Posted tagged ‘Peace Corps’

“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.

“What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps one in a continual state of inelegance.”

September 1, 2018

Today is again glorious, cool and dry. The sun is strong. The sky is blue and unmarred by clouds. I’m going to sit on the deck and take it all in because by Sunday the ugly humidity will be back.

Today is the meteorological end of summer, and Labor Day is the unofficial end but none of that matters to Mother Nature. She will continue to blast us with heat and humidity until fall can finally work its way past her. I’m hoping it will be soon. Fall is my favorite season.

In Ghana we had the dry season and the rainy season. I lived where the dry season was hotter than any other place in Ghana, but now it is the rainy season there so the temperature in Bolga, my other home town, is the lowest it will be all year. It has been in the high 70’s and the mid 80’s there, and rain has fallen just about every day. It is odd to see it cooler in West Africa than it is here.

During my early Peace Corps days, I missed fall, the snow at Christmas and the freshness of spring. I missed flowers. But the longer I lived there, the more I came to love the changes in Ghana’s weather. The rains came intermittently in September. The fields and grasses began to turn brown. Every day seemed hotter than the previous one. By the end of September, it was the high 80’s. In October it was the high 90’s. The worst months, February through April, usually reached 100˚ or more. My favorite month was December. The days were hot, but the nights were cold in comparison. I needed a blanket. It was Bolga’s snow at Christmas. In May the rains started. The grasses turned green. The fields were filled with the young shoots of millet, maize and sorghum. The trees were green with leaves. It was spring, Ghanaian style. The market was overloaded with fresh fruits and vegetables. The tomatoes were luscious.

It has been a long, long while since I lived in Ghana so I have forgotten the horrific heat, those days over 100˚.  Back then I seldom complained. I took my cold shower late, jumped into bed and fell asleep. Now I complain and moan and turn on the air conditioner.

That’s the way it was there, and now that’s the way it is here.

“The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.”

June 22, 2018

What a beautiful day! The sun is bright, a little breeze ruffles the leaves, the humidity is gone, and the air is comfortable at 70˚. My biggest chore today is to hose down the deck, the table and chairs. They are covered with leaves, small branches and parts of acorns. Under the chairs is still some pollen the jet spray should wash away. The birds have been busy so the feeders need seed. The suet feeder was opened by a spawn so it too needs to be refilled.

Forty nine years ago today, a Sunday, the greatest adventure of my life began. Forty nine years ago today I said goodbye to my parents and headed to Philadelphia for Peace Corps Ghana staging. My father drove the three of us, him, my mother and me, to Logan Airport. It was a quiet ride with little conversation. None of us dared to say anything. At Logan, we stood around the gate saying our goodbyes. My mother’s hug was a bit tight. As I walked down the jetway, I turned and waved. They waved too. That was our last goodbye.

When I got on the plane, I was loaded down with carry-ons. My 80 pounds of luggage, filled with clothes and stuff like sheets, towels, a few pans and spices, had been checked. When I sat down, my seat mate asked me if I was running away from home. I told him the Peace Corps. He bought me drinks. I landed in Philadelphia and went to the taxi line. I noticed a guy wearing a button-down collar shirt and a pair of khakis. Around him was more luggage than one guy needed for a trip to Philadelphia. I asked him if he was going to the Hotel Sylvania. He was. I had just met my first fellow trainee. We shared a cab.

Downstairs at the hotel I stood in line to register. I had my fingerprints with me, the last piece of my file. I registered. At that same desk, they gave me my large manila envelope filled with information about Ghana, the staging schedule including a one on one with a psychologist, training information and my room key. I got to my room and unpacked a few things, enough for the five days we’d be in Philadelphia. My roommate never showed. I found that amazing. How could she not show after the long process of being invited to train for Ghana?

Our first meeting on Sunday night was just introductions, more specific instructions and an overview of the rest of staging. They gave us a per diem, but I don’t remember how much. I do remember finding my way to the dentist to have my teeth checked, the yellow fever shot they gave each of us and the first session. It was so unexpectedly boring. I decided to skip sessions and see Philadelphia. That’s when I met Bill and Peg. We became friends and co-conspirators. We toured Philadelphia. I remember the Liberty Bell and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

We were originally told we’d have to make our own way to New York for the flight. It made no sense to us and eventually no sense to the staff so we loaded luggage and boarded busses to the Philadelphia airport. It was a TWA charter flight to Accra. I was nervous, a little scared, a lot curious and even more thrilled. I was going to Africa.

“A basket of ripe fruit is holier than any prayer book.”

February 19, 2018

When I got the papers this morning, I expected a warm day, but I was disappointed. It’s a chilly day. The sky is cloudy and rain is predicted for tonight. I do have a couple of errands to do later.

