Sunday, October 11, 2009
I am now in the UK!
This comes as no surprise to some of you, I know, yet it may for others. Wasn’t I supposed to be in Atlanta for three years? And yet only two years have passed. Well, two and a bit. As you may have noticed, I have a tendency to fall off the face of the earth in terms of communication, but I’ve been trying to develop the habit of blogging when doing so less figuratively. So there’s balance!
Thus, as I’ve travelled to another culture, I am here blogging again. Travel logging, if you will. And yes, there is culture shock, and yes, the weather is strange. Again I’m in a country whose official language is English- again I occasionally have trouble understanding what’s being said. Less so this time, though :) I’ve even met a Ghanaian person here! I understand her words better than some others.
So how did I get here? For the previous two academic years, I was in seminary at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. I lived there on my own in an apartment, and all went well: I am indeed still on track to become an elder in the United Methodist Church! I still feel called to hospital chaplaincy, too. I loved my time in Atlanta, from the classes at Candler and the company of good friends to the great swing dancing and wonderful cultural events. The traffic really is as bad as they say, but luckily I could take a free shuttle or walk to campus. By design the church where I worked for a year wasn’t too far away.
That church was the wonderful, hospitable Northwoods UMC of Doraville, GA. I met many great people there and had excellent experiences in ministry. I am praying for their well-being always. I also worked as a hospital chaplain in Atlanta part time during my first year in seminary (a mere 4 hours per week), and then had full-time chaplaincy training for the summer of 2008 in Evansville, Indiana. It was challenging, and I loved it. I’m looking forward to doing more. I saw solid and interesting connections between all those work experiences and the things I was learning at Candler, and while some classes will always feel tedious, my time there felt extremely worthwhile. I think my favorite part, in fact, were my Old Testament and New Testament courses. They really opened up my reading of the scriptures, giving me a lot more confidence about finding responsible interpretations. It was a wonderful thing to learn, as a Christian. I’m very grateful to all my previous sources of learning (my friends and family, my church, NCSSM, CCC, and Guilford) for preparing me sufficiently to grasp all these other opportunities.
Now, at this point I’ve brought up Atlanta, classes, church, chaplaincy, dancing, and even traffic, but there’s another significant factor of my life’s last couple of years that I have not yet mentioned. In fact, Martin and I met just over a year and a half ago while swing dancing in Atlanta. He’s a lanky, long-haired computer programmer from the UK (you’ll see where this is going) and the year prior, while I was in Ghana, his company had flown him over for a three month stint in their Atlanta (Norcross) office. He and they liked the experience so much that they brought him back for another three months, this time in the Spring of my first year of seminary. That was when we met.
He’s lovely, and we’re very much in love. Most of the course of our relationship, of course, we’ve been in different countries (kept in everyday contact by Skype and Facebook). This has been hard, but we’ve persevered and been happy for it. I made one trip to the UK in November of 2008 over Thanksgiving, and Martin and I were even able to see my British family (aunt, uncle, and cousins :)). Martin was also able to come to the US in May, and met my parents and one sister for the first time. And now I’m in the UK for a year! Thus far I’ve met one of Martin’s sisters, plus some of his mother’s side of the family, and there’s more to come. I’ve had a great time, too, getting to know his friends in Worcester, which is where he lives.
So, about 5 months into this relationship, when we became more sure that we were staying together, the brainstorming process on “how to live in the same country” began... Martin was willing to come to Atlanta again, but with the economy growing worse last year, it was looking like a tricky option. Fortunately, there was one route that allowed me to stay in seminary and see the UK :) Candler has an exchange program with Wesley House, a Methodist theological college that’s part of a federation of other such institutions, which is affiliated with the University of Cambridge, UK. I applied, Candler and Wesley House accepted me, and now I’m studying at Cambridge! Crazy :) The visa process was frustrating over the summer, but thankfully that’s over for now, and at the moment the largest concerns involve what I should take to class.
