Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Noah's Ark, Part 2

Since everybody apparently got a huge kick out of the Noah's Ark incident, we thought we could follow up with the rest of the story. Being dismayed at what we received, my first question was "Can we take it back?" This question has actually been laughed at almost as much as the incident itself. There is where I revealed just exactly how American I really am.
The next week, we went to a different market and found exactly what we were looking for and bought it. They had several for us to choose from, which makes it even more funny to see what we had ended up with the first time. One of the missionaries here really liked the Noah's Ark that is like a tree stump and graciously bought it from us. (we discounted the price a bit, because it was so kind of her to take it off our hands.)
Lesson Learned.
We are going to post more pictures when we get back to the States, after our weekend stop in London!

Try Not to Split More than You Can Roll

As our time at Rafiki draws to a close, we are very saddened at that prospect while also looking very much forward to what we are doing next in Costa Rica. We have one full day left here with the children and our normal routine of life. As we pick up our straw to split it, we have to make sure that we do not split more than we will have time to roll. We have had a great last week here. The Home Office visit went swimmingly, and while they were here, we ate like Kings and Queens. (one note on the Ghanaian caterer, she did a fabulous job, but the Tillipia was in its purest cooked form, so they were all looking at us from their tray- I had the Grouper, which was breaded and fried and boneless)
Monday was the end of the Muslim holiday, so it was a national holiday in Ghana. Ghana is mostly Christian, but they celebrate the Muslim holidays as well. This meant no school and fewer workers here at Rafiki. Therefore we got to play all day with the kids. This meant more Yahtzee for me and more football for John. It was wonderful.
There are so many takeaways from this experience that they are too numerous to mention all of them. Ghana is a beautiful, peace-loving country with a beautiful, kind people. We have been continually blessed by people's gentleness here. Rafiki is doing an amazing work educating and caring for the young children that God has entrusted into their care, and it has been our joy and privilege to be a part of that work. It is amazing to see what a difference education really does make. One night at dinner, the kids were telling me that they were learning all about endangered species. I asked which ones they were learning about, thinking of stuff like pandas. They informed me that Bush Rats are endangered, because so many people were killing them for food during the famine that there are hardly any left. (I thought to myself that it might not be so bad if we were rid of Bush Rats) But I realized that these kids are being armed with the skills and the knowledge needed to change things here in Africa. And they love Jesus! So much that it is humbling, continually. They can sing all 4 verses to more hymns than we even know the first verse of.
Needless to say, our perspectives and our hearts are forever different from our time here. While we, (especially me) are looking forward to getting back to the developed world, we have gotten a glimpse of another world that is unforgettable.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

This Little Piggy Went to Market

This weekend was the most authentic Ghanaian experience that we've had yet. Yesterday, John and I decided to be a little adventurous and venture out on our own. We took a taxi from Kodeku to Medie, then took a "Tro-tro" to the N'Sawam market. A tro-tro is the way that most Ghanaians get around. It is a giant van packed full of as many people that it can hold, which is quite an experience. The leading cause of death in Ghana is actually car accidents. Cholera is 2nd, and "Wasting Disease" (everything including cancer, aids, anything that cannot be readily diagnosed) is 3rd. I would not want to ride a tro-tro in Accra, due to the traffic, but we are relatively in the country, and it seemed sort of safe.
When we got to N'Sawam, we went to the market- a real Ghanaian market, nothing touristy about it. It was such a thrill to walk around and see the sights. It smelled bad. There were nasty fish for sale everywhere, and fruits and fabrics and bread and medicine. It was amazing to see everything. I love fabrics, and they have so many amazing patterns with beautiful colors to choose from. I also got to get a Coca-cola Light from the gas station there in N'Sawam. When we were done, we got to tro-tro it back to Rafiki. Everywhere we walked, people yelled "Obruni," because we were the only white people for miles and miles.
Today we went to church in Kodeku with one of the mamas and some of the kids from Rafiki. It was truly Ghanaian, with the message being given in Ga, Twi and English. Everyone greeted us and was so kind. There was another Congo line to the front during all 3 of the offerings.
The Rafiki Home Office staff arrives this afternoon, so we are all busy preparing for that. It should be an interesting week! I plan to post more with some reflections on what we have been learning, because God continues to teach us so much through this experience.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

