Posted tagged ‘kelewele’

“Christmas, when observed with the right spirit, still has the power to call miracles from Heaven to Earth.”

December 17, 2013

The day is dark and getting darker: snow first then rain. The sky has that light gray color, the almost white which heralds a storm. Cold doesn’t quite describe the chill. When I ran out for the papers, I had to fix my star, a big white one which hangs on the fence to the backyard and has a trail of lights. I noticed it didn’t light last night because it had fallen off the nail and disconnected itself. I stood in the freezing morning connecting cords and rehanging the star. When I walked into the house, I could feel the warmth and smell the coffee. I was happy. I had my papers, the star was fixed and the coffee ready.

My back is almost its old self, achy but not bowed. I can even get out of bed without moaning. I walk almost upright: homo erectus again. I don’t know what I did to it but it was a doozy.

My first Christmas away from home was in Ghana. I will never forget it.

It is the harmattan in December when a dry, dusty wind blows from the desert and brings hot, hot days and cool, almost cold, nights. My students were dressed in layers every morning as they went about their chores, mostly sweeping the school compound. When I’d wake up, I would hear the swish of the hand-held sticks used as brooms. I knew I would later see the imprint of those sticks fanned across the dirt when I walked to class. Christmas is a low-keyed affair in northern Ghana. It is a morning spent in church. For my students, it meant school vacation. Empty busses would come, fill with students then head south to places like Kumasi dropping students at junctions on the way. The lucky bus drivers got their quota for the day with the one stop at my school. The Sunday before vacation started was when the Christmas celebration was held. Staff members wore their finest cloths and some male teachers wore kente, students were dressed in their Sunday uniforms and ministers and the white father from town were invited and sat at the head table. A tree was erected in the dining hall. It had mostly homemade ornaments though I lent a few of mine sent by my mother. They gave the tree a bit of home. The Bible was read and students sang carols. The ministers and the white father offered words of wisdom and spoke about the meaning of Christmas in our lives. Students sang more carols. We then stood as the head table left the dining hall followed by the rest of us, students last.

The compound was quiet once the students were gone. Patrick, another volunteer, and I prepared for a party on Christmas Eve. We knew they’d be volunteers passing through town on their way north into then Upper Volta and onward to the desert in Niger or Mali and Timbuktu. Patrick and I thought we’d all need to be together that first year, to take comfort from one another. I decorated my house with what my mother had sent including a small tree, ornaments, brick-designed crepe paper and a stocking with my name on it. Her Christmas package wouldn’t arrive that year until late January. We convinced the woman at the Hotel d’Bull bar to sell us beer. Her concern was getting back the bottles as beer was often unavailable because the bottling company would sometimes run out of bottles. We swore we’d bring them back, and she relented. We got gas for my oven, and I baked for the first time. I made sugar cookies using the cookie cutters my mother had sent. I had a tree, a reindeer and Santa. The cookies came out perfectly. We bought a few foodstuffs in the market but only a few as we knew our guests would bring food. A volunteer would never come to another volunteer’s house empty-handed. We didn’t know how many guests were coming. Five or six volunteers who were staying at my house and sleeping on my living room floor went to the market and brought back fruit, groundnuts, kelewele and I don’t remember what else. I just know it was a bounty.

The house was full on Christmas Eve. There was a lot of laughter and we sang carols. Someone said please don’t sing I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and we didn’t. Later that night a few of us went outside to cool off a bit and we sat together behind my house near the wall. The sky was ablaze with stars, the night was chilly and we were quiet until someone said,”The night must have been just like this on the very first Christmas.” That went right to my heart and made me realize Christmas is what we make of it and it doesn’t matter how or where or with whom we celebrate. That year I had a most wonderful Christmas. Everybody was my family, and I was home.

“Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.”

October 30, 2011

The rain was torrential last night,. I could hear the wind whooshing through the trees and I turned on the backdoor light to watch the wind blow the pine branches nearly to the ground. It was a nor’easter, the worst of all storms be it rain or snow. Many other parts if the state got snow and over 600,000 people were without electricity. Over the course of the morning, the day has lightened and the rain has finally stopped, and the wind has abated but is still strong at around 35 MPH.

My house has the smells of a Ghanaian kitchen. The kelewele is cooking on top of the stove and the Guinea fowl is in the oven. We are also having jollof rice with beef which was cooked last night. Its sauce was so tempting my one little taste became several tastes.

My table is set with the napkins I had made in Ghana from the same cloth as my dress, and I am using the  napkin rings I bought. They are in the shape of Ashanti stools, the symbols of the powers of the chiefs. The table looks colorful and festive. I will, of course, play only Ghanaian music during the meal and my guests will eat with their hands.

I am going to wear my new Ghanaian dress. I’ll take pictures!

“When you are sitting in your own house, you don’t learn anything. You must get out of your house to learn.”

September 19, 2011

Ahoy, me maties. Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. The sea is ruffled and the sails are billowed. Tis’ a great, grand ship and ye are all welcome aboard. Grab a flask of grog and hear me story.

This is the last of my Ghanaian saga. I spent five days in Bolga and three nights sitting and laughing with my students. One day three of them took me shopping in the market. I just sat while they haggled for my baskets and for the smock I bought. We then visited craft places, and I watched the making of the leather goods. At the dress shop, I picked out the one I wanted and Florence bought it. I protested and she just ignored me. Afterwards, I suggested lunch, and we went to The Diplomat where we all had goat and fried rice. It seems fried rice has become a Ghanaian staple. I treated the bargainers to lunch in thanks for all the money I knew I’d saved. They promised to be back that night, my last night in Bolga.

