high school.  She lives with her parents, her dad runs a TroTro yard, her mother is a nurse.  She is maybe 20, Methodist, and later when we eat, she asks me to pray.   People are now starting to move to the TroTro now, even though its in the full sun. They are taking the good seats and chasing the goats away. So we are taking the derelict.

Fisherman repairs nets

We end up buying the last seat, except now the engine won’t start.  I’ve been praying all day for God’s protection and wonder if this is part of that prayer answered, but then 10 men show up from under the tree and push, and push and rock back and forth, and 10 tries later, the engine roars to life and we are off.  A few miles from Agona engine seizes and we walk the rest of the way.

For dinner its Groundnut soup again, but this time with fufu, goat meat and herring.  I don’t eat bones this time.  “So what is the programme for the rest of the night?” I ask Emmanuel.  It seems that Grace and he have been having a running conversation about me all day, she is saying I don’t think he will go through with it, or dance to the music as they say, and Emmanuel saying he will!  Of course I’m oblivious to it all, they are speaking Twi.  Emmanuel says, “You and Grace will go back to the Guest House and I will meet us in the morning.”

“Emmanuel, I can’t do that,” I explain.  “I’m a married man, and would never do that to Suzanne.” 

“This is Africa, you must do this,” and I say, “I don’t think so.” 

“Am I being too stubborn ? he asks.  I don’t quite understand his meaning, stubborn is not how I would describe it.  Immoral, deceitful, evil work for me, stubborn, not so. 

Emmanuel & Grace at Cape Three Point“She is not coming home with me,” I say, and he is surprised.  I remember this next thought, and make a mental note to add it to the premarital counseling I do.  When you don’t feel committed to the person you are married to, then at least stay committed to the institution of marriage (FYI: Suzanne and I are getting along fine, it was just the thought that went through my mind).

Now we’re at the Takoradi Harbor and Grace has gone home.  “So in your culture,” I ask when what I really want to say is WHAT THE @#$%^&* WERE YOU DOING!? “…in your culture would it have been alright to dance to the music?”  He asks about the US culture, avoiding the question.  I answer most would say no, but there are others that would dance to the music, but what about your culture? I wonder about the discipleship provided in the church he attends.  Don’t they cover this?  Emmanuel rambles on and doesn’t really answer the question, which is an answer in itself, I guess.  I do learn he has a girlfriend there, one who is not his wife, nor the mother of his children. 

I say, “Emmanuel, you have changed,” and I hear a weariness to my voice.  I thought to earlier that morning, when we greeted his friends, how I could already smell apeteshi on their breath (apeteshi is distilled palm wine, like a strong Ghanaian moonshine). The night before I had noticed the alcoholic redness in the eyes of his friends.  They are drunks, and I see traces of it starting in Emmanuel’s eyes.  When I first met him he never drank, “Emmanuel, you have changed,” and I am sad.  Sad for his wife Vida who taught me to cook, sad for Anna, his daughter who runs and jumps in my arms when I see her, and sad for Ruth, who is such a quiet flirt and had Malaria at the same time that my daughter Grace did.  Mostly I am sad for Emmanuel, the path he has choosen, the future he may never have, and past he can’t escape. 

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Last Adventure, part I - Emmanuel's new life

The last time I saw Emmanuel, when he  was in town conducting business, he insisted that I come visit him. Emmanuel is my friend and former guard who left our service about a year ago to move to Agona, which is in the Western Region, about 80 miles from the Ivorian boarder.  He sells ladies shoes there in the market  [click here to read more about what he is doing].

[Emmanuel showing me the shoes he sells]Look at these shoes, they are just like what I sell

I remember last year when Emmanuel pulled the night shift guarding us, I would listen to him pray.  It was usually 3 or 4 in the morning, the light was out, and the hot sticky still nights kept sleep away. I would get up and watch him pace the front of the compound, praying in a mixture of Twi and English, and sometimes I could hear my name spoken. No matter the language, there is a fervent quality to prayers given at that hour, as if he were personally keeping the demons at bay and our house safe. 

[Kaya holding his son Kaya Jr – the name Kaya means Please Stay, and is usually given after several babies have not]Kaya & Kaya Jr

It was a three-hour bus trip to Takoradi, and then another hour beyond that by TroTro to Agona.  Like the last time I visited him, (to read about it [day1, day2, day3, day4]) I was paraded around to visit all his friends, but unlike last time, it didn’t annoy me so much.  I like that change in me, the one who doesn’t have to be in control, or even know what is happening next, who is just there, very much in the moment.  One of the things I notice about people from the states when they visit is a constant need to know what is next, and how it is going to happen, even when they have almost zero understanding of the culture, or what it takes to get that thing to happen. 

