Posted tagged ‘Ghana’

“The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.”

June 22, 2018

What a beautiful day! The sun is bright, a little breeze ruffles the leaves, the humidity is gone, and the air is comfortable at 70˚. My biggest chore today is to hose down the deck, the table and chairs. They are covered with leaves, small branches and parts of acorns. Under the chairs is still some pollen the jet spray should wash away. The birds have been busy so the feeders need seed. The suet feeder was opened by a spawn so it too needs to be refilled.

Forty nine years ago today, a Sunday, the greatest adventure of my life began. Forty nine years ago today I said goodbye to my parents and headed to Philadelphia for Peace Corps Ghana staging. My father drove the three of us, him, my mother and me, to Logan Airport. It was a quiet ride with little conversation. None of us dared to say anything. At Logan, we stood around the gate saying our goodbyes. My mother’s hug was a bit tight. As I walked down the jetway, I turned and waved. They waved too. That was our last goodbye.

When I got on the plane, I was loaded down with carry-ons. My 80 pounds of luggage, filled with clothes and stuff like sheets, towels, a few pans and spices, had been checked. When I sat down, my seat mate asked me if I was running away from home. I told him the Peace Corps. He bought me drinks. I landed in Philadelphia and went to the taxi line. I noticed a guy wearing a button-down collar shirt and a pair of khakis. Around him was more luggage than one guy needed for a trip to Philadelphia. I asked him if he was going to the Hotel Sylvania. He was. I had just met my first fellow trainee. We shared a cab.

Downstairs at the hotel I stood in line to register. I had my fingerprints with me, the last piece of my file. I registered. At that same desk, they gave me my large manila envelope filled with information about Ghana, the staging schedule including a one on one with a psychologist, training information and my room key. I got to my room and unpacked a few things, enough for the five days we’d be in Philadelphia. My roommate never showed. I found that amazing. How could she not show after the long process of being invited to train for Ghana?

Our first meeting on Sunday night was just introductions, more specific instructions and an overview of the rest of staging. They gave us a per diem, but I don’t remember how much. I do remember finding my way to the dentist to have my teeth checked, the yellow fever shot they gave each of us and the first session. It was so unexpectedly boring. I decided to skip sessions and see Philadelphia. That’s when I met Bill and Peg. We became friends and co-conspirators. We toured Philadelphia. I remember the Liberty Bell and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

We were originally told we’d have to make our own way to New York for the flight. It made no sense to us and eventually no sense to the staff so we loaded luggage and boarded busses to the Philadelphia airport. It was a TWA charter flight to Accra. I was nervous, a little scared, a lot curious and even more thrilled. I was going to Africa.

“I made a sandwich out of things. I’m an American. We can eat anything as long as it’s between two pieces of bread.”

June 5, 2018

The dump was fairly empty today. I was horrified to see one bag of my trash had maggots. That one had been in the trunk since Thursday. Seeing those crawling maggots whizzed me back in time to my childhood. Our house had an outside garbage pail. It was in the ground with a metal flip top you opened with your foot. The pail usually had maggots. My mother had a triangular plastic garbage holder which she kept in the corner of the sink. She’d nab one of us to empty the garbage outside. I hated to touch it afraid I’d get garbage on my hand. Every week the garbage man came to empty it. I couldn’t think of a worse job. Even the truck smelled bad.

Today is lovely. It is cool, in the high 60’s, and so sunny the light glints off the leaves and shines through the branches. The breeze is cool but not chilling. A short sleeve is enough. I have one more errand I couldn’t do yesterday in the rain, those flowers. I saw my neighbor, also my landscaper, this morning and alerted him to the flowers which will need planting. He told me not to worry. I won’t.

When I was a kid, I was always busy in the summers. I was seldom home. I used to pack a lunch and take it with me. It was bologna if there was any left, but sometimes I had to use peanut butter and Fluff, but I never saw it as a second choice. Bologna was a neat sandwich. Fluff was not. Usually it seeped out the sides unto my fingers when I held my sandwich to eat it, and I often had a fluff mustache. It was sticky.

In Ghana, I used groundnut paste, peanut butter paste to us. It was thick and was a soup base for groundnut stew. I ate it as a snack on bread with jelly, but I had to thin the paste or it would tear the bread. I used groundnut oil to do that. My cupboard was never bare of groundnut paste.

