Posted tagged ‘Bolgatanga’

“The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”

March 18, 2019

The sun and the blue sky are still hanging around as is the chill. Every day this week is predicted to be in the 40’s, spring on Cape Cod.

St. Patrick’s day was wonderful. Dinner was superb though I’m not sure superb is the right adjective to describe corn beef and cabbage, a hearty meal. Everything cooked perfectly. The Irish soda bread and the Kerry butter completed the meal. Dessert was scrumptious. I didn’t eat it last night, but I had a piece for breakfast. I wonder if it is still called dessert if you eat it in the morning.

I found more shoots popping their heads above the ground. I count them as wonders. I watch their progress every morning. I saw a bit of yellow yesterday. I’m thinking a daffodil.

I am always thankful to Peace Corps for having assigned me to Bolgatanga. Every day was amazement filled with sounds, sights and feelings that I ever knew existed before living in Ghana. It was all a wonder of unexpected beauty.

I loved sleeping outside in the back of my house. My mattress, dragged from my bedroom, was a necessity as the backyard was concrete with a few big rocks which weren’t removed when the house was built and the concrete laid. I slept outside mostly during the dry season. I’d lie on my back and look at the sky. It was always spectacular with so many stars the nights were never dark. They were filled with shadows. Not a night went by without a falling star streaking across the sky. I oohed and ahed every one of them. They were never commonplace.

I have the same sense of wonder when there are meteor showers here. I take out a chair, something to drink, usually coffee, and I watch the sky. I still ooh and ah.

I can’t imagine a life without a sense of wonder, without seeing the joy of every day.

What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future.

December 20, 2018

Today is a beautiful winter’s day. The sky is a bit overcast, but it is in the 40’s anyway. I’m glad I have a few errands to get me outside, including the dump. Henry needs food, both canned and dry, biscuits and bully sticks to keep him busy. I also need to fill the bird feeders and wrap a few presents. My friends and I are going out for Thai food then we’ll exchange gifts, usually a January event for us.

Last night I sat in the living room just to look at the tree and all the decorations. I decided the room was beautiful. It is gently lit. Light comes from the tree and from a huge basket by the fireplace in which sits a plastic fifties light-up Santa and a decorated gourd with white lights shining through small holes. Two trees sit on different tables. One is a driftwood tree on the big table and the other is a stark white branch tree on the table behind the nativity. Both have white lights. My dining room too is lovely. Most of the light comes from my scrub pine tree in the corner and another fifties plastic Santa in front of it. A small set of lights is in the centerpiece among the ornaments and the pomegranates. The small red ornaments shine.

At Christmas in Ghana where I lived in the Upper Region, in Bolgatanga, it was harmattan time. Hot, dry dusty winds blowing off the desert left every surface gritty. The days were usually in the high 90’s or even over 100˚. The nights were cold, down to the 70’s. I had a wool blanket on my bed, the same one which hangs from the couch back in the living room. My mother had sent decorations and a tiny tree. She even sent a paper brick fireplace for my wall. I hung my stocking on it. I was not looking forward to Christmas, my first away from home. Patrick, another volunteer, and I decided to have a party on Christmas Eve. Bolga was not on anyone’s list to visit except during school holidays when volunteers were in town looking to go north into what is now Burkina Faso and Niger. I baked cookies for the first time ever. We bought Star beer. The other volunteers also bought food, a tradition when visiting another volunteer, and beer. We sang carols. We celebrated together. It was a wonderful Christmas.

“What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps one in a continual state of inelegance.”

September 1, 2018

Today is again glorious, cool and dry. The sun is strong. The sky is blue and unmarred by clouds. I’m going to sit on the deck and take it all in because by Sunday the ugly humidity will be back.

Today is the meteorological end of summer, and Labor Day is the unofficial end but none of that matters to Mother Nature. She will continue to blast us with heat and humidity until fall can finally work its way past her. I’m hoping it will be soon. Fall is my favorite season.

In Ghana we had the dry season and the rainy season. I lived where the dry season was hotter than any other place in Ghana, but now it is the rainy season there so the temperature in Bolga, my other home town, is the lowest it will be all year. It has been in the high 70’s and the mid 80’s there, and rain has fallen just about every day. It is odd to see it cooler in West Africa than it is here.

