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Friday, November 09, 2012

Mary Kay writes...

Wow - it has been a long time since we have posted anything. I have to say that I have been traveling virtually non-stop since the last post, and Charlie has been trying hard to keep his head above water, between his teaching and trying to keep up with all the essential tasks I kept assigning him from abroad.

Since Halloween, we and our organizations have been featured in several social media venues. I thought I would share these glimpses into our lives in Africa with you.

The first mention came from a friend of mine, Jen Shank, on her site, Swanky Shank. Jen is a member of one of our supporting churches, Living Word UMC, and runs an on-line business from her home in the St. Louis area. Jen honored us with her creation of the month, bracelets featuring Ghanaian glass beads and is donating the proceeds from the bracelets to the Ghana Project, which funds water projects in northern Ghana. Jen is really creative and has cute stuff, so take a look. I don't benefit from her sales - except the bracelets, which really will benefit the children of northern Ghana, not me.

Last Friday, I was given the opportunity to guest blog on the Shine Girls Shine website. Shine Girls Shine is a daily Bible reading and prayer ministry. I follow it to help keep me accountable in my daily devotions. I have gained so much - it is amazing how often the blog posts are right on target with something going on in my life. It was a privilege to share a part of our story of our call to Ghana with the Shine Girls.

 Most of you probably know that one of the hats I wear is as Managing Director of Pure Home Water, a Ghanaian non-profit that manufactures and distributes ceramic pot filters to rural households so that they can have safe water to drink. A very talented friend of ours, Iaona Lupascu, of SparkIntuit created a wonderful 4 minute documentary on Pure Home Water.


 Finally, Patrick Awuah, the founder of Ashesi University, where Charlie teaches, is being honored today by the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley with their prestigious Innovation Award. You can learn more about Ashesi and Patrick's vision to change Ghana one student at a time in this news report.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Recycling in Accra

Charlie writes:

After several months of back and forth with the manufacturer of the Pure Home Water lids stashed on our front porch, Mary Kay finally gave up and authorized me to figure out a way to clear them out. The new clay pot filters from the factory in Tamale are a different size, so the lids we had from before just won't work, and the plastics maker here wasn't willing to take them back, since they really aren't worth much without a matching bottom.

I was not looking forward to the exercise, since recycling is not done in the same way here in Accra as it would be in Atlanta. In Atlanta, I knew the various places that glass, metals, or plastics could be taken for recycling, but not here.

After a few minutes, though, I remembered that I had seen a man cutting up the yellow jerrycans that hold cooking oil in a lot not too far from our house. He and his assistant seemed to be breaking them down into flat pieces and then lashing them together in piles to be sold to plastics manufacturers across town. I thought I would wander by and ask if they would take this sort of plastic as well.

When I got there, a crew of about six young men were just pulling in with one of those four-wheeled carts that you see all about town, topped by three large white tyvek bags filled with miscellaneous plastics, and a number of "Go Bags" that were stuffed with more plastic. They untied the bags and tossed them on the ground, then used an S-shaped hook to attach the bags one at a time to a spring scale hanging from a crossbar about six feet off the ground. Then the man running the recycling center scribbled his sums in a small pad and paid the head hauler, who then passed some on to all the "boys" who had helped collect and escort the cart. The cart owner then left to gather up more from the neighborhood.

After they had finished, I approached the owner. He looked at the lid, telling me that he would pay fifty pesewas per kilogram for that sort of plastic. I enlisted two of the hangers-on to walk back to our house with two huge tyvek bags. They neatly stuffed all the lids into the bags, but then realized that they wouldn't be able to hoist them on their heads as I think they had anticipated. So I backed the Hilux over and they loaded them in the pickup bed, supervised by Jonas and Jasper. A few minutes later we were back at the lot, and the owner helped wrestle the bags into position for weighing. Mary Kay was pleasantly surprised to receive cash back for what was no longer usable, and I was amused that the scrap vendor paid the 92 ghana cedis with 92 red one cedi notes. That's about the first business I've run into in Ghana that carries exact change!

The students from CMU have been running a demonstration plastic bottle recycling program at Ashesi, not sure where the bottles go, but I had read somewhere that an NGO was collecting them to use as floats in creating netted fish hatcheries in Lake Volta, which sounded interesting.