This morning, while my coffee was brewing, I had a surprise burst of energy. I polished a shelf, swept the kitchen, washed the cat dish and cleaned the sink and counter. That’s the most housework I’ve done in a few weeks. I’d like to think this burst of energy will be a rare event.

I treated myself this morning and had two lemon biscotti with my coffee. I love the taste of lemon so much I could live on lemon squares. Lemon meringue pie tops my list of favorite pies. I think we were one of the few families where a lemon meringue pie was traditional for Thanksgiving. I even learned to cook a few dishes with preserved lemons.

I’d never turn down anything made with pineapple except maybe pizza. In Ghana I ate pineapple just about every day as part of my lunch, always a bowl of fresh fruits. I like Thai food with pineapple. I almost don’t care about the other ingredients. In my cook book from Peace Corps Ghana was a recipe for pineapple upside down cake. I always wanted to make it, but I had no oven, only a charcoal burner. A couple of old cook books from the 50’s have pictures of a finished pineapple upside cake. They are perfect and have a cherry in the middle hole of the pineapple.

When I was kid, only a few fruits were available all year. My mother bought bananas, oranges and apples. The apples were always red. The oranges had seeds. In the summer we had watermelon and grapes, green grapes. At Thanksgiving we had tangerines, our parade snack. I didn’t even know fruits likes mangoes and papayas existed. Coconuts were on tropical islands in the books I read. We were fruit deprived.

“He shoveled the bacon out on a plate and broke the eggs in the hot grease and they jumped and fluttered their edges to brown lace and made clucking sounds.”

February 11, 2018

Today is a dismal dark day. The rain started last night around eleven, and it’s still raining.  The weather report says rain on and off for most of the day. The only saving grace is the warmth. It is 47˚. I have to go to the dump. I’m thinking it will be quiet. The rain keeps people away.

When I was a kid, I mostly walked to church on Sundays. Sometimes, though, I’d go with my father to an early mass where he was an usher. I always wished I was an usher, but only men were ushers. My father stood in the back of the church waiting until the right time to pass his basket. He never kneeled. The baskets were at the end of a long pole which reached to the halfway point of the pew. My father would pass the basket then move to the other side of the church to get the rest of the pew. I always had a dime for the offering. After church my dad bought his paper from the guy in front of the church who was always there. The guy had a gray cart with a cover so he could protect his papers from the rain. After that my father and I sometimes went to get donuts to bring home. My father only ate plain donuts which he buttered. He’d also buy jelly, lemon and glazed donuts. I loved butternut, but he never remembered. My father kept with the traditional donuts. It made choosing easy.

I love eggs and their versatility. My favorite breakfast is two eggs over easy, crispy bacon and toast, usually rye. Eggs are often dinner for me, and once in a while I make an egg salad, but only if I have celery and lettuce to add as egg salad by itself is a bit bland. I love deviled eggs. My mother made them for all her barbecues, and my friend Clare often does the same. Most people have a favorite recipe for potato salad, but for just about every recipe, eggs are a critical ingredient. Coloring Easter eggs is a family tradition. You not only get to decorate the hard-boiled eggs but you also get to eat them.

St. Patrick’s drill team used to take part in the Halloween parade in Woburn, a town next to my own. We all hated marching in it because during the parade we’d get egged. I remember getting hit in the leg and having the egg slide down into my boot. It was gross marching on shells and uncooked eggs. I was glad when the decision was made not to march.

In Ghana I was close up and personal with eggs. I had chickens, and I also bought eggs in the market and sometimes from some small girls selling door to door. If I wasn’t careful in buying the eggs, I’d sometimes crack an egg the chicken had sat on for a bit. I was never bothered by that. It was just the way it was in Ghana sometimes.

“Music replays the past memories, awaken our forgotten worlds and make our minds travel.”

December 30, 2017

The deep freeze continues. It is 16˚ and snowy weather is predicted. The sky is grayish white, and the air is still. I have to go out later for the one thing I didn’t know I needed the other day when I shopped, toilet paper, an item as essential as food and water.

My car needed only the oil change. Everything else checked out just fine though I was told to keep an eye on my tires.

In Ghana this time of year I loved the weather. Today in Bolgatanga it was 88˚ but tonight it will be only 68˚, and that’s the way it will continue for the rest of the week, even getting as low as 63˚ at night. That’s one thing I didn’t expect in Ghana, cold weather. I had no clothes to keep me warm. My students every morning were dressed in sweaters on sweaters and layers after layers. I had bare arms and sock-less feet, but I had steaming coffee in a huge mug to get me started, and the mornings warmed quickly.