Six of my students came that night. They drank beer and malt and the table beside us gave us a half bottle of champagne they hadn’t finished. The students brought kelewele, my favorite dish and one I suspect I have mentioned many times. They ordered Guinea fowl without pepper so I could eat it. We all ate with our hands and shared the meal. I didn’t eat the bones, and my students couldn’t understand why. I explained we only ate the meat, and they lectured me about wasting food and they finished off the bones. It was a grand night, and we all shared memories. They did imitations of me in the classroom which were right on target. They were me frustrated about what I was trying to teach, and they repeated exactly what I used to say then roared laughing. They told me how the watchman wasn’t really asleep when I’d come to the school at night and find the gate locked. He was just ignoring me and he told the students how funny he thought it was that the white lady kept yelling, “Watchman, watchman,” and he just didn’t move. Most times I ended up climbing the gate, so much for the security of the watchman. I never did understand how he couldn’t hear me as his dog was barking and barking as I yelled. They remembered the one time I walked out of class as they were not prepared, and how they crammed then begged me to return. I did. They sang me a song they had learned from one of the cassettes I had brought with me. I cried when they sang Leaving on a Jet Plane perfectly. One of them told me she often sings it and always thinks of me when she does. That did me in.

We hugged and kissed and exchanged addresses and phone numbers. Three of them have called me already, and I have called a couple. This time we will not lose touch with one another.

I left Bolga the next morning. Thomas and I made it to Kumasi and we stayed there for the night. When we arrived, one of the students who had completed school before I arrived in Bolga was waiting for us as the principal of my old school lived in Kumasi. The talking drums of cell phones had found her through that graduate who was kind enough to meet us and take us to Madame Intsiful’s school. It was named St. George’s, after her she told me. Her name is Georgina. When I walked into the room, she looked at me and said, “I know you,” but she didn’t remember my name. She is quite old now so I understood and reintroduced myself. We chatted a short while and then she walked us to the car.

My hotel room was on a noisy street, but it was clean and had a shower and air-conditioning and was pretty cheap. I didn’t roam Kumasi as I didn’t know it in my day and certainly didn’t know the large city it had become. When I lived in Ghana, I went there just to visit Ralph and Michelle. I was country mouse visiting city mice.

Thomas and I left the next morning, and I arrived back at the Triple Crown in the early afternoon, welcomed by the staff. For dinner that night, I had Lebanese food. It was in Ghana where I first tasted hummos as Accra used to be filled with small Lebanese restaurants. Tahal’s was a Peace Corps favorite spot. I watched some of the Nigerian soap opera then took a shower, a hot shower, and fell asleep early.

On Friday, my last full day in Ghana, I hired the van and Isaac and I did a bit of riding around Accra while I picked up a few last-minute gifts. I had him take me through Adabraca, the section of Ghana where the PC hostel used to be, but I couldn’t remember where. That night I met another former volunteer for dinner. She was staying on Ghana a bit longer.

The next day I packed and then mostly sat around until it was time to go to the airport. I was sad to leave and wished I had planned a three-week trip instead of a two, but I suppose at the end of three weeks I would have been wishing for a month.

The flight was amazing as I went home first class and had one of those sleeping pods which make you feel a bit like an astronaut. I decided I had been substituted at birth. My real family had money and always traveled first class.

My trip back to Ghana was everything and more than I had hoped. I found my Ghana then met the new one, no less wonderful but a lot bigger and noisier and filled with far more people. The Ghanaians are warm and welcoming. I was greeted everywhere and waved at when we were on the road. I fell in love all over again with what I have always called my other country. I had always promised myself I would go back to Ghana. I finally fulfilled that promise.

“I have a trunk containing continents.”

May 2, 2011

I never much mention the news. I figure we all get enough of it, but I was taken with the President’s speech formally acknowledging the death of Osama Bin Laden. I immediately had two reactions. One was gladness and relief, but the other was the memory of the Hydra. That last one  scares me.

Today is much like yesterday: warm in the sun and chilly in the shade. It’s a typical spring day on Cape Cod. Leaves have finally appeared on many of the trees, and they’re a light green like new leaves always are. Only the oak trees are far behind with their tiny buds. The birds sing every morning, and peepers are getting louder at night. The sights and sounds of summer are getting closer.

The world is so much smaller now. Hopping a plane is no big deal. People take it as a matter of fact. Gone are the suits and dresses of the old time travelers. Comfort is more important. I, who have traveled to so many places, still get excited no matter where I’m going. It’s the anticipation. I buy new clothes, read travel books, decide what I want to see and where I might stay, but I always leave room for the unexpected. That’s the best part of any trip.

I’m already excited about Ghana. I’ve bought my new clothes, have read travel books and been roaming on line. My friend Ralph said it will be so different and yet still the same. He’s right. In my memory are sights and smells I expect to meet again, and I can hardly wait until my first market day. I know Accra is enormous now, and Bolga is much bigger than it was, but the small villages and the family compounds appear to be the same. My mouth is watering in anticipation of my first taste of kelewele and of Guinea fowl covered in red pepper and wrapped in fresh Ghanaian bread. I wish my trip was tomorrow.

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