Posted tagged ‘Ghana’

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

September 10, 2021

The day so far has been perfectly lovely. Yesterday and all last night it rained, heavily at times. It was still raining at four so I don’t know when it stopped. Everything is damp, except the air. It is dry and only 73˚. The sun has a sharpness, and the cool breeze sways small branches and leaves. The dogs are in and out. I can hear them chasing each other in the yard. I can hear their growls as they chew each other. I’ve opened all the windows to freshen the house.

My friend Bill sent out an article about 60 years of Peace Corps. The article said, “Peace Corps embraces cultural understanding…” I remember from the start we learned languages to use every day. We asked no more than anyone else. We became part of the community as teachers who taught at the training college. I was madam as all female teachers were. We did our best.

Bill wrote a note with the article saying he knows he talks a lot about Ghana and Peace Corps, but they had a profound influence on the rest of his life, on who he became. I know exactly what he means. I think most returned volunteers feel the same way. When I went back to Ghana for the first time in forty years, Accra had become a city of note, a sprawling city with neighborhoods, only a few of which I remembered. Adabraca was where the Peace Corps hostel was. We just told any taxi driver Adabraca, and he’d take us to the hostel. Where else would young and white go? One taxi driver told me he hated Peace Corps because we knew the right price. I didn’t find any of the old Accra Peace Corps haunts like Tala’s (I don’t know about the spelling), a wonderful Lebanese restaurant. We’d get a huge plate of hummus, on a flat plate, more like a round of hummus. In the middle, the hummus had sesame oil and around the top circle of the plate was a round of hot pepper. You dipped pita bread, one into the other. It is still my favorite way to eat hummus. We’d get what Talal called a Peace Corps pizza, a round of pita bread with cheese and chopped tomato inside. The bread was fried so the cheese melted. It was really good.

I apologize for the tangent. That happens. Anyway my Peace Corps experience also influenced the rest of my life, the choices I made. I wasn’t always happy, but I mostly was. When Bill, Peg and I found each other again, I wasn’t even surprised that we remembered so much of each other. I wasn’t at all surprised we shared the same politics. We still liked each other a whole lot. We had some wonderful experiences. I still laugh about the sacred rock and the river in Philadelphia.

I too will often write about Ghana. As with Bill and Peg, my experiences influenced the rest of my life and have become ingrained in who I am. For that, I am very thankful. I am also very thankful to you, my Coffee family, who indulges my memories.

“The time for me in the Peace Corps was easily the most formative experience I’ve had in my life.”

July 27, 2021

Some things I can easily see in my mind’s eye and in my heart, two whole years worth of things, of places and especially of people.

I have been back three times. The cities are enormous now and the main roads are filled with cars. I remember those first two visits lovingly, but I remember best my last visit when Bill and Peg and I went home to Ghana together.

Filled taxis whizzed by us on a road by the shore where we had gone shopping. We had to wait a bit before one finally stopped. We haggled but neither one of us was all that enthused for a long bidding war of sorts. We took his second offer. It seemed fair to me with the distance and all. It probably wasn’t.

I remember way back to to the late 60’s and early 70’s when taxi rides all through the city were only 20 pesewas. The most expensive taxi ride, a whole cedi, 100 pesewas, was to the only Chinese restaurant in Accra. It was a treat. The money never mattered. It was the same to go to the airport restaurant. I remember eating dinner on the top floor at a table next to a window overlooking the runway. The table was lovely with a linen cloth and linen napkins. The waiters were formal. We saw a white father sitting by himself and asked if we could join him. He said yes, and we did. Our new table was just as lovely. It was a different sort of night, in a good way. 

Being in Accra meant I was on vacation and probably on my way east to Togo and maybe Benin. When I was in Accra, I stayed on the cheap; The Ministry of Education Hostel aka the Peace Corps’ Hostel was only 50 pesewas a night. That was bed, breakfast and a wonderful hot shower. It also meant catching up with other volunteers I trained with and hadn’t seen in six months who were also staying at the hostel, also staying in the bunk room. 

I treated myself well in Accra. I ate at a variety of restaurants, very few of them expensive. The Lebanese restaurants were where I ate the most often. I also had Indian food. I ate Ghanaian food, mostly street food. I went to museums and I saw movies. I walked with my friends around the city at night. It was so quietly amazing back then. Most of the shops were closed. A few kiosks were open. A few spots, Ghanaian for small bars, were also open. I could hear the high life music from the street. The sidewalks had shadows in between the street lights. It always seemed peaceful and warm to me. I remember the men sitting on the edges of the sidewalks, talking and smoking their pipes around a small fire. 

