Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Night Before...the Night Before Christmas.

Christmas is huge here...big. Parties are happening everywhere, and it seems to be the custom to give a phone call and wish people a Merry Christmas. We were so grateful for the calls and messages from students and African friends - they are so thoughtful. We were invited with 2 other missionary couples to one of the church wards that puts on a "First Night in Bethlehem," where the whole congregation dresses like Bethlehem travelers and eats dinner outside. We received a 100 cedi note, (our Bethlehem tax rebate) and that was our dinner ticket. As guests, a table was prepared for us, but everyone else gathered their families around and sat on the pavement. The night was warm, so we were sweating under out Bethlehem costumes, and had to take them off, especially while we ate the hot, spicy food. There was a Conference message from Salt Lake projected onto the Church wall while we ate, and we met several people there from our Perpetual Education contacts, and others we've known from different encounters.

The ladies in the ward put on a GREAT dinner. We've not really taken to Ghananian food so much - but this was delicious! HOT..but really good.

In the big silver pot is the soup - pieces of beef, with a seasoned tomato and beef broth. I don't know what else was in it, but I couldn't stop -and my mouth was burning. There was a side dish of rice - again seasoned and hot, and some wonderfully soft rolls. Finally, perfect bananas - large, yellow, and sweet. Fortunately, there was plenty of bottled water and canned drinks.

The children were completely into it. They had on long, draped cloths and head scarves, and I couldn't pass up this little Wise Man. He had just gone to get something for his big brother, and I followed him back to his family to ask if he'd like his picture taken. (They love to see how the picture turns out).

After dinner outside, everyone was invited inside where the Nativity was re-enacted. I have never felt the Christmas Spirit so much as when I saw the black shepherds and angels performing their parts. Mary was especially wonderful in her gorgeous brocaded, fitted gown, and she kind of boogied her way into the manger. She just couldn't help herself - she had to dance to the music and everyone loved her. Because there were so many people between the stage and me, I couldn't get a great picture.

For Christmas Eve, 30 of us got together for a Christmas Brunch at the Curtis's home. Oh, my. Cinnamon rolls, French toast, fresh fruit, breakfast egg/cheese/vegetable casseroles, brownies, and whatever else shows up in the picture. After every one of these gatherings, we are all asking..."Who brought the ________?" And, "Can I get that recipe?" The food was really wonderful, and the company even better.

Here are some of the people with whom we've grown so close.

I loved our Christmas corner in our apartment.

For church on Sunday, the Primary children put on the program. They would have a speaker, then a song, speaker, another song - etc. I loved the little girl who led the singing...she took her responsibility very seriously.

The outfits these little ones wore for Christmas Day were like out of a catalog, gorgeous taffeta, ribbons, colors, with shoes and lacy socks to match. Their hair was braided, coiled, drawn up, drawn back, with such creative flair. There couldn't be a cuter collection of little dolls. The boys had on the whitest of shirts (I'm so tempted to find out what detergent they are using!), with colored ties, nicely pressed pants, and gleaming shoes. The parents had to start 3 days early to achieve such picture-perfect results.

Our first Christmas in Ghana. This was an experience I never dreamed would happen.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ironies and things of interest...

Drivers rarely signal and are very adept at diving into a very small space. This seemed to be a fairly careful driver, but one did stop in the lane ahead of us and got out. GOT OUT. David said.."Wait..where are you going?"
He got back in after a few minutes and he either was checking the engine, or talking to pedestrian.

This sign was outside some government building, and I couldn't help myself.

We often drive by this tree and at night it is lit up with beautiful blue lights.

Saturday was a huge day for temple visitors. We saw this darling group of girls, who had come in from their homes 3 hours away, and told them we had to have their picture in their look-alike dresses.

Irony #1: A beautiful,huge,expensive CHINESE building in AFRICA

Irony #2: Its empty. And has been for years.

There's a story here. The Chinese were trying to curry the African's favor back in the 50's when Ghana gained independence. Ghana officials did not want to be anyone's puppet, so it wasn't well-received. (Shouldn't they have said something before it was finished?) It was the sight of a military coup in 1966 - and ever since then had become the proverbial "white elephant." It has changed hands and changed plans...but the bottom line it sits there...empty.

The view is looking upwards at the tree tops. If you look closely, you can see some "pods," or something that looks like "pods." They're bats. Ewwuuuu. Bats. And they are monsters. There is about a 3 block area of huge trees and every night from 5:00 to 6:00 they take off and the sky is black with bats, and they are BIG bats, the wing span being about 18 inches...no kidding.

We have found some of the most interesting things for sale on the side of the road - headboards, kitchen items, chairs, living room furniture, but this is a first. Just in case someone was looking for a cement winding stair case -- here it is. Notice the for sale sign.

