" Ghana "

Saturday, June 6, 2015

D-Day. Remember.

I’m up at 5:30 with pre-travel jitters. That’s a good thing; we’re moving 3 time zones east today and tonight, and the early morning will help with the adjustment.

Devotions, shower, no shave. I don’t know why. Just lazy, I guess.

Everybody’s up when they need to be. I exhort them to eat whatever food is in the fridge; we can’t take it through security. At 8:30 Sarah, Amber and I go grocery shopping, looking for food that can go through security at the airport. Pretty much limited to cookies and nuts. And powdered cocoa, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We stock up on enough to keep bodies and souls together—there’s one lunch and one snack on the flights, and we may be able to buy some food in either Addis Ababa or Dar es Salaam, but because of the late/early hours in each airport, I’m assuming we won’t be.

By 9 pretty much everybody’s ready. We do some last-minute cleanup and wait for the taxis.

They’re on time, and we watch the drivers choreograph the loading of 18 pieces of luggage plus the 7 U-Haul boxes, all carefully calibrated to 50 lbs. Gershon goes in 1 cab with a buncha luggage; I go in another; 3 girls in the 3rd, and 4 in the 4th. That’ll work.

When my taxi pulls up at the international departures curb, all the others are already there, with carts loaded with luggage. We empty my cab and head inside. There’s quite a line for Ethiopian Air check-in. (I know what you’re thinking. You’re wrong. Ethiopian is one of the best airlines in Africa.) An agent tells us that the boxes are going to have to be wrapped in plastic. I’m not surprised; they’re looking pretty beat up, and I’ve learned by this experience that while duct tape will do a lot of things, it doesn’t maintain its adhesion very well in high humidity. At least, not on cardboard. So we run all 7 boxes down to the end of the terminal, where a couple of guys wrap them up for a couple of bucks apiece. Well worth it.

Then back to line, where we sort everything so that each person’s cart has just his luggage on it, and every piece of luggage is tagged. An agent lets us through a gate where our passport is checked and then directs us to the waiting line for the check-in counter. Why they check the passports first is a mystery to me; they’re going to be checked again multiple times before we get to the gate.

When our people start checking in at the counter, everything goes berserk. Apparently Ethiopian has a lower weight limit than the de facto international standard (50 lbs per bag, 2 checked bags allowed); they allow 30 kilos (66 lbs) per person total. So everybody with a U-Haul box is overweight. Ah; that’s how they keep their budget in the black. Excess baggage fees.

Well, there’s going to be a fairly hefty excess charge. I’ll pay with a credit card. Oh, you want to use a credit card? You need to go to the next building, to the corporate office, to do that. I’ll just hold your boarding pass here.

I send the team on to the gate. I hope they’ll have enough sense to go on ahead if I don’t make the flight.

I run outside and up the sidewalk to the next building, where a sign points to the corporate offices of the airlines. Upstairs, down the hall to Ethiopian. Hours posted on the door: 9:00 – 15:00. Nobody there. I sidle down the hall, peeking through windows. Somebody’s sitting at a desk. Bang on the window. Just a minute. Finally get inside, where he asks for my passport and credit card. He photocopies them, then hands them back with a photocopy. Never runs the card. Eh? Just go back to the counter. Ok.

Back to the counter. They ask to see the photocopy, then run my card and hand me my boarding passes. If you can figure any sense to that system, I’d love to hear it.

Follow the departure signs upstairs to an immigration check. (They want to know that you really left.) Then to security, which is crowded and not moving efficiently, but quickly enough. Less than 30 minutes to departure; surely they’re already boarding by now. Fast walk through duty-free—they run you around through the store just to make sure you know that they have lots of overpriced vice supplies—and then back the opposite direction to gate 5. Two checkpoints, one of which issues a plastic boarding pass, because, you know, the one you have isn’t enough paperwork already. Around the corner, and there’s my team, all 8 of ‘em, looking all cherubic as they always do. I ask them if they would have left without me. Of course we would have. Smart kids.

There’s just time to get in line, surrender our plastic boarding passes, and go downstairs to catch the bus out across the ramp to the plane. It’s a 787, fresh and shiny, with big ol’ GE turbine engines. As we walk under one, I wonder out loud if the turbines were made in Greenville. We board at the back, since we’re in rows 36-38, and there are only 39 rows on the plane. Find our seats in short order, and suddenly the chaos disappears, and we’re quietly waiting for pushback, wheels up, and climb-out.