It's Game Time

During our 3rd week at Rafiki, one of our assignments has been to teach the children how to play the games they have in their cottages. This means that after dinner and family devotional time, Uncle John and Auntie Carol are ushered into a cottage full of pajama clad kids eager to learn something new and thrilled to have visitors during a time that is usually strictly family.
So far we have been to 4 cottages and taught Candy Land twice and Yahtzee twice. Just image a group of 10 kids hanging onto every instruction givn and cheering as they learn the rulse, while the mama tries vigorously to keep all behavior "proper." The other night we played Candy Land, and it was definately a highlight of life. There we sat gathered round a bamboo table, children snuggled into love seats on each side wriggling and grinning with Mama Bea and Auntie Fostina also there to learn and win, as we later discovered.
Because there are 4 moveable game pieces and 14 of us, we divide into teams. The game begins, with colors being announced to great hurrah and kids so full of excitement that every time a card with double colors came up, whether it was for their team or not, they would stand up, both hands in the air with clenched fists and yell "Double!", after which Mama Bea would tell them to sit down and behave proper. Anytime a card directing the player to someone like Mr. Mint, Queen Frostine or Gramma Nut came out, there was much rejoicing and then much hunting to locate it on the board.
If anyone got sent backward, Auntie Fostina started a song and dance and had the kids on her team joined in with her. This culminated as the last team was on the board trying to finish and the rest of the cottage was chanting "Blue Team Are Losers" while gyrating their arms in the air. Quite a sight to behold, I can assure you.
Last night we played Yahtzee with much fanfare until the electricity went out. And when it goes out here, it is black. Crazy black. But the stars are amazing when the lights are out, and we could see the entire Milky Way. I will post some more later, but Game time is definately a favorite event in our world.

Monday, October 16, 2006

It's All Relative

This weekend we spent most of our time in Accra, the capital of Ghana. We spent time running errands in the city and driving through the market. Again, our senses were overwhelmed by all there is to see and take in. We drove through the 4 square blocks of the market, which took 45 minutes, because it is impossible to get through for all the people walking to and fro, carrying anything from a T.V. set to peanuts to fried plaintain chips (which are really good with salsa) on their heads. There are signs everywhere that say, "Don't Urinate Here", and you begin to understand why very quickly as people undo their "lowers" (in Ghana your shirt is considered your upper, and your pants your lower) and urinate wherever they happen to be. And this phenomenom does not stop at just going Number 1, as we were loathe to discover first hand.

There are so many things we take for granted in the developed world. Traffic lights that consistently or ever work, for instance, are a novelty. Much more often there are about 8 men waving branches in the intersection, often expecting a tip for this service. Many are grateful to pay this tip, because it means that the traffic will not be "snarled," as one missionary put it. While on the topic of roads, I am so grateful to live in a country that cares about it road system. The road to and from Rafiki is quite possibly one of the worst we have ever been on. It took us 40 minutes to go 2 1/2 miles, because it rained this past week. They harvest sand here in Ghana, and the sand trucks drive this road regularly making it a complete disaster for everyone else. As we bump along and eye mud puddles warily, I am reminded of how efficient America all of the sudden seems to me. As we were coming back late this weekend, Barb was driving John and I on the "Kododu Road". She had John get out to test some of the puddles, but warned him not to go in too far for fear of the shistisomes. "Just what is a shistisome?" you might ask. Well, they apparently breed in standing fresh water, and once they get into your skin, they lay eggs in your blood vessels and worms grow inside of you. This sounds like something horrible that I am making up, but I kid you not. The doctor here says it's better not to risk it and steer clear of the water. No problem. No shistisomes for the Spensts. No Siree.

We went to another Ghanaian church, this time in Accra on the campus of the teaching hospital for West Africa. It was all in English and made up of mostly upper class people, though we were still the only white people in the room and did have our picture taken several times while we were listening to the sermon. It was encouraging to be in a Ghanaian church that was really preaching the Word, because so often here you find that Christianity is mixed in with everything else. It's like people want to cover all of their bases, so they believe in the Christian God and go to church and call themselves Christians, but they also believe in all kinds of other superstitions and strange things. Many times they are not living out the freedom that we have Jesus Christ, but are continuing to live in bondage to untruth.

As we begin our third week here, we are so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of Rafiki and God's work here. When we see the kind of schools and other places that these kids could be living, it is a privilege to get to serve them with this kind of quality education and love and facility. And they are learning the truth here! It is such a blessing to hear hymns ring out each night over the campus both in English and in Twi.