I still love peanut butter and Fluff sandwiches. The only difference is I’m much neater now.

“A good snapshot stops a moment from running away.”

May 24, 2018

Yesterday was so lovely my friends and I had dinner on their deck. It was a summer dinner of hot dogs, watermelon and fresh corn. We played Phase 10, but toward the end of the game, the cold wind arrived. We were done. Summer was over.

Last night thunder rumbled then the rain came, a heavy rain at first then just a constant rain of smaller drops. When I fell asleep, it was still raining, but this morning is beautiful though chilly, in the low 60’s.

I have three stops today. I still have to get my dump sticker, the car needs to be inspected and I have PT for my arm.

The only items on my to do list are the dump and then Agway to buy flowers and herbs. The heading on the list is Friday.

When I was in Ghana, an occasional evening treat was a Coke and a Cadbury candy bar. The DPW near my house had a store. It was one of the few places with cold Coke. My favorite Cadbury was the Fruit & Nut Milk Chocolate Bar. I still buy one every now and then just for the memory.

My memory drawers are loaded. I don’t know why some events and people become memories and get saved while others never do and are forgotten as soon as they happen. I remember the plane ride to Ghana. It was a TWA charter. I sat toward the back by the window. I remember we flew over the Cape. When the plane stopped in Madrid to refuel and change the crew, we got out to stretch. I remember the airport. I also remember getting back into my seat and finding the seat belt caught somewhere. I didn’t use it again. I remember looking out and seeing the Sahara. I also remember my first view of Ghana from the window, and I remember landing. I have a mental picture of my first dinner during training at Winneba. The plate was white. The food was mostly green and white. I didn’t eat it.

Each one of those memories is a snapshot, a colorful, vibrant snapshot which doesn’t seem to fade over time so I get to visit those memories over and over. I never tire of seeing them.

“He shoveled the bacon out on a plate and broke the eggs in the hot grease and they jumped and fluttered their edges to brown lace and made clucking sounds.”

February 11, 2018

Today is a dismal dark day. The rain started last night around eleven, and it’s still raining.  The weather report says rain on and off for most of the day. The only saving grace is the warmth. It is 47˚. I have to go to the dump. I’m thinking it will be quiet. The rain keeps people away.

When I was a kid, I mostly walked to church on Sundays. Sometimes, though, I’d go with my father to an early mass where he was an usher. I always wished I was an usher, but only men were ushers. My father stood in the back of the church waiting until the right time to pass his basket. He never kneeled. The baskets were at the end of a long pole which reached to the halfway point of the pew. My father would pass the basket then move to the other side of the church to get the rest of the pew. I always had a dime for the offering. After church my dad bought his paper from the guy in front of the church who was always there. The guy had a gray cart with a cover so he could protect his papers from the rain. After that my father and I sometimes went to get donuts to bring home. My father only ate plain donuts which he buttered. He’d also buy jelly, lemon and glazed donuts. I loved butternut, but he never remembered. My father kept with the traditional donuts. It made choosing easy.

I love eggs and their versatility. My favorite breakfast is two eggs over easy, crispy bacon and toast, usually rye. Eggs are often dinner for me, and once in a while I make an egg salad, but only if I have celery and lettuce to add as egg salad by itself is a bit bland. I love deviled eggs. My mother made them for all her barbecues, and my friend Clare often does the same. Most people have a favorite recipe for potato salad, but for just about every recipe, eggs are a critical ingredient. Coloring Easter eggs is a family tradition. You not only get to decorate the hard-boiled eggs but you also get to eat them.

St. Patrick’s drill team used to take part in the Halloween parade in Woburn, a town next to my own. We all hated marching in it because during the parade we’d get egged. I remember getting hit in the leg and having the egg slide down into my boot. It was gross marching on shells and uncooked eggs. I was glad when the decision was made not to march.

In Ghana I was close up and personal with eggs. I had chickens, and I also bought eggs in the market and sometimes from some small girls selling door to door. If I wasn’t careful in buying the eggs, I’d sometimes crack an egg the chicken had sat on for a bit. I was never bothered by that. It was just the way it was in Ghana sometimes.