The hostel was in a mostly residential area. I think it was on a road which ended at the hostel. I tried to find it on a trip back but couldn’t. Back then I’d just tell the driver Adabraka, a section of Accra. I was never asked the street. He’d take me right to the hostel. I’d hand him my 20 pesewas. Sometimes he’d argue but most times he took the money. My favorite was the driver who blurted, “ I hate Peace Corps they always know the right price.” I realized then I was a type. The taxi driver probably had a checkoff list: yes to young; yes to white; yes to Ghanaian cloth dresses; yes to a few Twi words including, usually, thank you. Yes, to Peace Corps.  

“My weak spot is laziness. Oh, I have a lot of weak spots: cookies, croissants.”

August 18, 2020

We had plenty of rain last night. I fell asleep to the sound of it. I woke up earlier than usual this morning to a lovely day, cool and sunny with a slight breeze. Yesterday I was feted at dinner by my friends. I also unwrapped amazing presents and ate lemon meringue pie, my all time favorite. I have a couple of slices to eat today thus prolonging my birthday yet another day.

Henry drives me crazy some times. Last night he went out, but I didn’t hear him. A long while later I noticed him looking into the house from the deck. The poor baby had been out there a long time. This morning I let him out, and he came back inside through the dog door. I always hope he’ll do that every time, but after his next trip out, he was back on the deck looking inside hoping I’ll see him. He even ignored the dog biscuit with frosting and sprinkles I had put on the rug to entice him. I went and let him inside. He went right to the biscuit.

Everything is quiet. A while back I heard thumps from upstairs. They sounded like a dog jumping on and off the bed. I guessed Henry and Jack were having some fun. Later, they both came downstairs together. Henry looked sheepish. He went right outside. I had to let him in. He is now napping upstairs on my bed.

Tomorrow I’ll do my errands. Today I’ll refill bird feeders. The laundry still sits. I just don’t feel like doing it, and I’ve learned to stave off guilt. Also, I haven’t run out of clothes yet.

The first time I really did any cooking or baking was my first Christmas in Ghana. My mother had sent me decorations, a small plastic tree and Christmas cookie cutters. I made my first ever batch of sugar cookies. The flour had to be sifted first to get rid of the bugs. I used a beer bottle to roll out the dough. Because I couldn’t get gas in town for my stove and oven, both were seldom used, but after a 200 mile round trip to Tamale, I had a full tank. I didn’t know how true my oven was so I watched the first batch of reindeer bake. They were perfect. I grabbed my beer bottle, my Star Beer bottle, and rolled out some more already de-bugged flour for my next batch.

The cookies were perfect so I had to put them away before I taste tested too many.

“Sup with the sudden harmattan weather anyway? Making my beard feel like those iron sponges.”

June 27, 2020

The morning is lovely, but the day will be hot. It is already 78˚. I expect to have the AC cranking so the house will be nice and cold when I get home from errands.

The weather in Bolgatanga, Ghana was extreme. It was divided into the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season was hot and oppressively humid. The dry season was sweltering. Strangely enough, though, it actually got chilly in early December, down to the 70’s at night from around 100˚ during the day. I needed a blanket for my bed. The worst of the dry season, the harmattan, began after Christmas. The Harmattan is a dry, dusty wind that blows from the Sahara desert. It hangs around for a couple of months and envelops everything in a cloud of dust. The sand covers the sun. I remember chapped lips and split heels on both feet. The Sahara sand, looking like a large brown cloud, has been blown here. It is the Harmattan.

Halleluia!! I have a list. I needed a list to get me moving. This morning I used the back of my t-shirt to dust shelves in the kitchen while the coffee was brewing. I haven’t done that in a while. Most of my list is for outside, for the deck and garden. I never did my errands yesterday; instead, I stayed home and did stuff around the house and on the deck. The errands are first on my today’s list.

