Home for Good…for now

April 7, 2008 at 10:51 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

Hello Loved Ones,

Yes, this blog update marks my last entry made in Ghana before ending my employment at OPE and departing for the U.S. on the 3rd of April. The entry has been happily posted in San Francisco, CA where I landed Friday afternoon and where I will stay with a good friend for about a week and a half before heading back to central Pennsylvania to look for work and ministry opportunities and a place to settle for the time being. It’s so beautiful here! And cold! My ideal temperature is a little farther south but with the beauty, bounty and coastline I’m suddenly overwhelmed by, I’m not complaining. It feels so nice to be back in California, the state of my youth. There’s a church not three blocks away which means I can walk to it and enjoy grace-filled daily masses. Twice an hour I hear the bus make a stop outside the window and I’m filled with a combination of keen awareness and wonder at the sheer regularity and efficiency with which it operates; this small, insignificant aspect of Western living. To me now it seems more like a shared limo that the city invested in to make my life better; a clean atmosphere and seats, no one cheating me on the price of transport. What a concept. What a wealthy-country concept

The past month has been a blur of activity as I have undertaken everything necessary to wrap up my life here and prepare to move back to the West, From shopping around for shipping prices and options, to exchanging all my foreign currencies, to buying materials and having some suits and clothes made, to saying my goodbyes, I was hopping all around Accra like an over-caffeinated energizer bunny. I was hoping to either remain in Accra for several weeks working with the street children I met while living here, volunteering at a L’Arche community in France (group homes for disabled persons) or going to Kenya to stay with a small Catholic community there. Ghana girl was morphing into something else…but the more I prayed and listened, the clearer it became to me that it’s time to come home and prepare to return to school. The signs weren’t hard to interpret: Nairobi surprisingly erupted into violence, the EU is still working out residency requirements for foreign volunteers/workers, and our landlord in Accra would not renew our lease past last Friday.

MY LAST RIDE

So much has happened since my last update and I couldn’t possibly describe it all. My last ride to Central African Republic was a very satisfying way to wrap up this whole experience of living and working in West Africa. CAR was the farthest northeast that I’ve ever been in Africa. The topography was interestingly different from West Africa, The hills, higher elevation and coolness in the evenings reminded me of Zambia, whose beauty I missed. Our processing site was in a big house up on a hill that overlooked the Oubangui River which serves as the border between CAR and DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). A nice location!

We were supposed to be a team of six with two caseworker/interviewers and one team leader, but as we were crossing one of the land borders, my colleague suddenly had her passport and all her trip money stolen from her. That left us with me, the one caseworker, and our team leader, to do all of the primary interviewing. We steeled ourselves for a busy, tiring ride, but in God’s hands it all turned quite lovely. Some of the stories were the most awful I’d heard to date, which made the whole experience even more meaningful. I found myself reaching to depths within myself I hadn’t yet had to, in order to get as full a story as I could from each applicant to help them have a greater chance of resettlement in the U.S. Even when it meant causing them to remember all the things that they tried so hard to forget. The cases were mainly from Chad, the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo – formerly Zaire) and Rwanda, and so were an interesting change of pace. I was honored to be able to hear firsthand these stories, borne from conflicts that I had read about and studied in school.

Having to leave your home due to persecution or war inevitably entails encountering one misery after another. They just pile on top of each other such that the desperation that these people and especially women were living in, was quite unbelievable. When there is no money and no job, there are only so many options available to such a one with which to try and survive. A woman’s body without fail ends up being her last and constant resource and she’s never allowed to forget it. I found myself trying to figure out how I could eat less each day in order to share something with those who came having had nothing to eat or drink for days. Do you know how hard it is to remember details of trauma that you’ve experienced when you haven’t eaten for a day or two and you’re malnourished anyway? Oh, I forgot, and you’re fighting the HIV/AIDS virus you acquired violently through no fault of your own. It’s hard.

It became sad but exhilarating to keep passing out what little I had, even if it wasn’t much (and to do it cautiously and quietly for professional reasons). I truly felt God’s power flowing through me as we worked together to produce the best cases we could. I will miss using my French skills here in this work. It was so much fun to be able increase my fluency, to use it to serve God and my fellow man, and to feel like I had valuable skills for once in this competitive, increasingly recession-prone economy!