We thoroughly enjoyed walking along this beach. The sand was very fine and white, with pastel, fluted shells scattered, like someone just tossed them out. There were light colored crabs scampering sideways - and the babies were faster than a quick blink. Their little legs hardly touched the sand. I looked up at these odd shapes and realized we were looking at two giant tortoise shells.

Sunday, after church, we went exploring along the east side of the coast. Our destination was Ada Foah, so named for a Danish fort that flourished in the 18th century slave trade. Horribly sad, I know. At the end of the century it was sold to the British - and they were uncharacteristically mean to everyone around them.(Uncharacteristic, because the British have such a talent with diplomacy.) The slaves were sold by other tribes to the slave traders - and it became a huge business. The shoreline is giving way to the ocean by 1.5 meters a year, so the old slave fort is actually sliding into the ocean. Bars on the windows, small rooms, thick walls, all echo a sad, terrible tale from history.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Appreciating Ghana

We've had some fun Christmas activities this last week and some new experiences. Last Sunday we met with ex-pats and missionaries for a get-together at President Curtis's house, where we sang Christmas carols and ate desserts. It was just fun to be with this great group of people, and we were the last ones to leave. That says something about how much fun we were having.

This is the "hot" time of year (as if there were a cool time..) and the air-conditioning has been out for the last two weeks in the administration building. YIKES. We have had fans blowing, and the windows open, and I keep my dear friend Faustina supplied with wet paper towels at her reception desk. This was the first day I had worn my African-made dress, and Faustina and I posed before the heat made us wilt for the day.
Isn't she lovely? I just enjoy her because she has a lot of "sass."

It didn't feel like Christmas at first, but then we started getting into the Spirit of things. Niece
Tiffini disobeyed us and sent us a gift package - thank you, dear!- and we decorated our window.

David went to do some shopping and brought home an African Christmas bouquet. The base of the bouquet is made up of large banana leaves - and is a work of art in itself. The colors just make the apartment feel festive -- love fresh flowers! (The spring motif of the tablecloth is going to be year-round, I think.)

My "walking" friend told me she had an extra tree in her apartment, and I was welcome to it! Yay! Small, I know, but I put twinkly lights on it, with miniature presents, drums, and balls (and the 2 gingerbread men) -- and I am just charmed. I opened up my itunes with the Christmas music, dimmed the apartment lights, and the glow of the tree brings the magic of Christmas to Africa for us. It's all good.

Overall, Ghana is a very religious country with a blend of Christian and Muslim holidays and cultures. On our way home from church today, we started listing some of the interesting names that are used for places of business -

1. By His Grace Beauty Salon
2. Jevoah is my Refuge -- Special Food
3. Holy Trinity Guest House
4. God First Radiator Specialist
5. Is God Motors
5. Shalom Electrical
6. King of Kings Motor Engineer (note - not mechanic, motor engineer. clever)
7. Only God Can Do - Fast Foods

Here is a typical street where these signs appear.

It is interesting that these signs appear - but the business may or may not be there. Another interesting fact of life - and we are
getting used to this - is that the map will have the name for streets and areas (towns), but there are NO street signs, no city limit signs, and very few signs indicating the main thorough fares. Directions are given like this..."You go straight, then turn in 5 minutes, and you will see (fill in the blank), and turn at the vegetable stand. You will see it." And, surprisingly, we do generally arrive at our destination.

Lest it appear that there are no nice roads, here is a beautiful stretch of road - and it is fairly new. There are many highways being completed that connect the major cities, and they should be done within 6 months. The contractors are obligated to have their work completed by a certain date or they won't receive their payment -- hm, there's a concept.

Our last very fun experience for this week was that we went to play tennis at the court where we joined - and a young man came out to "shag" balls for us. This is the custom...there is always someone to pick up the balls for the players. David decided to rest up after our set, and I got to hit with our "ball-boy,"Abraham, who turns out to be...(wait for it).. the National Junior Champion for Ghana. All of Ghana! The guy is 15 and amazing. It was so fun to hit with him and he wants to hit with us again this next week. We then drove away looking for the "tennis shop" (which is in an area where one would never look for a tennis shop) and met Abraham's coach -- Coach Eric, who is the National Tennis Coach for all of Ghana. Truly fun, and truly a nice guy. He got in the car and directed us, in person, to the tennis shop.

Life is made good by the kindnesses of so many people. For example, our 80 year-old neighbor just delivered a spice cake topped with whipped cream in payback for some shopping I did for her. Cast your bread upon the waters, and you get spice cake!
A great time to recognize our blessing of having new adventures - and appreciate our loved ones at home.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A day in Aburi..

Giant tree in Aburi Gardens.