I watched a movie today which partly took place in Jordan. One scene was of the city of Amman in the early morning light of dawn, and the only sound is the call to prayer. I stayed right near a mosque during my Peace Corps live-in, a three week stay with a family. I was in a town called Bawku which is heavily Moslem. A small mosque was on the street below my room. The pre-dawn call to prayer was live, not recorded. I heard it every morning and still remember so well the beauty of that song. The single voice was clear and powerful. It became familiar. I’d lie there listening then at the end of the song I’d fall back to sleep.

In Marrakesh I also heard the songs to prayers every day coming from a mosque not that far from my riad and also from the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest one in the city which towers over everything. Its minaret is sort of a landmark for the city. I was usually out walking around when I’d hear the afternoon calls. The voice was recorded, but it sounded over everything else and was rhythmic and lovely.

I know smells become familiar and trigger memories. The aroma of burning wood   always brings me back to Ghana, especially the mornings, when breakfast was being cooked over the fire. When I was in Morocco and heard the songs to prayer, I was reminded of Ghana, and that small mosque and the beauty of the single voice singing. It seems sounds too carry memories.

“The true essentials of a feast are only fun and feed.”

December 18, 2017

Today is cloudy but it’s warm, in the 40’s. Last night was freezing.

In the dark last night Gracie went out and wandered down the hill by the side of my house. I went to check on her in the front yard and found her gone. I got my flashlight and looked but didn’t see her. I called my friends in panic, and despite the time of night and the cold, they came, one walking using his flashlight and the other driving. By then I had found Gracie at the bottom of the hill. She couldn’t get back up. I went down the hill to her and grabbed her, but I couldn’t get us back up the hill either. I kept sliding. Finally I found a route which got me and her to the front yard. We both went inside. She had a treat. I had an asthma attack.

Today I’m planning my cookies and the Christmas Day dinner. I have a method. I write down the name of the recipe, its source and the ingredients by aisle. I’m thinking 3 kinds of cookies. For dinner I’m leaning toward pork of some sort, but that’s just a maybe.

Yesterday’s Patriot’s game still has my heart atwitter. The last minute was amazing. My friends and I cheered, stood up, moaned and screamed. The final play was unbelievable. After a Steelers touchdown was called back as an incomplete pass, the Steelers decided to pass for the touchdown instead of spiking for a chance at a tie and overtime. The pass was batted away, it flew into the air and was caught by a Pat for an interception. End of game!

I saw a Facebook picture taken in the Tongo hills outside of Bolga. The caption mentioned the harmattan, the hot dry season with sand blowing in from the desert which is happening now. During my first harmattan, the back of the soles of my feet cracked from the dryness. I had to tip-toe. I started getting ballerina muscles. Finally the soles heeled (sorry-a written pun looks like a misspelling) into the ugliest thick callouses. I didn’t care. My feet felt fine.

I ate a lot of goat in Ghana. The first time I had no idea what I was eating. It was during Peace Corps training, and I was at my live-in, a three week span where we lived with a Ghanaian family. I was alone at dinner and was served soup with bony meat in one dish and in another dish, a glob of I had idea what. No fork or spoon mean I had to use my fingers. I grabbed some glob and ran it through the soup then ate it. The reddish soup was spicy hot, but I managed. I had to pick up the meat, also with my fingers, to chew around the bone. When next I saw my hostess, I asked why I was eating alone and what did I eat. She said she thought I’d prefer to be by myself. I didn’t. She said I ate t-zed with red soup and goat meat. Tuon-zafe, t-zed, is best described as a porridge of boiled corn meal, a glob. The goat meat was okay which is a good thing as I ate it often. I even found it once here in a Caribbean restaurant and ordered it as a bit of food nostalgia.

I don’t know how I got on to goat. I guess it was mentioning Christmas dinner as that’s what I had my first Christmas in Ghana. It was a feast.

“Autumn bowed to place a beautiful crown on the Queen of Morning, and her velvet robes sway merrily in the chilly breeze.”

November 4, 2017

The morning was chilly. I took Gracie out into the backyard and sat and waited for her. I smelled a wood fire and all of a sudden my memory jumped back to Ghana and mornings during the harmattan. Those mornings were cold, as cold as I ever felt in Bolga where daytime temperatures often reached over 100˚. The morning air was filled with the aroma of wood fires burning in the compounds behind my house. I could hear muted voices and the sound of water from the tap filling my students’ buckets for their morning baths. Roosters still crowed. Those mornings were a delight.

Gracie has muscular degeneration. Signals aren’t getting to her back legs. The vet said it will get worse, but she is hoping we can slow the progress. Gracie is now getting a pain pill every day. In two weeks the vet will assess the value of her continuing to take them. After that two week mark, Gracie is going to start acupuncture. She’ll have two sessions and then an evaluation to see if it has helped.