During my early Peace Corps days, I missed fall, the snow at Christmas and the freshness of spring. I missed flowers. But the longer I lived there, the more I came to love the changes in Ghana’s weather. The rains came intermittently in September. The fields and grasses began to turn brown. Every day seemed hotter than the previous one. By the end of September, it was the high 80’s. In October it was the high 90’s. The worst months, February through April, usually reached 100˚ or more. My favorite month was December. The days were hot, but the nights were cold in comparison. I needed a blanket. It was Bolga’s snow at Christmas. In May the rains started. The grasses turned green. The fields were filled with the young shoots of millet, maize and sorghum. The trees were green with leaves. It was spring, Ghanaian style. The market was overloaded with fresh fruits and vegetables. The tomatoes were luscious.

It has been a long, long while since I lived in Ghana so I have forgotten the horrific heat, those days over 100˚.  Back then I seldom complained. I took my cold shower late, jumped into bed and fell asleep. Now I complain and moan and turn on the air conditioner.

That’s the way it was there, and now that’s the way it is here.

“If you saw a heat wave, would you wave back?”

August 30, 2018

The heat is still horrific. This is the worst it’s been in my memory. My friend Bill wondered if it is hotter here than in Bolgatanga, Ghana where we both lived. Some days I believe it is.

This is the rainy season in Ghana, but it isn’t the rainy season here. We haven’t seen rain in a while, especially that drenching rain I remember in Ghana. Luckily my irrigation system has kept the lawn and garden green. The plants in the deck pots have to be watered almost every day or they wilt. I understand wilting. I wilt every time I go outside. It is not a pretty sight.

When I was younger, I could tolerate the heat here in the house far better. I didn’t even have a fan. I used to sleep downstairs on the couch, and I kept the back door open all night. That was enough. Now, it would never be enough.

When I was a kid, I slept through the hottest nights because I was exhausted, because the swelter of every summer day didn’t matter, didn’t slow me down, didn’t stop me from having fun. I rode my bike, played softball, walked to the pool and hung around outside with friends. I was a kid so being sweaty and dirty was no never mind. The sprinkler was my summer shower. That it was cold water was the best part.

My mother always had a pitcher of ZaRex in the fridge. It was cheaper than making lemonade and tasted better than Kool-Aid. The pitcher she used the most was blue aluminum. The glasses were also aluminum but were a variety of colors. She had a couple of glass pitchers, one smaller than the other. I found their duplicates in an antique store and bought them both. I’m heavy into nostalgia.

My mother didn’t use her stove or oven a whole lot in the summer because the small kitchen held the heat. Sandwiches were acceptable supper food. My dad barbecued on weekends but my mother never did during the week. Everyone knew barbecuing was a man’s job. That my father sometimes set himself on fire was just an acceptable risk.

I have a doctor’s appointment in Hyannis today. I’m not happy with going outside. That my car has AC doesn’t matter. It’s just the idea of it.

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.”

August 6, 2018

Help!! I am a prisoner in my house. Going outside could mean certain death. Okay, I admit to an exaggeration here but not by much. It is so hot and humid it took my breath away when I went to get the papers. I didn’t even stop to admire the garden. I am now safe and comfortable in my cool house. I will admire the sun from the inside out.

When I was a kid, I don’t think we even had fans in the house. My mother kept the shades down. The living room did feel a touch cooler but not by much. Sometimes we’d go through the sprinkler, get cool and wet then go to bed. I used the same trick in Ghana. I’d take my shower, a cold shower as I had no hot water, just before bed then go to bed still wet. I was air cooled and could fall asleep.

Heat never really bothered me that much when I was a kid. I was out every day all summer, even when it rained. In Ghana, in Bolga, it was always hot, even in the rainy season, but that’s just the way it was and life went on.

I have a great memory of Ghana. One of my friends was terminating (Peace Corps argot for finishing service) earlier than the rest of us were. His school was on strike so there was nothing for him to do. During Easter holiday a few of us met up in Accra by happenstance as we always stayed at the Peace Corps hostel. We decided to go out for drinks and toast our departing friend. We went to a hotel, one of the grand old hotels. We sat in the bar. There were chairs and couches with flowered cushions, not uncommon furniture in Ghana. Fans were on the ceiling and were stirring the air a bit. There was a bank of open windows behind us and outside those windows was a garden of ferns, eucalyptus and frangipani. I had been whisked back in time to a colonial hotel, like in some old movie of long ago times and places. I was living in old Accra for just a little while. Even now I can close my eyes and see the fan, the windows and me sitting on the couch, drink in hand. It is an amazing memory.

“Music replays the past memories, awaken our forgotten worlds and make our minds travel.”

December 30, 2017

The deep freeze continues. It is 16˚ and snowy weather is predicted. The sky is grayish white, and the air is still. I have to go out later for the one thing I didn’t know I needed the other day when I shopped, toilet paper, an item as essential as food and water.