EASTER

For almost five days over the Easter season I hosted a funny, outgoing and long-suffering Ghanian Catholic sister from the Northern region of Ghana who I met several months ago at church. She unfortunately has had some hard experiences with her congregation and so I was honored to host her. It seems we have been leading similar lives of sorts, and found ourselves consoling and strengthening one another amidst life’s hardships. Though our visit wasn’t free from the usual cultural misunderstandings, she was a gift from God during this holy season. We attended the daily (and sometimes twice-daily!) masses and services that filled the Easter weekend. The days went by in a blur as we cooked together and she shared the history of the Catholic missionaries in Ghana with me.

On Easter Sunday we went to the annual church picnic and had a wonderful time. I got some great snaps (pictures) of both of us dancing and a nice video of the atmosphere and celebrants. It sure made our American church picnics look boring! It’s definitely different to hear the same music played at a church picnic as is played in dance clubs, but that’s Ghana. Celebrating is celebrating and it seems that people just want to have some fun without analyzing all of the lyrics of every song that’s played. You can’t attend any sort of pubic celebration or funeral here without the obligatory sound system blaring all the top hits of the moment.

Even now as I sit here writing this section in my room, someone has giant speakers across the street and has been blaring music all day. It’s annoying but you find that there’s not much you can do, and you hear the songs so often that you begin to know and enjoy them. As I have sat here I’ve gotten lost in memories evoked by one song after another and yes, will be bringing as many home as I can to preserve the memories!

For those of you who have followed me on my journey and kept me in your prayers during this long, hard year I am and will be eternally grateful…literally. The spiritual isolation and darkness that I encountered in Ghana were insurmountable without your prayers and God’s grace. The cup of suffering from which he allowed me to partake, is itself an answer to prayer and is a great honor. My work has been for us, his body, and for his glory, and I find myself amazed at what has been accomplished in terms of spiritual gains. The seeds have already begun to bear visible fruit amongst my colleagues before I even left! I have been leaven in their presence and they in turn have grown in tolerance and understanding toward me. There are no words sufficient to describe God’s great generosity and mercy towards us all.

What a great work we have done together! Medaasi pah (Thank you very much).

There are two more blogs I’d like to post and/or photos and videos I’d like to share with you in time, of the Africa Cup, the slave castles and the church picnic. That should wrap up this year and then you won’t have to bother yourselves with reading yet another travel entry in someone’s blog anymore!

MUSIC

As you know, one of the things I’d been wanting to do with my blog, was upload music and photos that gave you a better idea of what this year was like from my vantage point. To that end, I thought carefully about what songs could best communicate the intense spiritual reality I was living. Few if any of these songs (more than what were uploaded here) were written from a Christian perspective. This makes me love them even more. Every human being has divorced him or herself from God’s love and spends his or her life trying to fill that void with a love of some kind or another. The human cry for love is universal and that makes every cry for love a cry for God, whether we know it or not. That means nearly every love is song a song of praise, or a song befitting love for God even more than love for a fellow human being. Ever thought about it all that way while listening to music? It’s like having your eyes opened. It’s pure grace when an artist is an instrument of God without even knowing it. It’s also a good reminder to pray for them.

Since I won’t be “publishing” much more, I want to share three with you at this time.

They are: Don’t Matter by Akon http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/akon/dontmatter.htm

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I heard this song constantly during my first six months in Ghana. It sounds like a typical lovers song of angst a la Romeo and Juliet, where someone or something is conspiring against the love that two people intensely want to share. No, there was no Romeo for me. Well, not of the human sort. The more I grew to understand that my faith was making me a social leper where I worked, the greater meaning this song held for me. Nobody it seemed wanted to see me together with Christ, the love of my life. But it wasn’t going to matter, because we would fight for each other. This song came to symbolize my year there, and everytime I heard it it was like God was playing our song! I would smile with courage wherever I happened to be and steel myself for the fight.

Thank You by Sinead O’Connor http://www.goldlyrics.com/song_lyrics/sinead_o_connor/universal_mother/thank_you_for_hearing_me

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I have loved this song for years, without understanding the seeming contradiction at the end. Now it makes perfect sense. Especially as a song of praise. I think it will to you too. Sinead knows how to sing with passion!

