Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bookbinding and thoughts on the nature of knowledge

My interest in bookbinding began when I noticed the uniformity and condition of the books I saw on our visit to the Trinity College Library in Oxford.

This week we went to Dublin and saw the book of Kells. The Book of Kells is a 9th century manuscript of the four Gospels illuminated by Irish monks. Simultaneously the prize and plunder of epic conflicts in Ireland, the book survived, having been given finally to Trinity College in Dublin for safekeeping. Along with the 4 books themselves, there was a display of the art of bookmaking and binding. As part of the exhibit there was a wonderful video of a book being bound. The process of making a book was the product of many skills. Binding the book, preparation of the materials like leather and glue, twine and paper, and the preparation of print, ink, plates and the putting together of the quires were all separate activities performed by skilled crafts persons and each craft evolved its own set of skills.

For this part of our trip, the old travel narratives, both their content and their form as books were to be the focus. What we learned was that the meaning of books seemed to arise and dissolve with the times and the cultures they inhabited. Books were a way of organizing and transmitting knowledge. The limits of the technology of bookmaking formed the limits of the way we organized and diffused knowledge. (The knowledge could only go as far as the book could travel.) In cultures that evolved in the age of the book, the diffusion of knowledge depended on the availability of scholars and their books. The book was precious because it contained knowledge, and without the book, the knowledge was lost.

These days knowledge - some kinds anyway - travels without covers and without paper or ink. The limits of bookmaking technology no longer apply. The development of content and the imprimatur of peer reviewed scholarship is still done "the old fashioned way" but it is as if the content of books themselves have escaped their covers and scattered, exposing the nature of knowledge to a larger society. Where books and therefore knowledge once seemed finite and distant, a different understanding of knowledge has evolved with time. The big secret is out. Knowledge can be created and it can change.

We have come a long way from the bookbinders.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dublin or Why musicians are special

We decided to go to Dublin.

Every time we have thought about taking a "big" trip we tarry around the idea of Dublin or Ireland. The romance of it is almost irresistible. The contrast of the sheep-dotted fields of green grass and the low stone walls so close to the ocean and its pitiless wind just rings in the mind like the minor chord in a song that pulls at your heart strings. And we've long loved Irish music.

Our friends Bill and Dodie came from Cambridge, (Mass). They stayed in Oxford for a few days visiting with us out in "the country" and making forays into Oxford on a regular basis. Once "the boys" got Dublin in their sites, Bill and Craig were lured by the Chester Beatty Library (the home of the some of oldest known fragments of the gospels), the Book of Kells, and the promise of some awesome Pints in some awesome Pubs in the city where, if popular legend is to be believed, God invented Pints and Pubs.

That and the 29 pound sail/rail deal. For 29 pounds you could take the train to Holyhead and catch the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin. It sounded so easy.

For the return trip, the taxi driver we called for 6:45 AM came as requested. We told him the tale of our many connections on our way back to the ferry. He said, "Why din't ya jest fly? I flew to Manch'ster far 29 Euros the weekend." Granted we saw wonderful countryside, a part we would never have seen had we not gone by land. The train followed the north shore of Wales where we watched the shore turn from stone to sand, saw the sheep grazing in salt meadows, their lambs at their sides. We had a 3 hour ferry crossing over some cold, grey and wind whipped ocean that made me wonder at the courage of sailors. But I was thinking on the way back to the ferry dock that once was maybe enough.

I decided it was all worth it though because of the "Session." We went to dinner at a Pub called the "Brazen Head" on the South side of the Liffey River that flows through the heart of Dublin. Reputed to be its oldest pub, it was a few blocks from the apartment we had rented with our friends. We walked along sidewalks and over a bridge, the river on one shoulder and the city traffic on the other. We spotted the place and ducked in the doorway to find a pub with a bar, 6 or 8 small dark tables surrounded by low stools and red upholstered benches along the walls. We ordered our meals and a round of pints, glad to be warm, out of the wind, and together. Our plates arrived, their fashionably over sized diameter making it impossible to get four of them on our table without offsetting their centers just a bit.

