Holly Puterbaugh's Letters Home from Ghana
Letter 33 - Letter 32 - Letter 31 - Letter 30 - Letter 29 - Letter 28 - Letter 27 - Letter 26 - Letter 25 - Letter 24 - Letter 23 - Letter 22 - Letter 21 - Letter 20 - Letter 19 - Letter 18 - Letter 17 - Letter 16 - Letter 15 - Letter 14 - Letter 13 - Letter 12 - Letter 11 - Letter 10 - Letter 9 - Letter 8 - Letter 7 - Letter 6 - Letter 5 - Letter 4 - Letter 3 - Letter 2 - Letter 1
I had another interesting conversation last night with my friend Sebastian.
He stopped by to say “Good Bye.” He is in his first year at UEW,
but the equivalent of a junior college transfer student in America. So I asked
him what he would be doing after he finished his degree. He is on a “study
leave” from the school where he was working, so wi ll go back there.
But, then it got interesting. Remember, this young man is majoring in counseling. He said that what he really wanted to do was to work for Planned Parenthood of Ghana. First, I was surprised to hear it existed. Sebastian went there as part of his education to see what counseling they did for youth. He said it was terrible. I said something to the effect that you can’t counsel a sexually active youth to be abstinent and his eyes brightened, he smiled, and nodded his head. He feels you need to be realistic with the youth, and, once they are active, talk about disease and pregnancy prevention.
I got really brave and asked if they had many homosexuals. He shook his head. They know that the western world has couples of the same sex that marry, but they do not understand it. He went on that the primary reason that 2 people marry in Ghana is to have children. And he asked “How can 2 men make a baby?” I said that they married because they loved each other, not because they wanted to make babies. He said that love is not the essential component for marrying, but the desire to make babies is. In case you are wondering, I was a wimp and did not tell him my spouse is a woman. I debated it and decided that it would not really gain that much. He is open to the idea that this happens in other cultures, so I feel that is enough. I could not see any real gain in outing myself.
So then the conversation shifted to family size. I said most families in America have 1, 2, or 3 children. I explained that many parents feel that they can’t afford the cost of more children. Sebastian said they had talked about zero population growth in his classes. I said that some families limited their size because of this, but, in my opinion, more for economic reasons. Families in Ghana typically have 5 or more children. Most women of child bearing age are either pregnant or nursing.
So then we talked about the population growth in Ghana. Its population is doubling every 40 years. I stated my concern of how long the country could support that growth. How long could the country continue to produce food for the growing population? Could food production also double every 40 years? Sebastian saw my point. He wondered if there should be a law, or suggestion, of limiting family size to maybe 3 children similar to China’s law. So I told him of the problems in China with girl babies. Oh!
It was interesting. The two cultures are so different on this area of life. It is hard for either to really understand the other. It was nice that each of us could give our opinion or talk of our culture without judgment. It was more informational than anything else.
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The students gave me a “send off” Monday. I was most impressed.
First, you need to realize that there is a protocol for anything similar to
this with a published agenda, etc. It always starts and ends with a prayer;
there is an M. C.; and there is a Chairman. Initially, there was a certain amount
of haggling for 2 reasons. First, in what seems to me to be both African and
student nature, the students were late. Secondly, they had asked the Chair of
the Department to be the chairman, but he said he was busy. From what I gather,
this is his usual behavior. He strikes me as being shy, but I guess it irritates
the rest of the faculty.
Anyhow, we got started about a half hour late. There was a time when the students and when the faculty could make comments. While I still struggled with some of their accents—they are not hesitant about how fast they talk—I got the gist of it. It sounds like I was a success!
They also had gifts for me. First was a wooden sculpture of a mother and child because a good teacher has many of the qualities of a mother and they thought I certainly did. Then they gave me a complete Ghana outfit—kente dress, kente scarf, and sandals. Kente cloth is one thing that is absolutely Ghana. And the scarf should be worn over my right shoulder although they said it might be a good muffler in the winter to keep my neck warm. I am not sure what the sandals are made of, but they are very heavy. I tried walking in them with very little luck. But they are really pretty, almost a work of art. The purpose of this is to say that I have been accepted into the Ghana culture. Finally there was a wooden hanging of pounding fufu; to make good fufu, there is a process that must be followed just like good math. I was impressed with the care and cleverness of the gifts. They realized the dress was too long, so they immediately took it to have it shortened. I could have done it easily, but they would not hear of it.
One thing that pleased me was they said I never said “In America we do… .” I tried to work and live in their culture and I guess I did it. When they gave me the sandals, I told them the saying “Don’t ever judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.” I said I had walked in their sandals and have found them to be good people.
This really is a good country. They are totally different than us, but so what? One person said that they only thing this country has to offer is the people and I disagree. It has its culture and heritage which is also wonderful. They seem to realize this, but not always. I hope humanity will become bright enough to realize that a different culture is good, not bad.
I walked in to work this morning. For some of the walk, I was joined by a prison guard. He tells me that most of the people are in prison because they have stolen something. The usual sentence is 2, 3, 5 or occasionally 10 years.
The workers are still at it on the concrete basketball court. I can’t
begin to fathom the patience it would take to continue this job. It must seem
overwhelming, but they keep on pounding. Could you imagine handing an American
a hatchet and telling them to break up the whole court? And only pay them a
few dollars a day? I am unsure what it says about the mind set of an African.
But, they may not know anything about jack hammers. They may think this is the
only way. Who knows?
I saw a child having a temper tantrum yesterday. He was about 3 years old and sitting on the ground, kicking his feet, and screaming. Someone who appeared to be an older sister was near by and trying to deal with it. Aside from just causing me to chuckle, it seemed so normal. Most African children seem so well behaved and it was nice to see one really misbehaving.
I am in the middle of the most incredible book right now. It is Antarctic Navigation by Elizabeth Arthur. I bought it in Cape Coast because I have always been fascinated by Antarctica. And no, I don’t want to go to the South Pole, but would love to see the continent. Any way, I almost didn’t buy it because it said something about being like a Victorian novel, whatever that is. But I gambled, and, in this case, won. It is a novel, but reads so believably that it seems real. And the breadth and depth of information is staggering. She also does a fantastic job of portraying how the mind works on long tedious days. I will be curious to read something else of hers. She does have ties to Vermont, even!
Later, I plan to send out a list of most of the books I have read. I suspect some of you are curious. I will make comments about many.
I am starting to see Christmas decorations here in Winneba. They are only those glittery, fringed hanging “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year” banners, but it better than nothing.
Friday December 9
I was an invigilator for my end of semester exam. When they told me I was to be an invigilator, my first reaction was, “Does it hurt?” But I have learned that my sense of humor does not always translate well, so I kept quiet. This is another word, more common in the UK, for proctor. But it sounds so fancy and important.
They are much more formal about the “end of semester” exam. The classes are assigned to large rooms and there is an “exam officer” in charge. When you get to the room, the index numbers, which the students have for their whole tenure at the school, are written on the desks in chalk. So each student must find their own assigned seat. Then, during the exam, an attendance sheet is passed around for the students to sign. It all seems very official.
As I was walking through town yesterday, a school bus was stopped by the road. This is for a rather nice, expensive private school. The whole side of the bus had these little black faces peering though the windows with big white eyes looking at the obruni. I waved and smiled and there was a whole bunch of big smiles and waves back at me. They were so excited.
This morning, as I was walking to the taxi, a group of school children were coming toward me. One of the older girls said to the little one with her “Good morning. How are you?” When I got close, the little girl said it to me. I answered her, “Good morning. I am fine. How are you?” The older one prompted her, “I am good.” And the little one responded. So I stopped and the little one reached out to touch my hand. Then I noticed another little girl hiding behind all of the others. So I peeked around and said “Good morning.” This little one started to cry and hollered, “Mommy.” I said “It’s okay, I won’t hurt you.” And the older girl translated. But the scared little one would have nothing to do with it. So I told her I would leave her alone, but I am a friend. Then we all went our own ways. A wonderful beginning to the morning.
No one was pounding on the concrete basketball court this morning, but there were a bunch of men with pick axes digging next to the court. A sign has also gone up saying that they are building 2 new basketball courts. I will keep you posted.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Since the system was down Friday afternoon, this did not get sent. So I will continue…
When I left the office Friday, I stopped right outside the University gate to chat with some of the vendors. One of the men claims he wants to be my husband; translation—he wants me to get him to America. As they say, “Fat chance!” But the people are fun to talk to. There is one little girl—two years old, at most—who is afraid of me. One of the other women had her and was teasing the girl by bringing her close to me. The poor child was scared! Her mother finally took her. I started to talk to the mother, who probably did not understand most of what I said, and stood off a ways. I kept my voice very calm and soothing. I would slowly take steps toward mother and daughter. Eventually, I was with touching distance of the little girl who was quiet, big eyed and hugging mother. I reached out and just gently stroked the child’s arm and then stepped back. Just as I thought I was getting somewhere, the other woman started in on scaring the child. I told her she was being mean, that the child was truly scared. But the woman enjoyed abusing the poor child. It is a shame. Some day the child will do something that makes no sense to them because they will have forgotten the incident when the child was taught to fear an obruni.
But, on a better note, there are two little children that live across the street from me—Gloria who might be as old as 4 and her younger brother Paul. They often call to me from the window of their house. Saturday, as I went out to run, they were outside and came racing toward me. Paul was running so hard that he went right by me before he could stop. But he turned and came back. Gloria wanted to touch me and I let her. Many of the children want to touch me; do I feel as well as look different? Paul just stood looking. Finally I said, “We may look different, but, on the inside we are all the same.” A wise moment?
Sunday, I wanted to go for a walk, so I headed into my office. When I got to the taxi stand, two of my students were there and we chatted. Then I kept walking. When I got to the South Campus, I met them again. We chatted some more. I asked them if they rode in a car. I told them they should have walked. They were dumbfounded!
The internet was down, so I decided to head for the water. I went down to the harbor. All of the boats were on shore. Some of the men were working on their nets. There was a large tree and I wanted to go under it to watch the children play in the surf. There were many people sitting there.
Unfortunately, there was one woman who was a real nuisance. First she asked for money and I gave my pat answer, “I don’t have any.” Then she saw my water bottle and asked for a drink. No way. Then she saw my watch and started to remove it. Meanwhile everyone else was ignoring the situation. So, sadly, I left.
I wandered through the fish market, and then up into the town. I decided it would be a good day to take a picture of my favorite sign. It reads “Odom Circumcision Center.” This is even better when you know “odom” means “grace,” as in “God’s grace.”
I am starting to put some Fante together. When some one asks how you are, the reply is “nyame odom.” This means, literally, “God’s grace.” So you are telling them that you are fine, by God’s grace. Also, one of the main Adinkra symbols—that is another story—is the gye nyame, which means, literally “except God” and represents the omnipotence of God. I think it says “Nothing is possible except with God’s help.”
So I took the picture of the sign. Then I wandered through the regular market and home. I was rewarded on the way with a vendor selling popcorn. All of the markets were less busy since it was Sunday, so I wander with a little less hassle. I enjoyed seeing it all and taking in the African sights. I may not get back to these places again!
Another cultural “Aha! Moment” happened on Saturday. A young man,
Sebastian, stopped to chat. He has stopped once before, so it was not a major
surprise. He is a fresher, but has a diploma (similar to a 2-year degree, I
think) and has worked in the schools before. I would gauge him to be about 30.
He comes from the far northern region of the country.
We were talking about various things and he asked when I was returning to Ghana. I said I didn’t know, but thought it would have to be after I retired. He said, “But that is a long time from now.” I told him it could be as soon as a year from now so he asked me my age. He looked at me and said he thought I was about 45. I thanked him. Then he said that he thought I looked much younger than his mother who is 56.
I have actually heard this from many people. They think I look young and “strong,” whatever that means. We talked some more and I hypothesized that, in America, we do not need to do the physically difficult work that the women in Ghana do. So he asked me what I meant.
I told him, for example, when we want to wash clothes, we put them in a machine, add soap, turn some dials, and come back in ½ hour to clean clothes. Then we put them in another machine, turn the dials, come back in 1 hour and they are dry. Meanwhile we can do other things. If we want to clean the floor, we have a machine that will pick up the dirt and dust. Also, when it is time to wash dishes, we have a machine that will do that for us.
He sat there shaking his head. He finally said “It’s hard to imagine.” My “Aha! Moment” was not that he didn’t have experience with these machines, but he did not even know they exist. He had no concept that these are reality, and for most Americans, a common reality. That is the part that I found hard to comprehend. This man wants to go to America to study. Can you imagine the culture shock he would face when he got off the plane? It has to be much, much worse than the culture shock I have dealt with! And this is the same thing that the refugees who come to America are dealing with. They have no more clues what all of this is than if they had come from Mars. It is a totally foreign concept. It must be terribly difficult!
I got a letter from Mom today dated November 8! Four weeks—not bad?
Written Wednesday, December 7, 2005
A clear indication that labor is cheap here… They, whomever that might be, are installing an underground tank on campus. It is evidently going where a concrete basketball court is now located, so that need to break up the concrete. So, yesterday, when I went by, there were 4 men sitting on the court pounding at it with hatchets! When I came by in the afternoon, they were still at it and had made progress. This morning, they were back again, but at least they had safety goggles! on today. I hope they realized that was a good idea without an accident.
Also, yesterday I was attacked by a swarm of kindergartners. I was walking a different route and happened pass a kindergarten when they were all outside. Suddenly the whole pack—I didn’t count, but maybe 30—were swarming around me shouting “obruni” and asking “How are you?” They all wanted to hold my hand at the same time. Sadly, I was on my way to a meeting so I couldn’t stop. I wish I had a book at their level so that I could sit and read to them. They are so fresh and friendly and truly just curious.
Can I bring them all home as souvenirs? Their mothers would probably miss them and our school system would not be happy!
The countdown is on! At this time, in 2 weeks, I will be home enjoying a soft warm bed in a nice cool climate with a good cup of coffee in the morning. Even the Free Press sounds good to me. Until then, take care!
I just came from the 10th Congregation. We would call it Graduation. This is
actually for the people who finished their degrees last spring. Does Ghana do
things slowly? Actually, this started right on time and stayed with the schedule
and ended early. Yeah.
Remind me in May when it is cold for UVM’s graduation not to complain. I can put clothes on under my gown to stay warm. Putting a wool robe on in 90 degree heat is ludicrous. I am wearing a bou-bou, which is a loose fitting dress-like top which comes to just below the knees and then a pair of loose trousers. I felt sorry for the men in long sleeve shirts and wool suits. I sweat through everything as it was.
The actually proceedings were not all that spectacular. Each graduand (yes, that is the word they use) had their name called and came forward, but they each received a blank piece of paper. The main speaker, who had about 20 minutes, was the Minister of Education and Sports. The main theme, if there was one, was the need to improve the quality of education in Ghana from Kindergarten through tertiary education (post high school). They realize that the nation will not become successful without good education. Good education means upgrading in lots of different areas.
Afterwards there were refreshments. The graduates had theirs right at the site, but the faculty was in a different building. We were given a styrofoam container of 2 kinds of bread, meat pie, what seemed to be a small slice of quiche, and a piece of chicken. For drink we had a choice of water, Coke, beer, or Malta. I choose Malta which is a non-alcohol malt beverage. It is a totally different taste than beer.
I am back typing this now.
Yesterday, at the Farmer’s Day Celebration I saw what must have been a case of elephantiasis. A man walked by and his lower legs and ankles looked just like elephant legs. It is the first thing that popped into my mind. They were not just heavy ankles, even the skin looked like elephant skin.
These last 2 days, I have been the only white person at! either event. That is a very strange feeling. I am a minority of one. The real advantage that I have over minorities in America is that I am respected. People are glad to see me and want to talk with me. I still feel strange, though. I can understand why people tend to socialize with people who are like themselves. It is comfortable!
Most of the people here do not have their own caps and gowns, so the University has a supply and loans them. I found the people in charge of the process difficult. But looking back, I think I am so used to the people here going out of their way to help that I am surprised when someone doesn’t. I think I am spoiled!
It is hard, though, when people assume that I know the procedure because they know the procedure and they have been doing it this way for years. I hope I remember this lesson and help newcomers to whatever group I am with. It is a good lesson.
I am going to go home, bath, and put on dry clothes. We shall see what happens to bring on Letter 30.
I feel much better today. I had a really good night’s sleep and awoke
rested. Sleep is a wondrous thing.
I forgot to mention a few observations about Christmas during my Accra trip. I saw some artificial trees for sale on the sidewalk in one place. They were truly the “Charlie Brown” artificial trees. But, if you have never seen a balsam or pine, then how would you know?
Also, on the front of one building were a large inflated Santa and the words “Merry Xmas, Happy New Year.” Most of the time the locals call the holiday “Xmas” instead of "Christmas." I am unsure why.
Also, one of the taxi drivers told me it was a very busy season at the markets. People needed to do their shopping for Xmas. I guess that is a universal Christian event.
This morning I heard I speaker truck. I couldn’t understand it, but it is not uncommon to hear them. Then, while I was running, it passed me. Suddenly the speaker switched to English. He said, “That is why the Bible was written for you. In Romans, Chapter -, Verse – it says…” and then I was beyond hearing distance. I don’t remember which chapter or verse. At least I have a pretty good idea what he was talking about. Nothing like a sermon from a speaker truck at 6:30 in the morning. I don’t think it would work in America!
Saturday, December 3, 2005
We were without power for about 19 hours yesterday. It started Thursday. As I was getting ready to go home I heard thunder and thought, please let me get home. It did and, although I could here the thunder, nothing.
Then after I went to bed, it got louder. Finally, I came. Kirk, you would have loved the good “thunderbuster.” I am sure this would have rated “severe.” We had lightning and thunder and then the rains hit. It poured. And the sky was bright with lightning. We had one crack of lightning that sat me bolt upright. I could hear it hit something close. Finally, after close to an hour, things calmed down and I went to sleep.
Several times during the night I had a vague sense that something was different. When I awoke, I realized we had no electricity. I would guess that it went off when the bolt hit whatever. My first thought was tea. I usually heat the water in an electric pot. So I could either use the gas stove or have something cold. I chose the cold route—a chocolate, milk, coffee concoction that they make prepackaged.
Then I had to decide what to do. It was silly to go to the office with no electricity and I was betting that is was wider spread than just our neighborhood. But, it was National Farmer’s Day, a national holiday!
On Thursday, I tried to determine what this meant. I knew there was a celebration at Ateitu Community Field, but where was Ateitu? After asking questions and getting directions, I realized it was only a couple of miles from the house. So I took my bag and some water and headed off.
The banners said the activities were 9 – 3, and I asked when things would start. I was told the chiefs would probably arrive 10 – 10:30 so that was a good time. I left the house about 9:30. I had made the last turn toward the village onto a narrow dirt road. I had been to this area on a run, so I knew approximately where I was. A young man in a pick up pulled up next to me and asked where I was going. I told him and he told me to get in. We were only a short distance from Ateitu at that point.
When we got to the field, there were canopies placed along the 2 sides. At one end was a stage with red, yellow, and green banners. In the middle was a row of benches holding prizes for different things. These included machetes, Wellington boots, a bicycle, sprayers, and other things. At the end opposite the stage was the “displays.” This was 20 – 30 feet long and had mostly vegetables.