Thank you, Lord.

We take off toward the south, out over the Atlantic. I’m sitting next to Jessica, and I remind her that we’re passing right over the restaurant from last night. (Several climbed out over us as we were eating.) A left turn orients us eastward (pun completely intended), and we follow the coast to Nigeria, then skirt the Sahel, along the border between Chad and the Central African Republic. Lunch occupies the first half of the flight. They have little bottles of sparkling water, which just makes my day. The kids read or doze or watch the in-flight entertainment system. As I write, we’re 247 miles past Moundou, 1305 miles out of Addis Ababa. Oh, and the pilot pronounces it AH-ba-ba, not ah-BA-ba. Try to learn something new every day. :-)

We land in Addis Ababa a little after 9, delayed some by traffic. When we deplane, we enter the main terminal, where there are shops and cafes. I think about getting some dinner, but I can see down the concourse that the line for security entering Terminal 1 is quite long, and since I don’t know how long that will take, I figure we’d better get it done to make sure we make the flight out to Dar.

I note that in much of Africa, you go through security on every flight. We’re in the secure zone, having been screened at Accra; and in the States we’d be clear all the way to our destination. But not here; we get screened again, and we’ll do it again in Dar. It’s a pain, but it at least gives the impression that they’re serious about security.

We get through with about 45 minutes before the flight out. OK, now we can eat, right? Nope. No restaurants out in the concourse. 6 gates, no facilities but toilets. Apparently it hasn’t occurred to them that if they take those cafes from the center, where everybody feels like they don’t have time to eat, and move them out to the gates, where everybody’s just sitting around, they’d do a land-office business.

We work our way down to gate 1, at the far end of the concourse, and then downstairs to a bunch of break-out gates (ours is 1E). Big seating area without aisles; to get to seats in the middle, you have to wind your way up and down the looooong rows, over people’s feet, for what feels like half a mile. Seriously; who designed this place? We get some seats together, and I hit my backpack for the nifty-difty snacks I brought along for such a time as this. Chocolate-dipped cookies and nuts sound like they’ll work. We pass the packages around and munch.

Ten o’clock. Time to board. Down to 1E. The guy can’t get the doors to open, or something. He marches us around to 1D and through the doors onto the bus. Across the ramp to our plane, what we’d call a puddle-jumper back home. It’s a Bombardier 400 turboprop, and it’s not full. Good; we’ll be able to spread out after we take off and maybe get a little sleep.

Addis Ababa to Dar es Salaam. In 2013, when I first flew this leg, I thought it was the most exotic-sounding boarding pass I’d ever held. It does sound pretty cool, but it’s actually a nondescript flight, and the airports at either end are more irritating than exotic. If you’re thinking of Indiana Jones, you’ll be disappointed.

After takeoff Michaela and I find empty rows at the back and try to sleep. Mildly successful.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Just a 4-hour dash to Accra—plus engine stalls—as the morning light rises from the east. Soon we’re in the city, and it seems to take forever as the bus stops here and there to drop off passengers. It’s all dirt roads into the bus terminal—you’d think the city would see the sense of paving such heavily trafficked roads—and there was a wild rainstorm here last night, so everything is mud and standing water. As I’ve noted, the stall frequency increases.

About 6, 2 hours late, we pull into the terminal. It’s covered with runny mud, right where we need to unload our luggage. I decide to find the taxis immediately so they’ll take care of it right off the bus, without its having to sit in the mud. I get 1 immediately, and he gets 2 more in short order. 9 people, plus luggage, going to Osu (the part of the city where the guest house is). We negotiate a price—they ask for 50% more than the reasonable price that Timothy has given me, and I tell them that’s their bruni (white person, in Twi) price; I won’t pay it. They argue. I tell them to unload the luggage; I’ll find somebody else. (The place is swarming with taxis.) They take my price. I tell the drivers that I’m the only one who knows where we’re going; we’ll have to stay together in traffic. If we get separated, we’ll meet at the Osu Papaye. They all know where that is.

Good. Gershon in one car, me in another, Michaela in a third, and everybody else find a seat. Off we go.

I’m in the station wagon, which has most of the luggage. My driver protests that he should get more. He’s right, of course; he loaded it all. I smile and say, “I give you 5 more. You’re a good man.” He’s happy with that. A buck and a quarter.

