Posted tagged ‘Ghana’

“The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.”

February 2, 2023

The freeze is coming. We’ll go to single digits at night. 28° will be tomorrow’s high while the low will be -2. Saturday will be warm as the high will be 17° (Did you notice the tongue- in -cheek?). I could go to the dump today, but I’m waiting for Sunday and balmy weather, 40°.

I slept in this morning. Last night I went to bed around two. The dogs were asleep on the couch. They tend to crash earlier than I do, but they know the routine. Once I close my computer, they follow me up stairs. I spent almost an hour with Jack. The dogs by then had moved to my bed. Nala was under the covers while Henry was watching and hoping.

I went to my uke practice and my lesson this week. My finger is swollen and stiff which happens every time I do uke twice in a week even though I don’t use that finger. I’m going to start taping the offending digit as I have practice, a lesson and a show next week. The surgeon did tell me the finger would take a year to heal completely.

When I was in Ghana, most of each day during training was scheduled, and the down time was at night. We spent our first two weeks in Winneba. I can still picture that school and all of its buildings. I had a second floor room in the dorm. From there I could see palm trees and the rusted roofs of the compounds in the town. We went to greet the chief. I can only imagine the reaction of the Ghanaians. Here was a parade with 120+ of us trainees plus PC staff walking through town.

During those first two weeks, I was still amazed about being in Ghana. I was getting to know my fellow trainees. I had language two or three times a day. Sandwiched in with that were large group sessions. One was medical: what wonderful diseases we were hoping not to meet. Another was about Ghanaian customs and how not to offend. My language group went to see the market.

I got homesick every now and then during training. I remember in Winneba going to the female dorm, all of us in one room. I had had a trying day. I got to the dorm and starting spewing about everything and swore I was leaving. The other trainees all agreed they’d go with me. That gave us a laugh. Everything was good again.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

January 21, 2023

I am bereft. My Boston Globe did not come. I hunted all around the front yard and even under the car. I came inside and wept.

I wanted more than anything to be accepted to the Peace Corps. I had taken the language test the spring of my junior year then sent in my application in October of my senior year. I heard in January. I was over the moon.

The day I left Philadelphia for Ghana I remember standing outside the hotel waiting with everyone else to board a bus. The luggage was piled behind us. We were allowed 80 pounds so the pile was scalable. The Peace Corps had sent us all sorts of information including a suggested list of what we might want to pack. My mother and I took that list to heart and began shopping. The first purchase was luggage. I chose red. Even now I have one bag left from then. While I was in Ghana, I stored the luggage in my armoire because I didn’t need it. It got a bit of mold. We bought two sets of sheets, the suggested amount, two sets of towels and one giant bath towel. We went clothes shopping, all summer clothes. We also bought a couple of pairs of sandals. One lasted three rainstorms, the other all two years. We bought two years worth of toiletries and two years worth of underwear in assorted colors. What was difficult about all of this was we had no idea what we’d find in Ghana. Peace Corps gave us wonderful information about Ghanaian customs, government and schools but nothing super-useful, nothing about life between breakfast and bed. Keep in mind we’re talking pre-internet. We got books, brochures and ditto sheets with that familiar smell.

It didn’t take long after training to realize the best part of Peace Corps isn’t Peace Corps. It is just living every day because that’s what Peace Corps comes down to, just living your best life in a place you couldn’t imagine. It is living on your own in a village or at a school. It is teaching every day. It is shopping in the market every three days. It is taking joy in speaking the language you learned in training. It is wearing Ghanaian cloth dresses and relegating the clothes you brought with you to the moldy suitcases. It is loving people and a country with all of your heart from breakfast to bed and forever after. Peace Corps doesn’t tell you that part, the loving part, but I expect they know it will be there.

“Every Christmas, all around Ghana, there are tons of these parties and they are full of everything that exists in human life in Ghana and worldwide.”

December 16, 2022

Today is warm but ugly, rainy and now windy. The dogs are sleeping on the couch, one on each side of me. I have to go out this afternoon as I have PT. Tomorrow I have an appointment with the surgeon at 8 o’clock. I hate it, too many finger events.

