Thursday, May 9, 2013

As is always the case on red-eye flights, it’s a long night. My restless leg syndrome drives me nuts, as usual, but everyone has a pretty sporadic night of it. Catherine and I are seatmates, because our last names are so close together in the alphabet, and we manage to keep out of each other’s way. The floor thing doesn’t work at all, by the way. The seats must be closer together, because I can’t have gotten larger in the last three years.

They serve breakfast at about 9 a.m. (5 a.m. EDT)—a spicy meat pie (served hot) and a little fruit, very British. Catherine decides she doesn’t like it. She’d have made a lousy Welsh miner.

Before long we’re over land at an altitude low enough for us to see what’s going on. We all look out the closest window during the approach to Accra from the north. It’s fairly green—I assume because we’re getting into the rainy season—with lots of agriculture evident, and the red soil we all recognize from Georgia and South Carolina.

The landing is uneventful—that’s the best kind—and as we’re taxiing in, I text the parents that we’re on the ground in Africa. I tell the team that we have plenty of time, so we’ll just stay together and let others go first. First comes the yellow fever vaccination check—they seem really, really serious about that—and then immigration. There the guy comments on my pen, takes it to look at it, distracts me with something else, and keeps it. Smooth enough that I suspect he’s done that before. Next is baggage claim and customs. We go through the “nothing to declare” line, because, well, we have nothing to declare. They’re interested in my big white box, but they lose interest when I tell them it’s full of caps, gowns, tassels and diplomas for West Africa Baptist College. No problems.

Out of the terminal, through the gantlet of hawkers trying to sell their services, willing to do anything—carry your luggage, make a phone call, whatever—for a tip. Finally we reach the outdoor waiting area, where we take seats and wait for James, the proprietor of Baptist Mid-Missions’ guest house in Accra, and Timothy Seidu, with whom we’ll be working in Wa, to show up. We wait long enough that I decide to use my newfangled global phone to call him. Can’t seem to get a call through; I try it with the country code, without the country code, with the leading zero, without the leading zero. Every time I get a recording saying “Your call has been rejected.” So I call tech support and get a nice American-sounding lady named Cheryl. As we’re working through several possibilities, I spot Timothy and a muzungu (that’s Swahili for “white person”—but they don’t speak Swahili here in West Africa) who I suppose must be James. I tell Cheryl that I’ve found the person I was trying to call, so I’ll get back to her about the phone problem.

Timothy is a BJU grad from 2001, just after I started teaching. He has the confidence of a bicultural person. It’s good to see him again. Soon a couple of other Ghanaian pastors arrive, we have introductions all around, and we load the luggage and the people into 2 SUVs and a pickup truck. As we drive to the guest house I decide to try to call Cheryl again. I reach her—which is odd, since you hardly ever get the same tech person two calls in a row—and to make a long story short, we figure out that she’s the ex-wife of my first cousin once removed. What are the odds?

She gives me several things to try. None of them work. But we’ve arrived at the house, so we put the problem aside again and move in.

It’s spacious, with several apartments and plenty of room for everyone to sleep, especially since three of us aren’t here. First order of business—in fact, pretty much the only order of business—is to go grocery shopping for things we won’t be able to buy in Wa. John Cross, my old Press buddy who was here with the group from Faith Baptist in Taylors two months ago, has been a lot of help in that regard. Timothy takes us to a grocery store within a mile or so, and we execute the list: ground beef, shredded cheese, frozen veggies, mueslix, canned tuna, PB&J, laundry detergent. I grab a few bouillon cubes, since my experience is that they’ll work wonders on bland food.

We decide to let the vehicle take the food back, and walk ourselves home. We’re assaulted by street hawkers virtually the whole way, and I have to encourage the girls to call on their rude side a little more aggressively. These guys are professional con men, and they’re always working something with the passersby.

We do stop for a coconut (everybody gets one; some like the milk better than others) and some rotisserie chicken and rice (takeaway, as they say in Britain and former colonies) for supper. When we get back, we set up a cafeteria line and everybody gets plenty, with enough left over to be a significant contributor to tomorrow’s meals. Several of the team—Abbie, Auria, Catherine and Keri—do the kitchen cleanup. Teamwork is starting to come together already.

Somewhere along the way, with my phone still useless, Jon gets a text through to Joy in New York and gets a reply. The three of them are scheduled on the next day’s version of our flight, so they’ll all be here at 1 p.m. tomorrow. James will be able to meet them at the airport, take them to the guest house for a bit of a break, and then to the bus terminal for the ride to Wa. They’ll ride all night, with some food and extra local currency that we’ve left behind, and arrive in Wa, d.v., in time for graduation.

After supper we have a team meeting. I’m hoping for some singing and testimonies, but it’s clear immediately that everyone’s exhausted. At least three of them can hardly keep their eyes open. It’s 6:30 p.m.—2:30 p.m. New York time—and they’re ready for bed.

That’s a good thing, because the bus we’ve hired to take us to Wa is going to show up in less than 10 hours at 4 a.m. I tell them that, and we all head for bed.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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