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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.