Friday, 24 October 2008

God Fed Me Ice Cream for Breakfast


Have you ever been excited about now? The thought of this is somewhat amusing to me. I can think of so many times in my life that I’m excited for something. You know, like when you are anticipating something’s arrival, or anxious to get somewhere. Excitement is usually, for me at least, an emotion that precedes the event.
Not today, however.

Every moment of today was a concrete description of what it feels like to be excited for the now. To just know, that where I am at this very moment in time, is where I am meant to be. Where God put me. No where else in the world would I love to be more than where I am today.
From a biography standpoint, today wasn’t anything exciting or out of the ordinary. Darrin and I went on another mountain bike ride (same trip we did last Thursday actually), stopped at the internet cafĂ© on the way back to the city, visited lots of friends and met lots of new people. Truly, nothing out of the ordinary today.

Except for me and my mentality. No, there was no epiphany, no “click”, no ‘je n’sais pas’ moment. I just thoroughly loved every second of the day. From dragging my tired only-slept-for-four-hours butt out of bed, to getting lost on my way to meet Darrin at the badminton courts, to not being able to find any plantain chips at 7am in the morning. I loved the random, chemical-filled, vanilla ice cream that became my breakfast. I loved every stroke of the pedal I took to the top of the mountain (with my heart rate averaging about 200bpm, I swear!). I loved climbing in the shady tree next to the radio towers. I loved the hour long conversation Darrin and I had about slavery, and God, and pain, and pictures, and planning, and understanding, and exercise, and just life… And I really loved biking back down that mountain! The village we went through is probably my favourite the whole area – so beautiful and so colourful. I even love that everyone there yells “Yevu” as we ride by.

So much excitement, even just about the fact that I can find my way around town, and can speak Ewe enough to get through greetings and make somebody smile (or laugh) at my feeble attempts. Sitting and eating grilled plantain and drinking coke with my uncle just filled me with so much joy… so unexplainable and so appreciated.

Even after the trip, all showered and fed and clean (my skin has calmed down, for those who were concerned), lying in bed, I was so excited. Excited to just be there, under my fan, listening to the mid afternoon rainstorm pound outside the window, allowed to take an hour out of my day to just nap and relax. Absolutely exhausted, over-heated, a little dehydrated, but truly just excited for the experience of every moment that I am living!

Tell me, how many of you can say you are excited about your “now”? Go outside and be excited that it’s cold and raining in Vancouver for the 8th day in a row! Because even though you live it everyday, some people will never ever get to experience that! Every experience is worth being excited about! The challenges, the disappointments, the lessons, the little things, the connections, the feelings, the smells, the sights, the sounds, the same-old, same-old, the new and unfamiliar, the outrageous and the boring…

If only I could send ‘passion’ via the internet…



(This is an modified version of an entry from my journal yesterday.)

Monday, 20 October 2008

Imagine...

How about a little relaxation exercise today? I would say close your eyes and breathe calmly, but it wouldn’t make much sense for me to ask you to close your eyes when you are reading…


Imagine this.


Tiny claps of thunder precede the sky shaking booms of the main feature, as if to warn the lightning of its approach. It is still as bright as mid day, but the eerie grey clouds give the feel of an early dusk. The rain is rifling to the ground so fast it sounds as though it’s shooting the palms right off the Coconut trees. You hear the back door bang twice, as the wind announces its arrival; the whipping air sends an odd echo through the house – its adding silence, in a sense, by cutting all the other noises down to whisper. Feet shuffle across the cement floor, and a muffled click, as someone locks the door shut.

The front door is left open except for the screen; the rain, streaming in through the tiny holes and trickling down the bright blue wood, is creating a small, quickly evaporating puddle on the gray floor. It still feels so warm. You think logically about closing the windows to keep the old wooden cabinets that sit below them from getting wet, but the somewhat cool air, gliding around the sweat on the back of your neck, tells you otherwise. You can see the rain beating the moss and weed covered stones on the path that leads up to the house, and it is somehow becoming a temptation. Your bare skin is tingling as if saying “I want to know what that feels like.”

Without a moment for justification, your fingertips gently upset the stillness of that wet, blue door frame just enough for the wind to snatch it from your control, thrashing through its full range of the hinges, slamming against the concrete wall. You leap outside to catch it and the showers quickly remind you that there is no awning to keep the rain off. The door crashes three more times before your hands manage to grasp it and pull it closed.

A brief moment of reality – what are you doing? It’s pouring! You’re fully dressed!

Your heart is too captivated by the mystic of the monsoon to even entertain the idea of a reply to this.