I sat under one of the canopies and waited. About 10:45 I was hungry and bored. I walked to the village store to see what was there. They were selling something that looked like zweibach. After some efforts, I found out it was made with flour, water, sugar, etc. Okay, I’ll try one for 500 cedis. It was very good. Sort of a cinnamon doughnut taste. It was called a bollo.
I went back and sat down. About 11 things started to happen. A youn! g man sat next to me and handed me a program. It said the program began shortly after 9. Welcome to Africa. Unfortunately, it was mostly speeches and mostly in Fante. I had hoped for something more festive.
I did learn that the pineapple farmers are struggling because that can’t compete with Costa Rica in the European market. I also learned that they are very concerned about HIV/AIDS and the diagnosis of HIV positive individual has increased from about 66 to 104 in the years from 2002 to 2004.
I finally left to walk home. Several people couldn’t believe I would walk. I would say “It is only 3 or 4 kilometers” and they would look at me like I was crazy. But I did walk and enjoyed it.
Alas, when I got home, there was no electricity. Still I did some chore and sat down to read. As dinner time approached, I had to make decisions. The only thing in my freezer was some sausages. Everything in the fridge could survive especially since I had been very conservative about opening it. I decided I would cook the sausages and make decisions as time went on. Just as I was done cooking them the power came on. Hurrah. So I ate one and put the other 2 in the fridge for today and tomorrow. I was extremely happy that everything was okay.
I had gone out to ask my neighbor if she knew anything about our lack of power. She knew that it included all of Winneba. She does not speak much English, but with hand and facial gestures we get conversations done. She agreed it was probably because of the storm. And she agreed that it was a STORM!
So I read for the rest of the evening. I am reading another very good book “Antarctic Navigation” by Elizabeth Berth. The heroine even went to UVM, but very little is said about the school. Like so many books I have read while I am here, they have given me things to think about. There have been some insights.
Well, it is off to Congregation—we would call it Commencement. Hopefully that will be the content of the next Letter Home.
Good morning and greeting from hot, sunny Ghana.
Yesterday it was off to Accra, the capital of Ghana, again. I am getting even braver. My German friends needed to go to Accra for work, so I asked if I could hook a ride and then go off on my own. In a predictable manner, Christiane was reserved and Adrian said, “Oh, sure.” He tends to take the world much more in stride and she tends to worry about things. Maybe that is why they get along so well.
So they dropped me at Mealem Junction. From there I took a taxi to Makola (accent on the “Mac”) Market. If the Swedru Market is a rabbit warren, this is an ant colony. I only saw a very small part of it. The entire market is under roof. Each stall is an individual, self-contained unit with walls floor to ceiling. They remind me of the metal pods that are coming in to use in the States. Walking into one is a challenge because there are often steps and an uneven lip and they only have room for one or two people. The floor is also uneven. The walkways are, at best, two people wide. Because it is all under roof, it is dark and there is very little air movement. Whenever people were trying walk in opposite directions, it wa! s crowded and awkward.
At each stall, one of two things would happen. Either the proprietor, almost always a woman, would call me in and try to show me what she had for sale. The other thing is that the proprietor would be lying down, maybe sleeping. I was looking for one particular thing, but enjoyed looking at everything. I was in the textile area and stall after stall after stall had fabrics for sale. Many had exactly the same fabrics for exactly the same prices. I don’t know how the regular customer would decide who to buy from. Other stalls had notions—lace, zippers, button, thread, etc. Occasionally there would be already made clothes available.
I did a good job of keeping track of where I was. I wanted to leave at the same place I walked in. And I walked to it like I knew what I was doing. But each time I turned a corner, I re-established my bearings. I bought 2 yards of a fabric that I am going to have my neighbor make into a jumper. It is in oranges and blues and has the alphabet and numerals on it—a teacher’s jumper! I was in the market for a couple of hours.
From there I wanted to go to the National Culture Center. From the market I headed in what I knew to be the correct direction. I saw 2 policemen and asked them for directions. We chatted for a couple of minutes and then I said “Medase!” which is Twi or Fante for “Thank you.” That started a new conversation as they tried to teach me Ga for “Thank You.” We gave up. Then they suggested a taxi.
So I got in the taxi and headed off. One of the hawkers was selling maps of Ghana that would be perfect in my office. I bargained him down to 10,000 cedis while he trotted by the taxi as we slowly worked our way through traffic. So I have a map for the office.
The National Culture Center is a series of curio stalls, many just more of the same. Again I had one thing on my mind, this time a gift for someone. The level of “hassle” here is almost unbearable. Several times I told the seller—almost always a young male here—to leave me alone. I resorted to “Mim pesa”—“I don’t like this”—a couple of times. Most of what was for sale I have seen over and over again. But the dealers kept showing me their beads, their key chains, their coasters, their shirts, etc. I did find what I wanted, but I wanted more than he had on display. So he did a very common maneuver—he pulled out a bench and asked (told?) me to sit. I did. He went off searching. I finally bargained with him, and got what I wanted. The price included a carabineer that was hanging from my pack.
About that time I realized that I was hot, tired, hungry, and thirsty. The restaurant in the Center was off to one side. I sat at the outdoor plaza and immediately ordered a Coke. Then I asked for chicken and chips. I got a usual reply, “Let me see if they have that.” I asked if not to find out what they did have. I ended up with fried rice and chicken. The meal cost 30,000 cedis including the Coke and tip; that is about what it was worth!
As I left, I encountered several guys from stalls to the side. This was an area where they manufactured drums and other musical instruments. At each stall they tried to get me to buy. I was adamant that I would not buy from any until I had seen all of the choices.
One of the stalls was great fun. They had all kinds of shakers, drums, kalimba, and bells. They started playing different things and I picked up a bell and joined in. Then I tried to explain a hand bell choir to them. We were having a good time. They showed me how each of the different drums worked. I was really interested in the talking drum. These are in the shape of two cones attached at the pointed end. Multiple strings run between the two ends. The player puts the drum under his arm. As he squeezes the strings, it changes the tension on the head of the drum and, thus, the note or tone of the drum. It is played with a “L” shaped tool, using the end of the shorter leg.
I was really interested in a small drum and the kalimba or finger piano.The kalimba has a calabash gourd for the sounding chamber and them there are 6 metal keys. You hold the instrument in you 2 hands and play the keys with your thumbs.
Unfortunately, I did not have enough money. So 3 of the guys walked me to a bank to see if I could cash a check. Here I got a good lesson in the failings of the economy of Ghana. When I entered, I asked if I could cash a check; I was told yes, go to Window 3. There was no one working that window, so someone said enter the queue of Number 2. The woman working there would not have been able to get out of the way of a turtle. I was 5th in line and stood for 45 minutes. Then she said “Oh, we don’t do that!” I nearly cried!
So I told the guys that I did not have the money and could not buy. I was frustrated and close to tears. One of the guys sold me the kalimba for the 65,000 cedis I had in hand. He was asking 160,000. I did not tell them I had 225,000 cedis and $90 in another pocket because I need that to live on until I get home. I had a budget for the day and was not going to break it!
So I have kalimba but not a talking drum. I am sad about the drum, but Lois is probably just as happy. It was 15” high and maybe 8” in diameter, but, probably just as well. I don’t know what I would have done with it. I was just impressed by the cleverness of how they could create a drum that could change the tone so easily.
So, from there, I got a taxi back to the meeting point. While we were in traffic, I bought a 500 ml bag or pure water and a chocolate bar from the many hawkers. These people walk in the traffic selling all kinds of wares. I am now used to making quick transactions on the fly. I was hot, tired, hungry, and thirsty. Much of the drive was along the coast which was nice.
I got to the meeting point, which was a petrol station, well before the Germans. They had called me with a 2-hour notice of when to meet. I first used the toilet which was really pretty good. Then I bought a Coke Light—really a Diet Coke—and a snack. There happened to be a chair outside in the shade, so I parked on it.
I had brought a book and planned to read, but preferred to watch the traffic go by. This was the junction of the Winneba Road—the main road to the west from Accra—and the Ring Road around the outer edge of Accra. There was a tro-tro station going in each direction. Many of the west bound tro-tros stopped to buy petrol.
The traffic was mostly tro-tros, with taxis, some private cars, and some trucks. Many of the trucks had the huge loads I had seen on the road between Accra and Kumasi. Some of the tro-tros had piles of good stacked on the roof. One had 6 large steel drums on top of a pile of luggage. I would think it would have been top heavy. Maybe it was!
People came into the little store to buy things. It was very much like the little stores at out gas stations. There was soda, snacks, candy, and such but the prices were a little higher than in a market, just like home.
At one point it hit me, that I was in a city of over 2 million people and everybody was black. Well almost everybody. There were the 3 Germans, 3 whites I saw at the Culture Center, and me. Oh yes, I’m in Africa. There are much fewer whites in Africa than Blacks in America. You would think by now I would be accustomed to the idea I am in Africa, but it still amazes me. I think it is one of those things that always seemed to implausible that it still amazes me.
We got home just about 6. We were driving into the sunset the whole way. The sun was a bright red disk most of the time. I was still hot, tired, thirsty, and hungry.
The first thing I did was pour a glass of water. Then I was going to put away my treasures, change clothes, and find some supper. In the middle of putting things away the power went out. I said something that I won’t repeat and found my headlamp. But the biggest problem was that the fans quit working without the power. I finished changing and then tried to think about dinner. I didn’t want to open the refrigerator in case the power was out for a long time. So I decided to have a granola bar and see what happened from there.
I took my book and settled in to read. Thank heavens for the headlamp. Finally the power came back on. Somewhere outside I heard cheering! I read a little longer and went to bed. I will admit that I am still tired today and will probably go home early. It was a long hard day, but fun.
Three weeks from this moment I will be on a plane heading from London to Boston. The trip is winding down, but there are probably more letters to be written. At this time I don’t know what they are. Until then, take care.
Meanwhile, I think I will go home and take the afternoon slowly. There is some work that needs to be done on my laptop, so that is a good excuse.
I experienced “trail magic” yesterday. “Trail magic”
is the name hikers on the Appalachian Trail give to what could be called random
acts on kindness. It is an unexpected act of kindness, often when it is needed
To explain the setting, one of our friends was diagnosed with colon cancer this past week and had a very poor prognosis. So I was thinking about Cecile. Of course that led me to thinking about Isaiah and then even to our minister’s father who has died while I am here. I was working myself into a pretty good funk. Then I heard a sweeping sound, and then little girls giggling. My 2 neighbor girls had come to sweep off my porch for me!
And then I got to thinking some more. I have actually had trail magic happen fairly often here. I can’t begin to count the number of times someone has walked me to a location when I have asked directions. People have helped me in all kinds of ways. Then the real question came to mind. How many times do we experience trail magic and not even notice it? How often does someone take a few moments to do something nice for us and we really don’t recognize how magic it is? I think the simple answer is, more often than we realize.
Enough of that line. I had an interesting morning Saturday. Friday morning I had stopped by the Winneba Secondary School. They were preparing for their Annual Speech and Prize-Giving Day on Saturday. The Headmistress asked if I would be an honored guest. I accepted. So I got all dressed up in my African finery and went to the school. Some of the students were all dressed in white, the boys with green neckties, and the girls with Kente sashes. These were the ushers. They pinned a small ribbon corsage on me and escorted me to the stage. I was seated with the dignitaries. I was even announced as an honored guest. Oh, if they only knew. The rest of the students wore dresses or shirts made from a material which has the school emblem on it. Very handsome looking!
The equivalent of the Junior ROTC was on parade with a band playing. The choir sang their National Anthem; this is the first time I have heard it. There were some speeches, other songs, one dance and reading, and presentations. I still struggle with the accent, so! I had trouble with some of the speeches. Others were very easy to understand.
It is fun to watch the young people. Other than color, they seem just like American youth at an important function. Some look totally confident and some totally unconfident. They are all trying to act grown-up. One girl was responsible for bringing bottles of water to the stage and offering it to us. At one point she reached in front of someone and a teacher said, “Say excuse me.” I could hear an American parent or teacher saying the same thing. I even could identify some of the kids as reminding me of kids I have known. I continue to say that “If the kids of today are tomorrow’s leaders, we are in good shape.”
I was most interested in the clothes. Many of the people had Kente, some the cheaper imitation and a few had the real thing. Remember, this is the cloth I saw for 1.6 million cedis for 12 yards and you could only buy it in 12 yard bundles. But some of the men’s outfits were absolutely beautiful. I would love to have one, but I would never go any place that fancy. They are light colored with scallops and shiny things, and lace and just gorgeous; the tops come below the knees and then trousers under them. I actually have two outfits where the top comes below the knees with trousers. They are called bou-bous and are very comfortable to wear.
I left before it was over. I figured if others could come and go, so could I. I made the excuse that I had to be somewhere else. That somewhere was home for lunch. I was told there would be refreshments afterwards, but I am not very good at mingling in crowds and doing the social scene. I actually realized that I prefer to observe.
So I walked home and enjoyed the afternoon, especially after my neighbor girls pulled me out of my funk.
Tomorrow I am going ! to Accra. I will spend the day by myself once I get there. That sounds like it might be the makings of another Letter Home. We shall see.
Thank you to all who sent Thanksgiving greetings. I had a good day here. No
Pilgrims, turkey, pumpkin pie, or parades, but still a very pleasant and interesting
time. I was even wished “Happy Thanksgiving” by an American! And
I hope you have all done the American thing and gone shopping today!
I was traveling again. This time we (Christiane and a German student Chrissie) headed northeast to Koforidua via Nsawam. For some reason the spell checker does not any of these Ghana names! It suggests, among other things, that maybe I meant “snowman” instead of Nsawam. What does it know!
I really enjoy traveling through the countryside. It continues to look so different from what I am used to that I never run out of things to see. The country was rolling, lush with green, and had many villages ranging from really small to mid-size. There were lots of cultivated fields with bananas and plantain, cassava, corn, oranges, etc. In some fields the corn was tasseled and in others barely knee high. I suspect it is planted pretty much year round.
Our fist stop was Nsawam, a moderate sized village. There is a very nice orthopedic rehab hospital there run by a Catholic nun from New Orleans. Christiane wanted to talk with the people about their traveling clinic since some of the mentally challenged children in their schools are also physically challenged.
I was most impressed by the hospital. They have patients who are handicapped due to congenital defects, cerebral palsy, polio, and accidents. Nothing is free, but it is often subsidized. They feel if they just give something to a patient, the patient does not really value it and will not care for it properly. Also, if the patient is a young child, they must be accompanied by a family member. The rehab will need to continue after the child returns home and thus the family needs to be involved. They also have a school so that the children can continue their education. Patients range from very young to reasonably older.
From there was continued to Koforidua. Christiane wanted to meet with a German woman, but we needed to stop at the bead market first. We were in the heart of the bead making country. Every Thursday morning there is a bead market in Kofiridua. This is why Christiane wanted to go on a Thursday. The beads are mostly handmade and sand cast from clay. I had already bought some at various places because they are beautiful and unique. I still bought 2 pairs of earrings, 4 necklaces, 2 bracelets, and a few loose things—all for about $13. I will keep the earrings because I have had poor luck finding any and probably contribute the rest to the alternative Christmas project at our church. I took pictures, also.
After one of the last letters, someone suggested that I include some pictures with these letters. I wish I could, but I am shooting film. So I, too, will need to wait until I get home to see if I got anything worthwhile. I am planning on putting together a PowerPoint show of pictures, and I suspect it will be shown locally. For those of you scattered to the far reaches of the earth, we will need to think about other methods of showing you some of the pictures.
We met a German woman at the bead market and then she took us to her home. It is a very nice compound—house, gazebo, and garden inside a wall. There I enjoyed my non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner. It was palaver sauce, boiled yam, and fresh fruit (pineapple, banana, paw-paw, and mango). It was very good.
The palaver stew, or Nkontomire Stew, was made from the leaf of the cocoyam (taro) plant which is used for the greens, fish, palm oil, and maybe tomato paste. The origin of the name is interesting. The word “palaver” means a long-winded debate or quarrel. Evidently, it was originally made with greens with long stringy stems. When the people would stand around to be served, it seemed that someone always was slapped by one of these stems and a long argument would follow. We did not argue!
From there we reversed our direction and traveled home. The trip was nearly 3 hours in each direction. I saw many things along the way and finally started to take notes so that I would not forget to share.
In case you are thinking about trying a trip like this yourself, let me warn you—there are no road signs. There is no method of labeling highways such as “Route 7,” and, at most intersections, no signs telling what village lies in what direction. You either need to know or ask. We asked several times.
In the villages, many of the homes had the fire pit or cooking pit visible from the road. These were 3 pronged clay inverted triangles placed in a circle. The fire would be built in the middle and the pot could rest on top. Very clever. Also, in most villages there was a large dome shaped oven. I would guess that bread was baked in these.
I saw more cows on this trip than I have seen before in Ghana. They are new to the Winneba area because the original species was susceptible to the tsetse fly and sl! eeping sickness. They have now produced a strain that can survive the fly so they are coming back in Winneba. The ones I saw yesterday were larger and had humps on the back. Several times they were being herded down the side of the road or in the road. We had to work to avoid them.
I kept looking at the road and thinking about bicycling on it. We saw 2 white men on bikes at one point. I would want at least hybrid tires on the bike. Sometimes the shoulders cease to exist and, sometimes, the road comes close to non-existence. A road bike would be a challenge. Also, the traffic would be hairy. I am not sure I would want to try it.
Occasionally, in what seemed to be random spots, grave markers would appear. They were beside the road, some close and some set back a bit. These are stone or concrete rectangles, maybe 3 feet by 7 feet, with an upright rectangle at one end. Some also had wreaths on them. I don’t know if they had any engraving. I couldn’t see any from the road. The cemeteries here in town have the same type of graves.
In one village there was a school which gave a new meaning to the open classroom. It had no exterior walls. There were interior walls separating the 3 different classrooms, though. It makes sense not to have exterior walls. It saves money and allows better air circulation.
Occasionally along the road, there would be a man holding one or two dead animals, obviously offering them for sale. These animals are called grass cutters and are rodents which weigh 7 to 12 pounds. They are a prized bush meat—meat taken from the wild. I have eaten it and it is not bad.
We saw a sign pointing to “Vatican City.” I didn’t think we were that lost! Another sign said “Don’t Mind Your wife.” I don’t even want to speculate on that one. A very common sigh is “Do not urinate here.” That certainly is self-evident.
We traveled for part of the trip on the main road between Accra—the capital and largest city—and Kumasi—the second largest city. This is a busy highway, one lane in each direction, sometimes potholed. There are many heavily laden trucks that struggle up the hills. We saw 2 trucks loaded with burlap bags of cocoa pods wrapped in straw. It is obvious that there is no weight limit on the highways. If the truck can carry it, it is okay. Some of the loads went well above the sides of the trucks.
Also, along the road are somewhat frequent little stand or shelters. They are usually upright poles supporting thatched roofs. These are used as stands to sell fruits and vegetables. I have seen pile of oranges, yams, pineapp! les, tomatoes, etc. It must be a very difficult way to make extra money.