At one point, when we are all together, Emmanuel said “Steve, these are my friends, the ones who did not know me when I came, but took me in, the stranger.  We have a saying here,” and then he said something in Twi that I couldn’t understand and began to translate.  His friends all jumped in, arguing about his translation of the saying, but the gist of it was  Only a stranger is served the blind chicken (or one-eyed chicken).  I gather the blind or one-eyed chicken is the Ghanaian equivalent to unclean, and when you have friends, they watch out for you (like the blind chicken can’t).

[“Teacher” standing with boy named Nyame (meaning God in the local language), while his mother looks out]Teacher & Nyame

Now that I had been properly introduced, and greeted all his friends, as well as visiting them in their homes, we had a delicious meal of groundnut soup with Omo Tuo (or rice balls), and fish.  I think back to a conversation I had with Nicole Sims at the Mozley’s when we first got here.  We are sitting around the table having Groundnut Soup,

 “Do you eat the bones?” She asks the Ghanaians sitting at our table, and they laugh. One of the women, says yes, but her husband won’t. After they were first married she tells about her husband seeing her eat the bones and asking, “Are you an animal that you eat the bones too?” They argue about it and she asks him, “Are you Ghanaian?” It is a custom not shared by all. Nicole asks how to eat the bones, and she says “don’t force it” Later as Nicole is biting into a breast bone, the woman cautions her: “Don’t force it!”
“Am I forcing it?” she asks with bones still in her mouth so it doesn’t come out clearly.
“I see your face” and she is right, it has that tight strained look.  [
click here to read full entry]


I notice there are rarely any bones to clear away when eating with our Ghanaian friends, so tonight, I try as I have been taught.  I chew and chew the sharp fish bones until they are ground down to swallowing size.  I look at Emmanuel’s bowl, and Kofi’s, who has joined us for dinner, and their bowls are empty, no bones, and I am only half done.  Eating isn’t the social occasion that it is in the States, so there is little conversation to slow us down.  They eat quickly.  Chewing the bones slows me down, but when I have finished, I and see a completely empty bowl, without bones, and I am proud and think Well Done, Steve .  Then it was off to the guest house where I would be staying for the week, but the TroTro is has only one place and there are two of us.  The mate stays behind and gives me his jump seat.  Its late now, maybe 8pm, and I don’t think they expect me to know what to do, but when someone shouts blastoff, which I take to mean next stop,  I expertly swing open the door before it stops,  and hop out so the people can exit.  I hop back in, shout Away, and close the door as we’re pulling out and flip down my jump seat.  The people laugh, wondering about the Obruni mate, and I think, Should I be collecting fares?

It was a simple room, not self-contained as they say here, meaning the shower and toilet are around the corner and to be shared by everyone on that floor, which was OK since I am the only guest. The room came with its own bed sheets and a towel, which is relatively rare in this price range ($10/night), usually you are expected to pack your own bed sheets and towels.  The room also came with an ashtray, another rarity as smoking is not all that common here, a New Testament, quite common, and a bowl of condoms, I guessing in case the New Testament or smoking didn’t work.   Compared to Ghana’s neighbors, the rate of HIV/AIDS is low.  Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin, and Burkina Faso each have infection rates between 20-30% whereas Ghana is reported to be 6%.  Maybe this is why.

[Bedside table]They think of everything here

Emmanuel had come earlier in the week and paid the bill, so we go right to the room and chat for a while longer before he asks his leave.  It is the custom here not to announce that you are leaving, or have to go, but allow the host (that would be me in this situation) to grant permission to leave, but I’ve never quite mastered the protocol.  I do know that you are supposed to walk with your guest to the street, and perhaps further, maybe even to their home, but again I do not have a good understanding of what that looks like.  So Emmanuel asks “May I go,” and then adds, “or would you like me to stay?” I had to ask: “So what is the program for tomorrow?” Emmanuel talks about visiting Cape Three Point, a place I have heard wonderful things about, but not had the chance to visit, and then he adds, “You have tasted many of the delicious dishes that my country has to offer and tomorrow you shall taste one of our African girls.”

I was quite sure I had heard him wrong, or didn’t understand the custom, or what he was saying and by morning I had convinced myself that what he really said was “and tomorrow you shall taste one of our African grills,” at least that is what I hoped he said.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

YouTube Videos: Fox & Grace

Warning: Proud Parents Alert!

Here is what Fox and Grace have been up to this spring.

Watch Fox in his high school’s production of Little Shop of Horrors, playing The Dentist.

