Posted tagged ‘Peace Corps Ghana’

“Let us keep the dance of rain our fathers kept and tread our dreams beneath the jungle sky.”

April 13, 2019

I was between asleep and awake when I heard the rain. It was dripping from the roof to the overhang below my window. I stayed in bed just a bit to listen. When I got downstairs and let Henry out, I was surprised to see the rain was mere drops, one by one. I hardly got wet running for the papers.

The sky is still cloudy, but the rain has since stopped.

This morning it is Barracuda, a film made in 1978. The director, the writer and the star are all the same person, Wayne Crawford. I guessed the decade of the movie before I looked. The houses are all low slung, a Brady Bunch sort of look. The men’s bathing suits are those striped gym sort of shorts. Women are in bikinis but not so skinny as now. When the barracudas strike, the water is roiled and all you can see is blood, not so special effects. My favorite scene so far is of the mouth of the barracuda with a leg sticking out.

When I was a kid, a rainy Saturday was the worst. I’d beg my mother to let me ride my bike anyway. I usually lost that argument. All four of us stuck inside drove my mother crazy. If I had a book, I’d find a quiet spot and read the afternoon away, but no book meant boredom. TV was the only other diversion but even that got boring. I’d keep checking out the windows hoping the rain had stopped. If it had stopped, I was out the door with bike in hand. Riding after a rainstorm was great fun. I’d ride through every puddle I could, and I’d watch the fan of water spread out from each side of my front tire. I’d raise my legs off the pedals so I wouldn’t get wet.

One of my friends gave me a fold up umbrella as a going away present before I left for Ghana. It was the rainy season there. During the first week of training, I used the umbrella on my walk to language class. When the class was finished, I sat out of the rain to watch it for a while. When I left to go back to my room, I forgot my umbrella. Once I realized, I hurried back. The umbrella was gone. I was upset, but in the long run, it didn’t matter. I never saw anyone carry a rain umbrellas. People either got wet or found a place out of the rain. I sat in a kiosk once, invited by the owner. I was an object of curiosity. Every person walking by looked and I suppose wondered why the white woman was in the kiosk. I always said, “Barka da yamma,” good afternoon in Hausa to each of them. I always got smiles.

“The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”

March 18, 2019

The sun and the blue sky are still hanging around as is the chill. Every day this week is predicted to be in the 40’s, spring on Cape Cod.

St. Patrick’s day was wonderful. Dinner was superb though I’m not sure superb is the right adjective to describe corn beef and cabbage, a hearty meal. Everything cooked perfectly. The Irish soda bread and the Kerry butter completed the meal. Dessert was scrumptious. I didn’t eat it last night, but I had a piece for breakfast. I wonder if it is still called dessert if you eat it in the morning.

I found more shoots popping their heads above the ground. I count them as wonders. I watch their progress every morning. I saw a bit of yellow yesterday. I’m thinking a daffodil.

I am always thankful to Peace Corps for having assigned me to Bolgatanga. Every day was amazement filled with sounds, sights and feelings that I ever knew existed before living in Ghana. It was all a wonder of unexpected beauty.

I loved sleeping outside in the back of my house. My mattress, dragged from my bedroom, was a necessity as the backyard was concrete with a few big rocks which weren’t removed when the house was built and the concrete laid. I slept outside mostly during the dry season. I’d lie on my back and look at the sky. It was always spectacular with so many stars the nights were never dark. They were filled with shadows. Not a night went by without a falling star streaking across the sky. I oohed and ahed every one of them. They were never commonplace.

I have the same sense of wonder when there are meteor showers here. I take out a chair, something to drink, usually coffee, and I watch the sky. I still ooh and ah.

I can’t imagine a life without a sense of wonder, without seeing the joy of every day.

“I don’t take the movies seriously, and anyone who does is in for a headache.”

February 24, 2019

The rain is heavy at times. It beats against the roof and windows. The wind is getting stronger. The pine trees feel it the most, and their tops bend and sway.

The Hotel d’Bull, the best place to stay in Bolgatanga during my Peace Corps days, had a huge courtyard. I saw a boxing match there once. They erected a ring right in the middle of the courtyard. The boxers had names like Kofi Mohammed Ali and Sugar Ray Atiah. Mostly the boxers just danced around the ring throwing only a few punches, but in one bout a boxer got hit more than a few times. All of a sudden from the corner came a towel thrown into the ring. I always thought throwing in the towel was a metaphor.

