Posted tagged ‘Peace Corps Ghana’

“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.

“It is a beautiful and delightful sight to behold the body of the Moon.”

July 20, 2019

Today I am not leaving my house. I have the air conditioner blasting to combat the outside heat and humidity. It is ugly out there. I figure I’ll change my bed and do laundry then I’ll just read, relax and enjoy the cool house. I’ll order dinner. I’m thinking a burger and fries, sort of an all American meal.

Fifty years ago I was in the midst of my Peace Corps training. I was living for three weeks in Bawku, Ghana where Hausa was spoken, the language I was learning. I was living with Imoru Sanda and his family. He always spoke Hausa to me while his daughter, my hostess, spoke mostly English. I taught middle school for a couple of weeks. I had to bike to the school as it was outside the town. Every day the nine of us learning Hausa met for lunch and more language training at the house of a volunteer. We often listened to Voice of America, our only way of knowing what was happening at home. On the day of the moon landing, we stay later than usual to listen to the broadcast. All of us were glued to the radio sort of like the Waltons used to be when they sat around each evening listening to Edgar Bergen. That step happened at 7: 17, Ghanaian time. We could hear Armstrong’s actual words as he stepped off the ladder and said them. Even on the radio it was amazing.

I never saw the film of the landing until long after I arrived home. I never doubted what I had heard and, later, what I saw. 6% of Americans believe it was the landing was a hoax staged at Area 51 or in Hollywood. Last Saturday we watched Capricorn One. It was about a fake Mars landing filmed on a sound stage. This movie gave more credence to the fake moon landing theory.

I found this when I went looking for information about the landing, “One astronaut who actually walked on the moon in 1969 had no tolerance for those who call it a massive hoax. When one conspiracy theorist challenged Buzz Aldrin and called him a liar, Aldrin punched him in the face.”

“Rain showers my spirit and waters my soul.”

May 14, 2019

Last night it poured so hard that Henry, who loves rain, went two steps on to the deck then turned around and came back inside. The noise on the roof was constant and loud, but I did wish for the metal roof I had in Ghana. I loved the sound of rain when it hit that roof. I could feel it all around me. Sitting in my house listening to any rainstorm was the most amazing experience. When I have gone back to Ghana, it has been during the rainy season so I get to hear again the sounds of rain on the tin roof. I cherish the experience.

When I was a kid, I loved summer rain. I’d go outside and run and play and get soaked. I’d splash through puddles and send waves of water around me. I’d slide on the grass. I’d stay outside all afternoon and let the sun dry my clothes.

I talk out loud. Many times I talk to Henry. He is kind enough to look at me and listen. I talk to the TV. I scoff at silly plot details like going upstairs when the stairs are covered in blood. I go crazy when drivers have their eyes off the road while they chat. I correct grammar. That may seem silly, but I think modeling good grammar is important. I’ve been told it doesn’t matter as long as you’re understood. I liken using bad grammar to singing or playing off tune. Neither one is good for the ears.

Yesterday I felt accomplished. I finished two loads of wash and did errands. I cleaned around the house a bit, mostly clumps of Henry hair. I uploaded pictures from my camera. The oldest set was from Easter.

Today I get to vote in the local election. The turnout in these elections is always small. I think back to turning twenty-one. I was so excited at being able, finally, to vote. Since then, I have always exercised my franchised, the privilege of voting.

“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.