The Buchele Adventure

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

Monday, June 29, 2009

Returning to Ghana #4 - A visit to Eric's Village, part 1

Returning to Ghana #4 - Visiting Eric's Village, part 1

For years it seems like I've been talking about visiting Eric's village, the one he grew up in. Eric was born in Kumasi, but was raised in Adenkrebi, about an hour north of Accra. This is the photolog from that visit.

So Eric warned me that it was a lonely place, that there was nothing there, and he wasn't kidding. I think for me, the best part was watching how people welcomed him. The closer we got to Adenkrebi, the more people recognized him, and yelled out his last name as we drove by. This is the road to Adenkrebi, the one that turns off the main road.

This is Eric's oldest brother. Notice the heavy coat. Its rainy season and we're out side Accra on one of the hills that surround it to the north. Its maybe 70 degrees, and he had a coat on.

Here is the "town drunk". Eric tells me again that if I want the truth about anything or anybody, ask him. Because he is the drunk, nobody pays any attention to him, and he sees and hears everything. (click here for more about "town drunk")

Here is the kitchen, located in the courtyard.

To the left of the cooking area, will be water collection barrels, capturing rainwater from the roof. They barrels are 55 gal. steel barrels with concrete on the inside so they don't rust.

Outside the building I see a familiar site, a new bore hole pump, except it isn't locked, and looks--- I don't know--lonely. I've seen many of these pumps, and usually people rush to show me it works, or I see people lined up to use it, but this one sits alone, overlooked, idle. I see it was installed May 17, 2008.

I ask about it but the subject changes and we move on. Later we walk by it again, and I ask again. "It is spoiled," I am told, and I wonder, how long did this pump work?

I wonder if the Rotary Club of York, Maine knows this. Visiting their website, I find a picture of it working a year ago, but today its spoiled. [website]

I am told the more sustainable bore hole projects are set up on a nominal fee based use system. Each gallon of water pumped accrues some nominal fee. The money collected from that fee goes into a maintenance fund so that when something breaks, there is already money saved to have it fixed. I've spoken to a few Christian organizations wanting to drill bore holes, and install pumps, and I always ask them if there will be a fee for the water? The answer is always "NO!" it will be free!

"What happens when the pump breaks...who will pay for it to be fixed?" I ask. Not always, but often this is a question that has not been asked, and usually there is no answer except the water will be free. Charging money for water seems cruel to these organizations, but it seems to me even more cruel to give someone a well with no plan for its maintainability. I don't know the setup for this bore hole in Adenkribe, but I suspect it was not fee based (there is no lock on the pump) and today, a year after it was installed, it sits idle, unused, broken.

There are stories passed around the expat community of cars, bicycles, pumps, generators, other things that require ongoing maintenance being given to a community, or a household. When they become broken, the expat gets a call saying "Obruni, your __________ has spoiled, come fix it (or send us money to have it repaired)" I wonder if the York, Maine Rotarians received such a call. I've emailed their president to let him know, and wonder what he will do.

This is the Presby Church in Adenkribe. Its the one Eric was raised in. Outside there is a bell tower built by some Germans.
Eric tells me it rings three times before the worship service. 45 minutes
before, so people know to come in from the fields, 10 minutes before to let people know its time to leave, and when worship starts.

Inside the worship area:

Here is the most alarming part, the white Jesus. I ask Eric about it, and he says "Your people gave us these pictures of Jesus..."

I don't know if I should laugh or cry. I believe that one should never take away or explain away a belief system, or understanding without having a better one. What sort of picture could you replace them with? I mean I understand I'm in no position to say or doing anything, but if I were, what would I do, I wonder.

Comments are most welcome!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Return to Ghana #3 (Chicken with Red Sauce)

Return to Ghana #3 (Chicken with Red Sauce)

Food. There a few things I enjoy more than the food of a different culture, learning how to make it, or getting into conversation about it, it is a passion of mine. I had learned (and posted) many recipes in our years in Ghana, and I continue to make this great foods since we’ve been back, but there was one grave omission: Shelia’s Fried Chicken and Red Sauce. Eric calls this Obruni food, but its like nothing I’ve ever tasted before, and so it was I came back with a determination to learn how Shelia made it.

It seemed rather rash to land at the airport, and immediately ask Eric if his cousin could come over and cook for us, so I waited a few days, and it turns out that when Shelia heard we were coming, she too asked if she would be allowed to come cook for us.