Now if we can just figure out what to do with glass and aluminum...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Seawater Desalination Coming to Teshie

Charlie writes:

A few weeks ago on my usual weekend bicycle ride, I tried to find the Ramada Inn that is east of Accra on Coco Beach. Was unable to on bicycle, but later Mary Kay and I drove over, and spent a holiday afternoon there. But the topic of this post is the new water project that I discovered. I've not heard anything of it in the local media.
Today, I bicycled back over, and met with Carlos, one of the engineers from Abengoa Water, a Spanish firm that is heading up a desalination project in Teshie, an eastern suburb of Accra, the nation's capital. Carlos was pacing the property, with a clipboard on which he was counting the trucks as they went in and out of the compound. As he explained to me, the site had been used as an unofficial landfill, so the first step is to build a wall, install concertina wire and gates, and provide manned security to discourage the addition of any more trash to the property. They had been given assurances that the place they were hauling truckloads of black sand in Tema, further east, had been declared a legitimate landfill, but hadn't seen official documents of that claim yet.

When I asked how much water this plant was to be providing to this part of Accra, the answer was "Just read it off the sign, isn't it out there?" We walked outside the gate and as you can see in the photo, there was no mention of the size or date. Carlos then admitted that the plant was designed to produce 60,000 cubic meters of potable water per day, and that if everything goes well, it should begin operating in about two years. As a point of comparison, I found a report suggesting that in 2008, GWCL had contracted for a 20,000 cubic meters per day plant in Teshie, with a 25-year BOO plan with Aqualyng Ghana Limited, which I suppose has lapsed. That was projected to supply enough water for just 4% of metro Accra, which would be 1 or 2% by 2030. Sounds like this plant is 3 times that. Abengoa claims to have built plants in Spain, Algeria, India, and China with a combined capacity of 875,000 cubic meters per day, so this is a modest sized one.

He and I compared traffic stories. Carlos decided to settle in Osu, where he could get about without needing an auto, and could find good food and nightlife. His firm supplied him a driver and auto, and he can make it from home to work in 45-60 minutes. The beach road widening is nearly finished, just a few hundred yards of road where the dual-carriage merges onto one side just east of the Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Center. Both our commutes are reverse the normal direction, although mine is closer to 90 minutes.

Apparently the plan is to submerge a large pipe under the beach there, and withdraw seawater. Then it will be forced through membranes at high pressures to separate the salt. He didn't say what other processes would be used, but I would imagine that chlorination or UV disinfection might be required, since the city of Accra discharges only partially treated wastewater into the ocean at a point that Google Earth computes at 17.12 km away. [Google Earth kml file here].

The civil work was being done by the same outfit that had constructed the Ashesi campus in Berekuso, so their foreman recognized my t-shirt. They are planning to finish securing the perimeter in the next few weeks.

With the unreliability of electricity in the area, I'm not sure how practical a desal plant will be, but perhaps they will build a large diesel powerplant to carry them over power cuts. That would be very expensive, though.

Saw the following advert on my way home on a tavern wall. Ghanaians are often surprised that I would call myself "Charlie" for this reason, since it is kind of like "Bud" or "Buster" in the USA.

Exo 15:23-27 GNB

Then they came to a place called Marah, but the water there was so bitter that they could not drink it. That is why it was named Marah. The people complained to Moses and asked, "What are we going to drink?" Moses prayed earnestly to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood [moringa?], which he threw into the water; and the water became fit to drink. There the LORD gave them laws to live by, and there he also tested them. He said, "If you will obey me completely by doing what I consider right and by keeping my commands, I will not punish you with any of the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians. I am the LORD, the one who heals you." Next they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees; there they camped by the water.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sεbi - a word missing from English

Warning: this post contains adult language.

Charlie writes:
On Wednesday night, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, author of "Tail of the Blue Bird" was in Accra. I joined a number of Ashesi staff and alumni at the SyTris bookshop, which is two stories above the PMMC shop opposite Papaye on Oxford Street in Osu. After a late start, Mr. Parkes narrated some of his poems and read selected passages from his book.

During his free-wheeling commentary after one of the readings, he mentioned that his use of Ghanaian vernacular was a hard sell to the publisher, but that he had eventually convinced them that it added to the authenticity of the tale. He said that Ghanaians had to use some words that just don't exist in English, and his example was the expletive 'sεbi'.