Just as we were finishing our meal, I saw 2 fellows make their way to the corner table next to ours holding instrument cases and some electrical equipment that looked like small amps and a table microphone. I said to my friends, "This is a very good sign." What followed was the addition of 4 or 5 more musicians, their friends and their equipment who widened the circle to include the corner of our table. The tuning proceeded without too much fuss and when the first note sounded, the pub, already an intimate space, became a gathering of people focused on their muse. After the first bar, the fiddle player set the pace with his heel on the ancient wooden floor. The vibration was catching as it traveled up my leg. I was not alone, as it could be felt by everyone in the room, who, along with the other musicians became part of the music.

Good music doesn't just have a rhythm, it floats you along on a tide of sound over which you have no control. The spoon and the Bodrhan players shape their songs from skin and muscle. The skill and wisdom of the storyteller come from the singer and the song. The humor and heart of all the musicians is evident on their faces and in their music. The volume never oppressive, the music is just loud enough to command attention. When you listen, you can hear the wisdom or longing or the expectation of suffering of a people still here in the midst of life, seeing no contradiction in this. Together, these players, the spoon player, the guitar, mandolin and button box players, the Bodrhan player, the singer and the penny whistle player bore us along with their strength, the work of their hands, their voices and their hearts. Afterward we were not the same as we had been before.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Trinity College Library

Libraries have a mystical hold over Craig. On a tour of Oxford's Trinity College arranged for us by the Chaplain of the college (who happens to be the wife of the principal of Ripon College Cuddesdon where we are staying) we were privileged to learn about the history of the College and to go into Trinity's library and archives. The central quadrangle of buildings of Trinity College, founded by Sir Thomas Pope in the 16th century already existed in the form of Durham College, which from 1286 until the Reformation provided a place of study in Oxford for monks sent from the Benedictine Cathedral Church at Durham. The Library of Trinity was seeded by Durham's collection and most of this is housed in the old library.

Walking under archways and through courtyards, we came to the modern library. As Craig climbed the staircase leading to the door, his face was like a child's at Christmas time, full of anticipation and excitement.  The main floor was surrounded by a two story stack. Short staircases and narrow galleries extended the book collection far up onto the walls. Sitting at the desks, the students had that fatigued end of term look. When we were taken to the oldest part of the library housed in the oldest building in the college the first room we entered was disappointingly utilitarian - pale colored wooded bookcases, the books locked away behind wire screens so thoroughly obscuring the shelf we weren't even sure there were books. But after we exchanged niceties with the man cataloging archives (after 6 or 7 centuries) we came to the door to the old library.

When it opened, my first impression was of dimness, special blue window shades having been pulled down to protect the books from the effects of light. Then I had the sense of extreme orderliness and regularity despite the various widths and heights of the volumes, each shelf neatly arranged, no book protruding over another, no book receding between its neighbors. No frayed bindings or crumpled edges here, either. The volumes with their leather bindings gave the room a uniformity of appearance. The shelves of books marched down the room toward the arched window at the end. The cases extended from the high ceiling to a floor of wide dark and polished wooden planks worn smooth as silk, dipping slightly in the middle of the room with the weight of the volumes that had been there for centuries.

With the librarian Craig was allowed to take down one or two of the volumes. With his usual uncanny talent for picking the right book off the shelf, found a tall slim volume, about the size of an atlas of - Hakluytus posthumus, or, Purchas his Pilgrimes : contayning a history of the world in sea voyages and lande travells by Englishmen and others - chronicling the early explorations and voyages that have interested him for so many years.

