Posted tagged ‘Peace Corps Ghana’

“Never forsake your motherland.”

May 8, 2023

Today is lovely, bright and warm. The sky is so blue it almost defies description. It is 65° and will get warmer as the day gets older. My windows are open. It is time to blow away the winter and fill the house with the sweet smells of spring. I am glad for today as tomorrow will be cooler.

When I lived in Ghana, my home, Bolgatanga, was almost as far away from the capital as you could get. I knew before I left staging in Philadelphia where I would be posted because the remote postings were the first filled. If you stayed in Accra for a while and then you were taken to Bolga, you’d think you were in a different country. The lush green of southern Ghana had disappeared and been replaced by the open savannah grasslands of the north. Bolga had one rainy season, a magical time when the brown fields came alive with green shoots and grasses, when the dusty roads were hardened by the rain. During the dry season, my lips chapped and my heels split from the dryness. The water was rationed, often turned off for a day or two so I took bucket baths. My students cleaned the school compound every morning regardless of the season then spent the day in classes. At night, they often visited me.

I was closest to my FraFra students. I sometimes think it was because they were from Bolga and were as resilient as the fields. The dry season for them was just another part of life to be endured while the rainy season was to be celebrated. The FraFra dances were exuberant, energetic, with quick movements filled with joy. Women traditionally danced the pogne with moving arms and stepping legs. Often the dancers were accompanied by clapping and singing. I tried a few times and almost fell over each time.

I knew, on my first trip back to Bolga in 40 years, I’d find my FraFra students, and I did on my first night back to Bolga. The word was spread that I had returned and students came to my hotel. I recognized them all. The only two missing were Franciska Issaka who was living here and Grace Awae who was in Accra. I was so sorry to miss both of them. When I got home, Grace called me, and we reconnected. It was the same with Franciska, and she came to visit. It was amazing to me that one of my students was in my house.

On the next visit, a year later, Grace met me at the airport, and we spent every day together. It was the same on the third visit, the one with Bill and Peg. Grace and Bea Issaka sat with us every night at our hotel. It all seemed so natural sitting at a table in Bolga chatting with friends.

I felt at home in Bolga each time I returned. My feelings, my love for Bolga and for my students, had never left me. They flooded my heart. I always think I got the best posting in the country among the most amazing people.

“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

April 30, 2023

The heavy rain started last night. I heard it on the roof. The dogs backed away from the door hoping the rain would stop. Later, they had no choice but to go out. The rain stopped overnight but will continue today. I did get my pansies planted yesterday but didn’t clear the Nala trash. That’s for another day.

Today is a day with no lists, no need to leave the house, a full larder and plenty of books and movies. It is a cozy day.

When I was a kid, I wondered what the nuns looked like under their habits. Once in a while I could see a sort of hairline under their wimples. One nun had black hair and the other white. I never really thought of nuns as people. They had their own race apart from the rest of us. I never saw nuns eat except for Sister Hildegarde who hid candy in her desk and ate it during the day. Nuns used to keep their handkerchiefs under the cuffs of their sleeves. When I was young, they scared me. When I was older, they amused me.

When I lived in Ghana, my days were mostly the same, but I was never bored. I was amazed. I was actually living in Africa.

Ghana was filled with color. The women wore dresses made with traditional cloths of many colors and patterns. By the middle of my first year, all my dresses had been made by the seamstress who lived next door, the wife of a tutor. I had bought the cloth in the market. My favorite dress was blue tie-dye. Men wore fugus, smocks, made on looms, woven in different patterns of cotton in strips then sewn together. Smocks were traditional clothing for men in the north and in the Upper Region where I lived. When I went back to Ghana, I was surprised to see smocks were now wore even in Accra, the capital. I have fugus I brought home. They are in different styles and colors. I also have some fugu cloth, white with black and red stripes.

My house is warm and quiet. Nala is napping beside me on the couch. Henry is napping upstairs on my bed. My ultimate cozies are the dress code for the day. I’m ready for my second cup of coffee and an onion bagel with cream cheese. I’m thinking life doesn’t get much better.

