Join us on our faith journey as we follow Jesus to Ghana, West Africa!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas in Ghana

Mary Kay writes:

I am struck by the things that are the same about Christmas, amid the many differences.

The first thing we've noticed is the weather. While temperatures are dropping in Georgia, and days get shorter and shorter, here in Ghana it is actually getting warmer, with our highs in the 90s. The air is full of dust as the winds blow south from the Sahara, bringing harmattan. And the days are the same length year round, as we are on the equator.

But the stores are full of Christmas goodies - toys for the children, electronics for dad, jewelry and perfume for mom. Christmas ornaments, gift wrap and garlands of tinsel in every color imaginable are available amid the vegetable stalls in my local market. Christmas carols play on the radio and in the stores. The boys had a holiday concert at the school last night, and we will go to a service of Lessons and Carols at our local Methodist church next Sunday.

The church is decked out in purple altar cloth for Advent, but there is no Advent wreath to be lit, no Advent hymns that we have sung as yet. I find I miss the thoughtful strains of "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel".

Many of our family traditions remain the same. We still light our Advent wreath, which had been carefully packed in tissue and bubble wrap to make the move, each evening and read a Christmas story as a family. We no longer sit by the fireplace, sipping hot chocolate, but that seems to be OK. Treasures ornaments made by little hands in numerous preschool and Sunday School classes still adorn our tree. We won't be able to drive up to Lake Lanier on Christmas Night for the Christmas lights, but we will have the chance to go explore a new part of Ghana during the break between Christmas and New Year's when Charlie's classes are out and the boys are on winter break. And my mother has sent us a jigsaw puzzle - a family tradition to set out and work over the holidays. We just will be watching soccer matches instead of bowl games while we work it. And the biggest difference is that Gramma and Grampa won't be here (this year, at least!) to work it with us.

Our nativity scene, which we have put out on the bookshelf where we hung our stockings (no mantel here!), was carved here in Ghana of local mahogany. The characters of the traditional story take on a new meaning for us, as we see the Wise Men are carrying the traditional symbols of an Ashanti king - a staff for the spokesman for the king, a machete for the body guard, and a calabash for the water bearer. And the shepherds look like Ghanaian goatherds from the north of the country. But the baby Jesus lying in the manger, is the same Jesus we wait for in the US.

So is Christmas different here in Ghana? Yes....but No. For at its heart, Christmas is about celebrating God's incredible gift to us in the birth of His son, Jesus. And that is why we are here in Ghana.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Bits and Pieces from December

Charlie writes...

Mary Kay has joined Andrew Jernighan on a trip out to the Lake house that he is preparing for their arrival. They have a bore hole there, but no pump. And before you order a pump, you have to discover the "recharge rate" of the hole. While the state Water and Sanitation agency that drilled the well is supposed to be able to tell you that, we're not taking chances, as the Jernighans have two little kids, and Mary Kay wants them to have reliable water. The Lake is south of Kumasi, and was formed in the crater left by a prehistoric meteorite impact. It is the largest natural lake in the country, with a good fisheries industry on it, although as Andrew says, "we are two hours from anywhere." Mary Kay took Ken along, so it is just me and Chip holding the home fort. He has been busy working on his IB Junior Project - where he is drawing plans of our house here and then speculating on the features and why they are different than in houses in the states, to be followed by interviews with Ghanaians who know something of architecture to validate his inferences. He's really enjoyed the drafting - reminds me of my drafting class at Westfield High.

The music director at the college died in early October, and Mary Kay and I went to the funeral, our first one in Ghana. We had the boys stay home, and then had Jasper take them over for youth group in East Legon, then on to the Mozleys until we could come pick them up. The staff got to ride in the new MUCG 15-passenger bus, and the students rode in the GET-Fund big bus. The service went on and on, and as the only white people present, the usher made sure that we were seated prominently near the front (which was pretty embarrassing, as I did not really know the man, and was going as a support to the University and to see a funeral). We went out to the gravesite and then after singing some hymns, adjourned to one of four different receptions - this one at the MUCG Registrar's home, which is also in Winneba. He had been the registrar at Winneba's school of Education before retiring and then joining MUCG. He has a very nice home, and again we were treated like royalty - one of the few times since I've been here that we had time to converse with the principal. I think it also was the first time we had met his wife.

My exam is scheduled for January 15 - the evening class will have to come in to take it at the same time as the day class - exam security is a big deal in Ghana. The paper has had "Wall of Shame" photos of people who obtained admission to Legon, the state University that we are working under, under false pretenses and were now being publicly shamed and banished from university here for two years. There are also seasons where exam cheaters are expelled with similar publicity. Rather sobering...