After a lovely, but definitely not healthy lunch with some of the fellows of the college and a walk through gardens full of daffodils and crocuses, flowering apples, pear and hawthorn trees, and the special Fritillaries of which the Oxford area is so justifiably proud, we came back to Ripon College, a beautiful spot in its own right. We just let things soak in for the rest of the day which was beautiful and sunny.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Our camera is great. It is helping us chronicle the daily life of our trip, helping our memory recall sights and sounds, events and insights. We are constantly changing lenses, though and it can sometimes drive us a little crazy. The problem is that there is a proper distance essential for seeing things. Physical distance from an object determines what we will see. Too far and you can see generalities and context; to close, and what detail there is might be a blur and there's no context. There is an neutral distance where there is some detail yet we can see the relation of the object to its environment. I love the "magnifying glass effect" I get with the telephoto lens when photographing a glorious blossom or budding hawthorn.

Then there are the panoramic pictures of the English landscape or the Jungle hills so difficult to take because they always seem to fall short of the reality. How can you capture that sense of smallness and "creatureliness" that you feel when standing under a great blue sky or see a horizon full of miles of green grass terminate at the field's edge under your feet? Or how can your lens take in the enormity of a waterfall not seen until you are upon it?

I have coped with this problem sometimes by taking a tiny piece of the large picture, a component, looking at its smallest parts rather than trying to describe what is too big to take in. I take a veil of water falling over rock instead of the waterfall, or the hedge row with the field in back of it instead of the field with a bit of hedge row. By doing this I try to let the enormity of what I see speak for itself. After all, that feeling of creatureliness is often a composite feeling, made up of seemingly random views that combine to give a sense of scale, a glimpse of a world here long before and long after us, a world of limitless space that by contrast makes us treasure the slightly squishy mud under our feet, the dry curls of last years grass being quickly overtaken by the lush crown of green sprouting underneath them. It is reassuring to be on the side of the grass and growing things. The "world" is too large and multiple to understand. If we understand that we are creatures of the world, not its creators, the enormity of creation is laid before us in all its richness and complexity. We do not saddle ourselves with an impossible description. We can see with the eyes of a creature. We can see little pieces of creation like a garden or a child or a friend and wonder at them or care for them.

Creatureliness is the same no matter what your age. The feeling is the same one I had when I was five. Time seems to be irrelevant to the concept. In fact time seems to collapse under it. That the feeling can connect the years of your life in a short circuit is part of the wonder I think. Of how many things in this world can you say that?

Sunday, March 15, 2009


We went to Liverpool this weekend to see Maggie and Michael. We met them when they came to Richmond two years ago as part of a committee called the Triangle of Hope. Although we weren't sure exactly where the work of the committee was going, we liked them and wanted to pay them a visit. So off we went on the train through the west countryside through Birmingham to Liverpool .

The great thing about visiting Maggie and Michael where they live is that they had so much to show us and were able to help us understand the meaning of the places in their context. The experience was infinitely richer for this. Maggie's knowledge and involvement in the life of the church in Liverpool, both in her own parish church and in the life of the Cathedral meant that we benefited from her perspective on many things. This ranged from the deeply telling and close relationship between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Bishops and Cathedrals to the whimsical - knowledge of the particularly ornate bathroom facilities of a pub along the way.

Ducking into the symphony hall, an art deco structure on Hope Street as we made our way from one cathedral to the other gave me an opportunity to talk to Michael, Maggie's husband and an architect, about building in Liverpool. This widened to include the fact that Liverpool is full of sculpture and art in unexpected places. The example, a pile of stone suitcases and guitar cases invited us to sit on one of the scattered pieces of "luggage" was right across the street. On the evening before we were driving down the freeway at night as our car passed underneath an arch of sparkling blue lights fitted to an overhanging stainless steel sculpture. What one would mistake at a glance for a man walking down the sidewalk on the Liverpool docks turns out to be a bronze statue, a tromp l'oiele set against the wide and turbulent Mercy river on one side and the blocks of grand imperial architecture of the merchant city that once dwarfed London on the other.