At Wesley House, I’ve got a bedroom and a study situated on a hall where I share a bathroom and kitchen with other people. Every weekday morning there’s group prayer, and I’ve already started a Greek course and a UK Methodist Life & Service course. A worship course and one titled “Gospel and Western Culture” will begin soon. There are also a lot of group social activities, and practically everyone lives on-site. Some seminarians have decent-sized families, so we have about 10 children of various ages running around, being cute and getting into mischief.
And practically every weekend I get to see Martin. It’s a comfort and a joy. Worcester is about 4 hours from Cambridge by train, 5 hours by bus, but I’ve figured out how to do it relatively cheaply, and we’ll be visiting each other in equal amounts. Everyone here, from Martin’s family to the folks at Wesley House, have been marvelously kind and welcoming, and I’m having a wonderful time. It’s fun to be in a new place, have confusion over silly things, enjoy new food and think in different ways. (You’ll be happy to know, I’m learning to look the right way when crossing the street).
There will be another post soon with some of the adventures I’ve had with Martin, plus some of the beautiful parts of Wesley House and Cambridge. And I have pictures! I got a camera for my birthday, so anticipate more pictures in the future. For now, I’ll leave you with pictures of me and Martin as he picked me up from the airport, and then walking on the Malvern Hills, close to Worcester.
Love and peace to you all,
(in greek, ‘agape humin’ and ‘irenei humin’),
and thanks for caring!
PS- If you want to say ‘love to you’ to a single person, you say ‘agape soi’, and the same for ‘irenei soi’ :)
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Today, though, be thinking about me & my family. I'm going with my dad to visit his cousin in Hospice, who's only expected to live a couple more days, and there have been a lot of recent deaths on that side of the family.
I love you all! I don't have my cell phone just yet, but feel free to call my house, and know that I'll be around online and such asap :)
Thanks for caring!
Friday, June 8, 2007
Hello family and friends!
I’m coming home in only two days! Today is Friday, and I’ll leave
So, now for a cursory overview of landmark encounters and experiences in Ghana: I’ve met the Anglican bishops of Cape Coast, Sunyani, Secundi/Takoradi and maybe Kumasi (I can’t remember), and the former bishop of Los Angeles; I’ve been to nine tenths of Ghana’s regions; I’ve received a marriage proposal (many, in fact); I’ve visited a legitimate shrine; I’ve had tons of conversations about religion in Africa in general; I’ve touched a crocodile and survived; I’ve become adept at hand-washing clothes and washing myself out of a bucket; I’m finally very comfortable with the term “Obruni” – I much prefer it to “white lady”; I’ve pounded something similar to fufu; I can competently eat fufu, and most other Ghanaian foods, in the traditional way. (Note: I know this is not a list of “what I’ve learned in
Things I still want to know/understand: what is Rastafarianism, really? What do people who truly consider themselves Christians and traditionalists think about their own belief systems and practices? What percentage of marriages in the north and south of
Naturally, there’s tons left to learn here. There’s also a lot for me to learn over the next few months and years in the
Also, there are a few topics that I just haven’t felt comfortable writing about here, not because they’re inherently bad or because I can’t explain them, but because I haven’t figured out how to appropriately frame them in this medium. I’m willing to discuss them, but only if I can really talk about them since they’re so complex and my perspectives on them have changed several times. Anyway, they include: being an obruni in
It occurs to me that all these lists might easily be tiring ;) I promise I’m done. They just sort of come about sometimes because I want to talk about a topic, and then realize that I can’t- that there’s simply too much. Isn’t it strange how sometimes things take so much longer to explain than to experience? But how the associated thinking/processing time is usually completely independent of either? I actually appreciate that fact. I like having a fuller set of thoughts on a topic, because then even if I’m called upon to say something small, it will be informed by all of the larger interrelated things that I’ve learned around it.