In the British printing, the editors and author rejected the idea of a Glossary, but Nii found out that to get published in the USA, there would have to be a Glossary in order for the book to sell. This is because, like in "A Clockwork Orange," there are a number of words that would not be commonly known to most readers.

Kajsa Adu remarked that she agreed with the British publisher, thinking that any good literature shouldn't reveal all its secrets on the first reading. She enjoys re-reading books to pick up on words or ideas that she had missed the first time. In that spirit, I'll give you the contexts for this word, missing in English, from the book (page numbers in parentheses):

(2) The ancestors say that the truth is short but, sεbi, when the tale is bad, then even the truth stretches like a toad run over by a car on those new roads they are building.

(7) Then listen Sargie. Sεbi, our village is like a vagina. Those on the inside have no problems with it; those on the outside think it stinks.

(70) I nodded. (I knew the place. It wasn't far from where my mother, sεbi, had her farm.)

(96) "I caught the antelope, so I will eat until, sεbi, I go crazy."

(98-99) That same night, the musician, Tintin, disappeared. Everybody thought, sεbi, he was dead, but I will tell you the truth later.

(101) It is true that those who knew Ananse understood his sadness. Sεbi, since the time before his penis knew to stand up for the right purpose, he had done everything to get close to his wife. As he matured and learned the ways of the world, he realized, sεbi, since she grew to be one of the most beautiful girls in the sixteen villages under their chief.

(102) So, sεbi, losing his wife two years after he had married her was not an easy thing for Ananse, but as his mother-in-law, Yaa Somu, said, he had a daughter.

(106) I am always repeating the elders' adage that even the eagle has not seen everything but, when I went to the place where Tintin had been living, where he had built the adakabεn, sεbi, I almost died.

(123-124) He had worked non-stop, except for one interruption from the truck driver's daughter, who wasn't so much sick as expecting. He had simply asked her a few questions since he didn't really have any supplies. She readily admitted that she was urinating more frequently than usual, but laughed when Kayo asked her if her breasts were tender.
"Are you trying to seduce me?" There was a knowing twinkle in her eye.
Kayo smiled, "No, I'm trying to find out if someone else has recently."
She cast her eyes to the floor, then raised them slowly. "Why?"
"Maybe, sεbi, he is the reason you are ill."
"Oh, really?" Her eyes widened as she realized what Kayo was trying to say, then smiled. "Oh!" She turned and headed for the door, looking back to wave, "I thank you," she giggled. Then she was gone.

(131) Sometimes we heard him beating her, or shouting at her, telling her that she had killed his wife, she was anyεn like her grandmother, Yaa Somu. There wasn't much we could do. I mean, sεbi, she was his daughter and the ancestors must lead the way, but there were times when we called on them to ask for things we didn't need, just so that he would stop beating her.

(132) By Onyame's generosity, Yaa Somu's land, where she planted her tomatoes, had not been taken by anyone (I think the chief in his wisdom kept it so), so Mensisi got my sons to help her clear it and she started planting tomatoes. Kwaku Ananse was not happy, but, sεbi, apart from beating her he couldn't do anything to her, and she was no longer afraid of the weight of his arm.

(145) It is true that we still had crops but our harvest was light, there was not much left over for the farmers and traders to sell. As for Kwaku Ananse, sεbi, his crop was destroyed that year, the cocoa pods that grew looked like a baby's fists, he could not sell them. I told my wife that the ancestors had started.

(146) Kwaku Ananse had been sick with his coughing again, but Mensisi wasn't able to come and look after him because her husband was hurt. He had been in a bad accident while travelling to Takoradi to work and, sεbi, they had to remove his leg. He was in bed for three moons but still things didn't get better and, with the passing of time, Onyame in his wisdom removed him from his suffering.

(147) We kept quiet and allowed her to do what she wanted, but we, the men, we watched Kwaku Ananse's home. We were ready, sεbi, to kill him this time, if he started beating her again. We were ready because Kwaku Ananse to us was no longer a man, and sεbi, nobody mourns a tsetse fly when it dies.

(147-148) You see, they say, sεbi, when something you don't know is approaching it is frightening, but when it gets close it is often a relative.

(168) Hmm, can you believe that this Mintah, the one who removed the bullets, also took money to his mother for him? That's why the elders say that, sεbi, bad doesn't live alone in a compound; good always lives there too.