The first year I was in Ghana and Christmas was approaching I was a bit sad. It was my first Christmas away from home. The decorations from my mother helped, but I still missed being there until one night still bright in my memory drawer. I was lying in bed under my scratchy blanket. It was cold, harmattan cold. The night air was clear. The stars were so many everything seemed to shine. All of sudden I heard a boy singing We Three Kings. I didn’t know where he was. I figured he was in one of the compounds close to my school, and the night air was carrying his voice to me. He sang every stanza. He brought Christmas to me.

I remember the impromptu Christmas party that year. Some Peace Corps volunteers were in town waiting to travel north so I invited them to my house, to my house in Bolga. Patrick, another volunteer in my town, and I went to the bar at the Hotel d’Bull. We begged for beer, for Star Beer. We had to promise to bring back every bottle. Bottles were precious. I made sugar cookies for the first time. My mother had sent a few cookie cutters. The cookies actually tasted good. I was a bit surprised. As per Peace Corps custom, the volunteers brought food or gave money as you never showed up empty handed to another volunteer’s house. They also contributed to the beer fund. We sang Christmas carols. I remember someone saying just don’t sing “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

Later in the evening, we went outside behind the wall of my house and sat and talked. Stars filled the sky. A couple of falling stars made the evening almost magical.

The next morning I found a 20 pesewa coin in the tiny stocking my mother had sent which I had hung on the wall. Back then 20 pesewas, about 20 cents, could buy bananas and oranges and even a taxi ride around Accra. It was a wonderful surprise present.

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“The dry grasses are not dead for me. A beautiful form has as much life at one season as another.”

November 22, 2022

This time of year is just so pretty. The air is clear, the light is sharp, and the sun silhouettes the trees. Above it all is the deep blue sky. The breeze is slight now and barely ruffles the dead leaves still on the trees. Today is warmish at 45°.

In Ghana, during the harmattan, the dry season has full sway. The air is filled with dust carried by the wind off the Sahara. The ground gets hard. The laterite roads turn dusty, and the open mammy lorries are followed by a trail of red dust which covers the passengers. The fields are cleared by fire. I could watch the red flames move across and burn the brown refuse left from the crops grown during the rainy season. The nights and mornings are cold. I had a wool blanket on my bed. My students layered. I get the feel of those mornings here sometimes in the fall when the air is chilly, but you know it won’t last. The day will get warm, even hot. In Ghana, the heat followed the cold, a day and night heat, a dry heat often hitting 100°. I used to sit in my living room and read. When I got up, a sweaty silhouette of my body was left on the cushions. I loved my nightly shower, a cold shower. I’d go to bed still wet from the shower and let the air dry me so I could fall asleep.

I ate the same breakfast and lunch every day. The only changes in dinner were chicken sometimes instead of beef and rice instead of yam. I loved breakfast and lunch. I’d eat two eggs and toast and have a couple of cups of coffee in the morning. After I taught my first class, I’d sit on the front porch and have more coffee. Lunch was fresh cut fruit: bananas, pineapple, oranges and mangoes and pawpaw if they were in season. The meat for dinner was often cooked in a tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes with onions added. I got tired of rice and yam, but they were the only choices.

I’d go to Accra, the big city, during school holidays. I stayed at the Peace Corps hostel, 50 pesewas a night which included breakfast. The rest of my meals were eaten out, and I loved it. I ate Lebanese, Indian and Ghana’s version of Chinese. No meal was expensive except the Chinese. It was on the outskirts of the city, and the taxi ride added to the expense, but we always ate there once a trip. It was worth the money.

It was the chill of this morning which brought me back to Ghana. I figured I’d bring you along.

“Strange to see how a good dinner and feasting reconciles everybody.”

November 6, 2022

I thought yesterday was perfect, but I slightly missed the mark. That honor belongs to today. It is already 71° and will get a bit higher. There are a few clouds but not enough to block the sun. There is a bit of a wind but not a cold winter, almost a summer wind. I am going out later today. It would be sinful to miss such a lovely day.

Nala trash picked this morning. She got into the bag I was readying for the dump. I have to check outside, but I suspect there is trash because she disappeared right after the theft. Henry again was guilty of abetting. He was lapping one of the cans on the floor.

The smoke alarm went off again, the one in the hall. It has a new battery so I’m thinking it is dying. Henry ran upstairs. Nala went to the hall to check it out. She is brazen.

