Posted tagged ‘Peace Corps Ghana’

“The dry grasses are not dead for me. A beautiful form has as much life at one season as another.”

November 22, 2022

This time of year is just so pretty. The air is clear, the light is sharp, and the sun silhouettes the trees. Above it all is the deep blue sky. The breeze is slight now and barely ruffles the dead leaves still on the trees. Today is warmish at 45°.

In Ghana, during the harmattan, the dry season has full sway. The air is filled with dust carried by the wind off the Sahara. The ground gets hard. The laterite roads turn dusty, and the open mammy lorries are followed by a trail of red dust which covers the passengers. The fields are cleared by fire. I could watch the red flames move across and burn the brown refuse left from the crops grown during the rainy season. The nights and mornings are cold. I had a wool blanket on my bed. My students layered. I get the feel of those mornings here sometimes in the fall when the air is chilly, but you know it won’t last. The day will get warm, even hot. In Ghana, the heat followed the cold, a day and night heat, a dry heat often hitting 100°. I used to sit in my living room and read. When I got up, a sweaty silhouette of my body was left on the cushions. I loved my nightly shower, a cold shower. I’d go to bed still wet from the shower and let the air dry me so I could fall asleep.

I ate the same breakfast and lunch every day. The only changes in dinner were chicken sometimes instead of beef and rice instead of yam. I loved breakfast and lunch. I’d eat two eggs and toast and have a couple of cups of coffee in the morning. After I taught my first class, I’d sit on the front porch and have more coffee. Lunch was fresh cut fruit: bananas, pineapple, oranges and mangoes and pawpaw if they were in season. The meat for dinner was often cooked in a tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes with onions added. I got tired of rice and yam, but they were the only choices.

I’d go to Accra, the big city, during school holidays. I stayed at the Peace Corps hostel, 50 pesewas a night which included breakfast. The rest of my meals were eaten out, and I loved it. I ate Lebanese, Indian and Ghana’s version of Chinese. No meal was expensive except the Chinese. It was on the outskirts of the city, and the taxi ride added to the expense, but we always ate there once a trip. It was worth the money.

It was the chill of this morning which brought me back to Ghana. I figured I’d bring you along.

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

October 21, 2022

Today is perfection, the sort of fall day people sing about. It is warm and sunny. A slight breeze stirs only the leaves at the ends of the branches. Today is a day to be enjoyed.

When I was a kid, the first subject in school every morning was religion. I remember in a few grades we used the Baltimore Catechism as our text. We also read stories from the Bible. Religion was always my least favorite class, and, of course, of all subjects, religion was destined to follow me through grammar school into high school and even into college, into my first year of college when religion was disguised as theology, same subject, different name, and still my least favorite class. The only thing I remember from theology was learning Christ was probably born in 2 BC. That shattered what I had been taught. It all went downhill from there.

It has been four weeks since surgery on my finger. It will be one more week before I see the surgeon. My finger is better during the day but not so good at night because I have been using my right hand more. When I changed the wrap yesterday, I noticed the swelling is going down in the middle of the finger close to the fracture.

When I was growing up, we ate simple foods, nothing exotic except Chinese but that was rare. Every supper during the week was usually mashed potatoes, some sort of vegetable and meat, heavy on the hamburger and chicken. It was in Ghana where I first tasted a variety of foods.

Before I left for Ghana, I didn’t think much about the food. I gave bugs and diseases my attention. I can still remember our first night in Ghana and our welcome meal. It was outside near the dorm. It was food I recognized, rice and some sort of kebob meat, so I still wasn’t anxious about food; however, that changed the next night. For supper, we had food that looked like leaves, maybe a bit like spinach. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it all my time in Ghana, kontomire. I didn’t like the cocoyam leaves.

To say my palate expanded when I was in Ghana is an understatement. I tried all the food: Ghanaian, Lebanese, Indian, street food and food in other countries where I traveled. Half the time I had no idea what I eating. I think in some cases I was glad not to know. I became an adventuress eater.

Tonight I am having plantain for dinner.

“Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations.”