But anyway, first topic of the day: Profanity. This is a complicated issue for me, and has been ever since I first heard my little sisters here cursing in English. I know that they have no grasp of the gravity of what they say, but the fact remains that they are using the words grammatically correctly, and in situations where they’re frustrated. Chantal, Katie and I had a conversation earlier in which we talked about how children learned about taboo things, and how the forbidden nature of something can make it far more desirable and destructive to people than it would have been as a simple aspect of their lives. For example, tell a child that they can’t say a certain word, go to a certain place, or watch a certain movie, and all the sudden it holds a whole new meaning for them, often inciting them to rebellion. So, Chantal’s argument was that children shouldn’t be forbidden things that are culturally specific taboos – that we should really question our perceptions of what is “bad”. One could further argue that people should not be forbidden that which is taboo in other cultures, and US and British cultures are certainly different from Ghanaian ones, though they’ve also definitely influenced them. Also, I support the validity of changing language, shifting spellings, dialects, accents, and changing word meanings. However, I think there are a couple of counterarguments: these children won’t only interact with Ghanaians during their lifetimes. They’ll be interacting with people who could be offended by such language, and they have plenty of alternative vocabulary they could use. Also, Ghanaians have long referred to the colonizers they interacted with as “the colonial masters”, and in
The English filter is the only reason that Ghanaians are able to say generally profane words, though. There are words for them in Akan, but you can’t say them in public, and especially not in front of an older person. A friend of mine said that a person could easily sing a song about sex in English, but if they had to sing the same song directly translated into Akan, they simply *couldn’t* do it. Now, I know of one particularly profane and also particularly popular Ghanaian rapper who throws this idea out the window (his fans like his music so well that they feel compelled to participate in his call & response, even though they would normally never say such words). But anyway, it’s because of the distance that speaking English provides, making such things not matter because the words are more like sounds than meanings, that Ghanaians can speak profanely in English. They watch American (and maybe some British, Canadian & Australian) movies, and they notice people cursing all the time, and don’t pick up on the full context in which that’s happening. But anyway, doesn’t this also make you wonder about how much churchgoers in
So, speaking of languages and church, we’re going to segway toward francophones in the Anglican church. Now, at first, I was not at all shocked that there were French-speakers (from
I may have also said earlier, once I fully grasped how much people speak Fante here, that I was glad I didn’t go to a French-speaking country in
Another interesting aspect of my language experience here is that even though I only know how to say a few things in Fante, and I know far more in French, whenever someone speaks to me in a foreign language now my first reaction is to respond in Fante. I haven’t forgotten my French at all, but it’s as if the Fante phrases are sitting on top of the French ones in my mind, so I have to use a lot more effort to reach them. However, I’m still fine at explaining things in French (as fine as I’ve ever been ;)). I think it’s merely that my conversational French was never stellar because I rarely practiced with true francophones, so now it’s still there but the Fante comes more quickly.
Big posts I still need to write: transportation in
The last conversation of the day has to do with feeling like my father and mother. I went to the village called Moree the other day to meet some youth that folks around the seminary (and at home! Yay Bethel UMC!) are helping to train for employment. Moree is not to far from
Well, that’s it for today :) I’m coming home soon. I love you all, and thanks for caring!
with very much love,
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Greetings family and friends!
As ever, life is crazy. I only have 11 days left, and I feel like time keeps slipping away from me, but not in that “ack! I’m leaving soon” kind of way… surprisingly, it’s in the “wait, I meant to do things today – why does time conspire against me?” kind of way. It’s basically because there are many other people upon whom my plans depend and they generally refuse to make up their minds ;) This is ok, however, for such is life in
Some addendums, retractions, etc, followed by some notes on our trip to the North!
-I had written that my mom’s side of the family doesn’t like fish, but Grandma actually does enjoy it. I think my memory was simply overwhelmed by my aunt and Papa’s strong feelings against fish, but Grandma’s probably also partially responsible for my mixed, fickle tastebuds.
-I do also occasionally see men carrying children in
-Other animals in
On our trip up North, I was keeping my eyes open for animals, and saw a few. Though I felt like I saw fewer goats there than in the South, I’m told that the goat stock originates from the North, so they’re both cheaper and better there. (Akwasi bought one at the
The first day to the North was spent traveling to get there. We left at about , had a sound lunch in
When we set off for Mole (pronounced “MOH-lay”) the next morning, we passed through two villages/towns. I can’t precisely remember the name of the first one, but I liked it a lot, because it reminded me very much of small towns in
Mole was awesome. We spent a couple of morning hours there, and went on a small guided hike in which we saw (in this order) monkeys, deer, warthogs, and elephants! Don’t let the order fool you, however, because we saw the elephants while still next to the park buildings. It was very interesting, especially to see monkeys sitting and eating on huge branches that you know are actually tree branches, rather than the concrete fake ones at zoos. It was all beautiful. We even got to see the elephants taking baths! And I will say that though I am tired of seeing carved black elephants (did African carvers ever make their carvings black before there was shoe polish?) African elephants are indeed black while they’re in the water and when they first come out. Otherwise they’re grayish-brown.
