Monday, May 14, 2018

My plan for today is to give them an introduction to the culture with a hike into town to the market. They’ve done extremely well at meeting people and learning basic greetings in Waali; let’s throw them into some chaos and see how they do. If we can get started by 9, we can probably be back by noon, for Mary’s lunch. I give them the requisite warnings: wear good walking shoes; bring water; if you’re on doxycycline for malaria prophylactic, cover up or slather on the sunscreen, because you wouldn’t believe how burn-prone that drug makes you.

Out the door a little after 9. I set a brisk pace, and I figure if they can’t keep up with the old guy, that’s their problem. Out the front gate of the compound and left on Wa-Tuma Road toward town. We note several things along the way: the absurdly scarred trees from locals slicing off the bark to chew on; the pervasive use of parts of shipping containers for the roadside shops; the tricycle taxis going by every few seconds, beeping considerately to let you know they’re coming; the chickens and goats just wandering around, apparently purposelessly, but actually looking for food.

We’re about halfway to town, with me still leading the pack, when the kids start shouting my name. I look back, and they’re pointing across the road, with unbelieving eyes, at a woman waving frantically and calling my name.

Seriously.

There’s only one person that can be.

“Lamin!”

I run full tilt across the road and give her a big old hug.

Lamin used to run a little soda vendry right in front of the police station, where earlier teams would drop in and get a drink during their hikes to town. Eventually she had to move down the road to a less central location, where I saw her last year. On the way in from the bus station on Saturday morning I noticed when we drove by that spot that it too was now empty. Lost Lamin again. I’m Facebook friends with her son, so I was planning to message him and get some information when I have either wifi or cell access.

But here she is. She’s not selling soda anymore; she says this location doesn’t sell as many sodas, so she’s selling other things. “We are going to town. Would you like me to bring you a Fanta?” “Yes,” she says. Well, then. We’ll be sure to do that.

On into town, past the police station and the many shops that line the main drag. The crew is greeting people, in Waali, left and right. As you can imagine, a string of 8 nasala (white people) gets quite a bit of attention.

We hit a bank machine to refresh our supply of cedis and then take a quick walk through the market just so that can the crew get a sense of what’s there; we’ll come back in a few minutes to buy, but first I want to hit the grocery store, Melkom, which is just a little further out. Less than two years here, it’s got the most varied merchandise in town; it’s a bit like a Wal-Mart at about 10% the size. Two entire aisles of groceries, and an aisle of health & beauty aids. We’re overwhelmed.

I pick up some chocolate milk powder and some Oreos as a treat. I tell them to get anything they’d like. What they’d like is soda—Alvaro, specifically. The products here are very different from what they see in the US, so they’re a little unsure of themselves.

We load up the 2 guys’ backpacks and head back toward the market. We’re immersed in a chaos of meat, produce, dried stuff—some recognizable and some not—clothing, household goods—lots of homemade soap—and everything else you can think of. Wood-frame stall after stall, many of them selling the same products side by side. I’m gonna need to talk to them about market saturation.

I take the group by a fabric stall where we’ve purchased things in the past. It’s a relatively small shop, perhaps 8 feet wide by 15 feet deep, but it’s packed with fabrics of every sort of African style—bright colors, bold patterns. The sales staff remembers me from earlier times and offers me a seat in the shade. Bless them.

Everybody gets a few yards, enough for shirts or skirts or dresses, and the shopkeepers have a very good day. I enjoy watching that happen.

We’ve taken a little longer than anticipated, so I decide to take some taxis back home so we’ll be there in time for Mary’s lunch. We cross the street to the taxi stand; when the drivers see 8 nasala approaching, they go nuts competing for the riders. When the chaos subsides, we have 2 in each tricycle cab, and we’re heading for home.

I have my driver stop at Lamin’s shop to deliver the promised Fanta, and then we finish the trip.

As we walk into the house, one of us—I won’t mention any names—announces that he left his backpack back at the fabric shop. I look at him for a minute, trying to decide whether he can get himself to the market and back, by taxi, by himself.

And then I remember that his mother’s really nice, and his father’s bigger than I am. Obvious administrative decision.

“Let’s go get it.”

We flag down a taxi in front of the compound and return to the market in just a few minutes. At the stall they have his backpack safely kept—I knew they would; they’re good people—and he thanks them profusely and apologizes for the inconvenience. Back to the taxi stand, back to the house. No problem.

Mary’s lunch is fried chicken, black-eyed peas, and fried plantains. We love all of it.

Carlos and Ruth join us for this, their last meal in Wa before catching the afternoon bus to Accra. Carlos is returning home after 4 years of college, with an uncertain ministry future. He won’t have much of a ministry support network back home, so the triumph of graduation is bittersweet.