In one town, we pulled up next to a stall and bought 4 bags of water. We never got out of the car. This is a common way to buy pure water. It comes in bags that are factory sealed and safe. A half liter costs 3 – 5 cents. I thought about buying all of my water instead of boiling, but I use about 4 liters of pure or boiled water each day. So it would have cost be about $35 for the whole trip. I could think of other ways to use that money.
In the same town, there were 2 boys playing ping-pong on a table set up under a tree. Also, at one point, when we crossed a bridge, I saw a swimming hole with children playing in the water.
So that was Thanksgiving. Not traditional, but certainly interesting.
This morning, 2 of my students took me to visit the local primary school. It is the University Training School. The first class we visited was Kindergarten. The kids were so excited to see me they could hardly stand still. They sang songs for me and I took some pictures. And of course, their personalities ran the course from the little girl who pushed right up front and had all ! of the hand motions perfect to the little boy in the back who just stood quietly. And they were all so cute! We also visited a level 4 class. They were nice but not the uninhibited cute!
I will end this one now. Who knows what Letter 26 will be! To each and everyone, be safe and take care!
I had an “understanding culture” Ah! Moment. One of the books I
have read is about a girl who grew up in Somalia before and during their revolution.
Christiane gave it to me because a lot of what she talks about is Africa, not
just Somalia. One of the things she describes is her genital mutilation. As
I was reading it with my legs firmly clamped together, I was utterly aghast.
I also kept thinking that it is good that the world is recognizing the horror
of this practice. Then, toward the end, the writer very strongly states her
dismay that the Western world should try to condemn this practice. She agrees
that it should be done in a safe, sterile environment that does not endanger
the health of the girl, but, otherwise, it should be allowed to continue. She
argues that this is the correct thing to do in their culture. Wow! How do we
resolve cultural differences that are so opposed? And how do we begin to bring
these cultures together? How can we so sure that we are right and they are wrong?
One of the first steps is that we need to begin to challenge our own beliefs.
We do not need to give them up; we just need to accept the fact that other beliefs
may be just as valid to someone else. It has really gotten me thinking! And
trust me, I do not believe in female genital mutilation, I just think we need
to be tolerant of other’s beliefs.
For those of you who are wondering, Immergut Battery House and Kirk is my older brother. He lives in Intercourse, PA. Only my brother would do that! The first time I visited him there was on Spring Break one year and I whimped! I told my students he lived in Lancaster, but I have gotten braver.
I hope he is wrong about the winters because I am really looking forward to being in a cold climate. I find that I have adjusted to the heat—it doesn’t affect my sleeping which is the most important thing—but I am anticipating burrowing into some nice soft fleece.
Thanks Kirk for the wonderful letter. I laughed and cried when I read it. You did a great job even if you did learn to spell from Dad!
More about Thanksgiving in Letter 25
There was a big funeral in town yesterday (Thursday, November 18) at the Methodist
church. The deceased was a former president of the Methodist Diocese of Ghana
and former president of the Ghana Council of Churches. So he was an important
man. He was in his mid-seventies.
My first clue that something was happening was on the way into campus with the man who gave me a ride. We came to “diversion” and a blocked road. He laughed and said, “It’s Ghana.” I assured him that we block streets in the city in America sometimes, too. He guessed there might be a funeral, so I decided to wander back to the church and check it out.
I went back about 9:30. They had set up a large awning and were putting chairs under it. I asked a woman if it were a funeral. “Yes.” I then asked what time it was to be. “Maybe about 11.” Note the careful attention to time!
I went back about 11:30 and people were gathering, but it had not started. There were cars parked everywhere; many had signs on them noting that they belong to the Methodist Church of Ghana. Some of these were Mercedes!
I looked at the sign board for the church and found the obituary. Obituaries are posted around the town of the deceased and their family. They have much of the same information as our obituaries. They are often headed by something such as “Called Home.” This one was headed “Called to a Higher Service.” From the obit, I learned that the service was to be noon to 3. It also said at the bottom “Attire: Black and White.” That made it easy for the mourners, but that is standard attire for a funeral.
By this time, the awning and chairs had been removed, but the church and side yard seemed packed. It did not sound like much was happening. There were a handful of men in black cassocks with green piping. They looked nice, but they must have been hot!
I left and wandered back to the office. I stopped at a stall to look at earrings; I bought 2 pairs for a total of 10,000 cedis (about $1). They are copper colored hoops. I have one pair in and, for that price, I half expect them to fall apart. The woman who ran the stall gave my morale a big boost. She asked me how old I am. I asked her what she thought. She told me I was such a beautiful woman and looked so strong, so I must be about 38! I asked her how old she was—45. And this was after the sale!
I went back to the church about 1:30. The street was still block. There were now even more cars parked on the sides of the streets. The streets here are 2 lanes, barely, so with the parked cars and pedestrian traffic, it was a mess! The gutters prevent the cars from pulling any further of the road. I walked up to the church.
There were now many people sitting around outside. The sun was blazing, so they were finding any shade they could. There were also hawkers quietly selling fruit, water, and other such things. I went up to the side yard and looked in. Everyone was indeed dressed in black and white. They had a television set up, so that people could see what was happening in the church. I could not get close enough to see.
The people outside were sitting or walking around. There were some of the men in cassocks. I stood and watched for a few minutes, but it did not seem picturesque to me. The camera would not have shown anything. So I started to wander away to find a taxi home.
I was right near my tailor’s shop and he came out and greeted me with his usual “Sister Holly.” So I gave my usual reply “Brother Fiffi.” We talked about the mess of traffic and I told him I would love pictures of the funeral, but lacked the courage to get close enough to get any. He tried to convince me that I could. He even offered to go with me. But, to me, it didn’t seem right to intrude on the mourners. He also implied I would need to give someone money and, I suspect, I did not have enough with me to satisfy them.
I was now at the north side of the diversion and traffic was totally stalled. The road that cars were being sent to was blocked down to one way by the parked cars and no one was going anywhere. I stood waiting for a north bound taxi. Finally, a south bound taxi that was empty turned around in the mess and stopped for me. I am glad I got on the north side of the whole thing before I tried for a taxi. Otherwise, I might have sat for a long time.
So, I got no pictures and only saw the peripheral edge of the whole thing, but it was still interesting
There have been no major adventures this week, but I do have observations on
a variety of subjects. I did realize that the group from Burlington was on a
2 week sprint where as I am on a 4 month marathon. My pace needs to be a little
slower to conserve energy.
Concerning insects and other “creepy crawlers”… I have had very few, if any mosquito bites. I have had only one itchy bite, but I doubt if that was a mosquito. The primary bugs that are driving my nuts are ants, little teeny ones. They are everywhere. I have learned several things. First, if food is not in a factory sealed container, put it in the refrigerator. Secondly, wipe the kitchen counter down thoroughly between preparing dinner and eating dinner. The ants will appear that fast. Today they were all over the pot that does nothing but heat water. I scrub the kitchen counters every few days with bleach water, but they come back. There is no stopping them because they come through windows and cracks in walls. I just keep fighting them. They even attack my bar of Ivory soap.
I have seen numerous spiders, mostly in the dime size. I do not let them get to me. I also see many house lizards, AKA geckos. These I want because they eat insects. They are interesting. Most of the flying insects are also tiny, but I ignore them
Hair styles… All of the males that I have seen, except 2, have a basic buzz cut. One had dreadlocks. The other had hair vary much in the style of the Rev. Al Sharpton and, in my opinion, looked really strange. Also, any facial hair is very short, but most of the men are clean shaven.
The women’s hair comes in 3 styles. All girls up to about high school and many adults also have a buzz cut. Some have their hair straightened and fashioned in a European/American style. The third group was tightly woven braids. Some of these styles are absolutely beautiful. Of course, some women, especially the ones who are doing work, have bandanas around their heads and who knows what is under those.
I have not seen anything that comes close to an “Afro” style. At least in this part of Africa, the “Afro” is out! I suspect a lot of that has to do with ease and comfort.
This morning as I was walking to the taxi stand to come to the office, a man stopped and asked me if I was going to South Campus. When I said yes, he told me to get in; I did without even hesitating. Then I shared with him the fact that, in America, I would never consider riding with a stranger.! He agreed that is sad.
I told him that we train our children from a very early age to not talk with strangers and, in Ghana, talking to the children has been a major pleasure for me. He said that, in Ghana, children don’t belong to just the parents, but to the whole village. If you see your neighbor’s children misbehaving, you are expected to discipline them. I think this is what Hillary Clinton had in mind when she said that it takes a village to raise a child. I really prefer that way of life. The children have much more freedom to move around and develop experiences.
Yesterday, since the sun was not unbearably hot, I got out my camera and walked part way home. I wanted pictures of some of the signs and people. I wandered a different route than usual and came to a large tree with huge (12 – 18”) globular shaped fruits. I asked one man what they were and he said a kind of nut, but he didn’t know the English name. He asked someone else and came back and said they were used for calabash and carrying water; I thought “gourd.” I kept walking and about 5 minutes later he caught up to me and told me they were gourds. Good guess on my part! I was impressed that he kept asking until he found out and then chased me down to tell me. I took a picture of the tree.
Also, when I got back to North Campus, there were 3 older women sitting by the road, slumped over, with their arms resting on their knees. Close by were bundles of fire wood. I went up and asked if I could take their picture. One of them indicated she wanted money. I reached in my pocket and had a 2,000 cedi bill and some coins totaling about 1,000 cedis. I gave it to them and they were thrilled, all for about 30 cents. Then I went to take the picture. And they sat up straight, straightened their dresses, and smiled. So much for a picture depicting exhaustion at the end of a hard day. Instead, I think I got a picture depicting pride.
While the FUMC group was here, Bruce asked me about the temperature of the tap water. All I could say was that it was warmer than a swimming pool. While today I threw a thermometer into the water while I was doing my laundry. It registered 86 or 87 degrees. This is straight from the tap, and, since there is no such thing as a water heater, this is the “cold water” tap.
One of my joys in the morning is, while I am washing my clothes, I fill the bathtub. This is after I have run and my body is hot and sweaty. Then I get in the water and stretch out and lie down. The tub is long enough that I can lie out flat with my head down. I lie there until I feel cooled down. It has made a big difference in how I feel after I wash and get dressed.
I stopped by the Math Department Office this morning to get information about the “End of Semester Exam.” Next week is the last week of classes and exams start November 29. I found out my exam is to be given December 8. I also found out that several memos have been sent, but not to me, that I am supposed to have my exam prepared by tomorrow. Guess I’ll miss that deadline. I told them I had planned to work on the rough draft this weekend and they agreed that was okay. I have been totally outside the information loop this semester. I don’t know how they pass these things, but I miss all of it. I don’t know who was supposed to keep me informed. Luckily, my students have kept me informed. I have no idea how I submit grades. When the time comes, I will ask and hope someone will tell me.
By the way, the schedule for Final Exams was just put out this morning and will be posted tomorrow. That is how far ahead they plan. This lack of planning is probably the one trait that has really bugged me. Everyone goes about doing things at the last minute. I am sure no one has a clue what they will teach next semester yet.
I rode a bicycle this morning! As I was on my run, a boy came toward me on a small mountain bike. I asked him if he would do me a favor. I said I wanted to ride his bike for a couple of meters so that I could say I had ridden a bike in Ghana. He got off and handed the bike over. I got on and wobbled for the first few feet right toward a gutter—those things are a couple of feet wide and deeper. I thought it would be bad to go into that, so got it straightened out, cranked the pedals once, and got off. I gave the bike back, and we each went on out way. So I have ridden a bike in Africa!
So life has slowed back to the “marathon pace” and I am back into my routine. I don’t have anything planned for the weekend except working on the final exam Saturday. Sunday I am giving the last midterm exam. So I guess it will be a working weekend, but, at least at my pace.
So, then came Monday. Luckily, when my pants were drive, the sand all sifted
very neatly out of the hem. I thought that would happen, but I wasn’t
sure. I met the bus at 7 am and we all went out to the village. The school was
across the road from the village with the soccer field between the road and
the village. Almost every village has their soccer field.
The school is currently 3 rooms with about 170 children. The have Nursery, K1, K2, and Levels 1 – 5. The construction project is aimed at adding 2 news rooms so that they can add Level 6 decrease the crowding. When I got there, they were adding a second row of concrete blocks. The blocks are made by hand, solid, crumbly, and very heavy. None the Americans could really carry them, even the men. There was a local mason who laid the blocks, but Americans were pointing them; that is, finishing the horizontal crevasses and filling the vertical ones. I did this for some time.
Also, when they pour the concrete footings, they mix in 1 inch and smaller rocks to decrease the amount of concrete needed. So they had several piles of larger rocks that needed breaking. To do this, you sat on several concrete blocks and pounded with a hammer. This would break the rocks. Then you gathered the broken ones into a wheelbarrow and they were moved to a different pile. When you were doing this, the rock chips were flying. I was glad I had glasses. Some of the people wore shorts and their legs were scratched. I suggested they use hand sanitizer on them since who knows what was lurking in the dirt. They did.
Also during the morning, I took some time to watch a math lesson and take pictures of the students and school. This was part of my sabbatical work of studying math education in Ghana. I was pleased to be in a small, rural, impoverished village. The class was a combined Level 4 – 5 with children ages 10 to 14. They were practicing multiplying a 2-digit number by 1 and 2-digit numbers. They seemed to have a pretty good knowledge of the multiplication facts, but struggled with place value. The idea of regrouping was “sort of there.”
The villagers were working with us. They taught us some Fante or Twi—2 different names for the same language. They were also impressed that I was a teacher at the University but willing to work and get dirty with them. I don’t think they expected that.
We all took frequent breaks to get out of the sun and to drink water. We are now in the dry season and it is rarely cloudy. The heat has also increased. A cool morning is 80 degrees and, trust me, that feels good. It heats up to 90 during the day. I find that I sweat a good deal. I often have sweat dripping off my chin and running down my back. But, for some reason, I do not feel the same misery that I experience when it is that hot in Vermont. I think it is a combination of having gotten used to it and knowing that I can’t do anything about it.
We returned to the Lagoon Lodge for lunch—stew, plantain chips, and rice with fresh pineapple for dessert. Then back on the bus and off again. We stopped in Winneba at a private primary school that Sam’s children attend. This is run by a man from Ghana who had li! ved and taught in America for many years. The contrast between this school and the village school was beyond belief. We visited a Level 2 class and they were studying reflexive pronouns. This is the pronoun “herself” in the sentence, “The teacher will clean the board herself.” My only concern was that the students could parrot the teacher, but did they have any idea what they were saying?
Back to the bus. We stopped at the village, but the children had not had lunch ! yet, so we got back on the bus and went to Swedru so the FUMC bunch could see a typical African market. This is the one that I described as a rabbit warren. We walked through here for about 45 minutes. It is an interesting place; if you want it, I am sure it is there. The question is just “Where?” Then back on the bus.
Now it was time for after school activities with the children. I worked with Fay. They had brought some letters written by children in Connecticut and, the plan was that the African children would write back. With the first set of children, we talked about the letters, and then handed out paper and colored pencils. It quickly became obvious that the children—ages 10 to 14—were struggling. So I wrote what they should write on the chalk board hoping that they could copy that and fill in the blanks with the correct choices of words. This was a major task for them and many could not do it. Their ability to write English just wasn’t there. It was a real good lesson in the level of education these children are receiving. I think they will barely be literate when they finish that school. This is truly tragic because they will not have the tools to compete anywhere except within their, or a similar, village. It is tough to think about developing and growing a nation when the education level is this low. We did this with 2 groups of children.
I looked to see what else was happening. One person, who is an elementary school art teacher, was doing art projects with children. He said that the level of creativity that he sees in American children is not present in Ghana children. He said if you ask them to draw something, that is what you get. Period. Nothing else. Another group was coloring in coloring books. A fourth group was singing. I think that the project that I worked with was a failure, but, until it was tried, we would not have realized it. But I learned volumes in that time period, so all was not wasted.
Then it was back to Winneba. I again asked to be let off near my office and, hallelujah, the internet was finally up. I read Lois’ email to me and sent her the batch that was written and waiting to be sent. Then I caught a taxi home. The driver would not drive into the North Campus, but dropped me at the gate. This meant an extra couple of blocks to walk. I was so tired I really came close to really cussing out the driver. Fortunately, I controlled my rage or I might have created an international crisis. So I trudged home on the verge of tears because I was so tired and frustrated. It is a 15-minute walk from my house to the gate and it felt like a “forever.”
Tuesday I was in the office. Purple Foot had stayed at the Lodge Monday hoping the swelling would go down on his foot and ankle. So after lunch, I took some popcorn down with the intention of sitting and talking with him. I know how lonely it can be in a strange place by yourself. But he had gone with them, so I had to have the popcorn myself. Actually, they were just leaving from lunch to go to the village. I had on a new pair! of sandals which are leather African flip-flops. Bruce reminded me of the Northeastern Women’s Lacrosse team who had the audacity to wear flip-flops to the White House. Bruce said, “And some of them paid $300 for them!” I said to him, “Well, I paid 45,000 for mine.” I just didn’t say cedis!
Wednesday I taught my 2 classes. I went down to the Lagoon Lodge in the afternoon with the intention to check about plans for Thursday and then home. But when I got there, a troupe of African dancers were performing out in the yard! So I took a seat and watched. I missed the first 45 minutes, but saw the last hour. There were 3 women and 4 men accompanied by a group of drums, rattles, rhythm sticks, and singing. They did several dances which pantomimed several skits. In one the women served a meal, but one of the women was an “outcast.” The men also had a fight in one of them was beaten to death. The women came and mourned and then the men carried the body away. We were also invited to join the dancing, which I did. This was well worth getting home late!
Finally, Thursday. Now why was I tired? I met the bus at 6 a.m. and we drove to Kakum National Park. This is about 1 hour north of Cape Coast. This area provides one of the most extensive rain forest habitats in Ghana. It is inhabited by all of the exotic animals we would want to see, but they are nocturnal and we got there shortly before 9 a.m. We did see elephant tracks! Or at least the guide said they were elephant tracks.
The main tourist attraction in the Park is the Canopy Walk. Now, first, let me tell those who don’t know that I am afraid of heights. I can handle scaffolding, but hate ladders. Other people can work on roofs and in the rafters; I’ll work in tight areas or with my feet on the ground. Step ladders are okay, just please, no extension ladders. Having said that, let me explain the Canopy Walk.
First is a 20-minute walk to it. The guide was really good. The first part is up-hill and, in the heat, could be quite strenuous. The guide kept saying that the group was all ages and everyone should go at their own pace. There are 3 resting stops along the ways. So we all made it. The rest of the walk is a steady, gently up. The canopy walk is 380 m long. It starts and ends on the edge of a ravine. There are 6 wooden platforms anchored to trees. These are all connected by 7 rope bridges. The walking platform of each bridge is probably a 1-foot wide board. There is a rope netting that extends up to chest (on me shoulder) high. The guide emphasized that the netting will catch you if you should fall. All of this is about 40 m above the floor of the forest! We each had to go one at a time on each bridge so that it would not sway too much. So off we went! For me, the first dozen steps were tricky until I got my balance, and then I loved it. I held on all along the way and looked, not down. I could look down from the platforms. We were in the canopy of the rainforest and there were butterflies and birds. I took pictures and then passed my camera to get pictures of me. I would recommend it even though it cost 90,000 cedis. It is the only such thing in Africa and one of 4 in the world.