The back wall of the courtyard was white so they could show movies. I saw my first Bollywood film on that wall. I don’t remember the name of the film, but I do remember how awful I thought it was, but awful didn’t matter. I stayed for the entire film. Entertainment was a rarity in Bolga. The scene I remember the most was a shower scene. Our hero was lathering and singing. I had no idea what he was singing. The songs had no subtitles.

The most expensive seating for movies was on the roof where a few small round metal tables and chairs were the orchestra seats. The roof overlooked the courtyard. The seats didn’t cost much, maybe 10 or 20 pesewas, so we always sat there. We’d order drinks and some food. The waitress would bring us water and soap in a small bowl so we could wash our hands before dining. I always ordered coke. The Hotel d’Bull was one of the few places where they served cold coke. We’d eat kabobs: some were beef and a couple were liver. They were cooked over charcoal, as was most Ghanaian food, but I figure I can call them barbecued anyway. I didn’t even mind the liver.

My outdoor movie nights remind me of Ghana. We have the best seats, and we’re sitting at a round table. As in Ghana, the movies are sometimes really awful, but we love them. The big differences are I never serve liver, even barbecued liver, and clean hands are up to you.

“Whoever thinks of going to bed before twelve o’clock is a scoundrel.”

January 29, 2019

Winter is supposed to be cold, but I think we’re on overload. Single digits are predicted for tomorrow night and on Thursday night it will be 11˚. Today is 37˚, and it actually feels warm.

Today is a lazy day. I slept until close to eleven. I took my time reading the papers and had a couple of cups of coffee. The kitchen smelled wonderful between the grinding of the beans and the brewing of the coffee. I am watching television as I write. I admit that I actually stopped watching two science fiction novels on tubi, something I almost never do. One was about the San Andreas fault and the big quake and the total destruction of LA, and the other was about a glacier from Iceland heading toward North America and causing a new Ice Age, but I just found what may be the worst one of all. It is called Star Leaf. The description says, “Three friends fight to stay alive after finding extra-terrestrial marijuana deep in the woods and accidentally provoking the alien forces guarding it.”

Last night I went to get my mail around 11:30. The street was dark except for my outside light. No cars went down the street and no dogs barked. I could have been the main character in a science fiction movie about the world after a cataclysmic event left few survivors.

When I was in high school, I used to walk home at night after evening events. I remember the silence. I remember the circle of light under each street lamp. I could hear my footsteps.

In Ghana, in Accra, the capital, I used to walk back to the Peace Corps hostel at night. I could have taken a taxi, but I liked the walk. I remember men sitting outside on wooden chairs talking in hushed tones. They seemed always to be smoking. We greeted each other as I passed.

I love to sit outside on summer nights. I watch fireflies flit through the trees. From the small pond at the end of the street, I can hear the croaking of frogs. The Katydids add to the chorus. Summer nights are the most glorious of all, nights so filled with life.

“I once spent a year in Philadelphia, I think it was on a Sunday.”

January 27, 2019

It’s cold but it is winter after all. The sun was bright earlier this morning, but clouds are in and out, white clouds, though, which don’t hide the light. Snow has a remote chance later in the morning.

I’m watching the send-off for the Patriots. Thirty Five Thousand people are in Gillette Stadium. Most of them are wearing Patriot’s gear. Send-offs aren’t unusual around here. Crowds even gather to send off the Red Sox equipment trucks to spring training. Even more than robins, those trucks are a sign that spring is coming.

When I was a kid, Sunday was a boring day, the most boring day of all. Nothing was opened. We had to stay around the house. My father monopolized the TV to watch football. None us watched with him. He was always a screamer and sometimes rose out of his chair to yell at the team as if they could hear him. When I was older, my mother and I would sit at the kitchen table and play word games. We didn’t need to watch the TV to follow the game play. We just listened to my father.

My mother cooked my favorite Sunday dinner on Saturday, the day before I left for Peace Corps training. She served roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy and baby peas. We didn’t talk all that much. My parents were sort of still in shock that I was leaving for two years, and I was going to Africa, a totally unknown place to all of us. That scared them. I was more excited than scared. My parents drove me to Logan Airport. My father had purchased a plane ticket for me. Peace Corps had sent a bus ticket to Philadelphia, and my father said no way. We walked together to the gate where my parents and I said goodbye. I looked back once and waved. My mother was crying. I know I’ve told this story before, but it is a favorite of mine. I found my seat and started to put all my carry-ons away. There were so many my seat mate asked me if I was running away from home. I told him I was headed to Peace Corps training in Africa. He bought me a couple of drinks. That memory always gives me a chuckle.