Next we went to a village (I believe) called Lalabenga. They claim to have the oldest mosque still standing in
The fact of the matter is that most tourism in
The crocodile pond was a more typical example of what happens at Ghanaian tourist sites. There’s an oral history about how it came to be that crocodiles (which in other places do attack humans, much more than alligators) peacefully live in the village’s main water supply. However, no one told it to us, and when Katie and I hastily tried to read some about it from signs underneath a thatched shelter, we were hurried along. The real event was (after Akwasi agreed to sponsor a few fowls) they coaxed a big, blind crocodile out of the pond with a chicken, then dragged it to where they wanted it, and encouraged us to sit on it (I just touched it’s back and then moved away. We got pictures of Katie and Chantal). They then tossed the chicken to it, and allowed it to go back into the water. The other crocodiles looking for free chickens were rapped on their snouts with sticks, and so sent back into the water. That was the true extent of our experience at the pond, though later Akwasi told us that people fish in that water, and get into it to fill up barrels with water, and that no one ever gets hurt. Mind-boggling ;)
I’m out of time again, but I should be able to post once more before I come home next weekend. I love you all so much! Thanks for reading and caring, and I’ll see you all soon!
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Greetings family and friends!
Life is busy, even in
There’s trouble in paradise – I’m having some difficulty with the things that were sewn for me, but hopefully I’ll work that out tomorrow. I also have plenty of money left from my stipend, because I think I’ve been reasonably frugal and I haven’t bought nearly all of my gifts for people yet, but I’m expecting to spend a lot on our trip to the North which will be happening this Thursday. We’ll be staying mainly in Tamale, but also making excursions to see tame crocodiles (at a temple, I believe), and also
The one other thing I know about traditional music in (perhaps only the South of)
Also, I’m not sure what the word “smock” conjures up for anyone else, but for me it brings an image of a frilly, loose coat for a girl. Perhaps my impression is completely mistaken even in my home context, but anyway, it’s completely wrong for
Speaking of rain, yesterday there was a large rainstorm. Akwasi says that they don’t have storms with “high wind” here, but again, it’s a relative thing. Their storms can flood a lot, and bring down big branches of trees (and trees themselves, Katie tells me) like a bad ice storm in the southern US, but just from the wind and rain. But then again, they don’t get hurricanes or tornadoes. I suppose there are hazards living everywhere, of different degrees and frequencies. This particular storm, however, made me happy by bringing down a branch behind our back porch, suddenly opening a marvelous view of the lagoon. It’s awesome, and don’t worry, I’ll take a picture :)
Right now the seminary and my house are deathly quiet most of the day while the seminarians take exams. We don’t even talk too loudly because some of them are writing not 25 feet from the house in what’s practically a garage, and our windows don’t shut. So, after the storm yesterday I tried to be very quiet as I prepared four dishes from home for our families here to eat. (Katie and Chantal also prepared food, and we all came together with our families at Chantal’s house that evening). Staying quiet proved easy until my sisters came home, at which point I hadn’t even finished one dish, but fortunately the seminarians finished soon after. And, then, fortunately, my sisters gave me lots of help, which complicated some things and made others easier.
All in all, I made mashed potatoes, cooked apples, fried okra and deviled eggs, and they all turned out fine. Most people liked all of them, except for my sisters who are slightly picky eaters ;) The mashed potatoes turned out precisely as they were supposed to. For the cooked apples, I added too much brown sugar, but they were still ok as a desert-type thing. The fried okra (called okro here) was ok, though I didn’t have corn meal. I ended up using corn flour, and whole eggs, and they were fried in palm oil. They were great when they first came out, though slightly less great after they got cold. (Ah well).