It was a Thursday afternoon that Shelia came over and entered into this Kitchen that was not hers. There are some dynamics I completely miss, like the sense of ownership that the house help feels toward the house they work in or the animosity that southern and central Ghanaians feel for northerners. The Mosleys are so good at understanding this, and me, so completely clueless. Inviting Shelia to come into this kitchen, and then spending the afternoon working with her (thus displacing the usual crew) was one of those “not well thought through” moments. It was not well thought out in that there was some internal conflict in the household. We had a great time cooking together, talking about life, and enjoying each other's company. Here is her wonderful Fried Chicken and Red Sauce.

Shelia’s Fried Chicken and Red Sauce

This was Suzanne’s favorite in Ghana. There are two recipes that are cooked concurrently, often in the early afternoon before the house got hot. The chicken was served room temperature, but the red sauce was served hot along with white rice and a fruit salad.

Fried Chicken

8 medium onions, quartered

2 fists of garlic, skinned and cut

4 fingers of ginger, skinned and cut into slices

3 chickens, cut up.

2t salt

Oil for frying (safflower or sunflower)

Chop onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor or blender until rough-smooth. Pour over cut up chicken and cook on medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Add salt, stir and continue to cook until chicken thoroughly cooked and just starts to pull away from the bone. Shelia calls this “steaming the chicken.”

While chicken is “steaming” start work on the Red Sauce (see next recipe).

When chicken begins to pull away from the bone, perhaps as long as 30 minutes later depending on the tenderness of the chicken, turn fire off and pick chicken with tongs and place in a colander, capturing the stock that drains off and returning it to the stock pot. Let chicken cool slightly

In a large, deep frying pan add one half to three quarters inch of light oil. Heat oil until hot, then carefully add chicken to one layer. Cook until chicken is deep brown on all sides and remove. Drain on paper towel, and cover. Cook chicken in batches.

Sheila would often cook chicken in the afternoon so it was cool by the time we ate dinner. The Red Sauce was served hot along with rice and a fruit salad.

Red Sauce

32 Roma Tomatoes , quartered.

3 handfuls of small hot peppers, steamed and seeded (if you want to reduce the heat).

3 medium onions, halved and then sliced in half moons.

1 cup light oil (safflower or sunflower)

2 tins of tomato paste (70gr each)

½ c dried shrimps (or 4 cubes of Maggie – Maggie is a concentrated flavor cube [wiki])

3 green peppers, cubed, or cut in nickel sized pieces.

3 T curry powder.

In a large stock pan, fry onions in oil until just brown at the edges, then add tomato and pepper blend.

While onions are frying, puree tomatoes and peppers in a blender of food processor until smooth.

Cook on high heat until reduced by half (about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning).

When reduced by half, add 2 tins of tomato paste, and blend until smooth, cooking on medium heat.

Add half cup of dried shrimps (or 4 cubes Maggie). Stir often to prevent burning.

Add 4 cups of stock from the chicken, (which should replace half of the liquid that was reduced by cooking) and then continue cooking until thick. Add in 3 T curry powder and turn off fire and correct seasoning, adding salt if needed.

Just before serving, stir in cubed green peppers.

Serve with rice and fruit salad.

Thoughts on Cooking

I wonder why it is I am drawn to doing the things that only last for the moment, performing, like preaching, like cooking, things that are fully consuming, but once completed, are just memories. I look at the artwork my kids have made over the years, and they are for us, a moment in time, captured. But for most of what I enjoy doing, I have only memories. Like my mom teaching me to make what I call "Iowa Chili," though it should more rightly be called "Kansas Chili" because that is where she was raised, but I learned it in Iowa. Iowa Chili doesn't have garlic, it does have kidney beans, along with ground beef, and uses tomato sauce along with the while tomatoes. Texas Chili is way different, as is Grubstake Chili. Each has been taught to me in a kitchen of shared love, love of food, love of the cooking process, love of the companionship of learning and teaching food, and the stories.

At my old church, the kitchen was where everything of import happened. We cooked together, talked, enjoyed each other's friendship in that room. If I needed to think or talk to someone, staff knew it would happen in the kitchen. At my current church, none of that can happen in the kitchen, its a room designed by someone who doesn't cook, or love cooking. It lacks a soul, which is so odd because the rest of the building has such character. I know rooms are not alive, that they don't have a soul, but there is something about this kitchen that is missing. It may be what my daughter Anna talks about, when she says "chain food" doesn't have love in it. She can taste if the love is there, she says, and knows if the person who made it cared.

