Posted tagged ‘Peace Corps’

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

October 16, 2021

Today is warm, 72˚. Clouds are around but not enough to block the sun. The breeze is slight. I’m hanging around the house and doing a few chores. Despite the lovely weather, I’m putting in the front storm door. I have to move it from the cellar one step at a time as it is so heavy. Both dogs love to stand and watch so I like to keep it opened. Nala stands on her back toes for the best view. Every time I go to the front yard they keep track.

My things to be done list has ten items. I figure I can cross off four of the items today. The laundry and the dump are both on the list. They are perpetually on the list.

Nala is wearing her Red Sox neckerchief. My team lost last night, and I’m hoping Nala brings them some luck. Henry won’t allow me to put one on him, but I have several for the different holidays so I’ll keep trying. They were Gracie’s. She didn’t mind. Last year I bought a costume for Henry. It is a gray spawn of Satan costume, but I never got close to putting it on him. I’m hoping Nala will wear it if only for pictures.

Today is a Ghana day. I’m taking you back to Koforidua, towards the end of training: weeks seven, eight and nine. The first week there we were all together. We had hours of language each day. The last two weeks we were divided into secondary school teachers and training college teachers. We student taught during those two weeks. I remember going to the spot, a bar, on the corner of the road to the secondary school. We walked through the rain forest from our school. We had a daily stipend so we took turns buying beer which I hate, but I drank it anyway. We played a few drinking games. I remember singing on the way home. On the weekends we were free. A few of us hitched to Accra. A Mercedes picked us up. The owner was Arabic, and he owned mosquito coil companies. He gave us a few.

In Accra we stayed at the hostel for 50 pesewas a night, about 50 cents in those days. I remember wandering the city and getting to know it. Accra was small back then, and most nights were quiet. I love walking at night. I always felt safe. I had favorite restaurants, mostly hole in the wall Lebanese restaurants, cheap and delicious. I went to the movies. One theater was close to the hostel while the other was across the bridge and further away.

Our last week of training was at Legon University. We had real coffee in real cups. That doesn’t sound like much but trust me, it was big. We were close to Accra, just a mammy lorry ride away. We went often. We had our language tests, and that was about it for the week. At the end of that last week we were sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers. I was thrilled beyond description.

“Once the travel bug bites, there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.”

October 5, 2021

The rain just stopped. It rained all day yesterday and all night. The air is chilly. The day is dark. I have no plans today. I figure to stay around and read a bit. My new housecleaner is here right now. I had reached my self-cleaning limit. Nala welcomed her with opened paws. Henry barked then was fine.

I don’t know what to do with myself. My laundry is done, and my house is in the middle of being deep cleaned. I suppose I could take up knitting.

When I was a kid, in the sixth grade, I caught Barrett’s disease. It was when I found out my sixth grade classmate Marty Barrett went to England every couple of years to see his grandmother. I was totally envious. He was the only person I knew who had been to Europe. My family vacations back then were either stay at home and do things or head to Maine to stay a tiny cottage with a million people. I dreamed of traveling and imagined my trips. I’d go to England first and see London and Stonehenge. I’d head up to Scotland to find the Loch Ness monster. I’d visit Ireland. I’d ride a camel in the desert and take train rides across Europe. My imagination worked overtime.

When I was older, I still held to those dreams. My count, by the time I was sixteen, was one county, Canada. In the fall of my senior year of college, my friends and I planned a trip to Europe on one of those 60 countries in a day and a half type trips. My parents gave me the trip as a graduation gift, but I was waiting, hoping to hear from Peace Corps. I did, and I accepted. I was going to Africa, to Ghana. My second country was quite a leap from my first, on my list: Canada one and Ghana two.

I have favorite places to which I’d return if given the chance. Ghana is the first. I’m hoping for one more trip back. I think about Ghana all the time with a sort of reverence. I watch videos which catch me in the throat. I want kelewele and jollof rice. Ghana is very much home to me.