The big news is I have started my first load of laundry. I had to get my step ladder so I was in the cellar anyway. I keep looking for fireworks and listening for noise makers.

When I was a kid, Sunday was family day. I remember sitting in the living room with my dad after church. He’d read the paper, and I’d read the comics. Back then I had my little world which seldom extended beyond my town so I never read the news. My father did. He’d read the paper end to end. His finger tips got blackened from the print. When that happened to me, I’d press my fingers on white paper so I could see the fingerprint. My mother was always in the kitchen making Sunday dinner. That was the only dinner of the week. The other days we had supper in the early evening, around six. Dinner was in the afternoon. Saturday supper and Sunday dinner were the only meals we ate together because my father came home from work the rest of the week too late to eat with us.

The other night I had a real dinner. I had rib eye, mashed potatoes and peas. I had leftovers the next night. Those dishes are parts of my all time favorite Sunday dinner. My mother made that dinner for me on a Saturday night, on the night before I left to start staging for Peace Corps and Ghana. It is one of my connections to family, a favorite memory I still keep close.

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

October 21, 2022

Today is perfection, the sort of fall day people sing about. It is warm and sunny. A slight breeze stirs only the leaves at the ends of the branches. Today is a day to be enjoyed.

When I was a kid, the first subject in school every morning was religion. I remember in a few grades we used the Baltimore Catechism as our text. We also read stories from the Bible. Religion was always my least favorite class, and, of course, of all subjects, religion was destined to follow me through grammar school into high school and even into college, into my first year of college when religion was disguised as theology, same subject, different name, and still my least favorite class. The only thing I remember from theology was learning Christ was probably born in 2 BC. That shattered what I had been taught. It all went downhill from there.

It has been four weeks since surgery on my finger. It will be one more week before I see the surgeon. My finger is better during the day but not so good at night because I have been using my right hand more. When I changed the wrap yesterday, I noticed the swelling is going down in the middle of the finger close to the fracture.

When I was growing up, we ate simple foods, nothing exotic except Chinese but that was rare. Every supper during the week was usually mashed potatoes, some sort of vegetable and meat, heavy on the hamburger and chicken. It was in Ghana where I first tasted a variety of foods.

Before I left for Ghana, I didn’t think much about the food. I gave bugs and diseases my attention. I can still remember our first night in Ghana and our welcome meal. It was outside near the dorm. It was food I recognized, rice and some sort of kebob meat, so I still wasn’t anxious about food; however, that changed the next night. For supper, we had food that looked like leaves, maybe a bit like spinach. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it all my time in Ghana, kontomire. I didn’t like the cocoyam leaves.

To say my palate expanded when I was in Ghana is an understatement. I tried all the food: Ghanaian, Lebanese, Indian, street food and food in other countries where I traveled. Half the time I had no idea what I eating. I think in some cases I was glad not to know. I became an adventuress eater.

Tonight I am having plantain for dinner.

“The Peace Corps is guilty of enthusiasm and a crusading spirit. But we’re not apologetic about it.”

September 8, 2022

The morning is dark and damp. It was spitting rain earlier. The forecast is for a partly cloudy day, but the sun hasn’t yet made an appearance. I closed the windows. The house felt chilly. I can see the leaves being blown up and down on the oak trees, quietly, gently blown. It is a day to stay close to hearth and home.

I made a list of everything I want to do in the next few days. Most are inside chores. I didn’t put a schedule on the list. It will be completed in time.

When I was twenty-one, I went to Ghana. It was a bit scary. I didn’t know anyone, and I knew almost nothing about Ghana. It didn’t seem real at first, but when I stepped off the plane, I knew I was somewhere different, somewhere special, somewhere exotic.

The beginning of Peace Corps training is staging in this country, a time for checking in, meeting each other, getting materials and learning a bit about the country. We also had a dental check-up, a conversation with a psychologist and a yellow fever shot. We were in Philadelphia. I had been given a bus ticket from Boston to Philadelphia, but my father said he didn’t want me on a bus for so long so he bought me a plane ticket. I had bags of carry-on. When I sat down in the plane, my seat-mate wanted to know if I was running away from home. When I said I was going into the Peace Corps, he bought me a couple of drinks. I didn’t know if it was guilt from his question or amazement that I was headed to Africa. I just took the drinks.