Eating dinner that Thursday night around the Mozley's large table, eating this wonderful food, with these great friends, I remember thinking, if my Anna was here, she would taste the love, and the friendship that produced and shared this meal. It made me think that food is not just to something to sustain our bodies, but when shared, to sustain our souls.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Return to Ghana Blog #2

Last year when we left Ghana it was with the hope of returning soon if we could figure it out (we didn’t). This time I came wondering if I would still love it like before, still want to return, or wonder why did we love it so? Its not so strange. Suzanne and I fell in love after she moved back to Connecticut. We met in Austin in the fall of 2003 during her “Junior year abroad” at The University of Texas. In those days were just friends but then but she went back to Connecticut College for her senior year, and that’s when we fell in love. A year later and now graduated, she moves back to Austin, and we decide to see how it we like living in the same town, and dating proper and to see where that led. It was a shared sense of caution to not to be
moved into commitment by the sheer momentum of the events. It was that same caution that guided our return to Ghana.

Life in the Mozley household was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Each day was a celebration of relationships, of different people stopping by, stopping in, greeting us, coming over to dinner, showing up for breakfast. The sheer volume of people coming through the house was dizzying, and the graciousness that each was received, amazing.

Each morning started for me at 6:30am with coffee and conversation with Michael. He would be coming back from the gym having worked out with our new friend Gary (aka Soldier Man). Michael would be doing his Bible study, I’d be working on either a sermon for Asbury Dunwell, or slogging through the books for seminary (which was starting the day after I returned), and we would talk about life, and where we felt God’s calling, or seen God moving.

I had enrolled in a doctor of ministry program at Austin Seminary where I graduated 10 years ago with a M. Div. It was something I’ve wanted to do for years, but the timing was illusive. Since I am currently underemployed and the kids are mostly out of the house, this seemed like the perfect time to go. The books I was assigned to read were three dissertations, and one book on Roman/US imperialism. Officially, the course is called “The Bible and the Practice of Ministry,” but its reading list was a collection of feminist, queer (the book’s term for it), and imperialist readings of Paul’s letters that had as much to do with the practice of ministry as WMD had to do with Bush's invasion of Iraq. Now imagine reading them in the Ghanaian context. Ghana is a place where faith guides people’s lives, where church is more than just a place to go, but a community to live out life from.

In February, I had had a wonderful experience at Austin Seminary’s MidWinter Lectures, where two of the three invited speakers were of national acclaim. I saw that it was indeed a new day at Austin Seminary. Originally, I hadn’t thought of returning to this place that has so resisted the changes that were modernizing the church, but seeing how much it had changed, I thought, “I want to go to this seminary.”

[Nooma (the bird) and Cat don’t share Michael well]

Each morning at the Mozley’s I sat outside, drinking wonderful coffee, watching the animals flock to Michael, and working on my sermon was good day. For the sermon, I wrote it old style; not using a computer, or the internet, or any books that might shape the message. Bishop Violet Fisher had had a profound effect on me when she came to Wellspring, and after her first sermon, wrote the next two from her experience of the church. They were right on target. I wanted to try the same thing, that and to greet this new land that Asbury Dunwell Church was buying, and be open to what it had to say to the church.


[Asbury Dunwell Church Future Site, with Phillip, the Administrative Assistant]

For many years the congregation of Asbury Dunwell Church has met in a chapel on the Methodist Church headquarters, though, officially, it is not a church of the Methodist Church of Ghana, though it is the tradition that the Methodist Bishop appoints one of his pastors to the church. They know that this relationship can not last forever, and especially as the chapel is 110% full on most Sundays. Walking around this raw land, it was hard not to get excited about its possibilities.

It will be quite a change for the church, which has been located in central Accra, to move East of the city to a yet undeveloped area, though the city is growing in that direction.

[Neem Tree, with Auntie Pamela in its shade]

Having been the pastor of a church that built a 1.2 million dollar multi-purpose center as its first building, it is one thing I swore I would never do again. But walking around that land, and then preaching in that church on Sunday, I felt those familiar yearnings, like wouldn't this be fun? Maybe its akin to a mother in the midst of childbirth, swearing off more children.