(169) Anyway, I told Kwadwo that this is why you have to look well with people because you never know their story. I mean, they say what happens for a woman to conceive - sεbi, not the lying down, but what happens after - is a mystery to all men. But (this is what I told him), my friend, I tell you, what happens after birth is a bigger mystery.

(170) It is true that, because this woman with short short skirt and thin legs, sεbi, knew certain people, the police were here with their guns before the three days could come, so it didn't happen exactly as Oduro said.

Confused? I was also as I read the book, and when the Ashesi freshmen were reading it this past fall, I asked for a translation. I was told that it introduces a potentially embarrassing or off-color comment. As Nii Parkes put it on Wednesday, you can just about say anything after sεbi and no one will get upset. With the political correctness of English nowadays, the concept just doesn't translate!

Judges 12:4-6 Then Jephthah brought all the men of Gilead together, fought the men of Ephraim and defeated them. (The Ephraimites had said, "You Gileadites in Ephraim and Manasseh, you are deserters from Ephraim!") In order to keep the Ephraimites from escaping, the Gileadites captured the places where the Jordan could be crossed. When any Ephraimite who was trying to escape would ask permission to cross, the men of Gilead would ask, "Are you an Ephraimite?" If he said, "No," they would tell him to say "Shibboleth." But he would say "Sibboleth," because he could not pronounce it correctly. Then they would grab him and kill him there at one of the Jordan River crossings. At that time forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites were killed.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ashesi's Economics Field Trip to Tema Port

Charlie writes:
On Friday, June 8, a subset of the Freshmen class at Ashesi University College toured the Tema port to understand the perceived high cost of imported items here in Ghana. The students traveled on a large bus, a small bus, and my Hilux, merging at the port after dealing with breakdowns and a shopping expedition to the Accra Mall.

Upon reaching the port, the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority Public Relations Officer boarded our lead bus, which meant that the two buses could get waved through the gate. The first stop was the Scanners, a pair of open frames large enough to drive a flatbed loaded with a container through, where the CEPS officers can visualize the contents of a mixed container that is suspected of containing contraband. The students asked why not all containers were scanned, and were told that the capacity of the machines was limited. Bulk containers that are filled with a single commodity are never scanned.

Beyond the scanners is the Golden Jubilee facility and the area where home used vehicles are delivered for sale into Ghana. We returned back to the main quays (which our guide pronouced KEY), where we learned that there are 12 berths on two quays, the second being deeper and designed for modern containerized shipping. We all left the buses and listened to the PRO and two port authority workers describe the layout of the wharfs and the general process for scheduling the loading/unloading operations.

Dr. Stephen Armah then got word that we could have a tour of the scanners, but where we returned to that part of the port, it was just after noon, and we got stuck in a traffic jam. The PRO explained that many of the autos imported are actually driven straight off the boats as would be the case for automobile ferries. We saw some cars being driven, some being towed by others.

When we realized that we would not be making it back to the scanners promptly, we backed out and saw the main port offices, the Duty Free shop (for crew members and Authority workers), and the clinic. We didn't have time to tour the bunkers for petroleum products, the dry dock, or the clinker (raw material for cement production) terminals.

The PRO said that the port was sized to handle a half million containers per year (the Authority's web site claims to have processed 500,000 TEUs in 2009, and as much as 750,000 TEUs during 2011). Meanwhile, the nation's only other deepwater port, Takoradi, claims 55,000 TEUs, but 62% of the nation's outbound traffic, consisting of manganese, bauxite, cocoa, and lumber.

The port has been somewhat privatized with MPS, the operator, owned 35% each by Maersk, France's Bollore Group, and 30% by Ghana Ports and Harbours. This group now runs the two deep wharfs, and apparently has streamlined operations somewhat. Unlike the ports at Lagos, Nigeria, and Abijan, Cote d'Ivoire, vessels cannot be assured of "berthing windows" when a berth would be available for prior reservation at a given time. At Tema, the vessels must queue out in the ocean, and then wait to be berthed on a first come, first served basis.

The transportation of containers in West Africa is quite a bit more expensive than in developed countries. For instance, the West Africa Trade Hub found in a 2010 study funded by USAID that

"the cost to deliver a container from Tema to Ouagadougou is more than seven times the cost to deliver the same container from Newark to Chicago, a route of roughly equal distance. This is despite the fact that trucker salaries in the USA are roughly 25 times higher. And the trip takes as much as four times longer."