Songbird by Eva Cassidy http://www.lyrics007.com/Eva%20Cassidy%20Lyrics/Songbird%20Lyrics.html

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I think this one means the most of all. I grew to love it during my breaking point in Ivory Coast when everything was at its worst. The chorus represented my faithfulness to God by loving him through my obedience. Being reborn, stronger and smarter was the blessing of obedience that came later. Sometimes we’re the most aware of how much we love someone when we’re drowning in pain and the cost of loving is at its highest. He tells us pointedly, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” John 14:15

Do yourselves a favor and don’t read the lyrics until after you’ve listened to the songs. Just let the music carry you away and if you really can’t understand something, look after listening. Enjoy these gems!  And don’t forget to check out the “What Ghana has taught me to appreciate” page.

your sister soldier (taking a much-needed break),

Grace

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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

Coming home

November 5, 2007 at 6:31 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

Dear Loved Ones,

It is with happy anticipation that I announce the dates of my upcoming Christmas vacation! I hope to have the opportunity to see as many of you as possible. Be sure to leave some time in your busy schedules for me and let me know, especially you who live in Pennsylvania whether you’ve got any conflicts the week of my visit so that we can schedule around them.

My itinerary: I arrive to PA on the 7th and stay there until the 18th, on which day I’ll fly to Seattle, where I will remain (shivering and wrapped in blankets) until I return to Accra on the 6th of January (where I will melt in a pool of sweat during the return of the warmest season of the year).

It’s hard to believe that I’m in my 7th month here and that I’m going home soon. Life has been busy as usual lately and I find that I don’t have that much that I need to communicate to you right now. Rather I look forward to sharing in person the lessons that we are learning on this journey together.

I’d like to thank you heartily for your prayers on the fellowship front. In my ever-pesistent search to keep my growing spiritual hunger pangs at bay, I have come across the fabulous world of Catholic podcasting. Oh, what a wonderful world it is! Check it out, and check out other podcasts that may be in a vein more personally suited to you.

In the middle of days and weeks of sometimes repetitive and tedious technical file reviews, I’m suddenly whisked away to a veritable buffet table of lofty, spiritual concepts, loving voices of faith and knowledge and issues that I care and pray about, all wrapped up in a palatable, familiar and humorous Western style and mode of communication. I give thanks to God for the wonderful and committed talent that’s out there and it gives my spirit the lift that it so needs to continue my daily spiritual and vocational responsibilities. Thanks for your prayers on this! I’m also moving ahead at finding and establishing a mature, stable faith community here. I’ve been trying to start a bible study for some months. Retention and commitment can be hard qualities to find here in Ghana including honest intentions on the part of some men, so I stay realistic but it’s looking more and more as if that may happen.

I would also like to share an update with you on Kwame. Trying to make contact with street children is a funny thing. You can’t ring a doorbell or call a phone number when you want to get in touch. Because of their migratory patterns in daily search of food or work, they may not be in the place you first met them at the time you met them before. It takes a couple tries sometimes until you can make contact.

I headed back in search of Kwame a couple weeks ago after losing touch and met up with some of his friends. Thank you for your prayers friends. They told me that Kwame’s mother or family had come back to retrieve him and that he was now with them. One down, many more to go…. I asked these boys whether they were going to school and where, how they were living, etc. They said that there was a nice, German woman that was teaching them and, figuring that would be a helpful contact to make spiritually and maybe vocationally, and wanting to be involved somehow in their lives, I asked if they could take me to their school. We all jumped into a cab and along the way the driver asked me who I was. In what will be one of my my more favorite memories one of the boys said, “She is our mother.” And not missing a beat I joyfully piped up, “Yes I am!” feeling quite maternal and fond of them, thankful for their immediate and generous love for me.

The German woman named Silke wasn’t there but I was told when I could come back to meet her. When I came back she again wasn’t there but I was able to leave my phone number. I don’t know how it works on other continents aside from this one and the one from which I come, but here, you will never get anything done if you expect it to work perfectly the first time. Trust and persistence are needed in spades and I look forward with anticipation to the fruit that I will bear in the coming years of my life, as a result having learned to embrace these qualities in a constant effort to follow the One who leads me on.

Whenever I come into contact with brothers, sisters, ministers, missionaries, priests, pastors – anyone who has given their life over to others in selfllessness, like Silke and Br. Jos, renouncing riches and comfort for poverty and service. I feel that I’m in the presence of something I could never compete with, facing another’s daunting achievement that I will never achieve. I have not taken formal vows of poverty and obedience and I wonder whether I would ever have the courage to. Where am I going with this? Simply put, I’m so thankful for the support that all of you offer me.