Lincoln had a nice Christmas program with multiple choirs and music ensembles. Chip played African drums and the American drum set, and Ken played clarinet, and they both sang. The music people did a great job of pulling it off, since they had kids from pre-school all the way through high school in one program!

The college had a "Lessons and Carols" service last Wednesday - ad- vertised to begin at 5 p.m., so we were there to an empty house at 5:05, thinking we would be late! Shortly after, we started to see some of the choristers coming for their rehearsal, and things began to happen at 6:15. Program began at 6:30, continued until 9:30, and since we had not yet had dinner, we were starved. They did the usual readings - from Genesis, Prophets, and Gospels, and there were four different choirs there - "Mass choir" which is open to all at the University, the University Chorus which provides music at the Wed. morning worship services, the Mt. Olivet Methodist Church choir, and the Dansoman Youth Choir, some of which have members in common. Of course, it turned into what Chip would have called "Battle of the Bands" - but we did hear music ranging from calypso to Handel's Messiah excerpts, local African music, and Methodist hymns. There were even Methodist Christmas Hymns that I had never heard, out of the British tradition, I suppose.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Notes from November 06

Charlie writes...

We are keeping busy with the logistics of life here. Traffic is horrendous, as the roads are in poor condition, and cars, taxis and tro-tros (15-20 passenger vans that function as an unofficial bus service) frequently block each other and cause gridlock. This and the lack of restaurants in our part of town are our biggest complaints. So, really we don’t have it so bad. We are doing pretty well in our language lessons. We can make simple sentences describing activities or a picture, and hold some basic conversations. I get more practice with the women in the market than Charlie does at the university.

The boys have plugged right in to their school. Chip is in the school play this next week, with two smaller roles in Oedipus Rex. He is also enjoying playing goalie for the JV soccer team. Ken is his usual carefree self, and enjoying after school activities like karate and chess. They both had good reports on their mid-semester report cards, some room for improvement, but that’s to be expected!

Charlie is teaching two sections of Freshman Math for IT students, a Discrete Math course. He has a day session with about 40 true freshman, and an evening session with 9 “mature” students. He really is enjoying it, especially when he sees that they understand what he is teaching or when they get engaged enough to really start asking him questions. Please pray for him and his students as they will be having mid-term exams this week and next, and Charlie has to prepare his final in the next couple of weeks as well. One of the other things that we are really enjoying is the Wednesday morning worship service at the University, which we both attend. The chaplain draws from a wide variety of speakers, both on and off campus, and the choir is terrific!

I have had two meetings with the Methodist Church Ghana, starting the groundwork for future water projects. I am looking forward to getting to know the Ghanaian civil engineer that they have hired as a consultant. He will be a great resource for me as I try to learn about the practice of engineering in Ghana. I will participate in a Dry Farming workshop on November 21st. We want to educate farmers to work together to put in wells near their fields so that they can irrigate crops and increase their yields. We will be sharing a number of technologies with them that day, including a treadle pump and clay pot water filters for drinking water. I will also attend a conference on Rural Water and Sanitation that is being held in Accra the last week in November. So keep me in your prayers as my schedule picks up.

We’ve started to look for a vehicle to purchase. Right now we are borrowing a car from friends on furlough, but they will come back after Christmas. This seems to be a very complicated process here. We found one used Pathfinder that seemed like a pretty reasonable deal, but then were advised by several friends not to buy a used car in Africa, as you never know what you are getting and vehicles are often poorly maintained here. So we will start looking at new cars next week, but of course that has budget issues. We have been blessed to find a terrific driver, Jasper, who helps with getting the boys to and from school. He worked at one time for a German organization that was involved in water projects, so he is knowledgeable in that area, too. He has been a big help to Charlie as they have looked for a car together.

We’re attending church at Mt. Olivet Methodist Society, here in Dansoman. It is a truly Ghanaian church, probably about the size of DUMC. It has an English service at 7:30 am, that we attend for the boys’ sake. Several other lecturers from the university are members there, as well. It has an interesting mix of traditional and contemporary worship in the services, which last 2 to 2-1/2 hours each.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

MUIT 101 Daytime, MUCG Prayer Service, Trip to the Post Office

Charlie writes...

