" Ghana "

Friday, June 03, 2016

I’m awake at 7—the Alarm Rooster has followed us to Accra—and walk around the guest house looking for trouble. All the footlockers are ready to load, so all we have to do is get everybody up and out the door in an hour and a half. That shouldn’t be a problem.

Might as well take advantage of the last predictable web connection for a couple of days. Answer emails, do some reading. At 7:30 I tap on each bedroom door and announce, “Leaving in 1 hour!” I hear movement, so apparently nobody died in his sleep.

Soon there’s coffee brewing—that’s the most important thing for some people—and I try to get somebody to eat the last 2 boxes of the Kellogg’s variety pack. We’ll just leave whatever’s left to the Junges, who will be here another few days.

The taxi driver shows up a half hour early. He’s quick to tell us that we can take our time; he just wanted to be sure not to be late because of traffic. This guy’s getting a tip. He loads the footlockers into the back of his van while I check each room as it’s vacated. Nothing left behind, and the place is left in a used but not demolished condition.

We say our good-byes to the Owens—they arrived back in Accra yesterday afternoon—and thank them for their help, far beyond the line of duty. Ryan tells me the taxi should cost 70 cedis. It’s helpful to have info like that going into negotiation.

It’s a quick drive to the airport; the traffic is really light for 8:30 am in this hub city of West Africa. We pull up at the curb and load the luggage onto carts for each of us. I ask the driver how much. 70 cedis. I give him 80 and say, “Madasi,” which is “Thank you!” in Twi, the Ashanti language generally spoken in Accra.

Security is very good here. They scan all the bags coming into the building—and they did last year too; this wasn’t just a response to Brussels—then we queue up for check-in. The line is not long, but it moves slowly as they methodically check passports against passenger lists before letting you into the counter area. We drop our footlockers and other checked bags at the check-in counter, where I learn that we have a weight problem. The maximum weight here is 33 pounds per bag.

That’s a favorite trick here; drop the weight limit so everyone’s over-packed, and then make a little extra on baggage fees. This happened last year as well, and they nailed us to the tune of over $300. Since I didn’t have that much US cash on me, I had to use a credit card, and that meant I had to run all over the airport to get it authorized and in the process almost missed the flight—the one that the rest of the team wouldn’t have missed. Have a nice trip, folks …

This time I’m ready. They ask for $160, and I have it in cash, so all’s well. It’s a lot more fun to be calm and smiling and Madasi-ing all over the place.

Everybody’s in. Upstairs to ex-migration, where we fill out a form and officially check out of the country. (Well, what would you call it?) Several of the girls get comments from the female agents on their braids. They seem pleased that the girls have had it done, and especially that they had Ghanaians do it. Cultural respect goes a long way.

Then through security and the wildly overpriced duty-free shop and out to the gate area. It’s 9:30 am, and we’re smoothly checked in for a 12:20 flight. Yeah, that’s early, but it’s a risk you have to take. If check-in’s chaos, and it often is, you may need all of that time and wish you had more.

So we settle in to the common gate area and relax. I go back to the shop and buy a little something for the ladies at Tumaini (don’t tell them); we make use of the restrooms; I drop in to the VIP lounge and ask how much it is for a day pass, thinking that maybe we can relax in there for a couple hours. $27. Each. Nah. But if our area weren’t air conditioned, I’d think about it.

At 11 I see a fairly good-sized line going through the gate checkpoint, so I guess we’ll head over there. Stop at a lectern for one more passport check; then at a desk for another boarding pass check, where they give me my receipt and change for the baggage fees. Very proficient system, to all appearances.

Eventually they call us down the stairs to the bus and out to the plane, a 787 Dreamliner. It’s next to a much larger Emirates wide-body; kinda wish we were riding on that. Emirates is famous for having lots of luxuries on their flights.

We take off toward the south, over the ocean—over Osu Beach, in fact—and then turn left toward Dar. But as I follow the data on the flight maps, as is my custom, I note that we’re not climbing at a normal rate. In fact, about 15 minutes in, we’re only at 10,000 feet and then begin descending slightly. Well, that’s odd. And then I realize that we’re going to land at Lome, Togo, just a 30-minute flight from Accra. I had noticed a lot of empty seats on this flight; now I know why. No one will get off at Lome, but a lot more will get on.

As we land at Lome, I reach forward a seat and tap Jojo on the shoulder. So you made it to Togo after all, my friend. Good for you.

We’re on the ground for about an hour but of course stay on the plane. Then we take off again, this time really headed to Addis. And then I notice some more stuff, such as, we’re not going to get into Addis anywhere near the 9.05 pm that my itinerary says. More like 10.25. And our flight out to Dar es Salaam leaves at 10.56. And at Addis, as in most African airports, you have to go through security every time you change planes.