Since we’re so late, traffic is up in the city, and getting to the house takes a while. But get there we do. I call for Muhammad. No response. Timothy told him we’d be here by 5:30, and of course we’re quite late, so I really can’t complain.

I hop the fence and let the crew in off the street. We look for Muhammad; can’t find him. We drag our luggage down the drive to the house. It’s locked. Hmm. Then 1 of the kids points back up the drive, where Muhammad is standing at the gate, looking puzzled. I call his name; he turns and smiles. I apologize for jumping the fence and ask for the key to the house. He goes to the mailbox and pulls it out, with the paperwork. Well, dumb me. Shoulda thoughta that.

We pile our large bags downstairs in the lobby and tramp tiredly upstairs to the 6-bedroom apartment. Seems like we were here just a few days ago.

I tell the kids that I recommend they all take showers; that bus was likely crawling with all kinds of exotic microorganisms, especially on the floor. We get to it, and while that’s ongoing, Gershon and I head up to Lara, the neighborhood grocery store, for some things for breakfast today and tomorrow. Shelf-stable milk and a large box of cereal; couple of boxes of fruit juice; and a couple of fresh pineapple. And a giant Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar, for the girls. But not for breakfast.

On the way out of the house, I notice a little plaque that says that the backup generator system for the house—and when you lose power as much as the folks in Accra do, that’s an important step toward stability—was donated by the folks at LeTourneau University. Good for them.

We’re done with showers and breakfast by 9:30 am. Now to spend the day in Accra. We’ll eat lunch and supper out there somewhere, and the kids want to go back to the vendor stalls on Cantonment St. to get some things they weren’t sure about on the way in. Timothy has told me about a market nearby, and Cynthia’s husband, Enoch, has volunteered to show us around some. Lots of options.

Enoch shows up around noon. He was in the block class I taught in Wa 2 years ago; he and Cynthia have moved to Accra so he can further his education. He’s familiar with Osu, where we’re staying, and since we’ll be walking—we can’t all fit into his car—he can make our peregrinations more efficient.

After the usual financial preparations—forex and ATMs—we start up Cantonment St. toward the restaurants. There are several possibilities, but we decide on one with some variety. There’s a food court of sorts right across the street from the booths where we got some fabric and souvenirs 3 weeks ago, which serves chicken, pizza, and ice cream. The crew hears “pizza” and is instantly interested.

We order what we want and set up a large table where we can all eat together. Enoch shares stories of the ministry and Wa and his life with Cynthia. And we laugh a lot.

And then it’s out into the maelstrom. The vendors remember that we were there before, and the fact that we’re back gives them renewed hope for profit. They gather around, showing, urging, pleading, pressing. We look at some things and develop the ability to ignore others. There are several marriage proposals, of course; if wouldn’t be a day at the souvenir stands without them. There’s a lot of buying. Up and down the row of vendors we go, always surrounded by a flock of other vendors with product in their hands. Their technique doesn’t make a lot of sense; at one point there are 3 vendors hawking sunglasses, and we’re saying “no” to all of them; here comes a fourth, same products, hoping that we’ll buy from him instead. I consider educating him on the concept of market saturation, but I don’t think it would make any difference.

Some of these American kids are pretty good at dickering. Emily is interacting with a Rastafarian who sells jewelry, among other things. He has some earrings she’s interested in. She offers 15 cedis; he comes down to 20. Nope. 15. He offers 17 and thinks he has her. She reaches into her purse, pulls out 15, and, smiling, presses the notes into his hand. 15. He looks at me. I raise my shoulders in an expression of resignation. Will you be happy with 15?

He takes it. As we walk away, I lean over to Emily and say, “Nice technique there. If you put the money in his hand, he’s not going to give it back.” “I know,” she smiles. “My mom taught me that.”

These kids don’t need my help.

Enoch tells us about a mall a few miles away, but he looks at the traffic—Cantonment is what the traffic reporter in Boston would call “stall and crawl”—and says it would take 45 minutes to an hour to get there. He needs to be somewhere else at 5; that’s not going to work. So we decide to spend the rest of the afternoon right where we are.

In due time we walk the mile or so back to the house. We gather in the driveway for prayer with Enoch for him, his wife, and their future, and we take some photos, and Enoch returns to his responsibilities. We head upstairs to drop off our purchases and get a bit of rest.

