Thursday, May 26, 2016

The girls have given me a grocery list. I’ve been holding it in case we go into town for some other purpose, but it’s been a couple of days, and I think it’s worth a walk into town. I’ve been wanting to test the knee anyway, and this seems like a good day to do it.

I ask if anyone wants to come along. The girls are all waiting for the hair ladies, who are supposed to show up any minute, and the guys are planning to go on a hike with Simon this morning, so it looks like a solo trip. I empty my backpack of everything but a frozen bottle of water, strap it on, and head out. About that time Simon arrives, and the guys aren’t quite ready yet—you know how long it takes guys to get ready in the morning—so he offers to run me into town on his motorbike and drop me off, cutting the hike in half. Let me think about that. Why, sure.

As we leave, I see the hair ladies walking toward the house. Good. Everybody has something to do.

It’s a quick 2-km ride into town, where Simon drops me off at an ATM near the market. I ask Simon if there’s a bigger grocery store in town than the little one where we typically buy our staples (did you know we eat a lot of staples in Africa?), and he says no. Carloss had told me there’s a bigger one across the street, just past the Catholic church. I see several good-sized buildings, but they all seem to be made up of little shops.

So I pick up enough cedis to get us out of town—200 for the bus baggage fees, 350 for the Accra guest house, 50 to reimburse Jojo for a tank of gas for the stove, and 200 more for today’s groceries and anything else that might come up. ATM says it can’t connect to my bank, but I try again and it works fine. A normal day of high finance in Africa.

Into the grocery store. It’s a room perhaps 500 square feet—about the size of an average kitchen or living room, or a little smaller—with wooden shelves all the way up to the 10-foot ceiling, crammed with a surprisingly broad array of stuff you might need. A girl asks you what you want, and she gets it for you, using a stick to drop the stuff off the high shelves, and catching it expertly in her hand. I give her my list. Coffee. Well, it’s Nescafe, but check. Milo (chocolate milk powder). Yep. Want the big one or the small one? The big one, of course. Dish soap. Laundry soap. Yep. Yep. Jam. Two different kinds.

I’ve saved the ones I’m most doubtful about for last. Butter? Well, Blue Band margarine, in a sealed plastic tub. Doesn’t require refrigeration until you open it. (And the butter fan in me thinks, And probably not then, either.) OK, the grand finale. Milk? I know they don’t have refrigerated milk, and I don’t see any boxes of the shelf-stable kind. She nonchalantly points to a stack of cans of evaporated milk. Theah, she says.

Wow. Got it all. I take my little plastic basket over to the counter by the front door, where the boss lady adds it all up on her calculator. 119, she says. 30 bucks. I love this country. I stuff the stuff into my backpack, smile, and say, “Barika.” Mission accomplished.

Now for the walk home. I take my time, keeping an eye out for uneven surfaces and the occasional random goat, sheep, or chicken that wanders across my path. One of the goats is a double-wide, ready to bear at any moment. No kidding. 🙂

The knee feels great. Don’t get careless, you moron.

Up the main drag past shops in repurposed shipping containers, in ramshackle wooden structures, or just under an umbrella with a chair for sitting in the shade. They’re selling everything from water sachets to HBA to sandals to dresses to upholstered furniture to rebar to motorbikes to cell phone SIM cards. Where there’s a need, there’s an opportunity, and no opportunity goes untested here. I’ve noticed that pretty much every shop has a name that ends with either “Ventures” or “Enterprises.”

Up to the roundabout (traffic circle) in front of the police station, where I feel a sense of loss. A lady named Lamin used to have a little soda stand here—just a couple of boards under a tree, really—where I would stop with the team and buy everyone a drink. Lamin has closed her shop and moved back to Accra. I’m hoping I can get in touch with her on the way out of the country. In the meantime, the corner looks naked. I’m surprised that no one else has claimed this prime spot.

