Long legs, missing pizza and country music

January 20, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Posted in 1 | 1 Comment

Hello Loved Ones,

It’s been about two months since my last entry. I arrived on January 7th to “Kotoka”, my home airport, well-known to me by now after all the work traveling I’ve done. On my way in I took a glance back at the payphone I’d had to wait by for hours when I first arrived, and mused about how much things have changed for me in 10 months. I traveled safely here thanks to all of your good and constant prayers. I had an absolutely wonderful Christmas vacation with you my friends and family! To be honest, I was in a difficult state when I flew out of Ghana. On top of the normal spiritual challenges I have been confronting at work and in my housing situation, I received an unfair review right before I came home. Long story… perhaps for another time. Needless to say I needed a great deal at that time to be around friendly, spriritually healthy people. My thanks go out first to Pat who picked me up at the airport and let me graciously stay with her and use her car for several days. In PA I drank deeply of the familiar and coveted American, Catholic culture that I’ve been missing so much. Like a person who’d been wandering aimlessly in the desert, I was overjoyed to find this much-anticipated oasis. Pat was incredibly supportive and had me feeling stronger in no time. Then my lovely St. Theresa family did the rest. How I have missed the spirit-filled, loving banter of breakfast conversation after morning mass and the joy that must make everyone around us in the restaurant wonder what exactly is in our coffee! The joy of the Lord, that’s what! Pancakes, bacon, dippy eggs, sunny-side up or whatever the heck you call ’em, depending upon which coast you’re on – cinnamon rolls, donuts etc. etc. They all made a happy mad rush for my stomach and I was delighted to accommodate them. But the spiritual consolation was the best thing I consumed the entire time. So thank you again to Fr. Hahn, Sr. Thelma, Juliet, and my PA church “peeps” for your encouragement and support. It really was invaluable.

My family did the rest in filling me up the best they could with 10 months worth of “missing” love over Christmas and New Year’s. They did well. 😉 I’d like to say that when I got back, “our taps were running” and everything was in order but…this is Ghana. And this is my life in Ghana. And of course that’s not what I arrived to. We still had (and have) no running water for the past month and a half since the government turned it off. Apparently the water has been redirected to particular areas because of the Africa Cup (soccer) that Ghana is hosting. We’ve heard that they want to ensure that the tourists and visitors have what they need. Or want. Some neighborhoods have not had interrupted water flow, such as the neighborhood of Karen an acquaintance of mine. She lives near the newest, nicest hotel, which is also near the President’s house. While utilities are generally pretty abundant in North America or in the First World, there are other ways in which resources in these places are directed more toward wealthier areas rather than poorer ones. One common example is with trash collecting and street cleaning. Often you can see that lower-income areas get less priority than wealthier ones. It’s easy to see disparities on a global level when they’re more glaring, but if we look in our own backyards we’ll find that we have more in common with people halfway around the world than we think. In fact, it appears that we’re “the lucky ones” amongst my colleagues. Most other people have had running water while we haven’t. Guess that’s the price you pay for living in a poorer neighborhood.

We’ve done a number of things to find water during this time, from paying our favorite cab driver to fill up big yellow containers and bring them to us, to walking nearby to a water distributor where one can pay a small fee to fill up the yellow containers, which one then pays a cab driver to take to your home since they’re too heavy to carry. With four people living in our place however and even conserving water, five of those don’t last long. When you run out, the whole thing repeats. You can’t go in the morning like my housemate did or you wait for an hour in the hot sun in a line of people. In the evening it’s similar so she has been able to go in the early afternoon.

Last Saturday we heard news that either every or every other Saturday, the taps would flow for about eight hours. Boy were we happy! I woke up Saturday morning to the news and promptly spent hours filling the big plastic barrels that we keep at home for this purpose right out of a tap in our kitchen. Today, a week later, the water didn’t flow so it was back to the water distributor.