Five steps away from the door and down the path, your jeans are soaked up to your knees. No puddles, as the ground is soaking up the rain almost as fast as the clouds can send it. Just the showers are there to drench you. Your feet are slipping in your sandals, so you kick them to the side and proceed down the path, under the mango tree and out from its shelter onto the red driveway. It is a mix of soft, warm clay and cold, sharp rocks as you stumble your way to the grass. Dirt and water are fighting to lay their mark as the soil speckles your toes red and, almost as quickly, the showers wash them clean.

The grass has never looked so welcoming - so green, so soft, so clean, so cool. You look up at the rain and let it creep into your eyes,… slide over your cheeks,… crawl into your mouth,… curve around your jaw-line,… stroll down your neck,… glide under your shirt,… roll down your chest,… tickle your abdomen,… dance around your belly button…

The blue of your denim is becoming darker and darker, as is your green shirt as it begins to cling to your skin and hang heavier off your shoulders. You hear the rain pick up in the leaves of the trees before you feel the downpour get harder and you can no longer decipher the separate raindrops as they hit your skin.

Deep breath. The water is busy washing away the heat and cleaning the air of the humidity and dust, leaving nothing but a crisp, fresh, fraction of heaven to hit your lungs. Your mind can’t begin to articulate how refreshing the rain feels as it completely drenches your hair and continues to roll down the back of your neck. Pulling the soaked strands off your cheeks, you push your hair back off your face, and, pointlessly, wring it out.

That welcoming green grass calls you to lay down, to close your eyes, to let everything wash away. To just lay there and feel each drop as it prods every square inch of you, as though a thousand children were tapping their fingertips gently up and down your skin, just to touch you, just know what your skin feels like, just curious, just innocent.

It is as though the rain wants to feel you, almost as badly as you want to feel it. Almost.


The rain… prodding… as innocently as a thousand infants.

That rain… those fingertips… washing it all away… so innocent.


That was my Saturday afternoon monsoon

Friday, 17 October 2008

Friday at the Market

I got the guts to take some pictures at the market today. I know it sounds funny, but I think the market is the most curious place. It really depicts, in so many ways, a lot about the way this society functions. Just wandering up and down the isles, you can learn almost everything you need to know about the roles of the men and women, not only in relation to business, but to family and children. The children who aren’t in school will quickly let you know you’re different with their Yevu chants and parents will rarely correct them. Responsibility is a word I could use to very accurately describe the teenagers and young adults in the area, and it’s shown by how dutiful they are to their parents’ shops, obeying orders and taking care of their younger siblings. In comparison, it’s telling to share what these people go through growing up, to what a large number of our parents lead us North American youth around (if that doesn’t make sense to you, read my quote at the top of my blog page.)


I’d compare the market to a really larger flea market I went to in Ontario with Jonathan one summer, but this one is WAY larger, has WAY more selection, and people in Ontario don’t grab your arm in attempt to have you to buy their items. It’s not extremely well organized either. There is kind of a food area, with random clothing and shoe stores in it. And then there is kind of a cleaning and chemicals area, with random food stands. The only thing they did manage to keep together was the fish, and thank goodness for that because I don’t know how many times I could stand walking by that smell while shopping. Uew.


It’s getting hotter and hotter here. I really felt it at the market today and kept thinking about Darrin’s comparison of getting off the airplane and walking into that crowded sauna.

  • If you could crowd all the people from the GM place (during playoffs),
  • into a building the size of the Cosco (the one in downtown Van),
  • and then heat the place to the same temperature as the Bikrams yoga studio (when they don’t put the extra air on),
  • and then make everyone start yelling at each other,
  • and don’t forget about the odd man who will run by you yelling “ago, ago” (meaning “get out of the way”) with a load weighing about 80lbs on his head,

That would be a good comparison to the market.

This is supposed to be a school???


My Wednesday’s journey provided me with the perfect opportunity to take a whole bunch of pictures of the conditions here without looking like a shocked tourist. A friend of the household’s and retired teacher, Mrs. Alice Ado, is heading an organization that is responsible for collecting funds worldwide to help improve the school system in the rural villages. More specifically, she’s looking to raise the school fees necessary for uniforms, books, stationary, etc.
The fact is that the majority of parents here can’t afford the 5cedis (=$5CD) necessary to pay for the years supply of school items, which is so little to anyone living in North America/ Europe, but A LOT of money here. The daily minimum wage here is only 2.50 and that can easily pay for a full lunch with a drink at a restaurant (just to give you an idea of the inflation difference).
It’s a very typical pattern for children to drop out of school here, and can you guess which students it is that do? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the ones who can pay their fees. After years of not having the proper materials, being sent home for not having proper uniform, or just missing classes to help your parents on the farm, obviously leaves the poorer children far behind and leads them to give up on the school system. As I said earlier in a blog, they count themselves short before they even try just based on what their culture and society tells them about how smart they are and what they will be capable of, which isn’t much. I’m regretful to report I haven’t experienced an extremely hope-filled society quite yet, just a few random individuals who really do believe something better is out there for them. That’s hard for me, being someone who really does see opportunity and hope where most people don’t, to look around at the potential and feel like there is not a lot I can do to help…