This is not good. If we miss our connection at 10.56 pm, there aren’t going to be any more flights out to Dar tonight. We’ll have to rebook and either hang around in the airport all night—fairly brutal by anyone’s standards—or get a hotel. I’ve been to Addis several times, but I’ve never left the airport. That means getting local currency, trying to find a hotel with 2 or 3 rooms available, getting taxis back and forth. Yecchh. I don’t like situations like this. It would be one thing if I were alone, but when I’m responsible for a bunch of other people’s kids …

I let the Crew know that we’ll need to hustle off the plane; we’ll give it our best shot.

So what do we know? We know that we’ll have about 30 minutes from touchdown to departure of the next flight. We know that we’re all seated almost at the exit. That’s good. We know that a short taxi to the arrival gate would cut our time significantly. We know that Addis uses both jetways and shuttle buses; the jetways would be faster. If the departure gate is close to the arrival gate, that would be great. And may there please be short lines at security? And we know that our connection is a Dash 8, a much smaller aircraft than the 787. So our 7 seats are a much larger percentage of their total tickets, and that makes us relatively more valuable. Maybe they’ll hold the flight for us. Maybe.

Touchdown at 10.25, just as predicted. OK. We have 31 minutes, and the clock’s ticking.

We taxi to the terminal and then allllll the way to the very far end. Longest possible taxi. And past all the jetway gates to one with rolling stairs and a shuttle bus. And the shuttle bus takes us alllll the way back to the other end of terminal. This is not looking good.

And then I hear the Magic Word. As we enter the terminal and head for the stairs, I hear a voice shout, “Dar!” There’s a gate agent meeting us. That means that the airline has recognized the problem and is expediting us to the gate—and that almost certainly means that they’re holding the flight for us. So up the stairs we go, following the gate agent. Alllll the way back to the other end of the terminal, but on foot this time. For a moment I think they’re going to waive security for us—I’m not sure what I think about that—but soon it’s clear that they’re just pushing us to the head of the line. They give Jojo some trouble with his wrist brace but finally let him through. And then half the length of the terminal again to Gate 17, where everybody else has boarded. I note that there are 13 in our special group, so our clout was even better than I had hoped.

Onto the shuttle bus—the same one we rode in on—and alllll the way to the far end of the tarmac to the Dash 8. I take a minute to tell the flight attendant that the airline has really done a spectacular thing with this tight connection. Ethiopian is one of the best airlines in Africa—or I suppose anywhere—and their stock is pretty high with me right now. Everybody go buy a ticket from them. They fly lots of places. And that language they speak is called Amharic.

We settle into our seats. Did I mention that it’s a smaller plane? Jonathan squeezes into his seat next to an older gentleman. I’m tempted to ask the flight attendant to reseat the gentleman to first class just on humanitarian grounds.

They give us a small sandwich and a Kit-Kat bar on the plane, just before midnight.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

We stop a second time around 2 am; from the time, I assume we’re in Kumasi. It’s the Shell station where we took the little girl in to the store with us on the way up. Several of the kids get something, from fruit juice (Jojo) to Pringles (Bethany). On the way back to the bus I note that they’ve opened the cargo door, and I can see the goat, who seems to be doing fine. Then back aboard.

I manage to doze off for a couple of hours—remember, it’s The Long Dark Night of the Soul—and wake up as we’re coming into the northern outskirts of Accra and the daylight is beginning to appear. It seems to take forever until we pull into the bus terminal at the Nkrumah Interchange. I’m the first of our group off the bus, and I’m immediately accosted by a man in a uniform shirt. Taxi? One nice thing about being white in Africa is that you typically get very good service. Because all white people are rich, you know.

Yes, I need 3 taxis to the Papaye Chicken shop in Osu. He rounds up 3 drivers in a flash, and as we identify our luggage coming off the bus, they help us wheel it across the lot to where the taxis are parked. He’s off giving orders, and the drivers start loading the luggage into their cars. Um, we haven’t negotiated the price yet. I ask the nearest driver, How much? 30 cedis. I go to a second. 35. He said 30 over there. OK, 30. I finally chase down the boss and ask him. 30 per driver, 10 for me. 25 bucks for 3 taxis across town? I could probably negotiate some—especially since they’ve already loaded our luggage, and in the past it’s gotten pretty dramatic results to negotiate for a while, shake your head, and say, “Unload the luggage!” But 25 bucks is a fair price. OK. One male team member in each taxi.

We caravan across the city—about 3 kilometers as the crow flies, but crows don’t fly here—and arrive at Papaye Chicken, 3 blocks from the guest house, where we wait a minute for the 3rd cab to catch up with us, then turn onto Abebresem Street and up to the guest house. Muhammad meets us at the gate. Just after 6 am, and we’re moved in.