“While the rest of the world has been improving technology, Ghana has been improving the quality of man’s humanity to man.”

January 22, 2019

This morning is polar opposite yesterday’s. I forgot to leave the storm door open a bit so the button was stuck again. I whacked it a few times, and it gave. As I opened the door, I could hear drips. By normal winter weather standards today is cold at 24˚, but the front of the house faces east so the sun shines directly on the bushes. It was the ice dripping. My computer worked this morning. Life is good.

We got a bit of snow last night but so little that Henry’s paw prints go through the snow to the deck. I wore my slippers to get the papers, and they only had snow on the soles. I cleared my windshield and side windows using my protected newspapers, but there was still a thin layer of snow on them. The windows are now totally clear.

I have to go out today, and I don’t even mind. I suppose I could wait until tomorrow as it will be in the 40’s, but I have been house bound far too long. Henry needs a visit to the vets for nail cutting and his distemper shot so I’ll take him. I also need a few groceries. As for inside, it is time to vacuum. Henry’s fur is again in clumps on the floor. I wish he wasn’t afraid of being brushed.

My austere life begins. My hope is to get back to Ghana in 2021, fifty years after my Peace Corps service ended. I have to start saving money. This month I managed my first deposit to my empty savings account which used to be full and healthy but is now is a mere shadow of itself drained by so many expenses. My friends Bill and Peg and I will travel together. We had the most amazing time when we were there in 2016. I am already excited by the thought of going back to Ghana.

I watched a video of women from Northern Ghana singing I Can’t Keep Quiet in English and Dagbani. I’ve posted it here for you. I didn’t know a single woman in the video, but I know them all. They are my students. They are my Ghanaian family. They are the market sellers always willing to dash a bit. They are the aunties along the sides of the roads selling fruit or plantain chips and Guinea fowl. They are the village women carrying huge bundles on their heads. They are the mothers toting children on their backs. They are one of the reasons I love Ghana and hold it close.

“If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled, or composted, then it should be restricted, designed or removed from production.”

September 10, 2018

Oh no, it’s cloudy. It’s so dark you need the light to read. Rain is predicted. Every now and then the wind blows so strongly even the big branches are tossed.

The windows are closed. The back door is open for Henry, and I can feel a chill when the wind blows through it.

My dance card has been empty for a while. I have a meeting tomorrow at the library but that’s it for the week. I am still hoping for another movie night. The Lady in White, not to be confused with the Collins’ novel The Woman in White, will be the last movie. It’s a good one.

I have a list of projects, a list which has been around a while. I want to catalog the Christmas gifts I’ve bought, organize the cabinet under the sink upstairs, clean the tile grout in the kitchen and go through the big cabinet to check dates on the jars and cans. I suspect after reading the list you can totally understand why it has been around so long.

I don’t collect shoes, but I do seem to have a large number of them. The reason for the large number is partly because I don’t throw any away until they are beyond repair. I used to have several pairs of heels, short heels, which I donated to the Salvation Army when I retired. Most of my shoes are built for comfort. My favorites for winter are the wool clogs which I have in four different colors. In summer, it’s always sandals. I have a new pair of red sneakers, the first shoes I’ve bought in years. I love the bright red.

In Ghana, nothing gets thrown away. It all gets repurposed. My sandals were resoled with pieces of tire. My rice from the market was wrapped in the Sunday New York Times, my meat in banana leaves. Old bottles held palm or groundnut oil. Old cans were good for storing stuff and for scooping water. Paper helped start cooking fires. I learned so much in Ghana about the country, its wonderful people and about myself. Peace Corps volunteers always say we get more than we give. Even learning to repurpose was part of the getting.

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.”

August 6, 2018

Help!! I am a prisoner in my house. Going outside could mean certain death. Okay, I admit to an exaggeration here but not by much. It is so hot and humid it took my breath away when I went to get the papers. I didn’t even stop to admire the garden. I am now safe and comfortable in my cool house. I will admire the sun from the inside out.

When I was a kid, I don’t think we even had fans in the house. My mother kept the shades down. The living room did feel a touch cooler but not by much. Sometimes we’d go through the sprinkler, get cool and wet then go to bed. I used the same trick in Ghana. I’d take my shower, a cold shower as I had no hot water, just before bed then go to bed still wet. I was air cooled and could fall asleep.

Heat never really bothered me that much when I was a kid. I was out every day all summer, even when it rained. In Ghana, in Bolga, it was always hot, even in the rainy season, but that’s just the way it was and life went on.