I could barely walk this morning and my back pain was horrific. Yesterday I had to lift Gracie three times: twice to the car and once to the backseat of the car after she had lost her footing and couldn’t get back on the seat; consequently, I have ordered a back dog lift. I wish I had it yesterday.

Every time I look out at the deck, I feel a bit of sadness. All the furniture is covered. The flowers have been moved off the rails. The candles hanging off the branches are gone. Only the bird feeders remain.

When I was a kid, the preparations for winter were my father’s jobs. He took down the screens and replaced them with the storm windows. He removed the screens from the two doors and put in the storm doors. He went to the gas station and had the snow tires put on his car. Every weekend he’d rake the lawn, move the pile of leaves to the gutter by the sidewalk and then burn them. The smell of burning leaves is one of my all time favorites, and it carries memories of my dad. I can see him standing there by the flaming leaves while smoke billowed into the air. He held on to his rake and used it periodically to move more leaves into the fire. I stayed until the leaves were gone.

“I told myself that I was going to live the rest of my life as if it were Saturday.”

September 30, 2017

During the night, I grabbed the afghan as my house had gotten so cold. This morning it was 66˚. I admit I turned on the heat for a while until the house was warmer. Putting on a sweatshirt also helped. The sun was out when Gracie and I got the papers. Now the sky is cloudy, and rain is predicted for this afternoon and evening. I have nowhere I have to be today, and I’m glad.

Saturday has always been my favorite day. When I was a kid, I had the whole day to do what I wanted. Breakfast and favorite programs were first then I was out the door. Mostly I rode my bike so I could explore more. No part of town was out of riding reach. The best end of town was the zoo. It didn’t cost anything in those days. Sometimes we’d ride to the next town over and bike around Lake Quannapowitt. Other times we had no destination. We just rode around town and checked out our favorite places like the house of the newspaper and rag man which had a huge porch and an out-building, both filled with papers. We’d check out the town barn and the horses. On warm days, the firemen sat outside the station in front of the engine bays, and we’d stop to talk with them. They’d let us go check out the fire engines. We’d ride down the hilly driveway to the schoolyard then skid in the sand along the sides of the yard just for the fun of it. I don’t remember ever being bored, even in winter we found stuff to do.

When I was in Ghana, I’d go into town on a Saturday and roam the market hoping to find something unexpected. When I’d finished, I’d sit and have a cold Coke at the one place which had a fridge. It was the last store in a line of stores on the main street. It had a few tables and chairs outside. It was there an American guy stopped to talk to me. He wanted to know where the bare-breasted women were. I was angry and horrified. I told him so. He quickly left. I never ran into him again.

When I was working, I wanted one free day to do whatever I wanted. Saturday was the perfect choice, the historical choice. Once in a while I’d grocery shop on Saturday and once a month I’d dust and vacuum, but mostly Saturday was for fun.

Now I always say every day is Saturday.

 

“Marshmallow Fluff is the greatest thing ever invented”

September 17, 2017

I apologize for yesterday, and I thank you for worrying as I know I usually let you know. I slept later than I intended and had time for getting dressed, a quick cup of coffee, feeding the animals and taking Gracie out. It was International Festival Day at the local college, and I was at the Peace Corps table all day. Luckily I had packed what I wanted to use to decorate the table so I just grabbed the stuff and left. When I got home, I napped.

A couple of people who stopped at the PC table were surprised to find Peace Corps still existed. I guess we don’t do a great job advocating for ourselves. One man stopped and asked me if I knew who he was. I did, just by his question. Twice before I had met him, asked his name and country of service. Each time he answered a bit testily that he was with me in Ghana. I still didn’t recognize him this time either but said, “Gary?” and he smiled. I had guessed right.

It is a bright, beautiful day now, but it started out foggy, a fog which hovered around the lower limbs of the trees and atop the roads, covered the bridge and hung just above the ocean. When I was a kid, that was the scariest fog. It hid the sidewalks. Noises were amplified and footsteps echoed. We’d run if we heard someone behind us. We never knew who or, even worse, what was behind us. It could have been the man with the hook or some mass murderer looking for another victim so we ran as fast as we could. It never occurred to us the footsteps might be from something benign. In the fog it could only have been something scary and evil.

The paper today had a page devoted to Marshmallow Fluff which is celebrating its 100th anniversary. About 7 million pounds of Fluff is sold each year which is mind boggling given how light Fluff is. Fluff has only 4 ingredients: corn syrup, sugar, dried egg white and vanilla. When I was growing up, we always had Fluff in the cabinet because a fluffernutter was a quick snack: thin on the peanut butter, thick on the Fluff. The only problem was being careful not to tear the soft bread when slathering the Fluff. 50% of all Fluff is sold in New England and Upstate New York. I still keep Fluff in the cabinet. I never know when I might just want a quick snack.