The students were asked to prepare a one page report on why imports are so expensive for extra credit, I'll ask Dr. Armah how they did.

Then the LORD ordered the fish to spit Jonah up on the beach, and it did. Jonah 2:10 (Good News Bible)

Sunday, April 08, 2012

April Fool's!

Mary Kay writes:
I have been struck this Holy Week with the juxtaposition of the sacred and the secular calendars.  As you know, Palm Sunday fell on April 1 this year.  This has only happened nine times in the last three centuries.  Apparently it happened in 2007, the only other time in my lifetime as I look back, but I totally missed it then – probably because we had just moved to Ghana and everything else about Holy Week and Easter celebrations here was so new to me.  Plus, it doesn’t seem like Ghana makes as big a deal of April Fool’s Day as we used to in the US.  The next time it will happen will be in the year 2091.  Since I would be 131 at that point, I think it is probably safe to say that this is the last time in my life that I will see Palm Sunday and April Fool’s fall on the same day.

I read a couple of devotions, tweets, and the like this week that pointed out this juxtaposition.  Most pointed out that the same people who were praising Jesus, shouting “Hosanna”, which means “save us”, were the ones shouting for his crucifixion by the end of the week.  Some talked about the disciples “borrowing” a donkey – which the owner must have seen as a prank – though presumably the donkey was returned at the end of the day. 

I also looked into the history of April Fool’s Day to see when the tradition started.  The Persians (and now the Iranians) celebrate a day of pranks on the 13th day of their New Year, which either falls on April 1 or April 2, according to Wikipedia. The earliest mention of a day of pranks associated specifically with April 1 was in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, which is the tale of Chanticleer and the Fox.  Certainly Chanticleer outfoxing the fox could be considered a good April Fool’s prank!  But the Romans celebrated a festival called Hilaria on the 25th of March, which is also thought to be a precursor to our present day tradition.

Given that Jerusalem was under Roman rule, and that the Passover (and therefore Easter) changes days as a lunar holiday, it is quite possible that the original Palm Sunday procession coincided with the Roman Hilaria.  This would be even more fitting in my mind.  To see Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, with the crowds going wild?  This event is easier to see as a Monty Python-esque satire of the great Roman military processions than as a real act of worship and praise.  Who would cheer for a guy on a donkey, unless you thought it was all a great farce?  Certainly Jesus did not represent the type of military hero that Israel would have liked to see come and kick out the Romans – that guy would have looked more like a combination of Sparticus, Ben Hur and Rambo!  Or at least Iron Man, with the disciples cast as the rest of the Avengers.

By Friday, the prank seemed obvious.  Jesus, who had triumphally entered Jerusalem the week before was now hanging on a cross, dying.  The joke felt like it was on all of us for believing, for hoping.  The disciples sure didn’t get it – they were the ones most discouraged at the death of their leader.  They were the ones who thought Palm Sunday was real, only to have their hopes dashed.  They heard Jesus say, “It is finished,” and thought all was lost.  They spent the weekend hiding in terror that they would be killed next as his associates.  Even Satan thought he had won that day, triumphing over God’s Son at last.

On Friday, a thief on a cross and one of the Roman centurions who helped to crucify Jesus caught a glimpse of the real story, but even they didn’t get the full picture.  But today, Sunday morning, we can look back and laugh!  We see joke and we get it.  We share in the “Gotcha”.  We can run to our friends shouting the Good News.  He is alive!  Jesus conquered the cross and death.  He conquers all the rulers of this world – whether Romans or Americans or someone else.  He conquers all the lesser gods and demons of the spiritual world – even that most powerful of demons, Satan.  On Easter, of all days, we proclaim that all is right with the world.  God’s creation is restored and God declares, “It is very good!”.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

“[Jesus] told them, “This is what is written:  The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness will be preched in His Name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.”  (Luke 24:46-47, NIV)

The artwork posted today is from, an organization dedicated to presenting the Gospel in an African context.