Watch Grace and her friends do a “slightly odd dance” (her words) at her school’s talent show.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Spirit World IV: Ancestors & the Doctor


Its maybe day three of this past mission trip and we are all gathered around the dinner table, though its just after a wonderful lunch of Ground-nut Soup, a time when if this were Mexico, we would all be on siesta, but since its Ghana, we are just sitting around talking, listening to Ju reflect on her practice as the village Doctor of the Lake Bosumtwe Methodist Clinic.

[Dining room overlooking the lake]

She shares her heart, about the struggles she faces, not so much with the Ghana Medical Board, of which she could share plenty, but more with the culture of this place that is often at odds with the practice of modern medicine.  She speaks of the sorrow of kids with malaria brought to her on days five, six or seven.  How they come to her with very high fever, delirious, and mothers who say it just started yesterday, and Ju saying “mommie, that cannot be true, when did this really start?” But of course she is speaking in Twi, their language.   

I gather she used to ask “why did you wait so long?” but now knows it wasn’t the money, or the inconvenience, it was her family, the spiritualist, or fetish priest that caused delay.  “When a child gets sick,” Ju explains, “often the first place they go is to the fetish priest.

“Can they cure Malaria?” one of the team asks.

“Ah, Its not that simple,” Ju explains.  Sometimes the child will arrive covered with marks, things the naturalist has tried.  Andrew jumps in telling about the time quite a number of people arrived at the clinic very sick from the latest treatment the naturalist had whipped up. “Who knows what toxins were in that batch?”

[LBMC Stool – Lake Bosumtwe Methodist Clinic]

Ju looks uneasy, as if not wanting to devalue the work of the naturalist or fail to recognize the good they do.  She is always conscience of her audience, and the currency of her words.  She knows how words travels, and once they have left her mouth, she doesn’t control their destiny.  So I offer to answer the question.

Suppose I am from a village like this one and decide to leave against the recommendation of my elders.  I move to the city, and stop contributing to the family projects, like funerals, medical bills, and school fees.  I might even move with a woman without going through the proper steps of knocking, investigation, and engagement… , its called running away from the family.  For the head of the extended family, it would worry him too much, as all eyes will be watching to see what he does, lest the family scatter.

[Girl on railroad tracks]

“In order to bring me back to my senses,” the authors of African Traditional Religion and Christian Counseling write, “the family head might solicit the help of the ancestors over this, their straying child.” Visiting the village shrine, he will make a sacrifice, saying to the ancestors “See our child out there?  He is escaped from the family.  Bring him back.”[1] The head of the family leaves it up to the ancestors to bring some misfortune into my life. For example, one of my children might become sick, and so “my thoughts or those of my wife would be ‘Who is making my child sick?  Is it our ancestors because of my offense against the family, or is it someone else who does not want me to prosper?’” [2]

[Shrine with mystical clay pot, I think it’s the one on the left]

The concerned parents would then consult the fetish priest, asking who has made my child sick?  Notice the question is not what has made my child sick, but who.  In the village tour on Wednesday, we were shown a shrine where it is believed that by looking into the water in the clay pot of the shrine, the face of the one troubling you will be seen in its reflection.  In the case of our sick child, I would see the head of my family.  Our guide also explained that fetish priest has been dead for two years, and no one had come to replace him, and “besides,” he said “I am a Christian, and so I do not believe in such things.”  Still when asked “Can I look inside the clay pot?” the guide said no.  (it wasn’t me who asked…really). 

Closer to the lake Andrew points out a signboard,

Spiritualist, Herbalist Treatment

and any sickness or any spiritual problem.

If you come to Nana Oboa Nipa, all your problems will be solved &

You will get freedom.

 So maybe some of Ju’s patients first consult Spiritualist Nana Oboa Nipa to discover who sent the mosquito.  In our example, I would learn it was the family head and so to clear this matter up so that my child would get well, I would make amends to the family head for “he alone can mediate between me and the ancestors.”[3]


“Make amends” means the family head performs a sacrifice on my behalf, asking the ancestors to no longer punish my child, but care for it.  This can only be done after I have accepted responsibility for my actions, and confessed to the family council, promising to change my ways.  It is in this way that both the “living and the dead members of my family will be satisfied,”[4] and health returns to my child.

“After the symptoms first appear, the child has seven days to seek treatment,” Ju explains.  The first two days its just a fever, and children do get sick from time to time, but the fever gets worse. They may spend the next three days consulting the fetish priests, head of family, or the one they say is troubling them.  Now its day five and the child is deathly ill, and so finally they bring the child to the clinic.