Liverpool Cathedral could be considered a topographic feature of the landscape. Having almost the highest point in Liverpool at its top, the reddish sandstone structure creates its own weather. The wind picks up around the base of the cathedral on a normal day but today, the first sunny day we've had in a long time, the wind was gusting heavily, capping the waves on the Mercy with white foam and making me feel insecure walking up a staircase. After walking through the shadow of the great building for a few minutes we finally gained the great doorway. We retreated out of the gusts into the huge but surprisingly warm space of the cathedral. The wind was put out of mind for awhile while we had lunch and climbed around the multiple levels of the Narthex. Thanks to Maggie's connections and her magic key we were given a special tour of the Cathedral tower. We made some of the 8 plus floor trip using an elevator, but much of the climb was made by climbing winding narrow staircases. As we climbed higher and higher , the wind became the dominant feature again, the sound dwarfing even the huge carillon near the top of the tower.

At first we entered the bell ringers' gallery, an industrial looking space strung together by steel girders with a large wooden stage shaped like a doughnut built in the middle. The ropes for the heavy bells hung down in order around the circle. One rope hung unobtrusively from the center, looped up out of reach. I learned that rope belonged to "Big George," the 14 ton bell rung only on special occasions and never rung in a peal. I also learned that Liverpool Cathedral's ringers currently hold the record for the longest Peal. (4 and a half or 5 hours I think I heard)

Climbing further up the tower, we heard the shrill of the wind whistling through the pierced stone walls of the bell tower. As we entered, we saw the carillon filling the floor space of the tower, but the dim space above it receded like outer space. In what appeared to be the far distance, a staircase zigzagged up the inside wall of the tower to the top. As we walked around and up, the tower itself sang with the wind and I couldn't help imagining what it would sound like with the addition of the bells. It struck me that the sound generated by the bells might actually be stressful to the masonry of the building. This turned out to be true -the sound had shaken some small bits of the masonry loose last year.

I thought that was a great image. The sound of bells, of music, of joy or mourning was more powerful than stone, brick and steel. Transient sounds like the peal of bells seem more alive than the permanent shell of the great building, yet the bells like the people, need it to contain and shelter them and give them a home.

Merton College Evensong

March 11th, Cuddesdon

Today was cool and mostly cloudy. We trekked into Oxford, trying to find a car park we could afford. We found one off Cowley Street several blocks from the Magdalen bridge. After some exploring and a library visit for Craig, we were to meet at 6:15 at Merton College for evensong. This is the end of Hilary term at Oxford and most of the colleges don't have evensong out of term, so this was our last chance for awhile.

Getting there about 45 minutes early, I took some pictures while the light held, then as the photos got dimmer and dimmer, I gave up. As I walked over small pink and grey cobblestones set in sweeping arcs between rows of flagstones in one courtyard, I caught a glimpse of the green of grass through the stonework of another courtyard. As I walked through the arch, I heard the choir begin to practice in the chapel, so I went in, sitting out of view listening.

When Craig arrived it was time to go into the chapel proper and the music I had heard from a distance now enveloped us. The plainsong seemed to have a physical shape and persistence, holding the hearer in the space of the worship. The singers' clear voices melted together pouring out like liquid and ending soft as a feather into silence.

As the choir members marched out solemnly by twos they skirted the microphones used for the podcast**. The only sound to be heard was their shoes clicking on the floor. I thought how ordinary these young people looked, so different from one another, yet how prodigious was their talent. The singers - each year different - carry on a tradition that has been the hallmark of Anglican/Episcopal worship for centuries. We can hear it now because they and others like them have kept the tradition alive.

(The music and settings we listened to was by Byrd, Tompkins, and Bach. Merton College is home to the Tallis Scholars. For those who like plainsong, or anysong.. this is the group for you... )

**When we looked at the post for the evening service we noticed that it was to be podcast. I went to the Merton College website, and the March 11th evensong wasn't up yet, but the podcast from the month before was there. If you'd like to hear what it sounded like, click on the link on the top to the right and select the podcast mentioned in the body of the paragraph. )

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wool and ink

I was walking through the covered market and my eye caught them through the glass, Skeins of lovely wool in a fairly unlikely store, a shop run for the benefit of hospice care. At first I passed by, thinking, "That's ridiculous. What on earth would I do with that." Later in the day I passed by the same shop and the wool drew me with a power I do not understand. Chunky purple wool, lovely ash colored grey wool begging for a knitter. I could envision the grey in an Aran sweater, but I wasn't up to that. My ambition was a scarf. Yes - there are scarves available here for 3 pounds each, but somehow that was irrelevant. I succumbed to the impulse and bought 2 skeins of grey and a pair of second hand size 7 metal knitting needles for a pound.