My car needed only the oil change. Everything else checked out just fine though I was told to keep an eye on my tires.

In Ghana this time of year I loved the weather. Today in Bolgatanga it was 88˚ but tonight it will be only 68˚, and that’s the way it will continue for the rest of the week, even getting as low as 63˚ at night. That’s one thing I didn’t expect in Ghana, cold weather. I had no clothes to keep me warm. My students every morning were dressed in sweaters on sweaters and layers after layers. I had bare arms and sock-less feet, but I had steaming coffee in a huge mug to get me started, and the mornings warmed quickly.

I watched a movie today which partly took place in Jordan. One scene was of the city of Amman in the early morning light of dawn, and the only sound is the call to prayer. I stayed right near a mosque during my Peace Corps live-in, a three week stay with a family. I was in a town called Bawku which is heavily Moslem. A small mosque was on the street below my room. The pre-dawn call to prayer was live, not recorded. I heard it every morning and still remember so well the beauty of that song. The single voice was clear and powerful. It became familiar. I’d lie there listening then at the end of the song I’d fall back to sleep.

In Marrakesh I also heard the songs to prayers every day coming from a mosque not that far from my riad and also from the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest one in the city which towers over everything. Its minaret is sort of a landmark for the city. I was usually out walking around when I’d hear the afternoon calls. The voice was recorded, but it sounded over everything else and was rhythmic and lovely.

I know smells become familiar and trigger memories. The aroma of burning wood   always brings me back to Ghana, especially the mornings, when breakfast was being cooked over the fire. When I was in Morocco and heard the songs to prayer, I was reminded of Ghana, and that small mosque and the beauty of the single voice singing. It seems sounds too carry memories.

“Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused – in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened – by the recurrence of Christmas.”

December 12, 2017

Today will be rainy and warm with a temperature in the 50’s, but tonight will be  different. Old Man Winter, who’s tired of waiting in the wings, is coming back to lay claim to December. It will be in the 30’s all week during the day and even colder at night. One night is predicted to be in the teens. On that night, I’ll be cozy and warm in the house with all the Christmas lights glowing and spreading their warmth. I’m thinking I’ll have egg nog in hand, in keeping with the season of course.

It has been really difficult of late to maintain a bit of optimism. I hold on to mine with every muscle in my body especially now, at Christmas time, when all of my memories  surface and help me believe in goodness, generosity and faith. Even though we live distances apart, my sisters and I celebrate together when we honor family traditions. We keep our mother and father close. How could I be anything but an optimist at this time of year?

My first Christmas in Ghana was my first Christmas away from my family, but my mother made sure I had a bit of home. She sent ornaments from our family tree. She also sent a small plastic tree to hang them on. I used the brick-like paper from the box to make a fireplace on the wall. From it I hung the small stocking she had sent. A few Christmas cookie cutters were also in that wonderful box. Though I had never made sugar cookies, I did that Christmas. They were delicious and shaped like a star, a tree and Santa. I found out much later that my mother and my aunt Mary had split the huge cost of sending that box airmail so I’d have it in time for Christmas.

I have many memories of that first Christmas in Ghana, but I think my favorite happened while I lying in bed waiting to fall asleep. It was cold, and I was bundled in a wool blanket I had bought and even still have. At that time of the year the harmattan is in full force. The days are hot, usually over 100˚ hot, but the nights and really early mornings are delights when the temperature drops sometimes even 30˚. On that night, I heard a boy’s voice singing. I think it came from a family compound just outside the school walls. The boy sang all the verses of We Three Kings in a sweet, clear voice. It was the only sound in the cold night air. It brought delight and joy to me, and I knew I’d be fine that first Christmas away. I always think of that boy as my Christmas miracle.

“There are no such things as curses; only people and their decisions”

October 7, 2017

The sun predicted for today has yet to appear. It is cloudy and damp. I could feel the moisture in the air when Gracie and I went out to get the papers. It made me feel a bit chilly and I wished I had put on a sweatshirt. The house, though, with all the doors and windows closed is warm.

We’re going out today, Gracie and I, to the dump, the market and Agway. My trunk is filled with trash from Thursday’s great cabinet clean-out. Gracie needs canned food and a treat or two, and I need the essentials for life: bread, coffee and cream.

