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.

Done.

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.

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Dan Olinger

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

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