Thanks for the comments and the emails!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Noah's Ark

There are so many things to learn in the world! And we are learning them all the time. This weekend we paid $40 to learn a lesson about communications and the ideas that we all have in our heads and how different they can be. One of the missionaries here has a beautiful wooden Noah's Ark, about a foot square with little carved animals marching into the ark. So, we commissioned a Ghanaian woodcarver to make us one like the one in Barbra's house. We described it in great detail, showing with our hands and writing down the measurements as well as with the specific animals that we wanted. John and I were going to get one, and another girl on our team were going to get one. A Ghanaian Rafiki helper named Pascal was going to pick them up for us Thursday.
I saw Pascal, and I was so excited to see our Noah's Ark. The bags looked much bigger than we thought they should, and when Pascal uncovered them, we were shocked. It was a big block of wood, weighing at least 30 lbs. There was a sort of boxy ark on the top, with the animals and Noah and his wife looking to be walking around the bottom of it. Noah is about the same height as the giraffe. What a perfect example of the need of communication. I will post pictures of what we wanted and what we got later on. We have all gotten a big laugh out of it.

In other cultural stories, I should mention that a Ghanaian church service is really something special. We went to church in a village called N'Swam that is known for its marvelous bread. The church was said to be in English, though it was largely in Twi, which we cannot decipher. However, we did understand the offering time. Offering time is a big deal, and everyone dances down the aisles to get the the large bucket in the front. Picture a giant Congo line going through every row of the church. When it came time for our row to go, we were ushered into the aisle and began dancing our way to the front. At this point, the already roused congregation became rather uproarious and stood and cheered and waved their hankies in the air at the "Obrunis" (foreigners) that were joining in the fun. People also took video of us in the service, and the local missionary said it was very likely to make the local news and would at least be talked about for weeks.

We are finishing our 2nd week here, and tomorrow we will take the rest of our team to the airport and spend the day in Accra, Ghana's capital. We are sad to see them go and glad to be staying. I really miss Diet Dr. Pepper and the predictability of electricity, but other than that, life here is really nice. God is teaching us a lot about service and about Africa, both things we want to learn a lot about, so that works out well. Thank you for the prayers and the support. We so appreciate your thoughts!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Ghanaian Life

This Saturday, we went to Cape Coast, the town that holds the main tourism of Ghana. It was our first venture outside the Rafiki gates during daylight.
What a revelation of African life. Driving through village after village. Seeing the mothers with babies strapped to their backs carrying food or wash or water on their heads (we really under-utilize our heads in the States). Seeing the funeral processions that only happen on Saturdays with everyone dressed in black and red and ready for the party that accompanies the ceremony. Seeing the "God's Favour Bakery" or "Christ Will Calm the Storm Store", named as such because of their superstitions that these names will keep away the bad. We are just beginning to understand the cultural rituals of the "Fetish Priests" who promise to cure your ills if you bring them virgin girls and pay them money. There are so many kiosks for "Space Phones"- you know, the kind that don't require land lines and are thus, mobile (aka, cell phones). Watching the sheep and goats wander through the throngs of people looking for scraps or rubbing their heads against something to scratch that itch. So many sights.
Our first stop was the Kukam National Park- Ghana's rainforest with a bridge over the canopy of the rainforest with its highest point at 40 meters. It was so fun to walk that high through a rainforest! The next stop was more sobering. We went to the Slave Castle of Cape Coast- A horrific remnant of the transatlantic slave trade that was heavy for over 200 years. Understanding even the tiniest morsel of that tragedy is just starting to sink in. So many human lives robbed forever, with conditions of squalor for the body and an ultimate theft of heart, home and freedom. The lasting implications of slave trade around the world, and especially the ones we are most familiar with in the US are shocking and saddening. And, Ghanaians sold other Ghanaians into slavery. A crime perpertrated against itself. John and I left talking about the insights into the human condition that we glimpsed. It is amazing to see what humans are capable of and know that, but for the grace of God, that could be us.
After the slave castle, which was beautiful, despite its heinous past, we went to eat at a resort on the beach that had American food. This was a welcome change, especially for Carol, because we eat African food for lunch and dinner. They joke around that it is always the same, some variation of "red over white."
We have started back into our normal routine today, Monday, where John and I split straw and then roll it for baskets. Then we have lunch at the Girls Center with the teenage girls. We then have various asundry tasks in the afternoon. John has been staining doors, and I have been making tablecloths with batik cloth for the dining hall. We then do work for 45 minutes with the kids, then play with them, then have dinner, where we try to make conversation, while they try to eat as much as possible with the end result that there is no food left on the table at the end of meals.
We have a good life here, and God's blessings are new every morning. It is wonderful to see the way He works in and through us to accomplish His work.