Back to my Wednesday journey, Mrs. Ado took Uncle Darrin and I out to this village school (in the Adaku region) with another retired teacher (Mrs. Mary Yow) to take pictures of the school to use as part of her presentation for raising funds.
It was obvious the minute we showed up that some of these children had never even SEEN a white person before. My Uncle informed me later that the girls, whose eyes never left me the whole time I was there, had a running commentary going in Ewe about every move I was making. No wonder they were so eager to jump into my pictures. One little girl nearly cried at the sight of a couple of white people, and when her friends thought this was funny, they pushed her towards Darrin and she bolted towards the houses. Not gonna lie, it was pretty cute.

Not many of the kids had proper uniforms on, and the ones that did were in bad need of repair. The same could be said for the actual school itself. When Darrin and I stopped at another school on our bike ride back from the mountain last week, I remember thinking that I couldn’t imagine trying to learn under the conditions that school provided. Well, this village school made the other school look high end. The wooden poles that were holding up the grass hut roof were decaying and one of the shelters had already fallen down!

The younger children weren’t even under a shelter – they were sitting on stools under the gigantic willow tree. As fun as that sounds (at least I know I could daydream about having all my University lectures sitting outside under a tree in warm weather), it’s hardly acceptable! It’s just the tipping point to show that these kids are not being provided with the necessities to learn and grow and become a functioning part of society.
It makes me want to begin to rant about who these school drops grow up to become in society… but I won’t go there today. I’m sure you can figure it out for yourselves anyway.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Yevu

The actual meaning behind this word, Yevu, has something to do with a cursed, Turkish dog. The Ghanaians (the Ewe people in the region I live in) use it for the term ‘white man’. Kids can say it as a joke, but when adults say it, it’s got an edge to it, like you aren’t welcome. Really, it can be used towards anyone who is a stranger in the community. In fact, sometimes the terms stranger (foreigner) and white person are pretty much interchangeable. Andorra (who is African-American) gets called Yevu all the time when people hear her talk. She usually stops and introduces herself. She told me a story about how one time she was walking down the street and some girl literally yelled “white man” at her. Can you imagine? A black girl, calling a black woman, a “white man.” Again, Andorra walked right up to her and introduced herself.

My uncle has different response when people (mostly children, because it’s just funny to them) call him Yevu. He replies back “Ah –Mia- Boh.” It means black man. The kids think this is pretty funny. My uncle isn’t facetious about it, he just does it for humour and most people do find it funny. Some men just look at him like he’s nuts. You don’t hear adults use the term very often anyway.

At first, it seemed that the kids thought I was this anomaly because I had white skin. One little girl ran up to me and touched my arm then ran back embarrassed to her group of friends who had obviously dared her to do it. At first I thought, ‘what am I? from the circus?’ It’s not like these kids aren’t used to seeing white people. There are enough NGOs and visitors here that they’ve seen them plenty times before. Then I came to the realization there is no thought to racism here. I’m different. No one has ever told them any differently. According to them, we aren’t equal, and our skin colour is just our outside showing that. So I walked right over to this group of kids and let them touch my hair.

It doesn’t really insult me. I guess it kind of takes the power out of the word if you make it a joke, or if it just doesn’t insult you to begin with.

After some time here, the word started to bother me a little. Not in the sense that I find it insulting, just that I hate constantly being pointed out as different. Some days it would be really nice to just blend right in. It can make you feel very unwelcome.

And then a few days ago, a group of 5 or 6 children all came running up to me yelling “yevu, yevu, yevu” and started hugging me. All these little arms stretched around me, just wanting to be near me. It felt so good.

"Yevu" doesn’t bother me any more.

Friday, 10 October 2008

A little Adventure...

Yesterday, my uncle and I went on the mountain bike excursion out to this mountain about 18km from the village we live in. Technically, we were on a road the entire time; however, if you could see this road, you would realize it was actually quite the technical bike ride. I imagine there was no way that a vehicle without 4 wheel drive could ever make it down the entire road. We saw a truck with a broken differential on the way (if you know anything about off-roading or vehicles, this will give you a good idea of how bumpy this road was). It was like God just decided to put a river waiving back forth down the entire road. In some areas, the ditches were nearly 2 feet deep and the water was running about 4 feet wide moving side to side, over and in between the watermelon sized stones in the red clay. The state of this road didn’t keep traffic away. Every 10minutes or so, an old Mitsubishi truck would bounce by us on the way to the market.