Our evening is open. I tell the crew we can have supper anywhere we’d like, and I note that a few are regretting that they didn’t purchase this or that souvenir. We won’t be back here, I tell them, and this is probably the best place for a reasonable variety of choices at very low prices, and if they see something they’d like, and can afford it, they ought to get it. I don’t mind taking ‘em back over ground we’ve already covered.

Next to where we ate lunch we saw a seafood grill and sushi bar that looked relatively upscale and was open only for dinner. We decide to go back there, stopping along the way to head off later regrets by picking up the things we want.

We’re at the restaurant by about 7. Monsoon, it’s called. We climb a couple of flights of stairs, where the greeter takes us to a large table in the center of a rooftop terrace. It feels like a completely different city; we’re above the bustle and grime of the street, surrounded by neon lights shining down on the frenetic selling going on down below.

They have several menus—sushi, teppanyaki, seafood grill. It’s pricey, but mid-range by American standards. This is an opportunity to show off the diversity that is Africa. I tell ‘em to have fun and order what they want.

One gets crocodile; several get seafood, others beef, some Asian, some more traditional. I get the seafood platter, with mussels, whitefish, calamari steaks, prawns, and a small lobster tail, accompanied with a white lemon sauce. Nice plate, though the Bostonian in me notes that most of it is overcooked. We enjoy the outdoor environment as night falls and the neon signs provide most of our light. The terrace has pretty much filled up. It’s all white people, mostly Europeans. At these prices, the Ghanaians aren’t going to be customers. There’s a divide here between the locals and the expats who are working for NGOs here or doing business. The expats want the touches of home, and they can afford to pay for them.

We pay the bill—15% tax, 15% tip—and head downstairs and home, with a gaggle of vendors following us, holding out products we don’t want, trying to engage, harassing anybody who looks weak. It’s not unlike a lion pursuing the smaller, weaker eland, looking for an opening to take him down.

On the way we pass a Shop-Rite, a grocery store based in South Africa. I decide to take a bit of time and show them in. It’s a modern grocery store, just like one you’d find in the States. Large produce sections, aisles and aisles of choices. To people accustomed to the markets—which are every bit as large but have a very limited variety of products—it’s hard to believe we’re in the same country. Tonight is our return to modernity for a few hours.

Back to the house, with devos and a logistics meeting about tomorrow’s flight. Because of the flight schedule, the time of day spent on the ground (mostly when things are closed) and the meal schedule (or lack of it) on the flights, we may get pretty hungry on this leg of the trip. We can’t take food through security (at least liquids or gels, and produce, which customs will not look kindly on), so we’ll be limited to what we can get inside the secure zone of each airport, and we’ll be there in the middle of the night, when most shops will be closed. And we can’t drink the tap water. So we’ll have to get what we can, when we can. From takeoff to final landing is less than 24 hours, though; nobody’s going to starve to death. We’ll see what happens.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Most of us sleep in. Good for us.

I spend the morning getting my papers graded—the last student submits his paper 8 minutes before the deadline—and grades calculated and submitted. Despite warning the students about plagiarism on 3 of the 4 nights of the class, 3 of the 32 engage in serious plagiarism and get either Ds or Fs for the course. It kills me to do that, but they could not have thought that it was acceptable.

I also get the blog up to date with more photos, and take care of random email business, and it’s still well before 10 am. Time to pack.

The strategy is fairly simple. Stuff I won’t need anymore this trip—my gift smock, for example—and stuff I won’t need until Cape Town—warm clothes, suit, ties—go into the checked bag, at the bottom. Stuff I won’t need until TZ goes on top of that. 45 pounds. Nice.

Stuff I might need en route—first aid kit, a couple changes of underwear—and stuff I can’t afford to lose—the rest of my meds, printed maps to various stuff—go in the carryon. All electronics go in the backpack for security purposes.

Packed by 10:30. My wife hates that I can do that.

In the meantime, most of the girls—all but Emily and Michaela—are at the seamstress shop for a few minor alterations to their groovy African dresses. Emily, an art major, has volunteered to create some custom thank-you notes for a few people. Very, very cool. I make a mental note: always have an artist on the team.

So it’s 11 am, I’m all packed except for a couple of things I need to leave out for the team to access, and the blog’s up to date, and the house is quiet.

Time for a walk.