When I was a kid, my father was in charge of outside while my mother ruled inside. The outside was easy: cut the grass and water the flowers in summer and shovel the steps and free the car in winter. My mother cleaned, cooked, washed clothes and took care of us. She was always busy. She was the one who had to discipline us. When we got older, she threw things at us. I remember the dictionary whizzed by my head and hit the wall. Next were her slippers. She’d throw them at us and tell us to bring them to her. We knew better. The slippers weren’t just projectiles. She wanted to whack us with them. She seldom caught us.

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

November 25, 2019

Today is already in the high 40’s. It may reach 50 degrees. The sky is clear and the air is still, a pretty day all in all.

The washing machine repair guy is here. Henry announced the man’s arrival with his constant barking. I grabbed the leash and Henry took off upstairs. He was more concerned about the leash and the possibility of a ride than the interloper. Meanwhile, I am watching a disaster movie about a snowstorm which will freeze anyone outside.

On the coldest days, my mother said it was too cold to snow. I believed her until one day it was in the teens when the snow started. Another old wife’s tale was debunked.

One summer I traveled through South America. When I got below the equator, I was in winter. The Andes were ice capped. Snow was on the ground, but it was warmer than I expected. Even at Machu Picchu my sweatshirt was warm enough. When we got out of the mountains, a long sleeve was enough. I remember in Buenos Aires the rose garden was in its winter mode. I always think of that trip as the year I missed summer.

In Ghana, the hottest time of the year was during December and January. The heat dried everything. The ground was hard-packed, and the air was filled with so much dust that the sun was sometimes hidden in the haze. During the height of the afternoon, stores were closed, even the post office, and my students were in their dorms for a rest period. Every now and then I took a nap, following the local custom. At Christmas time, the harmattan was in full force. The dusty winds blew sand off the desert. Everything was brown. The fields were empty. The only saving graces were the humidity disappeared and the nights were chilly. I even used a wool blanket. I always think of those two years as the years I missed winter.

Now my seasons are in order. Winter comes in its turn so I’m getting ready for the cold and the snow. The heat is on, and I’ve brought out my hats and mittens. On the coldest days of winter, I miss the harmattan the most.

“If a year was tucked inside of a clock, then autumn would be the magic hour.”

October 3, 2019

The morning is damp, cold and cloudy. Both doors are shut. The cat no longer has his observation deck aka the dog door, and I have to get up to open the door to let Henry out then wait to let him in so I can close the door. I’m going to put the storm doors in today.

When I was a kid, putting the storm windows on was a whole day process. My father first had to lug them outside from the cellar. Next, he’d sit on the steps and clean the windows. He used newspapers, and I still do. They leave no streaks. He’d take off the screens one window at a time then replace each screen with the storm window. The hardest step was trying to hook the windows. The hooks were at the top, and it wasn’t easy to get the windows hooked. My father had to use both hands. I remember my father cursing. I remember we all watched when he climbed the ladder. We didn’t want mayhem, but we also didn’t want to miss anything. In my mind’s eye I can still see my father on that long ladder holding the window with one hand and the ladder rung with the other. I can see the windows with their white frames. I remember they could only be opened a little bit at the bottom. They sort of swung out then were hooked to hold them open.

In Ghana, in my house, the louvered windows all had screens. The ones in my bedroom covered one whole wall and a bit of another wall. The dining area, two chairs and a table, just had screens so during the rainy season, the painted concrete floor got soaked. The living room had a screen door and a small window. There was seldom a breeze despite all the windows though the screens did keep out most rainy season bugs. For that I was thankful.

My house has double paned windows. I just need to lock them to move from fall to winter, but, despite how easy it is, I find it disconcerting. It’s as if I’m giving up on fall. That’s sad.

“Rain showers my spirit and waters my soul.”

May 14, 2019

Last night it poured so hard that Henry, who loves rain, went two steps on to the deck then turned around and came back inside. The noise on the roof was constant and loud, but I did wish for the metal roof I had in Ghana. I loved the sound of rain when it hit that roof. I could feel it all around me. Sitting in my house listening to any rainstorm was the most amazing experience. When I have gone back to Ghana, it has been during the rainy season so I get to hear again the sounds of rain on the tin roof. I cherish the experience.

When I was a kid, I loved summer rain. I’d go outside and run and play and get soaked. I’d splash through puddles and send waves of water around me. I’d slide on the grass. I’d stay outside all afternoon and let the sun dry my clothes.

