Friday, February 27, 2009

Food comes from Somewhere

One thing that being here has taught me is that food comes from somewhere. It doesn't come wrapped in cellophane from supermarket shelves or mysteriously appear in a box or can. People who have grown up on farms understand this, but most people these days are city dwellers or suburban residents and so it is easy to forget.

Our neighbor downstairs told me that the turkey I naively named Henry because he gobbles away every morning is to be Easter dinner for his children when they come home from boarding school. So now when I hear the crow of the rooster outside our window at 4 AM (dueling roosters actually, one in front and one in back), I resign myself, as I know that he is soon to be some one's Sunday dinner.

The fish we eat at lunch were caught by the some of the hundreds of fishermen and women that I see lining the beach at Elmina. In the morning, you can see the fishermen floating in log canoes about 500 yards off shore - casting their huge blue nets. Later in the afternoon, families begin to arrive with pails and basins perched on their heads to help with the catch. They sit in the palm groves until it's time to haul in the net, long lines of people tugging on a single rope in unison. Afterward, everyone helps with cleaning the fish. Some of the fish get salted and dried in the sun on large bamboo racks and some may be sold fresh. I know this because I saw them. So no matter how attached I get to the little goats in the pen by our clothesline, I know they have a practical and life-giving purpose. We are immersed in and surrounded by that which sustains us.

The problem is... I love those goats. They are tiny...and cute. They have an overbite. They are curious. They hold my gaze when I look at them as if to say, “Where's my dinner?” or “Would you pass me some of that elephant grass over there?” The white goat had tiny white twins but one died. The black goat had had her kid in the week before we came. A tiny soft gray new creature with a black stripe down its back, you can hear the baby goat's “me-e-e-e-e-” when it's time to eat.

As we walked through the market yesterday there was a man half leading, half carrying a shaggy brown goat up the road. He had fashioned a rope out of twisted rushes and made a halter lead from it. He was walking along quickly and purposefully. When the goat veered off course, the man never broke his stride, but just picked him up by his “handle” and set him back down along his path. Goats roam free here, even in the city, so seeing the goat restrained in this way was unusual. Craig said, “That's the last you'll see of that goat.” I realized he was right. The man was taking him into the market to be sold or killed and dressed so his family could eat.

I am not a vegetarian, so I have to accept that this is where my food comes from. But it changes my perspective. Animals, albeit not willingly, give up their lives so we can eat. Craig said something that comes to my mind as I fret about this. When you say grace over a meal, you are thanking the Creator, but you are also thanking the creature that gave its life so we could have food. There is the price I paid for the food at the grocery store. But there is another price more important to remember – a much higher price paid by the animal. So there is great sadness and at the same time so much gratitude - one with the other, inseparable if we are to be honest. And why should we be otherwise? So when I say grace over a meal – not only do I thank the Creator of all things, but I remember His creature and acknowledge its life, understanding that it is by God and the world He created I am sustained.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


The new word in our vocabulary is Fanta, the fizzy drink in a bottle or a can visible at a hundred yards due to its neon orange color. I'm not sure how they get that color and I'm not sure I want to know, but to a traveling person with traveling problems, if you get my drift, Fanta is a Godsend. Where nothing else appeals to the appetite, the libation holds powerful curative properties. Having an almost mesmerizing attraction for us, we dole out the magical elixir in small doses like medicine and it never ceases to deliver on the promise of a settled tummy, if for only a little while. It has become the cure-all for everything, sort of like Windex, but better tasting. In fact, few things send Craig into transports of joy like Fanta.

On the look-out for Fanta, Craig spotted the first bottle on a foray into Cape Coast. A touristy cafe advertised drinks. As we looked over the menu, we spotted the cases of empty Fanta bottles stacked by the door. On inquiring we discovered that yes, indeed, Fanta was on the menu. We decided we'd split one because of the sugar whallop, but that was a great drink-cold where nothing else was and hydrating for the moment. We drank our Fanta with the obligatory straw and finished it off in nothing flat, returning the empty bottle to join its mates in the case by the door. We never even sat down.

Since then I've discovered a tiny shop outside the gates that sells the drink, but I've cleaned her out for the moment. The guard at the school gate said one of the students sells Fanta as a side-line, but I haven't seen any Fanta selling students yet. Nancy, our wonderful Matron produced 7 bottles miraculously one day. We have been rationing those bottles for our last week here in Cape Coast.

