First of all, Julie. I met her one evening at a friend's birthday party and she invited me over to her house. On Thursday evening, I took up that invitation and went to visit her and her lovely family – 5 strong boys under the age of 10, and one baby girl.
When I arrived at her house, she was outside doing a BIG load of laundry, while her children, all in their underwear, finished the last of their dinner. She was surprised to see me, but greeted with a friendly and enthusiastic “Welcome!” I sat down next to her and we chatted for a bit, while I watched the 14-month-old baby crawl with ease over the jagged stones that covered the ground. Then, the youngest brother, two years of age, hit his little sister with a twig, clearly just to annoy her. The little girl yelled out “Please stop, my brother!” in her tiny baby voice. I think those may have been the only words she knew, and they will definitely be handy with 5 older brothers.
Shortly after my arrival, it began to rain. Not the dreary, mellow Canadian rain, but the instantaneous, pelting African variety. Julie instantly began assembling all of the children and laundry to bring inside, the baby on her back bouncing like a confused cowboy riding an angry bull. But the boys had other ideas. Instead of taking shelter inside of the house, they stripped off their underwear and ran free in the warm rain, sliding in the red mud with some of the largest smiles I have ever seen. I wondered about the last time most North American children had been allowed to partake in similar ventures.
After the rain finally stopped, Julie cooked some plantains over hot coals, and invited me to church on Sunday. Although she informed me that the service would be in Twi, the anthropology student in me decided that it would be an informative, educational opportunity nonetheless; and so, I consented happily.
So today, Sunday morning, I arose early to be at church for 9am, the scheduled start time. In fact, the service did not actually commence until after 10, and people were still trickling in at about 10:45am. The congregation was filled with exuberance: everyone singing and dancing throughout most of the service and encouraging me to join-in at every opportunity. Although I didn't understand what was being said, my level of discomfort was only medium-low at that point. But then things took a turn for the worst.
About half way through the service, the pastor approached me, asking my full name. I assumed that he was going to introduce me to the congregation as a visitor, and so I happily gave it. However, when he finally signaled for me to go to the front of the church, I was met with a situation I did not expect. He DID introduce me in Twi as “Sister Becky” to the congregation. And then, he turned to me and said “Ok, and now you must sing a song.” Since I had been confused throughout the entire service, I assumed that I was confused now. “A song?” I questioned. “Yes,” he replied – “you may sing any song you want.” My face must have contorted into a medium of fear as I heard a chuckle ripple through the onlooking congregation. I turned and surveyed their faces: smiling and expectant. I scanned my mind for songs I knew, and drew a complete blank. The only songs that came to mind were “Mary had a little lamb” and “Jesus loves me.” Frig. Frig. Frig.
After a few moments of silent deliberation and mental turmoil, I determined that I had to sing SOMETHING, and so I chose the latter. Thank God, literally, for Sunday School. In the squeakiest, most nervous voice, made only worse by the rattling low-quality of the microphone I was using, I croaked out Jesus loves me in front of an entire congregation of Ghanaian adults. I winced at how painfully terrible my voice sounded compared to the rich and vibrant confidence of everyone around me. Frig. Frig. Frig.
After speeding through the song, I somehow melted back to my seat and there was a loud applause. I was the only one in the room capable of blushing, and I was definitely taking advantage of that ability at the moment. Finally, many Twi songs, sermons and offerings later, the service concluded 4 and a half hours after I had arrived at about 1:30pm. As I left, everyone shouted “See you next week!” Frig.
On Saturday, a short-term volunteer from Canada (Judy), Mr. Nyame (one of the teachers here at the school) and myself set out for Aburi Gardens – one of the touristy park areas in Ghana. I had been told, before our journey, that the road to Aburi was “bad,” but by North American standards, most of the roads in Ghana are TERRIBLE so I thought nothing of it. So, off we went in a rickety tro-tro, the back doors held shut by a string, the windshield already with a glittering, spidery crack from previous implications. As we approached the road, I quickly realized how it attained its reputation of badness. Since it had rained heavily in the past 2 days, the road was a soupy mess. And then we started ascending a mountain – in a tro-tro, on a soupy, unpaved road, with no guard rails and a sheer drop down the mountain on one side of the vehicle. I prayed for the brakes to not fail. In order to avoid many of the major pot holes and ditches caused by erosion, the driver had to drive so close to the edge of the mountain that when I looked out the window I could not actually see the road underneath of us. Please brakes, don't fail. Please brakes, don't fail.
I have to say though, that the view as we drove up the mountain was sensational - lush mountainside forests and flourishing farm fields. Even though my personal level of stress and the inhaling of carbon monoxide from the struggling vehicle may have shaved off a couple years of my life, it was an experience that I was happy to have.
Aburi Gardens itself was not quite as wonderful. Although we saw lots of interesting vegetation – like star fruit trees, cocoa trees, lemon trees, etc. - it was a bit too non-authentic for my liking. It did not seem like Ghana at all – especially since Ghanians actually seemed to be a minority there. And then it poured rain on us and I actually became very cold – in Ghana. It was my first time feeling cold in a month. The temperature up on the mountain was significantly colder than down below. In fact, the town of Aburi has been dubbed “Little London” by locals.
Following our time at the gardens, Mr. Nyame suggested that we go visit his mother – who works as a teacher at a school for deaf children, nearby. Upon visiting, we were welcomed with a warm bowl of fufu and light soup – and I was actually able to finish ALL of it (to the excitement of the host) in my cold, hungry state. Mr. Nyame's mother (Margery) was beautiful. Fluent in sign language, she was able to teach us simple things like “How are you?” and “I am fine” so that we could greet the children. Then, I had the great privilege of meeting a young girl who was both blind and deaf but who had the ability to talk. After feeling the signs from Margery, she was able to say my name aloud, and then asked us simple questions like where we were from. An amazing little girl.
Now, after a long weekend, I am finally getting a bit of quiet rest in my room, the ceiling fan on full blast. The question of what to research for my thesis is always lurking at the back of my mind, but I am really hoping to make a dent in that soon.
Until the next time, I hope everyone is having a great summer!