My friends are coming on Tuesday for a couple of days. These are the friends I traveled with to Ghana last year. We first met in 1969 at Peace Corps staging in Philadelphia at the Hotel Sylvania. Staging is the first time the whole group of trainees get together before leaving for in-country training, and it is where we got shots, had interviews and were introduced to PC staff from Ghana. Right away we became friends and co-conspirators. The three of us skipped some of the orientation to tour Philadelphia. It didn’t take a whole lot of convincing. They were supposed to be posted in Tamale, a city 100 miles from Bolga. That would have made us neighbors. Instead, after Peace Corps found out Peg was pregnant, they were posted to New Tafo, in the south. I visited them every time I went south, and we traveled together. Just before our second year, there was an open post at my school. They were willing to join me in Bolga, and the principal agreed to make the request to Peace Corps so we became neighbors living in a duplex on the school compound. Bill had a red motorcycle. I had a grey one. We used to take day trips around Bolga. He’d take Kevin, their son, and I’d take Peg. We had adventures. I remember a couple of picnics during school holidays, one by a watering hole and another in the hills of Tongo where school boys stood and watched us the whole time. It was there an old man threatened us with the gods because he claimed we had desecrated a sacred rock by putting our small charcoal burned on it. The schoolboys said he just wanted money. We decided to take our chances. As we were leaving, Bill’s motorcycle stopped dead. It just quit running. We sort of chuckle and hoped the old man didn’t see us. The motorcycle did start right away, but it gave us pause.

“And believe me, a good piece of chicken can make anybody believe in the existence of God.”

June 27, 2017

What was a lovely summer morning with a cooling breeze has become a cloudy day with a dark sky, a rain threatening sky. I shut the window behind me as I felt a bit chilly. The breeze has turned cold.

Yesterday I was able to cross everything off my to do list. That doesn’t usually happen. I felt accomplished.

Gracie got her first tick yesterday. I was patting her ears when I found one on the underside of one ear. It was small and hadn’t embedded yet. I hope it can swim.

I can hear the swishing of the leaves on the oak trees. That is the only sound. I wonder where the birds went.

I once raised chickens. My first laying hen was a gift from a Ghanaian friend. The hen was white and hatched 5 chicks. She was a horrible mother and the chicks began to disappear, eaten by one predator or another. Her second hatching was much the same. I ate her for dinner a couple of nights. Such is the fate of a bad mother hen.

I like to shop at farmers’ markets, especially the one in Bass River. Mostly I buy fresh vegetables though I have also bought cheese, local honey, candles, fresh herbs, desserts, jams and jellies and once some lamb. The market is set up in a circle so I do one loop. It is held every Thursday and Saturday.

One of my favorite places in Ghana was the market in Bolga. Every third day was market day. I had gone to my first market during Peace Corps training. It was a disaster. I got sick from the smells, but, by my live-in in Bawku, three weeks into training, I had stopped noticing. I loved my market. I’d bring my woven shepherd’s bags which stretched and fill them with tomatoes, onions, eggs, garden eggs, okra, oranges, bananas and pineapple. A chicken, bound by its feet, I’d slide onto the handle bar of my motorcycle. Sometimes I’d find a surprise. Once it was a watermelon. I could buy cloth, sandals, pots and pans, dishes, glasses and so much more. I always thought of the market as an adventure.

“The environment is where we all meet; where all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.”

April 22, 2017

At 7:15 a couple of banging sounds at the window woke me up. It was a bird. It flew at the window a couple of times more then I whacked the window with my hand, and the bird flew away. I tried to go back to sleep, but a robo call at 7:45 was the end of my sleeping. Gracie, though, sighed and went back to sleep. Maddie never even woke up.

As for today’s weather, ditto yesterday’s. As for my plans for today, ditto yesterday’s.

I missed the first Earth Day. It happened during my time in Ghana. I read about it when the New York Times Week in Review was sent to me by Peace Corps Ghana. It was their way to keep us connected to what was happening at home. I admit I wasn’t all that interested in Earth Day. My daily life revolved around my students and Bolgatanga, my town, but in retrospect, I realize Ghanaians saved the Earth every day. They repurposed everything. My sandals had soles from old tires. My rice was wrapped in the New York Times compliments of Thomas who worked for me. Tin cans were recycled. My meat from the market was wrapped in leaves. Mammy lorries and buses never left the lorry park until all the seats and even the aisles were full of passengers though that always irritated me, the waiting time.

When I was a kid, we never thought twice about throwing everything in the trash. There were no recycle centers because none of us knew about recycling. The trash was put out on the curb once a week, picked up and willy-nilly thrown into the back of the trash truck. I liked to watch the trash being compacted by the truck. That was my only interest in trash.

My town encourages recycling, and I do my best, but I still feel helpless. So much is way beyond my control. Mr. Trump is not a friend of the Earth. That scares me.