I wonder if Fanta counts as a fruit. Sort of like ketchup counts as a vegetable.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Polyester is for shopping bags

I've written a lot about the heat. There are many things more worth mentioning, but there is nothing more stressful for us in adapting to our physical surroundings. And you have to learn to adapt to your physical surroundings before you can do much else, so please forgive the frequent obsession with the heat in the blog. It's great to hear from you all and we appreciate the encouragement and sometimes even the smiling faces on the blog follower photos!

So far I haven't worn many of the things I brought. Granted, I didn't expect to need the turtleneck five degrees north of the equator. But I thought that maybe the knit top would work, or the skirt. Let's face it, so far my wardrobe planning has been a disaster. Now I'm not willing to pan it completely – we still have 3/4ths of the way to go, but I think the writing is on the wall... I should have listened to my brother. He said no matter what you do, you'll forget something. Well how about everything. It wasn't so much about forgetting as about choosing the wrong things. Even the non-cotton red and black dress I brought won't work here because in Ghana, you only wear red and black to funerals...... on Saturdays. So if I wore that dress, which I wouldn't, on a week day people would look at me oddly and if I wore it on a Saturday, they would ask me who died.

I've analyzed the problem. There were two failures here. The first was a failure of imagination on my part. I never imagined that I could be this uncomfortable all the time in clothes that I had worn with great comfort in fairly warm weather. The second and most important miscalculation was made in ignorance. I had no idea how important it was that clothing be able to breathe and wick moisture away from your body. I knew cotton was preferable in the heat, but I had no idea how critical it was. I now know that polyester and nylon are the enemy and should be reserved for shopping bags and sailboat sheets.

Students here wear full length white cassocks to class and to services, morning, noon, and night. Faculty teach in them. Indeed faculty sometimes leave campus in them when they go to take care of their churches. They are much more comfortable if they are made of cotton. No washing machines, either. They are immaculately clean and white, and it's all done by hand.

I went in search of cotton clothing on my first day in Cape Coast. I found an overpriced and not very flattering blouse and an equally unflattering granny skirt. I should have been tipped off about the blouse. I entered the only air conditioned store I have been to in Cape Coast, then or since. The racks were distinctly Euro looking. I bought Craig a cotton Ghanaian shirt whose repeating stamped design was a word, a symbol really, that I was told meant “freely given” I thought that sounded alright. But when Craig put it on, our two jolly flat mates, members of the faculty here, intimated it might have something more to do with “Luv” than any pretty idea or altruism. Oh well, we're cool now.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The rain here is nothing compared to the rain in Cameroon

I saw a pillar of water the other day.

It was night actually– about 1 AM and I knew it was raining. It was the sound that woke me up. Over the whir of our ceiling fan, the sound was not the patter pat of drops hitting the ground, but the hiss of water poured from a bucket. The rain came as a welcome relief from the previous two days of punishing heat and humidity. The sky simply couldn't hold any more water, so when the sun set and the air cooled, down the rain came in a torrent. There was no wind blowing to distract the water from its headlong trip to the earth. Straight and quick as an arrow, sheets of rain came down. Not a drop of rain hit the sill, so mercifully we did not have to close the windows. The only thing we could see was the street lamp outside our window, its shape lost, but its light diffused to a vague orange glow.

I crossed to the back of the flat to look in the opposite direction and saw dimly and at quite a distance from the building, a pillar of water standing straight and disappearing into the night sky. It didn't move, but sort of scintillated in the light cast from our window. It was just puzzling enough that I woke up a bit, moving to another window to get a better look. I hoped the downpour wasn't hurting the animals in the pen below, the new mama goat and her kid, the chickens and the turkey and his mate. After I had ascertained that the column of water was well off to the side, I concentrated on the source of the strange sight.

Now I've seen downspouts before, but they usually run down the end of a building, depositing their water in a drain or onto a back splash that leads the water away from the foundation. When it rains at home, there is a pleasant gurgle of water running down from the roof gutters, but there was no way one of my downspouts could handle this rain. The only thing I could figure is that in this part of the world, they didn't bother with the “down” part of the downspout. Water from the roof collected in channels that launched the rain like a water cannon far into the night. While the rain was heavy, the water acted like a stream suspended between the spout and the earth. The next day as I was coming back from the hill, I noticed the long spidery spouts sticking far out from the roof like the naked spines of a blown umbrella. I hadn't noticed them before.