It was a busy day today. I joined the boys and Jasper as they left this morning for school, and they dropped me at the college. Ken was greeted by his namesake and Jasper's brother, who is now watchman/guard on the campus. Kennedy had been our night watchman at the house when we first arrived, and introduced us to Jasper. I spent some time reading Romans in "The Message" before some of the IT freshmen came by to ask about where MUIT 101 was to be taught. Together, we scoped out a room on the ground floor that seemed about the right size. There are about 40 freshmen in the IT group, eight of whom are female. The evening students are older, and numbered 9, all male.

The day students are mostly fresh graduates of the SSS (senior secondary schools, comparable to a high school in the US), and seemed alert and ready, even though the class ran from 8:30 to 10:30, which would have been VERY early and long for me as an undergraduate. I outlined the differences between what freshman IT majors would learn in their math class and what the other majors would be studying. The polynomials, equations of lines, trigonometry, and exponentials/logarithms of the rest of the school are replaced with "discrete math" which includes topics like Number Theory, propositions and proofs (via induction, cases, contradiction), Trees, Networks, Graphs, Counting, and Recursion.

After class, I chatted with the master groundskeeper/landscape architect on the campus, who was supervising a crew of 6 men hacking away at the elephant grass lining the main dirt road leading to the campus. The principal had requested that bermuda grass be planted for a more finished look, but the landscaper again commented on the very tight budget he must work within. He also indicated that water for irrigation may be a problem, since the water pressure on campus is not great. Perhaps Mary Kay will have a water project in our own backyard!

The chaplain's office had put up flyers announcing the first weekly worship service on campus, and Mary Kay came over to join me. We sat in the front with the other lecturers and academic officers. A lecturer in psychology who is a Prebyterian minister gave the homily, and lead the congregation in a prayer session following. Using texts ranging from Genesis to Jeremiah, he tried to impress upon everyone that we should be confident in pursuing our goals which honor God, and not be afraid or distracted. There were several hymns sung from a book excerpted from the MHB (Methodist Hymn Book), most of which we were familiar with, even using the tunes we remembered from the US. It seems that almost half of the hymns we sing at Mt. Olivet Methodist are familiar words but sung to different tunes than we are used to.

The college receptionist gave us a notice from the Ghana Post Office that reported the arrival of a package from my sister two weeks ago. We checked at our local PO, but they directed us to the Accra Central PO for pickup. Jasper stayed with the car, while I queued at the main window. The clerk there told me I was at the wrong place, and so we ended up circling the block to park inside the main post office courtyard. We were then directed to walk around the outside again to another entrance. We saw a long line of people queued for outbound shipments, but then a number of windows for pickup. Our form had a red '7' marked on the top, which we then found out indicated the window which we were to use in claiming the Parcel Post. We had been instructed to present ID in the form of a Ghanaian passport and driver's license, so I had brought along a scan of my US passport and the International Driver's Permit and my Georgia license. The clerk joked that people from the US have too many IDs. She took the passport copy and made note of my Georgia license number on her paperwork, then went behind to fetch the parcel. Then the customs lady had us open the parcel in front of her, then announced that based on the contents, I would have to pay 47 thousand cedis duty. Being familiar with the habit here of quoting a price down to the cedi and then collecting much more without returning change, I had brought along smaller bills. I paid 47 thousand with two twenties, a five, and two fresh one thousand bills. This made quite an impresson on both of them, as they assume that an obruni (white man) will pay with big bills, and they can pocket the change. Then I was asked questions about what I was doing in Ghana, and once they found out I was teaching at Methodist University College, the customs lady said she had a relative she wanted to get into college, and the post lady said she had a ward who she wanted to get into the Wesley Grammar School on the opposite side of the property. I had to beg off, saying I didn't know the folks at Wesley Grammar. All in all, a rather complicated exercise. Upon exiting, the gate keeper asked Jasper to pop the back trunk for an inspection, which seemed a bit gratuitous. Having packages delivered is obviously much more complicated than flats, which seem to make it more easily, although still at a cost of nearly $20 each.

Friday, September 01, 2006

7th Grade First Day

Ken writes...

7th Grade First Day

Fall of 2006 has come.
I feel my left leg going numb.
It's my first day at this school.
This makes me feel like a fool.
2nd period....
time for French.
My mother said,
"It's a cinch!"
What's that? I don't understand.
I feel like I'm in a foreign land.
It's time for lunch!
Munch! Munch! Munch!
Next stop Math!
There's no path
Between the 10th graders.
I slip,
I trip,
I do a flip
In the giant crowd!
I want to sleep in the shade
On the first day of 7th grade.