“The rain begins with a single drop.”

April 2, 2023

If I just stayed in the house, I’d think today was a perfect day filled with sun and a cloudless blue sky, but I’d be wrong. It is a cold day with a chilly wind. I ought to wear a parka for my dump trip because the dump is our version of the Russian tundra. This time of year it is always wintry cold especially when there is a wind.

In Ghana, the harmattan winds blow dust from the desert during our winter months. The sun is blocked behind the dust. There is no rain. The air is dry. My lips and the heels of my feet cracked in the dryness. I walked on tiptoes until my heels hardened. The harmattan nights are cold. I slept under a wool blanket. I loved the chilly early mornings. I’d drink my coffee while sitting on my front steps. My students dressed in layers. I relished the chill.

The days were often three digit hot, but it was the driest heat. I remember I really didn’t mind. I walked across the compound to class. The classroom doors were always opened. The windows had no glass. The wind blew through bringing the dust.

Around March, the harmattan begins to lose its hold. The days get humid. The nights get hot. I’d sleep outside in my backyard. Each morning, I’d scour the sky hoping to see clouds, hoping for the first rains.

I remember my first year in Bolga when the sky darkened and the first rains fell. Those first storms are mighty. The raindrops are huge and heavy and make rivulets in the sand too dry to absorb the water. I remember the lightning bolts. I had never before seen lightning so up close. It was tremendous.

Each time I returned to Ghana it was during the rainy season. I loved the rain. It brought sensory memories, throwback memories. I could smell the wet ground. I could hear the heavy drops plunking on the tin roofs. I got wet when I shopped in the market. I was back to that first year and the terrific rains, to the sweetest of memories.

“Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.”

March 30, 2023

The morning is beautiful but the night chill lingers. It is 36°. The high will only be in the low 40’s. Today is opening day for baseball. It is the 123rd opening day for the Red Sox. The projections are the Sox will have another bad season like their last place finish in 2022. I am a Red Sox fan. I would say a die-heart fan, but every Red Sox fan is understood to be a die-hard fan. I’m going to wear my Red Sox shirt and watch the game. Our mantra is if we didn’t win this game, we’ll most assuredly win the next. Hope prevails in the psych of every Red Sox fan. We are all, in my family, Red Sox fans. Even in Colorado, the babies are born with an unseen but sensed decorative B on their onesies. They’ll cheer. We’ll all cheer. Go Sox!

I don’t wonder if I have taken the right paths in my life. I feel assured that I have. Some choices didn’t have the same sway as others, but they were still the right choices. Peace Corps was and is the defining choice in my life. Everything radiates from that. I lived in Africa. I still say that astonishingly.

I worked for thirty three years in the same school. I was in charge of discipline for many of those years. My kids were remarkable. My greatest joy was watching them mature into good people. They and I didn’t always agree, but I was in charge so they went along with me, sometimes begrudgingly, even angrily, but it was short-lived. It was in the moment. I used every strategy to help my kids succeed. Sometimes I’d keep them after school outside my office and make them do their homework. I remember one parent whose son was late all the time. She wanted help. I told her to disable his car which she paid for and she did just that. He came into my office screaming at me. I calmly told him to be on time so he could earn back his car. He was always on time after that. He got back his car. I always stopped fights. When the guys, as they were mostly guy fights, saw it was me, they stopped fighting. I was never afraid to jump right into the middle of the fracas.

I see my kids all over town. They stop to say hello. I don’t always remember their names, but I do remember their faces. Most times we hug. I am ever thankful for that choice.

“When you learn a thing a day, you store up smart.”

March 21, 2023

Today is already warm at 48°. It is another lovely morning. It is the first full spring day. When I got the papers, I noticed the green pointed tops of the daylillies have poked above the ground. More croci are in boom. The dafs have buds. Spring is running rampant over winter, and I want to scream with joy.

Sometimes I sit here staring at the screen hoping my muse will take notice of the blank page and throw some inspiration my way. I’m still waiting.