On the way back down, there is a “hut” were they sell coconut. The guide says that coconut milk with a little salt is a good cure when you have diarrhea. Interesting. Most of us did have a coconut. They cut the top off so you can drink the milk and then crack it open so you can lift the meat out. Then down to the gift shop. We only saw a very small piece of the Park, and I would have loved to do some hiking, but that will have to be another time.
Lunch was at the Hans Cottage Botel which is between Kakum and Cape Coast. Lunch was another buffet—chicken, fish, fired plantain, rice, noodles, and ice cream. It tasted good. The restaurant is built out over a small lake that is inhabited by crocodiles. I hopefully got a good picture. The trees have many nests of weaver birds. These look like small twig globes hanging in the trees. I took more pictures.
From there we went into Cape Coast. I asked to be left at the Castle. They were going on to Elmina, Kumasi, and Accra before returning to Vermont next week. I stopped in the curio shops because I was looking for one particular gift, which I found.
I then walked to the tro-tro station. In front of a hardware store—and I use that phrase loosely—was a huge inflated Santa Claus. After I quit laughing, I took a picture. It looked so incongruous to see it in the middle of a teaming, bustling African city, even though I try to convince myself that it is November! Finally, I took the tro-tro back to Winneba Junction. This one was almost comfortable.
I caught a taxi to the campus, but had a disagreement with the driver. When I got to the taxi, I asked the usual “North Campus?” Yes. As I got in, I asked how much! . No answer. I asked again, and he started to move. He then said 7,000. I said, “Stop, I am getting out. Too much.” The women in the taxi were nodding their heads to me. The driver said, “What will you pay.” I said, “This is a shared taxi. The fare is 2,000.” I got agreement from the women. The driver said “Okay.” I asked the woman next to me if I was right and she assured me that I was. Was he trying to take advantage of the dumb obruni?
Friday. I didn’t set my alarm, but was up at 6 a.m. I took the morning slowly and planned to have a short day and then come home. But right after lunch, one of my students came in and said that the first ever Delegate Assembly of The National Union of Students of Mathematics was meeting and would I be their honored guest. And, also, would I deliver a short address on the importance of mathematics in building a nation. Oh d---! There goes my plan for doing nothing on Saturday. So I quickly put together 10 minutes of b.s. on the subject.
As I was getting home, my neighbor came out with her machete and cut a very thin branch. When I asked what was for, she stumbled with the English. Her English is very weak. So we pantomimed until I got the message. She was going to use it as a switch on her younger daughter. It was very hard to swallow the cultural differences and not say anything. Corporal punishment is alive and well here. Anything I would have said would have been lost in the language/culture translation. Ugh! Oh, by the way, students carry machetes to school all of the time. It is very common.
So, Saturday morning I went to this meeting. They named me “Honorary Chair” and I appropriately accepted and delegated the responsibilities back to the actual Chair. I’ve learned a little of the social nuances here. After my talk, which they seemed to think was good, I listened to them for about ½ hour and then said I had other responsibilities and left. They were working on the motto and logo for the group. It was interesting, but I was tired.
So I came home, crashed, and even took a nap in the afternoon. After reading this, can you imagine why I was dragging? And remember it is all in 85 or 90 degree heat. Wow.
I was talking with Christiane last night and expressed some concern that I was exhausted and the other Americans were still going at it. She pointed out two things. One, I had already figured out. They have someone fixing their meals and doing the dishes. The bus meets them at the doorstep and delivers them back; no walking to and from taxis, cooking meals, washing dishes, etc. The other is the climate. But I said we are all in the same climate and I have to be more use to it than they are. But she says that she is always surprised when she returns to Germany and suddenly has energy. She tells me that the heat just drains the energy right out of you and you feel it more over time. Also, I realize that this is all new and exciting for them and they are only looking at 2 weeks and then home. But I really do feel so much better today even though I am sweating just typing.
So, that is why you did not hear from me for a week. And stay tuned for the next chapter in this continuing saga. At then moment I have no idea what it will be!
It has been awhile since you have heard from me. There has been a frenzy of
activity here and, most days, I have been too tired to write. But, let me assure
you that today, after a real day of relaxing and napping yesterday, I feel good
today. I was even going to give my body the whole weekend off from running,
but I woke up this morning itching to run. So I did and it felt REALLY good.
Also, as I was just starting, a truck came toward me and the men in the back
were yelling and making a running motion with their arms; I laughed, put my
hand up as if to slap their hands, and they put their hands down toward mine.
They were too high to meet, but the idea was there. It was the exact boost I
needed. So the old grey mare ain’t dead yet!
So why such a frenzy of activity? For a week, there was a group of twelve here in Winneba at the Lagoon Lodge from the First Methodist Church, Burlington, Vermont! And you thought it was a small world. The common reason was Sam; this is the church he attended while he was at UVM. I knew they were coming. Last summer I was at a Habitat for Humanity meeting talking to friends and we discovered that we would be in Winneba at the same time.
They arrived late on Wednesday, November 2. I stopped down about 9:30 Thursday morning to greet them expecting them to take the day slowly since they would be suffering the effects of a 28-hour trip, jet lag, extreme heat, and culture shock. But they were getting ready to head out. Their purpose the first week of the trip was to work in a small rural village just north a Winneba helping them add to their school. I returned Thursday evening and ate dinner with them.
Lois sent a care package to me. Besides money, there were various packages of meats, a shirt for running, and chocolate—both Lake Champlain Chocolate and Hershey kisses. Ahhh! She also had sent a large number of beanie babies for the German couple to use in their schools. The beanie babies were a major hit. None of the locals or the Germans had ever seen them. We gave a few to the workers at the Lagoon Lodge. Also, the owner of the Lagoon Lodge, who is a really nice guy, had spent 20 years in Australia and we gave him a kangaroo. That was great fun.
Saturday, I was a little decadent. I hired a local to sweep, dust, mop, and clean the bathroom! It cost me 63,000 cedis. I can afford a few of these treats since Lois sent me some more money. Also, Saturday, the FUMC group was going to pick me up, but they didn’t. It turns out that they had to make an emergency run to a clinic and forgot that I had a telephone that they could contact me. One of the guys, a really nice young pup, had sprained his ankle on Friday playing soccer with the kids in the village. The only advice from the doctor was to not wrap it because of the heat and to wear flip-flops. So he became known as “Purple Foot.” Also, one of the women was ill; it turns out she had early typhoid. This is treated with antibiotics and by the end of the time I spent with them she was feeling fine. Not a good start to their trip!
Sunday, they picked me up on the way to worship in the village. This was the type of service that I had been looking for. The church was small and constructed of concrete blocks covered with adobe, a very common method of construction here. The “windows,” which composed the large part of the walls, were open—no screens, glass, shutters, etc. The tin roof was supported by wood trusses. These trusses had been spliced; obviously, they did not have lumber long enough to create a pitched roof without the splice. But Bruce and I realized that the only load on them besides the roofing was wind. They didn’t need to support snow or rain (since the roof was pitched), so the splicing could carry that. A major difference between construction in Vermont and Ghana!
The service was, in my opinion, traditional. The only musical instruments were a set of 2 African drums and 2 rhythm sticks. After the opening, there was singing and dancing. We all joined in the dancing. We also all agreed that we could not get the rhythm of the feet and clapping that looked so easy. There was only darling little boy, maybe 2, who was right in the middle of it and going from obruni to obruni. I scooped him up. At least then I didn’t need to do the clapping! But, tragically, I could feel his congested breathing with my hands. I don’t know what the problem was, but I made sure to keep my hands away from my face until I got them thoroughly washed.
There were about 30 adults, including the village Chief and 3 elders, plus about the same number of children present. I had the impression that there were more women than men. The service continued with prayers and songs. The Burlington minister preached the sermon and the Ghana minister translated for those who did not understand English. It was an excellent sermon for the audience. He talked about how we were all brothers and sisters in the world and how we needed to work together to make a better world. I was impressed at how well he hit the right level for his audience. Also, we all danced to the front of the church to deposit our offering. When Africans are joyous, they dance!
The local minister asked if any of us wanted to speak. I was invited since I was not part of the group. So I got up and explained that I had been in Winneba since August teaching. I said that I came from the same village as the group did so I was doubly blessed on that day. I was blessed with the chance to spend a day with friends from home and blessed to be able to share a period of worship with the people of this village.
The village seems very typical of ones that I have seen as we have driven by. I took many pictures. The construction is mostly block covered with adobe with some wooden structures. There is almost nothing growing in the village. Shade is provided by the structures and by shelters constructed of poles with woven mats on top. The area between the homes is dirt and rocky soil. It looks very bleak and stark. Their gardens are across the road.
After church, we were invited to the Chief’s house. This has at least 3 rooms. We were all seated in the main room which, with 12 of us, 3 Elders, the Chief, and his go-between, was very crowded. The Chief greeted us and welcomed us. When any of us wanted to talk with the Chief, we were not supposed to talk to him directly. We would talk to the young man who sat in front of the Chief and say, “Let the Chief hear…” and go from there. Interesting.
From there we went to lunch. This was at Hut d’Eric that Sam has taken me to on my first Sunday in town. We had a buffet of fried fish, jollof rice (a spicy rice), fried yams, tossed salad, and drinks. I totally avoided the salad because I was not willing to risk the sanitation aspects of raw vegetables. I had a slight case of diarrhea the day before and was being very cautious. To me, it was not worth the risk.
From there, we stopped at my house long enough for me to change clothing. Also, I gave them a suitcase that I had packed with things I wanted sent home. Most of it is souvenirs, gifts, and a few things that I brought that I discovered I am not using. This will make it easy for me to get the rest home in my 2 bags. The FUMC group had brought a lot of stuff to donate to the village school and children, so had plenty of spare empty luggage for me. I actually had about 2.8 million cedis worth of stuff. Sounds impressive!
From there we swung by the Lagoon Lodge so they could change and then to Royal Beach. They wanted to go swimming in the Gulf of Guinea. The swimming beach is across the opening of a lagoon from the parking lot. There are 2 choices on how to cross this lagoon—wade or go in a ferry. The water is waist to chest deep and, at the time we were there, the tide was going out, so the current was swift. Wading was not a good choice. So it was the ferry. This was an open wooden craft, similar to a row boat, with 3 seats, and could carry 8 – 10 people. It was powered by an older man who waded in the water and pulled the boat. Not a job I would want day in and day out. It cost 2,000 cedis per person. Getting in and out of the boat was a challenge. The sides sloped down to a pointed bottom. Most of us tried to step in and discovered that the sides were very slippery. I have a nice bruise on my leg from this. When we got across, the locals who were waiting to come the other way rushed the boat. This is the psychology of an economy with scarce resources. They have come to expect that they need to be first in line to guarantee getting what they want. If they wait their turn, they may not get anything. It reminded us of the pictures of refugees trying to get supplies after a disaster such as the tsunami.
So we finally all got across the lagoon. The beach was a wide, reasonably clean, sandy beach. Unfortunately, the surf was rolling in, and our guide strongly urged people not to swim because of the rip tide. So we walked along beach, waded, took pictures, and picked up shells. So much for the previous Wednesday’s argument that the shells I picked up were some of the few in Vermont gathered from the Gulf of Guinea on a hot day in November.
Then we had to get back across the lagoon. This time we all did better. We knew to sit down on the seat and swing our legs into the boat. We also had to walk along rocks to get from the ferry to the bus, but we did it. Even Purple Foot managed the hobble. By the way, the bus was air conditioned! It was the only air conditioned vehicle I have been in here. Then we went back to the Lodge.
I asked to be let out near my office. The internet had been down for several days and I was hoping to be able to make contact. But it was still down. So I took a taxi home. I was tired. I needed to wash my pants because they were the only ones that I was willing to risk on a work site. But the hems were full of sand and I was a little concerned.
I am going to continue this in “Letter Home 21.”
Most of this was written Wednesday, November 2. Unfortunately the internet was down so I couldn’t send it. In the afternoon, Christiane came to me and said that, since the internet was down and neither of us could communicate with family and, also, the power was out at home, let’s take a taxi to Royal Beach. So we did. It was the second time I have been there. We bought ground nuts before we left and sat under a pavilion, ate ground nuts, drank cola, and watched the sea come in. It was very nice! Then we took a taxi home, and the power came on shortly after we got home.
This morning was cool, by Ghana standards, with a light shower. It was wonderful for a run. This is also a holiday. I found that out on Tuesday. The first 2 people I asked about what holiday it was shook their heads and shrugged. Finally, I asked my neighbor whose English is not good and she said “Muslim.” At least I have a little information. The schools are all closed.
The internet is still down, so I am going to go to an internet café and send this.
Wednesday, November 2
We had a hellacious storm go through yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately the timing of the storm and the timing of my leaving the office matched, so I got caught in it.
When I leave, I have a choice of 2 ways to go to catch a taxi. Either way, I need to leave the campus. The South Campus is enclosed by a wall with at least 2 gates. The main gate actually is kept closed and operated by a guard. The other gate is always open and allows free access. No one, as far as I know, is ever denied access. There is a primary school across the street and the kids run and play through campus. The little ones love to watch the obruni teach.
Anyway, I always leave via the main gate. Then I can walk down a short block-long hill and flag a taxi at the bottom on a main street. This hill is paved and there are stalls along the way selling mostly vegetables. The sellers just set up benches and tables and sell from there. I sometimes buy my vegetables there.
My other choice is to hang a left when I leave campus and walk along the wall.
This is not paved and is more like a wide, level mountain trail—rough
and rocky. But I have seen taxis drive on it. Along the wall are vendors. The
first one sells vegetable, the
second one shoes, and then there is usually one selling shirts or jackets which she hangs from I rope. I bought one of the shirts. There are stalls on the other side of the path, also. This path wanders through a maze of more paths among various stalls, restaurants, and homes. It comes out on the main street near the bus station.
Anyway, when I was getting ready to leave, I looked out and thought I saw sunshine, so I put on my hat. When I actually got out and looked toward the sea, the sky was black. But I needed to run an errand and I chose to walk the maze toward the bus station. The wind was picking up and all of the vendors who have items for sale in the open were hurrying to bring them under cover. As I continued, it started to sprinkle. Just before I came to the road, the rains and wind came.
The storm was obviously coming in off the Gulf. I ducked in under the over hanging roof of a stall. There were 2 other women seeking shelter there. I tried to ask if this was just a passing shower or something that would last awhile, but I couldn’t make myself understood. I waited a few minutes and decided to dig out my poncho and continue. I always carry my poncho in my bag; I’ve only used it 3 times, but each time the rain has been, to me, unexpected. I have not figured out how to read the weather which frustrates me.
So I put on my poncho, did my errands, and caught a taxi. I told the driver “North Campus.” He started moving and said 7,000. I said the rate was 1,500. He said that it was raining and there weren’t many people out and it would be 7,000. I told him he could stop, let me out and get nothing, or he could take me to North Campus and get the standard 1,500. It was his choice. He started to laugh. When I asked him why, he said this was funny. I didn’t understand the joke! But, he kept driving, took me to North Campus and I gave him 1,500. This is the first time I have really argued with a taxi driver. Usually they are very pleasant, or, at worst, quiet. I don’t know if he thought he had a sucker or what.
From the taxi stand at North Campus I walked home. This is about a 7 minute walk. It was still blowing and raining. This stretch of road has 3 different surfaces—pavement, gravelly sand, and dirt. When the dirt turns to mud it is very slippery, so I had to watch my footing carefully. This was a challenge when I also had to stay out of the water running along the sides of the road and avoid the traffic. When I got home my pants were soaked from the knees down. I took off my pants and shirts and washed them and hung them up. Meanwhile the storm continued.
For well over an hour the storm continued. Occasionally, it would pause, catch its breath, and then continue. The temperature actually dropped down to a point where it felt cool! The thermometer in the living room said 80 degrees.
My living room is a longer narrow room. On one of the long sides are windows, but these windows open out on the courtyard which blocks air movement. The other long side has three double doors with screens. However, 2 sets of doors are blocked; the curtain rods were put up in such a way that it is impossible to open the doors. Typical African planning! But I opened the middle set of doors to let the cool air blow through.
The rain finally quit after a couple hours. We had some light sprinkles through the rest of the evening. This morning it is overcast but appears to be clearing. It is also cooler. I hope that lasts.
I had my neighbor wash and iron my sheets and pillow cases yesterday. If you hang laundry outside, you need to iron it to kill the eggs of the mango fly. Otherwise you risk the larva hatching and burrowing into your skin. Yuk! I may ask her to wash some other things that could be ironed.
She refused payment, so I will keep track and give her a Christmas gift before I leave. She can’t refuse if I tell her, “In my country it is a tradition to give people, we have been nice to you during the year, a Christmas gift.” It works for me!
Letter 18 (10/30/05):
You are no longer on Daylight Savings time, so we are now 5 hours different, if you are in the East. That really doesn’t mean much most of the time, but it seems strange. Every so often, I look at my watch and think what time it is Vermont. It is strange to get up in the morning and realize it is 12:30 or 1:00 in the morning there. That makes it seem so far away.
I had an interesting day Saturday. To start with, I decided not to run. I took a tumble Thursday and was sore. I only suffered scraps, bruises, and damaged pride, but the old body just doesn’t bounce as well as it used to. Everything is healing nicely, so I know I am in good health!
I decided I wanted to take a nice long walk. I headed off toward Winneba Junction. This is north of Winneba and is the crossroad between the Winneba-Swedru road and the Accra-Cape Coast road. This is where we go to get the tro-tro to Cape Coast. I wanted to be able to look around and take some pictures. The whole walk, up and back, was just under 2 hours.
On the way up, I passed a place that makes concrete blocks. The do ALL of the work by hand. The men hollered “Obruni” and then motioned for me to come over. One man came out to talk. All of the men—half a dozen—are from near Cape Coast. I said it looked like really hard work, but he said it was good money. I asked if he had children and he said “I have one wife and 2 children.” I was interested in the “one wife” statement. I took a picture of the place.
I continued on. As I got close to the junction, there was a woman carrying various things to sell. She had some black shorts like what I wear to run. Mine are wearing thin and I have been looking for some. I asked her “How much?” She said 12,000 cedis (about $1.20). I debated with myself and we bargained down to 8,000 cedis. Then she showed me another pair like the first pair and told me I should buy both. I said I would take both for 15,000 cedis. She said, “Bring it on.” I wonder where she learned her slang. So I got 2 pairs of shorts for $1.50
On to the tro-tro station. It was the usual “organized confusion.” There was also a parked logging truck. I have seen a few of these on the road. They carry 3 logs and have a very full load. The logs are huge. I took a picture. I have no idea what kind of wood it is. I also took pictures of the hawkers surrounding tro-tros. I hope they show some of the way it looks.
I started back toward home. There is a restaurant that I was told was okay, so I had decided I would have lunch there. I stopped in and asked to see a menu. I saw “hamburger” on it and asked about it. It wasn’t available. He asked what I wanted and I asked what was available. It turns out, all they had was drinks, fried rice, and jollof rice which rice in a spicy sauce. So much for the menu! So I left. I wanted something with meat in it.