Friday, March 09, 2012

My Take on KONY 2012

Mary Kay writes: 

It has been fascinating to me to watch KONY 2012 go viral this week.  This is the first time I personally have seen this phenomenon, partly because I am “a clueless old fogie” (as my high school senior would put it) and partly because we live in Ghana, where we are just beginning to explore all the uses of social media.  True confession:  I only figured out how to participate in Twitter this week, follow me at @ghanawaterwoman.  It has been doubly interesting as it follows on the heels of and illustrates two books that Charlie and I have been reading lately about the new world social order – ala Facebook and Google – What Would Google Do and Public Parts, both by Jeff Jarvis (@JeffJarvis and  Watching the video gave me more insight into how the web could be used to form a critical mass for change – ala Tahrir Square, or Yemen, or Libya, or I guess even Wall Street (though I still haven’t figured out the whole “occupy” movement).

The video does bring attention to one of the major problems in Africa over the last 50 years– that of child soldiers.  But Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Rebellion Army are hardly the only ones involved in this practice.  Child soldiers have been used in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and elsewhere, as well.  The movie does bring infamy to Joseph Kony, but since he has been under indictment by the International Criminal Court since 2005, I would argue that he already was infamous.  In the end, all KONY 2012 does is vilify Joseph Kony and call for his capture and prosecution.  Easier said than done since he is hiding out in dense and sparsely populated jungle and could be in one of three or four different countries in Central Africa, in a geographic area approximately half the size of the United States.  After all how long did it take the FBI to find Eric Rudolph, the Atlanta Olympics bomber, when he was hiding out in the mountains of North Carolina?  Or for the international community to find Osama bin Laden, for that matter?  And why pick only on Joseph Kony?  Three other leaders of the LRA are also under indictment for the same crimes against humanity.  A two others were indicted in 2005, but have since died, so the charges against them have been dropped.

My biggest beef with the movie and the KONY 2012 movement is that it doesn’t really address the underlying issues in Uganda that led to the formation of the LRA or provide any solutions.  Let’s say we arrest Kony, try him, execute him.  Or that he dies in a gun battle when they try to arrest him.  What happens next?  What will keep another from stepping into his shoes?

Many of the blogs and news sources I have read on the internet, from people living and working in Uganda, and more importantly, from Ugandans themselves, don’t see Kony as their biggest problem anymore.  Yes, he is evil, and did atrocious things.  But he is not nearly as active in that part of Africa as he was 10 or even 5 years ago.  His power has diminished greatly.  But the conditions that led to his rise to power are still in Uganda and throughout Africa.  Corruption.  Oppressive governments.  Grinding poverty.  Malaria and HIV/AIDS.    Lack of access to health care, or potable water, or sanitation, or education.  Kony and the LRA may have abducted as many as 70,000 children over the course of his rebellion, and certainly they killed more than that.  But approximately 4,500 children die every day from preventable waterborne diseases, most of them in Africa.  And 1,400 children die every day in sub-Saharan Africa from malaria.    EVERY DAY!  That would equate to over 50,000,000 children from these two causes alone, over the 25 years that Kony has terrorized children.  And this does not include the children who are ill but recover.

Of course, there are plenty of organizations that are mobilizing around the issues of malaria, waterborne disease, education, or other issues as well.  You can google any of these topics and find heart-breaking videos of the impacts of disease and poverty on God’s children in Africa (or Asia or the United States for that matter).  I can point you to a lot – and I can show you my own photographs and videos. 

But the myriad issues in Africa, or specifically in Uganda, have been going on for 25, 50 or even 100 years or more.  They are too complex to distill into a video like KONY 2012.  They won’t be solved overnight, or in 2012, or with the arrest or death of one person.   The United States can’t just “come to the rescue” like some governmental version of Superman.  And these problems certainly won’t be solved without the input and effort of Ugandans and other Africans.  Africans should be engaging in conversations, whether face-to-face or on Facebook, Twitter and the like, with other Africans about what they see as their greatest problems, most significant needs and their proposed solutions.  Then we in the west can follow along, learn, and in turn ask how we can best support and encourage them to achieve their dreams and meet their own needs. 

THAT approach, my friends, is community development.  That is development with dignity.  That moves past colonialism, or neo-colonialism, or the Western “we’re here to fix you (and remold you into our image)” mentality.  That would recognize and celebrate the image of our creator God in Africans.  And that is what I pray that I am learning to do, with sensitivity and love.