Saturday we drove (bumped our way along) northward to a town called Nswam. We were meeting some wonderful men there, who are trying to help the young adults with education and job opportunities - right now, the young people have to drive (in terrible traffic) several hours to Accra for both jobs and classes. This means that many get discouraged and drop out, which causes a multitude of problems; or, that they move to larger areas, depleting the smaller towns of their most valuable resource: the next generation. The church here is the nicest building in the area - yet on the inside it is still a bit rudimentary.

Dago and Annette Klein are the missionary couple over Welfare Projects, so they were with us determining how the church could help. While we were there, a wedding was to take place a few hours later, and these two little boys were having fun on the keyboard before the guests arrived.

Right across the street from the church was a banana grove and street vendors.

We finished our business at Nswam and felt really good about the time we spent there. We were able to take the information back to Accra, and hopefully help these good people with some resources. For the rest of the afternoon, we planned to go further inland to the Aburi Gardens - a "cooling off" area for the British in the late 19th century. We took the back road - and "road" is used loosely, but the scenery was gorgeous.

This young girl was doing the family wash in the stream that was along side the road...that most of us would not even wash our dirty shoes in.

The drive to the top of the mountain took a couple of hours, but this was our reward: the Hillburi Restaurant. From the outside, no one would guess what is in the back - this fabulous view, and a fairly nice pool and restaurant.

Annette took our picture while we waited for our lunch. Our server, Issac, was such a nice young man, and was trying so hard to give us his best service.

Our friends, Dago and Annette Klein. We were waiting for the tour guide, thinking it was a driving tour....
but when we found out it wasn't, we figured we could make the walk on our own.

The giant tree is well over one hundred years old and had the most interesting base.

The top of the mountain (a whole 600 feet) felt so much cooler than the humidity of Accra, and we thoroughly enjoyed the chance to help in Nswam and see some other parts of the country.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving in Ghana.

For our Thanksgiving, the senior missionaries (that's us!) and employees were invited to the Dickson's for the afternoon. Everyone brought a dish, and we literally had a feast. There are a few people who are at the end of their calling, so we used this time to say our official good-byes, which is sad, because we've grown to really love and enjoy all of them. Sister Ngoran will go back to the Ivory Coast. She has been my "coach" as I try to learn French.

There were 40 of us for dinner - and the place settings were really lovely. Someone had accumulated yards of African patterns to serve as the tablecloths.

Each table had some kind of African centerpiece and this doll was my favorite.

We sometimes have to hunt for ingredients (it becomes kind of a game!), but each of the dishes tasted so good. It's fun to share recipes and then also share which market carries the needed items. These ladies have such ingenuity...

We sang a group song before dinner - David was right next to me so he is the easiest to hear. I wanted to capture the song, but also pan around the interior of the house.

Each person who is leaving Ghana had a turn to share his/her feelings. We've been here almost 6 weeks, and I can't believe how close we feel to everyone; even though we are sad at the changes, we are really excited for these friends to return to their families.

The rest of Ghana carried on with their normal work day, after all it was a regular Thursday for them. But for us, it felt like we had transported a little parcel of America to Africa. It was fun to eat, laugh, and hug. We all miss our families, but in a few years after this is all over, we realize we will look back at this time and miss these cute people with whom we have made such fast friendships.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

This is Africa...

Our trip to Cape Coast! It takes 3 hours to get there from Accra, with areas of condensed traffic, so it is best to get a hotel and spend some time. We had such a good time, enjoyed the area and enjoyed our training meeting with our good friend, Frederick.
Mankessim. This is a fishing village with a large slave castle was just to the right.

The beach in front of our hotel. The water has to be 80 degrees.

Handsome local..

Not so handsome locals! These huge vultures hung out in the palm trees, and we couldn't ever see what they were feeding on.

We had a wonderful buffet breakfast on the patio, where we could hear every wave crash on the beach.

Our golf course. It was so fun to play here...and even more fun not to keep score. Who's going to keep score in Africa? We were able to avoid the Crocodile Pond, and managed to not lose any balls. (Balls here are a bit expensive and you have to bring your own range balls. Tees are $5.00 a bag, and a small bag at that.) The horses are allowed to graze on the course until golfers show up...and we counted 4 in the 2 days we were here.

Our car while we are here. Air conditioning and horn work, which are the 2 most important items. To be a successful driver, you must be very aggressive, so David does most all of the driving. (I've driven 3 times and getting better - haven't used the horn yet.)

Yes, I know this picture is already on here...I just can't get if off.

The youngest of the school children. All schools require uniforms..and these were the cutest little uniformed bodies!

Recess in the school yard. Right prior to this the children were playing a game lined up in front of a wall, clapping their hands and doing some kind of a dance...no rhythm problems here. Cutest little moves ever.