I’d go back to Morocco, to Marrakesh. The time I spent there was not enough. Dinner at the Jemma el-Fna and coffee at the cafe were two of my favorite things to do. After walking through the city, I’d sit and watch the world go by. I could hear conversations in Arabic. In the square, I watched dancers and henna artists, magicians and water carriers by day and ate dinner outside at one of the stalls each night. I bought fresh figs in the market. I took a horse-drawn carriage tour. I was the only passenger. Every day I saw something new and ate something I didn’t know and couldn’t pronounce. Good thing the menus had pictures.

“What do we call this moment? A serendipity mixed into a nostalgia mixed into a deja vu mixed into an epiphany!”

September 18, 2021

The day is already 71˚, today’s high. The weather report says partly cloudy. That’s pretty accurate as the sun is in and out of the clouds, and I can see the blue sky here and there between the branches of the backyard trees.

When I put the coffee in each of the dog’s dishes, Henry went for his and Nala went out the back door. That is her MO when she steals so Henry and I went on the deck to check for the felon and her spoils. I was glad to be outside. The late morning was pleasant and warmer than I expected. Nala, always true to form, was in the yard carrying an empty cookie bag in her mouth. She dropped it, and I asked to bring it to me for a treat. She totally ignored me and started to tear apart the package and the empty papers inside. I just stood and watched and listened. I could hear the crackle of the paper. Nala totally destroyed the bag by chewing it apart into small pieces. I’ll do a clean-up later. My sister is right. I do need one of those sticks with the nail at the end you see orange jumpered prisoners using when they clear the litter on the sides of the highway. I’d like the half bag too. I just won’t wear orange.

When I was a kid, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I got asked that by relatives I didn’t see often. I guess they thought it was a conversation ice breaker. They were wrong. I had no answer because I had no idea what I wanted to be. Little kids live day by day, and I was a little kid. Big plans were made for Saturdays, the break-out days, and as far in the future as I ever looked, because the rest of the week was already taken: weekdays were school and Sunday was church and dinner. I could do whatever I wanted on a Saturday. I could go wherever I wanted. Sometimes I made plans, a couple of days before were long range plans. I’d pick a movie in winter, but on warm days I’d pick my bike or my feet and go exploring. The one sure thing on a Saturday was our supper, always hot dogs, baked beans and brown bread from the can.

Even in Ghana, my Saturdays were mostly unplanned, open days, but if I was home in Bolga and it was a market day, I’d go shopping. I remember amazing weekends in Accra, the capital. I always stopped there on my way to and back from somewhere else during my vacations. It was too far for just a weekend. I stayed at the Peace Corps Hostel, cheap with breakfast. I ate in a variety of restaurants. I remember one restaurant with red booths, dimmed lighting and real napkins. It was an anywhere restaurant, but one, which happened to be, within walking distance of the hostel. I always thought it was a treat to eat there with its real napkins and leather booths. Sometimes I went to a Saturday night movie. In Accra I had choices. The best part of Saturdays in Accra was walking around the city, aimlessly. I’d stop at stalls and small markets and buy food and fresh fruit from the aunties along the sides of the road. I’d revel in the beauty of Accra and especially in being fortunate enough to live in Ghana.

Today I have no plans. Let serendipity reign!

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

September 10, 2021

The day so far has been perfectly lovely. Yesterday and all last night it rained, heavily at times. It was still raining at four so I don’t know when it stopped. Everything is damp, except the air. It is dry and only 73˚. The sun has a sharpness, and the cool breeze sways small branches and leaves. The dogs are in and out. I can hear them chasing each other in the yard. I can hear their growls as they chew each other. I’ve opened all the windows to freshen the house.

My friend Bill sent out an article about 60 years of Peace Corps. The article said, “Peace Corps embraces cultural understanding…” I remember from the start we learned languages to use every day. We asked no more than anyone else. We became part of the community as teachers who taught at the training college. I was madam as all female teachers were. We did our best.

Bill wrote a note with the article saying he knows he talks a lot about Ghana and Peace Corps, but they had a profound influence on the rest of his life, on who he became. I know exactly what he means. I think most returned volunteers feel the same way. When I went back to Ghana for the first time in forty years, Accra had become a city of note, a sprawling city with neighborhoods, only a few of which I remembered. Adabraca was where the Peace Corps hostel was. We just told any taxi driver Adabraca, and he’d take us to the hostel. Where else would young and white go? One taxi driver told me he hated Peace Corps because we knew the right price. I didn’t find any of the old Accra Peace Corps haunts like Tala’s (I don’t know about the spelling), a wonderful Lebanese restaurant. We’d get a huge plate of hummus, on a flat plate, more like a round of hummus. In the middle, the hummus had sesame oil and around the top circle of the plate was a round of hot pepper. You dipped pita bread, one into the other. It is still my favorite way to eat hummus. We’d get what Talal called a Peace Corps pizza, a round of pita bread with cheese and chopped tomato inside. The bread was fried so the cheese melted. It was really good.

