The Buchele Adventure

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

To Find a Way Forward


[Suzanne and our friend Nana]
We’re riding in a taxi with our friend Nana taxi, and because I am the man, I’m sitting in the front seat. In my own culture, I would have given that seat to the most elder of our group, but Nana insisted it is for me…because I’m the man. Nana is our friend from before and we are going around Accra running some errands together.
In the back seat, Suzanne and Nana are in conversation, so I talk with Maxwell, the driver. There are a standard set of questions I ask taxi drivers, questions about family, or the ownership of the taxi. I start with his family, and he tells me about his boy and girl, four years old and three months, respectively. Because the girl is so young, I ask about her Outdooring, which, in Ghanaian culture happens eight days  after birth, but can be postponed for reasons of health or finances. The Ourdooring tradition celebrates the first public appearance of the child with family and friends. In some West African cultures they wait to see if the baby “likes” it here, and when she has decided to stay, celebrate by bringing her outdoors to let the sunshine strike her face and give her a name. It is an elegant way to look past a high infant mortality rate. Maxwell’s daughter was given the name Abena (which means Tuesday born) and will no longer be called the stranger or visitor.
People wear white to an Outdooring. Food and minerals (bottles of soft drinks) are served, and Maxwell tells me he dipped his finger in water and wet her lips three times, saying “when you say water, it must be water.” He then dipped his finger in strong drink, and wet her lips, “when you say palm wine, it must be palm wine”. It reminds me of Jesus saying let your yes be yes, and your no mean no. There is more the ceremony, something about truth and good and evil, but I’m having trouble understanding him over the suddenly loud noise from the radio. Did he just turn that up? I wonder.


Nana joins the conversation, “Is this your taxi?” That would have been my next question. I smile.
“No, it is for another,” which means someone else owns it. Maxwell adds “I will find a way forward,” which means he is working on it. Now I would generally ask about his station, where he parks, but Nana jumps in “What are your plans?”
“Oh, as for me, I am waiting for a certain someone to give me some money,” adding certain to the statement means no one in particular.
“Ah! What sort of plan is that?!” Nana scolds him. “That is the trouble with Ghana,” she begins. I hear this conversation frequently, one that critiques the culture of dependence in Ghana, where people are waiting for someone to come along and give them money to “solve” to their problem. Nana tells him he should make plans of his own money, and not wait for a foreigner to do what he should already be doing for himself. “That is the problem,” she reiterates, “we Ghanaians are always waiting for a foreigner to rescue us. Ah!” and she clicks her tongue in disgust.

nkruma highway 2006

[Kwame Nkrumah Highway, 2006]
A few days later I’m on the N1, which is the former Kwame Nkrumah Highway (named for Ghana’s founding president), now renamed the George Walker Bush Highway (because he visited here in 2008), but no one calls it anything other than the N1, which makes since. If they called it the Bush Highway, in this culture it would mean something very different.
Walker Bush, N1 Highway
[The N1 Super Highway]
When we were here before, this road was a snarled mess of stalled road construction that was perpetually a traffic jam of stalled vehicles.
Today, it is almost a super highway, but traffic has stopped, and my window is down, and I’m chatting up the hawkers selling stuff. I buy two pure water, the baggies of purified water that are cold and refreshing and cost about 7 cents/bag. A few more hawkers come by, and a man selling a Milo set. Milo is a chocolate malt drink that is often served at breakfast, but his set has all sorts of other Nestle products. He is asking me to buy, and I tell him “Oh, I don’t take Milo.” He wants me to give him something small, and adds “they are not selling, the weather is too much.” It is hot. I’ve been outside standing in the sun all day, trying to complete the transfer of our new-to-us vehicle, and so I suggest (channeling Nana) that maybe he ought to find something else that would sell better. He looks at me, cocks his head, and says “Thank you, I will do that,” and he walks away.
Rhino in Action
[On our way back from the Methodist Church in the next village over]
As Suzanne wrote in a previous article, we now own a ministry vehicle, and have begun the process of registering it. It has not been an easy process, even with an agent who walks my paperwork through the bureaucracy: Transfer ownership, registration, complete the road worthiness inspection, renew my Ghanaian driver’s license, and secure car insurance. Mr. Godwin is my agent doing in a few days what would have taken me several weeks. I really don’t want to know how he does it, or what he has added to it to make it happen. I feel blessed because these kind of people always seem to find me, good people who know how to find a way forward in their culture. Mr. Godwin, happened to find me because the former owner’s son happens to do business with him, and so I received an introduction.Rhino Reg
The former owner’s son. Nathan, is a young entrepreneur whose family moved to Ghana in 2003 from the UK. He went to high school here, University in the UK, and returned to, “the wild west,” as he calls it, to make his fortune. He owns three taxis and a few trotros, and has a lease-buy arrangement with the drivers. He makes more than his mum, he tells me. In two years, the drivers will own their own taxi, but only if they are hard working and ambitious. And if they are not, they do not work for Nathan for long. He says it takes the carrot and fire, and I wonder if he means stick, but I don’t ask. I instantly like Nathan for the way he naturally moves effortlessly through the culture here, and organizes his dealings for the mutual benefit of all involved. He has a network of people he knows, and they know how to find a way forward, to get things done. In this case it is Mr. Godwin, who will, in two days, provide me the completed dis-tings I will need to own and operate a vehicle in Ghana, properly.
Men at Work
[Exactly where are they?]
The next day I return to pick up the completed paperwork, and have my picture taken for my Ghanaian driver’s license. It seems like few things can be done in a day. Suzanne and I opened up a local bank account. It took two hours, nine different forms filled out with almost identical information, 15 signatures (each), and two passport pictures. Any paperwork we have to complete always needs two passport pictures. We think we are almost done, but like the car registration, driver’s license, local bank accounts, and immigration physicals, we have to return several times to complete their process. So far we have been able to combine trips, but I have noticed a two-out-of-three-rule, where if we have some success at two, the third will fail.  When we lived in Accra, it was not such a big deal, but now that its 90 minutes of hard road or traffic, but thankfully not both, we notice. Sometimes it is difficult to find a way forward.
In three months they tell me I will receive a text saying I may come to Accra to pick my renewed driver’s license. Mr. Godwin says to be sure and let him know.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Not just a Visit…