I did buy a bag of popcorn at a beauty salon. I have really been enjoying popcorn, probably because of the salt. I am sweating enough to crave salt. I haven’t had any muscle cramps, so I know I am getting enough of the right minerals. But salt sure does taste good!
When I got to campus, they were having the final event of “Simpa Hall Week.” Simpa is the local name for Winneba. Simpa Hall is the only dorm on north campus, but there are 4 blocks or buildings. They have had a week long series of events. So I stopped by. Two groups performed local native music and dance. I took pictures, but this is the first time that I wished I had a video camera. Motion and sound would have been good. Oh well.
I listened to one speech. The speaker was talking about the importance of “educating the brain” and how that could help Ghana. One man asked me where I was from. When I said “America,” he said me that we (the Americans) have the brains. He said Ghana does not have the brains and they are suffering because of it. I said I thought they had the brains; they just needed to continue improving their education.
The same man asked if I was coming to the evening program. I asked what it was and he said a beauty pageant. I told him I did not like beauty pageants because they gave women the impression that they should be valued for their looks and not for their brains or their talents. I think I gave him something to think about! But maybe I made a cultural faux pas?
Also, they were selling “t-shirts and bibs” for 68,000 cedis to raise money for dorm activities. Since I am a sucker for students, I decided to buy one. It turns out it is a nice heavy weight white polo shirt. I am not sure what I will do with the bib, but I have it.
Finally I went home. I read and relaxed for the evening. I am currently reading Aman which is a book about a Somali woman. Although it is a different part of Africa and a different culture than here, there are many similarities. I am getting some insights.
This morning I woke up early enough to think about going to church. I had been thinking about trying the Anglican Church because I figured it would be in English. I took the taxi in and got there a little early. So I had 6 kids around me ranging in age from 4 to about 10. One boy pointed to a woman and said that was his grandmother. I told him I had grandbabies. When I asked the kids if they wanted to so pictures, they all were interested. So I got them out and the kids looked carefully at all of them. The 4 year old boy ended up in my lap. I was having a good time.
The service started with the processional “Onward Christian solders.” English and familiar! Then they started into their local language Fante. Except for reading the New Testament, it was all in Fante. So finally, after 1 ½ hours, I got up and left. The priest had decided that everyone was going to touch the cross today, and each was supposed to come forward, take the cross, and say something.
When I got out, this very attractive woman in African clothes said to me, “I thought it would be in English. I don’t speak the local language.” I said I felt the same. She is from Nigeria and had just arrived in town. She is a professor in Special Ed visiting the University. We had a nice chat.
So now I am in the office typing this. It is almost noon. I brought a sandwich which I will eat and then get a taxi home.
I hope all of you continue to be well and Happy Halloween! Don’t eat too much candy
Letter 17 (10/26/05):
First, I am pleased to hear that many of you are sharing these with friends and family. I am glad that you are enjoying them. I ask one thing of you, though. Please make sure that they realize the source and that you give credit to me, the author. I am going to copyright the rest of letters just to reduce confusion. Thanks.
This letter is a series of observations on a variety of topics. There have been no major new adventures.
The vegetables here are interesting. I have tried many of them and continue to try new things as I see them. Yesterday I bought some cassava. It is a root crop and looks similar to our sweet potatoes on the outside. When peeled, they are all white. They are tough if you try to cut across the broad part, but shave nicely the long way. I sautéed mine with other vegetables. The natives boil then and pound then into fufu. I wanted to only buy 2 until I found out if I liked them. They were selling 5 f! or 2,000 cedis. I asked how much for only 2. The vendor was adamant, “Five for 2,000” and wouldn’t take 1,000 for 2. Then I remembered that we were quibbling over a dime, so I bought 5. Now I am glad.
Oh, yams are not anything like our sweet potatoes. They are large, sometimes over a foot long, and white.
I tried some small peppers. I asked the market mama if they were hot and she said, “Oh, no.!” Luckily, I only put one in my sauté, because it was HOT. I have also tried the spinach. It is tough and has a strong flavor. It is terrible raw, but not bad cooked. I usually have okra, garden eggs, onions, tomatoes, and maybe carrots or green beans. Nothing lasts very long in the refrigerator so I buy a little often. The tomatoes are not very juicy; they almost remind me of the ones we get in the winter. They have cabbages, but the idea of cleaning one to the point of being safe puts me off. It is not my favorite food anyway. Some of the green beans are up to a foot long and very skinny. I keep trying to avoid my mental comparison to worms.
I happen to love plantains. I buy grilled ones from street vendors. These are soft throughout and have a slightly sweet taste. The vendors grill them over charcoal. The other way I like them is fried. These come in packages and are long. They cut the plantains length wise. They are similar in taste and texture to potato chips, but no salt.
Another treat is popcorn. It can be bought either salty or sweet. I have not tried the sweet because the salt always tastes so good. I have eaten a lot of ground nuts or peanuts. They are easily obtainable, but not salted. I also have eaten almost a jar of ground nut paste or peanut butter. It has no additives in it.
It is nearly impossible to buy meat. Fish are common in the market, but I am afraid to try them. I have bought 5 chicken leg/thighs, but their taste was strong and I will not buy any more. I see stores that advertise meat, but no one seems to want to recommend them. I use canned meats and supplement with ground nuts, cheese, and yogurt. They do have meat in restaurants and the quality has ranged from edible to excellent. I really look forward to a good piece of meat.
I visited a school for the hearing disabled yesterday. It is part of a much larger school of about 600 primary age students. The hearing disabled building was built with money from the German Embassy. I had brought pens, pencils, paper, crayons, chalk, and some toys and t-shirts to give away and gave everything there.
There were 3 classrooms with kindergarten, first level and second level. The ages of the kids ranged from 4 to 15. The kindergarten class was “singing” in American Sign Language. That is the communication system that they use. The second level was having their “ethics” lesson about the fact that God gave them parents and the responsibilities of the parents. They were reading and signing. The third level was reading. The chalk board in each room is part of the wall painted black and goes from the floor to a height of a least 7 feet. I would love it.
Everyone was so gracious and all of the children gathered around and signed “thank you” and “God bless you.” I was introduced to all of the teachers. There was one little 5-year old boy who immediately came to me and sort of clung. He was so cute and I wanted to just pick him up and hug. He wandered around a lot and I kept wondering if he was ADHD.
Another little boy came and signed that he wanted food; the teacher said it was almost snack time. They broke for recess and snacks. I saw one girl with a lollipop and many had biscuits or crackers. I left then but will go back. I had forgotten to take my camera and I want pictures of them.
I took a walk yesterday. The power went out and I decided to walk. I had a couple of errands to do, so it was a good time. I went to a part of Winneba that I had not seen before and I think I found the “slum.” The houses were mud walls with tin or thatched roofs. None of the small children had clothes. The squalor was sad. One little boy had feces on his bottom and legs; the flies were all over his legs. Many people were just sitting; granted it was 1:00 p.m. and hot, but in most places there are things happening. I really can’t imagine the horrible inertia it would take to get out of that type of life. I don’t think any of us have any idea what that level of poverty would be like. When I got back to the office, water was literally dripping off my chin from the sweat.
The weather is getting hotter and sunnier. Most days are sunshine instead of the cloudiness that I saw in September. Because of the sun, it is also hotter. In September, the thermometer in my house was in the 70’s. Now it starts at about 78 in the morning and goes up to about 85 in the afternoon. I have seen it near 90. I have adjusted nicely. I awoke early one morning and was thoroughly enjoying how cool it was. Then I realized it was about 78 degrees.
I sweat a lot. When I get home in the afternoon, my clothes are pretty well sweated through. I had hoped I might be able to wear a pair of pants twice before washing, but that is not possible. Washing dishes over a sink of hot water is a really sweaty job. But the ceiling fans make such a difference. I really do not feel uncomfortable.
I am drinking 3 – 4 liters of water a day, so dehydration is not a problem. At times though, I get tired of boiling water and then pouring it down my throat. I don’t think any of us really appreciates the convenience of turning on the tap and getting a cool drink of water. Tap water here is not drinkable and is also about the temperature of a good swimming pool. It is fine for bathing, though. I actually do fill the tub with water so that I can cool down after my runs. I have found that is the most effective method and it feels really good.
I love the African clothes. Much of the material is either tie dyed or batik. The tie dye is not anything like what we have. The colors are gorgeous and the designs are elaborate. I currently have on a shirt that is in shades of pink and gold with some green. Also, they tend to embroider around the neckline and the sleeves, even on a man’s shirt. Many of the shirts range from hip length to just below the knee. The ones that are below the knee have side slits. All of the clothes are very loose fitting. Someone said that lets the air move through. I have found that I only wear my loose pants; the tighter ones are too warm. Luckily 3 pairs that I brought with me are pretty baggy. I will model when I get home.
I had a class today. It is the first time I have ever used African drums for a lectern. There has always been one in the room before, but it was not there today. So we pulled the 2 drums on a stand over and made do. New experiences.
Also, I handed back a test today and tried to tell the students how the numbers would translate into grades. After class the students showed me the “Student Handbook.” It had the grading scale in it. I wish someone had informed me! Their scale is: 80 – 100 A, 75 – 79 B+, 70 – 74 B, 65 – 69 C+, 60 – 64 C, 55 – 59 D+, 50 – 54 D, and 0 – 49 F. Wouldn’t American students love this? It worked out about right for my test though.
There is a small grove of banana trees on campus. I was shocked a few weeks ago when someone cut them all off about 1 meter above the ground. I didn’t understand. However, today I noticed that they are starting to sprout. So, I am now guessing that, once the tree bears fruit, they cut it back and let it start over. What do I know about raising bananas? Truthfully, not much.
I got a letter from my mother today. She mailed it October 8, so that is not bad. The first time she put it in the mail it came back “no country named” even though she had Ghana written on it. Some one in the post office needs a geography lesson!
Enough rambling. I hope all of you are well and have survived the various quirks of Mother Nature that have come your way. The American weather has certainly not been boring!
Letter 16 (10/23/05):
There are many things that occur here that are totally correct in this culture, but would seem strange or even wrong at home. I keep trying to put things in a cultural context and sometimes it is easier than others.
This morning, as I was walking in, I saw an older woman leaning out the window of her house brushing her teeth. This is not an unusual sight in the morning. What was unusual is that she hollered to me, through the tooth paste, “Good morning, obruni.” I tried not to laugh out loud.
Friday, at the Lagoon Lodge, we had an interesting discussion. There were three Germans, myself, and a native. One of the Germans was a young student who had walked to the beach for some quiet time and got frustrated by all of the locals calling “obruni” and wanting to talk. So all of us obrunis tried to explain to the native what the meaning or effect would be if someone called “black person” to a stranger in America or Germany. I had never really thought about it that way. One of the Germans pointed out that we really are being distinguished by our skin color. I don’t mind when the purpose is to be friendly. When they do it because they want something, then it is annoying. The native told us to say “mim pesa” which means, I think, “I do not like this” when we wanted to be left alone. I hope it translates, sometimes, to “Bug Off!”
There is a “Positions Open” sign outside a restaurant. It lists “cook (female).” Try that in America.
I have read several of the letters announcing openings for teachers. There is always an age requirement. It often says things like “Under 50.”
One of my colleagues is, I am pretty sure, having an affair with a Fresher (first year student). He is pretty open and, in my opinion, obvious about it. When I talked with the Germans about it for the cultural context, I learned 2 things. First, both the student and the faculty member benefit from this. His benefit is obvious. Hers is that she now has a protector who will pretty much pave her way through school, and, with luck, life. Secondly, this culture historically has been polygamist. It was status for the male to take second or third wives. It is harder now with the Christian morality, but still not unusual. Most couples do very little together. She has to keep the house together, raise the children, and take care of food. He is supposed to be the provider. The main conflict occurs if he needs to spend money on the mistress that the wife feels should be going to her and the children. It is also harder if it conflicts with his Christian teaching.
It is very common to see children up to about the age of puberty bathing naked outside their home.
Many of the cars in this area have broken windshields and all sorts of parts falling off from them. But, if the vehicle runs, it is on the road. Most cars rattle. Note to Lois: If my car has a rattle, will you please get it fixed; I would love to ride in a quiet vehicle.
It is a status symbol to be overweight. That means that you have the money to afford the food. They don’t understand when I choose not to eat something because “I need to be careful about my weight.”
Having a cell phone, or mobile as they call it here, is a status symbol. So, getting a call is a status symbol. Thus, you don’t ask someone to turn off their mobile in classes, restaurants, etc.
Birth control is almost nonexistent. It is considered a “pleasure and privilege” to give birth. Many women have 5 or 6 children. This may be why the population is doubling every 20 years or so. Of course, several factors contribute to a high teen age pregnancy rate and babies born out of wedlock. But having a baby out of wedlock is not a stigma.
I find it easier to say I’m married. That’s sort of true. But when I report only 1 child, they say “I’m sorry.” I haven’t had the heart to tell most natives that she is adopted. That they would totally not understand.
All of the faculty and staff at a University are provided with free homes. But, the bad news is, as soon as they leave the University, they must leave their home. So when they retire, they must find a new home. And most of the people don’t have a pension plan! The standard age of retirement is 60.
Student activities start at 6 am or, sometimes, even 5 am. And students hang their wet laundry all over campus. It is common to see laundry hanging from railings, in the grass, etc.
Public toilets often do not have toilet paper. Also, they may not flush; it that case, someone will bring a bucket of water occasionally and pour it down.
Often, the water is turned off during the night. When that happens, there is a lot of air in the lines in the morning.
You should only hand something to someone with your right hand. And you should only use your right hand for eating. The left hand is the dirty one. This one is really hard for those of use who a left handed! But I try. But someone said, “God gave us 2 hands, so we should use both hands.” I agree.
The children don’t have any problems about approaching a complete stranger and talking with them. Actually, most homes are not locked either. Everyone and everything is very “open.” This would change if I were in a bigger town or city.
It is not unusual to see a man, standing by the road, urinating. At least he always turns his back to the road. I saw a woman, in a dress, squatting and facing a building. Everything was hidden, but I know what she was doing.
Sometimes it is hard to keep an open mind and remember that, what is right or wrong on one society might be totally different in another. But I keep trying. Understanding cultural differences is a key to understanding the world.
So yesterday it was off to Cape Coast. I went by myself. I am getting brave in my old age! And I was looking forward to doing the day at my own pace, my own interests. This is certainly a change from the person who normally does not like go anywhere by herself!
I took a taxi to Winneba Junction. This is where the roads to Accra, Cape Coast, and Swedru all come together. There is a tro-tro station there. When you get out of the taxi, all of these guys descend asking you where you are going. When you respond, the driver of the correct tro-tro points you toward his. You look it over to make sure that it has all of the parts with nothing hanging loose. Then you get in.
A tro-tro leaves when it is full. I was fairly early in the loading process, so I got a good seat, just behind the driver. While you wait, the hawkers descend selling bread, doughnut like things, water, and various other things. It is almost like flies drawn to sugar. Once the van is full, off you go. Any time you pull into a tro-tro station they all run to the tro-tro. They want to be first to offer you their wares. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
The tro-tro on the way to Cape Coast is a local. It stops in all of the local communities. There are 2 men working—the driver and a “conductor.” The conductor sits in the second seat by the sliding door, opens and closes the door, collects money, and, in villages, hangs out the window announcing where the tro-tro is heading. The trip is close to 2 hours.
At one point, I thought we were going to have a knock-down, drag-out fight. There were 3 or 4 people getting off in one village. They thought the charge should be 5,000 cedis and the conductor said 7,000. There was much yelling. All I understood was 5,000 and 7,000 and I don’t know how it was resolved. But I sure didn’t want to be in the middle of it.
Part of the road is under construction. It looks like they are installing all new culverts. It is a project which is being done jointly by Japan and Ghana. I thing Japan is supplying the money and management. The dust during the “diversions” was terrible. Much of the rest of the road could stand some rebuilding.
When we got to Cape Coast, we got caught in the middle of a traffic jam. Finally, everyone in the tro-tro abandoned it and started to walk. At each intersection I asked a stall operator which way to “Barclays,” the bank I wanted. If they didn’t know, I asked about the castle, because it is close to the bank. When I finally got out of the traffic jam, I caught a cab in to the bank. I cashed some traveler’s checks.
From there I went to Immigration. My primary reason for the trip was to extend my visa. They only grant a 60 day visa when you enter the country. If you stay longer, you must go through the process of obtaining an extension. I asked for a 3 month extension which goes to 20 Jan. Unfortunately, a 2-month extension would get me to departure day. If anything got delayed, I would have had a problem. But, for 50,000 cedis per month, $5 seemed cheap for peace of mind. Now I don’t need to worry if there are delays leaving. I expected, and was told, “Come back at 3.” So off to see the town.
One of my other reasons for wanting some time in Cape Coast was that they have a book store which sells used books. I need some books to read on the flight home. It could be a long trip with no reading! So I bought 4 books, one is big, for 110,000 cedis.
I then subjected myself to the curio sellers at the castle. I wanted to take some time to look around and explore. My main success was a carved wooden wall plaque of a woman with a child on her back. This has been one of my favorite things to see the whole trip, so it is a perfect remembrance for me. One vendor had them for 400,000 cedis, but I wasn’t ready to spend that much. Two vendors later, another had one for 60,000 cedis. I bargained him down to 40,000 cedis. That I would spend. Granted, it is not the same thing, but I like mine. Bargaining is all part of the game.
I looked at some kente cloth. Kente is woven by hand in long narrow strips. To make the cloth, they then sew the strip together. The first piece I saw was 1.6 million cedis. The last one I saw was 500,000 cedis for 6 yards. It is beautiful, but I don’t know what I would do for it. I certainly cannot justify even $50 for the fabric. Luckily, they do make cheap imitations that I almost like better.
I had lunch at the same place I ate before. I was seated overlooking the water. It was very clear. On the way in I thought I saw something that looked like an off-shore oil well. I could see another one from the restaurant. A man came over and introduced himself and asked how good my eyes were. He was Swedish and wondered if what he saw was an off-shore oil well. I said that’s what it looked like to me.
The coast right there is very rocky. When the waves hit, they have no place to go but back out to sea. It is interesting to watch were the out-going and the in-coming waves meet. I would not want to be there in my kayak! Also, the restaurant is open air with no doors or windows. As I was leaving a dog with her 2 pups came in. Mother dog jumped up on a wall to leave, but the pups couldn’t make the jump. They stood there looking around as if to say, “How what do we do?”
I wandered back toward the Immigration office. I got there about 2:45 and they had my passport and new visa ready. The worker told me there was an Austrian who came if after me who inquired about me. I knew who it was. She was told to be there about 3 also, so I sat on the front steps and waited. It is fun to watch the world go by. For some reason, they did not extend her visa and told her to return next week. I don’t know why.
We then started together toward the tro-tro station. We stopped and had a pineapple-orange juice. I went to use the ladies room. My brother will be glad to hear that I finally encountered a “hole-in-the-floor” toilet. This was another “any port in a storm.” You need to plan for a 2-hour tro-tro ride with no breaks.