The real show-stoppers, however, were the deviled eggs! At their first introduction, Mother was alarmed by their name. How could I explain that a church dinner would be lacking without deviled eggs? I had thought about this naming issue before, and even imagined that it would cause a stir in my very religious family (though they didn’t seem to care that the cat in Cinderella is named Lucifer). After Mother commented, however, I realized that if I was an anthropologist visiting a culture and they told me they had Satan pancakes, I might wonder at the connection.
Then, of course, I couldn’t find all the right ingredients. Mayonnaise is plentiful in
So, success! There were some hitches to the evening, but overall it went well, and people were fed. My last requirement is my African Traditional Religion exam tomorrow. Pray for me… ;) Then, it’s off to Tamale! Bright and early at 7am on Thursday in a rented van. It should be fun and interesting, and I’ll be taking pictures.
A couple of random topics for the day:
I don’t think I’ve written on this before, but it’s caused many strange moments during my time here ;) Generally when one beckons in the US, you either move your arm in a scooping sideways or pushing motion, or with your palm face up, you flick your fingers toward you. To wave goodbye, you might wave your hand and/or arm from side to side, or with your palm face out, move your fingers up and down. In
As for this issue of being Ghanaian, it’s something that the Ghanaian government makes very difficult for foreigners, even though they’re very welcoming in general. They made something like 40 foreigners Ghanaian citizens this year (this was in the news several months ago). And in truth, it’s rather difficult to do. Ghanaians get very happy when outsiders speak their languages well, but those who do still stand out, especially if they’re white, because there just aren’t that many foreigners around. When the British moved out, they moved out. There are more in
However, there are tons of non-Ghanaian countries, particularly in this year of the Ghanaian Golden Jubilee, that are saying they’re “proud to be Ghanaian” on their commercials. The advertising cycles that have hit hardest while we’re here are for paint (Azar, but now also others), beer (almost all Guinness), and the three major cell phone service providers. I’m told that none of them come from
Anyway, that’s all for today! :) I love you all! I’ll write again as soon as I can.
Thank you so much for caring!
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Greetings family and friends!
All is well in Ghana :) recent mental projects: coming to terms with the fact that I’m leaving soon, and have very little time left with my family here, and too little time to learn *everything*; coping with not being able to buy presents for *everyone*; forgiving my forgetfulness and strange habits; not worrying about things at home that I can’t help; basically, not worrying about all the things I can’t help ;) That’s the way it goes. I have to accept my human limitations and be grateful for what I can learn, see, do, help, and cope with. Yay for learning :)
I didn’t go to Takoradi this past weekend after all due to miscommunications and people being in alternate locations. It happens sometimes – I’ll just be going this weekend, and I’m sure hitting the club/disco once again ;) I also didn’t go to Praso, the nearby town where some extended family lives and where Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana does some outreach, but I may go there after our trip to the North, depending. My paper that was due on Monday went just fine, and now I’m having this middle-of-the-week chill time that I was rather looking forward to. It’s nice, although naturally more busy than I had planned. I’m also studying during this period and tomorrow I shall spend considerable time in the religious studies department library. Why they can’t put everything in one place I don’t know, but I suppose it doesn’t matter much in the long run.
The real story of my mid-week free period, however, is that I went to a traditional shrine today! It was an amazing experience. I have so much to say, and also so much to ponder. I think it’ll have to wait for the next entry, though, as I need to process more before I simply repeat ;) Suffice it to say that Katie and I got to speak to the administrator of a local shrine (the son of the priest who founded it) and asked him questions for a nearly an hour after witnessing libation prayer at the five individual shrines/altars. We also got to watch the kids and adults who live there, some of whom are priestesses, play drums and dance, experiencing how informal teaching, rehearsal and performance are all interrelated, normal and regular things in this context. We actually got to talk to someone who believes in all the aspects of traditional religion, who could explain to us in his own words (though in English) the mind-frame in which all of this takes place, some of the theology, et cetera. Also, he explained all of the specifics for why certain things are in certain places, how kola nuts actually look and how they can be used for divination, and why certain figures are revered. Ah, I learned sooooo much! I’m so thankful.