In the line for check-in at the hotel, I met a few people who became friends. Bill and Peg were two of them. They were and are kindred spirits. They went with me to tour the city. Nobody noticed we were missing. We saw it all: the historical spots, the top of the William Penn building and the art museum, the much later Rocky steps museum.

Back then we could bring eighty pounds of luggage. We had a list of what we should bring. It included sheets and towels. Dresses were the custom for women so my mother and I did some clothes shopping. I remember a really ugly after shower cover-all. It had black and white designs. It lasted through two years of nightly showers. Within a few months, I was buying Ghanaian cloth and having dresses made. The men had shirts made or wore fugus, smocks from Northern Ghana.

Training in Ghana took most of the summer. It ended with a week at Legon, the university of Ghana. I remember having brewed coffee every day as part of breakfast. I remember going to Accra and wandering the city. I remember the swearing-in when I became a Peace Corps volunteer, all of us in a room, the ambassador in the front and me crowded in the middle. We recited after him. We clapped and cheered at the end.

During training, I traveled all over Ghana, sometimes by myself. I fell in love with Ghana. I turned twenty-two at the near end of the summer. I was so much older than I had been.

“A man’s palate can, in time, become accustomed to anything.”

May 7, 2022

The morning is ugly. The rain comes and goes. The high will be in the low 50’s, and the day will stay rainy. I’m glad I have nowhere I have to be. The house is warm and the coffee is hot. I have harkened back to my childhood and am watching Monster from the Ocean Floor, a 1954 black and white science fiction movie. All I’m missing is the Rice Krispies.

The dogs watched from the deck while two spawns of Satan chased other from tree to tree, branch to branch. I figure the chase is a prelude to romance. Ah, spring!

Puddles were always inviting. When I was little, I loved stomping in the water until the puddle disappeared. I always rode my bike through puddles. I’d raise both legs off the pedals and watch the water spray into the air on each side of my bike. It was a bit like the parting of the Red Sea.

When I was a kid, I remember being excited when I started reading chapter books. Gone were the chickens, the hens, small animals and the colored pictures of the Golden Books. Because the chapter books were long, I always used a bookmark to keep my place. I thought it a sin of sorts, a sacrilege, when people dog-eared pages. I still use bookmarks. Some are official while others are just torn pieces of paper. My current book mark is from a bookstore no longer around. It is ephemera.

My father liked spaghetti with stewed tomatoes. That was the way his mother cooked it when he was a kid. He always said the only places for garlic were shrimp scampi and garlic bread. He didn’t like Romano cheese, only parmesan, but he was easily duped. As long as he didn’t see the garlic or the Romano being used, he didn’t taste them. I loved watching him eat Chinese food. He’d keep his handkerchief close so he could blow his nose and wipe his eyes, effects from the amount of hot mustard he used. He often chose foods with his eyes. He wouldn’t eat hummus. He said it looked like wallpaper paste.

My palate expanded when I lived in Ghana. I was introduced not only to Ghanaian food but also to Lebanese and Indian. Hole-in-the-wall Lebanese restaurants were all around Accra. The food was cheap so I ate a lot of Lebanese food, mostly for lunch. Indian food was a treat. The one Chinese restaurant in Accra served its Chinese food with a Ghanaian twist. The flavors were unique. We always ate outside on the veranda. Eating there was a bit expensive. Even the taxi ride was dear, but we didn’t really care. We were on vacation when we went to Accra, the big city, the city of cars and lights and street markets. I knew the city well, but being from the Upper Region, I always felt a bit like a rube, a country cousin.

“I make no secret of the fact that I would rather lie on a sofa than sweep beneath it. But you have to be efficient if you’re going to be lazy.”

October 18, 2021

The morning is chilly. This is the time of year when the house is colder than outside. I need a sweatshirt. The sun is bright. The sky is a deep blue. The leaves at the ends of the branches are barely moving. Today is dump day. The car is already loaded. Anything else I need to do is in the house. My things to do list is getting smaller. I’m down to six from ten.

My new cleaning lady is here for the second time. She is great with Henry and waits for him to come to her. Nala likes everybody and everything except the vacuum. She thinks it is a beast and has been constantly barking. I’m sure both cats are under the beds hiding. Gwen hid under the bed this morning when I went in to give her the morning shot.