I have a great memory of Ghana. One of my friends was terminating (Peace Corps argot for finishing service) earlier than the rest of us were. His school was on strike so there was nothing for him to do. During Easter holiday a few of us met up in Accra by happenstance as we always stayed at the Peace Corps hostel. We decided to go out for drinks and toast our departing friend. We went to a hotel, one of the grand old hotels. We sat in the bar. There were chairs and couches with flowered cushions, not uncommon furniture in Ghana. Fans were on the ceiling and were stirring the air a bit. There was a bank of open windows behind us and outside those windows was a garden of ferns, eucalyptus and frangipani. I had been whisked back in time to a colonial hotel, like in some old movie of long ago times and places. I was living in old Accra for just a little while. Even now I can close my eyes and see the fan, the windows and me sitting on the couch, drink in hand. It is an amazing memory.

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

June 18, 2018

The morning is a delight. The wind is from the north. It is sunny but not yet warm though the prediction is for 75˚. Boston and north of Boston will hit the mid-90’s. Some schools even cancelled because of the heat. Few schools are air-conditioned. Friday is the end of the year for many schools including here. I always liked that day.

I don’t remember school lasting this long when I was a kid. I think the public schools always went longer than St. Pat’s. That was one of the perks of going to a Catholic school which sort of made up for having to wear uniforms.

When I was young, some of the nuns scared me. My first grade nun, Sister Redempta, was the scariest because she was the first. I have glimpses of her in my memory bank. I remember her hurrying up the aisle, her veil billowing behind her as she confronted some poor kid. Luckily I was never one of those kids, those poor kids.

Today I find myself reminiscing. I’m thinking about all the places I’ve been. I am generally amazed. When I was a kid, we traveled to Canada, not far into Canada, just to the falls, but that trip was a turning point. It was my first step in fulfilling the vow I had made when I was 11: to travel to more places than Marty Barrett, a classmate who went to England a few times to visit relatives. On that fateful family trip, I saw Niagara Falls, went up Mount Washington, watched ships go through the Eisenhower Locks and stayed at a cottage on the edge of Lake Ontario. I wanted more.

I didn’t take my first plane trip until I was a freshman in college. My father treated me to a flight from Boston to Cape Cod as an Easter gift. I loved everything about that flight: the small plane, the view of the ocean and the landmarks I recognized as we flew over them. I wouldn’t fly again until the flight to Peace Corps staging in Philadelphia and, from there, the flight to Ghana.

I still have that wanderlust. I have more places I want to go, but I am hoping for one last trip to Ghana in 2021, the fiftieth anniversary of the completion of my Peace Corps service. I’m already feeding the coffer.

“The journey is the treasure.”

June 4, 2018

The rain was the first thing I heard when I woke up. It was pounding the window. I could also hear the wind, and from my window, I could see the top tree branches flying left and right. The house was cold. I had left my bedroom window open so my room felt damp and chilly. Henry wanted out at 8 so out he went into the rain. I went back to bed, and when he came back inside, Henry joined me. His fur was all wet. We both slept another hour. Given my druthers, I would have stayed snuggled under the covers, but Henry had a different idea. He started jumping and playing on the bed. I gave up and got out of bed. Henry got his breakfast, the cat got her treats and I got my coffee.

My house is dark. Henry is chewing on one of his toys. I think the cat is by the water dish waiting to meow when I walk by, her reminder to me to change the water. I’m just sitting here thinking and writing. The rain seems to make us all a bit logy.

I cleaned a basket yesterday, one of three under the table here in the den. It had clumps and more clumps of dust. It had an unopened calendar from 2015. I also found a manila envelope filled with return address labels. Another envelope had a few recipes and a third had nothing. A few books were in the basket, books I haven’t read. My Peace Corps mug book was there. It has pictures and short bios for every volunteer in my training group. We all look so young. The bio gives my age, 21, and my address. It notes I am a graduate of Merrimack College and majored in English and minored in education. During the summers, I worked in the post office. That seems a bit boring especially given the varied experiences of my fellow trainees. It also says in my free time I enjoy softball. That makes me laugh. I hadn’t played softball since high school.

I thumbed through all the pages and memories flooded back, memories of trainees who left during training, those people I never got to know, memories of friends who stayed and, sadly, a memory of one who died in Ghana.

None of us in that mug book knew what was waiting for us. We didn’t know we were about to embark together on the most remarkable journey. I haven’t seen many of the people in that book, but I still have so much affection for them, so many memories of them. I will always be thankful for them, Peace Corps and most especially for Ghana.