The guest house rooms are all full today—there are 2 of our usual six rooms on the top floor already occupied, so we come in quietly, find a room for everybody—girls on the kitchen end, guys on the living room end—and I suggest lying down for a couple of hours until the others start to stir. I set a very positive example.

I come out at 8 to meet the occupants of one of the occupied rooms sitting at the kitchen table. They’re the Junges, ABWE missionaries returning to the States after 10 years in Ho, over on the Togo border. They know the story of Jojo’s uncle Tim being murdered on the other side of the border in Togo. Their daughter is a recent BJU graduate who teaches at Hanalani Christian Schools in Hawaii, along with a couple of Africa team alumni. Small world. The Junges have a day or two of business to take care of here in Accra before flying home.

I need to get a piece of paper to Kathy Bristol—something about transfer of license on the lorry, which she forgot to sign, or signed the wrong form, or something. So I need to find out which apartment she’s in so she can take care of it before her flight tonight. Since the Owens aren’t back from Wa yet, I go downstairs to look for Muhammed to find out where Kathy is. At the bottom of the stairs I turn the corner, and there she is, just in from buying some water at the Lara Mart. So we take care of the paper transfer. I tell her the team would like to buy her lunch if we can get together around noon. We’ll see if that happens.

Then down to Lara Mart myself for breakfast stuff—a combo pack of Kellogg’s—can’t lose with that—and a couple liters of boxed milk. There. Breakfast.

Back to the house, and Sarah and Bethany are up, so the three of us have a bowl of cereal. And then I remember: wifi! And in the same building! So I sit on the living room sofa and upload yesterday’s blog entry, complete with photos, just like that.

By 10.30 am everybody’s up. I ask them how they’d like to spend their day; I note that we’d like to drop back by here at noon to pick up Kathy for lunch, but otherwise we have all day and a flexible schedule. I suggest going to the beach now, and 4 of them agree; Lora and Jojo opt to get more rest.

It’s about a 15-minute walk to the beach, south a couple of blocks and then through a slum. This is probably the most intense poverty they’ve seen so far. Most of the folks out in the bush live simply, but we can’t really say they’re poor; they have enough to eat and to wear, and they have shelter from the sun and the rain and a place to sleep. Here the situation is different: people come from the bush to the city, seeking the economic opportunity that a city brings. But they don’t count on the much higher cost of living in the city, so they end up squatting in slums and doing day work to eke out enough to eat. This isn’t really a lifestyle with any upward mobility, so people just stay in the slums or end up returning home. You see this all over the world: Mexico City, Tokyo, Cairo, Nairobi, Cape Town. It’s truly heartbreaking.

We walk through the slum for about 10 minutes to the beach access. At first it looks like any other beach: the stretch of sand, the breakers, a rocky jetty or two. But as you get closer, you see that everything is just covered with trash, and the water is a dull brown out to at least a kilometer from shore. (I tell one team member that the clear demarcation line out in the water is the equator, and for a second he/she believes me.) You have to walk carefully; I tell the team, You stumble, you fall into some trash, you stick yourself, you’re HIV positive, just like that. We sit on the rocks, far enough back that the spray of the breakers doesn’t reach us—somehow raw sewage spray isn’t that attractive—and I talk to them about resources and the use or disuse of them. In a developed country, this property would be worth millions of dollars per lot, and thousands of people would be earning a good living off it. Here it’s a slum. There are resorts along the Ghanaian coast, but few of them. There is opportunity to be exploited, but you can’t do that without a capital infusion, and people aren’t going to risk that kind of capital without a more reliable prospect of return. Nkrumah was a communist, and if investors need to worry that the state will nationalize their property, or that corruption will bleed all the profit out of it, they’ll put their money someplace more sensible. And you, if you had money, would do exactly the same thing.

Like any human system, there are problems with capitalism too. But it hurts to see so much suffering when solutions are available.

We arrive back at the house around noon, so we pick up Jojo and Lora and Kathy and head up the street for lunch. My idea is to go to a food court that offers good variety at reasonable prices and clean prep. Kathy says she thinks the place is out of business, but we walk down there anyway and find that she’s right, so we head back to Papaye Chicken, which is probably the most popular restaurant in the area. (You tell cab drivers your location by working from the nearest Papaye Chicken joint.) Everyone notices the A/C when we walk in and head upstairs to the seating area. Right away we find a table for 8 and settle in, with Kathy sitting in the middle so everyone can hear her.

I confess that buying her lunch wasn’t an entirely altruistic act. I want the kids to have some time with her, to get a sense of her philosophy and approach. This is 40 years of bush medical experience, in 2 West African countries. We order our meals—Papaye Chicken is popular for a reason—and listen to her experiences and thoughts, the students peppering her with questions. You really can’t buy times like this.