We drove by another Clinic on the opposite side of the lake run by the Seventh Day Adventists.  Andrew tells a story I’ve heard before, how a woman had taken her very sick child there on day five, a day’s journey from her village, except it happened to be a Saturday, and that is their Sabbath, so the clinic is closed.  A day’s journey home and another to the Methodist Clinic, and this woman, now carrying this very sick, feverish child lays her in the arms of Ju. The child dies.  “Mommie,” Ju asks, “why did you wait so long?” and together they cry for this child. 

Then the mother walks back to her village, carrying the body. 

Ju walks up the hill to her home to hug her kids, thank God for their safety, and pray for their protection. 




[1] Grebe, Karl; Fon, Wilfred, African Traditional Religion and Christian Counseling, p13.

[2] African Traditional Religion and Christian Counseling, p13

[3] African Traditional Religion and Christian Counseling, p13

[4] African Traditional Religion and Christian Counseling, p14

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Picture Project

I've just returned from 9 days up at Lake Bosumtwe with a mission team from Alabama's St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Birmingham, and First United Methodist Church in Sylacauga, led by Father Stephen McWhorter. It was an interesting mission trip, perhaps not the one they had planned for, but certainly the one God wanted (to read Andrew's thoughts [click here]). On the afternoon of the last day, we tried something I'm calling The Picture Project. I had hoped to do it the first afternoon, but as so often happens in Ghana, events conspired to prevent us. So now its Friday afternoon and either now or next time or never.

The idea came after last year's mission trip [read about it Blog1, Blog2] when so many pictures were snapped of the people who came to the free clinic. As we were planning this year's trip, I asked Andrew to have the team bring 50 or so prints of those pictures so we could give them out to the people in the village. I am pretty sure I was the only one who got the significance of what we were planning to do, but folks went along with me anyway.

So on Friday afternoon, Jody, Cherry, and Sidne joined me on a stroll into the village, where we showed the pictures to one of the shop owners, and asked "Do you know any of these people?" and then "Can you take us to them?"

[shop owners with pictures]

Turns out only five of the pictures were from that village but still the experience of handing out those five pictures was nothing short of wonderful. Understand that by and large people here do not have pictures of themselves. Our previous guard Daniel once showed me his whole collection, about six pictures in all, dating from when he was in the Ghanaian Army, to the different jobs he has had, to one of his family taken long ago. I added several to his collection, and he was most appreciative. So when we brought these pictures to the village, and found the people in them, it was great fun to watch them study the pictures and smile.

Here is what it looked like, both the picture we gave out, and then them posing with the picture.

[Lady –by Margaret 2/07]

[Lady holding the picture 5/08]
[elders by Margaret 2/07]

[elder holding the picture 5/08]

[old ladies by Margaret 2/07]

[old lady being given the picture by Sidne]

[old lady with picture of old ladies]

[Jody & Cherry take a picture of the kids]

[…then shows them the picture…they all cheered!]

[then snaps his picture with them]

[daughter by Steve 2/07]

[proud father by Jody 5/07]

[two girls by Steve 2/07]

[mother of two girls & shop owner 5/08]

Final Thoughts – It was a good feeling I had walking up the hill after handing out pictures in the village. There is something about it that felt so right: meeting people where they were, and giving them something they need. It wasn't like when I went on a Mission Trip to Belize, and felt like the Great White Father, handing out junk as trinkets that was just not appropriate, that and the guilt of knowing they were most likely made by Chinese prisoners or child labor. Oh, they were gracious enough, but I could tell, they were just being nice. They did not need or want our junk.

But this time, people were excited about what we gave them and it was good for us to get out of the clinic area, and be with people where they lived, or waiting for them in the courtyard (which serves functionally as a living room) and of course seeing the look on their face as they stared into the eyes of the photo wondering is that me?

You see I am not a doctor, or nurse, I can't do dental work, or manage large construction projects, I can't dig a bore hole (well) or learn languages easily, so on most mission trips I don't feel very useful. Sure, I can smile, play guitar, take pictures, and pastor people, but these are not the things that by and large needed in the developing world. My skill set is much more attuned to the already developed world, so at the end of the day on a mission trip, I don't often have that feeling of accomplishment that I sense that others do. I often wonder: What did I really do today that made a difference?

[Cherry headloading YaYa's load]

So I guess what I liked about The Picture Project, was the feeling of doing something good and connecting with the people of Amakom. This picture of Cherry about says it all, and couldn't have happened if we had not gone to the village. It is said that the three components of a good mission trip are connecting with God, connecting with the people you came with, and connecting with the people you came to serve. We had done well on the first two, and that last Friday afternoon we got to do third. It was a good trip.

[Beck with all his new found friends]
(who followed us back to the clinic)