Sharing my experiences with the poor here is not done to elevate myself. I look at the lives of brave men and women who have given up so much more than me and I marvel at their persistence and strength; at their vast stores of spiritual wealth. On a macro-spiritual level, what I have done is precious little compared with those who are acquainted with true sacrifice. I think about the eternal wedding banquet often these days and believe that it is these people and the ones they serve who will have the seats of honor at the head of the table. It is I who will be seated somewhere near the end. However, (and I think this next thought holds the key to maintaining a joyful, hopeful attitude in the midst of overwhelming poverty or injustice ): On a micro-spiritual level, that is, measured on the scale of my own life, what I have done and do to seek out the neglected materially poor, or the apathetically spiritually poor it is not precious little! Every effort is a resounding hymn of praise, a fragrant offering to God and helps me to become more fully the saint that Love intends me to be.

Spontaneous reflection of wonder: If God is love, why don’t we call Him that?

My favorite recent definition of a saint heard in the homily on All Saint’s Day: “A saint is someone who is simply learning to fall more and more in love with God every day”.

Thank you again for your faithfulness and company on my journey. I leave on November 18th for three weeks of refugee processing again in Ivory Coast so please pray for me and for the refugees that they may be safely permitted to travel to Abidjan to interview and for adequate rest for us as as we work long and full days interviewing them, determining case composition (who may stay on the case) and preparing their files.

I added a few new quotes to my quote page. They’re gems I extracted from a book I recently read titled, “The Letters and Diaries of Etty Hillesum”, lent to me by a friend here who’s now going back to Canada. In short, Etty is a young Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz at the age of 28. An aspiring writer, she wrote faithfully in journals about her life as a Jew in the Netherlands in the early 1940’s. What is remarkable about her is that, though she was not raised to practice any particular faith, she quickly came in touch with Love as the guiding force of our universe and turned to the Bible for guidance. She was a mystic who lived the values of love, peace and forgiveness toward all, in an courageous, tireless and unapologetic way. She refused to give into hatred toward the occupying German force that imposed increasingly impossible and strangling restrictions on Jewish life and movement – even when everyone around her did. Instead she fancied having conversations with German soldiers wherein she would recognize their humanity in gentle love and force them to recognize hers. She purposefully stayed in touch with all that makes life beautiful and this was a familiar refrain for her, “Despite everything, life is still beautiful”. The more her life and health became impaired, the more time she spent serving her fellow Jews. Right at the time when reality was crumbling around her and all was cruel madness. Rather than leave or go into hiding, something perfectly reasonable and sane to do under the circumstances, she stayed and served her people, assisting on Jewish committees that tried not to but nevertheless were forced at times to assist the occupying forces with their anti-Jewish campaign.

She was no saint in the stereotypical way that we can imagine holy people to be. She struggled with all the same things we do and sometimes she didn’t even struggle that much, but no matter. For me she was the Mary of the Prison Camps, and how she honored her holy ancestor. She continued to be at the service of her people even after finally being interned herself. She never saw herself as a victim and that is how she rose above the madness and chaos, glorifying God as a beautiful and strong young woman, full of unwavering hope and faith in God and humanity; even in its darkest hour.

Can we really not do the same in far more safe and comfortable surroundings?

No fun facts to share at this time. I was hoping to have a great, cheesy song uploaded for you to listen to but my blogsite doesn’t like the file type so I’ll have to save that for a future post and entertain you instead in person with a funny story or two.

Your sister soldier,
Grace

Giving thanks, getting involved and traveling

September 29, 2007 at 1:09 pm | Posted in 1 | 3 Comments

Hello loved ones,

You have been so compassionate and mindful of the first-world luxuries that I have had to go without, that I’m aware I need to keep you updated on how my patience here is paying off! A couple weeks ago the Ghanian government increased the amount of electricity we are allowed to use. Hallelujah! That means we only have power outages every four days for about 4-6 hours one day and one night. It’s been amazing having all this power again. You can actually buy food and leave it in your refrigerator and it doesn’t spoil so you can plan meals and go shopping less. I also have running water at Mommy’s for months so no more using buckets and hauling them up and down stairs! I have been persistently trying to find a house to share with other people and it looks like one may come through for me in a nice neighborhood to boot! So, don’t give me too much empathy. We all have our different daily struggles and problems to deal with and God is good to grant us the things that help us make it through.