The compound is pretty quiet. Lots of trees—I wish I knew what kind they all are—and assorted livestock. Guinea fowl strutting around near the house; the sheep are grazing at the north end. I harvest an unripe mango from one of the trees in the orchard; I’ll wash it and slice it up into sour chunks when I get back to the house.

This was quite a compound in its day—six large houses for missionaries, a sizeable vegetable farm, a mango orchard, housing for students and faculty at the Bible Institute, as it was called back then. Since the work was indigenized, Timothy has chosen to move most of the work—pretty much everything but the Bible college—into town, with the church and Christian school. Both have a strong presence in the community, as the numbers demonstrate. A good choice, I think.

For lunch Ivy and Cynthia bring a magnificent pasta casserole, smothered in at least a quarter inch of mozzarella cheese. Cheese is a rarity here—I believe it’s the first we’ve had since we arrived—and this is just lavish, with long stretchy stings of cheese so thick that it’s difficult to get anything out of the pan. We spend the next minutes in gustatory heaven. (Yes, there is one.)

After lunch the team chips away at the exit plan. Amber, with help from Jessica, launders the bed linens and towels so Ivy’s girls won’t have to. Several people sweep and then mop the entire floor. Ivy takes me into town for a quick visit to the ATM and to purchase some water (for filling up our water bottles for the trip) and biscuits (cookies—as a snack for the bus). Gabriel has thoughtfully bought a bunch of bananas for our gluten-free person.

When I return to the house I do a room inspection, and everything looks great; we haven’t left any of our stuff behind, and what’s there is neat and clean.


As the designated time approaches, we sit in the living room, site of most of our devotional sessions, and wait for Timothy to get back from school with the bus. I look around the circle, and everyone—everyone—is gloomy. They’ve made friends, and now they’re leaving them. But as they say here, “We’ll see you laytah—heah or theah.”

A few minutes after 3, Timothy arrives, and we load everything on the bus, including ourselves. Rhoda and Matilda and the 3 boys come running up to say their goodbyes. The girls hug everybody; the boys hug just Gershon. They’ll grow to regret the missed opportunity someday.

On the way to the bus station, we pass Lamin’s soda stand. I lean out the window and call her name. She leaps from her chair and runs toward us, waving both arms in a fervent farewell.

The bus station is how it always is—hot, dry, dusty, with buses everywhere and people clustered in the shady spots. I go up to the desk with Timothy to check in and get our bus assignment. They write the license plate number on each ticket when you check in, and you go around and find your bus. It’s one of the newer ones, and Timothy pulls our bus up beside it so the staff men can load our luggage. We pay them for that and for the luggage fee itself. Apparently even the piece fee is negotiable. They want too much, and Timothy argues them down from 200 cedis ($50) to 115. I give them 120, and instead of change the man says he’ll give the extra 5 to the loaders. OK.

We find our seats on the bus. I distributed the tickets at random, and when Gershon finds that he’s next to me, he offers anybody 20 cedis to trade. I love you too, dude. Our friends—Timothy, Gabriel, Simon, Aquila—wait outside the bus to watch us depart. I see a man selling Fan Ice and break like a water blister. How much? 1 cedi. I ask him for 8 (1 person doesn’t want one). He looks confused. No, just 1 cedi. Another vender nearby explains to him that I’m asking for 8 units, and he can hardly believe what he’s hearing. He pulls them out and bags them, and I pass them around on the bus. Soon we’re reveling in that ridiculously over-vanillaed ice cream.

The bus pulls out as we wave goodbye to our friends. Right to the light, left and then right to head south out of town. The bus is air-conditioned and the seats are comfortable. As long as we don’t drink too much water—it’s 8 hours to the first potty stop at Kumasi—we should be fine.

Half an hour down the road, the engine dies. We pull over and sit in the sun, with no air conditioning, while the bus driver and the ride-along mechanic work on the engine. In 5 minutes or so they crank it, and away we go.

It’ll do that 14 more times before we reach the terminal in Accra. Twice within a hundred yards out in the middle of nowhere, and 3 times in the muddy streets near the terminal, including once in a busy intersection of 2 dirt roads and in a foot of standing water.

Oh, the places you’ll go.

For an overnight ride, everything else is pretty smooth. They even make an extra stop just 4 hours out. We pull into a muddy parking lot in the dark, and a couple people get out and head toward a small building that looks like it might be toilets. I ask the driver if there’s time for a toilet stop, and he says yes. I’d hate to come out of the toilet to see no bus, especially when I don’t have any idea where I am.