After lunch, as we walk home, I show them the local Shop-Rite. Shop-Rite is a South African company that is building Western-style grocery stores all over Africa. We step through the entrance into air conditioning, bright lights, and a “normal” supermarket, just like at home. This is Africa too, though it’s nothing like what they’ve seen so far. Africa is a diverse place, even within Ghana. And no jungle here.

Home for an hour or so of rest before we step out on a completely new adventure. I’ve heard there are a couple of malls in town, and I figure it’s worth a try since we have the rest of the day. About 4 we hail a couple of cabs and negotiate a price to Accra Mall. Traffic is heavy, so it takes about 45 minutes to get there, but we find what anyone in the US would recognize as a mall. It’s smaller than usual for the US, maybe 30 stores total besides kiosks, and just 2 anchors, a Game (like a Wal-Mart) and a Shop-Rite. But bright, clean, modern. There’s a coffee shop at the main entrance, and immediately the Crew, who’s seen nothing but Nescafe since we arrived, thinks that’s just a great idea. And it is.

The mall is U-shaped, and we can walk the whole thing in about 15 minutes. After the initial survey I turn them loose. Groups of at least two; nobody wanders off by himself. Meet back here in 1 hour. I head for Shop-Rite, because I love grocery stores, but especially because I love air conditioning. This one has a sign in the door—Sorry, the A/C is broken.—so that visit doesn’t last long. Most of the kids are in one store with some very nice African clothing, at higher prices, of course, than what they were seeing in Wa. We make a few purchases.

Reassemble at the meeting point for supper in the food court. We decide on the nicest restaurant there, call Le Must, with a broad menu—from grilled lobster to pizza–and reasonable prices for its class—the most expensive item is 70 cedis, or about 17 bucks. Four of us order steak with mushroom sauce; Bethany orders a pizza, Jonathan orders shrimp, and Jojo orders steak with pepper sauce. The mushroom sauce is white, to my surprise, but it’s tasty. There are few flavor combinations better than grilled beef and a good mushroom gravy. I’d say that’s just my opinion, but if you disagree, well, you’re just wrong.

Meal, including tip, is 600 cedis, or between 20 and 25 bucks apiece. Pricey for here, but we won’t have a meal like that again until Cape Town. I’ve learned over the years that for American kids to thrive, especially in a developing culture, sometimes you just have to give them meat.

After dinner we step out into the parking lot and find a couple of cabs, negotiate the price, and make it back to the house much more quickly that we came out. Team devos, with quite a bit of discussion about the changes that the new location will entail. Then packing of the footlockers again, showers, some connection time, and to bed.

During a trip downstairs to organize the footlockers for the morning departure, I notice 4 men and a teen-aged girl—who turns out to be the daughter of one of the men, an American pastor—in the apartment Kathy just vacated this afternoon. They’ve just come in from Nigeria, helping national pastors, and are planning to spend several days up country here doing the same thing. We talk for several minutes, sharing ministry philosophy and experience. You learn a little bit from everybody you meet, and connections for the future are a rich resource. They’ll be leaving at 6 am; we’ll head to the airport at 8:30.

Since connectivity is questionable for the next 36 hours or more, I’m sending out the journal before going to bed, which will be early evening back home. So some of you will be reading parts of this entry before we actually lived it.

Whoa. That was deep.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Departure day. We have a couple of loaves of bread left, which it occurs to me we could turn into sandwiches for the bus ride, if only we had something to put in the sandwiches. So I take another taxi ride into town first thing in the morning to get some jam. I also drop a couple of business cards by the police station for the deputy regional commander, as he requested. And of course I stop by Lamin’s stand and tell her and Buffalo that I’ve told some of my local friends about them, and they will probably be hearing from them. I buy a couple of small bottles of Alvaro for the walk back.

Just a bit down the road Abraham, who’s going the other way on his motorbike, sees me, turns around, and offers me a ride. Why, thank you very much! He drops me at the gate, and I give him my second Alvaro. That will help cool him off on a hot day.

We’re all in various stages of packing, stripping the beds, and generally cleaning up after ourselves. Just before lunch Gabriel and Janet come by with the baby, and several of us come running back from the chapel to see her. She’s the cutest little African baby ever. Seriously. They’ve decided on the name, but it won’t be announced until the naming ceremony on Saturday. We’re tempted to stay for it.

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Mary wants to prepare a special lunch for us today, so she goes all American with hamburgers, chips (i.e. fries), and slaw. They even come up with some little ketchup packets. No burger rolls, of course, but the bread works just fine. Simon joins us and probably wonders what the big deal is about burgers, but we make short work of them.