While we were gone, three of our friends had babies, so we went to greet these beautiful babies:

[Steve & Steven, Eric & B’s son]

[Suzanne and TK, Adzo & Nii’s son]

[TK and Ingrid, Matt and Astrid’s daughter]

Seeing these babies was the only part of our visit that made it feel like we had been gone a long time. It was wonderful to hold these babies, and see the parents God had blessed them with.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Returning to Ghana, part 1

Our firstborn is a high school graduate from Lincoln Community School, Accra, Ghana.

Suzanne and I returned to Ghana to witness and celebrate the event and with us, brought a little bit of Texas for our friends: 18lbs of mesquite smoked beef brisket, Stubbs BBQ Sauce, El Lago corn tortilla chips, Velvieeta queso and plenty Central Market flour tortillas. It was a grand graduation party, but the best part was seeing the sheer pleasure the brisket wraps brought to our friends. “This is really good,” we heard watching folks go back three or four times.

The other, and ongoing, part of our trip was to see if we still got “that lovin’” feeling about Ghana. We had had two remarkable years there, some of the happiest times of our life, and 11 months away from it, we went there wondering “would this place still pull so strongly at our heart strings?”

Fox had stayed in Ghana when we returned, living with our dear friends The Mozleys. and in country, we got to enjoy their famous “Boy’s Quarters” where so many interns (Tatum, Rebecca…), and visiting friends had stayed. It felt like a right of passage.

[Fox and his Ghana Family and Tori]

Arriving on Friday night, I preached at Elim International Family Church, and played guitar with the youth group I used to help with, who also lead the worship music that morning. Olivia is leading the group now, they sound great, are doing challenging music, and doing it well. What joy it was sing, and see the God honoring worship leaders these young people have become. Their spirit was servant-like, their musicality, superb, and it made me proud to have once been a part of this group, and to see what they have become.

It was fun to be preaching in the African context again, their responsiveness, the seemingly unlimited time to speak (I think I spoke for 30 minutes), and the deep hunger to just hear a word from The Lord. At the second service it was light out in this usually well air conditioned room, so the heat inside was rather intense. I don’t ever remember the electricity going out during any worship service.

I didn’t blog while in Ghana this time, in part because I didn’t have my computer, or regular access to the internet, but also unlike when we were here, I didn’t want to share my thoughts so quickly. In those days I posted our life and the African experience as it happened, this time was it was reserved, it was our time, and I didn’t want the shared observations to shape what we were doing.

“Ghana is Changing-oooo,” Michael said that first night. The oooo tagged on to a verb, well really anything, to add emphasis. He speaks from firsthand experience. His family was robbed at gunpoint some six weeks ago, and the emotional bruises still ache. Many homes in the area where our friend’s live have been robbed, and the attacks seem to be getting more violent. I remember the first year we were here, two of the Ashesi professors were robbed in our neighborhood, being forced to lie face down in the dirt with a gun to their head, while their belongings were taken. They both left the country at the end of the term, and I wondered then about the long term affect this act of violence had, scaring off those who have come to help Ghana. Michael had the same experience of laying face down, while his kids were held outside, and Claire showed the armed robbers around the house.

Equally disturbing is the lack of press coverage about the robberies. If you are not a part of the community that is being hit, it is likely you have not heard about it, and certainly not in the Daily Graphic.

So that felling of threat was always with us, especially at night when we would call ahead to have someone ready to open the gate, and close it quickly before the compound was crashed. One night we drove by it several times, not sure the intensions of the car following us, nor the one oddly parked just ahead of the gate. It was the same night Fox graduated, and tension driving around, wondering is it safe, was in odd contrast to the joy experience earlier. In fact two days before the graduation ceremony, the principal of the International School was also robbed. Now as I’m writing this and watering our lawn so the homeowners association won’t send us another threatening letter about our brown grass, I wonder about my place in this life here. Brown grass, geesh.

I was listening to my pastor yesterday talk about a formerly successful colleague who was not so at peace with what his life had become, his station in life. That is me, I thought and I don’t want to be that guy, caught in what is, and wanting something else. “It is already written,” an Indian friend of mine would say dragging his two fingers across his forehead in resignation. The two fingers reveal your station in life as already written across your forehead only you cannot read it, only experience their meaning. Is this season of life, or a station? Is it just for now, or for always?