Here I go!

When I was a kid, I once went door to door to collect money for some organization I don’t remember, maybe the Jimmy Fund. I was not thinking of altruism. In Boston, at the collective site, were Miss Kitty and Doc from Gunsmoke. I wanted to meet them. My father drove me into town. I carried my money in a can. The place was crowded and had a long line. I didn’t mind waiting. When it was my turn, I emptied my can into the money bin. I got to shake Doc’s hand and Miss Kitty thanked me personally, or at least it seemed that way. I was star struck.

One July 4th at the bandstand in the next town over, Big Brother Bob Emery was there. He was a local television personality who had a show for kids. I remember the theme song was “The Grass is Always Greener in the Other Fella’s Yard.” He accompanied himself on the ukulele and sometimes a banjo. He called us small fry. On the wall behind him was a picture of then President Eisenhower. Hail to the Chief would play, and we would raise our glasses of milk in tribute then drink to the president. Anyway, I was right behind him on the bandstand. I remember he wore a checked suit jacket. It was so crowded none of us, even Big Brother Bob Emery, could move. What I remember the most is he had a bug on his neck. I watched the bug move across his neck and wondered why he didn’t whack it away. I was so intent on the bug I missed whatever he had to say.

In Ghana, I met Prime Minister Kofi Busia. He was running in the first election after the military coup. Campaigning was happening while I was in training. When I was in Bawku for my Iive-in with a Ghanaian family, there was a huge rally for Busia. My Ghanaian father was a mucky muck in the Progress Party, Busia’s party, and insisted we, a Peace Corps friend, and I sit on the bandstand. Wrong move! We got a bit of a reprimand for appearing to support Busia by sitting on the grandstand, right in front, as we were not supposed to have anything to do with politics, local or otherwise. Well, he won. Later, after his inauguration, he visited my town, Bolgatanga, for a luncheon at the governor’s house. I didn’t get an invitation, but my principal insisted I accompany her. I did. They made room. That was when I met Prime Minister Busia. He would be overthrown by the army 27 months later.

That’s it, the entire total of well-known people I have met.

“To beautify the Earth is the supreme Art.”

March 18, 2023

The morning is damp from last night’s rain. It is already 46°. The sky is light grey cloudy and is supposed to stay cloudy all day. I have an empty dance card.

Today’s chores are the same as yesterday’s chores because I was a sloth the whole day.

I am watching a science fiction film from 1958, It, the Terror from Outer Space. If tradition had served me, I’d be sitting on the floor in my pajamas eating my cereal and watching the movie. I wouldn’t notice the cheesy painted backgrounds of Mars and of star-studded space or that the rocket ship is as big as a house with huge rooms and several floors. The movie takes place in 1973. The two women crew members are serving coffee and sandwiches to the male crew sitting at the table eating lunch and smoking cigarettes. This is a rescue mission. Only one of the first Mars’ space landing crew has been rescued. He is accused of killing his shipmates. That’s the plot so far.

When I lived in Ghana, in Bolgatanga, the only seasons were the dry and the rainy. When the rains started, green shoots began to pop out of the once dusty ground. They reminded me of spring but a dramatic spring. Behind my house, in the field beyond the fence, the tiny, green shoots of millet appeared. Everything came alive, fed by the rains. The growing season was in full array. Millet covered the whole field, and when it grew tall, the compound at the far end of the field would disappear behind the stalks.

The first crocus gives me the same elation I felt when I saw the tiny millet plants. Back then I was saying good-bye to the dry season while here it is a less than fond farewell to winter. The first crocus this year was yellow followed by purple. Each new flower is a renewal, a hopeful sign.

“Busyness chokes deep thinking.”

March 9, 2023

The sky is the most spectacular blue this morning. The sun is squint your eyes bright. The breeze comes now and than again and sways the tops of the pine trees. It is in the 40’s, typical for March. The dogs love this weather. Lala lies in the sun looking a bit like the sphinx. Henry sits on the deck surveying his world. They know what to do with the day. They’ll be back in shortly for their morning naps.