As I chatted with the woman running the shop we laughed because I struggled about buying the needles. I have a drawer full of knitting needles at home. As we were packing, I carried 2 pairs of circular needles half way up the stairs, intending to put them in my suitcase. Thinking I would never have time to knit, I turned around and put them back. I am still kicking myself.

I think you just have to resign yourself to certain habits or foibles. One of mine is forgetting or not remembering how much I like to knit. One of Craig's is underestimating how much he likes to write. He has a penchant for paper and pen. I love the feel of wool on my fingers and the creation of something useful and beautiful out of nothing but raw material and effort. Although I am frequently disappointed and frustrated with the result, I keep trying. Craig loves the feeling of the flow of fountain pen ink on paper and the creation of ideas from knowledge and reflection. From the ideas begun many years ago, he makes many beginnings, but a relatively few results see the light of day or the printing press. But he still keeps trying. Craig can't pass up a stationary store. I can't pass up a wool store. The material begs the activity.

So we go through life, no matter where we are vulnerable to our weaknesses but trying to redeem them. There is some kind of strenghth and hope in there somewhere. The persistence of the habit attests to its strength. Then there is the hope that we will someday make that Aran sweater or write that book. Maybe someday we will.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Land of Narnia

Oxford is the land of C. S. Lewis. He taught here, met his good friend, J. R. Tolkein here, and married here. He walked for many years over the same slates and cobbles we now walk, met at same pubs, the Lamb and the Flag or the Eagle and Child with the Inklings, a group of writers whose works are now the stuff of legend. C. S. Lewis became a Christian here. He and the other Inklings, he said, represented "mere Christianity," that is they agreed on the basics, but held differing beliefs. Together their collective talent became a river of creativity from which they all benefited. I get goose bumps when I realize that Lewis and Tolkein traveled the same hills that we do and saw the same fields stretching over the horizon. All that separates us is a few years. And a lot of talent.

In honor of St. Peter's Narnia week, we went to evensong at Magdalen College where Lewis taught. The chapel is long and narrow. Dark wood seats line both sides of the choir leading to the altar in front of a stone frieze covered with a grid of figures that goes from the high ceiling all the way to the floor. The stained glass windows, still light at 6 PM, grow dim during the service. I'm sure in his many years here Lewis sat in the same seats and looked at the same altar. As we listened to the plainsong, we thought of everyone at home so busy engaged in bringing Lewis' worlds back to life. He had so much to say. He said it with his pen and his imagination with truth and kindness and a little mystery.

Peace and quiet

March 10th, Cuddesdon

We arrived in at Heathrow airport west of London at 6:35 AM. We had had dinner and breakfast on the 7 hour flight that had taken us directly north from the equator to England. Landing and going through customs was a breeze. Teeth chattering, we dug our coats out of the checked bag that had mercifully arrived when we did. Taking the bus from the airport to Oxford where we picked up the rental car amounted to the calm before the storm.

Curb! Tree! Curb! I was sitting on the left side of the car shouting warnings as Craig, having had 3 hours of sleep tried to learn how to drive from the right side of the car on the left side of the road remembering how to drive a stick shift, but translating it to his left hand rather than his right. In retrospect it might have been worth the extra 100 pounds to get the automatic. We arrived at our friends house in the late afternoon after having made a few forays (some unintentional) into Oxford.

Did you know that the side view mirrors on some cars collapse? The lane into our friend's house is notoriously narrow. We only hit 2 mirrors. But no damage - thanks to the collapsing. Of course we didn't know that before we hit them. Craig refused to drive again for 2 days.