Speaking of electricity, here’s a timely article on Guinea now that you’re slightly familiar with it from a couple of my past blogs. I can’t make governance commentaries based on my current work…but the BBC can! Be sure to read it (cut and paste it into your browser if you can’t click on it).

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/2/hi/africa/6990034.stm

Before I relate some fun travel stories I want to ask for your prayers for someone. His name is Kwame and he is a street-boy that I met last night outside of a popular take-away (take-out) food restaurant I frequent in Accra. I bought a big pizza to share with him (and who knows who else) and spent some time talking to him to learn his story. I had almost gone to a concert instead at Alliance Francaise but felt too tired and hungry. I just prayed for my night to go as God wanted it to and went to get some food instead. Kwame grimaced at my pizza and said it would hurt his stomach if he ate it so we went to “a spot” by the road and he ate some chicken and rice. He really made me laugh and smile at his silliness as we ate together. He taught me some “Twi” (one of the local languages) and I found myself wondering if this is what it felt like to be a mother. As directed by my Spiritual Advisor I just enjoyed the blessing and didn’t try to analyze it too much. I talked to him about an organization for street children that I visited a couple weeks ago in an attempt to find more spiritually motivated people in the area. I eventually met his other friends who felt like they could stomach the pizza and planned to meet Kwame the next morning in the same place. I got ahold of the Dutch brother today that I met at CAS (Catholic Action for Street Children) who told me Kwame would be welcome but that there is no place for street children to stay during their first 6 months to a year of training and education. I don’t know the details but I’m sure it has to do with a combination of funding, facilities and planning, whereby you filter out the children who aren’t serious and interested in an education from the ones who are. Of course, if no one teaches a child that education is really important and valuable then they learn the opposite and are condemned to live hand to mouth. I bow to Br. Jos’s (pronounced “Yos”) 20 something years of experience in his field but personally am struggling with the reality that there’s nothing I can do to help Kwame to have some kind of housing and permanent care. In the first world this is an option. Here it is not. I didn’t see him the next morning or any of the other boys as I anticipated might happen. They said they go to a nearby beach in the mornings to do some work for food. He’s really on my mind and in my heart. I can’t solve the world’s problems but I can help “small” as they say here or “kakakakra” in Twi. My current goal is that he know how much God loves him and values him. He said he already goes to school nearby so I’d like to try and be involved with making sure he attends and help support him in some small way if continues to do so.

Please keep him in your prayers along with his friend Solomon and all the Kwami’s of the world and pray that I can be faithful to God’s plans for us should he decide to opt for the streets. Please also pray for CAS and all similar efforts. As my interest in prison ministry grows every day and from the vantage point of my own life, I’m often mindful of what small acts of love can do for people who have not known it, and how it can change someone’s heart from stone to blazing love, if there are only people to show that person how worthy they are in God’s eyes. What are we doing to prevent the loveless from an inevitable path of self-destruction? We cannot act on knowledge we do not have and many people do not know how beautiful they are and how deeply-loved they are by God. Thank you for your participation in this important task!

August was a fun-filled, travel-filled great month. Of course, if greatness is measured in terms of sanctification, perhaps July (i.e. the trial of working at break-neck speed for four weeks in Ivory Coast) should be considered greater. Such is the dynamism that fills my life right now; it is full of extremes and is intensely spiritual Nevertheless, it’s pretty great to have six comp days off of work in which to travel, and then a month full of three day weekend trips to beaches, rainforests and waterfalls. What a contrast, going from hearing about people’s lives being torn apart and loved ones being tortured and killed, to being served meals three times a day every day, surrounded by mountains and ocean. I found myself filled with wonder and awe while giggling like a child at the unspoiled beauty that surrounds me here (at least outside of Accra). Accra is an unsightly, polluted and busy city. So, after four months of labor, I finally made my escape and let me tell you, I was healed. I came back from the last weekend postively glowing. Even my coworker and supervisor noticed it. Okay yes, I was really tan, but the glow came from within, trust me. I just really needed to leave the city and unwind.

Though I haven’t had much time to write or be on-line, it’s still hard to set aside time for it when I do. The demands of life here for me means that it’s important to be with people when I can, celebrating (life) and reveling in the gift of it, so as to counteract the stresses and challenges that exist in third world living. The best antidote to many of life’s difficulties is simple friendship and laughter, and I appreciate those even even more deeply than before.