I don’t think I’ve sweat that much in a Bikram’s yoga class as I did on the bike ride. The humidity and the heat combined to make me feel like I was breathing in a sauna and the sweat was dripping off as though my skin was crying.

We rode out to visit these NGO/ missionaries at a village called Helekpe (pronounced “hay-lay-bay”), with the children chanting “Yevu, Yevu, Yevu” in unison when we rode by a school. The missionaries were this really lovely couple with two blonde haired, blue eyed daughters that I imagine the children in the village got a real kick out of. They don’t see a lot of white babies around here; there is actually a joke that whites aren’t born and don’t die, we just exist, because everyone comes here as an adult and leaves before they get too old.

I had been saying to the ladies in my house yesterday that what I was really missing about the food back home was a good old fashioned garden salad (it’s not recommended to eat vegetables that aren’t cooked). Never imagine I would actually get one. I was quite amused when Jake (the husband) came back from market saying he just really wanted to make a fresh salad for everyone. So simple, but it meant so much to me. No one told Jake I wanted a salad; it was like a simple little prayer that God answered for me.

This family also has a cooperative pineapple farm in the village, so they cut up a fresh sugar loaf one right in front of me – my favourite!

On the ride home, my uncle and I had to take shelter from the afternoon monsoon (it’s still the rainy season here) so we stopped at this school where a young teacher (later found out his name was Frank) was watching these two girls cut the grass with cutlasses for their detention. If you don’t know what a cutlass is, picture a really long (about a foot and a half), curved blade with a steel knife handle on one end. They are really heavy. I imagine the two girls were about 12 and 15. I asked Frank what they did to deserve this punishment – they were late for class. How productive! I think this should be implemented in Canada instead of detention! Field labour instead of writing lines!

Frank was very friendly and even invited my uncle and me out to watch a Chuck Norris movie with him. (Everyone thinks my Uncle looks like Chuck Norris. My Uncle is about 6’4”, medium length brown hair, black and white scruffy beard, and really skinny. He looks nothing like Chuck Norris.) I wish the women here were as friendly as the men.

When we got back to town, we stopped at a families house (The Saki’s) who are friends with my Uncle for a quick visit. The Mother owns a seamstress shop and because the aren’t hard up for money, she has about 10-15 apprentices that she teaches for free (very unheard of around here). Extremely friendly couple. I’m going to get a dress made there.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Ugh... my skin is torture.

I have a love/ hate relationship with showering right now.

I’m so hot, and so sweaty, and usually so dirty, that taking a nice cold shower sounds like heaven. And when I’m in the shower, its so refreshing I don’t want to get out.

But as soon as I step out of the shower, the fact that acidic nature of the rain water makes itself known and my skin is irritated from head to toe. SOOOO ITCHY. I used to have the same problem when I lived in Cranbrook and the water was really hard. Nothing helped it then. Nothing is helping it now. Except, it’s a lot worse then when I lived in Cranbrook.

It’s torture for at least an hour after getting out of the shower. No rash. Just itchy. My main goal is not to scratch myself bloody after I get out of the shower… because that would mean I’d need another shower to clean up again.

I’m starting to think it’s because my bug spray is eating my skin. It took my toe nail polish off…

That can’t be good.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Antonio

Antonio (Tony) is a daily visitor to the house here. My uncle describes him as a “simple man.” This is his polite way of saying he’s mentally disabled. He only speaks Ewe (pronounced “Ay-Way”), the most common language in this region.
Tony’s family died a long time ago, and his father left him a house, so thankfully, he has a place to live. He has an Aunt that lives in a different neighbourhood, but she doesn’t want anything to do with him.
He’s a really hard worker. He’ll work the entire daylight hours digging ditches for houses, and whatever else people need him to dig ditches for. Unfortunately, Tony can’t count either. So even though the minimum daily wage here is 2.50 (That’s in cedis, but its pretty much equal in US dollars), sometimes people only give him a 0.20 at the end of the day.
So my Uncle and the other ladies here help him out by giving him one meal a day. The first time I heard his story I nearly cried.
If he crosses the little bridge, he only lives about 100ft from our house, but he’s so afraid of water (his gait is a little un-sturdy, picture one of the zombies from 27days) that he walks a kilometer and a half down the river to the big road bridge and then back up the river the other kilometer and a half. Kind of funny, kind of sad. Poor, Tony.
It’s telling how, even though we can’t communicate at all, it would be really weird to go an entire day without Tony. He’s really become a part of my context.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

The Sugar Apple

I have a new favourite fruit. It’s called a Sugar apple. I couldn’t possible describe the taste, but it’s amazing. I’ve never even heard of it before coming here.