Of course, I’m less thrilled about doing my African Traditional Religion exam, but I’ll be as prepared as I can be ;) again, the last two exams & paper have gone just fine, it’s just that the exams from years past match very little with what we’ve been taught in this class, and they basically want us to write 5-paragraph essays through the whole thing, for which I have a slight distaste. I suppose that I should be grateful I was warned about the structure this time ;)
So, let’s see. Thursday is a calm day. On Friday I’ll go to PPAG, hang out with my friend George and then Katie, Chantal and I will go out to dinner with our African Lit professor Naana Jane for some processing/debriefing time, now that we’re definitely ending “school” here and are nearly at the end of our general time in
Ok, Ghanaian English Time :) Please remember that this doesn’t necessarily apply to all of
First of all, people don’t ever say “pick up”, as in “Go and pick up the phone”, or “I’ll pick you up this afternoon”. They just say “pick”, as in “Go to the taxi station, and I will come pick you”, or “why didn’t you pick my call?”
Next, people often ask you if you’re finished for the day, but they don’t say finished, they say “closed”. “Have you closed for the day?” There’s an exact Fante equivalent, and it’s one of those important cultural questions. There are a lot of words asking about how work is going, and people often tell me to study (“learn”) hard. In Fante, the verb for “to learn” is also used for reading, so you essentially say “I’m going to learn my book” Mokosua buuku.
Also, I was reading this book of theology by a Ghanaian woman, Mercy Amba Oduyoye, and at one point she mentioned that when people were essentially declining your invitation to eat with them (and you must always invite those around you to eat with you) that people would say “my hand is in it”, because usually you’d be eating out of a common bowl, pulling off pieces from the same ball of fufu, etc. Now, having been in Ghana for four months and never learned this (I learned the word for inviting someone early, because I asked) I thought that it was some obscure cultural thing that mostly older people do, or that’s done in the country, because no one ever said it that way to me in English. Whenever I invited someone, they always declined by saying “no, enjoy yourself” or something of the sort – until two days ago, that is, when one of my little sisters suddenly instructed me in the Fante for “my hand is in it”. I could spell how it sounds, but it wouldn’t be correct. But it’s interesting how cultural things like that, to which I’ve been exposed for so long, can still remain partially hidden.
And finally, even though when Ghanaians knock and make a sound to indicate knocking “koh kooh koh” they make three sounds, when Ghanaian children play they don’t say “one, two, three” to start something (for example, jumping rope, or beginning a rhythmic game). They just say “one, two”, and they also generally say them slower than kids in the
And now for random cultural topics: Carrying things on one’s head. Yes, people do that in
So, considering all of this, I wonder how much people hurt their backs here. They do of course have to lift these things to put them on and off their heads, but usually when it’s heavy they ask for (and receive) help, from anyone who’s around to give it. So anyway, I wonder how this affects one’s muscles. Ghanaians also generally seem to have good posture, though occasionally really tall people tend to keep their heads bent down, as if they grew too fast. I’ve heard people commenting about this in the
However, people in
And while we’re talking about bodies, I’ll comment on weight :) In
Also, it’s common to see girls younger than me with babies, usually on their backs. Motherhood is extremely important in
Final interesting tidbit of the day: Mother and I finally went to visit a seamstress she knows, and I’ll be getting 3 tops and 3 bottoms (1 skirt, two pants), and a dress made by Monday! Not quite all of this is for me (one shirt and one shirt/pants set are for friends) but in any case, I’m extremely excited. Also, between the cost of the fabric, the cost of lining for some of these, and the cost of paying the seamstress, all of this has come out to $55. Isn’t that insane? Of course, such money goes a lot farther in Ghana, but still, four outfits that are *made* for the person who will be wearing them. I mean, I knew that’s how it would be, but I’m still amazed. Mother also bought some fabric and ordered another outfit for me on the spot, which she wanted me to wear to church when I came home – so
Anyway, that’s about it for now :) goodness knows what I’ll do with the rest of today, but it’s about and I need to get some food into me. Watermelon just came into season! We’ll see what else I can scrounge around town.