The tro-tro home was an express. Winneba Junction was its first stop. From there it went to Swedru. The journey to Cape Coast cost 12,000 cedis and home 14,000 cedis. You never plan to be comfortable in a tro-tro. They are crowded, hot, and pretty rough. I have not seen an air conditioned vehicle in the country. The seats are worn and even I have trouble with leg room. I rode in one that, every time we went over a bump, the seat moved. But that is part of the experience!
From Winneba Junction, I caught a taxi to the North Campus gate. Then it was about a 10 minute walk HOME! I inhaled water, took a cool bath because I was dripping sweat, and had some yogurt and granola for dinner. I was tired.
I still find it hard to believe that I am wandering around this corner of Africa, almost like I know what I am doing. I guess Africa always seemed so remote and impossible, that I am surprised that I am doing it. What an experience and I am only half way through. I wonder what the next 2 months will bring.Back to Top
Letter 14 (10/16/05):
A quiet, sunny, windy Saturday afternoon. I went to the beach this morning. But, before I can tell you about that, I need to digress and tell you about our “grandbabies.”
On February 14, Becky and Dan Low of Berlin, NH, became parents of three beautiful, very tiny babies. They were born over 3 months early and each weighed less than 2 pounds. They were immediately transferred to the Burlington hospital. As soon as Mom was able, she and Dan moved into the Ronald McDonald House in Burlington to be with their babies.
In May, Jayse, the first born and smallest at birth, was released from the hospital and moved down to the Ronald McDonald House. In June, Ellen was released. Mom now had her hands full with 2 babies “at home” and one in the hospital. One of the brilliant volunteers at the house realized that they needed volunteer “baby holders” to take Ellen and Jayse so that Mom could be with Isaiah, who was still in the hospital. So Lois got a call; did she want to hold a baby? Dumb question! She came home the first time raving about these 2 beautiful, sweet little babies, although Jayse now weighed over 10 pounds and Ellen about 9 pounds. So I thought I would be nice and help Lois; 2 babies should have 2 holders. She is absolutely right; the babies are adorable. Becky and Dan are also wonderful people. Becky let us “adopt” her so they we could be Grammy Lois and Grammy Holly. Even Kim fell in love with them and became “Auntie Kim.” She taught Ellen all about sticking out her tongue.
We spent 4 to 6 days a week for the month of July with our kids. We took them shopping, to church, up to the University, and even out to lunch. I felt a little silly singing the alphabet song walking down Church Street, but Ellen found it soothing. We fell head over heels for these babies. Jayse is the biggest (I nicknamed him “Bubba” because of his chubby cheeks and love for his bottle. He is easy going, and cuddly. Ellen is smaller, has become a good eater but is a “hate to miss.” She sleeps very little and want! s to see the world.
Then, at the end of July, Isaiah was released from the hospital. His health was fragile. He was on oxygen, a monitor, and having trouble feeding. We stopped by the evening that he was released and I felt like the cavalry arriving to save the day. Becky handed me Ellen and a bottle so she could feed Jayse and Dan asked Lois for help trying to get Isaiah’s monitor to work. Then on August 1 the family moved back to NH. So that is the story of how we acquired three wonderful grandbabies.
Unfortunately, Isaiah contracted pneumonia and was airlifted back to Burlington. Back the Ronald McDonald House. Lois became baby holder again. She has seen the family several times in the interim, both in Burlington and in NH. To make a long story finally end, Isaiah finally lost his battle and died Wednesday, 2 days before he would have been 8 months old. The loud noise you heard that afternoon was the breaking of a lot of hearts, mine included.
In an email to his parents, I said “He did, in a strange way, give me a gift that is immeasurable. It was his need to stay in the hospital longest that created the need for ‘baby holders.’ If that had not happened, I, and many others, would never have met your family. Getting that chance has brought much joy to my life and, I hope will bring joy for many years to come.”
So, back to the main story after that sidetracking! My heart has been very heavy and I have been struggling the last 2 days. But I love the sea and I find walking the beach very peaceful. So I got up, had some tea, ate breakfast, and put on my beach clothes. My doctor will be glad to read that I had long sleeves which are sun screen, long pants, and a wide brimmed hat. I also have been wearing “Crocs” (those funny looking plastic like sandals) almost exclusively here; their plastic like, washable features are perfect for the beach. I took a taxi to the office, walked past the Lagoon Lodge, and headed for the beach, about a! 10 minute walk. At one junction, I asked a family which way to the beach. So father and son split from mother and daughter and the guys walked me to the beach. When a couple of little boys asked for money, father told them the obruni doesn’t have money for them. He told me he works for the Social Welfare Department.
The ocean is the Gulf of Guinea. The only thing between the shore of Ghana and Antarctica is a lot of water. I have been to the shore half a dozen times and the waves have always been rolling in pretty impressively each time. I walked, looked, and thought for nearly 3 hours. Almost the whole beach is a continuous fishing village.
The standard fishing boat is called a pirogue. It is an open boat with 10 – 12 seats between the gunnels; they remind me of a humongous wooden canoe. The outside has obviously been shaped with a chisel. I have seen the chiseling cut outs for a seat. Many are brightly painted. Probably the only difference between the ones that I saw today and the ones from several hundred years ago is the addition on one side of a mounting for a motor. Maybe the paint is more up to date and some of the names on the boats. One was named “Cool Running.” Do you think someone saw a movie? They are pulled, stern first, up on the shore. On this beach, that is quite an accomplishment, because the top of the beach is 10 – 15 feet higher than the sea. But the men and boys all get a rope and pull the boat up.
After the fish are unloaded, still in the net, the women sort them out and put them in pans and pails. Another updating is that some of the pails are plastic. After they have the fish sorted, they lift them to their head and walk off; I am guessing they are heading to market, but I don’t know.
The children are playing on the beach, swimming, and just being kids on a nice Saturday morning. Some are playing soccer which is “the” game here. They all looked healthy and strong. I had my camera out and they all wanted me to give them money and take their picture. I declined.
The actual villages were the main thing of interest. These probably haven’t changed in hundreds of years. They are enclosures of groupings of houses. The fence is braided palm leaves and the houses are thatch. I felt like I had dropped back several hundred years in time. I kept wondering what their lives must be like. In some ways much easier than ours and in other ways much more difficult.
I had been at the point yesterday of screaming because the internet was down and the copy machine was broken. Admittedly, my patience and tolerance levels were really low. Seeing how these people live, I told myself to “get a life.” Some things are much more important than others. The people in these villages don’t have electricity or running water. And I’ll bet they are just as satisfied with life. But, I do wonder what their life expectancy, etc. is.
One man stopped me to talk. He was eating a loaf of bread. He asked me where I was from. A common question and I said “America.” He said he was from Liberia. I asked if Ghana was better than Liberia and stated emphatically, “Oh, yes.” There are a fair number of Liberian refugees in Ghana.
As I was getting close to my starting point, I saw an obruni. I felt just like the locals by going up to her. She was from Texas. That felt like almost home. It was wonderful to hear English without an accent. She is a missionary in charge of the library in a Liberian refugee camp. She was in Winneba helping a newly organized Christian college organize their library and had taken a break and gone to the beach. She introduced me to her husband who was from Liberia. She is ready to return to America, but they are having trouble getting his visa. The assumption always is that an American marries an African just so the African can get a visa; once in America, the assumption goes, they would divorce. I am sure some probably try this. I told her about Isaiah; he was too much on my mind not to. She asked if she could pray with me and I consented. It was really a very touching encounter.
A little further up the beach were 4 more obrunis. These, too, were Americans—students from Michigan, Minnesota, and California. I have only seen 2 other Americans in the 2 months I’ve been here and to see 5 in one morning was amazing. The kids asked me what they should see in Winneba because they were only here for the weekend. Me, the local expert? They had dinner at the Lagoon Lodge and missed the pineapple juice. They were going back there and said they would try it. I firmly believe that, if heaven has a juice, that pineapple juice from the Lagoon Lodge would be a really good candidate.
I was going to sit and watch the water near my starting point but the Pentecostal Student Association was having an outing. They had a generator running so that they could run their amplifiers. Someone was preaching. Would someone explain why it needs to be so LOUD? It seems like all of the conservative churches have extremely large amplifiers. I can’t believe that it is part of the traditional culture. This has to be something new. Do they think God has a hearing disability? So much for a quiet peaceful stop at the beach. So I walked back to the office, ate the bread and cheese I had with me, and sent some email. The internet was working better than it had worked in a week. Maybe they have it patched.
(Sunday morning. Christiane came over last night and I mentioned my belief that the conservatives think god has a hearing disability. After her chuckle and comment that, if didn’t before he certainly does now with all the noise, she pointed out that the Africans tend to be very loud when they are happy or joyful. They are exuberant! So, to them, this may just be part of showing joy.)
So time to head for home. I stopped to buy light bulbs because the one in my water closet has burned out twice and the one in my bathroom blew, quite literally. Then it was time to do the laundry and bath. I did buy some Pringles. So I sat typing this and eating Pringles (and boy does that salt taste good!) and drinking a Pepsi Light with a fresh lime in it. Sometimes life is okay. It has been a good day. I made good choices of what to do.
Enough for now. Stay tuned. I have to go to Cape Coast on Tuesday to renew my visa. One of the German students, Suzy, is going with me. That sounds like the makings of Letter 15.
Saturday evening. Christiane (I just saw her name written out) stopped by and told me the history of the fishing village I saw today. In the eastern part of the country is a large lake created by damming the Volta River. When this dam was built, the lake flooded out all of the water people who lived there. The people had to move and re-establish their lives.&nbs! p; One fishing village moved to Winneba and is the one I saw today. It has been there since the 1950’s. They have different customs and a different language than the other people in this area. So their lives may be the same as their ancestors but they are in a different location. this dam was created to generate electricity; it supplies enough electricity for the whole country plus surplus to sell to neighboring countries
Letter 13 (10/8/05):
And it was off to Kumasi this time. This is the second largest city in Ghana with a population of over 1 million. It is a 4 – 5 hour drive from Winneba over roads that vary from excellent two lane roads to pretty non-excellent dirt. We went through many small towns.
First about the city… It is the center of the Ashanti people who are one of the largest and more powerful tribes in Africa. They had a reasonable amount of success in resisting the British and a long proud history. The city was destroyed by the British in 1873, so there are no “old” buildings. It became part of the Gold Coast Colony in 1902. It is now called the “Ancient Ashanti Capital,” but seems to be a major, bustling modern, third-world city.
We left for Kumasi at 5:30 Thursday morning. There were 5 of us in the car—the driver, Sam, a student from Kumasi who was to help us find our way around, and a women who was “hitching” a ride. After about 3 hours we stopped at a road-side eatery. This was a setting of 3 shelters—areas covered by thatched roofs. There seemed 4 – 6 people. They had an area that served drinks and then they had another area with fufu. I was desperate to use a toilet—or even water the bushes—so they led to a sign that pointe! d to the toilet. I followed the sign and found the “toilet.” It was a hole dug in the ground. On top were stout branches laid at about 1 foot intervals. There were thatch walls on 2 sides. I guessed that you were supposed to step out on the branches and aim between them. I have said more than once, “Any port in a storm.” I returned to the group and had some fufu. I ate in the traditional way. You use your right hand, break of some of the doughy fufu, dip it in the liquid that it sits in (a red, spicy broth), and eat. It isn’t bad, but I won’! t miss it when I return home. There was also a pet monkey here. Unfortunately, the batteries in my camera died at this point; I had warnings, but failed to interpret them correctly, so I did the rest of the trip sans camera. I had new batteries “at home (Winneba.)”
On to the city. The first impressions are traffic, confusion, noise, and continual motion. There are no tall buildings, but many in the 2 – 4 story height. There are also continual stalls and hawkers selling about anything. We went past one city block that had nothing but shoes for sale along the sidewalk. Another city block was all bicycles. Most blocks were a conglomeration of things.
Our first stop was at the Kumasi campus of the University of Education, Winneba. Sam took me and introduced me to some of the higher ups. He talked about how I was a visiting professor here from America, etc. By the time we left, we had the key to the guest house. That was his intention, and, I think, a perfectly good one. He just had to use me to impress them.
Our next stop was at a chop bar (small restaurant) that is run by our student guide’s mother and uncle. We stayed in the car while she went to say hi. They came over to meet us.
Then we went on to the Manhyia Palace which is also the National Museum (Nation of Ashanti). It was built in 1926 for the king’s residence and is still used as such. Unfortunately, the museum was closed for renovation.
So, we then went to see the Okomfo Anakye Sword. The tradition is that the sword has been stuck in this same place for over 300 years and if it is ever removed, the Kingdom of Ashanti will end. The sword marks the spot where the Golden Stool initially descended from the sky. This stool is a major part of the tradition of the king. Supposedly, when it descended from the sky, it landed in the lap of the man who was to be king. There have been many attempts to remove the sword, but it disappears into the ground when this happens and then resurfaces later.
Then we went to Kumasi Fort and Armed Forces Museum. The fort dates back to 1820 and was completed by the British in 1897 with blocks of granite carried on the heads of natives from the coast, a walk of 3 days. In 1900, the Ashanti surrounded it and held the British captive. The museum was very interesting. Since the Gold Coast was part of the British Empire, the Gold Coast Regiment was very involved in WWI and WWII. The soldiers were denied shoes until the 1930s! In WWII, they fought the Italians in Northern Afri! ca and then the Japanese in Burma. Evidently, they played a major role in the defeats of these 2 armies. The army is now fairly active. The navy has 6 ships some given by “Bush Senior” and some more will be given by “Bush Junior.” The air force is pretty non-existent.
From there I finally convinced Sam that I was hungry. It was 3 p.m. We went to a local restaurant. I had the somewhat traditional and safe fried rice and chicken and a Malta. A Malta is a malt beverage, but does not have alcohol. It is similar in taste to a sweet dark beer. The meal cost me 50,000 cedi. It was pretty good.
Then to the National Culture Center. We started at the Craft Shop. I pretty much completed my Christmas shopping. I saw one beautiful piece of native traditional Kente cloth; it was 12 yards (they measure fabric in yards) and 1.6 million cedis or about $160. I decided to stick with the less expensive imitations. We watched several artisans working on wood carving, making brass masks, and wax dyed fabric. Well worth the stop.
Then to the guest house and crash time. Someone had brought bananas and we sat around the table eating the whole bunch; I had 3. I read and fell asleep. In the morning, Sam took me outside and showed me different plants and trees—plantain, pear, coconut, palm nut, cassava, and yam. The neighbor had a goat which had two kids that were less than one week old. They were fun to watch.
Back to the main part of the campus. We had breakfast at the cafeteria. I ordered bread, egg, and Lipton. Most of the time the hot beverages are Lipton, Nescafe, or Milo. The first 2 are what you think; the last is similar to hot chocolate. Mine came as two egg sandwiches. The eggs had onions and carrots in them. The Lipton had milk and sugar added. She brought more sugar if I wanted it, but it was already very sweet. We then walked around campus for a bit.
We started for home. After a short bit, we stopped at a fruit and vegetable market. I bought 2 pears, 2 limes, a paw-paw, and an apple, all for 12,500 cedis ($1.25). We stopped later for coconuts. The kids have a machete and hack off most of the cover. Then they just nick the soft fruit at the top. You punch a hole and drink the liquid. The whole fruit is filled with liquid, so it is a fairly large drink. You then give the coconut back and they crack it open. The edible part is very soft and spon! gy, not at all like what we are used to.
We stopped again so that the driver could buy some yams. Then we suddenly left the main road and started overland on county back roads. I kept thinking that, if you did not look closely, you could be in Vermont with the green lush rolling hills. Then you look closely and see all of the different kinds of palms and other vegetation. And suddenly an African village appears and the whole thought fades. We saw villages and other sights that, I am sure, the average tourist miss. We went through our driver’s native village and stopped and left the yams with his mother. At one traffic jam in one village, there were several woman and a baby. I started cooing and talking to the baby. Mom handed her through the car window to me! I said a short prayer because she did not have a diaper, but the baby did not like this whole thing at all. She howled! But, how would you like to be handed into a car to some one who looked totally unlike anyone you had ever seen? The kid was smart. So I handed her back through the window.
Also, at one point I saw a grove of trees that had pods growing straight off the trunks. I asked what they were—cocoa trees! The driver stopped and picked one for me. It was yellow and egg shaped, but about 6 inches long and 3 inches wide. When I got home, I opened it. It was hard because the skin was tough and thick. Inside were the beans. I don’t know what I expected, but not what I found. They were covered with slimy white goo. I tasted one and it had a sort of sweet chocolate taste. They are outside to dry. If they come out okay, I will bring them home. (Monday—The beans are drying. They now look very much like shelled almonds.)
And then we finally arrived home about 3 pm. It really felt like arriving home. One of the first things I heard was the resident rooster. I was tired and happy to be able to take my shoes off, put my feet up, and eat my own dinner. I had a salmon salad sandwich with tomato on pita and fried plantain chips. It was good.
It started pouring rain early this morning before I got up. It kept raining, so I decided to eat breakfast and forget my run. I did my laundry from the previous 2 days and hung it out. Hopefully it will dry after it gets well rinsed. I walked into the office to catch up my news and send this. I will walk home, too. That is a decent substitute for a run in the rain. It is still misting.
Take care. I wonder what my next adventure will bring.
Monday morning… I couldn’t get hooked to the internet Saturday afternoon, so I did not send this. I went to have one of the pears that I bought and discovered it was an avocado. After asking a few people what we call avocado, they call pears. The shape is right. I thought the climate was too warm for pears, and expected something different, but…And, as the saying goes, “If life gives you an avocado, make guacamole.” Or something like that.
Letter 12 (10/4/05):
It is sometimes the small things that make an experience so wonderful. There are times when the sum really is greater than all of the parts. I have had many special moments that will stand out in my memory for a long time:
* The two little boys on their way to school who stop me and want to talk
but just keep giggling. I asked them their names and one finally giggled “Isaac.”
The other name was too enmeshed in the giggles to understand. One had on a pink
wrist watch. He point to my watch and then his and looked so pleased.
* The giggling of small children at play.
* Small children, sound asleep, on their mother’s backs.
* Kids—the goat kind—playing “King on the Mountain” on top of a fire ant hill.
* Puppies toddling after their mother and then latching on to nurse.
* The sound of the birds singing even if I can’t seem to ever see them in the trees.
* The adolescent girls who stop me on a path and want to talk. They giggled just like American adolescents.
* The three students who saw me and excitedly asked “Can I be your friend?”
* All of the people who just want to chat. “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” “Which state?” “Do you like Ghana?” etc.
* The man who had a stall of American type shirts that called me over. He wanted to sell me a shirt “from home.” I said I wanted to buy African clothes in Africa and American clothes in America. He looked at me and then said, “Oh, in Rome do as the Romans do.”
* The shop keeper who, as she showed me her various toddlers’ outfits, stopped what she was doing, took the rubber band out of her own hair, and used it to braid mine. I had not put my barrette in my hair when I left home because my hair was still wet and she saw me keep brushing it back.
* The little children who keep calling “obruni” to me and then are scared when I stop to talk. I look so different from the people they are used to seeing.
