Posted tagged ‘Ghana’

“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.

“Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same.”

October 8, 2021

The morning is another pretty one with lots of sun, blue sky and the tiniest of breezes. The house was colder than outside this morning, a sure sign of fall. I put on my sweatshirt. I’m comfortable now.

Nala stole deodorant off my bureau yesterday. I knew she had contraband when she rushed out the dog door and wouldn’t turn around when I called her. I ran out to the deck, but she was already in the yard. I threw my slippers near her. It worked the other day, but not yesterday. Luckily Henry chased her so she dropped her prize. Nothing is sacred.

When I lived in Ghana, I was close to the northern border with Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso. We used to go to Ougadougou, the capital, for the weekend. The day before the trip we’d go to Bolga’s lorry park and arrange for a car heading to Ouga to stop at the school and pick us up on the way. The driver wedged us in so he could carry more people. The road was tarred at first then it became a dirt road, a big dirt road with lorries streaming by. I remember during the rainy season having to get out of the car so it was light enough to pass through the muddiest parts of the road without getting stuck. I thought it was an adventure. I knew when we’d be close to Ouga as the paved road started again.

French is the national language, and I knew enough French to ask questions, to bargain and to order food. Ouga was a small city back then. The market was steps down from the center in the middle of the city. We stayed at a nice hotel with AC about a block from the center. I remember the hotel had an empty pool in the back. I’d walk to get breakfast each morning. Boys on bicycles with huge baskets in front sold baguettes, fresh wonderful baguettes. I’d buy Yucca soda, either green or red. It didn’t matter. They both tasted the same.

One of the joys of Ouga was French food. The only places to eat in Bolga back then were chop bars, little hole in the wall restaurants which offered only fufu or t-zed and soup, traditional dishes. The chop bars bordered the lorry park and had only a rickety table or two. In Ouga, my favorite part of the meal was always the fresh vegetables. I ate green beans, massive helpings, at one restaurant. They were lip smacking good mostly because the only veggies I could find in Ghana were tuber yams, onions and tomatoes.

I never had a visa to get into Burkina. I’d tell the border station I was going for the weekend, and they’d let me in. The guard only wanted to know if I had bam bam, which they mimed as a gun, and if my dress was long enough. I always passed.

“Once the travel bug bites, there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.”

October 5, 2021

The rain just stopped. It rained all day yesterday and all night. The air is chilly. The day is dark. I have no plans today. I figure to stay around and read a bit. My new housecleaner is here right now. I had reached my self-cleaning limit. Nala welcomed her with opened paws. Henry barked then was fine.

I don’t know what to do with myself. My laundry is done, and my house is in the middle of being deep cleaned. I suppose I could take up knitting.

When I was a kid, in the sixth grade, I caught Barrett’s disease. It was when I found out my sixth grade classmate Marty Barrett went to England every couple of years to see his grandmother. I was totally envious. He was the only person I knew who had been to Europe. My family vacations back then were either stay at home and do things or head to Maine to stay a tiny cottage with a million people. I dreamed of traveling and imagined my trips. I’d go to England first and see London and Stonehenge. I’d head up to Scotland to find the Loch Ness monster. I’d visit Ireland. I’d ride a camel in the desert and take train rides across Europe. My imagination worked overtime.

When I was older, I still held to those dreams. My count, by the time I was sixteen, was one county, Canada. In the fall of my senior year of college, my friends and I planned a trip to Europe on one of those 60 countries in a day and a half type trips. My parents gave me the trip as a graduation gift, but I was waiting, hoping to hear from Peace Corps. I did, and I accepted. I was going to Africa, to Ghana. My second country was quite a leap from my first, on my list: Canada one and Ghana two.

I have favorite places to which I’d return if given the chance. Ghana is the first. I’m hoping for one more trip back. I think about Ghana all the time with a sort of reverence. I watch videos which catch me in the throat. I want kelewele and jollof rice. Ghana is very much home to me.

I’d go back to Morocco, to Marrakesh. The time I spent there was not enough. Dinner at the Jemma el-Fna and coffee at the cafe were two of my favorite things to do. After walking through the city, I’d sit and watch the world go by. I could hear conversations in Arabic. In the square, I watched dancers and henna artists, magicians and water carriers by day and ate dinner outside at one of the stalls each night. I bought fresh figs in the market. I took a horse-drawn carriage tour. I was the only passenger. Every day I saw something new and ate something I didn’t know and couldn’t pronounce. Good thing the menus had pictures.

“What do we call this moment? A serendipity mixed into a nostalgia mixed into a deja vu mixed into an epiphany!”

September 18, 2021

The day is already 71˚, today’s high. The weather report says partly cloudy. That’s pretty accurate as the sun is in and out of the clouds, and I can see the blue sky here and there between the branches of the backyard trees.

When I put the coffee in each of the dog’s dishes, Henry went for his and Nala went out the back door. That is her MO when she steals so Henry and I went on the deck to check for the felon and her spoils. I was glad to be outside. The late morning was pleasant and warmer than I expected. Nala, always true to form, was in the yard carrying an empty cookie bag in her mouth. She dropped it, and I asked to bring it to me for a treat. She totally ignored me and started to tear apart the package and the empty papers inside. I just stood and watched and listened. I could hear the crackle of the paper. Nala totally destroyed the bag by chewing it apart into small pieces. I’ll do a clean-up later. My sister is right. I do need one of those sticks with the nail at the end you see orange jumpered prisoners using when they clear the litter on the sides of the highway. I’d like the half bag too. I just won’t wear orange.

When I was a kid, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I got asked that by relatives I didn’t see often. I guess they thought it was a conversation ice breaker. They were wrong. I had no answer because I had no idea what I wanted to be. Little kids live day by day, and I was a little kid. Big plans were made for Saturdays, the break-out days, and as far in the future as I ever looked, because the rest of the week was already taken: weekdays were school and Sunday was church and dinner. I could do whatever I wanted on a Saturday. I could go wherever I wanted. Sometimes I made plans, a couple of days before were long range plans. I’d pick a movie in winter, but on warm days I’d pick my bike or my feet and go exploring. The one sure thing on a Saturday was our supper, always hot dogs, baked beans and brown bread from the can.

Even in Ghana, my Saturdays were mostly unplanned, open days, but if I was home in Bolga and it was a market day, I’d go shopping. I remember amazing weekends in Accra, the capital. I always stopped there on my way to and back from somewhere else during my vacations. It was too far for just a weekend. I stayed at the Peace Corps Hostel, cheap with breakfast. I ate in a variety of restaurants. I remember one restaurant with red booths, dimmed lighting and real napkins. It was an anywhere restaurant, but one, which happened to be, within walking distance of the hostel. I always thought it was a treat to eat there with its real napkins and leather booths. Sometimes I went to a Saturday night movie. In Accra I had choices. The best part of Saturdays in Accra was walking around the city, aimlessly. I’d stop at stalls and small markets and buy food and fresh fruit from the aunties along the sides of the road. I’d revel in the beauty of Accra and especially in being fortunate enough to live in Ghana.

Today I have no plans. Let serendipity reign!

“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.


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