September 4, 2022

Today is hotter than it has been. It is already 81° and will get a bit higher, but the humidity is low making it a fairly pleasant day. The breeze is every now and then, but it is a strong breeze. I have nowhere I need to go today. I’m not even going to get dressed. I have a few chores in the house to do, and usually those lead to other chores so it could be a busy day. I hate busy days.

Oh! No! Last night I heard a chewing sound from the hall. Nala was beside me on the couch so for once she was innocent. It was Henry. He was tearing a box into small pieces. He was pulling a Nala. I’ll go crazy if he starts stealing things and sneaking them outside.

When I was a kid, my mother did everything around the house. She cleaned, did the laundry, made the beds and cooked all the meals. On cold school mornings she often made oatmeal or eggs. I loved her soft-boiled eggs. I was only a fan of oatmeal if it had milk and sugar on the top, lots of sugar. The oatmeal back then wasn’t quick-cooking oatmeal. I remember sometimes it boiled, and it looked a bit like lava bubbling in a pool. I had cocoa. My brother had tea. My mother used to put the bags in a tea pot and put the tea pot on the table. I always thought it looked fine, even elegant, having a tea pot on the table. My cocoa unceremoniously came in a cup.

When I was in Africa I had two eggs, toast and coffee for breakfast every day. That is the standard because wherever you stay still serves you the same breakfast. The eggs were fried in ground-nut oil, peanut oil. They had the most amazing taste. The toast was made from sugar bread sold everywhere by small girls carrying trays on their heads. It was delicious. You couldn’t buy butter, only margarine in a can. After a while, though, my taste buds never noticed the difference. It was the same with the milk. It was evaporated from a can.

I love mornings in Ghana. The roosters crow and greet the new day. You can smell charcoal fires as people cook their breakfasts. The air smells sweet. Women are sweeping using small hand brooms made from stocks of grass or branches. You can hear the back and forth swishing. They leave broom lines in the dirt.

Every time I visit Ghana, I love just sitting outside, drinking my coffee and taking in the mornings. They are filled with the sights, sounds and aromas of Ghana which are always a part of me, highlights in my memory drawers. They are a delight.

“Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.”

October 15, 2021

Today is cool at 63˚ though it is supposed to get a bit warmer. The forecast is partly cloudy, but the sky is covered in clouds. The breeze is slight. I think it is a sweatshirt day.

I made a list of stuff I want to get done, and I’ve already crossed off one of the biggest tasks: bringing the bags of litter to the car. Gwen, being diabetic, uses the cat box to the extreme. I clean it every day and empty it far sooner than I used to. The used litter bags are heavy. I almost fell down the stairs the last time I carried some to the car. This time I used my cart. It was filled and so very heavy I could only take it one step at a time down the stairs. I pushed it near the car where it sits until I can load the car later.

Today is shot day. I’m getting flu, pneumonia and shingles. They are my first pneumonia and shingles shots. The flu I skipped last year. I was in the house all flu season.

When I was a kid, we only went to the doctor if something was wrong or when we needed shots. The doctor’s office was right beside the driveway to the school parking lot and was in a big old house. His office was on the first floor. I remember sitting and waiting on a bench and looking around the hall outside the doctor’s office. There was a tall stairway with wooden stairs and a carved newel post. I remember how shiny the wood looked. The doctor’s office was at the front of the house. I remember he had a complete skeleton hanging off a hook. His desk was huge as was the doctor. He had one of those giant bellies men sometimes get. I remember he wore a vest and a doctor’s white coat, a coat so small I figured he could never button it across his belly. When I was around 10, I went to see him after I had fallen down the stairs. It was the morning after the fall. He wasn’t gentle. He cleaned the cut by scrubbing it with a gauze pad. It hurt. It hurt a lot. I was thrilled when I didn’t get stitches as the cut was already infected so the doctor slathered something on the cut, covered it with gauze and sent me on my way.