* The woman who let me hold her baby when I asked. I told her I missed my “grandbabies” and would love to hold her baby for a minute. She handed over her cooing, hiccupping, 4 month old daughter. For those of you who don’t know: No, Kim has not been producing. Our “grandbabies” are a beautiful set of triplets that we had the joy and privilege of getting to know and love through the Ronald McDonald House in Burlington. And I do miss them!
* The taxi drivers—many of them—who ask me where I am from and what I am doing in Ghana. They could just drive and ignore me.
* The habit of the people saying “Good morning/afternoon” to people as they pass on the street.
* The school children walking, running, bicycling to school in their nice clean uniforms. But don’t look too closely. One little boy’s fly was open, another’s belt wasn’t fastened. Many of the uniforms have patches. But they are clean and the children are proud.
* Children running and playing games outside.
* Toddlers, butt naked, lathered in white soap which contrasts so nicely with their black bodies, getting their daily bath.
* Adults standing in front of their homes early in the morning brushing their teeth.
* The rooster crowing outside my class. This is not to be mistaken with the one who crows in the middle of the night outside my bedroom window. I keep hoping that “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes” because “They’ll kill the red rooster when she comes.” I wish this even though the rooster I would like to kill is white.
* The hen who decided to nest and lay her eggs under my door stoop. And my neighbors who cheerfully picked up the squawking hen and 4 eggs and returned her home.
* The street hawkers in Accra selling almost anything you can imagine.
* The young man who, while we were stopped in a traffic jam, was sitting in a tro-tro going the opposite direction. He kept mopping his brow with his shirt sleeve. I caught his eye, mopped my brow with a handkerchief, we both laughed, and then moved in opposite directions.
* My nicely dressed students. I have not seen a single bare midriff.
* The rhythmic “thud, thud, thud” of someone pounding fufu or banku.
* Market Mommas setting up their stall for the day and quietly singing to themselves.
* The number of times I have asked for directions to some place and the person has said “Come” and walks me to the spot.
* The minister who spotted me in his church and brought me an English hymnal, even if the service was not in English. At least I had something to look at and read!
* The students who carry my books to and from class.
* The Association of Mathematics Education Students who gives each faculty member a polo shirt.
* And finally, the joy of opening an email from home.
I am sure there are many more experiences that I could mention, but you get the idea. It is often the little things they bring delight to the day.
Letter 11 (9/30/05):
Off to more adventures. Monday Birta and I went to Cape Coast which is about 90 kilometers west of here. We took the tro-tro again. It cost 11,000 cedis going and 13,000 coming home. It was more expensive coming home because we were in a bigger bus. There was a certain irony in the ride both directions. We were among the last to arrive and therefore, ended up in the backseat, both ways. What can be said about the 2 whites! in a bus of otherwise blacks being “in the back of the bus”? The buses fill as people arrive and leave when they are full. There is no schedule and they are coming and going at a steady pace.
We went primarily to get our visas extended. When you enter the country, they give you 60 days, no matter what. Since I am going to be here 120 days, I need to go through the paper work. Birta has the same situation. Unfortunately, they will only do it in the week before your current one expires, so I will need to go back and do it again. It also rained for an hour or so!
Cape coast is a much smaller city than Accra. It is the capital of the Central Region, so it has many of the government buildings. It felt much more crowded, though. The streets seemed narrower. With the shops right to the edge of the road, people walking everywhere, and then taxis, it was congested. It is an interesting city to explore. I won’t mind going back and seeing more of it.
We had lunch in a restaurant right by the ocean. It was a lovely place. I had pizza, sort of. The crust was more like a pie crust, there was a red sauce and but I am not sure what it was. There was no cheese. I had vegetarian, so they added onion, green peppers, carrots, and summer squash. It was very tasty. That and 2 cokes for 45,000 cedis.
We went to the curios shops near the Cape Coast Castle. I did a fair amount of Christmas shopping and bought myself a cap, a bracelet, and a necklace/bracelet set. I then toured the Castle. This was where many of the slaves were kept and then shipped to the Americas. It was built by the Portuguese in 1482 and then became British. It is a rather sobering place to be. Over 60 million people either died or were sent away during the slave trading. Most of these were men and women who were in their prime. It’s an interesting question to wonder what impact that had on the development of the African cultures.
It was 8 p.m. by the time we got home. I had a light dinner and went to bed. Oh, on my run Monday morning, I was going through a small neighborhood. A little girl, probably 6 or 7 years old, came out to join me. She ran with me and reached up to hold hand. Then she let go and dropped back, but caught up again and grabbed my shirt. She stayed with me until I got to the main road. Then I made her go home. It was fun. The little kids are most interested in m! e and so cute. They do not see very many obrunis and want to talk. Some of the toddlers are actually afraid. I look different! Much of the time I will take a minute or two to talk with them.
Tuesday, Brita, Christiana and I went to Accra. It was almost a bust, but we got everything to work. My primary reason for going was to cash some traveler’s checks. I had cashed some in Cape Coast, but I need to take advantage of the chance when I get it. When I got to Barclay’s (the large English bank), their computer had crashed. She sent me to the Standard Bank. She said it was 8 blocks up the street. When I asked about a taxi, because my time was short, ! she told me I was strong and could do it. Then I went out and look for the landmark she had given me and realized it was only a block away. So I went up street. Meanwhile I was running the gauntlet of street hawkers. Some were pleasant and some were really obnoxious. By the way, when I walked out of the bank I was a millionaire, at least in cedis. I had several million cedis. And when the largest bill they have is 20,000 cedis, it makes for a bundle of money!
On the way back, I did do some more Christmas shopping. I also bought myself the one real splurge that I have done. It is a camel leather backpack for 210,000 cedis or about $21. It is beautiful and quit nice. They have a lot of camel leather goods. I also bought a pair of new “all terrain” running shoes for 180,000 cedis. I tried to bring an old pair of running shoes for sneakers when I wanted a pair for non-running, but brought the left shoe of 2 different pairs. Useless! So now I have a really nice pair for about $18.
I had also bought a leather wallet/passport holder. When I saw it, the guy said it 120,000 cedis. I bargain with him and told him my top price was 60,000 cedis. When he wouldn’t agree with me, I turned and walked away. Later I went by him again and he “Alright, you can have it for 60,000.” I have used that method of bargaining several times. It works often. When it doesn’t work, I don’t feel bad. I am getting pretty good at this.
Meanwhile, Brita and Christiana were trying to do some things for their schools and having a terrible time. They were not able to make contact of with the man they had an appointment with. Also, they were meeting another student flying in from Germany. So Brita and I went to the airport to meet the student and Christiana continued to work on making contact. I went to the post office at the airport to mail a letter to Mom. The student arrived and we went to a restaurant to wait for Christiana. I had chicken and chips and bought each of the 3 of us a coke for 50,000 cedis.
Christiana, after success on her part, arrived to get us just as the sky was turning black! We headed home as the heavens opened and poured rain. We left at 3 and, since it is a 2 hour drive I was pleased we would be home by 5 or so. But, we hit a traffic jam and sat! for over 2 hours going no where. We all got really tired and a little silly. They tried to convince me I should run to Winneba, that it would be faster. But I had plenty of excuses why that was a bad idea. I also tried to teach these Germans American phrases to explain how we felt. And all of this in the pouring rain! We finally got home at 7:30. I had an apple and some cheese plus a brownie cookie that I had bought at a market. It tasted good and was easy.
Today I taught and am tired. I will finish this, read all of the rest of my email and head for home. It won’t be any too early! Stay healthy. It is now Thursday morning. While I was typing the message, the power went out. When the power came on, the internet had crashed. It did not come up, so I went home.
Actually, it is now Friday afternoon. The ‘net has been down since Wednesday am, but I got to a computer that has service. I was missing my email!
Letter 10 (9/25/05):
Lots of interesting news and tales. First, good news. Yesterday morning I saw my puppy friend. He (She? I don’t know!) was with his siblings and mother. They were all walking down the road together, the pups rolling and trotting behind Mom. She finally stepped off the road and stopped walking. All of the pups immediately started to nurse. Mom just stood there and the pups got up on the hind legs and hooked onto a nipple. They finally all got attached. I stopped, took out my camera, and took a picture. It is at times like that that I am glad that I lug the camera with me all of the time.
The bad news! I think I saw a dead body this morning. I walked into my office from home. It is a 55-minute walk. But, on the edge of the road a woman was lying and not moving. Her feet were in the gutter and body in the road. She did not look like she was just asleep! I saw no obvious signs of trauma. I didn’t know what to do and everyone else was just walking around her. I, too, walked around her, but, when I got to the police station, I went in and told them. They seemed a lot less surprised th! an I was. Another tale in the saga.
Now, the adventures. First, let me clarify the cast of characters. There are 3 Germans in my repertoire of friends. Adrian and Christiana are husband and wife and about my age. Adrian is on the faculty of the Special Ed Department, but their main function is schools for special needs kids. I know that they have a school for blind children and one for developmentally handicapped, but I think there is a third. Birta is a 23-year old social work student who is here on a practicum. She is a great kid who seems much older and wiser than her years. Part of that is that she has been in Africa before and has been here all summer so she knows the ropes. That is most helpful for me.
Anyway, yesterday, Birta and I took a tro-tro to Swedru, a town about 30 kilometers north (inland) of here. A tro-tro is defined as a public passenger vehicle that is larger than a taxi and smaller than a bus. Most of them are similar to our 12 passenger vans. The 2 we rode in were in pretty bad shape and Birta says don’t get in one that has parts hanging off of it. The floors and ceilings had no padding; the bare metal was exposed. The seats were worn. But the engines worked. The tro-tro to Swedru was 4,000 cedis each way.
When we left Winneba, I was debating putting on my sunglasses, but, when I looked north is was pretty cloudy. By the time we got to Swedru it was pouring rain. This was the first prolonged heavy rain I have seen since I got here. The water was running fast in the deep wide gutters. It is the first time I have used my poncho.
We went to the market. I kept thinking I was in the human equivalent of a rabbit warren. The market is made up of many, many stalls. Each stall, right beside the next one, is an enclosed room maybe 8 by 10 feet and sits on top of a concrete pier. The “roof” is sheet of tin that overhands the front of the stall. The roofs of stalls that are across the walkway from each other almost touch. But they don’t, so the rain was pouring off the roofs into the walk way. My feet were soaked. When I got home and took my shoes off, my feet were bla! ck with grim. Thanks heavens for my sandals. The walk ways are only 2 or 3 people wide. It is also very dark since it is mostly enclosed and there are no lights.
We went primarily for fabrics. I wanted something for Kim, material for a pair of trousers for me, and for a jacket for me. I had good luck. The trousers and jacket are to match things I have already bought. I was going to wait until I got home to get the trousers, until someone pointed out to me the obvious fact. Here I could pick out the fabric and have it made to order for about $5. I would be foolish to wait!
We wandered through a lot of the rest of the market. They sell a lot of fish and the smell of that was too strong for our noses. They also had almost anything else you might want. Birta bought a couple of leather belts and I bought a few presents. We will get more of a chance to buy curios in Cape Coast tomorrow. It is good though to see prices so I know what is reasonable.
We each bought a small bag of salted popcorn. Boy was it good. I am craving salty snacks, so I was in heaven. We also each bought a grilled plantain. I had seen them locally, but unsure about them. They are really good, too. Each was 1,000 cedis. Remember 10,000 cedis is about $1.
Birta has also been talking about her inability to get lots of veggies. She is living in a Lodge and doesn’t have the means to cook. I invited her to dinner. So I bought tomatoes, okra, garden eggs, and green beans. I already had garlic and onions at home. I added ground nut paste (we call it peanut butter) and made an excellent stew. I also had some good bread. So she got a good meal heavy on the veggies. I have some left over for tonight.
She stayed and we chatted in the evening. She is thrilled that I wanted to go to Swedru—it was my idea and I invited her—and that tomorrow I am going with her to Cape Coast. She says she enjoys things much more when there is someone to do it with. I have to agree. I would have gone to Swedru myself, but it was more fun with someone along. And easier when someone knows the ropes and can teach me.
Tomorrow Birta and I are going to Cape Coast. We each need to extend out visas. For reasons that are not ours to wonder why, Ghana will only give a visa for 90 days, even when, in my case, the plane ticket, of which they have a copy, shows that I will be here for 4 months. So I need to jump through a few hoops and pay them about 150,000 cedis or $15. Oh well. Bureaucracy is the same every where.
Tuesday all 4 of us—the 3 Germans—and me are going to Accra. They need to meet another student at the airport and we will all go to the market. I will renew my stock of staples and some perishables. Its good to have friends who understand.
Enough of this one. I am sure there more be more later in the week
Letter 9 (9/23/05):
Religion… I have put this one off until I could figure out how to describe it. To paraphrase a guide book: The country is 80% Christian, but, at times, it seems to be 150% Christian.
There are indications of this everywhere. On the way from home to my office, we pass “God’s Glory Super Market,” Holy Angels Enterprises, Purveyors of Hardware,” “Glorious God Beauty Salon,” etc. You get the idea. Also, most taxis have some type of religious slogan or saying in the rear window in letters large enough to cover the whole window. It might be as simple as “Humility,” as more expressive such as “Praise to God.” Also, inside many taxis are crosses or Bibles. But I did see a small menorah in one taxi; I wonder if he knew what it was.
I have seen a Methodist, Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist, Catholic, and Anglican Churches. Then scattered everywhere are small, non-familiar denominations of more evangelical, conservative churches. These have all types of names. But, surprisingly, I have not seen a Baptist Church, although there is a Baptist Hospital in town. ! Maybe the Baptist church us at the hospital.
There do not seem to be many church related schools, but this may be a cost factor. The public schools are moving toward a system that makes going to school free, so the people may chose not to spend the money on parochial private schools.
One indication of how many people go to church… It is sometimes hard to get a connection for a cell phone because everything is busy. I am told you can always get through on a Sunday morning because every one is in church. Also, I am told that the internet is real fast on Sunday morning.
Now, if you go to church, don’t plan on a quick, one-hour service. I went to the Methodist Church last Sunday and the service lasted 2 ½ hours! The service had many familiar aspects, but none of it was in English, so it was a challenge and I probably won’t go back. At least I had a good excuse for not understanding the sermon! They have an early service that starts at 7, and it was just ending when I got there about 9:20. I am told this service is predominately in English.
When I walked to the taxi Sunday morning, there were at least 2 different services on campus. I could see one and hear another. Also, scattered all over campus are signs and banners advertising different services. Since there is really no written medium handed out, this is the primary way to advertise.
About the 20% who are not Christian... The guide book says they are mostly Muslim, who are in the northern part of the country, and followers of their local ancient religion.
Another way of looking at it. Someone told me that the perception is that America must be a very lawless place with no moral decency. The reasoning is that, since such a low percentage of Americans go to church, there is no place for them to learn morals or values. Without church to tell you how to behave, you would be bad.
In short, this is a very religious country!
Letter 8 (9/29/05):
It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon at home. The sunshine is bright, but there is a strong wind blowing and the humidity must be low. My clothes that I hung out were mostly dry in an hour. I can hear Lois talking about “beautiful drying weather.” I must do all of my laundry by hand. I do it every day so that it is never a big job—just always there. The only thing that keeps me from putting it off some days is that I know it would be worse the next day. When I get home, I will be tempted to “worship at the altar of the washing machine!”
There are some things that you don’t realize you are not seeing until you see it. I saw a cigarette butt by the road this morning. The first time! I have seen exactly 2 natives smoking. I asked about that once and was told that smoking is a very strong taboo! And we think this is a backwards country!?! One female student said that is such a strong taboo that, if one of her friends started to smoke, she would quit being friends. That is called peer pressure. I have not seen any cigarettes for sale either.
Another thing that I saw for the first time this week was a malnourished child. She had the blotted belly and reddish hair. She was sitting on her mother’s lap, and I tried to play with her, but she just sat, totally listless. It took a little while for me to realize the problem because malnutrition is not a common sight. The children are very active and play with toys, especially soccer balls. I even see toys for sale in the market. Some toys are homemade, such as the top of a large can nailed to a long stick so that the child can roll the “wheel” down the road. I see very few over w! eight children, also.
I also saw my first cattle today. They were being herded across the road while I was out running. One of the little boys who were herding them actually had a toy truck on a long string attached to a stick. I don’t know if the cattle were yearlings or if the cattle here are small like the goats. They also seemed awfully scrawny.
I also, for the first time this week, got into a taxi with someone who needed to bath. It was the first time that body odor was noticeable even though I have seen lots of people sweat. There are public showers in the poorer section of town, so everyone must find ways to stay clean. The toddlers are bathed out by the roads by their mothers. The contrast between the white soap and black body is stark, but attractive. The toddlers are “butt naked,” but they all have a band around their middle. It is put on at birth and left there until they reach a certain age to ward off disease. ! I guess malaria is the primary threat to children.
I heard a dog bark this week. With all of the dogs around, you would expect to hear lots of dogs barking, but you don’t. I don’t know why. The dogs are very complacent. When I walk by, they hardly even look at me. They are thin, but they don’t look sickly. I saw a litter of young puppies playing one morning. They were cute!
Sunday afternoon… I got a major adrenaline rush last night. I am cat sitting for my German friends. As I was walking home about 8:30 p.m., I realized this small animal was coming at my feet. I jump, screeched, and stamped my foot a couple of times. The critter stopped and backed up a few steps. Then I realized it was a tiny, very young puppy. He kept coming toward me and I kept stamping my foot at him to get him to go away. I finally thought I had succeeded and turned to head home. When I got to the top of my drive, he was back on my heels.! I stomped some more, but he wasn’t scared. Then I threw a stone in his direction, but I didn’t want to hit him; I just wanted him to be afraid of me. He stopped for an instant and then started again. I rolled a stone up toward him and he stopped, sat, and started to cry. Damn! I quickly made for my gate and got through it. As I shut the gate I saw that he was not very far away, but I won. Then he started to cry again. Double damn! It took all of the will power I had to go in the house and leave him. He was sooooo cute, but I couldn’t do ! anything that would be more than a temporary band aid. He is better off without me. But oh my heart strings were sore from being tugged so hard!
It is the first day of school in Winneba for the primary and secondary schools. The streets were teeming with students nicely dressed in their uniforms on their way to school. Most of the uniforms are yellow shirts with brown skirts/shorts. I did see some blue ones. I am told that the uniform cost 15 – 20,000 cedis, which for a Ghanaian is a lot.
All kids of school age must go to school—it’s the law. They have kindergarten through 12th grade here. I was talking with Sam’s oldest daughter who is 15; she is now in school to learn to be a tailor, so they also have technical education.
For the first 3 grades, the standard language is the local language with English taught as a subject. After that, English is the language of communication and the local language is a subject. Although the official language of the country is English, the local languages continue to thrive and are used as the standard. Everyone seems to converse in the local language unless someone like me forces English.
Approximately 40% of the population is under the age of 18, so the schools are full. This statement is indicative of what I see will be a problem for the country if things don’t change.
One of the reasons for this high level of youth is the lack of birth control. Giving birth is considered a pleasure and a privilege, so no one wants to deny anyone (or anything) that chance. Many families have a large number of children.