My week will be busy, and I’m not so sure how I feel about that. I miss my sloth days. Tomorrow, Nala goes to the vet for a booster shot. Gwen goes on Wednesday for a day of testing. As for my ukulele, I have practice tomorrow, a lesson on Wednesday and a concert on Friday. My fingers have permanent string marks.

When I was a kid, I didn’t know a single other kid who took music lessons. We did have that first grade rhythm band for which I played the triangle, but it took no musical ability to tap it, just timing. I think the sticks were the hardest to playing because you had to kneel on the floor to play them. We didn’t pick what instrument we wanted. The nuns picked for us. I became quite proficient on the triangle.

I never helped in the kitchen when I was a kid so I didn’t know the first thing about cooking. When I was in college, I had an apartment my junior year. My roommate did most of the cooking while I did clean up. When my parents came to visit, they always brought bags of groceries. They brought lots of meat and vegetables, but they also brought cookies, bags of cookies. They usually took us out to dinner. I loved when my parents visited.

In Ghana, I had a cook, Thomas, who didn’t have a repertoire of dishes. Each meal was pretty much the same. Breakfast was two eggs cooked in groundnut (peanut) oil, two pieces of toast and coffee, instant coffee, and canned milk. Lunch was a bowl of fruit: oranges, bananas, pawpaw (papaya) and maybe mango. Dinner was chicken or beef. The beef was cooked in a tomato sauce which tenderized it a bit. The beef sold in the market always came from old cows. We had mashed yam or rice as a side. Vegetables were hard to come by back then. Tomatoes and onions were just about it. When we had chicken, I had to buy one alive at the market. Thomas dispatched it for me. I could never do that. We also ate a couple of my chickens.

When I went back to Ghana, my students said they tried to find Thomas, but they thought he had passed. I would love to have seen him again and maybe enjoyed one of his meals.

“The Peace Corps is guilty of enthusiasm and a crusading spirit. But we’re not apologetic about it.”

October 16, 2021

Today is warm, 72˚. Clouds are around but not enough to block the sun. The breeze is slight. I’m hanging around the house and doing a few chores. Despite the lovely weather, I’m putting in the front storm door. I have to move it from the cellar one step at a time as it is so heavy. Both dogs love to stand and watch so I like to keep it opened. Nala stands on her back toes for the best view. Every time I go to the front yard they keep track.

My things to be done list has ten items. I figure I can cross off four of the items today. The laundry and the dump are both on the list. They are perpetually on the list.

Nala is wearing her Red Sox neckerchief. My team lost last night, and I’m hoping Nala brings them some luck. Henry won’t allow me to put one on him, but I have several for the different holidays so I’ll keep trying. They were Gracie’s. She didn’t mind. Last year I bought a costume for Henry. It is a gray spawn of Satan costume, but I never got close to putting it on him. I’m hoping Nala will wear it if only for pictures.

Today is a Ghana day. I’m taking you back to Koforidua, towards the end of training: weeks seven, eight and nine. The first week there we were all together. We had hours of language each day. The last two weeks we were divided into secondary school teachers and training college teachers. We student taught during those two weeks. I remember going to the spot, a bar, on the corner of the road to the secondary school. We walked through the rain forest from our school. We had a daily stipend so we took turns buying beer which I hate, but I drank it anyway. We played a few drinking games. I remember singing on the way home. On the weekends we were free. A few of us hitched to Accra. A Mercedes picked us up. The owner was Arabic, and he owned mosquito coil companies. He gave us a few.

In Accra we stayed at the hostel for 50 pesewas a night, about 50 cents in those days. I remember wandering the city and getting to know it. Accra was small back then, and most nights were quiet. I love walking at night. I always felt safe. I had favorite restaurants, mostly hole in the wall Lebanese restaurants, cheap and delicious. I went to the movies. One theater was close to the hostel while the other was across the bridge and further away.

Our last week of training was at Legon University. We had real coffee in real cups. That doesn’t sound like much but trust me, it was big. We were close to Accra, just a mammy lorry ride away. We went often. We had our language tests, and that was about it for the week. At the end of that last week we were sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers. I was thrilled beyond description.


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