I apologize for the tangent. That happens. Anyway my Peace Corps experience also influenced the rest of my life, the choices I made. I wasn’t always happy, but I mostly was. When Bill, Peg and I found each other again, I wasn’t even surprised that we remembered so much of each other. I wasn’t at all surprised we shared the same politics. We still liked each other a whole lot. We had some wonderful experiences. I still laugh about the sacred rock and the river in Philadelphia.

I too will often write about Ghana. As with Bill and Peg, my experiences influenced the rest of my life and have become ingrained in who I am. For that, I am very thankful. I am also very thankful to you, my Coffee family, who indulges my memories.

“The time for me in the Peace Corps was easily the most formative experience I’ve had in my life.”

July 27, 2021

Some things I can easily see in my mind’s eye and in my heart, two whole years worth of things, of places and especially of people.

I have been back three times. The cities are enormous now and the main roads are filled with cars. I remember those first two visits lovingly, but I remember best my last visit when Bill and Peg and I went home to Ghana together.

Filled taxis whizzed by us on a road by the shore where we had gone shopping. We had to wait a bit before one finally stopped. We haggled but neither one of us was all that enthused for a long bidding war of sorts. We took his second offer. It seemed fair to me with the distance and all. It probably wasn’t.

I remember way back to to the late 60’s and early 70’s when taxi rides all through the city were only 20 pesewas. The most expensive taxi ride, a whole cedi, 100 pesewas, was to the only Chinese restaurant in Accra. It was a treat. The money never mattered. It was the same to go to the airport restaurant. I remember eating dinner on the top floor at a table next to a window overlooking the runway. The table was lovely with a linen cloth and linen napkins. The waiters were formal. We saw a white father sitting by himself and asked if we could join him. He said yes, and we did. Our new table was just as lovely. It was a different sort of night, in a good way. 

Being in Accra meant I was on vacation and probably on my way east to Togo and maybe Benin. When I was in Accra, I stayed on the cheap; The Ministry of Education Hostel aka the Peace Corps’ Hostel was only 50 pesewas a night. That was bed, breakfast and a wonderful hot shower. It also meant catching up with other volunteers I trained with and hadn’t seen in six months who were also staying at the hostel, also staying in the bunk room. 

I treated myself well in Accra. I ate at a variety of restaurants, very few of them expensive. The Lebanese restaurants were where I ate the most often. I also had Indian food. I ate Ghanaian food, mostly street food. I went to museums and I saw movies. I walked with my friends around the city at night. It was so quietly amazing back then. Most of the shops were closed. A few kiosks were open. A few spots, Ghanaian for small bars, were also open. I could hear the high life music from the street. The sidewalks had shadows in between the street lights. It always seemed peaceful and warm to me. I remember the men sitting on the edges of the sidewalks, talking and smoking their pipes around a small fire. 

The hostel was in a mostly residential area. I think it was on a road which ended at the hostel. I tried to find it on a trip back but couldn’t. Back then I’d just tell the driver Adabraka, a section of Accra. I was never asked the street. He’d take me right to the hostel. I’d hand him my 20 pesewas. Sometimes he’d argue but most times he took the money. My favorite was the driver who blurted, “ I hate Peace Corps they always know the right price.” I realized then I was a type. The taxi driver probably had a checkoff list: yes to young; yes to white; yes to Ghanaian cloth dresses; yes to a few Twi words including, usually, thank you. Yes, to Peace Corps.  

“My weak spot is laziness. Oh, I have a lot of weak spots: cookies, croissants.”