I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken. My spirit is poured out in agony as I see the desperate plight of my people. Little children and tiny babies are fainting and dying in the streets.  (Lamentations 2:11, NLT)

Friday, March 02, 2012

Water Is Life

Water is Life. We all have been thirsty, we all understand. Whether in the hot summers of Georgia, the hotter and more humid equatorial tropics of Houston or southern Ghana, or on the even hotter, dusty semi-arid savannahs of northern Ghana, “water is life” is not just a saying – it is reality. Here in Ghana, water is deeply ingrained in the local culture. Any time you visit anyone anywhere - city or village, office or home - Ghanaian culture and hospitality demands that you are offered water to drink. That is always the first order of business – before even introductions or stating your mission. If you are not offered water, by oversight or because you are visiting clueless expats, it would not at all be rude to ask for water. Once you have traveled around Ghana at all, even here in Accra, it is easy to understand why. This is a hot, dusty place, and you get thirsty so quickly. Dehydration easily turns into a headache or worse here. 

When we dedicated the borehole at Koduakrom last Friday, I had the opportunity to share a few thoughts with the assembled villagers. I reminded them of the role water plays in their culture of hospitality. You could see the heads nod in agreement. Then I told them the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well from John 4. While the Samaritan woman gave Jesus water to drink from the well, He gave her something much more valuable – Living Water! And despite the sin in her life, her religious traditions, her gender and her culture – all barriers that could have blocked her from receiving this gift from Jesus – she accepted it. 

The people of Koduakrom have been blessed with the gift of safe drinking water. The village will have plenty of potable water throughout the year. Their children will be less likely to get waterborne diseases. They will be able to share this water with visitors and weary travelers who come to their village. All of these are great, life changing benefits to the village. But how much more life changing will it be if they share the Living Water that Jesus offers with each cup of drinking water! 

In the US, we are blessed with abundant access to safe drinking water. And we are blessed with abundant access to Living Water as well through our churches, media, books, seminars, even the internet. But do we link the two together as Jesus did? Do we introduce Jesus when we offer a glass of water to a visitor who may not know Him? 

"Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10-14, NIV)

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Day of Celebration in Koduakrom, Ghana

Mary Kay writes:

I first visited Koduakrom in 2010. This little rural farming village is about 30 minutes outside of Sunyani, the capital of the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana, which is the breadbasket of Ghana. Farmers here grow bananas, plaintain, coco yams, palm nuts (for palm oil) and other staples of the Ghanaian diet. But it was a somewhat depressing little collection of crumbling mud huts with thatched roofs, one borehole that dries up every year during the dry season, and two cement block buildings – churches – on either end of the village. The Methodist chapel was roofed, but not finished – no plaster, windows or doors.

Back again two years later, my fifth or sixth visit, we celebrated a new day in Koduakrom. The village has a new deeper borehole that will not dry out, thanks to the generosity of my friends at St. John’s UMC in Edwardsville, IL. Everyone in the village is excited about this improvement, especially the children who will not miss school due to waterborne disease as often as in the past.

The Methodist Chapel has been completed as well, thanks to friends at Asbury UMC in Madison, AL. A team from there came this past November to Koduakrom and participated in a revival in the village. At the same time, they were moved to contribute funds toward the completion of the chapel. My dear friend and colleague, Bishop Kofi Asare-Bediako, also remembered his pledge to build a chapel at Koduakrom from the early 90s, when he was a minister in their circuit. So now they have a beautiful Easter egg colored church to remind them of their new life in Jesus – yellow for the light of Christ in our lives, blue for His living water, pink for joy. Villagers report that the church is growing and has a renewed hope for their future.

There is a beautiful grove of mango trees started around the chapel now, too, a gift from the Bishop as well. So in a few years, the church and its members will have the income from the mangoes they grow to augment their coffers – money that will be used to support the widows and orphans of the village.

Lastly, a school is under construction – right across the road from the Methodist Chapel. This is being funded by the local District Assembly, as it should be, but there has never been a school in Koduakrom before now. Schoolchildren have had to walk a couple of kilometers to attend the nearest school in the next village. What a blessing that they will soon be able to attend school in their own village.