SS on Ashesi Campus
There are some moves that seem so difficult if feels as if the weight of the universe is against you. When unpacking from one of those moves, it quickly becomes clear we either moved too much, or didn’t give/throw away as much as we could have. “Now why did I save that?” Then there are moves that go so smoothly they seem like destiny, and unpacking feels a bit like Christmas, “I’m so glad I brought that.”
Our luggage arrived!
[just the right amount of luggage]
Our move was so easy it did feel like destiny, but the fact that I want to use the word brought, as opposed to moved signals to me the finality of this move has not penetrated. It still feels like a visit, a visit with a lot of baggage.
Suzanne and I have moved back to Ghana, this time for good. Suzanne is the associate provost at Ashesi University Ghana, and Steve is teaching Leadership One, and determining the ministry needs of the campus community.
Free Urinal
[Something you don’t see every day…]

Is this what Alzheimer’s feels like?

Everything about Ghana feels familiar, but slightly different. It is the place I learned to navigate by landmarks and dead reckoning, but after being gone five years, some of the landmarks are missing, or obscured by new construction. Roads that were a snarled mess of traffic have been completed, and feel like super highways; completely out of place in the Ghana I remember. So I feel a little lost most of the time, punctuated with moments of knowing exactly where I am. Is this what Alzheimer’s feels like, I wonder? I have the long term memory of what Ghana was like, but not the intervening five years of change.
Happy Kids
[Village Kids]
Aside from the moments of confusion, it feels good to be back and living the adventure. Ashesi was kind to put us in one of the on-campus bungalows that were built for visiting faculty. We may stay here, or move to something more permanent off the campus. Right now we are enjoying our new home.


We’re official

Our second week takes us to Accra to register as non-citizens and apply for the NON CITIZEN Identity Card. The process highlights how Ghana is changing, and depending on how you look at it, is either highly evolved or frustratingly bureaucratic. Scratch Cards.
The idea behind a scratch card is to separate the collection of money from the distribution of a service or product. Pay as you go cell phone cards have long been handled this way. One buys “units” in the form of a scratch card from a vendor on the street, scratches off the code on the back and enters the code into their mobile phone, and more connect time is added. Internet and utilities also utilize scratch cards.
scratch cards
Step 1: buy your scratch card
With the Non Citizen ID cards, we buy the scratch cards at Cal Bank.
scratch cards
[Our scratch cards]
Had we gone last week, we would have had to pay in US dollars, but with the government of Ghana trying to stabilize its currency, it is now illegal to quote prices in anything other than Ghana Cedis, so that is what we pay with.
scratch cards FIMS
[Step 2: take them to FIMS]
Next, we leave the bank, walk across the street, and present them to FIMS, along with our passports. For the next hour, no less than five different people handle the scratch cards, paperwork and passports before issuing us our official Non Citizen ID Cards. 