Take the correct road of the 5 spiking off of the roundabout and head up the Tuma-Wa Road toward the compound. Almost home, I pop into a small drink shop. I greet the two young men inside and look over the selections. Malt soda is very popular here—I say it tastes like beer that didn’t quite make it—and I see some tonic water, but I opt for a can of Fanta orange. How much? 2.50. 65 cents. I could probably talk ‘em down, but see yesterday’s post. It’s a fair price. 2.50 it is. Want a carry bag? Nope. I smile. “Watch this.” I pull the bottle of ice out of my backpack, drink the melt water that’s accumulated, and pour the can over the chunk of ice that’s left. I place the empty can back on the counter. “Barika,” I smile.

On the road again.

It’s just a few minutes back to the compound. As I walk up to the house, I see Rachael and Sarah getting worked on—they both have quite a ways to go. The lady working on Sarah is deaf; Bethany doesn’t know sign language as such—and even if she did, the sign language here may well be different from American Sign Language—but she does know the alphabet and the sign for “thank you,” and the lady knows English, so they’re able to communicate.

It’s a nice providential touch.

I report on the grocery success, and everybody’s pleased. Coffee again. Such as it is. And clean dishes. And laundry.

Inside, Mary is hard at work creating my favorite fried chicken. I put the groceries away and try not to go mad waiting for lunch to be ready. The smell is intoxicating.

As I’m working on the blog, the city power goes out. It’s easy to tell whether it’s a city issue or something in the house, because the house has 3 different circuits, including both 110V and 220V. Any of them can run out of time and require a recharge with the special card, but when everything goes at once, it’s the city. At least the stove is gas—the chicken is not in danger. Well, the chicken herself was in extreme danger just recently, but that’s a settled issue now.

The power’s out for just a few minutes this time. Soon lunch is ready; Mary has made extra for the hair ladies, and Prince joins us as well. She’s made some “cabbage salad” (cole slaw) this time, and it’s a real treat. Because of the need to wash all the uncooked vegetables, salad of any kind is a rare thing here. The nice folks in TZ generally see to it that we have it a little more frequently. Coming soon, guys. 🙂

After lunch the team sits around the table and plans who’s doing what for VBS this afternoon. Working together has become routine now; they know each other well enough to parcel out the tasks efficiently and effectively. Meanwhile, I’m reviewing my notes for tonight’s class. Hard to believe there are just 2 more sessions left. A week from right this minute, we’ll be in Accra; a week from tomorrow we fly to Tanzania.

By VBS time Rachael’s hair is done, and the ladies have made great progress on Bethany and Sarah. We decide to keep these two home from VBS today to get them finished so the ladies don’t have to come out for another day. Our four plus the Ghanaian crew from Faith will be able to handle the VBS; Jojo and Jonathan are already assigned to handle the stories and songs.

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They take just a short drive today, to Siriyiri, 3 km west of Wa. The young people from Faith turn out in numbers to help; the bus is completely full of workers. About 150 children come to the VBS, which is a great turnout for that village. Jonathan does a Bible story on creation, and Jojo on salvation. The children seem to engage with it.

The crew has developed the practice of singing on the bus while they’re coming and going. The Faith kids take the lead in that, so the songs tend to be African. I know of few things more beautiful than Africans singing. I’m sorry I can’t be there for the experience, and I’m not surprised when the crew tells me how much they enjoy it.

Class goes well; it’s the first of two nights on the Gospel of John. We look at the overall structure, based on the seven signs referred to in 20.31. We lose power for a few minutes in the third hour, but I keep going, since I can see my notes on the laptop screen, and they can use their cell phones to see enough to write their notes. After about 20 minutes we get back to normal, with no harm done.

This group just loves to sit around and talk. We do a lot of that this evening, and Prince joins us for team devotions. I sometimes wonder what he thinks of this odd group of pale strangers. If he thinks we’re crazy, he doesn’t give any indication.

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Dan Olinger

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

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