Skip the next paragraph if you’re squishy about toilets.

So we all clamber down and pick our way across the less muddy spots toward the building. Gershon and I see a half a dozen men or so standing shoulder to shoulder, facing away from us toward a low wall, and we figure that’s the men’s facility, so we head toward them. Just before we reach them, they all drop to their knees and place their foreheads on the ground. Ah. Muslim prayers, not urination. OK, we’ll look somewhere else. At least now we know which way Mecca is.

It hits us as quite funny that we both had the same misimpression and sudden realization at the same time, and we chuckle about it for quite a ways down the road.

Turns out the little building has both men’s and women’s facilities. The men’s side isn’t particularly clean, but there are private stalls with western-style seats, which is unusual, so I assume the ladies’ side is similarly accommodating. The girls confirm that it was an OK experience.

And down the road we go, dozing in the dark between brief moments of wakefulness and snacking. We brought a loaf of bread—one of the girls was kind enough to slice it ahead of time—and an unopened jar of jelly. And I cleaned my Swiss Army knife just for the occasion, so Emily makes us all some bread and jam, and GF eats a banana or two.

About 4 hours later we pull in to Kumasi, home of Our Favorite Toilet. This time the girls all get to use the ladies’ side, which is a considerable relief to them, and they bring tissues from the bus so we won’t have to pay for toilet paper. As I wait outside the door to confirm that each one comes out, the Toilet Paper Monitor approaches me and demands 50 pesos (half a cedi) for each female. I refuse. We didn’t use the toilet paper, I say. You know that, because you’re the one giving it out. No, everyone pays whether they use toilet paper or not, he says. Then why don’t men have to pay? I wonder. And why don’t African women have to pay if they don’t use TP? Why just the white women? I don’t say that, but I do refuse to pay. He walks off in disgust. Capitalism lives, all around the world.

And technically, that’s the end of the day.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

So today’s my older sister’s birthday. She’s mmphbzzt years old. Good for you, kid.

As usual, I hit the chapel first thing in the morning to post yesterday’s blog entry. I see an email from Roger and Norene Russ saying that they’re safely home in Grand Rapids. That’s good news.

I get the day’s blog entry and a few photos posted, as well as add a few to previous days. Browse back a couple of days to see them.

Wa has what they call “Market Day” every 6 calendar days. Folks come into town from the surrounding villages, both to sell what produce they have and to buy what they need. It’s a fairly big deal; the churches in the area have had to deal with reduced attendance when Market Day falls on a Sunday. I’ve had teams here for a total of 6 weeks over 2 years, and we’ve never been downtown for a Market Day. As it happens, today, our last full day in Wa, is a Market Day, so we’re going to go downtown and see what it’s like.

Ivy drives by the house at 10, and we all pile into the vehicle. Let’s just say there are more of us than actual seats (and seat belts), but we’re all friends, and it’s only a couple of miles, and this is Africa.

The market is buzzing when we arrive. We’re expecting that there won’t really be anything here that you can’t get any other day, but just more of it. And we’re right. We end up splitting into 2 groups: Gershon is with Emily, Charity, and Michaela, and I’m with the rest. I notice that one end of the market seems to be where most of the vendors from the villages have set up. Produce is spread out on gunny sacks on the ground, stacked up attractively, and the vendors are noticeably more aggressive there. It feels far more “authentic” than the less chaotic main section. I tell my group that since everyone’s selling pretty much the same thing in this section, what distinguishes one vendor from another is the aggressiveness with which they wave their yams, or okra, or tomatoes in your face. It’s quite an experience.

We meander for about an hour before heading home on foot. I want to make a stop at Lamin’s soda stand, not just to get a soda, but to say good-bye and “see you next year.” When we arrive, I buy everyone a drink and then tell her that we’re leaving tomorrow. As we sit in the shade of the large tree with her—remember, you can’t take the bottles with you, so you sit there and drink it—I ask her about how she came from Accra all the way to Wa. She says she’s actually from Nigeria, and her mother tongue is Hausa. I’m immediately reminded of Dr. Dreisbach, who spoke Hausa, and I tell her about him. She moved to Accra with her parents as a child, and then to Wa with her husband. He died several years ago, and she has raised several children here. Her youngest, a son, is graduating from Wa Secondary School in 6 months, and she plans to return to her family in Accra when he does. The realization strikes me like a dagger in the heart. “So you won’t be here next year, when I come back?” No.