Ghanaian women bathing her child in a basin by the road

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Termite Mounds and More

Life in Ghana continues to be an adventure. We will try to keep this to the highlights.
Highlight #1- Termite Mound
So termites here in Ghana are much larger than termites that we are familiar with in America. They build giant mounds for their home, and the dirt is such an unusually hard compound that it is used for the inside of kilns here. There is an entire food chain surrounding the termite mound. Lizards eat termites. Snakes eat lizards. Therefore, snakes live by the termite mounds. One of John's assignments to do with the kids is to take down some of the termite mounds that regularly sprout up around here. It's pretty wild. They actually have to dig the mound deep into the ground, because it will not be dead until they kill the chief. You will know when you get the chief, because it is larger than the others (if you hold it up, it stretches the length of your palm) and has a big white globular thing on top that holds water. If there is a drought, then the other termites can go and get water from the chief. So, as of yet, John and the guys have not yet found the chief, and they must keep digging.
Highlight #2- Gekkos Among Us
Gekkos are a regular part of life here. As we are eating in the dining hall, which is really quite nice by African standards, I might glance up to see a gekko scampering from the curtain to the top of the wall. While sorting clothes, it is quite often that one with hop out at us, which is quite alarming. The most disgusting part of all this is the eggs that you find. They are very small and white and fall out of things that gekkos think are lovely nests, i.e. old cushions that have been stored. I really try not to scream, but it is difficult. One of the missionaries here informed me that as they do not bite and they do eat the bugs, they really are not all that bad. Good point, but it would take me a long time to learn to like them.
Highlight #3- Ghanaian Children
The children here really are precious. All of them have really short hair, and there are 3 sets of triplets and at least 3 sets of twins, so learning names is really an uphill battle. The girls all get their ears pierced 8 days after they are born, and that is the dead giveaway to whether it is a boy or a girl. It is a blast to work with them, but presents unique challenges. Our points of reference are very different, to say the least. They have seen many American movies, so they have a dim understanding of America, but when I asked if they knew what McDonald's was, I only drew blank expressions. Life really is joyful with them. A group of kindergarter's tasted honey for the first time this week. Kofi was later telling me about it. He said, "Please, Auntie, I had honey for the first time. Bears also eat honey, please." So cute.

I need to stop typing, as this is a very long post. We are going to upload some pictures soon, and I will write when we do. Hope all of you are doing well! Thanks for the comments.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Day One in Africa

Picture the Lion King. We haven't seen him yet, but there are plenty of lizards running around and the landscape seems like something you would see in a movie about Africa. We really are here. We woke up this morning, amazed that we were actually in Ghana. Our first day was largely orientation and introductions to the Rafiki village at large.
John and I discovered that they have a special project for the two of us. At this village, the girls that come to their training center make baskets as a way to support Rafiki, because they are shipped back to the states and sold by Rafiki. So, for three hours everyday, John and I will be rollin' straw to prepare it to be woven into baskets. We are guinea pigs for this project, because they want to see if it would be something useful for Mini-Missionaries to learn and do in a short amount of time to increase their BWP (basket-weaving productivity). It's all about contributing to the bottom line for the glory of God.
We met the children that live here this afternoon, and they are a handful of fun. There are 6 cottages with 10 children each ranging in age from 8 month old twins to 15 year olds. We got to play games and be introduced to them all. The culture is very formal here, so when you introduce yourself you say, "Please, my name is Auntie Carol" or "Please, my name is Uncle John (or Uncle Tin-tin, which translates loosely into freakishly tall) , what is your name, please?" It takes some getting used to. One of my favorite moments this afternoon was when a little girl was holding my hand, and I felt something wet around my wrist. Turns out she was licking my watch. She told me that she "was cleaning it, please."
We are so glad to be here, and it is thrilling to think that we will be investing our time and energy and hearts here for a month with these beautiful children and mamas and missionaries.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

London, Part 1

Here we sit in Heathrow airport in London, England. After flying through the night, we arrived this morning to no fan fare and long lines at security. Heathrow is a mini-city in itself with every designer label imaginable and very little for the little people such as ourselves.
We flew British Airways, which really is the way to go, because they give you a treat bag and plenty of food. We are excited to get to Ghana to start what we came for. It is crazy to have travel time between all we have been doing and all we are about to be doing to reflect. We are truly excited to serve and be a part of something that is so far outside of ourselves. We really hope to gain a clearer perspective of what is happening in Africa and what are practical things that can be done from the US.
Hope you all are doing well! To be continued . . . .