After all the excitement, I went back to bed and for the first time here, I needed covers. The following day was cooler and breezy. I was glad to know that such a day could come. The students, although happy for the relief, began recalling how a month ago it had gotten as low as the 70's and everyone fussed that they weren't equipped for the cold. It had happened during the Harmattan - the dry hot wind that comes from the Sahara bringing with it hot days and cool nights. I thought of Samuel and his first overcoat and everyone back home in February weather....

A day or two later we were talking with some teachers. They said the rain here was nothing compared to the rain in Cameroon..

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


The first thing many Ghanaians say when they come back to Ghana is, "I really missed fufu."  Like mashed potatoes or biscuits and gravy, fufu is comfort food and the only ones who can make it right are those who love it as much as you do.  If you saw a portion of fufu you might think someone had made bread dough and placed the satiny ball in an over sized bowl to rise before baking.  In southern Ghana, a "light soup" is poured over the top and fufu sits in its bowl like a rotund butter colored island rising up through the lake of fragrant stew.   

Eating comfort food in Ghana is no different from eating comfort food at home and even the most proper Ghanaians eat fufu with their fingers.  I think this is to honor the way that it is made and its status as home cooking -like fried chicken or chips and salsa or corn on the cob.  Before the fufu is eaten, a bowl of water is passed for rinsing the fingers of your eating hand.  Then you pinch off a bit of the fufu, scooping up some of the stew with it.  Some of the stew is absorbed by the fufu, so at the end all is finished.  

The making of fufu takes special equipment and teamwork. Fufu is made with a large mortar and pestle. The pestle is made from a tree limb or sapling about as tall as a person and as big around as can be comfortably grasped by an adult hand.  The pole is smooth, stripped of its bark and pounded on one end to look like a frayed mushroom cap.  This is the end that crushes and mashes the vegetables into just the right consistency, working them until the dough sticks together and forms a smooth ball. The mortar is a large flat bottomed bowl mounted on a low stand.  One person, standing above the mortar, pounds cooked wedges of cassava and chunks of plantain together with the pole while a second person sitting on a low stool next to the mortar moves the vegetables around the bowl in between strokes.  As the vegetables turn to paste the person sitting next to the bowl gathers and folds the dough, adding water as needed, until the mass turns into the smooth dense food ready to be called fufu.  The person sitting beside the bowl has only a tiny window of time to stir the dough before the beating stick comes down again.

Making fufu takes teamwork--and not your ordinary teamwork.  The person making the fufu is most often the woman in charge of making the meal.  The person pounding the dough is often a son or husband, student or helper happy to help with its creation.  There is a great deal of trust between the person folding the dough and the person pounding with the pestle.  The strokes are not anemic.  They are full of force and once begun are irretrievable.  If the stick isn't brought down in the same spot or in an even rhythm, there is danger of crushing the fingers of the person folding the dough.  Yet if the stick were not brought down sharply, it would take forever to make something that already takes awhile to make.  So together the pounder and the folder develop a rhythm and a functional trust, stopping occasionally to rest.  

Like many simple things we do in life, there is often a lesson within them. We share and trust every day. But the sharing and the trusting are so woven into the fabric of our life we are unaware of them. Seeing them in the light of an unfamiliar activity makes me think.  Sharing and trusting in most cases is incomplete. We share only so much as we can afford without discomfort. We trust only to the degree that we are willing to expose ourselves to risk of a bad consequence. So when we do not share, are not trusting or are not worthy of trust, we are perhaps made uneasy, but the cause of the unease may not be obvious. Surrounded by familiar things and routines, the chinks in our armor are not easy to see. They are lost in the gloss of the unremarkable routine surrounding them.

