Monday, May 18, 2015

There’s nothing scheduled today until mid afternoon—or noon if you count being here to say thanks when Ivy and the girls bring us lunch—so I tell the crew to sleep in. Everybody’s up by shortly after 8, though. That’s a good sign; it tells me that the jet lag is pretty much gone. We chow down on leftovers for breakfast—we’re getting plenty to eat—and then around 9 we head out on a little hike to town. It’s about 3 or 4 kilometers, I suppose, to the market. I note that we’re pretty much out of drinking water; the filtering system is inoperative, and we’re blowing through bottled water and sachets like nobody’s business. So Gershon and I take along our empty backpacks to lug back some water.

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It’s a beautiful day for a hike, sunny, but reasonably cool at this hour of the morning. We move right along, getting used to the idea that a group of 9 nasalas (white people) tramping down the road is a great diversion to most of the locals. We get some wolf whistles—I’m pretty sure they’re not directed at me—and I comment to myself, “Yeah, chicks really dig that, dude.”

The first traffic circle we come to is the city services section; the police station, jail, and high court are here, and there are some other office buildings as well. Under a tree in front of the police station is a little stand with cold sodas and juices; I remember stopping here 2 years ago with the last Ghana team. I tell the hikers to get whatever they want and ask the lady how much. 15 cedis. A little over 3 bucks. Good. I pay, and we drink. The tradition in many African countries is that if you’re drinking from a glass bottle, you can’t leave with the bottle; you stand there and drink it. Otherwise you have to pay a substantial deposit on the bottle. So we stand and drink.

The lady has been studying me. “I remember you were here before.” “When?” “Two years ago. You brought a group with you and bought drinks here.”

Yikes.

A bunch of nasalas really is memorable.

We have a very pleasant conversation, and I explain the situation to her. As we leave, I say, “Barakah,” Waali for “Thank you.” (Yes, it’s an Arabic loan word.) She shakes her head. “I don’t speak Waali,” she says. “I am from Accra.” “Then you speak Twi?” (That’s the most common tribal language in Ghana, the language of the power group in Accra.) “Yes.” “What is the Twi word for ‘thank you’?” She tells me, and I say it back to her. She smiles broadly. As I walk away, I say, “Perhaps, God willing, I will see you again next year.” “Perhaps!”

It’s another mile or so to the market. We walk along the narrow sidewalk, or when that’s impossible, in the street. You’re not going to believe this, but that’s actually pretty safe. Because the traffic is so chaotic here, drivers are extremely attentive, and always ready for the unexpected; they’re the textbook “defensive drivers.” Pedestrians never get hit. Hardly.

I see a Vodaphone booth—or rather a minuscule table under a large red parasol—and I stop in. My second international cell phone, the one I intend to give to the other group anytime the team is divided, so we can stay in touch, has not been finding service since we arrived. The other one works fine; I suspect the SIM. So I ask their advice, and a man tests his SIM in the problem phone, and it works. So I ask how much a new SIM costs. 2 cedis. 50 cents? Are you kidding me? Sold. They sign me up with Ghana Vodaphone, and I’m on my way with a working cell phone in 5 minutes. It’s a Ghanaian number, of course, so I’ll probably be wise to change it when we get to Tanzania, but it works. And that’s what I got the thing for.

A few yards down the main drag I see a booth that sells bags of sachets. We’ll stop there on the way out of town to resupply.

Then we come to the market. It’s the quintessential African market—a plaza so crowded with rickety booths that you can’t even tell it’s a plaza anymore. There’s little organization, just booth after booth of produce, meat, clothing, kitchen implements, jewelry, spices, beans, rice, and anything else you can think of. (I haven’t included a photo here, because it’s seen as rude to take photos without getting permission.) The meat booths are particularly pungent; they take some getting used to. As a rule, most Americans are isolated from the sources of their food, and this is a new experience for most. Charity buys a pair of hoop earrings that ought to bring in several radio stations and maybe some TV too.