This lack of birth control extends to the animals. There are puppies and kittens everywhere. Also chicks and kids (of the goat kind). When I commented about it to my German friend she said that they tried to have their cat spayed and the vet didn’t know you could do that!
The chickens and goats are everywhere. The goats are kind of cute. They are small; full grown they don’t even reach my knees (okay, say that is not very high!). The kids, then are tiny. Around my bungalow are 2 nannies and 4 kids. I see them frequently. I looked up Saturday when I heard a noise and one of them was standing on my door step like a dog asking to come in.
The chickens and roosters are a royal pain! They are noisy. I may kill a rooster some morning. Last night one was crowing at 1:00 a.m. It’s lucky for him I didn’t want to wake up much. Normally they start crowing about 5. At home it is the Canadian geese, here it is roosters. They even are on campus and crow during classes.
It is a different society!
Accra—What can I say? I went there yesterday, Friday, with two German friends, Christiana and Bierta. It is about a 2 hour drive from Winneba. The first 45 minutes was quick, but then bumper-to-bumper traffic. Part of the problem is road construction; they are turning a 2 lane road into 4 lanes, so there are “diversions” everywhere. Been there, done that! Accra itself is a city of about 2 million people, so it sprawls forever. And, as you might expect, there is the very wealthy (houses that rent for $5,000/month!) and the unimaginably poor.
As we were coming toward the city, I felt like I was in the middle of one humongous flea market. Stalls along the road offering absolutely anything you could imagine, and for miles and miles. I was utterly amazed at the variety of stuff—cars and car parts, bikes, clothes, building materials, toys, food, etc, etc. It was interesting and amazing.
When we got to the city proper, at every traffic light there were hawkers—people selling things right in the middle of the stopped traffic. Again, they had anything portable—shoes, toys, water, fried plantain and bread, tooth brushes, television antennas, magazines and newspapers, etc. It was like being in the middle of a circus. I thought about a picture, but not this time.
When we got there, Christiana and Bierta went to do some business and I went to Barclays bank to cash some traveler’s checks. Then I started looking at shops and stalls. I probably had “sucker” written across my forehead because everyone descended one me. I did succumb some. I bought a Ghana soccer shirt to wear next summer when they are in the World Cup (I did watch them clinch their spot live on TV!), a necklace and bracelet, and a small painting on cloth. Then I literally had to force my way out of the crowd.
We then went to lunch at a French restaurant. I indulged one of my cravings and had a beef! kabob and French fires with a coke. It cost 40,000 cedis or about $4. It was excellent so worth it!
Then we went to a super market called Koalas. They had pretty much anything that I might want or need, but seemed expensive. I bought a variety of things, many of which were to indulge cravings and will need to be rationed carefully. I may not find some of these things until I get back to Accra. I bought cheese (48,000 cedis), yogurt (10,000 cedis), a loaf of raisin bread (9,000 cedis), 6 eggs (9,000 cedis), 6 cans coke light (5,500 cedis each), 2 cans A&W root beer (6,400 cedis), Pringles chips (28,000 cedis), 4 rolls of toilet paper (21,000 cedis), smoked sausage (46,000 cedis for 5 links), a chocolate croissant (6,000 cedis), 4 candy bars (9,000 c! edis each), and 2 apples (11,725 cedis total). Remember that 10,000 cedis is about $1. Can you tell the types of things I am craving? Last night for dinner I had the croissant and an apple. Ah!
This morning I had some yogurt with a paw paw cut into it for breakfast and for lunch I am having a peanut butter sandwich on raisin bread. The good life.
We came home after that and it was almost 5 when we got there. It was along day since we left about 8
I missed my run Friday morning, but it was worth it. As I was leaving my bungalow, I heard drums and singing and decided to check it out. After talking with several people, I realized I watching an initiation rite of Freshers (1st year students). It was all males participating in it, but it was in front of a dorm and there were many females on the balconies watching.
There were about 20 Freshers sitting on the ground forming a cross shape. The upper-classmen were off to one side. There were 4 men sitting with drums and the rest—a couple of dozen—were in a circle around them, standing. Each of the men who were standing had a stick in each hand and was beating them to the rhythm of the drums. Many of the upper-class men wore “robes”—one piece things draped over their heads with elaborate and formal writing; they were not hand made. One man had a large flag that said “Spartans, Strong Forever, University College of Education, Winneba.”
The standing group danced and sang around the drums for about ½ hour. Occasionally someone would come over to a Fresher and pour a cup of water over his head. They stopped singing and one guy started to lead chants. Finally, 3 guys took cups of water and started to fling them onto the Fresher sitting in the front. You could hear the water slapping against him. After a few moments, they poured a cup of water on his head, helped him up and moved the next guy forward.
My understanding is that they did this to all of the Freshers. The water is to purify them. What a treat to see. And all of this at 6:15 in the morning!
This was a busy weekend. And Happy Labor Day to all of you. I hope you are enjoying the long weekend.
Friday afternoon about 3:30 Christiana, my German friend, called and asked if I wanted to go downtown with her and 2 German young ladies. I said sure! I have pretty much adopted the attitude of “don’t ask me if you don’t want, because I’m going unless I have committed to something else.” We walked downtown to the post office and then headed toward the fish market and harbor. That place is a zoo! Christiana warned me not to eat any meat or fish from there—it could easily be spoiled. We kept walking on east of the main town. It became less congested and the road turned into a path! . We stopped along the way at a stall and bought ground nuts. I spent 2,000 cedis. We eventually came to Royal Beach, a nice sea side place. We sat under a pavilion by the beach and ate the ground nuts and drank coke.
The shore is very rocky, but there is a wide sand beach. There are palm trees along the edge of the beach. The waves were coming in and rolling pretty good—maybe 2 feet. After awhile Christiana wanted to go look for shells, so I went with her. I managed to get my feet and ankles wet. Bless my crocs and nylon pants. I picked up some small shells, but tried to contain myself since I know I would need to carry them home. We went back and sent the girls down because the pickings were really quit good.
Then, pleasantly, Adrian, Christiana’s husband, arrives with the van and took us all home. It was about 7 pm. I just had a paw paw and some walnuts for dinner. And went to bed really tired.
I woke up at 5:30 Saturday, was leisurely in my pace, and then went for a run. I met Sam while I was out. He said that they were going to a wedding that morning and I was welcome to go. So I said yes. His wife picked me up about 10:30 and we drove to their church which is only about a mile away—behind God’s Grace Super Market. She had all 3 kids with her.
The wedding bulletin (and I have kept a copy) said that it started at 10:00 am prompt. We got there about 10:40 and there were a few others there. As you walked into the church, which is just a concrete block building, there was a white lace arch hanging in the doorway. Just inside the door was a metal pipe arch decorated with green and white balloons and ribbon. The poles in the church all had white ribbon wrapped around them and there were green ribbon decorations on the underside of each ceiling fan. In front, on one side, was another decorated arch and 2 chairs with green and white bows. The groom was sitting there in a gray! morning coat and a green hankie in his pocket.
There were 3 musicians playing—a keyboard, electric guitar, and drum set. Also a man was in front with a mike speaking (ranting?). I could not understand him, but I don’t know if he was speaking Twi (the local language) or just English faster than I could process. It was all very loud!
About 11:15, the bride arrived in a wedding dress that would be very typical of what you would see in America. She really looked beautiful. We all stood while she was walked down the aisle. Then the ceremony stated to sound familiar. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here… .” “Who gives this woman to this man?” Etc. They exchanged vows and rings. The sermon was about their starting a new life together and how they are beginning a journey that they have never been on before. I understood most of it until the minister got rolling too fast. The choir sang and the congregation sang 2 hymns. One was “All Hail the Power of |Jesus Name.” The first verse and tune were familiar, but the second verse was more African.
During the ceremony, the bride and groom were escorted down the aisle by mostly women with much dancing. Many in their seats were also dancing. They came back immediately. Then they were pronounced man and wife and left again. Pictures were taken outside. I took a few pictures so that I could show the attire of the bride, groom, and families. There did not seem to be any attendants.
We all then returned to out seats for the “reception.” We were each given a bottle of soda—I had orange—and a plastic bag with a piece of meat pie and a small doughnut. It was nice and hot, so I took it and ate it. Tasty. They then passed the cake, which looked fairly traditional to me, but we each got just a bite.
We then all left. It was about 2 pm. Out in the parking lot, they were passing out cooked rice for the congregation to take home. Sam’s wife, Joyce also gave me a package containing banku, which I took home.
The banku is a ball of doughy starch made from fermented maize. It is pounded and then cooked with out water. It is eaten with a relish which was very spicy and very fishy. Not suited to my tastes! The rice had a very hot, spicy sauce on it. I had a little banku and saved the rest to put in a stew for tonight. Why is it that the hot climates seem to have the spiciest food?
Saturday about 5 pm, Christiana called and asked if I wanted to go for a walk. Of course! We walked for about 45 minutes around the campus. She showed me that you could walk on any of the dirt foot paths that you came to. It is expected that people will walk there. I think she misses talking with an obruni in reasonable English as much as I do.
So much for Saturday. Then there was Sunday! I didn’t plan to run and set my alarm for 6”30. Joyce picked me up about 8:30. Sam was driving the bride and groom, who were in church, dressed in their wedding clothes, except the bride had on a white hat instead of her veil.
We arrived at church about 8:45; it was supposed to start at 9 and the minister asked everyone to be prompt. The church has plastic chairs and probably seats 150 – 170 people. There was only a handful there when we got there. The same man that was raving at the beginning of the wedding was in front going strong. He continued until about 9:15. People continued to file in.
Finally about 9:30, the service as we know it started and the church was packed. The church is “International Central Gospel Church” and Sam describes it as charismatic. Many of the parts were familiar. The sermon was about relationships and the importance of maintaining good ones. As the minister preached in English, a woman stood near him and translated into Twi. At times he would get on a roll and she would stop. The same 3 musician! were playing, with the keyboard in the background at all times. I did not recognize any of the hymns.
The children’s choir sang 2 songs and the adult choir sang one. During prayers and some hymns, many of the people were talking to themselves. The man behind me kept saying, “bah, bah, bah, ….” or something close to that. I could tell from watching their lips that they were not saying or singing the same thing as the leader. During dancing, many of the people danced in the places.
We had communion at the end of the service. The “bread” was what we called “fish food” when I was a kid, and I am not sure what the “wine” was. They passed it through the congregation.
After church, which ended at 12:30, Joyce asked me what I had planned. When I said “nothing,” she invited me to their house. She seemed thrilled.
When we got there, she and her older daughter—15 years old—began to prepare fufu. They started by boiling cassava and plantain until soft. Then they took it out to the patio. They have a traditional wooded container they has a flat interior about 1 foot in diameter. With a long pole they pound the cassava and plantain into a sticky goo. I took pictures. They then formed it into balls and served it in palm nut soup. The soup is made with palm nuts, fish, mushrooms, and onions. One of the guide books said that this is an acquired taste ! and most tourists don’t miss it when they go home. I would probably agree. My mother would be proud of me, because I cleaned my bowl. They traditionally eat it with their fingers, but gave me a spoon.
We then went to the living room to watch the Ghana-Uganda soccer match which was part of the World Cup Qualifying rounds. I left at halftime with Ghana ahead 2 - 0 and walked home. I had not realized it, but I run past Sam’s house on my usual run and it is about 1 mile from my house. Joyce and the kids accompanied me.
I just had a couple of biscuits (cookies) in the evening and went to bed early! Other than that and my usual chores, I didn’t do anything!
I feel much more connected and at home with the area, but I still have trouble putting my brain around the idea that I really am in Africa. It just seems too preposterous to be true.
Letter 3 is missing.
I am now moved into my own bungalow. It is on the north campus, while my office and the Math Department are on the South Campus. They are too far apart to walk. Either Sam will give me a ride or I will take a taxi (cost = 1500 cedi while 10,000 cedi is approximately $1). I thought for 10 seconds about a bicycle, but considering the rough roads, crazy drivers, other bikes, pedestrians and animals everywhere plus my desire to return in one piece and decided no way. The only helmets I have seen look like lacrosse helmets.
My bungalow has 3 bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, pantry, kitchen and bathroom facilities. The bathroom facilities are in 2 separate rooms—toilet in one and sink and tub/shower in the other. There is no hot water, but the tap is warm enough to shower. The kitchen has a gas stove with a tank of propane, sink, fridge, and lots of cupboard space. It has all that I need. I do laundry by hand. The entry for the back door is through a gate into a cement patio; there is a clothes line there to hang things. There is a ceiling fan in every room and air conditioners in the bedroom and l! iving room. The controls for one are in English and Arabic. The accommodations actually exceed my expectations. It is about a 10 minute walk from the bungalow down to the taxi stand.
I went to the market Monday for some staples. The whole thing is about half the size of one of our convenience stores, but has most staples you want. I bought juice, vegetable oil, bottled water (I have a supply, but will boil most of mine), tea bags, and matches (for the stove). I didn’t look carefully at things, but will take the time later. There were some potentially interesting things. All of the labels are in several languages; usually English is one of them.
I bought onions, tomatoes, and garden eggs (Look like large chicken eggs with stems and I treated like a summer squash), and onions from street vendors yesterday. I washed them in bleach water and then rinsed in boiled water. I plan to get more fruits and veggies today soon. The vendors love to see an “obruni” (white person) coming, so I have let someone else help me for now.
All construction is concrete block on the exterior and wall board interior. The wiring runs on the outside of the walls and is held against the walls by some type of fasteners. Floors seem to be tile or carpet. The plumbing that I have seen is “rough” by our standards. Every faucet seems to drip and some of the connections leak; some gaskets and plumbers tape would work wonders. I have fixed 2 toilets so far—one at the hotel and the one in my bungalow. The grey water at my bungalow runs out into a concrete gutter that encircles the house. These gutters are everywhere.
The country side has lots of vegetation. There are plenty of trees and the earth must be at least somewhat fertile. There are all kinds of plants that I have no idea what they are. I recognize palm trees, banana trees, and different plants that we grow indoors and don’t know the names of. There is a lot of corn in fields.
I will be teaching Calculus 2 (UVM’s Math 22) this semester. I will have all of the second year students (several hundred) but divided into 2 sections. I teach on Wednesday, the first section 7:30 – 10:30 (Alright you lazy bones that hate 8 am classes!) and the second on 12 – 3. The students do not have texts, so they will need to get everything from me. I will even need to write the homework on the board which is a marker board.
Weather… Is been partly cloudy to overcast to light drizzle since I here. The temp seems to hold pretty steady in the 70’s. It is very humid, but not uncomfortable. Sunrise today is 6:00 am and sunset is 6:17. I don’t expect the length of the day to change much this close to the equator. I am wearing summer clothing and am very comfortable. Sam says that the notion that the weather will be horribly hot with blazing sun is a fallacy. I am sure being this close to the sea helps. There is a constant wind blowing; actually the town’s name of Winneba comes from “Windy Bay.”
I left the office early yesterday because the power went out. Sam took me to a fruit/veggie market. I bought 15 oranges for 10,000 cedis, 1 squash, 5 carrots, 5 onions, and a large bundle of a type of green bean (long and skinny) for 15,000, and 4 pow pows (a fruit) for 4,000. I went home and had a pow pow. Not bad. Remember 10,000 cedis is about $1. A coke was 5,500 cedis.
When I got back from my run this morning (Friday), I had no running water. Rats! I used some boiled water to do a sponge bath. I found a security person, who found someone from the Dean of Students Office who said he will contact the campus plumber. I hope I have water when I get home.
I took a walk “down town” Friday and arrived at the fishing port and market. I wish I could describe it. The sounds, sights, and smells were almost over whelming. There were score of wooden boats, many painted in bright colors, in the general shape of a canoe, but much longer. They each cared a dozen or so men. They are pulled, by hand, up on the beach when they are not out in the water. The street or walkway was crowded and women were hawking all kinds of wares. They kept trying to get me to buy fish which were just lying on a table. Ugh! ! It really looked and seemed like what I thought I would see in Africa. I kept saying to myself, “Yes, you really are in Africa.”
If you send me an email, I may not reply. Don’t think I don’t appreciate it, because I really do. Our internet server is dial-up and Reeeeaaaaalllllly slow, so sometimes it isn’t worth the effort. But keep the email coming!
I am in my office at the University of Education, Winneba, Ghana. I arrived Saturday via London after about 28 hours in transit. The trip was not difficult, just long. Immigration was easy. Many men tried to help me hoping for tip, but I successfully played dumb.
Heathrow Airport was interesting. I had breakfast there—egg, pork (link) sausage, back bacon (ham), French fries, grilled tomato, and sautéed mushrooms. Most of the breakfasts also in included baked beans, but I passed on those. I spent much of the time walking around and looking in the many shops. I watched some cricket on the TV, but have no idea what was happening.
I am currently staying at the Windy Lodge which is a “hotel” here in town. My bungalow will be ready tomorrow. Evidently, they always have newcomers stay in a hotel for a few days until they get somewhat accustomed to the area. My room has a queen size bed with 2 pillows and a top sheet. There is a desk and a small sofa. The bathroom does not have hot water, but it does have a large shower. I was moved to a larger room this morning which also has a small refrigerator. Both rooms have a TV, but I can’t make them work.
My first impression off the plane was the smell. It is a wood smoke smell and reminds me a lot of Haiti. For those of you who have been to Haiti, I can say that this is a cleaner and more affluent version. For those who have not, the main roads are paved and in fairly good shape. The secondary roads are dirt and fairly rutted. There are small stalls selling most anything all along the streets. People are walking in the roads, but there are many cars, mostly taxis ! and a few private cars. The cars are constantly passing each other with horns blowing.
I have had breakfast both mornings at the hotel. Both days have been egg and bread. The eggs are fried and almost like an omelet. Yesterday’s had onion in it and today it was onion and peppers. The bread is toasted lightly and is a whole grain but light. Yesterday I had tea, but today I hade milo which is a hot chocolate drink. Good.
Lunch yesterday was with Sam’s family (Sam is the connection between UVM and UEW). We went to a “fast food” restaurant and ate outside under a shelter. I had chicken and potato chips—fried chicken leg/thigh, French fries, and a cabbage/carrot salad that had a sweet/sour flavor. Dinner was at the hotel. I tried chicken stew and boiled yam. The stew was very spicy and the yams somewhat bland.
The weather has been fine and, as I understand it, typical of this time of the year. The temperature is in the 70’s and it is somewhat humid. I have not been in the sun much, but it does not seem brutal. It has been partly over cast both days. I have been quit commfortable. The ubiquitous ceiling fans help tremendously. I have brought my hat with me to the office both days, but haven’t used it. The town’s name of Winneba comes from the words “Windy Bay;” there seems! to always be a pretty good breeze blowing.
For the record, we are currently 4 hours ahead of Vermont time. London is 5 hours ahead, but I think they do daylight savings and Ghana does not. I suspect that we will be on the same time as London after daylight savings ends. We are almost due south of Greenwich England, so we should be on Greenwich Time.
Ran through more rural area this am. Homes vary from huts to very elaborate. Many chickens and goats in the area. There are also lots of kids (goat) around; they must have been born rather recently. Roosters have awakened me every morning and I hear them from my office. Not a familiar sound at UVM.
Last modified September 18 2007 06:53 PM