In Ghana, I had scratched an itchy mosquito bite on the top of my foot until it bled. It got infected. I went to the Peace Corps doctor in Accra. He was a good guy. He gave me two options: he could cut it and drain it or he could put antiseptic on it under a gauze pad. He told me the gauze pad would take 5 or 6 days until the cut was healed. Draining it would only mean a few days until it healed. I had him drain the infection. It hurt. Afterwards, he told me it would take 5 or 6 days until it was healed enough. I was a bit surprised as he had told me a few days. He admitted he lied figuring that was the only way I’d have it cut and drained. He was right.

P.S. I went to the deck a bit ago, and there was my stolen African statue just lying there. It didn’t even have bite marks. I hope Nala brings back the tagine next.

“Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same.”

October 8, 2021

The morning is another pretty one with lots of sun, blue sky and the tiniest of breezes. The house was colder than outside this morning, a sure sign of fall. I put on my sweatshirt. I’m comfortable now.

Nala stole deodorant off my bureau yesterday. I knew she had contraband when she rushed out the dog door and wouldn’t turn around when I called her. I ran out to the deck, but she was already in the yard. I threw my slippers near her. It worked the other day, but not yesterday. Luckily Henry chased her so she dropped her prize. Nothing is sacred.

When I lived in Ghana, I was close to the northern border with Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso. We used to go to Ougadougou, the capital, for the weekend. The day before the trip we’d go to Bolga’s lorry park and arrange for a car heading to Ouga to stop at the school and pick us up on the way. The driver wedged us in so he could carry more people. The road was tarred at first then it became a dirt road, a big dirt road with lorries streaming by. I remember during the rainy season having to get out of the car so it was light enough to pass through the muddiest parts of the road without getting stuck. I thought it was an adventure. I knew when we’d be close to Ouga as the paved road started again.

French is the national language, and I knew enough French to ask questions, to bargain and to order food. Ouga was a small city back then. The market was steps down from the center in the middle of the city. We stayed at a nice hotel with AC about a block from the center. I remember the hotel had an empty pool in the back. I’d walk to get breakfast each morning. Boys on bicycles with huge baskets in front sold baguettes, fresh wonderful baguettes. I’d buy Yucca soda, either green or red. It didn’t matter. They both tasted the same.

One of the joys of Ouga was French food. The only places to eat in Bolga back then were chop bars, little hole in the wall restaurants which offered only fufu or t-zed and soup, traditional dishes. The chop bars bordered the lorry park and had only a rickety table or two. In Ouga, my favorite part of the meal was always the fresh vegetables. I ate green beans, massive helpings, at one restaurant. They were lip smacking good mostly because the only veggies I could find in Ghana were tuber yams, onions and tomatoes.

I never had a visa to get into Burkina. I’d tell the border station I was going for the weekend, and they’d let me in. The guard only wanted to know if I had bam bam, which they mimed as a gun, and if my dress was long enough. I always passed.

“Vexed sailors cursed the rain, for which poor shepherds prayed in vain.”

July 13, 2020

It is a new day but seemingly the same day. The small breeze, the clouds and the humidity were yesterday and are now today. Henry and I had business outside. He did his. I did mine by collecting the last two chair covers and bringing them inside. I had left them out to dry. They had, but rain is coming. All the covers are piled in the kitchen. The storage bins are under the deck maybe. They could be downstairs. I’ll look tomorrow. As for today, I need to go out, two stops, maybe three if the rain hasn’t yet come.

Standing out in a rainstorm was one of my favorite things when I was a kid. Downpours were the best. I’d stand there with my arms spread, my face to the rain. I’d get soaked. Sadly, downpours never lasted long. The sun always made a comeback. I’d stay outside and dry.

In the dry season, everything turned brown all around me. I walked on hard ground cemented by the dryness. My lips chapped. My feet became calloused. I used a lot of lotion. I adjusted, but I hardly liked the dry season. It was so hot every day. Its only saving graces were the bugs disappeared, and the hot air was actually dry. We kept eye. In April, the humidity started. The rain wasn’t far behind. The first rains were downpours thicker than I’d ever seen. The dry ground had rivulets. The rain on the tin classroom roof was so loud I couldn’t be heard. I used the blackboard to teach. Sometimes I got soaked running to class. I didn’t mind so much. It rained most days. Everything in the fields turned green. The women walking to market were hidden by the tall grass. Millet grew high in fields behind my house. The rainy season, though, didn’t seemed to last near enough. In September, the rain came less frequently. By mid-October it had stopped. It was the dry season again. I had come full circle my first year in Ghana.