But when I see one person risk having her fingers crushed, trusting the person holding the pestle not to falter or mis-aim, the consequence of a mismatch between trust and fear is direct and clear. I know it's only fufu, but it makes me think about what complete trust in God might look like.  If my life with God is a work in progress, and if God will never falter, why should I snatch my hand away too quickly? What do I risk by mistrusting? Moving from familiar surroundings to an unfamiliar place, the hows and the whys of life aren't so obvious. Yet in our relationships we all recognize joy and can point to it. Maybe joy is in the life of freedom God gives us to trust him completely without worrying, to work with God at making a life without fear.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ama Comes out of her Shoes

February 15th, the Second Sunday before Lent, Elmina

Ama was born on a Saturday. In Ghana everybody has a day-name. I was born on a Saturday, so my day-name is Ama. We are twins, except that I am almost a half century older than she is. Ama is a slip of a girl.  At 7 or 8, she is the youngest of five children.   She has the inquisitive and winning smile of her father and the beauty and graciousness of her mother.

The first time I saw Ama, she was playing with her brother and sister. Standing on the wall in the shade of her back porch calling after them, the impression I had and still have of Ama is one of perpetual motion. Not fidgety or anxious, she is weightless like a feather. Unlike a feather, she has direction and purpose, not all of it clear. There is some internal spirit rather than logic that moves Ama, She moves without regard to the ground under her feet and that is why she comes out of her shoes.

There was the time she and her sister carried an impossibly heavy aluminum wash basin full of wash water by its handles from the front of the house to the back porch. Stopping every 10 yards or so to rest and giggle, they finally neared their goal. Once Ama reached the cement, her feet lifted out of her sandals without breaking the rhythm of her steps. I didn't see them come off; one second they were on, and the next they weren't. That was all. Her will and and the momentum of her load propelled her forward and the sandals were holding her back. So they stayed there atop the earth, each sandal a memory of a girl who, rather than wearing them, had passed through them on her way. When she reached the safety of the smooth cement of her porch, she didn't need them really, except to protect from stones.

Craig and I are staying with the faculty and students at here during our month in Ghana. The seminary is a haven like Ama's back porch where we are known and where we can come to know not only the students and faculty, but a culture and way of life unfamiliar to us. As Craig teaches and as we venture into the town, we learn more and more. Many times we learn by being disabused of our assumptions. Although everyone here is here to learn and teach, it is the layer underneath our common pursuit from which we learn the most. We are child-like in that we do not understand the timing and phrasing of words, the distance between people, the seriousness of small things, and irrelevance of big ones. It is those things that make us conscious of how fast we at home move and how we barely listen to one another. How we are only loosely connected to our families by Ghanaian standards and there are few ties to bind us to the place where we were born.

I hope that one day Craig and I will be seen not so much as the foreigners in the midst of them, but that the momentum of our common burden will propel us forward and we, like Ama, will simply come out of our shoes.

Friday, February 13, 2009

It's not Walmart

Where Americans are used to large stores full of shelves stocked with an infinite variety of shiny new merchandise, Ghanaians shop in streets full of open air markets packed with an infinite variety of tiny stalls. Carts parked on the sidewalks make it difficult to walk there so the crowds walk on the roadway dodging honking taxis. I love the carts that sell used shoes hung on strings falling like a beaded curtain - each shoe unique -brightly colored high heels, neon colored sequined sneakers, and sandals all blowing in the breeze. The markets continue everywhere you look. A red dirt street off to the right is lined as far as the eye can see with farmers sitting next to their sacks and piles of green hued oranges. Further down the street, we see glimpses of market tables and awnings covered with food through an eyelet of an opening between two 19th century stone buildings. As we pass through the slot, a narrow path winds between stalls packed so claustrophobically close together that their roofs touch overhead. The women sit with their wares. Some of them smile at us, some ignore us or speak Twi which we can't understand. As we thread our way along, 3 children run headlong and laughing around our legs out toward the eyelet opening through which we had entered. At every turn, grain and beans, meat and vegetables, brilliant red palm nuts and pale yellow fragrant parched corn are mounded or stacked or spread out to sell. We come to a fork in the path. One way leads deeper into the bazaar and the other back to the street by a different way than we had come. A woman resting her head on the table in front of her never moves. Her wood and burlap display is covered with palm nuts so brilliantly red and purple they seemed magnetic.

I was feeling the heat and sun so Craig and I made for the street. The pressing, riotous profusion of smells and colors gave way to the relative calm and openness of the street. I hadn't realized how still the air in the bazaar was until we were out on the sidewalk again. Craig was ready to keep walking through the city, one thing making him more curious for the next. I told Craig I was done. Too much sun, too much heat and not enough water... We flagged a Taxi to take us the mile and a half back to the Seminary. Eventually we got there but not before we had gone to the wrong part of the city, had a 5 minute discussion with 3 perfect strangers, one of whom was able to understand us and explained our needs to the driver. I'm not sure if the driver was irritated or if he was just trying to get some breeze going in the car, but the weaving darting taxi ride back to the Seminary would have made a New York Taxi driver proud.