That’s sad news. I like the idea of developing some local friendships, independent of the church. There will be one less next time. She asks for  my contact information, which I gladly give her; we get a photo with the team; and I shake her hand for the last time and tell her good-bye in English, and “thank you” in Twi—medasi.

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And we head up the road to home.

Lunch arrives shortly after we return to the house. It’s a large container of fried rice with vegetables, including a good amount of ginger. Plenty for everyone, and we all dive in.

Shortly after lunch one of my students comes to the door to turn in his exam—my first submission, before 2 pm. Good for him. He’s one of this year’s graduates from WABC, and he’s probably still in the practice of academia, doing his homework. We’ll see how many more come in before the end of our final class tonight. The more, the merrier, of course; I need to grade them before I go, if possible, so Timothy can return them to the students with my comments.

As the team is about to leave for the last VBS (back at Diesi), Timothy drops in. He hasn’t decided whether he’s going to Accra with us yet; the governing question is whether the guy who damaged his car when he was picking us up will have the money to pay for the repairs by tomorrow. If he does, Timothy will drive down a few hours ahead of us and get the car fixed, and maybe take a few team members with him. If not, we’ll all just ride the bus together, and Timothy can stay here and get work done.

I’d prefer that he not go; it takes 2 days out of his life, and he’s busy fellow. I’m confident that we can take care of ourselves on the bus and get taxis to the guest house when we arrive early Friday morning. I think he’s OK with that as well. But he does want to get the body damage fixed. And so we find ourselves uncertain right up the last minute. There’s a reason people don’t make plans here the way we expect; so much can change at the last minute that it’s just easier to wait until then to make all your decisions. More cultural education.

Shortly later Timothy decides that he’ll stay here. I realize that his main concern is really for us; I assure him that we’ll be OK, and he decides to stay. He’ll need to go down to Accra in a couple of weeks to get Ivy’s residency permit and passport so they can travel to the States in July, so there’s no reason to do another trip just for this. I’m glad he’s decided to give his schedule a bit of a break.

The crew heads off to VBS, and I head off to class. It’s our last session, of course; I cover the book of Revelation in about an hour, and we close in prayer. Timothy’s girls bring over some sandwiches and malt soda, and we all have a little end-of-session party. Timothy hands out the certificates and a small gift of office supplies to each student, and then they give me the shirt that the tailor has made, as well as a surprise—a chief’s smock, this one all white. It’s very impressive looking, if I do say so myself. I believe I will wear it every day for the rest of the trip, and have all the students call me “Chief, Sir, Most Beneficent.”

Timothy asks me to close in prayer, and I pray for the ministries in which each of these men and women are engaged—for courage, for progress, for peace of mind, for persistence. I close with the great Aaronic blessing:

The LORD bless you, and keep you;

The LORD make His face to shine upon you;

The LORD lift up His countenance upon you

And give you peace.

On the way back to the house Timothy tells me that the rest of the team was quite disappointed that they weren’t going to Wed night prayer meeting at church, to get a chance to say goodbye. With the closing of the class, Timothy needed to be here and so didn’t drive the bus. Ivy took pity on them and drove them over. That’s a really good sign; they’ve formed friendships here, and they feel an obligation to handle those relationships appropriately.

So anyway, the house is dark when I get home. So I swipe myself a Fan Ice Vanilla out of the freezer and snack down. What they don’t know won’t hurt ‘em.

And then I grade papers. I’ve received 16 of the 26 already, and I manage to get through all of them before the crew gets back. A quiet house will do that for you. There are several for which I suspect plagiarism—the English style intermittently improves dramatically—and I’ll have to do a little work with Google tomorrow morning to see whether there’s actually something up or not.

Eventually the Crew shows up. Some rode back with Ivy; some with Aquila; and some with Simon. We hang around with Simon and Aquila for a bit, saying our goodbyes. When they leave, I tell the girls their dresses are here for a final alteration check, and they tear into the plastic bags, pulling out theirs and heading to their rooms to try them on. Soon we have a fashion parade and a photo session. Everybody looks just great, as you can see for yourself.

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It all takes quite a while, as the girls discuss one another’s choices and the guys just try to keep their mouths shut.