Here, the rain can come any season. I like it best in summer.

“Trains tap into some deep American collective memory.”

July 5, 2020

Today is is dark and damp, grim looking. Nothing is moving in the thick, still air. I’m going nowhere today. I’m not even getting dressed today.

I got to celebrate yesterday. I spent the afternoon with friends. We sat outside around the table and talked, caught up with each other. We dined on cheeseburgers and potato salad, the perfect July 4th foods. It was quiet yesterday, no firecrackers, but I had heard the bangs the night before, late the night before. Neither the cats nor the dog were bothered by the bangs. Henry slept right through.

When I was a kid, summer days felt endless. I was up and gone early, sometimes on my bike, but most summer days I walked down the hill to the playground. I had tennis lessons, played horseshoes and checkers and was on the softball team. I did crafts. One summer I painted a tray for my mother. I was so proud because I, the artless, had perfectly painted the flowers and even the tendrils. I made gimp lanyards for everybody but gimp bracelets for only a chosen few. One Christmas my mother put gimp in my stocking. It had been many years since my gimp days, but my fingers remembered. I made two lanyards.

I love train rides. All of the ones I love are somewhere else. I rode the auto-bus from Quito to Guayaquil. My friend and I were in the first seats. I think that was first class. Anyway, I had to shut my eyes when the driver ran over a chicken and then a few more animals and finally almost a human. If one blow of the horn didn’t get them off the tracks, they were goners. The part of the trip I loved was the ride itself. We went through the banana growing region. We rode a switchback up a mountain. We saw the Andes capped with snow. We rode until the tracks ended, and we had to take a ferry across to Guayaquil.

The train hardly runs in Ghana now. I am sorry for that. I took the train whenever I could, usually from Accra to Kumasi where the train line ended. I always took a first class carriage. It wasn’t expensive. The day cars had stuffed chairs, four of them, and glass doors you slid to open like they did in old movies. I once took a night train from Kumasi to Tema. I was on my way to our mid-term conference. At the first station, people peered in my window. I put down the blinds. During the night, the train derailed. I was jolted out of bed. We were told to pack up and get off the train. We walked across a trestle bridge where the gaps between trestles was huge. People passed kids across. We waited a while, probably a long while based on experience but I don’t remember, and then a train came. We got on and got off in Tema. That was the end of the excitement.

My favorite rides of all were the subway trains into Boston when I was a kid. We took a bus to Sullivan Square where we boarded the subway. I remember the whoosh of the train as it came into the station. I’d wait right by the door for it to open. My mother sat in the middle of us. I’d turn around to look out the window. I’d stay looking until our stop. We were in Boston. We got off at the Jordan Marsh stop.

I still love trains. I love the sounds and the smells. I remember the jerking to start and stop. If I were rich, I’d have my own train car or even cars. I’d pay to attach my car to train lines. It would be glorious.

“Sup with the sudden harmattan weather anyway? Making my beard feel like those iron sponges.”

June 27, 2020

The morning is lovely, but the day will be hot. It is already 78˚. I expect to have the AC cranking so the house will be nice and cold when I get home from errands.

The weather in Bolgatanga, Ghana was extreme. It was divided into the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season was hot and oppressively humid. The dry season was sweltering. Strangely enough, though, it actually got chilly in early December, down to the 70’s at night from around 100˚ during the day. I needed a blanket for my bed. The worst of the dry season, the harmattan, began after Christmas. The Harmattan is a dry, dusty wind that blows from the Sahara desert. It hangs around for a couple of months and envelops everything in a cloud of dust. The sand covers the sun. I remember chapped lips and split heels on both feet. The Sahara sand, looking like a large brown cloud, has been blown here. It is the Harmattan.