There’s no toilet flushing if there’s no running water so we’ve gotten creative with conserving and recycling our water. I reuse the water that I shampoo my hair with three times. Once to wet my hair and the second time to rinse it out. Then we (my housemates and I) contort into funny positions while bucket bathing to rinse the soap and conditioner from our bodies and hair all the while trying to aim it into a broad plastic wash bucket. We then pour all of that nicely fragranced water (from the lovely scents in our shampoos, soaps, etc.) into the toilet, leaving it smelling a whole lot better than it did some minutes before.

Upon arriving to my house from the airport on the 5th (on very little sleep, the reasons for which you’ll read below), the other news I received was that we would be evicted from our home by our choleric landlord. He had been upset for quite awhile that one of my housemates had subleted her room supposedly without his knowledge, though she had informed him (oh Ghana…. ) Then she told me that she and our other housemate had already put money down on a place/moved out and asked if I could “okay” two people she had met as their replacements. Initially I was happy to help however I could. However when I found out that they were two new hires at my worksite who had already been told they could move in, I had to tell her that it wouldn’t work out. In my line of work many people choose not to live together, as you can end up spending an unhealthy amount of time with colleagues by the time traveling and working hours all combine. Well, that didn’t win me any points with her and she moved out in anger, leaving me feeling sad that that’s all our relationship had counted for these past months. I prayed and prayed that we’d end up finding some replacements quickly and that tempers would cool. Long story short again, is that we all had dinner last night (a week and a half later) and all went surprisingly very well with her apologizing for being so reactionary. I blurted out happily to my housemate Jane, not a spiritual person of any stripe, that I’d been praying concertedly and avidly for this! Those faith-sharing moments are pricelessly rare…

Now, I really wouldn’t have minded a bit less to deal with in my first days back, and could have had this blog out to you sooner, had things been a bit more calm. But true to form, Ghana never fails to keep me endlessly occupied with day-to-day living.

I leave early Monday morning the 21st on a circuit ride to Benin, another francophone (French-speaking) country for one week. I’m looking forward to the caseload on this one. It will be my first ride dealing with cases that are exclusively UNHCR referrals, which means that they all will likely have suffered genuine persecution first-hand (no lying or stretching the truth). Stories are thus more intense with the accompanying satisfaction amidst the rushed workpace, that you’re truly helping someone who has suffered to have a second chance at finding a safe and peaceful life.

Please pray for my and my team’s safety as we travel by road (6-8 hours through Togo to Benin) and enjoy the fun facts below!

Funny, Fun and Not So Fun Facts

Today the Africa Cup of Nations begins with Ghana playing Guinea. Osu, the popular neighborhood where people often gather, was full of excitement and there was a street demonstration on “Africa’s need to unite” with lots of Rastas dancing around and shouting. I took some “snaps” (photos) of all the flags on people’s cars and of Ghanian flag-themed trinkets, shirts and souvenirs. They were on sale everywhere and enlivened the whole place with wonderful color. The Lebanese men in the “Koala” grocery store also had on soccer uniforms with their favorite players names on the backs. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits which was wonderful to see! I had hoped I would have time to post some of the pictures on this site but I just don’t with traveling tomorrow. Every time we’ve had a holiday I’ve been out in the field working! I’ll try to get them up soon I promise.

A couple nights after I arrived, I yelled at a pizza deliver guy for calling me five times to get directions to my place, after he kept failing to find it. Before that he tried to get me to pay for his calls to me by “flashing” me (calling and hanging up) so that I’d call him back (which I of course didn’t, not wanting to pay his business expenses). I finally called him to find out what the problem was and ended up canceling the pizza two hours later. Then he called me 13 times after I canceled the order to continue trying to deliver it even though he was still lost! The restaurant wanted me to wait and pay for what was by now a cold, soggy pizza that I’d ordered two hours earlier. Oh Ghana…. Thank goodness I had some frozen food in the freezer.

