“Africa is less a wilderness than a repository of primary and fundamental values, and less a barbaric land than an unfamiliar voice”

It’s an acceptable day: not too cool, not hot, and varying between sunny and cloudy. Rain is predicted for this afternoon but right now the sun holds sway. I have a bunch of stuff to do today, a listful, and it’s been a while since I’ve needed a list. A couple of the errands are for tomorrow, but I figured I’d add them anyway while I was listing, so to speak.

I need a little excitement. Over the winter, my life was a bit humdrum. Okay, it was hugely humdrum. I didn’t go anywhere. Even my night out for trivia was sporadic. The one social event I could count on was on Sunday nights when my friends and I had our Amazing Race evening together. We’d play games before hand and eat dinner while watching the race, but that was the sum total of my excitement.

In Ghana, there was little to do at night. The occasional movies were shown at the Hotel d’Bull and many of them were Indian with all the singing that goes with them. It wasn’t Bollywood back then, but all the pieces for it were in place. Mostly we played games, but I was never bored. Life was never humdrum. All around me was Africa with sights and sounds I never knew existed. I couldn’t have dreamt them as I had no idea what Africa was like. I had to experience those sights and sounds, absorb them and etch them into my memory so I could draw on them and bring them back.

I brought them back often. I’d close my eyes and remember. I’d see the road to town and all the stores across from the post office, and I’d remember market day with all the bustle and noise and the stalls filled with fruit and vegetables. I remembered the beautiful colors and patterns of the cloth and how women carried babies on their backs and baskets on their heads. I kept my memories vivid.

Last summer I saw all of those things again. My town was huge compared to forty years earlier, but its essence hadn’t changed. The market is enormous now but still filled with color and with women carrying baskets on their heads and babies on their backs. I heard the sounds of FraFra, the local language, everywhere I went. I greeted people just as I used to but in Hausa, the language the Peace Corps taught me, and the Ghanaians always greeted me back. I didn’t have a TV, and there is no more Hotel d’Bull with its Indian movies, but none of that mattered. Just as before, I wasn’t bored once.

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10 Comments on ““Africa is less a wilderness than a repository of primary and fundamental values, and less a barbaric land than an unfamiliar voice””

  1. Caryn Says:

    Hi Kat,
    When you write about your memories of Ghana, I can almost see them myself. How lovely to have those memories and to have them reinforced by your most recent visit.

    By the time I read this, the weather up here had turned to cold and rainy though it started out nice enough. Well, we still need the rain, I suppose, so I won’t complain. Yet. 🙂

    Enjoy the day!

    • katry Says:

      Hi Caryn,
      I have a friend who says he thinks of Ghana just about every day, and I know exactly what he means. Living there stays with you always and a piece of your heart and soul holds Ghana close. I lived way up country so I seldom visited the big city. Bolga became home, and you never forget home.

  2. Bill S. Says:

    Kat:
    I must be the friend you mentioned. When I think of our PC experiences, I am grateful for the opportunity to have served. In 1969 we originally were accepted into VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), and could have worked in an innner city for two years. I also had been accepted to the NSA, but could not fill out their 12-page questionnaire. I guess it was a roll of the dice, and I’m glad we chose PC. It has affected almost every aspect of our lives and truly given us a different outlook on the world, one which is not always experienced or shared by those who haven’t served.

    When we were originally posted to Tamale, only 100 miles south of Bolga, we fell in love with the north and were hooked. As you know, it’s like two different worlds between north and south. I’m glad we had the chance to live in the south for one year, but even gladder (?) to have lived and worked in Bolga.

    • katry Says:

      Bill,
      You are indeed that friend! (I remember how far Tamale is from Bolga. No senility here yet)

      Before I left Philadelphia, I was in the elevator with Ira Okun who introduced himself to me and I did the same to him. He paused a moment and said I was going to Bolgatanga. It seems they had posted the Upper Region first then the Northern with everyone else to be posted later in the summer. I think it was considered far too remote for most people. The shrink I saw asked me if I had any objections about being posted in the north. I asked him why I would. He had no idea. I said I didn’t care.

      I loved the north as did all of us. In April of the first year a few of us got letters from PC asking us to come to Accra as we had been up north a long time without dropping by to visit PC and our checks were piling up. I think they just wanted to make sure we hadn’t gone crazy up north!

      Gladder is just fine!

      • Bill S. Says:

        We saw the same shrink, and marvel at how he was able to determine who was good for going north and who was not, all in the span of about 30 minutes. I’m sure he had never been to Ghana either!

        Judging from the number of replies to this particular blog (most of the replies are in response to sports, politics, or something about our childhoods), I’m willing to bet that our PC experiences were so unique that most people do not relate to them. I’ve often wondered why more people don’t consider the PC after college (including our own two kids!).

        It seems to have stopped raining here in NH (for the moment).

  3. olof1 Says:

    It’s fantastic how some places do that to us 🙂 Doesn’t matter that all the modern entertainments doesn’t exist there, boring days doesn’t happen 🙂 and this summer You’ll go there again 🙂

    We’ve had rather nice weather during the days here and rain in the nights, when vacation comes it will be just the opposite I’m afraid 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Have a great day!
    Christer.

    • katry Says:

      Christer,
      It poured this morning but stopped so I could go to the dump. I actually finished all my errands but 1 small one. I feel accomplished again.

      It is still damp and cloudy. It’s a good day to stay home and read away the rest of the afternoon.

      Enjoy your evening!!

  4. katry Says:

    Bill,
    You are completely on the money about the lack of comments about my Ghanaian memories. My Coffee regulars have nothing with which to relate. This blog is more like reading a book about an unknown place for them.

    None of my Cape friends went into the PC. None of them even considered it. They are not adventurous travelers and weren’t even when they were young. I think going to an entirely different culture about which you know little scares a lot of people, and the idea of eating goat or similar food is even more frightening.

    When I think back to how little we knew or could read and see, we were going almost blindly. Now there is the internet and so much information about training and what to pack. Volunteers now can call home regularly and Skype. It’s all so different than, OMG, 40+ years ago that you’d think it would attract more people.

    Stopped raining here too!

    • Bill S. Says:

      I think having no internet so that we could familiarize ourselves with Ghana was actually an advantage–no pre-conceived ideas or thoughts as to what we would encounter.

      It would be interesting to me to see what the first semester/year dropout rate is for volunteers now as opposed to 40 years ago–better or worse, and why?

      We expect t.storms tonite–I spoke too soon.

      • katry Says:

        Bill,
        A year back, I was following a Burkina Faso blog written by a mother of a PCV. She wrote that she talked to her son every few days. I commented that I was glad I had contact only by mail with my parents as it was easier to be absorbed into Ghana and to see it as home. She thought I was totally wrong as she heard all about her son’s experiences and could share his joys and disappointments. I still disagreed.

        We too are expected t-storms!


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