After lunch Simon gives us all a good-bye gift of identical leather bracelets. Now we’re a team for sure. And we give Mary a special word of thanks and take a photo, and at Timothy’s suggestion I give her some cash. Turns out she has volunteered her time through these 2.5 weeks. A laborer is worthy of her hire.


After lunch we finish packing and closing down the house, in between friends who come by to say good-bye. There’s a fairly steady stream of them. Probably last chance for some wifi for a while too, so most of the crowd hits the chapel.

Finally it’s 4:00 and time to go. I’ve made repeated checks of the house, ensuring that we’ve gotten all of our stuff and that we’ve cleaned up after ourselves. Bethany has made jam sandwiches out of the rest of our bread, so we’ll save a little on supper. We say our final goodbyes, take some departure photos of the group with various combinations of friends, and then pile our luggage and ourselves into Ivy’s and Timothy’s cars. When we arrive at the bus terminal, we find that Simon and Gabriel have come to see us off. I also spot a Fan Ice cart with a cooler and make a mental note to buy everybody some at the last minute, so it’ll stay as cold as possible.

Timothy negotiates the baggage fees and saves us 25%; it’s just 150 cedis this time, and some of us have heavier bags from our clothing and other purchases. Good for him. I also notice a goat that’s going to ride along in the baggage compartment. I wonder if he has any idea what’s going on.

Fan Ice for everybody; Lora and Jojo want strawberry frozen yogurt, and everybody else gets vanilla.

Then onto the bus. We’re seated in a block, Rachael and I in front of the group with Jojo across the aisle; Jonathan and Sarah behind us, and Lora and Bethany behind them, just 3 or so rows from the back. We head south on the Bole road, past Blue Hill and the road leading out to our last VBS. The sun slowly descends, and by 8 pm it’s fully dark. Jojo goes to sleep—he’s gifted that way—and the rest of us doze or watch videos or play games on our devices. We eat the sandwiches as we feel like it and try not to drink too much water since we don’t know when the stops will be. The TV in the front plays music videos until 8:30 or so, and then the video goes dark but the music keeps playing. Fortunately, it’s not too loud.

Our first stop is just after 9, and I recognize it immediately as the first stop on the same trip last year, where Gershon and I nearly caused an international incident. We manage not to this time—though I suppose the fact that Jonathan could be taken for an Arab might have helped this time. Then back on the road and into the night.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Last full day in Wa. When I wake up, the power’s off. Not a major problem at this point.

There’s been a development in the Lamin case. I had messaged her son on Facebook, trying to arrange to get together when we pass back through Accra on Thursday. After several days he has replied, with a surprise. He and his mom are back in Wa. And she has a new shop, just across the street from the BNI office. I Google it. Bureau of National Investigation, the Ghanaian equivalent of the FBI. I ask Simon where that is. He doesn’t know. I type it into Google Maps. No hit.

Well. I need to go back into town to get those cedis I couldn’t get yesterday, and that will take me right by the police station, so I’ll just ask them. Surely they’ll know.

And then I remember something. Last year, as I was leaving for Africa, my colleague Mike Wilkie, professor of Criminal Justice at BJU and retired police chief of Acworth, Georgia, gave me three very nice award coins from the CJ program to give to police officers in Africa as the opportunity arose. There wasn’t really an opportunity to do that last year, but I brought them with me this time. I’ll take them along; can’t hurt, and might open some doors.

A few minutes out of the gate I flag down a taxi—one of those jitney-type things—and the driver says it’s 1 cedi to the police station. Great. He drops me off, and I walk up to several uniforms talking outside the station. The one in the fanciest uniform turns to me and asks if he can help me. I introduce myself as a university professor from America and explain that a fellow professor in the university’s Criminal Justice program has asked me to deliver a small gift to the police chief. Turns out I’m talking to him. Is the gift for the city police chief, or the regional commander? (Ghana calls its states regions.) I have a gift for both, I say. He brings me inside to his office—past a couple of cells that look like I’d rather not live there—and I present the coin. He receives it gratefully and asks what I’m doing in the Upper West Region. (There’s an underlying sentiment here in the UWR that no one in his right mind would come here unless he had to.) I mention Dr. Seidu at the mission on Tumu Road, and the college, and the churches in town. He thanks me for bringing help to the region. Then he says that the regional commander is not in yet this morning; I leave an extra coin with him and say that I’ll drop by again on the way back from town. Then I ask if he knows where the BNI office is. Right down the road, he says. You came by it on your way here. He calls in a lady, one of the group he was talking to when I approached the station, and asks her to take me to Lamin’s shop.