I’ll be honest. It’s all fun and games until you stay in a country for longer than 3 months time. That’s when the harder part begins and the real withdrawl symptoms from everything and everyone familiar set in and don’t go away (you just learn to ignore them and adjust). So, it was without much enthusiasm that I got to my gate at JFK for the last leg of my flight home. I surveyed the gate and felt less than holy feelings, taking in a roomful of Ghanians, some of whom I knew from experience would try to jump in line ahead of me or sit in my seat on the plane. When it was my turn, I boarded the plane and took my seat (which was nicely empty) and yes folks, was fortunate enough to have the tallest man on the plane with the longest legs sitting directly behind me. He proceeded to bump the back of my seat constantly…for hours. Early on I politely asked him to stop so that I could get some sleep during the flight. He informed me it wouldn’t be possible due to the length of his legs. I told him he needed to try. Facing an 8+ hour flight going back to a place with fewer friends (most have moved back home) and little consolation of any sort, I was less than happy. He and the man next to me proceeded to laugh about my challenging situation for the next five minutes because that’s what Ghanians do. I got small reprieves when he fell asleep but by that time the man next to me had decided to walk around the plane for 2 hours so that I never knew when he was coming back to sit down. The next piece of entertainment after boarding was watching a Ghanian woman with about 3 too many carry-ons proceed to spend ten minutes trying to push a suitcase that was too large into an overhead compartment. She was finally asked to check it (thank goodness)! Then after dinner the real fun started. I was so tired from traveling across the country, plus the time difference, that I just wanted to sleep. But the stewardesses had a different plan. It was duty-free time and apparently most of the Ghanians on the plane lived on the East Coast because they were pretty lively with not a yawn in sight. It was like a disco party on DL flight 5090! Only I wasn’t drinking and didn’t want to be at a dance club at that moment. Sighing impotently I glanced up toward First Class to see it completely dark and as quiet as a nursery. I simply began to repeat the mantra “Peace” repeatedly to myself, turning it into a prayer. And believe it or not, it worked. By the time we landed, I couldn’t believe what state the plane was in as I had forgotten how differently our cultures handle refuse. The plane was littered with garbage. When I entered the washroom there were paper towels all over the floor, clogging up the sink, and trash strewn about. It was just sad to see and fills one with frustration that people are taught to be so careless.

I found a banku and tilapia lady near where I live which is a happy find indeed. It’s the most palatable food for me here, as mentioned in an earlier blog. For a little over $2.00 you can get a small blob of the fermented, sticky corn paste called “banku” and a fire-roasted tilapia fish (roasted in an overturned oil drum cut in half), with spicy “pepe” sauce. Affordable, healthy and close. I think I’ll actually miss this stuff when I’m gone…

Sometimes taxi drivers here listen to the most surprising music. About five months ago I was riding with one and he asked me if I liked country music! My jaw dropped and I started laughing, just tickled at the idea of a young, African man going on and on about how much he loves country music.  And he went on and on! I mean he was playing the really cheesy, stuff too with all kinds of American cultural references that just did not translate here. It reminded me of a delightful experience I had had before that which I shall now relate.  About three to four months after I arrived, I was riding home from church and “On Top of the World” came on by the Carpenters. Yes, this is another super cheesy song but you know what? I can’t help it. I love it. For me, it expresses the joy and love that God puts in my heart that sometimes really makes me feel on top of the world. The fact that it’s so campy just makes it more perfect. So picture this from the front of the car looking in. There we were, my Ghanian taxi driver in the front seat and me in the back. This song came on and immediately we both just started spontaneously singing it on our own in a very nonchalant, contented way, oblivious of the other’s singing, nodding our heads in time with Karen Carpenter’s low, smooth voice, transmitting out to Ghanians everywhere. It was pretty cute. When cultures collide the sweetest most unexpected things can happen. 🙂 I went straight home and bought that baby off of iTunes and now I’ve got a great memory to go along with a delightfully cheesy tune. Why not recreate the moment for yourselves now. Take a listen to a good oldie..Top of the World

your sister soldier,
Grace

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  1. Hi Grace,
    Enjoyed your song. Missing you already but we all sure enjoyed your visit. We will continue to cover you in prayer. May this next *session* in country be better than the first.

    Love you, Ed


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