The Mighty Wind

The electricity went out this afternoon. I looked up and the ceiling fan just got slower and slower. I was out the door to tell Agoage before it came to a stop. All I could think was, "I can't live without a ceiling fan."

Today was a scorcher, even for Ghana. The man who never goes without his shirt went without his shirt. The fellows who never wear shorts wore shorts. Everything just seemed to sag or scorch in the heat. Even our friend Jared (yes, the one from the Bayous of Louisiana) who came over from Salt Pond with his friend Lashawnda was looking a tetch peaked. He had been volunteering in the Seminary's computer lab trying to update their systems. There is no air conditioning, so the temperature is made hotter by the machines, with only the ceiling fan and windows to cool things off. He came over to the flat to visit. He didn't look well. He worried me. He said they were going to splurge and stay in Elmina that night in a place that had air conditioning and a pool. I think he will probably get in that pool and never come out.

As for the humidity, I'll make it simple: I was making a pattern. I creased a piece of newspaper. When I opened out the paper to cut along the crease, I couldn't find it. Enough said.

So Craig and I went seeking breeze. We found it on the back porch of the school kitchen. The kitchen sits on top of the Seminay hill. From the cement porch, the openly forested hillside falls away steeply for about 50 yards to a lagoon. It's covered with tropical plants, trees and vines, along with litter, some chickens, and and a grey waste water drain. A mighty wind blows up that hillside off the water and through the trees cooling and drying whoever stands at the top. So we stood there, sort of spreading our arms like an Anhinga spreads its wings. Then we simply sat on the wall. Children played on the back porch. A few of the students were sitting nearby in the shade of the doorway to the recreation hall/garage. After awhile we got up and started walking back to our flat. As we walked back down the hill, it got slightly warmer. All of a sudden I noticed I was walking alone. Craig had stopped about 12 yards behind me. I said, "You're going back, aren't you?" He didn't say anything but he was looking a little wistful. We turned around and back we went for one more dose of coolness.

When we got back to the flat, I opened the door with trepidation, expecting to see a motionless fan. But wonder of wonders, it was spinning away.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Door of No Return

Today we went to Elmina Castle, where many of the slaves traded to the Americas and Europe made there last stop on the African continent. To get to the castle we drove along a touristy stretch of palm lined beach road. Perched at the end of a sandy point, the sun-baked whitewashed castle that seemed more like part of the land mass than a building. Entrance to the 3 story castle was made by going through an archway at the end of a drawbridge over a now-dry moat. The breezy entry hall let to an open courtyard. High bright white walls rose up around the brick and stone pavement. Stairs and the dark shadows of windows and doors pierced the walls at regular intervals. In front of us were the doorways to the warehouses. The stairs to the second floor mounted up in one corner and led to the living and working areas for the free occupants of the Castle. The spacious Governor's apartment was perched on the third floor, getting the best breeze and view from the ocean.

The Portugese built Elmina castle after finding the area fertile trading ground for ivory and gold. Elmina actually means "'The Mines" in a vernacular corruption of the Portugese, referring to the gold discovered here. As first the Portugese, then the Dutch and then the English passed through Elmina Castle, each left their mark on the building and on the people. All of them were businessmen. As profit from one commodity was outstripped by another, the more lucrative commodity, slaves, attracted traders both from within West African Society and from Europe and the Americas. As there was no money, slaves were commonly created by intertribal warfare. Captives could be sold to the European traders for desirable goods brought in on the boats. When there weren't enough war captives to sell, African traders basically "minted" more trading power by raiding other villages and capturing people to sell.

The Elmina dungeons held 1000 souls, many of whom died before ever seeing the boat. So the warehouses that once held ivory and gold became warehouses that held human beings who had been stripped of their freedoms, their comfort, and often, their life. I say "held" because I lack the word to describe what must have been. The mens' dungeon was grim enough, but the smell in the womens' dungeon is still so strong that, as our guide paused to speak, I could not stand inside it.