When I was in Ghana, my mother sent boxes, the best boxes. I remember the blue boxes of macaroni and cheese. I saved those for Sunday dinner. She sent pizzas in a box and Password and origami and hard candies. Beef jerky was a surprise. In a Christmas box was a paint by number kit. The finished masterpiece became wall art. The origami became a guessing game because I was never good at replicating the pictures. At least the paper was colorful. The best box was sent by air mail so I’d get it before Christmas. My aunt and my mother split the cost. The box had a small plastic Christmas tree, ornaments, cookies cutters, brick looking crepe paper and a Christmas book. Later, my mother told me she went to Woolworth’s for all the Christmas stuff and sent the box by air because boxes going by regular mail took at least three months to arrive. It was too early for Christmas decorations to be out in the store so my mother said she sent the guy downstairs to the store room to find Christmas. He was nice enough to do that and found the decorations for my mother. That was my favorite box.

I hate busy weeks, and I have been out almost every day this week. I hate having to get out of my cozies. I actually had to buy gas. Today is a dentist appointment which adds to my misery. Saturday it is going to be cold, and we have the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Layering may not be enough. To make matters worse I need to be there between 8 and 8:30. I don’t even know if it is light then!

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

February 28, 2023

Oh, what an ugly morning! We had a dusting of snow which began around 1:30 as we, the dogs and I, were going to bed. When I woke up, I could hear dripping off the roof. I opened the front door and saw a wet mess. The rain and the snow had merged into slush. I had no choice but to go out for yesterday’s mail and today’s papers. My footprints made a wet trail from the house. My slippers got wet. The road has slushy ruts. I just hope it doesn’t freeze.

My daffodils have buds. They got suckered into growing during the warm spell, but they are hardy. I expect they’ll survive. My father used to say snow this time of year is poor man’s fertilizer, and he was right. The snow, when the ground is frozen, acts like mulch and insulates the plants. It also brings nutrients like nitrogen and sulfur. I have no idea how he knew that.

This is the longest musing I have ever written. I couldn’t make it any shorter. It describes the turning point in my life. The start of my Peace Corps journey.

This is Peace Corps week. On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps. I was in the eighth grade, but I knew even then I would join the Peace Corps. When I was a junior in college, I went to listen to a recruiter on campus. I took a language test. I signed up for an application. In October of my senior year in college, I sent in my completed application. In January I got a special delivery package. It was filled with information about Ghana and had a timetable of what training would be. I figured I was accepted which then became official when my special delivery acceptance letter came the next day. Training would begin in June with staging in Philadelphia. That seemed so far away in time. I started planning.

My mother and I shopped using the suggested packing list. My luggage had to be no more than 80 pounds. I was packing two years of my life into a couple of suitcases and carry-ons.

I remember the day I left. My parents drove me to Logan Airport. My father had bought me a plane ticket. Peace Corps had sent a bus ticket. I can still see in my mind’s eye my parents standing at the gate as I waved and went down the jetway. Their sadness is what I carried with me.

We were in Philadelphia for five or so days for staging. We had lectures, individual appointments with psychologists, visits to dentists and yellow fever shots. I met Bill and Peg the first day. I recognized their kindred spirits. We skipped a few large group sessions and toured the city together.

We were all supposed to make our way to New York to catch our chartered flight to Ghana. Luckily, though, the powers that be realized it made sense for us to leave from Philadelphia. I remember the flight. Herbie, the Love Bug, was the movie. Alcohol free flowed. I remember looking out the window at the Sahara. It was jaw dropping.

Training was all over the country. We had extensive language classes. I was learning Hausa. My group had its live-in, 3 weeks with a Ghanaian family, in Bawku. We visited our schools. Mine was in Bolgatanga. We made our way down country to Koforidua for the rest of training. It felt familiar though it was all new. I had fallen in love with Ghana.

The rest of training included student teaching and more language. I felt brave enough one weekend to hitch to Accra. On the first night, when a few of us were wandering the city to get to know it better, I survived an attempted purse snatching. He got the strap. I got the purse.