As the two of us walk the few meters, she says she remembers my coming to Lamin’s shop last year. She says she went to the States last fall to take some police training in Washington DC and Massachusetts, and I suddenly remember her telling me that last year as well.

Soon I see Lamin, sitting in a small drink and snack shop right across from a nondescript building that must be the regional HQ of the BNI. (I would think the BNI wants to be in a nondescript building.) She laughs and runs to hug me. She says, “You walked by my shop the other day, and I called you, but you didn’t hear!” “I didn’t recognize you; I expected you to be in Accra!” I tell her, but I’m ashamed of myself for not recognizing her. Her son steps up, and I thank him for getting us in touch again. He’s a recent secondary school graduate who likes to play basketball; his teammates call him “Buffalo” because he’s so strong. We get a bunch of photos, including some of me with Lamin and the DC lady. I tell them that I need to go into town, but I’ll stop by again on the way back.

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In town, the ATMs aren’t working again; apparently they haven’t been refilled from the weekend yet (it’s about 8.30 am). As I’m in line, I see Timothy walking out of the bank lobby. What are the odds? He gives me a ride down to another ATM, which is also not up yet. I wait in line for a while and then notice that a lady appears to be accessing one across the street, so I walk over and ask her if it’s working. Yep. Finally.

Money in pocket, I head back to keep my appointments. At the police station, the chief says that the regional commander is in. He walks me over to the next building, the regional HQ. I notice that even people in civilian clothes snap to attention as we walk by. (I assume that’s for him, not for me.) Inside the building, he takes me down the hall to the deputy regional commander’s office and introduces me with great deference to both of us, but especially to the deputy commander. The chief excuses himself, and my host asks me to sit down.

We have a most interesting conversation. He has a PhD from the University of Leicester in the UK and worked abroad for several years doing training of police forces for special situations—which I take means anti-terrorism. He finally decided, as he puts it, to come home. He confirms my understanding that the Upper West Region is considered something of a backwater—assignments here are seen as punishments, he says—but he enjoys the work, and his skills are needed here. I present the third coin, and we discuss development needs across Africa. He is gracious with his time.

He then takes me to see his boss, the Regional Commander. He is much more perfunctory, and our conversation is short, but he does appreciate the coin. I leave with the sense that this set of introductions was time well invested. If nothing else, I have raised their awareness about Timothy’s work here and the contribution it makes to the community.

Back up Tumu Road toward home, with a stop at Lamin’s. She gives me a bottle of cold water and won’t accept payment. We sit and talk some more. Her family is in Accra, and she’d much rather be there, but there are circumstances, both financial and otherwise, that make that impossible for the present. I ask as much as I can without prying. Frankly, if a few hundred bucks would solve her problem, I’m thinking seriously about just taking care of it. But I have to be cautious; throwing money around in developing cultures often—perhaps even usually—does more harm than good. But this isn’t a simple problem; the cost of living in Accra is considerably higher than in Wa, and the financial shortfall would be ongoing, and she doesn’t have the skills to support herself in that environment. And other factors complicate the situation as well. So I listen, and empathize, and tell her I’ll pray for her, and wish her well.

The needs are endless here, and the simple solutions are not the right ones, ever.

Just short of the compound Simon comes by and gives me a ride the rest of the way. The power’s back on at the house, and Mary’s in the kitchen preparing lunch. This one is being given us by the folks at Wa RBC as thanks for our ministry with them, and as a kind farewell.

Over to the chapel to upload yesterday’s blog entry. This is the latest I’ve posted in quite a while—10.30 am—but since it’s 6.30 am back home, I suppose there’s no harm done.

Back at the house, the kitchen is filled with African women applying their skills. A rice-and-beans mixture, with a red sauce to go over it, a sort of warm coleslaw, and some boiled and fried chicken. It smells terrific. The president of the ladies’ fellowship offers a formal thanks for our ministry with them, and we pray and eat. They’ve also brought a local herbal drink, flavored with ginger and nutmeg and who knows what else. It’s dark red and non-carbonated. Strikingly tasty, though unfamiliar. And I hope it’s OK. 🙂

Ivy and Simon join us at the dining room table, while the ladies’ fellowship sits in a circle out in the living room. In short order we’re stuffed, and the ladies do all the cleanup. We express our gratitude repeatedly.

Here’s the thing. We don’t feel like we did all that much for them. Really, just 4 Sunday sermons and some chatting afterwards; no VBS, no youth program, not much of anything. But they are glad to have met us, to have benefited from what little ministry we did, and they want to demonstrate that. So they had a meeting after church Sunday morning and collected enough money to buy some rice and beans and vegetables and a chicken or two at the market, and half a dozen ladies in the church put on their nice clothes and came over and cooked it all for us, under Mary’s direction. (Mary’s from that church.) It’s hard to imagine a more genuine gesture of appreciation.