It looks more like it would eat you than you should eat it. The first time my uncle showed it to me, I thought it looked like something from outer space. It feels all squishy and spongy like and when you open it up, the seeds are held in these little capsules that you swear should be waving back and forth at you like little fingers.

If anyone but my uncle offered it to me, I would have thought they were just playing on how gullible I am and were trying to make me eat an animal.

But no, like I said, it’s the most amazing tree grown fruit I have ever tasted. Definitely a “don’t judge a book by its cover”, clichĂ© story.

Unfortunately, I arrived at the end of their season, and I’ve eaten the last two that were left on the tree...

Equal

Today was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. Three and a half hours of Mass. It actually didn’t feel that long at all. Someone could have told me it was an hour and I wouldn’t have argued it. The music, the dancing, the homely… everything was incredibly entertaining. Even the women’s dresses were a great distraction from the fact that half the service was in a language I don’t speak.

After the Mass, there was a picnic and I managed to talk to a few girls and was extremely excited about the fact that I finally felt like I was breaking down the “white person” barrier and was beginning to feel more like myself. And then I was separated again. I, my uncle, and the three other women who live at Madonna House were invited over to the Priests house for brunch (Fufu with Spicy Soup). Imagine that. The only 3 white people in the whole church (and their friends) get special treatment. How to ruin a moment. And it’s not like this is an invitation you can turn down. He HAD specifically invited us to the Mass this Sunday. I really wanted to stay at the picnic.

So we are at the priest’s house and my Uncle tells me I need to see the process of how Fufu is made. He shows me the kitchen where there are about 5 locals pounding at this mixture of yam and corn dough in a huge mortar with a gigantic pistil. Making Fufu takes some extreme physical exertion!!! So now, my only thoughts are on how the entire congregation is back at this picnic under the mango tree, and I’m in this stuffy house being fussed over. And it’s not that I don’t 100% appreciate Father’s generosity and hospitality, but it’s so hard to try and fit in when you are constantly getting special treatment. And can you imagine what those locals who are pounding away at the Fufu in the back kitchen are thinking when they see they are making this for the only white people to show up to Mass that morning? Well, at least, I hope they aren’t thinking that way.

My Uncle says it’s hard to make friends with the girls here. The culture has pretty much told them their entire lives that the whites are smarter, better, whatever. Some of the kids even watch my Uncle farming because they think it’s hilarious to see a “white man doing a black man’s job.” It’s like they’ve cut themselves short before they’ve even started. So there is this bitterness around here about white people because they feel inferior, or worse, think that you feel superior. I guess it’s a matter of trying to show them that you don’t think that way. That you are equals.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Like a child...

It was really difficult trying to decide what to write about for my first week here in Africa. Everything is new and has a story, and something interesting to say about it. I’ve met lots of really interesting people with really interesting stories. The food is incredible and I am constantly amazed at all the new flavours and spices I’ve tried. I want to introduce you to everything I’ve experienced in a little paragraph that you’ll actually want to sit and read, but that’s impossible.

I could talk about my new favourite fruit, or the herd of baboons we saw the other day, or the friend I made and the protestant boarding school (her name is Mable).

It’s strange how fast things become normal. On Tuesday, I was shocked by the fact that people actually carry things on their heads. Today at my uncle’s farm, I was harvesting corn and carrying this huge bowl of it on my head. I didn’t even think anything of it until my Uncle said we should get a picture of it.

The heat isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s not bothering me at all. Sometimes the humidity makes me feel like I can’t catch my breath. But the heat? Not a problem.

But I decided that what I really want to write about doesn’t actually have a lot to do with Africa specifically. It’s like I’m a child all over again. My days of talking people’s ears off have quickly faded. I’m gazing curiously at every new sight and slowly re-pronouncing sounds that I hear other people make. In some instances, even copying facial expressions and hand gestures in some minuscule attempt to understand why people are doing what they are doing. I imagine I would behave this way in any culture as different from mine as this one, it’s just interesting to me that out of all the advice and stories I was told about traveling, no one once described it to me as being a child all over again. I almost feel like I need to learn to walk in a new manor in order to truly understand this culture.

In the most literal sense, I feel like this helpless, speechless, lost, amazed, frightened, excited, curious and unbelievably thirsty… infant.