Thanks for continuing to read all of this, or even just for checking in occasionally. Thanks for caring :)
Miss you all!
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Greetings family and friends!
These things which you hopefully see at the top of this post are my boubou/patapata African dress that I got in Takoradi and a FanYogo Maxi, which will be commented upon later in this post :) The "maxi" only implies that it's the bigger of two sizes. It's frozen yogurt in a packet :)
I have now completed two exams, and they both went well! (Rel 430: Jesus in the African Context & Rel 329: Muslim Ethics). I’ve enjoyed both of these classes for different reasons, and learned much in each. Woot!
However, while my time in
To be fair, though I’d really like to finish this paper today, it’s not due until Monday. Also,
Another lesson I was actually hoping to learn was: how to reach some sort of compromise with my skin. Now, I don’t mean compromising the status of my skin – I mean reasoning with my skin as if it could independently bargain with me. The bargain I wished to strike was this: if I put on copious amounts of sunblock for all major outings and otherwise jumped from shadow to shadow without sunblock on schooldays, the least my skin could do in Ghana is maintain that rosy color that on other people would be blinding white but on me is a tan. But no, this was not to be. My skin reminded me that I am about the fourth palest person I have ever met, and that therefore it does not work like a normal person’s. Some stories:
After about a month here, I stopped wearing sunblock to school for a while. A dangerous idea, I know, but I was getting tired of feeling so sticky and dirty, so I stopped. One day, I went to class, as usual, and during my free time sat in deep shade, as usual. And do you know what? I got sunburned. It’s amazing what the ambient light from equator sunshine can do. This was when I *thought* I had established a “base tan”.
Then, on my most recent trip to Takoradi, I had no idea what I would be doing on the day I traveled there beyond the tro-tro (minibus) trip, so I put sunblock on my face and neck. Smart, right? I thought so. We ended up spending the afternoon driving around Takoradi with Mr. Cromwell, the Laryea’s family friend. We made various stops and visits, but anyway, I was apparently in the front passenger seat (with the window down but my arm *inside* the door) long enough for my right arm, and only my right arm, to get sunburned. Amazing.
My most recent story involves our trip to Winneba this past weekend, which I’m not sure I mentioned beforehand. We went to see the Aboakyir (pronounced ah-boAH-cheer) festival there. During this festival, usually two sets of hunters go out to try to catch a deer (/antelope?) for the sacrifice. These deer are little – roughly the size of a newborn fawn of US deer. And also, I do mean “catch”. They have to bring in a live one, which, granted, is not usually how they’re hunted.
So, usually the two teams race to see who can bring in a deer first. This year only the white group went, owing to some political tensions the red group was having with the chief. They leave for the forest at dawn, and so our group was slightly nervous that we would get there at or , though it turns out we didn’t miss anything. In fact, the deer did not come until about or so. There were many preliminary rituals (along with much rejoicing and running about), and then the president spoke along with some other folks. This is technically the second time I’ve seen the President of Ghana, John A. Kufour, but the first time at Independence Square for the 50th Anniversary celebration didn’t really count, because he was much too far away. This time he passed within 20 feet of me, which I thought was neat. During his speech, though, I finally started getting antsy from standing in a small crowd for hours, and therefore had to break away. He was speaking in a Ghanaian language (probably Akan), so I wasn’t understanding him anyway, except for occasional murmurs of “50th Anniversary” and such. Ah, presidents all do the same thing ;)
But anyway, the funny part of this story is that I had put on my SPF 45 ultra-sweatproof-and-waterproof sunblock at . Then, at , I reapplied. By , my face was sunburned. Go figure. I did not, however, get further sunburned that day, which was just as well since it was stressful ;)
Katie, Chantal and I spent lunch in the shade in a place with music that was too loud, so we didn’t talk. There was a moment of discomfort and then enlivening argument as a boy came to our table at the end of it all. He was trying to pick up a date for the afternoon, but in doing so woke my mind up from its siesta. I found myself good-naturedly arguing with him over the cultural relatively and general subjectivity of the response “I’m fine” until he left. After that I felt ready to encounter the world until I met completely incongruous people begging for water and then saw multiple block-length lines of people dancing with their hips locked on the person in front of them. Joining this procession without joining the lines added a whole new dimension to the issue, and by the evening I was really tired. Also, I forgot my camera this day, but Katie and Chantal got lots of good pictures, and all of Katie’s end up on my computer, so at the very least you can see them when I get back ;)
Speaking of which, I have a slight fear which may be irrational. Certainly there’s a logical side of my brain which says “surely not”, but my eyes keep feeding me contrary information: I’m slightly afraid that small ants now live in my laptop. They’re always crawling in and around it, even just a minute after I open it. Of course, there are ants everywhere in
Anyway, on to some Ghanaian culture for the week. It’s time to talk about getting people’s attention. If you’re in the house with your family, this can be a trifle strange… my family tends to yell “Rachel! …Rachel! …Rachel!” no matter how much I say “I’m coming!” in the middle ;) But outside of the house, people will only call your name if you’re close. If you’re far away and they’re trying to get your attention, they won’t raise their voices. Instead they’ll “hiss”. Phonetically, it’s “Tssssss”. There’s tons of hissing going on at the University of Cape Coast all day, and whenever you hear it you just have to turn around and see if someone’s trying to catch your eye. They just don’t yell.