Then devos, the last in the house here. There are several good testimonies, and the singing sounds good. In the middle, Rhoda and Matilda, Timothy’s 2 “adopted” daughters who have been doing most of the cooking for us, drop by. They sit in on devotions for a while, and when they have to leave, we say our goodbyes. The girls all hug. They do that.

The team is realizing that they’ve made some friends here, and that leaving will be unexpectedly difficult. I probably don’t help any when I tell them that this will happen at every location. When they’re done, they’ll have new friends all over the continent.

And so ends the last full day. What’s left is final adjustments to the girls’ dresses, packing up, cleaning the house, not overhydrating, staying healthy for the bus trip, and getting to the terminal by 3 pm tomorrow. By God’s grace, we can do that.

A word about communication over the next few days. We get on the bus here in Wa on Thursday afternoon and ride all night to Accra. There we stay at the guest house (Friday night) that we used on the way in. Saturday around noon we fly to Mwanza, TZ, via Addis Ababa and Dar es Salaam, arriving early Sunday morning.

I don’t expect to have internet access during any of that time.

I might grab a little airport wi-fi somewhere and get a post up, but it’s also possible that you won’t hear anything for several days. Fret not thyself. We’ll be in touch as opportunity presents itself, and when we get to Mwanza I’ll let you know what the posting frequency will be there, once I’m able to determine what kind of web access we’ll have while we’re there. Don’t be surprised if it’s less frequent than it has been.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Yesterday’s rainstorm was part of a cloud system that moved in from the east yesterday, and under which we are currently nestled. Temps are balmy, even a little cool, and there’s a light breeze. It’s a great relief to us gringos, but when Abraham comes by the house this morning, he says he’s cold; he has on a long-sleeved shirt.

Gershon and Michaela want to go to school today with the kids, so they head out about 7:30 am. The rest of us, um, don’t.

I have another final exam to write. I has occurred to me that if I hand it out on Wed night, as planned, and leave on Thu afternoon, they won’t have a chance to get it back to me to grade, and then we’ll have to mail them, and then I won’t get them until July, and then it’s all a big mess. So I’ve decided to cut the exam material on the General Epistles and Revelation, which we’ll cover in class late Tue or Wed night, and have them write the exam tonight. I can collect them Wed night and leave them with Timothy to return to the students.

This is Africa. We change things all the time here.

Today is John Mark’s 7th birthday, and Ivy and Cynthia are baking a cake and a bunch of cupcakes. They need to use our oven. By midday the house smells just terrific.

With the upcoming travel days, there’s going to be about half a week during which we’ll have no access to laundry, so we’re standing in line for the small washing machine to get caught up. Everyone’s managing to get a turn. So to speak.

Gershon and Michaela get home from school just a few minutes before the team needs to leave for the second day of VBS at Gbacha, so there’s little time to report on how school went. They decided to spend the day in a single classroom, 5th grade, with about 19 students. There are 3 classes in the morning and 1 after lunch, with a different teacher for each. There’s a lot of raw memorization and recitation, as I expected.


With everyone healthy—a good thing as the travel days approach—the house seems eerily quiet when the bus leaves for Gbacha. Never had the whole place to myself before.

Class goes well, even when I announce that I’m distributing the final exam tonight. They’ll have several options for turning it in—

  1. They can bring it to class tomorrow night, finished, which will be much earlier than they’ve been expecting; they’ll be working on it from late tonight until tomorrow afternoon, assuming they have some free time. But this unannounced change could obviously be a hardship for some, so I’ve devised some alternatives.
  2. Tomorrow night’s class will be just 1 hour; they can stay at the chapel, use the internet access there, and drop it off at the house when they leave.
  3. They can write it on their computer and email it to me before 9 am Thu.
  4. Or they can make a trip back to campus Thu morning and give it to me at the house by 9 am.

To my great relief, they all readily agree that this is fair. So after a stern lecture on citing their sources, I send them off into the night.

Several of the girls come by the chapel after I’m done to teach David, the choir director, the song we sang in church Sunday morning. I head back to the house for supper.

I enjoy eating supper late, after class; it feels good to be hungry and then eat. :-)

I get a full report on the VBS; Gershon and Charity tell the stories, and the games go well. They say there were about 200 kids. Sounds high for a village, but not impossible.

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After the girls get back we have team devotions, and the Jess makes some popcorn. I find my eyelids more demanding than my stomach, though, and head to bed, leaving the party to the youngsters.