What struck us about the whole exercise is how something so familiar can be so strange. All you have to do is change one little rule. Drive on the left. What would have been a walk in the park is turned into a white knuckle, hair-raising experience. The other thing that struck me is that no matter how familiar a place is, travel is always disorienting. Somehow you carry the place you came from with you for a few days. It's like your point of reference is far away, and therefore not really useful (even though you still try to use it) Using Ghanaian expectations for travel in the UK isn't really useful, but it takes a few days to develop a new point of reference. I don't understand this. I'm an American, not a Ghanaian, but in the month we lived with our Ghanaian friends, we learned to trust them and looked to them for many things. To a small extent we became like them. Now they were gone and we were on our own. It was like we forgot our old selves and hadn't really invented our new selves yet. Weird.

Now Craig is much more at home driving on the left. Mercifully our friends lent us their Tom Tom. I don't know how we'd do it otherwise. This makes the elbow macaroni streets of home look like child's play.

So now we've settled into our digs in England. The College is set in the countryside greening with early spring. The crocuses are up, and the daffodils won't be far behind. It is surrounded by open fields on the periphery of a tiny village with a wonderful pub. We've made it into Oxford a couple of times, but after the heat and noise of Africa and the anxiety of the first few days here, I think we're feeling like we'd like a little peace and quiet.

This is a good place for peace and quiet.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Flip flops, dreamers, and Sensible Shoes

When we finally got to the airport in Accra I just left the flip flops in the back of Joseph's car along with the empty Fanta can. Shedding them like a snake skin, they were dusty and flattened with wear. The 7 Cedis I had spent for them had been squeezed out of them long ago, but now I was headed for cooler climes. I figured it was time for Sensible Shoes.

I hadn't really planned on hiking through the jungle to see a waterfall on the day we left. The clothes I was wearing in the morning were going to be the clothes I had to wear on the plane. When we arrived at the reception desk for the Wli waterfall, the guide said it was a 45 minute hike in and a 45 minute hike out. That seemed a little daunting for three reasons. First, it was 1 PM in the afternoon and the sun was hot. Second, we had a long ride back to Accra for our flight. Thirdly, I'm not a hiker and I had no other shoes except my flip flops. But once there, we were committed, so off we set down a fairly level path through the forest along a clear stream running along the jungle floor. We traveled over 9 small bridges along the path through the lush undergrowth. A steep grassy mountainside rose up on one side of the river valley, the forest covering the other steep bank of the canyon through which we walked. As we drew nearer to the falls, the forest thinned and I notice we were walking on a rock ledge covered with a thin layer of sand.

We felt it before we saw it. The air seemed cooler. As we rounded a bend in the path, there it was, curtains of water let loose from a lip of rock high above our heads. The water fell almost silently to a sandy pool nestled at the base of a rocky grotto. Lush green plants clung to the walls of the canyon, the waterfall dwarfing everything around it.

The walk through the jungle had been shady, but even in the relative coolness of the forest, we were sticky and hot. Gusts of misty cool air stirred by the falling water drew us like a magnet toward the pool. Off came the flip flops and I waded into the water up to my shins. Apart from a few flat rocks, the bottom was sandy and soft. As I stood there, feet in the water, I craned my neck, looking upward and saw dozens of bats swooping quickly through the mists where the water first launched from its channel. Then I saw hundreds of bats nestled into the top of the cliff face

No one wanted to leave, but time was passing. Dozens of pastel colored butterflies flew around our feet as we left this oasis of coolness. The hike out didn't seem so long. Along the path we met men chopping wood with machetes and women carrying large bundles of sticks stacked high on their heads. After a lunch of chicken and jollof rice we climbed back into the car.

