Tuesday, November 25, 2008

job 5: 17-18

I started reading Job at the beginning of the semester. I thought in some ways it would be good to read over again and make some application to my current situation. Not that I'm suffering in Ghana, or recently had all my cattle obliterated, but I have been going through some challenges this semester and have asked God a lot of hard questions like Job did. Two verses have stuck out to me all semester, serving as the exact correlation between Job and me that I was looking for:

"Blessed is the man whom God corrects;
so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For he wounds, but he also binds up;
he injures, but his hands also heal.

A waxy and colorful bookmark of crayoned hearts fashioned for me by Anna marks these verses. This further serves as an example of where I've been, where I am and where I'm going. I've been blessed and I'm in challenging situations that are changing me, but I can't stay in this place, physically or mentally.

I'm afraid that when I get home I'll be frequently asked the well-intentioned question: "How was Ghana?!" Well, do you have six hours, or which part would you like to hear? I can tell the good parts, of the bright colors, the sunshine, the adorable children, the genuine hospitality. Or I can tell the frustrating side of lines being irrelevant, culture being overwhelming, church being spiritually unfulfilling or language barriers making even English intelligible. Or, I could tell the sickening tales of being physically sick for five weeks straight, or smelling the odor of black smoke of tires burning roadside mixing with the scent of raw sewage wafting from the gutters. Or how about the disturbing experiences of recognizing how high of a pedestal the United States is placed upon and the seeing the rows of used clothes in the markets which are imported from the West. I could describe the haunting images of bow-legged, redheaded and big-bellied children displaying the telling signs of malnution running after a bus of white college students. Or I could attempt to explain the spine-numbing stillness of haunting former slave dungeons with walls that seem to weep and floors corroding with faint screams. But inevitably, I could end up talking about the graceful power of the blue-green gulf, the sound of cascading waterfalls or the general gloriousness of hiking through tropical forests. But this is how it is, I'm realizing: recognizing the beauty of living juxtaposed with the harsh realities of life.

Any challenges that I’ve faced this semester have been discipline, not punishment from God. The wounding of my self-absorbed pride and the humbling physical maladies I've endured have been necessary for my old self to die and a new part of me to grow. In some ways, I apologize in advance for who I'll be when I get home. I'll be emotional, frustrated, confused and Ghana-sick for a while. But I'm not sorry that I've had the experience to become a better person, or to appreciate the consistencies of those who stayed at home. Thanks to all of you who have held me in your thoughts and prayers over the past few months, not even knowing what I was really going through. My experience really has been incredible in the invaluable lessons I've learned. But to truly do justice to what I've experienced, I'm going to be processing things for quite some time. So please continue to be patient with my continuous cycle of being wounded and bound, injured and healed.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

too many cooks in the dormroom

It all started when I went on a homestay a three weekends ago. Grand Rapids has this sister city relationship thing with the Ga District, in the Greater Accra Region. This means that everyone, it seems, from the Ga District (East, West AND South, mind you) wants a chance to be hospitable to us. It's really quite kind of them, and we do appreciate it, but it is also a bit time-consuming. For instance, we just got back from spending the day eating a feast of Ghanaian food, drinking more bottles of water I thought a human could consume and dancing to the music of traditional African drums while enjoying the sea breeze off of the Gulf of Guinea. How did you spend your November 22? But the story of the homestay entails just five of us being hosted by a wonderful lady named Victoria who lives in Tema. She brought us to her house three Saturdays ago, socialized with us and taught us how to make delicious Ghanaian dishes such as bean stew or ground nut soup.

Well, after our delightful time with Victoria, my roommate Esther inquired what I could now cook. See, to Esther, if I can't cook Ghanaian food, I can't do anything....at all....ever. It's a little frustrating trying to convince her for three months that I'm not incompetent, I'm just in a different country. When I told her that I learned how to make jollof rice (a spicy white rice cooked in a tomato-based stew), she asked me to prove it. She claimed it was good to practice cooking here so I wouldn't "embarrass myself" at home. Thanks for the support, friend.

So this past Monday, Esther put me to the test. She gave me a shopping list of exotic spices and fresh vegetables buy at the night market. Oh, and Esther really likes meat, so I should get goat meat too. Well, it just so happens that goat meat is the most expensive meat on the market, and since I was already spending much more than I anticipated in this jollof rice endeavor, I stuck with chicken. To make a long story short, here I am, presumably vegetarian, coming back home with two kilos of chopped up chicken in a bag on the hottest day of the universe. Seriously, we're talking a dry 115-120 degrees with equatorial sun. I come back to our room muttering, dehydrated and smelling of chickens, and Esther sets me to work.