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”

February 3, 2018

Today is beautiful with a blue sky and the return of the sun, but it’s cold, an uninviting cold. I have no inclination to go outside. The hot air from the furnace is blowing and keeping the house warm. I won’t even get dressed. I’m nice and cozy in my sweatshirt and my flannel pants. It snowed a bit yesterday, enough to cover the walk and my car windows. I’m hoping the sun will melt the windows clean so I won’t have to brush and scrape.

I always think it is the darkness of winter which palls the spirit so I do my best to compensate. I keep white candles lit in the windows, and their light shines across the dark lawn. In the living room, I light lanterns in the corners of the room. Their candles flicker and leave shadows on the walls. On the hearth, twelve tea lights shine in the votives of the long candle holder, and a gourd filled with white lights sits atop firewood in a basket. The room is filled with light and is warm and cozy and welcoming.

I do love New England and am not tempted to leave for sunnier climes. I am tired of winter, but around this time I am always tired of winter. The two years I spent in Ghana gave me an even greater appreciation for the changing seasons I so love. It was always warm there, and I tired of the warmth. I wanted to be cold, to see my breath on a crisp winter’s morning. I missed the beauty of snow and how wonderful it looks as it falls and how breathtaking the world is after a snowstorm. I wanted to welcome spring with all its colors and sights and smells. Where I lived in Ghana had no flowers. It had baobab and pawpaw trees and fields filled with millet and yams. It had grass, tall and green, but it had no flowers. I missed looking for the first spring shoots to appear, for the crocus and the daffodils.

Spring is always a miracle, and I wait for it with great expectations. Every day I check for the tips of shoots in my front garden. When I find one,  I want to dance wearing bright colors and flowers in my hair.

“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.

“The true essentials of a feast are only fun and feed.”

December 18, 2017

Today is cloudy but it’s warm, in the 40’s. Last night was freezing.

In the dark last night Gracie went out and wandered down the hill by the side of my house. I went to check on her in the front yard and found her gone. I got my flashlight and looked but didn’t see her. I called my friends in panic, and despite the time of night and the cold, they came, one walking using his flashlight and the other driving. By then I had found Gracie at the bottom of the hill. She couldn’t get back up. I went down the hill to her and grabbed her, but I couldn’t get us back up the hill either. I kept sliding. Finally I found a route which got me and her to the front yard. We both went inside. She had a treat. I had an asthma attack.

Today I’m planning my cookies and the Christmas Day dinner. I have a method. I write down the name of the recipe, its source and the ingredients by aisle. I’m thinking 3 kinds of cookies. For dinner I’m leaning toward pork of some sort, but that’s just a maybe.

Yesterday’s Patriot’s game still has my heart atwitter. The last minute was amazing. My friends and I cheered, stood up, moaned and screamed. The final play was unbelievable. After a Steelers touchdown was called back as an incomplete pass, the Steelers decided to pass for the touchdown instead of spiking for a chance at a tie and overtime. The pass was batted away, it flew into the air and was caught by a Pat for an interception. End of game!

I saw a Facebook picture taken in the Tongo hills outside of Bolga. The caption mentioned the harmattan, the hot dry season with sand blowing in from the desert which is happening now. During my first harmattan, the back of the soles of my feet cracked from the dryness. I had to tip-toe. I started getting ballerina muscles. Finally the soles heeled (sorry-a written pun looks like a misspelling) into the ugliest thick callouses. I didn’t care. My feet felt fine.

I ate a lot of goat in Ghana. The first time I had no idea what I was eating. It was during Peace Corps training, and I was at my live-in, a three week span where we lived with a Ghanaian family. I was alone at dinner and was served soup with bony meat in one dish and in another dish, a glob of I had idea what. No fork or spoon mean I had to use my fingers. I grabbed some glob and ran it through the soup then ate it. The reddish soup was spicy hot, but I managed. I had to pick up the meat, also with my fingers, to chew around the bone. When next I saw my hostess, I asked why I was eating alone and what did I eat. She said she thought I’d prefer to be by myself. I didn’t. She said I ate t-zed with red soup and goat meat. Tuon-zafe, t-zed, is best described as a porridge of boiled corn meal, a glob. The goat meat was okay which is a good thing as I ate it often. I even found it once here in a Caribbean restaurant and ordered it as a bit of food nostalgia.

I don’t know how I got on to goat. I guess it was mentioning Christmas dinner as that’s what I had my first Christmas in Ghana. It was a feast.