Our last week of training was at Legon, the University of Ghana. We mostly had free time except we all had to take a language test. We wandered Accra. We drank real coffee. Our last event was the swearing in. We were no longer trainees. We were Peace Corps volunteers. I felt joyful.

“I’d rather have a hot dog than caviar.”

February 18, 2023

Winter is back. Last night it rained, but sometime during the night we got a bit of snow, and I mean only a bit, not even a dusting. The morning is cold, 30°, but it is a pretty morning. White clouds dot the blue sky, an every now and then breeze blows gently and we have sun, bright sun.

My dance card is still empty. I have been a sloth of late, but I make no apologies. Today, though, I have one chore. My kitchen floor is a mess. The tile has paw prints leading from the door to the hall, evidence of yesterday’s rain, and bits of pine bark litter the floor. Nala’s new obsession is chewing pine branches. Instead of bringing stuff out, Nala brings them in. I guess it is an improvement.

When I was a kid, Saturday was Creature Double Feature Day. I got to watch two wonderfully bad B-science fiction movies in black and white. They became my favorites. I liked the worst the best. I still do. My movie library is filled with films like The Brain Eaters, Attack of the Crab Monsters and the best of them all, The Thing with Two Heads. That one is not to be missed.

Last night I had hot dogs for dinner, a day early. I didn’t have beans. I never have beans. I also didn’t have brown bread but only because I never thought to buy it. I always loved the fried brown bread slathered with butter, but then again, I love anything slathered with butter. I do have a couple of hot dogs left for tonight and two top loading buns. I just wish I had cole slaw.

Where I lived in Ghana, I could buy beef in the market. The butchers would cut me a fillet and wrap it in banana leaves. The butchers were clad in filthy aprons. I don’t think the cutting surfaces were ever cleaned, but I didn’t care. I had stopped being finicky sometime during training. If my food had bugs, I’d pick the bugs out. If I missed a bug, no big deal. It was added protein.

“Moonlight is sculpture: sunlight is painting.”

February 13, 2023

The rain started after midnight and continued into the early morning. It left an ugly day with clouds and a bit of a wind. It is 43°. Today will be a quiet day. It will be a sloth day.

When I was a kid, every weekday was the same. I got up, ate cereal, dressed for school then walked out the door and down the hill. School wasn’t all that far away, mostly it was a straight shot from the bottom of the hill. I never remember being bored back then despite the sameness of every day. Somehow there was always something to fill the time. I used to color at the kitchen table while my mother made dinner. On the table, I had my coloring book and a cigar box, the final resting place for crayons of every length, many without labels, but I didn’t mind the missing labels. I did mind short crayons with blunt ends. Those I tossed.

Weeknight dinners were usually meat and potatoes and a canned vegetable except for Fridays and Saturdays. Friday was meatless so we sometimes had fish sticks and French fries or fried dough, our favorite. On Saturdays we had the traditional hot dogs, beans and brown bread.

My sister had a beef stew for dinner last night. She mentioned mashing the potatoes and carrots together because that was how my mother served them. It was a trick, her way of having us eat carrots. We fell for it every time.

When I was a bit older, I used to love walking home at night. It was always quiet. I remember how circles of lights shining from the windows of the houses closest to the sidewalks lit the way. In the summertime those windows were open, and I could hear the TVs blaring. Somehow it was a comforting sound.

When I lived in Ghana, I loved going to my town at night, usually to buy snacks of some sort as women, aunties, cooked and sold food along the sides of the street. As I rode into town, I could see pockets of light from cooking fires and small lanterns. In between, the street was dark. Some food like Guinea fowl was cooked on screens over charcoal fires burning in huge white metal bowls. Other foods like plantain chips, a favorite, and yam chips were cooked in white bowls of boiling peanut oil also over charcoal fires. Sometimes I could find kelewele, my all time favorite street food. That was serendipitous. I always ate some from the newspaper wrappings on my way home. I could never resist.

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