August 18, 2020

We had plenty of rain last night. I fell asleep to the sound of it. I woke up earlier than usual this morning to a lovely day, cool and sunny with a slight breeze. Yesterday I was feted at dinner by my friends. I also unwrapped amazing presents and ate lemon meringue pie, my all time favorite. I have a couple of slices to eat today thus prolonging my birthday yet another day.

Henry drives me crazy some times. Last night he went out, but I didn’t hear him. A long while later I noticed him looking into the house from the deck. The poor baby had been out there a long time. This morning I let him out, and he came back inside through the dog door. I always hope he’ll do that every time, but after his next trip out, he was back on the deck looking inside hoping I’ll see him. He even ignored the dog biscuit with frosting and sprinkles I had put on the rug to entice him. I went and let him inside. He went right to the biscuit.

Everything is quiet. A while back I heard thumps from upstairs. They sounded like a dog jumping on and off the bed. I guessed Henry and Jack were having some fun. Later, they both came downstairs together. Henry looked sheepish. He went right outside. I had to let him in. He is now napping upstairs on my bed.

Tomorrow I’ll do my errands. Today I’ll refill bird feeders. The laundry still sits. I just don’t feel like doing it, and I’ve learned to stave off guilt. Also, I haven’t run out of clothes yet.

The first time I really did any cooking or baking was my first Christmas in Ghana. My mother had sent me decorations, a small plastic tree and Christmas cookie cutters. I made my first ever batch of sugar cookies. The flour had to be sifted first to get rid of the bugs. I used a beer bottle to roll out the dough. Because I couldn’t get gas in town for my stove and oven, both were seldom used, but after a 200 mile round trip to Tamale, I had a full tank. I didn’t know how true my oven was so I watched the first batch of reindeer bake. They were perfect. I grabbed my beer bottle, my Star Beer bottle, and rolled out some more already de-bugged flour for my next batch.

The cookies were perfect so I had to put them away before I taste tested too many.

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

April 28, 2019

Today is sunny and beautiful. It is only 50˚ but having sun makes me a bit forgiving. Rain is predicted for later. I have trouble believing that. The sun is just too pretty, and there are only wispy, white clouds.

I don’t know why I expect really warm days as Cape Cod is seldom warm in the spring. Actually, calling this time of year spring is misleading. When north of us is 60˚, we are in mid 50’s. Some time in May it will start to get warm. In mid June we’ll jump to summer.

I shared a banana with Henry this morning. He likes fruit. So far he has eaten banana, first time today, apples, oranges, watermelon, blueberries, pineapple and mango. I don’t know if he has a favorite. I’m partial to oranges, pineapples and bananas.

Having a banana this morning reminded me of Ghana. Every day I had fruit for lunch, a fruit bowl of oranges, pineapple, mangoes, pawpaw and bananas. When I traveled, I always bought oranges or bananas because of their peel. They didn’t need to be washed. Mangoes were messy, juice down my arm messy. Pawpaws were big.

When I was a kid, we had grapes, oranges, apples and watermelon around all summer. We also had Bing cherries. I love spitting their pits. We had contests to see who could spit the pits the furthest. I never won.

Okay, the sun is gone and the sky is cloudy. I think I saw a few drops of rain on the deck. Sadly, the weatherman is correct.

Today is dump day, and tonight is game night. I’m in charge of tonight’s appetizers. I’ll go to the market and hope to find ready to eat or easy to make appetizers. In case I don’t, I have a couple in mind and a list of the ingredients I’ll need, but I am not really up for cooking. I did plenty on Friday.

Time to finish up and load the car with trash bags. Please, rain, hold off until I’m done.

“There is not so variable a thing in nature as a lady’s head-dress.”

April 20, 2019

I woke up at an ungodly hour, 4:30. I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t so here I am downstairs drinking my morning coffee and watching 2 Lava 2 Lantula, a sequel to Lavalantula. The fire-breathing arachnids are back.

The Easter Bunny comes no matter what. Santa only comes if you’re good, but the Easter Bunny doesn’t care. Parental threats about losing a chocolate rabbit if you’re bad don’t amount to much. Whoever dreamed up the Easter Bunny lost a great opportunity for keeping kids in line.