After our adventures in the north, we headed south toward Accra from where we were to catch our flight to London. As we came closer to the city, the secondary roads became four lane highway. As we approached the airport we took a wrong turn. The person who knew the way had fallen asleep in the back seat of the car and we found ourselves in a crowded market, stalls lining the packed red dirt roadway. The stalls sold everything from food and clothing to shoes and appliances. Every hundred feet or so there was a large scrum of men and boys, their faces all turned facing into the stalls. Those in the back of the crowds were trying to see over the shoulders of those in front of them. It turns out that the Ghana National Team was playing in the African National Tournament. The crowds were gathered around anyone who had a television set or radio. As it was near the end of the game, the concentration was visible in the way the fans were standing and listening. As we sat still, mired in the traffic jam, I became uneasy. Our plane was to leave at 11:30PM, but it was already after 6 and I didn't know how long this might take. Just as I had my moment of unease, Ghana's team scored a goal. A great roar erupted simultaneously from the knots of people around the TVs. Quickly after the goal, Ghana was declared the winner. What had been bonfires of enthusiasm became a conflagration of joy. People who were inching along just stopped their cars. Passengers alighted, horns honked, music blared. As we sat in the eye of the storm, all I could think of was, “Please let me get to the plane on time.”

After some masterful driving by Joseph we reached the airport. Then we said our goodbyes and boarded the plane. Our cabin attendants were performing their last minute checks. A voice came over the sound system saying, “We're going to spray the airplane now. If it bothers you, cover your eyes and mouth for approximately 20 seconds.” In disbelief, Craig and I grabbed whatever we could find to cover our faces and down the aisle they came, one attendant on each side of the plane, spray hissing from the nozzles. After we recovered from the shock we realized that the door had been open to mosquitoes all night. The riot of life to which we had become accustomed, we realized, might be too much for the rest of the world. That's when it hit me. We were leaving. We were leaving the mosquitoes. We were leaving the heat and the stickiness, the thirst and the fear of running out of water. But we were leaving the jungle and lush greenness, too. We were leaving the red earth, the soft air and bright suffused light,. Most of all, we were leaving the dreamers and the dream makers. They showed us a Ghana full promise.

Flip flops were good for Ghana. They got the job done. I don't think dreamers wear Sensible Shoes.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Monkey business

March 4th
Tafi Atome, Ghana

Our time in Ghana finished with a two day excursion through the part of Ghana near the Togo border. The plan was to tour the mountainous area east of the Volta river. There were several attractions near the regional capitol, Ho and the larger city of Hohoe. Joseph wanted us to see the monkey sanctuary at Tafi Atome and West Africa's tallest waterfall, Wli falls. We traveled from Kumasi to Ho on Tuesday afternoon, arriving at a guest house around 8 or 9 PM. After an early breakfast the next morning we left for the monkey sanctuary, stopping along the roadside to buy 2 bunches of bananas with which to lure the Mona monkeys. We arrived at the reserve after a one and a half hour drive north of Ho, turning down a dirt road stopping in a small settlement.

We pulled up in the shade of a Mango tree. Large-leafed and dark green, its trunk was gnarled and its branches were filled with baby green mangoes. Bamboo benches spread out underneath the tree. After checking in at the reception center and paying the requisite 9 Cedis charged non-Ghanaians, we were told that the walk would take 45 minutes. With our guide, we set off back up the road we had come down. After about 50 yards we came to the entrance to the path into the jungle. Carrying the bananas, the guide made kissing sounds to attract the monkeys. Before we ever stepped off the roadway into the forest, the monkeys came. First a few, then an entire troop of monkeys braved the sight of strangers for the the irresistible yellow bananas. As they grabbed the fruit, they peeled it, breaking off pieces of banana, popping them into their mouths. Some were shy and some fearless. Some carried their prize into the trees and some ate the fruit on the spot. As some monkeys from another troop approached from further up the road the larger monkeys from the troop near us put up their tails and advanced into the roadway to fend off the invaders. We were unaware of the two large monkeys who had climbed far out on some tree branches above our heads. They were making high pitched barking sounds whose meaning was clear even to us non-monkeys. After the invaders had cleared off and the bananas were almost gone, we were still on the roadway, not even having gone into the jungle. One of us asked, “Can we still go into the jungle to see the monkeys?” Our guide looked at us quizzically and said, “There won't be any monkeys in the jungle.” When we asked why she said, “Because they came here instead.” Duh.