Halleluia!! I have a list. I needed a list to get me moving. This morning I used the back of my t-shirt to dust shelves in the kitchen while the coffee was brewing. I haven’t done that in a while. Most of my list is for outside, for the deck and garden. I never did my errands yesterday; instead, I stayed home and did stuff around the house and on the deck. The errands are first on my today’s list.

When I was a kid, my father was in charge of outside while my mother ruled inside. The outside was easy: cut the grass and water the flowers in summer and shovel the steps and free the car in winter. My mother cleaned, cooked, washed clothes and took care of us. She was always busy. She was the one who had to discipline us. When we got older, she threw things at us. I remember the dictionary whizzed by my head and hit the wall. Next were her slippers. She’d throw them at us and tell us to bring them to her. We knew better. The slippers weren’t just projectiles. She wanted to whack us with them. She seldom caught us.

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

November 25, 2019

Today is already in the high 40’s. It may reach 50 degrees. The sky is clear and the air is still, a pretty day all in all.

The washing machine repair guy is here. Henry announced the man’s arrival with his constant barking. I grabbed the leash and Henry took off upstairs. He was more concerned about the leash and the possibility of a ride than the interloper. Meanwhile, I am watching a disaster movie about a snowstorm which will freeze anyone outside.

On the coldest days, my mother said it was too cold to snow. I believed her until one day it was in the teens when the snow started. Another old wife’s tale was debunked.

One summer I traveled through South America. When I got below the equator, I was in winter. The Andes were ice capped. Snow was on the ground, but it was warmer than I expected. Even at Machu Picchu my sweatshirt was warm enough. When we got out of the mountains, a long sleeve was enough. I remember in Buenos Aires the rose garden was in its winter mode. I always think of that trip as the year I missed summer.

In Ghana, the hottest time of the year was during December and January. The heat dried everything. The ground was hard-packed, and the air was filled with so much dust that the sun was sometimes hidden in the haze. During the height of the afternoon, stores were closed, even the post office, and my students were in their dorms for a rest period. Every now and then I took a nap, following the local custom. At Christmas time, the harmattan was in full force. The dusty winds blew sand off the desert. Everything was brown. The fields were empty. The only saving graces were the humidity disappeared and the nights were chilly. I even used a wool blanket. I always think of those two years as the years I missed winter.

Now my seasons are in order. Winter comes in its turn so I’m getting ready for the cold and the snow. The heat is on, and I’ve brought out my hats and mittens. On the coldest days of winter, I miss the harmattan the most.

“Nothing is deader than yesterday’s news.”

August 15, 2019

Today is my sloth day. I have actually been busy, out of the house busy, every day this week. Yesterday was the dump. I was taking a chance as it was a cloudy, damp day, but I planned accordingly and wove around the traffic. I’m good at that. Today is sunny and will be warm. Tonight will get down to the 60’s.

Last night I heard Cat2 meowing from upstairs. Cat1 was with me downstairs so I knew. I called and made that come to me cat sound but it didn’t. When I went upstairs, Cat2 was back under the bed. I cleaned the litter, vacuumed, emptied the bowl and filled both bowls. I sat for a while talking hoping Cat2 would come out. Nope, I was just an old lady talking out loud to no one.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, Day 1. I missed it. I was in Ghana. The years, 1969-1971, were filled with events I missed. Some I knew about, most I didn’t as I had no way to keep up with what was happening at home. I was too busy with Peace Corps training, with adapting to a new culture, learning a new language, meeting all sorts of people both American and Ghanaian, eating foods with strange names and getting sick every now and then. I didn’t know I was missing so much. I knew about the moon landing as I heard it on the radio. For that whole summer, that was all I knew about what was happening. I was homesick at times, mostly early in training. I didn’t care a whole lot about what I was missing as I was so excited to be in Africa, to be learning Hausa and trying, unsuccessfully at times, to eat new foods like kontomire stew and tuo zaafi. I never did get to like kontomire, but I liked t-zed. I ate foods from street vendors, at the time I thought it daring.

The Peace Corps sent us The Week in Review from the NY Times. Sometimes I read it, most times I didn’t. Eventually the paper was sold in the market by Thomas, who worked for me. My rice was often wrapped in the latest news. I always thought that was pretty funny.


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