Every two months the boat would come. The slaves would be herded out through the narrow "Door of No Return" onto a flooded bit of beach at high tide into waiting rowboats. When the slaves boarded the sailing ship, they were shackled to the floor of the hold both by their arms and legs. Many died on the trans-Atlantic trip. Those who survived were thought to be stronger and more fit for work.

There was one sight which gave me hope. As we walked through the dungeons toward the "Door of No Return," I saw some wreaths propped against the opposite wall. One was a pink heart shaped wreath, the other a darker roundish wreath. The wreaths looked like a couple, one a girl and one a boy. The guide told us these were placed here not for those who died, but by those who came back. The descendants of Africans who were carried to other shores have been coming back to Ghana, and when they do, they walk back through the "Door of No Return." They walk back into the darkness from the beach where their ancestors were taken away. And against that wall they place a wreath of remembrance and homecoming.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Don't Look Down

Today we went to Kakum National Park about 33 miles north of Cape Coast.  They have the only canopy walk in Africa according to our guide book.  I think the guidebook is old.  We considered our options when we got to the Park headquarters - Nature walk for 4 hours or canopy walk for 1 hour.  It was about 11 AM, the average humidity there is 90%, and the temperature was in the high 80's or low 90's.  Hmmm.  Let me think.  We took the canopy walk.  We also had to consider the kindness of the dean who had lent us his (air conditioned) truck and driver for the trip.  So the shorter session  seemed better all around.  

Except for height thing.

Walking on a rope bridge slung between the tops of the rainforest trees was a little intimidating.  After walking on seven of them, you get to feel like an old hand.  There's always that first wobble when you step off the platform, and the wobble just before you get back up to the next platform ....I learned to step down slowly and not to panic in the middle when the whole thing swayed.  The trick, the guide told us, was to put one foot in front of the other.  He said, "if you don't like heights, don't look down. "  Jared, a young man from Louisiana visiting Ghana for the first time was with us.  He is an outdoorsman and mountaineer.  He made everything look easy, but he was gracious enough not to make us feel like old fogies.  

Being in the tree tops was amazing.  On one huge tree there was an I-95 of ants.  They were very orderly, staying to the right on the way up and on the way down.  It was a long trip for the ants as the trees can get to be 60 or 70 meters tall.  They live in the branches and go to the forest floor to get food and water.  

All in all I'm glad I went.  The views were breathtaking. I felt brave for having done it and I learned something about this lovely country we are visiting.  Watching Craig as he moved along the walkways just looking around was good to see.  We got lots of pictures.  It's time for Compline now.  We've been away for a week, but it seems like a long time...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


(From Saturday, February 7th, sometimes I don't have internet)

Father Joseph took us to one of his villages. Its name is Donkoto. The name means "All is Love" in Twi, the Ashanti language in the area. We traveled about 2 hours west of Kumasi along an amazingly good road, turning off onto red dirt roads for about 20 minutes before we arrived. This is where the road ended. The village is small, having no electricity. The women take turns pumping water from a well in the middle of town. The village is a poor farming village, growing oranges, plantains, and cocoa. There is an old broken down church in the middle of town which was the first Anglican church in these parts, having been built in 1927. The foundation shifted and one wall fell in. The Anglican church runs a school in the town, but not all children attend school. Some cannot afford even the free school. Some people just don't send their children. The Anglican church puts schools in many many places where there would otherwise be none and most Anglican priests are school administrators as well as pastors and worship leaders.

We went to see the Chief of the village led there by Joseph and accompanied by all the men and women who greeted us and about 30 very excited children. I had our new camera around my neck and was taking lots of pictures, which they really liked. We sat with the chief. The first thing Ghanaians want to know is "Why have you come?" This is very basic. Fr. Joseph explained that we were trying to learn about Ghana and West Africa. I don't know what else he said because the group that had gathered was speaking Twi, but the gist was that the village needed help, especially a laptop computer. This town will not have electricity for several years, so I don't know how they were planning to charge it, but since this is Ghana, I'm sure they will find a way. Ghanaians don't worry about potential problems, they just solve them as they go along. We gave the chief a bookmark from the national cathedral and an Obama button. It wasn't what he wanted, but Joseph talked to him and encouraged him. All the need made us feel the inequalities between us and the people of the village.