Things are definitely looking up in Koduakrom. You could see it in the smiles on peoples' faces and the hugs and warm greetings I received when I got out of the car. The people of Koduakrom also gave us a traditional "thanksgiving" gift from their harvest - plaintain, coco yams, a goat (live!), and palm nuts - all the ingredients for fufu and palm nut soup. I can’t wait to come back in two or three more years to see the changes here, all because its citizens now have pride in their community and hope in the future. And I can’t wait to taste one of their delicious mangoes !

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life..." (Psalm 23:5-6a, NIV)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ant Music

Mary Kay writes:

No, not the early 80s Adam Ant kind, though I did go back and watch his videos on you tube for a blast from the past this afternoon… And not the cool ants running around in the baggage claim area at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport either.

This morning, I poured cereal for Ken, but he didn’t eat it. Then, instead of eating it myself right away, I got distracted. So when I did go to eat, it was swarming with ants.

A WAWA (West Africa Wins Again) moment, but I was not about to let the ants win! A quick stay in the freezer, and they were dead. Then if you shake the bowl, the dead ants fall to the bottom, and you can transfer the cereal to a new bowl. Or you can put the cereal in a colander, give a shake and the ants will fall out, leaving the cereal behind. Any that remain in the cereal will float when you add milk and you can pick them out. Besides, ants are protein, right?

This may sound funny to my North American friends. Why pick the ants out of the cereal, or weevils out of rice (rinse – the weevils drown and float) or flour (freeze then sift)? Why not just throw it out and start over? That is certainly what I would have done before. But here in Ghana, food is expensive, especially imported items like cereal. This was a precious bowl of Honey Loops (a European version of Honey Nut Cheerios) that I had spent almost $10 for.

And more importantly, here in Ghana, many will not have enough to eat today. The UN World Food Programme reports that 18% of children are undernourished, a number which seems low based on my experiences in the rural villages, where 50 to 100% of children may be malnourished. How can I waste food, even if I can afford to, knowing that there are others nearby, maybe even next door, who got no breakfast this morning?

Christ’s heart is for the hurting in the world. And we as Christians are called to love others as we love ourselves. The least we can do is not waste the bountiful resources we have.

“The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Galatians 5:14, NIV)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Laundry Day

Mary Kay writes…

I am working at home today – an unusual occurrence in and of itself. And since I am home, I am getting some housework done as well – even rarer! Hell might actually be freezing over at this very moment. I have scrubbed the bathrooms and hung out a couple of loads of laundry to dry.

As I hung out the laundry, I was overwhelmed by memories. I remember as a very small child “helping” my mom hang out the laundry in our back yard. I would hand her clothespins out of her apron pocket. I think she only wore the apron to hang out the laundry – and to hold the clothespins. I loved to run through the damp clothes, feeling the cool damp cotton against my arms, especially on a hot, sunny Houston summer day. While I am sure my mom was thrilled, it was a bittersweet day when we got a dryer.

Sheets flapping in the breeze remind me of my Grandmother Queenie’s house. Myrtle, her housekeeper, would hang them out to dry, then iron them flat even after they got a dryer. The cotton sheets always seemed so crisp and fresh. Who needed “spring breeze” scented laundry soap then – we had the real thing.

Today I also washed and hung out my hotpads – all hand-crocheted by my mother. She rarely has idle hands, preferring to always be working on the latest project. She learned to crochet and to make the hotpads from my Great-Grandmother, so it is a family tradition of sorts. Some of my hotpads (the maroon and navy ones) are almost antique now – made as shower gifts when Charlie and I got married 25 years ago. The primary colored ones were made before we left for Ghana – to match the dishes I was bringing here.

While I am far from home, today I feel like I have been hugged – by my Mom, my Grandmother and the great-grandmother I never knew. Who knew that housework could be so rewarding?

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies…She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed. (Proverbs 31:10, 13, 27-28, NIV)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ashesi African Studies

Charlie writes,

I sat in on two classes yesterday at Ashesi where fellow faculty discussed African issues. In the first, Lloyd Amoah, introducing Leadership 3, had the students read and react to two essays written by a Kenyan and a Ghanaian on the state of political leadership in their countries. The other, Mikelle Antoine, supervised the African side of a bi-coastal conversation (Ashesi and Swarthmore) on the reactions college students studying the diaspora had to a troubling image of an African wrapped in a European Union flag, standing, head cocked, next to a smashed bicycle in a desert landscape.

What do you make of it? What do you think the photographer was trying to say?