There is joy, my friends, in serving Jesus. And the joy spreads to everyone the service touches.

As the ladies are heading home, a thought strikes me. These ladies could have a real ministry with Lamin. I speak with Ivy about it, and she agrees that something would be possible there. Then I think of Buffalo. “Simon, do you know play basketball?” Not really. Volleyball. Jeremiah plays basketball, though. I show Simon a phot of me, Lamin, and Buffalo. “I know her. I know her shop. I can meet her son.” And so we have a couple of young men who can perhaps make friends with Lamin’s son. I don’t know the spiritual condition of either Lamin or Buffalo, but I do know that they could use some believing friends. Divine appointments yield surprising results. Please pray for fruitful ministry in their lives.

After lunch Kathy Bristol comes by the house to drop off a couple of cookbooks for the library. She figures she won’t need them anymore—at least not enough to pack them back to the States. We spend some time talking about the challenges of transitioning from 40 years in the bush back to middle-class America, an America that is very different from the one she left. She has family and friends, of course, but repatriation is pretty much always a challenge, and her case is more radical than average. I invite her to live in Greenville 🙂 but she’s not sure where her choice will take her.

Soon Pastor David, her pastor in Baayiri, fires up the lorry she’s leaving behind for the clinic to use, and she walks out the front door to ride to the bus station and leave Africa for the last time.

We’re late getting off to our last VBS—a miscommunication with the bus driver—but we get away a little after 4. This is the first one I get to go on, since I was teaching at 5.30 for the last 2 weeks. I’m looking forward to seeing these kids in action.

We head south out of Wa, on the road to Accra, past Blue Hill for several kilometers, and then west on a dirt road for a kilometer or two. We’re definitely out in the boonies. There’s a small cluster of classroom buildings, with one of the classrooms already full of people waiting for us—mostly children, but a dozen or so adults, ranging from a 70-year-old woman to a 20-something young man. With Simon and Gabriel interpreting, we introduction the team and thank them for coming. We introduce the pastor of the church and then Gabriel leads them in a number of the standard children’s songs, starting with “My God Is So Big.” The old woman does the motions with gusto. Then Jonathan tells the story of creation and the fall, and Jojo follows him with the gospel story. Everyone listens attentively. Gabriel invites any with questions to come to one of the Waala pastors—several do—and we adjourn for games outside.


Jonathan, Sarah, and Rachael, with Simon’s help, take the littler children out onto the courtyard and start “Red Light, Green Light,” and “Duck, Duck, Goose,” while the rest of us take the older children down a short path to a large football field. There are no lines on it, so the game ends up being as wide as it is long—we probably play the largest football game in history. I note the stoniness of the area in which the smaller children are playing, running freely in bare feet and showing no pain. They’ve apparently grown their own sandals.


I see a couple of smaller children standing tentatively off to the side and ask them if they’d like to play. They pretty clearly don’t understand English—I ask, “How are you?” and don’t get the formulaic “I am fine”—but they do understand the African “come here” gesture, which resembles the American but with the palm down and all the fingers involved rather than just the index finger. I take them back up the path to where the smaller children are playing, and in a few minutes they’re right in with the others.

The team does well. They’re old hands at this now, though as I’ve mentioned, this is my first time to see them in action. They show a lot of energy and affection, drawing the children into the games and keeping them involved.

The kids really are all right.

We play until after sundown and then say our goodbyes and board the bus in the fading light. It’s dark by the time we drop the Faith folks off at the church property. This is the final goodbye for us and Gabriel, and I regret having to leave behind someone who has been such an integral part of our ministry here. I say a few encouraging words and remind him that, Lord willing, we’ll be back next year.

Back to the house and a delayed supper. Potato & beef soup with grilled sandwiches. Jonathan’s is delayed even further because he has a piano lesson with David—the last one—right after we get back.

And now we’re done. This is always hard, and it happens three times on each trip. Tears of loss, but joy for friendships gained, progress seen, and memories made.

I spend some time at devotions telling them how they’ve done. In short, they’ve been spectacular. They have embraced the culture and the people; they’ve shown no tendency to cluster together out of fear; they’ve fulfilled every part of the contract, if you can call it that, with competency and even excellence. And they’ve done it with fewer people than earlier teams had. I could not be prouder of this group of students.

I warn them that next 3+ days will probably be the most physically stressful part of the entire trip. They need to get their rest tonight; tomorrow night we’ll be on the bus, Thursday night in the Accra guest house—that won’t be stressful—and Friday night on the plane and in the Dar es Salaam airport, which is nobody’s idea of a good time.