Joseph gave the villiage money for cement and sand to help rebuild their church. He had given them some Cedis to buy a load of sand, and part of our purpose in coming today was to make sure the sand had been delivered. Today Joseph gave them money for 9 bags of cement, saying "They just need a little encouragement." With the sand and cement they can begin to make blocks for the church. I asked him how much it would cost to make the whole building. He said, "about 10,000 Cedis (about 7,500 dollars.) I realized that 10 of my cameras could have paid for a whole church. I try not to get overwhelmed.  Maybe the photos from the camera can help do just that.  

Make a Joyful Noise

I have awoken this morning as I have for last two mornings to the sound of Morning Services being said and sung by the students in the chapel of the seminary. The hymns are sung from the psalter, so you have to remember the melody, but no one will notice if you make a mistake because they are accompanied by drums and tamborines. The rhythms are unfamiliar and the cadence very rapid but the songs are sung with joy.

The community of St. Nicholas is an island of peace in a hectic and crowded world, serving not only the Church in Ghana, but Togo, Cameron, Nigeria, and other countries as well. 40 students and 5 full time faculty, along with some visiting faculty live and work here. They are mostly men, with 2 women, one of whom lived in Alexandria, Virginia for some time. The students wear cassocks to class and to services even in this heat, and live a very disciplined life, going to lecture all day after Morning mass, ending with Evening prayer and Compline almost every day. The students are happy this month because the dean excused them from Evening prayers on Tuesdays and Thursdays while Craig and I are here so that Craig could give a series of Lectures on those evenings. Last night was his first lecture. The topic was "Virtue Ethics" which is a really interesting and quite ancient way of doing ethics. He taught for an hour or more, explaining the ethic's history and content in a clear and accessible way that I really enjoyed. I see him preach all the time, but never get to hear him teach, so this was a real treat. You think you know everything about someone..

Today we go to visit one of the national forests. There is another American named Jared from Louisiana who is visiting in a near by town and he will come with us. The Dean has arranged for someone to drive us and show us around. We are very fortunate to be so well cared for.

It is already heating up and the sun is not even up yet . I hear the ending hymns, which means I better get up. Things start early around here. The noise of the service resounds loudly in this part of the town, waking the roosters by the kitchen and the turkey in the pens under our bathroom window. Both began crowing and gobbling as soon as the first drum beats sounded about an hour ago. The turkey will gobble all day long. I've named him Henry, since he seems to be part of every conversation I have. "Hi, how are you? (gobble)"

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Accra to Kumasi

(From February 5th, 6th, and 7th) As we were flying I couldn't help but think of what it must have been like to travel in other times. Where our flight took 14 hours, steamships took 4 days to cross the Atlantic. Passengers had more time to interact, things were less cramped. An effort was made to make the trip pleasant. The space between where you left and where you were going was measured in time of days, not hours. Four days of looking at a landless ocean made the time difference less relevant. Travelers had four days to get accustomed to the idea that they were in the midst of change, having left one place and anticipating the new territory ahead. I imagine the process was much the same as it was for us, of packing and leaving, arriving and reorienting. Just slower.

We arrived in Accra on the night of the 5th late in the evening. Hot and Humid even at 11 PM, the weather made us feel ridiculous carrying our overcoats as we steered our way through customs. The ATM didn't work, the forex was closed, but no matter. As we passed out of the terminal onto the sidewalk we saw a crush of people lined up against barricades, some holding signs with the names of passengers. We were hoping to find our sign soon, which we did. Joseph our friend had waited a long time with his driver Assemoi to meet us at the airport. He said "I thought you were not coming!" I'm glad he waited. Various people took our bags, not all of them invited, expecting to be rewarded for touching the suitcase. I just ducked and ran (slowly) It was a little overwhelming. Joseph installed us at our hotel and arranged to meet us the following morning for the trip to Kumasi.

The following morning we packed our bags and began the long drive north to Kumasi, a city of about 2 million. I don't know if there is a stop light in either Accra or Kumasi. I haven't seen one, or if I did, no one was paying any attention to it. The road from Accra to Kumasi is under construction and crowded, so ramps lead to short sections of paved road with redirected traffic and pavement gives way to packed red dirt road pitted with ruts and bumps. Miles and many jangled nerves later we were out of the construction and on a reasonable section of road which periodically disappeared again into construction zones and rutted dirt roadbed. We stopped and ate when we were half way to Kumasi. We were overjoyed to land in our hotel near the Stadium. We never did get hot water in the bathroom. Cold water never felt so good!