Hissing is also occasionally useful for getting a taxi driver’s attention in town, where it’s crowded, or just across the classroom to get someone to pass along a sign-in sheet. In that sense it’s like “hey”.
Sometimes you’ll hear people hissing in the street to call your attention to what they’re selling, especially if they’re a hawker of some sort. Some people instead use this sucking/kissing sound which apparently has no negative connotations for people. It’s just to alert you to their presence and call your attention. I hear men do it more often, but that might just be coincidental.
The one other common attention-grabbing sound is the honk of the Fan Milk horns. Fan Milk is sold in some stores that have refrigeration/freezers, but it’s mostly sold from specially equipped bicycles and carts with coolers. They're all over the place, and if you're really craving yogurt there are a few places where they tend to rest, or otherwise you can be patient for a few minutes and wait for a bike to pass you by. Hawkers also sell it out of these insanely huge boxes that they carry on their heads... so you know, almost all hawkers carry things on their heads. Everything the sell is meant to be sold frozen: “yogurt”, ice cream, chocolate milk, and
This is not at all to say that I disapprove of street food (not to be confused with chop bar food. Chop bars are cheap places that only serve one kind of local food). I get street food often, because it’s tasty and cheap. I still need to get some corn on the cob, but that will happen one day soon. But anyway, in Abura for instance, if you look around you can get:
*Ahem* ;) Apologies in advance to Candace and Mommy and any other vegans/vegetarians in advance for the next two paragraphs. They talk a lot about eating meat. Feel free to skip them.
I actually like most of these quite a bit, but I have reservations about meat pies. The crust is generally a bit too thick and dry for me to handle, and the “meat” is usually beef pate, which I find gross. Sometimes, though, they also have cooked cabbage inside, which is yummy, and sometimes they have a different kind of crust which is much better. Also, once in a blue moon you can find pigs in a blanket here, which are also called meat pies. But anyway, I unfortunately trust them even less. Exposed meat just doesn’t inspire my confidence ;)
Speaking of meat, though, most of what I eat here is fish and chicken. Occasionally there’s beef, and I think I’ve once or twice had goat and pork. Beef, goat and pork are sometimes all referred to as “meat”, whereas fish and chicken are always specified. But anyway, I can’t remember whether I’ve commented upon this before, but sometimes I love the fish here… it’s yummy, and scrumptious, apart from the bone issue. But sometimes, even mid-fish, I suddenly feel like a Horak, my mother’s side of the family that doesn’t like fish, and then I don’t want to eat it anymore. It simply tastes too fishy ;) Also, it’s somewhat disconcerting for people to say “hey, here’s your fish”. And I know that this is really no different from killing another animal, except that this entire fish had to die to feed only me, and so we have this strange, very personal relationship in which I go off to eat my fish.
Anyway, one day there will be a more complete report on food in
Thanks for continuing to think of me, for all the nice emails and comments :) Overall, thanks for caring. Be well!
lots of love,