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“You either get the point of Africa or you don’t. What draws me back year after year is that it’s like seeing the world with the lid off.”

August 14, 2016

Big surprise: today is hot, already 88˚, and combined with the 70% humidity it feels like 100˚. I was on the deck earlier checking the plants. They have to be watered again, but I’ll wait until later in the day hoping it will be cooler.

When I arrived in Ghana for Peace Corps training, I knew nothing about Africa. The books and mimeographed materials from Peace Corps didn’t do much in helping me understand where I was going. Knowing there were two seasons, rainy and dry, had me picturing what rainy and dry look like here, that was all I had for reference. Descriptions of Ghanaian culture were like excerpts from a geography book. I read about the different tribes and where they lived. The country was divided into regions, a bit like our states.

Before we left Philadelphia for Ghana, I found out I was going to be posted in the Upper Region, only a place on the map to me. The Upper Region spanned all the way across the whole top section of Ghana from east to west. I was to be posted in its capital, Bolgatanga.

When I went to Bolga for a week during training, it was the rainy season when everything is green, and the market is filled with all sorts of fruit and vegetables. I figured that would be Bolga all the time. I was totally wrong.

When training was over, I made my way home, to Bolga. I stopped overnight in Kumasi, about the halfway mark. I always added an overnight so I could visit friends along the way. The trip from Accra to Kumasi was a wonderful train ride. From Kumasi to Bolga was a bus or lorry ride, always hot and always crammed with people.

Bolga was still in the rainy season when I moved into my house. The rains stopped a month or two later. Everything dried. The ground split. Nothing stayed green. My lips and the heels of my feet split. I walked on tiptoes. I learned to take bucket baths. My meals never varied. Breakfast was two eggs cooked in groundnut oil and two pieces of toast. Lunch was fruit. Dinner was beef cooked in tomato broth, a necessity to make the meat tender, or chicken. Yams were the side dish, sometimes in a mash and sometimes cooked with the meat. I always drank water except in the morning when I drank instant coffee with canned milk.

I never minded the same meals or the dry season. I was astonished every day that I was  living in Africa. I loved Bolga whether rainy or dry. My friends and I would often look at the sky and say it looked like rain. That was a joke, and we never got tired of it. We knew the rain was months away. If we found something new in the market, it was cause for celebration. If we didn’t, it didn’t matter.

In about five weeks, I’ll be back home in Bolga.

“Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.”

April 6, 2015

A howling wind, falling snow or icy sleet battering the house and yard wouldn’t matter. Today would still be spring. Today the Red Sox play their first game of the season. I dream about today on the worst winter days when I need dreams the most. On the coldest of days I let baseball give me hope. I see in my mind’s eye the Green Monster and the fresh grass of Fenway. I think about cheering for the home team, eating hot dogs and popcorn, watching games on warm summer nights and throwing my arms into the air as I scream at a home run or moan at an error. The Sox have stumbled of late. Two out of the last three seasons my Sox were in last place. In the middle of those two seasons they won the World Series. Today they are perfect.

Sometimes Easter was at the start of spring vacation while other years, like this one, Easter was early and Monday was back to school. That was always the worst of Mondays. Our energy had been spent over the three-day weekend. By Sunday night we were exhausted from the excitement of wearing new clothes, finding our baskets filled with chocolate and small gifts and spending all afternoon with the cousins. Getting up, eating breakfast, putting on our uniforms and then walking to school were arduous tasks. It was a day of lethargy when turning the pages of a text-book took far too much energy. The classroom was unusually quiet. No rustling sounds broke the silence. The only signs of Easter were the jelly beans, the big ones where every color tasted the same, wrapped in wax paper in our lunch boxes. We’d finish our sandwiches then put the jelly beans in our coat pockets to eat outside during recess. I remember they all had a bit of lint from my pocket. I didn’t care.

Easter was the best. Dinner was spectacular. We were given the same table by the window we’ve had for three years in a row. Our blinking bunny, from an Easter basket three years ago, joined us for his third time at the table. That he still blinks we find amazing. Outside the window the view was beautiful. The sky and the ocean were different blues. The water, the deepest of blues, had a greenish tint while the sky was light blue along the horizon and darker blue above. Small white caps tapped the shoreline. The beach grass was brown, its winter color. We toasted the day and sat for a bit savoring the moment before ordering dinner. My drink had blackberries. It was delicious. I had lamb, mashed potatoes and onions infused with soy sauce. Little was left on my plate at the end of dinner, but I managed to squeeze in a chocolate dessert, the perfect ending for the best Easter ever until next year’s.

“May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light, May good luck pursue you each morning and night.”

March 17, 2015

We’re back to rainy and bleak. We’re also back to cold as it will get down to 18˚ tonight. This melt and freeze cycle is creating  potholes all over the roads. I’ve been lucky so far as I’ve seen the holes in time to avoid them. Some people weren’t so lucky as a few hub caps are lying near the biggest holes.

What’s left of the snow is ugly. More of it will disappear because of the rain. All the roads are finally clear of the icy ruts. I’m just hoping the combination of the clear roads, rain and 18˚ won’t cause black ice.

My mother, father, two aunts, my 80-year-old grandfather and I visited Ireland together. It was my second trip there. It was the first for everyone else. I loved traveling with my parents and my grandfather was a trooper. He kept right up with us. One aunt always went with the flow; however, the other aunt I would have sold to the Irish Travellers whose caravans we saw throughout Ireland. She had a couple of heavy suitcases filled with enough clothes for an around the world trip. Every night my dad had to haul them out of the van to her room and then back to the van in the morning. We generally stayed only one night in each spot, usually a B&B, so why she needed both suitcases I never understood. I did ask and she said she didn’t know we would be stopping night by night. She thought we’d stay in one place. That still didn’t explain the amount of clothes and why both suitcases every night. I suggested she bring in what she needed just for the night and the next day, and she got huffy. That aunt is only five months younger than I am; she is number 8, the baby of my mother’s family. That gave her a strange sense of entitlement. Huffy should have been her middle.

My father loved boiled dinners, corned beef and cabbage for those of you living outside of New England. My mother would make the dinner a couple of times a year and always on St. Patrick’s Day. My favorite memory is one dinner when the potatoes disappeared. My mother was filling my dad’s plate with the carrots, cabbage, onions and meat. She used her spoon to hunt for the potatoes. There were none. She saw a couple of lumps of what might have been potatoes floating but that was the only sighting. When she brought dinner to my dad, he wanted to know right away where the potatoes, his favorites, were. My mother admitted she thought they disintegrated. My dad rushed out and hunted through the pan. He didn’t find any either. It became a family legend: the year of no potatoes.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day


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