Our academic semester is rapidly coming to a close, which has created a little extra stress in my life. It's not that the work load is unbearable, but challenges arise when we're trying to balance final exams and research papers, while still attending classes. This being said, Monday was a little overwhelming for me as I looked ahead to all the work I had to do. On top of this stress, the LAST thing I needed was to cook a dinner that took four hours to prepare. When we spent all day at Victoria's, I apparently didn't perceive how long it actually took to cook all the food. And while seemingly simple, jollof rice takes a long time to prepare. Esther, who also has exams she is studying for, decided mid-cooking that she will rip me out for not paying enough attention to cooking and paying too much attention socializing with Amy (which was actually just venting to Amy about my day and having her help me organize my life and abundant stacks of study guides).

Anyway, the jollof turned out to be delicious, even though it was cooked with disdain on my part. Esther continues to be her....self. But now I know that food tends to be a bit more of a cross-cultural engagement than I can often handle, so I have begun to steer clear of Esther's attitude around dinnertime. Don't get me wrong, Esther really is great, but apparently our discussion at the beginning of the semester of how Ghanaians view food/eating quite differently than North Americans hasn't quite sunk in yet. And regardless of how many culturally stressing situations I've been having lately, I still don't feel ready to leave yet. It's not that I don't miss home or people or want to go home, but I feel as though I'm just now beginning to tap into who I am in Ghana, but I have to leave soon. Not having enough time to truly appreciate this culture is probably the most frustrating thing of all.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

a day in the life...

I don't want to come off as one of those touristy types who think that everyone needs to know every detail of my life. But I feel the need to share my details of yesterday to give those of you reading this a little better understanding of what my life is like here. Sorry if this is long and tedious...

I began my day with breakfast in my room, like I do most every morning. I buy fresh bread at the night market near our hostel and eat it with groundnut paste (peanut butter) for breakfast. My former coffee addiction has been slightly curbed since I've been here, mostly thanks to the instant dirt that upon watering springs to a muddy creation that strangely smells like coffee. I decided to take my changes and accompany my breakfast with this pretend coffee. The rest of my morning was leisurely, since the only class I had was Twi, but not until 10:30.

As Becky and I walked to class in the morning, we passed other international students decked out in red, white and blue and donned with buttons or shirts of their favored candidates. It's been strange to watch the pre-game of the American elections from Ghana, where everyone seems to take a much bigger interest than I fear many Americans within the country would. Becky and I suddenly had a car stop right in front of us, roll down the window and ask us whom we were voting for. He then told us his views, and about how this was the most important day EVER. Well, I don't quite know if I would have gone that far...

After Twi class, a few friends and I went to the bush canteen, which is a mini market on the front fringes of campus. For 40 pesewa (about 40 cents), I got a delicious heap of fufu (pounded cassava) in palm nut soup. The Ghanaians around us commended my friend Amy and me for eating with our hands, and they laughed when we clumsily scooped the slippery substance into our mouths. Another 10 pesewa got me a peeled orange, which one holds and sucks all of the sweet juice out of from the top. Ghanaians still laugh at how much slurping noise we make and how much pulp ends up in between our teeth whenever we eat them.

Despite applying for my absentee ballot in AUGUST, it still never came. I waited all of October, plus the grace period of the week we were in northern Ghana. But alas, it's a no-show. So a few of us with similar stories went down to the U.S. Embassy (a.k.a. "Fortress America") to take another stab at our civil duties. After security checks and waiting in numerous lines, I told a lady at a window my sad story and asked what I could do about it. I did end up voting, but since I was told my ballot wouldn't even be sent out until the following morning (and after the results were already in) my vote didn't count. But at least I tried as hard as I could.

My friends and I were invited to an election party at night, hosted by NYU and a hotel down in Accra. We were shuttled down in a charter bus full of hyper white kids in Obama t-shirts. But despite our fears that the whole party would be like that, I was surprised at the diversity. Granted, the crowd still had a clear bias, but there were preppy Ghanaians next to the hippy Americans next to the middle-aged foreign expatriates. We sat outside in front of a large screen projecting CNN, and struggled to watch the TV as a local radio station loudly broadcasted from the lawn. Even though the five to eight hour time lapse made results slow and late for us, the energy was high. We left around 1 am our time, which meant not much had been reported, but we decided to be smart and sleep rather than wait out the night.

The opportunity to experience an election abroad and truly see the impact that the United States has on the world has been incredible. Regardless of feelings of Americans, Ghanaians are ecstatic about Obama as president. And while African-Americans must be feeling pride, local TV stations prove the empowerment that many Africans are feeling at this time. No matter what party or ideological divisions might be dividing some people right now, yesterday and today has made it easy to remember remember the 5th of November.