When I was a kid, pouffy dresses, hats, white gloves and shiny patent leather shoes with a single strap were our Easter outfits. I still remember my mother taking us all to the shoe store. I’d walk around checking out the shoes on display until it was my turn with the salesman. When it was, he’d first check my feet in the x-ray machine and then I’d stand on the silver slide so he could check my shoe size. My mother always bought my sisters’ dresses at the Children’s Corner, a shop up town. My dress usually came from Jordan Marsh. My sisters were always far more excited than I was about new Easter clothes.

We always hoped for a warm Easter Sunday so we could show off our new clothes. Wearing a jacket spoiled the look.

I like Peeps but only if they’re hard, almost rock hard. When I was in the Peace Corps, my mother sent me an Easter package. By the time I got it, the Peeps were so stale you could bang them on the table. I loved those Peeps, and from then on my Peeps were always unwrapped for a while so they could get stale. I have no favorite color, but pink and yellow Peeps seem more like Easter.

I have no errands to do today. It is a good thing as rain is coming. The clouds have already taken over the sky and the breeze has become a wind.

The forsythias have bloomed all over the neighborhood. Everywhere I look has a bright yellow bush. That shouts spring.

“There’s no consciousness without senses and memories.”

February 22, 2019

I woke up early to a lovely day, sunny and warm, in the 40’s. Only a little snow remains in my backyard under the pine trees where the sun doesn’t reach. The snow has paw prints.

My dusting yesterday took forever, and I’m not even done yet; regardless, I feel accomplished. There were five dirty, dusty wipes on the floor when I stopped. I’m on such a roll I’ll finish the two remaining shelves this afternoon. I’ll need to wear sunglasses in this room when I’m finally finished.

My house in Ghana had a corrugated tin roof. The whole house was made of concrete. The house, inside and outside, was painted white. The eating area, which was the back room had a table, two chairs, and the fridge. The room had one full wall facing the concrete backyard and screened windows across the wall. In the middle of the two banks of screens was the back door to the yard where the water tap, the toilet, cooking area and shower were. The cooking room had a stove which was seldom used as we couldn’t get gas. Wood charcoal was what we used for cooking. The toilet room was sometimes shared with a sitting hen. She used to try to peck my feet if I got too close. The shower room had a single tap of cold water and a tiny window with wooden slats. I used to keep my bath stuff on the sill of the window. The house didn’t have a whole lot of furniture, but I had enough.

The houses were concrete so they couldn’t be eaten by termites and other insects, but my school had one building made of wood where there was science equipment. No one could explain why it was wooden. My students aptly called it the wooden building. They were amazed that most of our homes were made of wood and weren’t being eaten.

So much of my time in Ghana even after all these years is easily recalled. They stay bright in my memory drawers, even a memory as small as a wooden building.

“I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.”

September 9, 2018

I slept late, until close to ten. I swear it is because subconsciously I knew the weather was the same as it has been. That I had to snuggle under the warm comforter last night was reason enough to stay in bed, but I dragged myself downstairs, let Henry out, started my coffee, went to get the papers and fed Maddie and Henry. The morning ritual changes little from day to day. The grey clouds change little from day to day. The dampness changes little from day to day. This is my world right now. The only bright spot, figuratively as we haven’t seen the sun in eons, is I have more books to read, more books to take me away from the daily chores and the weather.

Every Sunday I chat with my sister in Colorado. Today she asked me if I had done my laundry yet. I haven’t.

When I lived in Ghana, I never had sloth days. I was always up early and dressed early. Coffee was first then breakfast then teaching. It was a daily pattern just as my days now have a pattern, but every day in Ghana and the pattern of every day was amazing. Roosters often woke me up. I could hear my students sweeping the school compound then I could hear water flowing from the taps into their metal buckets as my students stood in line for their morning bucket baths. I often had my second mug (giant mug) of coffee sitting on the steps in the front of my house. Small children walking to school stopped and greeted me. “Good Morning, Sir.” English was new to them, and they were learning greetings first, the same as I did in French and Spanish. Their teacher was a man. If it was market day, I went into town. I loved market day. It was like a country fair and even more but without the rides. I loved wandering among the tables, among the rows selling everything: fruit, cloth, chickens, eggs, vegetables, juju beads, pots and pans and bruni wa wu (used clothing translated as dead white man’s clothes). Sometimes I found a treasure. Once it was a small watermelon.


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