It turns out that the Mona Monkey is revered in this part of the forest. Once viewed as sacred messengers to the turtles, the monkeys were decimated by religious and other conflicts. This reserve at Tafi Atome was established by the Ghanaian government to rebuild the population and protect the monkeys. The Mona monkeys are the only primates who live in this part of the forest. No Mona monkey has ever been taken from the reserve. In fact there is a legend that an Englishman once took one of the monkeys to England to keep, but that monkey, the story goes, came back to the forest from which it came and none has ever left again.

A bit hungry, we snacked on the left-over bananas and climbed back into the car for our trip to the water fall. Knowing the uncertainty of travel, it was hard not to worry about getting to the airport on time, but the forest was so beautiful and the drive so interesting, I soon stopped fretting. (To be continued)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Ten things I have learned

March 1st, Kumasi

When we first arrived in Ghana, I didn't know what to expect - what was "proper behavior in church." Craig has preached in a different church every Sunday. Now that I've had a few churches to compare, I'm feeling more comfortable. Here are ten things I have learned.

1. Anglican Church services in Ghana are Long. Three and a half hours. And that's if there's nothing else going on.
2. There's always something else going on.
3. And they're very formal. 16 acolytes.
4. When I feel hot, I look at Craig wearing a clergy shirt, alb, chausable and stole and I stop feeling sorry for myself.
5. Some parishes are full of life and others are stiff. Not so different from home, really. You can always tell by who claps with the music. Unfortunately this can be so much fun that it can make the service longer.
6. Most churches use sound systems. Young people like to turn the amplifiers up high.
7. They use lots of incense, sometimes 2 or 3 thuribles going at the same time. I've noticed that it doesn't seem to be enough smoke until you can't see the altar.
8. Fund raising is a weekly and essential part of every priests' and bishops' job. They are very plain about it. At the offertory you march to the front of the church and place your donation into the collection box pew by pew (accompanied by music of course.) They might pass the plate too. And then there may be a special collection where you march to the front again, sometimes according to the day of the week you were born, competing to see which day's group gave the most. After the announcements at the end of the service, the Anglican Youth might have a fund raising session. They you can go home. Churches give 50 or 60 percent of their income for the work of the diocese.
9. Anglican clergy and leadership shoulder a huge responsibility. They are deeply involved in the life of their congregations. They "wear many hats," civic and religious. They are highly respected and can get things done that other people can't. People look to them for leadership and direction.
10. They make me sit up front. I am honoured, but you know me....

Monday, March 2, 2009

Saying Goodbye

February 28th, Cape Coast

Today Hannah told me, "Now you are a real Ghanaian lady!" because I danced with her in chapel... a kind of slow shuffling walk really. Hannah is one of the first two women that will graduate from St. Nicholas this June. Never without a smile, it seems you can read her whole being on her face. There is a depth of expression beyond happiness or joy. There is wisdom and maturity and generosity of spirit. She is a comforting person to be around. When she was moving this morning with the music, she allowed herself to simply be.

For 3 weeks we have lived and shared life with the students and faculty at the Seminary. During a going away ceremony for us yesterday, the Dean said Craig had come as a missioner and that we were part of St. Nicholas now. One part of St. Nicholas that will always stay with us is a song known by every Anglican and sung at the offertory at almost every service. The only problem for us is that it sung in Twi and we wanted someone to translate for us. At the end of the goodbye ceremony, Craig asked the students if they could make the song for him again. What began as a demonstration quickly became a summary of all our time here. Out of the context of the church service itself, it was sung for joy. Having an asymmetrical rhythm punctuated by double claps and accompanied by drums, cast iron "bells" and tambourines, no one can really stand still when it's played. So when Hannah stepped out from her chair in a slowly rocking walk it was really no surprise and it only seemed natural to join her.

So there we were, 2 generously proportioned middle aged ladies "walking" with the music that they made for us - a fleeting gift, loud in the mind and alive in the heart. I saw Craig clapping with smile filling his face and then I saw him wipe his eyes. Then he didn't bother. Neither did I.