One of my most fun memories is my recent weekend at the Green Turtle Lodge, an eco-friendly resort on the beach about four hours east of Accra. We got there in record time traveling in our Ford “tro-tro” (the oversized, 3rd world vehicles that pack as many people as possible into them, so that you can’t move an inch and your knees and legs are immobile. Ford tro-tro’s are faster and less jam-packed for a little more money). Record time was about four hours as opposed to the plight of another poor girl I talked to who had left Accra at 12:00 noon and got to the resort at 8:00 p.m. that night; small blessings… Saturday, the next day I had a wonderful and tiring 3 hour beach walk on the Gulf of Guinea (West Africa’s ocean) to a private beach that I never got to, with a nice French-Canadian girl I’ve met here. I was especially excited that she asked me at one point on the walk about my faith, since that’s not a priority for most people I know here, painfully so. In time we made a friend with a young boy who guided us to stay away from a particularly thorny and bushy part of the terrain that we thought might produce a short-cut. On our way to “the secret beach”, there was a load of big rocks that you had to climb over to get to the other side. We didn’t get to the other side but we attempted it. I discovered in Zambia near Victoria Falls, that it’s great fun to climb over rocks; that is, like a jungle woman (or at least that’s my idea of what “a jungle woman” would do). There’s something satisfyingly primal in skipping quickly and adeptly over big, sharp rocks like a hoofed animal navigating similar terrain. Catherine my friend was still trying to manage on her feet but I quickly shifted into jungle woman mode and began using all fours to climb around the rocky seascape. So there I was in my neon green bikini and sunburned face, happy as a clam quickly and constantly looking for the next sturdy spot to wrap my feet around. I didn’t slip once! 🙂 I truly smiled with delight as I clambered over the rocks that morning remembering one of my favorite verses, “He makes my feet like the feet of gazelles, and makes me walk on my high places”. Indeed.

The next day was even better! The waves in the African ocean are serious to contend with. I took a short video with my camera of the waves at one of the beaches I went to a couple months ago. Will try to upload it sometime this century. The tide gets even stronger during the colder months (right now) and when it comes in, you better get out of the way if you don’t want to get wet because it comes in fast. The waves are full of sand because of their ferocity. You don’t even want to know how many pounds of sand came out of my swimsuit when it was shower time. I didn’t know I could get sand in that many places! If you try to kneel down in the water when the wave is going back out you get sucked off your feet. The tide is strong. Nevertheless 😉 the ocean had been calling to me and, though my swimming isn’t the strongest, I feel for some reason a need to be at home in the sea. When I first ventured in, the big, 8ish foot, sand-swirled waves crashing into shore were a bit scary, and I learned from “the video weekend” and watching others that you really can’t swim in waves like that or float in them. You have to dive under them which I can’t do yet, or you have to do what I finally ended up doing, ride them. I somehow spontaneously realized that if you throw yourself into the wave (with your nose plugged) and relax, that the wave will bring you right into shore. The first couple times I got scraped up a little because these waves show no mercy and I was still fighting them, learning how to let go and just be carried along. Before long I was having the time of my life!! I didn’t need a boogie-board. The waves did all the work! I ventured in farther and farther and when a big wave came I became filled with excitement and just jumped right into it, getting shot back toward land. I cannot express how liberating it was to ride around in the waves. What a rush! I spent a couple of hours in the ocean that day because I was so addicted I just couldn’t get out! I found my inner child in that ocean and I was laughing and smiling the entire time, completely alive and rejuvenated, sucking up every bit of joy and fun that was generously being offered to me in that salty, sandy brine. Then I discovered that if you jump into the wave on your stomach, that you can twist around and around as you’re shooting into shore (good back and ab strengthening, and even more fun than riding on your back). When the others I was traveling with came in, I told them what I was doing and soon everybody was jumping into the waves and having a great time. Occasionally, if we weren’t paying attention the waves would send us canonballing into someone standing unawares, and we’d knock them right over just like a bowling pin. Aaagghhh! Good times!! For days afterward I had small sand flakes falling from my scalp that had gotten pounded into my head. Nice small reminders of a fantastic time.