I talk out loud. Many times I talk to Henry. He is kind enough to look at me and listen. I talk to the TV. I scoff at silly plot details like going upstairs when the stairs are covered in blood. I go crazy when drivers have their eyes off the road while they chat. I correct grammar. That may seem silly, but I think modeling good grammar is important. I’ve been told it doesn’t matter as long as you’re understood. I liken using bad grammar to singing or playing off tune. Neither one is good for the ears.

Yesterday I felt accomplished. I finished two loads of wash and did errands. I cleaned around the house a bit, mostly clumps of Henry hair. I uploaded pictures from my camera. The oldest set was from Easter.

Today I get to vote in the local election. The turnout in these elections is always small. I think back to turning twenty-one. I was so excited at being able, finally, to vote. Since then, I have always exercised my franchised, the privilege of voting.

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

April 28, 2019

Today is sunny and beautiful. It is only 50˚ but having sun makes me a bit forgiving. Rain is predicted for later. I have trouble believing that. The sun is just too pretty, and there are only wispy, white clouds.

I don’t know why I expect really warm days as Cape Cod is seldom warm in the spring. Actually, calling this time of year spring is misleading. When north of us is 60˚, we are in mid 50’s. Some time in May it will start to get warm. In mid June we’ll jump to summer.

I shared a banana with Henry this morning. He likes fruit. So far he has eaten banana, first time today, apples, oranges, watermelon, blueberries, pineapple and mango. I don’t know if he has a favorite. I’m partial to oranges, pineapples and bananas.

Having a banana this morning reminded me of Ghana. Every day I had fruit for lunch, a fruit bowl of oranges, pineapple, mangoes, pawpaw and bananas. When I traveled, I always bought oranges or bananas because of their peel. They didn’t need to be washed. Mangoes were messy, juice down my arm messy. Pawpaws were big.

When I was a kid, we had grapes, oranges, apples and watermelon around all summer. We also had Bing cherries. I love spitting their pits. We had contests to see who could spit the pits the furthest. I never won.

Okay, the sun is gone and the sky is cloudy. I think I saw a few drops of rain on the deck. Sadly, the weatherman is correct.

Today is dump day, and tonight is game night. I’m in charge of tonight’s appetizers. I’ll go to the market and hope to find ready to eat or easy to make appetizers. In case I don’t, I have a couple in mind and a list of the ingredients I’ll need, but I am not really up for cooking. I did plenty on Friday.

Time to finish up and load the car with trash bags. Please, rain, hold off until I’m done.

“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.

“I don’t take the movies seriously, and anyone who does is in for a headache.”

February 24, 2019

The rain is heavy at times. It beats against the roof and windows. The wind is getting stronger. The pine trees feel it the most, and their tops bend and sway.

The Hotel d’Bull, the best place to stay in Bolgatanga during my Peace Corps days, had a huge courtyard. I saw a boxing match there once. They erected a ring right in the middle of the courtyard. The boxers had names like Kofi Mohammed Ali and Sugar Ray Atiah. Mostly the boxers just danced around the ring throwing only a few punches, but in one bout a boxer got hit more than a few times. All of a sudden from the corner came a towel thrown into the ring. I always thought throwing in the towel was a metaphor.

The back wall of the courtyard was white so they could show movies. I saw my first Bollywood film on that wall. I don’t remember the name of the film, but I do remember how awful I thought it was, but awful didn’t matter. I stayed for the entire film. Entertainment was a rarity in Bolga. The scene I remember the most was a shower scene. Our hero was lathering and singing. I had no idea what he was singing. The songs had no subtitles.

The most expensive seating for movies was on the roof where a few small round metal tables and chairs were the orchestra seats. The roof overlooked the courtyard. The seats didn’t cost much, maybe 10 or 20 pesewas, so we always sat there. We’d order drinks and some food. The waitress would bring us water and soap in a small bowl so we could wash our hands before dining. I always ordered coke. The Hotel d’Bull was one of the few places where they served cold coke. We’d eat kabobs: some were beef and a couple were liver. They were cooked over charcoal, as was most Ghanaian food, but I figure I can call them barbecued anyway. I didn’t even mind the liver.

My outdoor movie nights remind me of Ghana. We have the best seats, and we’re sitting at a round table. As in Ghana, the movies are sometimes really awful, but we love them. The big differences are I never serve liver, even barbecued liver, and clean hands are up to you.


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