On our way out of the market, I take the group by a fabric shop I remember from last time. They have bolts and bolts of brightly colored, intricate fabric, which for 15 or 20 bucks you can have a tailor make into a custom dress. The girls move in for some serious shopping, while Gershon and I sit on the edge of a table under some shade. More than half the girls make purchases, and of course the shopping is more fun than the buying. I compliment the proprietress, Akila, on the quality of her wares. She’s all smiles, because she’s having a very good day because of us, so I ask if I may take a photo of her shop. She quickly agrees, but says, “No photo of me.” “OK.” I shoot some. “Say, Akila, it would mean very much to these girls if they could get a picture of you with them and their fabrics.” A smile. “OK.” So we get the shot. She doesn’t smile for the camera, not because she’s unhappy—she smiles immediately before and after—but because in many cultures women do not smile for photos. I’ve never asked why. “Say, Akila, would you mind if I put the photo on the internet?” “OK.” “Do you have an email address, so I can tell you where the photo is?” “No.” “Well, perhaps when I bring more students back next summer, you will have email, and I can show you the photo.” “Perhaps.” Those Americans and their blasted extroversion.

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We’re making friends everywhere we go.

We need to get back now. It’s after 11, and I don’t want us not to be there when Ivy and the girls bring our lunch. So off we set at a brisk pace. Stop at an ATM for some of us to refresh our cedis. Stop at the water booth to pack both backpacks. And then home, in the hot sun.

It’s a light lunch of sandwiches; there will be a lot of food this afternoon. Some of the girls go up to the Seidus’ house to help with food prep; a couple of the girls do laundry (we have a small washing machine that takes some training but works fine); most get some wi-fi; and the old guy lies down for a bit.

At 3:30 there’s a big to-do. It was originally scheduled as an appreciation time for all the church workers in Timothy’s church. Then they realized that Timothy’s birthday is May 9th, so they decided to celebrate that. Then we showed up, so they decided to add a celebration of our arrival. The thing starts right on time, relatively speaking—a little after 4—and we sing a little, including “Happy Birthday” to Timothy and a welcome song to the team; then Timothy shares his thoughts with the church workers on what they’ve accomplished and his vision for what lies ahead. He’s a good leader, clearly well loved by his people. He thinks strategically yet displays the patience and aplomb that working in this culture necessitates.

And then we eat. Several ladies have been working on this all day. They slaughtered a lamb and several chickens first thing this morning, and we have rice with tomato sauce, fried chicken, shredded cabbage with tomato (that’s “toe-MAH-toe” for you Yanks), a remarkably rich lamb stew that tastes like one of those pepperoni sticks you get at convenience stores—except not unspeakably gross—and dessert of fresh watermelon, banana, and Fan Ice vanilla ice cream. Fan Ice puts about 3 times as much vanilla in their ice cream as we do in the States, and I enjoy watching the look of wonder in the eyes as team members get their first taste.

We’re served at least twice as much as we can eat. Plus Coke or Malta, and a glass of sparkling grape juice for the leadership. Which, apparently, I’m considered to be a part of. Cool.

Then there’s a time of suggestions from the workers, ways in which the church’s work can be improved. There are lots of good ideas. These Christians are devoted, energetic, committed. Yet the meeting makes it clear that churches the world over struggle with the same issues. We are one.

We break up after 7 pm, and though we’re tired, and suffering from what my father used to call the full-belly blues, we are refreshed by the spirit of these believers.

Back at the house, we opt for early devotions so some of us can get to bed early. The team shares their thoughts on the meeting, and they’re seeing the right things. Just as we’re wrapping up, a beautiful rainstorm starts beating on the roof, and we all run out on the porch to celebrate. Rain drops the temperature dramatically. Our night watchman, Mark, appears out of the dark, seeking shelter, and we welcome him in. I introduce the team to him, and they are all appropriately appreciative. Jess even thinks of bringing him a Coke from the fridge. Good thinking.

The day dies not with a bang, but a whimper. A few wander off to bed; several sit around the house and talk; and the bald guy works on the blog. And then he goes to b zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . .

 

 

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Dan Olinger

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

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