Funny, Fun (and not so fun) Facts:

Ants
I’m sick of ants. I’m sick of having to dump out my cereal onto a plate bit by bit, and then play “Let’s find the ants and squash them under our pointer finger because this is the only breakfast food we have and we paid $4.00-$8.00 dollars for it). You can seal your cereal with a twisty-tie, wrap it tightly in a grocery sac, stick it in a cupboard and still wake up to find that somehow, the teeny ants have found their way in. I’m sick of finding ants in my purse because at some point a tiny bit of candy or gum soaked out somewhere. I’m sick of finding ants in my bathroom, near the kitchen sink, on a random wall, crawling near my bed, crawling on the door – any door – meandering around the floor…Aaye-yi-yi! After removing every food particle possible from my bag and purse, I spent a recent morning on my cab ride to work playing the ant squashing game with about twenty or thirty ants that came crawling out of them.

Maids
Yes, most people have maids here and or washing people to do their laundry. It was strange initially for me to get used to, but the reason is that laundromats and washing machines are practically nonexistent unless you work for the government and have a nice set-up. Whenever I came back home I’d find that my valuable earplugs had been tossed out in the remaking of the bed and that I couldn’t find things as they’d been moved around. Most of the time you end up living in a house, building or compound where cleaning people are already employed to take care of the dwellings. I’ve only heard of one laundromat here whose location no one can explain to me and whose price apparently is ridiculously high, like over $20.00 a load. It can be nice to have someone washing and ironing your clothes, but they aren’t always the brightest when it comes to doing those things well. I’ve had some clothing ruined because bleach was put into a colored wash or clothes were hung such that they became discolored or misshapen. That can be a big deal when you don’t have many career clothes and can’t just go out and buy more.

Stolen Shoes
I have big feet so it’s always been hard for me to find shoes. Africa is no exception. However, while traveling in the Volta I found a nice pair of black sandals that actually fit! When I came home from work on Monday they were gone. I’d been keeping close tabs on my underwear since some of the other girls have had their more attractive pairs go missing in the laundry. Yeah, kind of gross. I searched around and then walked around back to ask our cleaner “Baby” if she knew where they were. I looked down and saw one of the sandals outside her door. I politely mentioned to her that they were missing and indicated the similarity of the sandal near her door to those recently gone missing. My question was met with silence. I asked again quite patiently and repeatedly, while she stood there refusing to say anything. Finally she went inside her home and brought the other sandal out walking them to my flat. Once inside she said that maybe her sister had taken them but still refused to apologize or look at me. The hard part about it all was that I don’t like anyone to ever feel inferior to me and had been thinking about buying the cleaners some nice sort of thank you gift to spread some love around. Right at that moment the power went out for “lights off” leaving us standing in my room in silence and blackness. I had just asked her how I could trust that it wouldn’t happen again and 20 seconds went by, 40 seconds, 1 minute….of silence. There we stood, me asking questions and her saying nothing. Both of us staring into the darkness. It was all quite silly and probably would have been hilarious to an observer. She wouldn’t talk and she wouldn’t leave! Shoes are one thing but losing things of greater value are another, and I couldn’t take a chance on that. I told her that I wasn’t comfortable not telling Mommy her boss (my landlady) what happened, and then poured out a torrent of apologies and “I beg you, I beg you’s”, which actually are phrases used quite frequently here as terms of bargaining, and are said simply to sound convincing or to get more money. I insisted on getting a reason for not going to tell Mommy and she couldn’t give me one. I managed to finally get something out like, “OK, I’ll think about it. It’s okay for now” to get her to leave, but all she heard was, “It’s okay” and suddenly seemed as if nothing had happened and promptly left. I hope parts of this have made you laugh, but it really is true that it takes great patience sometimes to try to get through to uneducated people. It is a big challenge in third world countries to try to get along with people who sometimes don’t think in a logical, intelligent fashion. Don’t even get me started on food service. You Americans would never have the patience I tell you…

The Office
I borrowed a copy of Seasons One and Two of “The Office”, the television series from a friend here who’s going back to England and it has been a real, cultural saving grace. The first couple of times the into music started playing and they showed pictures of Scranton, PA I almost started crying! It just looked so powerfully familiar. I was quite surprised at my reaction. Steve Carell is hilarious and the humor is so fantastically silly and American that I just eat it up like candy. I even have to ration it out so I don’t watch all the episodes at once. It’s laughter therapy for me and makes me feel a little closer to home sometimes.

As I have more time to learn about my blogsite and the fun options it offers I look forward to making it more enjoyable for you.

Keeping you all in my thoughts and prayers, thankful for your companionship and support on my journey,

your sister soldier,
Grace

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