The next morning, Joseph told us that the Trinity Church Foundation was sponsoring a consultation of African Bishops and we were to go and be observers. The Diocese of Kumasi and Bishop Sarfo were the hosts for the conference. We arrived, sitting behind the King of the Ashanti's son in traditional dress. There were representatives of Trinity Church in the US, an order of nuns from Ghana, their Prioress from England, representatives of the womens' organizations of the Diocese. And of course, there were Bishops from all over Africa, one of them from Kenya. We spoke of Samuel and found that the Bishop had seen Samuel on his St Peter's motorbike. He was well. It's a small world.

Suspended Animation

(From February 5th) I'm sitting in terminal 5 at Heathrow airport. We've had a remarkably pleasant if cramped flight over the Atlantic fromWashington. As we boarded I was dismayed to walk by the comfortable looking sleeping couches on the way to my coach seat. British Airways tries to elevate coach class by calling it "World Traveler." We had the window and middle seat in a bank of three across. We slept because it was night time. Also because we had wine with dinner. The little TV screen in front of me kept me informed of our loacation, altitude, speed, time and outside temperature. I found that comforting. Trying to keep your wits about you is tough on a trip. We kept our watch on Washington time so we could keep schedule of our medicine times. It was a good point of reference and reminder of the great distances we were traveling. It was odd to me to think that the trip to London and the trip to Accra take the same amount of time but in only one case does the time change (Accra is straight south of London)

Before we left and during the flight I noticed so many different languages and manners of dress - not a big deal for Washington, but it still struck me. What struck me was the thought that when you're traveling away from your own country, the playing field levels. The status of "traveler" supercedes any other citizenship. For the moment, everyone is a citizen of the plane. Everyone's status is changing from native to visitor or visitor to native. The state of traveling is a state of change. Change that can take hours, weeks, or months depending on your technology. If you're Scottie, seconds. For some it takes a lifetime.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Oh my goodness. How do you pack a life into 3 suitcases? Editing has never been my forte. Editing has never been a gift that either of us possess. Amazingly enough, trips are one of the things that allows us to edit pretty well. There is a clearly defined period of time for which to plan. There are specific places to visit. There's not a lot of time to waste. You don't get bored. The only plan is a short term plan. What a relief! However, 4 months is verging on the long term, hence my trepidation. I guess if I think of it as 2 two month trips, it will seem less indeterminate. Still have to pack those suitcases, though.

Another thing about leaving a life behind, even for a few days, is the feeling of a fresh start, a life unencumbered by the routine and "stuff" in our lives. Instead of wondering what to keep, what to save and what to give away, you just leave your stuff. Kind of like dying, except you get to come back. The same thing goes for worries. Either you took care of them the best you could, you don't have time to think about them, there's nothing you can do about them, or they don't matter as much as you thought they did.

So if you don't have your stuff and you don't have your worries, what is left? Adventure, I hope. And probably new stuff.

Well, I better get back to packing.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Well, it's almost here. We leave February 4th on British Airways, landing in Accra. After a day to recover, we'll be going to Kumasi, then Cape Coast. After a month in Ghana, we leave for London on the 4th of March. It will be a busy month with lots to learn about and do. We've put ourselves in the hands of our friend Joseph whose message was to trust in the Lord saying, "All will be well." That is a deceptively difficult lesson to learn.

The title of the first 2 months of our trip is The Triangle of Hope. It is a play on the "Triangle of Despair," a term used to describe the trade routes between west Africa, the Americas, and England. Cargo ships carried humans sold into slavery, sugar, tobacco, cotton, and manufactured goods, trading between port cities such as Cape Coast, in west Africa, Richmond, Virginia, in the US and Liverpool, England. We will be traveling in a different century and in a different world along the same route seeking to learn and understand about those worlds - the old and the new. Along the way we hope to forge friendships both for ourselves, but also for the Diocese of Virginia and St. Peters.

The people of St. Peters gave us a wonderful send - off with food from each country we'll be visiting. A travel kit that should be the envy of the world and many wonderful gifts came from parishioners. Craig and I are deeply grateful for all the support and friendship at St. Peter's and we hope to represent you well and learn much to tell you when we return. Along the way, I'll use this blog to post news and pictures and ruminate a bit.