Simon, an old friend of the team and one of the village pastors, stops by to spend some time with his good-byes to Carlos. Soon he’s entertaining our crew with tales, and then for some reason we start playing with my luggage scale, which I’ve lent to Carlos to check his bags for the trip home. On an impulse I see what I can pull on the thing, and before you know it everybody’s lined up to give it a try. As you might expect, Simon and Cam end up tied for the lead at 71 pounds, in a 3-way tie with … Audrey. None of us can believe it. All the girls pull in the high 50s or 60s, and I’m, well, in there somewhere.

The big time stamp of the day is 4 pm. For one thing, that’s when our kids head off to their first VBS, at Faith. They’ll have to do a lot of helping and observing today, learning from their Ghanaian peers. That’s one of the reasons I bring them—I want them to realize that they’re not so much helping others as being challenged and taught by others. I expect that’ll come out in the debriefing tonight; it usually does. But they have also prepared; Audrey and Karen are going to tell the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors, with some acting help from Cam and a colorful skirt Kate bought at the market booths in Accra. (No, he’s not going to wear it; he’s going to wrap it around his shoulders.)

About 5 minutes after they leave, the van comes by for Ruth. Carlos is already aboard, and this is, for all intents and purposes, a final goodbye. Carlos and I will keep in touch on Facebook—I tell him that all former students of mine have lifetime consulting privileges—and perhaps I can make a trip up into northern Ethiopia someday. Ruth will fly from Accra to her home off Scotland, in the Hebrides. For some rest. For now.

She’s been with us here for only 2 and a half days, and she’s been discipling people the whole time—mostly Carlos, of course, since she’s his “Mom,” but all of our kids too. This has been a kind providence.

And just like that, the house is quiet. Like a tomb. Like last year, when I was here by myself. I do a little cleanup and turn off lights and fans—gotta keep reminding my little cherubs about that—and then head over to the  guys’ quarters for a long-overdue bucket shower before my 5.30 class. That hike this morning was hot.

To my utter surprise, most of my students are in place and ready to begin at 5.30, right on time. I guess they remember my policy from last year, which I call my cure for Africa time. When at least half the class is present, we’ll start, and we’ll go 3 hours. If they’re there at 5.30, we’ll be done at 8.30. If they come straggling at 6, we’ll go till 9. Worked like a charm last year, and apparently is burned into their memories still.

Good.

We cover a basic overview of and introduction to the class. I have to express great thanks to my friend and colleague, Dr. Mark Sidwell, who gave me his lecture notes and PowerPoints for historical theology to save me the trouble of reinventing the wheel. You’re a good man, Mark.

Just as I’m wrapping up, a few minutes early, the power goes out. And comes back on. And goes out. And comes back on. Rats. We were going to have an initial rehearsal for Sunday special music tonight, but with the uncertainty we postpone until tomorrow night.

I walk back to the girls’ house, where the lights are off. And on. And off. And, finally, on for good. It’s always nice to eat supper where you can see your fork. Ivy’s made some noodles with meat and veggies; the kids tell me it’s great, and they’re right. (I told ‘em not to wait for me.)

It’s after 9 now, so we gather for our regular evening devotions and business meeting, with some singing and a report on their first VBS. Turns out the local help was late in arriving, so they were in charge from the get-go, in a completely foreign (literally) environment. They separated the kids into older and younger, boys and girls, and got games going. An interpreter showed up by story time, so that went well. Since Cam was doing the games, a couple of the local guys stood in for Joseph and the coat of many colors.

I commend the kids for 1) not freaking out, 2) doing what was necessary to solve the problem(s), and 3) putting plans in place, without any prompting, to improve the situation tomorrow night. They’re doing great.

During singing Simon drops by, so we invite him to join us. During prayer time we take time to remember our two friends, on the long overnight bus ride from Wa to Accra. We feel their pain.

After prayer they ask Simon to help with the mouse.

Oh, did I not tell you? There’s a mouse in the house. A little tiny one, but of course that doesn’t matter to them. He runs from under the couch to behind the kitchen counter and back again, and everybody jumps and screams every time.

We think about putting the cat back there, but it’s pretty tight. So Simon gets a long stick, and pretty soon all the girls—all of them—are involved in the effort. I watch for a while, but they don’t seem to be making any progress. Eventually they just give up and put the kitchen back together.

About that time Prince shows up with what’s needed to get the house wifi up and running. Soon we’re connected. We’ve never had wifi at the house before, so this is a real treat. I jump online and post 3 days’ worth of blog entries. Now maybe the parents will let me live.

A little after 10 I head back to our house, fix the toilet flush mechanism, finish today’s blog post, and get some prep done for tomorrow’s class.

Fortunately, we all seem to be sleeping well, so all signs are good.

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Dan Olinger

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

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