A word about updates. I assume, since the Accra guest house had wifi when we came in, that you’ll get an update Thursday morning. But then probably nothing until at least Saturday, and maybe Monday. My phone is not functional in either Ethiopia or TZ, so the parents won’t be getting texts when we land. I’ll do the best I can to communicate, but nothing’s certain. Prayers appreciated.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The major task for the morning—other than the regular posting of yesterday’s journal—is to get the papers graded and the course closed down. I spend the morning taking care of that. I can tell that some of the students really don’t understand what the assignment is supposed to accomplish—I think, now, of several ways I could have simplified it and clarified the instructions—but if the student concludes something that isn’t heretical, I think he should get some credit.

Other students do quite well. There are more A’s than C’s, and more B’s than either, so it’s a fairly decent scale. I take off a letter grade for each paper that exhibits plagiarism—which is a fairly mild penalty, especially considering that I spent considerable time talking about it—and I withhold a grade on one paper that arrives a day late and is an identical copy of another paper that came in earlier, except for the name. The student even handed it in with a copy of the paper he copied. I have no idea how he expected to get away with that.

So I get the grades reported to Timothy and the papers delivered to him for return to the students, and this course is officially in the books.

Yesterday the kind folks at Faith took an offering for us to go out to lunch today. Ivy drops by the house at noon, and we head off to Mummy’s Kitchen. The team pays for lunch for Timothy and Ivy, as a small token of our appreciation for all they’ve done for us. Rachael, Lora, and Bethany order a dish that’s mostly soup and that the locals eat with their hands. Moms, we’ve completely undone everything you taught your kids about table manners.

On the way home I need to stop and get some cedis for the bus tickets, and we need some tp and laundry soap for the last couple of days. Ivy stops at an ATM, and Rachael and I hit the machine. Not working; lets you sign in but offers only a balance inquiry. OK, cross the street and try that one. There’s a long line, and we can see a rainstorm approaching, and there’s not much cover. We wait our turn. And wait. And wait. People in front of us have animated discussions, apparently about how to work the machine. As the person in front of Rachael finishes, the machine shuts down. Great. Next door to Barclay’s ATM. Another long line. The lady in front of Rachel tries 2 different cards to see how much balance is on each, then goes back to the first one to make her withdrawal. Rain’s getting closer. Rachael steps up and gets her money. My turn. One of the team members comes from the car to tell us that another team member really needs to get, um, home. Fast. Cancel the transaction and run for the car. Wait for a bazillion motorbikes to get by. Pull into the street. A guy with an oxcart full of bales of cotton has the road blocked. We clear him, and the skies open up. Rush for home. Pull up. The team member in question is so located in the vehicle as to be the last person out. Run for the toilet.

Made it.

But now we’re pretty much out of tp.

Well, actually, we’re OK; the Crew tells me that while they were in the car waiting for us to use the ATM, Ivy ran into a shop and bought 10 rolls. That oughta do us for a coupla days, I hope.

The rain continues steadily through the afternoon. At 3, when we’re supposed to leave for some door-to-door evangelism in the Water Village (!), it’s still steady. About 4 pm John Lanchina, the pastor of the church plant there, comes by and agrees that the plans are not practical today. Since we’re leaving Wednesday after lunch, that means we really won’t be able to help him out this time. Maybe next year, he says with a smile.

Have I told you much about John? He’s Timothy’s younger half-brother, who got married last year while the team was here. He’s a graduate of CABC in Zambia—he’s wearing a Zambia national team football jersey today. Here’s a quick quiz: do you know what’s unusual about the Zambian national flag?

So we have the afternoon off, and it’s rainy, rainy, rainy. Naps; reading; talking; some trying to recover.

Late afternoon Naomi and her little boy come by, and she works with Lora on some turban styles. Jonathan thinks she looks like Princess Leia in one of them. We plan for Naomi to stay for supper, but her husband comes by to pick her up a few minutes before a delayed supper arrives.

Supper is ground-nut (peanut) soup with rice balls. I remind everyone to wash hands thoroughly; the inconsistency with which the digestive stuff is hitting us makes me think that it might be less likely that it’s the food and more likely that it’s hand-washing. Simon and Prince join us.

Simon helps Bethany and Sarah do the dishes, and then the two ladies make fruit popsicles. Pineapple and mango heated into a mash, poured into plastic cups, spoons dropped in, and into the freezer they go. A nice solution to fruit that’s about to outlive its edibility.

One of the benefits of having not much to do is that you have time to fix stuff you notice needs it. I fix the seat in one toilet and fix a leak in the other. Two fully functioning bathrooms; it’s like we’re getting the house ready to sell or something.

Devotions is brief tonight; I can tell the crew is tired. Most of us head off to bed soon afterwards.

Quiz answer: the logo is off-center. Hardly anybody does that.