[now we’re official]


Its not all that different

Life does not really feel that different here,
Suz buys pineapples
[Buying local, means buying pineapples]
except we buy our fruits and vegetables from a lady by the side of the road.

choc millap

[Our inside pets]


[Our outside pets]
Watching the occasional scorpion or huge chocolate millipede crawl across our floor.
[when the going gets tough, we go to the beach!]
Vacating the bungalow because they are fumigating the campus for snakes (we went to the beach), and wearing ironed underwear – because the Mango Fly might have laid its eggs on the wet clothes hanging out to dry, and when those eggs greet human skin, they hatch, burrow into the skin and in a few weeks develop into fully grown maggots. It is worse than it sounds (really). So everything that is clothesline dried, gets ironed, including underwear. 
[picture of underwear intentionally left out]
And, of course, the glacially slow internet.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Three Proverbs - A Wedding Message for Grace & Ryosuke


There is an African proverb that says “Two men cannot own for one goat” Meaning, that when two people try to solve one problem, they will often work at cross purposes; they will never know how the other is holding up their part of the bargain. If one thinks that the other has forgotten to feed the goat, and feeds it, (and the other thinks the same…) it will grow fat. And fat goats make mighty good eating. So maybe they have an arrangement that only one will do all the work for the goat, and the other does nothing. The thing that happens is the one doing all the work begins to resent it, and the other begins to feel entitled, thinking “I am above that work, and the one who does it,” and so, slowly, that resentment poisons the goat, not with actual poison, but with resentment. I guess the other thing that can happen is that both assume the other is feeding the goat, and … I guess no matter how you look at it is isn’t good for the goat. “Two men cannot care for one goat” or “two people can not care for one goat.”

I guess in America, we would say, “Two people cannot care for one plant” for the same reason. It will either dry up and die … or drown because they are never sure who is holding up their part of the bargain.

But a marriage is not a goat, or a plant. It is something that you are beginning here today, something that has never existed before, and has the possibility of lasting into eternity and if properly cared for, by both parties, it will live forever.


My friend and spiritual mentor, Jim Cloninger, called it the 60:40 rule. Now, coming into this room today, you might think that the secret to a happy marriage is to keep everything at 50%. You both do your part. You are both middle children in your birth order, so I know that fairness is very important to you both, and so keeping everything at 50:50 might seem like a good idea, but when you both are putting in 50%, it means no one is investing anything into the marriage… there is no extra.

The 60:40 rule means that each of you give 60% to the marriage, and expect the other to put in 40%.

  • Ryosuke puts in 60 percent of the work of sustaining the marriage and expects Grace to help 40 percent of the time.
  • Grace you put in 60 percent of the work of sustaining your marriage and expect Ryosuke to come up with 40 percent of the work.

Following the 60:40 rule, you don’t meet in the middle and point at the other and say ‘…it’s your turn.’ Instead, you intersect and overlap, because you’re each giving extra, and that extra you can bank, and it will feed and care for this new thing you are bringing into the world today: The marriage of Ryosuke and Grace.

So this marriage will be a life long journey. And as you journey together, be guided by this African Proverb: If you want to travel FAST, go alone. But if you want to travel far, go together.

But as life starts to get more complex, you might tend toward doing things more efficiently with the highest goal being achieving the greatest efficiency. You may believe you are being more effective by being more efficient, but effectiveness is not measured in efficiency. Efficiency must always serve a higher goal, and when efficiency or its twin sister perfection are the goal, it is akin to traveling fast, and traveling alone.

Today you are covenanting to travel far. And to do that you must travel together. And let that be the highest goal. Make the journey together be what you both seek. And when you seek the journey together… you will travel far.

  1. Two men cannot own one goat: so use the 60:40 Rule
  2. If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.

And so the third proverb, isn’t African, but is from Texas, and comes from Lady Bird Johnson.

First is to let her think she’s having her own way. Second is to let her have it. - Lady Bird Johnson

Which I don’t think will be a problem for you both, and so let me add this to it:

First is to let HIM think he is getting his own way. Second is to let HIM have it.

Grace & Ryosuke choose scriptures that apply to who they are becoming in this journey they are on. The first tells the story two cultures coming together, and how the daughter Ruth accepts the God of the Israel as her God and the Israelite people as her family. She tells Naomi, her Israelite mother in law, "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried with you. May the Lord deal with me, if anything but death separates you and me."

Grace and Ryosuke liked this scripture because it tells their story, as we have met and learned to love and accept Ryosuke as our son, and as Ryosuke’s family has loved and accepted Grace as their daughter. In fact, I know both families think they are getting the better half of the deal, and I am sure they are.

  • So wherever either of you goes, go together and travel far.
  • Wherever you live, live well and follow the 60:40 Rule.
  • Let each other think they are having their own way, and then actually let them have it.

Grace - his family is your family, Ryosuke - you are part of our family. Welcome.

Dear Heavenly Father-

We ask Your blessings on this couple.  May they have joy, peace, and love in their home.  May they laugh with one another as they enjoy life together.  Give them wisdom and grace in hard times.  In all things help them to know that You walk with them.  We ask all these things in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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